The human cost of the US presidential election

Richard Parncutt
June 2016

Richard Parrncutt ICMPC 2012
In the coming US presidential election, voters may be faced with a two-alternative forced choice: Hillary Clinton (Democrat) or Donald Trump (Republican). Clinton is presumably the lesser of two evils. I say "presumably", because to be honest I do not know. There is usually a big difference between what candidates say they are going to do and what they really do. In particular, what Trump would actually do as president is hard to predict. A wall along the Mexican border may be a crazy idea, but it is nothing compared to the invasion of Iraq, which Clinton supported. Like Trump, she shows no signs of discovering pacifism.

Whichever of these two candidates is chosen, millions of preventable deaths could be the result. This is the most important issue of all - assuming, as I hope everyone does, that there is nothing more important than a human life, and that every human life has the same value. Here's how electing the wrong president could indirectly cause millions of deaths:

Militarism. American militarism has caused countless millions of deaths since 1945. The US air force has bombed 24 countries during that period. The invasion of Iraq alone caused a million deaths and contributed to the long-term destruction of Iraq as a country worth living in. For decades the US has been supporting Israeli militarism at the expense of the Palestinian people. Many other examples could be listed. Both Clinton and Trump generally support US militarism. Meanwhile, the situation in the Middle East is both complex and critical. US presidents have a unique chance to solve some of the problems and bring peace closer. A hawkish president is bound to make things worse rather than better, which probably means indirectly causing millions of further deaths in coming years and decades.

Health. People living near or below the poverty line have a lower life expectancy than the rest of us. On average, they die one, two or even three decades earlier, from diseases that richer people can prevent or cure. The rich can afford a better standard of living, including better food and less stress, which gives them a longer life. This is true both in the US and in developing countries. The US and all other industrial countries must urgently address the causes of poverty, stamping down on global tax evasion, stopping multinationals from exploiting the natural resources of developing countries, ensuring that the industrial countries fulfill their promise of 0.7% GDP for development aid, and promoting a reasonable redistribution of wealth though welfare. To my knowledge, Trump will not do any of these things. Clinton will try or pretend to do some, but it may turn out to be hot air: such projects have to be financed, and the most likely source of funding is to tax paid by the rich and megarich, which for Clinton is evidently a no-go area. She won't bite the hand that feeds her.

In coming decades, climate change will gradually increase the global death rate in connection with poverty (hunger, curable disease, preventable disease, violence, and so on) - currently some ten million per year. This effect could last for centuries. In this way, climate change could indirectly cause a billion human deaths (not to mention countless extinctions and other irreplaceable losses). Trump has promised to turn back the clock on projects to alleviate climate change, which will indirectly cause this death rate to rise even higher in the future. Clinton will half-heartedly continue the climate policy established by Obama - but if something is going to cost money, she will ensure that the rich don't have to pay the bill. The result will be more hot air, in more ways than one, and it will also indirectly cause millions of future deaths.

If the campaign by Bernie Sanders in the early months of 2016 had been reported fairly by the media and considered fairly by the Democrat establishment, voters might later in 2016 have had the opportunity to elect Sanders as president, and prevent many of those millions of preventable deaths - in all three categories. But the rich who own the media and dominate the establishment of the so-called Democratic Party have other priorities. For them, money is evidently more important than human lives. They would prefer to risk millions of human lives than allow Bernie to force them to pay their fair share of taxes. This is so outrageous I can hardly bring myself to write it down.

Cause, effect, accountability, justice

For the first few months of 2016, the corporate media and the Democratic Party leadership together created a bias toward Clinton, which combined with her massive corporate support (much more than Trump's) enabled her to win the Democratic nomination. Those who followed the meteoric rise of Sanders in the social and independent media know that Clinton could never have won the nomination without the support of the media and the Democratic Party leadership, not to mention campaign funding of over $400m. Sanders enjoyed none of these three things. So much for democracy!

Meanwhile, many traditional democrat voters - including intellectuals and others who voted for Sanders - are now falling behind Clinton as if there were no alternative. They are making two mistakes. First, it is no longer true that the Democrats are obviously better for country or for the world than the Republicans. The times they are a-changin'. Both parties are clearly right of centre and both are enormously dangerous. Both are gambling the future of humanity against the support of their rich donors. Second, poll results suggest that Sanders can now win the election as an independent. There is no reason why he should not try and there is no reason why traditional democrats should not vote for him, while objecting loud and clear to the extravagant corporate funding of the campaigns of other candidates. Sanders is the only candidate who represents anything like traditional democratic values. If Clinton is the new center right, and Trump represents the far right, Sanders is the new centre left; the far left has been underground since the 1950s.

The media often present biased or misleading reports. In major election campaigns, biased reporting can indirectly cause millions of future deaths. Responsibility is shared among journalists, editors, and corporate owners. Presumably, the corporate owners carry most of the guilt for the direction things are currently taking, as do the biggest political campaign donors. It's time to wake up to this and start talking about it. If we care about our children, we need legal reforms that will enable the biggest criminals of our generation to be held accountable for their actions. 

A taboo topic

Hardly anyone is talking about the human cost of elections - the number of people who die as an indirect result of which candidate wins. The main people who should be talking about it are the intellectuals and the so-called upper middle class in the industrial countries. I happen to belong to both groups, and I think I now understand now why we are keeping so quiet.

Economic globalization means that each of us upper-middle-class people may be causing, effectively and indirectly, the death of one anonymous person. That person is a long way away from us in time and space. She or he will probably be living in poverty in a developing country, and the death will probably happen sometime in later this century. She or he will probably be quite young. We are causing this future death by collectively failing to end acute poverty (although this goal has been practically and reasonably achievable for decades) and reduce greenhouse-gas emissions to a sustainable level (ditto).

Later this century, the death rate in connection with poverty could rise from the current level of 10 million per year to twice that number as a result of climate change. On this basis, and spread out throughout the century, a billion deaths could be attributed to poverty in the absence of climate change, and another half a billion to additional effect of climate change.

Suppose for the purpose of argument that the total number of reasonably preventable deaths in the 21st century is one billion. It may be possible to attribute half of these deaths to the actions (or lack of action) of half a billion upper middle-class people in industrialized countries. The other half a billion deaths could be attributed to the actions (or lack of action) of the rich and mega-rich. 

Stated in these very general and approximate terms, one can hardly argue with these claims. It is not unreasonable to imagine that I, the author of this essay - and most other people who may read it - are causing (or have already caused) the death of one future person, simply by living a normal modern Western lifestyle. If so, that makes us all guilty.

Having made that awful discovery, we have a choice. One option is to deny it and pretend that nothing is wrong. This is easy to do - just proclaim loudly that Parncutt and all those other alarmists and warmists are crazy, and laugh it off. Something like that. The other option is to face the implications. Only one of these two options will allow us to look ourselves in the eye and regard ourselves as honest, caring, courageous people.

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