Seventh in a series
1. The Four Epidemics
A great population is a healthy population. That seems like an obvious enough point.
And yet today, at least four major epidemics are stalking the country.
The first epidemic, of course, is the Zika virus, which has infected millions around the world and could infect, maybe, billions. Just the other day, a Zika-infected baby was born with microcephaly in New Jersey, believed to be the second born in the US. Such babies, of course, have stunted brains, will never develop normally, and face radically shortened life expectancies. Meanwhile, authorities are tracking at least 157 more Zika-affected pregnancies. And since we don’t yet know the full potential harm from Zika, it’s fair to say that the harm potential is, well, just about unlimited.
The second epidemic is the stark lowering of life expectancies for the American working- and middle-class, a phenomenon first noted last November by Anne Case and Angus Deaton, economists at Princeton University. As Deaton, recipient of the 2015 Nobel Prize for Economics, told the Washington Post, “Half a million people are dead who should not be dead. About 40 times the Ebola stats. You’re getting up there with [deaths from] HIV-AIDS.” And in January, The New York Times analyzed over 60 million US death certificates and found that mortality rates for white Americans aged 25 to 54 had increased substantially since 1999—yes, it’s an epidemic.
With characteristic bluntness and clarity, Breitbart’s John Hayward has dubbed it the “white death,” and he linked the unfolding tragedy to ongoing larger trends of social decay and civilizational decline:
The more disturbing analyses of the “white death” envision a middle-aged population looking forward to a long twilight of financial worries and uncertain purpose, less able to rely on the material and emotional resources of large, close-knit families than earlier generations.
To be sure, in American history, there have been plenty of hard times in the past, but never has there been the sort of systematic psychic cultural bombardment of the working- and middle-class that we have seen in recent decades. That is, in the past, people undergoing privation at least had the moral support of the surrounding culture—but that’s not the case today.
The third epidemic is “superbugs”—that is, the sort of bacteria that cause infections. We’ve all heard stories about a loved one or acquaintance who ends up severely sick, or even dead, because of a hospital infection such as MRSA. In fact, hospital infections kill almost 100,000 Americans a year. Meanwhile, mostly because of over-regulation and under-funding, antibiotic production has fallen 75 percent in the last quarter-century.
And of course, it’s only a matter of time before these superbugs spill out from hospitals into the general population. Hence, a May 27 Washington Post headline that was, in a way, predictable: “The superbug that doctors have been dreading just reached the US.” It seems that the Centers for Diseases Control (CDC) has identified a new bug, CRE, which kills 50 percent of the people it infects. Yes, that’s right, 50 percent. And of course, evolution being what it is, a CDC expert was no doubt correct when he told the Post, “It’s likely that more of these will be found.”
The result is a not-so-perfect storm: Rising superbug populations cause more infections at the same time as we have falling antibiotic production—and the result is that people die. As the BBC warned in 2015, we are entering a “post-antibiotic era.” That is to say, the future could be an era much like the pre-antibiotic era, when a small cut or a wound could be a death sentence.
The fourth epidemic is Alzheimer’s Disease (AD). This is perhaps the most subtle of the four epidemics, but, so far at least, it has taken the most lives and cost the most money.
Newt Gingrich has been warning about the AD epidemic for years; back in 2009, he co-authored a report for the Alzheimer’s Association, which included this four-alarm fiscal and medical siren:
Over the next 40 years, Alzheimer’s disease-related costs to Medicare and Medicaid alone are projected to total $20 trillion in constant dollars, rising to over $1 trillion per year by 2050.
So this is our Epidemic Quartet: Zika, white death, superbugs, and AD. Ominously, these killers are starting to feed back on each other. On June 1, in an article headlined, “American Death Rate Rises for First Time in a Decade,” The New York Times took note, again, of the rising white mortality numbers and added,
The rate for Alzheimer’s disease was also up, rising to 29.2 in 2015, compared with 25.4 in 2014, the continuation of some years of increases. Dr. Anderson said that part of the rise was more precise reporting of Alzheimer’s on death certificates, but that overall dementia-related deaths had increased over time.
In other words, these health problems are compounding into a deadly new pageant of pathology.
In addition, it would be perfectly possible to identify other epidemics, such as diabetes and obesity. Then there’s the norovirus, another killer; it’s lurking below the headline level, but nonetheless the CDC reports that, worldwide, the norovirus causes 21 million illnesses annually. Of those afflicted by the virus, some 70,000 require hospitalization each year, and 800 die.
Finally, the aforementioned shortfall of antibiotics has a larger echo in the overall shortfall of drug production, for both new and existing drugs. While the drug shortage is not as severe as it was a few years ago, it’s still severe: There are notable shortages, for example, of pain medications, sedatives, electrolyte solutions, and antidotes to undo the ill effects of anesthesia.
2. The Political Response
If we have four epidemics, then we have four responses—or, as the case may be, non-responses.
First, as to Zika, public-health officials are, of course, taking action, and Congress is slowly moving toward legislation—even as funding for Zika is colliding with funding for an earlier epidemic, Ebola. The proper answer, of course, is to fund both. And there’s ample precedent, and justification, for sturdy national action against communicable disease. In the Preamble to the US Constitution, the words are right there: “promote the general welfare.” We might note that back in the 18th century, “welfare” did not mean what it means today, namely, money for non-workers. Instead, it meant the larger well-being of the nation. And so in 1798, it made perfect sense to President John Adams to establish the US Public Health Service, to advance that commonweal.
The second response, to “white death,” has been curious. Since the at-risk population here is white people—although we might note that the singer Prince just died of opioids at 57—the cultural reaction has been muted. Within the left-leaning MSM, and the even leftier precincts of the chattering class, it’s hard to find much sympathy for “Archie Bunker.” More precisely, it’s hard to find any sympathy. Instead, it’s easy to find mockery.
Indeed, public chortling over the misery of white people has even extended to some on the right. National Review’s Kevin Williamson, for example, has gone so far as to claim that much of the white working class is “immoral” and that such folks “deserve to die.” Of course, Williamson’s mean-spirited jibe, which he has since repeated many times, caused a furious reaction among more populist-minded conservatives. Yet it also provoked some curious expressions of support: David French, now touted as a possible anti-Donald Trump presidential candidate, has noisily agreed with Williamson’s line of argument. French admits that this is a “nasty” argument, but nonetheless, he plowed on, headlining a piece on March 21, “The Great White Working-Class Debate: Just Because I’m ‘Nasty’ Doesn’t Mean I’m Wrong.” One has to wonder how French thinks he will get votes with such a hard-hearted platform, but that’s beyond the scope of this essay.
Third, as to superbugs, the political response has been . . . Well, let’s just put it this way: God be with you.
Fourth, as to Alzheimer’s, we’ve noted that political leader, Newt Gingrich, stands as an early prophet on AD; long before his 2009 report for the Alzheimer’s Association, he had been saying, over and again, that a cure is cheaper than care, that it’s better to beat a disease than to treat it. These insights, of course, include AD but also extend far beyond AD.
Back in 2002, Gingrich published a book with a provocatively useful title, Saving Lives & Saving Money: Transforming Health and Healthcare.
And a decade later, Gingrich had made this larger “Cure Strategy” a centerpiece of his 2012 presidential campaign—albeit to no avail, as he was buried by Mitt Romney’s money. Four years later, in this presidential season, Mike Huckabee has picked up the idea of curing AD, as well as the larger ideas of a “Cure Strategy” in his campaign.
One might ask: If Gingrich and Huckabee both had the right idea, why did their campaigns fall short? The obvious answer: While Gingrich and Huckabee were talking about health cures, the political culture was preoccupied with health insurance—that is, Obamacare. We can observe: One can say anything one wants about Obamacare, pro or con, but no matter what, this fact remains: Health insurance of any kind is only as good as the treatment that it can buy. And so, for example, if one is diagnosed with some malady that’s currently incurable, such as Zika or AD, it doesn’t much matter what sort of insurance one has.
In the meantime, familiar killers, such as cancer, haven’t gone anywhere. Just on Thursday, for example, former NBC anchorman Tom Brokaw was the guest of Breitbart’s Stephen K. Bannon on his Sirius XM show, speaking movingly about his long battle with multiple myeloma.
Yet today, one sees green shoots of fresh thinking. For instance, Robert W. Patterson, the Republican challenger of a Democratic incumbent in New Jersey’s First Congressional District, has called for a Garden State enterprise zone for “fast-tracking the discovery of cures and vaccines for such diseases as Alzheimer’s and all forms of cancer.” (Hardcore BNN readers might recall that this idea of a Medical Cure Enterprise Zone was raised here, on April 10, 2014.)
Now, Patterson has taken the idea squarely into the political arena. As he said in a debate with his opponent on May 31:
Most Americans are more concerned about their health than they are about the care they receive. This process has to be fast-tracked. We need greater incentives so that this can happen.
3. The Special Issue of Veterans
During this campaign, Donald Trump has made veterans a special cause, as well he should—as well all candidates should.
As Abraham Lincoln declared in his second inaugural address in 1865, the United States, on the edge of once again being reunited, now had a special and enduring burden: “To care for the widow, and his orphan.”
Other democratic countries, after similar national ordeals, have reached similar conclusions. On Nov. 23, 1918, less than two weeks after the end of World War One, the British Prime Minister David Lloyd George set forth a new agenda for his country: “What is our task? To make Britain a fit country for heroes to live in.” Those words were quickly streamlined into the phrase, “A nation fit for heroes,” and that’s been a national watchword ever since.
Veterans, we can observe, confront all the health threats as anyone else, plus, of course, the burden of their war injuries, including PTSD. Indeed, it’s likely that vets are especially at risk from the “white death.”
4. Trump’s Opportunity
Yet here’s something interesting: One can look at Trump’s position papers on healthcare and see a strong a critique of Obamacare, as well as the promise to replace it with something better—but there aren’t many details on what something better might actually be. And so, for example, if we look for the words “research,” “medicine,” and “cures,” we will look in vain—because they aren’t there.
In addition, Trump’s position paper on veterans is similarly opaque. It’s clear that Trump means well, as when he says,
The guiding principle of the Trump plan is ensuring veterans have convenient access to the best quality care. To further this principle, the Trump plan will decrease wait times, improve healthcare outcomes, and facilitate a seamless transition from service into civilian life.
And yet there are no specifics.
We might ask: How did this happen? How did Trump fall silent on key details— especially when Hillary Clinton has a detailed position on curing AD? (One can question her sincerity, of course, and one can also question whether the Naderites and Luddites in her coalition would allow her to launch any sort of effective “Big Science” project, but the fact remains that, as of now, she is way ahead of the GOP on this issue.)
And as for what’s going on within the Republican Party, we can observe that the libertarian tendency within the GOP has had the unfortunate effect of stifling any creative thinking on national problem-solving. For comparison, one might recall the spirit of problem-solving that inspired a Republican of an earlier generation, President Dwight Eisenhower, who back in 1955, pressed the Salk polio vaccine through to life-saving completion.
Once again, as we think about those four epidemics cited above, we can quickly see that improved care without the prospect of cure doesn’t mean all that much. That is, it doesn’t do a patient a whole lot of good to have good health insurance if there’s no adequate treatment. We should always be compassionate, even in hopeless cases, but the greatest compassion is a cure.
Of course, we can choose to look at the bright side. If Trump says that his campaign is about “America winning” and he means it, then it’s only a matter of time before he embraces the idea that a winning system of care for veterans—and the rest of us—will include medical research aiming at cures.
5. The Economic Opportunity
As Gingrich says, saving lives equals saving money. But there’s another way to look at it: Saving lives equals making money. How so?
The answer, of course, is that medical cures are a positive economic good—and people will pay good money for positive economic goods. To consider the situation more fully, we might think back to the sad case of the late Steve Jobs. He was at the peak of his career, professionally and personally; he, along with Apple, was a major economic and cultural force. Yet he was felled by cancer and died in 2011, at the age of just 56. And we might further note: He passed away with ten or twenty billion dollars in the bank. To put the matter baldly, all of Jobs’ money couldn’t buy him the cure that he desperately needed. So we can see: There was massive economic demand for a cure that could not be satisfied—because there was no cure. Sad!
Today, there’s more money than ever, and so there’s plenty of money out there in potential cure-demand. In 2013, a Swiss banker estimated the total wealth of the world as being a whopping $241 trillion. Which is to say, there’s a lot of money floating around to pay for cures—but only if such cures exist. To be sure, it’s not possible just to snap one’s fingers, add money, and produce a cure, but the American effort against the Ebola virus in the last couple of years tells us that with a sufficient effort, dramatic progress is possible. (And incidentally, American citizens are free to observe that the US government seems more interested in diseases that affect mostly non-Americans rather than Americans.)
Still, as we think about the vast demand for cures—and the vast pools of capital around the country and around the world—we can see the potential for a constructive convergence. That is, plenty of money is available for medical R&D.
We can add: Perhaps it would help if there were some sort of enterprise zone to help accelerate the cure-making progress. A Las Vegas for cures, one might say.
Back in 2014, here at Breitbart, I wrote a hopeful article, entitled, “What if LA Became the Cure Capital of America?” That is, what if Los Angeles, already a hub to some of the best hospitals and smartest medical researchers in the country, were given regulatory- and tax-shelters for medical research, as has been the case for Las Vegas and gambling? The answer, of course, is that there would an explosion of entrepreneurship, scientific creativity, money-making—and hope. So we can see: The funds to finance the search for cures will more than likely come from existing pools of capital—and will come all the quicker if there’s favorable enterprise-zone-type tax treatment.
Okay, but what if the government needs to borrow money? Or needs, somehow, to encourage private borrowing, as through a capital bank of some kind? Well, given that interest rates are currently in negative territory, it’s hard to think of a better time to borrow. And Trump would totally get that: As he has said, “I am the king of debt. I do love debt. I love debt. I love playing with it.”
Indeed, debt to solve big problems is absolutely a good thing. Accumulated capital can be pointless and often inefficient, and so the purposeful incurring of debt to achieve a needed end is not only efficient but also profoundly moral.
So there are lots of ways to develop a true Cure Strategy for America. And all Americans would be the beneficiaries. A healthy and vigorous population: That’s not only a building block for American Greatness, it’s also a great thing in and of itself.
Part One of this series.
Part Two of this series.
Part Three of this series.
Part Four of this series.
Part Five of this series
Part Six of this series.