Submitted by Charles Hugh Smith from Of Two Minds
The Silent Epidemic In A Broken, Deranged System: Stress
Longtime readers know that I see our system not just as financially sick but as spiritually and psychologically deranging. The illnesses are related, of course--a distorted economic system (i.e. financialization) that rewards parasitic sociopathy and political predation cannot help but make its participants physically and psychologically ill.
Here is a selection of the many entries I've written on this largely ignored topic:
Welfare Nation: Addiction, Denial and Magical Thinking (February 1, 2010)
The Wider Context for Twenty-Somethings (Gen Y) in America (February 19, 2010)
Opting Out and the Culture of Entitlement (March 29, 2010)
Readers are often puzzled by the term The Politics of Experience, which is the core of the Survival+ analysis. The term comes from psychiatrist/author R.D. Laing, and I use it to describe the subtle ways that our worldview is molded to make certain forms of political and financial dominance so "natural" that we lose awareness of its arbitrary, carefully engineered structure.
America Is Just Going Through the Motions (November 19, 2010)
The Junkie in the Pool and False Idols (August 10, 2011)
Japan and the Exhaustion of Consumerism (October 18, 2012)
Narcissism, Consumerism and the End of Growth (October 19, 2012)
When Belief in the System Fades (March 12, 2008)
I recently received this commentary from Kenneth Daigle, a 33-year veteran stockbroker/financial advisor on the subject of chronic, systemic stress. (He requested that his full name be published.) Kenneth succinctly ties together the nation's economic distemper, its broken healthcare system and the culture of high expectations and consumerism:
I talk to hundreds of people in my practice, and I want to share with you an observation that I have made. With all the media attention lately on the fact that America has hit 90 million people who are not in the workforce, I see very little being written, asking the big question, WHY?
It is easy to say that the main reason is the entitlement culture affords people the ability to not have to work, but I am hearing the real reason is STRESS. People are reluctant to admit that they just can’t take the pressure anymore of day-to-day living, and the biggest way to relieve stress is to not work.
Think about how our culture is now structured for the average adult: STRESS, everywhere you look--commuting in horrible traffic, as you want to scream in frustration--money stress, to pay rent/house note, tuition, utilities, gas, insurances, vacations, cable bill, rising food costs, and on and on and on--stress from family problems, divorce, delinquency, drugs, crime, infidelity, keeping up with the Jones, etc.
People have too high an expectation of what they should have out of life, and get overly stressed over it all. How does all of this manifest itself? A prescription drug culture (Zoloft, Xanax, etc.) that tricks people into thinking a pill will knock back the stress, when these drugs, in my opinion, only make things worse.
I am hearing more and more that people just want to drop out from it all, as they are reaching a breaking point, and have decided less income and dependency on entitlements will reduce their stress, and is not so humiliating, so giving up working becomes more acceptable, to KEEP ONE’S SANITY.
I know I am correct, from the feedback I hear every day, and the financial media does not see this like I hear it every day. People don't want to admit that they are too weak to deal with stress, so the financial pundits are not aware of this critical factor because they don't talk to Joe Sixpack.
The government can stimulate all they want, but the unemployment/job problem will not improve because the root cause is not being recognized. We have built a culture that is far too stressful for millions of folks, so they do what they must for their mental sanity, by removing the stress of work. It matters not what level of pay they may earn, because their mental health is more critical than high income.
More and more, it is like a spiritual awakening, as people realize chasing after materialism was making them crazy with anxiety and stress. They find not working, and downsizing their expectations, makes it easier to cope with all the other aspects of living. If you wrote about this, perhaps it would help stimulate a national discussion addressing this issue.
Thank you, Kenneth, for your report from the world we actually inhabit, as opposed to the one that is dutifully reported in the mainstream media (i.e. everything's fine, unemployment is only 7.6%, go out and buy a new car, no down payment and easy credit, etc.)
In my view, the high cost of living is a direct contributor to chronic stress. While there are numerous explanations for the rising cost of living--Baumol's Cost Disease ( Productivity, Baumol's Disease and the Cliff Just Ahead December 8, 2010) and the rising cost of energy, to name but two--the one key driver that nobody dares discuss is the state-cartel (crony capitalism) structure of our economy: cartels (defense, energy, sickcare, education, etc.) avoid competition, enabled and enforced by the State (government).
This explains why sickcare and education costs have skyrocketed far above the rate of inflation. Apologists try to invoke Baumol to explain the lack of productivity in sickcare and education, but the primary cause is the cartel structure of these industries which ruthlessly eliminates any real competition.
People respond to incentives and disincentives. If it's easier to fake a disability, get Section 8 housing, food stamps, etc., than it is to earn a productive livelihood, then people will fake a disability, etc.
As it becomes increasingly costly and risky to start a business and hire workers, then people won't start businesses or hire workers--unless they have a guaranteed government contract, i.e. they are quasi-public-sector employees.
Another factor few dare mention is debt-serfdom. By the time the brainwashed consumer has loaded up on the "absolutely necessary" debts--$100,000+ for college, $200,000 for a home mortgage, $20,000 for a vehicle loan, and whatever he/she can swing in credit card debt--the options to escape stress shrivel.
Bankruptcy and opting out is one option, but that requires sacrificing all the signifiers of identity and success--the very factors in a consumerist society that establish not just identity but self-worth and personhood.
I say few dare mention state-cartels and debt-serfdom, because once you question these you question the entire debt-based "growth" that underpins our social order. If people refuse to become debt-serfs, the system will implode. If the cartels were boycotted, the State would implode, because the political order depends on the concentrated wealth of private-sector cartels and the financialization Aristocracy.
In other words: eliminate the real sources of stress and you bring down the entire economic, political and social order. The Status Quo hopes another med or two will make all the debt-serfs' stress decline to manageable levels, but it's not only the individual who needs help adjusting to chronic stress--the deranged system he/she inhabits needs to change.
Kenneth also forwarded these chronic stress-related links:
Cornell Professor Richard Burkhauser, a disability policy expert, warns, “SSDI is increasingly being used as a long-term unemployment program for workers who, given the appropriate rehabilitation and accommodation, could work.”
The sheer number of people on disability is staggering, without even considering the policy’s other consequences. The number of people on disability, 14 million, is “more than the total number of employees in the manufacturing sector of the economy,” observed Nicholas Eberstadt of the American Enterprise Institute.
The government spends more on disability than it does on both food stamps and welfare combined, according to a blockbuster NPR report. The dependency trend and fiscal trajectory continue their death spiral, unmoved by the supposed economic recovery.