Your Life Expectancy is Probably Declining

Date: 09 October 2022

Author: Indescribled 

Tags: N. America, Internationalism

Your life expectancy is probably declining. Don’t run to the doctor yet—let’s talk about it. Most of our readers are in the United States, the “richest country in the world”, but for two years in a row the life expectancy of people living there has declined. A consistent decline can say a lot about how a society is structured and handles its catastrophes—you may not have to run to the doctor, but, if they were not already, some alarm bells should be going off about the well-being of the country, and the long-term prospects of the current capitalist system. Life expectancy has fallen in the US over the past two years because of the ever-growing prioritization of profit over people, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic; meanwhile, Socialist countries have handled the pandemic so much better than the United States that most have experienced the opposite effect—life expectancy is growing.

Before discussing why it matters, we should first have a clear understanding of what life expectancy actually means. Our World in Data defines life expectancy as “the number of years a person can expect to live. By definition, life expectancy is based on an estimate of the average age that members of a particular population group will be when they die.” They go on to clarify that life expectancy is an average—

“An important point to bear in mind when interpreting life expectancy estimates is that very few people will die at precisely the age indicated by life expectancy, even if mortality patterns stay constant.

For example, very few of the infants born in South Africa in 2009 will die at 52.2 years of age, as per the figures in the map above. Most will die much earlier or much later, since the risk of death is not uniform across the lifetime. Life expectancy is the average.

In societies with high infant mortality rates many people die in the first few years of life; but once they survive childhood, people often live much longer. Indeed, this is a common source of confusion in the interpretation of life expectancy figures: It is perfectly possible that a given population has a low life expectancy at birth, and yet has a large proportion of old people.”

Wars, famines, blockades, embargos, and most recently pandemics, can have a massive impact on life expectancy as hundreds of thousands of people can be killed either directly due to open, antagonistic conflict or indirectly due to embargoes and sanctions that hinder a country's ability to acquire medicine, food, and materials.

The United States is often touted as the richest country in the world. The US is #1 in other statistics too such as most COVID deaths, most state-sponsored coups, largest prison population, and more. So how does the richest country in the world fare when compared to Actually Existing Socialist countries that the US has been running rampant anti-communism campaigns against for decades? Primarily due to the worsening conditions from the complete failure of the US to handle COVID-19, and China and Cuba’s ability to protect their citizens, China and Cuba both now have higher life expectancies than the US. Unfortunately, nothing is changing in the land of “freedom”—500 people are still dying every single day on average from COVID in the US, adding to the over 1 million already dead in order to keep the economy running. Meanwhile, China has reported 5,226 deaths, and Cuba 8,530. In a single month, more Americans die on average from COVID than have died in China or Cuba over the entire course of the pandemic. The US response to these facts has been to decry these countries as "authoritarian" for protecting their people. Is it not authoritarian to force workers to have to worry about catching a virus while still having to figure out how to pay rent, buy groceries, afford utilities, and more? Perhaps it is no surprise that the same ruling class that accepts over 1 million deaths to COVID and brings about the declining life expectancy also overturns Roe v Wade.

"The idea of freedom is inspiring. But what does it mean? If you are free in a political sense but have no food, what’s that? The freedom to starve?” Angela Davis

Further investigating the life expectancy of each country, a trend emerges—African countries have the lowest while the global north is highest. The reason for the discrepancy lies in the historic and ongoing exploitation of the continent and her people by the same countries that have—up to now—boasted about their high life expectancies and "freedom". The IMF is the true debt trap in Africa, forcing countries to be reliant on imperialist financial support—keeping the legacy of imperialist exploitation alive for a whole new generation. COVID vaccine patents are not made available, leading to thousands of deaths across the continent while patent owners hoard their intellectual property for profit. As Michael Parenti said, “These countries are not under-developed, they're over-exploited.” Thomas Sankara showed what African countries are capable of in Burkina Faso: building schools and roads, vaccinating children, planting trees, rejecting imperialist debt traps disguised as “aid”, fighting against gender inequality and sexist oppression, and much more. 

Life expectancy has been drastically different between the US and AES countries for decades; this is not a 2020 phenomenon. It is important to consider the change over time and not just take a snapshot of the current situation. The US is currently lower than AES in regard to life expectancy. Since 1960, the US life expectancy has increased from 69.8 to 76.1, or 9.1%. Meanwhile, China has raised its life expectancy by a whopping 78.8%. Cuba, Laos, and Vietnam have also all seen large increases compared to the stagnation of the United States, in spite of the genocidal aggressions aimed at them by the US. Of course, life expectancy can only go so high. This is not a linearly increasing value—it cannot go up to infinity, but there are many countries that have values in the low 80s. The richest country in the world should be able to raise the life expectancy of its citizens, otherwise where is the wealth going? What use is it to be the richest if the rewards are only reaped by a small ruling class? That is exactly what is happening—the country pillaging the world to make the ruling class richer as they continue to oppress the proletariat. AES countries show clearly that socialism is able to rapidly raise life expectancy, compared to relative stagnation and decline under capitalism. 

It seems a little abstract to consider what life expectancy looks like on a day to day basis, but we experience many of the factors that influence it. There are yet again direct and indirect ways that we see these tangible results. Millions of Americans have had a family member die because of COVID. According to the US Centers for Disease Control in October of last year, over 140,000 American children had, as a result of the COVID pandemic, “lost a parent, custodial grandparent, or grandparent caregiver who provided the child’s home and basic needs, including love, security, and daily care.” Roughly 1 in 500 children either lost a caregiver, or became completely orphaned.  Millions more experience the decline indirectly. Inflation has been consistently increasing, eviction moratoriums have been dropped for months, student loan cancellation is waved as a carrot to lead voters to the next election, universal free healthcare is continually denied, there is no guarantee of housing, work, or food, and countless other acts by the bourgeois state are in complete contrast to the needs of the people. Even without the statistics showing that life expectancy dropped in 2020 and 2021, workers could tell you that it did because they experience the extreme conditions capitalism has been placing us all under through the pandemic. Even before the pandemic the situation had mostly plateaued for about a decade, with minimal gains being made for working and oppressed people.

All of these changes that we notice speak to a larger societal reality—where each country is investing, what each country cares about. The US defense budget always increases each time a new budget is passed, and it has reached such terrifying heights that it dwarfs every other aspect of US government spending. Healthcare and social services are left as an afterthought. A clear priority emerges—profit over people. The police and the military always get funding to oppress the working class, whether it is domestically or internationally. A new fighter jet, notorious for technical issues and inefficiency, can cost $78 million—$18 million more than Joe Biden pledged to send to Puerto Rico after Hurricane Fiona. Ukraine continues to receive more funding to “hunt people down and shoot them like pigs”, while Jackson Mississippi, Flint Michigan, and Oahu Hawaii need help getting clean water. Compare the priorities of the US to those of China. Even the World Bank admits that China has lifted 800 million people out of poverty and specifically gave support to disadvantaged areas by geography, as well as a focus on education and infrastructure. China invests heavily in infrastructure, not just domestically, but internationally through the Belt and Road initiative and other cooperative projects. Cuba has been under an illegal US blockade for 60 years, yet performs better in nearly every regard—creating their own COVID vaccines, the recent passage of the incredible family code, healthcare, education, housing, and so much more. 

The life expectancy of citizens of the US dropping two years in a row is a symptom of capitalism in decline—the richest country with all possible resources cannot do anything but harm its working class, because it does not care about them. 

As the old world is dying, the new world is being born. While the contradictions sharpen around us every single day, the international communist movement only grows in strength. Capitalism is dying, and communists will be the ones to drive the stake through its heart; ushering in a world where people will come first and profits will never be more important than someone's life.