The Suicide Corps

The US and Britain have fairly average suicide rates.  The US is 12 per 100,000, Britain is 7.  Britain’s is actually low for a first-world country, while France for example has a rate of 15 and Germany is 10.  And of course there’s Asia, a world apart, where rich Japan and South Korea have rates of 24 and 31 respectively.

Some of the lowest suicide rates in the world are in the Carribean.  Which makes sense, when you live in paradise, why kill yourself?  But Carribean countries share this distinction with several middle-eastern countries.  The region of the world most known for suicide actually has one of the lowest rates.

In a country of 300 million people like the US, our suicide rate translates into 36,000 people per year.  That’s a lot, when compared to 10,000 drunk driving deaths or 5,000 murders or a few hundred killed in Afghanistan.  (In fact, suicide in the military is a huge problem, especially in Afghanistan.)

It seems a shame for this number of people to die purposelessly.  What if we could help these people to make their end meaningful while perhaps preventing a few of them from committing this act at all?  I have an idea.

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The Value of a Life

The Iraq and Afghanistan wars were initiated by the events of September 11, 2001.  The attacks of that day killed almost 3000 people.  The total cost of the wars to date is estimated at $1.38 trillion.  Assuming that the wars were fought to avenge the deaths or to prevent a similar loss of life in the future, that is an expenditure of $460 million per life.

Is a human life worth that much?  We think of life as priceless, but we can tell how much one is worth by examining the amount we are willing to spend to save a life.  Here are a couple examples of how we value human life:

Health insurance policies commonly cap the lifetime benefit that they will pay.  A common cap amount is $1 million.  At least, this was common until Obamacare.  As of September 23rd, 2010, insurers may no longer set such a cap.  But before that, $1 million dollars was a common figure.  You can’t get much more at the heart of the issue of what a human life is worth than to say to someone “Sorry, we’ve spent a million on you, your life isn’t worth any more than that.”

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We Need Death Panels

One of the handy pieces of information that the Republicans passed along to the American people when Congress was debating health care in 2008 was the “fact” that Obamacare* would create “Death Panels”.  The term implied that these would be appointed panels of bureaucrats that would decide if your Aunt Maybelle would live or die.

The truth was that Obamacare created no such thing.

But what if the Republicans were right?  Not right about what the Democrats did, but about what they should have done.  Maybe we do need death panels.

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Penny for your Thoughts

I wrote recently about the pragmatic value in stopping making the penny.  I stated there that, as I had heard many years ago, the penny costs 1.6 cents to make.  Well, that was out of date!  I just discovered that the current  figure is over 2.4 cents!  See the article here:

Also, according to that article, the nickel costs over 11 cents to make.  And the total losses last year in making pennies and nickels was $116 million.  It’s become much worse in the past year because of the soaring cost of the raw metals, but the raw material is only part of the cost.  The labor, shipping, etc. to make them domestically must be very expensive as well. But that cost, and the profits that are going to somebody, must be the reason we’re still paying to make them.

By the way, I’ve seen articles on the internet say that the “penny” should properly be called the “cent”, but I disagree.  No one says the “nickel” should be called the “five cents”.  A “cent” is an amount of money.  A “penny” is a coin.  If I have 10 cents I may have 10 pennies, or I may have a dime coin or $0.10 in my bank account.  The word “penny” is hundreds of years old and is used also in the UK and the major British Commonwealth countries.  It’s not slang.  Maybe is just sounds too cute — it is a woman’s name after all — to be a word used in legal documents.  But that’s what the coin valued at one cent is called.


The Penny Doesn’t Make Cents

In my last post, I discussed one pragmatic change that can be made that would save the American Taxpayer money: the replacement of the dollar bill with a dollar coin.  The other obvious currency reform is the elimination of the penny.  This reform may be even harder from a political standpoint, as shown by the fact that a coin corresponding to the approximate value of the penny still exits in both Britain and in Europe.  The elimination of the penny is even more connected to inflation as it shows that money (or at least one form of money) is so worthless it isn’t worth keeping.

But the fact is, it isn’t worth keeping.  And that’s what pragmatism is all about: recognizing the truth and acting accordingly, instead of acting in accordance with what you wish to be the truth.  I see pennies lying in the street quite frequently while no one is interested in collecting them.  Several years ago I learned that the penny costs 1.6 cents to coin, so it is literally worth less than the cost of manufacture.  Trays for “give a penny – take a penny” have proliferated in the past decade.  It isn’t worth keeping track of costs to the nearest penny, even in retail sales.  So why do we continue to worry about the penny?  Why does anyone carry them and save them and spend them?  Perhaps out of habit, or sentiment.  Or only because in large numbers, they still have value.

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The Pragmatic Dollar

The United States Government could use a healthy dose of pragmatism.  Making decisions based on what makes practical common sense instead of what furthers an ideological agenda or what favors a small interest group is what is needed to help our country survive and thrive for the next generation.  But Pragmatism requires political will and high-mindedness on the part of politicians and understanding on the part of the voters.

Pragmatism can start small with something as trivial and yet obvious as currency reform.  There are two clear sources of waste in our current paper and coin currency system: the continued printing of the dollar bill and the minting of the penny.  The dollar bill costs several million dollars per year to print and the bills only last an average of 18 months.  They are hard for vending machines to read, especially toward the end of their short lives.  Switching to a dollar coin could save millions of dollars per year as coins last 20 years or more.  Coins are also easier for vending machines to deal with.

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