Rate And Duration of Despair

“One of the most remarkable features of the unemployment figures is that both the rate and the duration of unemployment have increased during every Republican administration and decreased under every Democratic one, without a single exception.”
~James Gilligan, Why Some Politicians Are More Dangerous Than Others,  Kindle Locations 704-706

This pattern has existed since records first began being kept, unemployment rate since 1900 and unemployment duration rate since 1948.

It’s not even just unemployment. The same partisan disparity is found with rates and, when applicable, durations of diverse issues: poverty and economic inequality, recessions and depressions, GDP and GNP, homicides and suicides, etc. The author further explores the broad range of studies that show various correlations between these factors, most especially how the other factors have through time-series analysis been causally linked to increasing violence.

Then Gilligan connects it all to regional partisan politics and differences of populations. He considers many angles, from crime policies to studies on authoritarianism; revealing “some very interesting inter-correlations between all three of these variables: character, party, and state” (Kindle Location 1816).

Also, he offers a thorough survey of the data on incarceration and crime rates. There is no clear, strong evidence that mass incarceration decreased crime and violence. An argument, instead, can be made that mass incarceration has been contributing to the problem.

Gilligan’s main argument is based on his accidental discovery of how the homicide and suicide rates followed party administrations. No one had noticed because the two parties were averaging each other out. No party was in power continuously for long enough to make the pattern obvious enough for a casual observation. The more the author looked at the data the stronger the correlation became and the wider set of the correlated data.

The primary conclusion is that economics is so bad during Republican administrations that an increasing number of Americans turn to violence, both against others and against themselves. Furthermore, the longer a Republican administration remains in power the worse it gets. The opposite happens with Democratic administrations. This is what the data shows.

It’s freaking mind-blowing.

He does offer a cautionary note. Even under Democrats, violence rates although lower than Republicans are still at what would be considered epidemic levels in other Western countries. Still, the pattern remains interesting.

One has to wonder what the pattern would look like if Democrats or those even further to the left had maintained political power continuously for this past century. Or imagine how our society would be transformed if ever a left-wing party came to power, as seen in other Western countries. Screw both the Republicans and Democrats! We can only take so much backlash of misery and temporary respite.

Even for someone who despises the two party system, this pattern can’t be easily dismissed or ignored. The differences between the parties are real. Politics does matter.

Many independents wish the differences were even greater, but one has to be extremely cynical to argue these differences aren’t significant enough to make a difference. If one is unemployed or at risk of unemployment, if one is poor or homeless, if one feels the shame and desperation of being deemed a loser in a society based on Social Darwinism, it certainly matters.

Nonetheless, what is an independent to do when the back and forth partisan power struggle never leads to permanent solutions that get to the root of problems? As a psychiatrist who worked for 25 years in the prison system, that is what James Gilligan wants to know (Kindle Locations 123-134):

“Given the stability of that correlation between the political parties and the violent death rates, and my inability to disconfirm it, the question that remains is: what does it mean? Why is it occurring, and doing so repeatedly? As a physician, my interest has always been in matters of life and death, not politics, and this foray into politics because of a chance discovery that implicated political actors only happened because of my attempt to learn what was causing these deaths and how we could save lives.”

Ignoring parties, how do we get positive results? How do we make the world a better place? What lesson should we learn?

I wish I knew.