The Body Economic: Why Austerity Kills by David Stuckler & Sanjay Basu

The Body Economic: Why Austerity Kills by David Stuckler & Sanjay Basu

Author:David Stuckler & Sanjay Basu [Stuckler, David]
Language: eng
Format: epub
ISBN: 9780141976037
Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd
Published: 2013-05-20T22:00:00+00:00


Returning to Work

On May 4, 2012, a crowd of women waving white flags marched to the entrance of the Italian government’s Equitalia tax office in Bologna. They were the vedove bianche, the White Widows. Following Italy’s austerity drive in response to the Great Recession, their husbands hadn’t been able to find enough work or pay their tax debts. And so the men had chosen to end it all by taking their lives. Saddled with debt, and left to pick up the pieces, the widows were angry and frustrated that the government wasn’t helping them.1

“Non ci suiciderete!” they chanted: “Don’t suicide us.” Tiziana Marrone, the leader of the protest, said, “The government must do something. It is not right what is happening in Italy.” They were upset that the government had turned a blind eye to tax evasion by Italy’s super-rich, but done virtually nothing to support those who had lost everything in the Great Recession. She continued, “My battle is not just mine, it is of all the Italians who find themselves in my condition, and most of all of the widows of those families, who don’t know where to turn to pay all these debts.”2

It was the second protest at the Equitalia building. Five weeks earlier, on March 28, Giuseppe Campaniello, a self-employed bricklayer, and the husband of Tiziana Marrone, went to the same office. He had just received a final notice from Equitalia doubling a fine he reportedly couldn’t pay. So in front of the tax offices, he doused himself with gasoline and set himself on fire. He had left a note for Tiziana: “Dear love, I am here crying. This morning I left a bit early, I wanted to wake you, say goodbye, but you were sleeping so well I was afraid to wake you. Today is an ugly day. I ask forgiveness from everyone. A kiss to you all. I love you, Giuseppe.” He died nine days later.

In the Great Recession, suicide rates rose as unemployment rates jumped by 39 percent across Italy between 2007 and 2010. While the White Widows’ protest drew public attention to their private suffering from the mental health consequences of unemployment in Italy, not everyone agreed with their interpretation of events. Some commentators said that Italy’s economic suicides were just “normal fluctuations.”3

To find out whether this was true and if so why, we looked into the country’s mortality datasets. Italy has a uniquely detailed system for tracking each of its suicides. The death certificates include contextual details about the causes. One example was a certificate of a sixty-four-year-old bricklayer who had lost his job at Christmas. He left a note that said in part, “I can’t live without a job,” then shot himself. In Italy, as in Russia during the early 1990s, unemployment had left people demoralized, hopeless, and ultimately prone to self-harm.4

We found that there was a large rise in suicide death certificates labeled “due to economic reasons” during the recession, well above pre-existing trends. Notably, rates of suicides attributable to all other causes remained unchanged.


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