Saturday, December 27, 2008

Is Prozac causing all of these stock market bubbles?

Way back in March of 2000, Slate.com ran a story titled, "Is Prozac Driving Wall Street?" It included the following nugget which now seems prescient:

Randolph Nesse, author (with George Williams) of Why We Get Sick: The New Science of Darwinian Medicine, estimates that about 20 million Americans are on antidepressants. And at least some people who take these drugs "become far less cautious than they were before, worrying too little about real dangers. This is exactly the mind-set of many current investors." If indeed "investor caution is being inhibited by psychotropic drugs," a Wall Street bubble "could grow larger than usual" before popping "with potentially catastrophic economic and political consequences."

Prozac and other anti-depressant use became widespread starting in the early 1990s. In fact, according to the Washington Post, the use of such drugs by all adults has nearly tripled in the last decade (nearly 1 in 10 adults in one one of them). And the massive rise in antidepressant use also corresponds with the ending of one recession (1992) and three subsequent enormous stock market bubbles and busts (internet, telecom, and housing).

But while the correlation is dramatic, causation is difficult if not impossible to prove. I think a more likely explanation for all the stock market bubbles is that corporate power has grown so dramatically over the last 30 years that passing effective regulation became impossible. With the corporate titans, left to self-police, it became inevitable that we'd see a massive game of financial musical chairs as they pumped all of the wealth out of one sector of the economy after another (they basically sucked all of the wealth out of retirement funds, real estate, and the public treasury over the last 10 years).

But here's my point -- I believe it is precisely the rise in corporate power -- that is causing the rise in anti-depressant use (not the other way around). It is precisely the way that corporate power tears down communities and families and dehumanizes our world that plunges so many people into anomie and despair. So for example, when Wal-Mart comes into a town and destroys all of the small retail businesses and the middle class jobs and community that went with them -- and forces people to work at low wages so we can all buy cheap Chinese-made imported goods -- that has GOT to cause an increase in depression in a town. Now multiply that by thousands of sectors of the economy that have been overwhelmed by corporate power over the last decade or two and you have the depression epidemic we have now.

Look, I'm not saying that depression isn't a real medical condition. I believe it is and I want people who experience depression to find healing. If that's in the form of a pill, great. But, do 1 in 10 Americans suffer from this medical condition and has the rate of this rare medical condition suddenly trippled over the past ten years? I think not. My point is that -- IF indeed the leading cause depression is not some unexplainable medical phenomenon but rather the very real suffering caused by the very awful corporations who have come to dominate our lives -- THEN we've got a huge problem on our hands. Because under ordinary (pre-Prozac) circumstances the rise in human suffering might cause people to ask the question -- "Hey how come everyone is so miserable?" And we might reach for collective solutions that work to change the conditions in which we all live. Instead, the problem is now INDIVIDUALIZED AND MEDICALIZED -- "individuals have medical problems it's not society's fault" -- and through massive prescription drug use, we may be silencing the very canaries in the coal mines we need to save our society from further ruin.

Just some food for thought ya'll.

1 comment:

mknowles said...

Prozac mixed with a little Viagra...