03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Are 44,000 Deaths a Year More Or Less Important Than 7.6 Million Lost Jobs?

The numbers are staggering, both in the failures of our ersatz health care and our job displacements, but the answer is simple enough. It is just not politically simple.

As more and more of the fruits of modern economies are commandeered by the very wealthy, the ability of populations to afford the basic elements of survival is, more and more, under pressure. The poor, and what remains of the middle class, are victims of an economic system that is trending towards not supporting the basic needs of its workforce. Those 44,000 deaths attributable to lack of health care are a result of lost jobs, underemployment or such lack of prospects that people choose to do without health insurance. Generalizing, those deaths are a result of the widening wealth gap.

Getting people back to work will help the economy, help bring down the deficit, and will improve the situations of millions of Americans. It is vital. But it is not so important that 44,000 deaths should be willfully ignored in preference to, as Republicans would have you believe, reducing the government's deficit.

Put another way - 44,000 is the fatality equivalent of 14.6 of Al Qaeda's 9/11s per year. It's 24 Katrina scale disasters a year. It is a pandemic of omission and exclusion. But since it happens quietly, in pathetic increments of lost hope and poverty, it is not even a headline in the news. For all the cheering about life saving efforts of emergency workers, romanticized to the point of heroism, there are no heroes to save these 44,000. Too proud for charity or too broken to care, they die, one by one by one, in what state of lost dignity and despair can only be surmised. Where they in prison they would be fed, clothed and given some measure of health care. But they are free, just not equal enough to live.

And so the concern over lost jobs is not a matter of pride, not a matter of lost income and making ends meet, not a matter of deficit spending and lost tax revenues, it's a matter of millions of people considering the precipice over which the 44,000 a year have fallen and can fall no further. Millions more consider the wreckage in the lives of the already out of work and those now dead, and wonder how many more days and weeks it might take for them to slip over into the free fall of bankruptcy and destitution. They have been told its their own fault. They should have worked harder and saved for a rainy day. Perhaps some did, but none could have saved for a rain of forty days and nights, let alone thirty years.

These millions out of work and those now dead are victims of reckless wealth and power. Wealth and power that has nothing but disdain for anything that does not produce more wealth and power for itself. But to trust in government to right this egregious wrong, a wrong of so bleeding the public that its lot is forecast as little more than to suffer and die, is perfectly justifiable. To trust government to reverse the predations of the wealthy on the economy and jobs, ultimately citizen's lives, is what government, at least our government, is designed to do, right back to the Declaration of Independence.

The 44,000 and the millions of unemployed and underemployed is the exact same problem. They are the unlucky or unskilled that are the first victims of an economy in decline, an economy that will not support their employment. And as the rich enjoy a record share of income, they do so on the body count of these fallen. So, If the rich must be taxed to save the lives of those no more guilty of anything than their failure to be in the top half of the income pie, then, by any and all means, tax the rich. Tax the rich until they bleed as much and feel the despair of loss as much as do the people to whom they have already handed a sentence of guilt, self loathing and despair such that it amounted to a death sentence.

If the rich must be taxed in order to create make work for the millions they have put out of work on Bush's tax holiday watch, then tax them. It is for their own damned good. Without a well paid workforce the fortunes of the already rich will dwindle and evaporate in an economy that does not grow and pays no return on capital, indeed, destroys capital, as a hundred million people have discovered in the housing slump.

There simply is no wealth worth, or that can be sustained by, the destruction of an economy. And an economy is ultimately its humanity. It is a story of humanity. It is about nothing but humanity, either philosophically or in dollars and cents. No nation can stand that deplores the welfare of its own citizens.

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