A new study in The Lancet has determined that mass privatization in former Communist Eastern Europe — what was once called “shock therapy,” but is more usefully considered a form of “shock neoliberalization” — resulted in an excess of about a million deaths in that part of the world.

A few quotes from the Oxford University summary:

The Oxford-led study measured the relationship between death rates and the pace and scale of privatisation in 25 countries in the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, dating back to the early 1990s. They found that mass privatisation came at a human cost: with an average surge in the number of deaths of 13 per cent or the equivalent of about one million lives.

The rapid privatisation programme, part of a plan known by economists as ‘shock therapy’, led to a 56 per cent increase in unemployment, which the study says played an important role in explaining why privatisation claimed so many lives. Many employers provided extensive health and social care for their employees, so through privatisation workers experienced the ‘double whammy’ of losing not only their livelihood but also their means of surviving the crisis.

[. . .]

If at least 45 per cent of the country’s population were members of at least one social organisation, such as a church or trade union, they were better protected from the economic shocks, the authors found.

In other words, countries with less social support, either in the form of social welfare (freely available health care, and so on) or in strong union, church, or other organizational membership, left their unemployed men to fend for themselves. The result was a massive loss of life, sometimes facilitated by the kinds of coping mechanisms left standing — like alcoholism.

Put another way: Soviet-style communization (slow strangulation of civil society at the hands of a one-party ruling class) followed by rapid capitalization (marketization of everything, accompanied by the destruction of state-supported social welfare) = mass murder.

Good thing they didn’t have AK-47s as freely available as in this country…

The study reminds me of the famous Lancet survey that estimated some 650,000 “excess deaths” from the Iraq War. I suspect its fate will be similar: criticism by those with a vested interest in minimizing the numbers, followed by pooh-poohing or just silence by the mainstream U.S. policy and media establishments.



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