[OPE] Working Overtime Is Linked to Depression, Anxiety

From: Jurriaan Bendien (adsl675281@tiscali.nl)
Date: Thu Jun 19 2008 - 17:48:29 EDT

This is certainly a cautionary tale - one thinks of Paul Lafargue's Le droit  la paresse, one of the greatest socialist Streitschriften ever written (BTW a "fargue" is also a French word for the whatchamacallit that holds the oar of a rowboat into place). Recently I was reading about union concerns about increasing working hours in England, the issue being whether you can work more hours and want to do it (freedom), or whether you are effectively coerced in working more hours by circumstances (slavery). I could not trace the proportions of men and women involved, but obviously this is of particular concern to workers with dependents to look after.

However, dialectically considered, could the causal arrow not be reversed also? In this case, the depression and anxiety lead to overwork, not the other way round, as a sort of neurosis in which, perhaps, working provides some satisfaction, self-affirmation, continuity, structure, interest, creativity, purpose etc. when nothing else does. This could become a self-sustaining lifestyle, even in the sense of Jim Morrison's song "I've been down so goddamn low, it looks like up to me". I have often found that when I feel terrible, working gets me through the night. Sometimes, of course, you feel so terrible you can hardly work at all, but you still have the prospect or challenge of working again. It could be manic, but it could be survival.

In the so-called "developed capitalist countries" there is an astonishing incidence of depressive illnesses, although there is apparently not a lot of government money in it - "depression, which is responsible for 6.2% of the total burden of diseases attracts only between 0.5% and 1.0% of national health expenditure, according to information available from the United Kingdom" http://www.euro.who.int/document/mnh/ebrief13.pdf
"Taking depression too seriously is not conducive to curing it", that seems to be the British way.

You can of course question how accurate the data are, and to what extent the cultural diagnosis of depression masks other problems and emotions getting in the way of a satisfying life, such as the inability to negotiate a healthy intimacy, or the fear of the consequences of your own actions, or some kind of obstacle preventing you from taking control of your life. Relentless pressure to perform, might in fact lead to its opposite, withdrawal into depressive isolation to safeguard something that is still yours, or retain a peace of mind that a minimalist existence brings.

But economically there is, of course, a lot of money in medicines for depression, and if I had to invest serious capital like Mr Soros, I would most likely invest it in the health sector, since economic crisis just creates more and more depressive and related illnesses, which creates a pharmaceutical boom, particularly given that the state often sponsors the medicines from tax money, or that medical insurance pays out. A lot of good investing is simply a matter of understanding profoundly the foibles of human nature, and in this sense it is not accidental that Mr Soros markets himself as liberal philantrophist concerned about the quality of human life - he can claim to know a lot about it.

To put it plainly, there is a hell of lot of profit in the treatment of disease, a guaranteed market, and isn't that a good thing. More cynically, a Marxist critic might say "suffering disease makes money", the idea being that money is made out of the suffering of others. There is an Israeli academic who specialises in the philosophy of ethics of all this, but I forget his name. You get dillemma's such as "would you rather be healthy with little money, or unhealthy and have a lot of money?". 

Most people would prefer to be healthy, and have a lot of money as well, but arguably it's a dream since, statistically speaking, markets fail to correlate strongly with health, and the mediation of the problem may be that the one trades off against the other. For every contradiction, there is of course a mediation... if everything is totally contradictory you get a medium. In poor countries, many people just die, or eke out a life without hope of a cure. But they might be less depressed, since there is no cultural celebration of it. If it's easy to die, you might be more thankful about being alive.

In recent days, there was a massive sell-off of stocks in Europe as investors grew scared of the tendency of the rate of profit to fall - not necessarily because less surplus value is being produced, but because less is being distributed to shareholders, due to financial misfortunes in corporate speculative bets (in his models, Henryk Grossmann never delved into the consequences of the difference between distributed and undistributed profits, arguing that in aggregate all profits are distributed). Interestingly, stocks which held their own included Glaxo and Rentokil. 

Worldwide, the health sector is close to the oil sector in terms of profitability, it is a strongman of the world economy. There may be limits to how healthy you can be, but the scope of human ailments is limitless and to that extent there is tremendous market potential. At least, if they can pay. There always remains that pound of flesh...


Nature does require
Her time of preservation, which perforce
I her frail son amongst my brethren mortal
Must give my attendance to.

~William Shakespeare


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