The Cost of People

Autism Speaks has said we cost society over $2.3 million over our lifetime.  From their recent event about us and without us:

Financially, we estimate it costs 2.3 million dollars to care for one person with autism for their lifetime, and it will be well over $137 billion dollars for all our children.

Actually, Suzanne Wright, one of the founders of Autism Speaks, misquoted her own orgnization’s research, that said:

This research found that intellectual disability plays a major role in the cost of autism to individuals, families, and society as a whole. The costs of autism per year are nearly twice as high on average for children and adults with intellectual disability than for children and adults without intellectual disability, $2.3 million in the U.S. and £1.5 million in the U.K. ($2.4 million) for those individuals who are impacted by intellectual disability compared with more than $1.4 million in the U.S. and £917,000 ($1.46 million) in the U.K. for those who do not have intellectual disability.

They further claim that 45% of individuals with ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorders) have intellectual disabilities.  There’s a lot of reasons why this 45% number is inaccurate, but it doesn’t matter to this discussion.  Let’s just assume that Suzanne did new research that found our cost of autism was $2.3 million over our lifetime.

Usdollar100-mediumTheir research hasn’t yet been officially published as far as I can tell, and, thus, not peer reviewed.  So I don’t know the factors that went into deciding what a “cost” is.

For instance, my family has a mortgage payment. Is that a cost? Is it a cost if it is paid for out of Social Security? Is it a cost if it is paid out of employment? What if I rented? If I was in a group home, is that a cost? Is it really a cost to society if someone is being paid with this money, who then uses that money to pay for things like their house?

So let’s look at neurotypicals, while we figure out cost. I would say that US residents cost more than Chinese residents. And I can prove it.

China sets their national poverty line at 2300 RMB per person.  That’s $377 per year, according to Google. I imagine it’s pretty darn tough to live on $377 per year or less per person (somehow 150,000,000 Chinese are making this) but the World Bank says that this is the minimum necessary to live to their standards on, so I’ll take their word for it.

In contrast, the USA’s poverty level, set by the USA government is $23,050 for a family of four, or $5,762 per person (note that different family sizes have different poverty levels).

Now, one could take these apples-and-oranges numbers and say, “Wow, poor Americans cost society 15x more than poor Chinese!” (if you looked at rich Americans and rich Chinese, the numbers would be much more dramatic).

Or you could say this is a bogus comparison. Costs, standards of living, and measurement of poverty differ between the two nations. You can’t compare things that way. But you also can’t say that the American who owns a beat up car (a luxury most Chinese don’t own) is necessarily wasteful – maybe he is, maybe he isn’t (and certainly not all Americans own cars), but regardless he probably doesn’t see his way of getting to work as waste.

Now, I’m not saying China is doing well – obviously when you have 150 million people living on less than $377 a year, there’s a major problem there, and something the rest of the world should care about (although, generally, we don’t).

So, does that American cost world society more than that Chinese? Is this even a valid question to ask?


Lewis Structure of carbon dioxide, from Wikimedia (Public Domain)

We can try looking at another measure, CO2 emissions. These emissions cost the entire world, not just the country they are created in. Everyone int he world pays for these emissions. So let’s look at China and the USA, the #1 and #2 CO2 emitting countries in the world.

China emits 6.2 tonnes of CO2 per person, according to Wiki in 2009.

The USA emits 17.2 tonnes per person.

So, here, the USA hurts the world about 3 times more than China does, on a per-person basis (of course China has more than 3 times the people so as a country they create more CO2, but they create less CO2 per person).

For what it’s worth, Qatar leads the world in per-capita CO2 emissions at 44.0 tonnes per person, about 2.5x what the US and 7x what China does.

So, is the American not costing the world, while the Qatar citizen is costing the world immensely?

Regardless, how much CO2 cost does the average autistic have?  How does that compare to the successful business executive?  Who really costs more?

What people really mean when they say someone costs society is that someone gets the money that provides for their living through a method that isn’t considered noble or acceptable. It’s noble to be a rich guy who made millions out of selling bogus securities on bad mortgages. Or the guy that knows that a good deal of the people receiving student loans don’t have a chance in hell of actually being able to pay them back, but knows that he can rely on insurance and the government to bail him out. He’s not costing society, even though that student will not be able to purchase a house or start a family because of the crushing loan.

Often people think there is a cost if someone isn’t working. There are 5.1 million stay-at-home mothers in the USA.  That’s 1.7x the number of autistics, according to Autism Speaks! Are they a drain on society? After all, they aren’t working. Yet I never see articles talking about the cost of stay at-home-moms (for good reason).


Senator Lindsey Graham

Or we can look at people who receive income and services from the government.  In 2011, the average Congressional salary was $174,000 per year.  So, assuming Lindsey Graham made average salary, his 20+ years of congressional service cost us $3,480,000 – not other benefits, which are substantial.  Regardless, it costs us more to have Lindsey Graham in office for just a small portion of Lindsey’s life (20 years is just 27% of a 75 year old estimated lifespan) than it costs for a lifetime of support for an autistic with an intellectual disability, according to Autism Speaks. Assuming a 75 year lifespan, the autistic that “costs” 2.3 million USD will cost, on average, $31,000 per year.  That’s substantially less than the $174,000 we pay the average congressman – 5.6x more than the autistic with intellectual disabilities.

What’s interesting to me is that people allow this type of rhetoric at all. It’s absurd to try to figure out if a Congressman or an autistic person “costs” more. Particularly when cost is a value-laden term – does it cost more if I receive social security and take the bus or if I work and drive a gas guzzling car? If I’m Chinese or American? Do I cost less to society if I create a financial system full of bad loans or if I receive food stamps?

It’s bullshit. The existence of people doesn’t cost society anymore than the need to eat does. You can’t have a society without food. Or people.



Americans: We’ve got a president

So now it’s time to get to work.

Here’s what I’d like to see:

  • Let’s end the institutionalization bias.
  • Let’s actually balance the budget.  That means taxes and cuts.  Both.  And now, not in 20 years.
  • It’s probably time to actually worry about things like whether or not Manhattan will be under 6 feet of water if we keep dumping CO2 into the atmosphere.
  • And we need to work together.  Both Republicans and Democrats are Americans.  We all care about our country.  So let’s find that common ground we actually have, rather than just finding the things we don’t agree about.

Let’s see if any of that happens.  It is time to move “forward”.

A Bad Christian’s Response to the Election

In the US, we’re in the middle of electing a President.  I’m not here to tell anyone who to vote for particularly, as I suspect most people have already made up their minds.  But I do want to say something – I’m sick of the politicians trying to use Jesus to get my vote, particularly when their Jesus bears no relationship to the Jesus I know as a Christian. I know Jesus.

(this post is religious and political – so feel free to skip it if you aren’t interested in a Christian view or a political post by a US citizen)

The right-wing would have you believe that Jesus cares less about the poor and more about “job creators” (which apparently has some sort of connection to lower taxes – apparently rich people decide they don’t want to bother making money when they are taxed at the rate everyone else is…or not).  This Jesus apparently cares mostly about establishing the status quo when it comes to women, gays, religion, science, and the environment.  This Jesus likes war and death, at least when it’s not American death.  This Jesus is protectionist – America first, the rest of the world can go to hell – literally.  And this Jesus apparently is so concerned about this election that the future of America will hinge on it – a wrong move here could bring the wrath of God upon America.  Of course the wrong move would be to vote for Obama.

I know Jesus.  Mr. Right Wing Jesus, you’re no Jesus.

Jesus believed in paying taxes, and didn’t feel the need to add commentary about how taxation is wrong, stifles job growth, or is a Christian issue.  He simply said to pay Caesar what is Caesar’s, never mind that Jesus’s antagonists were trying to get Him to denounce the occupation of Israel by Romans (which one can also look at and say, “So why is it so critical in this election that the US never disagrees with the political nation of Israel?  Why has that become a requirement not for Israel’s politicians but for America’s?”).

Let’s look at how the Jesus of the Bible viewed of women.  The Book of Matthew starts with a genealogy.  This genealogy was radical – it includes women (and traces Jesus’s ancestry through his mother), something that definitely didn’t reinforce the traditional gender roles (then or now), or the “intrinsic differences between men and women.”  He started life radically.  This wasn’t the only time Christ did something that violated gender stereotypes.  And He certainly never taught anything about how only women or only men could fulfill some roles in marriage or child rearing.  And far from telling women to just ask questions at home of their husbands about religious things, He taught women, just as He taught men.  Yet, some would have us believe that homosexuality is wrong (and wrong enough to care about above all else, unlike, say, war or profiting with high interest loans to the poor) because of this idea that women and men are somehow so completely different from one another that there are things only a woman or only a man could do.  It’s expressed as “every child deserves a mother and father” as if men can’t be nurturing or women can’t be leaders, as if a single parent should have their kid taken away and adopted by a married couple since the single parent can’t raise them as well as the married couple, since the single parent lacks the other gender.  This isn’t the teaching of Christ, it’s what people have added to His teachings.

In fact, Jesus again turned against much of modern Christian teaching about gender roles, at least from churches who insist women shouldn’t be teaching men: in John, we find out that He first appeared, after rising from the dead, to a woman and told her to go and tell what happened to the men.  The resurrection of Christ is the most important theology to a Christian, and it was entrusted not to a man, but a woman.

There’s more I see that concerns me today.  I see outspoken and loud Christians talking about the sanctity of life.  Yet these same loud Christians aren’t talking about ensuring access to health care for everyone.  They aren’t talking about ending the death penalty (never mind that all life is given by God, even murderers’ lives, and never mind that just because someone received the death penalty doesn’t mean they are guilty).  Nor are those Christians concerned about the environment and the life and death consequences of bad stewardship.  After all, how will we make more money to not give to Caesar if we don’t pollute?  Nor is the pro-life stance translated into action or votes when it comes to the deaths of innocents as we fight a war on terror.  Those lives just aren’t as important to God, apparently, as American lives are – so in the name of protecting America, it’s okay to kill innocent non-American’s.  That’s pro-life.

God cares about quite a bit more than abortion.  Or even abortion and anti-gay hate (I think I would even go so far as to say God loves gays, and not just if they “turn from gayness”).  He might actually care about the people drinking polluted water.  Or the people who live next door to the suspected terrorist we bomb in Afganistan.  Or the prisoner sentenced to death row.  Or even the sick who lack good routine care because they have no insurance.

Lest anyone think I want to replace Right Wing Jesus with Left Wing Jesus, let me say this: Jesus stayed apolitical in His day.  I don’t see why that would be different today.  I’m not saying Jesus would vote for Obama.  I’m pretty sure He would have concerns that go far beyond the next four years and politicians that, for the most part, won’t fulfill their promises or intentions.  But I am sick of being told that my God is someone He is not.  I am not going to vote for someone just because some simplistic right-winger told me that is what Jesus wants.  Especially when it isn’t.

I’ll end this with a video:

Racism and Accusations of Racism

Button that reads "Once you VOTE BLACK you NEVER go back - OBAMA 2012I hate political crap during election years.  You hear from party loyalists on both sides about how great their candidate is and how the other guy is the spawn of Satan (both Presidential candidates, literally, have been called the anti-Christ).

But the racism allegations were too much for me to pass on by. (note that this post is US-centric, since that’s the political system I know something about)

The botton shown next to this article, “Once you vote black you never go back – Obama 2012” was sold to attendees at the 2012 by an enterprising guy that runs a storefront selling a variety of similar merchandise.

While that button is decidedly off-message for a Presidential candidate (google “once you go black you never go back” if you don’t believe me), and has caused the right to stir up allegations of racism…well, it’s not quite so simple.  Sure, many people would love a society in which any reference to race was simply irrelevant.  But a humorous button is hardly the same thing as the systematic racism that has affected blacks since the founding of the nation (and well before).

For instance, here’s some historical differences between blacks and whites:

  • Blacks were slaves.  Whites were slave masters.
  • Black marriages were “until death or distance do you part.” White marriages were “until death do you part.”  (the reason for this was that slaves could be sold, and they might be useful to the new owner for breeding)
  • Blacks often had to sit at the back of the bus.  Whites could still decide to sit at the back of the bus, making a black stand.
  • It took the Voting Rights Act in 1964 to make good progress towards equal access to polls for blacks.  White men could vote since the founding of the country, white women could vote in 1920.
  • In 2009, the average net worth of a black household was $5,677.  The average net worth of  a white household was $113,149.
  • We’ve had 1 black president.  We’ve had 43 white presidents.

That’s a bit of difference here.  Certainly, slavery is gone, but sadly many of the problems of slavery remain.  Yet many right-wing (and nearly always white) people in my social circles are insisting that race shouldn’t matter in the election, and bringing up race is just trying to bring up racism.

But, first, the buttons.  It’s clear that whites don’t have much to seriously fear about a bunch of buttons telling us that we won’t go back to voting for white people after voting for a black one.  I suspect us white people will still have a reasonable chance of getting elected.  So, white people: grow up and get some humor.  But if the button was reversed, “once you vote white, you won’t go back,” not only would it not roll off the tongue quite as nicely, but that would be racist.  The difference is that blacks are disenfranchised at the polls and far fewer blacks are in office than one would expect based on the share they represent in the general population.  In other words, blacks already find it much more difficult than a white to get elected.  So, no, the button is not racist.

As for bringing up race, it sure sounds like we haven’t moved past that as a country.  When Martin Luther King Jr’s words, “I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification; one day right there in Alabama, little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.”  It should be noted that segregated schools are still constitutionally mandated in Alabama – a constitutional amendment that would have removed that hate from the state’s constitution failed in 2004.  (note that the segregated school requirement of the constitution is unenforceable due to Brown v Board of Education, but would become enforceable immediately should Brown ever be overturned – a hope some apparently have)  They are going to try again this year to remove some bigotry from their constitution.  Let’s hope they’ve changed a bit.

And, to answer some of my Republican friends, No, it’s not reasonable to claim Martin Luther King Jr. as a Republican.  But I’m not getting into that now.

Meanwhile, we have both Democrats and Republicans comparing things they don’t like to Nazi symbols and acts.

For instance, who could have known you could offend both Germans and Jews in about a paragraph?

Not that it’s not a good idea to give students loans, it certainly is a good idea to give them loans. But if you can ignore the Constitution to do something good today, tomorrow you will be ignoring the Constitution to do something bad. You could. There are more people in our, in America today of German ancestry than any other… . The Holocaust that occurred in Germany — how in the heck could that happen? And when you start down the wrong road, it can be a very slippery slope.

That was a “charming” statement, both equating people with German heritage as potential mass murderers (only if student loans are given by government!) and completely missing the point about the nature of the Holocaust and it’s effect on Jews and others, has been walked back a bit.  Representative Bartlett (Republican, not that it matters) has sort of apologized.

There’s real racism, and real reason for outrage.  But it’s not a bunch of off-message buttons at the Democratic convention.

Standing for What is Right – Governor Carr

In the US, we often say we want politicians with ethics, who will do the right thing.  In WWII, the US state of Colorado had one of these politicians – Governor Carr.  He’s been ignored (for the most part) in history, primarily because he did the right thing.

In WWII, Japanese-American US citizens were feared by others.  They were forcibly moved from their homes if they leaved near the coast and often ended up in, essentially, concentration camps (not in the Nazi sense, but still plenty bad).  Many lost everything in this process.  There was little outrage among the public, with one exception – Governor Carr.  He spoke eloquently about the rights of these citizens.  But as a result, this governor, who was at one point a rising Republican star who could be expected to get his party’s nomination for President, destroyed his career.  Ethics were not what the US wanted.  The US wanted a politician that shared their bigotry and bias.

History has vindicated Governor Carr.  Not one incident of sabotage could be attributed to Japanese-American US citizens.  These citizens even fought in the European theater and became an extremely highly decorated unit, likely as a result of their need to prove that they really were loyal – something that should never have been required of them.  That the US put our own citizens in prison camps, with horrible conditions, for no reason other than their race and national origin, while simultaneously fighting a racist regime in Germany shows the depth of hypocrisy (we were joined by Canada, who did the same to their citizens).  It’s a sad chapter in history.

One thing we can learn from Governor Carr, however: do the right thing, even if it costs you.  I’d rather be the rejected politician that Carr became than the person who thought it was okay to corral and fence in my neighbors.

Below is a four-part speech by a man who wrote a book about Governor Carr – it has some fascinating and horrifying parts that show what scared people can do to their neighbors.