Suicide is an age-old problem, one that is unlikely to be solved with any individual policy changes or technological innovations. The causes, conditions, and means of suicide are too diverse, and the problem too widespread, to imagine that we will ever prevent this problem, in the same way we’ve been able to prevent many diseases through the widespread availability of vaccination. Instead, we’ll have to chip away at it steadily, trying to rescue more and more people out of poverty and hopelessness through robust redistributive social programs and through education and awareness-raising. We’ll also need to actually invest in our mental health system, to identify those who need help and provide such help to those who seek it. To do so, we should have the national conversation we’ve put off for too long and become more comfortable discussing a topic that still retains a powerful taboo. The time is now; suicide has already cost us far too much.
Because of an editing error, an article on Page 36 this weekend about the failure of economists to anticipate the latest recession misquotes the economist John Maynard Keynes, who compared the financial markets of the 1930s to newspaper beauty contests in which readers tried to correctly pick all six eventual winners. Keynes noted that a competitor did not have to pick “those faces which he himself finds prettiest, but those that he thinks likeliest to catch the fancy of the other competitors.” He did not say, “nor even those that he thinks likeliest to catch the fancy of other competitors.”
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