There are twice as many suicides in the US each year than murders, and yet the vast majority of them aren't discussed at all. Unlike homicide, which is considered a fracturing of our social contract, suicide is considered a shameful problem whose victims -- and solutions -- are rarely the focus of wide debate. We push back suicide taboos, profiling who is most likely to commit this act (and least likely), and what we know about them. African-Americans, for instance, commit suicide at half the rate of whites, for reasons tied to everything from racism to faith. And we consider the opinion of those who see suicide as a rational act. The biggest surprise -- the suicide paradox -- is that suicide rates rise as does a country's standard of living. To some, this makes suicide (gulp) a luxury good.
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Photo of Jacques-Louis David's painting The Death of Socrates: Wally Gobetz
Steven D. Levitt