Links 11/8/09

Overweight Americans Push Back on Health Debate New York Times. I am going to be non-PC. I am not sympathetic. This is a public health crisis (diabetes, for starters) and we have people defending…”weight diversity?”

Consequences of the Lehman failure Jim Hamilton

Health Care Bill Passes Through House. Politics Still SUCK EconomPic Data

The media market has a conservative bias John Hempton

California bank failure will cost FDIC $1.4 billion MarketWatch (hat tip reader John D)

GOP Members Shout Down Women Members of Congress Matt Yglesias

“Why Do Central Banks Have Assets?” Mark Thoma

Consumer credit down, but does it show deleveraging? Ed Harrison

The third-quarter productivity numbers show that business is squeezing more work out of employees in hard times Business Week (hat tip DoctoRx)

The First Call Before The First Call Cassandra

Antidote du jour:


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  1. Richard Kline

    The article on overweight Americans conflates several distinct issues, but even the broader questions here (believe me no pun intended) are complex. In the article, the problem is raised of recent exceptionally hostile, and bigoted, remarks made about the unfitness of those of excessive weight for _publicly funded, comprehensive_ health care, to the effect that such folks are unfit and should face punitive rates, restricted coverage, or even more vile formulations. The perspectives raised there are fundamentally discriminatory, and apart from having no place _as posed_ in the debate on health care are tainted in a moral sense as a response to others in a common society. This is a specific issue which needs to be seen as such separate from the ‘social politics’ of excessive overweight, to my mind.

    Being seriously overweight has a strong correlation with many severe health consequences, however, which are costly to treat, not least because many of those problems are chronic. Getting cancer or your kid having complications from a severe concussion suffered playing sports are also costly, and the latter is a case where the activity was optional. Should we impose penalty fees, or behavioral ‘inhibitors’ to folks with said exposures or consequences so that we don’t have to share in those costs, either? Most would say, No; certainly I would say no. As soon as one accepts that certain health conditions can be acceptably be given a lesser response, discrimination easily becomes pervasive. The point in moving to a national model of health care as a utility is to get as broad a base for as low a cost as possible while forbidding discrimination, in no small part because discrimination becomes pervasive and pernicious very quickly, even to quite insane levels. It’s best to shade social views away from discrimination.

    On the other hand, I do not equate negative personal responses to excessive weight in other folks with, say, racial discrimination. In part this is because excessive overweight is, in fact, seriously unhealthy, and it is known that aversive responses to ill health are deeply embedded in perceptual response as opposed to something simply learned, although certainly learning reinforces them. For example, studies have demonstrated that even things like slightly irregular features or unusual body postures indicative of underlying health issues lead to psychological assesstments of lesser desirability, even when those small differences are not conciously perceived by observers. Most animals distance themselves from others of their own kind who are ill or who show even subtle symptoms of physical maladay. In that respect, a moderately aversive response to other human beings of sufficient overweight to definitely degrade their immediate and long-term health is ‘normal.’ Having an aversive response to a person of a different skin color is something learned which has no basis in health or ‘fitness,’ and isn’t something to tolerate much less promote in others. But an aversive response to someone with unhealthy physical fitness has a reality basis. It is a bad thing psychologically to ask people to suppress a reality-based emotional response. (There is the secondary issue of how much weight is ‘excessive’ given a tail distribution of height-weight proportionality, but let’s restrict this argument to those well above any normal range of proportionality who are very strongly at risk of healtch complications.)

    To what extent, then, is it reasonable and just to ask individuals to suppress what is substantially an appropriate reaction? Well, those with physical disabilities are manifestly ‘less fit’ but still entirely human and often highly capable in many other respects, despite which they face egregious discrimination in many, many societies around the world. It is reasonable in those cases to expect others to look past an aversive response, should they have it, to the person’s humanity, and to forbid discrimination. But we’re speaking here of often irreversible disabilities. Overweight is typically not seen as such. This is presently a hotly argued topic, and the crux of the issue of where the boundary of mutual expectations lies in shaping a response to those overweight. One argument is that, of course that weight can be lost, and hence being severely overweight is a choice. Another argument is that, well no; in effect that very high weight is a permanent and unavoidable disability, though this is seldom argued directly I might note. I certainly won’t resolve that debate in a comment of this length. Let’s take an analogy, though, if a perilous one and not entirely fair and consider if excessive weight is a comparable state to alcoholism. Some might argue that we should ration health care to alcoholics, but I think most would see this as an unacceptable and discriminatory penalty. Most would insist that we respond to someone alcoholic as a person rather than a condition whatever our emotional response might be to them. That said, since the substantial majority of those with alcohol problems can change their behavior, and further that the consequences of their unchanged behavior is so negative for them and secondarily others around them, most would argue that an expectation of change is appropriate. Or put another way, their is no brief for ‘alcoholic diversity.’ The burden of change is on the individual even while the expectation of non-discrimination is on society.

    Mind I am NOT equating severe overweight directly with alcoholism. I am making an analogy here that even with a condition which is arguably worse then overweightness discrimination per se isn’t an acceptable response. But the burden of change in both cases is, to me, on the one with the potential for change. And as such insisting that others supress an aversive response _entirely_ if they have it veers toward an excessive demand. A diversity argument rests upon a condition which, in the first instance, is innate, and/or in the second instance is irreversible. While these surely hold for some of excessive weight, manifestly they do not for many. It is difficult to see that the burden of change rests on society in this one.

    1. Dan Duncan

      In other words:

      People aren’t born morbidly obese, nor is it a given that obesity is an inevitability….

      Thus the need to make overweight citizens into a protected class is far weaker than it is for other protected classes.

  2. DoctoRx

    The Hempton title “The media market has a conservative bias” was intriguing enough to click on the link. There wasn’t any ‘there’ there, however. All he pointed out was that FOX News is growing. However, assuming he is talking about America’s media market, the idea that network news organizations, the NYT, WaPo, LA Times, and even the general reporting section of the WSJ have a conservative bias does not comport with any analysis I have ever seen. Such would be appreciated. Certainly FOX’s cable news/talk competitors such as CNN and MSNBC lack a conservative bias. So even based just on contiguous channels, FOX is outnumbered by its non-conservative competitors.

    Finally, if the US media market really had a conservative bias, why has the Obama administration more or less declared war on FOX and FOX alone, and why haven’t the allegedly conservative media gone wild over that war?

    FOX is showing growth IMO because Mr Hempton’s asertion is incorrect.

    Let a thousand media flowers bloom.

    1. DownSouth

      I agree.

      Fox is niche marketing to a segment of the population.

      As a recent poll released by the Economic Policy Institute shows, 74% believe it is most important for the government to invest in job creation, education, and energy independence; but 24% believe cutting government spending and reducing the deficit should be the top priority.

      So Fox, with its anti-government, anti-tax programming, caters to those 24%. Its success is due to the fact that it enjoys a near monopoly in that niche.

    2. Anonymous Jones

      This is a very complex topic.

      “CNN and MSNBC lack a conservative bias.” Do they really? Or do they seem to lack such a bias when viewed in comparison to Fox? I have no idea what the answer is, mostly because the idea underlying the ordinary use of word “conservative” is itself based on relative judgments.

      “FOX is showing growth IMO because Mr Hempton’s asertion is incorrect.” Well, you are entitled to that opinion certainly, but it seems as specious as Hempton’s claims when unsupported by more facts or analysis.

      Media bias is often a function of consumer tastes, but it is also hugely affected by the ownership of the media. The Los Angeles Times, under the leadership of Harry Chandler (who was devoutly open shop and, in all fairness, a white supremacist), was one of the most conservative major papers ever seen in this country. This of course radically changed when his less strident progeny assumed the reins (and yes, this was coupled with shifting consumer tastes in the LA basin and eventually, competition from the OC Register attacking from the flank).

      It is difficult for me to believe that the concentrated ownership of the major media in the hands of the wealthy would not lead to overall bias in favor of the mostly conservative interests of the owners, but it is possible that I am wrong in this.

  3. DownSouth

    @ “GOP Members Shout Down Women Members of Congress”

    The antics of the reactionary right—it’s all reminiscent of this, no?:

    As she had expected, but had hoped to avoid, Lady Bird encountered angry southerners protesting her husband and his civil rights agenda. She continually found herself having to placate people who called her husband a “nigger-lover” without condoning their racism. As she pulled into Richmond, Va., Lady Bird was greeted by a big banner that read “Fly Away Lady Bird. Here in Richmond, Barry is the Cat’s Meow.” In Columbia, South Carolina, people booed and heckled Lady Bird during her speech so that she could not be heard. The state hosts were unable to quiet the hecklers, but with a raised, white-gloved hand and a firm voice, Lady Bird silenced the crowd…
    But Lady Bird’s appeal for respect failed in Charleston, South Carolina, where the boos and catcalls did not stop.

    Unfortunately, as Frank Rich points out in his column today in the NY Times, the Democratic Party is just as out-to-lunch as the Republican Party is, just in a different way:

    Compare Obama’s uninspiring, insipid, noncommittal, milquetoast performance to LBJ:

    Rather than writing off or catering to the backlash voters in the South, Johnson chose to confront his co-regionalists. Johnson calculated that an appeal to Southern gentility would take the sting off of opposition to black progress and sent his Alabama-born wife, Lady Bird, on a train tour of the South.

    Even so, Lady Bird faced counter-demonstrators and animosity during her tour, including mocking signs demanding “Black Bird Go Home.”

    …Yet Johnson threw all caution to the wind, and gave perhaps the bluntest address on racial politics ever delivered by an American President. It was the speech of a populist Southerner mourning the sad effects of racism on whites and blacks alike. Rather than listening to those who shouted “Nigger, nigger, nigger!” to win elections, LBJ asked white Southerners to recognize their common destiny with Southern blacks.

    “Now the people that would use us and destroy us first divide us . . . all these years, they have kept their foot on our necks by appealing to our animosities and dividing us. Whatever your views are, we have a Constitution, and we have a Bill of Rights, and we have the Law of the Land, and two-thirds of the Democrats in the Senate voted for it, and three fourths of the Republicans. I signed it, and I am going to enforce it, and I am going to observe it, and I think any man that is worthy of the high office of the President is going to do the same thing. But I am not going to let them build up the hate and try to buy my people by appealing to their prejudice.”

    The political landscape confronted by rank and file Americans today is almost identical to that faced by the Civil Rights movement, that is before it found its champion in LBJ. Here’s how Martin Luther King summed it up:

    We must face the appalling fact that we have been betrayed by both the Democratic and Republican parties. The Democrats have betrayed us by capitulating to the whims and caprices of the southern dixiecrats. The Republicans have betrayed us by capitulating to the blatant hypocrisy of right-wing reactionary northerners. This coalition of southern Democrats and northern right-wing Republicans defeats every proposed bill on civil rights.
    –Martin Luther King, “Facing the challenge of a new age”

    And here’s how King appraised the moral situation:

    It may well be that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition is not the glaring noisiness of the so-called bad people, but the appalling silence of the so-called good people. It may be that our generation will have to repent not only for the diabolical actions and vitriolic words of the children of darkness, but also for the crippling fears and tragic apathy of the children of light.
    –Martin Luther King, “The current crisis in race relations”

    1. Francois T

      LBJ and MLK had two thing in common: Character and “le coeur a la bonne place” meaning a heart that knew what is the right thing to do.

      I don’t care what other real and imagined flaws they had or could have had, they had those fundamental traits that pushed them to rise to the occasion.

      Obama? Hmmm! I’m not so sure of that…yet.

  4. dearieme

    The increase in obese people has happened so quickly that it sounds to me as if it a consequence of an infection; an infection, perhaps, that can also cause sundry illnesses, such as diabetes.

    Remember that not so long ago people who got ulcers were told that it was all their own fault for living a lifestyle full of “stress”. Then an Australian doctor showed that many ulcers were caused by – an infection.

    It behooves us to remember just how uncertain much medical “knowledge” is.

    1. Francois T

      Excellent point! Your post triggered a memory about a study comparing the composition of the intestinal flora in family members with obesity versus those who didn’t. As I recall, there were definite differences that could hardly be ascribed to randomness.

      I’ll try to retrieve this study and see what happened on follow up, assuming there was one.

  5. Richard Kline

    There have been recent medical studies which give some evidence that significant obesity is a condition rather than a syndrome, that is that there is an underlying medical issue in play. [I’m sorry but I’m far too tired at the moment to trace down the references which are perhaps a year old.] I didn’t find these conclusive by any means when I read them, but the led me to reconsider my own past perspectives which were rather sterner than those expressed above. At the same time, the rise in obesity in ‘developed’ Western countries and especially the US correlates very strongly with changes to starch heavy prepared foods with excessive simple carbohydrates in the diet as well. It’s not necessarily a straightforward function of calories in >> weight gain. That said, the background issue is diet. The reverse reading of calorie restriction = weight loss is strongly evidenced, though that doesn’t directly address questions of an underlying, pervasive medical issue.

    I’m not blind to the complications here, and they are complicated, yes. There are demosntrably a subset of individuals who will find their weight very difficult to control even with reasonable caloric intake, and there’s significant evidence that their absolute numbers and probable percentage of those overweight have both increased in the last generation. That said, many can lose significant weight, though it requires broad and _permanent_ changes in diet and lifestyle. Not losing that weight very likey comes with high personal costs to ones health. Finger-wagging does not seem appropriate in such a context to me, I’ll say that. But for all that, this does not seem to me a context for a diversity argument.

    1. i on the ball patriot

      The analogy to alcohol is a sound one. And if one adds tobacco to it as well, and then looks at the part the state plays in benefiting from and promoting alcohol and tobacco sales, one can then begin to see the connection to the similar promotion of unhealthy and addictive foods.

      Alcohol and tobacco are responsible for the deaths of over 500,000 scamericans a year. Add to that figure the pain and misery of those friends and family left behind and it all makes 9/11, comparatively, look like a day with Mr. Rogers. Florida alone takes in over one billion dollars a year in fees, licenses, and taxes for alcohol and tobacco sales. That does not include the steady flow of political influence graft and corruption lavished on the corrupt pig politicians. Charlie Crist, head pig, is in effect a very powerful drug lord, and his Florida state ATF, in reality, functions as a gangster army to insure competitive products are eliminated and those who dare use them are incarcerated, thereby destroying their lives and at the same time providing fodder for the privatized prison industry, another proud purchaser of politicians. Sooooo … the states interests reflect the interest of those who regularly purchase the state’s pig politicians.

      Through similar corruption of government, unhealthy and addictive processed food products have flourished. One has to work hard to find food products that have not been adulterated by food processing and laced with salt, sugar, corn syrup, caffeine, etc.

      Add to the above, the sea change in the motivational direction of society that has been implemented by the controlling ruling elite corporate media in the past forty years — essentially from family values to corporate values, from desire and opportunity to fear and insecurity — and you then have the added impetus for us all to be on edge, feeling insecure, and reaching for the ubiquitous shit food. And of course that same media is barraging you constantly with images of that shit food and telling you how nutritious it is. In addition we have the drug doctor cartel passing out anti-anxiety medication that has been shown to cause obesity.

      Yes we have free choice. But less, and less, as each day goes by, and that free choice is restricted by intentionally exploitative corruption of our environment through corruption of our government. It is therefore harder each day to blame the victims of that corruption.

      The real culprit here is a non responsive to the will of the people shit scamerican government that is administered by sell out pigs.

      Deception is the strongest political force on the planet.

  6. fresno dan
    “Americans don’t hate rich people, but they do despise those who behave as if the rules don’t apply to them.”

    Kinda of agree, but I more pragmatically would phrase it as: Bill Gates and the Google guys can make products that are useful, and that I can choose not to use.
    Bankers on the other hand, made fortunes either due to stupidity, venality, or stupidity and venality – that has cratered my savings, raised unemployment past 10% for who knows how long, and most remarkably, peddled the line that the most, MOST important thing in the economy is bankers staying rich.

  7. LeeAnne

    I hope that little guy’s OK. Is he dead, having a temper tantrum sleeping? Will we ever know? Should I know from the photo? Aha, its just a toy the photographer tossed to get a photo.

  8. LeeAnne

    .i on the ball patriot I so agree with your comments on the nature of this country’s exploitation of its people at the level of our most basic needs; they are correct and succinctly articulated. I’m trying to practice writing on this blog because it is a privilege to do so. But with writers like yourself saying my thoughts so well I find I have nothing to add.

    Except: If this government cared anything about people, every young student would be in a school kitchen learning how to shop, cook and store food economically now that women do not, cannot and should not stay at home, uneducated, unpaid, and underemployed to feed the family like 11th century chattel. The school’s have lots of kitchen space and facilities for serving up slop. I remember mine from high school in the ’50s; soggy hot dogs or spaghetti and canned tomato sauce, etc. Foods that I now know make you sluggish and sleepy. But most meals were served at home; were balanced and I can’t remember anyone except a cousin with a weight problem, and she was an overindulged only child whose mother cooked incredible Italian food from scratch.

    The sins of this society committed all over the world have become so honed and profitable that they are now come home to roost; from finance to food that might as well be poiosn. Until now the most egregious of these economic crimes have been visited upon smaller nations and under reported in the US media. Naomi Kline probably sums the strategies for this exploitation of other countries best. We really didn’t know, and it felt sinful to take seriously even the most credible and convincing left positions and the information they have tried to provide. Not anymore. Since Bush, the unthinkable has been visited upon us, the tragedy of smaller countries now seemingly prelude to what these same people are up to here at home against us.

    Aren’t you really Jesse?

    1. i on the ball patriot

      Thanks LeeAnne. No, I am not Jesse, but I consider the question a compliment. Always express your thoughts if you have time, even when you think they have been expressed. You can always add something, as you did here, and it is also a matter of; your style resonating with and awakening another person; and adding to the collective voice.

      1. LeeAnne

        So that’s how you use the reply link. I hadn’t a clue. Thank you for your encouragement. If I hadn’t been wondering how you indent your comment I would still not have a clue. Your “vanilla greed and pernicious greed” is an important contribution to the vocabulary of this discussion. I expect to use it where appropriate with your permission.

    2. psychohistorian


      I want to add to the point that you were making towards the end of your comments about America’s impact on the countries of the world. IMO, what is missing for all the discussions and education about macro economics is American imperialism.

      How many countries do we have US troops in? How does our presence in those countries economically support which companies?

      How much do the taxpayers pay per barrel of oil transported safely around the world?

      It used to be that America knew how to do more than make war and kill people to support its bloated existence.

      I am already against the next war….like in trade.

  9. KareninCA

    My bet is going to be that the rise in obesity will be found to be linked to the plastics that seep into our food from processing and packaging. bisphenol-A and its ilk, when given to mice in amounts that lead to blood levels that are similar to the amounts found in the blood of typical Americans, cause insulin resistance. These plastics have powerful hormonal effects. Why are most of the older folks (70+) you know not fat? maybe because they were not exposed to the stuff at the relevant age.

    As an aside, I’m willing to bet that the success of the women’s movement (which I favor!!) will also turn out to be linked to a physical (hormonal?) change due to an environmental toxin. How else can you explain women suddenly becoming significantly more independent agents after all these hundreds of thousands of years, just at about the time that the chemical industry started producing our food? Yes, I know that the birth control pill helped: but in countries where conditions are more primitive (read: fewer plastics, less food processing), women aren’t getting much access to those birth control pills.

    I’m not overweight, but I empathize with those that are, and scorn those who think it’s a choice that can be overcome with enough willpower. Fat people are *despised*. People who are overweight are highly, highly motivated to lose weight for a million reasons. They spend huge amounts of time and effort and money to do so. Think Oprah. Maybe – given the current tools – the vast majority *can’t* lose weight, except for short periods.

    1. Yves Smith Post author


      I may not be as sympathetic as I should be because I was a very fat child (from one year old) through my later teens and have gotten and kept weight off. But the problem is that most people think they can go on a diet and then revert to their old habits. This is false, you need to eat differently on a permanent basis. Most people are not wiling to do that. I also have relatives who are obese and frankly, they eat staggering amounts of food. So I am not certain how many are trying to lose weight.

      Having said that, dietary advice in the US is terrible, and having done considerable research (I’ve been in contact with doctors who advise sports teams, who cannot afford to waste time with their athletes and also read the research) my impression is that most diet advice is utter bunk. What passes for nutrition degrees here is also pretty bad (I know of one person who had a masters degree in nutrition, was told by her doctor when pregnant to eat more protein and she was eating cheese. Cheese is almost entirely fat, the protein content per total calories is very low). I have found through these doctors and coaches that most of the exercise programs given in gyms for weight loss are also pretty terrible (they emphasize a lot of aerobic activity, which rapidly becomes unproductive for weight loss once it is routine activity (it is good for cardiovascular health, however). The protocols ignore adaptative and hormonal responses).

      Per obesity starting recently, this has been much longer in developing, the increase in body mass index in the US started in the 1980s, when people were encouraged to eat more complex carbs (as in bread and pasta).

      1. psychohistorian

        I want to add support for all of your last sentence and ask why the morals of the marketing and advertising world are never called into question?

        It has become quite obvious that propaganda can convince millions to act against their best interest but their morals in support of greed and the myth of free market capitalism are never called into question.

  10. KareninCA

    Yves – as you no doubt know, your weight loss accomplishment is truly exceptional. Very, very few people who are overweight as children manage to lose the weight *and keep it off*. once you lose weight, many many body signals kick in that tell you that you are starving; most people can’t ignore them.

    I agree that there are *some* people who eat a lot, and who get little exercise, who would be able to take off weight and keep it off if they changed their ways. but I think there are many more people who can’t. some people, due to their genetic heritage, don’t need many calories to get by – as an exteme case, think of Native Americans running for days on a mission, sustained only by a small pouch of parched corn. if that’s your background, one bag of Doritoes and you’re doomed.

    then there are all the people who are healthier if they weigh more. look at the pictures of Eastern European grandmothers. they were truly genetically selected to be able to put on weight. and (since I read that Europe went through its diabetes epidemic during the Industrial Revolution, which weeded out the susceptable), they don’t even get diabetes from being fat. My mom (English-Scottish heritage) is quite plump, and way healthier at 67 than her skinny friends; no osteoporosis, no diabetes, no high blood pressure). if a Mexican American woman were as chubby as she is, she’d likely have real health problems. And Asians who gain even a tiny bit of weight are at risk of the sort of health problems that TRULY obese Europeans face.

    some of the weight gain over the last few decades is due to less smoking (“have a smoke instead of a sweet.”) and okay, liquid sugar (aka soda) is not found to be “filling” by the body the way that solid food is, so people who stop drinking it can in fact reduce. but I do think most people have a genetically set weight. everything else about our physique is genetically determined; why not that? ever tried to reduce your air intake? or your height?

    but I still blame the plastics:) and the food industry. Did you know that aluminum soda cans (including those containing DIET soda) are lined with plastic that the acidic soda leaches out? and that food containing MSG (some types of Triscuits!!) causes more weight gain than the same number of calories without the MSG?

    BTW, a very high percentage of American dieticians have eating disorders. It figures. They hate being fat, they’re obsessed with food, they’ll do anything to avoid gaining weight, and they make their living telling fat people how doomed they are, when actually being a bit overweight is associated with a greater life expectancy. agh, I know so many women who have wasted so many years of their lives dieting.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Actually, I have made a bit of a study of this, and there are ways to raise your metabolism (as in more frequent small meals, for instance). The body is an adaptation machine, and too many diets succeed in restricting calories in a way that lead the dieter’s metabolism to down regulate. There are ways to restrict calories and still not have your body down regulate, but I seldom see those prescribed. But that is a big reason most diets fail, the dieter slows down his/her metabolism during the course of the diet, and when they loosen up, the pounds often come back on quickly.

      While your plastics theory may be correct, there is more obvious culprit: the food industry. Standard portion sizes across the board in America are too large, I regularly order appetizers as main courses and maybe 1/4 of the time, even they are too large for an entree. Too much deep fried food. Too frequent desserts. I could go on here, but what is considered to be a normal diet here involves too many calories for a normal person (not sedentary, but not a sports nut either).

      1. Mary M

        Yves, I find your lack of sympathy for the overweight to be an interesting contrast to the story you ran a little while ago about the family who fell upon hard times economically. In the latter case you (as I recall) disagreed with those who claimed the family brought their demise upon themselves through mismanagement of their finances which was further exacerbated by the loss of a job.

        There are emotional and psychological reasons that contribute to overeating, just as they contribute to overindulgence in spending. Sometimes what seems to be manageable at one moment becomes unmanageable later. Often, it’s just that people don’t think about what they are doing in the course of living lives which have become more hectic and hurried.

        I, like you, was overweight in my youth, but my path to success in adulthood has not been as consistently successful as yours, so perhaps I have a little more sympathy for those who are overweight. It is a constant struggle. On the other hand, finances for me are considerably easier.

        One final thought – as others have noted, there are many ways to introduce risk into one’s lifestyle, many of which are costly to our health system. Driving while using a cell phone or any of the many other distractions available, participating in sports, drinking even moderately for some. How do we decide which to ostracize or judge others for?

        1. Yves Smith Post author


          While I recognize that there may be a tendency to demonize both the overweight and the poor, there is considerable variability in both populations. The explosion in overweight in the US to me says this is a function of diet, and we saw a shift in the 1980s to both “complex carbs are good for you” and bigger portions across the food industry.

          Another factor I neglected to mention is the use of the most common class of antidepressant (SSRIs) is associated with weight gain (I dimly recall 8-12 lbs). So certain meds are contributing too.

          And the case of the couple in rural Georgia was one of people who had never made enough to build up adequate buffers against adversity (and they lived modestly even when things were better). They were close to the edge, and a few scrapes of bad luck put then in a debt trap. Perhaps the reason I am reacting the way I am is that I see treating being seriously heavy (as opposed to moderately, that can be genetic or the result of short-term issues and more amenable to reversal) as acceptable is that it can wind up enabling it. There are no good answers here, but if you go to certain parts of the country, many of the people you see will be seriously overweight, and it is in part because it has become OK. I am not sure what the answer here is, frankly.

          1. dlr

            The prejudice in America against fat people is deep, strong, and pervasive. It is considered OK by many people to be rude and cruel, and openly derogatory to fat people, and very rarely does anyone come to their defense when they are treated badly, mocked, insulted, and made fun of, or even attacked – physically, by the playground bully. It is ‘safe’ to make fun of them, because they have been defined to be outside of the ‘normal’ group that you have to treat like real human beings.

            Most people who are fat try desperately to lose the extra weight, just so other people will treat them as normal human beings, and they still can’t do it. It isn’t a matter of lack of will power. They are desperately and truly trying – so their husbands won’t divorce them, so their children won’t be ashamed to be seen with them. The fact that they are going to die a few years earlier than they otherwise would is trivial compared to the holocast of emotional pain and discrimination that they experience every day of their lives.

  11. Chris

    Yves, your ‘Older Posts’ link at the bottom and topics links at lower right seem to be stuck in a time warp – they’ve been linking to the 5th/6th of October content for a while now (at least for me). Makes it tough to catch up if you miss a few days.

  12. Dave Raithel

    GOP parliamentary ejaculation: It is about such people that I am oft to say: Face down in a ditch, a bullet to the back of the head, is too good for some people…

  13. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

    The little dead penguin’s last words: “Not another human tourist!’

    Actually, the boat is full of movie documentary workers, scientists and nature preservers. But to penguins, they are indistinguishable from tourists. For hundreds of years since ‘first contact,’ penguins have been struggling to win recognition from humans their ‘penguin rights’ including the right to be ‘left alone.’

  14. Greg


    Would like to ask you if you could try and get a proponent of MMT, either Billy Mitchel (billy blog), L Randall Wray or Warren Mosler to come to your site and have a Q&A with bloggers or a debate with one of your usual guests about government debt and the deficit. In my study of MMT (just discovered it the last couple weeks) it is clear to me that they believe that mainstream economic discussions are incorrect regarding our debt and deficit. The problem seems to be one of using gold standard paradigm language when talking about our modern fiat system.

    I think this issue is of paramount importance because if the MMT proponents are right, we do not need to be dithering regarding direct job creation programs, govt spending or anything else which raises the ‘debt’.

    I think your readers would be thankful for the opportunity to hear what these men have to say. I know I would.

    Thank you

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