The New Social Darwinism: Companies Require Workers to Divulge Health Info so They Can Charge Overweight and Others Deemed Less Healthy

Matt Stoller warned last June that citizens will increasingly have to submit to personal surveillance to get many types of insurance and financial products. He wrote:

Profit-driven surveillance does not starts and stop with young adults. It is, in fact, becoming pervasive. The main theme of a recent IBM consulting document on the future of the insurance industry is how much more money an insurance company can make if it tracks and tags its customers…

It’s not just sensors in your car – insurance companies are modeling tighter and tighter risk chunks. IBM goes on, saying that new products “will facilitate “just-in-time insurance” as a person moves through a set of “spaces.” Each step of the journey represents a different risk such as car-to-train-station, train-to-city-station, station-to- office, and so on. Each leg of the trip truly represents a varying amount of risk.” Tracking these movements could require nothing more than downloading an app on a smart phone, or some other device. But it is literally the application of financial engineering to your very liberty, or the toll-boothing of your life.

We are moving towards that future from two separate directions. One from the employer side, where companies are increasingly requiring workers to divulge information about their physical condition, and imposing extra charges, in the form of higher health insurance charges, on ones with conditions deemed to be treatable, like overweight and hypertension. From the Wall Street Journal:

Are you a man with a waist measuring 40 inches or more? If you want to work at Michelin North America Inc., that spare tire could cost you.

Employees at the tire maker who have high blood pressure or certain size waistlines may have to pay as much as $1,000 more for health-care coverage starting next year.

As they fight rising health-care costs and poor results from voluntary wellness programs, companies across America are penalizing workers for a range of conditions, including high blood pressure and thick waistlines. They are also demanding that employees share personal-health information, such as body-mass index, weight and blood-sugar level, or face higher premiums or deductibles…

Six in 10 employers say they plan to impose penalties in the next few years on employees who don’t take action to improve their health, according to a recent study of 800 mid- to large-size firms by human-resources consultancy Aon Hewitt….

Pharmacy chain CVS Caremark sparked outrage among employees and workers-rights advocates last month by asking staff members to report personal health metrics, including their body fat, blood sugar, blood pressure and cholesterol levels, to the company’s insurer by May or pay a $600 penalty.

This is basically another tax on the poor and lower income. Weight levels in particular have become a class marker. Why? Because more affluent people can eat healthier food, in particular, more fresh vegetables and fruits (which fill you up with a lot fewer calories) and less of the highly refined and prepared foods that are cheap and not very good for you (fast food in particular, but also refined carbs like sugars and starches). In addition, affluent people are more able to have enough control over their schedule to get in exercise if they are so inclined. By contrast, lower income people who are cobbling together several jobs or reliant on public transportation have to struggle to hold their place on the economic ladder and be good parents. Eating well and taking care of themselves is a luxury they often can’t afford.

And you have the tacit assumption that if people fall outside certain norms, they are presumed to be guilty of poor lifestyle choices. And the focus on simple indicators is often misleading. For instance, new research suggests that being physically active is more important than being svelte. Heavy people who exercise regularly are often in better health than normal weight couch potatoes. And what about people who put on weight, say as the result of a forced period of restricted activity (as a result of an operation or accident) or due to aging (women who go through menopause typically put on 5 to 15 pounds even if they fight to keep it off).

But even more troubling is the intrusiveness. Once the details of an employee’s health are considered fair grounds for disclosure, it’s hard to see this development not going further and further down the path of more intrusions, and more covert and overt discrimination. And that ties into the surveillance issues that Matt Stoller raised earlier. Some behaviors are bad for your health, and I don’t mean just smoking. Having a high appetite for risk is also correlated with higher health care costs. Fortunately, we are hopefully a very long way from the health police trying to monitor condom use.

But on the other end, the public is being increasingly desensitized about putting information on view. Gillian Tett writes about how Nike and Jawbone have created a vogue for biorythm monitors where people upload and share the information. For the life of me, I can’t understand why anyone would want to know the pattern of their friends’ sleep. Perhaps this is just the Pet Rock of 2013 and will quickly tire. Tett is also perplexed, and tries putting on her anthropologist hat:

Most notably, when I was growing up as a child in England, I assumed that people would always prefer to sleep in private, unless they were with a romantic partner. To be sure, children would sometimes share bedrooms; but when somebody “grew up”, they would usually choose to sleep in their own bedroom and bed – if they had the economic means.

However, people in Tibet and Tajikistan had different assumptions. Each night, piles of people would all sleep in the same room, or tent. If somebody was not sleeping or eating well, it became a matter of wider knowledge and debate. Personally, I found that extremely intrusive. And until recently, I vaguely assumed that societies tended to shed this group pattern when they got richer and more technologically advanced. After all, the broad sweep of history suggests that most cultures have become more individualistic over time, as wealth gives people more freedom to break away from the group.

But the digital revolution could be shaking these assumptions. Never mind the fact that the younger generation today has an obsessive need to keep communicating via Twitter and Facebook, or post information online with scant concern for privacy. If young professionals in places such as San Francisco and New York now think it is “cool” to post their sleeping patterns to each other, then it would appear that the concept of cultural progress has come full circle. Suddenly we are all back in a giant electronic tent together – or at least Andy and some of his elite, wealthy friends are.

Now of course, I may simply be too deeply invested in my out, now dated, notion of culture. But the tell in Tett’s write up is the word “cool”. This is not an organic development. Fashion is created, and it’s created through marketing. Anyone who has seen any of Adam Curtis’ films, or has read up on propaganda knows the degree to which changes in social values in the 20th and 21st centuries aren’t the result of environment and need (for instance, the contention that Japan’s group-oriented society results from the demands of rice cultivation) but of marketing and public relations. For instance, surveys have repeatedly found that more engagement with the Internet is directly correlated with unhappiness. Similarly, people with more Facebook friends are typically more aggressive and narcissistic. All of this sounds terribly mal-adaptive, unless you are a big company that thrives on creating anxieties and then offers products or services that give you a short-term psychological lift.

If collective impulses were really on the rise, one would think you’d see people banding together to push back against oppressive and intrusive authority. And maybe we will see some employee groups pushing for limits on employer nosiness. But they need to move quickly before this new practice becomes firmly entrenched.

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  1. eatless

    It’s all about energy consumed versus energy used. Obese people simply consume to much, gluttony is a vice. It doesn’t help that food producers do their best to entice people to eat more of the same by adding legal chemicals to increase food addiction. Most folks are gullable enough to think that their government health organisation and the food producers have the consumers health in mind, no siree, the exact opposite is true. People have to be informed/educated of the merits of different foods and that food is about nutrition and not about eating oneself into obese oblivion, although obesity works for the medical corporations. A starter at most american restaurants provides sufficient energy for a day, the obscene size of the main portions boggles the mind, how anyone can finnish a starter AND main course in a average american restarant is beyond me. How on earth is pancakes with syrup for breakfast in any way nutritional or healthy?. Cornflakes is junk food !!!.

    1. Inverness (@Inverness)

      The problem is much more complicated. I live in a part of Canada where there aren’t many obese people. Cross the border, and you see the difference. Having public health care, better regulated food, and less poverty makes a big (ahem) difference.

      I strongly recommend you watch the BBC special “Then men who made us fat,” which investigates this matter.

    2. RepubAnon

      There were some interesting studies linking intestinal flora to obesity rates. (After weight-loss surgery, new gut bacteria keep obesity away, Reuters,

      There have also been any number of studies regarding how parasites can influence the behaviors of the host organism (Toxoplasmosis is one such:

      Wouldn’t it be interesting for someone to run a study to see whether the bacteria that live in our digestive systems can influence the types of food we crave?

      1. Marcie

        Have you read Survival of the Sickest? He also talks about host manipulation. I absolutely hate insurance companies but worse I hate pharmaceutical companies and they control the FDA, the CDC and the NIH. What we have here is a medical industrial complex and what the insurance companies are doing is looking in all the wrong places to reduce their costs. They are afraid of pharmaceutical companies and the Monsantos. They will play every trick in the book and abuse the least among us. It is we the people that have to stop them but we must first know the truth. Great post.

        1. Lafayette

          … they control the FDA, the CDC and the NIH

          Can you substantiate this accusation?

          If so, do so. Otherwise refrain from making what is tantamount to nothing more than sarcasm.

          Stick with the facts and reference them.

    3. Susan the other

      The frustrating thing is that this has been turned into such a simplistic explanation wherein the actuarial tables look at fat (not the cause of fat) and then charge extra for it. In a true health care system the analysis of obesity would be very complex, as complex as each individual and their environment combined. The most important thing for true (not fake) health care would be diagnosis – why are you gaining so much weight and is your weight unhealthy? To understand that would take an enormous investment by the health care industry – one they are not willing to make. Obviously.

      1. Lambert Strether

        So it’s not about policy at all, then, is it? It’s just about extracting rents. Next round it will be something else. We make a fundamental when we assume the elites regard us as human. They regard us as animals. To them, the United States is a feed lot. And that’s about it!

        1. Spacing Guild

          They’ve thoroughly tapped out 1984 and The Trial by this point, so they’re moving on to Erewhon now:

          But I shall perhaps best convey to the reader an idea of the entire perversion of thought which exists among this extraordinary people, by describing the public trial of a man who was accused of pulmonary consumption—an offence which was punished with death until quite recently. It did not occur till I had been some months in the country, and I am deviating from chronological order in giving it here; but I had perhaps better do so in order that I may exhaust this subject before proceeding to others. Moreover I should never come to an end were I to keep to a strictly narrative form, and detail the infinite absurdities with which I daily came in contact.

          The prisoner was placed in the dock, and the jury were sworn much as in Europe; almost all our own modes of procedure were reproduced, even to the requiring the prisoner to plead guilty or not guilty. He pleaded not guilty, and the case proceeded. The evidence for the prosecution was very strong; but I must do the court the justice to observe that the trial was absolutely impartial. Counsel for the prisoner was allowed to urge everything that could be said in his defence: the line taken was that the prisoner was simulating consumption in order to defraud an insurance company, from which he was about to buy an annuity, and that he hoped thus to obtain it on more advantageous terms. If this could have been shown to be the case he would have escaped a criminal prosecution, and been sent to a hospital as for a moral ailment. The view, however, was one which could not be reasonably sustained, in spite of all the ingenuity and eloquence of one of the most celebrated advocates of the country. The case was only too clear, for the prisoner was almost at the point of death, and it was astonishing that he had not been tried and convicted long previously. His coughing was incessant during the whole trial, and it was all that the two jailors in charge of him could do to keep him on his legs until it was over.

          The summing up of the judge was admirable. He dwelt upon every point that could be construed in favour of the prisoner, but as he proceeded it became clear that the evidence was too convincing to admit of doubt, and there was but one opinion in the court as to the impending verdict when the jury retired from the box. They were absent for about ten minutes, and on their return the foreman pronounced the prisoner guilty. There was a faint murmur of applause, but it was instantly repressed. The judge then proceeded to pronounce sentence in words which I can never forget, and which I copied out into a note-book next day from the report that was published in the leading newspaper. I must condense it somewhat, and nothing which I could say would give more than a faint idea of the solemn, not to say majestic, severity with which it was delivered. The sentence was as follows:-

          “Prisoner at the bar, you have been accused of the great crime of labouring under pulmonary consumption, and after an impartial trial before a jury of your countrymen, you have been found guilty. Against the justice of the verdict I can say nothing: the evidence against you was conclusive, and it only remains for me to pass such a sentence upon you, as shall satisfy the ends of the law. That sentence must be a very severe one. It pains me much to see one who is yet so young, and whose prospects in life were otherwise so excellent, brought to this distressing condition by a constitution which I can only regard as radically vicious; but yours is no case for compassion: this is not your first offence: you have led a career of crime, and have only profited by the leniency shown you upon past occasions, to offend yet more seriously against the laws and institutions of your country. You were convicted of aggravated bronchitis last year: and I find that though you are now only twenty-three years old, you have been imprisoned on no less than fourteen occasions for illnesses of a more or less hateful character; in fact, it is not too much to say that you have spent the greater part of your life in a jail.

          “It is all very well for you to say that you came of unhealthy parents, and had a severe accident in your childhood which permanently undermined your constitution; excuses such as these are the ordinary refuge of the criminal; but they cannot for one moment be listened to by the ear of justice. I am not here to enter upon curious metaphysical questions as to the origin of this or that— questions to which there would be no end were their introduction once tolerated, and which would result in throwing the only guilt on the tissues of the primordial cell, or on the elementary gases. There is no question of how you came to be wicked, but only this—namely, are you wicked or not? This has been decided in the affirmative, neither can I hesitate for a single moment to say that it has been decided justly. You are a bad and dangerous person, and stand branded in the eyes of your fellow-countrymen with one of the most heinous known offences.

          “It is not my business to justify the law: the law may in some cases have its inevitable hardships, and I may feel regret at times that I have not the option of passing a less severe sentence than I am compelled to do. But yours is no such case; on the contrary, had not the capital punishment for consumption been abolished, I should certainly inflict it now.

          “It is intolerable that an example of such terrible enormity should be allowed to go at large unpunished. Your presence in the society of respectable people would lead the less able-bodied to think more lightly of all forms of illness; neither can it be permitted that you should have the chance of corrupting unborn beings who might hereafter pester you. The unborn must not be allowed to come near you: and this not so much for their protection (for they are our natural enemies), as for our own; for since they will not be utterly gainsaid, it must be seen to that they shall be quartered upon those who are least likely to corrupt them.

          “But independently of this consideration, and independently of the physical guilt which attaches itself to a crime so great as yours, there is yet another reason why we should be unable to show you mercy, even if we were inclined to do so. I refer to the existence of a class of men who lie hidden among us, and who are called physicians. Were the severity of the law or the current feeling of the country to be relaxed never so slightly, these abandoned persons, who are now compelled to practise secretly and who can be consulted only at the greatest risk, would become frequent visitors in every household; their organisation and their intimate acquaintance with all family secrets would give them a power, both social and political, which nothing could resist. The head of the household would become subordinate to the family doctor, who would interfere between man and wife, between master and servant, until the doctors should be the only depositaries of power in the nation, and have all that we hold precious at their mercy. A time of universal dephysicalisation would ensue; medicine-vendors of all kinds would abound in our streets and advertise in all our newspapers. There is one remedy for this, and one only. It is that which the laws of this country have long received and acted upon, and consists in the sternest repression of all diseases whatsoever, as soon as their existence is made manifest to the eye of the law. Would that that eye were far more piercing than it is.

          “But I will enlarge no further upon things that are themselves so obvious. You may say that it is not your fault. The answer is ready enough at hand, and it amounts to this—that if you had been born of healthy and well-to-do parents, and been well taken care of when you were a child, you would never have offended against the laws of your country, nor found yourself in your present disgraceful position. If you tell me that you had no hand in your parentage and education, and that it is therefore unjust to lay these things to your charge, I answer that whether your being in a consumption is your fault or no, it is a fault in you, and it is my duty to see that against such faults as this the commonwealth shall be protected. You may say that it is your misfortune to be criminal; I answer that it is your crime to be unfortunate.

          “Lastly, I should point out that even though the jury had acquitted you—a supposition that I cannot seriously entertain—I should have felt it my duty to inflict a sentence hardly less severe than that which I must pass at present; for the more you had been found guiltless of the crime imputed to you, the more you would have been found guilty of one hardly less heinous—I mean the crime of having been maligned unjustly.

          “I do not hesitate therefore to sentence you to imprisonment, with hard labour, for the rest of your miserable existence. During that period I would earnestly entreat you to repent of the wrongs you have done already, and to entirely reform the constitution of your whole body. I entertain but little hope that you will pay attention to my advice; you are already far too abandoned. Did it rest with myself, I should add nothing in mitigation of the sentence which I have passed, but it is the merciful provision of the law that even the most hardened criminal shall be allowed some one of the three official remedies, which is to be prescribed at the time of his conviction. I shall therefore order that you receive two tablespoonfuls of castor oil daily, until the pleasure of the court be further known.”

          When the sentence was concluded the prisoner acknowledged in a few scarcely audible words that he was justly punished, and that he had had a fair trial. He was then removed to the prison from which he was never to return. There was a second attempt at applause when the judge had finished speaking, but as before it was at once repressed; and though the feeling of the court was strongly against the prisoner, there was no show of any violence against him, if one may except a little hooting from the bystanders when he was being removed in the prisoners’ van. Indeed, nothing struck me more during my whole sojourn in the country, than the general respect for law and order.

      2. Klassy!

        True. It is a very cookie cutter approach. As stated in the original post you can be healthy and overweight. What is healthy for one person may not be healthy for another. The divisions between what constitute healthy, overweight, and obese are actually fairly arbitrary.
        We don’t know for sure why some people are fat and some people aren’t. True enough that some people work at being thin more than others, but there are others that work hard and will never be smaller than a size 12.
        Some people just put on weight more easily and, I think it is also true that some people are missing signals that tell them when they are full. How can I tell someone they’ve had enough? I’m not inhabiting their body. What if to maintain a barely not overweight body you had to feel hungry all the time. Or you had to make it pretty much the focus of your life.
        What good comes of telling people that gluttony is a vice or it’s just a matter of calories in and calories out?

        1. jrs

          Yes, exactly. Sure some people work at it more, some people find strategies that keep them thinner than they would otherwise be (exercise, certain diets, personally I find ocassionally fasting a good strategy for me etc..). But your strategy may not work on me for biological AND psychological reasons and vice versa. Plus strategies that seem to work at first may backfire (you work out a lot, you overdo it, you get injured OR alternately you count calories everyday, you just can’t sustain it mentally, you gain it all back, etc.). This one size fits all strategy stuff (mostly pushed for strategies that have proven track records of NOT working very well!) is so bunk.

      3. Lafayette

        The most important thing for true (not fake) health care would be diagnosis – why are you gaining so much weight and is your weight unhealthy? To understand that would take an enormous investment by the health care industry – one they are not willing to make. Obviously.

        So we oblige them to make the investments, by means of regulatory measures. Also, consider the advertisers who puch obesity-foods and drinks on TV. We stopped cigarette TV commercials, didn’t we?

        It is, finally, a matter of the legislated regulatory environment. Otherwise, the courts will get into play when localities try to regulate access to obesity-foods. As what happened to Bloomberg in NYC, which overturned his ruling regarding over-sized sugared sodas.

        We need to get a handle on our obesity pandemic in order to stop it. For the moment, in a country obsessed with eating, we are seeing “the sky’s the limit!”

    4. Yves Smith Post author

      eatless coud not be more wrong.

      I eat less than 1000 calories a day and put on weight. Try explaining that one, Mr. Simpleminded. Oh, and I exercise a decent amount too.

      As a result of my screwed up metabolism, I’ve done the rounds and finally have gotten to people who train pro and Olympic athletes. They are up on the research, know what research is bunk and what isn’t (as in they understand test design and statistics) and can’t afford to waste time on stuff that doesn’t work. Diet is a huge component in elite sports conditioning.

      In any event, hormonal response is a big factor in weight loss/gain. People are designed to withstand starvation. So if you eat little for long periods of time (like me) your metabolism down regulates. If you start eating like a normal person after you’ve slowed your metabolism down, you get fat.

      This is why diets often fail. People eat at starvation levels and the amount they lose tapers off as their body adapts. They start eating reasonably again (as in not going crazy, just what should be “normal” caloric intake) and they get fat. They put most or all of the weight they have taken off back on.

      You have to trick your body a LOT when dieting not to have that happen. You can also use exercise (designed to produce lactic acid, which elevates your growth hormone level) but it takes specific protocols to do that.

      1. Lafayette

        YS:They start eating reasonably again (as in not going crazy, just what should be “normal” caloric intake) and they get fat.

        If one maintains a very disciplined exercise regime, they should be burning off the calories, n’est-ce pas?

        Metabolism reacts also to the manner in which the body expends energy. If not, there is indeed something very seriously wrong with the person.

    5. MRW

      adding legal chemicals to increase food addiction

      Or adding growth hormones to increase the size of the animal which doesn’t stop working once the meat or milk is inside the human.

      Of have you forgotten that this was the issue in the 2003 Florida case in which it was ruled by the Florida Supreme court that the reporters who investigated that story for Fox News did not have a leg to stand on and that Fox News was not required to tell the truth?

      In February 2003, a Florida Court of Appeals unanimously agreed with an assertion by FOX News that there is no rule against distorting or falsifying the news in the United States.

      1. MRW

        BTW, eatless, Monsanto manufactures that bovine growth hormone (BGH), and Monsanto recently secured a legal right to do whatever it wants to the food supply, including seeds. How do we know something similar isn’t hardwired into the plant molecular structure?

      2. MRW

        Then there is the issue of Bovine somatotropin (another growth hormone), which is LEGAL in this country, but not Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Israel and all EU countries.

        This stuff is in every quart of milk, and therefore milk products like yogurt, sour cream, and whipping cream, unless you make a special effort to find sources that don’t have it.

  2. craazyman

    it’s actually less expensive to eat well. There are many scholarly studies on this topic — that I’ve seen referenced in a few newspaper articles from a few years ago, or at least one news report from about 8 years ago that I remember right now, but if there’s that one, there are no doubt many many others and probably many done by academics at top universities.

    somebody bought only vegetables and beans and a a few meats and lived on, like, $40 a month. I think they fed a few people. It may have not been exactly 40 but it was a lot less than usual. Even me. I eat mostly lettuce and sardines. Except at lunch when I pig out like a vacuum cleaner on Indian food. But the vegetarian kind.

    It only takes me 45 seconds to make dinner. Dump lettuce in a bowl, dump in the sardines (and anchovies). put on olive oil and vinegar. Vinegar cost 89 cents and last about half a month. Then eat.

    You can have oatmeal in the morning and lettuce and sardines at night. Beans and rice are not expensive. You need a stove for those, but most have that. It’s much cheaper that McDonald’s or fried chicken.

    Why are they so thin over in India and Bangladesh and China? They have less money than anyone in America but they eat rice and beans and lentils.

    The issue is cultural, not financial. People get trapped in patterns of habit and imitation. After a while, if you’re not obese chewing away on fried chicken and bacon-cheddar french fries shouting at everybody to shut the f*ck up so you can finish your meal then you’re an outcast. If you anybody don’t believe me, go take a walk uptown. Or go west about 100 miles and see fat white folks, Same thing.

    1. spartacus

      Please take a look at the “Fusion on the Fly” blog, wherein a chef attempts to eat correctly on a foodstamp budget in NYC. He also takes on eating correctly as a diabetic within the limits of foodstamps.

      You’ll see that eating well and cheaply is not as easy as all that.

      1. JGordon

        Well… maybe people should not be living in NYC then? I have to say (from personal experience) living on minimum wage in south Florida and having a yard/community garden nearby to grow your own food (the climate is hot enough that year round food production is easy-and heating your house in the winter is optional) is not a difficult thing. Also, there’s plenty of healthy wild food within walking distance of where I live, from cattails to blue crabs and a lot more. All I have to do is grab the stuff and haul it home to eat, aside from the time it takes to put out traps or harvest plants. And every bare spot of ground I see, even it’s not strictly “legal”, I’m planting moringa oleifera or other highly nutritional, fast-growing “weed” plants.

        Anyway, what I am saying is that you and that chef are making a lot of assumptions about how peole have to live that aren’t true. To be honest, if you are making anywhere near minimum wage and are on food stamps, living in NYC is a pretty dumb idea. I’m not trying to moralize here, but only pointing out what I’ve been doing with myself. And as an added bonus, living like this is good training for how to provide food for you and your family after society collapses, which is what I was originally interested in. Although living for almost nothing until then (which allows me to devote more resources towards solar panels and ammo) is an unexpected side benefit.

        1. Yves Smith Post author

          Nothing like an armchair advisor.

          Did it not occur to you that moving and getting set up somewhere else 1. costs money and 2. makes sense only if you have a job which 3. is pretty much possible long distance only by spending money and time (traveling to new location to be interviewed) which 4. by definition our minimum wage person does not have?

          Did it also not occur to you that there are places in NYC where the rent is low, like Queens, and you don’t need a car in NYC?

          1. JGordon

            Well Yves, let me just say here that I’m not being an armchair adviser: I previously lived in Michigan before I came to Florida, and I arrived here knowing almost no one. Also, I do make just about minimum wage, and I have enough money to fund my home permaculture projects, attend classes in things I’m interested in, buy solar panels/ammo, and work “under the table” for non-MMT/fiat currencies which meet most of my needs unofficially. Also, if you have a low income and a family to take care, there a large number of government programs you can milk that are unavailable to people of higher income strata, which I encourage people to do while they still can.

            Second, once you’re stuck with one minimum wage job and you get used to living on that income, it’s not so difficult to find another. In fact, it’s only the “good” jobs where there is fierce competition to get. Finding any old crappy job anywhere is not so difficult.

            As for living in Queens or wherever, I think you are missing the point a bit. Here where I am living right now, I can literally find all the food I need to feed me and my family, just growing on the ground or in the water near me–and it’s easy to get. I.e, there’s a grocery store right out side my front door that’s free to use. Also, I don’t have heating bills in the winter because it almost never gets cold here. In fact, most of this winter I’ve had to run my tiny walk shaker AC unit (I do keep one room cool for myself, though my roommates do whatever they want–but they pay me so it’s fine) to be able to sleep through the night.

            Now look, I’m living relatively comfortably for almost nothing and I’m doing that by meeting most of my needs outside of this market economy that MMTers obsess over. I think the reason that you are so desperate and obsessive over all the corruption and fraud in this system (not to mention your inability to even consider the possibility that systemic monetary/social collapse is in the offing)is because you’re stuck in the mindset that the only way people can possibly meet their needs is through official monetary transactions–but I’m here to tell you that that is simply not the case. In the future, people will get by just fine without a complex monetary system and all-pervasive, all-seeing state enforcing its use and administering draconian punishments to people who try to operate outside of it.

          2. JGordon

            Well yes, System D is certainly a name for some of the stuff I do. There is also time banking, among other thing (time banking has been ruled to be a perfectly legitimate activity by the IRS by the way).

            If you take a permaculture design course Lambert, in the unit on financial permaculture you’ll likely have the opportunity to be enrolled in a local time banking organization, if there’s one available. In addition to the community food co-op I joined thanks to the introductions I got from my course, it’s on of the main things of value you can get from it. Believe me, I used to think the same way–that the only way to get things is with money. But throughout history and even today on most of this planet that is not the way people operate. It’s a difficult thing for Americans particularly to come to terms with, but it’s true.

          3. Yves Smith Post author


            You are really out of touch with what it means to be poor. You’ve got NO concept.

            Does it not occur to you that have LAND TO CULTIVATE requires owning or renting a house? That is MUCH more expensive to rent and furnish than an apartment.

            Moreover, in places where people can rent housing on the cheap (as in they have a yard), you can still have neighbors that object or not suitable space or soil. My father lived in Alabama, which in theory should be a good growing area by virtue of being warm (as in long growing season). In fact, he had 1. shitty soil (typical in Alabama, actually) 2. a plot with a lot of shade from trees and neighboring houses) and 3. not level land.

            It took him a staggering amount of effort to get a garden out of it. He had to import LOTS of manure from the local zoo and build cribs (as in create tiered plots). He also had to get a lot of advice from the state Ag department, he had trouble with diseases in some of his early crops even though he was rotating them. He could do this as a retiree. No way would this be possible for a working person. And he said his garden veg were more costly than store bought, no question. The reason he bothered was the taste (fresh broccoli is amazing, for instance), and frankly, to keep busy.

            Similarly, he tried having a garden one place we lived in Oregon. It took a full summer of work every weekend, not just him but his mother in law too, she was into gardening and wanted to grow flowers, just to get the rocks and stones out of the crappy soil. Then we moved.

          4. Lafayette

            … but I’m here to tell you that that is simply not the case.

            IF you live in Fla.

            Thankfully, not everybody does. And what you relate is soooooo special a case as to make it almost irrelevant.

            For 2013, the Federal poverty guideline is an annual income of $23,550 for a family of four. For a single-person household, one is considered poor if his or her income is $11,490 or less. Food stamp values not included.

            Today, about 15% of the American population is living below the $2.3.5K poverty-line. That’s about 47 million men, women and children in America.

            In case that sad fact did not sink in, I’ll repeat it – 47 million people.

            Now convince us that they are all surviving as Irrepressibly Happy as you are in Florida …

        2. jfleni

          The care and feeding of an “Asian-tin-tumor-roaming-and clogging-the-streets-and-gobbling-fuel” gas-buggy costs vastly more the normal living and good food expenses of a regular person.

          But outside of NYC and about a dozen other places, “forget-about-it”. To paraphrase Samuel Morse: “What hath Hank Ford wrought?”

    2. Klassy!

      I wish I was poor and /or fat and got to have so many people interested in my eating habits.

      1. Expat

        Exactly! But blaming victims is so American and it suits our policymakers just fine because they can avoid explaining why the food subsidy pyramid is the exact opposite of the food dietary pyramid, why the US does not produce enough fruits and vegetables for every American to get their “five-a-day,” why even organic produce is tainted with pesticides, why antibiotics and hormones, which are used to make animals fat and able to survive in crowded conditions are not linked to the same conditions among humans, etc. etc. But who is asking among the .1% anyway?

    3. jake chase

      Eating well is largely a matter of organizing time, not money. Two people can eat for nearly a week on a single roasted chicken, provided you eat the breast (first at dinner, then in sandwiches), use the dark meat for chicken salad (I recommend adding celery, a green apple, Dijon mustard, mayonnaise and horseraddish), make 2 quarts of stock from the bones and carcess, use the stock for vegetable soups (broccoli, carrot, potato-leek are all delicious).

      Cram additional halved gold potatoes into the roasting pan with the chicken. They will make 3-4 helpings of marvelous home fries sauteed the next morning with onion, garlic and jalapeno pepper. Serve the potatoes after five minutes under the broiler, with bacon and one egg. Voila: three hearty breakfasts. Cheese and toast on the other days. Start every breakfast with fresh fruit.

      A little Sambucca in your coffee is guaranteed to jump start your day (and your heart, too).

      Of course, if you don’t have an oven, or a stove, or a refrigerator, you need an alternative plan.

      1. upstater

        “Two people can eat for nearly a week on a single roasted chicken”

        You must be on a 1000 calorie diet. If you have a 5 lb roaster, that is 90 ounces. Probably 1/3 of the weight is not consumed and is fat which cooks off, bone and skin (the resulting broth is very low calorie). So the net from a whole chicken is about 60 ounces. Livestrong says a 3 oz serving of white meat is 140 calories and dark meat at 178, so call it 160 calories. 20 3 oz servings has 3200 calories of chicken for the week. A 3 ounce serving is pretty meagre if you do physical labor.

        If we assume a person needs ~2000 calories per day (14,000 per week, times 2 people is 28,000 calories per week), where does the additional 25,000 calories per week come from???

        This should illustrate why poor people may go for high-calorie, cheap food, especially if they live in “food deserts”.

        1. craazyman

          they wouldn’t get so rEdiculously fat if they weren’t eating thousands of calories a day.

          the math itself refutes the thesis.

          Just eat less, take leftovers home. and buy some veggies every few days.

          I don’t mean to sound insensitive. I understand the problem, but it’s a psychological problem. A problem of addiction to a way of living that surrounds you, changing that is as hard as kicking heroin. I don’t judge. I just analyze.

          It’s like a soldier in a war quitting smoking. AYFKM? But for these folks it’s an economic and cultural war, a war within the self, and that’s hard.

          1. Susan the other

            Not to sound like Susie One Note, but vitamin D helps control the desire for high calorie carbs. In October when the sun is low the only thing I want is rice or pasta. And after a week of high carbs I start to crave them. By April i’ve gained 10 pounds even tho I never eat sugar or processed food. But then we go on our summer diet which is no carbs, just lots of fresh veggies with vinegar, olive oil and fresh garlic, and stir fry with chicken or a little beef and by September we’ve lost the extra weight. I take vitamin D, but lack of sunshine still shuts me down enough to gain 10 pounds in the winter.

        2. jake chase

          Could be that’s why we’re always hungry, but, trust me, you don’t get thin on this diet. Wish I did.

    4. working class nero

      I totally agree. Below is link to a chart (Figure 1) showing that the bottom four qunitiles all have roughly the same rates of obesity and these rates have all been rising at roughly the same rate for the last twenty years. Only the top quintile and recent immigrants have lower rates. For immigrants the reasons are cultural, for the rich the reasons are strong social pressure not to look like fat proles!

    5. diptherio

      It’s not just a matter of money, as Jake points out, but also time. McDonalds may be more expensive than cooking at home, but it is way faster. If you’ve got two parents with a couple jobs apiece, or just one, then finding the time to cook and clean, besides doing everything else makes MickeyD’s look a lot better.

      Also, in the third world, my experience is that due to living in extended family units as well as to low rates of participation in the formal labor sector, people have more time and hands available for performing the basic life-maintenance tasks that we in the west have largely neglected and sought to avoid (seeing them as “chores,” I guess).

      Cooking dinner for the clan by yourself every night can be a real bummer, and hard work. But if it’s you and grandma and your daughter all making it together, it’s not nearly so stressful.

      You’re right, it’s mainly cultural and we have a junk-food culture. One might argue that our high-speed 24-7 modern economy has lead to this, along with the unrestricted advertising of processed “foods,” but I think it also has to do with the fact that we’re kinda lazy and have been told that preparing food is “hard work,” (and “women’s work” to boot). Everyone wants to be rich so that they can live a life of leisure, which includes paying someone else to prepare your meals. Unfortunately, for most of us that won’t mean having a personal chef/nutritionist preparing our daily repast, but rather a disgruntled teenager (or even more-disgruntled adult).

      My work buddy always makes a point of looking in the fridge when we’re painting someone’s interior, as a kind of informal dietary survey. We’re always shocked to find left-overs from Wendy’s and 2 litre soda bottles in the fridges of even the most hoity-toity clients. We know that they know better, and can afford better, and yet…bizarre, if’n ya ask me.

    6. Bill Smith

      Been learning more about food lately too, since I’m now on a ZIRP diet, and still plan to go to the gym, tennis and maybe even golf now and then. Or at least the driving range.

      I’ve come to the same conclusion you have – you can live on oatmeal, lettuce, sardines (or herring) beans and rice (eaten at the same time so you get complete protein like meat), tho I add a multivitamin, vitamin C pill, and a calcium- vitamin D pill just to make sure I get all that stuff. Plus a tomato because I think green and orange colors make for a prettier salad. Then add cucumber, red onion, cilantro, black olives, and a little feta cheese and I get a Greek salad that retails for $7. Two days of that and I tell myself I saved $10 and then drive to the driving range. Or play tennis twice.

      Only problem is you really don’t want to do that all the time. So that’s why I’ve researched the nearly infinite number of things that can be done with chicken. Boneless chicken breast is always on sale somewhere within 3 miles of home for $2 a lb. I ignore the stuff in the news about how chickens are mistreated (we all have our problems) and that a chicken does more steroids than Arnold Schwarzenegger and Rocky Stallone added together. Otherwise I would go completely insane.

      Since you mentioned you like Indian food, here’s a recipe for Indian Chicken. Might take half an hour to make, but worth it.

      1. diptherio

        Indian food is great on a budget. Rice, lentils and curried veggies are what whole populations live on, and it’s cheap. I learned most of my cooking skills from this guy. Lemme tell ya’, he knows how to feed a crowd for practically nothing, and it’s dee-lish.

        1. Bill Smith

          Ah yes, computer programmers waiting for that phone call from Cap Gemini Temp Tech Services Division!

    7. nonclassical

      …some of us have trained, trained others, learned nutrition, our entire lives-yet we still learn-we need to take ourselves on as a project, as Yves describes.

      I cannot eat lentils-though I love them. I am part Welsh-part American Indian, and different foods are not genetically predisposed. Doctors like to say we’re all “different”, but make their livings judging human similarity. It is necessary to train someone to their own abilities-predispositions, though nutrition can cause individuals to “change” diet-nutrition. This takes time, GOAL, and self-discipline. (not external discipline). Self-discipline relies on self-truth that all motivation is self-discipline….towit, motivation comes FROM doing-not before doing…people “want” (below need level hierarchy) to “feel” motivated before doing…when motivation comes from the feeling received FROM doing…truth..

  3. Middle Seaman

    Health is not the issue here. What really shocks is the intrusive behavior of companies. The attempt to increase the CEOs salary by squeezing lowers level workers. (The money saved by health insurance is too smaller to increase earnings substantially.) It’s also the mirror image of our executive branch being an extension of the TBTF private sector. Obama really destroyed some decency taboos that even Bush didn’t touch. (I know, every American left will blame Clinton at this point, but I am an old style lefty.)

    1. Klassy!

      It’s more hyperindividualism– your poor health is solely the result of individual choices and does not reflect the health of society as a whole. Don’t look at environmental factors, don’t explore stress levels of those at the bottom of the hierarchy, and certainly don’t suggest that we need structural change.
      A commenter here recommended The Status Syndrome. The author, an epidemiologist, used The Whitehall Studies which examines social position as a determinant of health:
      They found that surprise, surprise there is a health gradient with those at the top faring the best.
      Now, there will people that say that “of course those at the top eat better”. The author was willing to explore other ideas. Lack of autonomy was one factor leading to poor health outcomes.
      So, what is the net effect of these “wellness programs” that remove more autonomy from the individual’s life?
      I find them incredibly intrusive. Just as tracking devices in cars, what is sold as a carrot eventually becomes a stick and a condition of being insured.
      One thing is for sure, I don’t think it will make us any healthier (just as I think that those that obsessively track their caloric intake expenditure aren’t particularly healthy.)

      1. from Mexico

        I like the contrast of individual vs. structural problems you mention.

        The masters of the universe blame everything on the individual, and nothing on structure. The great conundrum is why poor people buy into this nonsense. Elijah Anderson in Code of the Street attempts to explain why poor folks, despite all evidence to the contrary, continue to buy into the fiction of rugged individualism:

        The condition of these communities was produced not by moral turpitude but by economic forces that have undermined black, urban, working-class life and by a neglect of their consequences on the part of the public…

        Any effort to place the blame solely on individuals in urban ghettos is serviously misguided. The focus should be on the socioeconomic structure, because it was structural change that caused jobs to decline and joblessness to increase in many of these communities…

        The emergence of an underclass isolated in urban ghettos with high rates of joblessness can be traced to the interacton of race prejudice, discrimination, and the effects of the global economy…

        It is understandable that the traditional old heads and other decent people of the community should focus on the idea of individual responsiblity. These people believe that whatever success they have achieved in their own lives has been the result of personal determination, and thus they are inclined to blame those who have not been successful for not having made enough of an effort. Not to blame the victim would be to make it too easy for those victims of inner-city problems. And it would give the decent people no way of distinguishing themselves from the street people. Therefore, even though the old heads are aware of the existence of discrimination and joblessness, their solution is to build up the grit of the community through the return of the decent daddy and the support of the grandmother…

        [T]he decent people are finding it increasingly difficult to maintain a sense of community.

        A vicious cycle has thus been formed [which] serves to confirm the negative feelings many whites and some middle-class blacks harbor toward the ghetto poor, further legitimating the opposiitonal culture and the code of the street for many alienated young blacks. Only by reestablishing a viable mainstream economy in the innter city, particularly one that provides acces to jobs for you inner-city men and women, can we encourage a positive sense of the future.

        1. from Mexico

          The masters of the universe also attribute their success to individual effort.

          The fact that they’ve rigged the executive, the legislature, the judiciary, the media, the academe and all other institutions of society to favor their interests has nothing to do with thier success.

          1. Inverness (@Inverness)

            Thank you, From Mexico. I worked in Harlem for a few years. It was pretty obvious why so many Harlemites are overweight, and it wasn’t because Afro-Americans in Harlem were lazy or gluttonous. They were poor, had little access to vegetables, and often over-worked. Forget about health care, except for some.

            Don’t even get me started on how the food industry has found ways to get people to crave salty and sweet foods.

            Really, it’s time for a moratorium on victim-blaming. If I were a poor person in the Bronx, I’d probably be overweight, too.

          2. Yves Smith Post author

            Yes, I looked into moving to Harlem. It was stunning how bad the stores were, Itty bitty, overpriced, and only a limited selection of sad, old veggies.

          3. Adam K.

            Every human being should be alarmed about this trend and not just the poor, although the poor are always the first to suffer the dire consequences. The elimination of freedom and privacy are clearly meant to increase profit and efficiency, and as Jacque Ellul wrote in his book “The Technological Society” has become an obsession that cannot be controlled and we see his prophecies becoming reality every day. In this clearly OCD symptomatic behavior we loose our spontaneity as living creatures and start resembling machines. The more we observe and analyze our behavior the more we alter our own nature, or maybe we simply want to recreate the human animal devoid of nature’s bugs

          4. thesystemoftheworld

            Yep, their successes are theirs and theirs alone, while their rare failures are nothing but the ugly marks left by the fetters of rules and regulations that are placed upon them by the unproductive, the jealous, the parasitic

          5. nonclassical

            from mejico-true, as most often-but let’s be honest regarding HOW it is perpetrated=intent; U.S. intends the few to “win” (winners) a few to “lose” (losers) and the majority to be the mediocrity…which was fine when a large middle-class was prioritized-enabled.

            My mother was Superintendent of large city school district my first year teaching. Feds mandated bussing, to create “equal opportunity” (it worked fairly well-federal funding was achieved. I had class of nearly all white sophs,-inner-city school. End of quarter I awarded 10 “A” grades. Our department head stormed into classroom, defining I couldn’t “give” 10 “A” grades. I showed her portfolios-validation. She defined we GRADE ON CURVE (creates winners-losers-mostly mediocrity) I was on defensive till I asked HOW these special youth arrived in my class-she stated-first quarter-year of bussing. I asked HOW students are “normally” placed-she replies, “so many “A” students to pull up “B” students, so may “B” students of “pull up” “C” students, etc. I blurted out,
            “Then you are formulating CURVE on way INTO classroom-before pencil has been put to paper..

            I realized over subsequent years this is a VIOLENT process-winners-losers-mediocrity is intended…primarily mediocrity=cheap labor force. The best students network through the “best” schools..all the way through university, where currently only 18% graduate from 4 year experience or vocational equivalent. When youth arrive in classroom first week they look around-see they are the losers, act out, clown, take drugs, alcohol…escapes one and all, from a reality IMPOSED upon them. This is violent..

            I also taught in Europe, where ALL are able (free) to attend university or vocational equivalent…the priority is “taxpayers”…over 70% graduate from 4 year university or vocational equivalent..they intend to find APTITUDE area of pursuit to create taxpayers…

            ..results, folks, are INTENDED…what did people think-believe when bushitters allowed credit card lobbyists to write new bankruptcy laws??? I thought millions of Americans were going to go bankrupt…INTENTIONALLY…

        2. jake chase

          We all agree that the system sucks. It creates challenges for every individual, many of which can be solved through individual effort. Nobody claims it doesn’t take serious effort. I figured out forty odd years ago that working your ass off to accumulate money made less sense than adjusting your life to needing less. Keep at it and one day you may discover you do not need a job at all. People do that all the time.

          Having lived in New York City through the Seventies and Eighties, I wondered why so many people found the sit com Seinfeld so funny? Every third person I met back then was Cosmo Kramer.

          My favorite example was a guy who had failed completely in advertising by age thirty-six, but supported himself for twenty years by (1) renting out half of his rent controlled apartment at a profit, (2) moving cars from one side of the street to the other for car owners off at work, (3) walking six or seven dogs every morning, (4) running errands for people in his neighborhood. For a year or two this guy belonged to a suburban golf club. He quit because he didn’t know what to say when people asked what he did.

  4. casino implosion

    “Matt Stoller warned last June” lol, as if this trend wasn’t completely obvious to anyone paying attention over the last 20 years or more.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Stuff it. Seriously. Go read his article and then deliver the 20 year old citation of a piece describing how insurance companies are pumping to monitor all the activities of ordinary people in order to engage in more granular pricing of insurance.

      1. Johnny Fraudclosure

        ‘Insurance appears simultaneously with the appearance of human society’ Better tools today, same motivations. Interestingly, in our era of housing upheavel, Banks had access not only to complete financial records of their predatory loan marks, but, they took advantage of indemnification of the privacy extended to what became their victims, In what would normally be contraindications of “lending”: mental health, physical health were conveniently excluded from so-called loan origination formalities. They knew full well how this optimized their own ability to extract. None of that was a concern of course, the mechanism of profit just needed a human placeholder to hide parasitical mechanisms. So, corporations today are mostly tyrannical shit holes in one way or another, workers grin and bear conditions for the greater good. When our favorite IT brands harvest H1B’s for servitude they make sure to get ’em as cheap as possible, and privacy can’t be permitted.

  5. AbyNormal

    We are all tired of the stress. joslin

    “While the immediate . . . response to acute stress can be a temporary loss of appetite, more and more we are coming to recognize that for some people, chronic stress can be tied to an increase in appetite — and stress-induced weight gain,” says Elissa Epel, PhD, an assistant professor in the department of psychiatry at the University of California at San Francisco.

    The problem, she says, lies within our neuroendocrine system — a brain-to-body connection that harkens back to evolutionary times and which helped our distant ancestors to survive. Though today the source of the stress is more likely to be an unpaid bill than a saber-toothed tiger, this system still activates a series of hormones whenever we feel threatened.

    “These hormones give us the biochemical strength we need to fight or flee our stressors,” Epel tells WebMD.

    The hormones released when we’re stressed include adrenalin — which gives us instant energy — along with corticosteroid releasing hormone (CRH) and cortisol. While high levels of adrenalin and CRH decrease appetite at first, the effects usually don’t last long.

    And cortisol works on a different timetable. Its job is to help us replenish our body after the stress has passed, and it hangs around a lot longer. “It can remain elevated, increasing your appetite and ultimately driving you to eat more,” says Epel.

    To further complicate matters, the “fuel” our muscles need during “fight or flight ” is sugar — one reason we crave carbohydrates when we are stressed, says endocrinologist Riccardo Perfetti, MD, PhD.

    “To move the sugar from our blood to our muscles requires insulin, the hormone that opens the gates to the cells and lets the sugar in,” says Perfetti, who directs the outpatient diabetes program at Cedars Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. And high levels of sugar and insulin set the stage for the body to store fat.

    “So people who are under stress, metabolically speaking, will gain weight for that very reason,” Perfetti tells WebMD.

    1. Massinissa

      And gee, I wonder which quintiles usually report higher stress levels? Usually the lower economic ones, which are also usually the overweight ones…

    2. readerOfTeaLeaves

      Great comment.
      I happen to know several people who live, breathe, and dream this stuff. The research on obesity is really interesting, and the neuroendocrine system is a core factor.

      Which means that there is more to the story than diet.
      Also, as people gain weight, the adipose around the abdomen begins to function as a separate organ, hijacking nutrients for the adipose cells (rather than breaking them down for energy in other cells in the body).

      If these insurance companies were serious, they’d start to realize:
      1. They ought to start lobbying this week against all forms of corn syrup, which is in most major brand soft drinks and seems to trigger metabolic problems. This would pit the insurers against the beverage industry, which would be an epic battle.

      2. They would make sure BPA is outlawed for any sort of food container. It leeches into foods, and appears to function as a trigger for metabolic dysfunction in the body. (If this involves disrupting DNA, then it’s a long term problem that the best diet in the world probably can’t solve).

      3. They would restructure their employee’s work schedules to help them build more exercise and good food into their daily routines.

      4. Genetics is apparently a factor, although it not destiny. But some people are simply more vulnerable to obesity, and once this process is set it takes a lot to turn it around. Conventional insurance programs are not set up to track this.

      5. A lot of primary care docs really don’t know how to diagnose obesity and metabolic issues; it is simply too complicated and they have too many other bases to cover.

      6. Sleep is very, very important. As is anything to reduce stress. This is because sleep ‘resets’ hormones. With the best possible diet, if you are sleep deprived and hugely stressed, you are probably going to gain weight.

      1. nonclassical

        BPA-free containers can be purchased from Canadian or European suppliers-or when you visit these countries..or, we can just use glass containers…

  6. Jim Haygood

    ‘But even more troubling is the intrusiveness. Once the details of an employee’s health are considered fair grounds for disclosure, it’s hard to see this development not going further and further down the path of more intrusions.’

    Yet another aspect of intrusiveness is prescription drug monitoring programs. These exist in nearly every state, and are linked nationally by NASPER. Ostensibly prescription monitoring prevents abuse of Oxycontin and such. But in fact, it enables insurance companies to see exactly what meds you’re on.

    Take blood pressure meds? An anti-depressant? Then you surely will pay more for health and life insurance, and maybe even for home and auto insurance too (depressed people are more likely to set the house on fire, or drive the car into a ditch, reason the insurers).

    A veteran HR manager I know just checked out of hospital. He was treated for a suicide attempt, a week after being prescribed Zoloft and wrecking his sleep. Just as extended sleep deprivation studies predict, he went nuts.

    With his HR background and early-Boomer age, he knows that his chances of being employed again are almost nil, now that his anti-depressant scrip and psychiatric hospitalization are on the record. Signing a HIPAA form is like signing your own death warrant: it’s a scam and a sham.

    Not only is it cheaper, but also buying prescription meds overseas keeps you off the NASPER radar screen. Screw the system before it screws you: feed doctors phony SSNs, buy any sensitive meds outside the USSA, and consider health tourism for surgery.

    1. AbyNormal

      so much for the neo’s spin ‘americans don’t want to work’…now we’re ‘too physically polluted to work’

      so whats next ‘americans don’t understand…work is an entitlement’

      1. Massinissa

        Well, if work becomes an entitlement, then the entitlement bashing republicans might try to destroy that too ;D

  7. Dikaios Logos

    re: Tett’s communal sleep experiences in Tibet and Tajikistan

    I’m afraid she has missed more benign explanations for sleeping together. I’ve had communal sleep experiences in tents with Tibetans and a few things come to mind. Sleep disturbances are one of the best signs of altitude sickness or illnesses made worse by altitude. Most of Tibet is very high altitude and parts of Tajikistan, especially Gorno-Badakshan (I think Tett lived there), have people living at altitudes almost high as those in Tibet. Furthermore, these high altitude regions are very sparsely populated. There is a strong tendency to make additional parts of life into social events since there are few other opportunities for contact. So I think it is possible this isn’t about the money in society, so much as it is about people in remote, inhospitable climes adapting to their environment.

    In spite of my digression, I am as baffled as Yves that anyone would want to be informed of friends’ sleep cycles. I often forget how many people are easily swayed and how marketers are often masterful at inventing ‘needs’.

    1. diptherio

      My friends from the Kathmandu valley also sleep communally. Low altitude (relatively) and LOTS of people, so I can’t agree with your hypothesis.

    2. nonclassical


      1) need

      2) want

      3) “have to”

      4) “no”..(leading back to “need” level-circuitous human treadmill)

  8. Mcmike

    Insurance is just another industry heading towards end-stage simulacra, wherein they no longer even pretend to provide a product or service in exchange for your money.

    They charge you literally whatever they can squeeze out of you, while at the same time approach a vanishing point at the horizon where they no longer actually pay any claims.

    Like many other industries, we can imagine a point when the charade simply ends, and we just turn over our money and then walk out of the store empty handed. Insurance companies no longer insure (as in assume any risk), and Walmart no longer pretends to give you crappy toxic products that are often worthless while still in the box. We just pay the bill like some weird toll.

    At that point McDonalds just gives you a teaspoon of salt and a couple ounces of corn syrup for your dollar.

    1. jake chase

      Think of it as the Coca Cola economy. You pay $3.00 for a liter of water, a teaspoon of something one legal step removed from cocaine, and enough corn syrup to derange and perhaps dissolve five hundred mice.

      Meanwhile, of course, the Stock continues doing quite nicely, at least for the executives and board members who continue to get it for free.

      1. McMike

        At some point, it moves beyond even the Monty Python “dead parrot” routine. At the final stage, you line up to insert a dollar bill in the Coke machine, and then immediately walk away.

    2. Jagger

      –They charge you literally whatever they can squeeze out of you, while at the same time approach a vanishing point at the horizon where they no longer actually pay any claims.–

      Absolutely. The new American economy. I don’t see how it is healthy for society or sustainable.

    3. from Mexico

      Mcmike says:

      They charge you literally whatever they can squeeze out of you, while at the same time approach a vanishing point at the horizon where they no longer actually pay any claims.

      Except when it comes to insuring the reckless and derelict behavior of the masters of the universe. Insuring those guys was like writing a $13 trillion life insurance policy for a five-pack-a-day, two fifths of bourbon, 12 Big Macs a day, 800 pound blimp with severe degenerative heart disease and AIDS.

      But AIG did it.

      And of course when AIG couldn’t pay the claims, who was it that picked up the tab to pay Goldman Sachs?

  9. diptherio

    As they fight rising health-care costs and poor results from voluntary wellness programs, companies across America are penalizing workers for a range of conditions, including high blood pressure and thick waistlines. are also demanding that employees share personal-health information, such as body-mass index, weight and blood-sugar level, or face higher premiums or deductibles…

    ?? :-)

    1. Don Levit

      The wellness programs are probably what the author is referring to regarding “discrimination” in premiums.
      By the ACA law, premiums can vary only by age (slowly growing each year to cap out at a 64 year old paying 3 times what a 21 year old pays), by region, by family size, and up to 1.5 times the “normal” premium for smokers.
      To qualify as a “wellness program,” it cannot be discriminatory. For example, if a health standard is necessary, it must be reasonably possible for the person to attain it, or another health standard must be tailored for that person. Premiums can range to as much as a 50% discpount off of traditional pfremiums, with wellness programs.
      What is wrong with rewarding people for a healthy lifestyle?
      Through adjusted community rating, the sicker and older are getting a break on premiums, while the younger and healthier are forced to pay more than under the current system.
      Don Levit

  10. HS

    “And maybe we will see some employee groups pushing for limits on employer nosiness. ”

    And maybe we’ll see leprechauns riding unicorns over rainbows. As many times as you’ve seen this movie before, I’m somewhat surprised that you haven’t figured out the plot.

    First, we’ll get hit the new charges that result from Obamacare, which is simply a subsidy for the insurance and pharmaceutical industries. Next, the teevee will start showing stories about how the insurance companies have no choice but to raise rates, due to all of the unhealthy Americans. Any resistance to participation in employer health interrogations will be stigmatized, by being portrayed as an attempt by the “fatties” to get a free ride on the backs of the “healthy.” Divide and distract–there’s nothing new here. As usual, the idiots will fall for it and 5-10 years down the road, we’ll have mandatory drug testing for non-narcotics like blood pressure drugs, anti-depressants, anything else Big Pharma needs to sling to hit their margins.

    1. PrairieRose

      “Divide and distract”–hear, hear. Well said, HS.

      I think we all could see this coming. When are we going to say “enough”?

      I don’t remember when I learned this, but I’ve always felt that if my neighbor doesn’t have the freedom to do as she or he wishes with her or his life, then neither do I. Wasn’t that supposed to be The American Way?

      We lost all of our privacy decades ago. It’s cool now to have every aspect of our lives scrutinized by people we don’t know–even to the extent of being photographed naked every time we get on an airplane. And half the time we voluntarily allow these invasions. At some point, I have to hope that this awful pendulum starts to swing the other way. Meanwhile, folks, better start getting used to having the insurance companies’ monitors in every crevice of your home, workplace, public locale, your neighbors’ homes, your autos, all to protect you from your bad choices (the term “bad” having different connotations depending on whom is The Decider). Thanks, FaceBook–oops, I mean Big Brother.

  11. diptherio

    One of my college friends told me that she had come to the conclusion that, whatever particular subject one chooses to study, one will always decide that that area of human life somehow explains all the rest. Tett makes this mistake, assuming that economics and financial status are somehow determinative of non-economic cultural variables. Sometimes though, a cigar is just a cigar.

    My friend Gorkha is from the Rammechaap district of Nepal. In his early twenties he traveled out of the country to work; first to Palau, then to Kuwait. On one occasion, when we both happened to be back in Nepal at the same time, we got together for a cup of tea. He told me the worst thing about working overseas: sleeping alone.

    Ever since he was born he had been sleeping with other people. As an infant he had slept with his parents, as a child with his siblings, and as an adult with his wife. He had literally never slept alone before, and he said it was the hardest thing he ever had to do. “So lonely, brother,” he said to me, “so cold.”

    Having spent a good deal of time in Nepal, I’ve had a few communal sleeping experiences myself…and they all sucked. Couldn’t sleep a wink. Even when I sleep with a romantic partner I have to be as far away from them in the bed as possible.

    My point is this, the sleeping thing is cultural: it’s based on tradition and nothing else. We like to sleep how we like to sleep ’cause that’s how we grew up doing it: we’ve been conditioned. And whichever way we grew up sleeping, alone or jointly, is simply a matter of how mom and dad did it, which is just a function of their upbringing and resultant conditioning. It is not reducible to some other cause and does not require any other explanation.

    1. McMike

      Re culutral sleeping.

      Yes. I wonder if “sleeping alone” started in the Victorian era, about the time we whities decided that bodies are icky and children are merely barely tolerable nuisances.

      In other words, it is a symptom of pathology.

      Except about the kids… I can see their point sometimes on that one.

      As parents, we followed the “attachement” route. co-sleeping, family bed, etc. I still don’t understand how it cannot feel “right” to have your young children sharing your space and synchronized cycles. Hell, it’s not as if couples with young kids are getting much sleep or any nookie anyway.

      1. diptherio

        A friend of mine and her husband also slept with their child for the first few years. They both thought it was great, but apparently they got a lot of shocked, nay appalled, reactions from both their parents and their more traditional-minded friends. You’re probably familiar with that experience.

        1. McMike

          Oh yeah. To that adage about religion and politics, you can add: never talk about parenting.

          Attachement parenting for some reason is highly controversial and so of course caricatured.

          It is almost an alternative lifestyle in our day and age: extended breastfeeding, baby wearing, cosleeping, minimal medical interventions, healthy diet, child-led transitions, no “cry it out” bedtime, stay-at-home parenting, positive consequence discipline…

          Any time you choose to buck the mainstream, you can expect to be attacked. I personally don’t judge other parents and whatever they choose, if they are being thoughtful about it and it feels right to them.

          But there seems to be something inately threatening to other people about attachement parenting.

          I suppose it is not unlike talking about the housing bubble in 2006. People don’t just ignore you or disagree with you; they attack you.

          1. diptherio

            Yes, one has to wonder if they are not feeling a little bit guilty about not spending enough time with their kids, and projecting that onto you: feeling like you’re judging them when it’s actually them judging them.

            I’ve gotten the same, bizzarely hostile, response to things like being a vegetarian and an anti-materialist. People assume that because they think everyone should live like they do and because they judge those who don’t, that you must also do the same. Non-conformism is often seen as critique, even if you don’t try to present it that way.

            People…what can ya do?

          2. jake chase

            Novelist Thomas Wolfe (Look Homeward Angel) slept with his mother until he was eight years old.

            [then he slept with his sister] No, I’m joking about that part.

        2. ohmyheck

          @ McMike: In addition to being judged for having one’s child sleep in one’s bed, try breastfeeding long-term. I breastfed both my children til they were age 3, and everyone thought I was out of my mind.
          They are probably correct abour being out of my mind, but not for that reason…

  12. Jerry

    What my employer did was give the employees who filled out health information form a break on their insurance premium and we who chose not to release information were required to pay a much larger premium. Nonetheless, I decided it is none of my employer’s business and didn’t want my health information distributed without my consent.

    1. reslez

      My employer requires the same sort of health information in exchange for a contribution to the employee’s HSA. Next year our only health ‘insurance’ option will be the HSA so it’ll affect me too.

      I find it best to avoid doctors generally since they only thing I seem to get out of them is a bill for $250. It doesn’t matter how good my ‘insurance’ is, it’s always the same bill. Sort of like the car mechanic: Everything costs $400. At least when it comes to car repair everyone walks in expecting to be ripped off.

      1. Nathanael

        FWIW, the entire health care system in the US is on the verge of collapse. The insurance companies will collapse first, then the drug companies, then the hospitals. I’m not sure what will come next, but get a passport and make sure you can drive to Canada or Mexico.

  13. allcoppedout

    Social mice tend to have a lousy boss that keeps the rest in ‘penury’ even in good times. If you take one of the poor male mice, feed it like the boss, train it as a fighter and then put it back in the system it kills the old boss and then does all the old boss’ stuff.
    Mice given gut bacteria from mice that had a gastric bypass lose 5% of body weight over two weeks. Mice stripped of a small gene sequence don’t put excess weight on even on fast food diets.
    Most science now indicates epigenetics has a role in ‘size’ – classic is the study of the children born to starving Dutch women at the end of WW2. They tend to fat and we can see the methylation.
    Instead of science we get lifestyle advertising and crank diets. It’s obvious we can starve ourselves thin but we continue to have this sold to us.
    Are the fast food and snack manufacturers the same people wh own ‘Weight-Watcher Inc’? Arms manufacturers selling to both sides?
    There is vast “moral” pressure to be thin and think it’s your fault if you are fat. This has been true since I was a kid and the figures tell us we get worse and worse. I doubt the figures somewhat when I see kids at school with my bean-pole (junk food, sweet mashing, idle) grandson pour out of the place when I pick him up – there are few ‘fatties’.
    With all the advances in technology and productivity I’ve seen we have made it harder and harder to be happy. We look increasingly similar to livestock under stress – indeed we might be better off under a farmer than many of today’s HR/PR managers.

    1. reslez

      It’s interesting when you read 19th Century literature and see how concerned the characters are with morality, charity, and being (or appearing to be) good Christians. Today the whole landscape has been radically restructured. We care about weight and diet instead. Instead of good souls we want thin thighs. Instead of doing poor relief we take cooking classes. We give the same moralistic lectures but they’re about cellulite. The same patronizing disguised hatred of the poor but it’s about foisting vegetables on them instead of culture and Christian religion. I suppose the War on Poverty and modern welfare schemes lessened the need for those things, and fat shaming took its place.

  14. diptherio

    Here’s my explanation of why younger folks are so keen to share everything about themselves on-line: I think it is a cultural reaction to the de-socialization of our society. As Greg Brown puts it:

    We give up on Love so fast,
    we travel out so wide and so far.
    We dream of no future and we love no past,
    Grandma don’t know where all her great-grandchildren are.

    Our industrial, modern society has succeeded (perhaps inadvertently) in tearing apart most of the human bonds that were, in the past, what gave life its meaning and joy. Our family units have been atomized, child care and upbringing have been largely delegated to the market, along with the care of our aged and sickly. Between trying not be be left behind in the rat-race of work and attempting to “keep up with the Joneses,” most people no longer have the adequate unstructured time to spend with friends and family, building the bonds and relationships that are the glory and radiance of human existence.

    People feel this lack subconsciously and try to fill it through whatever mechanisms are available. Sharing personal information on facebook or uploading your bio-data to the Nike site are the modern equivalent of gossiping at the local coffee-shop. We no longer see each other face-to-face on a regular basis and so we share on-line to try to fill that need. We want to reach out to each other, but the requirements of modern life mitigate against deep relationship. This is the result.

    It is a sad commentary on the state of our culture that families generally only get together as a group when one of their number dies. But this state of affairs is, strictly speaking, inhuman, and so our humanity resists. I think this is what also drove much of the Occupy movement. It was a subconscious attempt to reconnect with one another on a fully human level, without regard for the boundaries and limitations of modern industrial society.

    1. McMike

      re Greg Brown.

      Yowza. Whenever this topic comes up of the fourth order simulacra of contemporary commerce, I think of Greg Brown too:

      “there’ll be one corporation selling one little box/
      it’ll do what you want and tell you what you want and cost whatever you got.”

    2. nobody

      “I think this is what also drove much of the Occupy movement. It was a subconscious attempt to reconnect with one another on a fully human level, without regard for the boundaries and limitations of modern industrial society.”


    3. nonclassical

      …what drove occupy…

      well, it certainly wasn’t knowledge of the issues=Wall $treet fraud…all OWS denizens spoke was “process”…as an obvious “way” of defeating power processes that marginalize them…unfortunately OWS process is neither enlightened, nor empowered…university campuses were the correct venue..and with plenty of issue orientation and in your face (yes men-like) comedy, spiced with nudity=publicity…

  15. Curtis

    Thnk you all, bloggers. This has been a really interesting and informative discussion. Sort of like civilized.

  16. JS in SD

    What a crock. It costs me a LOT less to eat healthy than it would to eat fastfood or the other highly processed garbage. The last time I checked a 1/4 lb burger, fries, and cola at BK or McDs cost about $6.00. A reasonably healthy meal costs a lot less than that. Salmon sells for about $9.00/pound so a 1/4 lb costs $2.25. A 5 lb bag of potatoes costs $2.00 with approximately 20 potatoes in the bag. So one baked potato costs about $0.10. A huge helping of spinach will cost about $0.50. One mango typically costs $1.00. For a drink a glass of green tea or ice tea (no sugar) costs about $0.50. So the total cost for a healthy meal is about $4.35, which could be easily lowered further by replacing the salmon with cod, mackerel, or trout and replacing the mango with an apple. Or if someone wants a less healthy meal they could replace the salmon with porterhouse steak which sells for about $9.00 per pound. So a 1/4 pound portion of steak would also be $2.25.
    The reason a higher percentage of poor people are fat or obese is because they make bad decisions, which is also why many of them become poor.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Did it not occur to you that poor people are also time stressed, and that it take time to shop and cook? I eat a lot of prepared food (cooked fish or fish soups from local vendors, sometimes tofu, and steamed veg) because I am have no time to cook if “cooking” takes more than five minutes.

      1. pws

        I came to the radical conclusion a few years back that my weight problem was not caused by “eating too much” but by skipping meals, specifically never eating breakfast.

        When I put my theory into practice, and began ruthlessly carving time out of my schedule to eat a nutritious breakfast, I lost 40 pounds (it took a long time, losing weight fast is a horrible idea and very unhealthy, even if it will win approval in the eyes of people like Lone Rider.)

        It’s too bad we aren’t talking about health though. If we were, we’d be more concerned with exercise than food, and more concerned with health than weight. We are talking about the FIRE sector trying to become more extractive… we may as well just try reading “the scorpion and the frog” again.

    2. jake chase

      Well, some of them lack ovens, or stoves, or refrigerators, or even walls or roofs. I doubt the system could survive without a large number of poor and destitute people.

      The quadrupling of energy prices from 1968-72 was probably engineered by the top dogs, who were frightened by the increasing number of people dropping out during the Sixties.

      Making life exponentially more expensive cured the problem within five years.

      Or do you believe that four Arabs pissed off at Israel did this all by themselves?

    3. Lambert Strether

      The reason a higher percentage of rich people are evil is because they make decisions that are bad for others, which is also why many of them became rich.

      True or false? Is the reasoning the same, or different?

    4. cwaltz

      Actually you can get a burger, fries and a drink for around $3.50 with tax off most value menus. I’d be hard pressed to create that for the same cost.
      Part of the problem is that you are looking at bulk price savings when a lot of people who are poor may not have the means to invest in the initial cost of that $9 salmon, $2 bag of potatoes, $3.50 bag of spinach. All of the products you listed with the exception of the mango may come out as cheaper per serving but their initial costs exceed that $3.50 meal. Add the convenience of buying something that does not force you spend time cooking it to consume after putting in a full day and you likely have the reason that a poor person might choose to eat out instead of cook themselves.

    5. cwaltz

      Poor decision making is a small component of why people remain in poverty. If it were a cause though then people like Noelle Bush(who got caught lifting a perscription pad) or Dick Cheney( who got caught drinking and driving) would ALSO be poor.

      They aren’t. The fact that they had money insulated them from the consequences of their bad decisions. The poor don’t get that luxury. Our safety net for those in poverty is so thin that one mistake or bad decision can lead to remaining in the ditch known as poverty forever. I think its an absolute fallacy to suggest that the poor are poor because they lack the ability to make good decisions an

      1. from Mexico

        There is a massive, full court press by the Republican Party and the DLC to demonize poor people.

        The theory behind the campaign to brand all poor as “undeserving poor” is reviewed in a paper titled “Reciprocity and the Welfare State” by Christina M. Fong, Samuel Bowles and Herbert Gintis. It can be found with a Google search.

        If the rich are going to kill welfare spending, it is absolutely necessary for them to demonize the poor, which explains why they spend so much money, time and effort to demonize the poor:

        In commenting on this fact Martin Gilens (1999):1,2 observes that “Politics is often viewed, by élites at least, as a process centered on the question ‘who gets what.’ For ordinary Americans, however, politics is more often about ‘who deserves what’ and the welfare state is no exception.”


        To mobilize rather than offend reciprocal values, policies should recognize that there is substantial support for generosity towards the less well off as long as they have provided or tried to provide a quid pro quo and are in good standing… Persistent poverty is often the result of low returns to these socially admired behaviors: low wages for hard work, a low rate of return on savings, costly access to credit for those wishing to engage in uncertain entrepreneurial activities, and educational environments so adverse as to frustrate even the most diligent student. Policies designed to raise the returns to these activities when undertaken by the less well off would garner widespread support.

        1. rich

          America Is Ruled by Billionaires, and They Are Coming After the Last Shreds of Our Democracy
          America is a plutocracy through and through — what are we going to do about it?

          The American version of plutocracy is noteworthy for its crassness. Subtlety, discretion and restraint are foreign to it. It has a buccaneering quality. That style has roots in the country’s history and culture. Much of the behavior is impulsive, grasping. Individuals are greedy for vivid displays that they are top dog, of what they can get away with, as well as the riches themselves. There is little interest in building anything that might endure – no ‘new order,’ no new party, no new institutions. Not even physical monuments to themselves. Why bother when the existing set-up works so well to your advantage, to that of your like-minded and like-interested associates – when you can turn ideas, policies and money in your direction with ease. And while the public is blind to how they are being deluded and abused. After all, the more things appear to stay the same, the more they can change in a country whose civic ideology imbues everyone with the firm belief that its principles and institutions embody a unique virtue. To challenge any of that would be to run the risk of raising consciousness – which is the last thing that the plutocrats want.

          There are exceptions. The most stunning is Wall Street’s biggest players’ audacity in coopting a part of the NYC Police Department in setting up a semi-autonomous unit to monitor the financial district. Funded by Goldman Sachs et al, managed by private ban employees in key administrative positions, and with an explicit mandate to prevent, as well as to deal with any activity that threatens them, it operates with the latest high tech equipment out of a dedicated facility provided by its sponsors. The facility for years was kept “under the counter” so as not to tempt inquisitive parties to expose it. This is the unit that coordinated the squelching of theOccupy movement’s Manhattan demonstrations. It represents the appropriation of a public agency to serve and to serve under private interests.

        2. LifelongLib

          If the rich think welfare is expensive, they should get a load of what a full-employment economy and genuine wealth redistribution would cost them. They’d be happy to bring back the welfare state.

          1. cwaltz

            And that ultimately may be where this leads…..

            It used to be easy to demonize concepts like socialism as “unfair” but I’ve found that no one can provide an answer for me when I ask how fair is the capitalist system when you have a CEO who decimates a company’s value and reaping millions, while a man who labors hard for a company for 17 years ends up with a pink slip and 6 months unemployment? How fair is it this system that rewards the bankers, the so called financial experts, who loaned money out without any regard to paying it back, with millions while putting defenseless children into homelessness when their families home note came due? How fair is a system that allows a family of 6 to hoard the wealth equivalent to over 30% of the population simply by birthright?

            The jig is up. This version of capitalism is not “fair” either.

        3. Nathanael

          The campaign to demonize the poor is doomed to fail.

          It would, honestly, probably work *if there were sufficiently few poor people*.

          However, the kleptocrats are busily trying to drive the middle class into poverty. Once 99% of the population is poor — or even 95% — the propaganda line fails, because you can’t convince the 99% to demonize themselves. (Well, Christianity and some other religions managed to do it, but it requires the *full* brainwashing apparatus of a religion.)

          1. LifelongLib

            Dunno. It seems like the people who demonize the poor the most are those who are next door (health crisis, job loss) to being poor themselves. The wealthy demonize all the non-wealthy, not just the poor. They only pretend otherwise for political reasons.

    6. anon

      You clearly don’t grok poverty if you think a poor person can afford $20/day for food. I eat $5/day in food (with the occasional splurge, budget permitting) — mainly rice, dried beans, pasta, potatoes, bread and vegtable oil bought in bulk. Meat and vegetables are an expensive luxury. I eat a bit chicken and veggies, but it’s a small part of my 1,500 calories/day. Even on that I can gain weight if I don’t exercise vigorously. I think a diet high in carbs and fat just naturally tends to fatten you up for the same amount of calories (maybe it changes your epigenetic profile after a few months). People in Asia eating these diets do much more manual labor, walking and bicycling to burn off the calories. Thankfully I have to bicycle about 50 miles/week (well, not so thankfully because my left knee is shot and in agonizing pain… no choice but to soldier on).

      Someone with a car working in a sedentary job could maybe gain 20 kg/year eating like I do, depending on their baseline metabolism. But you’re probably right when it comes to obese people in the lower middle-class range. People earning $30k-$60k per year tend to eat out a lot, everything from fast food to Outback Steakhouse (some grotesque bloomin’ onion thing). They also eat a lot of packaged food such as microwave dinners/snacks, chips, soda, etc. They easily woof down 4000-6000 calories/day (especially counting booze) without being anywhere near active enough to burn it off. But don’t for a second label these people as ‘poor’, not unless you’re a billionaire “master of the universe” looking down from Mount Olympus. I’m poor, damnit! To me those people are living like kings.

    7. washunate

      Here, fixed the order of your paragraph:

      The reason a higher percentage of poor people are fat or obese is because they make bad decisions, which is also why many of them become poor.

      What a crock.

  17. PQS

    I think the tendency to overshare is just plain selfishness and narcicissm, which are not only rampant in our society, but also richly rewarded. (see: Wall street et. al.) Yesterday I read about a blog called something like “STFU, Parents” by a childless woman tired of the endless blather from friends about every waking moment of their precious offspring, up to and including twitter photos of bowel movements. Perhaps her impulse will spread to employees and intrusive BS from insurance companies….

    I, too, and tired of this kind of thing, and can’t imagine sharing that much personal data online. It seems imprudent in any case, not to mention way over the line of oversharing and into just bragging and boasting. Neither of which are flattering traits. Why can’t people just be comfortable in their own selves? Why the constant need for honor and justification from the “online community”?

    It’s just another way we run a sick society.

    On another note, the insurance companies and employers are setting themselves up for a result that neither can forsee: imagine that society might just change if monitoring everyone in a big company shows that it is stress and poor management that causes overweight, and that overwork isn’t just confined to the “lower classes.” Sure, sleek tech companies full of 20somethings are all slim and trim, but companies with overworked middle-aged employees commuting 50 miles a day aren’t going to have the same results…nevermind, I’m sure such research will get bought off by McDonald’s and Kraft.

  18. Eric

    Can we stop with the “fast food is cheaper than healthy eating” nonsense? On a calorie by calorie basis, sure I guess a $1 fountain drink that you refill 3 times at McD’s is about the cheapest calories you can get, but a 10 lb bag of potatos costs $5 at the same store that charge $3 for a 12 oz bag of potato chips. A small fry at McD’s is $1.40 or so, and only 2.5 oz. Anyone who honestly thinks that a place with a 10% fee off the top just for franchise royalties can compete with even a corner grocery store has never done the math.

    1. povertyliner

      Again with the know-it-all lecturing. Take it from someone who knows what it’s like to be poor in 2013.

      All these ideas people have about how poor idiots just don’t know how to manage are the real nonsense. Next we’ll be getting advised to “grow our own vegetables,” as though soil, fertilizer, seeds, starts and spare time don’t add up to food that costs ten times what it does at a supermarket.
      If you don’t know firsthand what it’s like to survive on three part time jobs, coming home exhausted, hungry and demoralized every day, worried about health, the car, and waiting for the landlord to sell the building out from under you, then you can’t imagine why someone would “choose” to fill up with the easiest and most instantly hunger-eliminating thing possible. Many nights that’s pre-prepared food. Even for those of us lucky enough to have a stove and a freezer, and guess what? That’s not everyone, by any means.

      I think the problem here is that you probably are thinking you know poor from remembering being young. But there’s no similarity between the temporary youthful budget life we all can remember, and actual permanent grinding working-poor reality so many of us are living in now. Kudos to Yves for wading as often as she does into this liberal-elitist pile of comments to correct some of you guys’ inability to see beyond your own advantaged situations.

      1. PQS

        Amen, brother/sister.

        The sanctimonious high horsery around here can be very tedious.

        Anyone who feels the need to lecture the poor about how “easy” it is to prepare food hasn’t spent much time either poor or with the poor, many of whom work ten times as hard as anyone at a keyboard, and for much, much less pay.

        And when was the last decade the “home ec” was taught in the public school (OR at home..)? There are people who don’t know HOW to cook, much less what to prepare or have enough money to buy it. Blaming them for not wanting to spend time learning to cook on top of a 50 plus hour week, plus commuting and a stressful neighborhood isn’t the answer. Not when the 1% are busy looting the rest of us while they relax at the spa.

      2. Eric

        Being too exhausted to cook your own food is totally different from the claim that fast food being the cheaper option. Fast food is not cheaper than grocery food. Bottom line. It may be the fastest, cheapest, and easiest option after you’ve weighed the options between expending limited time resources against limited monetary resources when deciding what to eat. I will not argue that.

        1. Massinissa

          Youre thinking of solely monetary cost, not the ‘cost’ of time, which poor people just so happen to not have either.

      3. from Mexico

        @ povertyliner

        In the mind of many a middle-class person the poor are dining out at some five-star restaurant every night, all on their dime. You know it’s all that stuff Reagan started about the welfare queens.

        The poorest quintile of households spends a whopping $1041 per year eating out. That’s $87 per month, $20 a week. What will that get you? A meal for the family once a week at McDonald’s?

        I think folks like Eric are so detached from reality that they’ve departed from this earth. They live in an imaginary, fact-free world. Of course he’s not totally to blame. There’s a massive, right-wing propaganda machine operated by the Republicans and the Rubinite wing of the Democratic Party that does everything in its power to keep folks like Eric misinformed.

        1. Inverness (@Inverness)

          I like “poorsplaining.” i think we should try to spread this around;)

      4. reslez

        Thanks for your comment. The level of “poorsplaining” in this thread was becoming unbearable.

      5. cwaltz

        I suspect that some here have never experienced real poverty. They’ve never had to take money from their grocery budget to get a tire patched so they can get to work and then think I’ll worry about that grocery money tomorrow because right now I have to figure out how to get through today, and today means fixing the car so I can earn income.

        People who live in poverty often plan ahead, it’s too bad the universe doesn’t always accomodate them and when that happens they go into crisis mode which means functioning on a day to day basis.

        1. Inverness (@Inverness)

          i forgot a very interesting detail about EDUCATION. A fellow teacher was provided with MANY corporate-developed teaching materials which pretty blatantly extolled the virtues of Coca-Cola and Crispy Creme donuts, as a prelude to discuss which companies kids should “invest” in for the stock market game. Crispy Creme was introduced as an obviously high-quality product.

          This is pernicious stuff. Not all teachers would take the teachable moment to ask students what’s wrong with this particular situation. This is far worse than the Joe Camel ads of the 1980’s. Everybody knows smoking is bad. But to sneak this pro fast-food stuff into teaching materials suggests that these dangerous products are not only sound investments, but they’re friendly enough to teach.

  19. ScottS

    1. Two-income trap
    No one at home to cook a healthy meal and spend time at quality markets. This isn’t a dig at the ladies — I think they need more equality on the job front, not less.

    2. Commute times
    Especially on the lower end of the economic spectrum, people have to live out in the boonies to afford a decent home, but all the jobs are back in civilization. So one- or two-hour commutes are the norm, sucking up time and money — both of which could be spent on the kids and their diet.

    3. Processed food
    ‘Nough said.

    4. Cola with every meal
    Seriously, what’s wrong with lemon water or unsweetened iced tea? I used to be a soda addict, but I kicked the habit. Combined with regular exercise and a ban on fast food, I lost 40lbs.

    5. Sedentary lifestyle (at work, at home)
    Even for those who break the sedentary mold, it’s regimented and corporatized gym exercise.

    6. Nuclear family
    Families with three generations have granny-nannies or aunt and uncle nannies can pool their resources and take turns watching the kids so the parents can have some down time or work longer, etc. And keeping it within the family means no awkward barrier between the “nanny” and kids.

    Can we just admit that health insurance (for profit) is a racket? I would just cancel my health insurance and pay my own way, but I can’t without the twin penalties of Obamacare and the higher rack-rate.

    My solution? The 35-hour work week and higher minimum wage. And socialized medicine, like the developed world has.

  20. Duncan Hare

    “stress and poor management that causes overweight, and that overwork isn’t just confined to the “lower classes”

    Ah, and the wage slaves have to pay a premiun becuse of poor management. Why should the management change? It’s not their money being extracted.

    My health plan is from Kaiser Permanante, where the doctirs practice preventative medicne. However, preventative medicine and weigt loss is not practiced so much that all Kaiser’s employees are slim and trim. I wonder when “Physician heal thyself” will become their compny policy and practice?

    1. from Mexico

      Drilling down a bit on the BLS report, I see where food consumption for the lowest quintile of households is subsidized, probably by food stamps and other welfare, which brings total household food consumption for the poorest quintile to $3483 per year.

      The richest households only spend $97,382 of their $167,012 after-tax income, which brings total household food consumpiton for the richest quintile to $11,115 per year.

      1. cwaltz

        So essentially the really poor spend less than $10 per day on food and at that only $5 of that $10 could potentially be spent on fast food(for the most part food stamps or subsidized food spending can not be used on prepared food- I do think there was a test market to allow it though.)

        Meanwhile the really wealthy spend $30 a day on their food. I wonder why that is if “healthy” food is so very cheap? (oh wait- it isn’t- lean hormone free beef is $6 a pound. An organic pepper not sprayed with pesticides can cost $2. Pus free milk that hasn’t been polluted by hormones is $6 a gallon. And buying OTHER than hormone free non pesticide laden means you may very well be putting chemicals in your body that can contribute to hormone imbalances that leads to- wait for it- obesity.

        1. jrs

          I think food stamps CAN be used on fast food, I noticed it when all the pizza joints and so on started advertising they accepted EBT cards (foodstamps), I found it disconcerting in many ways.

          1. cwaltz

            You are likely in a test market area. When I was a cashier at Walmart, food stamps couldn’t even be used on rotisierre chicken. Anything deemed “prepared food” was off limits(which was really odd because you could purchase soda, chips, or candy with the card.)

            Some prepared foods aren’t any worse for you than the boxed shelf foods or frozen stuff that is allowed. And while it would be ideal to have someone cook from scratch it isn’t always practical.

  21. Eureka Springs

    I would consider penning titles a bit more precisely than this post. Such as:

    Government Allows Companies to To Require…

    This reminds everyone where the only entity which can control what corporation can or cannot do. And it reminds people that currently / systemically government and corporations are one in their neoliberal fascism.

    Wonderful post and thread… While reading it I ate part of a bag of Kettle chips (which cost a dollar for 8.5 ounces) while taking breaks between planting brussel sprouts, purple cabbage, onions, spinach, cilantro, lavender, radish, chard, green beans and oregano in the garden today.

    Gardening is terribly expensive and time consuming even years into an established plot. Canning is really cost prohibitive.

    And I’ve read the AR legislature in a rare Saturday session is about to decriminalize me by legalizing production/purchase of whole cow milk from my eighty year old neighbor. I will save money on all dairy items and save fuel since the grocery store is 14 miles round trip…my neighbor is 3 miles RT. That’s potentially 500 miles a year I won’t be driving… and hundreds more dollars I will save making my own cheese, yogurt, keifer and such.

    1. Nathanael

      In actual fact, companies can simply ignore the government and get away with it frequently. The title of the article is accurate.

      If we’re getting philosophical, any entity with the power to set its own rules IS a government. So ExxonMobil IS a government, one competing with the US government for power and attempting to suborn US government officials.

    2. jrs

      Compnies to not just break the law unless they are in bed with the legistlature and know they are TBTF. Every mid-size company I’ve ever worked for made it high high priority to obey the law (were they moral? that’s a very different question than CYA legally, which was always done).

      1. Nathanael

        It’s not so much whether they’re in bed with the legislature, as whether they believe they have the power to buy and bully the legislature. Power politics, or Realpolitik if you prefer.

  22. Thomas McGovern

    Is it fair that automobile insurance companies charge higher rates for drivers with dangerous driving habits such as drunken driving and speeding? Yes it is.

    Is it fair that health insurance companies charge higher rates for people with dangerous living habits such as smoking, alcoholism, and obesity? Yes it is.

    If insurance companies did not charge more for people with risker habits, other people, i.e., those with safer habits, would have to pay more to subsidize those with riskier habits. That would be unfair to those with safer habits.

    Socializing risks and their costs is what is unfair.

    1. Don Levit

      Under the ACA, one’s health will have nothing to do with his premium, so, at least initially, those of the same age, family size, and smoking status will pay the same rates. The 64 year old is paying 3 times the 21 year old, which may seem like a lot more, but the actuarial tables show the 64 year old pays 5 times what the 21 year old pays, so the older people are actually getting a discount, paid for by overcharges on the younger people.
      The ACA seems to allow for 2 plans of insurance, as it refers to “integrated HRAs” and “integrated HSAs.”
      What this second plan of insurance could do would be to build paid-up benefits monthly, equally, for all who participate, assuming all made equal contributions (if not, the benefits would be pro-rata).
      This second plan of paid-up benefits works like an HSA, except instead of savings that one can withdraw even for non medical bemefits, they are paid-up insurance benefits, which can only be made for medical claims, and Aae given back to the insurer if the policy lapses. This allows the coverage to build much faster than a savings account with piddly interest.
      These paid-up benefits fund the deductible (similar to an HSA), allowing larger funded deductibles for healthy people, at over time, much lower premiums, as a reward for “good behavior.”
      It also keeps the healthier people in the pool, making the premiums more affordable over time.
      Don Levit

    2. LifelongLib

      Car insurance would probably be less expensive overall if each company just covered its own drivers’ claims, without worrying about who was at fault or what their driving habits are. Let the police worry about law enforcement.

      Ditto for health care. Cover everybody, control costs by eliminating ineffective treatments and unnecessary overhead. Let doctors worry about their patients’ health habits.

      1. readerOfTeaLeaves

        I don’t regard it as my doctor’s job to worry about my health habits.
        I think it is my responsibility.

        What fries me is that my health club membership and out of pocket expenses for trying to eat well do not get me any sort of reduced rate for my insurance. That truly makes me grind my teeth.

        Obesity is not as simple as diet alone, there are now many environmental pollutants that function as “obesogans” — triggers that damage metabolism. The insurance companies need to start paying attention to the implications of obesogens, and start advocating for better environmental protections if they genuinely want to bring down health care costs.

        If there are environmental pollutants that help explain the puzzle of rising rates of obesity and diabetes, even among kids, then this is a larger problem that needs collective solutions. Some of those need to focus on hormones in the food supply, but others on environmental pollutants.

        But despite that fact, those of us trying to follow a healthy lifestyle shouldn’t have to have our tax dollars used to subsidize corn syrup and diabetes medicines, when they could be focused on local ag and smaller scale food production.

        And no matter how well you eat, if the environment is riddled with obesogans, this is not as simple as tracking employee eating or driving habits. It is also important to track pollutants, because they are a key factor in public health, including obesity. No matter how much the ‘blame the victim’ mentality tries to drive policy, it will fail.

        The only long term solutions are collective, and require getting a much better handle on environmental toxins that affect human metabolism.

        This problem is only going to get more urgent.
        It is also affects learning and cognition, so it is a very big deal, but is seldom well discussed.

        1. LifelongLib

          Ultimately everything in your life is your responsibility. But your doctor is in a better position to advise you than your insurance company is.

          1. jrs

            Yea really, it’s the doctors job, if the doctor wants to lecture you on your weight they can and should, if you don’t like it you should be able to get another doctor. It’s definitely not the responsibility of employers etc..

  23. AmorFati

    Why on earth is this policy a bad thing? Why should someone who takes good care of themself, eats well, and exercises be treated the same as someone who eats horribly and never exercises? To treat both equally would completely obliterate any advantage gained by the healthy person due to their virtuous behaviour of taking care of themself and exercising/eating well. Using the unhealthy person’s habits as the baseline for measuring equality here is an example of the “levelling equality” Nietzsche warned us about.

    1. LifelongLib

      Being healthy (whether by good habits or luck) is its own reward. And being unhealthy (almost by definition) entails suffering. Whatever these things do to your insurance rates is icing/insult.

      1. nonclassical

        …is there an effort by “society” to teach people throughout their lives to “BE”
        (derivation of “BEhavior”) healthy, or to be propagandized how to make themselves happy buying-eating-driving-screwing this or that…? (“Century of Self”-“The Trap”), as Yves already noted…

    2. Yves Smith Post author

      You must live in a very cloistered part of reality. The whole “body as a temple” routine take TIME and MONEY. What do poor people not have? TIME and MONEY.

      In addition, you ignore the impact of development. If you are fat before puberty and haven’t taken it off by then, you are going to find it very hard to be normal weight in your adulthood. You’ve basically stacked your metabolism against you. And how many fat kids do we have?

      Furthermore, shift work greatly increases the odds of being overweight. Having to horse your sleep cycle around messes up your hormones. n

    3. Yellowrose

      Wow. Just Wow. Health is a most often a by product of over privilege – meaning wealth obtained unfairly from those who are under privileged, by the policies of those same over privileged or rich. In your view, those who are healthy or in good circumstances shouldn’t have to care for those who struggle. So perhaps we shouldn’t provide any social safety nets for those struggling with illnesses, tragedies – not to mention systemic poverty (created by social policies)and associated health issues?

      The truth is that we are all interconnected and interdependent. We live in an interconnected society. None of us will be truly healthy unless all of us have the means and opportunity to become healthy.

    4. Denise B

      How do you know who takes care of himself, eats well and exercises? Certainly not by how much he weighs. Lots of thin people eat crap and never exercise.

      And which risky behaviors are we going to punish – unprotected sex? aggressive driving? having high levels of stress? getting less than 7 hours of sleep? riding a bicycle in the city? rock climbing? macrobiotic diets? wearing 5-inch heels?

      How detailed an examination are YOU willing to submit to?

  24. Charles LeSeau

    Let’s just pick out people who are different from the smiling sterile vanilla normalites featured everywhere in corporate advertising and be done with it. Natural selection, no?

    Set up some diet camps and herd all the fatties into them (by cattle train, natch), set up drug camps for the druggies, camps for the smokers, alcoholics, anyone paralyzed by ennui or Weltschmerz, etc. Destroy all hedonistic traces of the old world and replace them with this brave new one. Then work our way to things people can’t do anything about, from mental retardation camps to cancer to unsightly skin diseases. Maybe even baldness. That can go too. Eventually we will create the super man that will rule the galaxy and beyond. Or at the very least he will have a terrific smile and shining hair, rippling abs and no heart troubles, etc. We can guarantee that, yep, and everyone will want to live long lives and be happy in their work. The end.

  25. Lone Rider

    Let’s just get this straight, I’m poor, I’m disabled, and I’m a whole food vegetarian. Minute brown rice, canned beans and canned tomatoes are dirt cheap and provide just about most of my needed nutrition.

    I’m amazed and disgusted when the left elite make excuses for the poor health decisions of poor. Yes, inequality can explain SOME of the health current health disparities but that doesn’t take away individual responsibility. Does anyone actually believe for one second that we’ll change our food production and subsidies within the near future? Of course not. It’s all baked in.

    You all are looking at the problem as if the powers that be will actually provide a system wide solution. You all know better than this.

    1. from Mexico

      You and JGordon are just full of yourself. As Eric Hoffer put it in The True Believer:

      The vanity of the selfless, even those who practice utmost humility, is boundless.

      1. nonclassical

        from mejico…

        (this taoist resents selflessness bashing-but great quote); here’s another…”the artist loses his creative intuition at exact moment he-she BEcomes aware of impression about to be made…

        1. from Mexico

          Everybody needs a way to feel good about themselves. But the claims to moral superiority by those who live an ascetic lifestyle all too often degenerate into self-righteous piety. Witness JGordon and Lone Rider.

          And just imagine trying to raise kids on a diet of canned tomatoes, canned beans and Minute rice.

          I’ve been poor and I’ve been rich, and let me tell you being poor is a bitch. Some, however, believe it is the ticket to redemption, but to force it on your children?

          1. Lone Rider

            How did I ‘degenerate into self-righteous piety’? I’m just saying that it can be done. Canned food and minute rice isn’t the only thing I eat it’s simply an example of cheap staples available just about everywhere. You can have a healthy diet that is both cheap and quick. I don’t see how anyone can dispute that.

          2. Klassy!

            It is a very odd thing to feel morally superior about, don’t you agree? I mean when you eat well and exercise you are doing it for yourself. That’s fine, but why should anyone attach a moral dimension to these acts?

          3. Klassy!

            Yes, of course there is: we waste an incredible amount of food in this country– and that is a waste of all the resources that went into making that food.
            And, of course there is the morality of eating animals– and the incredible suffering of factory farming.

            But that is a different discussion

    2. cwaltz

      First off, “left elite?” Really? Is that what you’re calling the person who told you he works 3 part time jobs to survive?

      Second, canned food is often lined and contains BPA so I wouldn’t be so certain that in the long term future that YOU may not suffer from problems controlling your weight.

      The truth is our food chain and even our personal products are so polluted with chemicals that they can be contributing factors.

    3. Nathanael

      Lone Rider: watch out for the pesticides, BPA, estrogen mimics, and genetic modifications in those “cheap” canned foods. They can, under some circumstances, really mess you up….

    4. Yves Smith Post author


      You are disabled. Do you work 40 hours a week and have a commute to get to work? If you don’t have a clue about what it means to be WORKING POOR, as in have time stress on top of money stress.

      1. Lone Rider

        You make that post as if time stress SHOULD be a valid excuse for poor health choices, and that we should accept, and be happy to pay for, the resulant heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. I simply don’t buy that. Why shouldn’t we try to modify negative behaviors? Yes, it is very individualistic. But it’s the best that we’re going to get given the circumstances.

        1. jrs

          It’s a very strange definition of individualism, employers and employer provided insurance companies trying to bully people into certain behaviors.

  26. skippy

    The first – two years – of a humans life are critical to future out comes, the next 5 – 10 years are just as important, but, not as foundational.

    Skippy… As a species… until we address this observation collectively… don’t expect improvement… Garbage in – Garbage out~

  27. PQS

    I’ve been thinking about this….where will it end? Is my employer/insurer going to ask about my sex life? Promiscuity is a high-risk behavior. So is IV drug use. How about alcohol use? Are they going to ask how many drinks I have every day? Whether or not I drive too fast or have anger issues? How about traveling overseas to countries with TB? Are they going to go into that as a risky behavior? What about my personal life and hobbies – am I going to be restricted to gardening and reading novels because they might charge me more for skydiving? The list is endless when one really gets going.

    This will not end as the insurers think it will. It will be shut down as they continue on this line, because they will try to go into areas which even toe-the-line Americans won’t permit.

    Just wait until they try to find out how many guns one has at home. Those are highly correlated with death and injury, too.

  28. Claudius

    I suspect that the issue of data mining to assess an individual’s risk characteristics (to decide whether to offer healthcare coverage based on how their premiums compare to their risk of incurring future medical expenses, such as health status), is something of a canard; it happens all the time in the voluntary, individual health insurance market.

    However, participants in an employer single insurance program transfer their risk to the insurance program, and that the insurance program manages its aggregate risk through diversification across a wide array of participants. The net benefit being that if groups with different levels of risk (i.e., assembly line workers have different levels of expected claim costs than plant managers) pay the same premiums into the system, an implicit subsidy is created, from the group with lower expected claims to the group with higher expected claims.

    So, why the need for employers to ascertain employees personal risk data? Well, roughly, nine out of ten non-elderly Americans with private health insurance coverage receive it through an employer sponsored group plan. The group risk is pooled with like-groups from similar businesses – irrespective of socio-economic groups. Even though, employers increasingly group employees by specific work contingent risk factors, it rarely leads to a reduction in premiums paid by the employer; it is just an inexorable rise year on year to some degree or other.

    But, but what’s most concerning, is that employers now want to reduce insurance costs (and, conterminously, reduce total compensation benefits) and go further by looking at non-work related risk factors – putting them more on par with the voluntary, individual health insurance.

    Employers will differentiate (by whatever means) the non-exercising, poor diet, unhealthy and poorly educated workers, exclude them from the “low risk” worker insured group, place them in a separate higher “risk group” and charge them an insurance supplement for the privilege of living their lifestyle.

    So, what the problem? High risk workers will be incentivized to take on a regime of good eating habits, move towards a healthier lifestyle, take care for their environment, exercise and make all the right lifestyle choices. And, they will be rewarded; with better workplace insurance coverage, no insurance supplement and, most importantly, they play the good corporate citizen, because their lifestyle choices will help keep insurance premiums marginally lower for all.

    Well, the problem is, in the US, almost 54% of Americans are born into weak socio-economic group – working class or below. A class of employees who by “birth right” are economically the weakest, most malnourish, unhealthy and, most often, exposed to adverse environmental conditions (educational, physical, biological and mental). Right off the bat, this class of workers will enter the workforce and be hit with a disproportionate, supplementary insurance premiums (or not allowed in to health insurance altogether) for being born in the wrong socio-economic group.

    One of the few passive benefits received by the 54% of (working class) American blue collar, laborers and service workers is that they are in effect, afforded the benefits of risk-shared group health insurance because of the middle class’s inclusion in a vital benefit that would otherwise be unattainable through voluntary, individual health insurance.

    If employers manage to exclude (through supplementary insurance premiums or outright risk exclusion) this 54% from employee group insurance, it will be a rapid and tragic spiral downwards towards minimal healthcare coverage for the majority of Americans. Moreover, the minority middle class will rapidly pay more or lose theirs if they fall for (in this context) the canard of “data mining’ rather than looking at this neo-liberal process, as a mean- to-a-end.

  29. Fleecer

    you can’t have your cake and eat it too (pun intended).

    There are always going to be individuals with “exceptional” health issues – metabolism or hormonal malfunction, etc. But those are exceptions, not rules.

    Either we sacrifice our liberty (ie Matt Stoller’s point) for individualized pricing, or we maintain a one size all policy where “bad actors” (obese and unhealthy who make poor choices) are subsidized by those who live healthier lifestyles.
    It all comes down to choice…no one said it’s fair or easy…but for the VAST majority of Americans….their waistline is directly proportionate to their decisions on food and exercise. It really is that simple.

    1. Claudius

      Unfortunately, it is not that simple.

      As pointed out in many comments on this post. If you are one of the unfortunate 54% of Americans born into the working class, lower working class or poverty there are no lifestyle choices. Predominantly, eating right is not an option (economically). Healthy diet, recreational exercise as a choice is not available; robust education, a clean environment, mental well-being, lack of stress is not a choice; you are born into lack of options. Commensurate with this lack of choices is economic stress, mental health stress, environmental adversity, obesity, diabetes, etc. etc.

      But, if you are part of this socio-economic group, and you managed to receive employee healthcare benefits, you can mitigate, somewhat, the incipient health effects of these adverse socio-economic factors when most needed. That is the passive, marginal, shared social cost, vis-à-vis employer group insurance provided by America’s working population, collectively.

  30. alnc

    This should be taking place at the top. Since executive pay has reached astronomic levels, based on the notion that they are exceptionally talented leaders who are practically irreplaceable, why not require them to be in exceptionally good health? I’m talking tri-athlete level health. Considering the huge financial loss that would befall a corporation that was denied the services of a member of their top management due to health issues, only the most rigorous standards should be used when assessing their physical condition.


    I believe everything wrote made a lot of sense. However, consider this, suppose
    you were to write a killer post title? I am not saying your information isn’t good, however what if you added a headline that grabbed people’s attention?
    I mean The New Social Darwinism: Companies Require
    Workers to Divulge Health Info so They Can Charge Overweight and Others Deemed Less

  32. Pelham


    On the one hand we have corporate America pumping up our obesity rate by injecting our food full of tons of excess corn syrup, fat and salt. Then, on the other, we’re penalized for the result.

    Now THAT’s a business model.

    1. Charles LeSeau

      Exactly, not to mention corporate America advertising the sugariest, fattiest foods everywhere, aimed at kids from right out of the womb. Or did they stop making cereal commercials full of fun comic characters? McDonalds and Burger King are obviously wrapped up in that stuff from not long after inception.

      I haven’t watched TV in almost 2 decades though. I do happen to know that starting in 2011 Kraft started marketing Kool-Aid with that big jolly anthropomorphic pitcher specifically towards Latinos.

      Do people strangely ignore what advertising does, somehow? Do we think it does nothing? If so, why is it so constant and ubiquitous in every possible avenue of delivery?

  33. MRW

    have to submit to personal surveillance to get many types of insurance and financial products.

    The Social Darwinian side to finance capitalism. Michael Hudson’s warnings are clearer and clearer to me by the day.

  34. impermanence

    Get rid of health insurance altogether, thereby making each individual responsible for their own health. Problem solved.

    To keep this parasitic, financalized health care insurance scam going IS the problem. It is time to move on.

  35. Lafayette

    MT: Are you a man with a waist measuring 40 inches or more? If you want to work at Michelin North America Inc., that spare tire could cost you.

    Which makes for eminent good sense, along with paying an airline seat according to one’s weight.

    There is an obesity pandemic (meaning “national” not “local”) going on in the US. Or has no one noticed?

    Something must be done about it and paying one’s weight (as well as paying one’s way) is an excellent means to bring the message home personally that one’s weight matters significantly in terms of its public cost. Especially in terms of remedial medical care.

    The pandemic in the US is of such proportions has to make for a real and present public health danger and, like all such dangers, it must not escape public attention.

    Sixty-nine percent of all Americans are either obese or overweight, whilst 36% are obese. See here. We cannot afford, as a a nation, any longer to overlook a serious health problem.

  36. bencha

    Just because athletes are popularizing the act of wearing Nike Free Run shoes, the company has made great strides in giving the average consumer a good reason for buying their shoes: the Nike sense of fashion is considered to be quite trendy. Several different lines exist for different occasions, such as the Black Nike Free Run shoe which is intended for formal occasions. Clearly, consumers are just as happy as athletes.

  37. ian

    There is nothing that prevents people from eating healthier food, regardless of their income. Produce and fruit aren’t that expensive compared with processed food. This is also a bit of a false choice – you don’t have to live exclusively on processed food.

  38. washunate

    The idiocy, er inefficiency, of employer-based health insurance. Employers have no unique competency in providing insurance, and employees have no unique need for insurance.

    On public desensitization, I wouldn’t worry too much about public perceptions. Most people want privacy (and want it very strongly); that’s why the government and corporations have to be so intrusive, because most people abhor the intrusions. Facebook is a phone book and photo album for friends and family; attempts at larger socialization efforts and commercialization have largely fallen flat precisely because that’s not what Millennials specifically, and Americans of all ages generally, are interested in doing.

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