January 2, 2008

People are getting fat all over the world... but we have different ideas about why we're getting fat.

There's geographical variation. Some people blame the government. Some blame the food. Some take personal responsibility. Where? You might wonder — where are people most likely to cite lack of self-discipline for their chubbiness? Somehow it's the United States and Great Britain. I'm not sure what that means. At first, I thought, great. Seeing the failure in ourselves means that we believe we have the power to improve our situation. But then, it seemed to me that we're probably admitting our personal failings because we are less ashamed and less harshly moralistic toward ourselves. This isn't a step on the path toward improvement, but acceptance and generosity toward ourselves and our imperfections.

73 comments:

Ron said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ron said...

and this is...what, a bad thing?

Pogo said...

Obesity merely refelcts the great wealth achieved in the developed world. We evolved as a species in a climate of constant scarcity, where periods of starvation were common. In order to live long enough to both reproduce and care for children, those best able to survive prolonged starvation passed on their genes.

We were not designed for abundance. Only the rich in the past got fat. The rest looked like Bob Crachit. Early death was common. Now it is rare, and litigated.

We are fat because we are rich. We fight a genetic imperative to forever prepare for the seven lean years. The one who invents the pill to shut off this complex signal will be rich beyond measure.

AllenS said...

We're fatter than we used to be because we don't have to work as hard as our forefathers. How many people besides myself still chop wood?

dax said...

This always cracks me up.

http://www.frac.org/html/hunger_in_the_us/hunger_index.html

Hoosier Daddy said...

We're fatter than we used to be because we don't have to work as hard as our forefathers. How many people besides myself still chop wood?

In part yes but Pogo is also correct in that our wealth has made food more abundant as well. Wealthy nations don't have problems with starvation. Also you can't discount technology which has made producing food easier and cheaper.

nina said...

If you look at obesity rates and SES stats (or at the people who shop at your favorite supermarket), you'll note that poor people are fatter than the affluent, for obvious reasons. To say that we're fat because we're a rich nation simplifies things tremendously. You have to factor in everything -- from an underdeveloped mass transit system to preferred forms of entertainment, courtship patterns, absence of well defined culinary traditions, climate, etc etc.

Pogo said...

To say that we're fat because we're a rich nation simplifies things tremendously.

And yet it is the best answer, including all the elements you raise, underdeveloped mass transit system to preferred forms of entertainment, none of which occur in poor countries.

However, I disagree that courtship patterns, culinary traditions, or climate play any role at all. Especially not climate. Except for somehwat obese Eskimos and very fat Samoans, most nations of all climes have had thin and small people. Until they got rich.

poor people are fatter than the affluent, for obvious reasons
Poor people in the US are not poor by any standard except in comarison to wealthier US residents. In comparison to the rest of the world, they are rich. Very rich. So rich that people migrate to the US "where even the poor people are fat".

P.S. Japan is rich, but the Japanese people are not, by and large. Not until they move here. Then they get fat.

save_the_rustbelt said...

We did a lot of traveling over the holidays, and even allowing for the holiday fudge-and-cookies, the dietary habits of many Americans are just horrible.

We (wife and me) work in healthcare, and this is a terrible problem.

My wife is a nurse and perhaps the most compassionate human on the planet, but she is getting tired of wrestling with 400 lb.+ patients. Not only is obesity bad for the patients, it is physically injuring the nurses and creating dilemmas for physicians.

We are both committed to minding our own business, but once obesity becomes a problem for health providers it is society's business.

tightspotkilo said...

Our poor are very wealthy by 3rd world standards, or even by our own standards of 100 years ago. They have access to just about all of the same menu items and accouterments of life in modern America as everyone else. With one exception. The homeless. Those people out there with their their life's possessions in shopping carts. They don't have those things. And I haven't seen any of them with body fat to speak of.

Freder Frederson said...

Poor people in the US are not poor by any standard except in comarison to wealthier US residents.

Why on earth should we compare our poor people to anyone other than Americans? They are poor by American standards that is all that matters. If you are making comparisons Pogo, doctors in this country are obscenely overpaid to those in third world countries. Let's compare your salary to a doctor in Rwanda.

Eli Blake said...

And what is 'fat?'

The healthiest weight for most people (especially women) is actually several pounds heavier than what is listed on most tables, especially those a few years old and which are based on outmoded data and/or societal perceptions.

For teen girls and young women, there is no greater sin (in their mind) than being 'fat.' Their whole societal perception and sense of self-worth is tied into their weight, and there are plenty of cases of high school or junior high teenage girls weighing less than kids half their age who have to be rushed to the hospital (or the mortuary) because they thought they were 'fat.'

There was even a study done a few years ago that showed that the second reason (but closing in on 'peer pressure') that teenage girls and young women start smoking or continue to smoke is 'weight control.' Some other strategies they sometimes use to avoid becoming the deadly 'f' word, in addition to traditional means like purging, include heavy usage of water pills (which can and often does lead to dehydration), abuse of methamphetamines and other drugs, and even (a relatively recent phenomenon,) 'cutting.' A link about cutting, whereby kids (mostly girls) 'relieve stress' by literally hacking pieces out of their bodies with knives or razors, and sometimes squeezing out all the blood that they can, can be found here:

http://www.kidshealth.org/teen/your_mind/mental_health/cutting.html.

A number of teenage girls have even committed suicide because they thought (rightly or wrongly) that they were 'fat' and couldn't face life as a result.

I've had three girls (one now in her twenties and two who are now pre-teens) and so I have some experience in the area. Way too many teenage girls are still caught in the 'fat' obsession and consider that a person's weight is directly correlated with their self-worth.

I have become more and more convinced that we should pass regulations on the fashion industry regarding the minimum weight for supermodels (this has been done in several other countries after the deaths of some models), because that is where a lot of these perceptions have their origin.

Hoosier Daddy said...

Why on earth should we compare our poor people to anyone other than Americans? They are poor by American standards that is all that matters.

Because its called perspective. I used to volunteer at a local food pantry and saw 'poor' who drove there in thier own car and had cell phones. They may have made less money than I but were not wanting for certain luxuries. I had some serious issues with people who had cell phones but evidently qualified for free food. Then again it was a Catholic charity so they tended not to question it.

More to the point is that poverty in this country is a matter of perspective. Compared to say, Paris Hilton, I'm downright destitute.

Meade said...

I blame Samuel Johnson.

He's the fat bastard who corrupted John Locke's elegant "life, liberty, and the pursuit of property."

Everyone knows "... the pursuit of happiness" is nothing more than code for "the pursuit of fatty puddings, ale, and toad in the hole."

Hoosier Daddy said...

Eli said I have become more and more convinced that we should pass regulations on the fashion industry regarding the minimum weight for supermodels (this has been done in several other countries after the deaths of some models), because that is where a lot of these perceptions have their origin.

Well there is an interesting legal issue. Any discrimination there? Sorry can't hire you cause you're too skinny. How about you reverse that and say, sorry can't hire you cause you're too fat.

I'm betting that there are far more obesity related deaths and diseases than those who voluntarily chose to be wafer thin. They say you can't legislate morality but I also contend that common sense should be included.

Pogo said...

Why on earth should we compare our poor people to anyone other than Americans?

If you have a high school reunion and half the class is making, say, $30,000 a year, 40% is making $60,000/yr and the remaining 10% clear over $100,000 annually, with one guy a millionaire, you could by such relativistic standards say that half of the class is "poor".
Relatively.
"Relatively Poor" is a dishonest concept to people who actually care about real poverty.

At some point, such comparisons are meaningless, as well as destructive. The average American has ten times the purchasing power of the average citizen just 100 years ago. If you do not see that even the "poor" people here are in fact rich, you miss the entire picture.

And it means you believed the nonsense of Derrida, Foucault, and Sartre, that can-can of meaninglessness.

Middle Class Guy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
PatCA said...

"I used to volunteer at a local food pantry and saw 'poor' who drove there in thier own car and had cell phones."

At my house, I watched a guy chat on the cell phone while pushing a stolen shopping cart home. And, he was fat. The answer to his obesity is an admixture of culture, tradition, and choice: he chooses fatty foods, sugary drinks, and doesn't care if they exceed his calorie loss from pushing the cart home. And as far as I know, this was not part of a courtship ritual.

Middle Class Guy said...

Somewhere in America there are obese people living in the shadows. Somewhere in America there are obese people who have lost hope. Somewhere in America there are millions of obese people who do not have weight loss insurance. Somewhere in America, there are poverty stricken obese people who cannot even afford to buy Slim Fast. Somewhere in America there are obese people living in shame and self loathing because there is no help.

There are two Americas- the healthy, slim, evil corporate America and the obese America. We need to bring these two Americas together. We need Universal weight loss coverage for all obese people. We must bring them out of the shadows and into the mainstream.

America needs a fighter. I will fight hard for all the obese people in America.

I’m John Edwards. I approved this message.

Meade said...

Government mandated liposuction for anyone with a BMI over 25.

Send them to government relocation Fat Farms and convert the syphoned adipose into clean-burning bio-diesel and trans fat-free cooking oil for deep frying New York french fries and donuts.

Forget the flat tax, what we need it a fat tax.

Freder Frederson said...

If you have a high school reunion and half the class is making, say, $30,000 a year

You apparently don't know what you are talking about. The official government poverty rate for a family of four is $19,307 (2004 figures). For a single person it is $9,827. So a single person making $30,000 a year is making more than three times the salary necessary to be considered poor in this country. You just can't pull numbers out of the air to define poverty. Actually the median family income in this country is around $47,000, so your hypothetical high school class is actually pretty close to average. And just imagine if two of those $30,000 a year earners are married to each other, suddenly they blow your entire bell curve to hell.

You obviously don't have a clue who the average American is or how they live if you think people making $30,000 a year are poor.

Pogo said...

You obviously don't have a clue... etc etc.
And you either cannot read, or are deliberately misreading my post.

It was an example only of the fact that "relative" poverty is a meaningless term, and was not a discussion of actual incomes.

But I believe you know that and, lacking a coherent counter-argument, chose the tactic of misdirection and feinting. It's dishonest, but typical.

Middle Class Guy said...

A major scientific institute, which has been nominated for the Al Gore Peace Prize has found the solution to obesity. In a press conference at the Holiday Inn Express in Muncie, Indiana, members of the UN panel on weight change happily released the results of their massive study.

After studying obese people from all economic classes and eliminating those whose obesity is caused by medical problems, genetics or a congenital problem, they have determined the root cause of obesity in America.

Obese people from all economic backgrounds can afford to eat more. They have more money in their pockets to spend on food, especially fast food. Obese people switched to GEICO and saved a ton of money on their car insurance.

Freder Frederson said...

It was an example only of the fact that "relative" poverty is a meaningless term, and was not a discussion of actual incomes.

No, it wasn't an example of "relative poverty" or any other poverty, it was a pretty accurate description of income distributions in the U.S. and none of the people you described would be "poor", relatively or otherwise.

Your assertions are ridiculous. You can't discount poverty in this country by saying people in Chad really have crappy lives. Your argument appears to be that people in this country just aren't poor enough to be worthy of our concern. Exactly how poor is poor enough? Do you want to see bulging bellies in our emergency rooms before poverty in this country concerns you. Do you want your patients to ask you to accept payment in live chickens?

Pogo said...

Exactly how poor is poor enough?
More pertinently, exactly how poor is poor?
That is the question.
What does "poor" mean when Chad differs from Brooklyn?
At what point does the world's prior standard of grinding poverty, say Victorian England slums or the streets of Calcutta change so much that such base neglect is completely relieved to the point of relative wealth, that it can only be described as "poor" by mocking the rest of the world?

No, it wasn't an example of "relative poverty" ...
Then it is pretty clear you cannot read, or are arguing in bad faith, because that is precisely what I meant. Since you cannot argue against that, you invent a straw man to strike down, and rather clumsily at that.

Freder Frederson said...

At what point does the world's prior standard of grinding poverty, say Victorian England slums or the streets of Calcutta change so much that such base neglect is completely relieved to the point of relative wealth

Well, if you are genuinely arguing that we should be concerned with bringing the rest of the world up to the level of comfort and wealth of the poor in this country, then I can't argue with that. But I don't think that is your argument. You appear to be arguing that most our poor have phones, tv, access to clean water and sanitation and are not starving (even if their diets tend to be not very healthy), therefore they don't have anything to bitch about.

Poor is always a relative standard. Heck, most middle class people today are richer than most Kings throughout history (European history is one of Royal families teetering on the brink of bankruptcy). To compare poverty of one era to another is ridiculous. All the riches of the British Empire at its zenith couldn't have bought Queen Victoria an I-Pod.

Hoosier Daddy said...

Do you want to see bulging bellies in our emergency rooms before poverty in this country concerns you.

Freder right now the only bulging bellies in our hospitals are there for bariatric surgery.

Possibly what Pogo is getting at is the fact that poverty in this country has a lot more to do with personal choices and bad decisions than say Chad which has no political or social institutions which make it possible to rise above poverty. That is not the case in this nation. The only person standing in the way of progress is yourself.

Finish high school, get a job, don't get pregnant or get someone pregnant and you're about 90% of the way to success and that's the easy part.

Pogo said...

But I don't think that is your argument.
Well, you are wrong. That is my argument.

You appear to be arguing that most our poor have phones, tv, ...therefore they don't have anything to bitch about.
No. I am arguning that they are not poor,. They are less rich, but not "poor".

Poor is always a relative standard.
No, it's not.

To compare poverty of one era to another is ridiculous.
No, it's imperative.

Heck, most middle class people today are richer than most Kings throughout history ...All the riches of the British Empire at its zenith couldn't have bought Queen Victoria an I-Pod
Or antibiotics.
My point exactly. We are the richest people that have ever existed.
Why aren't people aware of this?
Why do people still think they are "poor" when they clearly are not?
I think it's because of the relentless efforts of people like you in the media telling them their lives are terrible.

Pogo said...

Freder, yours is merely the politics of envy.

tntalk said...

...perhaps from watching too much TV and overbrowsing the internet.

Henry said...

As I understand it, even Marx moved from a standard of absolute poverty to relative poverty in defining the misery of the masses.

Those damn capitalists actually did trickle down the wealth.

Freder Frederson said...

Finish high school, get a job, don't get pregnant or get someone pregnant and you're about 90% of the way to success and that's the easy part.

Here we go again, the myth that everyone in this country has the same opportunity to succeed and any failure is due to personal shortcomings.

Of course a lazy, mediocre student who fails at practically every business venture he attempts is much more likely to become president if his family connections get him into all the right schools and bail him out of all his screw ups (and keep him out of the infantry in Vietnam) than a poor inner city kid who has none of those same privileges.

Christy said...

I blame The Twilight Zone, which taught me that dragons cannot be killed, and Sartre.

When we need a treat, some of us can treat ourselves to a spa day, a day out on the water, a weekend at a resort. Our poor can treat themselves to tasty cakes.

Freder Frederson said...

Those damn capitalists actually did trickle down the wealth.

Not really. Only after the slaughter of WWI and the Russian Revolution scared the bejeebus out of them did they finally realize that they better cut the working man a break if they didn't want to end up like the Romanovs.

Hoosier Daddy said...

Here we go again, the myth that everyone in this country has the same opportunity to succeed and any failure is due to personal shortcomings.

Its not a myth Freder. Everyone here have the same opportunities. Some may have an easier time due to wealth, priviledge or intellectual endowment but the opportunities are there nonetheless. Who has the better chance to succeed, the inner city kid who follows what I described or the one that doesn't?

Of course a lazy, mediocre student who fails at practically every business venture he attempts is much more likely to become president ...... than a poor inner city kid who has none of those same privileges

You're confusing privledge with opportunity. Allow me to provide an example. Relative of mine, very well to do family, attended Notre Dame, flunked out, finally got his degree from another university who would take him, then pretty much failed to hold any kind of job longer than one year, went to rehab 3 times and now lives in a one room apartment in Florida somewhere probably asking if you want fries with that.

Dumb choices don't discriminate between rich and poor. The only difference is the rich generally can afford to make more of them.

Freder Frederson said...

Relative of mine, very well to do family, attended Notre Dame, flunked out, finally got his degree from another university who would take him, then pretty much failed to hold any kind of job longer than one year, went to rehab 3 times and now lives in a one room apartment in Florida somewhere probably asking if you want fries with that.

Well, your relative had tons of opportunities and blew them. Even today, he is still a free man. Compare his multiple opportunities with what would happen with a poor inner city kid in similar circumstances. No Notre Dame, no second chance. First or second time he got caught with drugs would be a felony conviction and the rest of his life would be in and out of jail.

How many times do you think a relatively well-off kid whose parents can afford a decent lawyer can skate for minor possession beefs or even selling dope to friends (and forget about doing serious time if your parents are politically connected). That is privilege and the opportunity to make lots of mistakes. A poor kid with no money and no connections can never make a mistake. The first mistake is often the last one.

Also, just the opportunity to get a good education depends almost entirely on the economic circumstances and geographic location of where you grow up. You are much more likely to succeed if you grow up anywhere in Indiana (except Gary), which generally has an excellent public education system, than say New Orleans, just because the taxpayers of Indiana place such a high priority on good public education.

After living over twenty years in the south, it still shocks me to compare my experience in public education in the relatively affluent (but by no means rich) suburbs of Chicago. The best public schools here would be considered mediocre in Illinois.

Henry said...

Freder said "Not really..."

Ever heard of Bismark?

In 1908, Churchill advocated "thrust[ing] a big slice of Bismarckianism over the whole underside of our industrial system."

Even in works such as E.P Thompson's The Making of the English Working Class, the author cannot rebut revisionist historians that cull the data to show that 19th century English workers did see an overall increase in living standards. Instead Thompson emphasizes the economic dislocation suffered by workers that moved from rural to urban poverty and from craft to factory work.

Let me reassert: For Marx, a German expatriot living in industrial England, relative poverty was sufficient justification for his theories.

An Edjamikated Redneck said...

How many of our 'poor' only have cell phones and cars because we are, as a nation, rich and able to tax our wealth and spend it on the poor?

How many cell phones and cars would disappear if Welfare and Food Stamps did as well?

I have long maintained that social welfare programs in this country will never disappear because they are a benefit to the Middle Class, more so than the poor.

Imagine the value of an inner city apartment to the property owner without Section 8, or imagine the value of an innner city grocery store without Food Stamps to buy $2.00 cokes and $4.00 frozen burritos.

Hoosier Daddy said...

Well, your relative had tons of opportunities and blew them.

Sure did and it was his own damn fault.

Compare his multiple opportunities with what would happen with a poor inner city kid in similar circumstances. No Notre Dame, no second chance. First or second time he got caught with drugs would be a felony conviction and the rest of his life would be in and out of jail.

Well without getting into too much detail, he did have his share of that too.

And again you've moved the goal posts of the discussion. The 'rich' have always, always, everywhere, gotten more breaks and priviledge. I was talking about opportunity not fairness. The inner city kid in New Oleans may have only one opportunity versus the rich kid in Boston but that's one more than some kid in say, Chad or Rwanda.

My point about opportunity is that our nation does not place institutional barriers on upward mobility. If you have the grades, no school will deny you entry cause you grew up in the projects. If you have the motivation and desire, there are Federal loans and hundreds of millions in grants and scholarship money that never get tapped.

Pogo said...

A poor kid with no money and no connections can never make a mistake. The first mistake is often the last one.

Not true, except partly.
There are second acts in America, many of them.

Income inequality will always be with us. To strive for economic egalitarianism has resulted in the worst disasters in the history of the world. Life is not, has never been, and cannot be made to be fair. Only justice and liberty are possible. Not "social justice", but justice.

The key is to make the rest of the world like the West, where the "poor" are really quite well off, and leave enough income mobility to permit a change of station given effort and luck.

But you don't want that. You want our demise through socialism. "Relative poverty" is a scam.

Sheila said...

SSRIs make you gain weight. How many Americans take SSRIs? (SSRI = Prozac, Paxil, etc.)

Henry said...

Just a follow-up on the facts above.

I belive relative poverty is a pretty big problem. Both our culture and our politics are populist. People upset with a system that makes them relatively poor are going to change it, not matter what the macroeconomic impact may be.

However, when talking about hunger, there's a huge difference between relative and absolute poverty. It's pretty uncommon for people to starve to death in America. It is more common for people to eat poorly, but that is often a function of choice.

One can argue that a better educational system would help the poor buy and prepare healthier foods, and that is probably true. But at a certain point, the question does become one of compulsion. I see notices on the city bus offering free shopping and nutritional advice. But if people don't make that call, you cannot compel them to buy leafy greens instead of processed foods -- even if they would save money in the process.

Pogo said...

People upset with a system that makes them relatively poor are going to change it, not matter what the macroeconomic impact may be.

That's always been the threat voiced by socialists, but I have seen more evidence of the tolerance for great income disparity ...IF the government does not constrain economic mobility.

vnjagvet said...

The Pogo/Freder/Hoosier discussion about poverty is very interesting.

Historically, poverty and hunger --even starvation -- correlated nearly 100%. Over the past century, billions have been spent (mostly funded by charity and by taxes) to break that correlation.

In this country, obesity among the poorest is real evidence that this endeavor has largely succeeded here. There is still work to be done in Africa and Asia, but there is progress there as well.

The working middle class of just seventy-five years ago would be delighted to live with many of the things those considered poor today have as a matter of course.

Henry said...

I don't disagree, Pogo, except in degree. In the U.S. income inequality is widely accepted. Yet if you compare the politics of George W. Bush to Ronald Reagan -- or of Hillary Clinton to Bill Clinton -- the accretion of populist ideas to the body politic is clear. It's an incremental threat, one that moves us toward immobility, not catatstrophe.

knoxwhirled said...

his family connections get him into all the right schools and bail him out of all his screw ups (and keep him out of the infantry in Vietnam) than a poor inner city kid who has none of those same privileges.

Pogo was right. Your politics really are all about envy. You look at someone who has more than you, and you declare reflexively that they don't deserve it. I realize you're referring to Bush in your comment, but it sounds to me like you are bitterly envious of people who are born with money.

You can act like it's poor people you care about--but it's obvious that it's more about the rich people you hate.

Paul Zrimsek said...

We are both committed to minding our own business, but once obesity becomes a problem for health providers it is society's business.

You need to work on reducing that but.

Pogo said...

the accretion of populist ideas

Henry, I agree with you there. But it is important to note that these ideas are borne not of any true useful complaints about serious poverty, but about comparisons over those with more than the rich had 100 years ago, but still watching their spending, to those who have amazing amounts of money to spend, who are able to piss it away, or use it for wallpaper.

That is, envy.
Not poverty, or need, or real want.
Desire, jealousy, and blame.
None of which taxing or theft or destruction can negate or forestall.

Freder Frederson said...

I realize you're referring to Bush in your comment, but it sounds to me like you are bitterly envious of people who are born with money.

Envious? No. Envy means I desire what they have. But do I think that the rich have a lot more opportunities in society that many of them squander and do not deserve, damn right I do.

Bitter maybe. Envious? Definitely not. I wouldn't want to go to Yale just because forty of my relatives had been and a slot was reserved for me. To paraphrase the old Smith Barney commercials, I got my college degrees and acceptances the old fashioned way, I earned them.

Pogo said...

Envy means I desire what they have.

You are confusing that with jealousy.
Envy is a more corrosive feeling. It means not that you want what they have, but that you want them not to have it simply because you do not.

You want their possession or opportunity or luck to be destroyed even if it will not improve your lot one bit, or even if it makes you worse off. That is why people see envy as self-destructive.

An Edjamikated Redneck said...

Bitter maybe. Envious? Definitely not. I wouldn't want to go to Yale just because forty of my relatives had been and a slot was reserved for me. To paraphrase the old Smith Barney commercials, I got my college degrees and acceptances the old fashioned way, I earned them.

Freder, you are assuming that just because W got a degree from Yale he didn't earn it- it was awarded to him because of who he was.

Why is that so different than assuming any Afican American who a degree from Yale didn't earn it, but was awarded it by Affirmative Action?

Dust Bunny Queen said...

"People upset with a system that makes them relatively poor are going to change it, not matter what the macroeconomic impact may be."

Some individual people are always going to be "relatively" poorer than others. Always. The bigger issue is, are they going to stay that way or do they over time (lifetime or generations)move upward and make room for the next generation of the "relatively" poor. In the US most people don't permanently stay in the "poor" category. Unless of course they have the help of the government to stagnate in a poor underclass segment through permanent welfare subsidies. Left to our own devices, most people will strive and achieve an upward mobility.

Human society is inherently structured to be a tiered set up, just as canine society has pack leaders and followers. Even in a so called Communistic society, there are the haves and the have nots.

As to why many "poor" people are obese... I think it has to do with the lack of homemaking, time management and budgeting skills that are no longer taught by their own parents or schools. It's easier to buy ready made poor quality high fat and sodium food than it is to make home cooked dinners and use leftovers in an economical way.

Freder Frederson said...

Why is that so different than assuming any Afican American who a degree from Yale didn't earn it, but was awarded it by Affirmative Action?

We know that W (and I imagine whichever one of the twins went there too) got into Yale on an Affirmative Action admission (we just call it a "legacy admission" aka affirmative action for the rich). I sneer at W because he got in on his legacy, you sneer at the African American who got in on "affirmative action" (although I bet you there are a hell of a lot more legacy admissions to Yale than affirmative action ones). I guess the people we are jealous are envious of (as you and Pogo phrase it) just varies depending on the circumstances. You see greater injustice in one circumstance, I see it in the other.

Henry said...

Pogo and Dust Bunny Queen -- even if you explain why relative poverty shouldn't be an issue, that doesn't mean it isn't an issue. You'll always have people like Freder, with his free-floating bitterness, attached as needed to the plutocrat of the day.

A wide gulf between the wealthy and everyone else makes it more likely, in mob democracy, that redistributionist politics will appear validated by economic unfairness.

Freder Frederson said...

You want their possession or opportunity or luck to be destroyed even if it will not improve your lot one bit, or even if it makes you worse off.

I don't know where you get that I want this. Do I want better opportunities for the poor even if it means that the rich contribute more to society in the form of taxes, yes I do? But do I want confiscatory tax rates and the elimination of all personal property? Don't be ridiculous.

Do I think that we tend to glorify people who fall ass-backwards into money or had all the advantages life and this society offers them yet claim to be (or at least give the illusion) they are self-made because it fulfills some myth of the American dream (Donald Trump comes to mind)? Yes, I do.

The simple fact is that if you want to predict the future earning power of a child in this country, the best way to do it is to ask how much his or her parents make. We are less socially mobile in this country than most of the evil Western European socialist welfare states, even the once rigidly class concious Great Britain.

vnjagvet said...

We are less socially mobile in this country than most of the evil Western European socialist welfare states, even the once rigidly class concious Great Britain.

I suspect, Freder that you cannot back up that statement with any empirical evidence.

Freder Frederson said...

I suspect, Freder that you cannot back up that statement with any empirical evidence.

Well, that's where you're wrong.

Sorry. Unlike most of you, I just don't make statements based on what my gut tells me must be the truth.

Pogo said...

I suspect, Freder that you cannot back up that statement with ...

Me, I'll quote the CBO and Federal Reserve, as discussed in this May 2007 Heritage article Analyzing Economic Mobility: Measuring Inequality and Economic Mobility. (picked just to make Freder's eyes bleed)

A new report by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) offers new proof that many of America's poorest citizens are doing better than they were 14 years ago. Between 1991 and 2005, the average annual income of the poorest households with children increased by 35 percent, adjusted for inflation--a bit over 2 percent per year.

The average age of those in the bottom 20 percent of the earnings distribution (or bottom quintile) is 66.4 years, suggesting that many in this quintile are retired. Similarly, in the bottom quintile of income, the average age is 52.8 years, old enough to indicate that many are retired, which affects the quintile's average income and hours worked per person. The average age of people in the bottom quintile of wealth, however, is 39.5 years, an age when individuals are typically still acquiring assets. Further supporting the argument that age is an important contributor to inequality, the average ages of those in the top quintiles of earnings, income, and wealth are 45.3, 48, and 56.3, respectively.[4] Average earnings and income tend to peak while people are in their forties, while people accumulate wealth throughout their lives.


Also from the Economic Mobility Project, discussed by Linda Chavez in Turning Good News into Bad

In 1968, median family income for the group was $55,600 (measured in inflation-adjusted 2006 dollars), compared with $71,900 today -- a whopping 29 percent increase. But those numbers don't fully reflect how much better off families are today. Families in 1968 were larger on average, comprising 3.1 individuals in 1968 but 2.1 persons now. Since there are many more childless couples and single parents today, the average family's income is spread among fewer people.

And "[c]hildren born into the bottom fifth are more likely to surpass their parents' income than are children from any other group."

What seems to irk Robinson and others looking for bad economic news is the finding that income among the top two quintiles has gone up more than among the middle and lower two quintiles -- 52 percent for the top fifth, 39 percent for the second fifth, while only 29 percent for the middle, 22 percent for the second lowest and 18 percent for the bottom fifth.

In other words, even though all Americans are much better off today than they were a generation ago, the most affluent Americans have improved their status relative to others. Robinson doesn't tell readers that more than 60 percent of children born into the wealthiest group don't stay there, slipping down into lower income groups, including almost one-in-ten who slip into the poorest fifth of Americans.

About one-third of all Americans are upwardly mobile, according to the study, meaning not only do they earn more money than their parents in absolute terms, but they improve their ranking relative to others as well. Another third, though their incomes are higher than their parents', remain at the same relative rank, and one-third slip into lower ranks than their parents'.

This seems to depict an almost perfectly mobile society, with equal percentages of Americans moving up, staying the same or moving lower in relative economic standing. But some folks, it seems, will always find a way to turn good news into bad.

Henry said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Henry said...

Um, Freder, you did read the whole article, right?

...new research using comparable coding shows that the United States is at the median in terms of opportunity: lower than the most open nations, such as Sweden, Canada, and Norway; but higher than the more rigid nations, such as West Germany, Ireland, or Portugal. [42] Other research suggests that Italy, France, and Great Britain are among the other societies that now display the lowest comparative mobility rates.

...

Although the United States occupies a middle ground in international comparisons of occupational mobility, its ranking in terms of income mobility is lower. Both the United States and Great Britain have significantly less economic mobility than Canada, Finland, Sweden, Norway, and possibly Germany; and the United States may be a less economically mobile society than Great Britain.[45]


Outside of tiny Northern countries (what happened to Ireland, Italy, and France?) the U.S. compares badly to Possibly Germany, and maybe Great Britain.

This reads like one of those car ads where the Thunderblender has better braking than the Hummer, better acceleration than the Voyager, and more cargo capacity than the BMW.

It is an interesting article, however. Consider these points:

Much of the higher intergenerational elasticity in the United States is due to greater income immobility at the top and bottom of the earnings distribution; the mobility of middle earners looks more similar to that in the other countries.[46]

...

The economic returns to education are higher in the United States than they are in other countries, which may explain the stronger intergenerational income persistence.


Seems a pretty complex problem.

Synova said...

Out of fairness, the difference between cars and cell phones and food is that once you have the car or cell phone (at least until it gets repossessed or turned off) you have them. Maybe you had a job when you got them. But food has to be purchased every day if today you've got money or not.

For the rest of it, it seems we have relative opportunity to go with the relative poverty.

The local vo-tech or community college just doesn't *count* because it's not Yale?

Sure, it's a whole lot easier for someone born to wealth to get a legacy admission to an Ivy League school and all the connections that entails than for some farm kid from rural Minnesota or inner-city kid from New Orleans.

Why is that the standard? Does it even make sense to make that the standard?

It's not *effortless* but it is possible for anyone to go to college or if a person's interests don't support that, a vo-tech or trade school. It might be a lot of work and a lot of sacrifice, but there are any number of opportunities for people to take advantage of to improve their situation over that of their parents.

Why do all of those opportunities not count?

Because I can't plan on sending *my* kids to Yale or Dartmouth? Because I can't. No... I'm reduced (REDUCED!!) to advising my daughter to go to the local community college and then the local university, live at home to save money, and get her undergraduate degree as cheaply as possible... and *maybe* at that point, she could (if she still wants to) apply to graduate programs at expensive out-of-state schools.

That is, if she doesn't skip college all together or join the Marines.

I am so freaking oppressed... I don't know why I'm not rioting in the streets. Because there's no way my kid is going to Yale or MIT.

I'm going to McDonalds for a burger and fries, just out of spite for my hopeless life.

Revenant said...

If you look at obesity rates and SES stats (or at the people who shop at your favorite supermarket), you'll note that poor people are fatter than the affluent, for obvious reasons.

That's just because we've raised the standard for what constitutes "poor" to encompass people with a standard of living that would have been considered middle-class fifty or a hundred years ago.

knoxwhirled said...

We are less socially mobile in this country than most of the evil Western European socialist welfare states, even the once rigidly class concious Great Britain.

"socially mobile" "class concious" [sic]

These are classic catchphrases of people who hate/resent/envy people who are rich.

You assume the "upper" classes coast on their privileges... instead of acknowledging that their parents worked their ASSES OFF to get their money, and passed those values down to their kids. This is what the vast, vast majority of the successful do.

For you, liberalism is a convenient excuse to hate people you're envious of, and to feel self-righteous and put-upon at the same time. I earned my degree unlike Bush! nyah nyah

Revenant said...

We are less socially mobile in this country than [in Europe]

Link, please?

Kirk Parker said...

"It's an incremental threat, one that moves us toward immobility, not catatstrophe."

Immobility is a catastrophe of its own.

Middle Class Guy said...

All this academic, pseudo-intellectual and policy wonk statistical analysis blather about fat people?

What do fat people have to do with class, culture, income, or any other social status? They are obese. They cross all cultural, class, and economic lines.

If you eat garbqage food daily for years and develop a bulging, drooping, low hanging gut, thunder thighs, and a triple barstool posterior, whose fault is it?

The governments, Bush's, the food industry,... Give me a freakin break. Unless you have a medical condition, genetic disposition, or a congenital problem, your are obese because you lack self discipline and eat like a pig at the trough.

This Liberal/Conservative/poverty/class warfare nonsense is a waste of oxygen. Remember, Al Gore is watching you.

Henry said...

Rev - Freder did post a link; I've quoted some of it. The article doesn't say what he says it says, but you know how that goes (vnjagvet - you were right).

Knoxwhirled -- I don't think you need to be that skeptical of Freder's article. It seems entirely likely to me that a polyglot nation of 300 million people with broad income quintiles may have less income mobility than some of Europe's tiny Scandinavian outposts.

One could, of course, use the same exact data to extoll the fact that the U.S. has been able to generate enormous wealth while maintaining income and occupational mobility on par with the rest of the developed world. Some of the U.S. is like Sweden, some like Sicily. It evens out.

Joan said...

Synova: I am so freaking oppressed... I don't know why I'm not rioting in the streets. Because there's no way my kid is going to Yale or MIT.

You never know, Syn -- I went to MIT, and I was in no way connected. I grew up in Boston in a neighborhood that saw racial violence in the early '70s. Statistically, I should've ended up nowhere but I somehow managed to graduate from MIT.

All this discussion of poverty ignores the fact that the vast majority of people move up and down through the income brackets through their lives. People start out young and broke, and those that work move up out of poverty and continue to acquire wealth throughout their lives. The idea that people who are in poverty now will remain there forever is grossly inaccurate. While there is some segment that is intractably poor, it's not the majority of the people who find themselves in the lowest bracket.

People are getting fat everywhere because everywhere people are starting to eat too many refined carbohydrates, which screws with both the appetite and insulin metabolism. Everywhere the Western diet is introduced, obesity follows. It's not rocket science but for some reason the medical establishment can't force itself to admit that Ancel Keyes' theory that fat makes you fat was always bogus.

Synova said...

How long ago, Joan, and did you like it?

Honestly, if my daughter has the grades it's possible. She's in 9th grade this year though, and has quite a bit of time to change her mind about what she wants to do. She generally goes from enlisting in the Marines to going to an art school to working with direct neural interfaces. This last is where I usually suggest that since she'd need graduate work anyhow, it makes sense to do undergraduate work locally.

When it comes to schools and social mobility I think of a foreign student that was in one of my classes at college. He was from Cyprus. (Oooo la la, doesn't quite cover it.) I brought him home to my parent's farm once so he could see more than just the college campus and the regional party/resort town. So he had a clue what social back ground I was from. And I was talking to him about how I'd briefly considered applying to the Air Force Academy. He knew what that was and was duly impressed. But what was funny was that *I* explained that I didn't have the grades or extra-curriculars. What *he* thought was bizarre is that I didn't see getting the required endorsements from a Senator as a huge hurdle. Didn't I need connections? Didn't it depend on my family? It was one of those moments of cultural clarity where the differences in our expectations were starkly illuminated.

Joan said...

I graduated in '84, and well, IHdTFP. I only recently figured out that one of my problems there was a self-imposed status/class issue, and it's much too complicated to go into here. (It took a while for me to figure out I wasn't supposed to be blue collar anymore, as dumb as that sounds...) The potential for a rigorous education is there, as is the potential to be totally overwhelmed and wash out. I'm distressed by how liberal MIT has become, and I find their continued support of Nancy Hopkins after she created that ridiculous Larry Summers kerfuffle quite disturbing.

The great thing about MIT is that it has (or had, when I was there, and I can't imagine that's changed) a thriving ROTC program, so your daughter could maybe do AF or Marine ROTC while there which would help out a lot with tuition.

Hoosier Daddy said...

I wouldn't want to go to Yale just because forty of my relatives had been and a slot was reserved for me. To paraphrase the old Smith Barney commercials, I got my college degrees and acceptances the old fashioned way, I earned them.

Freder

This comment of yours is quite telling. You are hung up on fairness rather than opportunity. Your family legacy may have reserved a spot for you at Yale but it didn't reserve a degree. Once you got in, then it was up to you, pass or fail. In other words, you would have had to earn your degree family ties notwithstanding.

Someone else said it and that is, life ain't fair. Some people are born with an indomitable intellect which allows them to succeed at ease. Others have to work damn hard at it. You seem to want every one to have a level playing field and that is simply unrealistic.

I stand by my initial statement in that you finish high school, don't get or get someone else knocked up and get a job and you're 90% of the way there. If you contend that those three things are insurmountable obstacles for some inner city kid then cest le vie cause it sure as hell doesn't get any easier.

Roger said...

Interesting thread; it is worth noting that income and wealth need to be separated for the effects of both on social mobility. With respect to historical analysis: Freder is to Zinn as Pogo is to Bagehot. For some, the glass will always be half empty.

knoxwhirled said...

H- I wasn't even addressing the study, I was addressing F's comments and the language he used.