We’re #28!

As the Olympics perform their core task of worsening the disease of nationalism, one might ask: What medal does the United States of America win when it comes to what really matters — the empirical quality of life inside this, human history’s richest, most powerful, most capitalist society? Is it true, as our overclass has long claimed and as the Olympics reinforce, that a collectively wealthy nirvana of minimally restrained corporate money-making also yields the best of all possible social worlds? Does the flagship of big business society really prove the truth of Adam Smith’s famous claim that

by directing that industry in such a manner as its produce may be of the greatest value, [the capitalist] intends only his [or her] own gain, and he [or she] is in this, as in many other cases, led by an invisible hand to promote an end which was no part of his intention. Nor is it always the worse for the society that it was not part of it. By pursuing his [or her] own interest he [or she]… promotes that of the society more effectually than when he really intends to promote it.

For those actually willing to investigate and answer this question, the evidence is clear: Check out Mercer Consultants’ 2008 quality of life and personal safety survey results.

Mercer, which describes itself as “a global leader for trusted HR and related financial advice, products and services” that “has more than 18,000 employees serving clients in over 180 cities and 40 countries and territories worldwide,” finds that the top US city in its quality-of-life index is:

Honolulu, ranked #28

Meanwhile, even more astounding (from the perspective of ideology, rather than street knowledge) is this:

ZERO US cities are ranked in the top 50 in the area of personal safety!

Meanwhile, Business Week reports on the steady advance of the obesity/Type II diabetes epidemic in the USA:

Despite the many public efforts to promote physical activity and good nutrition in recent years, despite the constant warnings about the obesity crisis, Americans just keep getting fatter. According to an annual state-by-state look at the problem, adult obesity rates increased in 37 states in the past year, and only the District of Columbia saw a decrease—down a mere 0.1%. More than 25% of adults are now obese in 28 states, up from 19 states last year.

In 1991 no state had an obesity rate above 20%. Today more than 20% of adults are obese in every state except Colorado, where the number stands at 18.4%, according to the survey by two nonprofits, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Trust for America’s Health. Mississippi, the worst performer of all 51 on the list (which includes the District of Columbia), stands at 31.7%. Similarly disturbing increases were found in the percentage of adults with Type 2 diabetes, a weight-related disease. The survey found higher incidence of diabetes in 26 states. Four states are above 10%.

Overall, adult obesity rates have doubled since 1980, from 15% to 30%, and two-thirds of U.S. adults are now considered overweight or obese. The national rate for diabetes in adults has grown from 5.2% in 1980 to more than 8% now, and one in three Americans has hypertension—often weight-related. The report estimates that the direct health-care costs of obesity exceed $61 billion annually.

Of course, the massively obvious and overwhelming primary cause of all this disaster — corporate capitalism and its marketing juggernaut — cannot be mentioned. Hence, Business Week conveys the confounded confusion of the worried “experts”:

The U.S. “is not treating the obesity crisis with the seriousness it deserves,” said Jeff Levi, executive director of Trust for America’s Health at a press conference. He complained that while obesity rates keep climbing, federal funding for programs to address the problem has been steadily reduced over the last several years. “The only thing going down is the money spent to prevent this epidemic.”

And all this is much worse when you remember that the distribution of wealth and power in the United States is also extremely pyramid-shaped. Those Mercer rankings are by and for the pampered business consultants Mercer sends around the globe. Imagine how much less happy and safe life is for the ordinary mortals seeking, rather than downsizing, jobs in the cities Mercer ranks!

And, as Business Week reports, like all other major diseases, obesity/Type II diabetes is tightly and inversely correlated with individuals’ social class situations. To wit:

7 of the 10 [US] states with the highest obesity rates [are] also in the top 10 for poverty rates.

Reality could hardly be simpler: Unrestrained corporate capitalism leads to market totalitarianism, a social order in which the priorities of the investing class invade and increasingly dominate all three spheres of modern life — work/economy, politics, and personal life/civil society.

The plain logical fact is that letting corporate investors select our macro-options for us means that we were destined to live as we now do in the United States, where cars, television, and highly processed foods and products literally dictate the ways we move, think and feel. It’s all as bad for our health and happiness as it is profitable to the Richistanis among/above us.

The Emperor has no clothes, and Adam Smith is deader than a doornail. So, crank up the band and let our ruling class mount the stand and wave as they accept the medal they deserve for the kind of competition they’ve run… it’s the dog-shit medal.

Michael Dawson is author of The Consumer Trap: Big Business Marketing in American Life (2004). He is the publisher of the blog The Consumer Trap, which aims to expose capitalism, marketing and market totalitarianism. Read other articles by Michael, or visit Michael's website.

17 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. joeblow said on August 20th, 2008 at 9:50am #

    The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation is a Johnson & Johnson / BIG pharma front group, helping to “sort out America’s health problems,” so that J&J and the pharmaceutical companies can “help straighten everything out…” For a whopping fee, of course.

    I’m uncomfortable with this obesity stuff because, as with the war on smokers, the corporations will not suffer, will not really be reigned in, but, rather, ordinary folks will be vilified, screwed, “denormalized” ( the official term ) and robbed – all for “the public good.” Moreover, it’s hard for me ( an uneducated dilettante ) to understand how this sudden leap in fat folks can be attributed to sugar and fat intake brought on by corporate marketing. Sure, the corporations push crap, but they always have. I grew up in the fifties and cartoon and kid tv shows were overflowing with ads for crappy foods and snacks and drinks. There’s little change, as far as I can discern. We lived on sugar, then sat down to fatty foods at the dinner table. There was no “epidemic” of obesity.

    Rather, it seems to me that the culture, the entire system in which we all pretend to “live,” is gradually turning us into drones, afraid to run, play, laugh, take risks, be foolish…. or to do anything at all without seeking “expert opinion.”
    Don’t go outside, the sun will kill you, or you’ll get bitten by a bug and get Lyme disease, or you’ll get too near to some bird droppings and get some sort of horrible bird flu, or you’ll be bitten by mosquitoes and get West Nile Virus… Besides, there are so many predators out there – children are at risk, of course, but so are all of us! Beware of strangers! In any case, before you go out to play, whether you’re a kid or an adult, you should probably consult with your doctor. You may be putting yourself or your children at risk if you just “willy-nilly” go outside!
    Whatever’s bothering you, we now have a “medical diagnosis” for it, and we have drugs to treat it!
    Stay in, watch tv, play video games, take your medicines, order something over the internet! Don’t smoke, don’t drink, don’t drink coffee, don’t eat sugary foods, don’t eat fatty foods, lower your cholesterol numbers, check your bone density scores… See your doctor… Aargh!

    The same bunch of “experts” who created this horrific mess are now going to help us find a way out, but their cures will be worse than their diseases, since the system will go on, and they represent the system – they ARE the system.

    People in the “developed West” are healthier and live longer than at any time in history, yet we’re still all f `d up. Why? Well, we’re miserable. We’re enslaved, and everything we do is overseen and approved or disapproved by a vast bureaucratic superstructure which, ultimately doesn’t care at all about whether or not we’re healthy. They care about the money… Let me say that again: Neither government nor the corporations nor foundations like the Robert Wood Johnson foundation could care at all about whether or not we’re healthy. It’s all about the money. Somewhere inside, we all know this, so we’re paranoid, and rightly so. Hence, studies to see what our “safety and happiness” numbers are. Oops, we’re only # 28!

    We don’t need more studies, we need more freedom. We don’t need more “exercise programs,” we need more freedom. We don’t need a war on big advertising, we need more freedom. We don’t need more cutesy essays like this one – we need more freedom. We don’t need more rules and regulations and wars on smokers, fat folks, etc., etc., etc… Slaves get sick and fall apart… Free people can find their own way. We need more freedom.

  2. Donald Hawkins said on August 20th, 2008 at 9:57am #

    Morpheus: What is the Matrix? Control. The Matrix is a computer-generated dream world built to keep us under control in order to change a human being into this.
    [holds up a Duracell battery]
    Neo: No, I don’t believe it. It’s not possible.
    Morpheus: I didn’t say it would be easy, Neo. I just said it would be the truth.

    Now of course this was just from the movie the Matrix and has no basis in the real world now does it?

    The plain logical fact is that letting corporate investors select our macro-options for us means that we were destined to live as we now do in the United States, where cars, television, and highly processed foods and products literally dictate the ways we move, think and feel. It’s all as bad for our health and happiness as it is profitable to the Richistanis among/above us. M Dawson

    Call, call now. I am going to watch the Olympics on my flat screen TV then get into my small SUV and go get a happiness meal. I could have had a V-8 and took my bike to the bookstore. No, I don’t believe it. It’s not possible. I didn’t say it would be easy, I just said it would be the truth.

  3. Donald Hawkins said on August 20th, 2008 at 11:45am #

    Joeblow what you just said about taking both the red and blue pill was very perceptive and of course that’s where this comes in.

    Morpheus: The Matrix is everywhere. It is all around us. Even now, in this very room. You can see it when you look out your window or when you turn on your television. You can feel it when you go to work… when you go to church… when you pay your taxes. It is the world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth.
    Neo: What truth?
    Morpheus: That you are a slave, Neo. Like everyone else you were born into bondage. Into a prison that you cannot taste or see or touch. A prison for your mind.

    Vote McCain no Obama. Climate change is real, no it’s a hoax. The polar ice cap is melting that’s just normal. President Bush feels your pain. Free your mind. How do you do that? Don’t ask for so much ask for more. The have and have more’s are right. The meek shall inherit the Earth. Decisions, decisions and witch one is right. May the force be with you Joeblow.

  4. joeblow said on August 20th, 2008 at 12:45pm #

    Thank you, Mr. Hawkins.
    Thanks, too, for the quotes from the Matrix…
    For me, and obviously for you, too, it was not just a superb action flick, it was an IDEA movie. It was a towering idea movie, one of the best of
    its type ever made, methinks.
    It stunned me when I first saw it, and it continues to shock me, even now. It often pushes me inward, toward questions and moments of wonder which I’ll probably never be able to define or completely understand. An extraordinary piece of work.
    Please, be well…

  5. John Kincaid said on August 20th, 2008 at 8:46pm #

    We don’t need more freedom.

    We need more responsibility.

    You are as free as you are individually responsible.

    Responsibility is what is discouraged. Let the experts (cops, doctors, politicians) take responsibility in your stead and you have had it.

  6. joeblow said on August 21st, 2008 at 8:49am #

    Freedom IS responsibility. Freedom is order. Freedom is effective, immediate action and interaction…

    The cops, doctors and politicians, various corporate alliances, foundations, think tanks, and lobby groups, as well as the public health industry, the various federal and state burocracies, as well as a disturbing number of shadow government groups and projects have already taken “responsibility in [our] stead…”

    That was my point. It’s absurd to imply that people have simply abdicated their responsibility for themselves, their families, their communities, and that, consequently, the hotshots have stepped in to take up the reins. While details may clash, the contrary is consistently true throughout the modern world.
    Corporate “capitalism” can not function when people are allowed to take responsibility for their lives. Beginning with the enclosure movements in the UK, ordinary people have been precluded from access to the essential natural resources in their environments. “Legally” barred from the right to forage / gather food from forests, and from the right to hunt, fish, cut down trees, create farms and gardens, etc., people faced misery, starvation, crushing poverty, and a complete lack of options. What did they do?

    They did what the State knew they would have to do when they passed the laws – they went off to various population centers to work in slave labor conditions for greedy, inhuman / antihuman businesses which, in the absence of any alternatives, could use, abuse, and toss them aside at whim. Enclosure, in one way or another, has been the world model for states and for capitalism for centuries. Licences, too, in their almost infinite forms, are a type of enclosure, though “public safety” is the reason generally given for their requirement.

    The US, especially, has been relentless and quite savage in seeing to it that there simply are no alternatives to a life of service to the system. Native Americans were butchered NOT simply because they sometimes attempted to stand up to the growing power and relentless expansion of the US government and population, but because tribalism offered an alternative way to live, a most tempting and human “out” from the terrible systems being developed by modern business. All alternatives, great and small, must be eliminated, and they have been. Big media portrayed the Black Panthers as a bunch of big, scary black guys with guns. In reality, the Panthers were a community oriented group, teaching residents of Black communities to take care of themselves and their friends and neighbors. They, too, were butchered. All alternatives, all opportunities for people to take responsibility for their own lives must be crushed.

    Corporations have mimicked this process, by lobbying for increasing numbers of increasingly severe laws and “acceptable practices,” precluding ordinary people from taking charge of any aspect of their lives. Instead, one must turn to government or corporations or to a growing number of experts to satisfy any and all needs. Government and corporations have forcibly taken over the education of our children, who are forcibly removed from our homes when they are only 5 or 6 years old. They’ve precluded us from dealing with our own health care needs, assisting the AMA and physician groups in keeping the number of doctors abnormally low in order that fees may be absurdly high. They’ve made sure that alternatives to the medical system are entirely and universally illegal… You may know how to care for a variety of physical problems and illnesses but if you’re not a licensed medical practitioner, you’ll go to jail if you try to help out. Hell, I could make this list as long as an encyclopedia and still not exhaust the many ways in which the State has made it – a crime! – for us to take responsibility for our own lives and for those we love and live among.

    Freedom IS responsibility. Freedom IS order…

    If you feel this analysis is incorrect, John, I’d be delighted if you’d enlighten us with some specifics.

  7. bozhidar balkas said on August 21st, 2008 at 9:32am #

    if you’re saying- and it seems you are- that people are not lazy, stupid. arrogant, evil, irresponsible, careless, etcetc., i agree with that conclusion.
    to me, the basic cause for peoples’ seeming laziness, carelessness, etc., is the fact (yes, fact; not a conclusion/wishefulness) that at about 20,000 yrs ago people started to miseducate people.
    let us recall that just 6-7,000 yrs ago pharaohs claimed they were gods.
    today people don’t believe that obama, clinton, kennedy, et al are/were gods but most people believe they were/are stars or in some way exalted.
    and it is a fiction that they are superior to anyone else. and nobody can adjust to a fictive ‘reality’; one can only adjust to reality.
    children are massively miseducated thru TV, movies, media, schooling, nurture of cult of personality, sanctification of the constitution, advertising, etc.
    much, too much of what they think they know isn’t so. are they turning to sex, drink, drug, theft because as adults they feel so stupid; so out of it, etc.?
    well, trying to adjust to fiction, can drive many people mad/sad, etc!
    thank u

  8. joeblow said on August 21st, 2008 at 10:22am #

    Hi, Mr. Balkas. Yes, I am saying that people are NOT lazy, stupid. arrogant, evil, irresponsible, careless, etcetc…
    I think – or perhaps it’s a matter of what I’ve chosen to believe – that much of what passes for “human nature” in modern nation states is actually a sort of “stress disorder,” a response to living in essentially anti-human conditions with ever increasing levels of repression, domination. Much of our madness is surely a sane response to an horrific, clostrophobic, suffocating, almost universally dishonest, brutal, often murderous system.
    I think you’re right about our placing various people up, way up, upon
    pedestals, and seeing them as somehow more than human, surely much more than “poor slobs like us,” and that this is a major result of our [mis] education process. We have to learn to “respect our betters!”
    You’d probably enjoy John Taylor Gatto ( American Education ) or some of Emma Goldman’s stuff about education.
    Thank you, sir…
    ( I must go dig a big, big hole. I’m late…) See ya all later…

  9. John Kincaid said on August 21st, 2008 at 10:30am #

    Dear Mr. Blow,

    You did not mention responsibility so it seemed I should bring it up.

    Americans seem to have a confusion concerning freedom. They seem to equate it with privilege.

  10. Michael Dawson said on August 21st, 2008 at 11:13am #

    John, how do you propose that one could change this situation we’re in through personal responsibility? People are not islands. It’s largely irrelevant what we do as individuals, unless we have control of things like the mass media and the larger economic choices. To get access to those, we need collective action, i.e. a mass movement.

    “Personal responsibility” demagoguery is a Reaganite political trick, a distraction from what matters. Make the conditions to encourage it (e.g. provide a living-wage job for every adult who wants one), and it happens automatically. Ignore those conditions, and you go nowhere.

    And, P.S.: How many of the “personal responsibility” peddlers can pass their own test? Not many.

  11. bozhidar balkas said on August 21st, 2008 at 12:27pm #

    one need to omit only one salient and relevant fact from what we know about reality(we are part of it) to present a fictitious one.
    let’s take as an example the word “technology”. it is used by deceivers as branch of knowledge existing per se; i.e., having no connection whatsoever with the knowledge nor enormous regression it causes.
    but technology is part of knowledge.
    and knowing how much there is regression (bad air/water, cancer, warring, stress, etcetc) is also part of the knowledge.
    naturally, deceivers do not count the regress; they think only of progress.
    in other words, full progress ahead; damn the regress. so, a fundamental question arises on its own, Can we have progress w.o. regress?
    sorry folks, i finished last in my class; so, i say i haven’t got a clue about possibility of improvements w.o. harming another human being.
    perhaps every novelty shld be tested first. genetically engineered food cld be tested over let’s say a century.
    but only with our approval and full knowledge and transparency.
    let no idea scare us. let’s not reject any idea a priori.

  12. John Kincaid said on August 21st, 2008 at 2:48pm #

    I did not say collective responsibility was bad. It starts with personal responsibility by many.

    I am on welfare (SSDI, Section 8, etc.). I am there because of inability to work.

    My illness is not even recognized by orthodox medicine. By taking responsibility, going to the library, searching the internet, treating myself effectively I am slowly getting well.

    I’m a Yankee, I love to work. Life on the couch sucks.

    The reagonites would find me to be irresponsible simply because I’m not well enough to work and there is no valid test (yet) to show how I am ill, much less a functional treatment.

    I would like you to see that you will never ever have collective responsibility without personal first. It’s not an amoeba.

    Look at how some commentors here hide behind pseudonyms. How brave is that? If I were Noticed and incarcerated for thinking unacceptably I would die for lack of proper care.

    Come out, come out whoever you are. Make statements in your real name. What you have to lose is the problem, there is your trap.

  13. Michael Dawson said on August 21st, 2008 at 3:20pm #

    “[Y]ou will never ever have collective responsibility without personal first.”

    Not only do I disagree with this familiar claim, but I’m not even sure what it means.

    Are you saying that we can’t run our collective affairs better until everybody, or at least a big majority, are acting like saints at the individual level? If that can be done without/before changing the behavioral environment, then why bother worrying about the collective level?

    I am much more inclined to say what strikes me as true: “You can never have widespread personal responsibility without collective first.” Unless and until you arrange the collective priorities and institutions to facilitate and encourage stability and happiness and genuinely proper individual behaviors, they won’t happen. Unemployment, poverty, and commercial television are incompatible with maximum personal responsibility. Anger, depression, and misinformation are real problems, and people naturally don’t respond well when under their influence.

  14. Michael Dawson said on August 21st, 2008 at 3:22pm #

    Over-privilege is an even bigger destroyer of personal responsibility.

    Greed and power-tripping are also great personal dangers that emanate from our collective situation.

  15. John Kincaid said on August 21st, 2008 at 3:39pm #

    “Unless and until you arrange the collective priorities and institutions to facilitate and encourage stability and happiness and genuinely proper individual behaviors, they won’t happen.”

    You intend to make these changes by committee?

    Of course it can’t be done by one person acting alone. But you have the sequence wrong. Until a few take charge and get it right they many won’t have anything to follow.

    Few I guess would be 3 or more. 1+1+1=3.

  16. Michael Dawson said on August 21st, 2008 at 3:51pm #

    Well, there’s a huge difference between saying we need political leadership and that personal responsibility is our main political issue.

    Meanwhile, it’s simply a choice we all have to make: Are the problems we face rooted more in personal (micro) or collective (macro) choices? Nobody doubts that both levels matter, but you have to make an intellectual judgment about where on the continuum you’re going to draw your x.

    I say fix the collective and the personal will follow. Merely fixing the personal is not only a pipe dream, it’s extremely weak, often irrelevant. We have millions of angels in this nation, but they are largely excluded from positions of real power. Even the great Noam Chomsky can’t get on corporate TV.

  17. Donald Hawkins said on August 21st, 2008 at 5:10pm #

    It is only a slight exaggeration to say that mankind constitutes even now a planetary community of production and consumption. I have now reached the point where I may indicate briefly what to me constitutes the essence of the crisis in our time. It concerns the relationship of the individual to society. The individual has become more conscious than ever of his dependence upon society. But he does not experience this dependence as a positive asset, as an organic tie, as a protective force, but rather as a threat to his natural rights, or even to his economic existence. Moreover, his position in society is such that the egotistical drives of his make-up are constantly being accentuated, while his social drives, which are by nature weaker, progressively deteriorate. All human beings, whatever their position in society, are suffering from this process of deterioration. Unknowingly prisoners of their own egotism, they feel insecure, lonely, and deprived of the naive, simple and unsophisticated enjoyment of life. Man can find meaning in life, short and perilous as it is, only through devoting himself to society.
    The economic anarchy of capitalist society as it exists today is, in my opinion, the real source of evil. (Albert Einstein, 1949)

    I wonder what Albert would say if he could see capitalist society in 2008? Yikes