9 February 2011: Economy fueled by unhealthy choices

Economy fueled by unhealthy choices

To James Madison’s dictum “If men were angels, no government would be necessary,” I propose a post-Madison economic corollary: If capitalists were angels, we’d be a healthy and debt-free society.

Debt and poor health serve as linchpins of the modern American economic system. Two recent Denver Post columns published the same day get at those two seemingly disparate issues.

In her piece “Years later, punished by bankruptcy,” Eva Syrovy tells of her experiences of declaring bankruptcy after a series of debacles. She owns up to the fact that her credit card addiction helped lead to her difficulties.

“I’m probably the exactly the sort of person who shouldn’t even have one of those magic pieces of plastic.”

Syrovy is far from alone, one among millions who shouldn’t carry that modern-day talisman. But in a way, Eva should count her blessings: She doesn’t live in Minnesota, Washington, Arkansas, Arizona, Illinois, or Indiana where being jailed for outstanding debt can happen despite the U.S. outlawing debtors’ prisons in the early 19th century.

Congressional Republicans have declared war on the national debt and Sen. Mark Udall has come out in favor of a balanced budget amendment. I hear them, though I sardonically laugh at the hypocrisy and duplicity of a system that not only encourages debt, but also thrives on it.

A credit card is like alcohol: some handle them better than others. Preying upon college students, fresh out of high school and their parents’ dominion, by encouraging them to sign up for a credit card—consumer debt sits at $2.4 trillion—is akin to the McDonald’s Happy Meal strategy: Hook them while they’re young, and you’ll have an addicted population. It can be financial crack-cocaine, yet strangely some seem to be more troubled by medical marijuana dispensaries in Idaho Springs.

Long-time Post columnist Ed Quillen muses about being informed by his optometrist, of all people, that he has diabetes. How’s that for a surprise? Your vision is blurry, so you see your eye doctor for an obvious solution to the problem.

But in a not-so-unusual twist of fate anymore across America, Ed has found himself turning to the Chaffee (County) People’s Clinic for treatment due to his being unable to keep his prior insurance because of rising costs.

(By the way, if you missed Linda Trenbeath’s column last week about the new website for public health information for the county, please go to www.clearcreekhealth.us)

Quillen, like Syrovy, acknowledges that his past behavior—primarily poor diet—helped lead him into his predicament.

“Had I eaten better years ago—I was pretty much a meat and potatoes guy—I might not have developed diabetes.”

While taking responsibility for his plight—“owning his disease”—Quillen also zeroes in on a root cause: an American food industry “devoted to feeding us tasty swill that causes obesity and diabetes” that is “subsidized and protected by representatives who decry the ‘nanny state.’”

Quillen calls it “people-killing profits,” which, I’ll add, serves as well to keep us in debt.

Being in debt means giving your power to those to whom you are indebted. It’s benign, or not so benign, indentured servitude at its core. Life happens, and falling into debt oftentimes is the result of cruel twist of fate. But not always—it too often befalls those with “eyes bigger than their stomach,” as my mother would’ve put it.

Likewise, poor health is often the consequence of questionable personal choices.

Yes, the system is culpable, but the exercise of personal responsibility is the ultimate factor. The good news is that in the end each individual has the power to say “NO!” to the system. A few suggestions:
• Give more thought to what you put in your body rather than how you adorn or cover it.
• Move everyday whether swimming, walking, running, skiing, or cycling—no matter the weather.
• Use a credit card only if disciplined and with the resources to pay off the balance each month; in other words, pay no interest ever. Further, if using a card for convenience, use only one that “rewards” you with rebates on your purchases. It’s a comfort food that’s good for your health.

“Put it together and you see a pattern,” writes Quillen. “Feed people junk food and keep them fat and lazy. That’s good for the economy.”

And Syrovy speaks for millions: “It’s too easy for me to forget the pain that’s coming in a month or two, and spend money on things I do not absolutely need.”

It’s the power of choice by maintaining a healthy jaded view of the system. It will give you control and make you feel so much better in all the right places: physically, mentally, and financially.

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