Nutrition, Personal Finance, Political Economy

by Chris Sturr | February 08, 2009

It’s time to pick on Ron Lieber again; he writes the New York Times business section’s “Your Money” column. Nothing against Lieber in particular, I swear—it’s just that personal finance tends to reveal the individualistic biases of the bourgeois press.

(The last time I picked on “Your Money” was when Lieber gave a painstaking explanation of how very very hard it is to keep on the right side of tax law when you have servants (not that he used that term). This post criticized Lieber’s column in the wake of Tim Geithner’s “nanny tax” problems. Well, Lieber must not have the D&S blog on his RSS feed, because on Feb. 4th, he was at it again, in more detail, in the wake of Tom Daschle’s tax problems, and the nanny tax problem that Obama attempted-appointee Nancy Killefer had. Since he keeps coming back to the topic, I have another chance to bring up something I’d forgotten to in my last post. In both articles, Leiber recommends some firms that can help people with servants keep on top of things; one of the firms is Breedlove & Associates. Now I don’t think “Breedlove” is a common name; in fact, as far as I know, the first time I came across it was in Leiber’s first nanny tax column (in the Jan. 23rd issue of the Times). But in the next day’s Times, there was that name again, in an article about the besieged openly gay mayor of Portland, Ore., Sam Adams, who has been in hot water for having had a relationship with an 18-year-old intern named Beau Breedlove. Ok—it’s not salient, unless we find out that Sam Adams has a nanny tax problem, too.)

Back to the latest “Your Money” of note: this past Friday’s column tries to wring personal finance advice out of “diet and nutrition gurus”:

Nutritional Insights on Saving Money

By RON LIEBER | February 6, 2009

Tired of advice from finger-wagging financial experts? You’ve come to the right place, because this week I’m turning to diet and nutrition gurus for advice on your money instead.

Various studies (and common sense) suggest that eating well pays off in a number of ways.

If you eat right, you’ll have more energy. That makes you more likely to succeed at work and earn more money. Then, you’ll be able to afford better food, stay healthy and spend less on medical costs. And the virtuous circle continues.

That’s the way it’s supposed to work. The reality—reflected in bulging waistlines and debt loads—is that Americans generally haven’t shown much discipline at McDonald’s, the mall or in the mortgage market.

How do you start getting your financial life in better shape? Below, you’ll find four tips drawn from the world of nutrition, intended to make self-control feel a bit less like deprivation.

Read the rest of the article (not that I’m recommending it, particularly).

For less individualistic and more structural advice (that is, advice that gets beyond finger-wagging about personal discipline), Lieber should have checked with Jackie Ovadia, a nutritionist we mentioned in the editorial note of our May/June 2008 issue, in connection with Thad Williamson’s cover article “America Beyond Consumerism”:

As skyrocketing prices for food and other commodities dominate the headlines, why is Dollars & Sense running a cover article criticizing consumerism? After all, basic necessities like food and fuel are stretching people’s household budgets in the United States, and are entirely out of reach for more and more people worldwide. How can overconsumption be a pressing economic problem worthy of our attention?

A recent email from a reader offers one explanation. Jackie Ovadia, a clinical nutritionist and weight management educator from Southern California, wrote to praise a D&S article from 1999, “The Growth Consensus Unravels,” by Jonathan Rowe: “Great article and a lot of insights on what is going on in our economy … I am including this article in my reading list for the students attending my ‘weight loss made simple’ class.”

Political economy for dieters? Seems odd, until you consider this passage from Rowe’s article:

A wide array of physical and social stresses arise from the activities that get lumped into the euphemistic term “growth.” … The economy in such cases doesn’t solve problems so much as create new problems that require more expenditure to solve. Food is supposed to sustain people, for example. But today the dis-economies of eating sustain the GDP instead. The food industry spends some $21 billion a year on advertising to entice people to eat food they don’t need. Not coincidentally there’s now a $32 billion diet and weight loss industry to help people take off the pounds that inevitably result. When that doesn’t work, which is often, there is always the vacuum pump or knife. There were some 110,000 liposuctions in the United States last year; at five pounds each that’s some 275 tons of flab up the tube. … It is a grueling cycle of indulgence and repentance, binge and purge. Yet each stage of this miserable experience, viewed through the pollyanic lens of economics, becomes growth and therefore good.

In the same vein, Thad Williamson’s think piece in this issue is not about berating consumers for our gluttony. Rather, it’s about evaluating—and superceding—an economic model that relies on ever-increasing consumption, including consumption that has very little to do with meeting genuine human needs.

We haven’t posted Thad Williamson’s article (you can order back issues here, or better yet, subscribe), but Jonathan Rowe’s article is online—here.

2 comments

Comments (2)

  1. Couldn’t disagree with you more about Lieber and his column. His advice is consistenly solid and well researched. Which, you know, is why he has a column in the NYT and you have a blog.

  2. Hi Jason,I agree with you that it is (as far as I can tell) consistently solid and well researched, which is why I was careful to say that I don’t have anything against Lieber in particular, but against the individualistic biases of the personal finance genre.(Did you read the post?)–CSPS Besides a blog, we also have a 35-year-old magazine, to which I hope you’ll consider subscribing.

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