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The obesity of the State and its consequences

In his book, After America (published in 2011, which already seems a loooong time ago), Mark Steyn wrote this:

“Any visitor from the Fifties would soon discover, in a bleak comment on the limits of predictive fiction, our brains didn’t get bigger. But our butts did. If DC Comics had gone with the `Super-Ass of Jimmy Olsen,’ they’d have been up there with Nostradamus. `Our culture’s sedentary character – our strong preference for watching over doing, for virtual over real action – seems closely related to our changing body shape,’ wrote the Harvard historian Niall Ferguson. `We now consume significantly more fats and carbohydrates than we actually need. According to the standard measure of obesity, the body-mass index, the percentage of Americans classified as obese nearly doubled, from 12 percent to 21 per cent, between 1991 and 2001. Nearly two-thirds of all American men are officially considered overweight, and nearly three-quarters of those between 45 and 64. Only Western Samoans and Kuwaitis are fatter.’ We are our own walking (or waddling) metaphor from consumption unmoored from production.”


“Our `changing physical shape’ (in Ferguson’s words) seems an almost literal rebuke to the notion of republican self-government. Never mind the constitution, where are our checks and balances?”
Mark Steyn, After America, pages 225-6.

Steyn is connecting two things: a government/central bank policy mix that focuses on consumption, rather than production, and ties policy to that, including welfare policy (ideas such as Univeral Basic Income, etc). Also, the risk-adverse, Precautionary Principle of our time seems to go against humans being adventurous, taking calculated risks, getting up and going places, etc. For example, he notes how young adults today can go through their teens and early 20s without having a job. When, as I did, you worked on Saturdays and during the summer holidays (paper rounds, working on farms, in shops, etc) there were various consequences – all good – including the fact that you had to be physically active. (Glenn Reynolds writes in a similar vein on why teenagers should work before going to college.) Now, the idea of young people working is treated as being on the same plane as evil Victorian mill owners out of a Dickens novel. But Steyn is also making the point about production – and a very anti-Keynesian point. As the “Austrian” school notes (as in George Reisman’s book Capitalism), to consume, you have to produce and that means accumulate capital (physical capital, and mental capital, such as skills and habits). So much present policy seems to work against accumulating capital (taxes, regulations, inflation, the general demonisation of wealthy people, etc). And we print or have printed money to fill the gap. So our economy becomes zombified on ultra-low rates, and like someone who hasn’t taken a regular walk, lifted weights or performed physical work, we get bloated and sick.

Much of what Steyn wrote 12 years ago was accurate, and many of his predictions hold true. I think where the book is a bit off is that he thinks the threat from fundamentalist Islam was the biggest threat to the US while he did not write lot about China, although China does figure in this book quite a bit, to be fair. And the idea of Russia running amok in Ukraine or wherever, while he hints at this risk, it does not really figure all that much. I am quibbling, though. This is a book that holds up well. Its conclusion – that we have to shrink the State, remains as valuable as ever.

Right, off to the gym.

15 comments to The obesity of the State and its consequences

  • Roué le Jour

    If you demobed the civil service you wouldn’t need immigrants.

  • Patrick Crozier

    I am glad to say it’s Book #2 on my To Read list. So, maybe sometime in the 2030s…

  • Paul Marks.

    Islam is the teachings and deeds (actions) of Muhammed – which he claimed to be ordered by God. As Muhammed was a ruler these teachings and actions were laid down as a legal code, which he claimed came from God – and can not be changed (that is the basic core of Islam). Therefore there is really no need for a prefix (such as “fundamentalist”) in front of the world “Islam”. It was failure to grasp this that led to such things as the failed war in Afghanistan and so on.

    Some people, such as Pope Francis (but the elite generally – of all religions and no religion), still seem to have not understood this – but there we are.

    The same well meaning Gentleman, and other well meaning “liberals” of various religions and no religion at all, also believes (and has said multiple times) that an unlimited number of migrants should be allowed into Western countries and given government benefits and public services (housing and so on). There is really no point in getting into an argument with well meaning people who take such a position – it would be like arguing with well meaning and nice people who insist (insist) that 1+1=3. “The migrants are not hostile” – they are hostile. “They can and must be provided for” – that can NOT be done, as observation of the numbers entering the United States and Europe shows.

    Putting false statements, such as the once famous claims in the first paragraph of a document of 1891 – that poverty had increased and morality declined, into a religious document does not make them any less false statements. Statements must be judged on their truth – not on their source, to judge statements on their source “but this great and good man said…..” is to commit an “argument from authority” – one of the classic errors of reasoning. And to then claim that the, false, rise of poverty and, false, decline of morality, in 1891 (compared to past centuries) was caused by free enterprise and industrialisation, and could be corrected by government benefits and public services and by regulations and interventions violating Freedom of Contract, is to build a vast palace of error (and harmful error – as we see, for example from the Mayors of such cities as Vienna and Boston in the 1900s, to Mr Joseph Biden today) upon the original false claims. One can also see this in the false and harmful policies of, for example, Disraeli and Bismarck – it is NOT a matter of religion, it is a matter of false reasoning.

    For example, introducing the Poor Law Tax in Ireland in 1838 (state education had been imposed after 1831) and vastly increasing the burden of the Poor Law Tax in the late 1840s (the Russell Government of the United Kingdom) and then blaming the collapse of population in Ireland on “laissez faire” – as if “laissez faire” meant imposing a crushing burden of taxation (in relation to what an undeveloped economy could sustain).

    I agree that Mark Steyn was wrong to not see the power of the threat of the People’s Republic of China – even today he, I believe, puts too much weight on its problems, such as its lack of births (the government of China has abandoned its anti population policy – much to the anger of the international “liberal” elite) and its fiat money generated property bubble. China does indeed have a fiat money (Credit Bubble money) generated property bubble -and a very bad one, but this should not distract attention from the fact that its manufacturing output is twice that of the United States.

    The Economist magazine (yes “Paul’s favourite target”) used to give industrial output figures – when it stopped doing so, just giving “GDP” figures, is when it abandoned the last traces of honesty.

    As Mark Steyn and Johnathan Peace know – “GDP” can be spending, creating lots of “money” from nothing and using it to “pay for” consumption (government and private consumption) will “increase GDP”.

    The Credit Bubble economy of the United States (some 33 Trillion Dollars of government debt – and that does not count the unfunded “Entitlements”, or State and local government debt, or Corporate and Personal debt), and the United Kingdom is, to use a fashionable word (but put it in a real, rather than false, context, “unsustainable” – and it will fall.

    The fall of the Credit Bubble economy will be used (as it was after 1929) to attack “Capitalism” – falsely attack “Capitalism”, as creating “money” from nothing and dishing it out to cronies is nothing to do with “Capitalism” – if by that word we mean Free Enterprise (rather than fraud).

    Today government spending in many Western countries is almost half the entire economy, and the rest of the economy is saturated by regulations and utterly distorted and twisted by Credit Money (by legalised fraud – backed by governments and their Central Banks).

    To confuse all this with “Capitalism” is quite wrong, this is not Free Enterprise – “actually existing” or otherwise.

  • Nicholas (Unlicensed Joker) Gray

    I saw what you did there, Jonathan! I also call the bathroom Jim, instead of John. When I say I go to the Jim three or more times a week, I sound like a health fanatic!!!

  • Fred Z

    “Right, off to the gym.”

    That idea is a symptom of our decay unless coupled with constant activity when not at the gym and very little eating.

    I did not lose weight despite going to the gym a lot because I saw the gym as something that would cure my obesity despite inactivity the entire time I was away from the gym and my over-eating.

    Not over-eating is the most important. In his last years my father was sessile as a barnacle but ate very little. He was lean and healthy until the end at age 89 despite his inactivity.

    It also seems to me that exercise reduces appetite. Now I walk 15 to 20 thousand steps a day, go to the gym 3 times a week, have very little appetite and lost 60 pounds of blubber.

    Many thanks also to my wife who bought me a fitbit step counter and scale so I couldn’t lie to myself anymore.

  • NickM

    You ever seen the Temu website? It is Poundland Amazon. China makes an awful lot of utter crap. China destroyed the Thinkpad brand when Lenovo bought it from IBM. China has problems. Why do you think I buy Taiwanese computer stuff? The only reason they are the risk they are is that India has serially failed. Modi is just the latest disaster. A properly functional India and the Chinese Politburo would be shitting Grecian 2000.

    Islam is a threat but only really, as you state, in the extent to which a lot of people utterly misunderstand it and even more are scared to say anything because if you get tarred with the Islamophobia brush you’re on the naughty-step for life. At minimum. The British government is in the process of trying to establish “Islamophobia” as a form of racism. I’m sure that has imams laughing themselves silly because of course a major tenet of Islam is it is The One True Faith For All Humanity For All Time. So it has nothing to do with race whatsoever.

    What our elites fail to grasp is they can’t logically condemn say Islamophobia and Homophobia at the same time. Because we do not live in a kumbaya singing utopia*. I have argued this (or similar) points here and elsewhere a lot. You simply cannot logically simultaneously protect groups that are mutually antagonistic to each other by their very essence. I mean there isn’t a single verse in the Qu’ran that has Muhammed say if Ahmed and Ali want to shack up together then let the peace of Allah be upon them. There is though a disagreement within Islam about homosexuals ought to be treated…

    Some Companions said that the punishment for homosexuality is to burn the homosexuals with fire, and some of them viewed that they should be thrown down from a high place then have stones thrown at them. Some of them thought that they should be stoned to death.

    That’s from IslamQ&A.

    That’s hardly an “extremist” site. And that in a nutshell is the problem. We have people like Sadiq Khan bigging up Pride events. It is an essential societal tension. You simply can’t eat your cake and still have it. Alas we have leaders so adept at performing logical and linguistic gymnastics they’re Olympic gold medalists.

    *Note the etymology of “utopia”.

  • Stonyground

    “The One True Faith For All Humanity For All Time.”

    You would think that, being all powerful, Big Al would have had that up and running after 1,400 years.

  • Paul Marks.

    NickM – the fact remains that Chinese industry is twice the size of American industry (let alone British industry), sometimes quantity is more important than quality.

    The Germans used to say in the early 1940s that – our enemies may make more things than we do, but what we produce is of higher quality. That did not save Germany from defeat.

    As for Islam – the people who “misunderstand” it are Westerners. However, I suspect that the “misunderstanding” is fake – that the Western establishment do, at least now, understand Islam, and punish people who tell the truth about Islam, out of a mixture of fear-and-spite. Fear of Muslims and spite against people who tell the truth about Islam – but then the Western establishment are filled with spite (hatred) against people who tell the truth about many subjects – not just Islam. The Western establishment hate the truth and, by extension, they hate people who tell the truth.

    Perhaps there is nothing much wrong with having an establishment – but having an establishment who hate their own civilisation, as the Western establishment hate Western civilisation, is fatal.

  • Paul Marks.

    The fate of Mark Steyn illustrates the point.

    Attacked by “Ofcom” for the crime of telling the truth about the people injured or killed by the Covid injections, and then betrayed by his employer, GB News, when he had two heart attacks, and almost died.

    God damn the modern Western establishment, God damn them to Hell.

  • Snorri Godhi


    “Right, off to the gym.”

    That idea is a symptom of our decay …

    So far, so good.

    Lifting weights is mostly to keep+preserve muscle. I believe that muscle loss with age is entirely due to not lifting weights. This is based on my experience, and i am over 60.

    … unless coupled with constant activity when not at the gym and very little eating.

    Here i beg to disagree.
    I lost over 10kg while spending almost all my time sitting or lying in bed, and did not use any willpower to limit my eating, in fact i make an effort to eat as much proteins & fat as i can in the 24 hours after the gym.

    Burning calories (as in: constant activity), in my opinion, has the only benefit of burning carbs and turning the body in ketosis. But you can achieve the same effect by limiting your carb intake. I myself eat hardly any carbs between one dinner and the next. (More precisely, between the last beer one evening and the first beer the next evening.)

    Many thanks also to my wife who bought me a fitbit step counter and scale so I couldn’t lie to myself anymore.

    A scale helps a lot!
    But i do not use it often: my priority is not to lose weight, but to improve my mood and cognitive function, to get stronger, and hopefully to prevent cancer and heart problems.

  • Kirk

    All y’all who still think China is going to dominate the world are apparently unable to learn from experience. Do any of you despairing twits remember Japan, Inc. from back in the day?

    Anyone who bothered to dig into the numbers could see what was coming for Japan. The real estate bubble? The demographic disaster, the anomie of the young, and all the rest? That was there, right alongside the endless encomiums for “Japan, Inc.”

    Remember MITI, how it’s vaunted economic policy was going to catapult Japan over the world? Anyone seen the latest Japanese supercomputers? Bueller? Bueller…?

    China is not going to dominate the next century. The demographics and all the rest of their delusional economy ensure that. Xi is leading China down the primrose path of the “planned economy”, run with the dead hand of the CCP. Note how many Western firms are pulling out, and how much capital flight there’s been. The working elites of China have been getting the hell out for the last twenty years, and the results are showing in the slowdown of the economy. The amount of wasted resources in all those “ghost cities” is a clear sign of a badly structured economy that cannot perform rationally. It can’t last, and it won’t last; instead of building an honest economy with widespread savings and pension planning, the Chinese Communist Party chose to embrace gimmicks and irrational crap like having people invest their savings into real estate that’s never built out, and which has extremely low quality. Watch what happens as the Evergrande and other real estate scams shake out. If the CCP survives even to 2030, it’s going to require a bunch of things to work out perfectly for them. As it is? Yikes… I would not want to be the guy stuck as Xi’s successor, because that poor bastard is going to take the blame for decades of mismanagement and fantasy-land economic “management”.

    Not to mention, all the potential for things to go seriously south with things like the Three Gorges dam and other half-ass infrastructure.

    China is not going to dominate anything other than the news, as it goes through all of this oncoming disaster. If you’ve been foolish enough to invest in anything “China”, you should get your money out… Now. It won’t be pretty, when the bills come due.

    Not that the US is doing anything any smarter, either.

  • Paul Marks.

    Kirk – Japan did not have twice the manufacturing output of the United States (it was not even close to American output – let alone twice American output), China does have twice the manufacturing output of the United States.

    And the united States was not falling apart in the 1980s (when Japan was at its peak), now the United States, American society, is falling apart.

    Perhaps there will be a miracle – but miracles do not always happen.

  • Kirk

    It would take a miracle for China to avoid the consequences of it’s own decisions. Actually, several.

    Despite the various self-inflicted issues that the United States has, it’s still in a better position than China, demographically and economically. Provided, of course, that the Democrats don’t get the opportunity to finish running the country into the ground.

    The US has the ability to overcome its issues; China does not. Every single penny of sunk costs in those useless cities is a deadweight around their economic neck; every single one of those “social credit” schemes is a reach for total control that won’t give the CCP what it wants. Instead, it’ll likely be the trigger for intense civil strife, once they’ve finished disconnecting enough of their population from any vested interests they have in things. Nothing like that has ever worked, ever… Even the East Germans were unable to pull it off, and that was with a population inured to social controls and monitoring. Don’t expect to see much discussion of this, either, because all the usual commentators around the world are essentially on-board or co-opted by the Chinese. You won’t see the smoke until the conflagration starts, and then, of course, it will “take everyone by surprise…”

    The experience with “Japan, Inc.” ought to serve everyone a salutary lesson, just like the belief that Germany would come to dominate Europe. Guess what? That ain’t happening, either.

    No telling exactly how it will play out, but it will be a mess and the overall thrust of things will not result in a “Chinese Century”. The Chinese elite today has slipped into Mandarin mode, more concerned with maintaining their own position and power than they are the benefit of their own citizens. This has typically been exactly what precipitated the various Chinese Imperial failures, followed by warlordism. The exact timeline is unclear, but it’s almost inevitable, watching what’s going on.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Kirk: All y’all who still think China is going to dominate the world are apparently unable to learn from experience. Do any of you despairing twits remember Japan, Inc. from back in the day?

    Kirk, you haven’t been posting comments on this blog until recently, so perhaps unless you spent time going through the archives, you would be better advised to examine what I, Paul Marks, PdH and many others have noted about things such as Japan’s boom/bust, Chinese insane One Child Policy, the weaknesses of top-down authortarian states, and many other things. We are quite capable of “learning from experience”.

    The problem is not that China isn’t in all kinds of trouble. It is. The problem is that it is still a lot wealthier than it was 40 years ago and yet still run by the CCP, which is also incapable of handling freer neighbours and challenges to its power. Declining, but still formidable countries can and often do dangerous things, such as invading neighbours, intefering with them, treating their citizens and those of others with contempt, etc. In other words, China may be on the way down, but it is going to be a serious foreign policy concern for the West for some time to go.

    Maybe you might want to dial back the aggressive maths teacher routine in future. Thanks and have a good week.

  • Nicholas (Unlicensed Joker) Gray

    The reason Steyn didn’t discuss China ten years ago is because Xi was only just coming into power. China had been behaving as a credible power. Now it is all wolf-warrior diplomacy. If Xi dies of a heart attack, or is pressured into retirement, the new leader might be a reasonable Chairman.