Judith Warner Returns, As 'Dys'-Functionally Liberal As Ever

What's wrong with the United States today? Try "widespread envy, greed, overconsumption and debt - gross income inequality, for starters." So says columnist Judith Warner.

Judith Warner previously wrote a weekly online column for the paper. In July 2009 she notoriously called Sarah Palin "the 21st-century face of the backlash against women's progress" in one of the more ridiculous pieces ever published by the Times.

She has recently resurfaced in the Sunday Magazine's "The Way We Live Now" section, most recently in "Dysregulation Nation," blaming envy, greed, overconsumption, debt, and gross income inequality for America's current state of affairs. It's like she never left.

The gulf oil fiasco is just the latest instance in which a lack of regulation - or dysfunctional system of regulation - has led to a major American disaster. After the failure of the levees during Hurricane Katrina, the Wall Street meltdown of 2008, the collapse of the housing market and now the BP spill,we have come to what feels like a moment of reckoning, with some tentative signs that our country's decades-long love affair with deregulation is starting to chill.

Warner, who surely applauded the removal of homosexuality from the official list of psychiatric disorders, at least tacitly signed on to the idea of branding the obese as mentally ill:

In the late 1970s, the historian Christopher Lasch famously described America as a culture of narcissism. Today we might well be called a nation of dysregulation. The signs that something is amiss in our inner mechanisms of control and restraint are everywhere. Eating disorders, "in general a disorder of self-regulation," according to Darlene M. Atkins, director of the Eating Disorders Clinic at Children's National Medical Center in Washington, grew epidemic in the past few decades, and in recent years have spread to minority communities, younger girls, older women and boys and men too. Obesity is viewed in many cases by mental-health experts as another form of self-dysregulation:a "pathologically intense drive for food consumption" akin to drug addiction, in the words of Nora D. Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, and Charles P. O'Brien, a professor in the department of psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania, who have argued for including some forms of obesity as a mental disorder in the coming version of the psychiatric bible, the DSM-V.


If you put a person in an environment that worships wealth and favors conspicuous consumption, add gross income inequalities that breed envy and competition, mix in stagnant wages, a high cost of living and too-easy credit, you get overspending, high personal debt and a "treadmill-like existence," as [researcher Peter] Whybrow calls it: compulsive getting and spending.

After listing some soft regulations like the government requiring calorie counts at fast-food restaurants, Warner recycled her ranting from just two paragraphs previous, while arguing that such proposals avoid the real issue:

These initiatives, however, focus on choices that are rather simple. The larger structural problems that create our widespread envy, greed, overconsumption and debt - gross income inequality, for starters - will be much more difficult, politically, to address.

You can follow Times Watch on Twitter.