Atlas Shrugged: The Mocking

Monday, August 3, 2009

How To Be Stupid Without Really Trying

It's not easy for a smart person to be stupid, that is, make stupid choices and decisions. All it takes is perfect confidence in one's own opinion, which one bases on emotion instead of reason. Voila, stupidity!

Case in point.

In her best 5-paragraph fashion, Megan McArdle responds to Ellen Ruppel Shell's thesis that cheap consumer goods are actually hurting the consumer in the long run. Shell writes:
I argue that the economics of cheap cramps innovation, contributes to the decline of once flourishing industries and deepens income disparity. I give evidence that marketers have created a false dichotomy between price and quality by squeezing out the middle ground and leading us to believe that quality of almost any kind must by definition be overpriced. And I suggest that by understanding this, and taking action, consumers can gain control over a system that has until now misled us into making choices that come back to haunt us--both personally and politically.

As an experienced economics reporter with a degree in business, I know you'll have plenty to say about all this--and I welcome your thoughts. Can't wait to get started
Poor Ms. Shell. She'll wait in vain for the response of an experienced economics reporter with a degree in business. Instead she'll get McArdle, who also has a degree in business but seldom feels called upon to use it. McArdle's rebuttal:
Making a whole bunch of disposable furniture places certain stresses on natural resources, not all of which are renewable, or, arguably, even legal.
No, there isn't any more. That's it. McArdle restates but otherwise utterly ignores Shell's arguments. They are batted aside without conscious thought, because they address uncomfortable issues that McArdle must be forced to discuss. Income disparity is not a drawback to McArdle. She feels the poor have consumption equality and that's just as good. The cheap goods are essential to McArdle's philosophy of The Poor Are Lucky Duckies. Therefore her interest will be in emphasizing how cheap goods are necessary to the poor and taking them away would hurt, not help, the poor, just as she emphasizes giving tons of money to people for organs instead of addressing the inevitable exploitation of the poor.

McArdle chooses to redirect the discussion and make the argument about the poor's need for cheap, badly-made furniture, instead of the larger question of the economic and environmental effect of cheap consumer goods. If McArdle can't change the subject she can at least drag down the conversation with irrelevancies. Why? Why not address the issues, preferably using facts and logic, instead of reacting with immediate avoidance?

Because McArdle has the mental outlook--suspicious, hostile and covetous--most likely to be found in a room with twenty kindergartners and nineteen cupcakes. Someone will have to go without, and that someone won't be Miss Megan McArdle.
Liberals get angry at conservatives who point out that most poor people have more than one color television, with some justice. The collection of goods that constitutes a decent minimum changes over time. In the 1920s, many people thought it was ridiculous to say that the poor ought to have iceboxes and electric lights. We add to the bare minimum in part because we are wealthy and can afford to, and in part because when goods become common among the non-poor, society adapts to those goods in ways that exclude the poor from a decent life. A telephone, for example, may have been a luxury in 1940, but without one these days it's awfully hard to get and hold a job.

On the other hand, liberals also seem to be getting angry at the idea that there is a decent minimum--that the poor are not entitled to all the benefits of being solidly middle class.

What I wonder is where it stops. If we are upset by the very fact that it is nicer to be middle class than poor, and even nicer to be rich than to be middle class, then the only way to fix this is to fix everyone's income at the same level. Otherwise, the poor will enjoy life less than everyone else.

So question for my liberal commenters, and other liberal bloggers: assuming that you are not yourself poor, what is it okay for you to have while poor Americans do not? This is not a trick question, a prelude to some "gotcha" argument. I'm genuinely curious: where, exactly, do you think the levelling should stop? House size? Length of commute? Lean meat in the diet? Where do you draw the line?

If some people have more, others will have less, but that's a good thing. It's perfectly fair. Why?
Q: Do you think the world (human civilization) has already passed its best point, or is that yet to come?

A:(McArdle): Mathematically, it is likely that we are near the peak of human
population. On the other hand, I'm encouraged by the incredibly rapid economic
change going on now. I think that getting richer has made us more moral - more
careful about human life and suffering. So if we keep getting richer, I expect
that we will also get better, with more morality, more art and culture, and more
of almost every other good thing.
How can anyone indulge in such idiotic reasoning? Because it's incredibly self-flattering. McArdle calls herself one of the elite and has based her entire persona--accent, dress, air, education, and profession--on being part of that elite. Yet she also constantly emphasizes her superiority, something that a person secure in their self-image would not do. McArdle is not one of the elite and she knows it. She has no family money and must support herself. She can't afford to fit in with the rich so must constantly assure herself that she is, indeed, one of the elite, which means distinguishing herself from the poor, whom she sees as fat and lazy. Poor people are fat because they can't help themselves. They don't have McArdle's superior body type. There's nothing that can be done about obesity, just accept your fat and admire McArdle's slimness. Just as you should accept the rich are rich because they are better, not because they stole your pension fund and investments.


Downpuppy said...

If she intends to spend the entire week talking furniture, well, I'd rather talk to my furniture.

Susan of Texas said...

She's trying to bore us into silence.

Mr. Wonderful said...

"I think that getting richer has made us more moral"

For this alone she should not only be fired but put in a public stockade and pelted with tomatoes. And I say this as someone who loves tomatoes and would hate to see them used in this fashion.

Seriously. Does she ever stop and ask herself, as any honest writer must, "is this really true?" Um-believable.