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Saturday, May 26, 2007
I like the preferences ranking for Jefferson there. I'm going to remember that one.
This is why I like Robert H Frank so much (a real economist). If you factor status and rank into human decisions then economics explains even more about why people do what they do.
"The last sentence was not a *deliberate* parody of bad writing."
March 3, 1985
How to Become a Writer Or, Have You Earned This Cliche?
By LORRIE MOORE
First, try to be something, anything, else. A movie star/astronaut. A movie star/missionary. A movie star/kindergarten teacher. President of the World. Fail miserably. It is best if you fail at an early age - say, 14. Early, critical disillusionment is necessary so that at 15 you can write long haiku sequences about thwarted desire. It is a pond, a cherry blossom, a wind brushing against sparrow wing leaving for mountain. Count the syllables. Show it to your mom. She is tough and practical. She has a son in Vietnam and a husband who may be having an affair. She believes in wearing brown because it hides spots. She'll look briefly at your writing then back up at you with a face blank as a doughnut. She'll say: ''How about emptying the dishwasher?'' Look away. Shove the forks in the fork drawer. Accidentally break one of the freebie gas station glasses. This is the required pain and suffering. This is only for starters....
Actually, the essay is terrific but I can have as much fun as I wish especially on holiday; besides, I was had worse in mind.
I keep this line on the desk, write large:
''He was thinking, but she could tell he wasn't good at it.''
Lorrie Moore is a genius :)
You beat me to it. I was just writing (probably needs editing):
Update: I think Tim Haab's post illustrates Robert's point. Individually, he has no incentive to pay for the externalities he imposes while driving an SUV. As he says,
"That's why they're called externalities. Voluntarily internalizing my own externalities would ruin my faith in rationality."
I think Tim would also support that:
"[A]n outcome enforced through the coercive power of the state can make everyone happier than the free market outcome, because of the externality."
Because as Tim has said:
"I really don't get the debate by economists between a carbon tax and marketable carbon permits. At the first level, as economists, we've won! We've convinced nearly everyone that regulation using economic incentive-based policies is a preferred approach. The squabbling amongst us over the best economic incentive-based policy can't help get one of these policies implemented."
And I assume he wouldn't support a policy that makes everyone worse off (even though Tim "Yes, I'm a jerk." However, there is debate on this point. Here too.
Maybe I'll add it anyway...
We're born with a built-in conflict between our self interest and our interest in helping the group survive. I'd write a book about it if I could ever find a publisher.
"I must be ironic right ? I'm not suggesting that this guy with a degree in communications* from Long Beach State has a better understanding of economics than most economists am I ?Post a Comment
I left a long and wandering comment at Thoma's site, but I'd like to point out why you're completely wrong in your assessment of Drum - he's not "explaining economics to economists," he's just getting things wrong.
"Jefferson wanted slavery banned because he understood that individuals often lack the willpower to do individually what they know is right. Sometimes it takes the power of community action to force ourselves to do good things that we can't (or won't) do on our own."
Drum is saying that owning slaves is rational for the individual, but "in the voting booth, sometimes the better angels of our natures take wing for a moment and persuade us" to vote for things that are good, as opposed to rational.
Step away from slavery for a moment and consider global warming. If an individual reduces their energy usage, there is no significant impact. If everyone collectively reduces their energy usage, everyone is better off. It is not to the "good" that we appeal when (or if) we ask people to vote for collective energy-use restrictions, it is to the "rational" or to self-interest. There would be no good reason to vote for collective energy-use restrictions if they didn't make us better off, because the individual actions that lead to global warming (driving an SUV, say) are not inherently immoral.
But slavery is very different. Most people would say that slavery has a moral dimension that is lacking in something like energy use: (1) owning a slave is wrong regardless of its collective implications, and (2) its ban would be a good idea even if it made us individually or collectively worse off in a strict financial sense.
Jefferson's preferences, in order, seemed to have been: (1) no one gets to own slaves, (2) everyone gets to own slaves and TJ keeps his, and (3) everyone gets to own slaves and TJ doesn't keep his. Drum says that Jefferson was "too weak-willed to forego" the benefits of owning slaves and that "Jefferson wanted slavery banned because he understood that individuals often lack the willpower to do individually what they know is right," but perhaps these suggestions about Jefferson's inner nature are simply Drum's invention and perhaps a better argument could be constructed by replacing the term "willpower" with the term "incentives."
Consider the relationship between outcomes (1) ("no one gets to own slaves") and (3) ("everyone gets to own slaves and TJ doesn't keep his") mentioned above. If Jefferson was made equally bad off, financially, with both outcomes, then Drum might have a point about Jefferson's willpower. But if the fact of his competitors having to free their slaves also meant that Jefferson was better off financially with (1) than with (3), then Jefferson's preferences appear to acquire a tint of self-interest.
I think Drum wants to use Jefferson's preferences as an example of how the market forces us to be "competitive, selfish, meanspirited, and xenophobic," but
I see no reason to assume that Jefferson's preference for (1) over (3) isn't reflecting the exact same degree of self-interested behavior as his preference for (2) over (3). What the market isn't doing is preventing us from expressing selflessness and generosity and altruism, what it's doing is preventing us from expressing collective action.
If Jefferson felt slavery was wrong but kept them anyway, then either (1) his decision was based on its effects on others, i.e. the market was forcing him to be selfless and generous and overlook his own desires; or else (2) he was simply a hypocrite, no better than (my example at Thoma's) the "Reverend Billy Bob Swagger and his Jeffersonian 'stop me please' argument to ban internet porn."
Drum seems to be suggesting that somehow when we express our preferences collectively we are better people than we express our preferences individually, i.e. in the "competitive, selfish, meanspirited, and xenophobic" marketplace. "In the voting booth, sometimes the better angels of our natures take wing for a moment and persuade us to try to make ourselves into better people." But we may choose collectively to vote for things that Drum find morally uplifting, or vote for things that Drum finds shameful. When we vote we are expressing the *same* preferences, not different ones, it's just that we have available collective outcomes unattainable by market mechanisms. Drum is wrong to think that we are (or should be) less self-interested in the voting booth than in the marketplace.