Sunday, July 11, 2004

The Baby and the Bureaucrat. Brad DeLong has no patience for Barbara Ehrenreich's self-indulgence. God knows neither do I, but I don't have much patience for DeLong. It's one thing to be annoyed by earnest emotionalism that masks a conflict, but it's quite another to counter that with the stern but empty rigor of a systematic moral logic. DeLong links to his earlier review of Nickel and Dimed
The working poor are poorly paid and their wages are stagnating not because bosses are mean (although many are: the Wal-Mart boss who told Alyssa that she could not apply her employee discount to the $7 clearance polo shirt in a simple exercise of malevolent herrschaft comes to mind). They are poorly paid because our technology has dropped demand for low-education labor at the same time that our educational system has failed to upgrade the formal educational skills of our workforce. An earlier generation of leftists would have talked about how bosses are bearers of socioeconomic forces, which they cannot contravene or they will go bankrupt. As inadequate as many of its analyses were, at least it was looking in the right place.
If you don't like Ehrenreich the review is funny, but what exactly are 'socioeconomic forces?' Are they laws of nature, like gravity or magnetism? As I remember reading somewhere, Delong admits that the economically successful Scandinavian social democracies contradict standard economic theory, so I wonder if this means he accepts that socioeconomic 'forces' are social constructions? I have no patience for the romantic proclamations of (self) love poured forth from the hearts of ex hippies. I'll never forget Ehrenreich's speech at a Washington march in the early 90's—I think it was about the abortion 'gag-rule'—where she said that here we would find "new friends, new connections, new communities and new lovers." This was yelled into a microphone at an audience that was impressively diverse, which implied to me that many of us didn't have that much in common beyond our belief in the importance of the issue at hand. I thought that was a good sign, but Ehrenreich seemed happily unaware, and I was left shaking my head. 

I have no patience with appeals to emotionalism, but is there no sense in arguing that self interest is not a moral force? Again I'm struck by Delong's willingness to proclaim the classical virtues of wisdom and truth on the one hand, and the morality of impartial market forces on the other. I don't think he would argue that wealth is the result of virtue. He seems to say otherwise. And in the comments section, to this question, "Can you please explain to me why you equate wealth with happiness—or I should say, that money and happiness are directly related?" he responds: If your money and your happiness are not related, then please send me all your money. It will make me happier, and it will not make you less happy.

I was taught that for the wise man, the pursuit of truth is happiness. There are contradictions in my life, but the science of human behavior doesn't interest me much, so I can laugh. DeLong hasn't allowed himself that luxury. Does he believe in virtue or in science? And if so, in a science of what? 

Someone else, who likes Ehrenreich more than I do probably, but who would agree with me on Delong, reads Krugman

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