Friday, December 25, 2009

Consumption has always been the reason for the season

Stop That Christmas Griping - LA Times

Of course, there's another part to this story -- specifically, the justice and compassion stuff that conservatives find so repellent. (Oh, the irony.)

The Season Has Meaning for All, Celebrators and Skeptics Alike - LA Times

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

That's about right (or, hard work by itself equals squat)

funny graphs and charts

But then, most of us have fallen for all the standard-issue canards: "education equals success," "hard work equals success." (That last seems to work far more to the benefit of employers than to employees. I don't suppose the economic ruling class has a role in propagating it?) Yes, we've all been suckered in. Sidenote: the question of taking pride in your work is a separate issue and is psychologically and morally defensible. What I'm referring to now is the naive belief that working hard, in and of itself, can reliably produce riches. One look at our society, in which many are working very hard but a relative few are wealthy, is, I believe, sufficient disproof of this sort of magical thinking. I don't deny that making money usually requires a good deal of time and sweat (whether literal or figuative). Hard work is (again, usually -- Paris Hilton would be an exception that proves the rule) a necessary predicate, but it is not sufficent. What's also needed is a particular skill or a certain sort of intellectual ability that happens to be valued by this specific society at this specific time. As even Warren Buffett -- who, as the the #2 richest guy behind Bill Gates, probably has some insight into the question -- observes:
It just so happens that I was in the right place at the right time. I really wouldn't have made a difference if I were born in Bangladesh. Or if I was born here in 1700. The odds of me being born here, in this time, were 1:50. And I just got lucky as hell. I won a lottery. Stick me some place other else and I could say I know how to allocate capital and value business. But they'd say, so what?

And of course he's right. Your success has as much to do with your genetic inheritance and your parentage and the time and place you were born as it does with anything you can take credit for.

What brought all this to mind was a bumper sticker I recently saw which brayed, "Don't spread my wealth. Spread my work ethic." Ha ha! What a self-regarding ass. Let's say Mr. Egofuck is an accountant. Does he really believe he works 10 TIMES AS HARD as a ditchdigger, even though he may make 10 times the money? If this jerk had to work as hard as many of the folks I know who are making only minimum wage, he'd run crying home to his mommy.

The bottom line here is: if you are one of those people who need to justify your good fortune or the inequities of the system by braying to everyone who will listen about the overwhelming wonderfulness of your work ethic, shut the fuck up. You are no better than most, and you deserve no better. In fact, if you are obscenely successful, you probably deserve less, once such moral precepts as the Golden Rule are factored into the assessment.

Which begs the question: why are so many Americans willing to trade the security and benefits of a European-style social democracy for the lottery-like American odds of "striking it rich"? Are we idiots, mathematically impaired, or the world's most reality-obtuse, most determinedly oblivious magical thinkers? The answer to at least some of the above, apparently, is "yes."

Doing nothing is not an option

A Dangerous Dysfunction - The New York Times