Monday, December 2, 2013
Friday, November 29, 2013
Well, here we are again, on another Black Friday. As retailers compete for the large, but still limited, number of dollars that people are going to spend for the holidays, and online shopping has broadened the reach of both sellers and buyers to just about any place on the globe, Black Friday has gone from being a chance to use a day off from work to get a jump on one's Christmas shopping to a worldwide retail phenomenon. And in so growing, like any number of other things, it's gotten, quickly and with great enthusiasm, wildly out of hand.
It's become fashionable for those of us who don't actually venture out into the insanity that's overtaken the day after Thanksgiving to sit back and cluck our tongues at the greed and cupidity of the people who break down doors, brawl over merchandise or literally trample people beneath their feet in the service of saving money on a DVD player or video game console. Which is logical - it can be really hard to fathom just what about a new television is worth it. And so, when someone comments: "If you're getting arrested for fighting over a $100 TV at Walmart, you should probably reevaluate your life choices," we all nod in agreement.
But, as the saying goes, bad ideas don't survive because they're bad ideas - they survive because they represent rational choices to the people that make them. And given that Black Friday has been spawning retail chaos for the past several years running, it's not sneaking up on people - there are a lot of people out there who, understanding what's likely to happen go and do it anyway. What drives them to do so?
|It's a holiday thing. I wouldn't understand.|
And, as much as I might like to, I can't take all of the credit for that. Many other people made choices that brought me to this place where, despite an occasional flash of avarice, I understand that I have enough (and sometimes, like when I'm packing or unpacking things, that I have too much) - and tonight, I'll raise a glass to them.
Monday, November 25, 2013
"The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few."
While it's hard to trace this particular phrase back any further than The Wrath of Khan, it's something of a common trope, because the utilitarian idea of "the greater good" is a very old concept. This occurs to me in the context of charges being filed against some of the adults connected to the infamous 2012 rape case in Steubenville, Ohio.
While it's easy to become caught up in idea that what was done is self-evidently a "failure of humanity" or otherwise an act of irrationality and/or evil, it occurs to me that we rarely, if ever talk about a rather simple subject: Under what circumstances do the needs of the few outweigh the needs of the many, and where is that line drawn?
As usual, hard cases, which tend to come down squarely on one side of the issue or the other, are of little use in helping us work this out. But it seems to me that in this case, there were a number of people who weighed the harm that would come to their town, the local football program, or what have you against the harm to the young woman in question, and decided that she was an acceptable sacrifice. And while the widespread outrage over the case demonstrates people's disagreement with that choice, there are plenty of cases in which people have made similar decisions. And I suspect that it won't be long before we hear of another case in which people decide that in order to protect themselves what what seems like a trivial harm, it's worthwhile to inflict a much greater harm on someone else.
Tuesday, November 19, 2013
"High minimum wages also hurts the people at the low end most. A kid with no experience and a questionable education is never going to get hired at 15 or 20 bucks per hour. He is left off the economic ladder entirely. We need to ABOLISH minimum wage laws."The idea that young people won't be able to ever find entry-level work has become the "Won't somebody please think of the children," line of the pseudo-Libertarian armchair economist crowd. For me, the major problem with that line of reasoning is that is looks at a paying job as a form of charity - something that's offered to the clearly undeserving as some sort of favor, rather than a way of exchanging value (of labor) for value (of wages/benefits).
Comment posted to "Tipping Is a Disgrace, but Where Did It Come From?"
While I've never been a fan of the minimum wage myself, it's more because I think that it places the focus in the wrong place. The minimum wage is an attempt to take a broken system and make it less damaging to the vulnerable. A better solution, I've always thought, would be to make the system less broken or the people at low end less vulnerable. Abolishing the minimum wage does neither of these things. And the constant arguing over whether or not the minimum wage should be higher, lower or non-existent doesn't do them either.
The United States is a jobs economy. People look to the idea of working for someone else as their economic salvation, and, because of this arrangement, we've started accepting as normal a number of really wonky, and basically maladaptive, situations - like employer-sponsored health care. As was pointed out on one of the Planet Money Episodes of This American Life, no-one would sign up for such a system when it came to their groceries. And pensions are another wonky system. The gamble that you're making on someone's business sense by agreeing to what is the ultimate in deferred compensation is something that you otherwise couldn't get many people to agree to. But in the constant quest for jobs as the end all and be all of making a living, we accept these things.
What we need are fewer jobs and more entrepreneurship. Not that everyone can be an entrepreneur. You can't really sail a ship of any size with a crew made up entirely of Captains - you're going to need some sailors. But the more even that distribution can be, the more even the overall society can be. As a means of eroding the peaks and valleys of economic inequality, simply raising the minimum wage doesn't realy get us there. Not because it's an inherently bad idea, but because like a lot of things, there are assumptions between the implementation and the result, and if those assumptions turn out not to be correct, the result will likely be different than you were planning for.
Right now, we've structured our economy to make it possible for a relatively few highly efficient organizations to produce massive amounts of value, and then to distribute it among a relatively small percentage of the population. And I understand why we do that. It makes for massive Gross Domestic Product numbers, and explains why we have the highest aggregate GDP in the world and one of the highest GDPs per capita. But it contributes to some pretty clear income and wealth disparities because the people who are so efficiently pulling in this money are often disinclined to share - that's what allows them to be as wealthy as they are - they don't just give away money. We have to stop expecting that they will. Changing the system, so that more people can participate in it as something other than laborers, is likely to mean less overall efficiency. This overall drop in GDP will translate into a lower aggregate standard of living - we might even stop collectively being the richest people on the planet. We really have to ask ourselves if it's a worthwhile trade off. Right now, what we're trying to do is move money around after the fact, and complain that the people who lose it shouldn't miss it. That's unlikely to work. We need to solve the problem, rather than mask the symptoms.
Monday, November 18, 2013
In her article "'The Best Man Holiday' And The Language Of Expectations," Linda Holmes points out the following:
As Lucas Shaw wrote yesterday for The Wrap, [The Best Man Holiday] joins 12 Years A Slave, The Butler, and other films from black filmmakers that have somehow surprised people with their success.She then goes on to ponder why even the president of distribution at Universal, Nikki Rocco, wouldn't have expected this movie to open as strongly as it did, to quote Ms Rocco, "in my most non-lucid moment." And then she starts to ask why. Well, I, of course, have theory about that.
The TV Tropes entry for "Viewers are Morons" ends with the following understanding of what media executives think of their audiences: "not only are viewers stupid, they are also intolerant of people and things unlike themselves, ignorant, hate change, need to be instantly satisfied, and have the attention span of a goldfish."
I've made the comment before that in my opinion, one of the most enduring legacies of racism in the United States is the expectation of racism. Not only do Blacks and other minorities often expect Whites to engage in racist attitudes and behaviors, but Whites often expect racist attitudes and behaviors from one another. This applies itself in media. Whites are still the single largest demographic in the United States. If you assume that they will be largely disinterested in any movie where the primary characters are mainly non-Whites, it's easier to come to the conclusion that a movie with a largely Black or Hispanic or Asian cast is simply not going to do very well. Because well, Whites are intolerant of people unlike themselves. And so you wind up with, as Ms. Holmes puts it: "Analysts once again underestimate the box-office appeal of a movie about black people." (Which, in itself is indicative of another aspect of this - we don't commonly consider movies with few or no visible minorities in them to be "movies about white people." They're just movies. But if you think if White maleness as, rather than being simply one identity out of many, as the default position, and everything is a departure from that, becomes clear why USA Today called The Best Man Holiday "race-themed.")
Now the fact that Whites are considered to be poor candidates to see this movie is only part of the story. There's also likely an expectation that many Blacks will pass on seeing it. In part because The Best Man Holiday is a romantic comedy, and rom-coms are often considered to be Something White People Like. Which is often understood as Something Only White People Like. Which then casts Blacks as intolerant of people unlike themselves. But despite the fact that Black culture is somewhat different from White culture, their ideas of what constitutes romance and/or comedy aren't that far apart. After all, we didn't arrive on spaceships, and even if we had, we've had plenty of time to acclimate. (For my own part, I don't care for rom-coms. But this isn't because I'm Black it's because I have about half the romantic sense that Dog gave a cabbage, and find the mining of wacky relationships for laughs to be intensely boring.)
Of course, this is just my own theory as to why works by Black filmmakers are met with low expectations within the Hollywood establishment. I wonder what Ms. Holmes has come up with.