Understanding the Other Side

I religiously listen to Planet Money, an NPR podcast that is amazing, and I highly recommend. The podcast has great music, is short and sweet and the folks who host it are great–funny, entertaining and best of all, it is a really accessible view of economics.  The folks that host the show also write other things occasionally, and I’m usually quite satisfied with the outcome.  Adam Davidson, one of the main Planet Money folks, wrote the cover story for the NY Times Magazine this past weekend, and it is seriously worth a read, though it’s a bit long.  The story is really a profile of a past co-worker of Mitt Romney’s, Edward Conrad.  He worked with Romney at Bain Capitol, and has recently released a book, Unintended Consequences: Why Everything You’ve Been Told About the Economy Is Wrong, explaining his theory that income inequality is actually a good thing for all of society.   There are a lot of reasons why this upsets me.  Conrad’s theory is well thought-out, and as far as I can tell, logically sound.  Davidson agrees.  The problem is that Conrad describes a world that I do not want to live in.

This constant calculation — even of the incalculable — can be both fascinating and absurd. The world Conard describes too often feels grim and soulless, one in which art and romance and the nonremunerative satisfactions of a simpler life are invisible. And that, I realized, really is Conard’s world. “God didn’t create the universe so that talented people would be happy,” he said. “It’s not beautiful. It’s hard work. It’s responsibility and deadlines, working till 11 o’clock at night when you want to watch your baby and be with your wife. It’s not serenity and beauty.”

This seems like a stale, sad, sad world.  I want no part of it.  Conrad basically argues that we need really intense, strong incentives for people to work hard and take risks, and that therefore, we need inequality so that the top is worth striving for, and the bottom worth striving not to be in.  And this is problematic for me because the world he is talking about is pretty entirely work-focused and really all about money.  But we made money up!  It is a metaphor and conduit for resources and power.  The world I would like to live in is more equal because I don’t like the idea of living in a world whose sole purpose is about amassing wealth.  That seems crazy to me, and icky.  I don’t have a great logical argument other than ick.  But that’s it.  Davidson does argue that part of the problem with inequality is that those with money (ie, power and resources) will use that money to influence society to help them maintain their status, money etc, and inevitably the system will reward those who initially obtain money, not those who actually work hard and take risks. Much better argument than mine.  But ICK!  Really, who wants to live in a world that is all about money??!!  No, thank you.

My dad’s girlfriend also posted a great post from a friend of hers who is an anthropologist. The post aims to explain how Evangelical Christians hold the political beliefs they do, while secular liberals are so flummoxed by  Evangelicals seemingly voting “against their own self-interest.”  I definitely agree with her main thesis, that Evangelicals see the world how they wish people would be, and that they see government programs “[step] in when people fall short.”    In my arguments with my Facebook friend, Peter, I have definitely seen this.  His arguments are based upon (it seems to me) legislating as if all Americans are the most ideal Christians, and that any law falling short of that is condoning a relatively evil way of living and being.  His arguments, as much as he tries to avoid it, are based upon his very Christian (Catholic, even) ideal world, and one where values held by Catholics are not just held but also attempted to be attained by all citizens in the US.  I know he is a caring and generous person one-on-one, and that his intention is not to hurt people, but I also believe the policies he supports do just that.

Anyway, a few articles worth their salt and time, courtesy of the New York Times.  What can I say–I’m a liberal New Yorker!!