free market absolutists, fall colors in glass, another encounter with the consumer mind

In the last 48 hours Jonathan Chait and E.J. Dionne Jr. have zeroed in on a fundamental issue America is facing when it comes to discussing economic issues and economic justice. The Conservative Right and the libertarian Right refuse to tackle the issue head on or using tiresome deflections. First up Jonathan Chait writing at New York Magazine – Steve Jobs, Occupy Wall Street, and the Capitalist Ideal

National Review deputy managing editor Kevin Williamson likewise counterposes the brilliance of Apple with the ugliness of government:

“I was down at the Occupy Wall Street protest today, and never has the divide between the iPhone world and the politics world been so clear: I saw a bunch of people very well-served by their computers and telephones (very often Apple products) but undeniably shortchanged by our government-run cartel education system. And the tragedy for them — and for us — is that they will spend their energy trying to expand the sphere of the ineffective, hidebound, rent-seeking, unproductive political world, giving the Barney Franks and Tom DeLays an even stronger whip hand over the Steve Jobses and Henry Fords. And they — and we — will be poorer for it.
And to the kids camped out down on Wall Street: Look at the phone in your hand. Look at the rat-infested subway. Visit the Apple Store on Fifth Avenue, then visit a housing project in the South Bronx. Which world do you want to live in?”

Personally, I want to live in a world in which it is possible to ride the subway down to the Apple Store. Preferably without stepping over the bodies of people dying of easily treatable diseases for lack of insurance.

Is that such a difficult concept? Apparently it is. The liberal vision of modified capitalism has always been flanked on both sides by a right and a left that agree that capitalism is indivisible. The socialists and the free market absolutists agree that it’s all or nothing — if you object to the worst features of capitalism, you object to all of capitalism, and we must keep it all or scrap it.


There is some Hayek and Milton. Friedman in the right-wing national Review’s response, though it is worse than that, it is Glenn Beck’s bastardized version of Hayek and Friedman. Any attempt to compensate for the irrational market is the well oiled sixty degree slide into communism. It does not seem to matter to the National Review and their acolytes that Western Europe, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Japan all have what political scientists and economists would describe as partially socialized safety nets, yet the CIA Fact Book calls them all democracies. They are also highly successful free market economies. The only nations suffering worse than the U.S. right now are Greece and Ireland. Almost all their problems can be traced by to poor management among their political leaders and their financial sectors using politicians as puppets. What does a comparison between Apple, OWS and Wall Street have to do with this,

It is no doubt because most of the participants, or sympathizers, understand that Wall Street is not the same thing as free enterprise — that it is one element that, unlike Apple, poses a unique threat to the functioning of the free marketplace.


If Apple went out of business tomorrow it would hurt the economy, it would not cripple it. It’s great that Wall Street has paid back almost all of the TARP bail-out funds, but they have not paid back the approximately $16.4 trillion dollars of wealth the nation lost due to the housing bubble and those bets Wall Street made via CDOs and derivatives.

And E.J. Dionne Jr. – From Elizabeth Warren, the proper case for liberalism

The declaration heard ’round the Internet world came from Elizabeth Warren, the consumer champion running for the U.S. Senate in Massachusetts. Warren argued that “there is nobody in this country who got rich on his own,” that thriving entrepreneurs move their goods “on the roads the rest of us paid for” and hire workers “the rest of us paid to educate.” Police and firefighters, also paid for by “the rest of us,” protect the factory owner’s property. As a result, our “underlying social contract” requires this hardworking but fortunate soul to “take a hunk” of his profits “and pay forward for the next kid who comes along.”

In other words, there are no self-made people because we are all part of society. Accomplished people benefit from advantages created by earlier generations (of parents whom we didn’t choose and taxpayers whom we’ve never met) and by the simple fact that they live in a country that provides opportunities that are not available everywhere. The successful thus owe quite a lot to the government and social structure that made their success possible.

It is not just Will who had a temper tantrum over Warren’s most obvious truth. The right-wing libertarian Hit&Run blog, and even more so its readers in the comments were like a warehouse of blown gaskets.

“Everyone,” he writes, “knows that all striving occurs in a social context, so all attainments are conditioned by their context.” Indeed. He gives us here a rigorous and concise summary of what she said.

Will then adds: “This does not, however, entail a collectivist political agenda.” In intellectual contests, this is an MVP move. Having accused Warren of setting fire to straw men, Will has just introduced his own straw colossus.

There is absolutely nothing in Warren’s statement that implied a “collectivist political agenda.” Will simply ascribes one to her by quoting a book published 53 years ago, “The Affluent Society,” in which the economist John Kenneth Galbraith spoke of how corporate advertising could manipulate consumer preferences.

From this, Will concludes that liberals hold a series of terribly elitist beliefs and that by extension, Warren (who is, conveniently, a Harvard professor) does, too. Will’s straw liberal is supposedly committed to “the impossibility, for most people, of self-government”; “subordination of the bovine many to a regulatory government”; and a belief that government “owes minimal deference to people’s preferences.”

Well. On the one hand, this is a tour de force. My colleague has brought out his full rhetorical arsenal to beat back a statement that he grants upfront is so obviously true that it cannot be gainsaid. Will knows danger when he sees it.

What Warren has done is to make a proper case for liberalism, which does not happen often enough. Liberals believe that the wealthy should pay more in taxes than “the rest of us” because the well-off have benefited the most from our social arrangements. This has nothing to do with treating citizens as if they were cows incapable of self-government. As for the regulatory state, our free and fully competent citizens have long endorsed a role for government in protecting consumers from dangerous products, including tainted beef.


The mere fact that no individual in a free market society operates in a capitalistic vacuum of some sort in which all their stuff is the result of them and them alone is very threatening. No prominent liberal or progressive has even advocated that based on benefiting from the social contract you have to share all your stuff with everyone. The cartoonish argument that has become standard bullsh*t in right-wing rhetoric. Progressives and liberals simply state that in all fairness those who accumulate great wealth pay their fair dues.  Goodness knows the conservative and libertarian Right has an army of “thinkers” on winger welfare at think tanks like the Hoover Institute and the Free Enterprise Foundation, so surely they could work up an easy to fellow diagram of a billionaire who made their fortune without benefit of infrastructure or luck or the work of previous generations or labor.

Rancid – Time Bomb

Antique Scientific Illustration of Astronomical Instruments and Diagrams 1798

Those darn consumers don’t act rationally either and another lesson in how advertising works – Buyer backlash: Why do slogans about saving money increase spending?

A new study in the Journal of Consumer Research reveals a strange facet of consumer behavior: people behave differently when they encounter companies’ brands than they do when they encounter their slogans.

“Exposure to the retailer brand name Walmart, typically associated with saving money, reduces subsequent spending, whereas exposure to the Walmart slogan, (Save money. Live better.) increases spending,”….

[  ]…In a second task, participants were asked to imagine they were shopping in a mall and to indicate how much they were willing to spend during their shopping trip. “While participants that had been exposed to the ‘saving’ brands were willing to spend $94 on average, participants that had been exposed to the ‘saving’ slogans were willing to spend $184 on average,” the authors write. “Therefore, the brands associated with saving money led participants to save money, whereas the slogans associated with saving money led to a behavioral backlash and more spending.”

In another study, consumers who were subliminally exposed to the word “slogan” wanted to spend more when exposed to a savings message and less when exposed to a sentence that encouraged luxury spending.

Maybe consumers are thinking that by spending more they are getting more value. That might be the case when consumers buy in bulk. besides the lower price per unit, you make fewer trips to the store, every trip exposing the shopper to impulse buying in addition to the cost of the trip.

fall colors in molten glass wallpaper