Friday, October 27

Is An Idea Officially Past It's Sell-by Date Once Jonah Goldberg Has Adopted It?

Jonah Goldberg, "The Great Paradox of Political Economy: A big-picture look." October 25

Stephen Colbert: Are there monkeys as smart as you?

Peter Agre: I'm sure there are quite a few, quite a few.

Colbert: Oh really? Do they give a Nobel prize for throwing your own feces?

Agre: That's the Economics prize, I think.

No, they don't bother with editors at NRO--is there anyone left in the marketplace who's concerned about reputation?--but you'd still imagine that "A big-picture look" would just feel wrong to anyone who reads at a tenth-grade level. "That's Jonah Goldberg," we imagine some NRO staffer instructing the new intern. "He's our big-picture looker-atter."

Of course there's little enough danger we would be dealing with The Big Picture anyway. Instead it's another episode of Pop Statistics From Some Right-Wing Publication I Was Reading in the Crapper, seasoned with the brief Right Blogostan viral infection of a couple weeks back, the Things Are Better Than Ever Because Poor People Have Cell Phones idiocy:
To understand how subjective poverty in America is, one need only recognize the fact that most rich people from a century ago would be considered poor by today’s standards, and today’s poor would be considered rich by the standards of 1900.

Although, leave it to Jonah to take a misapplied mundanity and turn it into a sweeping vista of pure stupidity. This is how we understand how subjective poverty is in America. Because only in America has technological progress marched forward. Because it is a distinctly American trait that our socio-economic measures are biased against the Right.
In 1900, 2 percent of homes had electricity, and 1 out of 10 homes had flush toilets. Today, pretty much all of them do. In other words, the tangible goods that defined wealth have been democratized.

No, Dillweed, in other words in 98% of localities in the continental United States you can't build, sell, or rent a house without indoor plumbing. It's a cultural advancement, such as it is, and not a technological one; yours is the side which argues that property rights ought to include renting a house with no toilets and letting the market decide. In 1900 most city streets were full of horseshit, much like your columns are today. Typhoid Mary was working as a cook. It's not like some sudden technological breakthrough took the scales from everyone's eyes. Zoning laws, health inspections, public sanitation, standardized safety regulations...these things required a change in public outlook, not a wait until there was enough profit in it for someone to invent a solution.

Maybe we just weren't forceful enough about this before. Okay, on the simplest level: are you saying you'd rather be an inner-city dwelling busboy working double shifts in 2006 than be John Pierpont Morgan soaking in your solid-gold bathtub in your private rail car in 1902, with a nubile bathing attendant on either side or you, because the latter couldn't buy the Complete Season I of Scrubs on DVD?

It's tautological. It's utterly meaningless to treat some hypothetical person as if he/she were stuck in one exact moment in time and were screaming to get out. It's just the flip side of the old joke about the kid who tells his parents he wishes he'd been born in 1776. "Why, son?" they ask. "Because I wouldn't have to study so much history." Yes, poverty is relative. The rest of the world already gets it.

And goddammit, Jonah, you're a middle-aged man. You may not remember a world before cable, but you might dig back and recall the personal computer or the home video system. Were people at the time saying, "Shit, I don't want this crappy 128K thing" ? No, they were rushing to get their hands on the latest technological marvel. It's fucking relative.

The very idea of people living their lives based on technological advancement is barely a hundred years old. Mass urbanization began in this country in the first two decades of the 20th century. Long-term food preservation by canning is scarcely older. We now feed many more people using smaller and smaller plots of land. As a result, we now have many more people. We've compensated for this party by our choice of crops, particularly corn. And corn requires enormous amounts of nitrogen. And we supply that nitrogen--plants can't take it directly out of the atmosphere--by industrial processes which use enormous amounts of energy. And that energy comes from fossil fuels.

Okay, okay, you don't care, because a) you've got an iPod nobody in 1973 could have bought at any price and b) your standard response to any sort of limit on technological development is to close your eyes, plug your ears, and insist that technology will solve every problem technology faces, because otherwise there wouldn't be a Star Trek. And that's fine by me. I just mean to point out here that you're telling, at best, half the story from the perspective of the small-town Jaycee civic booster. There are drawbacks and limitations to technology. Nuclear weapons. Thalidomide. 8-Tracks.

Now, I'm not as phlegmatic about the other unspoken part of this argument as I am about scientific illiteracy in a science-fiction fanboy, or about modern man congratulating himself for his great perspicacity in being born recently. And that's the fact that much of the improvement of life for the poor, or Lucky Duckies, if you will, is a result of political action, the sort of political action your lot opposed at every turn until it comes time to pat yourself on the back for it. 40 hour, 5 day work weeks. The end of child labor and unsafe working conditions. Rural electrification. Programs to end smallpox, rickets, and many other disease and nutritional deficiencies in poor children. Unleaded gasoline is a government mandate, not a technological breakthrough, and as a result (and the mandated elimination of lead in paint) there's much less lead poisoning in children than fifty years ago. And, of course, the New Deal and Great Society programs which have reduced poverty and provided access to medical care for the poor. Of course we still have an abysmal child mortality rate, and poor nutrition, and the least cost-efficient healthcare, and the most overpriced prescription drugs, and a shameful discrepancy in public education between rich and poor, but the last twenty-five years of retrenchment have given you the opportunity to blame all that on the children who suffer it. Let 'em eat cake. Let 'em watch teevee. Let 'em sprout gills. Right, fat boy?

What a sad, bumptious, unconcerned little fellow you are, Jonah Goldberg. What an unintentional argument against every sort of privilege you claim as a right. What an antidote to American exceptionalism! The more you crow the more we're reminded that crow should be your steady diet.


Scott C. said...

In 1900 most city streets were full of horseshit, much like your columns are today.

Yea, this is truly the Harmonic Convergence of Snark. Be prepared for legions of white-robed Druids to suddenly gather outside your door, raise a henge on your lawn, perform ritual pagan sex, and trade sarcastic jibes.

D. Sidhe said...

I may need help with the henge and the sex. Volunteers?

If I send you money, Doghouse, will you go to Jonah's office, sit him and his small-minded, mean-spirited coworkers down, and *explain* this all to him?

DBK said...

Shit! How do you stand reading something as stupid as Goldberg's mental fart? Shit that was stupid. See, I can't read crap like that, let alone be patient enough to deliver the smackdown it deserves.

R.Porrofatto said...

Danke sehr Herr Ober, I needed that. I know too many privileged spring breaker snots who have no conception of poverty beyond "What do you mean poor? Look at how fat those floating bodies are." Unfortunately this shit has been around for more than a few weeks—it's practically boilerplate now at Heritage—and McArdle really did write that the average US postal worker today is better off than Cornelius Vanderbilt. I don't care what the nuns said, and vain as it is, I wish that Rush Limbaugh be afflicted with Parkinson's, and that these folks one day be stoned broke.

I'll be glad to help trade jibes, but no one's getting my Lenny Bruce rookie card.

golombek said...

It's all still relative. The poor and lower middle class still have trouble affording housing, even if it does come with flush toilets and electricity. In 1900, the rich had servants to cook, clean their houses, do their laundry, etc. Yes, today the poor have microwaves, vacuum cleaners, and washing machines, but they do the chores themselves. The rich still have servants doing the chores.

Anonymous said...

"Okay, on the simplest level: are you saying you'd rather be an inner-city dwelling busboy working double shifts in 2006 than be John Pierpont Morgan soaking in your solid-gold bathtub in your private rail car in 1902, with a nubile bathing attendant on either side or you, because the latter couldn't buy the Complete Season I of Scrubs on DVD?"

So excellent. O my doghouse, O my riley.

If only Jo-Gold could be rassled into doing a project similar to Barbara Ehrenreich's "Nickel and Dimed". But I can't think of any threat that would keep him involved in the project after the first 24 hours. "...or else we'll detonate dirty bombs in Georgetown..." Wouldn't work. His sense of entitlement extinguishes reason. And mercy.


Christopher said...

Another thing is that stability is an important part of the human experience, one that gets left out of these kinds of equations.

A knowledge that a catastrophic disaster won't signifigantly alter your social position CAN in fact make up for monetary discrepencies.

Going back to your J.P. Morgan analogy, in the modern world, I may well have more tangible goods then Mr. Morgan, but in a lot of ways, the lack of stability in my life makes up for it.

The American health-care system essentially amounts to somebody saying "Don't get sick".

But suppose I were to experience some kind of debilitating illness or injury; the loss of income could easily send me into bankruptcy, and perhaps even homelessness.

A mogul like Morgan, however, would have the money in place to both get state-of-the-art treatment and to maintain much of his station in life.

In other words, for us poor folks, there's always a sword of damocles hanging above our heads, and the stress that causes isn't easily offset by material goods like cellphones and computers.