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November 1, 2007

House of Dissatisfaction, and also unsolicited financial advice

Mo Pitkins' House of Satisfaction is closed; awesomeness doesn't pay.

For those of you not in New York, Mo's was the performance venue in which Chicks & Giggles and many other fine comedy shows and other indie shows were held. I especially enjoyed it because it was a reasonably swanky bar and restaurant (not a dirty black box theater with a guy at a folding table in the back pouring plastic cups of wine in exchange for "donations"). Over the few years they were open, the venue's "Judeo-Latino" menu was notably scaled down, losing the incredible "pick-eight-things-including-brisket" variety plate. But still, it was the best game in town.

I can't tell you how many "lifestyle" businesses I've seen fail. That is, businesses that make the entrepreneurs feel like the coolest people alive, until the businesses fail, inevitably, and the entrepreneurs go down as martyrs of coolness. Now, Mo's was an actual restaurant, and a good one; however, I am reminded of the hip-as-all-get-out Williamsburg vintage lingerie store for which I once modeled in fashion shows: how could one think that could ever even pay the rent on a retail space (much less provide an income for the owner)?

If you love, say, vinyl, I'd still suggest against opening a vintage record store, even though you'd feel really cool for a few weeks until you realized what your monthly coolness bill was. Instead, I'd suggest taking the Series 7, becoming a day trader, and using all your filthy lucre to purchase every vintage album you ever wanted off eBay.

And ... that's the end of today's unsolicited Jenisfamous financial advice.


July 10, 2007

Egg Donors vs. Sperm Donors: Who Is Valued More and Why?

This article suggests that sperm donors are underpaid because we don't really value fatherhood. And additionally, that egg donors are treated like precious, beatific saints because that's what we like to think about mothers.

That sounds kind of flattering for the women, at least, until you realize the flipside -- women who are mostly in it for the money are pathologized, whereas it's expected that men would donate sperm entirely for the money.

This stigmatizaton of market-motivated egg donors is aptly analogous to issues surrounding motherhood, as women who prefer participation in a market economy to the oh-so-precious task of wiping tiny noses have also long been pathologized.

I'm off to the fertility clinic for an ovarian reserve test to see if my eggs are still any good (28 is antediluvian for an egg donor!) If they are, I have a taker!

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May 29, 2007

unsolicited economic advice from Jenisfamous

The post below (asking the question "How many hours per month do you have to work to pay your rent?") has generated a healthy discussion in the comments. I happen to know the commenter who answered "14" (most other answers are in the forties and fifties), and know that he commands a high hourly rate for his services, which leads me to a new topic:

I am convinced that most of what we consider sound financial values about budgeting and saving are illogical Depression-era holdovers.

In our brave new world in which jobs are ephemeral and we are advised to "be your own brand", it is -- for able people -- a better use of resources to worry about maximizing income, rather than minimizing expenses, as income is far more fluid than expenses. (It is easier for me to find a way to make twice as much money than it is for me to find a grocery store that charges half-price). This was not true for salarymen in, say, 1935.

Put another way, in an average American city/suburb (I'll work off my knowledge of Virginia Beach five years ago), rents (excluding public housing and a few crazy luxury apartments) range from about $500 to $1200. Hourly wages range from $5.15 per hour for minimum wage workers to about $300 per hour for top attorneys. Let's do the math: the top rent is 240% of the bottom rent. The top wage is 5,825% of the bottom wage. Wages clearly have a lot more wiggle room.

If you are an old lady on Social Security (with no wiggle room at all), clipping coupons may be a good use of your time. But who wants to live like an old lady on Social Security? If you are twenty-five and college-educated, I'm not sure that making a budget and carefully living within it is the optimal use of your mojo ("mojo" here meaning time, money, motivation, and ingenuity), unless you are mired in irresponsibly-acquired credit card debt and need remedial financial help.

If you are twenty-five and college-educated, I think your mojo is better expended developing a skill that can be offered on a freelance basis in addition to your 9-to-5 job (and which will provide a backup plan in times of unemployment), or obtaining additional training or participating in networking opportunities such as to accelerate advancement and allow greater job portability in the 9-to-5 job world.

I know how compound interest works, of course, but I think that before an able 25-year-old dumps money into a retirement fund, he should think: is there something I can do with this money that will contribute to making me the kind of person whom others will pay twice as much as I make now? That might be something as simple as taking a class to learn a new skill, and it might be something as un-obvious as flying halfway around the world to meet a mentor in your field. But I think, at 25, that's a sound investment.

Why on earth didn't I major in economics? I could do this all day.


May 27, 2007


I am moving to a new apartment. I am also reading The Four-Hour Workweek.

Together, these things prompt me to ask for this blog poll: How many hours per month do you have to work to pay your rent? (For example, if you make $80,000 a year and pay $2,000 a month, that's about $38/hour, so you work about 53 hours to pay your rent. If you work a $10/hr job and pay $450, you work 45 hours to pay your rent, which makes you, in a way, a little bit richer).

So please answer this (anonymously) in the comments: How many hours do you work to pay your rent, and what city do you live in?

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May 5, 2007

"Moms' work would bring in $138,095 a year": A Rebuttal That Should Be Kind of Obvious

According to "research" conducted by (just in time for Mothers' Day!), mothers' work, if compensated, would bring in $138,095 a year.

(If this story sounds familiar, it's because releases a new figure each year, which is a great way of keeping their name in the news).

Before I get started on this, can we all agree that there's something not-right about this? That this $138,095 figure is bound to provide some satisfaction to underappreciated mothers, but ... this all sounds a little wonky, right?

Good. Let's get started.

I think it would be reasonable to hypothesize that mothers who take a salary survey on on this topic may not be entirely representative of mothers as a whole. They are likely the overachievers. Perhaps some have applied their education and ambition to child-rearing in a way that adds to their workloads; at very least, they are mothers with internet access and have enough familiarity with paid workplace activities to be familiar with But even disregarding that possible skew, let's continue. From CNN:
The typical mother puts in a 92-hour work week, the company concluded, and works at least 10 jobs. In order of hours spent on them per week, these are: housekeeper, day-care center teacher, cook, computer operator, laundry machine operator, janitor, facilities manager, van driver, chief executive officer and psychologist. By figuring out the median salaries for each position, and calculating the average number of hours worked at each, the firm came up with $138,095....
Mmn-hmmn. Ten points:

1) First off, we all have to conduct Normal Life Activities. Those of us who do not have children still must wash our dishes and bandage our own cuts and scrapes. The respective hourly wages of dishwashers and nurses are wholly irrelevant. We are all uncompensated for the business of keeping life going.

2) If you do parts of each of ten jobs, you don't get paid proportional parts of the salary of each of the ten jobs. Shift managers at Starbucks perform part of the jobs of CEOs in that they manage people. Great, you're still a shift manager! If you're not qualified to do the whole job (of a CEO or a full-time "computer operator," for instance), then it's very unlikely that your salary will go up for being able to do part of the job. A worker at Barnes & Noble operates computers, but is not doing the whole job of being a "computer operator"; he or she does not receive a proportionally-higher salary during the time that he or she operates computers.

3) Let's talk about the CEO thing. CEOs create wealth for shareholders. They manage companies that have thousands or millions of employees, and head organizations with multiple levels of management. Even if you have ten kids and part of your job is to delegate to or co-manage with a spouse and possibly the hired help, your job is still more like that of a middle manager -- you know, like someone on The Office who has twelve people's activities to orchestrate. A middle manager might make $50,000 a year, as opposed to the millions made by a CEO. Why do CEOs make that much money? Because they work harder? Of course not. It's because shareholders are banking that attracting the best CEO talent will increase their own investment in the stock. This -- in any other than the most shady metaphorical sense -- is wholly irrelevant to parenting. (In fact, if millions of people were buying stock in your kids and you were then obligated by the Securities and Exchange Commission to act entirely in the interest of increasing the value of your stockholders' shares, you'd be a pretty shitty parent). So again: middle manager.

4) Middle managers (and psychologists) are generally salaried. So you can't take the amount of the salary, divide it by 40 hours a week for 52 weeks a year, figure out an hourly wage, and then multiply it back times the 92 hours a week you are actually working. The salary figure is fixed; it does not change based on hours worked. If you have a salaried job and you are asked to work too many hours, you can try to be more efficient, you can ask a superior for some kind of adjustment or assistance -- or you can quit. Notice how irrelevant this seems to the profession of mothering? (It's hard to leave for a better offer). This is wonky math.

5) Since we've done "CEO," let's talk about "psychologist." JUST BECAUSE YOU PERFORM DUTIES "LIKE" A PSYCHOLOGIST DOES NOT MAKE YOU A PSYCHOLOGIST. A million dudes who call themselves "amateur gynecologists" don't deserve $100K+ a year for that, either. Psychologists, I'm sure, are pleased that apparently their medical degrees and licenses are irrelevant. I've sometimes offered advice to a friend in need, but I don't charge, and if I did, my counsel would be worth less than that of someone who, you know, passed the MCAT.

6) Jobs are worth however much other people will actually pay you for them. Obviously. This is the first thing that probably made the report seem a little wonky at first. (Notably, the whole point of rest of is not to advocate for what people "should" be paid for their jobs, but rather to aggregate data about what they are paid). If the job of mothering is "worth" $138,095 a year, how come no one ever pays anyone that amount for it? (If such a position were to be offered, it would probably only be available to exceptionally beautiful young women -- the Melania Knauss-Trumps of the world -- which would make it a different kind of job and skew our results. But even then, a mail-order bride is cheaper and does not demand an annual salary. (See how this monetization business is getting a little insulting? Never fear, Feminist Wrap-Ups follow!)

7) People who prioritize making money make more money. Shocker! If the average salary for a receptionist is $40,000 a year, but you make $22,000 a year because you are a receptionist at an environmental nonprofit that you believe to be saving the world, then you're probably not shocked that you make less than the average. You knew that when you signed up. If making money were your top priority, you'd be a receptionist at Bear Sterns, or, better yet, not a receptionist. If you choose a path that does not provide a traditional wage, or you follow -- through intention or simply going along with things -- one of the less lucrative paths available, it doesn't mean anything to say you "deserve" some other salary.

8) Corollary to the above: If you accept a "job" working for your husband -- who very likely makes less than $138,095 a year himself -- of course you are not surprised that you make less than $138,095.

9) Let's keep going with that. It's unclear what meaning it could have to say that the wife of a man who makes, say, $60,000 a year is really doing a $138,095 job, even if no one on earth will pay her that to do it. Hmmn. Well, say we're talking about even a very appreciative husband here (the one who makes $60,000). Obviously, he can't pay her more than he even makes -- just as a "CEO" can't expect to be paid more money than a company has access to. I can't go work as "CEO" for a company with less than $1M in revenue and expect to be paid more than $1M a year, even though that's small potatoes for CEOs -- unless, of course, I can raise the small company's revenues by many millions of dollars per year, such that it becomes possible and worthwhile to compensate me in proportion to my having increased the value of the firm. How does that apply to mothering? It doesn't. Because having children is not a profit-making enterprise. To ask for CEO-type compensation for it would be to ask to be paid based on how much money you can make off the children. (And if you are one of the few Dina Lohans who makes money off the children, you're already getting your $138,095. Is that the model we're aiming towards? I think not).

10) Basic economics: jobs become worth less when more people are qualified to do them. Take "being a patent attorney" versus "delivering Chinese food in New York, on a bicycle." The second is hard, unpleasant, and extremely dangerous, and, as I understand it, often pays less than minimum wage. This is because a great many people can do it, including illegal immigrants who speak near-zero English. How many people are qualified to be patent attorneys? In America, under 100,000. How many people are qualified to be mothers? Over a hundred million. (You might argue that not all of them are good at it, which is certainly true, but only the very worst are ever removed from their positions by Social Services, so I think it's fair to count all of the mothers allowed to remain in their jobs). When more people are able to perform a certain job, the wages for that job are driven lower. Everyone who's every studied the Industrial Revolution, Taylorism, the AFL, or the Progressive Era should be familiar with this concept.

Okay, that was the ten points. Now, please keep in mind, I'm a feminist. So where do we go from here?

Feminist Wrap-Up A: Maybe instead of painting mothers as oppressed women forced into roles in which they are embarrassingly being exploited by their overlords (who pay them zero percent of their earned wages!), we should think of them as women who've chosen to do things they think are more important than making money. Perhaps women are adults who have the ability to make their own choices in a capitalist society.

Feminist Wrap-Up B: Maybe putting out feel-good reports right before Mothers' Day telling mothers that they're performing a $138,095 a year job -- when they know that no one will pay them that much money to do the job (and, like most Americans of both genders, no one will pay them that much to do any job) -- is just a little patronizing. Women are supposed to lap up blatant lying because we enjoy flattery oh-so-much? Condescending in the extreme.

Feminist Wrap-Up C: No one is performing this sort of calculus for, say, male activists who don't get paid for their labor. What if a male global-warming activist works 92 hours a week, performing parts of the jobs of CEO, marketing director, van driver, computer operator, etc.? Does anyone feel the need to calculate some kind of pseudo-salary expressing the total dollar value of his unpaid, but very important, work? Seems kind of meaningless. I think we assume that the unpaid male global warming activist doesn't need emotional shoring-up, or pretty lies. A double-standard here is patronizing and anti-feminist.


Update: This post made it to, courtesy of Megan McArdle. In the comments below the generous excerpt of my original post, one man comments that no one's proposing he receive overtime for the professions of painter, carpenter, electrician, plumber, etc.

p.s. Mom, I love you very much, but, of course, no one in our family has ever made $138,095 a year. I mean, if we were a multimillion-dollar corporation (note: maybe we should've founded a chain of discount stores: Dziu-Mart), I'd vote you a big bonus and stuff. But I think you're going to have to settle for having produced a daughter who writes blog posts like this one. If only that were its own reward. Happy Mothers' Day!

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December 20, 2005

In the Soviet Union, the trains ran on time, but everything else sucked and millions of people escaped to come here

Dear Annoyingly Striking Transit Workers: You want more money and more benefits and a bigger pension? Start your own company. That's how we do things in America.

From the Times this morning:
At the corner of Cedar and Nassau Streets in the downtown financial district, Christian Kerr, 28, a foreign currency analyst , was assessing his options for getting to his office adjacent to Grand Central Terminal in midtown.

"I don't know how I'm going to get to work, honestly," he said. He thought he might take one of the ferries to the 30's and walk.

"It's a pain in the neck," he said. "I'm very anti-union, especially this time of year. It's ridiculous. If you look what they're asking for, that's 50 years ago. Pensions don't work like that anymore."
Hey Christian, I think you're sexy.

The MTA is, indeed, corrupt and doing shady things with its money, but that doesn't change the issue; an unlikable MTA doesn't somehow make illegally striking workers more deserving. Also from the Times article:
Mr. Toussaint appealed for public support, acknowledging the tremendous inconvenience to millions of commuters and tourists. "To our riders, we ask for your understanding and forbearance. We stood with you to keep token booths open, to keep conductors on the trains, to oppose fare hikes," he said. "We now ask that you stand with us. We did not want a strike, but evidently the M.T.A., the governor and the mayor did."
Hey, guess what -- I don't support any of those things, either. Keeping token booths open for the few old people who refuse to use vending machines? Opposing conductorless trains out of simple fear of technology? And, sure, nobody wants a fare hike, but compared to the cost of owning, insuring, maintaining, and buying fuel for a car, $76 a month for an unlimited card is damn cheap (I paid $350 a month to have a car in Virginia). If they could make the train come faster, and install those little electronic bulletins they have in the stations in DC that tell you when the next train is coming, I would happily pay more. Another $10 a month for all the time I'd save? A fine deal.

Don't like your job? Put together a resume and try to get a better one. It's never been a secret that you live in a capitalist country.

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September 30, 2005


At one point, I had some jokes in my comedy act about moving to New York, including a bit about homeless people, and how it would really help if they were cuter, because that's what matters for endangered animals.

In the process of making that point, I commented "When I first moved to New York, I was really disturbed by all the homeless people everywhere. But then I went through a six-month Empathy Adjustment Period, and now I could give a shit like the rest of you."

I like making people feel bad for laughing.

Piled in my to-do pile is an article I tore out of Big News, that newspaper that homeless people sell on the subway for $1. Persuaded by the "this gives us a job and keeps us from asking for handouts" speech, I bought one, and was absolutely confounded by an article therein.

The article, by Toby Van Buren, is entitled "A Guide to Homelessness." Here is the introduction:
When I was suddenly homeless in Mamaroneck, New York, in April, 1996, I knew that I had to quickly get out of there -- it's no place to be homeless!" New York is where I knew I had to go, the homeless capital of the world, where you can blend in with people & get things you need. Even though I had my last $600 or so on me, I wanted to get where I knew I'd eventually have the basic necessities when my money ran out.
Now, I know conservatives are busy ragging on gays and Muslims right now, but during various periods (for instance, the Reagan years), conservatives have been preoccupied with vilifying the poor. Mr. Van Buren -- who goes on to talk about living on the streets for five years because he "hated the idea of shelters," and instead loitering at McDonald's and Barnes & Noble, and using the internet in public libraries -- is just giving them ammunition. He seems to be saying that the more social services we provide, the more marginally poor (and, apparently, lazy) people we will attract to homelessness!

He had only his "last $600," and his solution was to become homeless? I mean, I know plenty of comedians who get by, non-homelessly, without ever having $600 on them at one time, except perhaps the day before the rent is due. Does it occur to them to live in the park? Park-bench living makes it difficult to keep the corners of one's headshots from crinkling. So, no, those down to their "last $600" crash on a friend's couch, or rent a room in a bad part of town, or move back in with relatives. $600 is not an insubstantial sum of money. I moved to New York with less.

Mr. Van Buren's article contained a passage about the value of spending time in nature, as public parks are free and "very healing." So, someone down to his last $600 (in a town that almost certainly offered more reasonably-priced housing than New York) was so attracted to park space and free food and blankets (with no job-hunting requirements) from charitable organizations that he actually elected to move to the city and become indefinitely homeless.

Good job, New York! You have made homelessness aspirational.

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September 3, 2005

Dunkin Donuts

I opened up a Chase bank account a couple weeks ago because of a promotion wherein I would receive "free coffee and donuts for a year."

Yesterday I received my coupon book -- indeed, a book of 52 certificates, each valid for one large coffee and one donut. I had assumed they would pull that standard retailer trick and make each valid for one week only, that way you'd forget to use some of them and they'd expire, and you wouldn't be able to bring a friend and use two at a time, etc. However, this is not the case! I may use these as backup prizes for the little contests in my vaudeville show.

In my first attempt to use one of the coupons, the man working at the counter, who was possessed of questionable English-language reading abilities, insisted I was entitled to either a coffee or a donut. No, no, I replied, it says "and." This is how conjunctions work. I have fifty-one more of these, and we're going to be seeing a lot of each other. A coffee and a donut.

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August 24, 2005

"do not bother me with your bourgeois gasoline woes whilst I am drinking my macchiato"

The (much recovered) cowboy pointed me towards this article in the Times Magazine about the impending oil shortage:
If consumption begins to exceed production by even a small amount, the price of a barrel of oil could soar to triple-digit levels. This, in turn, could bring on a global recession, a result of exorbitant prices for transport fuels and for products that rely on petrochemicals -- which is to say, almost every product on the market. The impact on the American way of life would be profound: cars cannot be propelled by roof-borne windmills. The suburban and exurban lifestyles, hinged to two-car families and constant trips to work, school and Wal-Mart, might become unaffordable or, if gas rationing is imposed, impossible.
Many New Yorkers are smug about such things; if there's no more oil, I guess Peoria and Denver and Duluth will just have to build subways!

I am reminded of a recent New York Magazine article about New Yorkers' opposition to a Wal-Mart in Rego Park -- some of it was ligitimate opposition from the grocery workers' union, or from activists, but much of it was urban snobbery. (I am certainly not immune to such snobbery, and would be embarassed by the presence of a Waltonesque monstrosity in my town; however, I balance my personal distaste of tacky things with the right of less well-off people to buy cheap cornflakes and parkas).

In any case, while the prospect of SUVs becoming too expensive to operate may delight many urban dwellers, worldwide recession is considerably less charming.

On an interesting engineering note, the article also pointed out (regarding the unfortunate fact that the Saudis have no obligation to tell anyone in any verifiable sense how much oil they actually have) that "the popular notion of [oil] reservoirs as underground lakes, from which wells extract oil like straws sucking a milkshake from a glass, is incorrect. Oil exists in drops between and inside porous rocks."

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August 15, 2005

considerations on welfare statism and fertility-friendly policymaking

In reference to my previous post about Sweden, this article in The Public Interest evaluates the effects of so-called "family friendly" policies, such as "free" day care.

The conclusion is that "free" day care is, of course, paid for upfront in the form of taxes, making its use near-mandatory, as people paying 35-50% tax rates become less able to afford not to use day care. The overall effect is that, to provide free day care, a nation makes it economically necessary for women with young children to work -- and most job growth is in administering the welfare state itself, and most child care jobs are held by women, so the end result is economically compelling women to leave their own childen to care for other people's children.

Of course, the talented ones can use the system to pursue employment as hockey players or lawyers or cabaret singers. But it's not clear that the segment most able to take care of themselves is the segment for whom taxation policies should be designed.

One interesting point is that, while the (now defunct) Public Interest is a conservative publication, this article ends up suggesting rather progressive policy alternatives such as Social Security credits for stay-at-home parenting, and a sort of "GI Bill" for stay-at-home parents (providing tuition credits for later education and job training), who sacrifice career advancement in order to raise children, in a move somewhat analagous to soliders who sacrificed career advancement to defend the nation.

Of course, that leads me to raise the question of whether these benefits would apply to someone who stayed home to raise their children on welfare -- are we to reward them by paying for their education? (If I balk at this, I think it makes me more fiscally conservative than TPI, which makes me itch). Of course, the thought of paying taxes towards such a thing makes working people indignant, but I think most things that would significantly ameliorate poverty and crime (like rehabiliation, college classes, and family visits for prisoners) make working people indignant.

If it would be the case that a GI Bill for parents could be "stacked" with other benefits -- a weekly check just for breeding, plus a free or reduced-cost grad degree? -- well, sign me up. Sperm donors aren't that hard to come by.

Of course, views on subsidizing (or, in some views, fairly compensating) parenting activities are strongly informed by whether one thinks the world needs more people in it. And while I used to be rather smug (like, when I was a high school debater, many of whom are quite smug in general) about how the world is overpopulated and anyone who chooses to have children is using valuable resources, the US is currently only replacing its population through immigration and the high birthrates of first-generation immigrants. Japan is suffering serious economic consequences from its below-replacement birthrate. And there is also the argument that people are going to keep making babies no matter what you do, so maybe the point is quality rather than quantity; measures that alleviate poverty and make those inevitable children more likely to be productive taxpayers and less likely to be criminals are in the public interest and possibly could be cost-effective, regardless of whether one holds the pronatalist view that children are a good in themselves.

This post has no punchline whatsoever. Feel free to reply in the comments.

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August 13, 2005

and a government-sponsored Klippan sofa for every family

Among liberal people I know (i.e., Brooklynite hipster-socialists), Sweden is often held up as this sort of mysterious, utopian model of "the way things should be."

But no one I know actually seems to know all that much about it. Something like "they all have health care and women's rights -- plus IKEA!" And then I think the mystique grows ... there's no murder ... they all speak five languages ... the meatballs grow on trees ... etc. So, I've had this idea to go to Sweden with the cowboy and write a book.

I've looked up some rather more serious books about Sweden, but none seem to really address the "mystique" the nation has for American liberals. This book, I think, would be kind of a light book about what, exactly, Sweden is doing better, and what is a total liberal myth. It might be called "Is it True About Sweden?"

My friend David from college married a Swedish woman a year or two ago and has been spending some serious time in Sweden. I wrote to ask him his thoughts. He wrote back with a little list of amusing facts he's been collecting about Sweden, including the following:
  • As of 2004 you can pay your Swedish taxes by sending an SMS message from your cell phone.

  • The government sends you a completely filled out tax form and if it looks good you just go online and click okay to pay your taxes.

  • Taxes are generally between 33 and 50% of your income.

  • All employees (inculding graduate students!) get 5 weeks of paid vacation a year.

  • You can take sick leave during your vacation if you are ill.

  • Parents get a total of 13 months of paid maternity leave and the father is required to take at least 1 month of it.(As of 2005 there is discussion of changing this to 15 months and requiring the father and mother to each take 5 and then split the last 5 as they feel appropriate.)

  • All employers (as of 2004) are required to provide free massage.

  • Any product you purchase is guaranteed for 1 year, and the retailer must exchange it if it fails in that time.(This includes things like clothes and shoes.)

  • All non-military property that is not fenced in, or is not a farm or someone's personal garden is open to anyone for hiking through or camping for one night.

  • Swedish university students are required to pay a membership fee in the student union, but no tuition.
Another friend, Amber, cited a study (I haven't read it myself) in which Swedish people rated themselves as having a higher standard of living than Americans rated themselves as having, even though Americans make more on average per capita and own much more stuff.

While Swedes are not living what we might think of as luxurious lifestyles (for example, many seem to pack lunch at home to bring into work), apparently not having to worry about how you'd pay for chemotherapy if you needed some is a pretty big consideration in their standard-of-living calculus.

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August 12, 2005

Atlas shrugged at Star magazine

Apropos to "Jess' Butt Goes Flat!", Irving Kristol once wrote that capitalism had promised three things: affluence, individual liberty, and
"the promise that … the individual could satisfy his instinct for self-perfection -- for leading a virtuous life that satisfied his spirit (or, as one used to say, his soul) -- and that the free exercise of such individual virtue would aggregate into a just society…. It was only when the third promise, of a virtuous life and a just society, was subverted by the dynamics of capitalism itself, as it strove to fulfill the other two -- affluence and liberty -- that the bourgeois order came, in the minds of the young especially, to posses a questionable legitimacy."
(Emphasis mine). How naive a view of capitalism, it seems, would expect that the hoi-polloi would use their liberty to pursue individual versions of virtue, which would "aggregate into a just society."

I am reminded of Ayn Rand -- of the entire trajectory of her life, even. She suffered under communism, and came to America a great proponent of capitalism, but also with a bad case of hero-worship for any big, strong men she could lay eyes on, and in the end, wrote a "masterpiece" in which the heroine (Rand's obvious alter ego) beds the three most powerful men on earth and finally ends up second in command to the most powerful of them -- who, after rescuing her from a plane crash and nursing her back to health, charges her for the eggs he serves her for breakfast, because the best way to show love someone is to respect their ability to earn money (in this case, the future money she would surely earn and use to pay him back for the eggs).

Of course, no one in the book has children or disabled relatives or elderly parents to care for. There's no room for that in a system in which love means respect of another person's market power.

Ayn Rand died quite lonely and bitter. (Of course, Lenin laid the groundwork for the death of 50-100 million people, so bad novel-writing and a dysfunctional personal life are great improvements).

In sum, the free pursuit of money with the expectation that people will use money as a stepping-stone to a just society, pretty much just leads to people getting stuck on the money, and the state of Jessica Simpson's butt.

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