HalfSigma has a post tying together money, class, and race(ism). Obviously, I am going to be focusing on the first two (I may be lightening up as far as this goes, but not that much). As is often the case, he mixes insights with false assumptions. On the latter score, he says:

I think the people who are most opposed to an increase in the minimum wage are those making slightly more than the minimum wage. For the guy making $12/hour, an increase in the minimum wage from $7 to $10 would be a mighty blow to his feelings of success. But people making six figures are so far insulated from making $7/hour that they just don’t suffer the least bit of worry that increasing the minimum wage would lower their own status.

This is, by my experience and observation, entirely wrong. First, because non-minimum low wages tend to go up with the minimum wage in order to differentiate themselves from those making minimum wage. If you’re paying someone 50c above minimum wage, you’re likely going to continue to do so in order to attract the better candidates among those making minimum wage. I was working at near-minimum when it went up from $4.25 an hour. It went up in two increments, I switched jobs between the increments, and both empoyers raise our wages a 45c at a time. Unions, it’s worthy of noting, are generally supportive of minimum wage increases even though their guys (and gals) are not directly affected by them.

The paragraph before and after that one aren’t entirely wrong, but I believe them to be incomplete:

One (but certainly not the only) important differentiator is money. Having more money makes you feel superior to those who have less money. But money just sitting in a bank account doesn’t demonstrate this very well. Thus did Thorstein Veblen coined the phrase “conspicuous consumption.” But you should also be aware that people who spend money seldom think about conspicuous consumption, because a lot of this behavior works on the subconscious level. Driving around in a ten-year-old Hyundai just causes people to have feelings of inferiority when they see other people drive by in more expensive cars. We are less likely to feel envy of people’s bank accounts because they are invisible and there’s a social taboo for people to speak about them.

This paragraph overlooks a different tendency: to roll one’s eyes at those who buy needlessly expensive cars and other conspicuous items. When I see someone driving a Range Rover, I don’t think “I wish I could afford a Range Rover.” I think “Sucker.” As much as I would like to say that this is a result of my being completely oblivious to conspicuous value, it’s not. At least, it’s not entirely so. I bought the Subaru Forester new because it was the best value for what we needed. However, I am extremely self-conscious about it. The appearance of it actually bothers me, just a little. I’m one of those guys who buys new cars. It’s indicative of a reverse snobbery. I thought more of myself because I drove a lesser car. At the time, I attributed it to my practicality. But here I am self-conscious about a car that I bought primarily because it made sense.

Which brings me to another paragraph…

There are other ways to feel superior to other people besides having more money than them. This is what Class X is about. If you voluntarily (or involuntarily) choose a career that doesn’t offer the greatest monetary rewards, then you look to other ways to feel superior. This is what the whole SWPL movement is about, participating in a culture that makes you feel superior to proles making the same money as you.

I am not sure this is about the proles, actually. To the extent that we’re going to psychoanalyze, I think it’s about other non-proles. If you can’t sing good, sing loud. Let’s say that you are someone who was raised in a solidly middle class household. Let’s say that you are not temperamentally or intellectually suited for the rat race. Well gosh, if you forgo the rat-race altogether, then by-golly you are better than all those other sheeple. You may have less money, but it isn’t because you would have fared poorly in the money-making world if you had tried, but rather it’s because you chose not to race. When you can’t compete in set of criteria, choose a different one. Then, per that other paragraph, look down on the consumption habits of those who lack the insight that you have.

Category: Market

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3 Responses to Chosing A Game You Can Win At

  1. SFG says:

    Ah, wisdom.

    Pretty much, yeah. Lawyers don’t have the schmooze for business or the science ability for medicine, scientists don’t have the schmooze for other careers…it goes on.

  2. ? says:

    Well gosh, if you forgo the rat-race altogether, then by-golly you are better than all those other sheeple.

    On the one hand, I believe this to be a valid psychological insight.

    On the other, in the hands of not-especially-fair-minded people, it inevitably becomes: “well, you’re just saying Y because you’re failing at X.”

    Fill in the blanks:

    “You believe in chastity because you can’t get laid.”

    “You seek love in the arms of East Europeans because you’re intimidated by the independence of American women.”

    “You believe in game because you have small genitalia.”

    It becomes just another ad hominen that avoids addressing the substance of the claim.

    Now, I have a post coming out that addresses the collective effect of this, but at the individual level, it’s hard — in fact, wrong — to blame people for trying change the game when prospects are dim for success in the present one. There may be a reason, such as positive externalities, why one games is to be preferred corporately to another. But otherwise, the contest between games is morally neutral.

  3. trumwill says:

    There may be a reason, such as positive externalities, why one games is to be preferred corporately to another. But otherwise, the contest between games is morally neutral.

    I wouldn’t say morally neutral, but would agree with subjectively valued.

    I agree that it is an error (and a self-gratifying one) to assign superiority to the game one chooses to play. My point was not so much that the guy who opts out of the rat race (in good part because he can’t compete) is inferior, but rather that he asserts his own superiority when, in fact, the reason that we make the choices we do is highly relevant.

    Whether one chooses to go into academia or the rat race is, to my mind, relatively neutral. As a good capitalist, I believe in the value of the rat race to society as a whole and that there is generally going to be more societal upside to people working hard and being productive… but there is more societal downside, too, when their economic productivity is actually socially destructive (or they make money on destructiveness).

    I say this as someone who did “opt out” way before I met Clancy. Not opting out entirely, but the desire that there are other things to life than money and getting ahead (absent Clancy’s income, plus fatherhood, this perspective was always subject to change).

    I agree with your point about using the psychoanalysis as a dodge of the real issues, however. I don’t generally believe in arguing motivation to begin with and it’s no different here. Though proportions may differ, it’s generally my view that there are good and ill motivations in every camp. But it’s important to know what the motivations are and can be. In the effort of understanding society and people, though, not in effort to win argument points. Assigned motivations (whether this or something else) are non-falsifiable.

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