Monday, September 27, 2010

Too Much of a Muchness

A law professor who is married to a doctor last week provided the sad story of his difficulties in living on more than (probably a lot more than) $250,000 a year and the immense difficulties that a tax cut on the amount under that combined with no tax cut on the amount above that would entail him and his family.

The post provoked not much crying and some laughter. Many of us live quite happily on much less than that.

Many religions touch on this problem and counsel, as often as not, giving more away if you're feeling that you don't have enough. It's easy to get into these mental ruts, whether it's keeping up with the neighbors or someone being wrong on the Internet. Washington has its own versions of this, as Joe Klein is finding as he tours the country outside the Beltway.

It's a matter of focusing on what's important. I can't tell if Ezra Klein's use of this quote is sardonic; it would be if I were quoting it.
It is inconsequential whether you like these entrées or not. The purpose of eating at a buffet is to get the most value for money by selectively feeding the face with the most expensive dishes.
I guess I'd disagree. I go out to eat to enjoy what I'm eating.

Paul Krugman gives another example of what we might call false focus:
This brings to mind a review I once read of a bad movie in which Mel Gibson played a Revolutionary War patriot. The film made a point of showing the Gibson character as being apolitical – until the British did him personal harm; that’s when he got involved. As the reviewer pointed out, this gets the notion of patriotism all wrong – you’re supposed to care about the cause regardless of your personal interests. In fact, there’s something especially laudable if you oppose a regime even though you were doing fine under that regime.

So: I support tax increases that will reduce my own after-tax income; I worry greatly about unemployment, even though my own living is secure; I warn about growing inequality, even though I’m of the class that has gained from rising disparities; I’m upset about the direction this country is going, even though my own life is comfortable. And this is supposed to cast doubt on my motives?
I think that Krugman's critics may have swallowed the self-interest thing whole and believe that nothing else can be genuine.

So when James Fallows thinks that that poor sad law professor is just making an error in comparing his wealth to others', he's succumbing to the common wisdom, in this case, that the one who dies with the most toys wins.

1 comment:

Peter said...

I've always found it disingenuous when I hear someone talk about 'Patriotism' and 'tax cuts' in the same breath - paying taxes (I prefer to call think of it as society insurance) is the most patriotic thing a citizen can do.

And No, I don't earn more than 200k. But Yes, I could certainly afford to pay more.