Every Time You Shop… God Kills a Kitten

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Will Wilkinson takes the time to read (pdf) Benjamin Barber's Consumed: How Markets Corrupt Children, Infantilize Adults, and Swallow Citizens Whole. He doesn't like it.

Barber claims that not only is modern capitalism no longer satisfying
real needs, but is in some sense making us worse off. The modern consumer,
Barber writes, "is less the happy sensualist than the compulsive
masturbator, a reluctant addict working at himself with little pleasure,
encouraged in his labor by an ethic of infantilization that releases him to
an indulgence he cannot altogether welcome" (p. 51). Not a pretty picture.
But, again, Barber is simply making things up…

If capitalism has stopped meeting real needs, we should not see improvement
in almost every indicator of well-being in capitalist nations.
But we do. I have no doubt that many of us consume lots of things that
Barber disapproves of—and having read this book, I have a very good
sense of which things those are—but there is nothing to be said in favor
of the moralized overproduction theory in the absence of a theory of
needs, and evidence that our current patterns of consumption are not
meeting real needs.

Loren Lomasky ventured into the Barberian land of make-believe back in 2000.

NEXT: Piling On the NHS

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  1. I’m not sure I buy Barber’s argument, but there seems to be a gaping hole in Wilkinson’s argument, and it goes by the name of diminishing returns.

    Is it not possible that the entirety of the improvements in well-being in capitalist countries comes from people who grew up poor being able to afford decent doctors and washing machines (to pick two examples), and little or none of it comes from people with four pairs of Chuck Taylors being able to buy four more?

  2. Is it not possible that the entirety of the improvements in well-being in capitalist countries comes from people who grew up poor being able to afford decent doctors and washing machines (to pick two examples), and little or none of it comes from people with four pairs of Chuck Taylors being able to buy four more?

    It’s possible, but have you some evidence that this is the case?

  3. I’m just talking about his reasoning, not his evidence.

  4. If capitalism has stopped meeting real needs, we should not see improvement
    in almost every indicator of well-being in capitalist nations.
    But we do.

    It’s true that capitalism does a good job in meeting the real needs of people. It’s once those needs are met that the happiness curve seems to flatten.

  5. Is it not possible that the entirety of the improvements in well-being in capitalist countries comes from people who grew up poor being able to afford decent doctors and washing machines (to pick two examples), and little or none of it comes from people with four pairs of Chuck Taylors being able to buy four more?

    Sure, it’s possible, especially for physical health. So what you gonna do, joe; people can now use their money to buy washing machines but not Chuck Taylors?

    Also, some people get a lot of pleasure and happiness from items, like their iPod or their HDTV. Some don’t. Some get pleasure out of literature, in the form of mass-produced paperbacks. What about that joe? Somehow I know you would never criticize consumerism in the form of people buying lots of high-brow literature, yet consumerism it is all the same.

  6. Is it not possible that the entirety of the improvements in well-being in capitalist countries comes from people who grew up poor being able to afford decent doctors and washing machines (to pick two examples)

    You are assuming that the entirety of improvements doesn’t include improving healthcare across the board. Considering that there was a real threat of dying from an ulcer in the 60’s and now you take a pill and go back to work, I think we can say that it isn’t just “the poor.”

  7. I’m just talking about his reasoning, not his evidence.

    joe, your argument rests on the same reasoning that has been applied by, say, the Wobblies since the early 1900s…

    “The standard of living was good enough in 1890. We could live at the standard of living of that time very easily with an anarcho-syndicalist operation of the industrial base we have now in 1910. We don’t need capitalists and profit motives and growth because we only need the 1890 standard of living.”

    What is the new 1890? Why might it not still be in the future?

  8. I like shopping. I’m a happy sensualist and a libertarian libertine. I’m first against the wall if the neoPuritans ever sulk their way into power.

    Even though we are all better off in all ways than when the first philosopher berated conspicuous consumption, as long as some people have more than others, consumption will be tied to morality. You’d think an educated person like Barber would have noticed the pattern here.

    Worrying about flat happiness curves seems like busywork, somehow. Stimulating the imagination of those whose happiness has stalled would be good, but I’d rather focus on microloans if I were a researcher or writer concerned with consumption patterns. But that’s just me.

  9. dissatisfaction is the natural state of mankind. Is less consumer choice going to make anyone happier. If Chuck Taylors aren’t doing it for someone, maybe they need to reflect on their priorities. After all, we are all free to seek happiness in many ways other than consumption.

    Meanwhile, poor people get washing machines and doctors, which I’m sure we can agree is of more importance than the existential despair of the wealthy.

  10. should be a question mark in their. No sleep…

  11. Nate, you give up your things, and we’ll talk. This isn’t an either/or situation.

  12. Ummm, what? I like my things. I want more things. I am also aware that my ultimate happiness depends on more than my things, as cool as they are.
    Either you aren’t understanding me or I’m not understanding you. Probably both.

  13. Episiarch,

    I’m not drawing policy conclusions.

    I try to make habit of putting that last, after the situation is well-understood, not looking for an angle for how every bit of data backs up some pre-existing set of policies or ideology.

    Can’t we just talk about the world? Does everything have to past your test of political and ideological convenience?

  14. Also, some people get a lot of pleasure and happiness from items, like their iPod or their HDTV.

    Yes, they do. And yet, reported levels of happiness level off despite increasing purchases of those things.

    BTW, I haven’t criticized a single person for buying a single thing. Why did you bring that up?

  15. “It’s possible, but have you some evidence that this is the case”

    Of course not. He never has evidence for anything he writes.

  16. It’s true that capitalism does a good job in meeting the real needs of people. It’s once those needs are met that the happiness curve seems to flatten.

    So?

  17. joe

    you are, I believe, correct, in that getting richer makes people happy but being rich does not. But, and this is a question not snarkiness, so what?

  18. Mike P,

    I haven’t put forward any reasoning. I asked a question. One of my terrible, naughty questions.

    Nate made the same point I did. Why don’t you bark at him for a while?

    Marcvs,

    Good point. I think there is an issue of increasing societal wealth vs. increasing individual wealth – in other words, it’s still about people not being poor, not middle class people becoming rich. It’s not as though ulcer treatments were produced as some rarity that only the few gett to take advantage of.

  19. Not every advance has to be utilitarian. Having more opportunity to acquire things and pursue interests that bring you enjoyment also represents an improvement in well-being.

  20. The modern consumer, Barber writes, “is less the happy sensualist than the compulsive masturbator…”

    Gosh, he says this like it’s a bad thing.

  21. Nate,

    I’d say the “so what?” comes into play when the effects of increasing wealth on happiness are brought forward as a positive argument for a certain position or policy. If a certain policy is going to increase wealth, but the benefits are concentrated at the top, then that policy is going to produce less bang for the buck than if it was concentrated at the bottom.

  22. Mostly, I’m offended by his gross mischaracterization of chronic masturbators.

    (typed with one hand)

  23. Basically, Barber has expressed doubt that Capitalism is the One True Way. This cannot stand here in the land of Free Minds.

  24. joe

    Point taken. But a free market is a great engine of wealth, and even if the rich get richer faster than the poor (which they do) so long as the poor are getting richer too then you are getting more bang for your buck, in terms of overall wellbeing. I sort of thought that was your point, that the actual payoff in happiness really goes to those on the lower end of the economic scale.

    I think people jump to policy arguments partly out of habit but partly because this sort of anti-consumerist writing does in fact have policy implications. But, seeing as you weren’t agreeing with this Barber fellow in the first place (were/are you?), perhaps jumping into the usual fray was not appropriate.

    But joe, don’t you come here to fight? Thats, like, your place in this weird little community and I thought you embraced that.

  25. Nate made the same point I did. Why don’t you bark at him for a while?

    Ummm… As I read it, Nate made exactly the opposite point of yours. His point is, why is it his problem that some people aren’t satisfied by their consumer choices? Why should someone who is competent at satisfying his or her desires with the economy around them be restricted because some people aren’t?

    Ruff.

  26. But not in a lame way, like Dan T.

  27. barber’s basic point is that stuff isn’t the same as abstract values.

    which i would agree with; i just disagree with his valuation of abstract values to boot.

  28. We’re all going to want better and newer toys no matter how many we have, and if that doesn’t make us happy anymore we’ll quit our jobs and move into a shack in the woods.

    The great thing about this is that compulsive masturbating will always be free.

  29. I think worrying about whether you are happy is a feature, not a bug of wealth.

    Not to go all John Edwards, but my grandfather grew up extremely poor. He dropped out of the 8th grade so that he could hunt squirrels full-time to feed his brothers and sisters. Two generations later, his grandson, solidly in the working middle class, has a standard of living he could probably could barely imagined in woods hunting tree rats. If you asked him if he was happy growing up, he would have said yes. They weren’t starving, after all.

    As happiness rises, so does misery. They are never far apart relativity, but nowhere near each other objectively. Worrying about your happiness is a luxury.

    (None of this is meant to endorse a utilitarian redistribution of wealth.)

  30. …and then I understood the headline.

  31. The great thing about this is that compulsive masturbating will always be free.

    you’re forgetting externalities, like lotion.

    and loneliness.

  32. …and neck stumps…

  33. But a free market is a great engine of wealth, and even if the rich get richer faster than the poor (which they do) so long as the poor are getting richer too then you are getting more bang for your buck, in terms of overall wellbeing.

    Are “rich” and “poor” relative terms or absolute ones? If they are relative, then the rich getting richer at a faster rate means that in essence, the poor who are getting “less poor” at a slower rate are in fact getting poorer, no?

    I would imagine that if a populace is getting richer as a whole, the ones on the low end who are getting richer slower than everyone else will still have less buying power and ability to afford the things that everyone else can afford. If everyone is getting richer, than inflation and cost of living is going to go up as well, no?

  34. Mike P,

    You misunderstood my point. Stop that.

    I made a point about his reasoning. Everything you read into it about restricting people’s choices came from your on head.

    It’s getting annoying to have to explain this same point over and over on every thread.

    So just stop it. If you want to respond to what I write, respond to what I actually write.

  35. Are “rich” and “poor” relative terms or absolute ones? If they are relative, then the rich getting richer at a faster rate means that in essence, the poor who are getting “less poor” at a slower rate are in fact getting poorer, no?

    that would be my reading, beyond any issue of real buying power or quality of life. that’s kind of a structural issue (i.e. comparing oneself to one’s neighbors)

  36. Nate,

    I don’t think the trickling down of wealth, or the rate/efficiency at which it does so, should be assumed to be a constant.

  37. “modern capitalism”

    No such thing. Just varying levels of socialism and fascism.

  38. Why define relatively, except out of pure envy?

    If everyone is getting richer, than inflation and cost of living is going to go up as well, no?

    If your purchasing power doesn’t increase in real terms then by definition you are not getting wealthier. Its a question of wealth, not money.

    I don’t think the trickling down of wealth, or the rate/efficiency at which it does so, should be assumed to be a constant.

    Sure, the rate isn’t constant, but wealth does increase for every social stratum over time. If it really isn’t fast enough to keep the least rich in an acceptable standard of living, well, that’s why we create safety nets. What form those should take is another conversation.

  39. Yes, they do. And yet, reported levels of happiness level off despite increasing purchases of those things.

    And the question then becomes, is this the fault of living in a capitalist society or is this an inner yearning for something else more meaningful to the specific individual than the acquisition of goods.

    I would say in most cases it is usually the latter.

    For a lot of folks, it’s faith. For others, it’s family. And for others, it is working in a charity or for a cause they deem important and bigger than themselves.

    Which is the other great thing about living in a nominally free country.

    You can enjoy the benefits of a capitalist society, work hard enough to meet your basic needs and get a few extras, and then you’re still free to go out and pursue happiness in a way that you see fit.

  40. If you want to respond to what I write, respond to what I actually write.

    Fair enough.

    Is it not possible that the entirety of the improvements in well-being in capitalist countries comes from people who grew up poor being able to afford decent doctors and washing machines (to pick two examples), and little or none of it comes from people with four pairs of Chuck Taylors being able to buy four more?

    No.

    Because rather than buy four more pairs of Chuck Taylors, that person is more likely to, say, employ the poor person to help put up a fence or invest in a factory that employs him (to pick two examples) in order that he earn more money so he can buy his wife a better washing machine than that old one that is now starting to thump and leak.

    And please pardon my reaction when suggestions are made that threaten the market engine that generates so much wealth for so many people, even obliquely. I’ll try to respond more directly to your points in future.

    Then again, I may have failed once more to.

  41. If a certain policy is going to increase wealth, but the benefits are concentrated at the top, then that policy is going to produce less bang for the buck than if it was concentrated at the bottom.

    Why do we need a policy? We’re suffocating in policies already. We need to be dismantlin’ us some policies, not piling on more.

  42. They “rich are getting richer/the poor are getting poorer” meme is only true if we define wealth relatively.

  43. getting rid of policies is a policy.

  44. If your purchasing power doesn’t increase in real terms then by definition you are not getting wealthier. Its a question of wealth, not money.

    Oh-Ok then.

    Uhmm, the original quote I responded to started with the words: “But a free market is a great engine of wealth,….”.

  45. how does one define wealth without using relative markers?

  46. They “rich are getting richer/the poor are getting poorer” meme is only true if we define wealth relatively.

    I always believed wealth to be a relative term. I don’t see how it can’t be. How would one define wealth in absolute terms?

  47. dhex — is there an echo in here? 🙂

  48. ChicagoTom,

    I would say that “rich” and “poor” are both relative AND absolute terms, depending on the situation.
    Today’s “poor” have, on average, a vastly better standard of living than the “rich” in ancient Greece. In that sense, it is relative.

    The rich in a given society, assuming no sudden populist redistribution of wealth, will always be better-off than the poor in that time and place. In that sense, they are absolute.

    However, that having been said, in a consumer culture such as ours, with newer products constantly coming on the market, and older ones becoming cheaper and more widely available, the standard of living continues to grow for any given individual, regardless of social station.

    Thus, while the poor may be getting less poor slower than the rich are getting richer, thus creating a larger gap between groups, that does not mean the poor are getting poorer relative to ther starting position. Once basic needs have been met, it’s silly to talk about the “wealth gap” as a humanitarian issue. At that point it serves more as a socialogical oddity that isn’t hurting anyone, it is simply benefitting some more than others, but not at anyone’s expense.

    On the other hand, as standards of living improve, the definition of “basic needs” has a tendency to creep upward, which is something we need to guard against. Not to be cruel, but it smiply isn’t right to steal from one person so another person can have the best health care that doctors can be forced to provide.

  49. I am a compulsive masturbator, and it works for me.

  50. Of course not. He never has evidence for anything he writes.

    I certainly wouldn’t go that far. While I often disagree with him, joe is a valuable contributor here.

  51. Question which might clarify what I’m saying: Would you rather be at/near the bottom of our economy now, or in 1930?

    Getting objectively wealthier means you get to have more stuff. And things. We all like stuff and things. Your neighbors stuff and things are irrelevant.

  52. Ok, Gaunt Man said it much better than I did.

    What are Gauntman‘s superpowers?

  53. I suspect there is more reported happiness in less wealthy times because it is easy to find all the meaning you need when you work to put food on the table and clothe your children and nothing else.

    The quest for meaning in a wealthier society means you have to become something of a philosopher. It is so easy after a certain point to win bread, the big struggle of what really makes you happy absent a driving need begins in earnest.

    It seems wrongheaded in the extreme to blame the engine of wealth for creating this ‘problem’. We need to redefine ourselves and seek new forms of happiness. More wealth means more choices, and that should only help us in our search.

  54. Thus, while the poor may be getting less poor slower than the rich are getting richer, thus creating a larger gap between groups, that does not mean the poor are getting poorer relative to ther starting position. Once basic needs have been met, it’s silly to talk about the “wealth gap” as a humanitarian issue. At that point it serves more as a socialogical oddity that isn’t hurting anyone, it is simply benefitting some more than others, but not at anyone’s expense.

    Does this assume that the cost of “basic needs” stays the same as wealth goes up, relative to starting position, (even at different rates) across the board? If so, then I think this reasoning is a bit flawed. This position is true only if you can guarantee that the rate at which the poor are getting less poor stays ahead of inflation/cost of living. I don’t think that is a fair assumption.

  55. Its not an assumption, its a fact.

  56. Well, I guess its also an assumption.

  57. Question which might clarify what I’m saying: Would you rather be at/near the bottom of our economy now, or in 1930?

    I dunno for a fact how it was in 1930, but I would imagine it probably wasn’t that much worse.
    I would guess that being poor in in today is just as bad as being poor in 1930.

    What makes one worse than the other?

  58. Nate,

    Sure, the rate isn’t constant, but wealth does increase for every social stratum over time.

    Yes, but that’s not the same thing. We shouldn’t assume that every policy that increases the wealth of the already-rich is going to cause that wealth to trickle down. I’m talking about looking at policies, not the overall tendency of the market to increase overall wealth.

    Mike P,

    Because rather than buy four more pairs of Chuck Taylors, that person is more likely to, say, employ the poor person to help put up a fence or invest in a factory that employs him (to pick two examples) in order that he earn more money so he can buy his wife a better washing machine than that old one that is now starting to thump and leak.

    What does this have to do with the rich person’s happiness and the contribution of the additional wealth to his happiness?

  59. Its not an assumption, its a fact.

    What is? It’s a fact that inflation growth always lags behind income growth?

  60. the relentless quest for more material posessions is an endless loop. At the age of 64 I have come to realize that most of the pleasure in my life comes from my relationships with family and friends, not my posessions

  61. Bee,

    We have these things called policies. They have effects. It is worth thinking about them.

    And, btw, dismantling and existing policy is a policy in and of itself.

    It just looks to me like you are trying to think of reasons not to think about this.

  62. Whether you, personally, think people poorer than you “should” be less happy based on their relative economic status doesn’t actually make them any happier.

    I don’t think a rich person “should” be less happy if he’s takes home $1.2 million in a year instead of $1.4 million, and yet the angst that horrible setback produces spawns roughly the same level of conern among libertarians as the genocide in Darfur.

  63. Getting objectively wealthier means you get to have more stuff. And things. We all like stuff and things.

    this is true.

    Your neighbors stuff and things are irrelevant.

    this is not.

    your neighbors’ stuff matter very deeply to the little chimp brain.

    I don’t think a rich person “should” be less happy if he’s takes home $1.2 million in a year instead of $1.4 million, and yet the angst that horrible setback produces spawns roughly the same level of conern among libertarians as the genocide in Darfur.

    joe don’t lump us all in with the conservatarians all the time. give us a day off. how about next tuesday? are you busy then? oh, ok…friday? we can call it “fair shot friday” and do a two-fer with the democratic libertarians of daily kos…

  64. Well, your odds of starving to death or living on the street are much lower, and your chances of getting employed are much higher. And you probably have more stuff.

    Are you really saying now is no different then the Great Depression?

    joe, you are now the one making assumptions. I was not advocating tax cuts for the wealthy or any other policy typically associated with the phrase “trickle down”, which I did not use. I was talking about the tendency towards greater wealth, which you apparently agree esists.

    What is? It’s a fact that inflation growth always lags behind income growth?

    Not in a given year, but that is the persistent trend, yes.

  65. If money can’t buy you happiness, then you don’t know how to spend it.

  66. What does this have to do with the rich person’s happiness and the contribution of the additional wealth to his happiness?

    The rich person realizes that he would be happier spending his money on a fence — which directly provides wealth to the poor person — or that he would can’t think of anything to spend the money on today and would be happier having more money in five years — which indirectly provides wealth to the poor person by providing the capital to make the poor person more employable and productive.

    The question is not, “What does the rich person buy at the store and does it make him as happy as what the poor person buys at the store?” — i.e., your “diminishing returns”. The question is, how do we provide both the rich person and the poor person the most choice possible to satisfy their own senses of happiness? And it turns out that you do that by not restricting the rich person’s choice regardless of how limited an imagination Benjamin Barber has over what happiness the rich person can derive from his place on the consumption curve.

    I suppose where I keep going is that I can see no alternative mechanism whereby the rich person’s foregone happiness from being on the flat part of the happiness curve can better increase the happiness of the poor person. If we assume that happiness increases monotonically with wealth, then we want to increase wealth. Since free markets appear to raise the wealth of the poor as well as any alternative, why discuss any alternative? They won’t do any better in raising the wealth and concomitant happiness of the poor.

    Then again, if envy is the key issue here, then perhaps not having rich people around makes poor people happier. That would be sad.

  67. Easy, dhex. Just a little hyperbole.

    Nate,

    I was talking about the tendency towards greater wealth, which you apparently agree esists.

    Yes, but you did so in response to a point about wealth trickling down, or not.

  68. your neighbors’ stuff matter very deeply to the little chimp brain.

    Hey, lay off the chimps 🙂

  69. joe

    I thought we were still talking about the same thing, you were just using the phrase “trickle down” to be snarky because, you know, ha ha, its something that douchebag Reagan said. You need to give me better warning if we are going off on a tangent.
    But I am all for mocking Reagan.

  70. Mike P,

    The rich person realizes that he would be happier spending his money on a fence

    No, not “realizes.” “Thinks.” The objective evidence is that the additional economic activity rich people engage in with their additional wealth does not actually make them happier.

    The question is not, “What does the rich person buy at the store and does it make him as happy as what the poor person buys at the store?” — i.e., your “diminishing returns”.

    Why is that not the question? Why can we not talk about the world as it is? Why does every conversation have to be about your preferences for mechanisms?

    If a certain topic produces conclusions that you find ideologically inconvenient, would it not be better to conform your ideology to the facts, rather than avoid ideologically uncomfortable areas of knowledge?

    If we assume that happiness increases monotonically with wealth, then we are ignoring all of the evidence of diminishing returns.

  71. Until I have my own estate on Mars, we have not reached the point of diminishing returns.

  72. Well, your odds of starving to death or living on the street are much lower, and your chances of getting employed are much higher. And you probably have more stuff.

    You are conflating the odds of being poor vs. the effects of being poor.

    I will grant that I prefer being of working age in this era rather than being in the depression, but that wasn’t what you asked.

    You asked which time period I would rather be poor in. For that matter, I don’t think it would matter too much. Being poor in today would suck just as much as being poor in 1930.

    That’s not true. I would rather be poor now rather than 1930. Because now, if I was poor, I would have New Deal safety nets to help me get by.

  73. joe

    So, are we talking about mechanisms or aren’t we?

    I think what you are saying about diminishing returns is valid up to a point, as in “whats another 100k when I’m a billionaire”.
    But human desire is infinite. There will always be more stuff and things, and we will want them.

  74. If we assume that happiness increases monotonically with wealth, then we are ignoring all of the evidence of diminishing returns.

    Of course, you are also assuming that we all have equal threshholds of happiness.

    Persons may meet their threshold of happiness at different points on the economic scale. A middle-class family man making 75,000 a year might have reached his economic happiness threshold and might deem the cost of further increases in his wealth (more time at the office, more stress, less time with the family) less than the benefits that come with the extra money.

    That is to say, he reaches a level of contentment with his economic status and re-focuses his remaining energies on other pursuits that have more importance to him. Does he have a worse life because he can never take that first class vacation to Europe?

    His neighbor who puts in 80+ hours a week to move up and make a lot more money every year might think so. But just as conversely, Bob might look at his neighbor and think he has the worse life: he’s never home, his relationship with his family isn’t as deep, etc.

  75. That’s not true. I would rather be poor now rather than 1930. Because now, if I was poor, I would have New Deal safety nets to help me get by.

    Well, at least until the government goes bankrupt or spurs on massive inflation.

  76. ChicagoTom

    I think you are defining poverty as “what would be considered poverty in 1930”, in which case you are by definition right.

    Also, I don’t feel like arguing about the New Deal today. Sorry.

  77. Are “rich” and “poor” relative terms or absolute ones?

    Yes.

    That is, both. If you’re a starving peasant, and a policy change toward a more free market results in you having two bushels of grain to eat rather than one, you are absolutely wealthier. But, if as a side effect of this increased freedom a grain merchant gets twice the income because they’re selling twice as much grain, you could become relatively poorer compared to her, and if you’re like certain liberals who shall not be named, you could complain about the social inequity and feel poorer.

    If everyone is getting richer, than inflation and cost of living is going to go up as well, no?

    Not necessarily. Inflation is driven primarily by how fast the central government is creating money relative to the goods and services that can be bought. You can have massive inflation and a stagnant economy, you can have virtually no inflation and a vibrant economy. There is some effect on prices from increasing wealth, since part of what you can buy with wealth is the luxury of not having to shop as hard for bargains. On a recent trip to Tijuana, my wife paid the asking price for the stuff she bought because it wasn’t worth her time to bargain to save a buck or two. I, on the other hand, did some hard bargaining for the sake of letting my kids learn a few things about negotiating. But if we were poorer, we would have had to spend a lot more time negotiating to get a price we could afford.

    Wealth buys more things than just stuff. It can buy other things that make you happy, such as more leisure time, more money with which to do charitable things to make you feel better about yourself, more time studing philosophy that makes you more content with what you have, or just not having the anxiety of making ends meet. The usual economic measuring sticks of material goods and services is a really mediocre way of measuring wealth once you get past satisfying the most basic needs, and the happiness that can be derived from increased prosperity.

  78. But joe, don’t you come here to fight? Thats, like, your place in this weird little community and I thought you embraced that.

    One of the goods that capitalism has bought is the leisure for joe to increase his happiness by squabbling online and arguing for a social system that would make it less affordable for him to do this pleasurable activity. Thus, his statism has made him measurably poorer by depriving him of the pleasure of perceiving the irony of what he advocates.

  79. Also, I don’t feel like arguing about the New Deal today. Sorry.

    I don’t want to either, but you brought it up.

    It isn’t free market capitalism that makes you less likely to die in the street if you are dirt poor. Capitalism gives you better odds of not being poor.

  80. If joe didn’t exist we would have to invent him.

  81. ChicagoTom

    Just so we are clear, your definition of poverty is dying in the street?

  82. Because you are right, if you are dying in the street then who gives a fuck what year it is.

  83. Just so we are clear, your definition of poverty is dying in the street?

    No it isn’t. I was merely using your words from your earlier post about 1930s.

    Poverty, to me, is struggling to cover the costs of essentials (Rent food clothing etc) and having to do without at times.

  84. The argument that getting richer doesn’t increase happiness is based on the skewed measures of wealth I noted above. A person who earns $100K by working 80 hours a week might not be any happier than a person earning $50K by working 40 hours a week, because they are missing out on time spent with family, etc. But, if someone earns $50K by working 20 hours a week, they’re likely to be happier than the person earning $50K by working 40 hours a week, but statistically they would be lumped in together and called “equally wealthy”, which is dead wrong. If there was a way of measuring the subjective measure of wealth, you might find that increasing wealth by that broader measure might bring greater happiness, undercutting the statist redistributive argument.

  85. Poverty, to me, is struggling to cover the costs of essentials (Rent food clothing etc) and having to do without at times.

    So, if someone insists on living in a nice apartment, buying nice clothes, eating tasty food, and is struggling to pay for all that and sometimes has to do without new clothes, they are poor? And if someone leads a more modest lifestyle and isn’t struggling to make ends meet and never has to do without these cheaper goods, they’re wealthier?

    What you consider essentials others would consider luxuries.

    People are considered below the poverty level in America who have cars, color TVs, and who are obese — people who would be considered wealthy in a Third World country. Virtually no one in America is poor by Third World standards.

  86. Some say that the poor are happier than the rich because the rich can not take comfort in the delusion that all their problems would go away if only they had money.

  87. Ok, my earlier post wasn’t clear. What I originally asked was “Would you rather be at/near the bottom of our economy now, or in 1930?” As in, take the poorest 10% (or 5% or 1%) and compare the 30’s with now. Assuming your definition of “essentials” doesn’t change depending on what era we are in then I agree it makes no difference by your definition.

  88. “so if money can’t buy happiness/ I guess I have to rent it…”

  89. Did you know your last name’s an adverb?

  90. So, if someone insists on living in a nice apartment, buying nice clothes, eating tasty food, and is struggling to pay for all that and sometimes has to do without new clothes, they are poor

    yes jh, that’s exactly right.

    Poverty means not having the ability to have all the luxuries one wants or to own the name brands. That is exactly what is meant when talking about food shelter and clothing in the context of poverty.

    No one is really poor, they just haven’t figured out the appropriate amount of sacrifice.

    You really added quite a bit of substance to the conversation.

  91. hey. You got spunk. I like that.

  92. Chicago Tom, not sure if your 4:56 pm post is sarcastic or not.

    If you can’t buy any kind of food, even rice, and go without food for days at a time — if you have to go barefoot and shirtless — if you’re sleeping outdoors in the rain — then yeah, you’re definitely poor. Yeah, you could benefit from some privately supplied charity.

    But hardly anyone in America is that poor, but liberals would argue that people much, much better off — people who could be happy if they so chose — are poor and thus it’s OK to rob others and give that money to the “poverty-stricken.”

  93. We have these things called policies. They have effects. It is worth thinking about them.

    Rolls eyes.

    We’re suffocating in (a morass of beaurocracy spawned by people pushing) policies already. We need to be dismantlin’ us some (conflicting, misguided, corrupt, bewildering, stifling beaurocracy spawned from someone’s need to be doing something about) policies, not piling on more.

    Joy-meters might experience a pop if people could grow pot in their back yards, or build treehouses without petitioning city hall, or pay less for corn subsidies, or advertise for gay roommates.

    Especially useless are policies (and their effects) whose aim is to curtail me in some fashion because someone else is experiencing spiritual malaise.

  94. joe sez The objective evidence is that the additional economic activity rich people engage in with their additional wealth does not actually make them happier.

    And we know this objective evidence exists because Dan T. sez Some say that the poor are happier than the rich because the rich can not take comfort in the delusion that all their problems would go away if only they had money.

    Which leads us all to three conclusions:
    1) joe should be picking up his Nobel Prize in Economics the day after he publishes his objective evidence,
    2) We should all be very afraid that Dan T. has said something that makes more sense then what joe said, and
    3) DEMAND KURV (and why didn’t someone else say it sooner?)

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