Saturday, April 11, 2009

Rant of the Week: Getting Irrational

I was going to put the following thought away and instead make a cute list of things that are worth paying extra for (like soft puffy toilet paper), but it just spewed out onto my keyboard, so I guess you are going to get it now.

(Note that I am now typing around my cat again.  She seems to enjoy the action of the keyboard. Makes her purr.)

So I was listening to a podcast yesterday - maybe it was the Slate gabfest - in which they mentioned the new white house economic team, many of whom are "behavioral economists" who attempt to develop economic models based on how consumers have behaved in the past in reaction to certain economic situations, as opposed to the last batch of white house economists, those of the trickle-down school, who had built their models based on what they thought rational consumers should do given certain situations and opportunities.

The problem with these popular "rational choice" theories is that people are idiots and assholes.  They do not do what is best for them, and especially do not do what is in their long-term interest. The downfall of this theory is the downfall of the current economy. People acted like idiots and assholes, and the rational theory economists are still shaking their heads in disbelief.

It seems to me that the pitfalls of those economic models have eerie parallels to conservative social and political models based on the same irrational idea that humans are rational beings.

It would sure be great if the U.S. were filled to the brim with wholesome citizens who have all been brought up in two-parent, church-going families with good jobs and employer-provided health care and healthy snacks. A land where insanity, cyclic abuse, addictive drugs, and chronic sickness do not exist, where genial Andy Griffith-types catch all the crooks, and a justice system full of Perry Masons puts away the bad guys who are then sent to a prison system that bottles up evil like Liquid Ajax (Cleans like a white tornado!).

In a country such as this, who would need all those "social programs" designed to fix the broken and prop up the unsteady? Who would need to monitor benevolent volcanoes, all who have long since slipped into a skier-induced slumber, never to spew sulfurous death again? Who would need to find a place for the elderly who lose their home as a result of illness or fraud? Besides, all the grannies would have loving families to take them in, right? And families living on the street? No such thing! In this country, they all have good jobs and nice houses, and magically delicious breakfast cereal.

In a country such as this, there would be no need for preschool programs for kids of poor, neglectful parents because there would be no such neglectful parents. Neglectful parents! Why, the thought is completely irrational!

Unfortunately, in addition to being cheerful, kind, thoughtful, brilliant, and industrious, Americans are complicated, wounded, stupid, lustful, sick and selfish.  And you have to come to the conclusion that you can't create a perfect world by pretending that the world is already perfect. 

It's important to educate children so they can get a job and learn the basics of being a responsible adult. It's important to give everyone the resources to fix their bodies when they are broken, and to fix their brains when they are broken, too. And it's important to provide a place for abused children to feel safe and learn to break that cycle of abuse. Or those broken, abused, and addicted people will end up on the street. Or in those prisons. And those prisons will turn into cesspools, spilling their eviled-up parolees back onto the street. 

And those broken people will be unqualified for any job. Other than politics.

Thus ends my political rant for this quarter. And it wasn't even a very good one.


1 comment:

hedera said...

On the contrary - it was an excellent and spot-on accurate rant which should be required reading for every conservative economist in the country (and most of the "liberal" ones too). The most encouraging thing about the Obama team is the prevalence of pragmatists, people who are interested in fixing what is rather than in cheering for what ought to be.