Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Where do you begin 

...when you're asked to teach a book outside of your field that is poorly done?  Winston needs some help with his freshman seminar.
One book really bothers me, though, and that is Barbara Ehrenreich's Nickel and Dimed. First, I am bothered because of Ehrenreich's blantant socialism and the fact that having students read this book--particularly since there is nothing else on the reading list to balance it out--may constitute an endorsement of Ehrenreich's position.

Well, that's why they get 'em as freshmen.  The students are not yet prepared to respond.  As well, using non-economists means that you'll probably hew closely to the text.
Second I am bothered because she is really no kinder to the working class than their employers are, and has indeed profited from them to an even greater extent than their employers; she is, in all respects, a limousine liberal, and as someone who comes from a working class family, I find the attitude of the limousine liberal extremely abhorrent.

As I mentioned in my comment on Winston's blog, it's far worse than that, because Ehrenreich never looks at the choices made by those working in these jobs, including the value to lower-income familes that comes from having cheap goods at WalMart.  I have several local businesspeople for friends who say they shop at locally owned businesses because they don't want to support WalMart.  I've asked why they think they should support higher prices for their friends vis-a-vis the poor. 
Finally, I am bothered by the fact that her book contains glaring inaccuracies as well as simply solutions that do not take into account the complexity of the problem she wishes to solve; the institution at which I am employed and other institutions which use this book as part of their initial indoctrination efforts generally fail to address these concerns in their lesson plans.

And that's the hard part.  The problem is that to answer those concerns requires some thinking about economics, which isn't Winston's field.  I suggested Sowell's Basic Economics and Hazlitt's Economics in One Lesson on his blog.  I think, on further reflection, he might want a couple other pieces as well.  First, Tyler Cowen mentioned the Anti-Capitalist Mentality, by Mises, last month.  The link goes to the full text.  It's relatively short and requires no previous knowledge.  What makes for a limousine liberal among the university types that admire Ehrenreich? 
American authors or scientists are prone to consider the wealthy businessman as a barbarian, as a man exclusively intent upon making money.  The professor despises the alumni who are more interested in the university�s football team than in its scholastic achievements.  He feels insulted if he learns that the coach gets a higher salary than an eminent profes­sor of philosophy.  The men whose research has given rise to new methods of production hate the businessmen who are merely interested in the cash value of their research work.  It is very significant that such a large number of American research physicists sympathize with socialism or communism.  As they are ignorant of economics and realize that the university teachers of economics are also opposed to what they disparagingly call the profit system, no other attitude can be expected from them.

Second, how bad are things?  Not bad at all, if you read the annual reports of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas written by Michael Cox and Richard Alm.  Here's the introduction to the 2003, for example:
Compare America today with earlier times or other nations, and one fact stands out: We live better.
Give most of the credit to productivity. Through it, we get more goods and services from each bit of work effort. Through it, we secure economic progress and earn bigger paychecks. The power of productivity has made the United States the world�s richest nation.
America has prospered by doing things a better way.
We�ve become more productive by building our capital stock�adding more machinery, factories, offices and research facilities.
We�ve become more productive by upgrading workers� skills, whether through formal schooling, on-the-job experience or retraining. We�ve become more productive by introducing new technologies that increase output, improve efficiency and lower costs.

What a refreshing difference from the "arch bullshittiness" (in Harm's delicious phrase) of Ehrenreich.  When it comes to the multicultural cant of the left we are to embrace change, yet the same leftists think work should never change, jobs should never change, the only thing that should change should be the cut of the revenue between risk takers and risk avoiders.  And since academics are probably the biggest risk avoiders out there -- I am pointing at myself as much as anyone -- is it any wonder they hold those who take risks and win in contempt?