Kevin Corcoran, a regular reader of the Econlog post and a frequent commentator, sent me some interesting thoughts that are worth presenting here. I did some slight editing with Kevin’s consent.
I will add my own example at the end. Here is Kevin:
I recently had a thought about how the underlying notion of the subjectivity of values, as understood by economists, can now be effectively imported into the issue of another topic discussed – the notion of advantage and privilege.
To spell this idea, I first want to be precise about what I mean when I talk about values. A lot of people use the word “subjective” to mean something like “opinion or a subject of choice” but I want to put it in a slightly different, more technical sense. Roughly speaking, to call a quality “objective” means that it exists in “matter”, whereas to call a quality “subjective” means that it relates to “subject”. Objects As an example, consider a round photo frame. The frame is a material property of the round – there is a property of the sphere and that property exists within the object. However, when I look at that photo frame, I see that it looks very hard. That quality is thematic – it exists as my, the subject’s internal experience, because I observe the picture frame. If you see the same frame and it looks great, this is your thematic experience. If I say the frame is round and you say it is square, we are opposing each other because we are claiming different objective features about it. If I say it’s flashy and you say it’s great, we are No. Oppose each other, because we are simply reporting our own individual experiences as subjects. Calling something subjective is not just a matter of opinion – if I accidentally hit my thumb with a hammer, the pain I feel will be subjective, but that doesn’t mean that my thumb pain is just my opinion.
With all of this in mind, I would also say that whether a particular condition constitutes a “benefit” is subjective – not in the sense that there is a difference of opinion about how beneficial a condition is, but in the sense that there is a condition. Beneficial varies depending on the subject of that condition. Some may say that being handsome is a kind of privilege, as such privilege is purposeful in the sense defined above. But a little reflection makes it clear whether attractiveness is beneficial Subjective In the above sense. Thomas Sowell outlines this in his book The Search for Cosmic Justice:
As just one example, a young woman of unusual beauty can achieve a lot both personally and materially from her appearance without developing other aspects of her mind and character. Yet when age begins to take away that beauty of hers, she may be left with far less ability than others who have not benefited from her previous unreal gains.
For someone like this, was the natural attraction a net advantage or a net disadvantage? I have no idea. Depending on the person I can easily imagine the situation where it could happen. And this is also true of almost any other condition where privilege is usually attributed. With a little empathy and effort, it’s very easy to see how the same set of initial conditions can be beneficial to one person but detrimental to another – even within the same family, leaving the same economic class, race or any other category.
A personal example comes to mind. I grew up in a very low-income family – which many people would immediately peg at as a “problem”. However, in reflection, I’m not sure it is Was An inconvenience. When I was the proverbial “starving college student”, and the first few years of my career after college, I found it very easy to get through my very limited income. Since I grew up with very little, I was able to live a very spartan life without the feeling that I was accepting any hard sacrifice. I know a lot of people at the time who had significantly more resources than me, but who were never able to “move forward” because the way I did, even in the short term, was unspeakable and unspeakable to them. Unreasonable trouble. So, was my low-income background really an advantage in the long run? Maybe. Or maybe I would have been in a better position if I had come from a richer background. I can’t run counterfactual, so I don’t know for sure – and no one else.
In his book Seeing is like a state, James Scott argues that a key aspect of top-down control is an attempt to make society more “textual” in the eyes of planners. Reality and society are pretty complex things. To work around this complexity, states and planners designate society in terms of broad, clear divisions, distinguishing one concept from another with isolated boundaries, in ways that do not allow (or more accurately, do not acknowledge) the complexities and complexities of reality. These broad, top-down, centrally defined classes have made society very “readable”, easy to read and therefore (seemingly) easy to rearrange. But, Scott argues, this clarity was never more than an illusion – the planners ended up with a mirage of reality that was easy for them to understand, but fundamentally useless for understanding and adapting to the complexities of an evolving social system. People who confidently classify all sorts of conditions as objective privileges or disadvantages end up with a worldview that is very “textual” in James Scott’s sense, but too simple to be valuable or to provide any insight.
All right, Kevin.
Now my own example, which is a lot like Kevin’s example of growing up. My father was in many ways a high school principal and a high school teacher and we had an income that reflected that. When the Manitoba Teachers’ Society saw a big increase in the mid-1960s (I think, but I’m not sure it was due to the provincialization of schools, which gave the union more power when negotiating with local school boards), however, for the first time our family There was steak and occasionally bought butter instead of margarine. My mother made a little money outside, I’m sure unannounced, blessed her heart, taught the piano. I would say that our family income at that time was between 45 percent and middle income in Manitoba.
We lived a little below that income because my dad was terribly afraid of another depression.
So until I was 10 years old, my weekly allowance was 10 cents; In my teens, it reached a quarter, and in my teens (around 1965-66), it was $ 1.
But I was not willing to settle. I wanted a higher income. So I earn it. From about 7 years old, I started collecting empty soda bottles by the side of the road and turning them over for candy bars (each bottle cost 1 cent cash or 2 cents merchandise) and then started arbitrating with my mom. As I got older I took on other jobs to earn money. I can tell them in detail here, because I’m still very proud of what I’ve done, but I want to get the moral of the story.
The moral of the story is that I learned to manage money at a very young age. I paid off most of my way through college and emerged with zero debt. I did it without drinking alcohol, which did not appeal to me; Not dating too much, which was probably a mistake; And without going to expensive events like concerts.
So, like Kevin, I think my family income and the choices my dad made for me were an advantage. When I teach my students the principles of Dwight Lee’s and Richard Mackenzie’s book Getting rich in America: 8 simple rules for building a fortune and a contented lifeI realized that I was just reporting what I found out early in life.