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Rambling about money and the assholes at Freakonomics

October 20th, 2009

A long time ago on an email list I rarely visit any more someone I didn’t like said because he was stupid said something unusually profound. This was one of those dipshits that put “school of hard knocks” in places that asked him where he went to college, but he did pull this out of somewhere.

Money is energy.

Think about that for a second in relation to all the things people say money is. It’s not power, it’s not happiness, it’s just energy. Along with oxygen, calories and electricity it’s one of the things we need to run our lives. It’s a good way to keep money in perspective. How much energy do I need? How much surplus could I use? Too many calories and you get fat, too much electricity and you’re probably starting a fire. Even oxygen is poisonous in some circumstances, admittedly ones only a few people will ever experience. But some people just don’t think that way.

I learned at my last office job, people who are about money are bad people. Not “tend to be”, not “are likely to be” but “are”, bad people. This was brought home to me, well, first a little background. At this point I was a data entry clerk at a company that did yada yada yada with securities and blah blah blah with lawsuits. At the time I was one of the faster typers and there was a case this would be useful in.

In California somewhere there was a Mexican immigrant who was a janitor. He moved to America and got a job and if the Mexicans I’ve worked with are any indication he worked his fucking ass off. He saved his money and he invested his money. This janitor had a stock broker and that stock broker, probably thinking he was dealing with some stupid brown person, began writing himself checks off his customer’s account. I don’t know all the details but I was told to put aside whatever I was working on and enter this data because that particular individual was in the custody of the FBI and would be trading his suspenders for orange coveralls and the sodomy-victim-to-be’s employer needed to know how much they were going to have to return to the janitor. Hopefully it didn’t end there. That was only the most egregious instance I saw at that job, where dealing with the aftermath of retirees’ life savings having been dropped into dotcoms was a regular occasion.

All this lead me to decide money people are bad people. I’ve yet for this to be disproven, and people trying to buy their way into heaven via charity don’t count (*cough*Bill Gates*cough).

That’s the prologue, here’s the text.

When going back to school to learn a trade I had for some God damned reason to take Psych 101, which I quickly named Shite 101. The instructor was a big fan of a book called Freakonomics, which applied economic principles to just about everything. I wasn’t really listening to him, Psych 101 at that point had yet to do anything of value (and wouldn’t) but he kept talking about this book so it stuck.

I still haven’t read the book, but I do subscribe to the NY Times RSS feed of the Freakonomics blog. I’ve never put much stock into economics as its own discipline. When trying to explain stock prices to someone I came up with “consensual mass hallucination” and at the point decided that economics is properly regarded as a subset of psychology, probably mob psychology. But I didn’t think much about that again until a Freakonomics blog entry (or maybe a quote in their Wikipedia page) said that economics is “the study of incentives”. Yeah, that made sense. That fit both everything economists said about themselves and everything I’d seen their work actually. Maybe, I thought, just maybe there was something to this economics stuff after all. Maybe these guys are okay. Ah, to be innocent again.

Not too long ago the blog started talking about bribery as a legitimate tool in various things (NBA players bribing referees to resolve their labor dispute was one example I remember). If you have to explain to someone why bribery is bad, there’s just no saving that person. Better to abandon them in the woods when wolves are hungry or bear cubs are leaving their dens.

Then I saw this article on The AV Club. The gist is that the new Freakonomics book, Super Freakonomics, well, I’ll relay the quote from The AV Club.

So the real puzzle isn’t why someone like Allie becomes a prostitute, but rather why more women don’t choose this career.


No, let me spell that out.

Oh my fucking God.

So, Stephen and Steven, what’s IN that part of you where empathy used to live? Is part of getting an economics degree installing a door so you can just put that inconvenient bit of yourself in a drawer or does that piece of paper just rip your fucking soul out? Is there a genetic component to this, because let’s start selecting against it. Or is this just part of the evil inherent in humanity? This isn’t an idle, philosophical question. People educated in ways functionally identical (debates over freshwater vs. saltwater economics are like picking between being stabbed or shot) to these worthless bastards are the ones really making decisions in America today.

True, the writers of Super Freakonomics are guys and the writer of that AV Club article is a woman, but this isn’t a battle of the sexes topic. I’m entirely with Amelie Gillette on this one. Economics isn’t the study of incentives, it’s the study of how far people will debase themselves. If you need that explained to you, well, go play with that cute baby bear. His mom will be along shortly and the world will be a better place soon.

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