Saturday, January 21, 2012

Self interest, from hypothesis to factoid: Elizabeth Warren as 'elitist hypocrite'

In an entry today in Paul Krugman's blog, he tries to understand the apparently senseless accusations by Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown's flunkies that Elizabeth Warren is an 'elitist hypocrite' and concludes that the flunkies don't know what 'hypocrite' means. While it's certainly possible that it's just being used as a term of abuse with no connection to its real meaning, I think another interpretation is possible

The right-wing hacks could be slaves of some defunct economist that they read back in their college days, whose text assumed that everyone pursues their 'self-interest'. But if carefully examined, the examples of self-interest in the textbooks implicitly assume a special form of narrow self-interest: the default case is that Person A gets utility from the goods and services that A alone consumes. No one explicitly cares about what anyone else consumes. In the core model in the textbook, this narrowly self-interested behaviour leads to 'efficiency' and a Pareto optimum where no one can be made better off without making someone else worse off. (A moment's thought can convince anyone that this says absolutely nothing about the desirability of this particular state of affairs, but never mind...)

It seems to be all too easy to slip from examining an unrealistic hypothetical situation that explores what would happen if people were actually like this, to assuming that all rational people actually do behave in this way. Back to Brown's flunkies' claims of hypocrisy against Elizabeth Warren.

'And if Elizabeth Warren is not a hypocrite then she' must be a Commie!!'

If we suppose for a moment that they aren't just hypocritical bullshitters (quite likely, given the pervasiveness of bullshit in our culture) and that they actually believe that Elizabeth Warren is narrowly self-interested, then she can't be advocating policies that would raise her own taxes out of conviction that these would be a good thing. No, she must be pretending to support those policies achieve even greater gains for herself, namely winning a Senate seat and then (who knows?) maybe she could get a $700,000 advance on her memoirs like Senator Brown has received.


1 comment:

  1. As a very liberal resident of, and voter in, the State of Massachusetts, let me try and explain what you fail to grasp.
    Here in the US, and perhaps in Canada, the rich are waging war on teh poor.
    Therefore, there is a strong presumption that anyone who is rich - and Prof Warren certainly counts - is part of the enemy.
    It is really very simple: if I am constantly being shafted by rich people, that creates a presumption that all rich people are bad.
    A problem is that the "democratic party" and esp. the party in MA is a cesspool of corruption; two examples are given below. That Prof Warren is running with this party creates a presumption that she is a hypocrite.
    One also has to ask what Prof Warren is doing to earn her enormous salary - which , like the odious Yudof of the Univ of California system, is part of hte problem: salarys in education are out of control, and warren is part of the problem.
    Also, Prof Warren started her campaign in a very elitist way: a "listening" tour that seemed to be listening to rich people in mansions across the state.
    Now it is true that Brown , in hypocrisy and damage to working people, dwarfs anything warren could do, but that doesn't mean his charge isn't true.

    The State Dem Party in MA (in the US, state partys are semi autonomous units): Our Attorney General, M Coakley, a democrat stalwarth, was part of the truly incredible wave of "child sex abuse at day cares" cases of the 80s; briefly, in the US, we had a hysterical spasm that at day care centers, huge sex rings were abusing children. Total garbage (in fact the children were abused - by the police and their allys; typcially, a "psychologist" would interview a child, asking questions, has anyone touched you, child says no, no, keeps saying no; the interviewer keeps pressing and after a while the child (these are like 4 year olds) burst into tears and starts saying yes
    one of the worst cases was the fells acre day care center here in MA, and Ms Coakley helped imprision the poor owenrs on these rediculos charges
    our governor, deval patrick, is a former biggie at corporations like coca cola - how on earth can he be a good guy ? building an enviromental disaster vacation home, tried to rent a caddilac SUV as state car...
    The head of the public university, Univeristy of MA, was paid a lucicrous salary over 400K a year, and got a years salary on sabbatical when he quit, and got a job as an ordianry prof at some equally ludicrous salary..
    I could go on and on, but that prof warren is allied, closely with the state democratic party in MA is prima facie evidence that she is not on the side of ordinary working people

    again, just because S Brown is a loathsome tusch lecher for the GOP and a stone cold hypocrite (he campainged as an ordianry working guy with the famous working guys coat, which turned out to cost over $600 american) doesn't mean that warren is good; she maybe better, but if you think she is great, you are falling into the obama is great trap
    I might add, that as a senator, her main job is to convince 49 or 59 of her fellow senators to agree with her; her last public act in washing ton DC was to publically insult the sitting chair of a committeee during her testimony..not a good sign

    Ezra S Abrams