Thursday, March 08, 2012

trigger words

Sometimes I like to select words that I know to be "triggers" for particular thoughts and emotions. My purpose isn't to follow the basic communications proverb "consider your audience" 1 but to provoke internal contradiction and confusion. It's fun to watch the reaction. I'll concede that it isn't constructive or respectful.

For instance, imagine a hypothetical conversation with someone who's angered by Wall Street yet who also has a fanatic attachment to free markets2.
"We need to do something about those thieves and gamblers on Wall Street."
"Who is we? Are you suggesting 'government intervention'?"
"No! Government intervention is always bad. I just mean that Wall Street should play fair."
"Are you proposing better 'regulation' to define and enforce fair play?"
"No! Regulations are always bad. But what if all the money that's currently sunk into finance was in manufacturing instead?"
"You mean a 'redistribution' of that money? Or 'public investment'?"
"No! Redistribution is always bad, and so is when the government tries to pick winners by investing. Forget that. What the individual worker needs is more power and a greater share of the overall pie. Despite their hard work they earn so little compared to company executives."
"As individuals, workers don't exert much power. As a group, they could. They could 'bargain collectively' to argue their case for a greater share."
"No! Collective bargaining is always bad. Really, the cause of the crisis was too much debt. I wish Wall Street hadn't swindled people by providing them with mortgages."
"Those mortgages were voluntary. So the underlying problem was the 'free exchange' of credit?"
"No! Free exchange is always good. The problem was that the people who took out those mortgages weren't knowledgeable about adjustable rates, so they were at an information disadvantage compared to the lenders."
"A market in which any participants have incomplete information isn't an ideal well-functioning market. Are you asserting that the market therefore failed to 'self-regulate' or act 'rationally' or 'efficiently'?"
"No! Markets always adjust rapidly to compensate for every weakness or eventuality. Therefore the problem must have been the government. The government has a monopoly on the money supply, hence its mismanagement of the money supply must be the culprit."
"That makes sense if excessive money forced people to take stupid actions. Would that the opposite is true: that it's better to cut off the majority of credit and speculative loans altogether? That would certainly restrict the generation of 'start-ups' and 'small business' to the 'independently wealthy', who can finance their own risks."
"No! I greatly like start-ups, small business, and self-made men who started out, um, independently poor. Talking to you is so frustrating. You keep stating things the wrong way."

1By quoting the proverb, I'm not implying that I'm effective at observing it. For instance, I'm spectacularly uncertain who the audience of this blog is. (According to the redone Blogger interface for posts, "nobody" isn't too far off!)
2The key word is "fanatic". In my opinion, that's distinct from believing in the macroeconomic truism that, in practice, decentralized experimenting actors in a well-functioning market are better at adapting to information and change than a centralized stagnant authority. Someone can have principles without being blind to the complexity and limitations inherent to applying those principles.

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