Entitlement, greed and luxuries

By Legal Eagle

David J alerted me to an article which says that Australian kids are taking luxuries for granted:

Yesterday’s luxuries have become today’s necessities, giving children a bad case of “affluenza”, parenting experts say.

Increasing wealth, cheap toys, gadgets and time-poor parents have produced a generation of children who often can’t tell the difference between need and greed, according to analysis from the Australian Institute of Family Studies.

And this means kids take for granted things that were once considered luxuries – like having a bedroom of their own, their own mobile phone, a TV or computer in their room, and having the latest gadgets such as iPods, iPads, PlayStations and Xboxes.

The idea behind ‘affluenza‘ is that people in the Western world try so hard to get material things and money that we become stressed, overworked and wasteful. Therefore, the theory goes, we should not try so hard to attain material possessions in the pursuit of happiness, and the idea that consumerism brings happiness is a fallacy of Western capitalist society. I presume that if parenting experts are saying that children suffer from affluenza, the hypothesis is that parents are stressed and overworked in trying to provide material benefits for their children when these things are not the things which make children happy or fulfilled in life.

Here, I’m just going to think aloud about this concept, and my own ambivalence with regard to it.

Needs vs. wants

When my daughter was about 2 years old she used to say to me, “Mummy, I neeeeeeeeed chocolate!” I would reply to her, “No dear, you don’t need chocolate, you simply want chocolate. There’s an important difference.” [Although at least Eaglet No. 1 is not like Petra Ecclestone, daughter of Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone, who apparently told her father that she needed a six-storey mansion with a garden in Chelsea for her dogs to play in.]

Basically, the things we all need to live are clean water, adequate food, adequate health care, safety and shelter. Once you have a situation where any of those basic needs are not being met, you are needy.

The question is then what we need beyond those basic needs to live happily. Arguably, for instance, I do not really need a computer. I can quite easily write down my thoughts on paper, as hundreds of generations did before me, before the advent of computing. However, if I want to blog, and work from home some days, and submit electronic manuscripts to journals, I need a computer or access to computing services to achieve those goals. A computer makes my life much easier, and opens up my options for communication. So really, I do need it if I want to be able to live in the modern world.

Scarcity makes the heart grow fonder

It is true that if you don’t have a thing, it makes you appreciate a thing vastly more when you do get it. You know what it is to live without a certain thing, and you can clearly see what a difference it makes. Whereas if you’ve always had a thing, you are more likely to take it for granted. Economists and marketers know this: it’s the simple principle of scarcity economics – make a thing scarce and people want it more. And if you value something, you are less likely to waste it, and more likely to use it efficiently.

But people presume a peculiar kind of virtue in not having things. (Even Jesus thought so: “The meek shall inherit the earth”). For some reason when I read that article cited at the beginning of the post, I was thinking of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, by Roald Dahl, which could be seen as a fable about affluenza. I read it recently to my daughter, and was struck by it. In that book, the virtuous hero Charlie starts off with almost nothing – not enough to eat, no warm clothes, inadequate shelter. The other four children who win Golden Tickets are provided with everything, and, unlike Charlie, they take the excess with which they have been provided for granted. Augustus Gloop is a glutton who gorges on more food than he needs. Veruca Salt just has to demand a material item and her father gives it to her. Violet Beauregarde chews too much chewing gum, and her parents cannot deny her. Mike Tevee watches television all the time so that he ignores real people. The other four children are portrayed as spoiled, repulsive, ungrateful and wasteful. In the end, Charlie triumphs and becomes heir to Willy Wonka’s factory.

The thing that struck me as an adult was that there is an immense irony underlying the story: Wonka’s factory could not exist without capitalism. The Golden Ticket ploy is in fact a marketing coup which leads to immense consumerism on the part of children around the globe, as well as unparalleled commercial success on the part of the factory. The factory depends upon children like Gloop, Salt, Beauregarde and Tevee for its immense capital, which it can then use to invent more amazing lollies. (I see a similar sort of irony when I see people like Dick Smith railing against consumerism and excessive population, when of course, Smith established Dick Smith Electronics and made a fortune trading off people’s consumerist impulses (as is pointed out in comments to the Catallaxy piece here).)

If there is a peculiar kind of virtue in being deprived, would I want to deprive my children of things? The answer is no. I want them to have things.

However, I also want them to appreciate what they have, and to appreciate the fact that not everyone else is so lucky. I want them to realise that you have to work hard if you want to achieve things, and you can’t just expect to have things delivered to you on a plate. I do not want to give into my children’s every demand. As I often say to my daughter (most recently last week when she told me she wanted a ZhuZhu Pet Princess Carriage), “I’m sorry, but you can’t always get what you want.”

(Said carriage for the benefit of people who do not have five-year-old daughters!)

The nub of the problem

The problem with providing children with everything they want is not really consumerism, in my opinion. I don’t care if a parent chooses to give a child an in-ground trampoline or a PlayStation. That’s the parent’s choice. I am enough of a liberal with a small ‘l’ to think it’s not my place to police those kind of choices.

However, those parents should realise that the difficulty is that if you give your child everything she asks for, she will think the world always works like that. She will not appreciate the advantages that she has, and will not realise that she has to put in effort to achieve things, nor will she realise that other people are not so lucky. She may well be selfish, and she may lack empathy for others in different and more difficult circumstances.

This made me think about a number of conversations I’d had recently. Conversation 1: a friend has a colleague who is very privileged. He has great difficulty thinking of anyone else’s needs or in functioning like a normal person, and he consistently fails to take responsibility for his actions or to think of others. Conversation 2: a friend was telling me about a research class she recently gave to university students. One girl wasn’t listening, and my friend chided her. “It doesn’t matter,” said the girl. “I don’t intend to do any research myself; I’ll pay other people to do it for me.” (I hope she was joking, but I suspect she wasn’t). There’s a part of me which wants to take these two kids and slap some sense into them. Are they kids who always got everything? I suspect so.

The issue is not that these kids have lots of stuff. It’s that they have a sense of entitlement, that they believe that they don’t have to work to achieve, and that they do not think of the needs of others. Their parents may have thought they were doing them a favour by giving them everything, but actually it has done them an immense disfavour. When they get into the real world, where Daddy and Mummy can’t buy them results, the wheels fall off. And they are unable to interact appropriately with other people because they are selfish and self-indulgent. So you need to deny your children sometimes if just to teach them about real life.

My daughter had a funny conversation with me the other day. Apparently there is a naughty boy in her class who is in trouble for misbehaving, being rude and disrupting the class. Eaglet No. 1 said to me, “Mummy, every day he has a lot of money to spend at the tuck shop, much more than anyone else. You know what? If I was his mummy, I’d tell him he could only get the money if he behaved well in class. Then he might learn to be good.” Clever, clever girl, she’s gotten the idea already…now where did she learn that? 😛

Inequality

Part of the difficulty in the world is that some people have more, some people have less. Sometimes (often?) that distribution doesn’t seem altogether ‘fair’. [I think it is my preoccupation with equality is what differentiates my own views from SL’s, incidentally. She is concerned with liberty, and I am concerned more with equality.] Why should a spoilt young woman ‘need’ a mansion in Chelsea, while thousands of other children are starving to death, or can’t get adequate water or health care?

Still, I am enough of a pragmatist that I do not think we can get rid of inequality. We all have different skills and advantages in life. SL and I were wondering off-blog whether the reason why some smart people are not receptive to arguments about equality is because when teachers create ‘equal’ groups at school or university, the smart kids end up carrying people who aren’t clever. School and university has a tendency to put you in groups where everyone is notionally at the same level, but one of the reasons I am allergic to group work is because my experience of such groups has been so uniformly bad. When I was about eight, I already knew communism wouldn’t work because people are not all equal in that kind of way. Hey, I’d been last picked in sport since I was five years old, so I knew that I was not as physically able as some others. There is equality and equality. I’m never going to be the equal of an Olympic sports champion.

I think some kind of hierarchy is built into society – all we can do is to try and mitigate the unfairest effects as best we can. I do not want a vastly unequal society, where a few have a lot and many have very little.

The real question is…do you bring down the haves so that they are more like the have-nots, or do you bring up the have-nots so they are more like the haves?

The problem with affluenza

I sometimes feel that those who protest against ‘affluenza’ think that we should all be brought down to the status of ‘have-nots’ (although I also suspect that they exempt themselves from the category of those who should be brought down because of their own moral and intellectual superiority, it is only ‘bogans‘ who should be so limited). Similarly, some love to rail against environmentally unsound McMansions (how dare the lower class have a spacious and comfortable house, bigger than middle-class people!) There is a part of me which agrees with Melbourne academic David Nichols: this is all about class. One can’t hate the lower class if one is left-wing and righteous, but a righteous left-winger can legitimately laugh at and hate the lower class if they are relabelled as ‘bogans’ instead. So, some of my problem with articles such as the one cited at the start of this post is that I think the broader agenda of ‘affluenza’ critics is in fact a deeply conservative one. It’s almost a version of ‘sumptuary laws’ – an attempt to regulate who is and who is not allowed to consume certain goods and services.

The truths of affluenza

On the other hand, I have seen people in the law who work and work and work. Their children have every single toy that moves and beeps, but they seldom ever see their parents. I wonder what the sense in this is. The children may have all their material wants satisfied, but that is no substitute for parental love and affection. What are the parents trying to achieve?

And sometimes, even with my own kids (who do not have as much as some others I know), I get angry that they have so much. If they don’t play with something for a certain amount of time, I do a cull, and give away stuff to charity because two kids don’t need all that. There will be other kids who need it more. It is wasteful to have so much.

Also I think it is good to have to work for something rather than just be given it (even if it’s having to save up for something you really want by doing Saturday morning jobs or something like that). You do feel differently about something that you’ve earned rather than just been given on a plate. By putting labour into the getting of something, it’s almost like there’s a little more of yourself in there than there otherwise would be (is that too Lockean?).

Ultimately…

I think I want everyone to have more, as opposed to reducing existing entitlements and choices. Yes, there is always a downside to such an approach (spoiled children, people who don’t appreciate what they’ve got, the potential of waste). But I’d rather that than the downsides of people not having enough. The downsides of not having a ZhuZhu Pet carriage are obviously minimal. But at the other end of the spectrum, the downsides of not having necessaries in life are pretty much fatal. And, like my example of computers above, there’s a whole bunch of things which are not necessary for subsistence, but which are really, really useful for participating fully in modern society. The bottom line is that I think the reason we have enough time to worry about stuff like consumerism, our effects on the environment and the like is because we’re not living hand to mouth. Development has its downsides, but I think the positives outweigh the negatives (yes, I’m a fan of Amartya Sen).

36 Comments

  1. Pedro
    Posted June 26, 2011 at 6:27 pm | Permalink

    “I think you’ll find scarcity usually prompted innovation, such as agriculture. But the point remains, no matter how innovative we become Earth has finite resources.”

    Let’s assume that to be true, even if it is not. Those finite resources may still be plenty sufficient for 9 billion people and the simple truth is that you don’t have a clue either way Mel.

    “I think you’ll find scarcity usually prompted innovation, ”

    When do you think there has been more innovation, in the first 7,900 years after the spread of agriculture or the last 100 years? I think you’ll find there’s no connection between the type of scarcity you’re thinking about and the level of innovation.

    “The great examples of such collapses are technologically stagnant, commercially isolated societies.”

    No, it is the growth of statism that creates problems for otherwise advanced societies.

  2. Posted June 26, 2011 at 8:45 pm | Permalink

    [email protected] – I cannot think of any criticism of Gibbon involving his omission of the growth of statism as a cause for problems in advanced societies. Maybe I missed it as I left off once the Dark Ages kicked in.

    When Gibbon *does* admit to other reasons for the Dark Ages other than Christianity, he seems to stress too much spending on the military for domestic political purposes (from memory, 10% of GDP was his threshold for overspending on the military when national survival isn’t seriously threatened), and the enfeeblement of mind and virtue by addiction to luxury.

    On the other side of the coin, we have the obvious economic and intellectual benefits of the Scottish Enlightenment – big on virtue of individuals and society, and being Scottish, frowning on profligacy or the titillations of luxurious overconsumption. I’d have to rely on SL’s knowledgeable liberal rightiness to be specific and would welcome her guesses about how her heroes would view the practices of those accused of affluenza.

  3. Posted June 27, 2011 at 9:26 pm | Permalink

    Re: the ZhuZhu… you do feel that when the toys have their own toys it’s getting a bit much.

  4. Patrick
    Posted June 28, 2011 at 12:33 pm | Permalink

    Ah DB, the allure of that Scottish prurience…of course, this created largely the exact opposite of the puralistic liberal societies that most of us enjoy living in…

    Seriously, that Scottish prurience was little more than a moral straightjacket – as long as the dominant moral discourse was so unrelentingly and powerfully applied there was no need for more than a minimal legal apparatus. Personally, I wouldn’t mind. But I am conscious that the happiness of millions (gays, non-conservative Christians or people of any other religion and indeed nearly anyone who simply wanted to do something outside the narrow band of ‘acceptable’ endeavours) would be seriously reduced by moves backward to such a society.

    This is not to say that conformity does not have its virtues: I would not have to experience quite as much frustration at seeing other people publicly express stupid views, for example 🙂

  5. Posted June 28, 2011 at 2:57 pm | Permalink

    [email protected] : prurience and prudence are very different.

    prurience might say “no (descriptor) sex”, the other “no (descriptor) sex without a condom”.

    I think the scots have been generally imprudent about once in the last millenium – a central american financial adventure – and the poor buggers got lumbered with Westminster and the English Pound as a result. Mind you, I’m not including imprudent disinhibition about “a wee dram”

  6. Posted June 28, 2011 at 3:03 pm | Permalink

    [email protected]

    Now, if there’s a lateC20/earlyC21 set that trusts in animal spirits and against the scientists, its … um… the owners of the dark satanic mills with an unjustified sense of entitlement, advocating a lifestyle that they, but not the majority, could attain or sustain.

    Food miles = local food is an obvious example of recycled ideas. But the belief that the masses could not possibly obtain such a life style given available resources was a belief back then too.

    [email protected] What counts as resources depends on technological capacity, so the notion of ‘finite’ lacks a certain definitiveness. Earth’s commercial isolation from the rest of the solar system/galaxy/universe is a matter of technological capacity too, after all.

  7. Patrick
    Posted June 28, 2011 at 4:21 pm | Permalink

    Well, DB, in English language they might be, but in the Scottish culture you are referring to they aren’t.

  8. Mel
    Posted June 28, 2011 at 4:23 pm | Permalink

    Lorenzo:

    [email protected] What counts as resources depends on technological capacity, so the notion of ‘finite’ lacks a certain definitiveness.”

    That’s merely rephrasing what I already said.

    “Earth’s commercial isolation from the rest of the solar system/galaxy/universe is a matter of technological capacity too, after all.”

    It is also a matter of physics.

  9. Posted June 28, 2011 at 5:23 pm | Permalink

    [email protected], not everything is a matter of technology. Just ask the question, why don’t we all have flying cars yet? We already have the technology.

  10. Posted June 28, 2011 at 6:35 pm | Permalink

    [email protected] We /do/ have flying cars – they are just damn expensive (and probably the double-registration for road and air is a real killer too).

    On earth cut off commercially – Thinking about the Galactic Agreement on Tariffs and Trade …. anti dumping clauses “No pulling 1000-year-old electronic goods out of landfill and selling it as advanced technology to the earthlings…” The nice aliens don’t ruin the planet with super-destructo-beams, they’ll just blow the economy away…

  11. Posted June 28, 2011 at 7:59 pm | Permalink

    Dave, that’s my point. We have the technology, but everyone still doesn’t have a flying car now do they? We can’t rely on technology to solve all the worlds problems.

  12. Mel
    Posted June 28, 2011 at 8:26 pm | Permalink

    Yup and outside of computing and communications, nearly all technology today is only improving in small, incremental baby steps. Today’s cars are big hunks of rusting metal fueled by a non-renewable and rapidly diminishing fossil fuel just like they were 50 years. Even the engine has only been subject to incremental improvement.

    In medicine we are now going backwards in some ways, with antibiotic resistant infections killing us or requiring amputations at rates not seen since the pioneering days of penicillin. Hospitals are now having to use honey as a treatment for antibiotic resistant bugs, FFS.

    Ditto for agriculture, construction materials etc etc etc…

    Is the dead hand of capitalism suppressing new technology or is some other factor involved?

  13. Posted June 29, 2011 at 8:28 pm | Permalink

    [email protected] Given that technological creativity seems to be the most intense the more capitalist you are, perhaps we take a remarkable degree of technological dynamism for granted?

    [email protected] Technology creates capacities, it does not determine action.

  14. Posted June 29, 2011 at 9:24 pm | Permalink

    [email protected] says “Technology creates capacities, it does not determine action.”

    If true, then there’d be vanishingly few people lining up on the night of release of new version of gizmo (e.g. apple-anything!) or rushing in when a new model comes out. (Oh… sorry, how often is there actually new technology in those things! What’s different? The version number on the box!)

    It’s part of the unnecessary luxury thing, unless one deems it necessary to one’s self-esteem to have the latest version of a gizmo, or, especially, to have it when your neighbor doesn’t.

  15. Posted June 29, 2011 at 9:51 pm | Permalink

    [email protected] Technology creates capacities, it does not determine action.

    Technological advances are chaotic and the capacity they create often doesn’t align with the capacity needed by society. So relying on technology to provide capacity currently unavailable seems like a risky approach to me. I think underestimating capacity due to unforeseen technological advances is a much better outcome than overestimating capacity.

  16. Patrick
    Posted June 30, 2011 at 8:41 am | Permalink

    So relying on technology to provide capacity currently unavailable seems like a risky approach to me

    lol. Technology is merely an expression of human ingenuity, and I don’t know what else I would want to rely on – certainly not human ability to rationally plan things.

    [email protected], it’s interesting that you say that. First, technology and communications are of course enabling technologies that can drive substantial productivity improvements in almost every other area.
    Secondly, agriculture is of course one of the most highly regulated areas of human enterprise, in which innovation tends to be actually outlawed by luddite moralists. So a dead hand, absolutely, but hardly that of capitalism!!
    Thirdly, medical innovation is proceeding faster than you realise, clearly – the slower part is medical services innovation, but even that is proceeding more rapidly than you might think: have you heard of health tourism?

  17. Mel
    Posted June 30, 2011 at 5:13 pm | Permalink

    Paddy:

    “Secondly, agriculture is of course one of the most highly regulated areas of human enterprise, in which innovation tends to be actually outlawed by luddite moralists”

    Would you care to elaborate, Paddy.

  18. Mel
    Posted June 30, 2011 at 5:36 pm | Permalink

    Lorenzo:

    ” Given that technological creativity seems to be the most intense the more capitalist you are, perhaps we take a remarkable degree of technological dynamism for granted?”

    Oh please get your invisible hand out from under the table.

    I’ve been reading State of Innovation: : The U.S. Government’s Role in Technology Development lately. It is remarkable how even in America, the most “capitalist” of all western countries, the Government plays such a central role in innovation.

    To give one example- Big Pharma in America spends much more money on schmoozing politicians, regulators and doctors and general marketing than it does on R&D. Much R&D that does occur only happens because the Government does it directly, indirectly or the private sector does it only in response to government heavy petting.

    And so on and so forth.

  19. Patrick
    Posted June 30, 2011 at 6:52 pm | Permalink

    That’s apposite, Mel, because Big Pharma is running out of innovation…big government’s teat may run generously but seemingly lacks cream.

    As for elaborating on agriculture, I assume that you are aware that the world is awash in barriers to agricultural trade (I think that only people and fissile material are more tightly regulated) so must mean the illegal innovation bit. Again though; are you serious? Have you ever heard of genetic engineering? It is quite contentious as far as I can gather.

  20. Posted June 30, 2011 at 7:53 pm | Permalink

    Plus planning regs (green belt vs brown belt etc.) and things like the UK government legally forcing farmers to dip their sheep in neurotoxic organophosphates even after the danger was known.

    Henry2 said he was a cockie – I’d be interested in his view of agricultural regulation.

  21. Posted July 2, 2011 at 8:54 am | Permalink

    [email protected] The role of government in innovation is very mixed: it promotes with one had and deters with another. And it remains true that capitalism and innovation are highly correlated. A vibrant commercial sector both creates itself as well as runs with/adapts what might be cooked up in government funded research. Governments long had a role in military research, but are relative late-comers to other areas.

    In the longer run, ability to retain and disseminate knowledge and techniques, density of commercial interactions, variety in interactions and competitive jurisdictions all seem to be important.

    China dominated innovation from c.500BC to c.1500AD with all but the last. But the true take-off in innovation post-1750 was definitely a product of capitalism.

    [email protected] That looks like an cultural/anthropological pattern to me.

  22. Posted July 2, 2011 at 11:57 am | Permalink

    [email protected] – you are slightly right correlating innovation with capitalism.

    Most of the real innovation has come from war, at least proximally… with the root cause greed (there is surplus to invest in development of rocks and clubs through to rockets and computer networks). So maybe capitalism is a good correlation in recent years after all.

    The other real innovation driver (in the physical world) is more humane, the desire to know and play – things like the advances in genetics, which until recently, have had little military or political application.

    Innovative thought, like buddhist insight or small-is-beautiful thinking, to be efficient and ultimately consume less rather than efficiency gains to consume more, doesn’t attract capital or political encouragement, even though the innovative outlooks have the potential to enhance human happiness more than anything else. Hence the long time-to-market penetration of such thoughts from the time they were demonstrated in the “lab” of the minds of buddha, lao tzu, confucius, epicurus and epictetus. In the minds of the modern majority, the notion of human happiness and realization has gone backwards from the axial age to the paleolithic – if not the jurassic.

  23. Posted July 2, 2011 at 3:49 pm | Permalink

    [email protected]

    Most of the real innovation has come from war, at least proximally

    That comes perilously close to “not even wrong”. Military technology does tend to be the cutting edge of technology, since it is about life-and-death and the power of power-holders.

    Yet war has been a ubiquitous element in human society, innovation has not been. Innovation has tended to be concentrated in particular societies. My rule of thumb is that, if it was invented before 500BC it was first invented in the Fertile Crescent; if it was first invented between 500BC and 1500AD it was first invented in China; if it was first invented after 1500AD, it was first invented in the West. Except for anything to do with horses, when it was first invented in Central Eurasia and a partial exception for Indian mathematics.

    What set off the UK’s creation of the Industrial Revolution was that innovation became liberated from previous energy constraints. But European innovation had already become much broader and more commercialised in medieval times (even though it was more adaptation than invention).

    And, btw, capitalism does not encourage war mongering. The great wars of the C20th were motivated by political and ideological reactions against capitalism and its implications. The more capitalist Europe became in its economic activity, the longer its periods of peace.

  24. Posted July 2, 2011 at 3:55 pm | Permalink

    To continue my comment about war and capitalism, capitalism is pre-eminently the increased creation and importance of capital. This broadens the way people can make a living, and the productive interactions between them, so leads to a reduction in the importance of violence and stationary resources (most obviously land) in human relations. It does not guarantee peace; it merely increases the possibilities of peace and reduces the benefits of violence. But that turns out to be a big thing.

    This is particularly important for women, since decreasing the importance of upper body strength increases their potential relative economic performance: decreasing the returns from violence is part of this.

  25. Posted July 2, 2011 at 4:46 pm | Permalink

    [email protected] : Must disagree with you looking back at what is different in my daily life from 50 years ago – microwave ovens, computers, and the internet. The old name of the internet is a giveaway – DARPAnet. Computing without Rear Admiral Grace Hopper? (Not professor, and even though I abhor cobol environments). And the use of microwaves for cooking goes back to WW2 britain, the boffins working on radar warming up their tea with unshielded magnetrons. Communications via rockets (thankyou V2) … Hell… Even the steam revolution absolutely depended on good instruments, and the reason the poms did it is that the Admiralty had pushed them to make a reliable clock so warships knew where the hell they were.

  26. Mel
    Posted July 2, 2011 at 5:20 pm | Permalink

    Don’t embarrass yourself, Paddy. GM crops are planted on over 300 million acres and there is little restriction on them in North America and various other countries. The research on yield gains is conflicting on balance I’s accept that some modest gains have occurred.

    Your link on medical research merely demonstrates the R&D lethargy of the private sector.

  27. Posted July 3, 2011 at 4:17 pm | Permalink

    [email protected] The marine chronometer and the steam engine developed at the same time, not sequentially. The urge for effective measuring instruments goes back to the medieval period (those cathedrals), was given a large push from the profits of trade as well as the cognitive shock to Aristotelian verities the results of exploding onto the globe created.

    European innovation took off because it was broad-based, not merely a matter of state action (that became the Chinese problem). Even military technology spreads rapidly into ordinary life. A spread we tend to take for granted, but should not: it is a remarkable feature of our societies.

  28. Alphonse
    Posted July 3, 2011 at 8:51 pm | Permalink

    Cast Iron Helen, what precisely do you call shit on? I’m guessing you don’t think Robert Crawford’s piece on McMansions is classist. Why then is he not railing against people in Toorak with huge houses as well? Surely he should be railing against both, not just the “bogans”.

    Your average custom designed and architecturally sound Toorak mansion is a far cry from a maximum m2/$ heap of junk selected from a bunch of stock designs and plonked on an undersized block with no thought for orientation.

    A lot of purveyors of crap homes are selling a lot of ticky tacky to your “bogans”. It’s neither classless nor clever to dream up jibes against people who are aghast at mcmanshionland for simple, practical and truly classless reasons.

    This isn’t elitism. It’s physics and economics. I’m with Helen.

  29. Posted July 4, 2011 at 7:02 am | Permalink

    Thanks Alphonse, that’s pretty much my response – Haven’t replied in this thread because I’m putting a post up at my place instead. Will be up soon.

  30. Posted July 4, 2011 at 1:10 pm | Permalink

    On the McMansions point, Australian housing has become less adaptative to local conditions the more regulated (i.e. determined by bureaucratic comfort zones and land rationing) it has become and the more people have been buying expectations of capital gains.

    If land-approved for housing is so expensive, then blocks get smaller and verandahs disappear.

    Not a uniquely Oz problem. Jasper Becker points out that the modernist crap the Beijing regime has been building and authorising deals with Beijing’s climate less well than the C15th housing it replaces.

    The modernist delusion that new is always better has been particularly disastrous in architecture.

  31. Patrick
    Posted July 4, 2011 at 4:10 pm | Permalink

    Alphonse, Helen, you may call bullshit on the claims Alphonse makes. But they aren’t the ones the article LE is reacting to makes – that article is almost wholly about size and location.

    And like LE, I can’t stand the whingeing about the size of other people’s houses – I feel glad that we live in a society in which so many people can afford such a big house, and I feel that most if not all of the people who are

    opting to live in smaller houses that are designed to make the most of our natural energy resources, while still meeting the needs of residents.

    are not at all making

    a statement about their concern for the environment and for our children’s future rather than using their house to advertise their personal wealth.

    but are actually making a statement about the relative importance to them of their local amenities vis-à-vis the size, and dressing it up in a convenient cloak of moral superiority.

  32. Mel
    Posted July 4, 2011 at 9:43 pm | Permalink

    LOrenzo:

    [email protected] The role of government in innovation is very mixed: it promotes with one had and deters with another. And it remains true that capitalism and innovation are highly correlated”

    Needless to say I disagree. It also needs to be pointed out that capitalism is woven seamlessly into the cultural and governance fabric of any society where it exists and to talk about it separately is senseless in a way . As an example of such senseless thought I note crude libertarian elements often belt on about the dynamism and innovation of corporations and the badness of government without stopping to think that the limited liability corporation is itself a government invention.

    You might also like to ponder on the merits of capitalism in states with ineffective governance, for example Somalia.

    I think analytically separating capitalism from the context in which it occurs is a little like trying to separate wetness from water.

  33. Posted July 5, 2011 at 12:17 pm | Permalink

    [email protected] Capitalism at its simplest is a system based on private creation, ownership and use of capital. Law and government will affect profoundly how it operates, but the prime problem with places such as Somalia are not too much capitalism, but too little. A good system of laws, for example, are important but you cannot then claim it is all “really” the result of state action because law matters. Good laws allow all sorts of useful non-state action.

    Part of my point is that even states in capitalist societies are more likely to support effective innovation than non-capitalist ones. Not least because they have more to work with, in all sorts of senses. But also because the focus on application and use of capital encourages such a focus.

    But one only has to consider the effect of regulation housing, or the way EU regulation tends to be more restrictive of various types of commercial research than in the US, to see the mixed effect of even such states on innovation.

  34. Mel
    Posted July 5, 2011 at 6:07 pm | Permalink

    LOrenzo says:

    ” … but the prime problem with places such as Somalia are not too much capitalism, but too little.”

    Yet more empty, evangelical rhetoric, Lorenzo. Once you take out the government, charity and not for profit sector economic activity, capitalist enterprise accounts for less than 60% of economic activity in most advanced western societies. In a country like Somalia I imagine it accounts for more like 80% of economic activity.

  35. Posted July 7, 2011 at 12:08 pm | Permalink

    [email protected] 60% of lots is much more capitalism than 80% of bugger-all: refer back to my original definition.

  36. ken nielsen
    Posted July 7, 2011 at 4:28 pm | Permalink

    A good discussion – I’ve been following it but did not see much that I could usefully contribute.
    One observation, though, to Mel’s “resources are finite” remark. Of course they are but human ingenuity seems to find substitutes as things become scarce and expensive. Spices were once the most valuable commodities on earth.
    And as countries become more affluent, demand for “things” seems to flatten. Services and information become more important.
    My guess is that there will be plenty of oil left in the ground when we stop using oil – it will be more expensive to extract than alternatives.
    So I don’t lie awake worrying about resources.
    Come to think of, it I don’t lie awake worrying about much at all in the future of humankind. I don’t see that we are going to stop muddling through as we have done for many thousands of years.

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