Monday, December 20, 2004

Rent Wars: It's The Sex, Stupid!

Stirling Newberry on Daily Kos wrote this three-part post:

Rent Wars - Parts I, II and III:

attempting to give an economic explanation for the current state of the USA and the recent electoral results.

He made me do something I almost never do: got to dKos and spend hours slogging through three tough long diaries I barely understand, especially the first part, instead of skipping it and moving on to rants about Ohio recounts, or to Iraq diaries etc. I am looking forward to the Part IV, of course.

One of the reasons I put an effort is because my level of understanding of economics is that I have read "Capitalism for Beginners" and "Marx for Beginners". I grew up in a system called "socialist workers self-management" which, by the way, worked fine for almost 40 years - it was a very non-Soviet experiment in market-based socialism, with workers being owners of their factories, etc. It had its problems, but obviously every economic system has problems. I wanted to see the economic explanation for the state of this country and its electoral behavior, and this series seems to fit that bill, as far as I can tell.

It is interesting to watch, here and elsewhere in the blogosphere, people offering analyses based on different approaches, then bitterly fighting who is right. "Economics explains everything!" - "No, no, no, psychology explains everything!". (This reminds me of a funny radio drama from many years ago: "I will get you with the Bewitched Stone!", "Oh, no, no, no, I will get you with the Electronic Whip!"). All of those analyses have something useful to add to the question. Some are more fine-grained than the others, some are more historically rooted than others, but I want to see a synthesis of them all. Insights from economics, political science, sociology, anthropology, psychology, cognitive linguistics, and even biology (though the latter are usualy crude sociobiological just-so stories no better than Steve Sailer's 'baby gap' hypothesis) should all be put together if we are to ever undrestand this country - and we need to understand it in order to change it for the better.

I believe you have read several of my diaries before, so you may recall that I have already stated that GOP is a feudal party with elements of slave-ownership tendencies (both terms used sensu Marx), and that free market is a liberal economic model and not conservative ( I have also played a lot (in a number of posts on my blog, e.g., on the distinction that Paul Rosenberg mentioned upstream, the conservatives being at the Piagetian developmental stage in which simple association, or simple cause-effect relationships are understood, while complex interactive systems are feared and shunned. This is also intuitively understood by others, for instance Zackpunk in his recent Diary ( I put that in terms of "hierarchical" (i.e., cause flows in oine direction towards the effect) and "interactionist" (no single cause, but interaction of many players leads to effects), following the models developed in evolutionary biology. I have also tried to explain why the Village is conducive to conservativism, while City (which I call University) breeds liberalism. All that is also based on Lakoffian model at its basis, but I am trying to build upon it, and your economic analysis is going to be valuable once I digest it properly.

So, question: Why do conservatives want to get rich quick? Why try Ponzi schemes, lottery, gambling, drug dealing, bank robberies, or playing the stock market? Why do they want to get rich - period? What does money mean to them? What does it buy? First, a big truck, then a big house, then... what? And what for? What do they do when they amass millions?

I surely would like to get rich. But if someone gave me a gazillion dollars, I know only a tiny portion of that would go for my own luxuries. I would immediatelly start thinking about the ways I can use the money in a wise and efficient way to address some of the world's big problems, like hunger, poverty, disease, ignorance, war, and environmental destruction. How does a conservative think? Is the money there for giving to the first-born son who will carry on the family name and family fortune? This would be perfectly consistent with the Strict Father worldview: in a dangerous world that cannot be made less dangerous, competition is fierce and the winner takes all. The winner deserves his spoils, all of them, as he got there through hard work (yeah, right!) and smarts (how to swindle without going to jail), thus his victory makes him a moral superior as well.

Which brings us to the old worn-out but true equation: Money = Sex. Conservatives, being raised in Dobsonian Strict Father families, become femiphobic and afraid of women. One of the ways to deal with women is to objectify them. The dream behind every money-making scheme is to become the alpha dog because the alpha dog gets the first pick at the bitches, and needs to make no emotional investment into the relationship(s). Investing money is so much easier than accepting the woman's personhood. Not to mention that money is thought to be the best bait for women. And women are in short supply: Harsher the Dobsonian upbringing, more conservative the sons get, and more liberal the daughters get, which means that in a conservative community there is a net loss of women as they move away to big cities never to return. You know what a short supply means for an economy.... Also, first-born sons are more likely to be treated harshly as they need to be best trained to take over the family business. I still do not understand the origin of Ann Coulter-type women, or the standard submissive wife type of a conservative woman. Not being treated harshly (because of not being the first-born heir to the throne) in a family in which someone is treated harshly by a Father who is afraid of women (including daughters) may have something to do with this.

This brings us back to rent. There are two reasons conservatives do not think of themselves as workers, but as "pre-rich". First one is an obvious realistially economic reason - nobody ever got rich through honest hard work (see Michael Kelly's "The Great Limbaugh Con" for the true definition of work, as well as the earliest warnings - 1993 - about the new use of language by the GOP, what we now call "framing"). Thus a get-rich-quick scheme is called for and such people are constantly on a lookout for such opportunities. Second reason is deeper - being a worker means not being one's own boss. Being in a hierarchy in which there is someone above you means that someone (the employer) symbolically fucks you. You are not alpha male. You want as much as you can to get out of that situation - your ass is starting to hurt - in order to heal your wounded masculinity which is anxious to begin with (Stephen Ducat's "The Wimp Factor" which explains this in greater detail is the second-most important book to read to understand USA 2004, after Lakoff's "Moral Politics").

Another reason for exiting "work" and entering "rent" is the inability of conservatives to think about the future in optimistic terms. For them, future does not exist. The society is in decline and it is only going to get worse. Thus, it is imperative to get rich quick, thus get laid soon. Conservative view is that the world is a dangerous competitive place and that NOTHING can make it less dangerous or better. Thus there is no incentive to invest into a foolish enterprise of improving the world for the future. The conservative perception of time is as a cycle, the progressives' as an arrow - arrow of progress, in which the world is getting better by our actions ( The natural cycles of day and night, or seasons, has a stronger effect on the lives of people in The Village, than in The City. I have written about it before (, and Stephen Jay Gould has written a whole book about the societal switch from cycle to arrow: "Time's Arrow - Time's Cycle".

All in all, his whole thesis seems to click really well with ideas that come from other areas of thought, be it Lakoff's cognitive linguistics, Ducat's psychology, or Gould's intellectual history. So, perhaps he is on the right track here. Now, barely related, read "Divine Right of Capital" by Marjorie Kelly. I have just started, and it seems like a great way to re-frame economics. Any thoughts?

(Also posted on DailyKos:

posted by Bora Zivkovic @ 11:24 PM | permalink | (2 comments) | Post a Comment | permalink