Tag Archives: Economics

From the Desk of Answer Man: Fickle Favorites


Dear Answer Man:

I am in fourth grade, which sucks. The other kids at school are always asking me about my favorite food, favorite color, or favorite brand of sneaker. The problem is that I can never make up my mind. Sometimes I want to eat tacos all day, other days I can’t live without pizza. Some days I like blue and other days red. And once I went to school with a Nike on one foot and a Converse on the other – by accident! I’m in big trouble. Who am I anyway?

~ Tommy Thomas, Age 9

Dear Tommy,

I’m convinced that if Socrates were alive today he would spend all his time at the mall. That’s what it means to live the examined life anymore: to be obsessed with your own consumer choices. So, my fickle young philosopher, you do have a problem, but it’s not that you can’t make up your mind. It’s that your inability to make up your mind bothers you so much. Three thoughts to buck you up:

Fickleness is a hedge against tedium. How boring would it be if you were forced to make a once-and-for-all choice between Mexican and Italian food? Not even Mexicans and Italians want Mexican and Italian for dinner every blessed night.

Fickleness is proof that you’re not dead. Trust me, the day will come when you’ll feel like proof is necessary. But cheer up, consistency is the last thing you should expect from yourself. And I mean that literally: it is the very last thing. Only the dead are consistent.

Fickleness is infinite power. It’s the power of self-definition, first of all. It was Feuerbach or Brillat-Savarin who said it first: ‘you are what you consume.’ There you have the answer to the existential yelp at the end of your letter: Today you are a boy who likes tacos and red and Nikes. Tomorrow you will be a boy who likes pizza and blue and Converse. You can be a different person each day. When you’re a little older and get a job you’ll find that all these various selves are required to share a single bank account, which gets a little crowded, but that’s why credit was invented. Because fickleness is economic power too. As an adult, marketing executives that earn more in a year than you will in ten are going to line up to lick your boots for a buck. Really. Whole industries will rise and fall by your sovereign dime. If it weren’t for your philosophical compulsion to constantly redefine yourself in consumer terms, Tom-Tom, the world economy would collapse – we’d all be dressed in rat skins, eating boiled grass and mashed acorns, and licking salt from the walls of slug-infested caves.

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Filed under Levity

Marginalia, no.136

The force that drives the penis is the force that drives prosperity.

~ Ten-foot-tall sign on back of parked truck, Mountain View, California

The mind reels, but it was inevitable.  With the collapse of the housing market, the automobile industry and the banks, only pornography can keep the American economy afloat.  Who says stimulus never works?

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Filed under Marginalia

Of Cabbages and Kings

My post of September 18 –with the quote about L’eclisse– sits on the page like a sour kind of parable.  The Fat Man is America, you see.  The lost 50 million lire is, according to your preference, a bundle of mortgage-backed securities or the $700B bailout.  But Paulson is no Antonioni, though no one else wants the director’s chair just now.  And not even in Bill Kristol’s sickest fantasies could Sarah Palin fill Monica Vitti’s toeless high heels.  The joke really is on us.  What’s left, then, but a slow shuffle down the street for a comfortless scotch or a glass of acqua minerale?

It sounds like a bad economist’s pun, but the problem, they say, is a lack of security – or, rather, having too much of the wrong sort of security.  But if we’re looking ahead to a long decline of empire, perhaps there’s a bright side to it all.  It may afford us leisure enough to take up old hobbies again. Time to start sketching flowers.  No drawing pad?  Here, use this scrap of napkin…  Flowers, at least, are nice to look at and tend not to have strong opinions on economic or political issues.  I can’t help but think of Montaigne in his cabbage garden.  He said so many of my favorite things.  One of them was this:

At a time when to do evil is so common, to do only what is useless is praiseworthy.

Which is nice encouragement, since it makes distraction heroic, and so many of the things I’m interested in doing right now fall into that ‘useless’ category.

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