Crawl Across the Ocean

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

99. Self-Interest, Hypocrisy and the Commercial Takeover

Note: This post is the ninety-ninth in a series about government and commercial ethics. Click here for the full listing of the series. The first post in the series has more detail on the book 'Systems of Survival' by Jane Jacobs which inspired this series.

I don't have enough time this week to do justice to the rest of 'The Republic' so instead I just wanted to mention this post by Paul Krugman.

Krugman starts by referencing a Mel Gibson movie from a few years back that was entitled, 'The Patriot' but featured a protagonist who was unwilling to fight for his country until his own family was attacked, and then embarked on a campaign for personal vengeance. Krugman links to an essay by Michael Lind that explains how this is hardly an example of what is normally referred to as patriotism.

Krugman sees a similar confusion when wealthy people who support measures that will benefit the poor or middle class are attacked as hypocrites (for example) for not being selfish.

Says Krugman,

"Which brings me to the subject of this post, the apparently equally misunderstood concept of hypocrisy. I’ve been getting some personal attacks on this front, but it’s a bigger issue than that. Here’s the personal version: suppose that you’re a professor/columnist who advocates higher taxes on high incomes and a stronger social safety net — but you yourself earn enough from various sources that you will pay some of those higher taxes and are unlikely to rely on that stronger safety net. A remarkable number of people look at that combination of personal and political positions and cry 'Hypocrisy!'


If you remember the 2004 election, which unfortunately I do, there were quite a few journalists who basically accused John Kerry of being 'inauthentic' because he was a rich man advocating policies that would help the poor and the middle class. Apparently you can only be authentic if your politics reflect pure personal self-interest


So to say what should be obvious but apparently isn't: supporting policies that are to your personal financial disadvantage isn't hypocrisy — it’s civic virtue!


Lind's essay about Mel Gibson ended with concerns that we may have lost the sense of what citizenship and its duties mean. Indeed. If people can't comprehend what it means to work for larger goals than their own interest, if they actually consider any deviation from self-service somehow a sign of phoniness, we, as a nation, are lost."

Another example, that Krugman doesn’t mention is the field of 'Public Choice Theory' which is premised on the notion that neither civic virtue nor patriotism exist.

Anyway, I just wanted to highlight this post from Krugman because what he is observing is what I have observed myself, and what provides some of my motivation for pursuing this series of posts. It seems as though commercial syndrome virtues are gradually driving out guardian virtues in our discourse, to such an extent that classic guardian precepts such as patriotism and civic virtue are now seen through a commercial lens as either hypocritical or incomprehensible for a growing percentage of the population. And on that note, it's time for a vacation, see you in a few weeks...

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