Tuesday, September 06, 2016

An expectations game: right, center, and left

Sometimes economists are just dopey. Apparently they've long been arguing about why cab drivers (and other contingent workers who can set their own hours and thereby earn variable pay) sometimes decide to "call it a day" when they might maximize their earnings by choosing a longer work day.
In one camp is a group of so-called behavioral economists who have found evidence that many taxi drivers work longer hours on days when business is slow and shorter hours when business is brisk — the opposite of what economic rationality, to say nothing of common sense, would seem to dictate.

In another camp is a group of more orthodox economists who argue that this perverse habit is largely an illusion in the eyes of certain researchers. Once you consult more precise numbers, they argue, you find that drivers typically work longer hours when it is in their financial interest to do so.
Academics who find it "perverse" or contrary to "common sense" that workers might choose how much to work based on how much they feel is enough for a day's work, apparently have never depended on an alienating job to put food on the table. Most people work most jobs in order not to have to work any more than they must. They have better things to do, above a certain minimum, than to increase the profits of the owners. This characteristic of life in a capitalist society is apparently invisible to economists, especially to those whose notion of human society begins and ends with fealty to rational maximization of economic life. What a sad and empty universe they inhabit!

It was interesting to read this article in juxtaposition with a big New York Times piece that discusses why younger African Americans (so-called "Obama surge voters") are failing to warm to Hillary Clinton or even see her as much preferable to the Donald, based on some leaked campaign focus group research.
The research is mildly interesting and well presented, intended to convince the Clinton campaign to approach these voters with a more positive argument. What it comes down to is that young African Americans, like many (even most?) younger voters, want someone to vote for, not to be told there is someone they must vote against. They want inspiring plans and aspirations, not another tired lesser evil.

Many of the 18-35 set are at their core more hopeful than their elders. Since they are also the generation whose outrage is driving the Movement for Black Lives, that underlying hopefulness is probably not the first characteristic that comes to mind in observing their culture of demand and protests. But at least for now, these are optimistic young people. Pollsters and sharp observers know this. Politicians will need to learn. They won't make any headway among them by preaching pragmatism, incrementalism, and "mature" choices. This is the same false picture of the human person that grips the rational choice economists. We are bigger than their cramped visions.

My friend Steve Williams wrestles with the implications for aspiring revolutionaries of holding fast to a broad hope for people and society:
... with the defeat of the socialist experiments of the 20th century, two generations of organizers and activists have now come of age politically with few visible and viable alternatives to imperialism and neoliberalism. The fight against the enemy, as trying as it has been, has been no more difficult than our internal struggle with the troubling idea that noble, doomed resistance may be all that is left to us. I’ve spent too many sleepless hours haunted by the fear that victory may be nothing more than an unattainable dream.

The danger in this insidious notion is profound. Without a clear conviction that another world is indeed possible, we resign ourselves all too easily to the idea that simply “putting up a good fight” is enough. We absolve ourselves of the responsibility of finding ways forward. We forgive our own shoddy, sloppy practice, just as we forgive our comrades’. We quickly lose all incentive for rigorous reflection on and evaluation of our work. We stop striving for improvement and excellence. The doubt takes control: what’s the point, anyway?
Black Lives Matter activists directly address the need to preserve an informed hope in the face of violence and oppression when they teach Assata Shakur's declaration of Black revolutionary faith:
“It is our duty to fight for our freedom.
It is our duty to win.
We must love each other and support each other.
We have nothing to lose but our chains.”
The right is never likely to "get it", but both center and left (no, not together but in parallel) can hope to ride rising expectations, if they will dare.

No comments:

Related Posts with Thumbnails