I WANT TO GROW UP TO BE MILL GRIST

Charles Pierce found some interesting readings from the Koch Brothers' never-ending efforts to buy their way into education, in this case a passage on the hard realities of the Free Market aimed at high school students.

The charge that sways juries and offends public sensitivities … is that greedy corporations sacrifice human lives to increase their profits. Is this charge true? Of course it is. But this isn't a criticism of corporations; rather it is a reflection of the proper functioning of a market economy. Corporations routinely sacrifice the lives of some of their customers to increase profits, and we are all better off because they do. That's right, we are lucky to live in an economy that allows corporations to increase profits by intentionally selling products less safe than could be produced. The desirability of sacrificing lives for profits may not be as comforting as milk, cookies and a bedtime story, but it follows directly from a reality we cannot wish away.

Gotta give 'em one thing: at least they're honest.

Also, as any educator can tell you, today's K-12 students aren't getting enough pro-capitalism propaganda in their lives. Something must be done about it, and fast.

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26 Responses to “I WANT TO GROW UP TO BE MILL GRIST”

  1. John M. Burt Says:

    When one of my kids was first learning English, he would often look at something on TV and say dubiously, "Is dis a real?"
    That is how I feel right now, looking at this nightmarish passage.

  2. Coises Says:

    There is something strange about all this.

    The quote ended before the writer got to the point; a point that isn’t difficult to extrapolate, and should be obvious to anyone who can think: if everything had to be made as safe as possible, very little could be made at all. (Certainly we would never permit such inherently dangerous things as, say, automobiles, or electricity in dwellings—it would be much safer if everyone walked, and electricity is both lethal in and of itself and a significant fire hazard.) Presumably the next step is to explain how profits function as a proxy for net value to the consumer, effectively “crowdsourcing” the task of balancing the desirable aspects of a product against its costs, risks and other negative attributes.

    The point—which I suspect the text following the quote never bothers to make, but the article never really makes, either—should be that in the pursuit of profits, industries sometimes go to great lengths to externalize the costs of production (including risks to life, health and environment) and to hide costs that the consumer does bear. The entire logic of profits as a proxy for net value fails when the costs of production are not knowingly and willingly borne by customers.

    I think students do need to understand the rationale of the free market and of capitalism and why that combination is expected to solve so many problems so well (and actually does resolve a lot of them well enough to keep things going) in order to be able to understand valid critiques of the system and to recognize the sorts of circumstances under which it predictably fails.

  3. HoosierPoli Says:

    As if the 10,000 dollar "scholarship" for the best tongue-bath of Atlas Shrugged wasn't enough.

  4. Deggjr Says:

    Can't make an omelette without breaking eggs. Just make sure the egg is someone else.

  5. waspuppet Says:

    "The desirability of sacrificing lives for profits may not be as comforting as milk, cookies and a bedtime story, but it follows directly from a reality we cannot wish away."

    Can't imagine why more young people aren't rabid pro-capitalist conservatives. It sounds like such a fun outlook on life!

  6. Rocket Says:

    Oh god I hate to be this guy but the point being made isn't as horrible as this quoted paragraph makes it seem. If you go to the source, the subsequent paragraph is:

    "The reality is scarcity. There are limits to the desirable things that can be
    produced. If we want more of one thing, we have to do with less
    of other things. Those expressing outrage that safety is sacrificed for profit ignore this obvious point. For example, traffic fatalities could be reduced if cars were built like Sherman tanks. But the extra safety would come at the sacrifice of gas mileage, comfort, speed, and parking convenience, not to mention all the things you couldn’t buy after paying the extraordinarily high price of a Tankmobile. Long before we increased automotive safety to that of a Tankmobile, the marginal value of the additional life expectancy would be far less than the marginal value of what would be given up. It simply makes no sense to reduce traffic deaths as much as possible by making automobiles as safe as possible."

    Now don't get me wrong, this definitely is a slanted defence – in practice the cost-benefit tradeoff is much less weighted to one side. But I feel like the theoretical point is sorrrrt of sound.

  7. U.S. in the EU Says:

    I think Ed once wrote an effective response in the form of a contradiction of airplanes and libertarians.

  8. Major Kong Says:

    We actually had a Koch-funded group, I think it was Americans for Prosperity, fighting against a levy for the Columbus Ohio Zoo.

    I really have no idea why a couple of Kansas billionaires care about how we fund our freakin' zoo here in Columbus but I guess all politics is national now.

  9. Skipper Says:

    @Major Kong — an immense percentage of all obnoxious state and local inititatives come from Koch-funded groups. It's quite pervasive. These include anti-union, anti-environment, anti-quality of life, anti-choice, anti-LGBT, anti-everything.

    Things like the anti-transgender bathroom laws just don't pop into the heads of the teabaggers who have infested state legislatures and local school boards. They are provided by Koch-funded "think tanks." I'm guessing that if you look into Oklahoma's recent assault on reproductive choice, you won't have to dig very far to find the Koch brothers. OK legislators aren't bright enough to figure out a backdoor assault on Roe.

  10. ronzie Says:

    "The reality is scarcity. There are limits to the desirable things that can be
    produced. If we want more of one thing, we have to do with less
    of other things."

    This is only true in a closed system. Since the average standard of living for humans has been going up for pretty much all of recorded history, as has the human population, it is safe to say that either we are not living in a closed system, or we haven't yet reached the limits of what can be achieved within the one we're in. Those who are trying to convince people that they can't have more are just trying to maintain their privileged position over everybody else.

    "For example, traffic fatalities could be reduced if cars were built like Sherman tanks. But the extra safety would come at the sacrifice of gas mileage, comfort, speed, and parking convenience, not to mention all the things you couldn’t buy after paying the extraordinarily high price of a Tankmobile."

    And yet the cars of today are way more safe and much more fuel efficient than those of the past, and they don't look like tanks. How did that happen, in the bleak, resource limited, zero sum game world the "fiscally conservative/socially liberal" libertarians like the Kochs would have us believe we live in? Could government regulations that set standards for all auto makers to achieve have had something to do with that? I bet I know the answers that the Kochs and their ilk would give to that question.

  11. doug Says:

    @ronzie. Thank you. you said it better than I ever could.
    Ed, good find. glad you brought it up. Those guys want to make the world in their image. I hope they fail soon.

  12. Dave Dell Says:

    What ronzie said. Hope ronzie won't mind if I copy and paste that into an email or six.

  13. Skepticalist Says:

    It wouldn't be that hard nor expensive to make cars safer. The genius of the free market you know….

    It took years and years to stop railroads from using cheap wooden passenger cars. What a horror it must have been for them to do the right thing. Not the genius of the market that time.

  14. drouse Says:

    Automotive design is not the choice I would not have made in a product safety argument. Too many horrible examples come to mind. As a straw man argument it is an even worse choice because of those horrible examples. He is arguing when is a tort not a tort?

  15. Mo Says:

    This being the 50th anniversary of the start of the Cultural Revolution, I wonder, "Could this sort of thing happen in the U.S.?"

    We have a corporate plutocracy, legions of resentful gun humpers, and a police state apparatus. [If you didn't catch the Guardian article on the NSA, go there now…]

    Will we see our government allow our real estate to be confiscated and home to be invaded and our possessions wrecked or stolen by gangs of Trump Guards? Our jobs jeopardized because one of our kids scribbled on one of the Koch brother's faces in a coloring book and his classmates & teacher ratted him out? How many people will be mysteriously subtracted from the population and sent to work camps or prisons where all the cells contain tuberculosis carriers?

    It happened once. What's the recipe to produce such a social meltdown again? And are we growing the ingredients?

  16. drouse Says:

    Let's not forget that this is in an educational setting. As far as I can see, this is about empowering the callous and predatory while inculcating learned helplessness in the rest. It's just the way it is. There is nothing to be done. Learn to love it. Embrace the suck.

  17. Ohio Mom Says:

    IAN a traffic engineer but I'd guess that how roads and highways are designed has a tremendous effect on traffic fatalities. Of course, that is the public sector's responsibility and we are supposed to ignore the fact that the public sector does indeed exist.

    Which reminds me of the worksheet my then-sixth grader brought home from social studies: "What is a public good? A business run by the government." The Koch brothers don't have to worry about what's being taught here in southwest Ohio.

  18. Brian M Says:

    But roads and highways are designed not for public benefit per se. there are many public benefits and public goods, many of which are conflicting.

    I would argue that roads and highways are designed and built to facilitate real estate speculation and the great suburban dream. How can a man with a mortgage be a left winger-gotta pay that mortgage. roads and highways also facilitate the consolidation of economics into fewer and larger hands. Why have ten small grocery stores when one Super Walmart will do (served by the freeway system's ever-more efficient "warehouse on wheels" and always lower prices!)

  19. Khaled Says:

    @Major Kong:

    I think the resistance to funding the Zoo by the "Americans for Prosperity" makes perfect sense by those jackasses. First, increased taxes are always, ALWAYS bad. Second, it's not "free-market" enough for them. Anyone can buy a ticket to get in and it's not obscenely expensive to go, so our betters have to rub elbows with the poors to see bears and tigers. And third, the Columbus Zoo is pretty much the best zoo in the Midwest, and one of the best east of the Mississippi (Omaha actually has a really great zoo, and everyone wishes they were the San Diego Zoo). It is actual proof that government funding can *gasp* be a good thing. Good libraries, zoos, public schools, etc., are proof that government isn't always incompetent and can do things well.

    Function, rational governance goes a long way to quelling the "government is always the problem" people. If your government actually delivers on the services that it promises, it's a lot harder to sell everyone on dismantling the public sector and looting it for private gain. Look at Charter Schools. A big tip off about how terrible they are is that they are always, always, always located in lower-income areas. You never see "Charter Schools" in the rich suburbs because those schools actually deliver on promises or if people live in the big city, they send their kids to private schools. Never to charter schools.

  20. Kaleberg Says:

    Our problem is that the reality isn't scarcity. Most scarcity is artificial. We could easily afford all sorts of things, except we insist that they are too good for the undeserving. If you go through the years we've been told we can't feed everyone. We can't house everyone. We can't educate everyone. We can't allow everyone to retire. We can't afford safer cars. We can't afford not to use coal. We can't afford medical care for everyone. We can't afford electrical power / phone service / internet for everyone. We can't afford a 40 hour week. We can't afford to give Sundays off. We can't afford paid parental or sick leave. We can't afford to pay overtime.

    Again and again it turns out that we can afford such things, and often quite easily. The problem is that scarcity is attractive to certain types of people. It gives them an excuse to say 'no' to some out group, and that is very important to them. The utility of something to them is only in its denial to someone else. It's a nasty trait, but surprisingly common.

  21. Ohio Mom Says:

    When I mentioned how roads and highways are designed, I meant things like how long entrance ramps are (ever try to get on the PA turnpike on one of those really short ramps that require you to merge immediately?), how long yellow lights are, roundabouts v. traditional intersections, how curves are banked — that sort of thing.

    There are ways to make roads safer for everyone, and that is something no single invidual driver can buy for himself.

  22. define and redefine Says:

    To piggyback on what Kaleberg said, I love the idea that there are people who think that education/healthcare/social spending would break the bank, balloon the national debt, and bankrupt the country, but aren't quite so distressed when they see Northrop Grumman advertising for the latest stealth bomber during the superb owl.

  23. Robert Says:

    There's a piquant phrase I've seen here and there – "post-scarcity economy". From what I've been able to tell, there are certain very influential (and, no doubt coincidentally, very wealthy) people who are absolutely terrified by the very idea. Much of the economic disruption of the past thirty years has had the effect of concentrating as much wealth as possible in as few hands as possible.

    To be clear, I do not ascribe this to conspiracy. When you have a critical mass of people with wealth and power all acting in ways that would please St. Ayn, purely out of self-interest, no conspiracy is needed.

    Almost all serious discussions of the post-scarcity economy take place in science fiction stories, as far as I can tell.

  24. Andrew Laurence Says:

    I'm pretty sure that if the things that are now scarce stopped being scarce, people would just demand so much of them that they were once again scarce, or start valuing other things that are still scarce. I hope I'm wrong, and I hope I find out in my lifetime, but I fear scarcity is relative rather than binary.

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