Category: Law and Psychology

But Certainly Everyone Has $200 to Donate?

Michelle Cottle has a delicious critique of the NYT Thursday Styles Section, aptly titled The Gray Lady Wears Prada. Cottle juxtaposes the “high-minded liberal sensibility” that the Times’s bobo readers aspire to cultivate with the breathless high-end consumerism of Thursday Styles’ Hermès scarves and Jimmy Choo mules. The most revealing quote comes from Times editor Bertram “Trip” Field III, who insists that “we’re [not] trying to serve only those readers who can afford a $10,000 watch.” When Cottle examines the egalitarian timepieces Trip’s claimed to have covered, it turns out the cheapest one is an $890 Prada.

I’m not going to tsk-tsk consumerism here—been there, done that. But I do think Cottle’s insightful piece discloses another aspect of elite journalism—a class bias so pervasive that it’s not even noticed. I think such biases also work their way into scholarship. For example, the bien-pensant consensus on campaign finance reform has long held that we want races funded by a large number of “small donors”—presumably those who donate less than $500. But really, with median family income around $65,000 and average household savings near zero, how many of these small donations are going to come from those at the bottom half of the income scale?

Thankfully, Bruce Ackerman and Ian Ayres’s “Patriot Dollars” proposal addresses this issue by proposing donation vouchers of equal size for all voters. But I’m wondering where else implicit class biases inform a scholarly consensus…any ideas?

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Simmons-Gladwell Chat

Bill Simmons (aka, “The Sports Guy”) recently posted an email exchange he had with Malcolm Gladwell, the author of “Blink.” (Part I; Part II). Not surprisingly, it is packed full of funny, great moments. Two in particular stand out. First, Gladwell writes:

Why don’t people work hard when it’s in their best interest to do so? Why does Eddy Curry come to camp every year overweight? The (short) answer is that it’s really risky to work hard, because then if you fail you can no longer say that you failed because you didn’t work hard. It’s a form of self-protection . . . To me, this is what Peyton Manning’s problem is. He has the work habits and dedication and obsessiveness of Jordan and Tiger Woods. But he can’t deal with the accompanying preparation anxiety. The Manning face is the look of someone who has just faced up to a sobering fact: I am in complete control of this offense. I prepare for games like no other quarterback in the NFL. I am in the best shape of my life. I have done everything I can to succeed — and I’m losing. Ohmigod. I’m not that good. (Under the same circumstances, Ben Roethlisberger is thinking: maybe next time I stop after five beers).

This is an interesting idea, with potential application to agency theory that I haven’t seen laid out in the literature. But, the best moment in the chat comes in Part II, where Gladwell astutely observes:

It is possible, as “Moneyball” reminds us, to win with less by being smarter. But the point is not that if you have more money than someone else you automatically win more games. The point is that if you have more money that someone else you’re playing a different game than they are. Wal-mart is not competing against mom-and-pop corner stores. They’re in a different business. And it isn’t fun, at the end of the day, to watch a mom-and-pop compete against Wal-mart. It’s painful and pointless . . . Contests where one player has significantly more resources than another are not sports. They are marketplaces. To root for the Yankees or the Red Sox is the functional equivalent of rooting for Microsoft or General Electric. No thanks.

Exactly right! But here’s where I run into a problem. I love the Philadelphia Phillies, and like to think of them as an underdog, gutsy team, sort of like the last non-chain bookstore in town. But last year, the Phillies’ payroll was $95 million, 5th in the league. This year, it will be around $94 million. And they still can’t make the playoffs (this year, their new GM has basically admitted they have no chance.)

Which means that I’ve somehow convinced myself to be an insane fan of baseball’s equivalent of General Motors.