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Thank'ee for Yanking Me Back to the Fact

This link fell out of Jay Lake's salad, and I picked it up and found it strangely enlightening. In brief, the effort of calculating trade-offs in self-discipline and self-control is a drain on a person, so poor people tend to stay poor even when they have the means to save and to make good economic choices.

I know I rail on about free-market capitalism on *ahem* occasion, but it comes down to one aspect that really bothers me. It's basically a restatement of (warning, southernism alert) "Them who has, gets."

Pratchett put it well with the "Sam Vimes Principal of Economic Injustice", which in brief is the observation that you will pay twice as much buying, patching, and wearing out cheap boots as you will buying good ones. But only rich people can afford good ones when it comes time to buy boots.

And that's basically it. For any quantum of cash, its value in boots wears out faster, in food spoils quicker and is less nutritious, in services provides less, in quantities is less economical, in taxes take a greater portion of your minimum requirement of life, in bribes buys you less influence (and may get you arrested, while a major grant will put you on the board), in investments return less, in loans cost more, in mortgages provides higher interest, and so on.

The entire game is stacked against the poor. But who's making the rich rich? The poor, because the rich is taking the portion of the total that is deducted from the poor in order to provide them with the access to goods and services in the measly portions they can afford. So you can't get rich without the poor. Which is why I don't mind the idea of taxing the hell out of the rich, like most developed nations used to fifty years ago, when infrastructure was still being built and maintained, and government was something other than a vehicle for sucking the good out of the public for the benefit of the private.

I've always suspected, (but scientifically!) that the real battle is to cover all the necessities and have enough luxuries to enjoy. By now, most people who read news have heard about the Gates Foundation-funded study (as reported in the Atlantic Magazine), but in case you missed it, the one sentence summary is: The super wealthy just have the hoarding gene forcing them to always feel like they're 20% behind where they should be, even though the happiness that can be ascribed to wealth maxes out at around $80K a year in an average U.S. setting.

And that's what really irks my inner commie: the fact that when the wealthy use politics and the law to deny services to the poor, like health care, education, sanitation, and mental health, and so on, they are not doing it because those resources are too rare to go around. They are doing it because they have their hoarding instinct permanently set to "on". The money isn't making them any happier. They're like a heroin addict that has to keep shooting although the days of euphoria are gone forever and they've walked out on the family they're failing to support. So, I don't feel any compunction to help defend the system that keeps this drug in place.

Wow. How did I get here? That's not the point of this post. Actually, it was about archery. Yesterday, I finally got to the point with the new bow that I'm grouping reliably and with some consistency. It came a little earlier than I expected, which makes me happy.

The real key was finding out that buying cheap arrows is a lot more expensive than buying good ones. The $3/arrow jobs I've been using (fibreglass, fixed point) shatter, go off target and disappear into the marsh behind the archery range, or otherwise get lost and broken, and are actually making it harder for me to settle into a consistent shot. The $10/arrow jobs (carbon wrapped aluminium, replaceable points) fly straight as a... er, yeah. They never veer off enough to miss the target completely, and they fly consistently with very little bowing. Upshot is, I've lost or shattered 6 of the fibreglass ones, but the C-Al ones are still all here and still all straight as a... you know.

So that comes to a 50% irrecoverable loss on an investment of $37, versus a 0% loss on an investment of $60. And that's why the poor get poorer and the rich get richer, in a nutshell.

So, if I'm willing to shell out extra for the boots that will last ten years and the enamelled cookware that will last a lifetime, then I should be willing to shell out for good arrows.


( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
Jun. 9th, 2011 07:30 pm (UTC)
Yep. I've lived this, do live it still, for lots of things. It's like economies of scale. If you can afford the giant thing of detergent, you'll save money in the long run (and it's not like detergent spoils)--but if you're counting every penny, then at any given moment, you have to get the smaller detergent--which by unit pricing is more expensive. Or the boot analogy--if you can afford to splash out, you can buy boots that'll last you for ten years. But if you can't, you get the cardboard boots that'll last you one winter, if you're lucky.

I think I'll go have a drink now :-|
Jun. 9th, 2011 09:15 pm (UTC)
...which is cheaper when you can afford to buy a case.

Jun. 9th, 2011 07:32 pm (UTC)
Oh, but what first got me to slow down and read your post was your subject line, because that's one of my favorite songs.

Suddenly my feet are feet of clay....
Jun. 9th, 2011 09:16 pm (UTC)
Can I have it all now?
Jun. 9th, 2011 09:27 pm (UTC)
I don't know why I'm crying
between you and me (s)he don't stand a chance of getting anywhere at all
Jun. 9th, 2011 11:41 pm (UTC)
Re: I don't know why I'm crying
Hm... Kate Bush. I still think The Seventh Wave is in the top handful of brilliant pop music pieces. Such a shame that it's a B-Side, if albums have B-Sides.
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )