21 Feb 2012

The Joke’s On Me

Big Brother, Humor 11 Comments

Over at EconLog Bryan Caplan writes:

“Stand up for yourself” isn’t just overrated; it’s also misdirected. We’re quickest to dispense this advice to the people least likely to benefit from it. Consider: If you have wealth and power, standing up for yourself tends to work well. But we usually advise the wealthy and powerful to be gentle and generous. Perhaps we’re just advising them to use their status ethically. But we often couch such advice in prudential terms: “A smart CEO knows that a happy worker is a productive worker.” If, on the other hand, you’re poor and powerless, standing up for yourself is normally disastrous. If you have little to offer, you have to rely on the goodwill of others. And one of the surest ways to make a bonfire of your accumulated goodwill is to embrace a bad attitude.

Charles Murray’s Coming Apart doesn’t directly discuss the value of meekness. But my analysis is very consistent with Murray’s. My speculation:

A major difference between the professional and working classes is that professionals appreciate the wages of meekness. They realize that if you want to move from high school to college, from college to an entry-level job, from an entry-level job to a promotion, you must get in the habit of saying, “Thank you, sir. May I have another?” Even if you’re elite in absolute terms, you ascend the hierarchy by showing deference to people who are even more elite than you are. The working class, in contrast, is dysfunctionally assertive. Maybe they put pride and machismo above success; maybe they falsely believe that pride and machismo are a shortcut to success. In either case, as Murray emphasizes, one of the best ways for elites to help is to preach the meekness they’ve so often and so fruitfully practiced.

Consider this one such sermon.

Since it is in my formal job description to poke fun at Bryan whenever possible, I wrote in the comments:

I’m not saying this post is right or wrong, Bryan. All I’m saying is, when we all get locked up for opposing the regime, you’d better hope the other inmates don’t see this post.

Ha ha, right? But then I realized: Bryan won’t ever get locked up for opposing the regime. While I’m in the pen, trying to convince my cellmate that it’s better to live with a comedian than a spouse, Bryan will still be telling the comrades to boost their population faster than the Chinese. And the thing is…that’s Bryan’s whole point!

Well played, Caplan. But my way is more fun.

11 Responses to “The Joke’s On Me”

  1. Keshav Srinivasan says:

    Bob, off topic but will the debate with Scott Sumner ever happen? I was really looking forward to that.

  2. Sam says:

    Reading his full post, I thought it was baseless prejudice– the woman who commented before you nailed it.

    It reminds me of Mitt Romney telling manual laborers that he makes $57,000 per day purely by “hard work.”

  3. RG says:

    You weren’t too far off, Bob. Economists would have a high velocity pipeline to the gulag in his proposed regime. I wouldn’t want to be in the economic prediction business in that scenario.

  4. Yosef says:

    Wait, you’re a comedian?

  5. Beefcake the Mighty says:

    “But then I realized: Bryan won’t ever get locked up for opposing the regime.”

    Well, Bob, the first step is always the most important. Now: why *won’t* he oppose the regime? That’s the next question you have to answer.

    • Bob Murphy says:

      Now: why *won’t* he oppose the regime?

      Because he puts his actual name on the stuff he writes on the Internet?

      • Major_Freedom says:

        That about sums up my life on the interwebz.

  6. Scott says:

    I completely disagree with that post. People don’t like weenies. They just don’t. If you want to get ahead, you have to be a man. You have to have confidence and a forceful personality that people can respect, so that they will have confidence in you and will be willing to entrust you with responsibility.

    Or you can be a total crook. That works too.

    But I’m not sure that necessarily translates to ‘demanding,’ more like ‘assertive,’ but certainly not meek. And I’m not sure that ‘success’ necessarily translates to ‘climbing the corporate ladder’ or even ‘something I really want to strive for,’ as it often requires unacceptable sacrifices.

  7. Richard Moss says:

    Jon Voight playing convict Bob Murphy playing Bryan Caplan;


    (NB: sorry, a lot of f-words, but I couldn’t resist)

  8. Tom says:

    I must be an elitist bad guy, but I basically agreed with Mr Caplan’s post.

    Oh, well….life goes on.

Leave a Reply