The Stone City

Words Made to Last

Monday, December 19, 2005


Megan McArdle rebuts a ridiculous argument by M.A.R.Kleinman, firmly but far too gently. Mr. Kleiman writes, in part:
Could there by anything crazier, at a social level, than telling young people with the talent and determination to pursue careers in the natural sciences that doing so isn't a wise move from a personal-financial-planning perspective? It's true, of course. But think of the social waste involved in converting a potential biologist in to, say, a detail man for a pharamaceutical company....
Of course, this problem is connected to a different problem: the successful class warfare waged over the past quarter-centory by an
[sic] on behalf of the top 1% of the income distribution -- the half-a-million-dollar-a-year crowd -- against everyone else. Taxing away some of their increased share of the national income distrubution [sic] could finance measures of income security (and not just retirement income security) for everyone.
I'm not convince that doing so would reduce the rate of GDP growth; it might well increase it. (The biologist rescued from life as a detail man might discover or invent something valuable.)
This is sentimental fantasy in its rawest form. The would-be biologist could "rescue" himself, working just enough to make ends meet while he sought to discover or invent something valuable; but he has decided the odds are too poor. A university or corporation could "rescue" him by expanding its pure research division to include him; but every one of them has decided they have enough pure researchers already. So Mr. Kleiman's solution is, apparently, to get the government into the business of taking the gamble that everyone in the know has already turned down. And he blithely says that "it might well" be a winner, on average, in the long run.

You don't get rich by doing what you want to do; you get rich by doing what other people want you to do enough that they will pay you for it. Doing what you want should not enrich you, because it is unlikely to enrich society.

Mr. Kleiman sees "social waste" in the idea of people choosing useful work, and then has the arrogance to think he can guide everyone to a better solution; the dishonesty to conflate the issue with class warfare; and the pure childlike belief this can really work if we just wish really, really hard.

[Full disclosure: I am well within the "crowd" of successful class warriors Mr. Kleiman describes. The boldfaced quote is not mine -- I think it's Ms. McArdle's -- but I can't find the source.]