Daily Office:
Thursday

j0917

Matins: Is there such a thing as good luck? Ayn Rand’s fans are certain that there is not: hard work is everything. Jonathan Chait assesses the Rand legacy in light of this conviction, at The New Republic. (via The Morning News)

Lauds: Our latest discovery: MetEveryday. (Thanks, Ms NOLA!)

Prime: David Leonhardt profiles Robert Shiller — in the Yale Alumni Magazine, naturally. (via Marginal Revolution)

Tierce: A violin repair shop in Morningside Hides has been told to cease and desist from violating antiquated zoning restrictions. No, noise is not the issue.

Sext: Links to an assortment of Lost Symbol reviews, at Speakeasy.

Nones: True-life ghost fleet — container ships and other freighters parked off of Singapore. (via  The Infrastructurist)

Vespers: John Curran, author of Agatha Christie’s Secret Notebooks, lists then top ten titles in her ouevre. How many have you read? (Film adaptations don’t count!) (via Campaign for the American Reader)

Compline: Jason Kottke asks (in a footnote, no less):

You’ve got to wonder when Apple is going to change the name of the iPhone. The phone part of the device increasingly seems like an afterthought, not the main attraction. The main benefit of the device is that it does everything. How do you choose a name for the device that has everything? Hell if I know.

Oremus…

§ Matins. The ethics of possession —

Rand’s most enduring accomplishment was to infuse laissez-faire economics with the sort of moralistic passion that had once been found only on the left. Prior to Rand’s time, two theories undergirded economic conservatism. The first was Social Darwinism, the notion that the advancement of the human race, like other natural species, relied on the propagation of successful traits from one generation to the next, and that the free market served as the equivalent of natural selection, in which government interference would retard progress. The second was neoclassical economics, which, in its most simplistic form, described the marketplace as a perfectly self-correcting instrument. These two theories had in common a practical quality. They described a laissez-faire system that worked to the benefit of all, and warned that intervention would bring harmful consequences. But Rand, by contrast, argued for laissez-faire capitalism as an ethical system. She did believe that the rich pulled forward society for the benefit of one and all, but beyond that, she portrayed the act of taxing the rich to aid the poor as a moral offense.

Countless conservatives and libertarians have adopted this premise as an ideological foundation for the promotion of their own interests. They may believe the consequentialist arguments against redistribution–that Bill Clinton’s move to render the tax code slightly more progressive would induce economic calamity, or that George W. Bush’s making the tax code somewhat less progressive would usher in a boom; but the utter failure of those predictions to come to pass provoked no re-thinking whatever on the economic right. For it harbored a deeper belief in the immorality of redistribution, a righteous sense that the federal tax code and budget represent a form of organized looting aimed at society’s most virtuous–and this sense, which remains unshakeable, was owed in good measure to Ayn Rand.

— rests on an ethics of causation.

For conservatives, the causal connection between virtue and success is not merely ideological, it is also deeply personal. It forms the basis of their admiration of themselves. If you ask a rich person whether he ascribes his success to good fortune or his own merit, the answer will probably tell you whether that person inhabits the economic left or the economic right. Rand held up her own meteoric rise from penniless immigrant to wealthy author as a case study of the individualist ethos. “No one helped me,” she wrote, “nor did I think at any time that it was anyone’s duty to help me.”But this was false. Rand spent her first months in this country subsisting on loans from relatives in Chicago, which she promised to repay lavishly when she struck it rich. (She reneged, never speaking to her Chicago family again.) She also enjoyed the great fortune of breaking into Hollywood at the moment it was exploding in size, and of bumping into DeMille. Many writers equal to her in their talents never got the chance to develop their abilities. That was not because they were bad or delinquent people. They were merely the victims of the commonplace phenomenon that Bernard Williams described as “moral luck.”

A very faulty ethics.

§ Lauds. A young lady, Lucy Lu,  visits the Museum every day!

So my mission is this: visit the museum every day (except of course, most Mondays when it is closed). I plan to augment my experiences with the museum’s extensive thematic essays and timeline of art history, as well as other text and internet sources, in order to gain a more complete understanding of that which interests me greatly. This blog is meant to share what I feel and learn as I journey through time and around the world in my great conquest of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Why are we humming “Lydia the Tattooed Lady”? Because you can learn a lot from this Web log! 

§ Prime. Without a doubt the most interest eminent economist working today, Bob Shiller applies careful — one might say “conservative” — analysis to an equitable agenda.

Of all his policy ideas, the broadest is one that he calls the “Rising Tide Tax System.” Developed with Len Burman, a Syracuse University economist who spent years in Washington, it is essentially a form of inequality insurance. Under such a system, tax rates would automatically adjust along with levels of income inequality. If the incomes of the middle class and the poor were growing at a faster pace than the incomes of the rich — as happened during the 1950s and ’60s — tax rates on the rich would fall. But if the incomes of the rich were growing the fastest — as has happened over most of the last 35 years — their tax rates would rise. The opposite, in fact, has happened in recent years. The wealthy have received both the largest pretax raises and the largest tax cuts. The middle class and poor have not done nearly so well.

That combination, Shiller worries, has created disaffection. And the disaffection has made it harder for policy makers to take steps, such as removing trade barriers, that would lift the economy and enlarge the nation’s economic pie. The inequality tax would have the potential to cure this disaffection. It would allow Washington to promise voters that they would be not be denied a fair share of the nation’s economic bounty. If large economic forces caused middle-class incomes to stagnate, tax policy would help out — not erasing the effect of those forces but at least ameliorating them, Shiller says.

The tax idea connects directly to Shiller’s conception of how an economy works. The Rising Tide Tax System is meant to make people feel that the economy is fair, that they can trust the institutions around them, that they can have the confidence to take risks that, in the end, will benefit the larger economy. “I think these are exciting ideas,” Shiller says. “But they’re not going anywhere.”

§ Tierce. This is the kind of story that gives “regulation” a bad name. Joseph Tanen’s repair shop was brought to the City’s attention by another tenant whose real target is the landlord. The violation is “technical” in the worst sense of the word.

“Under the zoning resolution, a musical instrument repair shop is prohibited in this residential district,” said Tony Sclafani, a spokesman for the Department of Buildings. The same zoning law bans umbrella and typewriter repair shops, wedding chapels and gymnasiums.

These days, the good folk of New York do not suffer the plagues of the umbrella repair trade. But tucked into the nooks and crannies of the city are thousands of microbusinesses, bookbinders and jewelry makers, pet groomers and Pilates trainers. If they are prudent enough not to bother the neighbors, most of them escape official notice, even if they are in violation of zoning laws.

There was nothing remotely sneaky about what Mr. Tanen was up to. When he and his wife moved their business into the building two years ago, the lease spelled out precisely how they intended to use the space. The workshop occupies three small rooms on the ground floor next to the superintendent’s apartment. Mr. Tanen and Ms. Phillips live several blocks away.

In June, however, someone complained to the Department of Buildings about the workshop. “From what we’ve heard, it apparently had nothing to do with us,” Mr. Tanen said. “A residential tenant upstairs is doing whatever can be done to bother the landlord, and made this complaint.”

Even in an age when cranes are toppling, concrete strength tests are suspected of being faked and entire building facades collapse, the Tanen repair shop has managed to draw attention from the city.

We’re filing this story under “Build to Upgrade.” Don’t build things — or pass laws — on the theory that they’ll be around forever. Create things that can easily be repaired or replaced.  

§ Sext. But don’t miss this headline: “New Dan Brown thriller threatens to eclipse sales of other writers.” (“Threatens”?)

Booksellers have been gearing up for months, hoping that Dan Brown Day can rejuvenate sales in a difficult year for the trade. But research by The Bookseller magazine demonstrates a “Dan Brown effect” that appears to do the opposite.

According to the data, the more dominant Brown’s booksales have been since 2004 when The Da Vinci Code took off, the slower the growth of the rest of the fiction market.

So in 2004, when Brown was worth £18.6 million to UK retailers, spending on non-Brown fiction grew 2.9 per cent to £385.8m. In 2005 when Brown was worth £28.2million (a formidable 6.9 per cent of all fiction sales), underlying fiction sales fell 0.8 per cent year on year.

§ Nones. The latest installment in the graphic story of declining global trade.

Local fisherman Ah Wat, 42, who for more than 20 years has made a living fishing for prawns from his home in Sungai Rengit, says: ‘Before, there was nothing out there – just sea. Then the big ships just suddenly came one day, and every day there are more of them.

‘Some of them stay for a few weeks and then go away. But most of them just stay. You used to look Christmas from here straight over to Indonesia and see nothing but a few passing boats. Now you can no longer see the horizon.’

The size of the idle fleet becomes more palpable when the ships’ lights are switched on after sunset. From the small fishing villages that dot the coastline, a seemingly endless blaze of light stretches from one end of the horizon to another. Standing in the darkness among the palm trees and bamboo huts, as calls to prayer ring out from mosques further inland, is a surreal and strangely disorientating experience. It makes you feel as if you are adrift on a dark sea, staring at a city of light.

Ah Wat says: ‘We don’t understand why they are here. There are so many ships but no one seems to be on board. When we sail past them in our fishing boats we never see anyone. They are like real ghost ships and some people are scared of them. They believe they may bring a curse with them and that there may be bad spirits on the ships.’

§ Vespers. Roger Ackroyd is at the top of the list, of course. (Can anyone help us find Edmund Wilson’s dismissive essay?) Here’s the plot of a book that is not entitled Ten Little Indians:

Ten people are invited to an island for the weekend. Although they all harbour a secret, they remain unsuspecting until they begin to die, one by one, until eventually … there are none. Panic ensues when the diminishing group realises that one of their own number is the killer. A perfect combination of thriller and detective story, this much-copied plot is Christie’s greatest technical achievement.

Our editor takes a clutch of Christies on vacation every year; we agree that they’re very well-written.

§ Compline. The entry is entitled, “Your company? There’s an app for that.”

Once someone has an iPhone, it is going to be tough to persuade them that they also need to spend money on and carry around a dedicated GPS device, point-and-shoot camera, or tape recorder unless they have an unusual need. But the real problem for other device manufacturers is that all of these iPhone features — particularly the always-on internet connectivity; the email, HTTP, and SMS capabilities; and the GPS/location features — can work in concert with each other to actually make better versions of the devices listed above. Like a GPS that automatically takes photos of where you are and posts them to a Flickr gallery or a video camera that’ll email videos to your mom or a portable gaming machine with access to thousands of free games over your mobile’s phone network. We tend to forget that the iPhone is still from the future in a way that most of the other devices on the list above aren’t. It will take time for device makers to make up that difference. 

We still think that iPhones are small.

2 Responses to “Daily Office:
Thursday”

  1. Nom de Plume says:

    Great tip, RJ and Ms NOLA, on MetEveryday. I added it to my Google Homepage. Other entries are all tres provocative and interesting today, Mr. Keefe!

  2. Quatorze says:

    How about calling it the “I-All”, and in the process, giving a final nod to the “ME” generation…

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