On money and meaning

McArdle has this piece about how increasing the incomes and economic security of people won’t solve everything. You can read the whole thing if you want, but basically the idea here is that there are other harms in the world than not having an adequate level of income and economic security, including harms related to relationships and status and being out of work and so on.

What a ridiculous thing to write.

Who is the person who says economic security is meant to solve these things? Who is the person that says economic security is a sufficient condition for individual happiness? That you don’t need some other mechanism of meaning, whether that’s worship or community or culture or relationships or whatever? That you don’t need respect, whether that’s in a job or through relationships or whatever? That you don’t need inclusion and camaraderie and all the rest of it?

The point of economic security is not to end all misery, but to end one particular source of it that we know we are able to very competently stamp out. People who are economically secure may be miserable or not for any number of reasons. Nobody contests otherwise. But one source of misery they don’t have is that they are hungry or food insecure, that they can’t adequately nourish their children, that they don’t know how they are going to pay their bills, that they are stuck in a loop of credit card or payday loan exploitation, and so on.

We can choose distributive institutions that fix most of those problems in our society. We should do that instead of distributing the national income in very unequal ways that leaves many in such insecure economic positions.

This new right-wing thing where they try to emotionally tell you how poor people will still feel bad even after they are not hungry anymore (see Paul Ryan for another example) is really unbelievable. It mobilizes affected sentiment (Jane Galt doesn’t care about poor people) for the poor in service of a project to deprive them of material security, which is a big plus to people no matter what other demons they struggle with.

You would think McArdle, of all people, should know all about this. She was a spectacular failure at being in business even though she had all sorts of family money and pedigree and cultural and social capital. I am sure when she failed at it, she felt real bad. She felt real bad even though her failure did not cause her to suffer the pains of material deprivation and insecurity. I guarantee you though that she would have felt even worse if that put her out on the street or left her with no money in her account and two hungry kids to feed.

Ensuring material security ensures material security. It should be done to ensure material security. It does not necessarily do things other than ensure material security. That’s OK. Material security is good. It is not an argument against ensuring material security that it only ensures material security.