Tuesday, August 21, 2012

In which Brad Delong is kind enough to illustrate some things I find perplexing about Progressives these days...

Okay, Delong's post is a few weeks old, but give me a break - I'm just getting in to this blogging thing. Also, work and a full time school schedule. Also, shiny objects.

Where was I? Right, Delong. I'll get to him. First, some background.

So a while back, Mario Rizzo explains why he doesn't always tip New York City cab drivers. Brad Delong responds, if you can call it a response. And the issue came up with Delong again. Go ahead and read the posts - they're not too long. I'll wait here.

Back? Okay, good. When Delong says "I will never understand these people," I find myself saying much the same thing about him.

Note that Delong doesn't dispute that the taxi medallion system in New York City has the effect of limiting competition, thereby allowing taxis to charge artificially high prices to people who need a ride. When the cab driver is also the owner of the medallion, he pockets all the extra money. But even when the cab driver is leasing the medallion, Rizzo points out that higher tips to cab drivers results in medallion owners charging higher prices to drivers for the use of the medallion, so even in this case, the medallion owner will pocket the extra money, leaving the amount of money the driver keeps unchanged in the aggregate. All of this is ignored by Delong.

Rather than try to address Rizzo's case, Delong sidesteps the whole discussion and instead suggests Rizzo should "warn the driver that you don't tip so he can decide whether he wants to accept your custom or go on to the next fare," and characterizes Rizzo's behavior as getting into the cab "without warning him that you don't tip--and then at the end of the ride, when it comes time for you to honor the contract of meter fare plus tip for reasonable service that you had entered into, stiff him instead."

To be fair, in his first post, Delong offers a pseudo-explanation of sorts. He says "Normal human sociability--what Adam Smith called 'sympathy'--makes us eager to make every act of market exchange we engage in a win-win deal. It makes us sad when our trading partner feels ripped off." I call this a pseudo-explanation because it doesn't deal with the obvious objection - why do Delong and his fellow thinkers have none of this sympathy to spare for, you know, the consumers who are getting overcharged (or "ripped off")? His pontification  about sympathy and not wanting people to feel ripped off is all well and good, but it seems to me that his sympathy is a one way street. From where I stand, it's Delong who lacks sympathy.

In Rizzo's view, the bad guys are the Taxi and Limousine Commission, for creating the medallion system and keeping the supply of medallions artificially low, and the medallion owners, who pocket the rents this system creates.

In Delong's narrative, these aren't the bad guys - they don't even feature. Instead, the bad guy is a consumer who doesn't provide a rent to a medallion owner.

To Rizzo, the consumer is the victim. Expecting the consumer to tip on top of an artificially high fare means giving even more money to medallion holders either directly, if they are also the driver, or indirectly, for reasons discussed above.

To Delong, factoring that into your tipping decision makes you a lying, cheating psychopath. Somehow.

So yes, I suspect I will never understand Delong. But I'll keep trying.

Another thing Delong said bugs me. When he says "it comes time for you to honor the contract of meter fare plus tip for reasonable service that you had entered into," he doesn't mean a literal contract was drawn up - he's using that as a shorthand for that most elusive of creatures, the social contract. Whatever you think of the merits of social contract theory, I find that its use in argument is nebulous at best. Too many people seem to think "social contract" is interchangeable with "whatever I happen to think about a given issue." Agree or disagree, Rizzo openly makes a case for his views. Delong ignores Rizzo's case, and doesn't actually make one of his own. Instead, he throws out some petty insults, and just invokes "social contract" to convince himself he's done something relevant.


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