Passover 2013 Edition

Random thoughts:

1. Passover is the original oppressor-oppressed narrative.

2. Sheryl Sandberg is much in the news with her book arguing that women ought to be more willing to choose to be ambitious and men ought to be more accomodating toward ambitious women. Here is her Ted talk. My takes:

a. I think a lot of the pushback that she gets in fact reinforces one of her points, which is that leadership qualities that are admired in men are resented in women.

b. The main pushback I would give is that I do not think that our goal should be to raise some women’s ambition up the level of that of the most-ambitious men. I think that hyper-ambitious males are a problem. They are a problem in finance, where they take excessive risks with other people’s money. They are a problem in government, where they exercise too much power. I think that ambition requires checks and balances. The market works imperfectly as a check on the ambition of executives. I think that institutional structures and social norms can provide a check on the ambition of politicians, and I regret that in our country both the structures and the norms have deteriorated considerably from that perspective.

c. I think that Sandberg’s thesis would provide a good discussion topic for a seder.

3. On April 3, Russ Roberts and Jared Bernstein will participate in a debate on whether or not to abolish the minimum wage. Tickets are $40. I am not sure what the audience expects at that price, and I expect that the price will affect the outcome. If you pay that much to get in, how can you not feel guilty voting to abolish the minimum wage? Especially so soon after Passover? My thoughts are:

a. The optimum minimum wage is probably closer to 0 than to $22 an hour, which is where Elizabeth Warren claims it might be.

b. The minimum wage issue is high on symbolism and low on substance. Few workers earn the minimum wage. As a practical matter, most workers’ reservation wage is much, much higher, as is demonstrated by the existence of unemployment. And most of the friction in the labor market comes from other factors, such as the payroll tax and employer-provided health insurance.

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5 Responses to Passover 2013 Edition

  1. Jeff says:

    Women are attracted to high status men, and ambition is usually a trait necessary to achieve a high status. Women, on the other hand, derive next to no benefit from increased status, and in fact there may be a cost to it for them. That being the case, encouraging women to be more ambitious and men less so is like asking men not to lift weights and women not to wear makeup. The more people actually listen, the greater incentive there is to go the other way.

  2. paavo says:

    Watching some Kenneth Branagh documentary about Goebbels I was surprised how central oppressor-oppressed narrative was in Hitler’s speeches. Oppressor-oppressed narrative is crucial to forming in-group identities, and in-group identity is a useful and powerful tool.

    Oppressor-oppressed narrative is used to form co-operation to take over existing structures. Civilization/barbarism narrative is used to preserve status quo. Freedom/coercion narrative is for individualists. Individualism is for the wealthy and secure.

    • N. says:

      I agree with your first two points, which I think show significant insight and I will have to think more about. I strongly disagree with your third point. In my own experience the most individualistic and libertarian people I have met have also been among the poorest. They were, however, proud of their self-sufficiency and valued freedom from coercion very highly. They didn’t like being told what to do. It happens that that attitude is prominent among entrepreneurs who want to be their own boss, and that can lead to them becoming wealthy and secure. I think it is fallacious to say that wealth and security leads to a more individualist mindset.

      If anything, I would say that individualism is for non-conformists, but that’s a pretty obvious and pretty banal statement that doesn’t really communicate anything.

  3. And here I thought Exodus would’ve been a freedom-coercion story, what with slavery and the liberation of the Israelites, etc.

  4. djf says:

    “Passover is the original oppressor-oppressed narrative.”

    There are certainly oppressor-oppressed elements in it, but to see it as entirely that kind of narrative is a tendentious and selective “interpretation” of Exodus (or the Haggadah), essentially reading contemporary leftism into ancient sources that are part of a tradition (whether Jewish or Christian) that is far more concerned with maintaining civilization against barbarism (to put it in Arnold’s terms). Of course, such intellectually dishonest “reinterpretations” of tradition are the stock-in-trade of nearly all non-Orthodox rabbis (and some Orthodox), as well as liberal Protestant and liberal Catholic clergy.

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