Economics is often referred to as “the dismal science”, when it is referred to as a science at all.
Then again, there’s the “legal industry”. How is “justice” – to the extent we believe in any such thing anymore – to be valued in dollar terms?
A couple of tidbits from this morning. First, apparently there’s a law firm in Boston that has received 32 applications for a lawyer position paying……..$10K per year.
A seemingly unrelated – but not really – story from Radley Balko: The governor of Florida is eliminating the state’s “innocence commission”, thereby saving….$200K per year. Less than the annual compensation for one lawyer in a medium sized firm in a medium sized city. Substantially less.
Meanwhile, venerable New York law firms are going bankrupt.
Meanwhile, the Kardashians could easily, I guess, become a billion dollar fashion empire.
It’s better to leave things to the private sector than to have government do them through the coercive power of taxation. That’s a truism. Truisms are, of course, true, but you call them “truisms” in part because they are self-evident, and in part because their truth is not the whole story. Then again, there are people who might question just how true the truism is.
It might be that every rational truth has its limit, and eventually you bump up against a paradox where it fails to account for reality.
A subway system can cost up to a billion dollars – per kilometer. They carry around passengers in densely populated cities at a few dollars a pop. The densely populated cities could probably not exist without them; or at least, they could not exist the way they do. Which is to say, you can put millions and millions of people in a fairly small geographic area and make sure they can get around easily to work, to school, and so on, whereupon the populace can become prosperous and the city will teem with life and commerce and activity of an astounding variety. And thus you spend the money and build the subway.
Or, you can have a similar population density where people cannot get around easily because the subway is “too expensive”, and your large city becomes a squalid, stagnant mishmash of shanti-towns juxtaposed with posh high rises.
The subway will never make any money in and of itself: it’s a sure “money loser”, in the short run, in the long run, and any run in between. But you wind up concluding that to judge an important item of transportation infrastructure on that basis is shallow to the point of being silly. And wrong, of course.
It’s easy to see how the Kardashians are profitable. They come out with some skimpy and suggestive clothing, model it, people see and imitate. And buy. Cause and effect are readily ascertainable.
Not so with a subway. You don’t see tent cities and shanti-towns and squalor all over a big city, or at least not as much, but attributing that to the investment you made in transportation infrastructure is nowhere near as apparent as the mass appeal of a Kardashian inspired g-string. And if you do see the squalor, it’s not likely that many people will ever make the connection between it and the infrastructure that is lacking. More likely, they’ll blame the inhabitants.
You can operate a criminal justice system like an assembly line, with the innocent all caught up with the guilty but processed through just the same, and lock up or otherwise punish, or execute, or brand for life indiscriminately, because the cost of being careful is considered quite high. Primarily, the cost is attributable to lawyers. And no one likes to pay lawyers. And increasingly, as today’s little anecdotes demonstrate, no one does.
But you pays your money and you takes your chances. You can have a society which is, collectively, incredibly self-indulgent in how it allocates resources and effort, and that can go on for a long time without apparent consequence. The consequences are there, of course. But it’s easy to ignore them, because they happen to someone else, or because no one – no one important, that is – reports them or even mentions them, and so long as that goes on we don’t give a shit. Or at least many of us don’t. We feel we don’t have to.
But history shows that it all begins to bubble up from underneath, ignore it though we may.
As the cracks begin to appear we become resentful at having our bliss interrupted. We blame the messengers. We blame the victims. We go from indifference to active cruelty. We oppress. We redouble our efforts, not to address the problem, but to suppress the problem: that’s cheaper, in the short run, and in the meantime Jersey Shore beckons for our attention.
And the problem gets worse.
Finally it erupts, but when it does you have readily identifiable enemies. And so it’s their doing. We still don’t get it, in other words.
We have millions of empty homes and millions of homeless. We have an enormous amount of legal work that needs to be done, we have many, many lawyers, and increasingly none of them can make a living. So the work goes undone. And piles up. And I may differ from the average person at least this much: I can easily see that that particular pile of work is quite likely to destroy our civilization if we don’t do something about it.
Meanwhile I can’t say I’m pulling for the Kardashians. Or the continuing disproportionate allocations to things like Facebook.
But as far as solutions go, I’m not sure. I’ll get back to you.