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May 14, 2009
The title of this article comes from 1 Corinthians 13:8. I can't call myself a believer anymore, but I do believe quite strongly in the need for each of us to be charitable. I think it's good for us. I know that for me, it helps to remind me of things I tend to forget, when I think of what it is that I lack. There are plenty of people worse off than I am, or probably ever will be, so I still tithe, just not to any church. I also believe in the immediacy of certain kinds of charitable giving. In an emergency situation, for instance, or when you encounter an individual in truly desperate circumstances, a contribution to someone's purse or a helping hand in a voluntary relief organization can be of tremendous benefit to everyone involved.
However, I also think our ideas surrounding charity can be misguided in many ways. Sometimes sentimentality can take over, and the desire to salve one's conscience can override the actual usefulness of one's desire to help. This is where many people who embrace "progressive" ideas go off the deep end. Socialism is borne of the recognition that life is exceedingly unfair to a great many people. Quite often, you may observe that those who speak out the loudest for socialist solutions are those who need it the least. It is my belief that a lot of these people see so much inequality and perhaps feel guilty for becoming as successful as they are. Therefore, "progressive" ideas act as a comfort to those whose lives have been made extraordinarily comfortable through attainment of wealth. If we could just redistribute a little of the excess, then everything would be alright, wouldn't it?
There are plenty of arguments to be made against embracing any ideas about redistribution, ideas that always come at the point of a gun. We're not talking about voluntary redistribution, after all. The "progressive" Hollywood , Washington and New York elite can't be trusted to volunteer anything. They will have to be taxed, and so will we. Unfortunately, this way of thinking never gets to the root of the problem. Self-congratulatory "progressives" can never be troubled to think things all the way through. To get food on a truck to a starving tribe of people in a remote area is certainly an excellent idea. The issues that led to starvation will undoubtedly not be solved in the next several hours, after all. People need to eat, especially people who haven't had food for days or weeks, and when there is no other food immediately available.
But what socialists don't understand is that taxation for the purposes of redistribution to the have-nots is little more than a permanent convoy of relief trucks filled with food, and nothing more. In fact, more often, it results in merely the desire for such a convoy. How is that "progress"? You can't solve the world's ills through redistribution, because the predicate is force and violence. After a while, humanity will no longer respond. In fact, history shows that occasionally humanity rises up with its own violence in retaliation. No one wants that. Where, then, should charitable desires be directed?
Several years ago, a popular film was released that actually holds the key to this dilemma. I didn't find much in "The Devil Wears Prada " that didn't ring of the sterile, "Hollow"-wood formula of a small-town girl finding herself in the jungle of the big city, complete with a love triangle, then betrayal of friends, a lover, and of course, her true self. If you haven't seen the film, you should already be aware of how it turns out. In my opinion, there are only two reasons to even bother with the film. One is Meryl Streep, who could be filmed reading the phone book and get nominated .
The other is a brilliant exchange when Miranda Priestly, the character played by Streep, confronts her dowdy, small-town assistant Andy , played by the not-so-dowdy Anne Hathaway. (Come on. She's supposed to be "fat" in this film? Why don't they just hire a fat actress?!) Small-town Andy is a no-nonsense college graduate who looks down her nose at the entire fashion industry. Miranda tolerates Andy's attitude until she finds that she just has to speak up when Andy snickers at what seems to be a trivial discussion about the merits of two different belts:
Miranda: Something funny?
Andy : No! No, no, not -- nothing. Y'know, it's just that... both those belts look exactly the same to me. Y'know, I'm still... learning about this stuff, and, uh...
Miranda: 'Stuff'? Oh... okay. I see. You think this has nothing to do with you. You go to your closet and you select, I don't know, that lumpy blue sweater, for instance, because you're trying to tell the world that you take yourself too seriously to care about what you put on your back, but what you don't know is that that sweater is not just blue, it's not turquoise, it's not lapis, it's actually cerulean. You're also blithely unaware of the fact that in 2002, Oscar de la Renta did a collection of cerulean gowns, and then I think it was Yves Saint-Laurent, wasn't it, who showed cerulean military jackets... And then cerulean quickly showed up in the collections of 8 different designers. And then it sort of filtered down through the department stores and then trickled on down into some tragic casual corner where you, no doubt, fished it out of some clearance bin. However, that blue represents millions of dollars and countless jobs [emphasis mine], and it's sort of comical how you think that you've made a choice that exempts you from the fashion industry when, in fact, you're wearing a sweater that was selected for you by the people in this room... from a pile of 'stuff.'
This little exchange is perhaps better than Streep's nominated performance. In Miranda's reply to Andy's insouciance, you have the free-marketeer's reply to the socialist's inability to follow a simple line of thought. You want progress? Then think about this the next time you go shopping for a lumpy blue sweater: You see a sweater you want. Charity is the furthest thing from your mind. You're coveting that lumpy blue sweater in a pile of stuff. You buy the sweater. In the price of that sweater is the cost of what Miranda calls "countless jobs":
The sweater helps pay the bills for the building in which you went to shop.
The sweater helps pay the landlord who lets the space for the shop.
The sweater helps pay the owner of the shop.
The sweater helps pay the manager of the shop.
The sweater helps pay the sales clerk at the shop.
The sweater helps pay the janitor who cleans the shop at night.
The sweater helps pay the security guard who watches the shop after closing.
The sweater helps pay the delivery guy who delivers goods to the shop.
The sweater helps pay the manager of the delivery company.
The sweater helps pay the owner of the delivery company.
The sweater helps pay the landlord who lets the warehouse to the delivery company.
The sweater helps pay the janitor who cleans the warehouse at night.
The sweater helps pay the security guard who watches the warehouse after closing.
The sweater helps pay the truck driver who delivers to the warehouse.
The sweater helps pay the manager of the truck driving company.
The sweater helps pay the dock workers at the shipyard where the truck picks up the deliveries.
The sweater helps pay the ship owner, the ship captain, and the ship crew.
The sweater helps pay mechanics who service the ship and the truck.
The sweater helps pay guys who do the electricity for the shop, the warehouse, and the shipyard.
The sweater helps pay the owner of the third world factory that makes the sweater.
The sweater helps pay the ladies who work in the factory making the sweater.
The sweater helps pay the janitor that cleans up the factory at night.
The sweater helps pay the security guard who watches the factory after closing.
The sweater helps pay the shepherd who raises the sheep for the wool to make the sweater.
The sweater helps pay the guy who picks up the wool from the shepherd and delivers it to the ship.
The sweater helps pay the ship that sends the wool to the factory.
The sweater helps pay the designer of the sweater, whose job is coveted by every "progressive" in every developed nation, because it is not any of the above jobs.
You want charity? How many people did you just help by buying a sweater out of a pile of stuff? This logical progression (note the lack of quotes) can be used to defend any anarchist argument, but let's follow the progression just a little further: The security guard at the shop where you bought your sweater uses his paycheck for rent, food, utility bills, transportation, new underwear and socks, a gym membership, a gift for his wife's birthday, a movie on Friday night, his 401(k), and his favorite charity. How many more people indirectly benefit from your "uncharitable" purchase of that sweater?
If you think that a "progressive" idea might be more charitable, then let's just pick one: You see a sweater you want. Charity is the furthest thing from your mind. You're coveting that lumpy blue sweater in a pile of stuff. You go to buy it and get into a conversation with the clerk behind the counter. She is miserable. She hasn't had a raise in over a year, and she's a single mother. She complains that her manager won't even consider going to the owner of the shop to see about anyone at the shop receiving raises in the near future. Your sentimental heart is overflowing. You go to your "progressive" friends and discuss ways that you can get this girl and others in her situation a decent raise to equal the increase in living expenses. You succeed in winning the local media to your side of the story, and the mayor of your town feels the pressure to enact a standard increase in wages for shop clerks, an increase based on force and violence. This increase in cost means the sales manager at the shop has no choice but to increase prices so that the increase in wages can be met. Also, one of the sales clerks is fired. But that's not all:
The increased price of the sweater decreases sales.
The increased price of the sweater means the owner starts looking for a cheaper space to lease.
The increased price of the sweater loses money for the original landlord.
The increased price of the sweater loses money for the shop's night janitor.
The increased price of the sweater loses money for the shop's security guard, who is fired.
The increased price of the sweater means the owner starts looking for a cheaper delivery service.
The increased price of the sweater loses money for the original delivery company.
The increased price of the sweater loses money for the warehouse night janitor, who is fired.
The increased price of the sweater loses money for the landlord of the warehouse.
The increased price of the sweater loses money for the warehouse security guard.
The increased price of the sweater means the shop owner starts looking for cheaper sweaters that he can mark up even higher to recover lost profit.
12. The increased price of the sweater loses money for the factory, the ship's crew, the dock workers (many of whom are fired), and on and on.
13. The increased price of the sweater loses money for the designer, who is now on the verge of a nervous breakdown because his designs aren't selling like they used to. He stops eating out, so restaurants start losing money. A couple of "progressive" waiters who are wanna-be actors are fired.
The cheaper sweaters are the result of employing people who are even worse off, being paid far less, and are in far worse circumstances than the others. "Progressives" get wind of these circumstances, and ask for force and violence to be done to prevent trade with such despicable countries.
The decrease in choice of sweaters means that the shop closes up since its large corporate competitors can pull strings to get better selections of sweaters, and the single mother who was unhappy without a raise now has no job. The "progressive" who bought the sweater never even hears of this development, but feels better since the government and its media have trumpeted the fact that we are no longer trading with those dirty, Third World sweatshops.
The factory in that Third World country closes, and some of its former workers end up starving.
Start the convoy. Or at least pretend to. You'll feel better.
After all, socialism never faileth. The history of the 20th Century proveth that. Enjoy your "progress" while it lasteth. We're all about to find out how much longer it will. God save Miranda Priestly, and Lord help us all.