A.J. DiCintio
Bad gifting as metaphor
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By A.J. DiCintio
December 12, 2009

In harmony with Christmas and Hanukkah and an assurance that only leftists will accuse me of giving a bad gift, I'm offering this piece-of-advice present Read Virginia Postrel's "Dynamist.com" as often as you can.

"Thanks," you say but quickly add that before you risk your valuable time surfing to and around Virginia's site, you'll need a testimonial.

Excellent, because I've been thinking to include one all along, specifically, one centered on "Gifts and the Knowledge Problem," a recent blog post in which Ms. Postrel regales us with her acute perceptions as she discusses bad gifts and centralized government, beginning with Brad Pitt's not-so-good present to the people of New Orleans' Ninth Ward.

How could a prominent social activist be guilty of bad gifting? According to Postrel, because he gave "what pleases him rather than what the recipient wants." (In this case, the recipient wants "comfortable, inexpensive, and quickly available houses," not "cutting-edge architecture.")

Providing us with more examples of gifts that "disappoint," Postrel quotes from an article (Allure, December) by Cheryl Strayed, a woman who somehow got on the wrong side of the inscrutably fickle and sometimes downright nasty Goddess of Gifts:

My boyfriend gave me a 12-pack of Diet Coke for Christmas!

There were the used bath towels sent as a wedding present by an otherwise sane relative.

And then there was the granddaddy of them all: a Weight Watchers gift certificate from my mother-in-law for my birthday when I was eight months pregnant.


Of course, we are much more than annoyed when we receive such gifts, a truth Postrel thoughtfully captures in her analysis of mother-in-law's present:

But whatever the good intentions, the gift itself revealed that she knew little of her daughter-in-law's own desires or how Strayed wished to be thought of by others. [The gift] wasn't just wasteful . . . It actually hurt.

Yes, a bad gift causes much more than the financial harm Joel Waldfogel discusses in Scroogenomics: Why You Shouldn't Buy Presents for the Holidays.

But however interesting the notion of bad gifting, Postrel (as usual) has bigger ideas to fry, as indicated by her perceiving a hugely important metaphor in the fact that gifts often disappoint or worse. And so it is that she coins an adjective from the name of a prominent 20th century economist to make the point:

The problem of buying good presents for other people, even people you supposedly know well, illustrates that old familiar Hayekian concept, the knowledge problem. If you can't even give your loved ones the right presents, how likely is it that a central authority could make the right decisions for everyone?

(A staunch defender of the free market system, Friedrich von Hayek argued that socialism inevitably leads to totalitarianism.)

Why is this observation crucially important?

For one thing, it motivates us never to lose sight of the truth that the fundamental belief of American liberals, including the rabidly anti-Hayekian Barack Obama, is that the knowledge problem doesn't exist with respect to centralized government (as long, liberals tell us, as they are in charge).

Moreover, it causes us to keep the following realities firmly in our minds:

Liberals love to use the meaningless euphemism "empathy" when they characterize the jurisprudential attitude of liberal activist Supreme Court justices. But that doesn't change the truth that "activist" judges are insidious dictators who one day announce they are bound by the Constitution's language, the next day base a ruling upon the undefined, capriciously invoked phrase, "evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society," and the day after that put on their sorcerer's robes as they explain they had no choice but to agree with the demands whispered by "penumbras" that were formed by "emanations" radiated by the Constitution's words (see Roe v. Wade).

Liberals blatantly ignore the landslide will of the people which demands that Congress honestly and innovatively fix the healthcare system. Then, they stomp ahead with their true purpose, contained in a 2,000 page, trillion dollar (for starters,) tax-exploding, care-imploding monstrosity that fundamentally changes the existing system by dumping 16% of the nation's GDP into the power and wealth gorging maw of the distant, unapproachable, heedless leviathan they love to call "Your Federal Government."

Liberals turn a deaf ear and mind to those who denounce "Cap and Trade" as an environmental and economic fraud that "merely allows polluters and Wall Street traders to fleece the public out of billions of dollars" (see James Hansen, NYT). Why? Because their real interest lies in adding tons of blubber to the insatiably hungry leviathan as well as perpetuating the Money/Political Influence Cycle that endlessly circles from the fetid swamp of Washington to the foul morass of Wall Street, home to the lair of the remorseless, shamelessly predatory hydra whose ugliest head is called "Goldman Sachs."

Those are but three of many examples that demonstrate how deep, hot, and dangerous is the liberal lust for a "central authority" that believes it possesses the knowledge to make "the right decisions for everyone."

But they are sufficient to convince even the most demanding among us of the brilliance of Virginia Postrel, who warns that the object of liberal lust isn't "just wasteful" but will "actually hurt."

To which I humbly add this:

We Americans will suffer plenty of hurt if liberals succeed in causing the nation to lose its economic, social, and political vitality so that it "looks like" the stooping, dispirited, stagnant, sheepish societies of Western Europe.

However, as profound as that hurt will be, it will be doubly intensified by the excruciating moral pain that comes with the realization that we have only ourselves to blame for having allowed those who can't stand democracy when it stands in their way to metamorphose the magnificent roar of the gift bequeathed to us more than 200 years ago into a mousey squeak.

© A.J. DiCintio

 

The views expressed by RenewAmerica columnists are their own and do not necessarily reflect the position of RenewAmerica or its affiliates.
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A.J. DiCintio

A.J. DiCintio posts regularly at RenewAmerica and YourNews.com. He first exercised his polemical skills arguing with friends on the street corners of the working class neighborhood where he grew up. Retired from teaching, he now applies those skills, somewhat honed and polished by experience, to social/political affairs.

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