In response to my last post, Aretae says:
Fundamentally, the Caplan claim is…as a rich person, what anyone else does to me is LARGELY within my control. Unless they’re some asshole government bureaucrat who relies on gun-wielding thugs to collect their salary in a rich part of town. Apart from those folks, your choices are your own.
There are lots of problems with this argument.
First “rich person” isn’t defined. It seems that no one who uses this term ever defines it. I’m partial to the claim that it’s basically a meaningless term in the US for all but a very few people (so few that they’re not really worth considering in situations like this one). Individuals’ incomes fluctuate during their lives and measurements of wealth are hard. As the WSJ notes today, we’re all a lot poorer now than we were 10 years ago if wealth is measured in gold. In general, I try to avoid using the term (though this could be a side effect of working in DC, were wealth is less valuable than power).
Second, I think the claim is wrong. By most people’s measures, my family is rich (our income is well over the President’s threshold of $250,000). If anyone is willing to spend their money to avoid stupid people, I am. So far I haven’t found any ways to get totally away from stupid people.
For example, I have to buy food. Going to the grocery store around my home is an adventure in stupidity. In general, I try to have as much of my food delivered as possible, but still, the delivery guy isn’t a rocket scientist and if too much stuff is left outside my house during the day, some dumbass will steal it.
Also for example, crime has negative externalities. Even if I can afford to protect my family (arguable), I can’t control it’s effect on my property values. The list goes on and actually impacts virtually every area of my life. No man is an island, so to speak.
Third, the argument consists of two sentences. The first tells me that I shouldn’t mind having my wealth effectively used up by the stupid people around me (implicitly, it suggests that the way I can cope with stupid people is by spending money to avoid them). The second tells me that I should mind having the government effectively use up my money. What’s the difference? In both cases, stupid people are making it so that I have less money. Why should I care if one set of the stupid people works for the government?
Finally, I can’t resist pointing out that the Caplan/Aretae claim is totally reasonable for someone living in Fairfax, VA or San Luis Obispo, CA (there, it’s true that you can generally avoid the one idiot in the village), but not for someone living in DC. Frankly, I find it pretty annoying that people who have moved as far away from stupid people as possible are tell others how easy it is to live around stupid people. It’s trivial to suggest that it’s easy to avoid stupid people when you don’t live near any.