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Both Real and Phony Benefits from a Bigger "House"

Do most people see economics as an arcane subject? At other times it might turn them off because they can easily spot the political ideology hiding underneath the surface of mathematical pretense. They should have the experience that I just had.

There is always a tweak or two that can benefit any RV.  Because my "RV" is a customized cargo trailer rather than a 'suburban house on wheels,' I am free to get out the tools and blast away at it as I please. 

There was a noticeable pinch spot in the little cargo trailer that could be felt many times per day. It only took an hour of sawing and orbital-sanding to eliminate the pinch.  

And yet how much material had been removed? Compared to the overall area (square footage) of the trailer, one part in 500 had been removed. In volume, one part in 3500. In weight, one part in 10,000.

Despite such small numbers, I actually felt a temporary euphoria similar to what a salary-slave feels upon getting a 2% raise, after being told by the boss that the office average was 1.9% (and glossing over real cost-of-living inflation of 8%.) 

Looking at my new-found freedom of movement was like topping a saddle/pass on my mountain bike, and being surprised by the noble expanse of land on the other side:

High grasslands near Datil, NM.

Finally out of the vertical confines of the San Juan mountains, near Gunnison, CO.

Apparently it is a trait of our species to respond strongly to tiny changes, not only of the "before versus after" kind, but also static comparisons of different types, such as Smith's pickup truck with a "zQ" decal on its rump, versus Jones's "zQi" insignia.

Is it beneficial to us to have brains that work like that? It makes us prone to Envy. It also means that the objective reality of anything is less important than our prior Expectations. 

But it is helpful too, since small differences contain "time sensitive" information when we avert danger, seize opportunity, hunt, identify sexual advances, react to changes in clouds, ice forming at the edge of the lake, the irruption of bugs, the first symptom of a disease, the incipient bloom of a plant, etc.

The bigger McMansion we live in, the less likely we are to be strongly affected by a one hour project. And retirement age people are becoming desperately impoverished with respect to "hours." The sheer size of a house has little marginal utility to someone whose grains of sand have mostly run down through the hourglass. Why then do they still act like having "lots of space" matters to them? Hours or square footage -- which has the greatest "marginal utility"?

After being impressed by the movie version of "The Fountainhead," I am rereading the book. Here's a quote from the book about the un-heroic character, the beginner architect, Peter Keating:
"He had forgotten his first building, and the fear and doubt of its birth. He had learned that is was so simple. His clients would accept anything, so long as he gave them an imposing facade, a majestic entrance and a regal drawing room, with which to astound their guests. It worked out to everyone's satisfaction: Keating did not care so long as his clients were impressed, the clients did not care so long as their guests were impressed, and the guests did not care anyway."

An intense appreciation needs a noticeable shortage beforehand -- something that bites a little. And yet the pursuit of the Large gobbles up most lives, even as the value of  'A Bit Larger' declines to zero.

At any rate, it would be lucky for a new student of microeconomics to have a strong experience like I just described, rather than thinking that the field was just a bunch of jargon and spread-sheet arithmetic.


XXXXX said…
I agree with your overall point that when one is inundated with stimuli we must necessarily become insensitive or blind to much of it. We simply can only pay quality attention to a limited amount of stimuli.

I can see though a 6 figure investor being ignorant of a leak in one of his 6 bathrooms but notice every detail of the stock market such as you described....the "time sensitive" information that warns of trends in the market, etc.

...inundated with stimuli", indeed! That is the fundamental conundrum of the so-called "Information Age."
Joy said…

Having spent a significant portion of my life working around architects, some of them famous/ successful (not always concurrently), I feel obliged to point out that Ayn Rand did not know whereof she wrote. The practice of architecture in real life is nothing like either her book or the film, although the mega-rich who finance would-be great buildings like to think so. The life of Frank Lloyd Wright is far more interesting than anything Rand invented or could invent. He really was as good as he thought he was, although his roofs are legendarily leaky. At least that's the scuttlebutt in schools of architecture.

I recommend Rachel Carson's books "Under the Sea Wind" and "The Sea Around Us" as antidotes to trivia overload. My researches into the origins of human violence this winter left me so depressed I had to retreat into classic nature writing to recover my equanimity.

Ayn Rand might agree with you: she was writing a romance of the ideal Individual, not a documentary about "how to be" an architect.

I was thinking about discussing the book in a post when I finish rereading it. But commenters point out that my "reviews" say little about the book itself. I prefer to assimilate the book into the interpretation of my own experiences, rather than condense/regurgitate the book.

About Frank Lloyd Wright: how could a famous architect deserve to be famous if his roofs leaked?

About Rachel Carson: I did try to read "Silent Spring" once, but failed, I'm not sure why. Usually "nature" writers are writing less about authentic nature than about coffee-table-book sentimentalism and prettiness.
Joy said…
But there is no "ideal individual" without context. After twenty years of using the internet, I'm heartily sick of the "individual", ideal or otherwise. Plus, Rand is the goddess-prophet of unbridled, predatory capitalism, which has produced the world of waste and trivia you so rightly criticize!

The roof thing with FLW is a classic architect's kvetch, a way of dealing with envy - "Yeh, he/she builds beautiful buildings but the roofs leak." Lately they say it about Frank Gehry. In my admittedly limited experience, all roofs leak sooner or later. If I ever get around to writing a book, I think "All Roofs Leak" would be a good title.

I haven't read "Silent Spring" and may not. Who needs more gloom and doom in a Midwest winter? What I particularly liked about "The Sea Around Us," etc. was the lack of sentimentality and personal narrative.

Ed said…
I have to disagree somewhat with Joy when she says "Ayn Rand did not know whereof she wrote". She was not writing about architects or architecture which she probably knew of no more than any other writer of novels. What she was writing about and what she knew was expressed in "Howard Roark's Courtroom Speech".

Rachel Carson's greatest achievement was being named the founder of the modern environmental movement. Her campaign against DDT saved the lives of millions of birds while condemning millions of humans to die of malaria when DDT was banned. She did not call for the ban but the modern environmental movement used her writing and science background to make it happen. I think 'nature' writers usually write with an agenda in mind and Rachel Carson was a pioneer in that genre.
Joy said…
Bye, folks. Nothing more to say.