Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Going All Boudreaux: Rose's Edition

So, this screed was published in the Chapel Hill News.  The Raleigh News and Observer was so taken by its forceful logic and persuasive evidence that it was reprinted there.

The whole thing is excellent.  But this part was particularly excellent, I thought:

Roses is owned by Art Pope, a man whose politics I vehemently oppose....Roses is the only store of its kind within walking distance of the neighborhoods that surround University Mall. Many of these are among the poorest in Chapel Hill...Art Pope was essentially using his customers’ money against them. And because of their limited mobility and the lack of other nearby options, there wasn’t much they could do about it. While the demise of such predatory practices are to be cheered in the long run, it’s tough to sell that point to folks who’ll find themselves without a place to buy clothes and other household necessities once Roses closes. 

...Were they being exploited? Absolutely. But that doesn’t get make things any easier for them in the short run now that Roses is leaving. Of course, I believe that systems of commerce need to be established that prohibit the creation of an underclass that at once produces and consumes low-cost goods for the benefit of the upperclass. 

So, to be clear, people are being exploited by having a store that is conveniently located, has good quality, and low prices.  He wants new "systems of commerce," because this whole convenient/good/ cheap model is exploitative.  It's the system of commerce, itself, that creates an underclass.

Now, I shouldn't be so hard on him, perhaps, because he's a journalism major, and so has never taken any actual college classes.

Still, I had to go all Boudreaux.  Here is the letter to the editor I sent to the N&O, which they printed today:

I felt conflicted reading Henry Gargan's POV piece ("As Roses closes…", April 13). Some folks are so ignorant of markets that they think selling quality products at low prices in convenient stores such as Rose's is "exploitative." Having Mr. Gargan argue this point, and having the N&O give it prominent space, makes for a useful reading for my economics classes. That made me happy. 

Still, it's upsetting to see Mr. Gargan exploiting his privileged position. UNC is protected from any kind of competition, and takes its budget from public taxes. Mr. Gargan pays, at most, a fraction of the cost of mislearning economics; he is essentially using taxpayers' money against them. And because the state uses taxes to subsidize leftist think tanks like the Journalism School, there isn't much those of us who care about education can do about it. 

The big picture is that Mr. Gargan will never have to face any of the costs of his exploitative misuse of tax funds for personal gain. But the little picture, the one solace in all this, is that I can now use this bizarrely misinformed view of commerce as a teaching tool. 

Michael Munger, Professor 
Duke University

One clarification:  I was trying to parody both the argument and the steps in the argument in Mr. Gargan's original piece.  I do not, in fact, think that the UNC Journalism School should be prevented from teaching whatever ideologically biased material appeals to them, any more than I think Mr. Pope should be prevented from exercising his rights to use his support for causes he believes in.  So the "subsidize left-wing think tanks" is a parody; I don't think the Journalism School is a left-wing think tank.  It's just a bunch of folks doing the best they can, given their beliefs, with the very limited intellectual resources at their disposal.


Jon Murphy said...

Great letter.

I never understood why providing low-cost goods to poor folks was exploitative. I mean, that argument would imply that higher prices make the poor better off, no?

Jon Murphy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tom said...

Unlike Mungowitz, I do "think that the UNC Journalism School should be prevented from teaching..." ... or, at least, the tax subsidized nature of that activity. That, like hatred of Roses, is a hard sell to many (many voters!). But I have hope and Gargan should too: the internet changes everything.

Anonymous said...

Jon Murphy: of course higher prices makes the poor better off. With higher prices, there is more money in the community, more money to hire them at higher wages, etc.

Anonymous said...

I cancelled my subscription to the N&O a week ago. Sunday's column by journalism student Gargan confirmed the wisdom of my decision.

Notably, the N&O had a long article about Gene Nichol and the possibility that his opinion was hurting the university's reputation. I'm more worried that Nichol is creating confused youngsters like Gargan.

Jeff R. said...

I love how a discount store isn't just a discount store, it's part of the vestiges of Jim Crow. He knows there are Wal Marts and Dollar Trees and whatnot outside the south, right? Have been for a long time?

Pelsmin said...

The muddy-thinking article, and the sharp riposte by Munger led me to read what the anti-Papists had to say about Mr. Pope. Gargan is simply an echo chamber of ignorance. There are diagrams on the web showing how Pope "exploits" people and uses their own money against them.

The argument (sic) is that Pope sells goods at low prices to people who can't afford much, but doesn't pay high salaries to the people who work in the stores.

He then uses his profits to support politicians who force the poor people to remain poor, completing the graphic's circular diagram.

No effort is made to close the circle and explain the supposed rationale. Of course, none could be made.