Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Crunchy Conspiracy II: Sheer Capitalist Genius

Wake up, contra crunchies, how did we miss this? On the morning of April 17, with 3-digit temperatures predicted in Dallas and other areas, Rod Dreher linked to "mid-priced air conditioners" at Wal-Mart's website from his blog on beliefnet. Was this mere coincidence or an instance of commissionable product promotion, targeting unsuspecting consumers in their time of need? Questions abound. Like, for example, what was Rod really doing in Arkansas over Easter weekend? Everyone knows where Wal-Mart’s HQ is located - could there have been another meeting in Arkansas, a secret one half-way between Bentonville and Little Rock off I-40, for which the Sierra Club meeting was merely a ruse?

And the beauty of this commissioned linking is that he performs his side of the agreement whilst ostensibly criticizing the excess of a greedy capitalist mogul's earnings. As they say in Crunchyville, USA, "Whoda thunk it?"

We applaud Rod for his promotional genius and his ability to capitalize on his position and web-presence in the new economy as had been noted earlier on this fine weblog.


Blogger Bubba said...

A few thoughts on Dreher's ranting about the "obscene" money Lee Raymond's made as CEO of ExxonMobil, the context for that product promotion.

1) I note that a Catholic who praises the "vast symphonic complexity" of a Gothic cathedral is complaining about corporate extravagence. I'll readily grant that far too few Christians have humble lifestyles that follow in the footsteps of Mother Teresa and ultimately Christ, but few of us have lived the life of opulence that comes with being pope.

2) Dreher writes, "I’m very far from a socialist, but to think of that kind of unthinkable wad accruing to a single man offends me."

I've never seen Thomas Sowell preemptively address the charge that he's a socialist. I wonder why that is.

(Maybe it has to do with his not quoting Barbar Boxer positively.)

3) Dreher's been suckered into believing the Left's view of the environment (for instance saying that Dallas has "fithy air"). Dreher's repeated the Left's view of the Iraq war, that Bush got us into "a bad war on dubious pretenses." Now, he's repeating the Left's line about gas prices, quoting without criticism a thinktank fellow's line that, "Clearly much of his high-level pay is due to the high price of gas."

That is, at the very least, a contentious claim. Bruce Bartlett argues that "real (inflation-adjusted) gasoline prices are about where they have been for most of the last 20 years. The recent runup is from a historically low level. Even so, they are still substantially lower than they were in 1981: $1.79 per gallon now versus $2.74 then."

(He also writes that the profit-margin for the oil industry is lower than the national average.)

But we should look past this rhetoric about the environment and the war and gas prices. Let's not dare suggest Dreher's wandering from the reservation.

4) I wonder how much high gas prices are caused by exorbitant taxes and, um, the government preventing the oil industry from building new refineries, drilling ANWR and other activities I imagine Dreher's crunchy sensibility finds offensive.

5) Just as Dreher seems to think that Republicans need to "retrench and reframe certain values issues" to strengthen its red-state base (rather than, I dunno, doing something about Iran and illegal immigration), Dreher seems to think that the issue of this CEO's retirement package is going to have an impact on politics.

"I would love to know what the superhero tag team of Ross ‘n Reihan, the guys who identified the Sam’s Club Republicans think about the issue of the ExxonMobil CEOs ultracush retirement package, and how it will play in a political year in which gas prices are through the roof and big-bucks lobbying is on the minds of voters."

I don't know what kind of Republican I am -- "Sam's Club Republican"? -- but I can tell you for damn certain that how I vote isn't impacted by the salary of the CEO OF A PRIVATE CORPORATION. It's stupid to let one's vote hinge on such a thing, and the GOP shouldn't appeal to voters who actually would let an issue like that influence their vote; their voting habits are so erratic as to be beyond prediction, and wearing the wrong color tie might offend them.

And I wonder what on God's green earth Dreher wants the Republican leadership to do about ExxonMobil: public condemnation of a company's legal practices? To what end?

Or should there be caps on salaries? Does Dreher really have no socialist tendencies?

6) To answer the core question he raises, I'm not sure such a salary is moral, but I'm not sure it isn't either. Look: between mass production, mass communication, and the mass accumulation of capital that comes with the corporate world, single individuals can be responsible for making their companies millions and billions of dollars.

How much money did Nike and the Chicago Bulls make because of Michael Jordan? How much money has 20th Century Fox and Hasbro made because of George Lucas' Star Wars films?

If a company's massive amount of revenue is due, at least in part, because of the decisions or actions of irreplaceable people like athletes, filmmakers, or even CEO's, do these individuals not deserve a certain percentage of that revenue -- even if that results in more money than they could possibly spend?

This strikes me as class envy. Because of barons of industry, from Rockefeller and Carnegie to Henry Ford to Steve Jobs and Bill Gates, the standard of living for all of us in western civilization has been improved.

Are we going to complain about the centralization of power that comes with the accumulation of money? That even if everybody is getting richer, the gap between rich and poor is widening? Okay, that might not be prudent in a fallen world, but I'm not sure it's inherently immoral.

Remember the parable of the talents, found in Matthew 15. The three servants were given one, two, and five talents. According to a footnote in the NRSV, one talent was worth "more than fifteen years' wages of a laborer."

So, one servant got 15 years' worth of a laborer's wages, one got 30 years' worth, and one got 75 years's worth -- which is surely more than what one man needs to survive. And yet, I don't believe the point of the parable was to criticize the master who A) entrusted such an incredible amount to one man and B) had at least 120 years' worth of wages to begin with.

We are not judged by what we have, but by how we use it. To quote an unusual source of wisdom, "What you have is God's gift to you, and what you do with what you have is your gift to God."

10:33 AM  
Blogger Bubba said...

One other thing...

Dreher doesn't hesitate to quote the ABC News article.

"I think it will spark a lot of outrage," said Sarah Anderson, a fellow in the global economy program at the Institute for Policy Studies, an independent think tank. "Clearly much of his high-level pay is due to the high price of gas."

The Institute for Policy Studies is "an independent think tank," huh?

Bruce Bartlett has referred to it as "a left-wing think tank."

Jay Nordlinger called it "hard-Left and utterly dishonest" in its opposition to Otto Reich, a Bush appointee to be assistant secretary of state for the Western Hemisphere.

Most damningly, NRO's Media Blog criticized the very article that Dreher cited.

Taken from IPS's About Us page:

"For more than four decades, IPS has transformed ideas into action for peace, justice, and the environment."

If you read on, you notice the word "progressive" used over and over. This reminds me of the NYT article that called the Iraq Body Count Project an "independent group that monitors the news media," when it is in fact a left-wing anti-war outfit. I wonder what Media Matters would do if a news organization cited the Heritage Foundation or the Manhattan Institute without describing them first as "conservative"?

Was this article too good for Dreher not to quote, or did our newspaper editor not do his homework? Is either answer a good one?

10:53 AM  
Blogger kathleen said...

I think the bottom line is that Dreher is not a serious conservative thinker. Actually he is not a serious thinker, period. Why and how he ever wrote for NR is beyond me (although I am not terribly familiar with how respected NR is in general these days). He certainly is a decent writer. He had a golden chance to be sort of a Gen x catholic conservative mouthpiece, but he's blown it, because he misunderstands and misinterprets both catholicism and conservatism. Unfortunately he misinterprets both in such a way as to aggrandize his own thinking, so one has to wonder if it is a willful misinterpretation.

11:16 AM  
Blogger Bubba said...

It's an interesting question, how esteemed National Review is, and I don't have a good answer to that. My own experience is that NRO has at least one or two must-read articles a day, and as often as he cites it, Rush seems to agree. The magazine itself is good, too, but it still seems aimed at a demographic a wee bit older than myself.

NRO now offers a store selling old articles, and its search engine is here. Search for "Dreher" as the author, and you'll get what I think is a comprehensive list of articles he posted (including a reference to his snippy letter to the editor about Jonah). Some good stuff -- including a memorable cover story about military chaplains -- but nothing spectacular.

(Best consevative writer around today? In my opinion, Thomas Sowell, no doubt about it. But if you can get past the Simpsons schtick, Jonah Goldberg is a remarkably bright guy.)

In fact, beyond the Crunchy Con cover story, there are stories that echo what can be gleamed from his two blogs, including stories about the pedophile priest scandals, Christian persecution abroad, and an article about how USDA regulations "are actually designed to benefit mass agriculture producers at the expense of small farmers."

He seems like a nice enough guy, and I've been debating whether to give his book a try, but I don't think I will. I don't think I respect his intellectual prowess quite enough to do that.

He reminds me, in his own way, of a guy in the church I attended while I was at grad school. A good family man with five kids, he was neither the most masculine guy I've ever met nor the most intellectually rigorous. He suggested, quite sincerely, that the right to vote should be limited to Christians. I hardly knew where to begin in challenging such a bone-headed notion: he was proof, I suppose, that a good heart and a sincere faith does not always lead to good policy positions.

1:12 PM  
Blogger Bubba said...

BTW, Dreher quotes a review of his book from a prison fellowship site. There is some ambiguity in how the review states it, but it seems that she called it "one of the most important books of 2006 —- one that will almost certainly become a conservative classic."

Heh heh.

1:26 PM  

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