Tuesday, January 10, 2006

He actually told us to be grateful for Lipitor

Anya Kamenetz wrote this book. Daniel Gross wrote a snippy review in Slate. Daniel Drezner quotes from the review extensively in his blog, as he and Gross speak the same language of the economic intelligentsia. Meanwhile, Kamenetz is irate about the review and has posted a dialogue between her and Gross in her blog.

I have yet to read Kamenetz's book, but her blog calls out for young people that "feel screwed by the economics of daily life." Is it any surprise that people vested within the economics of daily life would find her points to be uninspiring? Note this impassioned comment from one reader of Drezner's blog:
One of two things happens: Either people are going to more expensive universities because it will increase their lifetime earnings by enough to pay for tuition, or they're making bad calculations and costing themselves money. In the former case, I don't see how they have so much room to complain. If university is going to increase your salary by over $15,000 per year for the rest of your life, should you really be so upset about paying $15,000 per year for tuition? In the latter, perhaps people should start paying attention to cost and going to public universities.
Here is Gross' economic explanation for the genesis of Kamenetz's book:
The economic jeremiad written by a twentysomething is a cyclical phenomenon. People who graduate into a recessionary/post-bubble economy inevitably find the going tough, which compounds the usual postgraduate angst.
Gross justifies this opinion with an allusion to his own experience, yet he gets into greater detail in his reponse to Kamenetz's response:
My first job in journalism, which I took with my stellar degrees and experience at TNR was the ultimate crap job – coming in at 4:00 a.m. to Bloomberg news to summarize newspaper articles for the wire service and living in a shitty apartment. Of course, like everybody else, there were times when I was miserable and full of self-pity, and I even wrote about it sometimes.

I quit Bloomberg after nine months, and have been self-employed ever since, writing for magazines, writing books, etc. The point is not to impress you with my up from the bootstraps tale, or to look back wistfully to my youth. The point is that if you want to make it big, or relatively big, in New York journalism at a young age you have to take an awful lot of risks – which is precisely what you’re doing.
It is fortunate for the debate that we now have this personal backstory for Gross. What is missing from this story, however, is the realization that no doubt a number of other Grosses failed in the very rat race that Gross accepts as "the cyclical phenomenon" of "economic jeremiad."

What is also missing, more importantly, is that the younger Gross had the potential for his failure as a reality while he was slugging his way through inane copy for Bloomberg News.

There are two sentences that explain Gross' ironic lack of sympathy with Kamenetz:
It's not that the authors misdiagnose ills that affect our society. It's just that they lack the perspective to add any great insight.
Here you see the assertion that additional experience will bring about a perspective that grants more insight. That insight, according to Gross, seems to be the following:
The larger point is this, which people in their early 20s generally fail to realize. Getting married, or forming a long-term relationship, is economically advantageous for a whole host of reasons, whether your partner works at Google or not. You save on rent, overhead, and taxes; you pay less for car insurance; and for those who lack benefits, you increase your access to health care benefits. And although people may be marrying later, most people do wind up getting married.

Also, I don’t know quite what to make of the people who have chosen to consume when they had no capacity to consume, like Stella, who maxed out her Citibank Visa by taking a trip to San Diego on her semester break from college, or Kyle, the Cornell grad who chose to have a car in college and hence took our more loans.
I suppose Gross means that maturity will bring about an economically beneficial long-term relationship and better management of one's credit. That, he believes, will reveal the truth that young people live in a world of youthful anxiety that diminishes over time and with good economic conditions. That some youths feel the need to make poor credit decisions, or that some people may not decide to join in an economically beneficial long-term relationship do not seem to factor into Gross' understanding of the world.

Gross has decided his path in life and has had his world view reaffirmed by a population of like-minded people. For this reason, he no longer understands that angst he claims as natural -- that he once had. It is interesting that once his assault on Kamenetz's point of view lost its heat, he tries to find "common ground" in their shared pasts.

He forgot all that anxiety, however, and that common ground is a "bootstrap" story he tells himself about himself.

Yet, maybe Daniel Gross is right, and we twentysomethings are not sufficiently grateful for the gifts of Wal Mart, Chinese made televisions and Lipitor. Yes, he actually told us to be grateful for Lipitor.


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