Wednesday, March 20, 2013

The irrationality of the market

From an article about a student who turned from libertarianism to liberalism:
What happened next? He got a job.

He sold books at Borders in Cambridge, Massachusetts. It "did kind of a 180 on me. Just in terms of the rigidity of a corporate structure! You know: they tell you you have to take your lunch break at 1. But at 12:58 a customer starts speaking to you. And if you speak to them until 1:02 the bosses at Borders would start yelling at you to take your break at one, and then if you got an extra minute to 1:31 it throws off the whole schedule but if you volunteer to go two minutes early they fear they might be fined!"
Call it the irrationality of the market.
I wonder if the author was trying for irony? To wit, Borders is afraid they might be fined by the government. Massachusetts law mandates one 30-minute lunch break for any shifts over 6 hours. If a company is found guilty of taking a single minute away from an employee, that company can be fined. I dare say that, if you were to ask any liberal in the street or in congress, they would support this law. If you were to ask a libertarian, they would probably not support this law.

Of course, it's easy to pick on misunderstandings like this. There are plenty of people who get burned by their employers, and plenty of people who get burned by the government. Most of them don't change their politics. Instead, their politics determine who they blame. It's common for people to misunderstand causality in society.

There's a much more fundamental problem with the article. This kid got burned by the government and blamed it on corporate structure. But even if the market had truly wronged him, it's hardly admirable that he changed his outlook on life based on one small data point. In fact, it's a sign of cognitive bias in the formation of his political beliefs--of irrationality. Praising an irrational kid who hasn't thought about politics very hard, just to score some hits on libertarianism, is exactly the kind of self-serving commentary that should keep you away from editorials. Politics is the mind-killer.

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