2011 July 03 Sunday
Joni Mitchell: Making Vice Chic Tremendous Moral Error

Joni Mitchell interviewed by Charlie Rose in January 2008: "Making vice, you know, chic I think was a tremendous moral error and I think the entire global village is suffering right now and the generation coming up right now is malformed because of it, that they never had a shot at innocence, you know which is one of the privileges of childhood unless you're in a war zone".

Another quote: "The boys are weakened and the girls are grotesquely aggressive".

What do you all make of that?

Regards vice chic: I'm struck by the glorification of Las Vegas by TV shows (e.g. with Josh Duhamel playing a casino security officer in one of them) and movies. Look, gambling is a vice, a very destructive vice for some individuals and families. Mom or Dad gambles away the food money and rent money. Today state governments run their own lotteries, claiming to need the money to help poor people. But who are they preying on to buy their tickets? People who want a ticket out of the lower classes. That's morally perverse.

Her comments about water and food shortages suggest she's worried about the limits to growth and exhaustion of resources. But these limits (like the idea that vices are bad things which children should be shielded from) are still outside of the range of discussion engaged in by mainstream commentators.

Note that she also saw the severity of the approaching financial crisis before it hit full force. The mainstream economic commentary of January 2008 was not predicting a near collapse of the global financial system that would be prevented only by trillions of dollars from the US Federal Reserve. So she was ahead of the mainstream echo chamber of conventional wisdom. An artist's sensitivity helps to see thru conventional wisdom.

For those too young to recognize her name here is Joni Mitchell in 1969 performing Chelsea Morning.

Update: I can see a couple of arguments for letting the lottery stand:

- The poor are already getting supported by more productive people and do not deserve to be parasites. So taxing them thru a lottery reverses an unfair redistribution.

- The lottery acts like natural selection against people dumb enough to spend on it. But I'm skeptical that the lottery (or gambling in general) reduces fertility, especially in welfare states.

Arguments against the lottery and against legalized gambling:

- The poor are unfairly oppressed and therefore need to receive from the state as a remedy to the unfair system. Therefore they should not be tempted to give to state via a lottery. But I'm skeptical of Marxist arguments about class oppression, at least with regard to the vast majority of the poor. Most who are poor in industrialized economies are that way due to their own attributes: they are too dumb to do highly productive work or too lazy or too uncooperative or because they have short time horizons and do not save. Likely multiple reasons apply for most of them. Granted there are exception who are poor due to no fault of their own.

- When the easily tempted engage in vices others pay for a portion of the results. Keep temptation away and people become more likely to support their kids, stay with their spouse, keep their job, etc. That seems the most persuasive argument to me. But this argument, while it would have been persuasive 100 years ago, no longer holds much force among liberals. That's unfortunate for the health of a society.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2011 July 03 11:27 AM  Civilizations Decay

Mthson said at July 3, 2011 2:20 PM:

Isn't the lottery just a 'stupidity tax' ... wealth redistribution from dumb people to smarter people?

bbartlog said at July 3, 2011 5:51 PM:

Yeah, but that makes it regressive, which most people would not consider desirable in a tax.
The glorification of vice is not a new phenomenon; the Catholic rite of baptism mentions 'the glamour of evil' and so already recognizes that immorality is attractive in its own way.

Ross N. said at July 3, 2011 11:32 PM:

In the barter era there were no people who were "unemployed." During the period when Benjamin Franklin ran the Philadelphia Colony he had 100 percent employment. To paraphrase him, he said that there was no better time and place on earth. He also said, again paraphrasing, that paper money performed well and against the logic of the day.

Why is this? His money system allowed borrowing in 10 year increments, where the usury was paid per year. Land or anything of value could be put up as collateral for payment, but the land could not be taken by the State Bank. In effect, Franklin put money into circulation with very low debt loads. It was almost real money. The short 10 year term prevented the usury curve from shifting into an exponential region. Once the new money went into circulation, rentiers closed up shop and returned to their previous occupations; namely, shipping and being merchants. It became unprofitable to be rent lords once money started flowing. Shops and merchants had activity and trade started flowing. Franklin also noticed that too much money could be issued, but he never did reach that point. Shorly thereafter, the bank of england (BOE) started its attack by counterfeiting script and demanding Colonials accept BOE paper.

Franklin recycled the profit from the State Bank back into the economy, thus reducing the need for taxes. In fact, with a proper money system, a society could easily run with no taxes.

The poor will always be with us, and there will always be people to the left of the median on the IQ distribution. But, for the poor to EARN their way out, they need money to be a store of value. The Rich don't get hurt by inflation, because they store their wealth as land or other assets. If the rich own the means of production, they can pass on their costs to the consumer. The owners can also allow a lag between pay to labor and the passing on of costs. In other words, just like the gas station around the corner, producers can pass on costs but not immediatley shift the benefit to labor.

So, lets give the poor a break. In addition to having family disfunction, or being below average in IQ, or sometimes being an idiot, or in generaly being dealt a bad hand, they have a tilted economic field to battle. In the same way that China is tilting the economic game against us, we also tilt our game against the middle and lower classes.

The lower classes are filled with weaker people in general, and they should be reasonably protected from predators. When the state becomes the predator, then society is devolving. A lottery is the State becoming predator and not proctector. Vice is moral blindness, and children are not protected. We have allowed predators to run free.

not anon or anonymous said at July 7, 2011 2:48 PM:

Ross N., poor folks need access to the financial system, especially bank deposits and interest-yielding savings. You cannot have full employment via easy-flowing money, and have paper currency be a good store of value: the two goals are fundamentally incompatible.

Lotteries may be rational for poor folks, even at unfair odds; many of them are stuck in a poverty trap with very limited opportunities for production. This is especially true if you think low-IQ folks won't benefit much from education and training. We should focus on teaching middle-class values and skills to poor folks, including financial literacy and how to find productive work.

Mike Anderson said at May 15, 2014 9:21 AM:

It isn't just low-IQ people that are poor. In my considerable experience, a great many people are poor simply because they make - quite consciously in many cases - lousy decisions about what to do with their time. Partying and the endless pursuit of the next party, intoxication (often leading to lifelong abuse), TV, video gaming, minor (or not so minor) criminality, the pursuit of random sexual contact - all these contribute to poor prospects for a comfortable future. And I think this touches nicely on Joni's comment re: vice. I hardly think she was taking just about gambling!

I think it's facile to try to attribute a single set of causes to this epidemic of unproductive humanity in countries that have the greatest opportunity for a bewildering variety of occupations. As far as that goes, it's wrong to think we can simply analyze it (using these narrow parameters) and apply some sort of fix. I don't think wealth redistribution is a fix in any case: it encourages both contempt and dependence. Ask a guy who's been there.

No, I think we're always going to have this epidemic, because once you tolerate vice, predatory criminality, and complete lack of contribution/lifelong sloth, there is little hope of turning back. Our leaders certainly aren't going to introduce work-for-welfare (labelled "work is warfare" here in British Columbia when it was proposed) for example. I think the sensible decision for any thinking person is to make the most of your life, and do the best you can to help your children prepare for the further decline of North American civilization - which might always have been an oxymoron anyway.

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