On Not Having A Clue

It would be tough for me to single out my single least favorite member of my alma mater Princeton's faculty.  However, Peter Singer would certainly be in the running.  TJIC fisks some of Singers recent writing in the NY Times.  I will leave you to read his thoughts, except I wanted to comment on this paragraph of Singer's:

"¦The rich must - or so some of us with less money like to assume -
suffer sleepless nights because of their ruthlessness in squeezing out
competitors, firing workers, shutting down plants or whatever else they
have to do to acquire their wealth"¦

I could probably write a book just from this quote, but let me just focus on two responses:

  • It helps prove my long-time observation that politicians, artists, and academics of a socialist bent who frequently criticize business have absolutely no idea what they do day to day or how they make money or create value.  Most have been an artist/academic/politician since the day they left school, and if they have held a real job in the value-creation part of the world, it is seldom as any type of manager or supervisor.  Singer knows no more about wealth creation than I do about sub-atomic particles.  The amazing thing, though, is that the NY Times would never quote me on sub-atomic particles but frequently gives Singer a platform to hold forth about wealth creation.  Economics is a science too, just as much as physics.  As I said in that linked post:

Economics is a science.  Willful ignorance or emotional
rejection of the well-known precepts of this science is at least as bad
as a fundamentalist Christian's willful ignorance of evolution science
(for which the Left so often criticizes their opposition).
fact, economic ignorance is much worse, since most people can come to
perfectly valid conclusions about most public policy issues with a
flawed knowledge of the origin of the species but no one can with a
flawed understanding of economics.

  • Read the statement, and really think about what he says, remembering that he really believes these exact words.  Forget about the squeezing out competitors part -- presumably we capitalists are just bashing each other so this is likely the least of his arguments (not to mention how many people Singer likely "squeezed out" in the competition for scarce tenure and professor positions at Princeton).  Think about his statement that the way wealth is created is by "firing workers" and "shutting down plants."  So the logical implication is that the corporation who ends up with no workers and not assets will be the richest?  And here all this time I have been stupidly growing my company by trying to hire more good people and add on productive assets. 

Singer is as qualified to write about business practices as I am to write about South East Asian mating rituals.  Each of us is equally experienced and knowlegeable about these topics.  Somehow, though, the NY Times sees fit to publish Singer and my beloved University pays him to teach.  Unbelievable.


  1. Rob:

    Maybe wealthy people, indeed, sleep well because they know that a bi-product of their wealth creation is also wealth creation for others (ie. those who have a job earn money, instead of having no job and no money earned). On the other hand, every time these uninformed socialist increases taxes or makes it harder for a corporation to do business, they are the ones who are making less wealth creation available to everyone.

    So really, the question should be, how does Mr. Singer sleep at night knowing that the agenda of increasing minimum wage, increasing taxes, redistributing wealth, etc. are causing more people to have a lower standard of living and less jobs available? I guess it's easy when you are sitting pretty in a tenured position where you can say and do as you please with almost no repercussions.

  2. KipEsquire:

    I remain convinced that much of this derives from the simple refusal of intro economics professors to teach that "entrepreneurship and risk-taking" is a factor of production no different in principle than "land, labor and capital" -- and that "profits" are therefore not a "residual" but simply a return to that factor of production and no different than rent, wages and interest.

  3. ArtD0dger:

    Singer is actually quite refreshing. He writes lucidly and says exactly what he means, unlike your typical pomo mumbo-jumbo academic.

    I read part of his Bush-bashing book, "The President of Good and Evil." In just a few pages, he went from Hobbes's state of nature to needing world government under the UN to protect us from Bush. It's like he read Fonte's essay on transnational progressivism and said "I'm with the tranzis" -- no hiding his agenda, no equivocation, no lying.

  4. Rob:

    "no hiding his agenda, no equivocation, no lying"

    Yes, but that's all for nothing, if you don't know what your talking about (ie. like this post points out). I don't know if it would be refreshing to read a book full of quotes like the which was posted in the blog topic !?!?

  5. Chris Yeh:

    It's astonishing how many people have this irrational but deep-seated belief in the virtuous poor and dastardly rich!

  6. Ray G:


    Singer from an interview with Reason magazine:

    “. . . he argued that the affluent in developed countries are killing people by not giving away to the poor all of their wealth in excess of their needs. . . ‘If…allowing someone to die is not intrinsically different from killing someone, it would seem that we are all murderers,’ he explains. . . He calculates that the average American household needs $30,000 per year; to avoid murder, anything over that should be given away to the poor.

    “. . . he lives on far more than $30,000 a year. Aside from the Manhattan apartment. . . a house in Princeton. . . he is certainly living on a sum far beyond $30,000. . . he forthrightly admitted that he was not living up to his own standards.”

    Quote: “Singer is actually quite refreshing. He writes lucidly and says exactly what he means,” . . .

    Saying what he means and acting upon his words are two entirely different things.

    I suggest to Dodger that he get another hero. Someone besides this lying sack of garbage.

  7. Ray G:

    Singer is probably best known for being a proponent of bestiality, and categorizing the handicapped as not qualifying as a people.

    Sex with animals is okay, as long as the animal enjoys it too (do you ask before or after) but not with chickens, since they usually die. Babies born with defects, or simply anyone who requires full time medical care, are okay to kill since they cost society more pleasure than they give.

    Real nice guy there. Good thing he has a sister, or his ill mother would already be dead. “Thanks son, . . . see you in hell!” I wonder if she knows that he’d rather off her, than take care of her. He must be great to have at the dining table come the holidays.

  8. ArtD0dger:

    Ray G., surely you are reading into my words that which is not there. The man is a creep. But it takes a refreshingly honest creep to propose infanticide, involuntary euthanasia, or world government and then work out the wonderful consequences of said proposal with such earnest clarity.

  9. Ray G:

    Yeah, I thought of that after I posted, but anyone that thinks Singer is refreshing is certainly not going around being accused of clarity of thought or speech.

    Singer's views are refreshing in as much as Ahmadinejad's honest assessment of the Jews is refreshing.

    So my apologies if I inferred too much from your post.

  10. Noumenon:

    But your quote from Singer is a straw man attitude that he knocks down by the end of the next paragraph. His argument goes like this:

    "The rich must -- or so some of us with less money like to assume -- suffer sleepless nights... When wealthy people give away money, we can always say that they are doing it to ease their consciences...

    This kind of sniping tells us more about the attackers than the attacked... if the rich just give their money away to improve their image, or to make up for past misdeeds — misdeeds quite unlike any we have committed, of course — then, conveniently, what they are doing has no relevance to what we ought to do."

    In other words, in the second paragraph, Singer reveals that the attitude "some of us like to assume" is not the attitude we ought to hold at all. Instead, he believes we assume this attitude self-servingly, to absolve ourselves of our own guilt -- like seeing someone who is much more dedicated to your religion than you and sniping, "Wow, he must have a lot in his past to make up for," instead of following his example.

    So yes, Singer sounds like he's bashing the wealthy in the sentence you quote. But he's only doing it to sucker the NYT Magazine audience into thinking he's on their side. Then he's all, "Nope! That's just what you want to believe, to rationalize your own selfishness!"

  11. Ray G:

    "So yes, Singer sounds like he's bashing the wealthy in the sentence you quote. But he's only doing it to sucker the NYT Magazine audience into thinking he's on their side. Then he's all, "Nope! That's just what you want to believe, to rationalize your own selfishness!"

    You need to educate yourself to Singer then. Check out my earlier post, with the Reason interview address.

    Rationalizing that NOT giving away all of one's annual income over $30K to the poor is murder is bashing the wealthy in the immediate sense, and an attack on private property in the larger sense.

    And Singer is, by the average person's accounting, either wealthy, or at least very affluent.

  12. Noumenon:

    Ray: If Singer wants to bash "the wealthy," why doesn't he set the threshold for murder at $200,000? Instead, he sets it at $30,000 -- again, a number that is designed to make a broad audience uncomfortable. He doesn't want you to be able to say, "The problem is those greedy rich people." He wants you to say, "My spending is the problem."

    I wouldn't bill that Reason link as an "interview," given that everything you quote is a paraphrase from the reporter's highly critical preamble. In the interview itself, the topic of giving away money never comes up. Singer actually sounds pretty reasonable, talking about personal responsibility, the failure of alternatives to capitalism, and the bad incentive effects of welfare programs.