It’s rare that I read an article that really changes my way of thinking about a subject, but such was the case over the weekend at Political Animal where Chad Stanton wrote, Self Destruction, We’re Headed For Self Destruction. It’s a compare and contrast kind of article. He reminded me of how people said what a big deal it was in the 1980s that “urban decay” was the result of some kind of social pathology. Basically, it is a nice way of saying, “The reason blacks are doing so poorly in our society is that there’s something wrong with the black man!”
And what was number one on the list of the black man’s wrongs: poor impulse control. Rather than saving his money to pay his future tuition to Harvard, he was buying Air Jordans! No wonder the black man wasn’t getting ahead. It had nothing to do with racist attitudes and poor schools and white privilege. Nope: Air Jordans! Impulse control! The black people in the ghettos didn’t think long term. It was all now now now!
Stanton noticed that there’s another kind of “impulse control” problem in the United States. It’s a much bigger problem, even if you yield the point that there is an impulse control problem with impoverished people (which you shouldn’t). The impulse control problem he notices is with our approach to global warming. Remember recently when Marco Rubio said that sure maybe we are destroying the nice climate that we and the rest of the biosphere evolved to thrive in? But we couldn’t do anything about it because it might hurt the economy now. I already noted that he has the economics all wrong, A Depressed Economy Is the Time to Address Global Warming. But Stanton’s argument is clear: the global warming deniers (or hedgers) have an impulse control problem: they want good things now now now; they aren’t willing to forego them for our long-term benefit.
He is absolutely right. But this is the way things work in the United States. When a young surfer uses the tools available to him to support his lifestyle, the conservatives go crazy. But when rich men use every tax loophole to pay as little as possible, well, that’s to be applauded! That’s because the same behavior that is noble for the rich is despicable for the poor. That’s why no one at HSBC went to jail while casual cannabis smokers can spend decades in prison.
What really angers me is that in forty years when things really are bad, the children and the grandchildren of the rich people who today lack impulse control will be living high in the best areas. And the huge numbers of displaced poor will still have their poverty blamed on their lack of impulse control.