I don't delve into the Huffington Post much; Greg Gutfeld aside,
it's pretty much
24x7 IHateBush there, which I suppose is OK for some, but pretty
tedious for me.
But I did run across this article by Jane Smiley, a once-famous author, entitled "Twenty-Five Years a Sucker!"
It's in response, sort of, to a recent op-ed in the Wall Street
Journal which is avaliable online to subscribers only there, but which
a helpful, albeit clueless, flouter of copyright law has duplicated here.
The satirical op-ed is in the form of an imagined letter to Prius customers
from Toyota. Its primary point is that the expensive
Prius doesn't save its buyers
money at current gas prices, nor is it likely to do so in the future.
It also takes some amusing swipes at Prius buyers. Fair-use sample:
You will share our pride in the latest figures from J.D. Power &
Associates, which show that the Prius continues to move off a dealer's
lot in just eight days, compared to 36 days for a Honda Civic hybrid.
Clearly, our customers are willing to pay handsomely for the privilege
of showing themselves behind the wheel of so conspicuously virtuous a
But we are also a far-seeing corporation. We recognize that the Prius's
distinctiveness may be a wasting asset for reasons outlined in this
letter. Other motorists may see the Prius operator and think "sucker."
Our lawyers advise us this may affect your car's resale value. Toyota
regrets any inconvenience.
Did I say amusing? Well, Ms. Smiley Was Not Amused. She begins:
I happened to read a commentary in the Wall Street Journal yesterday,
only because it was about the Prius -- a car that I own. The photo of
the author, Holman W. Jenkins, Jr., had that sneering look that
free-marketers often adopt before they are indicted for tax fraud or
Now you might think this an inauspicious beginning; most writers over
the age of fifteen do not start off articles with wish-fulfilling
fantasies based on someone else's physical appearance. But Ms. Smiley is a
Professional Author, so let's cut her some slack.
I have to say that Junior did not disappoint. …
Ms. Smiley has squandered
the slack we previously cut.
Not content with making fun of Jenkins' picture, Ms.
Smiley makes fun of his name, too. We really are in teenage-girl
mode here. Not to mention that making fun of names isn't really the best
strategy for someone named "Smiley" to adopt. Her husband, Guy
have told her this.
… He belittled Prius drivers for having fallen for Hybrid Synergy
Drive hype, sneered at the "emotional" relationship Prius drivers seem
to have with their vehicles, and eventually got around (toward the end
of the piece) to calling Prius drivers "suckers."
And this is a sin for which Jenkins must pay. But first:
Junior caused me to reflect upon my Prius, and to compare it to the
other cars I've bought in the last eight years -- a Chevy diesel truck,
a Mazda van, a Saab, a Subaru Outback sedan, and, of course, the Prius.
All of these cars cost between twenty and twenty-five grand. I still
have the truck. It once had a sudden stopping problem that got fixed
after the dealer rummaged through the paperwork and found an old recall
notice, but it's been fine since. The Mazda van gave me serious back
pain, so I bought the Saab. The Saab rode very rough. Every bump was
like a pothole, so I bought the Outback, which had a very smooth ride,
but only got about twenty miles to the gallon. When I tried the Prius,
which rode nearly as well as the Outback, cost less, and had more cargo
room and leg room in the backseat, I decided that the two were
comparable, as cars go.
must pay too, forced to read through a tedious
description of Ms. Smiley's automotive choices. Only a Professional
Author could imagine that we'd be interested in her rough-riding Saab.
The Prius has been entirely reliable, comfortable, and useful. There
have been recalls -- Toyota notified me and fixed the potential problems
during regular servicing. As far as I can tell, the Prius's only
disadvantage is that if the dogs aren't looking at you when you are
backing up, they don't realize that you are coming toward them (since it
backs up silently, on electric power).
OK, so she's apparently
backed over a few dogs. That is
a disadvantage, especially for the
dogs. One hopes the humans have learned from the dogs' experience and
vacate any area where Ms. Smiley might decide to fling her Prius into
Since all my cars have seemed comparable to me, I have not felt like a
"sucker" in the Prius.
Well, there you go. It's all about feelings. And Ms. Smiley's are hurt.
And when I am driving on the highway and the car tells me it is getting
53 or 54 miles to the gallon and when I am driving around my
neighborhood, which is hilly, and it tells me I am getting 41-43 miles
to the gallon, and when I was stuck in traffic in LA it told me I was
getting 72 miles to the gallon, it seems more like a bonus and a
pleasure than the reason I bought the Prius, which cost me more than the
Saab and less than the Mazda and the Subaru.
… yes, it's all one (Professionally-Authored) sentence. I
especially like the deal with getting 72 mpg while stuck in
("We'd go 72 miles on a gallon, unless we were actually going somewhere,
which we're not.")
I like how it looks, too -- I am tall, and it fits me.
Junior Jenkins doesn't say what sort of car he drives in his satire upon
Prius drivers, but no doubt his car reflects something about who he
thinks he is, and if I am to go by the article he wrote, his only value
Now we're really getting down to it. I don't know anyone whose "only
value is money", and I would guess Ms. Smiley doesn't either.
Economically speaking, if you buy a car, it is pretty much self-evident
that you would prefer to own the car than own the money you're
. Otherwise you wouldn't make the transaction.
This is the kind of thoughtless insult that doubtless
goes over well in the circles in which Ms. Smiley travels, because
neither she nor her friends thinks about what it could possibly
mean. Exercise for the reader: what does that say about their values?
He writes as though he is a dedicated comparison shopper, never settling
for less than the most he can get for his money. In that case, I am sure
he drives a Dodge or a GM, which he probably bought when those less than
successful companies lured some people that you might call "suckers"
into the showrooms with big rebates and financing deals. He
congratulates himself everyday on what a good deal he got, and no doubt
Junior keeps a running tab on how much he is paying for gas in
comparison to how much he saved on the deal he made.
It's clear, isn't it, that Ms. Smiley has no idea what car Jenkins
drives (other than it's probably not a hybrid)? The whole point of this
prose is to imagine what a loathsome human Jenkins is, and how much
Ms. Smiley is. On no other basis than fantasies
generated by her self-constructed
caricature. This is easy, if you are a Professional Author.
The problem with Junior, though, is that he epitomizes more …
You thought Ms. Smiley was already
over her head in
drawing unwarranted conclusions on zero evidence? She's not done, my
friend; there's more
… than just the sneering, know-it-all attitude of the free market
conservatives who pride themselves on gaming the system to their own
advantage. He epitomizes the greedy egotism that is their only value and
is the only value that they attribute to everyone else.
Waiiiit a minute, Jane baby. You said above that money
Jenkins' only value. Now it's "greedy egotism"? This is why Professional
Authors often need Professional Editors.
But petty consistency is of secondary importance to hammering home the
primary point, which is (again): I'm so much better than that tawdry Holman
Personally, I'm in favor of government regulation of economic life.
Gee, now there's
I think the deregulation fad of the 1980s was the beginning of the end
of American democracy.
… and she doesn't need to present any evidence whatsoever for
One of my favorite injustices is a small one -- it's the way that
economics professors at places like the University of Chicago prescibe
"creative destruction," economic insecurity, and low wages for others
but reserve special treatment (tenure, for example) for themselves. At
any rate, the reason I am in favor of government regulation is that
intellectual leaders who promote free market orthodoxy, like Junior
Jenkins, are so shallow, and theorizing about the free market has made
them that way.
It is no particular surprise that Ms. Smiley would
have an antipathy toward economics generally. But the main remarkable
thing: she favors "government regulation" because those free marketeers
are just so icky and shallow
. Because they … make fun of her
Never mind that the argument for academic tenure is quite different from
the argument for free-market capitalism. According to Jane, it's
really the same thing.
Oh, those free marketers always give lip-service to actual freedom in
the market -- the idea that people like me might be willing to pay a
premium for some other value than getting the most for your money. I
also pay a premium for free range chickens, grass-fed beef, and
organically grown produce. I pay the premium not only because I believe
in genetic and environmental diversity, good flavor, and boosting my
family's omega-3 fatty acids, but also so that those who are doing the
growing can make a living and refine their techniques on the off-chance
that in the future, such a large premium will not have to be paid.
Ms. Smiley, of course, has the money to spend on Priuses and free-range
without having to worry overmuch that she'll need to scrimp on something
else. She's not too worried about the folks who might actually need to
make tough economic choices.
I would prefer, in fact, that the government had regulated the big
agricultural companies so that they had never contaminated the plant
gene pool, the water systems, the soil, and our own DNA to begin with,
but it's too late for that now.
Ms. Smiley lives in the fantasy world that imagines a uniformly
beneficient "government regulation" of the economic
system. If you want to
believe that, it really
helps to not pay attention to those lowbrow economists.
In fact, every free market correction
comes after the fact. In addition to "creative destruction," of course,
there is "destructive destruction," but get some orthodox free marketer
to talk about that!
I deeply suspect that the challenge would be less to get "free
marketers" to talk, and more to get Ms. Smiley to listen. Her ignorance
Likewise, I wish that government regulation had preserved us from the
melting Greenland ice cap, the freshening North Atlantic that is
endangering the Gulf Stream, the melting permafrost in Siberia that is
giving off extra methane, and Dick Cheney's 2001 Energy Taskforce, which
seems to have made him think that the war in Iraq was a good idea. I
wish we had used less oil in the last twenty years. I once had another
sucker car -- an '86 Toyota Tercel wagon that got 45 miles to the gallon
on the highway without hybrid synergy drive. It was totally reliable --
once I checked the oil and left the cap off, then drove 240 miles. Five
of the six quarts of oil blew out of the engine, but it was fine. "It's
a Toyota," said the dealer. It was so obviously the car of the future.
But greed (of the oil companies and the automakers) said otherwise.
In SmileyWorld, the only possible thing that could keep
Toyota from making 45 mpg Tercels today is that nasty old greed.
Never mind that if people wanted
Tercels, and if
they could be
made under current government safety regulations, Toyota would
be happy to make as many as they could sell.
Because, dear Ms. Smiley, of "greed."
At the very most basic level, government regulation describes what sort
of society citizens want to live in, whether or not all the regulations
work or all of them are wise ones. I would like to live in a society
where the government says to the corporations, "first, do no harm":
Oh, Lord. Here it comes.
"Don't sell poison and call it food"
Apparently, Ms. Smiley thinks corporations are currently selling
poison and calling it food.
"Don't pay your workers such a low wage that they can't have both food
and a Prius.
"Don't leave millions of citizens without elementary healthcare"
Somehow this became a corporate responsibility too? Quelle
"Leave the natural world better than you found it."
… when I think of all the innocent trees slaughtered in order
for Jane Smiley's books to be published, I weep bitter tears.
"Don't cheat on your taxes, your accounting, or your business
Yeah, government is just way too cool about that stuff.
"Don't steal elections."
Sure, let's throw that in. We tell corporations to
make sure that elections aren't stolen. That's
"All citizens have basic human worth."
Citizens, hm? Reading between the lines,
apparently Ms. Smiley is down on immigrants.
Well, after that lecture …
Instead, thanks to the theorists of the free market, we live in a
country where the corporations tell the government -- "We are going to
do whatever we want, and you are going to do whatever we want, too.
Citizens will be valued according to their financial assets. The natural
world will be ruthlessly mined for 'wealth creation.' And everyone is
going pretend that this is not only more profitable for us, it is
In all this bleakness,
it's a real miracle that one of
those nasty corporations produced that Prius, then, isn't
What sort of people produce Wal-Mart? …
Oh, damn. Now we're on Wal-Mart
Why, people like Junior Jenkins, people for whom cheapness is all, no
matter what the cost. Every time Junior sees a Prius (or a working
stiff), he sees only a price tag. And even though, in the absence of
decent regulations, people like me, Prince Charles, and Larry David have
to actually fund new ideas (and shop at Costco), Junior laughs at us. He
points out that even though we aren't using as much fuel or giving off
as many emissions, the oil "is not saved." Well, no, it isn't, right
now. But let's try an analogous argument -- just because Junior isn't as
promiscuous as he used to be, that doesn't mean any fewer girls (or
guys) are having sex.
Yes, folks: we've made fun of Jenkins' appearance, his name, his
and now we're
on his Smiley-imagined sex life. Apparently she thought this gambit was so
clever, she didn't notice that the "analogous argument" didn't make a
lot of sense. Is Junior's hypothetical promiscuity-decrease supposed to be
analogous to Smiley's Prius-buying? Then just as many
people having sex is analogous to … just as many people buying
Whatever. Needless to say, Ms. Smiley's pretty far down on the list
of resources to consult on the subtleties of how the gasoline market
might respond to (say) an increase in Prius-buying.
Junior Jenkins has only one value (getting the most for his money)
This is Ms. Smiley's third statement of Jenkins' alleged
"one value" and she
hasn't said it the same way twice.
and one fear (of getting suckered) …
Yes, Jenkins is only scared of one thing, in Ms. Smiley's imagination.
Ms. Smiley, on the other hand, is scared of a whole bunch
Until the glorious era of re-regulation dawns, I am going to pretend, in
spite of the Wall Street Journal, that the free market is on my side. I
am going to drive my Prius and eat my organic veggies and vote against
the Diebold/Republican axis of evil on, as long as I can procure it, my
paper ballot. Actually, the free market has left me no choice.
Let's just, this once, ignore the continued obnoxious moral
superiority displayed here.
Isn't it totally obvious to everyone, save Ms. Smiley, that the free market
given her the choice
of Priuses, organic vegetables, etc.? As well as the cash
to afford them?
Disclaimer. I kind of liked Moo. Now I'm ashamed.