Some news you might have missed last week: Serbia and Turkey have inaugurated a series of unprecedented initiatives of military and diplomatic intimacy, including joint aviation exercises and a mutual abolition of visas. The timing of these gallantries is rather ironic, as it coincides with the 15th anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre, which marks the extermination of more than 8,000 Bosnians, mostly boys and men, as well as the ethnic cleansing of some 25,000 to 30,000 more—which extermination and concomitant ethnic cleansing the Serb perpetrators justified in the name of “driving out the Turks” (i.e., the Bosnian Muslims).
This was the first year the Serbian government ever condemned the massacre—a humbling gesture aimed at smoothing its path toward EU membership. Some may consider this an occasion of which Serbia has availed itself in order to also mend fences with Turkey—a party its war slogans of 15 years ago had indirectly offended. But it is far more likely that the two developments bear no more relation to each other than did the Serbs’ genocide against the Bosnians and their animosity toward the Turks—which is to say, none at all.
What this newly forged friendship between Serbia and Turkey actually represents is a miniature replica of the trend in the relationship between their respective patrons, Russia and Iran, who have recently grown very close. For, of late, Turkey has become a firm node of the Iran-Syria-Venezuela axis, and as for Serbia, well—as an independent state, Serbia has not exercised any political free will of its own since the Middle Ages without first consulting Russia’s interests. And while under that whipped fluff of much-talked-about UN sanctions the ties between Iran and Russia continue to flourish, so do those of their proxies in the Balkans.If you like this post - buy me a coffee
I wish I had some sort of backhanded entry into the Larry Smith phenomenon, but here I am without any tangent to get started on. After all it’s been a long time since I last showed up for his class.
I'm afraid that ramming into the topic cold-turkey in reverse might stir up my already strong ambivalence toward him to a point that I find myself unable to write a single intelligible sentence. Indeed writing about Larry Smith in any other fashion but drooling babbling adoration is a task of epic proportions and I’m afraid I am already way in over my head. However, this influential figure deserves to be followed and analyzed in the annals of his greatness by someone who wouldn’t get lost inside.
…If not now, then when? If not I, then who?
For those of you who didn’t attend my school (University of Waterloo), suffice it to say, Larry Smith is the second coming as far as whoever has taken his class is concerned. Genuine boss of charisma. Students love him. I loved him too, but I’m talking about an evangelical glow in the eyes of his worshipers.
He’s got his own sinister Politburo, roaming with zealous spies planted throughout the Fortune 500, tipping him off about the latest and greatest plots to subvert markets around the world. His courses of intro economics are a legend, probably the most likely experience for any two random Waterlooians to have in common. Every other sentence coming out of his mouth is a classic quote belonging on the wall. But what is Larry Smith’s universal appeal? What does his magic really consist of?
Two different types of people are magnetically attracted to him for different reasons, and sometimes within the same person two conflicting character traits compete for the perk-up effects of his rhetoric. For those on the margin, which of these two inner drives ends up prevailing by the time their ride in Larry’s ideological tornado is over will probably mark a turning point in their lives.
And the funny thing is I suspect Larry has no idea about the full extent of his power. Oh I know he knows he’s damn influential, but I don’t think he really understands what he does to people.
The Good: Larry’s appeal to the free spirit in all of us
This is the part I bet Larry is most aware of. It’s the reason he loves recruiting snot faced frosh into his class. He picks these comfortably confused kids, indoctrinated from their years in high school, most of whom have probably already picked a major but probably for the wrong reasons, and whose intimidation by what’s all out there has cornered them into their current pathetic expectations about life.
Larry Smith just loves bursting these kids’ haze bubble. He teaches his students that life is a friendly experience for reasoning people, and the world is an exciting and intelligible place that you can make sense of! He makes you sense it in your gut that the real world can be figured out, that you are responsible for your life.
That’s all he teaches, really. He makes you see that you don’t have to be a follower to get by, that nothing is beyond the reach of your abilities if you employ your reason and imagination, and, well, growing a pair of balls wouldn’t hurt either.
And there, suddenly nothing seems mystical about value creation. For many students that’s the first spark of the spirit of entrepreneurship right there. He’s a spectacular motivational speaker.
For those of you who find this cliché or trivial commonsense, I’d like to smack you off your pedestal so you can come down and smell the coffee: The half-baked pseudo intellectuals with a license to spread cynical and self-victimizing bullshit are the norm at universities; no-nonsense professors trying to instill a dignifying sense of life in their students are the exception. In that regard Larry has little to no competition that I know of at Waterloo. Many of his alumni make the best out of his teachings and go on to start successful multi-million-dollar enterprises: hard core entrepreneurs.
The Bad: Larry’s appeal to the little authoritarian in most of us
Now you all know this is what I’m dying to get to. After every class Larry attracts around him a little crowd of zealots who stay and talk for at least another hour about all sorts of things. Well, most of the time it’s Larry talking, and I can’t say he seems to mind the sound of his own voice.
I used to go up to listen to him too, but I usually kept my mouth shut because there was a weird vibe to that little crowd: They were all so uncritically enamored with Smith that a lot of things coming out of their mouths were just excuses to flatter him in some way, and there was something embarrassing to that.
So I felt uncomfortable engaging him in front of everyone, assuming that at least on a subconscious level, he would have expected me to pay lip service in one way or another. As much as I admired the man, I could not bring myself to have a conversation where I didn’t feel an equal.
In a way it was good though, because I focused all my attention in observing Larry’s interaction with the others instead of worrying about sounding smart. I was more comfortable talking with the zealots on the side, and I befriended a bright Serbian guy and a hysterical Taiwanese girl among others. The girl would scream at the top of her lungs that people are sheep who don’t know what they want or what’s good for them and need the government to protect and guide them. It was funny, she quoted the results of the Penn & Teller Dihydrogen Monoxide hoax, which was actually a scathing attack on environmentalists, leftists, and the type of people who generally are the first to think we need the nanny state to keep the citizenry in check.
In the “Penn & Teller” example, a fake activist asks random hippies at a hysterical environmentalist crap-fest to sign a petition to ban Dihydrogen Monoxide (H2O) and they sign in droves without even asking what it is. She saw this segment as the perfect example of how people are idiots who need a paternal government to get by in life.
Here she was, shouting this at my face, as I was trying to tell her that all her example showed was that people are quick to make idiotic policy decisions involving banning something, regulating something, or basically telling others what to do. The irony of using this example was certainly lost to her, but that was really the point of the hoax.
Policy decisions often have very considerable yet unforeseeable micro effects which are hard to discern because they get spread out across many sections of the market. Henry Hazlitt explained how we must consider the true opportunity cost of any government policy on the marketplace and society. (I preferred to talk markets; she liked ‘society’ better so I kept alternating between the two)
Typically, there is no immediate feedback loop to provide a reality-check for the ‘legislator’: deliberations are made from his office desk, often in the company of interest group lobbyists. In time, the negative effects are incrementally diffused across society, often while the public has forgotten the initial law, and the legislator is on to the next pet project. Unable to factor in the true costs of knee-jerk prescriptions to purported market problems, “corrective” market interventions are often just as bad.
So I was trying to explain her that her argument boomeranged because it showed only just how stupid people can be at making universal decisions for everyone else, i.e. being authoritarian cocks. The market has shown time and again that people are not such stupid sheep whenever it comes to budgeting for their own lives. I challenged her to repeat the experiment, only this time she should try to sell people some Dihydrogen Monoxide; then I’d be curious of the findings she’d report back: how many shelled out their cash, and how many and what kind of questions were asked.
Larry was standing a few feet away and heard some of the commotion. He said professors will usually promote levelheaded discussions, but he actually liked it better when people screamed and swore at each-other. I don’t know if he was being sarcastic. I’ve got to say, she was the one doing all the swearing, and jeez, for conversing with me, that’s noteworthy.
But I mean, these were most of the people who gloated over Larry Smith’s charisma, this is the kind of people he’d throw a bone at once in a while. They weren’t all as annoying as this girl, but there was a definite underlying pattern in their thoughts. When in doubt whether any of them belonged to this category, my test was to confront them with the flaming ones: if they were not annoyed at any significant level by the flamers’ bullshit, then they were all in it together as far as I was concerned.
I have often been asked about my libertarian epiphany and I never had a good answer. I don’t remember a specific moment. It span more across days, or actually weeks, like a slow but confident chain reaction in my brain. The first node on the chain was this particular sense I got from getting to know some of these Larry Smith zealots.
How do I say this? They just sounded so stupid! Many of them were bright kids too but there was something off about them, and I couldn’t put my finger on it. After talking candidly for a bit, something would always get on my nerves, a deep antipathy that made my lips curl up.
It was their arrogance stemming from utter lack of epistemological consideration for the prescriptive bullshit they’d spew out. Their deliberations were so cheap because they never ever considered the possibility of… Being wrong! …and the human and moral cost of that possibility. Neither did they seem to ask themselves “How do I know for sure?” The people at the bottom were fine to experiment with and apply their half-baked ideas to.
They were all signing blank petitions on Dihydrogen-Monoxidic-equivalent economic matters with total disregard for the principles of human action. In this context they were all very similarly minded, however strongly they happened to disagree on concrete matters. And at one point or another during any serious conversation most of them exhibited this distinct though subtle (sometimes not even much so) contempt for ‘people’.
I didn’t want to be one of them —that much I intuitively decided. And such people shouldn’t be the ones making decisions for everyone. I began analyzing what made them that way. I have concluded that it's principally sheer megalomania expressed as irrational subjectivity and intellectual arrogance. I wrote an entire essay as an appetizer to this post, where I explain in detail my thoughts on the authoritarian personality. At the end of the day, people lacking even the basic sensitivities of the vigilant unpretentious mind can be found sitting on top of their own self-generated smug clouds, making outlandish deliberations with an unjustified sense of authority and appearing like utter dicks to those who do posses such sensitivities.
Intuition can be a shortcut to reason, and at the time I only loosely sensed that there was something malignantly arrogant about a lot of these Larry Smith zealots. But my formation in economics was not sufficiently robust for me to confidently rebut many propositions being thrown around which I felt were full of shit. The class was ECON 101 after all.
However I did get all stirred up because the supremacist traces of thought in the zealots’ discussions must have been inconspicuous to a noble and untainted intellect such as Larry’s. To me he was an unknowing victim. I wasn’t comfortable being in the middle of it so I stopped staying after class.
The Ugly: Maybe they are a perfect match?
About a year and a lot of econ-literature later, I returned once more to introduce my friend Saad to the joys of Larry’s inspirational rhetoric as well as to get a Larry-fix for myself, for which I had grown nostalgic.
I was in a constant state of déjà vu throughout his lectures: being an exceptional stand-up performer, Larry can effortlessly deliver a memorized speech and make it sound like he’s coming up with every line on the spot. I remembered everything from the year before, but I was absolutely shocked and overwhelmed by how much between the lines I had completely missed the first time around! The subliminal messages Larry was sending through the ether were disturbing to say the least.
In an illustration of inelastic demand Larry reveals his advocacy of the thug-state: he thinks it’s preposterous that George W. Bush does not intervene to cap the profits of pharmaceutical companies. Nonintervention in this market must be the result of the crony pharmaceutical lobbies bribing legislators into betraying their constituents’ interests. The state can and should approach the industry and be like:
Yo, bang-up job inventing and manufacturing this cool drug that’s saving people’s lives, but I’ve got citizens who can’t afford it at the market price. That’s unacceptable! I understand you’ve been making some serious monopoly profits here with your fancy little patent exploiting the inelastic demand for your good, so it’ time for us to negotiate some reasonable profits for you. We’ll get together and talk about it… What? You don’t like the sound of it? Dude, I’ve got legal monopoly over the use of force, I can jail your ass! Nah, I don’t need to do that, I can just revoke your patent so everyone else can manufacture your drug.
Stunned, I raised my hand and asked if it wouldn’t perhaps be more effective and less arbitrary to just make patents expire sooner, so the public at large would be deprived of the generic drugs for a shorter period of time, or maybe just subsidize the bottom income bracket thus making drugs affordable for all without brutalizing the market. He bit the bait, disinterestedly replying that those were all fine alternatives.
He couldn’t have meant it! Being an economics PHD, Larry must know the purpose and effects of patents. He must be aware of the colossal investment involved in R&D: entire teams of the best chemists, molecular biologists, technicians, and computer scientists that money can buy, expensive computer technologies for simulations, state-of-the-art logistics for large-scale experiments and their countless replications, legal costs, the risk of harming research participants, the risk of reaching a dead-end, the risk of sudden obsolescence from a new competitive drug entering the market, the years of accumulating interest on debt and no revenues waiting for the FDA to finally approve the product. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg!
We are talking about great but calculated costs and risks, which pharmaceutical companies decide to undergo based on the prediction that they will be able to sell their new drug at a markup for 20 years, or until whenever the patent is supposed to expire. Until they recuperate their colossal fixed costs through monopoly margins they won’t even see any profits, regardless of how cheap it is to actually manufacture the drug.
So would they invest billions of dollars if they knew they could keep their monopoly for only 6 months, or even 5 years? It obviously disrupts the incentive structure, so no, Larry, shortening the patent’s life would not be a long-term solution. Not if you want there to remain such a thing as a private pharmaceutical industry that will continuously take investment risks and put those drugs on the market for the government to have anything to regulate at all.
I am sure Larry knows all this, and he would either like to eventually nationalize the pharmaceutical industry to complement his beloved universal health-care, or (and this is even more sinister), he likes predatory discretionary state policies. I'd put my money on the latter: the state making rules of thumb, issuing patents and guaranteeing their enforcement, but reserving itself the right to break its own rules once in a while to ‘promote the public good’; a policy that ignores the extraordinary costs from the resulting stifling of innovation and investment...
This evokes the image of the cheetah waiting in the bushes for the antelopes to come prancing around in herds; they will run for their lives once they see the cheetah is for real, and one of them is going to get it. But the cheetah knows they will be at it again tomorrow, each feeling that the chances of being the one out of the entire herd to get clawed in the ass are small.
After all, discretionary thuggery is how central banks roll! I would argue that there’s plenty wrong with the government at large taking after central banks but that’s not even the point. What disturbs me is how liberally (deliberately?) Larry slips such controversial tidbits under the table. Blemishes of legal and moral considerations are airbrushed into irrelevance so that Larry’s conceited solution can pretend to be self-evident and logically necessary. Perhaps it is acceptable for an economist to deliberate in a moral and legal vacuum, but how can he keep a straight face giving his students a piece of mind while conveniently neglecting to mention the very economic dynamics of incentives which his 'solution' would blast off?
He won’t tell students that companies wouldn’t keep investing in proprietary material if they knew the government would steal their hard-earned intellectual assets, so such a 'solution' cannot work in the long run. These are subtle economic issues ECON-101 students wouldn’t need to be bothered with if Larry could manage to refrain from presenting his personal master plans for humankind in class, but since he chooses to indulge them, he has an ethical obligation to fully inform his students of the common side-effects of his prescriptions.
The student who knows nothing of economics just sits in class taking notes with the filter of criticism completely turned off, absorbing like a sponge everything coming out of the trusty instructor’s mouth. It’s upsetting to hear Larry feeding his students so many subjective prescriptions, rarely if ever hinting at the difference between fact, mainstream economic theory, and pure “Larrysmithonomics”. He polishes his value judgments with iridescent charisma until the unwitting student sees only a gem whose value and splendor are self-evident and indisputable.
Does Larry know his effect on students? If so, it’s reproachable that he instrumentalizes his influence to indoctrinate and deceive them. I am not talking about just a few odd cases, since objectivity can temporarily betray any of us. Unfortunately Larry Smith’s indulgences in pompous subjectivity are systematic. Below are just a few eyebrow-raising instances.
In his seemingly innocent recap of the industrial revolution, I caught an innuendo of the overtired Marxist theme of ‘alienation’. Although the medieval farmer lived in destitution, his sense of ‘self’ and perceived place in the world was cohesive. How romantic, but then automatized mass-scale manufacturing turned him into a brain-dead appendix of the machinery he was to operate. This notion helped Erich Fromm sell books but I don’t see how it belongs in an introductory course on economics.
In a subsequent turn of thought Larry contemplates the possibility of custom-programmable robotization replacing mass-manufacturing in the near future. His forecast is that of a classic technophobe: machines will put people out of work, this next wave of automatization will be for real, and so on and so forth. Once we have programmable robots doing customized work craftsmanship will go extinct. There will be no room for unskilled labor so only highly creative intellectual work will have any market value; the same old Marxist argument repackaged for the 21st century.
He was using this prospect as a warning that we better be prepared to use our heads very hard in our careers, which is of course good advice. However the alternative to fully using our intellects is unlikely to be starvation, like he proposes!
If anything, robotization will bring down the real cost of production in all sectors, affording abundance especially to the poor. Unskilled labor will shift to tasks involving basic cognitive operations in new industries Larry Smith or I cannot even fathom at the present day.
Man as a nano-engineered machine, which he technically is, cannot be exhaustively replicated in his full spectrum of faculties by any conceivable man-made robot. Abilities like ours come bundled with a consciousness. The duplication of our neural-network is impossible even with futuristic nano-technology.
Human reproduction as prescribed by our DNA and as implemented by coitus, is the most efficient way of generating beings with human abilities. The fully-and-creatively-using-intellect elite will certainly find innovative ways of making plain people useful: feeding, sheltering, and providing social interaction for unskilled workers will always be more cost-effective than fully replacing them by robots.
What else… Larry loves using the hint of externalities as a pretext for nationalizing industries. If fire departments worked for profit then no one would bother putting out fires in uninsured buildings which would quickly spread across insured buildings, and everybody would fry. So fire services must be owned by the state.
A bit radical, don’t you think, since a similar argument for car-insurance only dictates that insurance be mandatory, at most, not that the state must provide it. Fire departments don’t need to be state owned and operated. Simply making subscription to fire service compulsory would do: let the market actually provide it.
But even this conclusion is too radical, because the imminent possibility of fires spreading across uninsured to insured apartments in one building would be sufficient incentive for the owner to contractually mandate fire service for all tenants. Conversely, the insured tenants and buyers of individual apartments would themselves put pressure for such contracts to be extended to everyone in the building. Neighbors can treat the few remaining uninsured buildings pretty straightforwardly: they can put the fire out to prevent it from spreading to their own property, cover the immediate fire-service expenses if need be, and then demand the court to freeze the uninsured’s assets to pay through the nose for the effort and expenses they had to incur on his behalf.
Externalities find no room to emerge when third parties at risk can flex their transactional muscles to guard themselves from the eventuality. The market knows how to close such gaps all by itself. Of course externalities do exist but not in the liberal range Larry describes them to students: a lot of his examples are only plausible if property rights of third parties are not respected or enforced by law, which render his arguments straw-man attacks against free enterprise.
It’s manipulative to not provide any context on what kind of society he places his examples. If he’s talking about anarchy, then of course, almost everything is an externality in the war of all against all. But under free enterprise externalities can potentially occur only in cases where property rights are hard to define. So if he wants to keep it straight, Larry would have to shave off a lot of his examples in which state intervention doesn’t have to go any further than enforcing contracts and protecting private property.
But all of this is small potatoes compared to his ‘boo-hoo’ exposé of the supposed economic evils of collusion, natural monopolies, and predatory pricing. Antitrust legislation is championed by ‘progressive’ capitalists who see competition as a tame game which no one should lose, and therefore no one should win. It’s just an excuse for big government to orchestrate a grotesque rat-race in the big-business world for its own gain. If your prices are lower than your competitors’ then they’re predatory, if they’re the same as your competitors then you are colluding, and if you can afford to charge higher prices you must be conspiring to establish a monopoly. Damned if you do, damned if you don't!
Give me a break! The little farts who can be bled to death by the big guys deserve to go under. ‘Predatory pricing’ would be ineffective if the small competitor’s product/service was truly superior: investors would back his venture through the times of pressure until the incumbents realized they could not forever operate at a loss. The little guy would eventually succeed in tearing himself a hole in the market.
Collusion only invites newcomers. Sharks smell the blood and bite themselves a piece. There is no such thing as long-run abnormal profits for a cartel, unless of course, it owes its existence to government license.
A natural monopoly is a living testimony of great technological efficiency in a niche market: Either the upfront fixed cost (usually of buying excess capacity) is so high that the seemingly everlasting profits barely cover the initial investment if taken in perpetuity with the interest rate of capital factored in, or the monopoly is temporary and will eventually crack under competition. Some ‘monopolies’ are great because they provide a common platform in areas where a good standard is more efficient than a multitude of competing poorly-integrated differentiated products. One example is the standard keyboard design. Another one is Windows being the central node of the market for operating-systems.
…Which brings me to Larry’s scathing attack on Microsoft for being such a big bully. A lot has already been said about it and yet more remains to be said. I would wrap up my position more or less like this. Ultimately Netscape didn’t make it because its browser was crap and incompatible with Windows. It was Netscape’s responsibility to go out of its way and adapt its product to Windows, not the other way around. Look at the market for browsers today. With Microsoft off its back, where is Netscape now? And most importantly where are Microsoft’s coercive superpowers now that Firefox is taking over the internet? There has been nothing but continuous innovation online since this debate started over ten years ago.
Microsoft was very deliberate in its attempt to take over the web browser market, yet no one was ever forced to purchase Windows. What right does the state have to dictate how Microsoft should bundle its products, and how is it economically sound to prevent it from offering consumers Internet Explorer for free? Oh but it would hurt Netscape: same argument for protectionist tariffs. One thing you can’t say is that they benefit the consumer.
In a world with no legal antitrust considerations, try to imagine if Microsoft could yet get away with blocking Google, its greatest competitor, off of Internet Explorer or Windows altogether. Ask yourself if consumers would stand for it. Only shitty products and companies need antitrust protection, but to hear Larry exuberantly airbrushing the bumps and holes of his argument you wouldn’t have a clue.
He fervently supports Canada’s nationalized health-care system, but I think he talks about it only after class, which is forgivable. The economic preposterousness of backing universal health-care is perhaps not so forgivable to an economics professor. If groceries were nationalized, I’d consider it animal cruelty to not feed my cat caviar every night. Likewise, making health care ‘free’ effectively fuels the demand for it to a point where shortages are inevitable, hence the 12-hour average waiting period at Canadian hospitals. The entire industry degenerates into slack incompetence from lack of internal competition, with an extensive range of specialized services ceasing to be provided at all since they are vital to only small fractions of the population. Of course the bulk of the population would be best served by directing those funds toward more generic treatments. Universal health-care is so democratic, isn’t it? Without any alternatives to mass-scale generic health-care, no wonder so many Canadians have to travel to the U.S for proper, timely, specialized medical care every year.
Nonetheless Larry vaguely brings up this gigantic high-cost structure inherent in private health-insurance which would be crushed to a pulp if only the industry were nationalized. He couldn’t possibly be talking about the asphyxiating regulations that forbid private providers from differentiating their coverage rates according to risk, or force them in some states to include absurdities such as hair-transplant surgery in their coverage plans. Nor couldn’t he be talking about the legal cartel of pharmacies. It must be some other kind of intrinsic high-cost structure which has got nothing to do with idiotic government regulations but which is just so convoluted and puzzling that Larry doesn’t care to elaborate on what it actually is.
But perhaps the most outrageous statement Larry Smith has ever uttered, in class or otherwise, perhaps in his entire life, is that... ... ... Lack of foresight into the usefulness of electronic databases for central-planning applications, held the soviets back from investing into the IT sector, and because of this bad investment decision, they were unable to manage their central-planning databases once their complexity started growing out of proportion, and this was consequently responsible for the collapse of communism in the USSR.
I don’t even care to comment on the stupidity of such a theory, except that seeing a politico-economic problem and its alleged forgone solution as a technical issue, is the classic mark of an authoritarian (see my essay). Being a granddaughter of communism myself and having some personal idea of what it means, it’s distasteful to hear my economics professor present such a ‘theory’ in class. For him to even entertain such a thought seriously enough to voice it is unjustifiable. Food for crazy thought… Who knows, maybe it will stick with a few, —most likely some of the little authoritarians who drool all over him after class—and it will be up to the pointy headed software engineers among them to bring Neo-Communism into the Web 2.0 era. I’m sure it will work out much better this next time around, with slick electronic databases and all.
I have partially confronted Larry about some of this, his explanation being that his hero is Adam Smith, who was a social revolutionary. Lame… Perhaps Adam Smith was his economic-childhood hero but he found himself much more resoundingly in Keynes as a grown-up. His charismatic authoritarianism must have been yearning for an ideological shelter and Keynes’ theme of the interventionist hero perpetually saving the Capitalist day from itself was right up his alley.
I still respect Larry in many ways, but I am deeply disenchanted. His skill at making everything he says sound like common sense can be a sweet stroke to the ego for those who like the tone of what they hear. Little authoritarians adore Larry Smith because he makes them feel smart and important for having all sorts of master plans of their own for humankind, his arrogant charm validating their arrogant stupidity. They want to be just like him, prescribing solutions to everyone with effortless charisma and being listened to with awe and respect.
Identifying with him makes them feel superior to those who challenge their dogmatic 'solutions' to world problems. They close their eyes and abandon themselves in this larger-than-life figure’s river of allure, and when that river eventually discharges in their own ocean of complacency they see only its majestic delta of intellectual aftertaste. With Larry’s holy image as a continuous source of inspiration and facilitation in their daily attempts to prescribe humankind what’s best for it, they emerge as a born-again authoritarians.
I understand now how this student walked up to Larry after class and asked with a laid-back smirk on his face: “Then why doesn’t the US government intervene? I mean, we can all absolutely see that capping pharmaceuticals’ profits is the way to go. It’s so obvious. How come they don’t see it?” Of course, everything you want to prescribe becomes oh so blatantly obvious, even though he himself didn’t see it as such until Larry Smith told him and the rest of the class that it was. I replied that the U.S constitution doesn’t allow for that kind of intervention because it was founded on libertarian ideals that are irreconcilable with one politician’s or another economist’s whim. In return Larry claimed that most constitutional scholars would disagree with me. Sure Larry, whatever.
The good in what Larry Smith has to teach is very straightforward and easy to grasp, but it is also commonly accessible to everyone who has set some time apart for reading in university. The subversive, controversial and misleading ideas he also teaches are equally easy to absorb but very hard for most students to discern for what they are.
Both the closet entrepreneur and the closet authoritarian in all of us are receptive to Larry’s magic: He is a catalytic force to be reckoned with. What’s the bottom line? I remain unconvinced one way or another whether he ultimately does more harm than good. Perhaps a more important question is: Does he subvert students on purpose or are his slips from objectivity largely subconscious? I don’t know, but I suspect that he is not aware of the full extent of his deceptiveness. It would be constructive to hear Larry’s own thoughts on the matter. We have heard great things about the entrepreneurs he has cultivated, but I dare not even imagine what kind of people his authoritarian disciples grow up to be. I know of only two:
One of them is the boring and pedantic Prof. Van de Waal who seems to have sprained an ankle in the dark basement of Plato’s Cave of Ideas. He stares at the shadows on the wall with dilated pupils, mentally masturbating at the patterns of utility curves as they vary across utility functions. He passively exercises his authoritarian streak by punishing students who try to think outside the box and who dare divert from his formulaic lecture notes ever-so-slightly. Only his way of solving what essentially are mathematical problems is legitimate. He clings to irrelevant rules, making an issue out of petty things for lack of creativity and decisiveness in devising an actual master plan for the world at large.
The other one is the malignant and deranged Prof. Picard who has desperately and embarrassingly turned his persona into a disturbing Larry Smith clown: he steals Larry Smith’s quotes, ideas, mannerisms, and lecturing approach. This man is evil, with a keloidal chip on his shoulder, having embarked on a sloppy career in economics for the sick sake of being closer to Larry, and now seeking professorship for the pure sadistic joy of harassing students. If you dare challenge him intellectually he will go after your average. And he’s not repressed or passive-aggressive about it either: his vindictiveness is so premeditated that he will openly confide in his officemate that he intends to do everything in his power to destroy you. All he really wants is to be loved like Larry Smith but it never works: the genuine allure, the beautifully-sculpted intellectual muscles, and the quirky sense of humor are simply lacking. Being loveless brings Picard down, and his impotent emotional response is to sublimate frustration into cruelty toward students.
These are examples of failures: pseudo-intellectual douche-bags who couldn't make a decent living in the real world outside the bubble of a university environment. Who knows what the star pupils will achieve…If you like this post - buy me a coffee