We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

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F4BF

I wanted to believe that Hillary Clinton would lose the recent US presidential election, so when I started reading Scott Adams saying that she was indeed going to lose, to Trump, I kept on reading him. Like so many others, I like to read within my bubble, as well as outside it. That means I also now read Scott Adams on every other subject he deals with in his blog. I am now digging back into his archives for more wise and witty verbiage. I am surely not the only one doing this now.

Scott Adams has a girlfriend called Kristina Basham, who, it would appear, is working and working at becoming one of those people who is famous for being famous. This is one of those labels that most people seem to assume is an insult. But being famous is a skill and a job, like any other skill and job. Your basic skill is that you know how to attract attention, and you basic job is that you sell this ability and live with the adverse consequences of it as well as the benefits. Scott Adams describes very well the sort of work that goes into becoming one of these F4BF people, as I will call them from now on. Kristina Basham is not, you see, outstandingly good at anything in particular. She is just pretty good at a whole “stack” of things, which, when you combine them, are making her into someone F4BF.

I say: good for her.

The claim that people who are F4BF contribute nothing to the world is the latest iteration of that very old and very bad idea that there is a “real” economy, consisting of work that people are used to doing and which their ancestors even did, like farming and then after that factory working; and then there is the “unreal” economy, consisting of silly things that add nothing to the “real” economy, but instead just leach off it, like financial services (which actually make farming and industry massively more productive by telling farmers what to farm and industrialists what to industrialise), and more recently jobs like being F4BF. (Even being a factory worker was once upon a time denounced as being unreal.)

Being a celeb, and in particular being nothing but a celeb, an F4BF, which is to say being good at attracting attention to oneself but for no single and obvious reason, but still being good at it, is a vital part of the modern economy. Celebs, including F4BFs, enable attention to be diverted away from major economic investments, while the work of creating or building them is being done and needs not to be disturbed, in the secure knowledge that when attention is finally demanded, and you need to attract a lot of business very quickly or else a lot of money will be lost while the word spreads by mere unassisted word of mouth. For that grand opening of whatever it is that you have been quietly working on for however long it has been, you hire a bunch of celebs. Including maybe some of that particular sort of celeb who are F4BF, pure and distilled celebs who are nothing but celebs.

Discuss.

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66 comments to F4BF

  • F4BF…isn’t that the whole reality TV element? Doesn’t it pretty much describe all of the folks in the Big Brother house since forever?

  • Thailover

    One thing I’ve always liked about Tom Lykis, (radio talkshow personality, famous for his rules for men for getting laid and never ending up a baby-daddy) is that when challenged on what he did or added to society to “justify” his oft claimed 7-figure income, he would respond “I’m here to provide radio adverts”, which is inarguable.

    BTW, Adams is a master-persuader and hypnotist and a master at brand marketing. I’m sure his relationship with “girlfriend and model” KB is mutualy beneficial. In fact, Adams is currently working on a book on persuasion.

  • bobby b

    Brian, your description of the value added by “celebrities” is perhaps the best written rationale for the legalization of psychotropic drugs that I’ve seen.

  • QET

    Can you give an example of the phenomenon you describe in your last paragraph?

  • The Jannie

    Having seen pictures, I’m pleased that Scott is an admirer of fine upholstery.

  • Jim

    Am I a real sad case because I was expecting to see some pics of a Grumman Wildcat when I opened this post?

  • PeterT

    In the context of advertising, celebrities act as a source of authority. The extent to which they have value should be linked to how successful they are in terms of advocating a brand. This should be from the perspective of the consumer. That is, if they convince me to use a product which is crap, then that cannot be seen as a societal gain although the producer is happy that they sold to me. Given that celebrities are paid to promote brands I can’t imagine that they as a whole benefit society by the specific recommendations they make. More likely is that they make me aware that certain products and brands exist, which then allows me to discover new pleasures and conveniences. Regular advertising works just as well or better on me than celebrity endorsements do, but this may not be the case for everybody.

  • Greg

    Two questions:

    Re “Even being a factory worker was once upon a time denounced as being unreal”, when and by whom? I’ve no doubt you’re right, just curious. Do you have a reference?

    Why limit this to celebrities? Seems something like this is the formula for all kinds of successful people, especially the “connectors” discussed by Malcolm Gladwell (and others I’m sure) a few years back. I’m a scientist and I often wonder what makes for the top level scientist (“Laboratory Fellow”) in my organization. It takes smarts, good science, but often the people occupying these positions are not scientists who have made breakthroughs or even seminal contributions to their field. They are leaders. And it seems your explanation of F4BFs might apply to them.

  • Julie near Chicago

    One can argue that the “F4BFs'” value in society is such entertainment as they provide. They’re something to Oo-oh, Aa-ah, and gossip about. Other celebs provide this too, of course, along with the side benefits of appearing in movies, or writing books, or creating Apple. (Some of us get more emotional — as opposed to financial — benefit out of said side effects than out of the gossip factor, but then again non gustibus, etc.)

    .

    That doesn’t mean these folks are necessarily stupid or otherwise worthless, by the way; someone on some board who was discussing Presidential possibilities — or maybe world affairs, I forget which — a couple of years ago mentioned that Kim Kardashian, on some talk show or panel show or something, had made by far the most intelligent remarks on the possible field. The others on the show included some well-known pundits and/or politicos; it was the gent’s honest opinion, expressed with surprise, and was clearly not sarcasm.

  • Alisa

    These people sell a product, because there is demand for it. I may not like the product or feel indifferent towards it – but just as with any other product it is irrelevant to the larger scheme of things (AKA ‘real economy’).

    That said, prominence of certain products can be indicators of deeper trends within society. Whether the supposed prominence of F4BF type of products is one such indicator and of what trend, I have no idea.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Note. “…stupid or otherwise worthless…” a most unfortunate way of putting what I was trying to get at; which was that such people aren’t necessarily stupid, nor incompetent, nor superficial (focussed on and concerned mostly with appearances), nor the type who walks over bodies to get to where they want to go, etc.

  • Phil B

    From the selfies I viewed when googling her name, I’d say it’s a case of “I love me. Who is your second choice?”

    She will be high maintenance. Higher than a whole squadron of Grumman Wildcats. Still, it will be fun for a while for Scott Adams while it lasts.

  • Fred the Fourth

    Stupid me, I was expecting to see a Corsair version I was unfamiliar with…
    Seriously, though, Adam’s promotion of medical device startups coming out of the SF East Bay in particular is a great thing. Med devices is one of the few startup areas I still get excited about.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Good point, Alisa. I would add, though, that the celebrities who are hired to tout a product because of their celebrity — are hired specifically in the hope that they will either help to create demand for the product, or at least give a big boost to it.

    In other words, contrary to a lot of Received Opinion amongst libertarians, sellers hope and believe that Advertising Works, and that demand can indeed be created for a product that nobody knew he wanted at all until it became the In Thing. That doesn’t mean that once roused, the craving for X is necessarily superficial; only that the customer actually didn’t want the thing until he found out it was recommended, vouched for, by some admired figure, or saw it as popular with some crowd of which he wanted to feel a part.

    Think of the Cabbage Patch Kids. For awhile, parents and other grownups had a mad crush on them, whatever the kids thought. After a bit of ginning up, these folks honestly did want them, and if so then fine, but it’s not as though life would actually be ashes if you didn’t have a Cabbage Patch Kid.

  • Alisa

    Julie, that’s true of any product, ever.

  • Alisa

    BTW, the actual premise in Brian’s post – i.e. that certain folks are famous only for being famous – is incorrect, IMO. Rather, they are obviously famous for being sufficiently good-looking while also being sufficiently scandalous. Adams’ GF may be the exception to this rule, but I have no idea if that’s the case.

  • It’s not that new a phenomenon. Natalie suggests Beau Brummel as an old exemplar. People like the diarist John Evelyn were famous for having been everywhere and commented on everything. Many an older civilised society has people who, more genuinely for some, more selfishly for others, simply want to be at the centre of things.

  • Jim

    Concur. I thought it might be some version of the F4F I’d never heard of.

    Perhaps a US designation of a modified Martlet ?

  • She will be high maintenance. Higher than a whole squadron of Grumman Wildcats. Still, it will be fun for a while for Scott Adams while it lasts.

    Provided he is not stupid enough to marry her.

    I say this of Mr. Adams particularly, because his first (and so far only) marriage was to a woman with more baggage than the hordes of Genghis Khan, which included 2 children from a previous marriage.

    Since they have been divorced for some time, hopefully Mr. Adams has learned his lesson and given his Valentines Day 2016 polemic I suspect that he will be “once and done”, making Ms. Kristina Basham (model and neighbour) an financially expensive life-lesson, not an asset stripping one.

    Marriage: Civilization’s Biggest Mistake

  • She will be high maintenance. Higher than a whole squadron of Grumman Wildcats. Still, it will be fun for a while for Scott Adams while it lasts.

    Provided he is not stupid enough to marry her. I say this of Mr. Adams particularly, because his first (and thus far only) marriage in 2006 was to a woman with more baggage than the hordes of Genghis Khan (including 2 children), although he kept the divorce quiet except for a brief blog notice in 2014.

    Given his Valentines Day 2016 polemic on the subject of marriage, I suspect that he will be “once and done”, making Ms. Kristina Basham (model and neighbour) an financially expensive life-lesson, not an asset stripping one.

    Marriage: Civilization’s Biggest Mistake

  • Chester Draws

    What economic value did Beethoven add? Voltaire? Picasso? Banksy even does actual physical damage, viewed by some values.

    We are told not to value to uneconomic celebs, but it is clearly just a value judgement when the elites’ own celebrities are called into question.

  • Umbriel

    Alisa — Scandal is just another marketing tool, not necessary to F4BF, but frequently applied.

    Being somewhat introverted, I derive strong schadenfreude from seeing extroverts fall on their face, and a measure of annoyance when they succeed, particularly when I otherwise have no affinity for them. I’m therefore reflexively contemptuous of the F4BF set, and inclined to see it less as a “talent” than as something acquirable with a sufficient expenditure on publicists and willingness to follow their advice shamelessly.

  • Alisa

    Umbriel, it is a marketing tool in the sense that it is the part of the product most prominently on display.

  • Mr Ed

    What economic value did Beethoven add?

    I was once endeavouring to explain the fallacy of the labour theory of value to a musically-talented sociologist, and she said ‘Opera isn’t work‘ to which I smugly responded “‘Opera’ means ‘work’” and pointed out how opera can add value. I fear that I failed to persuade, but my point was that the value of an opera is how it can be monetised, theatre hire, tickets, musicians, stage hands, singers, props etc. all part of the exploitation of resources to economic ends (not of course the case these days in cases of State subsidies). And whilst a composer might have a patron, and thus run at an accounting loss, and consume a patron’s capital, that is, in terms of utility, a gain for the patron.

    So economic value ought to be reckoned as subordinate to utility.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Alisa, responding to yours at 5:24 pm:

    At 4:48, you wrote: “These people sell a product, because there is demand for it.”

    At 5:16 pm, my point was that they don’t always sell a product because there IS a demand for it; sometimes they sell a product in order to CREATE a demand where so far there IS none.

    (I added that they also sell — that is, are hired to tout — products for which there may be some demand already, but not so much as the hirer would like. This is “boosting demand.”)

    .

    I went on a little to observe that libertarians (at least) sometimes make such claims as that “nobody buys something he doesn’t want” (as one Samizdatista put it recently), which is clearly untrue. In fact I’ve done it myself, e.g. to the tune of $ 18,000 for a Prius I despised both before and after the test-drive. Fortunately, I regained my wits about five minutes after signing three hours’ worth of paperwork, and the dealership let me off the hook with three faces indicating I had just permanently deprived their darling grandchildren of all chance of a college education. In fact, what I said was, “I just paid $ 18,000 for something I don’t want.”

    Now you can come all over von Mises and say that at the instant of signing the contract, I DID want the damn thing, else I wouldn’t have signed it. But that at the very least gives the narrowest possible meaning to the word “want,” as well as trivializing it. This is “valuing” as measured by what is often enough a range-of-the-moment whim.

    In no way shape or form did I want it. What I wanted was wheels, and the Prius seemed at the moment to be the best choice on offer when one added in such trivia as probable reliability and longevity. What I wanted was a 1999 Camry like the one that was useless after the mouse-nest built over the manifold caught fire.

    And it’s also true that there are “animal spirits” that do come over people, and not only in such financial boondoggles as the South Sea Bubble and the Tulip Mania. “Impulse buying” is something we girls all know to watch out for. You get home and take another look at that thing purporting to be a wonderful new Designer Dress and realize it looks like something Ma Kettle would wear on a bad-hair day. And why did you buy it? Because some celeb, whether or not F4BF, was at the store surrounded by a gaggle of potential customers, successfully ginning up enthusiasm for the designer’s rags.

    Or what about the latest foul novel, or Piketty, which just hit the top of the NYT Bestseller list? How many people bought the thing just because the In Crowd was doing so in droves, if you were or wanted to be part of the Elite; or perhaps because that Ultimate Authority on the best of reading matter, the NYT Review of Books, vouched for its wonderfulness, despite that it didn’t really sound all that interesting to you yourself?

    As for more general advertising, a particular member of the public may be immune to a certain ad however desirable or even ineffably necessary the ad makes the product seem, but advertising firms make buckets by working to make the product seem the absolute ultimate object of desire. For example, there’s the well-known adage: “Sex sells.” Hence the success of The Marlboro Man (as an ongoing image, I mean) and the presence of attractive females working as shills in the casinos.

  • bobby b

    When we speak of people who are famous for being famous, I don’t think of truly beautiful people who can sell products because they have wonderful breasts or skin or abs or teeth.

    I don’t think of celebrities who can sell products because they have credibility gained through their wonderful acting skills or singing skills or sports abilities.

    I think instead of people who have no base abilities or attributes beyond the fact that they got their name out there and kept it out there and so became familiar to those who spend lots of time watching fame.

    I think of the Paris Hiltons and the Kardashians – those with whom we’re all familiar, but we can’t figure out why.

    They’ve become popular for advertisers who place them into advertisements as a way to distract us from reality long enough to slip some message into our brains that we would likely filter out without the presence of the meta-celebrity distracting us from rational thought.

    We end up with “oh, they want us to like Acme Mouthwash, I wonder why they think we would . . . OH! That’s Paris Hilton! . . . I guess I could try their mouthwash . . . ”

    They distract us from reality long enough to implant their suggestion.

    Just like a drug would do. “Oh, they want us to like Acme Mouthwash, I wonder why they think we would . . . OH! My small hit of ecstasy just kicked in! . . . I guess I could try their mouthwash . . . ”

    They add value in the exact same way psychotropic drugs do: they distract and distort and allow us to happily make irrational decisions.

  • llamas

    JnC wrote:

    ‘someone on some board who was discussing Presidential possibilities — or maybe world affairs, I forget which — a couple of years ago mentioned that Kim Kardashian, on some talk show or panel show or something, had made by far the most intelligent remarks on the possible field. ‘

    It were me, on this very board. She appeared on the NPR panel game show ‘Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me’ as their ‘celebrity’ guest. I expected a complete airhead, but she left me with the strong impression that she is far smarter than she lets on, and that playing the trivial selfie queen is actually a significant part of her ‘brand’, and she cultivates this persona assiduously.

    I don’t believe the jewel theft story for a Paris minute, tho’.

    llater,

    llamas

  • Alisa

    Julie, I understood what you meant the first time, and responded to that: ‘That is true of any product, ever’. You refer to a product that did not exist and so the demand for it did not exist either. But then someone creates a new product (a new gadget, or a new candy bar, or a new celebrity), advertises it, and thus creates new demand for his new product – meaning that now there are people who do want it.

    BTW, you didn’t buy the Prius after all 🙂

  • Stonyground

    “Nobody buys something he doesn’t want”

    Aren’t we all doing that when we pay tax? Most of the stuff that the government spends our money on is stuff we don’t want.

  • bobby b

    “Most of the stuff that the government spends our money on is stuff we don’t want.”

    But in return for that tax, government theoretically protects us from foreign and domestic pillage, which we do want.

  • Alisa

    What is normally meant by ‘nobody buys stuff they don’t want’ is that nobody does it freely.

  • Phil B

    @Alisa at 6-43:

    ( ) the product most prominently on display

    Err … look at the selfies she has posted. It is ALL on display for the world to see.

  • Julie near Chicago

    In that case, llamas, Bast — who has been guardian of Miss K.’s very soul since the inception of Time, even to the extent of allotting intelligence to her, ought to send a few goodies to you even if you’re not her responsibility (although come to think of it, you did once tell us you are really a grandmother in Queens — !?!!), for noticing and appreciating the lady’s intelligence as well as her no-doubt-sterling purely-physical blessings.

    Also, I for one was interested in your take, because I’d also figured she was an airhead.

    . . .

    Alisa, to me it seems more as if I bought it and then returned it before I even left the dealer’s. In any case, let me wrench this completely off-topic briefly (who, moi?!) to note the difference between the Toy dealer (maybe all the car dealers, by law???) and such emporia as Best Buy, where you cannot take in your MacBook and try out the prospective earphones unless you buy them first; because they won’t open the package unless the things are purchased. BUT they have a 30-day return policy, so what you do is, you buy them, then open the package, and if they don’t suit you return them on the spot.

    So for Toy, it’s Try Then Buy; for Best Buy, it’s Buy Then Try Then Return (for any reason you like, unless you admit to having clumsily driven over them or something); and for the AT&T Store, it’s Buy Then Try and if the product doesn’t suit, well, That’s Life. At least in the case of one something-or-other I bought, so as to be able to return it because I tried it immediately after forking over cash, right in the store. Silly me, I musta thunk I was at some store that has a policy of taking things back if yo(Think Walmart — which goes so far as to take back anything they c

  • Julie near Chicago

    bobby: “I think of the Paris Hiltons and the Kardashians – those with whom we’re all familiar, but we can’t figure out why.”

    Well, at least I was familiar with Miss K.’s name, and I’d seen photos once or twice on the Internet; but I have to admit that finally, after several years of puzzlement, I had to ask my son-in-law what she’d done that made her famous.

    .

    (And I’m darned if I can remember what he answered.)

  • Paul Marks

    Well I thought that Mrs Clinton was going to win. Although I despised (and still despise) her and everything she stood for.

    Mr Scott Adams thought she was going to lose, and I thought she was going to win.

    Therefore he must know more about popular culture than I do.

    Therefore he is worth reading – for people who want to understand that popular culture.

    Do I actually want to understand “famous for being famous” celeb culture?

    Actually I do not think I do – which means I am NOT someone to go to with information about how to win an election.

    I have nothing against these people – it is just another world.

    Not one of bad beliefs (like Mrs Clinton and the other Progressives) – something very different to that.

    A world with nothing I recognise as a belief.

    “Keeping up with the Kardashians” and so on is the dominate world. That (not “Our Town”) is America now. The America of James Stewart or Gary Cooper or Audie Murphy is long ago.

    Ted Cruz (although a much younger man than Donald Trump) seems to have represented an America that has passed – perhaps was passing as long ago as the 1950s. The America of hard work, thrift, and religious faith – the America his father fell in love with (even in his prison cell in Cuba before he had seen it). The America of places of such cities as Indianapolis when people like M. Stanton Evans were editors of the newspaper, and conservative Republicans could win elections – without having the endorsement of basketball coaches What does a basketball coach know about policy (about matters of state)? Nothing at all (NOTHING) – but it is the sort of person modern voters listen to.

    Although, unlike Brian, I still think the place where things are made will, in the end, be the place that has the real power.

  • Paul Marks

    It could well be that this is the logical end of democracy – elections as Reality Television shows.

    Why not?

    John Adams described the sort of population needed to maintain the Republic – and it seems that such a population no longer exists (but it has not existed for a long time).

    The left helped create this culture – it would be amusing if this new population did not tend to work in their favour.

    In time the Chinese may find a use for them. But not as customers – they can not just keep borrowing money to fund imports for ever.

  • Fraser Orr

    I’m not sure why F4BF is any different than, for example, famous for being good at scoring goals, or famous for telling funny jokes. Jokes and goals don’t really add to our economy in a tangible way, but they do add entertainment value, and that is a service that is valuable. So F4BF do add to the economy in the same way, as well as being advertising platforms, setting of style and probably a few other things.

    Perhaps not my cup of tea, but I am not especially partial to goal scoring either.

  • Although, unlike Brian, I still think the place where things are made will, in the end, be the place that has the real power.

    Why is that? Is selling someone a refrigerator somehow more economically significant than selling someone an internet connection or food or insurance or software?

  • Fraser Orr

    @bobby b
    > They add value in the exact same way psychotropic drugs do: they distract and distort and allow us to happily make irrational decisions.

    Why are the decisions irrational? If Cindy buys Paris Hilton’s perfume and all her friends think that that is really cool, and also it makes her smell nice, why is that irrational? If it brings her joy, connection with someone she likes, and gives her street cred with her buddies, it seems a good choice to me. Why is it somehow more rational, for example, to spend fifty quid on a Manchester United soccer shirt just because the team are particularly good at kicking spherical objects between goalposts? An almost identical shirt sans logo would cost 30% as much.

    Generally speaking, fashion choices (which most of these F4BF people tend to represent) are not rational in a utilitarian manner, they are instead rational in a sociological manner, and I think that is perfectly reasonable, and dare I say rational.

  • bobby b

    Possibly we’re defining “rationality” differently?

    If Cindy can choose Perfume A or Perfume B, and both are identical in every way, but Perfume B rents Paris Hilton and shoots a commercial which is the causative factor leading Cindy to choose Perfume B, I would call that an irrational choice. PH’s presence conveyed no information about Perfume B.

    There was clearly something about Paris Hilton’s appearance in that commercial that led Cindy to choose Perfume B, no matter how attenuated the information-carrying capacity of that something might be, so I suppose you could claim that that something supplied the rational basis for her choice.

    Personally, I place the irrational/rational threshold higher than that. Otherwise, I think you subsume irrationality into rationality; the irrational can never occur.

  • Mr Ed

    bobby b

    ‘irrational’ has limited application in your example. What is Cindy’s end? If she is an honest person, and would not lie, even if that extended to lying when asked about her perfume of choice, then it makes sense for her to choose perfume B over A. Why? Perhaps, she wants to be able to say, truthfully, when asked, that she wears B, hoping to evoke the glamour of PH by association, as her inquisitor may well have seen the advert and share her ludicrous (to you and me perhaps) preference. Whereas Perfume A has no kudos to add should she admit to wearing it. Daft, but not irrational as the kudos is, in my suggestion, what she seeks, by her valuation: (smell of B) + (kudos of B) > (smell of A) + (saving of £$€ from buying A in lieu of B).

    As Ludwig von Mises pointed out, an Aboriginal ‘shaman’ who points the bone at Mr X in the hope of causing X’s death is not acting irrationally if he believes that it causes death, he is using a worthless technology, and it is his belief in bone pointing as a killing technology that is irrational. But once he is fixed with that belief, he is rational in seeking to apply it on the basis of his own knowledge. Whereas if he knew it would serve no purpose to point the bone, then it would be irrational to have pointed it.

  • NickM

    As far as irrational is concerned I want a slice of the pi.

  • Roué le Jour

    “F4BF Mr. Rumpole?”
    “An it girl, milud.”
    “Thank you Mr. Rumpole.”

  • Fred Z

    Alisa, “the supposed prominence of F4BF type of products” is an indicator that our economy produces plenty of material goods and essential services, leaving us with a yuuuge surplus with which to buy ephemera.

    Which is one of the things the left hates. They simply cannot stand it when we “waste” our money on things they don’t like.

  • Laird

    I think Frazer Orr’s comments here (and especially the one on December 29, 2016 at 12:17 am) are the most perceptive.

    Bobby b sets up a strawman argument with his “Perfume A and Perfume B” scenario because he posits that “both are identical in every way.” That is conceivable (if unlikely) with some other type of product, but not with designer perfumes. Each is different, if subtly so, which is well known to the aficionados of such products. Indeed, this is precisely the reason so many celebrities have their own eponymous brands (although why anyone would buy a cologne by such as Michael Jordan or David Beckham, which by rights should smell like locker room sweat and dirty socks, is quite beyond me).

  • Fraser Orr

    @Mr Ed
    > Daft, but not irrational as the kudos is, in my suggestion, what she seeks, by her valuation:

    I think it is actually unfair to call it daft. It might not be the world you or I live in but this sort of signaling goes on all the time. I gave the example of grossly overpriced sports shirts, but what about buying a Rolls Royce? It isn’t functionally more useful than a Ford Escort for the basic purpose of transportation, but it is a signaling device. Why buy a Rolex? Timex’s keep the time just as well. Why buy Levi’s over Asda/Walmart jeans?

    Like I say, I personally don’t value a $1,000 suit at $1,000. However, I recognize that, were I a corporate lawyer that that same suit would be worth considerably more than $1,000.

    Part of the value of fashion is inclusion in a particular tribe, and that is indeed valuable to people. (And to be clear, it is in fact tangibly rational, in the sense the being part of a tribe does give you considerable benefits. So think of Paris Hilton’s perfume as kind of like a membership card.)

  • Mr Ed

    Fraser Orr,

    Yes, it is a signalling device. A device to enable signalling that they are, in my suggestion, daft and rational. 🙂

    But I say let them be as it is their lifestyle and their property. And I am entitled to my disdain (but not scorn), a free ‘good’ provided to me as a gratuity, and we are both happy.

  • bobby b

    Mr Ed – December 29, 2016 at 7:54 am

    ‘irrational’ has limited application in your example.

    As I said above, I think your definition of “rational” is so binary – 0 or 1 – that it ends with “rational” subsuming “irrational.” Nothing can be “irrational” so long as there is some minutia of basis for a decision under that definition.

    I note that Google lists synonyms of “rational” as “logical, reasoned, sensible, reasonable, cogent, intelligent, judicious, shrewd, common-sense, commonsensical, sound, prudent”.

    I think these militate towards a more analog-type definition than what you posit – rationality/irrationality falling along a continuum with an arbitrary threshold separating them.

    Unless I’m reading you wrong, you’re saying that, if an individual somehow believes that the quantity represented by the numeral “2” is 1.5, then the statement “2+2=3” is a rational statement within that person’s contextual frame. That stretches the concept of rationality further than I can go.

  • bobby b

    Laird – December 29, 2016 at 2:03 pm

    “Bobby b sets up a strawman argument with his “Perfume A and Perfume B” scenario because he posits that “both are identical in every way.” That is conceivable (if unlikely) with some other type of product, but not with designer perfumes.

    Argh! Fight the hypothetical, lose the war! (One of my college profs had that up as a slogan in her office.) Switch the hypo over from perfume to something fungible like wheat.

  • Jacob

    One can only assess what is valuable to oneself, not to others. Value (in the commercial sense, not moral sense) is a subjective magnitude. One can guess or imagine the value to others, but cannot know it precisely, except as reflected in a actual transaction. And – the transaction itself, the act of buying is proof of value (by definition) – to the buyer.

    People act irrationally, most of the time. The act of buying something doesn’t prove that you need it, neither that you don’t need it.

    F4BF – they seem to do no harm – so they’re ok. You should not criticize things just because you think they’re useless.

  • Mr Ed

    bobby b

    Unless I’m reading you wrong, you’re saying that, if an individual somehow believes that the quantity represented by the numeral “2” is 1.5, then the statement “2+2=3” is a rational statement within that person’s contextual frame.

    I would limit it to saying that a person may act rationally but be objectively wrong, e.g. rubbing ice cubes together to make fire if he understands that friction can be used to make fire but his technological insight is limited to thinking that he might succeed as he might with sticks.

    The ‘errant’ maths is rational, as all that has changed is notation, assuming ‘3’ is unchanged. And it would be irrational to present that sum as correct if you know the common understanding of the notation would suggest that your addition is wrong.

    Personal valuations are subjective, so not properly within the scope of reason. If I decide that I would like more gold, to give away what gold I have is irrational, unless my priorities change.

  • bobby b

    You should not criticize things just because you think they’re useless.”

    That actually wasn’t my point.

    I said that F4BF’s are similar to drugs.

    I like drugs.

  • Julie near Chicago

    bobby b,

    It isn’t rational to put gasoline into your gas tank, if your understanding — your belief — is that your engine only runs on 100% maple syrup.

    It is rational to put 100% ethanol into your gas tank if your belief — your understanding — is that the stuff you’re putting into the tank is in fact gasoline.

    Once you believe either of those things, it’s perfectly rational to act according to your understanding; not to act on your belief would be irrational (absent some compelling argument against it which you also believe, which unfortunately is very often the case). Why you believe it is another matter altogether. Somewhere along the way you made a mistake; but even so, to be mistaken is not necessarily the result of irrationality. Sometimes what’s wrong is a misperception of some fact, for example.
    .
    Indeed, when you wrote

    ‘… [I]f an individual somehow believes that the quantity represented by the numeral “2” is 1.5, then the statement “2+2=3” is a rational statement within that person’s contextual frame.’

    you were absolutely correct. At one time in my life, I often did arithmetic in contexts in which equations such as 2+2=0 or 29-5=4 were the norm. True: In the most common and everyday context 2+2=4, but that doesn’t mean that that’s the context in which all rational people are doing arithmetic 100% of the time and across 100% of the Earth. Same thing with words, and with judgments, and with actions.

    Somebody said, “Context is all.” [Actually it’s not, but it’s a nice aphorism and as true as most. Actually, context is certainly one of the factors that make an equation or an (ordered) set of words or a judgment or an action rational — that is, logical.]

    Mr Ed (at 7:54 am) and Prof. von Mises are right about the shaman: It’s perfectly rational for him to do what he believes works, even if he came to that belief through mistaken observation or faulty logic.

  • Fraser Orr

    I find the discussion on rationality interesting, but I don’t feel I am making my point well enough, because some of the arguments against it don’t really align. A rational decision is one where you take a set of options, weigh them according to your priorities (in terms of desired outcomes) and make a decision based on that weighting.

    I think the problem is that many of us do not share the same desired outcomes, neither do we live in the thinking-space which would allow us to understand the priorities nor the desirability of that outcome. But that is just an indication of our ignorance rather than of the invalidity of the calculus.

    For example, I might look at a Catholic ceremony of marriage and be utterly baffled by the actions taken. But I am not a Catholic and consequently do not understand the logic behind Catholic processes, nor their ultimate outcomes. If I might, without any sleight intended to Catholics, put aside any spiritual goals they might have, ultimately part of the goal of these ceremonies is to create a sense of community. Why do they light that candle? Hell if I know, but the bride’s mother, grandmother, and great grandmother did it, and she does it too. Lighting candles doesn’t make a marriage better, however, lighting a candle, which leads to a deeper involvement in the catholic community might very well do so. It baffles me as a non catholic, but that doesn’t mean that it is irrational either sociologically, or even if you measure it on purely utilitarian terms.

    So to with Cindy buying that perfume. By doing so she is furthering her commitment to her particular tribe and that offers her a lot of value. I have no desire to be a member of the silly girls tribe, nor become a catholic, but I don’t reject that their choices are rational according to the logic and criteria they set, as to produce the outcomes they desire. The F4BF celeb is, in a sense, like the nucleus of a raindrop. A necessary starting point around which can cluster a group of like minded individuals.

    And frankly to think much differently is desperately illiberal. To imagine that some wise authority can determine what choices are best for people leads to some terrible ideas, and ultimately to tyranny.

    Math is not the same as social engagement. In math there is one right answer. There is no right answer as to what tribe is best, what perfume smells nicest, or what pair of jeans makes Cindy’s ass look best. But within the thinkspace Cindy lives in there are rules about it, and she follows them, and that is perfectly logical.

    To be clear this is nothing like the Shaman pointing the bone (except insofar as there is a placebo, or reverse placebo effect). That is nonsense that doesn’t actually work objectively speaking. It is quite different from socialogical rituals that actually do, objectively, advance our goals.

    One of the major driving forces of human behavior is our gregarious nature, how we need to connect with others. These things, these celebrities, those perfumes and those candles serve as tools to allow us to feed that most basic of needs, and that is as logical as eating your vegetables.

  • bobby b

    . . . but I don’t feel I am making my point well enough, because some of the arguments against it don’t really align.

    FWIW, I feel exactly the same way.

    My original premise, lo these many comments ago, was that F4BF’s are like drugs.

    Expanding on that in the language of this discussion, I think of Person A, who has a decision-making process that is rational for her own specific context. Taking psychotropic drugs alters that context in sometimes subtle and sometimes gross ways that allow for a changed decision-making process.

    Decisions made under the influence of that drug will no longer be rational decisions in the context of Person A without drugs. As you have pointed out (correctly, I think), those decisions will be rational within that new drugged context, but in the context of Person A’s undrugged state, they may be lacking in rationality. (I may think I can fly, but I ought not try.)

    Similarly, when Person B makes (say) a buying decision that is affected by the presence of Paris Hilton, that decision is being made outside of the old context of comparing Product A with Product B using factors that are intrinsic within the two products. If one were to think of the characteristics of the products alone, the presence of Ms. Hilton holding them up for us to see should have no effect.

    What it does affect is the context. Ms. Hilton introduces a completely unconnected set of decision-making influences that alter the context of the choice. One is no longer choosing Product A or Product B based on the character of the products – one is looking at a completely different scenario that might include joining the right group of girls, or . . . whatever.

    So, if one originally views the choice of A or B as dependent upon their intrinsic qualities, Ms. Hilton should have no influence. A rational decision within that context will ignore where Ms. Hilton is standing at the time. Looking to see if Ms. Hilton has been hired as a spokesmodel for A or B would be irrational in that context.

    I would gladly cast aside my use of “irrational” and simply stick with my original analogy of “Paris Hilton is like a drug”, except for one small (and probably overly-argumentative) point: If we can switch contexts freely, and then claim that any small factor that sways us one way makes any choice a rational one, there are no longer any irrational choices. Everything we choose, no matter how unsupported the choice might be, is rational so long as we can point to something that drove it. I can’t buy that rationality is that subjective.

    I’m sure I’ve beat this to death now, so apologies . . .

  • Fraser Orr

    @bobby b
    > So, if one originally views the choice of A or B as dependent upon their intrinsic qualities, Ms. Hilton should have no influence.

    But here is where I depart from you. Why does rationality demand consideration only of intrinsic qualities? Surely how our purchase interacts with the world is extremely important.

    > “Paris Hilton is like a drug”,

    I understand the point you are making here, and it isn’t without merit, however, the problem is that by comparing it with a drug you are suggesting that Cindy’s reality is less real than your reality, which I don’t think is necessarily true at all.

    > I can’t buy that rationality is that subjective.

    No I don’t suppose it is, but can you accept that the factors used to determine the rational choice are, or can be, subjective? How else, for example, can we chose a perfume, since everything about perfume is subjective? Or at least I am not aware of an objective way to rate perfume. Rationality matters here because we can take a set of subjective input conditions and a subjective set of desired output conditions and use objective rationality to determine the best route from one to the other.

    To give an example, I am a supporter of Rangers in Glasgow. That is an entirely subjective preference. I am also quite attached to my front teeth. Consequently it makes logical sense that, while wearing my Rangers jersey (a subjective preference) it would be wise not to go drinking in a Celtic dominated bar to achieve my preferred goal of retaining my dental integrity. This is a rational choice based on subjective preferences.

  • Alisa

    Rationality is the pursuit of a desired outcome through the use of logic. The fact that X desires a certain outcome (such as ending his life or smelling like Paris Hilton) may seem irrational to some or even most, but that is only because they do not desire that outcome for themselves, and probably can’t imagine doing so (“Oh, but he had such a wonderful life…”, or “But Paris Hilton is not a proper role model, and besides she really doesn’t smell so good”).

  • Julie near Chicago

    Alisa, 9:10 am:

    “Rationality is the pursuit of a desired outcome through the use of logic.”

    Exactly.

    –“It is difficult to argue” with the rest, also. :>)

    .

    (Logic as applied to what one thinks one knows, or that seems to one the best choice of methods available, and after considering possible conflicts with other achieving other goals, that is, with “all things considered” in the mix. That “context” thing again….)

  • Paul Marks

    Perry – making things is rather more important than “being famous for being famous”.

    Although it is true that the People’s Republic of China has not really got the hang of the “soft power” thing.

    I remember watching a Chinese film – an evil dictator (shown as a mass murderer in the film who treats his entire population as slaves) is trying to conquer a kingdom – a handful of people go on a desperate mission to kill him.

    The mission fails – because one of the heroes betrays the cause and sides with the evil dictator in his war of conquest.

    So far fair enough – tragedy has its place in film (just as in plays and literature), but the point is that this horror is presented as a HAPPY ENDING.

    “Our Land” (the PRC justification for even the most extreme wickedness) flashes up on the screen at the end – and we, the viewers, are given to understand that this was how China was “unified” in the ancient past, and that we should now celebrate the victory of the evil mass murdering dictator who invaded and conquered the kingdom (as he had others) and turned them into “Our Land”.

    “Famous for being famous” is a sick joke – but at least it is not the celebration of mass murdering tyrants who turn their population into flesh robots.

  • Perry – making things is rather more important than “being famous for being famous”.

    Actually no it isn’t, it is exactly the same as this is what has long been called “marketing”. Banking. Commodity futures. Logistics. Insurance. Show Biz. Graphic Design. The list is long and varied. If you think those things are in any way less real economically, well you must have acquired your ideas of economics from Roy Hattersley 😉 Twenty years from now, when factories are entirely automated, with the possible exception of a cat who kills any unwanted mice, exactly what advantage even in low value added bulk manufacturing do you think China will have, given how crap there are at actually innovating new products?

  • Jacob: F4BF – they seem to do no harm – so they’re ok. You should not criticize things just because you think they’re useless.

    I agree entirely, at least in the sense its mere existence should not be criticises… Critiquing on the basis of personal taste however, well why not? I loath a great deal of what passes for show biz these days, but I do not expect people who think otherwise to care. Never before have a wider variety of tastes been catered for.

  • Paul Marks

    Perry the things you list as “Famous For Being Famous” obviously are NOT – you seem to be listing people who are providing services (well you also list bankers – who are Central Bank welfare takers in thousand Pound suits, but at least in theory they provide a service).

    However, the basic point of “Famous For Being Famous” is that the people concerned do NOT provide a service. Other than entertainment – but not really even that, as they do not tell jokes or whatever.

    Also only a few people can “earn” money by being “Famous For Being Famous” – what about all the other people? The hundreds of millions of other people?

    An economy where people just borrow or print money to buy goods (made by other people far away) obviously can not last.

    “Paul you want everyone to be slaves working for low wages and….”.

    Southern Germany (where people still make things – the lands of Baden Wurtemberg and Bavaria) is not known for low wages. And (“Alt Right” please note) it is not known for Protectionism either.

    This is nothing wrong with services (with culture) – indeed Southern German and Austria does that do (and they farm – primary, secondary and tertiary economic activity). But large scale populations have to make things – or eventually collapse.

    Although the German government is determined to destroy the family owned manufacturing companies of Southern Germany – with high energy costs, and the new inheritance tax and so on.

    Everything must be made China – and everything in the West (but not in China) must be P.C. Family owned manufacturing business enterprises no – vast numbers of Islamists taking the infidel tax (which is how government benefits and public services are seen by them – and rightly so) yes.

    That is what the international establishment elite has decided – and no amount of reasoning or evidence will win any reprieve from them.

    Still I must accept that even the publication I have spent so much time bashing, the Economist magazine, has noticed a contradiction.

    Racism is wrong – but China is very racist (there was a big article on the racism of the PRC a few weeks ago).

    Democracy is good – but the PRC is a vicious dictatorship bent on conquest.

    So is the PRC really a Good Thing (TM) and should all power be handed over to them? The establishment elite view is that the rise of the PRC is inevitable and a Good Thing – but their House Journal seems to be having some doubts (and even before they have their organs harvested).

    So praise for the Economist magazine for noting (and telling their establishment elite crew) that the PRC is actually a Bad Thing (TM).

    Of course they still hold the view that the PRC should be given absolute economic power and Western manufacturing should be exterminated (by regulations and the bill for “public services” and benefits), but one can not have everything.

    The have got to the 1+1 stage – they just have not reached =2.

  • Perry the things you list as “Famous For Being Famous” obviously are NOT…

    But Paul, you are missing my point then: entertainment, even at the nadir, is still a service no less economically valid than making a toaster, or conveyancing, or doing butterfly spread hedging, even if you and I have zero interest in the antics of these people.

  • Paul Marks

    Difference between Japanese and Chinese culture – or rather PRC culture (Taiwan is just as Chinese ethnically, but it has a very different culture).

    A single person (or a small group of friends) against the crowd has always been understood in Japanese culture – the average Japanese person may not have the courage to be the “one just man” (but do we either?), but they understand he exists and they admire such a character, doomed though such a character may be.

    In PRC culture – the crowd (all chanting the same words – as in the film I have already mentioned) are the “good” element.

    The concept of individual conscience against the group is understood – but it is seen as evil.

    This is a highly successful position – I do not doubt that.

    National Socialist Germany really lost because it was SMALL – compared to the United States or Soviet Russia, or the British Empire (although we managed to kid ourselves that we stood “alone” in 1940, have a look at a world map of the 1940 see the size and population of the British Empire).

    The Peoples’ Republic of China is not small, it is vast – and it is efficient and filled with resolve.

    Napoleon’s prediction may well be about to come true.

    The power of Islam comes from the bravery (and ruthlessness) of its warriors – from the doctrine that overwhelmed the old Persian and Byzantine Empires, the doctrine that “everyone fights”.

    But Islam does not actually make much in terms of industrial output – ruthlessness and bravery is not enough on its own, one needs industrial production as well.

    The PRC has industrial production – as well as ruthlessness.

  • Paul, what are you talking about? I realise we are 65 comment deep but this even distantly vaguely tangentially related to Brian’s post? 😀

  • Darin

    I remember watching a Chinese film – an evil dictator (shown as a mass murderer in the film who treats his entire population as slaves) is trying to conquer a kingdom – a handful of people go on a desperate mission to kill him.

    You meant this? Hero(2002 film) This was made according to traditional story about attempted assasination of the First Emperor of China.

    “Our land”, the theme of the movie, is bowdlerization for the western audience, in the original stands “Tianxia” – All Under Heaven. And the director meant it literally, see the wiki page. I would stop there, I do not want to make your depression even worse.