TV, pride, and micro soft spots

Tyler Cowen, a libertarian economist and a co-blogger at the Volokh Conspiracy, talks to a Reason reporter about his new book, Creative Destruction…. I like Cowen; I like the title — a quote that, despite getting trite, is still one from the author of Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy. But here’s what I didn’t quite like or understand.

Look at American television programs. We’ve been trying to send those abroad for years, and they’ve really been decisively rejected by virtually all foreign audiences.

Programs like what? Like “Who wants to be a millionaire?” I’ve seen it many times in Russian, and a couple in German, so I guess it has not been decisively rejected by two audiences of 150 and 85 million people. “Survivor”, “The Weak Link” and that brain show with blue screens with white text… I’m tired and sick and can’t remember the names, but there is no doubt every show on Russian TV except one or two is an imported good of either American, British, or German origin. I guess the US accounts for 50%+. The only thing that didn’t work has been a Russian David Letterman — for lack of the anchor’s duly localized copy, I suppose.

People want to take pride in either a country, an ethnic background, or a place of origin.

I guess they do. I’ve always thought “I’m proud to be American — or Paraguayan, or Fijian” makes no sense — being proud of an incident beyond one’s control can’t make any. But if one insists on taking pride in being born at a certain spot or to parents of a certain group, she should be ashamed as well — no country is blameless, and the greater the country, the greater its crimes. If you strove to become an American and succeeded, then it’s a different story. You set yourself a goal and achieved it, so you’re proud of yourself. Fine.

But Cowen’s right — people do want to take pride in all that. Alas.

I’m not sure I have a fix for all the micro problems. I focus more on the macro gains, the larger picture. The micro problems probably need micro fixes, which I’m not able to supply. And I do favor more immigration. But, you know, there is a problematic element to it.

Macro problems are built of micro problems. In addition, micro problems — social and economic — even objectively insignificant by national standards, can cause a mighty nationwide resonance, perhaps devastating — in the spirit of that textbook story of a bridge that fell apart when marching soldiers’ rhythm coincided with the frequency of its own vibrations. Immigration is quite a sore spot for those natives who get personally affected. And they number in the millions.

For no particular reason, let me insert another quote from the acrimonious Alois S.:

Equality is the ideal of the subnormal but even the subnormals do not really desire equality but only that there be nobody better.

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