Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The Whole Conversation

A couple of weeks ago, Mario Rizzo made a curmudgeonly but interesting post on the subject of taxi tipping. Today, Brad DeLong responds by calling him a “psychopath”. In Mario’s defense, I made two comments on Brad’s post -- both of which Brad expurgated. So for those interested in the full story, here’s what I said in my first comment:
Wow, Brad. You're supposed to be an economist. Economists can and should question the wisdom of social norms that affect economic activity, and that's just what Mario was doing. You could have taken the opportunity to discuss the peculiar economic activity of tipping. Instead, you selectively cut-and-pasted precisely those passages of Mario’s post that you think make him sound like a psychopath.

The wording above is approximate, since Brad deleted the last two sentences and I had to reconstruct them. So I made sure I kept a copy of my next comment:
And so you've clipped out the rest of my comment, where I noted that Mario made actual economic arguments about the effects of changing the norm? And the part where I shamed you for selectively quoting Mario while dodging the chance to talk about the fascinating issue of tipping norms?

Shame again.

Your comments section is yours to do with as you please, and if you wanted, you could have just clipped out my entire comment. Instead, you selectively kept only that part which was convenient to you. Just as you did with Mario's post. Classy.

If you read Mario's post carefully, instead of being deliberately uncharitable, you'll note that he *does* tip. He just doesn't like it, so his tips are small. And his purpose in doing so is to help shift the norm.

And now we'll see if you delete or selectively clip this comment as well.
Which he did. He clipped everything after the first two sentences.

What sticks in my craw about this exchange is the selective editing, of both Mario’s original post and my comments. For what it’s worth, I delete comments on this blog when they are wildly inappropriate (or spam). But I have never selectively edited a comment. They either stay or go in their entirety. This matters, because it’s easy to make someone sound worse, or better, by choosing what stays and what goes.

Incidentally, although I respect Mario’s position, I don’t 100% agree with it. I think social norms are very difficult to shift, and trying to do so can have unfortunate side effects on innocent parties -- see my comments on Mario’s post for more. I also think tipping does help to motivate better service. But for tipping to serve that purpose, it cannot be obligatory; we have to preserve the option of withholding the tip when service is poor.


Daniel said...

Well, now even your abbreviated comments have been deleted from de Long's blog. Oh well.

Glen Whitman said...

In a private email, I said to Brad, "In the future, if you don't like my comments, please do me the favor of deleting them entirely." I guess he decided to make my request retroactive.

Bridge Player said...

There are plenty of real psychopaths out there that get away with murder; they are called hunters, and trappers. There is an entire industry that caters to their viciousness. It provides lethal weapons, camouflage attire, traps, travel to exotic places, etc. You can look up hunter videos on Youtube to see the evil that is glorified and perpetuated there. It is truly sickening to watch them, and to see what's "legal." Kids from 5 to 95 take part in the gratuitous killings across the country and beyond.

Calling Mr. Rizzo a psychopath for not tipping a cabbie is a shrill abuse of the language, besides being an unpleasant, over-the-top ad hominem attack. I think they have an ongoing feud, but that doesn't condone such nastiness, or misuse of the English language, in my opinion.

Gil said...

I wonder if DeLong violated the social contract of maintaining the integrity of comments.

What a psychopath!