Elizabeth and I were watching Ken Burns’ documentary on the Vietnam War as we weaved our way through the backcountry of Laos.
In 1973, Henry Kissinger negotiated the Agreement on Ending the War and Restoring Peace in Vietnam, a peace treaty meant to end the war in SE Asia.
But after both sides signed the agreement, the bombs kept dropping. The violence continued. Even though Nixon heralded the agreement as a success, it may as well have been called the “Continuing War And Ignoring Peace” treaty.
Neither side really believed that peace had arrived. The name was merely chosen as a political weapon.
Other Congressional bills use the same marketing tactic of having a name that’s the opposite of the actual bill’s effect.
The USAPATRIOT Act is an obvious example. Mass surveillance is not very patriotic.
It reminds me of interstate motels. When you’re driving along, and you see a billboard for “Clean Rooms” and “Hot Showers,” it’s typically a clue that you’re in for cockroaches and wilting water pressure.
Marketing like this smells. The messaging seems to be over-compensating for a real weakness.
We were eating dinner at Viman in Vang Vieng. The owner is a German-born Thai expat living in Vang Vieng, Laos.
He was explaining how the woman who cooked our food had to pay the government every month a “Province Tax.” Since she was born in Vientiane, but now lived in Vang Vieng, she had to pay a “foreigner’s fee.”
“If you want less of something, tax it.”
What sort of implications could this policy have on the country?
Could the smart business people, engineers, and government officials decide to never move to the city centers?
Intellectual inefficiency is an obvious side effect. People aren’t going where they would go when they need to go there.
What are the second and third level ramifications, though?
Charlie Munger gave a talk at USC in 1994 about worldly wisdom. In it, he takes a contrarian (at least contrarian among the elite) view of Wal-mart:
You can say, “Is this a nice way to behave?” Well, capitalism is a pretty brutal place. But I personally think that the world is better for having Wal-Mart. I mean you can idealize small town life. But I’ve spent a fair amount of time in small towns. And let me tell you you shouldn’t get too idealistic about all those businesses he destroyed.
Plus, a lot of people who work at Wal-Mart are very high grade, bouncy people who are raising nice children. I have no feeling that an inferior culture destroyed a superior culture. I think that is nothing more than nostalgia and delusion.1
I agree with the sentiment. But expressing this opinion is difficult.
Louis C.K., meanwhile, illustrates Munger’s point - without using any big words - by wrapping the essence of Wal-mart into an illustration: