Saturday, September 29, 2012

Loyalty points

Sometime soon, a post on meritocracy, aristocracy, and the Stuyvesant cheating scandal. Till then:

A few days ago was a real festival of cheapness-studied-and-deliberately-ignored. Rain boots, lipstick, and neither the cheapest version around. While both were replacement purchases, and the former arguably necessity, I will focus not on financial justification but aesthetic explanation. The rain boots are muted olive green, and somewhat equestrian, and make me feel like a Swiss or Northern Italian socialite. Yup, even on NJ Transit. They fit perfectly, even the calves, which is not something to sneeze at when it comes to rubber boots, which of course have no give whatsoever. Paired with this other recent acquisition, I could be the very height of glam and practicality. (Must I keep repeating that it's possible to love shoes but not stilettos?)

With the lipstick, meanwhile, I wanted a sheer bubblegum pink, mod but not chalky, pale but not pastel, and no shimmer, to replace a too-light, too-shimmery, and almost-finished tube of Korres. (Requisite Alexa Chung example of what I was looking for.) This is surprisingly difficult to track down. Bubblegum is usually too opaque, too purple, or - worse - in the form of lip gloss. This one seems to be doing the trick. Perfect with a subtle liquid-eyeliner cat-eye - this will do.

Which brings me - alas - to a cheapness-studies note: if you sign up for a Sephora loyalty card (ducks head), they tell you how many points you have at checkout, thereby reminding you how many dollars you've thrown away on not being thoroughly low-maintenance. I tried to remind myself that in the course of living in the woods and not buying stuff, I'd honest-to-goodness gone through things like lipstick and eyeliner, which I'd never thought possible. That if lipstick is purchased less than once a year, it can totally cost more than $20 and come from some neato Canadian company that specializes in lipstick made from food-grade substances, and not from a dreary, brightly-lit aisle in the Penn Station Duane Reade.

But the points don't lie. "You have X points" means "You spent $X at Sephora since picking up that card, more than you donated to the Obama campaign, money that you could have at the very least put in your savings account, you frivolous, vapid fool.'" I think I'd prefer a stamp-card system, like in a coffee shop, so that once you've bought X items and gotten something free, you'd be back to square one.


PG said...

If you buy American, you're probably helping Obama's chances of reelection, which largely depend on how voters feel about the economy. Savings would NOT help. So at least there's political virtue in your lack of thrift.

Re: the upcoming meritocracy vs aristocracy post, I commend the NYT obit for Sulzberger to your attention.

CW said...

Can you work Romney into your forthcoming post? He seemed to claim in that secretly recorded video that he was no more privileged than any other American. It so much more unbearable than if he'd simply acknowledged that he'd had some advantages in life and had made good use of them (which would be quite credible, he has accomplished much more than most people regardless of their background).

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...


I'm not *that* not thrifty that I'm much helping the economy. (She says, finishing the 90-cent bagel that, on this busy day, may end up being breakfast and lunch, washed down with thermos coffee.)

Re: nepotism at the NYT, well, yes. The obit would fall into the "aristocracy" category.


The WWPD post at the root of this was one on the RNC and DNC, but the short answer is that Romney is kind of selling himself as a beneficent patrician (in which case his privilege *is* the selling point), but also not quite immune to the politician's compulsion to claim ordinary roots. The ordinariness falls flat, as even Ross Douthat was prepared to admit. But the YPIS angle here is a bit unusual, because the GOP claim is almost that *because* Romney comes from a political family, he was born to lead. (PG, like the NYT-leadership example!) So even if we'd be more impressed by Obama's trajectory, if the point isn't being impressed with a person but having the best leader, the GOP claim is, in part, that for Romney, this sort of thing comes naturally. Is how I interpret it.

PG said...

I found the obit particularly compelling in the aristocrat-beats-meritocrat genre because it noted Sulzberger's being a crap student -- a high school dropout, in fact, who enlisted in the WWII army at 17 -- and didn't indicate any general high IQness about him, but was nonetheless praising his tenure as publisher/ CEO. There also were several mentions of how people who feel the Times is a family trust and obligation behave differently than those who treat it as a pure profit-making business.

It reminded me of the rightwing blogosphere's fondness for tracking the NYT share price as though it has some connection to the quality of reporting -- ugh, the kind of people who figure whatever movie makes the biggest box office must be the "best." Which in turn reminded me of a discussion with UVa alums about the WSJ's outlier position on President Sullivan's brief ouster and the Journal's complete lack of understanding about how the values that guide a university and its board are simply not identical to those of a for-profit corporation and its directors.

People like David Brooks think the meritocracy is just a matter of running the educational maze correctly, but I think there's a strong tendency in America to measure merit by money, and sometimes to think that those who make money should reap rewards beyond the money itself. I was really annoyed by even the faint suggestion in The Economist that public praise is owed to the financially successful.
But there may also be a real disagreement about just what a healthy system of capitalism needs to function. Is public praise part of the machinery, necessary to make entrepreneurialism work? It may be; that could be part of a culture of entrepreneurial capitalism that raises the status of business people and leads to more dynamism. And what about social obligations among those who follow incentives to wealth? Is the system purely transactional? If there is an erosion in a feeling of social responsibility among the rich, does that change the hydraulics in the system so that entrepreneurial capitalism no longer does what we want it to do? And must government then step in to tweak the dials?

Britta said...

I actually think doing well in school and being successful are not very much correlated at all. I was raised to think doing well in school = success, and did as well in school as possible, and now I realize that, if my goal had actually been fame and fortune, I probably should have been doing other stuff with my time than getting an A+ in physics.

I'm currently in a PhD program, which is success for people who do well in school, but it means I have to eventually ruthlessly compete with hundreds of other smart people for a stressful job that pays $70,000 a year and requires all-nighters until one's 50s. Sometimes I wonder if actually we're really stupid and the joke is on us.

PG said...

Not to sound like a hippie, but probably the greatest success is to make as much money as will fulfill most of your desires while doing something you enjoy doing. A PhD program isn't just success for people who do well in school, but people who want to keep doing school, i.e. keep learning new things and talking about them and producing knowledge. At least until the financial crisis, if you did well in school through college -- say, graduated high in your class at an Ivy or equivalent -- the popular next step wasn't more school but to be recruited by investment banks or consultancies, paid lots of money to works lots of hours, doing something that you wouldn't want to try to keep a classroom of freshman awake by talking about. So that's only success if you find such work interesting or if you're the kind of person (lucky? unlucky?) who doesn't find any work interesting and thus is best off finding whatever work is most remunerative.