Making Iranian oil as unpopular as the McMansion

Here is an argument that compares McMansions to Iranian oil:

The United States would like to perform a magic trick, and our economy might depend on its success. The illusion? We want the world to think Iran’s oil is practically a Las Vegas McMansion.

Now, nobody is going to confuse a barrel of crude with a four story desert abode. Las Vegas houses have been widely shunned and practically unsellable. As a result, their prices have plummeted for the few remaining buyers. We want the same thing to happen to Iran’s oil: We want it to become so unpopular that Iran is forced to sell it only at a significant discount.

Perhaps it seems odd that the United State should hope Iran sells any of its oil. After all, we’re using sanctions to turn Tehran into a pariah within the global financial system, making it next to impossible for them to actually export crude, with the hope that it will force the country’s leaders to drop their nuclear program. But you can’t cut the world’s fifth largest oil producer entirely out of the global petroleum market and not expect prices to surge even more than they already have.

Instead, our government wants Iran to keep shipping oil to some of its major customers — but for cheap. “Policymakers need to ensure that they are not creating an embargo of Iranian oil but, instead, implementing these sanctions so that Iranian oil becomes a distressed asset,” Foundation for the Defense of Democracies Executive Director┬áMark Dubowitz, who advised Congress while it drafted the sanctions legislation, told Bloomberg today.

An unusual comparison. I can see the general point: we want Iranian oil to stay in the market but we don’t want Iran to benefit from being able to sell it for high prices. So we need Iranian oil to carry a stigma so that the price has to be dropped.

But the comparison breaks down if you think this through to the end. Most critics would argue that McMansions shouldn’t be built in the first place. At this point, we can’t stop Iran from producing oil but we can effect how it is sold, similar to the ways in which McMansions have publicly been denigrated. However, we have more control over McMansions: if we really wanted to as a country, we could ban the construction of McMansions (though this would most likely have to happen at the local level).This makes me wonder if McMansions could ever be considered okay or even popular. If I remember correctly, the New Urbanist authors of Suburban Nation suggested McMansions might be acceptable if they were modified slightly to fit into traditional looking neighborhoods that encouraged civic participation. This particular comparison ties the popularity of the McMansions to their price; so they would be acceptable as long as they are cheap? Perhaps then the housing could be considered affordable housing, not just the province of the wealthy or nouveau riche, even if critics are correct in suggesting that such houses are poorly built, poorly designed, and are often in sterile neighborhoods.

Briefly considering the sociology of stuttering

Responding to a review of the recent movie The King’s Speech, a professor who struggled with stuttering quickly talks about the sociology of stuttering:

As a person who sometimes stutters and as the author of a doctoral dissertation (The Quest for Fluency, University of Toronto, 1977) and a half dozen or so publications on the sociology of stuttering, I was pleased to read the excellent articles by Tom Spears on the film The King’s Speech and on the stuttering management program at the Ottawa Regional Rehabilitation Centre. As scientists and speech therapists have noted, stuttering is a puzzling phenomenon, shaped by neurological and psychosocial factors, for which there is, technically speaking, no cure but which individuals can learn to manage successfully through a variety of strategies to achieve more relaxed, flowing speech. For some individuals, as they cease to struggle and become more comfortable in their own skin, stuttering may even virtually disappear as a problem; for others, neurological and psychosocial propensity may be so obdurate and self-defeating avoidance practices so stubbornly ingrained, that only strictly applied therapeutic speech techniques may provide modest improvements in fluency and comfort.

From this short letter, it sounds like anxiety and stigma can contribute to the issue of stuttering. Like many human concerns, a combination of individual and social factors can lead to challenges.

Shopping for cheaper goods appeals to more people in the Great Recession

The AP reports that more Americans are willing to be frugal in the their shopping and shop at places, like Goodwill or Aldi, that they wouldn’t have considered before the Great Recession:

And it’s not just about Goodwill. Americans, even those with jobs, are shopping for brands, buying at stores and eating at restaurants that they shunned before because they are trying to get more for their money.

At the supermarket, shoppers are buying more store-labeled products, like no-name detergents and cereal, and not returning to national brands.

And in a telling trend, Americans are turning to layaway more often when they buy expensive items such as engagement rings and iPads. The wealthy are also using layaway more often, a drastic change from the past.

This story seems plausible – but can’t we get any data in the story to back this up (beyond the 11% in revenues for Goodwill)?

Some questions about this trend:

1. Will this change when the economy picks up again? Is this just a short-term response that people will abandon once they have the ability to again shop elsewhere?

2. How much of the stigma of this kind of shopping once existed and how much has been removed? Is stigma just measured by the willingness of people to shop at such places? Where does this stigma come from – people seeing other people shopping, people seeing goods in the homes of their friends, or something else?

3. Are there certain areas where people haven’t picked up on this trend? Are certain people particularly resistant to this?

4. What are the income levels that this applies to? What is the rough cut-off where people still wouldn’t shop at these places or use these more frugal practices?