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Unfriendly Persuasion

In response to:

The Faithless Shepherd from the June 26, 1986 issue

To the Editors:

I found Roger Draper’s review regarding advertising illuminating and challenging. Draper does, however, appear to suffer from the rather deep biases apparently related to what I infer is his educational background.

First, he relies heavily on a model of pure competition. That economists or others rely on such a model in 1986 is indeed unfortunate. There is no empirical support for such a model (conceded by Draper), and the “theoretical support” for such a model is tenuous, at best. Most, including Draper, would agree that the assumptions of the model relate to no world humans have yet been exposed to. Then, what is the defense for its use?

Second, he does not mention two very strong arguments in favor of advertising. Advertising can be perceived as a strong factor in making mass distribution possible. That is, retail outlets such as Walmart and Sam’s may thrive because of the influence of advertising, brand acceptance and like on the behavior of consumers. And these retail outlets are low margin enterprises.

A second argument is that there is substantial evidence that the margins of retailers and wholesalers (often assumed by economists not to exist) are lower (in such as supermarket, discount related goods) on brands that are heavily advertised, e.g., Heinz thirty-two ounce catsup. The lower margin is relevant in the “day-to-day” pricing of retailers as well as in the context of a loss leader.

Roger Dickinson

The University of Texas

Arlington, Texas

Roger Draper replies:

I am amazed that anyone who admires Mayer would call attention to his authorship of this contemptibly silly article. Perception? Compassion? Wit? Let readers judge.

The Case Against the Jew” appeared in the Saturday Evening Post of March 28, 1942. An “editor’s note” at the beginning intimates that “Mr. Mayer’s scorn for his fellow American Jews is exceeded only by his scorn for the gentiles.” The author himself starts by denouncing assimilation. As we shall see, these strictures are not made from an Orthodox point of view, though Mayer fails to indicate this until later in the piece.

He changed his name in New York and his nose in Los Angeles,” Mayer says of modern Jews. “They tried to adjust, this pitiful people who once were proud. They tried to look like, talk like, be like everyone else. They tried to lose themselves in the crowd, like men who have picked a pocket on a busy street. They resorted to every dodge known to fugitive criminals, from changing their names to changing their faces. And for all their trying, they were strangers in Egypt still.”

Mayer ends this part of his article with a racist joke:

Otto Kahn, [1857–1904, a banker, of course] met a hunchback in front of the Episcopalian Church on Fifth Avenue and said to the hunchback, “I belong to that church.”

I know,” said the hunchback.

And Otto Kahn said, “I’m very active in the church; I’m one of the vestrymen,” and the hunchback said, “I know.”

And Otto Kahn said, “I used to be a Jew,” “I know,” said the hunchback; “I used to be a hunchback.”

Every ‘adjusted’ Jew told stories like that one,” Mayer asserts at its end, as if this dubious claim excused his own decision to tell it.

At this point it may have occurred to Mayer, or perhaps to a wakeful editor at the Post, if there was one, that Mayer seemed to be flirting with outright anti-Semitism. “If the Jew hadn’t been born,” Mayer now tells us, “he would have had to be invented,” because “the modern world has as its ideals money, fame, and power.” These are frustrating objectives. “Having none but insatiable desires held up before them, the creatures of the modern world tried to find respite in perversions, the oldest of which is the persecution of the Jew.”

Yes, Mayer does describe “the persecution of the Jew” as a perversion. Shall we give him a medal? Read on.

He who would crawl must stoop. The Jew, if he wanted to crawl into the modern world, had to stoop even lower than the gentile. The gentile world could compel him to do its dirty work, could compel him to practice the speculative and the shady professions, as the price of admission. And the Jew who wanted badly enough to be admitted had to pay the price. Thus the “cunning” Jew, debased and dishonored by a world which honored cunning in its heart.

There was nothing that a gentile would stoop to that a Jew wouldn’t if he could. Shamelessly callous to their own “best interests,” Jews in the South exploited Negroes as callously as gentiles did. In New York’s Harlem and Chicago’s Bronzeville tremendous anti-Semitism has developed in the past decade because of the Jew’s tenement profiteering. The trade unions know that there are few employers as conscienceless as the Jewish sweatshop operator employing Jews. The gentile called the tune, and the Jew, if he wanted to dance at all, had to dance on his hands and knees.

In these paragraphs, Mayer embraces the classical stereotype of the crafty and malevolent Jew, but explains it in an “enlightened” way. I am not impressed.

How will the pagan Jew, the ‘adjusted’ Jew, sustain himself when he has lost everything else?” Mayer now asks. Not through a return to Orthodoxy, for Mayer admits that “I do not care whether he goes to temple on Saturday or Sunday, or whether he goes at all.”

Mayer’s solution—a rejection of capitalism and capitalist values—is in fact a political one, although he chooses to clothe it in the vocabulary of religion. “Like most tragic heroes,” Mayer proclaims, “the Jew is confronted at the last with this alternative: righteousness or death.” What is righteousness? He can practice it, says Mayer, “by doing justly, by loving mercy, and by walking humbly with his God.”

Noboby can tell him how to walk humbly with his God, and nobody can tell him what it is to love mercy. But he needs to know how to do justly, and I think I can tell him.

Every man is an end in himself; no man is a means to be used by another. The man who, in Lincoln’s simple words, wrings his bread from the sweat of other men’s faces is unjust.

(Unlike Mayer, of course, Lincoln had not suggested that this last observation had any particular relevance to the Jews.)

The Jew who wants to be saved cannot wait for the gentiles to turn Christian,” Mayer concludes. “The Jew who wants to be saved will have to save himself.”

Running away hasn’t saved him. Resettlement hasn’t saved him. Changing his name, his face, his clothes, and his faith hasn’t saved him. The Jew has not been saved. And the suddenly crowded temples won’t save him. Denouncing Coughlin won’t save him. The destruction of Hitler won’t save him. [Note the deliberate confusion between saving souls and saving lives.] All these fallacious faiths are based on the grand fallacy of adjustment. The Jew will be saved when he saves his own soul.

Calls for a higher level of morality are all very well. But Mayer is saying that the Jews will not be worthy of toleration or esteem until they achieve perfection—by his own lights, of course—a standard he neither demands nor expects from anyone else. And he is saying this in 1942, when there were surely more suitable candidates for messages of repentance.

Professor Dickinson may have forgotten that any model, and not only the model of perfect competition, must be distinct from the reality it purports to explain. Reality, by itself, is exactly what we do not understand. A model is thus like a map: It takes the chaos of reality and isolates those elements that are important for any particular purpose. It also suggests causal relations among those elements.

Such relations are by nature hypothetical, for a model can only assert that if some condition is present, some consequence will follow. The model of perfect competition would have it that standardized products and “perfect information” will produce perfect—that is, price—competition. Since “persuasive” advertisements conceal the standardized nature of many products, the model of perfect competition would itself hardly lead us to expect perfect competition in reality. The dampening of competition in the real world is precisely what validates the model.

Of course, the assumptionms of perfect competition might still be so unrealistic as to be completely irrelevant. But they are not. Many products are fairly standardized—a point the advertising industry itself insists upon. We have something reasonably close to perfect information for some of these products, and nothing—except the self-interest of producers—would prevent us from having it from all of them.

Let’s consider a concrete case of competition—the one Professor Dickinson mentions in his second point, about retail outlets that use advertisements to build customer bases large enough to support discount pricing. Such stores rely upon a strictly informational kind of ad, which chastely informs the public that a certain stock of merchandise is available at certain times and places, and at a certain price. I specifically exempted this kind of advertising from my criticisms. It helps consumers make rational purchasing decisions and promotes a state of affairs that tolerably resembles perfect competition, which, once again, means price competition.

Professor Dickinson’s argument that “there is substantial evidence” of lower profit margins for heavily advertised goods strikes me as unclear. If the heavily advertised goods in question are those advertised by retailers, this too would tend to validate the model of perfect competition, since retail advertising is overwhelmingly informational, and informational advertising ought to produce price competition and thus lower profit margins.

In the case of loss leaders, Professor Dickinson himself appears to see that even if, as one would expect, they are advertised heavily, this would prove nothing about the general effect of advertising upon prices. In fact, there is a real point here only if he is referring to day-to-day prices of goods that are advertised by their producers, rather than by retailers. If that is what he meant, he should have said so and given us some reason to believe it.

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