Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Confusing Social Norms

Last week, Tyler Cowen posted a link to the following article, and gave the link the title "Markets in Everything: educate your nanny". It describes people hiring professional chefs to teach their nannies how to cook better food for their children:

> Founded by two veterans of the private-chef world ..., marc&mark teaches nannies of affluent parents how to prepare healthful, organic meals that don't come frozen or under plastic wrap. "Some of these nannies already do the cooking in the family, but they're throwing chicken fingers in the oven, or worse, the microwave — they're doing the bare minimum," Mr. Leandro said.

The article did not really surprise me or cause much reaction in me. My thoughts were a mix of "This is interesting.", "I am glad that more people are learning how to cook good food.", and "It is kind of sad that the average person in our culture is so bad at cooking that this is necessary."

But apparently a lot of people got offended by the article:

"Pundits across the spectrum were enraged this week by a consulting firm that teaches nannies to cook quinoa"

I would never have predicted that people would be upset about this, and I still do not really understand the reaction. A rich couple spends a good chunk of money to teach useful skills to their nanny, and people are reacting as if they had done something morally wrong.

This does not appear to be a case of envy. People do not seem to react as badly to other forms of conspicuous consumption, like living in big fancy houses in the best neighborhoods. I suppose that people are upset about the rich people ordering the nanny around and making her change. They seem to resent the 'abuse of power'.

But this makes no sense to me. The nanny was putting their child's health at risk by feeding the kid junk food. If people clearly do not know what they are doing, then you should teach them how to do things better. The only other alternative is to fire the unskilled person and try to hire someone better, which would be a lot worse for the people who do not know what they are doing.

The articles discussing the reaction to this news seem to assume that it is natural to be upset, and then go on to explain why people should not be upset. I need someone to explain to me exactly why people would get upset about this in the first place.


Anonymous said...

I think this would be a win win for the nannies, they would have a new addition to their job skills that would be desirable.

e said...

i don't have a good answer for you. it is kind of odd. but i thought the comment about 'proper working class jobs' was interesting. seems like it is referencing a sort of dismay about change. whats a proper working class job? who is it proper for, the worker or the 'ruling class?' i also think food remains one of the key things distinguishing the haves from have nots. (however, the types and modes change. 17th century, wine and pies. 19th century, pork vs. beef. 21st, quinoa.) people get funny about food. i see a certain derision towards those with more 'foodie' tastes from those who prefer mickey d's. but those who would teach a nanny to cook quinoa also seem to assume the lower sort would have no idea how to make it... well... nobody should get too upset IMO. those nannies may well bring quinoa to the masses and people will find something else to get upset over. i am sure peruvians would appreciate the demand.