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December 15th, 2009 9:58 am
NYT Misunderstands Personal Discretion

Despite a catchy tease about New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg being a do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do carbon emitter, the New York Times goes out of its way to minimize criticizing him. Sure, the self-made billionaire frequently travels to Bermuda and other international locales on a private jet while urging others to conserve energy. And yes, he preaches the virtues of public nutrition while emptying the salt shaker on his pizza. But, cautions the Times, you must understand: Mayor Mike is rich, and rich people like riding on private jets. They’re comfortable, quick, and apparently serve sushi. Besides, you’d ride in one too if you could.

This is not Bloombergian hypocrisy; it is a paradox, shared by most of humankind. I’ve lived within a block or two of a subway station since birth, yet owned a car since I got a driver’s license. There is a long list of public figures — from movie stars to politicians to journalists — who preach conservation for everyone else, while living in mega-homes and flying in Gulfstreams. It is probably not a good idea for the rest of us to look down our noses at people who cannot resist such temptations until we can afford them ourselves.

At which point the newly wealthy would succumb to the temptation to indulge in similar naughty expenditures?

The truth is that Bloomberg and the author of this tortured article aren’t engaging in hypocrisy or a paradox. They’re just opting out. Instead of abiding by the logical conclusions stemming from Nannystate environmental and food policies, they are choosing to exercise their freedom of discretion. Kudos to Bloomberg for saving rainwater to reduce his foundation’s energy costs. Bravo to the author for keeping autoworkers, road maintenance staff, and car dealers employed by owning a car instead of using the subway. But they should recognize that in each case it is the combination of personal wealth and a lack of prohibitory laws that allows each to adopt the level of self-imposed denial they deem sustainable.

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