Atlas Shrugged: The Mocking

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Less Tall Megan

Shorter Megan McArdle:

How The Poor Can Afford To Live In New York: The lucky ducky poors get rent control and everyone else gets higher rents.

Bonus: McArdle demonstrates her faux elitism:
You frequently see studies and articles pushing some version of No. 1: that when you account for the “true cost,” adding in things such as transportation, it’s surprisingly cheap to live in the city. I find these studies broadly implausible, because they leave out little things like “the cost of having to have everything delivered,” “the cost of taking taxis when you’re in a hurry” and “the cost of having to have a pet taxi to take the dog anywhere.” They also fail to account for the upward pressure that high real estate prices put on the cost of everything else and the time cost of mass-transit commutes. And let’s not get started on incidentals such as educating your children.
A quote that you will never ever get from McArdle, from a pro-tenant site:
What is the profile of most rent-controlled tenants? According to the 2005 Housing and Vacancy Survey, there are now 43,000 rent-controlled apartments in New York City. The median income of those households was $22,200. The median rent is $551 per apartment, and the median household pays over 33.5% of income for rent. The city's rent-controlled tenants are mostly elderly – with most tenants having lived in their apartments since 1971 or before.

Friday, September 26, 2014


I am not a great cook but I've found some good chili recipes, took the best from each, and ended up with this. It's very easy to make.

2 lb. ground beef
one medium to large onion chopped
one small green bell pepper chopped
5 cloves garlic minced
6 Tb. chili powder
2 tsp. cumin
2 tsp. oregano
one Tb. lime juice
3 beef bullion cubes
one Tb. sugar
one Tb. unsweetened cocoa
one 14.5 can diced tomatoes, with liquid
one can beer

Brown beef in large pot, drain most of the fat. Turn heat to medium.
Cook onion in fat until lightly browned, add and cook garlic briefly.
Add all the spices and cook briefly, stirring constantly. You just want to release their flavor.
Add the can of beer quickly when spices are ready, so they don't burn.
Add everything else. Simmer about an hour. Stir occasionally.

I usually thicken it with a handful of finely crushed (plastic bag/rolling pin)  tortilla chips, added 5-10 minutes before serving. I like Mexican beer so that's what I use.

On the side I put rice, ranch beans, crackers, cornbread, shredded cheddar cheese, and raw chopped onions.

No Analysis, Just Cursing

Jesus Christ. You have to read this for yourself.

If you want undiluted McArdle, listen to/read her give a talk. I'm not going to even attempt to do this justice, I'll just give you the highlights. Let's watch Megan McArdle give us the equivalent of the aren't-the-slaves-happy-listen-to-them-singing! lecture. And I am not exaggerating.
[Megan McArdle] ...What people like--what is the most important thing after we've been fed, after we've been sheltered and warm and whatever? What do we like? We like interacting with other people and feeling happy and loved. Right? So, we like feeling people being nice to us, we like feeling special, we like having other people call us 'Miss McArdle' and give us a cup of herbal tea and ask us whether we want our feet massaged. We like all that--maybe not the men in the audience so much. But you guys have golf. That we like those experiences of having other people treat us well.  
McAfee: But think of your last 10 service interactions with another human being. How many of them left you with that warm, chamomile tea feeling?  
McArdle: Well, at some level, most of them, actually. Service in America, especially if you've lived abroad, is amazing. In Britain--they practically--  
McAfee: That's the wrong benchmark. Terrible benchmark.  
McArdle: Well, the French, I'm not sure I would put the French up against it, either. Actually, mostly, if it is nice, when you shop, people are nice to me.  
McAfee: Oh, come on, did you walk through a sea of pleasant experiences in the airports on your way here? If so, I want to travel with you.  
Russ: That's an outlier. It is an outlier.  
McAfee: When you call up Comcast, when you go--  
Russ: Also an outlier.  
McAfee: No, no, no. These are the service economy. These are not outliers.

Russ: [31:35] No. You've picked the example of the places in America where there is very little competition due to regulation and government monopoly. I mean, there's competition--  
McArdle: McDonald's people are very nice to me.  
Russ: They're cheerful.  
McArdle: And they ask me if I want something else, and was I satisfied with my order.  
Russ: Would you like fries with that?   
McArdle: Emailing me to find out if I liked something that I bought from them that I spent two minutes consuming and never thought about again. Actually I think there's more room for those sorts of things for things like haircuts and things that women didn't used to do. You used to perm your hair at home. My great aunts all permed their hair at home. Now, who would do that? No one would perm their hair, thank God.  
McAfee: Wait, explain this hair concept?  
Russ: That's a visual joke, for those listening at home. They'll just have to get the video version.

McArdle: More people are getting services provided to them. Even people--you go and you work 10 hours providing hair services and then on the weekend you go and get a massage because you are tired.  
McAfee: I'm pushing back, but you are absolutely right. One of the weird things that happened in America over the past 30 or 40 years that really no one was anticipating is exactly the rise of these service jobs. And they came on us in huge volume. They have actually helped maintain the wage and the unemployment [employment--Econlib Ed.] levels at the lowest levels of skill and education in the country. The main problem is they are the lowest levels of skill, education, and pay in the country. So great these jobs exist; I completely agree with you. They don't look like ladders toward that classic middle class prosperity in a lot of cases. For exactly the reasons that you outline.  
 McArdle: I think that this is the giant challenge that we face--that we still in a lot of ways maintain the attitude about the service jobs. Part of it is a sheer supply/demand thing: we have a huge oversupply of people who are not [?] by the manufacturing sector, and are transitioning, especially working class men, as I was talking about, they are transitioning very uneasily into the service economy. But that's sad. I mean, lawyers are service people, doctors are service people--there's lots of stuff in the service economy that doesn't have to be low prestige because it's a service job. So partly to go back to the hippy-dippy portion of the program, is that a lot of this is how we treat those jobs and how we view them. Do we say--because, yes, in 1930 if you were a manicurist, the people you were manicuring were extremely rich people and you went home to your cold water flat in Brooklyn. But we don't have to view these jobs that way, and that's a cultural choice that we are making. I think middle class, we're going to have to rethink what the middle class is in this context, and what these jobs mean. But I don't think it's inherently a feature of these jobs that they involve low pay and misery.
McArdle: Well, I think there is a--so, to start with, I actually think that the money is a problem, but it's not the biggest problem. Because, as you say, there's going to be so much stuff. Right? And the things that money creates a problem with now are kind of artificial scarcity--housing, because it's hard to build, good school districts where you are reshuffling the children around, everyone wants their children with kids who are smarter than their children. And those things, yes, those are a problem, but they would be a problem if people were making $30 an hour. If there weren't any more houses, the bottom of the income distribution would still be living in those houses regardless of how much money they were pulling in. So that actually a lot of those issues are supply side issues. What I do think is--the serious issues are insecurity and the inability to either count on, as you say, understand what your future path looks like, that this is a job that I could actually have for a couple of years, that I can try to build a career and understand what that looks like, that I know I will have this job, that my employer views me as someone that they are not going to fire and let go. The problem is not Walmart in particular. Walmart was always a terrible job, in some ways. It was aimed at housewives and teenagers--that's who they employ. The problem is the other jobs aren't there. So I'm not sure I think it comes from Walmart, because retail is just, in every era that I've been aware of, has been a terrible job. Girls in 1900 New York working in department stores didn't make enough money to live on, and they had--ships--a guy made a ship where it was a dorm for the girls and they would bode out into the harbor every night, because this was the cheapest way to stack them. So, I think the issue is things like manicurists and massage therapists and golf consultants and all of those things--and this sounds really dumb; I know that there are a number of people who are going to be listening to EconTalk, maybe some people in the audience thinking, My God, this is like Marie Antoinette saying 'well, let them eat manicure jobs.' But I think that this is a fact. I'm not happy or sad about it. I just think [?] when you want to compete with a machine, what you cannot [?] is being a person and providing person-like affection and sociability.
Russ: People want to chat with their manicurist. And some manicurists like to chat with their customers. There will be a machine that will give you a manicure. The question is, what will be the nature of that interaction that you are talking about, and isn't it going to reward people who enjoy that? We know a bunch of people--we're very unrepresentative, us on the stage. We're way too educated. We don't have a lot of experience of a Wal-Mart cashier. When I'm in a Wal-Mart, which I admittedly shop at occasionally, I'm not ashamed of it, they are happy people. They seem to be enjoying that interaction. I have many friends who do, too, in that they want to sit in their cubicle all day working on their computer sitting in front of a screen, but there are a bunch of people who don't. And they have a different experience. The question is what are they going to be compensated--to me, and is the social consequences of those differences going to be large? Presumably if a lot of people want to sit at a screen and make a lot of money, the fact that being pleasant is a scarce resource, maybe it will get rewarded more generously in the future than we anticipate.  
McArdle: Well, I was actually the most cheerful cashier at the [?] Pharmacy chain in New York City. People would actually ask me where I was from, on the ground that no one that nice could be from New York. And so one of the things that--who is sociable, who likes taking care of other people--and this is what we've been talking about with the decline of [?]--that's a lot of it. It's that women are willing to do these jobs and they don't mind doing them. There are lots of guys who are good at sales and customer service. It's not like guys are not capable of this. Part of it is that the role we've assigned to masculinity, right, is being gruff and not caring what other people think, and that's not a really very good characteristic for a service job.  
Russ: That's changing.
Happy, happy service people, who just love pampering McArdle. Who cares if they get a living wage or not, when they are so lucky to clean the dirt from beneath McArdle's toenails?


Tuesday, September 23, 2014


It was a choice. The rich have relentlessly acted to get richer. They chose to hurt others to do so. And some people kiss their ass in the hopes of picking up the coins they toss to their sycophants. The sycophants made a choice too. For some that choice was hard. For others it was just second nature.


Megan McArdle, bless her heart, accuses someone else of hypocrisy.
A divestment activist from the University of Michigan has chided me for failing to consider the moral dimension of divestment. Even if it has no effect, is it not reasonable for nuns to divest from companies that manufacture birth-control pills? Or universities to divest from a South Africa's apartheid regime?
Especially since McArdle said Hobby Lobby should be able to abstain from government regulations for religious reasons. It would be hypocritical to support reducing regulations for moral reasons while ignoring, undermining or attacking people who say they have a moral duty to preserve our world for future generations. (And let's not forget that McArdle didn't have the manners to name, link or quote the activist, or the professionalism to say why she chose to keep him anonymous.)
Sure. But there’s a wee bit of difference, which is that in the examples above, the divesting groups are not making heavy use of the offending subject while castigating those who produce it.
It would also be hypocritical to attack universities' use of fossil fuels while attacking fossil fuel use when she is taking tax breaks and government largess while fighting tax breaks and government largess.
I understand that universities are exploring sustainability. Just the same, they consume huge amounts of fossil fuels.... The point is that the fossil-fuel consumption of every university in the country dwarfs the impact of their investments on climate change. Doing all this while divesting from your fossil-fuel investments is the moral equivalent of divesting from Janssen Pharmaceuticals ... in your abortion clinic’s endowment. Of divesting from South Africa ... at the University of Alabama in 1949. It is doing the pointless but easy thing while actively continuing the stuff that is actually harming the planet.
As McArdle has pointed out many times, we don't have much of an alternative right now. There's more but I'll spare you.

Hypocrisy is a very interesting thing. From Wikipedia, we can see that it is a fundamental characteristic of the authoritarian character. It is based on the Greek word that means play-acting (among other things). Some snippets:
Hypocrisy is the claim or pretense of holding beliefs, feelings, standards, qualities, opinions, behaviors, virtues, motivations, or other characteristics that one does not in actual fact hold. It is the practice of engaging in the same behavior or activity for which one criticizes another.[1][2] In Moral psychology, it is the failure to follow one’s own expressed moral rules and principles.[3]

In everyday reasoning, humans do little to get real evidence when taking positions or making decisions, and do even less to get evidence for opposing positions. Instead, they tend to fabricate "pseudo-evidence"[16] – often after the decision had already been made (“post hoc fabrication”).[17]
Humans take a position, look for evidence that supports it, then, if they find some evidence – enough so that the position "makes sense" – they stop thinking altogether (the “makes-sense stopping rule”).[18] And, when pressed to produce real evidence, they tend to seek and interpret “evidence” that confirms what they already believe (the "confirmation bias").[19]

Moreover, humans tend to think highly of themselves, highlighting strengths and achievements, and overlooking weakness and failures (the “self-serving bias”). This is particularly true of Americans and Europeans: when asked to rate themselves on virtues, skills, or other desirable traits (including ethics, intelligence, driving ability, and sexual skills), a large majority say they are above average.[20] Power and privilege magnify the distortion: 94% of college professors think that they do above average work.[21] This effect is weaker in Asian countries and in other cultures which value the group more highly than the self.[22]


Robert Wright wrote that "Human beings are a species splendid in their array of moral equipment, tragic in their propensity to misuse it, and pathetic in their constitutional ignorance of the misuse."[23] Humans are very good at challenging the beliefs of other people, but when it comes to their own beliefs, they tend to protect them, not challenge them.[24] A consistent finding of psychological research is that humans are fairly accurate in their perceptions of others, but generally inaccurate in their perceptions of themselves.[25] Humans tend to judge others by their behavior, but think they have special information about themselves – that they know what they are "really like" inside – and thus effortlessly find ways to explain away selfish acts, and maintain the illusion that they are better than others.[26]

The myth of pure evil[edit]

This distortion – hypocrisy in its most destructive form – is characterized by the belief that (1) evil is the intentional and gratuitous infliction of harm for its own sake, (2) perpetrated by villains who are malevolent to the core, (3) inflicted on victims who are innocent and good.[27] Psychologists call this a myth because believing in this fiction often blinds one to the reality that evil is in fact perpetrated mainly by ordinary people, who respond to perceived harms, including “provocations” by their victims, in ways they feel are reasonable and just.[28] Evil is not rare – it is commonplace, banal.[29] And all humans are capable of evil acts. Psychologists like Jonathan Haidt and Steven Pinker maintain that most if not all the major atrocities in human history were carried out by ordinary people who believed that they were good, that they were innocent victims – that they had God on their side – and that their enemies were pure evil.[30]
And low and behold, authoritarianism brought forth the fruit of hypocrisy. It's inevitable. From their first rationalization (Mom and Dad hit and insult me because they love me) to their last (death panels!), authoritarians cannot face any truths that destroy their myths.

They have to tell themselves they are special constantly to make up for the self-loathing that comes from abuse or just never being taught self-esteem, never shown they are cherished and loved and important to someone. They have to make up a fake persona to face the world, afraid that nobody will like the real person.

It would be sad if they were not so dangerous.

Don't You Know Who I Am?

Shorter Megan McArdle: If the president gets shot it's a small price to pay so I don't have to wait in traffic.

Money Quote/Instant Internet Meme: "Of course, like every other American, I think it is important to keep the president safe. But I don’t think that it is literally the only important thing, which seems to be the attitude of the Secret Service. We fetishize presidential security as if POTUS were some sort of sacred object rather than a job description."

The entire post is an exercise in petulance.

What the hell, let's take a closer look.
Apparently some lunatic with a knife and an arms cache jumped the White House fence and managed to get all the way to the front door before they caught him. And apparently some other lunatic -- this one in the Secret Service -- has proposed establishing checkpoints in the public areas around the White House in order to prevent this sort of thing from happening again.
You would think that a respected "journalist" would refrain from impugning the Secret Service, who are willing to give up their lives to protect the president for the good of the country, but she doesn't have enough respect for anyone who works for Obama to do that. He passed health insurance reform and now he can die in a ditch for all she cares.
For those of you who are not familiar with the geography of Washington, it’s probably worth mentioning that the White House is smack in the middle of downtown. This is partly by design -- the city’s architect, Pierre L’Enfant, envisioned the city around the White House and the Capitol Building -- and partly because over the years, federal agencies and lobbyists have found it convenient to be located right next to the centers of power. The street in front of the White House was already closed off to vehicles during earlier rounds of security theater, making it somewhat arduous to navigate around the area. Now, thanks to some sort of mistake by the Secret Service, Washington’s pedestrians and bicyclists are supposed to take their lumps, too. When it comes to the safety of POTUS, the Secret Service considers no price too great for other people to pay.
Actually, it's thanks to yet another disturbed individual who wants to kill the president. It is not unreasonable for the president to try to keep people from walking into his house, where his wife and teenage daughters live. McArdle was ready to flood DC with cops when Matthew Yglesias was mugged coming home from one of her "dinner" parties. McArdle also ignores the reason for recent security increases--the Oklahoma bombing of a federal building and some Saudis who tried to crash a plane into the White House. It's just so silly for the president to have all that security!
For example: President Barack Obama and his family like to spend the evening before Thanksgiving handing out food to the needy.1 How do I know this, you may ask, even though I do not watch the evening newscasts where this sort of event is prominently featured? Because I now live right next to the intersection of three major routes out of town: New York Avenue/Route 50, which runs east to Maryland and the Beltway and west to interstates 395 and 295; Florida Avenue, which also runs out to Maryland; and North Capitol Street, which transports Washingtonians to Union Station and office workers back to their homes in Maryland. And on the evening before Thanksgiving, when a presidential motorcade shuts down one of those major thoroughfares for half an hour or so and brings the other two to a dead halt, I get to spend several happy hours listening to the screech of horns and the Twitter wailings of taxi passengers who just missed their sold-out trains.
McArdle doesn't like it when other people get in her way. She was pissed when protesters were swarmed by cops and slowed down traffic. (Of course she blamed the protesters, not the cops.) And now she's pissed that someone else got in her way. Who the hell does he think he is?
I can understand why the Secret Service might not want to risk the president getting caught in a bumper-to-bumper traffic jam, which would be a good place for terrorists to attack (though perhaps not a good place for terrorists to escape from afterward). But no one seems to have thought of the perfectly expedient and safe method of keeping him in the White House, surrounded by armed agents (who, let us remember, did catch the armed lunatic well before the presidential person was ever in danger): If it is so urgent that the president be seen distributing food as a Good Example to the Nation, why not do it at the White House, where I am given to understand that there is some pantry space and even cooking equipment? Instead, traffic gets snarled for probably hundreds of thousands of anxious people who are just trying to get home to their loved ones so that the president can have what is, essentially, a photo op.
A man walked into the White House with a weapon. Does that sound very safe? Thank god, for the sake of the country and the president and his family, nobody was hurt, but to shrug it off and say, well, he was caught so what's the problem, is monumentally callous.

I'm just glad that she didn't suggest Malia and Sasha should be trained to rush any armed gunmen who try to kill their father. Maybe she's learning after all.
Of course, like every other American, I think it is important to keep the president safe.
Of course, of course. Who would not? But let's not get carried away. McMegan must not be inconvenienced!

That patently insincere caveat was inserted to prove that McArdle is not saying what she is plainly and clearly saying: the president should risk assassination because McArdle had to wait in traffic. In DC.
But I don’t think that it is literally the only important thing, which seems to be the attitude of the Secret Service.

Can you believe that the president's secret service detail think that doing their jobs is the most important thing ever? They're just guarding the president. It's not like our entire nation was traumatized by a presidential assassination in our living history or something. McArdle should start paying a little more attention to those historical shows she likes to watch. They sometimes mention the guy, what was his name, oh yeah, John Fitzgerald Kennedy.

Her Scotch-Irish ancestors would be ashamed of her. For so many reasons.
We fetishize presidential security as if POTUS were some sort of sacred object rather than a job description.
Who the hell does he think he is, making McArdle wait in traffic? Doesn't he know who she is?
And lest you think that I am pleading especially for Washingtonians -- who did, after all, decide to move to Washington, and whose jobs are probably somehow related to the presence of the federal government -- let me point out that we now export these traffic snarls and security lockdowns all over the country whenever the president goes to raise money or give a speech. Which seems to be most of the time, in the era of the permanent campaign.
We managed to suffer through it in silence. McArdle should try that.
What will they do the next time someone manages to penetrate the outer ring of the presidential cordon -- strip-search everyone within a one-mile radius? The Secret Service cannot simply keep extending the perimeter and subjecting everyone else to more searches and waits every time it has a security failure ... not least because a larger perimeter is harder, not easier, to secure. It certainly can’t do so while keeping him in the middle of a big city.
Nobody can do anything ever, even guard the president--if it puts out McArdle, and she is very put out.
If security really is the only imperative, then it should build a bunker in the proverbial “undisclosed location” out in the deep woods somewhere, drop the first family into it for eight years, and have him make all contact with the outside world via videoconference. But if the president wants to live in the heart of downtown, and even go out into the world occasionally, then his security agents will have to accept that the people who voted for him are out there, too. And that their lives are also important.
Yes, so Megan McArdle never has to wait in traffic, the president of the United States should have to hide in a hole in the woods. Her life is important too, maybe even more important than the president!

 It might seem strange for an authoritarian to put herself above the leader of the free world, but obviously McArdle does not consider Obama to be an authority figure. Getting elected President of the United States isn't enough for her, even though she said she would have voted for him. He's dead to her now, and if he's dead to everyone else because of lone gunmen, well, that's just the price he'll have to pay for inconveniencing her.

ADDED: This helps explain some of the recent problems with the Secret Service.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Obedience to Authority: The Masterpiece Theater Edition

Authoritarian thinking requires a lot of denial, as we have often discussed in the past. Since you cannot question or deny what you are told, you must studiously ignore or try to suppress any disagreement. It's very difficult to block out most of the world so authoritarians always want others to make it easier for them by never disagreeing with authority.

Of course this includes preserving the concept of authority and hierarchy itself. This often creates a problem because most of the fun things in life are a rebellion against authority, a freeing of the mind, body and spirit. Art, music, theater; youth, dancing, some intellectual and emotional growth. Every generation rebels against earlier ones and needs to interpret their world through their own eyes.  Popular culture, especially a commercial popular culture like ours, is liberal by nature.  A commercial society needs to create demand constantly, and a good way to do that is to push the new and different. Popular culture churns constantly.

This makes the conservatives quite upset. They feel they have been judged and rejected as uncool, even though they rejected popular culture to preserve their authoritarian bubble, not the other way around. They want popular culture that reinforces their worldview, especially if it flatters them in some way. They want the popular culture of earlier times, when authority was not questioned. Sadly, for the reasons given above, the art of earlier times also often rebelled against authority. But that is a fact. Other facts include: the fundamentals of human nature do not change and great art often addresses universal experiences. None of this matters to the conservative, who typically is not overly nice when it comes to honesty and reality. They can't repress most of their psyche without trying to take out everyone who gets in the way.

Which finally brings us to our Princess of Paper Towels, Megan McArdle. For a long time, McArdle has been telling us that the middle class is just fine-n-dandy and all those systematic problems that so devastated the rich did not lower many middle class fellow Americans to poor Americans. She did this because the greatest yet most amorphous fear of our lives is losing our middle class status.

We commit a lot of crimes to keep that status, and ignore a lot of immoral acts. We vote for candidates that we know are screwing our poor and killing other countries' poor. We ignore our own poor and their struggles to join the middle class. We let corporations use us up and throw us aside. We watch the monumental persecution of African Americans and sigh. We don't like any of this or want any of this and we do what we can to help, but the alternative is giving up our safe lives for a violent life fighting poverty. Nobody wants that and every one of us, every single person, wants better for ourselves and our kids.

We do not really see the poor as Americans. They can't vote or buy or do anyone any favors. They aren't very visible. They're usually quiet and obedient. They're not quite Christians either. God rewards good behavior and punishes bad. Successful people are people who are smart and moral and work hard and don't need help. When you fail and are kicked out of the middle class, you are nothing. McArdle knows this; she says the poor don't really exist all the time. And she gets more than a little miffed when the entire world won't go along with her emotionally stunted and empathy-free conclusions.

Libertarians want to take over popular culture so they can live exclusively in their lovely mental fairy castle, where they are the benevolent and technologically advanced ruler of an extremely attractive populace. They want their authority and superiority to be recognized before all the world. They want to be cool but they'll settle for omnipresent.

I’ve spoken before about the lack of drama in middle-class life these days and how it has affected television and movies. Wait, wait -- before you start penning your angry comment, let me make it clear that I am not saying there are no conflicts, challenges or struggles in middle-class life. But the stakes are (thankfully) a lot lower. Having sex, or a baby, outside of marriage is no longer a sin that could see you cast out of decent society.

McArdle has always had the oddest way of addressing her readers, as if she is the Voice of Reason before an angry populace eager to defend its incompetence and therefore ego and now I suddenly realize that she is addressing everyone as if she is Jane John Galt and they are James Taggart or Wesley Mouch. Another mystery solved!

Of course McArdle brings up moral issues to distract from economic issues. Why not, it works for everyone else.

Widows and orphans don’t starve to death. There are plenty of ways to support yourself other than becoming a downtrodden servant or marrying money. Young people rarely die of sudden, or dramatically lingering, illnesses. Women in horrible marriages can leave them.

And every single one of these situations would change if McArdle got her way. The widows and orphans would not have Social Security. The worker would have no power to improve his situation, something that is of course actually happening again. Medicare and Obamacare help ensure people can get care and the government finances research for cures for illness. Liberals fought and won the right to divorce, have an abortion, use birth control, and earn opportunities for women. Conservatives would take it all away, and libertarians would let them because the scum don't deserve rights anyway.

These are all great advances in human flourishing, but it has done away with most of the stock dramatics that sustained the fiction and theater of yesteryear.

Because people no longer lose their homes and businesses. They don't have to fight for the right to privacy and self-sufficiency. They are not unemployed or chronically underemployed, especially in service jobs. They didn't die because they lost a job and health insurance.

I suspect that’s the reason so much of today’s critically acclaimed television dips into the criminal underworld, where there’s still plenty of life-and-death drama to go around.

Crime in drama: A new concept!

TV also borrows heavily from the past, of course, and fictional worlds where the mores of our past still apply. So far this year, I’ve watched "The Knick," "Mad Men," "Game of Thrones," "Outlander," "Boardwalk Empire" and "Downton Abbey." Oh, I complain about the various anachronisms -- the clothes are too clean, the lives of the servants are far too easy and don’t even get me started on, um, almost everything in "The Knick." But these are forgivable errors, occasionally almost lovable.

McArdle has shown almost no knowledge of history and considerable ignorance of domestic history.

The thing I find harder to forgive is the shows' inability to commit to that drama -- to try to actually engage with what was actually dramatic and interesting in those eras. They can’t resist moralizing from the point of view of a 21st-century modern -- and so they sap the conflicts they’re portraying of their meaning.

Likewise, the seventeenth century should have never presented dramas set in ancient Greece and Rome, or early Italy, or even the Tower of London. Someone tell Shakespeare at once.

Every poor person lives in unmitigated squalor; every person who is not poor is grotesquely oblivious or spouts absurd social Darwinist dogma. Race and gender relations are handled with the subtlety and gripping realism of an ABC Afterschool Special, and every likable woman must, of course, at least secretly aspire to work outside the home. In period dramas, the personal is always, always political.

So many, many, many hot buttons for McArdle; so much denial to call up at once! How offended she is to be confronted and affronted with poverty, racism, sexism, and repression during more conservative times! The past was better, doesn't everyone know that? America was rich and successful and feared. People knew their place. But the personal has always been political, no matter how much she feels compelled to deny it.

This is not, of course, how anyone actually experiences life, outside perhaps a handful of activists.

"Drama is life with the dull part left out," said Alfred Hitchcock. Dramas portray conflict. No disagreement, no conflict. No conflict, no drama.

The art of the time was often concerned with the unfairness of social convention, but it also managed to show people struggling with what they wanted to do and what they ought to do. This is very dramatic. Modern period pieces know what these people ought to do: They ought to blow it all up and join the 21st century, for heaven’s sake. This is … not very dramatic. After a while, it becomes really very irritating.

The struggle between what one wants to do and what one ought to do can take many forms. It can be a struggle for self-control, for coming to terms with difficulties and mistreatment, for finding one's place in the world, for understanding one's relationship to others. That is not the struggle in McArdle's eyes. As with all authoritarians, her struggle is with obedience to authority. Yours, not hers.

I’ve been thinking about this because I just finished watching "Srugim," an Israeli drama about modern Orthodox singles living in Jerusalem. One of the creators of the show grew up observant; most of the others working on it did not. Yet it managed to be interesting, touching and completely refreshing, because there was nothing else like it on television.

The most refreshing thing about it is that it was not intent on showing you what stunted, appalling lives these anachronistic characters lead (but such beautiful horses and pretty clothes!). Instead, wonder of wonders, it dramatized conflicts that don’t even exist in the secular world. Some of them were trivial (what do you do when you forgot to turn off the refrigerator light before Shabbos?). Some of them were profound (what do you do when you realize you’ve stopped believing in God?). It showed you what is exotic and beautiful and appealing -- and confining and difficult -- about living a life within all-encompassing moral rules. It understood that there are trade-offs, and that choices can simultaneously be capable of creating great meaning and great pain.

The idea of McArdle wrestling with moral dilemmas or appreciating others who do is laughable. Even if we did not agree with studies that clearly demonstrate the lack of empathy in libertarians, McArdle has demonstrated this callousness dozens of times. McArdle claims that one finds meaning in submission to authority, that is, it one gives purpose, structure, and guidance. The authority tells you who you are and what to believe, how to believe it, and how to interact with others and the world.

Not many of us know who we are and we are dying to be told everything about us to end the suspense. Who am I? means am I good, do people like me, do I have value, am I special? The authority gives all the answers and asks only obedience in return. This obedience gives the authority utter freedom to act as it pleases, which satisfies its needs.

But, again, the issue is not moral, it is economic. Moral rules have to be followed to retain belonging to the group, since that is how discipline is maintained in many authoritarian structures. McArdle wants everyone to just shut up and do whatever the economic elite want them to do. But instead she has to tolerate intelligent people like Paul Krugman telling her she is wrong, scientists telling her she is fear-driven, authoritarian, a low-effort thinker, and everyone telling her she is morally vacant. It's getting harder and harder to maintain econoblogger authority and she's starting to get pissed off.

The problem is not 21st century morals, it's 21st century economics, her bread and butter and Himalayan salt. McArdle claims to be agnostic and lived as if the moral rules of her tribe don't apply to her. She had premarital sex and cohabitated with one (or more) man before marriage. She takes birth control; as far as we know she has never been pregnant. (Discussing such things might be uncomfortable for McArdle, but we all know that women must feel sexual discomfort if others want her to.) No, it's not moral issues that make McArdle nostalgic.

It's economic power, for the elite few and the women who were related to them. McArdle does not protest that these contemporary Israeli women are able to have some economic independence, taking power away from men's economic control. She praises the Israelis' sexual obedience.

It was a sort of combination between a sitcom and a drama, so many of these conflicts probably ended more happily than they would in real life. But they do not end with the pat assurance that an American television show would have brought to it for fear of seeming to endorse some sort of retrograde sexual morality. There is more than one right answer, and all of those answers are often hard. "Srugim" was done by a secular cast for a largely secular audience. There’s no reason that we can’t do the same thing with our own past, except that the makers -- and maybe audiences -- seem to lack the imagination.

Don’t get me wrong: I’ll still be watching all of my period dramas this year. But I do wish I had more "Srugim" and less preaching.

Of course she'll be watching all of her period dramas. Those were the days, when everyone publically acknowledged your superior station in life. Poorer people bowed to you and stood aside so you could go first in line. Your clothes were infinitely finer than those of the poor, your hands whiter, your skin softer, your hair smoother. The riffraff weren't allowed in any of the places you frequented. You never had to work; you could hire servants for a few bob and they couldn't ever sue you. God was an Englishman and for 60 minutes, so are you.

At least, that is what you planned. Instead your happy fun time is ruined by all the contemporary writers who refuse to obey, who meanly inject rebellion against authority when there should be none. It has become "really very irritating," and McArdle wants you to stop at once. For the sake of the children, of course.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

The Libertarian Relationship: Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité!

What a piece of work is a McMegan,
how noble in reason, how infinite in faculties,
in form and moving how express and admirable,
in action how like an angel, in apprehension how like a god!

Remember how I said Megan McArdle and P. Suderman, boy wonder, would have an extremely hard time negotiating their power relationship, considering they are both libertarians and are both---them?

Boy, was I wrong. According to McArdle, who for inexplicable reasons is eager to share this with the world, they are nearly perfectly compatible and scarcely have any problems at all. The only problem with a libertarian spouse, it seems, is that they are both so efficient that they need to be extra careful to share their equality with each other.
I haven’t taken a full count, but as far as I can estimate, we have nearly 90 rolls of Bounty paper towels in our basement.
Bounty is not owned by the Koches, so when certain people look up her paper towel choice they will know that she is not connected to them in any way, although she has also said that she bought Koch products which means both sides are safely covered and people can believe whatever they want without actually being able to prove anything to an editor, not that she's worried.
You could be forgiven for thinking that we were stocking up for an expected flood from a nearby orange juice factory, but the truth is more prosaic: two working spouses taking advantage of the convenience and thrift of Amazon’s Subscribe and Save. For months, I have been dutifully taking paper towels out of their Amazon boxes, wondering why they seemed to come so frequently; for months, my husband has been tucking the excess neatly away on basement shelves, wondering why our household’s Current Paper Towel Balance had continued to grow even after he canceled his subscription. The truth was only revealed when husband happened to be downstairs at the precise moment when the UPS man stopped by with our latest monthly deposit.
Let's see.... P. Suderman, boy Sorcerer's Apprentice, saw a tower of paper towels rise to dizzying heights yet never said to McArdle, as they sat down together to a family meal of chicken nuggets in Bearnaise sauce with frozen artichoke hearts, "By the way, we seem to have enough paper towels in the basement to soak up a tropical storm. What's all that about?" Likewise, he never contacted Amazon and asked why they ignored his cancellation even though he had recited the right spell and waved his "magic wand." No, he just watched the pile grow. Ten rolls of paper towels! Thirty! Sixty! Ninety!

It's difficult to figure out why he was ordering paper towels anyway. If he assumed some of the shopping and did not tell McArdle, how many other piles of products lie on basement shelves or in attic corners?*
It’s a perfect illustration of a major drawback of the modern egalitarian marriage: coordination failure. In a traditional household, paper towel acquisition was within the wifesphere. She monitored the stocks, arranged for any necessary purchases and put them away within a storage scheme of her own devising. No one had to discuss the distribution of responsibilities or quarrel about their execution. But egalitarian marriages split things up along the idiosyncratic preferences of each couple. That creates three problems that every couple must deal with: Negotiations, Overlaps and Gaps.
Let me make one thing clear: I am not writing a brief against egalitarian marriage. I am in one. Both of us work, often quite long hours. Both of us assume some household duties: I oversee the plant life (ineptly), buy groceries, cook, vacuum and clean out the roof gutters as necessary; my husband, who is much neater than I am, is in charge of storage, dishwashing, home electronics and the termination of any pests larger than an ant. Nor am I a Self-Hating Egalitarian; I think this is a splendid arrangement. But like everything else in life, it has drawbacks, and this one is worth noting. Our initial problem was an Overlap. Storage was unquestionably my husband’s area. But acquisition was ambiguous, because we didn’t usually buy paper towels at the grocery store. So we both established orders. Hence: a surplus.
McArdle opens up the presents boxes from Amazon and leaves them out for P. Suderman, boy gopher, to put away. Since "he is neater," he probably picks up the house before McArdle does the cleaning. After McArdle cooks, he cleans up afterwards. McArdle does not tell us if P. Suderman has to make his bed or take out the trash, but a complete list of his chores is not necessary, is it? So despite the fact that McArdle is Vice-President in charge of Purchasing and Suderman is Warehouse Manager, Suderman robo-ordered paper towels as well, overstepping his boundary and overstocking the warehouse basement. Since they neglected to formalize division of labor or have monthly meetings to report on their respective divisions, inter-office communication and efficiency suffered.
When my husband attempted to deal with the surplus, we fell into a Gap. I continued to purchase household supplies, which certainly could fall within my general jurisdiction over kitchen and grocery. But with me doing the buying and Peter neatly putting them away in a space where I wasn’t confronted with our massive oversupply … well, we now have enough paper towels to open a Bounty distributorship. We could have reduced the overlap and the gap by drawing boundaries more firmly. But that would have put us into the most dread problem of egalitarian marriage: Negotiation.
Wait a second. Didn't McArdle once praise the negotiation skills of libertarian husbands?
My personal empirical research indicates that in fact, libertarians make great boyfriends and husbands (though my sample size on the latter is pretty small). The ones I've dated have actually been super considerate, and very concerned with pulling their own weight, though I couldn't say whether this is random chance, or the natural outgrowth of a value system that emphasizes voluntary, mutually beneficial cooperation. I will say that it is unusually easy to divide chores with someone who favors simple, rules-based systems for cooperation.
Yes, she did. And she found it "unusually easy" to divide chores. Or so she says....
Take the kitchen. I am in charge of kitchen equipment, cooking and organization. But my husband is in charge of dishwashing and storage. The result: We have a carefully thought-out scheme of What Goes Where that is completely intuitive -- to me. He doesn’t know where the measuring spoons go, and half the time, I can’t find them. We could fix this by carefully mapping out a scheme that both of us find intuitive. Unfortunately, we don’t have six weeks and a crack team of high-level diplomats to devote to the negotiations. Peter could also simply ask me where every single item goes every single time he does the dishes, but our yard is small and our basement is on a concrete slab, and I can’t figure out where I’d put the grave. So what if I haven’t seen my sifter in three months? It seems a small price to pay.
Or McArdle can put everything where she wants it and label that location. She can also just tell Suderman where everything goes and he can remember it. If every teenager in the country can do it, so can he. Perhaps he has some kind of cinematic memory problem, however, and wakes up every morning without the memory of where to store the plates and mixing bowls.

Sadly, "voluntary, mutually beneficial cooperation" has broken down for our libertarian princess and her consort. Instead, each does what (s)he wants and hopes that too much doesn't fall between the cracks.
All this is very interesting, I hear you say, in a voice that implies it isn’t interesting at all, but why are you telling me this? Well, it’s Friday, and on Fridays, I try to do a cooking or a personal-finance post. And chief among the challenges facing egalitarian marriages is the one they present to personal finances.
McArdle states the obvious for a paragraph or two and then gets back to the most interesting aspect of the issue, herself.
Couples have created any number of alternative systems to try to get around these problems. All of them have drawbacks. You can live like roommates, with each person contributing a share to the running of the household. This can really cut down on negotiation and overlap. But it creates even larger problems with gaps. I’ve talked to people who had this system degenerate into a toxic war over expenses, with each partner keeping track of who ate how much of the peanut butter and blood-curdling fights over whether one partner must pay if the other partner thinks they need to call a plumber about the slow drain.
Since most of McArdle's perspective is limited to her own experiences, which she extrapolates to the entire world, I now have to wonder if P. Suderman's predecessor wanted to call the plumber but McArdle refused because she didn't want to accidentally benefit their landlord.
This is especially fraught if one partner earns much more than the other. One of two things then seems to happen: One partner in the marriage has a much better standard of living than the other, which isn’t really much like being married at all. Or you have to negotiate who pays what share of what, and how to handle it when the richer partner wants a better vacation, and gee, I thought this was going to keep us from having to argue over all that stuff?
Remember when I insinuated that McArdle held the purse strings? That isn't true either, it seems.
Anecdotally, resentment from the lower-earning partner generally seems to be pretty high. It’s also utterly impractical if you have children. As far as I can tell, the couples who stick with it without nasty tit-for-tat wars tend to be second marriages where there are adult stepchildren and complicated asset situations. In general, my rule about marriage is this: In a good marriage, you cannot be happy if your partner is broke. Keeping your money may make sense if you are expecting to leave it to kids you have from another marriage, or if your spouse is one of those unfortunates who will spend any amount of money they get their hands on. But except in rare circumstances like these, it creates more problems in your marriage than it solves.
So in no way shape or form is P. Suderman kept on an allowance to pay off the mortgage more quickly and skimp and save, rather then travel and have fun while he is still young.
You can also pool some and keep some for yourself. This works pretty well for young newlyweds whose earnings are pretty equal (and small). But if they’re unequal, you run into the same sort of problems outlined above: There you are, enjoying your new computer, and there’s your partner, fretting over whether they should replace their dying phone or get the suit they need for their job interview. And while you have fewer gaps, you have more overlap between joint and personal expenses that has to be negotiated, as does the spending of the larger pool of joint money. You can pool everything, with allowances. This works pretty well for couples whose joint expenses have begun to dominate their individual expenses: kids, home renovations, pets and so forth. It has big advantages: It forces you to define household goals and allows you to direct all the family money toward those goals. But you have to develop a detailed budget, track expenditures to make sure you’re hitting it and negotiate basically everything the family spends.
In other words you have to be a libertarian, which McArdle finally realizes would be extremely tedious. Expenses are listed, doled out, balanced and negotiated, and so is everything else. If it works for the economy it'll work for the McSudermans!
Then there’s “everyone spend what they want out of the joint account.” This is the worst system, with the possible exception of “live like roommates.” It is favored by DINKs who just realized that they’re 42, overextended on the mortgage and have nothing saved for retirement. But right up to that point, you have a lot fewer fights about money. The point of this article is not that you should go back to giving one partner almost complete control of the money. It’s that a modern family needs modern financial controls: an explicit plan for handling money, good accounting, and a recognition that no matter what system you choose, you should expect to encounter gaps and overlaps -- and negotiations to prevent or resolve them.
And a pre-nup, in case a poorer partner thinks he is going to walk off with half of his partner's money.

All snark aside, financial planning and marital cooperation are good, if obvious, advice.

What makes McArdle's work special is the sweet little domestic stories she loves to share with her readers. We now know that libertarian husbands are the most wonderful and most egalitarian of husbands "who favor simple, rules-based systems for cooperation."

However, once again we see McArdle use the famous Underpants Gnome Model to support her theory.

1. Declare libertarians create mental systems for egalitarian cooperation.

2. State you did not bother to create a system because you didn't have time and egalitarian marriages split things up along the idiosyncratic preferences of each couple. Prove your statement by amassing 90 roles of paper towels in your basement.

3. Declare relationship egalitarian!

[McArdle] Actually, we had a good laugh over it. Though nowhere near as good as the one we had when I realized that we'd somehow acquired 9 bottles of molasses. It was gingerbread for everyone for *years*.

ADDED: Second "heh": from a commenter

[coketown] The article makes the issue sound benign, but I sense deep resentment and malice percolating through. Like everyone's sitting down for Cocoa Puffs and half-and-half after dinner, and a guest asks for a paper towel. And McMegan's like, "Peter, could you get our guest a paper towel? God knows I don't know where the f*** they are." And he's like, "Certainly. would you like one paper towel? Or an entire roll? God knows we have the largest f****** surplus of paper towels on earth. If Venezuela is wondering where all their paper towels went, they're in our basement." Then he leaves the room and comes back with his arms full of rolls of Bounty. "Here's a roll for you," he says, as he throws it at the guest's head, "and one for you, and one for you." And it's not until McMegan starts hitting him with the flour sifter that he stops and uses more surplus rolls for defense. And all that's left for the guests to say is: "Hmmm. Cocoa Puffs and half-and-half. I suppose it's worth the extra calories." Come to think, this sounds less like a modern marriage and more like a wonk marriage. I suspect Venn diagrams play a large role in the McArdle/Suderman household.

Anyway, after reviewing hundreds of mortgage applications, bankruptcy filings, and divorce decrees, it seems the most successful formula (at least for finances) is for everything to go into the pool and the wife to handle the budget. Seeking individual equity in what goes in and comes out misses the point of marriage.

    Friday, September 12, 2014

    Conservative Cults and Selfish Shills

    Paul Krugman via Mark Thoma:

    [A]nger against “takers” — anger that is very much tied up with ethnic and cultural divisions — runs deep. Many people, therefore, feel an affinity with those who rant about looming inflation... I’d argue, the persistence of the inflation cult is an example of the “affinity fraud” crucial to many swindles, in which investors trust a con man because he seems to be part of their tribe. In this case, the con men may be conning themselves as well as their followers, but that hardly matters.
    This tribal interpretation of the inflation cult helps explain the sheer rage you encounter when pointing out that the promised hyperinflation is nowhere to be seen. It’s comparable to the reaction you get when pointing out that Obamacare seems to be working, and probably has the same roots.
    But what about the economists who go along with the cult? They’re all conservatives, but aren’t they also professionals who put evidence above political convenience? Apparently not.
    The persistence of the inflation cult is, therefore, an indicator of just how polarized our society has become, of how everything is political, even among those who are supposed to rise above such things. And that reality, unlike the supposed risk of runaway inflation, is something that should scare you.

     Megan McArdle must believe that any group that includes her is superior and invariably right. She simply denies that Obamacare is anything but a disaster because she supports the people who oppose Obamacare. She uses social studies to try to prove that we can't believe social studies, because she refuses to believe her side includes lazy, bigoted thinkers.  It seems that every decision she makes is ideological and then she supports alimony, to her readers' disgust. But it appears her mother is divorced--and one can imagine why she would side with a moocher in this case.

    Con, cult or greed--or all of the above. No matter what the motivation is, the results are a horror show, and civility and respect only encourage their illogical, erratic, callous, dangerous course.

    Monday, September 8, 2014

    The Great Journalist Speaks Again

    A Little Bit Of McArdle: A Report of Her Lecture at Skidmore
    “I am not a failure – I am someone who has failed”. These words capped off journalist Megan McArdle’s delivery of this spring’s Carr Distinguished Interdisciplinary Lecture – a semi-annual lecture series with the purpose of “more intentionally preparing Skidmore students for the transition from college to the working world or to further studies”. [sic] 
    In addition to talking about her book, McArdle also shared some journalistic wisdom with the crowd. One particularly relevant piece of advice had to do with the Internet’s impact on journalism and adapting to the widespread availability of information. She described situations in which (perhaps biased) journalists would post information to the Internet that wasn’t quite true. As a result, more informed citizens would comment on this false information, calling out the author on their failure to post the facts. She stated that the journalists that failed well were the ones who checked those facts and posted corrections or apologies. Those journalists who failed less than well would stubbornly defend their work despite the fact that their information wasn’t correct.
    I talk a lot about denial, self-delusion and unconscious motivation, but let's not forget McArdle"s first and foremost trait. She's a liar who knows she is lying and does it anyway to get rich.

    And she thinks that aping the words of honest people will fool everyone into thinking she is honest.