Atlas Shrugged: The Mocking

Thursday, February 11, 2016

No Time For Miracles

McArdle has many reasons why Obama can't impose a $10 tax on the price of a barrel of oil:

1. It harms the poor.
2. Voters will have to buy smaller cars and homes and that makes them unhappy.
3. If you try to pass cap-and-trade and carbon taxes the voters will guillotine you.

However, even McArdle must acknowledge the obvious sometimes.
As a policy matter, if you are going to enact such a tax, the time to do so is probably right now, when oil prices have plummeted. People have already worked to make their cars and homes more energy efficient, in order to cope with almost a decade of soaring prices. The longer oil prices stay low, the more people will tend to switch back to gas-guzzling trucks, longer road trips, and less energy-efficient homes. By enacting the tax now, you give people some incentive to stay more efficient at minimal economic cost.
But there is always a "but."
But as a political matter, this is still not a good time. After almost eight years of minimal economic growth, the fall in oil prices has brought some welcome relief to strained household budgets. Many U.S. oil companies are losing money, particularly the shale oil folks, making the workers and local economies that depend upon them anxious. Jacking up the price of gas and home heating oil is going to upset all those people, who will in turn do their best to upset any legislators who propose such a thing. Congressional Republicans are certainly not going to stick out their necks for an opposition-party president with whom relations have never been warmer than “testy.”
Yes, the recovery from Republican economic policy has been weak, thanks to inadequate spending among many other reasons.

GDP Real Growth Rate
Country: USA
1999 4.1
2000 5
2001 0.3
2002 2.45
2003 3.1
2004 4.4
2005 3.2
2006 3.2
2007 2
2008 1.1
2009 -2.6
2010 2.8
2011 1.7
2012 2.2
2013 1.6

A lot of things could ease the budgets of the poor but I would worry about more pressing issues than oil company revenues and gasoline prices that would still be lower than they were a couple of years ago.
The administration has made some gestures toward mitigating this opposition, notably by claiming that the tax will be paid by oil companies. But this is obvious nonsense. Oil companies currently have few profits from which to pay the tax. Whoever is responsible for filing the paperwork, the cost will be paid by consumers in higher fuel prices, and the administration surely knows this.
The price of a barrel of oil today is $31. In 2014 it was $85.34. If the price were raised $10 it could go up to 1990 levels!

Year Nominal Price Inflation Adjusted Price
1946 $1.63 $19.41
1950 $2.77 $27.19
1960 $2.91 $23.26
1970 $3.39 $20.63
1980 $37.42 $107.36
1990 $23.19 $41.79
2000 $27.39 $37.54
2001 $23.00 $30.68
2002 $22.81 $29.92
2003 $27.69 $35.55
2004 $37.66 $47.04
2005 $50.04 $60.44
2006 $58.30 $68.27
2007 $64.20 $72.98
2008 $91.48 $100.00
2009 $53.48 $58.75
2010 $71.21 $77.10
2011 $87.04 $91.37
2012 $86.46 $88.93
2013 $91.17 $92.40
2014 $85.60 $85.34

More recently:

Almost everything McArdle says falls apart on closer examination but as McArdle is the patron saint of agnotologists, willingly ignorant sheep, closer examination isn't really a problem.

St. Agnes under happier earlier times.

St. Agnes today.

St. Megan does not mention why Obama wants the tax: to improve infrastructure and move to sustainable energy. McArdle has declared those to be impossible as well, of course.
That hardly matters, however, because this is a daydream proposal in a never-never budget. Its point is to make a moral argument and motivate the environmentalist portion of the Democratic base, which the party would very much like to see at the polls this November. Perhaps it will force the Democratic nominees to pay fealty to the proposal, as they wend their way through the grueling round of campaign stops, debates, and press appearances. What this tax will not do is pass.

But that’s the great thing about the last year of your presidency: Nothing’s going to pass anyway, so you can stop worrying about the grinding realities of retail politics. Now is the time to daydream, to swing for the fences … and perhaps, to irritate a few more of your coworkers on your way out the door.

She must have been a fun employee.

Fast Times at Bloomberg High

S. E. Cupp, Virginia Postrel, Megan McArdle, and Katherine Mangu-Ward and discuss politics.

This post contains recycled Twitter material and took a week to write due to internet problems, namely Comcast.

Megan McArdle watched the latest Republican debate and was not impressed.
"Both sides do it" is the last refuge of the scoundrel. McArdle can't very well admit that her favorite method of communication, sly invective, made her side look mean-spirited, quarrelsome, unprofessional and unintelligent during the debate. She also can't admit that Clinton and Sanders were a model of decorum in comparison.

Let's take a look at that Hobbesian "all against all." It's exactly what McArdle wants. I don't know much about Hobbes (sans Calvin) but I can read Wikipedia and I do know his most famous quote:
Beginning from a mechanistic understanding of human beings and the passions, Hobbes postulates what life would be like without government, a condition which he calls the state of nature; much of this was based on Hugo Grotius' works. In that state, each person would have a right, or license, to everything in the world. This, Hobbes argues, would lead to a "war of all against all" (bellum omnium contra omnes). The description contains what has been called one of the best known passages in English philosophy, which describes the natural state mankind would be in, were it not for political community: [15]
In such condition, there is no place for industry; because the fruit thereof is uncertain: and consequently no culture of the earth; no navigation, nor use of the commodities that may be imported by sea; no commodious building; no instruments of moving, and removing, such things as require much force; no knowledge of the face of the earth; no account of time; no arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear, and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.[16]
What could be more libertarian than a world without government? Sure, they would mooch off everyone else for what they can't live without (a legal system backed up by a system of force) but the rest is hand-waving and circus ponies, which is fun and easy.

The right got everything they wanted. They empowered the Evangelicals because the latter were easy pickings; easily swayed and easily led. The empowered Evangelicals gradually repulsed the rest of the voters by their extremism. When Democrats were elected president, right then set about destroying the means by which they controlled the Evangelical/working class Republican, authoritarian respect for the leaders, the elite. The new poor then turned their well-stoked hatred onto their own leaders and the Republican establishment lost ever more control over the process.


They opened up the donor spigot, which led to the loss of control over the funding of political candidates and the rise of Trump. They screw up everything they touch because they are greedy and stupid.

The right's candidates are an embarrassment and despite her well-practiced air of omniscient amusement, McArdle supported them. Scott Walker, the Mortimer Snerd of politics. Ted Cruz, with his silly putty face and my-eyes-on-God gaze. And now Rubio, human .gif.

McArdle made an extraordinarily rare Sunday post to try to rehabilitate her Last Hope for a presidential race that will not be humiliating, let alone unsuccessful. She began in the usual way, talking about herself. It seems McArdle interviewed with Goldman, Sachs, once upon a time, in the belief that she would be an asset to that firm. She might have mentioned that before, perhaps while defending it on tv, but let's not be picky. She flubbed the interview, saving her a period of humiliation and a summary firing, so all's well that ends well but that experience taught her that Marco Rubio, too, can move back into his parents' house, find a billionaire backer, and turn defeat into victory.

I bring this up, of course, because of Marco Rubio, who got mauled by Chris Christie last night in the Republican debate over his habit of delivering canned lines from speeches in response to debate questions. This attack has been brewing all week --arguably for longer than that, as journalists have long complained about the repetition of Rubio’s stump speech. I’ve dismissed the complaints from journalists --and will continue to, because this is the most short-sighted sort of insider myopia. Most voters will never listen to Rubio’s stump speech more than once, and they don't care that he has given those answers before. They aren’t so stupid as to assume that politicians write all-new remarks for a half-dozen campaign appearances every day, and unlike journalists, they don't think that verbal originality is the highest peak of human achievement.
Walker didn't need that elite university training. Rubio doesn't need the ability to speak extemporaneously. Or naturally.
But by relentlessly attacking Rubio, Christie forced him off his game. Rubio had anticipated the attack, and had a canned answer. Christie came back at him. It was a moment in which Rubio could have locked the debate away by giving Christie a withering stare and saying “Chris, Chris—is this really the best you can do? Complaining about my debating style? I’m here to talk about the issues and what we can do for the American people, not to try to impress a bunch of Washington insiders by one-upping each other over stuff that isn’t going to make one bit of difference to how I’ll conduct myself as president of the United States.”
It worked in McArdle's prep school bathroom so it'll work on the debate stage as well.

First, you look down your nose and sneer at your opponent. Your withering stare must take her in from hair band to shoes, the disgust on your face implying that her shoes are from the wrong European factory and her money only goes back one generation. Then you affect a world-weary air, letting your friends and enemies know that you are not impressed by the presumption of your attacker and you find her volley sadly lacking in intelligence. You use reductio ad absurdum arguments to belittle her. Then you remind the upstart of your personal superiority in the most sanctimonious, arrogant way possible, hoping that your opponent will be intimidated into silence.

McArdle just knows that if Rubio had followed her advice (for a very reasonable fee!), Christie would be crying in the bathroom and binging on Snickers bars right now. The only surprise is that she did not tell Rubio to get some friends and corner Christie in the stairwell, chanting "Fat!fat!fat!" until Christie cried and ran away.
But I’ve had 12 hours to come up with those remarks.
I could have watched Mean Girls and come up with those remarks in 180 minutes.
In the moment, faced with the same dreadful choice I had 15 years ago, Rubio decided that ad-libbing was dangerous. (He was right!) So then, incredibly, he did something even worse: he repeated himself, nearly word for word. Three or four or five times. I’m afraid I lost count, as it was too painful to watch.

McArdle was on Team Walker until he flamed out in the debate club try-outs. After eavesdropping in the bathroom stalls she discovered Team Cruz but none of her friends liked him so she quickly dumped him too. The only guy left (except for that nouveau riche bully Trump and Megan couldn't afford to be see supporting a fellow crass New Yorker) was baby-faced freshman glad hander Rubio the Suck-Up. But she must support someone because that's how you make friends and allies so Rubio it is.
Substantively, I don’t think this matters.
Substantively, the debate proved Rubio had no substance.
The reaction from journalists on Twitter was just slightly overapocalyptic, as if getting rattled for a few minutes actually had some bearing on Rubio’s fitness for the presidency, or even his ability to compete in the general. Everyone in these campaigns hews closely to a script -- indeed, the funniest moment for me last night was when Christie, still riding high on his earlier victory, tried to launch exactly the same attack on Rubio again, using largely the same words. No one in modern times ad-libs their way to a nomination; even the attacks on scripts are themselves carefully scripted. And anyone can get shaken if they’ve been told to stick to a script, seen it work for them and then suddenly got knocked out of it.

It's not that he hewed closely to a script. It's that he was utterly incapable of not hewing closely to a script because he couldn't do anything else.

Just because Megan McArdle blew a Goldman, Sachs interview doesn't mean that she wouldn't have been a wonderful financial consultant and just because Rubio blew a debate doesn't mean he wouldn't be a wonderful president. If you have the right ideology and background--or just the right backers-- you don't need to actually be able to do anything. Megan can't do anything. She's apocalyptically bad at math. Her writing style is Mean Girl by way of Downtown Abbey. Her attempt at reasoning and problem-solving are disastrous.  Her core of knowledge is sketchy at best and flat wrong at worse.

But-and this is the gist of the whole sorry post--Rubio would be just as good as Megan McArdle at being president.

Not that competency matters anyway!
And even politically, I’m not sure how much damage was done. The primary is two days away -- and those two days in between are going to be dominated by Super Bowl coverage. Rubio’s gaffe is going to be competing with pregame analysis and viral ads for screen time, even in New Hampshire. Moreover, the voters in New Hampshire are more likely than most to have actually watched the whole debate, where Rubio made a strong showing after his initial dreadful performance.
I would mock this unsupported optimism but fortunately I can mock it in hindsight. McArdle continues to be wrong about Rubio.
Besides, the great lesson of this nomination season is that the stuff that strikes journalists and political professionals as disqualifying -- wildly implausible campaign promises, calling yourself a socialist, making outrageously sexist remarks -- often plays very differently with primary voters than we expect.
Both Sanders and Trump Do It. Sophisticates can't understand it but the little people inexplicably disagree with them.
That said, two days before a primary in which you were expected to make a strong showing is obviously a very bad moment to choke. And if Rubio does survive this, he is going to need to learn from it, fast, because having seen this work once, other candidates are going to try it. He either needs a deeper script, with four or five potential answers to each question, or he needs to practice ad-libbing without rambling or embarrassing himself.
Because if he can’t, he’s going to have to start memorizing another kind of speeches: the kind that begins “I’d like to congratulate my opponent on securing the nomination of the Republican Party.”
So much for Rubio. The right has run out of establishment Republicans and now must pick which dystopian movie they want to live through: Back to the Future Part II or Nixon 2:The Evangelical.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

In Which Megan McArdle Shares Her Wisdom

Little Miss Can't Be Wrong has an opinion. Hark! Let's listen!

“The civil service will interpret a Donald Trump presidency as damage and route around it.” That was the recent consensus at one of those infamous Washington dinner parties that so repulse Trump fans. (What can I say? We in Washington also have to eat. And while we do, we talk about politics.)
Isn't it cool how any dinner party in DC can be called a "Washington dinner party," as if movers and shakers have come to dine on white linen and silver, when the reality is mediocre libertarian pundits eating frozen chicken legs.
The line, of course, was a play on a gleeful old hacker credo: “The Internet interprets censorship as damage and routes around it.” But it was offered in earnest, and on reflection, I think it’s correct. The primal appeal of a Trump candidacy (evidently lost on a plurality of Iowa caucus-goers) is that he doesn’t care about what Those People think -- you know, the time-servers and chair-warmers, the establishment snobs and the RINO sellouts. Other folks may go to Washington and get seduced into the corrupt bargain by which virtue and resolve are exchanged for money and power, but not Donald Trump. He’ll say or do anything to Make America Great Again.
Since Trump has said that he often traded favors and made deals for money and power, virtue is not a factor in his popularity. Trump says he'll win any deal and whatever he does will be successful, not that he'll "do anything" to make America great again. McArdle has two types of arguments: wonk-heavy but simplistic explanations that were almost certainly fed to her or stream-of-conscience gut reactions like this one.  For the sake of this argument, McArdle has decided that Trump attracted voters with his moral purity. The next argument--who knows? Consistency is the hobgoblin of the unpaid, not propaganda pros like McArdle.
And these people have a little seed of a point in there. Conservatives do go to Washington with a certain fire in their bellies, and settle down into multi-decade careers with something more like a night light. Not one of those really powerful night lights, either, the kind you use to light the way to emergency exits. This is more like a five-watt bulb, well-shielded. Grand promises are scaled back to modest tax credits and budgets that grow government spending at 0.8 percent a year, instead of the 1.6 percent that Democrats demand.
This is creating her own reality on a grand scale. Democrats "demand" growth not jobs. Politicians make it to Washington as innocent as a daisy. The elite don't create the rules, siphon off the wealth, and control the masses. Conservatives are all principled, it's just the system that gets them down, man.
I myself have been accused of selling out to the Washington Consensus -- not because my views on most things have changed since I moved here from New York City, but because I made mad concessions like suggesting that it wasn’t a very good idea to shut the government down all of a sudden. What these critics miss is that we insiders, we establishment lackeys, have not given in to the siren song of intimate policy briefings and Georgetown cocktail parties. We have surrendered to something even more formidable: reality.
Mrs. Megan McArdle is not an insider. She is not part of the Establishment. She is a lowly servant, a hired hand. She's the parlormaid Bridget, not Peggy Noonan. Lying becomes habitual so I also must doubt that she has been to many Georgetown cocktail parties. Her readers are immoral and stupid with ideology. They accuse her of selling out when they disagrees with her and condescendingly praise her when they do not.
What you realize when you get to Washington is that the kind of wholesale change the revolutionaries imagine is not possible. No, please don’t inundate me with quotes from Admiral Ingram and John F. Kennedy. People do dream of a better Washington, and sometimes fight for it, and occasionally win significant victories.
In Buffy The Vampire Slayer (work with me, people), the very first evil ever created in this world was a disembodied voice that spoke inside the heads of its victims, telling them that they were weak and helpless, that they were bad and wrong, that sacrifice through murder and suicide was their only option. It was tremendously successful but it was only a voice. It couldn't do anything but persuade, convince others that it was right and they were wrong. An authoritarian structure must convince you to submit to it. It must tell you over and over until you do not even question the structure of your society in your mind.

McArdle doesn't want revolution because it would destroy her income stream and source of ego-gratification. She knows Americans aren't touched by much of the world's suffering and cannot imagine that that would ever change. Wholesale revolutionary change is possible. Our government started out that way. We threw out the monarchy, built a military, established a different form of government.

The structure of our lives is (mostly) safe and comfortable and nobody wants to make any revolutionary changes. Most of the changes we have experienced lately have been bad. Revolution is not a benign word, it means suffering and death and the more you have to lose, the more you want to keep the present structure.

But social and population upheaval, starvation and death is possible and will happen and already has begun in some parts of the world. We can either control the revolutionary changes or we can let a leader control them. So far we have been doing the latter, with disastrous results.

We are betting our kids' futures that America is too exceptional (that is, rich and powerful) to suffer. Is America so powerful that bigger storms and rising coastal water won't affect it? Are we so rich that we can feed the masses on billionaires' largess? Are we sure that it will take a couple of generations before Americans are affected by the changes in our world?
But they do so within very tight constraints. Even Roosevelt had his expansive visions substantially curtailed by the courts, and by resistance from ordinary Americans who simply refused to go along; even Reagan ultimately made little progress at cutting down the overall size and scope of government, and at best modestly curtailed its expense.
Reagan lowered the top tax rate from 70% to 28%. Mission accomplished.
This is the reality: Most of what you want to do to Washington won’t get done -- and neither will much of what you want to get done outside of it, if you insist on taking Washington on.
It is her reality that you are expected to live in, for her personal convenience. McArdle goes on to say that everyone wants the government to do everything but tax them and of course Washington can't be everything to everyone. Therefore, nobody can do anything ever.
This makes people think that Washingtonians don’t care about them. This is false. Washingtonians do care. It’s just that they seem to have misplaced their magic wand.
People talk about feelings when they do not want to talk about facts.

McArdle goes on to explain that politics is compromise and the civil service is filled with people who pick and choose which government tasks they will or will not do based on their feelings, no doubt. And most of all, Trump will be nothing but a disappointment to his followers for he cannot navigate the Labyrinth any more than anyone else.

Nobody can do anything. Vote for Rubio. Nobody can do anything. Vote for Clinton. Sanders will never be able to get enough money to run for president. Sanders will never win if he runs. Sanders will never get Congress to work with him if he wins. Congress will work so much better with Clinton.

Maybe. Or maybe Congress will start the impeachment proceedings before she's sworn in.

The problem with picking the lesser of two evils is that you end up with evil no matter what and you start to believe nobody can do anything ever.

Sanders probably can't win.
Clinton will probably be like her husband, punishing the poor and rewarding the rich.
Trump is unspeakable.
Cruz is Nixon lite.
Rubio is a moron.

It's evil all the way down.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Shallow Analysis For Cunning Minds


It is completely understandable for someone who says she was wrong about nearly everything to think that her bosses, readers, and the world at large want to hear what she thinks about the coming election. Megan McArdle:
It’s fashionable for columnists to write “I was wrong” pieces, and if this work by Autor et al holds, this will go down as one of the four things I was most mistaken about: the Iraq War, the severity of the financial crisis that followed Lehman’s collapse, the rise of Donald Trump, and now, China trade.
McArdle is too modest; she has been wrong about so much more, from cooking to sociology, from home remodeling to using the mail box. Even blog posts can't go on forever, though, so she confines herself to just a few mistakes. But McArdle is contractually obligated to come up with something-or-other every few days, she sees politics as a win-lose game that she wants to win, and nobody cares if she is wrong anyway,  so she graces us with her brilliant, highly-paid analysis. McArdle knows Clinton will lose, just like conservatives knew Obama would lose against Romney. How could she possibly be wrong?

Six reasons why Clinton will lose:
1. The Iowa caucus proves what I said all along. Clinton is a terrible campaigner.
Of course McArdle links to herself. Here is her exhaustive analysis of Clinton's campaign abilities:
She's not a particularly good candidate. She has never won a tough election. In fact, she's only won in deep blue New York, which is not exactly playing against the varsity. On the stump, she has nowhere near the appeal of her husband, or Barack Obama. She's a totally fine speaker, but she is not inspiring, and she does not come off as warm; her tone ranges from "well coached" to "annoyed." You might call her the Mitt Romney of the Democrats.
McArdle does not find her appealing, inspiring, or warm, therefore Democrats will not vote for her.
Fait accompli!
2. Donald Trump is getting voters to the polls.
That's everyone's take-away, because that's what the data says. McArdle says that's not good news for Republicans because Trump is also getting people out to vote against him; he did lose after all.
3. Young 'uns are feeling the Bern.
Thank you, Captain Obvious, as the commercial says. McArdle muses that Democratic youth are either greedy or stupid, a happy thought that must keep her warm while being forced to read statistics that say conservatives are authoritarian, low-information voters.
4. Sanders may not win, but he's definitely shaping the race.
Hmmm. It seems that candidates lean to the left (or right) according to the campaign rhetoric of their competition. Stunning!
5. There's a lot of stuff you can indeed say, even though conventional wisdom said you couldn't.
She'll keep that in mind.
6.Marco Rubio has momentum, and looks likely to be the establishment candidate from this point forward.
Marcomentum!! Third place is the winner because Trump won't last and the other guy is Ted Cruz. Also, young Hispanic Republicans are so going to beat those old white Democrats!

Yeah. Nothing will excite the Republican base more than the idea of voting for the sons of Hispanic immigrants, especially after their talking Trump doll was taken away from them. They just can't wait to vote against white people.

I picked the wrong time to give up drinking.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Shorter Megan McArdle: When The Poor Get Restless, Start Pouring Oil On Troubled Waters

A few shorters. Fortunately McArdle is a sparse poster.

Tax Cuts Can't Motivate the Republican Base Anymore: Ever since the New Deal was enacted America grew steadily poorer and by the 1970s things got desperate. Taxes had risen so much since then that cutting taxes was a popular position. But taxes are lower now so we will have to do... something else.

Don't Blame Americans for Blaming China: I was wrong about Iraq, the 2008 crises, and Trump, and I was wrong about the globalization of trade.  It has hurt many workers so we need to do... something.

This post has some goodies:

Sure I was wrong but you think you're a smartie, don't you?
Yes, yes, I know: You predicted China's enormous trade surpluses with the U.S. and the disruption they would cause. But if you want to assert some amazing economic foresight, it takes a bit more than one correct prediction (I, for example, called the housing bubble in 2002, which has not made every other prediction correct). I’ll want to see some evidence, like the fabulous stock portfolio you’ve managed to assemble through your superhuman facility for predicting just how economic events will unfold.  
For people have been predicting trade disasters for decades: OPEC, Japan, Germany, just to name the most iconic. (Remember Rising Sun, the Michael Crichton Japanophobic thriller published right about when Japan was embarking upon its 20-plus year “Lost Decade”?) The rise of those new manufacturing centers did end up badly hurting individual domestic industries (steel, cars, electronics), but not “industry” overall. China was different because it brought so many workers to market so very fast -- but that was hard to foresee without having perfect foreknowledge of the course of Chinese industrial policy.
Now that globalization has gutted the American working class, we no longer need to worry about the American working class being gutted on such a big scale again.
Moreover, it’s unlikely to be repeated, unless another 1.3-billion person country can move half its countryside into the industrial core over the course of a few decades. Future trade movements will be on much smaller scales, meaning that the U.S. economy will probably be better able to handle the shock.
Sucks to be you:
Politicians know that what people want most is work and community -- not tax cuts, not welfare, not more generous government benefits. The problem is, they have no idea how to actually deliver it. Whatever mistakes we made 20 years ago, we’re stuck with them now. The problem is, that’s not really a very satisfying answer, is it? I’m not stuck with them; I have a stable job, a lovely if somewhat decrepit row home in our nation’s capital, and a marvelously cheap smartphone manufactured in China. It’s someone else who got stuck with the decisions the elites made, and all the elites can seem to offer is pretty much exactly the same policy prescriptions they were in favor of 25 years ago. I can’t blame the elites, exactly. But I can’t blame the folks who have decided they’re sick of listening to them, either.

Hey, Trump Voters: He'll Offend You Next: Silly upper-class conservatives, Trump will never give you what you want.

Beware: Wal-Mart's Raises Are Not a Victory: Wal-Mart is trying to screw over its workers again. That's what happens when liberals try to interfere with Wal-Mart screwing over its workers. And upper-class conservatives shouldn't support them; those liberals could be taking your dividends.

Health Care's Continental Divide:
Leonid Bershidsky: National Health Care works. I know, I live in Germany and use it.
Megan McArdle: The world sponges off of American drug profits for innovation so we cannot have national health care.
Leonid Bershidsky: I will explain about German's system and drug innovation and you will understand you can have national health care.
Megan McArdle: But how will we have millionaire doctors and plush hospitals? Besides, corporate takeover of the politics is so complete that we'd never get it enacted anyway.

Twit Tweets Tripe

When your self-image is based on who you think you should be instead of who you are, life gets complicated.
McArdle took on enormous debt to buy entrance into the financial industry. She failed. She can hardly deny that and does not but she did not take on that debt to become a low-paid journalist.

Not that McArdle is a low-paid journalist; she is a very high-paid journalist in a field with an extreme degree of income inequality.  She did not work her way up the ladder. All her journalism jobs have been elite jobs, despite her description of herself as a self-sacrificing public servant, who gave up "highly paid professional work" to become a low-paid writer. Perhaps she is merely defending the tribe in abstract but it is more likely, given her past history, that while she admits her long-ago failure in public, in her mind she glosses right over it.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016


Authoritarianism is all about power because it takes a demonstration of power to force people into subservience. But authoritarians are few and the masses are massive. The authority must convince people to voluntarily submit or they would be overwhelmed.

The authority can make reasonable arguments based on mutual benefit. Since the benefit is seldom mutual that can be a problem. It can bribe or simply hire but that can be expensive. It is cheaper, easier, and often more effective to lie.

Lies are a valuable commodity because lies are power.  If you can get away with lying to someone you have demonstrated that they have no power over you and you have demonstrated that you have power over them because you can force them to accept your lies, live by your reality, and be controlled for your personal profit.

Lies are emotionally satisfying for some people, for the same reason. When they get away with lying they are demonstrating their personal power, they feel superior to the lower orders, and they might benefit financially.

Some people don't like lies. Lies are the tools of hypocrites and bullies. Harmless little lies smooth over potential unnecessary conflict but harmful lies are used to make power grabs.Ted Cruz is a liar for personal and political gain. His voters are okay with that. They are authoritarian as well which means they trade submission to lies for a sense of security, purpose and meaning, embodied in Ted Cruz.

Trace the long arc of the Christian conservative movement in America, and you can detect an abiding optimism about the possibility that other people might be persuaded. That optimism is the blood of all evangelism, of the personal project of turning individuals toward God, but it also runs through the organization of religious politics and the creation of Christian cultural projects: change enough hearts, they say, and the world will change.

This analysis belongs to James Davison Hunter, a sociologist and social theorist at the University of Virginia who has often focussed on evangelicalism in America, and who popularized the term “Culture Wars” with his 1991 book of that name. I called Hunter this week to ask what sense he made of the Cruz phenomenon, and he said he believed it reflected a basic turn in the evangelical perspective. “As a rhetorical matter, they’ve given up on this notion that they represent a ‘moral majority,’ ” he said. “They’ve given up on the possibility of persuasion.”
They've turned to naked power grabs and that means lying, because that's all they have left. His followers say Cruz's lies are either not lies, are irrelevant, prove his power, or fit with his followers' preconceived ideas. Naturally there will be overlap among Trump and Cruz's followers and Trump's message has proven more popular than Cruz's. While Trump is saying that he is a winner and will make all Americans winners as well, Cruz is saying he is being victimized and so is everyone else.

Donald Trump lies to be envied and admired. His lies are grandiose boasts and promises. Cruz's lies are formulaic recitations of talking points.  His lies are only meant to sound more conservative than anyone else and make him more likely to win than anyone else.

Anything Goes

Ted Cruz lied about Obamacare because why the hell not? Trump lies all the time and everyone loves it. Surely the world would love Cruz's lies as well!  From the Politico article:
Ted Cruz revealed on Thursday that he is not currently covered by any health insurance, chalking up the lack of coverage to Obamacare. 
"I’ll tell you, you know who one of those millions of Americans is who’s lost their health care because of Obamacare? That would be me," Cruz told a Manchester, New Hampshire, audience. "I don’t have health care right now."
He lied. He was covered. It was a moronic lie; it would be and was discovered immediately. Cruz obviously believed that lying about Obamacare would help his career because it always had. Cruz decided to go for broke.
Cruz explained that he had purchased an individual policy and that Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Texas had canceled all of its individual policies in Texas, effective Dec. 31. Cruz and his wife, Heidi, who is on temporary leave from her job with Goldman Sachs, purchased an individual plan last year after previously receiving coverage through the Wall Street firm. A spokeswoman for Cruz's campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment to clarify his remarks.
I too have a BCBS of Texas individual policy through the marketplace. BCBS switched to all-HMO in the marketplace but still has individual policies, as my new monthly bill, health cards and benefits book prove.
"So our health care got canceled, we got a notice in the mail, Blue Cross Blue Shield was leaving the market. And so we’re in the process of finding another policy," Cruz said. "I hope by the end of the month we’ll have a policy for our family. But our premiums — we just got a quote, our premiums are going up 50 percent. That’s happening all over the country. That’s happening in New Hampshire."
His old policy was cancelled. He must have received several notices in the mail that informed him his plan was ending, told him to sign up for a new one when the enrollment period opened if he so desired, and told him he could also elect to do nothing and let BCBSTX automatically enroll him in a new plan . Those notices also told him BCBS is still in the individual market, of course. I received the same notices. Perhaps BCBSTX was just messing with Cruz and decided to take his money and do nothing in return, but it is more probable that he received the same information in the mail as everyone else.

I happen to have some of those letters right here. One is dated September 25, 2015. It says my plan will be discontinued but I can enroll in another during Open Enrollment in November. They end the letter with: "Nothing is more important than your health. And our goal is to help you and your family live health and stay healthy in 2016. Watch your mail for more details. The, make your choice during the Open Enrollment period to be sure there's no gap in your coverage. We'll be standing by, ready to help you. every step of the way."

The bastards! More lies:
It would appear that news of the cancellation did not go over well in the Cruz household.

"By the way, when you let your health insurance policy lapse, your wife gets really ticked at you," he remarked. "It's not a good-I've had, shall we say, some intense conversations with Heidi on that."
Lying is all in the details, evidently. But what else can he say--it's not good family values to let your little girls' health insurance lapse and no wife would stand for it, especially right after she gave up her own valuable insurance. Lies must be compounded upon lies. The Politico article went on to point out Cruz was lying. 

Sadly, that was not the end of lies from the Cruz camp. Liars need scapegoats so Cruz blamed his insurance broker. From The Wall Street Journal:
Cruz spokeswoman Catherine Frazier said Friday that Mr. Cruz’s insurance broker had told him that he lost his health coverage when his Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Texas preferred provider organization, or PPO, policy terminated on Dec. 31.

But Mr. Cruz had in fact been automatically enrolled by Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Texas in another, narrower-network “health maintenance organization” plan that kept him covered in January. As we reported earlier, when we explained the headache on Friday, that’s what the insurer said it did for all customers in his situation — even if Mr. Cruz didn’t know it.
We received a letter dated October 20, 2015, notifying us of the automatic enrollment as well. It said: "Your NEW health plan will begin on January 1, 2016. The new [...] plan that we have selected for you will be effective on January 1, 2016 to ensure that you do not have a gap in coverage. If you continue to pay your monthly premium on time, your coverage will continue.

Meanwhile back at the campaign, the lies continue. As the candidate goes, so goes the campaign.
In a reversal, the Cruz campaign now says that Ted Cruz's family actually had insurance all along. Although their initial PPO plan did lapse, BlueCross BlueShield of Texas automatically enrolled them in another plan -- known as a "health maintenance organization” plan -- to keep them covered. Cruz just didn't realize it. Even though the family does have some type of coverage, Cruz still plans on shopping around for a new plan that's closer to the old one his family had.
And some more.
Based on the information from his insurance broker, “Sen. Cruz believed the family was uninsured and asked the broker to pull quotes immediately for a new policy,” Ms. Frazier said. “The Cruz family is currently covered by a Blue Cross HMO.”

Not for long, though. Mr. Cruz recently arranged to get a new policy that is closer to the kind of coverage he had before, and will be a Humana enrollee effective March 1 in one of their wider-network PPO plans. That’s what will cost him around 50% more than he was paying in 2015, Ms. Frazier said.
That's a very incompetent broker. He told Cruz that he and his wife and daughters didn't have health insurance because their policies were cancelled-which would mean that he risked the Cruzes' financial well-being-but if the broker knew the policies were cancelled he was receiving information on their account and knew that their policy was being replaced automatically.

All the while the Cruzes did have health insurance. He told the Cruzes that their policy was cancelled for no reason and told them to sign up for a new policy for no reason. For no reason, he did not tell them their plan was rolling into a new one, that the new plan was an HMO, and that they needed to pick a new plan if they didn't want the automatic one.

That might be the most thorough example of chucking someone under a bus that I have ever seen.

No matter how it was done, going from a Goldman, Sachs gold-plated plan to being stuck in the same humble HMO as his constituents would never do. Yet Cruz also wants to make an anti-government point.
Cruz and his family were previously covered under a blue chip employer plan offered by Goldman Sachs, where his wife Heidi worked before going on unpaid leave in March to help with the campaign.

As a U.S. senator, Cruz also has the option to get coverage through the Washington, D.C.-exchange, where he would also be eligible for a subsidy up to 75 percent from his government employer, as [Michael A.] Hiltzik also noted.

"Cruz is still eligible for the government’s employer subsidy of up to 75% of his health insurance premium," Hiltzik wrote. "He has said he wouldn’t accept the employer share, which makes his complaint about his cost of insurance just a teeny bit more dishonest because he’s the one driving up his own premium."
I doubt Heidi turned down her employer subsidy. If they can hold on for a while she can go back to private work and all will be well.

Will anyone care that Cruz is a lying liar? More on that later.

Friday, January 8, 2016

The Elite Vs The Elite

A quick McArdle, even though posting in haste usually means repenting in leisure.

"Academia" has a problem. It is hopelessly bigoted against fundamentalists. (Conflict of interest note: Megan McArdle is married to an "ex-fundamentalist" and one assumes her parents-in-law are/were fundamentalists.) 

How do we know this? An elite college turned up its noses at a PhD candidate from a fundamentalist college. Thus is all of "academia" condemned!
What happened on that committee is bigotry, plain and simple. And it's not just a problem for conservative Christians, and people seen as conservative Christians. It’s a problem for academia. 
But can a creationist really become an academic, you may want to ask. Note that the student was a candidate for the linguistics department, where your views on evolution probably have minimal effect on your work. I’ve seen some folks argue that biblical literalism is also inimical to linguistics if people take the Tower of Babel as an accurate description of language evolution. Fair enough. But the evaluators have no idea whether this candidate is a biblical literalist. It is possible to attend such schools without being a young earth creationist, and possible to change your mind during your time there, or after you graduate. Effectively, some on the committee argued that this girl had a strike against her not even because she is a conservative Christian, but because her parents (most likely) are. 
Are graduates of those schools more likely to be young earth creationists who think that secular academics which conflict with their reading of the Bible are bunk? Yes. But the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue. (Lee Jussim has done a lot of work showing that stereotypes are often quite accurate.) The problem with stereotypes is that people use them instead of other, better information. Women are, on average, less likely to be interested in science, technology, engineering and math. That wouldn’t make it a good policy for a STEM program to discard the applications of all women, on the grounds that most women don’t want to be engineers. 
To be sure, they did pass her application on to the second round -- but what are the odds that the attitudes of the first-round reviewers did not infect the decisions that were made later?
Your education background is just like your race and sex--they should never be a factor in admittance to elite graduate programs. And the fact that McArdle benefited from the practice of elite favoritism towards elite programs means nothing. Sure, she went from P.S. Whatever to an elite private school when her father became more wealthy. And that prep school, not her lackluster grades, got her into Penn, where Penn, not her lackluster college grades, got her into an MBA program.

But Penn should have taken her even if she was home schooled and had lackluster grades! And the University of Chicago's elite MBA program should take any Liberty  U or Our Lady of the Sorrows graduate! Those elite colleges are so elite it's just bigotry!
This is exactly the sort of bigotry against conservatives and the religious that I have been assured doesn’t happen, when in the past I have written about liberal bias in academia. Well, maybe it isn't spoken out loud every time, or it is communicated in a more subtle code. As with other forms of bigotry, what is most troubling is not the conversation, but the depressing certainty that so many similar conversations didn’t even happen, because everyone in the room understood what to do without needing to discuss it.
They're all thinking about you and talking about you behind your back! Paranoia isn't just for ranchers and the militiamen, you know. Everyone looks down on conservatives and laughs at them! It's true, as my anecdote proves!

McArdle warns liberals that because of liberal bigotry, liberals don't hear contrasting views and their arguments will be weak. Because of liberal bigotry, conservatives are becoming increasingly bitter, since liberals won't talk to them, and will refuse to pay taxes that support universities.
In the long run, no one is served by an academy that becomes the exclusive province of half the political spectrum. Unfortunately, the bigger the skew, the harder it is for people inside to even recognize the problem, much less agree to fix it.
And in the short run, McArdle's elite status is being damaged by her connection to the Koch brothers.
In fact, the conversation I'm alluding to concerned a young woman who was home-schooled before attending a small Christian college, which the reviewers of her application dismissed as a place of “right-wing religious fundamentalists” that was “supported by the Koch brothers.”  
 Full disclosure: My husband works for Reason magazine, which has received some funding from one of the Koch brothers, and before we were married, he had a one-year fellowship with the Charles Koch Foundation.
Everything is the liberals' fault because they are bigoted against conservatives. The conservatives who want to get paid to demean elite education while spending their youth striving for an elite education, or take advantage of elite status while decrying elite status, are their innocent victims.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Lies My Pundits Told Me

IMORTANT CORRECTION: Downpuppy pointed out that Douthat's column was from 2010. I apologize for my mistake. I can't blame Douthat for not mentioning Trump, although I still blame him for the rest of his lies and whitewashing.

Let us begin with a lie. That is how all good conservative stories begin, for you cannot make up shit without making shit up.
A Return To Normalcy
By "Chunky" Ross Douthat
Over the past three years, American politics has been dominated by a liberal fantasy and a conservative freakout.
Once upon a time, Both Sides Did It.
The fantasy was the idea that Barack Obama, a one-term senator with an appealing biography and a silver tongue, would turn out to be Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Robert F. Kennedy and Mahatma Gandhi all rolled into one. This fantasy inspired a wave of 1960s-style enthusiasm, an unsettling personality cult (that “Yes We Can” video full of harmonizing celebrities only gets creepier in hindsight) and a lot of over-the-top promises from Obama himself. It persuaded Democrats that the laws of politics had been suspended, and that every legislative goal they’d ever dreamed about was now within reach. It was even powerful enough to win President Obama a Nobel Peace Prize, just for being his amazing self.
The reality was that a majority of the voters were excited to vote for the first African-American president. Douthat omits this obvious information because it destroys his Both Sides Do It framing and conservatives can't be honest if they want to win elections.

It is common for low-wattage thinkers to claim the left worships Obama; McArdle claimed that the left declared Obama was the new Roosevelt, one of many statements she just made up for political gain. I am not surprised to see Douthat immediately reach for lies, exaggeration and contempt because he is not a logical or far-reaching thinker and is more comfortable repeating familiar lies.

The freakout, which began in earnest during the long, hot health care summer of 2009, started from the same premise as the fantasy — that the Obama presidency really was capable of completely transforming American society and that we might be on the brink of a new New Deal or a greater Great Society. But to freaked-out conservatives, this seemed more like a nightmare than a dream. So they flipped the liberal script: Where Obama’s acolytes were utopian, conservatives turned apocalyptic, pitting liberty against tyranny, freedom against socialism, American exceptionalism against the fate of Nineveh and Tyre.

If you have read Douthat's book about his years at Harvard you will remember that he expected the school to give him all the tools to be a brilliant thinker and leader of men. (Ordinarily one would add "and lover of women" but this is "Chunky" Ross Douthat so not this time.) Here we can see his education in action; he is able to name-drop quotes and bits of history into his lies and exaggerations to look scholarly and thinker-ly.

But alas, appearances can be deceiving and Douthat's argument stinks like old fish. Douthat clumsily slips his deception in between Nineveh and Tyre: Both sides do it but it's all liberals' fault and conservatives are their helpless victims. Because the left freaked out over Obama, with their creepy cult singing and 1960s-style "hippie" enthusiasm, the right was forced to freak out as well. You made me do it! is a childish and extremely ineffective argument but Douthat can come up with no better. Bless his heart.

It's not that the authoritarian religious right has been feeding them Apocalypse propaganda since Reagan. It's all liberals' fault.

It's not that the corporate right has been feeding them anti-consumer propaganda to convince them that regulation and taxation are communism and tyranny. It's all liberals' fault.

It's not that a fearful, bigoted, manipulated population has demanded we wage constant warfare and annihilate our enemies, the better to impose our will on the world. It's all liberals' fault.

Far-called, our navies melt away;
   On dune and headland sinks the fire:   
Lo, all our pomp of yesterday
   Is one with Nineveh and Tyre!   
Judge of the Nations, spare us yet,   
Lest we forget—lest we forget!
This wasn’t a congenial climate for bipartisanship, to put it mildly. The fantasy ensured that the Democrats would go for broke (quite literally, judging by the budget figures) on domestic policy — anything else, after all, would have been a waste of their world-historical moment. The freakout ensured that Republicans, more or less in lock step, would resist every proposal and vote “no” on every bill. (After all, to compromise with tyranny was no better than surrendering to it.)
They made us do it! They made us vow to block everything Obama did and deny that Obama was a legitimate president (and legitimate Christian and legitimate American). They made us give our followers permission to unleash their fear and racism, made us listen to and enrich a generation of Lonesome Rhodes propagandists and hucksters, and made us elevate one them to a presidential candidacy.
So Democrats hailed the death of conservatism and the dawn of a glorious new liberal epoch and then griped that Republicans wouldn’t lend their support to its fulfillment. Republicans denounced President Obama as a Marxist and shrieked “you lie!” at him in the House chambers, and then they complained that he wouldn’t listen to their ideas.
He's really getting into his fake conservative reality. Why not, it's a lot more flattering that the real one. Obama believed in compromise and cooperation. He was certainly willing to give up on liberal governing to meet Republicans half way. The Republicans, as already stated, utterly refused. That reality doesn't win Republican elections or make Republicans look smarter or more successful, however.
But in the past month of lame-duck activity, we’ve witnessed a return to political normalcy. The Republican midterm sweep delivered the coup de grĂ¢ce to the liberal fantasy by dramatically foreshortening what many pundits expected to be an enduring Democratic majority. But it also dropped a lid, at least temporarily, on the conservative freakout. (It’s hard to fret that much about the supposed Kenyan-Marxist radical in the White House when anything he accomplishes has to be co-signed by John Boehner.)
Obama's "lame duck" activity has been considerable and after the midterm sweep he seemed to be set free.  This era also saw the eventual rise of Trump amidst freak-outs about guns, pasture rights, Muslims, terrorists, ISIS, Ebola, and god knows what else. If conservatives were not so good at denial that era would still be humiliating to conservatives.
In this brave new postelection world, lawmakers on both sides stopped behaving like players in some Beltway version of the battle at Armageddon and started behaving like, well, lawmakers. They cut deals, traded horses, preened (and sometimes whined) for the cameras, and cast their votes on a mix of principle, pique and political self-interest, rather than just falling into line for or against the Obama agenda. 
Partisanship didn’t disappear, but moderation repeatedly won out. Congress cut a big bipartisan deal on taxes and spending and then shot down a more partisan liberal budget. One of the most controversial items on the lame-duck agenda — the Dream Act, offering the children of illegal immigrants a path to citizenship — was defeated by bipartisan opposition. Two of the less controversial items — the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” (supported by some 75 percent of Americans, according to various polls) and the New Start arms control treaty (supported by nearly every Republican foreign policy hand) — passed by healthy margins.
A lame duck presidency is one that is at the end of its terms. The last midterm election was in 2014. Don't Ask Don't Tell was repealed in 2010. Only five Democrats voted against the Dream Act and only eight Republicans voted for it during the 2010 vote. At the 2011 vote, three of those Republicans withheld their vote. And the New Start arms control treaty was popular with most of the right, eliminating the need for moderation during a lame duck session.
This return to normalcy is good news for fans of bipartisan comity and centrism for centrism’s sake. And it might be good news for the country. In the end, some sort of bipartisanship will be required to pull America back from the fiscal precipice, and the productivity of this lame-duck December shows that cooperation between the two parties isn’t as impossible as it seemed just a few months ago.
Something seems to be missing from this article. A word, one simple word. Begins with T, ends with rump. He Who Must Not Be Named, evidently.

No--the right's problem isn't the Frankenstein's monster it's created, cobbled together from the corpses of Nathan Bedford Forrest and George Wallace.  Republicans must rescues the country from the economic disaster Obama is plunging it into. It's the liberals' fault! (Other missing words: Bush. 2008 economic crash. Iraq.)  
But when it comes to the hard challenges ahead, comity won’t be enough. Real courage is required as well. And this month’s outbreak of bipartisanship was conspicuously yellow-bellied. Republicans and Democrats came together to cut taxes, raise spending, and give free health care to the first responders on 9/11. They indulged, in other words, in the kind of easy, profligate “moderation” that’s done as much damage to the country over the years as the ideologies of either left or right.  
If that’s all that the return to normalcy delivers, we’ll be back to fantasies and freakouts soon enough.
Liars depend on politeness and fairness to get way with their dishonesty. Conservatives often complain that liberals are mean and mock those who disagree with them. It's the only way to treat people trying to pass off self-flattering lies for personal gain.