Tuesday, June 30, 2009
As [Cristina] Nehring observes, our hyper-educated, socially-liberal elite is considerably more romantically conservative than its blasé attitude toward pornography or premarital sex would lead you to expect. The difficult scramble up the meritocratic ladder tends to discourage wild passions and death-defying flings. For bright young overachievers, there’s often a definite tameness to the way that collegiate “safe sex” segues into the upwardly-mobile security of “companionate marriages” — or, if you’re feeling more cynical, “consumption partnerships.”
Better, perhaps, if this dynamic were reversed. Our meritocrats could stand to leaven their careerism with a little more romantic excess. (Though such excess is more appropriate in the young, it should be emphasized, than in middle-aged essayists and parents.) But most Americans, particularly those of modest means, would benefit from greater caution and stability in their romantic entanglements.
You see, ambitious women control their libidos, because sex leads to babies and babies lead to the end of careers, or at least their derailing. But the poor masses don't have those checks on their sex lives and therefore are more likely to have sex and therefore babies. The moral of the story is that Ross Douthat wants America to stop all the immoral screwing. It never seems to occur to him that the people he's chastising don't care what he thinks, but who can blame him when he has received so much praise and money for being a shallow, sex-obsessed, puritanical busy-body?
h/t to Downpuppy
Iraq still faces extreme challenges, exemplified by the spate of bombings and attacks last week leading up to this pullout, which killed at least 200. And the opening of oil fields to international corporations could signal a decline for the Iraqi people and an increase in, basically,kleptocracy.
Everything else is just noise.
Many abortion rights advocates and some Democrats who want to dial down the culture wars want the White House to package the two parts of the plan together, as a single piece of legislation. The plan would seek to reduce unwanted pregnancies by funding comprehensive sex education and contraception and to reduce the need for abortion by bolstering federal support for pregnant women. Supporters of the approach say it would force senators and members of Congress on both sides of the abortion battle to compromise their traditional positions, creating true common ground that mirrors what President Obama has called for.
But more conservative religious groups working with the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships say they would be forced to oppose such a plan—even though they support the abortion reduction part—because they oppose federal dollars for contraception and comprehensive sex education. This camp, which includes such formidable organizations as the U.S. Council of Catholic Bishops and the Southern Baptist Convention, is pressuring the White House to decouple the two parts of the plan into separate bills. One bill would focus entirely on preventing unwanted pregnancy, while the other would focus on supporting
It would behoove the U.S. Council of Catholic Bishops to spend the rest of their existence paying penance for their culpability in their priests' rape and molestation of children by trying to stop child abuse, but they would rather try to control The Other Group Of Children, which is how they see women. You won't need to have an abortion if you don't get pregnant in the first place, but these men still don't want women to have birth control because they don't want women to have control over their own lives.
It was never about the dead babies. We kill babies all the time, with neglect and abuse, war and cold, harmful policies. It was about control, because if you control reproduction you control women, and some people can never have too much control. Also, just as many males think gays are icky, many males think women are icky, and they will never, ever see them as equals. Anti-abortion battles are a means to an end. The elimination of contraception will be next, with the enormous loss of personal power and opportunity being seen as a positive consequence.
Thursday, June 25, 2009
Wednesday, June 24, 2009
Bruce McQuain says that the problems at Walter Reed prove that the VA isn't so hot. Ezra Klein snaps back :Walter Reed is an army hospital, not a veteran's hospital. The two systems have nothing to do with one another. That's why the problems at Walter Reed led to the resignation of the Secretary of the Army and not the Secretary of Veterans Affairs.
Ezra wins on points.
"Ezra wins on points."? "Ezra wins on points."? This isn't a debate. Mr. Klein's facts were correct and Mr. McQuain's were wrong. McQuain's conclusion was therefore wrong. This might be difficult for McArdle to understand, given her track record, but when you are wrong you do not get to act as if you are right. Simply ignoring corrections of fact and logic has served McArdle well, but some people do actually care about the truth. In discussions of health care, education, Wall Street and Paul Krugman, McArdle ignored corrections of her mistakes and continues to impress her wrong ideas on the public through repetition.
But here's the thing: Army hospitals have all the advantages that single-payer advocates love about the VA. They're unified. There's no profit incentive--indeed, the doctors are on quite low salaries. They have great incentives for preventive care. They certainly don't have any profit motive to provide bad care. So why did Walter Reed suck? And what guarantees that the VA is the system we'll follow, rather than the multiple other dysfunctional government systems everyone hates?
Her commenters on the Business page answer her questions and take her to task for not doing her homework. (We also know that McArdle doesn't read source material or perhaps is unable to understand it.) But McArdle's job is not economic analysis, it is following the editorial demands of The Atlantic. She has successfully supported the wealthy elite's attempt to loot America's remaining wealth and wait out the ensuing collapse. The fact that she is on the wrong side of the security gates will finally sink in, one day.
Tuesday, June 23, 2009
More Megan McArdle: Since increases in health care costs are due to inflation, we don't need to worry about rising health care expenses in the future, when inevitable economic growth means we shall all be richer than we are now.
Wrong on the reason for health care cost increases, wrong on growth, wrong on politics. If McArdle's knee is going to jerk every time Ezra Klein writes a column, she's going to be much busier than she likes.
Standing athwart history yelling stop sounds powerful, but in reality the only constant in life is change. Those standing still trying to block others will simply be left behind while everyone else moves forward.
Monday, June 22, 2009
David Koch is the second richest man in New York after Michael Bloomberg, and is director of the Cato Institute. Reason is Libertarisn, as is Cato.
Specific policy proposals advanced by Cato scholars include such measures as
abolishing the minimum wage, reforming illegal-drug policies,
eliminating corporate welfare and trade barriers, diminishing federal
government involvement in the marketplace and in local and state issues,
enhanced school choice, abolishing government-enforced discrimination,
including both traditionally conservative racial profiling and traditionally
liberal affirmative action, and abolishing restrictions on discrimination by
They are also working to eliminate Social Security. These policies are very much the same as the ones McArdle espouses, unsurprisingly. It's wonderful that these two
Sunday, June 21, 2009
For instance, national health is too difficult to implement. Simply can't be done. Government and financial regulation is also impossible. We can't deal with climate change. We can't take care of our injured soldiers. We can't recover from failure. All we can do is give Wall Street money. You know, for a magazine that seems to pride itself on its ideas, the only idea I see from McArdle is that the world begins and ends with Wall Street, and the rest of us exist to feed it money and then crawl away to die.
It could be worse, though. She could have eaten Jonah Goldberg and burped up this column.
Friday, June 19, 2009
There is no formula for undermining a decrepit regime. And there are no circumstances in which the United States has been able to peacefully play a leading role in another nation’s revolution.
Then maybe we shouldn't try to do it. Maybe we don't even have the right to interfere with other nations' elections. Maybe we aren't the boss of everyone else. We wouldn't let Iran undermine our elections.
But there are many tools this nation has used to support indigenous democrats: independent media, technical advice, economic and cultural sanctions, presidential visits for key dissidents, the unapologetic embrace of democratic values, the unapologetic condemnation of the regime’s barbarities.
It is impossible to successfully overthrow a foreign government without unintended consequences, but do it anyway.
Recently, many people thought it was clever to say that elections on their own don’t make democracies. But election campaigns stoke the mind and fraudulent elections outrage the soul. The Iranian elections have stirred a whirlwind that will lead, someday, to the regime’s collapse. Hastening that day is now the central goal.
Whose central goal is it? Why is it our job to overthrow Iran's government? Did our waste of lives, money, property and history in Iraq teach us nothing? Is our central goal overthrowing Iran or taking care of our very serious internal problems?
Why is it so important to some people to become swept up in a movement? Does it give them a sense of purpose, excitement and strength? Are they that empty inside, that they must be given a purpose instead of finding their own?
The most important changes happen invisibly inside peoples’ heads. A nation that had seemed apathetic suddenly mobilizes. People lost in private life suddenly feel their public dignity has been grievously insulted. Webs of authority that had gone unquestioned instantly dissolve, or do not. New social customs spontaneously emerge, like the citizens of Tehran shouting hauntingly from their rooftops at night. Small gestures unify a crowd and symbolize a different future, like the moment when Mir Hussein Moussavi held hands with his wife in public.
It's pretty easy to place your own thoughts in others' heads. And it's a heavy burden for Iran, to give meaning and purpose to shallow, vapid Americans.
Thursday, June 18, 2009
There's a lot of sadness on liberal blogs these days. What happened to Hope and Change? Climate change is coming sometime next year, maybe. Financial regulation also isn't coming anytime soon, and what's proposed is the minimum set of politically feasible propositions rather than a sweeping overhaul. And health care? What the @#%! is Congress doing messing around with expensive, incremental [expletive deleted]? How can such a popular president be so powerless?
McArdle has my deepest sympathy. It must be hell to have the profanities of random persons inflicted upon her mind. It reminds me of the ordeal suffered by Sookie Stackhouse in Charlaine Harris' entertaining supernatural mysteries. Poor thing.
But two things are also clear: the Democrats overestimated the boost they'd get from both the crisis and Obama's popularity. And they dissipated a hell of a lot of the money and political capital they'd now like to spend on the stimulus and the GM bailout. They got very carried away with visions of 1932.
It's true that someone publicly stated that liberals partied like it was 1932 when Obama was elected, rejoicing at the opportunity to create a New New Deal, but that person was McArdle herself, so we can still accept this statement as psychic.
What's happening now is precisely the kind of political gridlock I--and a lot of libertarians and conservatives--predict when it comes time to actually cut costs in healthcare. Why can't we tax employer health benefits? Liberal answer: because Ben Nelson is a big fat jerk. My answer: because then the awesome health care package that Democrats want to run on in 2010 would come packaged with a
non-awesome hefty decline in everyone's weekly paycheck. The number of people who would get a benefit out of the program would be much smaller than the number of people who would pay a noticeable cost.
I googled "Ben Nelson is a big fat jerk." and can assert that no liberal said those words, and therefore McArdle is indeed psychic.
Many Democrats thought this time was different, and I confess, so did I: Obama was popular, the war was not, the financial crisis offered cover and rationale for sweeping change.This statement puzzles me, for I am not psychic and know little of their ways. Surely some Democratic minds remember the routing Clinton received when he tried to implement national health care. McArdle must have just read the minds of younger, less literate Democrats, who are unfamiliar with the 1980s. Still, her achievement is stunning, and I can only imagine the advantage that mind reading gives to a pundit. One still might be led astray by the mistakes of others, but psychic abilities surely are an advantage all the same.
Wednesday, June 17, 2009
K-Lo: Bless me father for I have sinned. I think. I'm not sure. It's been two days since my last confession, two days of horror. My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?
Father: Kathryn Jean, welcome back from Ave Maria. I'm sorry things didn't--
K-Lo: Cut the chatter, Father, I have a problem. I--I'm no longer the editor of National Review Online. They didn't want me anymore, Father. They rejected me, just like the girls in fourth grade and that cute boy at the Catholic U. mixer and every dang man that ever showed up on a blind date. (Sobs.) Sorry for the strong language, Father.
Father: Kathryn Jean, I'm so sorry, my dear. These are tough times indeed, and I have been praying for you ever since you told me about all those books by Mr. Buckley that you had to sell or move out of your headquarters. What will you do?
K-Lo: I'm going to be editor-at-large.
K-Lo: Father, why does everyone laugh when I say that? Does "editor-at-large" have some secret liberal porn meaning?
Father: No, my dear, it's just that we're, uh, happy for your success.
K-Lo: I'm not so sure I'm happy with my new success, Father. I have to do Jonah's job now and I'm not sure what Jonah actually does. Sometimes he goes to the movies or gives a lecture, and he always interviews someone at lunchtime for a very important article. Some times he hangs up his Seven of Nine poster and locks his door and he's busy for hours and I have no idea what he's doing. He must have to think really hard!
Father: Kathryn Jean, I've read Mr. Goldberg's work and I'm sure you'll have no trouble filling his shoes, so to speak.
K-Lo: That's not the only thing that's worrying me, Father. I have to move to Washington, DC, away from Mama and Papa. I'll be all on my own, unless I can find a nice elderly woman who wouldn't mind renting a room to a quiet girl with good morals.
Father: Or a nice apartment, or maybe a condo. Kathryn Jean, this is a perfect opportunity for your to do what I've been recommending--get out a bit. Perhaps meet some new people.
K-Lo: Mama says that all a good girl needs is her mother and father and the love of Jesus.
Father: Well, yes, but just as your mother found her mate, I am sure you will find yours.
K-Lo: Who will take care of me until then, Father? Who will tell me what to do? What to think?
Father: You will still have your conscience, as well as your parents, your new priests and the pope.
K-Lo: Where's the pope when you're at a dinner party with a coworker and you start picturing yourself in his manly arms? Huh? When you get that tingly feeling that reminds you that the last time a boy kissed you was oh, a week after never and you're tempted to give in to the same animal lusts that deflowered Bristol Palin and forever left her with the stain of sin on her brow and a babe in arms?
Father: There is always prayer, Kathryn Jean, and it will help your through any crises.
K-Lo: Yes, Father. (Sigh.) Will you say good-bye to Sister Paul of Tarsus for me? Tell her I appreciate all she taught me at school and I won't forget my promise to wear my habit only on Halloween.
Father: I'll do that. I'll miss you very much, Kathryn Jean. You're a fine Christian woman, and I'm sure you'll be successful in your exciting new life. Is there anything I can do to help? Shall I send some of the boys over from the Youth group to help you pack?
K-Lo: Thanks; I still have a few hundred William F. Buckley books to pack, so I'd appreciate the help. Thank you, Father, for being there for me during my times of woe. I'll never forget you.
Father: You too, Kathryn Jean. But I hope to see you at Mass when you visit your parents.
K-Lo: It won't be the same, Father. I feel like I'm leaving my girlhood behind and am becoming a woman. Can you see it on my face, Father? Can you see the rejection and lost hopes and dreams? Can you?
Father: Now, Kathryn Jean, just take a deep breath. You'll be fine. The capitol city will be a very exciting place to work.
K-Lo: It's a den of inequity, Father. Nothing but liberals as far as the eye can see. How will I ever find my True Love among baby-killers and fornicators?
Father: That reminds me, I have a meeting in five minutes with the anti-abortion protest committee. I know of several very nice young men who live in Washington and I'll be happy to e-mail you the names. Bless you, Kathryn Jean, until I have the pleasure of meeting you again.
K-Lo: You're so sweet, Father. I'll be strong and keep my eyes on the Lord. And I have a few ideas about anti-abortion protests myself.
Father: Ah, that might not be--
K-Lo: Good-bye Father, until we meet again!
Tuesday, June 16, 2009
Shorter Megan McArdle: Just as the Republicans can't have tax cuts, Democrats can't have National Health. It would be too expensive.
Her proof that National Health wouldn't work for America when it seems to work fairly well for everyone else.
I'd say we have substantial empirical evidence that we are not going to control the health care cost inflation which is busting Medicare's budget, much less the new costs the administration is planning to add.
I'm glad she brought this up. I read an article that talked about high health care costs in McAllen, Texas. Investigations revealed that doctors who had an incentive to keep costs high tended to run up costs. Much like the bankers who had an incentive to sell mortgage securities found a way to get more mortgages. That's only one small example. There are other solutions, as well as other problems. But I still don't see a reason why the United States can't have National Health when everyone else can. McArdle's answer is utterly inadequate.
These are the questions that occurred to me immediately after I found out I'd be writing a blog about ideas for The Atlantic Online. I jotted them down in a notebook. Naturally, it wasn't on hand the next afternoon when I found myself
waiting for a friend at a Los Angeles café. What I discovered, once the waitress
lent me a pen, is that necessity is the mother of writing on napkins. These I
stuffed into my pockets, the fragile squares overflowing with frenetically
scrawled brilliance I thrilled at sharing. Could a single blog contain them?
Alas, we'll never know: into the wash went the pants and around they spun. Once
in the dryer the napkins separated into pieces so small that picking them from
the surrounding load took an hour. Ideas survive laundering about as well as
insights from social science survive the legislative process.
But I predict that what we now think of as the abortion debate is going to radically change within our lifetime in a way that makes many of the strategic gambits employed by both sides irrelevant, or at least beside the point.
Specifically, I think that technology is going to make fetuses viable outside the womb earlier and earlier. In fact that is already happening. And eventually there will be artificial wombs, enabling doctors to extract a fetus from a pregnant woman during the first trimester with a procedure no more invasive or dangerous than abortion, and to keep that baby alive in an incubator.
Let me guess: His turn ons are Heinlein, free markets and getting caught in the rain. Here's another good one.
Consider Las Vegas after 12 hours: already there is an urge to escape. The once quaint sounds of the casino floor clank against the nerves. You discern wrinkles beneath the caked-on makeup of haggard cocktail waitresses and paunch on black-jack dealers whose slouches gradually deepen.
Earlier on wedding parties brush past, tuxedos pressed and bridesmaid dresses flowing, fresh flowers pinned as boutonnières and bundled into bouquets. Friends beam as groom kisses bride: a happy future seems assured.
Hours later, a woman in a wedding dress stands alone, teetering drunk, her husband passed out upstairs. Her veil dangles from a blackjack table, anchored by a rum and coke; its ice is long since melted and a rust colored-ring remains when she yanks up the veil, tipping liquid onto the green felt where the dollar dances of her loved ones were gambled away.
The cliched moralizing, the libertarian fantasy approach to tough questions, the precious self-interest. Oy. A male McArdle.
Monday, June 15, 2009
Congratulations on your successful campaign to co-opt Carrie Prejean to your cause. For a long time now you have soldiered on in the trenches, pushing your message against divorce and for marriage. Your first big success was anonymously using your status as an unwed mother to urge the punishment of unwed mothers. Then your meddling in gay marriage also helped you gain pundit prominence. You haven't been this famous since it was revealed that you took bribes from Bush's administration to support his policies.
And now you've made a young, beautiful woman the face of your organization. Whom do you think the network bookers will call now--you, or her?
With my deepest sympathy for your stupidity,
McArdle marvels that the government can impose its will on the market and the market prosper anyway. This failure puts libertarian cred into question, she muses. McArdle does not move to the next question--if libertarian, capitalist, and Republican policies often fail, perhaps it would be a good idea to rethink one's current career path of propping up these policies.
McArdle is deeply disturbed by the government's actions in the Delphi bankruptcy. Again, McArdle doesn't ask the obvious questions. When a Democratic government manipulates and steals she is all agitation, but when the same people under a Republican government do the same thing, it's just capitalism at work. She is a born mark--she deceives herself, saving everyone else the trouble.
Heh. McArdle rants about women with expensive weddings. You can always tell what is wafting through her cranium because it ends up on her blog, in one way or another. She's positively Althousian.*
Friday, June 12, 2009
Thursday, June 11, 2009
From a $50 donor: "I just read Jay's FAQ on Classical Music, and it just struck me what a complete package NRO is. As an often lone conservative (as well as a music lover!) among my friends in Massachusetts, having access to a forum where sanity and civility reign is a gift."
The next post, the civil and sane Mark Steyn:
I agree with Victor on David Letterman's "explanation" of his joke.
It's very difficult to be a state ironist, which is the role America's establishment comedians have volunteered themselves for. If you're going to do jokes about statutory rape and the trash families of leading politicians, Jim Treacher points out that the President's brother, Samson Obama, has been banned from the United Kingdom because of attempted assault of a 13-year old girl.
So now that the Tiffany network has opened up this promising new seam of comedy gold, wouldn't it be way cooler if Letterman had joked about Sarah Palin's daughter getting raped by Obama's brother? That'd be hilarious, right? Not just 'cause it's a bipartisan rape gag but because it would be - what's the word? - "edgy". You know, like they used to say about Dave three or four decades back...
My argument is that abortion, like slavery, is becoming in this country an issue upon which people have no reasonable political recourse. I'll go further, and say that the process by which 7 judges enforced their consciences on the American public was itself borderline illegitimate; it was first, not in their proper job description, and second, a bad way to run a government.
Questions of fundamental human rights that have been closed off from the normal political process are very likely to produce violence. I can simultaneously, as I do, want Tiller's murderer given a long jail substance, and worry that we've left his fellow lone gunmen no other outlets for their legitimate moral beliefs.
When you say that it's understandable to break the law if you have what you think is a really, really good reason, then anyone who thinks he has a good reason can do whatever he wants. Kill Jews. Beat women. Lynch blacks. Shoot doctors. McArdle is far too careful to say that it's okay or even the right thing to do to kill abortion doctors. But she sure is sticking up for the mindset that creates lawless killers. The only difference between the male supremacist and the white supremacist is that McArdle has more sympathy for the man who kills in the name of God than she does for the man who kills in the name of Hitler.
Tuesday, June 9, 2009
What say you? Let's vote on it! I say that Douthat shouldn't ever have sex again because his wife might get pregnant and I think he shouldn't have any more kids. Pass on those genes? Have you seen the man? His facial hair? Never. I won't allow it, and since Douthat says reproduction should be something that we all vote on, I vote "no."
Of course there's only one way to know if Mrs. Douthat is gettin' some from Mr. Douthat. I expect him to answer a simple questionnaire so we can make a vote based on an informed decision. I need to know when he has sex, in what position, and what methods of birth control are used. I need to know all future plans of his and his wife's. I also expect to be notified by Twitter whenever Douthat finds himself tempted to procreate, so I can look in his bedroom window and ensure only praying is going on. Perhaps we can attach some sort of monitor to his genitals, to notify us when he is tempted to sin. By remote control, of course.
Monday, June 8, 2009
Moreover, there is a far weaker prospect for a return to 2007-like profit margins than investors seem to recognize. Economic expansions are paced not by major growth in consumption (which tends to be fairly smooth even during economic downturns), but instead by gross investment in capital goods, technology and housing, as well as debt-financed durables such as autos. Yet our policy makers have aggressively crowded out private investment through this bailout policy, which allocates good capital to the worst stewards, and they have done virtually nothing to abate the housing downturn. Add deleveraging pressure to that mix, and an absence of opportunity for mortgage equity withdrawals (which fed GDP growth during the last expansion), and we have an economy that is likely to produce a very stagnant recovery even if one has begun – of which I am also skeptical.
As I've noted before, recent months have represented a lull in the reset schedule, which was accompanied until recently by a moratorium on new foreclosures. Those foreclosures are now ramping up quickly, and a fresh surge in resets will add to the difficulties beginning later this year.
James Howard Kunstler:
We're in a strange hiatus for now. "Hope" levitates the legitimacy of the dollar, the stock markets, and the authority of leadership. In the background, implosion continues, debt goes unpaid, banks ignore bad loans to keep them off their books, jobs and incomes vanish, cars and other things go unsold, and a tragic wishfulness strains to sustain the unsustainable. Our expectations are inconsistent with what is happening to us.
It will be very painful for us to walk away from the car-centered life. Half the population faces the ugly obstacle of being hopelessly over-invested in a suburban house and all the life-ways associated with it. There will be no easy way out for them, whatever they chose to do politically, whatever noise they make, whomever they scapegoat, whatever fantasies they cultivate about what the world owes them, or who they think they are.
As she describes it, Beth Jacobson and her fellow loan officers at Wells Fargo Bank “rode the stagecoach from hell” for a decade, systematically singling out blacks in Baltimore and suburban Maryland for high-interest subprime mortgages.
These loans, Baltimore officials have claimed in a federal lawsuit against Wells Fargo, tipped hundreds of homeowners into foreclosure and cost the city tens of millions of dollars in taxes and city services.
Wells Fargo, Ms. Jacobson said in an interview, saw the black community as fertile ground for subprime mortgages, as working-class blacks were hungry to be a part of the nation’s home-owning mania. Loan officers, she said, pushed customers who could have qualified for prime loans into subprime mortgages. Another loan officer stated in an affidavit filed last week that employees had referred to blacks as “mud people” and to subprime lending as “ghetto loans.”
“We just went right after them,” said Ms. Jacobson, who is white and said she was once the bank’s top-producing subprime loan officer nationally. “Wells Fargo mortgage had an emerging-markets unit that specifically targeted black churches, because it figured church leaders had a lot of influence and could convince congregants to take out subprime loans.”
Ms. Jacobson’s account and that of the other loan officer who gave an affidavit, Tony Paschal, both of whom have left Wells Fargo, provide the first detailed accusations of deliberate racial steering into subprimes by one of the nation’s top banks.
When Megan McArdle read about these practices many months ago, she denied it could happen.
Baltimore sues to bring back redlining
08 Jan 2008 10:59 am
That headline was suggested by the friend who emailed me this little gem from the New York Times:The recent surge in homeowner defaults nationwide, generated by lax lending practices during the real estate boom, has officials bracing for a range of problems that often accompany foreclosures. Some municipalities, including Cleveland and Buffalo, are trying to make lenders responsible for abandoned properties to ward off crimes like arson, drug use and prostitution.
But the civil suit that officials in Baltimore are filing in United States District Court may presage another type of litigation against lenders by municipalities facing shortfalls in their budgets.
In the suit, Mayor Sheila Dixon joined with the City Council to ask that the court bar Wells Fargo from charging higher fees to black borrowers. Many of these borrowers paid more under the bank’s subprime lending program, designed for less creditworthy consumers, and are more likely to default on their loans.
I hear a lot of complaints that borrowers were shifted into rates "higher than their credit profiles" merited. But the articles never actually tell me what I want to know, which is: were these borrowers charged higher rates than their loan packages merited? Your FICO score is just one part of the package; others include things like assets and income, and the size of the loan relative to the house value. The sad fact is that, even in a (previously) decaying urban core like Baltimore, blacks are likely to have lower assets and income than whites. So far I've seen little evidence that, taking these things into account, banks are discriminating against minority borrowers.
I have no doubt, mind you, that some unscrupulous mortgage brokers have put clients into inappropriate mortgage packages. Mortgage brokers work for the lender, not for you, and you forget this at your peril; unfortunately, financially unsophisticated first time buyers may never have learned this in the first place, and their social networks may not have that information to impart.
But if I were an evil conspirator who wanted to ensure that poor borrowers have a hard time accessing conventional credit, this sort of lawsuit is exactly the strategy I'd take.
That very lawsuit brought about the proof of Wells Fargo's racism and dishonesty. McArdle would rather banks were not questioned about their practices--free markets good, regulation bad, Greenspan good, yadda yadda. Because Ideological Megan can't imagine that markets can act irrationally (meaning people act irrationally) and because she never bothers to imagine what it is like to be anything other than a nearly-but-not-quite-upper-class white person, McArdle is constantly wrong.
Credit is one of those weird areas where there is a lot of belief in discrimination, but as far as I can tell, not all that much evidence. Most credit checks are part of an automated procedure that either happens or it doesn't, and most loan issuance is done virtually automatically by a computer that either says yes or no based on your credit history. Now, there are border cases that require human review, and it's possible that had my name been "Malika" instead of Megan, they would have turned me down.
But if that were happening on a widespread basis, loans to minorities would be insanely profitable. They're not; rather, they seem to be about as profitable as other types of loans. Yes, I've seen the research arguing that people in black communities get worse loan terms than their credit score suggests. As far as I can tell, this research failed to control for some pretty major factors, like assets.
I don't want to go to far down the Gary Becker line--it's possible that companies could all be behaving irrationally. But the evidence that they are seems pretty thin--in fact, just barely solid enough for plaintiff's lawyers and journalists to revive it every few years. If the companies were statistically discriminating against African Americans, giving them worse loan terms than they really qualify for, they should be paying off those loans at higher rates than whites.
They're not. Most of the aggregate research I've seen fails to reject the null hypothesis that there is no discrimination in loan markets, which means that if there is discrimination, it is not catching huge numbers of people who are more likely than their loan terms would suggest to pay their bills on time. Just to be clear, we're not talking about research that says that blacks who get a higher interest rate don't pay off at the same rate as whites who get a lower one--you can't blame the default rate on the higher interest rate. We're talking about the fact that minorities do not outperform their own loan class. If loan companies really were discriminating, issuing subprime mortgages and car loans to credit-worthy minorities should be a license to print money.
The evidence for discrimination in the labor market seems strong--nay, nearly incontrovertible--to me, at least at lower skill levels. And it's clear to me that African Americans have a lot of structural barriers to wealth accumulation, But I remain unconvinced that credit rationing is one of those barriers.
She is unable to think logically or in anything but a very narrow spectrum. She's utterly useless as an economics reporter. Anyone who read the Financial Times and muttered a few opinions over the breakfast table would perform her job just as well.
I owe you guys an article on her ARM reset posts, because when the resets start Miss Megan McArdle will once again attempt to pick apart the work of the competent economic reporters and advisers, saying their bad methodology explains that while they might be right, they were all right for the wrong reason, and therefore McArdle was really the only one right all along.
Saturday, June 6, 2009
With these motivations, McArdle does her very best to destroy the study and the reputation of Elizabeth Warren. (She does not mention the other authors of the study; Warren received all of her criticism.) McArdle does this by insisting that Warren is trying to deceive journalists in particular and the public in general to advance her national health care agenda.
I am mad, first of all, because Elizabeth Warren is not a third-year
statistically illiterate policy analyst at a health care advocacy group. She's a
professor at Harvard, and the head of the Congressional TARP oversight panel.
This conveys a certain responsibility to present data in the most illuminating
way, not in the way that will induce journalists to say things that aren't true.
And they have done just that. Read a sampling of the stories about this
study on Google News. It's clear that none of the authors of the stories I've
read understand that we're talking about a smaller absolute number of medical
bankruptcies, representing a larger proportion of a much smaller overall
number: that this increase in the proportion could at least as easily have
been driven by less need for non-medical bankruptcy, than by bigger, scarier
medical bills. Indeed, many of the stories indicate that medical bankruptcies
have risen since 2001, which is not true even according to Warren's figures.
I submit that the study is designed to get that result from journalists.
Readers have responded that my criticism is out of line, because after all, they
only talk about the proportion, so who am I to say they're misleading the
McArdle seems to think that a study with a particular aim, as decided and implemented by the PNHP, should have had a different aim, chosen by McArdle. The fact that it did not have a totally different focus of study than the one McArdle would have chosen to study is ample proof to McArdle that Warren is a dishonest hack.
I submit that the study is designed to get that result from journalists. Readers have responded that my criticism is out of line, because after all, they only
talk about the proportion, so who am I to say they're misleading the readers?
Yes, but why do they only talk about the proportion? In general,
economics papers talk about absolute numbers whenever they can, and use
proportions only when things like changes in income and inflation make
comparisons between years too difficult. I submit that we want to know, not
whether medical bankruptcies are a bigger or smaller proportion of overall
bankruptcies, but whether more people are being pushed into bankruptcy by their
medical bills. To take the extreme absurd case, if only one person had
declared bankruptcy in 2007, but that one person had had huge medical bills,
would this be a sign that we need national health care?
We can measure the absolute number of medical bankruptcies, and the changes in income, GDP, and population between 2005 and 2007 were too small to much affect these. Therefore, the appropriate measure was the absolute number. The proportion would have been an interesting inclusion. And it would have been the basis for a different, fascinating study: the relative "stickiness" of medical bankruptcies. But it was not the obvious choice if you are going to use one or the other. That is, unless you are determined to give the impression that rising medical bills are pushing ever-more people into bankruptcy.
Warren's defenders in my comments seem to think that this is simply libertarian bluster--after all, what we're concerned about is whether medical bills are driving the post 2005 increase. But, as Warren surely knows, it is very unlikely that medical bills are driving either the post-2005 increase in bankruptcies, or a post 2005 increase inmedical bankruptcies.
McArdle then goes into a long digression on number of bankruptcies, an utterly irrelevant sideshow meant to obscure her past mistakes and divert the direction of the conversation to the direction in which she wants it to go. She even throws in a chart, which is deep scholarship for McArdle. However the study also addresses the change in bankruptcy law, and how it might affect their study.
Changes in the Law
Between our 2001 and 2007 surveys, Congress enacted
the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act (BAPCPA), which
instituted an income screen and procedural barriers that made filing more
difficult and expensive. The number of filings spiked in mid-2005 in
anticipation of the new law, then plummeted. Since then, filings have increased
each quarter. They are likely to exceed one million households in 2008,
representing about 2.7 million people. BAPCPA’s effects appear nonselective.
Current filers differ from past ones mainly in having struggled longer with
their debts.7 New restrictions fall equally on medical and nonmedical
bankruptcies, with no preferences for medical debts or sick debtors. It is
implausible to ascribe the growing predominance of medical causes of bankruptcy
Conversely, there is ample evidence that the financial burden
of illness is increasing. The number of under-insured increased from 15.6
million in 2003 to 25.2 million in 2007.3 Of low- and middle-income households
with credit card balances, 29% use credit card borrowing to pay off medical
expenses over time.8 Collection agencies contacted 37.2 million Americans about
medical bills in 2003.9 Between 2005 and 2007, the proportion of nonelderly
adults reporting medical debts or problems paying medical bills rose from 34% to
More evidence that she's either a liar or unable to read. McArdle checks her gut again and it tells her that Warren just can't be right.
Now, I find Warren, et. al's results fairly implausible. Bankruptcy, as they themselves note, is an incredibly delicate topic, and the refusal rate on
surveys is high. I would not be surprised to find that they'd gotten a sample
heavily weighted towards people who had problems with medical bills, because
people with more personal and possibly less sympathetic problems, like divorce
and addiction, would presumably be less willing to chat about those.
These are unbelievable dishonest statements. Does she not know that in a bankruptcy you are required to state all of your assets and debts? Does she think that saying "I would not be surprised to find" is an adequate response to statistics? The study states:
As with any survey, we depend on respondents’candor. However, we also had
independent checks—from court records filed under penalty of perjury—on many
responses. Because questionnaires and court records were available for our entire sample, we used them for most calculations. The lowest plausible estimate of the medical bankruptcy rate from these sources is 44.4%—the proportion who directly said that either illness or medical bills were a reason for bankruptcy. But many others gave reasons such as “aggressive collection efforts” or “lost income due to illness” and had large medical debts. Indeed, detailed telephone interview data available for 1032 debtors revealed an even higher rate of medical bankruptcy than our 62.1% estimate—at least 68.8% of all filers.
In conclusion, McArdle states, she is right and Warren is wrong.
But even assuming that their sample was valid, given what bankruptcy experts(including Warren) know, it seems likely that they uncovered an interesting
statistical artifact. Most bankruptcy filings are at least partly strategic--Warren herself urges troubles consumers to run up credit card bills rather than missing a mortgage payment. (This is very good advice). The people with the least room for strategic behavior are presumably people who can't work at all, and/or must run up large bills: i.e., very sick people. Those people did not shift their bankruptcies forward to 2005, because they had no warning that they were going to get sick. Nor could they alter their behavior, as people who were running up less urgent debts may have.
Now, Warren et. al. may disagree that this is the most likely explanation of the data, though I will happily debate any of them who care to defend their interpretation. But I do not think you can get around the fact that they had to mention it. The post-2005 fall in bankruptcies, then the steady subsequent rise back towards the pre-2005
mean, is the central fact about US bankruptcy in the last ten years. It's like
doing a study on bank capital without reference to the financial crisis.
No, it's like criticising someone for not doing what you want them to do, and doing what they want to do instead. What McArdle wants the study to say is irrelevant. The accuracy of the study is the only issue, and McArdle is incapable of assessing it, due to either stupidity, dishonesty, or both.
Yet they not only fail to mention it, but include a lot of window dressing about the proportion of the uninsured, healthcare bills, and their 2001 study, which are designed to leave the reader with the followng impression: medical bills are a growing problem in our society, driving people into bankruptcy in ever higher numbers. Sure, they don't actually say this. But it's not a scientist's job to
mislead only by omission. Had they simply included this fairly obvious
statistic, it would have substantially altered the conclusion that readers drew.
That makes it a material omission, and I think that Warren, of all people, ought
to hold herself to a higher standard.
They don't say it because they don't think it. McArdle says it and demands they say what she wants them to say. Unbelievable. I would say she ought to hold herself to a higher standard, but I don't want to waste my breath.
UPDATE: Incredibly, McArdle has written an article, published in the Dallas Morning News, praising bankruptcy rules and calling the US "the most bankrupt nation on earth."
In 2007, two years after we tweaked our bankruptcy law to make it tougher on debtors, the number of personal bankruptcies had dropped by more than half, but we were still well ahead of Great Britain, our nearest competitor in the Insolvency Olympics: Roughly one in 500 Britons declared personal bankruptcy that year, against about one in 300 Americans. Since then, of course, the subprime crisis has increased our lead. We are the Michael Phelps of debt liquidation.
Why this emphasis on the large number of bankruptcies, at the same time she is emphasizing the decreasing number of bankruptcies? So she can rail against cramdowns, which would result in mortgage reductions, thus hurting the only group that McArdle cares about: bankers.
Friday, June 5, 2009
[...U]pon closer examination, it turns out that it is not just wrong, but actively, aggressively wrong. Warren and her co-authors have obscured important and obvious facts that call the integrity of the work into serious question.These are very serious charges to fling around in the national media. McArdle has spoken ill of Warren before. She is a "somewhat" "hyperbolic" "advocate," "another voice shouting slogans at Congress" and "has massively extended her mandate, using the office as a sort of forum for broad-ranging commentary on the financial crisis" to "to push her own ideas about what should be done with the banks." Why does Megan McArdle believe Warren is dishonest?
Going by the numbers Warren et. al. provide, medical bankruptcies actually fell by almost 220,000 between 2001 and 2007, a fact that they not only fail to mention, but deliberately obscure.
Had their paper done the basic arithmetic, readers would easily have seen that their own numbers imply a decrease in medical bankruptcies, from about 750,000 to slightly over 500,000. Yet their paper does not merely ignore this fact; it uses language that seems deliberately designed to conceal it.
A huge change in the composition of your sample needs to be noted. It certainly should not be artfully disguised.
Elementary googling reveals that the two doctors who co-authored this study are prominent spokespeople for Physicians for a National Health Program, and thus have an obvious agenda, one that Elizabeth Warren has not been shy about sharing. The American Journal of Medicine, which published this study, seems to have flunked Peer Review 101--I sure hope they're more careful about controlling for background conditions when they're talking about cures for cancer Also wearing duncecaps are the journalists who are already uncritically parroting it.
There is, of course, a large amount of terrible advocacy masquerading of social science out there, and too many journals and journalists abet it. But this is particularly troubling because Elizabeth Warren is now in charge of overseeing the TARP program for Congress. What other inconvenient facts is she shielding us from?
I find little evidence for Elizabeth Warren's claims about why Americans haveCritics of capitalism and the rich are not friends of Megan McArdle. They are fools trying to thwart the wisdom of the free market, which is self-correcting according to McArdle. Since Warren did dare to criticize the financial system, she must be dishonest and ideological and a hack. McArdle finds plenty to criticize.
all this debt--which is to say that they're being forced into it by heartless
capitalism, a lzay government, and rising inequality.
The text itself raises a huge red flags. It's hard to believe that more thanMcArdle doesn't quote the section of the study that claims people don't know that health care expenses drove their bankruptcies. The study does state that some people gave other reasons when their main reason was medical, but that was about semantics, not stupidity.
half of people who have been pushed into bankruptcy by a medical issue don't
understand this fact. Perhaps they are not the brightest bulbs on the Christmas
tree, but could it really be true that most people catapaulted into a financial
crisis by their medical bills don't even notice that health care expenses are
their main problem?
The present study and our 2001 analysis provide the only data on largeThis point is irrelevant. But there are more.
cohorts of bankruptcy filers derived from in-depth surveys. As with any
survey, we depend on respondents’ candor. However, we also had independent
checks— from court records filed under penalty of perjury—on many responses. Because questionnaires and court records were available for our entire sample, we used them for most calculations. The lowest plausible estimate of the medical bankruptcy rate from these sources is 44.4%—the proportion who directly said that either illness or medical bills were a reason for bankruptcy. But many others gave reasons such as “aggressive collection efforts” or “lost income due to illness” and had large medical debts. Indeed, detailed telephone interview data available for 1032 debtors revealed an even higher rate of medical bankruptcy than our 62.1 estimate—at least 68.8% of all filers.
My radar is further engaged by the fact that they're implying a really astonishing surge in medical-bill-driven bankruptcies, in a healthcare environment that just didn't change all that massively.This is the main thrust of her post and the crux of her problem. McArdle either did not read the study, read it and did not understand it, or grossly misinterpreted it due to ideological bias. In comments she said that she was referring to an increase in the number of bankruptcies. The commenters clarified that the study was about an increase in the percentage, not number, of medical-driven bankruptcies. McArdle doubled down.
McArdle, from the comments:
The number of medical bankruptcies *fell*. Their paper implies, while never quite saying, that it *rose*.
When you compare your results to an earlier sample, and there's been an enormous, dramatic change in the sample composition, you have to mention it. The fact that you can read this paper without realizing that bankruptcies were higher is a problem.
Moreover, it's totally specious to say "this is about what drove the post 2005 bankruptcies, because the post-2005 bankruptcy increase was trivial compared to the earlier fall. What drove the increase is that a huge number of people filed bankruptcies right before the law took effect; there was a slow natural rebound. But there is no evidence that there were fresh medical bankruptcies being filed. Not only is there no evidence that there were fresh medical bankruptcies being filed; *there were fewer medical bankruptcies being filed*. At the very least, it is very likely that their proportion change picked up a change in the sample composition, rather than any cost factors driving medical bankruptcies, a possibility they don't even mention.
So it's okay to write totally misleading studies as long as we cure a
Do you know that there are 300 million people in this country who will die of something we can't cure? Now, to me, that's also a big tragedy. And I think that if the government strips all the profit out of inventing new drugs and medical equipment, medical innovation will grind to a shrieking halt, and we will lose billions, trillions, of life years from current and future Americans--not to mention people in other countries.
But that's not my point in writing about this study. My point in writing about this
study is that it's egregiously misleading, and I don't think that respected
academics should write things that are egregiously misleading. Great truths do
not need to be sold with second-rate lies.
Okay, do you read this paper and think, "Hey, medical bankruptcies fell 33% between 2001 and 2007, which kind of implies either that many of the 'medical bankruptcies' in 2001, or that medical bills have gotten easier to pay"?
No you do not.
You read this paper and think "Oh, my god, rising medical bills are pushing ever more people into bankruptcy!"
The proportion of a smaller, different population is not a relevant comparison unless you explain the fall, how the sample has changed, and why you don't think this matters.
I'm sure Warren, and you, understand this about companies: if your revenues fall by
half, you haven't "grown" your medical sales business because it now accounts
for 70%, rather than 50% of your revenue. And any attempt to explain this in
terms of the growth in the market for medical goods is ridiculous. Your medical
sales have fallen.
And indeed, previous studies have shown that income loss is a bigger force driving medical bankruptcy than medical bills. I'm not arguing that medical events don't drive bankruptcy; I think they do. I'm arguing that medical bills aren't driving some huge spike in either medical or non-medical bankruptcies.
Stop here for a second. I read all McArdle's old posts that mention Elizabeth Warren and I know that McArdle knows those previous studies might not be correct.
I was going to cite job loss as a major cause of bankruptcy in the previous post, which is the conventional wisdom. But this paper argues it isn't true:This paper utilizes the population of personal bankruptcy filings in
the state of Delaware during 2003 and finds that household expenditures on durable consumptions, such as houses and automobiles, contribute significantly to personal bankruptcy. Adverse medical conditions also lead to personal bankruptcy filings, but other adverse events such as divorce and unemployment have marginal effects. Over-consumption makes households financially over-stretched and more susceptible to adverse events, which reconcile the strategic filing and adverse event explanations.
According to Zhu, having a serious medical condition makes you 50% more likely to file for bankruptcy, but not because of medical bills; medical bills are only a very small percentage of the overall debt of bankrupts, and are not significantly correlated with higher credit card debt, which one would expect if people were keeping down their medical bills by charging them to Visa. Presumably it's the income effect of disability or caretaking responsibilities.
Job loss may precipitate bankruptcy, but bankrupts don't report being laid off at a significantly higher rate than the control group. The difference is, the control group had savings to cover its financial emergency.
The paper seems to have covered most of the ways I initially suspected it had gone wrong; for example, I thought they might have missed people who had had an adverse income event like being forced into a lower-paying job, but length of job tenure was actually higher for bankrupts. I still have the lingering suspicion that it overstates its case, but it seems pretty robust--unlike the more widely quoted Warren study, which had to use a tenuous definition of causation to make its sensational claim that 50% of bankruptcies were due to a medical event--which turned into the even more sensational claim that 50% of bankruptcies were due to high medical bills in the hands of innumerate activists and journalists.
She either totally forgot everything she had stated previously or she is lying. Either she is simply not able to understand the study, she carelessly misinterpreted it and tried to cover up her carelessness, or she is lying.
There is a second post, and further attempt to double down. (Triple down?) She continues in the same pattern but that will have to wait until later; I am out of time.
Thursday, June 4, 2009
Megan McArdle mistrusts film critics.
Megan McArdle mistrusts teachers, unions, and schools.
Megan McArdle mistrusts corporations with patents.
Megan McArdle mistrusts Democratic economic ideas.
Megan McArdle mistrusts credit card companies. (Or maybe the credit card critics--she isn't too clear.)
Megan McArdle trusts the National Association of Realtors.
I understand you can make a buck by criticizing everything the opposite political party is trying to do, but why stop with the NAR?
Wednesday, June 3, 2009
[...] I'm rather sad and stunned to have learned in the past few years just how fragile and illusory many women's rights are and how reflexive sexism remains in our wider culture generally. Great strides have been made over the past 30 years,of course, but some kind of deep and intractable barrier remains. This is where the battles of the culture war will continue to rage. And whether they like it or not, politicians are going to have to accept that this is not something that can be finessed or swept under the rug. And it's not because the pro-choice people have been unwilling to bend, it's that, as Kilgore points out, because all their bending hasn't changed a thing. So everyone will just have to search his or her soul and decide what to think about women's roles in society and whether they believe they have agency and autonomy or not. And then be prepared to fight it out.
I don't discuss feminism much because it is a particular way of looking at a problem that I think is universal. Irrational hatreds and prejudices are taught by our parents and reinforced by society, so I think changing parenting behavior will decrease sexism and many other -isms. It's more efficient to go directly to the source than try to fight sexism and then abusive parenting.
Do anti-abortion opponents want to save the children or to control women? People who believe abortion is murder can't stand the thought of an in-utero child dying, but their concern is suspiciously limited. We frequently kill babies by bombing Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. Mothers kill their babies and their children as well. According to FBI Justice statistics, 9.8% of murders in the US are of people under 18, and 29% of murder victims under five were killed by their mother. Children also die slowly of unhealthy living conditions, poverty and neglect. We do not see people marching and killing to support aid to women and children or family counseling or decent jobs that pay a living wage. We don't see them doing anything possible to stop war; instead we see them mocking those who do protest. It is not very credible to claim that abortion must be stopped at any cost because it is murder when other infant murders are utterly ignored or actually cheered. It is only the aborted child they are interested in, and you have to ask why.
People seek to control others for many reasons, but people seek to control reproduction to control sexuality. If you control someone's sexuality, you control them; it affects every aspect of their life. The nature of their families, their relationships with others, their career options, their image of themselves. Men have always been able to control women through physical and social pressures and if women are able to control their sexuality men will lose a great deal of that control. So men feel that they must control contraception and abortion. Not just abortion--contraception also, and most of all, since it gives women even more control over their lives than abortion does.
Men want to control women because everyone wants to control their circumstances, to protect themselves from pain and fear. If you feel bad about yourself you will seek ways to ease that pain, often by finding someone else that you feel is "worse" than you. People without that insecurity, who grew up loved and able to love others, will not seek as much control and not need as much self-reinforcement. They will be able to trust others to make their own choices instead of letting fears and needs they can't identify drive them to invade the private choices of others. It is utterly unacceptable to exert control over someone else's sexuality, just as it is unacceptable to lay claim to his labor or children. They are his and belong to him alone, and so are the choices he must make regarding them.
It's not even an issue.
Tuesday, June 2, 2009
Pushing aside all the verbiage, McArdle believes that abortion is a matter of passing a law that makes abortion legal before the fetal cells become a person and illegal after. All further stupidity flows from this. Judging by this and her explanation of the political process, I'm guessing McArdle knows absolutely nothing about the government, quite an achievement considering what she does and where she lives, and isn't exactly sure about reproductive science either.
McArdle is perfectly understandable as long as you realize that all you are getting is the passing thoughts of a person who sees no need to think when she has such fine instincts.
ADDED: No, McArdle, you're wrong. Try looking up facts instead of pulling them out of your ass.
Monday, June 1, 2009
I'm not sure "I'd do that!" is supposed to be funny, but that reason is as good as any.
GM's main problems are
1) A terrible, bloated cost structure
2) A terrible, bloated bureaucracy
3) A bunch of meh car lines.
Hire an MBA to be a journalist and this is what you get. There's no excuse for the poor writing, however; she does have an English degree. All her posts come down to the same libertarian fantasy world nonsense: Eliminate government, let business do whatever they want, and the world will be a Utopian fantasyland.
I wonder if McArdle's usefulness is almost at an end. It will be fun to watch her be wrong in public about Alt-A mortgages, but otherwise she will be just another little voice bleating in the wilderness, defending the indefensible long after everyone else has given up in shame.
More on the Alt-A situation later; a retrospective of McArdle wisdom on ARMs is next.