Atlas Shrugged: The Mocking

Saturday, October 30, 2010

The Day The Brain Stood Still

Johan Goldberg truly is the stupidest man alive. Douglas Feith must hand over his laurels at once.

Comrade Hitler: Man of the Left

October 30, 2010 12:40 P.M. By Jonah Goldberg
Norman Stone reviews Thomas Weber’s Hitler’s First War. It sounds like an amazing piece of scholarship. How is it possible that there’s any new archival material to discover about Hitler?

I’ve already ordered the book from Amazon. But this tidbit bears highlighting now:

Mr. Weber has discovered that, briefly at the turn of 1918-19, and unmentioned in “Mein Kampf,” Hitler wore a red brassard and supported the short-lived Bavarian Soviet Republic.

Oh. My.

Well, if I ever do a new edition, that’ll have to go in there.

Goldberg takes a review of a book that explores Hitler's life around the first world war and twists it into something unrecognizable. The book sounds extremely interesting, both because it illuminates a lesser-known part of Hitler's life and because it reveals very important information on how dictators are born, but Goldberg skips over it all to look for the good stuff, like a 13-year-old with his first Playboy. He strip-mines the review for anything that he thinks will verify his view of Hitler and justify his abortion of a book but it's not like he has a choice. What else could the stupidest man alive do?

The description of Hitler's rise is very informative. Here is an excerpt from the Wall Street Journal review:

How did the young Hitler—diffident, gauche, without solid political convictions—turn into the fascist demagogue of 1922? There is no simple answer to this question, but "Hitler's First War" debunks some of the standard responses. Biographers have long assumed that the war marked a turning point: the comradeship of the trenches, the common soldier's hatred of the profiteers in the rear and the sense of betrayal with the peace made in 1918. Yet there was the nagging question of why the brave, decorated soldier of "Mein Kampf" was not promoted. Hitler served more or less for the whole of the war and never rose above the rank of corporal, which, given that he undoubtedly had leadership qualities, comes as a considerable surprise.

With some luck and a lot of diligence, Mr. Weber has discovered the missing documents of Hitler's war service, and it is fair to say that very little of Hitler's own account survives the discovery. There were indeed two Iron Crosses, but his regimental runner's job was not necessarily dangerous, and he lived in relative comfort at the regimental headquarters away from the front lines. Ordinary soldiers referred to such men as Etappenschweine ("rear pigs") —all armies have such a word: "cushy number" and "base wallah" are British examples. Officers had to dish out a quota of medals, and if you did not offend them they would just put your name on the list. Hitler was not, it appears, particularly courageous. He was just there. And, as it happens, a Jewish superior officer, Hugo Gutmann, recommended Hitler for his first Iron Cross. He was not thanked for this act in later life—though his fate, emigration to the United States, was greatly preferable to that of the old couple in Vienna.

There also wasn't much comradeship. When Hitler broke surface in politics, he asked his old comrades in the regiment for support and discovered that on the whole they had not liked him one bit. Men who had fought at the front in World War I were, moreover, not at all keen on staging a second war, and extraordinarily few of Hitler's old comrades went along with Nazism. Most supported the Weimar Republic. Mr. Weber's research shows that it's not really possible to connect the brutalization of men in the trenches to the birth of National Socialism.

Hitler evidently was an unlikeable opportunist. After seeing Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh in operation I suspect that it is the message, not the messenger, that hypnotizes the crowd. And that means anyone can gain a tremendous amount of power, as long as he also has a bottomless well of hate.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Civil Discourse In The Age Of Unreason

The Queen of Civility, yesterday:
I can practically hear my more leftish readers grinding their teeth as they prepare to unload a wagonful of vitriol, but my objectives here are as much liberal as they are conservative.

Megan McArdle does not seem to realize that assuming and constantly saying that her liberal readers are knee-jerk mouth-frothers isn't exactly civil. No doubt conservatives would also object to being lumped in with the angry mob, as McArdle sometimes does for libertarian balance, but we will concentrate on her constant and long-running stream of abuse aimed at liberals.
Note to My Angry Liberal Interlocutors

Before you pop off at me, would you please try to read all the words in the post? In order?

I say this because in the past few weeks, I've had a notable uptick of incidents where someone berates me by saying, "Well how come you don't think we need to help mentally ill people who have jobs!" or "You're completely ignoring the possibility that once a company gets a monopoly, they will jack up prices!", when I have spent a paragraph or so discussing exactly the problem that they are angrily demanding that I address . . . or rather, angrily declaring that my failure to understand this point is evidence of my total hypocrisy/ideological blindness/hatred of the unfortunate.

I have many flaws. There is no need to go fabricating imaginary ones.

This is cute. And incredibly stupid. Leaving aside the issue of what constitutes a war crime that should be prosecuted in international courts--you heartless fiend! my liberal readers cry, we knew all along that you loved torture!...I know that I have a lot of seething war opponents reading this, their souls screaming that the practical considerations are secondary to the moral ones....

Before my liberal readers freak out, this does not make me happy.

I know that my liberal friends and readers think of me as a union basher who just can't stand the thought of workers claiming a bigger share of the pie.

When I wrote the other week about why I am opposed to national health care, a number of people angrily demanded to know why I was writing about something that "no one is proposing". Now, this is clearly a lunatic statement. I was writing about something that many people were proposing. I just wasn't writing about the nebulous bills currently wending their way through various committees.

This first sentence is just here for all the bloggers who want to read the first sentence of the post and then go write an angry rebuttal of my claim that poor Americans should have to torture puppies in order to be eligible for Bandaids.

A series of posts at Reason illustrates that the liberal rage at right-wing loonies is starting to sound, well, a little loonie:

I find it hard to believe that none of the liberal commentators breathlessly celebrating Wal-Mart's "capitulation" on national health care have even entertained the most parsimonious explanation: that Wal-Mart is in favor of this because it raises the barriers to entry in the retail market, and hammers Wal-Mart's competition.

I see a lot of liberal blogs crowing that Obama's really taking it to the hedge funds who are holding out on the Chrysler bankruptcy.

Number one item in this post on Graeme Frost:

1) I told y'all this was going to happen. Maybe next time you'll listen, hmmm?

Weirdly triggered angry email from liberal commenters, who offered this as an example of my tendency to make snotty dismissals of liberals. This is weird because, of course, I was talking to conservatives, in re my earlier post on the general political unwiseness of attacking programs that give money to cute children.

Poverty policy[:] Liberals will scream, but George Bush gets this one. Kerry has one plan I like--increasing the Earned Income Tax Credit--but the rest of his programme is just standard Democratic same-old, same-old.... For all the hysteria, Bush's plans for Social Security and Medicare are excessively modest....I'm unconvinced by anti-war people screaming about screw-ups in the early weeks of the war, including the latest explosives flap. As a project manager, I know too well that when you operate in a tight time frame, no matter how much you plan, nothing goes according to plan. Something comes out of left field and makes half your planning obsolete, and the other half irrelevant.

So it looks like the Torch is going to drop out of the New Jersey Senate race.

Democrats are getting slightly hysterical, because it's not clear that it's legal to replace him after the primary.

These insults and slights have been going on for years. Megan McArdle has a lot of civility rules for other people but, as we said, not for herself. She is allowed to say what she wants but others must show her her due respect.

Some of Megan McArdle's Internet Civility Rules For Everyone Else:
2) Stop complaining that the other side is advocating for their ideas. Lying and deception are fair game for outrage; campaigning is not. If your ideas can't stand the heat, throw 'em out and get some better ones.

3) Stop calling the other side names. It's not just counterproductive; it's boring. Unless your rhetorical skills are something special, limit your attacks to their ideas.

5) Can the hypotheticals. I don't know whether Gore would have done all right in office after 9/11 or not. You don't either. You don't know what the Republicans would have said or not said about him, although I would point out to one commenter on this site that what restrained Daschle & Co. from criticising Bush for so long was neither good taste nor goodwill, and one can assume the same rough factors would have restrained the Republicans. Either way, you don't know. What's particularly odd is that the people presenting these hypotheticals always act as if they were irrefutable facts with which no one with smidge of reason could possibly disagree. "You can't tell me that if a plane had gone down in China on Clinton's watch, the press wouldn't have given him a full pass." Whatever, chum; the Psychic Friends Network just cut me off for non-payment.

6) If you have to fudge numbers and blur distinctions in order to make a case for your ideas, why do you believe them? If you don't understand the science or math behind an issue, why are you arguing with people who understand it better? Do you hope to convince them with the vast inertial weight of your ignorance? Or are you hoping to get them so frustrated by the difficulty of explaining climatology to someone who dropped out of freshman physics that they spontaneously combust? [unfortunately, this does not work -- ed.] Or do you just enjoy looking like a total idiot in public?

8) Assume, until proven otherwise, that your opponent is a person of goodwill. Accept that some things are value judgements that will not be argued away: between, for example, a higher absolute standard of living for the poor, or less inequality of income. Between economic growth and wilderness preservation. Between great taste and less filling. If you know that your opponent is factually or theoretically wrong, assume that this is ignorance or misinformation, not malice.

9) Do not walk in assuming that you occupy the moral high ground. No one listens to sermons except the converted.

10) If you're wrong, admit it at once. No one will fault you for being mistaken. Everyone will hate you for refusing to admit it. Andrew Sullivan et al. didn't go after Tapped because they got the numbers wrong, but because they refused to admit the possibility that the numbers were wrong, and wrote snotty posts about anyone who suggested they should check again.

14) No one is much moved by exhortations to the effect that they're just selfish and mean. First of all, it's rarely true, except in the case of Objectivists, and they don't care.

15) I don't care how mad you are -- I mean it. No name calling. Unless they call names first. Even then, it's polite to fire a warning shot across the bow.

Authoritarian (wanna-be) leaders control people in many different ways, but social control is one of the bigger and more successful ones. McArdle nips and barks at the members of the blogging community to keep them in line, defining the parameters of discourse and routinely forcing them to commit acts of public obeisance to her and to the public in general. She is the perpetual victim, as someone said recently, because by portraying herself as a victim she can portray her political opponents as victimizers, thereby harming their professional reputations and lowering the influence of liberal ideas in general. McArdle is nothing if not cunning. She (like us) is a Mean Girl, and through long observation and practice (unlike us, who bloomed late), she has perfected social control through manipulation and ritual social humiliations.

McArdle says that people should stick to criticizing her arguments and have nice, civil, bloodless discussion about (abstract) policy. If we were her we'd fervently want the same thing. But we are not her, nor are we her liberal strawmen who are shrill and hysterical, mindlessly angry and mean, and too weak to fight back.

As for McArdle's pleas to move on from the regretted past, let's see what Megan McArdle tells eveyone else to do: (With many, many thanks to Clever Pseudonym)
"Words have consequences, and I'm afraid I've no sympathy with those who complain about it. When you want to blather away into the ether, collecting the accolades and shunning the negative response, you're not advocating for speech to be free -- you're advocating for talk to be cheap."

ADDED: See also.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Wisdom Of The Marketplace

She still doesn't understand.

Megan McArdle thinks that people won't let go of her 2x4 comments because they are still angry and want her to--well, let's let her tell it herself, while she is mis-responding to a thoughtful commenter:

McMegan 2 minutes ago in reply to Dan__S

First, the anger long predates the mortgage crisis, and second, this may be unkind, so correct me if I'm wrong--but your response to my pointing out that I'd apologized and retracted it was to unload a pretty long comment about your own anger. Fair enough, and I do very much understand why the antiwar side is angry. But I'm afraid I feel like this has translated into unreasonable demands for contrition. It's not enough to say that we're wrong, and that we're sorry we're wrong, and to look at some of the reasons we were wrong. As far as I can tell, for a lot of people the only thing that will really do is for me to roll around on the floor crying "I was wrong about everything! You were right about everything! I am so sorry! I am not worthy to comment on the same internet as you!" and to regularly flagellate. On the one hand, I understand that it's not satisfying for other people to demand you put your grudges away when you've still got some mad left. On the other hand, if you demand too much in the way of a grovelling apology--from anyone--what usually happens is that they tell you to fuck off and walk out.

That's not what I am saying to you--but I am saying that if that's close to what you want, you're not going to get it from me. Attempts to elicit it are just going to irritate both of us.

Nobody, not even us, wants McArdle to make grovelling apologies. We just want someone with so much access and power to stop trying to screw us over. Since she will not, people are fighting back with public criticism. It's the free marketplace of ideas--when lack of regulation (editing) and profit motive (paycheck) induce a producer (McArdle) to provide a shoddy and harmful product (Asymmetrical Information), the consumer responds with complaints (Fire Megan McArdle etc.) and vows to stop purchasing the shoddy merchandise. That's what is supposed to happen in America's Capitalist Wonderland. The market goes out of balance, then does what it must to restore equilibrium.

But for Megan McArdle it's all about her and her feelings. So sad, but the universe is not here to please her and sometimes the invisible hand of the market whacks you upside the head with a 2x4.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Dreams And Nightmares

You're nothing but a pack of libertarian bloggers!

From Megan McArdle:

The other reason I don't necessarily trust elites is that they really like thinking big.

McArdle jumps on the newest right-wing meme, that the liberal elite are destroying America. This is after The Atlantic and Time and The New America Foundation got together and decided to promote McArdle as one of the nation's elite Big Thinkers.

Pfffft. It's useless. We're in Wonderland and we'll never wake up.


Let's say you are walking down the street and a very tall woman trips you. You look at her with disbelief and a little ire. You yell at her, "Why the hell did you trip me, you mean little jerk?

Does she apologize? Does she smirk and walk away? Does she look guilty and slink away? No. She lectures you on your incivility.

Imagine that.

The journalists who were cheerleaders for war, ignoring morality, history, and any contravening advice, are now lecturing the world on its incivility. How dare the little people criticize the elite? Call them bad names, mock them, attack them? Don't they have any manners, any respect for their betters? Do they actually think their opinions matter? People just don't understand how this works!

Mr. Stephen Colbert, great Republican-American:
But, listen, let's review the rules. Here's how it works: the president makes decisions. He's the decider. The press secretary announces those decisions, and you people of the press type those decisions down. Make, announce, type. Just put 'em through a spell check and go home. Get to know your family again. Make love to your wife. Write that novel you got kicking around in your head. You know, the one about the intrepid Washington reporter with the courage to stand up to the administration. You know - fiction!

The elite are just doing a job here. Somebody--it doesn't really matter who, everyone must be paid by someone--gives them money. They write what their employer wants them to write. He is paying after all; it's only fair. Then the elite journalists cash their checks and go out and buy a sous vide. That's how it works. That's all it is. What's the big deal? Why does everyone get so upset and angry, with their red faces and loud voices that keep one from enjoying one's cocktail after a hard day's typing?

Consequences don't exist for the elite because, well, consequences don't exist for the elite. They already have money and influence, which will take care of any problems that arise. If their little boy gets sick they know they can afford to pay for his medical care so they don't care if other people want national health care. If the stock market suffers from the machinations of the elite they won't have to worry about a drastically reduced lifestyle when they retire. If Social Security is eliminated they will have more than enough money to live on. Consequences are unpleasant things that lead people to make accusations of callousness, cruelty and corruption, so one just doesn't think about them.

Since this is all just a big, well-remunerated game, it's inconceivable that someone would actually get upset by what the elite journalists say. The angry people are just rude and mean and are looking for reasons to be ugly to perfectly nice people who never even met them and certainly never did anything bad to them like try to destroy health care reform and support corrupt banks.

Mrs. Megan McArdle:
I know, I know--after this post, I will swear off the Henry Farrell blogging. But this is really too extraordinary to pass up. This is Henry Farrell on why he ought to read me more:
(I don't think she cares whether she is right on the facts or not, because she deeply and truly believes that she is correct in some Platonic sense). This results in some genuinely pernicious writing, that is nonetheless quite influential - and while I'm not especially influential myself, I think that I have to do my bit, and probably should be doing it more than I do do it.

This in the comments to a post in which Henry Farrell accused me of rank hypocrisy by juxtaposing something I wrote yesterday with something that I wrote close on eight years ago. Mr. Farrell was unaware that I had publicly retracted these remarks, and apologized for them, two years ago.

Did he "care whether he was right on the facts or not"? It seems to me that if he had, he might have taken the elementary step of asking me, before he wrote the post, whether I still supported what I wrote all those years ago. At the very least, he might have thought, "well, eight years is a long time and there's always a small chance that she's changed her mind", and hedged a little, rather than launching the all-out frontal sarcasm assault.

Henry Farrell's sin was to reprint McArdle's giggle about how anti-war protesters should be hit in the head with a 2x4, preemptively, before they commit any violence. His comment, sans update:
I’m afraid I’m not quite bright enough to understand why kerb-stomping-as-a-metaphor for-argumentative-victory is creepy and unfunny, while actually beating up war-protesters with bits of lumber is hee-LAIRIUS. Perhaps someone can tease out the nuances for me in comments.

How dare he remember and hold her to account for her actions? Doesn't he know about the moral and philosophical position called "take-backsies", also known as "doing a mulligan"? You see, if you apologize for being wrong while saying that the only way to know something is by hindsight and through failure, that means that the consequences of your actions just go away, poof!, like magic and all those dead and tortured people who should haunt you to your grave can just be forgotten and you can continue your lucrative career.

This is what should happen instead: you sell pieces to magazines and travel across the country to lecture on failure, you make lots of money, and you buy a sous vide. That's the way it's supposed to work.
When his error was pointed out, rather than simply graciously admit that he had misjudged me in this instance, he resorted to talmudic readings of what I said in the comments thread to that long-ago post, rather than tender an apology.

We have to admit, she does have balls. Farrell didn't make an error. McArdle just thinks that she should be able to be incivil to other people and lecture others on their supposed incivility despite her own past actions. She would have to be ashamed of her actions to avoid lecturing others for doing what she has done. Since she is not ashamed and continues to find excuses to be incivil, her attitude is pretty damn funny.
Yet no matter how you read those comments--and I think Henry is reading them extremely selectively--that doesn't really change the fact that I already said years ago that I oughtn't to have written it. Is this the shining example of "caring whether one is right on the facts" that I am supposed to emulate?

You'd think he'd have at least interspersed a few posts between mote and beam . . .

But of course, we all do this. It's so easy to see the faults in people we dislike, even as we ignore them in ourselves. I'm reminded of something I blogged a while back, writing about Obama's controversial speech on race. It's a passage from C.S. Lewis on what it means to "love thy neighbor", and I wish that commentators--including me--would take it to heart more often.

Every time an elite conservative is caught doing something immoral he trots out C.S. Lewis, like a wooden duck on a string. Reading a Catholic Christian apologist (something that has a whole new meaning after all those child rapes) does not confer morality.
. . . we might try to understand exactly what loving your neighbour as yourself means. I have to love him as I love myself. Well, how exactly do I love myself?

Now that I come to think of it, I have not exactly got a feeling of fondness or affection for myself, and I do not even always enjoy my own society.

Conservatives think self-respect is a bad thing. It leads to physical, moral and intellectual independence.

Have you ever wondered exactly what people were thinking when they ignored any advice or fact that they didn't want to hear, whether it was about Iraq or Bush or capitalism or themselves? Oddly enough, Lewis decided to show us. Watch while he explains the psychological underpinnings of liberal rage and meanness to nice Christians who are just trying to Love One Another.
So apparently "Love your neighbour" does not mean "feel fond of him" or "find him attractive". I ought to have seen that before, because, of course, you cannot feel fond of a person by trying. Do I think well of myself, think myself a nice chap? Well I am afraid I sometimes do (and those are, no doubt, my worst moments) but that is not why I love myself. In fact it is the other way round: my self-love makes me think myself nice, but thinking myself nice is not why I love myself. So loving my enemies does not apparently mean thinking them nice either. That is an enormous relief. For a good many people imagine that forgiving your enemies means making out that they are really not such bad fellows after all, when it is quite plain that they are. Go a step further. In my most clear-sighted moments not only do I not think myself a nice man, but I know that I am a very nasty ones. I can look at some of the things I have done with horror and loathing. So apparently I am allowed to loathe and hate some of the things my enemies do. Now that I come to think of it, I remember Christian teachers telling me long ago that I must hate a bad man's actions, but not hate the bad man: or, as they would say, hate the sin but not the sinner.

For a long time I used to think this a silly, straw-splitting distinction: how could you hate what a man did and not hate the man? But years later it occurred to me that there was one man to whom I had been doing this all of my life--namely myself. However much I might dislike my own cowardice or conceit or greed, I went on loving myself. There had never been the slightest difficulty about it. In fact the very reason why I hated the things was that I loved the man. Just because I loved myself, I was sorry to find that I was the sort of man who did those things. Consequently, Christianity does not want us to reduce by one atom the hatred we feel for cruelty and treachery. We ought to hate them. Not one word of what we have said about them needs to be unsaid. But it does want us to hate them in the same way in which we hate things in ourselves: being sorry that the man should have done such things, and hoping, if it is anyway possible, that somehow, sometime, somewhere he can be cured and made human again.

Back to McArdle:
I really do think that we would go farther if we were more charitable to our opponents. There are very few people in the world who are simply mean and deliberately ignorant, and telling ourselves otherwise is simply flattering our own vanity: our opponents must be awful people, because otherwise they couldn't possibly oppose our wise and wonderful plans.

There you go. There is her justification for all the criticism she so richly deserves and so frequently experiences: The left is full of meanies who just want to win because they think they're so smart and good.
I'm not speaking specifically about Henry here--I don't think it much matters whether he likes me, or I him.

Then who is she talking about?
But this is really what I was trying to get at the other day, when I blogged about all the anger on the web. Maybe it's not very novel, but for whatever reason, it bothers me more right now. And what bothers me more is that people seem to spend so much time looking to get angry--or so I judge by what blogs, and blog posts, succeed.

Yes, criticism of Megan McArdle is rather popular, isn't it? That is because it's so easy to see the manipulations of the elite when they are attempted by someone like McArdle. She is not quite smart enough or callous enough for her job, although that should do nothing to diminish her considerable accomplishments in those areas.
It seems to me that I see less in the way of novel argumentation on many blogs, and more in the way of tu quoques, exhortations against "the stupidest/most evil person alive", and lengthy back-patting exchanges in which bloggers and commenters reassure themselves that they really kicked some ass in that last argument. The ass-kicking--the argumentation--is pretty secondary, and indeed, the amount of high-fiving doesn't actually seem to be related to the quality of the argument that preceded it. Hell, the other side is usually busy congratulating each other because they totally eviscerated 'em.

(Oh, this reminds me, thanks very much to Roy Edroso and everyone else who has spread the word about my blog in comments sections hither and yon. I am very grateful and flattered, although I'm usually too shy to say so at the time.)
If the other side is unaware that you've won, your victory can't be too compelling. And so I rather feel that the winning isn't even the point; the real point is simply to be able to tell your fellow travellers that we beat them. And moreover, that this victory was a small step in a crucial cosmic battle, because they are really dreadful slime, full of stupidity and malice.

Hence, as Tyler Cowen and Robin Hanson have been noting, the prevalence of arguments that don't really make any constructive point at all; they seem mostly designed to decrease the relative status of the other group. It's like eighth grade, with white papers.

How do your defeat the elite? Lower their status.
How many of us liked eighth grade the first time around? Not many, I'd wager, so I'm not sure why we're so eager to repeat the tiresome status games.

I'm certainly imperfect in this regard, but I'm trying to do better. It don't think it should be impossible to have a blog world with a little more charity, and a little less bile.

We'll remember that when our insurance company is saying that our kids can be denied medical care for previous conditions. After all, this is nothing but a game and why are people so mean, when God's in his Heaven and all's right with the world?

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Good German

We will cover the McArdle head-bashing controversy in detail but let's skip to one particular aspect: How to excuse away violence by people one supports in one easy lesson.

Megan McArdle was recently forced to revisit her violent imagery regarding liberals after complaining about violent imagery from liberals. Her hypocrisy didn't bother her, of course, since rules are for the Little People, which in McArdle's case means anyone who is not like her and her family and friends. Unfortunately for her (and the victim), in a strange and fortuitous bit of timing the Right once again strikes out against the left with violence, as Rand Paul followers attack a Move-On supporter.

McArdle is a fan of Paul's plan to end Social Security and Medicare, so in her careful way she does as much as she safely can to mitigate the severity of the attack. It is not her job to praise or encourage such actions--that's for your Michelle Malkins and Pam Gellars. But make no mistake, Megan McArdle is their sister under the skin and therefore must do what she can to support the attackers lest they harm Paul's reputation with their actions.

First mitigation: It's not that bad.

How Not to Stop a Protester

From the descriptions on the blogs I read, I was expecting something much worse.
But this is quite bad enough: [video of attack on protester]

Second mitigation: Lie about what actually happened to make it look less severe or to blame the victim.

There's no excuse for trying to attack someone for the hideous crime of attempting to embarass your candidate. If you want to get between her and him, fair enough. I might even countenance sign-stealing. But hurling someone to the ground and stepping on her head to keep her from moving is thuggery.

The protester wasn't moving on the ground. She was absolutely still. And the man who had his foot on her head shoved downwards before he was stopped by another person at the event. Notice that the minute he was told by someone else to stop, he did. That man probably would have not committed any violence if he didn't think that his actions would be permitted.

Third mitigation: Don't blame the authority for the actions of their followers.

I think it's ludicrous to hold Rand Paul responsible for this, but nonetheless, he needs to be outspoken in his denunciation of what happened. Political violence against people carrying signs is not okay.

Forth mitigation: The other side does it too.

Yes, conservatives, I understand that there is a lot of hypocrisy coming from folks who were making excuses for Martha Coakley when one of her employees attacked a journalist, but see this as the second coming of the Hitler Youth. Two wrongs, however, do not make a right, and in this case, by normalizing physical aggression when it comes from the "right side", they make an even greater wrong.

McArdle could easily point to this post and say, "See! I said violence was bad and the right was wrong to commit any!" Yet her readers will also see that hey, it wasn't as bad as people said and the left does it too and it's nobody's fault.

That's her job. She's the Good German and when the economy collapses further and violence increases, Megan McArdle will be the first to point fingers and tisk-tisk all the violence that she delights in and couldn't wait to see, whether it was in a New York anti-war protest or the bombing of little kids and their moms and dads in Iraq. Afterwards she's all "Oh my goodness! Violence is bad!" But when the banksters were gutting the economy and the Bush Administration was invading countries for fun and profit, she was first in line to tell everyone else to shut up and obey their masters.

Monday, October 25, 2010

I Know I Had A 2x4 Around Here Some Place---

Poor, foolish man. Jonathan Chait begs Megan McArdle's pardon for something stupid that she said. (via) My goodness, that was a speedy obeisance. We haven't even see the McArdle post yet but already his apology is spreading like wildfire, if wildfire were harmless and inoffensive, not to mention apologetic.

Last week, Michael Kinsley wrote a really smart column completely dismantling the shoddy mathematical underpinnings of Greg Mankiw's self-pitying column about how high marginal tax rates will ruin his children's life. I linked it, with the headline, "Kinsley Curb Stomps Mankiw." This has Megan McArdle quite upset, and convinced once again that bloggers who are not Megan McArdle are driven by rage:

Call me a vaporing language nanny, but I thought it was pretty creepy when Jon Chait described another liberal journalist, Michael Kinsley, another journalist, as "curb stomping" economist Greg Mankiw for, yes, daring to suggest that higher marginal tax rates might have incentive effects. Woo-hoo! ...
But why stop with curb-stomping? Wouldn't it be fun to pile ten-thousand gleaming skulls of supply-siders outside the Heritage Offices? We could mount Art Laffer's head on a rotating musical pike that plays The Stars and Stripes Forever! Then, in the most hilarious surprise ending of all, the mob could turn on Jon Chait, douse him with gasoline and set him on fire, and then sack the offices of the New Republic!
Somehow, that's not actually funny.

We have just one thing to say in response:

Instead of telling McArdle to stick her 2x4 where the sun don't shine, he apologizes to the professional concern troll.
I'm willing to take my chances that the blog headline in question does not lead to me being burned alive. But, honestly, I'm sorry I gave offense. It was a headline I wrote quickly, and I thought the image of Mike Kinsley engaged in an act of violence was kind of funny because Mike is not really the violent sort, to say the least. Anyway, one person's little joke is another person's "rage of people who cannot bear to see their sacred ideals profaned," to quote McArdle.

Anyway, like I said, I'm not really worried that my blog item will instigate mobs to violence. But there's no point in causing McArdle such immense trauma over something I considered so trivial. So I will hereby endeavor to avoid any future headlines that would seem to celebrate violence or conceivably endanger the physical safety of Arthur Laffer or anybody else.

Heh. "Immense trauma."

Mrs. McArdle goes on to say:
I'll reiterate that this is not a "left wing blogs are angry and evil" post; I have no opinion about which side is worse, and I've never seen such arguments offer much in the way of convincing empirical data, beyond the evidence that whoever is making them really, really hates the other side. The example is an illustration, not a political indictment. I sense it going on on all sides of me, and it bothers me. A lot.

Petty partisan tricks are below her. Strange, then, that her husband's previous career as a partisan trickster, to put it politely, didn't bother Mrs. Suderman, but we suppose that this just proves Matthew Yglesias is right that valuable people don't need to follow the same rules as the less valuable people.
But perhaps it is explicable in an era when the federal budget is finally close to riding off the rails.

She finally remembered that she is ostensibly writing an economics blog, not posting on Facebook.
With Social Security and Medicare nudging into deficit, and the government's share of GDP already pretty high, we're fighting over a lot of taboo trade-offs, in a context where we can't help but bring money into it. The result is the rage of people who cannot bear to see their sacred ideals profaned--and worse, to see the profaners walking around apparently happy. Only a primal scream of outrage will do.

Is this supposed to mean that conservatives and libertarians were right all along and public assistance won't work? McArdle has wisely given up using numbers, is she now giving up making statements in favor of making vague allusions as well? We do appreciate "primal scream of outrage," however, although McArdle might want to think twice about criticiizing Chait's violent imagery when she has a habit of doing the same.

UPDATE: Crooked Timber has the same thought. McArdle whips up another self-exculpatory post in response, which we will explicate in loving detail as soon as possible.

SECOND UPDATE: The comments on that later post are awesome!

Friday, October 22, 2010

Yeah. Right.

It did not occur to me that Megan McArdle lied about her now-famous bus conversation. That was foolish; she lies about what liberals say all the time. But this is 100% pure unadulterated lying bullshit.

ews1 1 day ago
"I want the services"

This is the linchpin of the whole post/issue, and I suspect you're being completely dishonest, perhaps without meaning to. It's one thing to eat at the local eatery (though somewhat pointless in that I suspect 9 times out of 10 the owner of said establishment lives in a different neighborhood). It's another to be willing to send your little McSuderman's to the local public schools. If you intend to have kids, and intend to send them to the local public schools, then I take the post as genuine and really putting your money where your mouth is. However, if the opposite is true, you are otherwise like any other typical gentrifier. If gentrifiers would actually send their kids to the public schools these schools would improve and the poor local black kids would themselves get a better experience and be far better prepared for life. But if you're using your wealth to send your kids to private schools, you're making little contribution to the neighborhood who's diminishing character you purportedly lament.

You are, of course, fully within your right to send your children to a private school. (People suggesting that the Obamas pull their children from Sidwell are beyond moronic). But let's dispense with the lament.

McMegan 4 hours ago in reply to ews1
If there are any little McSudermans, my preference is to send them to public school.

(My bold.)

She might prefer to not pay school fees but she will. Her pride and vanity will demand it.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Whom Do We Trust? What Is The Moral Thing To Do?

I said that I was not going to comment on Matthew Yglesias, but this bit so exemplifies the elitist attitude of our ruling class that I had to make an exception.
On Juan Williams
Since my Think Progress colleagues are sort of “part of the story” in terms of Juan Williams getting sacked from NPR I’m a bit hesitant to comment on it. But as in the case of Rick Sanchez it seems to me that if you assume Williams has been doing valuable work all these years, firing him over this single incident is excessive. But as an NPR listener, I’m a good deal more familiar with Williams’ work than I am with Sanchez’s and it seems clear to me that Williams has not, in fact, been doing valuable work all these years. If Williams had never made these remarks about Muslims and NPR announced his firing this morning on the grounds of general lameness and lack of valuable contribution to their programming, I would have applauded the move so I’m hardly going to deplore what actually happened.[...]

First, on what basis does Yglesias decide that Williams hasn't been doing valuable work? He was a scholarship student at a prep school in NY and earned another scholarship to Haverford. Williams has had a distinguished career as a journalist and writer and has worked on several excellent projects and won awards for his work. He just realized that he could make money playing both sides of the aisle, writing about the Black experience for the left and and insulting the Black experience for the right. How is that different from your basic libertarian or centrist, who kisses up to liberals regarding civil rights while telling the right that the liberals want to give all their money to minorities?

Second, minimum standards of decency don't apply to "valuable" people? How very convenient for them. This statement should speak for itself, but, sadly, many people don't realize that being rich or important doesn't make you moral. In fact, the fewer morals you have, the greater your chance of becoming rich and important. "The rules don't apply to highly educated, well-born, well-paid people like me" is what has brought us to the brink of an economic depression and two--no, three--no, four--wars. The elite are not better than us, and anyone who says so needs to be laughed off the public stage.

There is not nearly enough mocking going on in this world, for the sharpest, most devastating weapon that exists is laughter. It spread like fire and there is no way to fight it, especially as the right is totally unarmed for a battle of wits. Ridicule works, which is why the right pays Rush Limbaugh $400,000,000 dollars to ridicule the left, year after year after year. The right is angry and therefore mean. They should be angry, although it would be infinitely preferable if they were smart enough to be angry at the people who are actually harming them instead of liberals who are too afraid or too comfortable to fight back. We're not talking about physical fighting, or revolution, or social upheaval, or even something outrageous like helping the poor to undercut the rich. We're talking about words on the internet. And most liberals won't even do that. No wonder they are kicked by everyone around them, including their own leaders.

Think Progress is a great blog and it's wonderful to see liberal values being funded and supported, which makes the presence of Yglesias so annoying. They are fighting back, yet they are also paying Yglesias to yammer on about the elite and meeting in the middle, as if the middle hasn't moved a thousand miles to the right. Why is the left supporting people who don't even realize that they are not making the moral choice?

Yglesias links to a post of Ta-Nehisi Coates, who talks about how he almost got into a fight during an assignment for The Atlantic. It was 2008, and he had been hired to write about Michelle Obama. Coates writes that it would have been a terrible mistake to fight with a critic who wouldn't back off and how he would have lost his job. He's absolutely right; there was no reason to physically fight with a critic. But when Ross Douthat said that people like Coates, unmarried fathers, were contributing to the downfall of society he backed down again. When Megan McArdle burbled on in her unconscious racist way about how Black people shouldn't give their kids funny names and how the Black Panthers were jerks (Coates' father was one), he backed down again. His leash is a long one, but it is still a leash and when it needs to, it yanks him up short.

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of having dinner with James Fallows, along with a few other Atlantic folks. Fallows offered some really wise words on how to criticize people in print, the gist of it being, "Speak to those you would criticize as though they were standing right there."

That's a high standard, but one I've generally tried to maintain. My sense of my role here is as follows: I'm not here to try to humiliate people I disagree with. That goes as much for Jeff Goldberg, who is my friend, as it goes for Bob McDonnell, who is not. For sure there is a little more hot sauce on the thing, when I don't know the person. But by and by, I hope to speak to McDonnell as I would speak to Goldberg--not the other way around.

It's fun to be mean, and it makes your side howl--and sometimes it's even necessary. But my game is as follows--stating my opinions directly, clearly and without equivocation and without undue malice. I am not a violent writer. Fuck Pat Robertson was cool. But that's a small part of me, that I am endeavoring to make even smaller. When it starts becoming larger, I need to go do something else.

But he didn't. He pulled his punches (in this case regarding Jeffrey Goldberg's bias towards Israel), and told himself that he was doing the right, moral thing; that anger was bad and fighting for what is right is simply violence and hatefulness.

Not that his choice was a surprise. The Atlantic is, in its polite, well-bred way, virulently pro-business. Ta-Nehisi Coates is against affirmative action. Corporations hate affirmative action. One day they'll call in their marker and he will do what he's told to keep his job, no matter who it hurts. That is the only reason why a corporate whore like The Atlantic would hire him. His writing ability and safe, anger-free tales of long-ago racism are just gravy.

Ta-Nehisi Coates, 2008:
Senator John McCain said today that he supports the Arizona Civil Rights Initiative, which would ban preferences based on race, ethnicity, and sex in the state’s public contracting, education (including university admissions), and employment programs. Essentially identical initiatives will be before voters this fall in Colorado and Nebraska, and have been enacted in California, Washington, and most recently Michigan.

Disappointingly, Senator Barack Obama immediately criticized McCain: “I think in the past he’d been opposed to these Ward Connerly initiatives as divisive. And I think he’s right. These are not designed to solve a big problem, but they’re all too often designed to drive a wedge between people.”

Obama’s criticism is wrongheaded for at least three reasons: (1) it is obviously preferential policies that are divisive, not their abolition; (2) the “big problem” of helping people from disadvantaged backgrounds can be addressed by helping people of all colors who are disadvantaged, rather than crudely and unfairly using race as a proxy for disadvantage; and (3) Obama himself has recognized as much, albeit fitfully and inconsistently, in his own statements—for instance, acknowledging the divisiveness of preferential treatment (in his Philadelphia speech), and the fact that his own daughters, for starters, come from privileged backgrounds and thus are “probably” not deserving of preferential treatment.

Kudos to John McCain! This is a solid, important commitment by him to the principle of E pluribus unum, and Americans across the political spectrum, but especially conservatives, should applaud him. As for Barack Obama: This is a critical moment in his campaign. Is he a candidate of change who will transcend race and bring us all together, rejecting divisive policies he knows in his heart are outdated and irrelevant—or just another Democratic pol who lacks the courage to stand up to powerful but aging interests in his own party, which remain hopelessly infatuated with identity politics and insist on perpetuating a set of policies that have always been unfair and divisive and are now outmoded to boot?

As per Lashawn Barber:[WTF?-SoT]
The whole point of the civil rights movement was to bar the government from preferring one citizen over another based on factors like race. But our government continues this odious practice, and I can think of nothing more unfair or divisive, no matter which race or sex benefits from the discrimination. A government with the power to discriminate in favor of blacks has the power to discriminate against blacks.

No acknowledgement of the fact that White America preys on, uses up and tosses aside Black men. Authoritarians will always side with the elite. That is why they can't and shouldn't be trusted, even if they appear to be on our side and we usually agree with them. These people are utterly useless; they will try to maintain the status quo forever while the nation slides slowly into poverty and decay.

By the way, Obama thinks the same way about Black America.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Most Important Person In The History Of The World

Shorter Megan McArdle: Sucks to be you.

True, that could be most of her posts, but this one is especially blithe: The poor are priced out of their homes when the wealthy want to take over their neighborhood and that's a pity, but hey, if it's between you or me, I'll take me.

Think I'm kidding?

I want the services [that come with gentrification], but I don't want this to price out all the people who already live there. Unfortunately, it's a package deal.

For every winner there's gotta be a loser. It's just the way it goes.


A monkey with a typewriter would make more sense than Megan McArdle.

In the course of an interesting musing about the constitutionality of the mandate, Ezra Klein makes what seems to me to be a slightly odd prediction:

Now the individual mandate is traveling through the courts. A judge appointed by Bill Clinton has ruled it constitutional. A judge appointed by Ronald Reagan has signaled that he might do the opposite. Last week, Bill Dailey asked whether I truly believed the Supreme Court part of this cynical dance. And the answer is yes, I do.

That doesn't mean I think the Supreme Court will rule the mandate unconstitutional. Coming on the heels of Citizens United, that would spark a tremendous confrontation between the Democratic Party, the Democratic president, and the Supreme Court of the United States. There are good reasons for them to prefer avoiding that outcome. They may try to split the difference, offering a limited ruling requiring slight tweaks to the mandate.

But the evidence on past Supreme Court decisions, the heavily political process through which Supreme Court justices are now chosen, and our intuition -- the Supreme Court is full of human beings, and human beings have biases -- should make us very skeptical of claims that the Supreme Court is somehow removed from politics, or that the same partisan forces that turned the individual mandate from a conservative idea into a conservative bete noire are not behind the arguments now playing out in the courts.

To put it slightly differently, I have no concerns about the abstract constitutionality of the individual mandate. Insofar as I have any concerns, they're about the partisan leanings of the Supreme Court's current occupants.

How the hell did McArdle get from "partisan leanings" to "political worries"? Klein says the Court is controlled by partisan conservatives, basing his assessment on the heavy vetting for political purity in the appointment process, The Supreme Court and the Attitudinal Model Revisited, and the tendency of people to believe what they want to believe. McArdle bases her opinoin on her false belief that health care reform is unpopular in the US.

I assume that the Supreme Court will be extremely reluctant to strike down the individual mandate, for a whole host of reasons.

Unlike Klein, McArdle does not provide those reasons.

But I do not think that political worries will be among them, because the mandate is extremely unpopular. Nor do I believe that the Supreme Court justices will be checked by the fear of "a tremendous confrontation between the Democratic Party, the Democratic president, and the Supreme Court of the United States."

Actually, I don't either. Conservatives can't envision the possibility that they are wrong, since obedience depends on the assumption of infallibility and they must obey someone.

Ezra seems to be envisioning something along the lines of FDR's court-packing showdown, which culminated in "the switch in time".

Klein stated partisan leaning. Why can't McArdle understand that?

This seems unlikely in the extreme, for several reasons:

[snip--straw man duly attacked and defeated, rah rah]

The Supreme Court is worried about the legitimacy of its own institution

What the hell? Where did that come from?

but I see no evidence that a ruling invalidating the mandate would jeopardize that legitimacy. Yes, it would piss off a lot of Democrats, but I doubt the majority of the court really cares all that much.

Which contradicts everything else she wrote and proves Klein's post.

I am starting to wonder if I have been unduly critical of McArdle. Perhaps she has suffered from some sort of brain tumor or stroke or brain cloud. Perhaps one day she will collapse in front of the Watergate Building and everyone will say, "I bet you're sorry now, picking on that poor, brain-dead woman!"

Perhaps, my friends. Perhaps.

Ignorance Is Bliss (II)

Have you ever wanted to see what it takes to get Megan McArdle excited? Evidently it's quite easy: just criticize billionaires who support her husband! Let's watch Maisie McLazy go apeshit over the Koch brothers and all their lovely money, as she pours out a torrent of twittering support. (Start at the bottom and work your way up.)

.@empeos The fact that evidence is hard to obtain does not give us license to assert unproved claims as fact
1,287,455,537,000.00 via TweetDeck .

@empeos Again, HOW changed discussion? Support for AGW went up during period of greatest funding, then plummeted when Obama was elected.
1,287,455,474,000.00 via TweetDeck .

@empeos Either way, why drag the Kochs into it?
1,287,455,325,000.00 via TweetDeck .

@empeos I'd put more money on "People don't want to use less energy, & freaked out when it became clear that's what cap-and-trade meant"
1,287,455,313,000.00 via TweetDeck .

@empeos You have retreated from that to saying the Kochs fostered some slight but consequential shift in public opinion, still w/o data.
1,287,455,215,000.00 via TweetDeck .

@empeos Back to the original point: it is ridiculous to claim that but for the Kochs, cap and trade would have passed.
1,287,455,136,000.00 via TweetDeck .

@empeos The Kochs are becoming the witches of the left: they explain all bad things that would otherwise be scary and incomprehensible.
1,287,455,073,000.00 via TweetDeck .

@empeos Again, what data? I am skeptical that think tanks can stage these "consequential" shifts in public opinion.
1,287,455,005,000.00 via TweetDeck .

@empeos You have asserted that they were important. I have seen no good evidence of that claim.
1,287,454,788,000.00 via TweetDeck .

@empeos Believe me, I would love to think that public opinion is mostly shaped by wonks & white papers. Evidence does not support this.
1,287,454,222,000.00 via TweetDeck .

@empeos $48 mm over 11 years isn't enough to fund a bad sitcom, much less an all-out makeover of American beliefs.
1,287,454,161,000.00 via TweetDeck .

@empeos This myopia is natural for Greenpeace, but it's basically rather silly. Time frame is also rather long. (1/2)
9:08 PM Oct 18th via TweetDeck .

@empeos It's as if they claimed that George Soros donated hundreds of millions to fund action on financial legislation.
9:07 PM Oct 18th via TweetDeck .

@empeos the Greenpeace report treats all donations to conservative groups as if they were directly spent on opposing climate science.
9:06 PM Oct 18th via TweetDeck .

@empeos Why, that the Kochs have injected significant doubt into public opinion. Presumably you have some data that support this assertion?
9:02 PM Oct 18th via TweetDeck .

@empeos Really? You keep saying that, but where's your proof? Give me correlation, even.
9:00 PM Oct 18th via TweetDeck .

@empeos Also worth noting that the Kochs fund AGW believers like Ron Bailey
8:54 PM Oct 18th via TweetDeck .

@empeos I don't think there's any reasonable way the Kochs produced a 30 point drop in AGW belief.
8:54 PM Oct 18th via TweetDeck .

@empeos You're the one defending. I support c&t, but I don't think the Kochs killed it; I think it's hard to raise energy prices.
8:52 PM Oct 18th via TweetDeck .

@empeos Do you think Manchin has a problem because Kochs are running ads, or b/c c&t would devastate WV economy?
8:49 PM Oct 18th via TweetDeck .

@empeos For correlation--not even causation--need measured change in Koch funds/effectiveness that matches timing, not "existence of Kochs"
8:48 PM Oct 18th via TweetDeck .

@empeos Was huge shift in public opinion on Iraq because Soros spent a whole bunch of money, or b/c the downside became more apparent?
8:45 PM Oct 18th via TweetDeck .

@empeos More parsimonious that people were happy to support "doing something for environment" when "something" was both vague and unlikely
8:44 PM Oct 18th via TweetDeck .

@empeos I'm also puzzled by the seismic shift in public opinion, but there's no plausible Koch induced mechansim (2/3)
8:43 PM Oct 18th via TweetDeck .

@empeos What massive surge in anti-climate change propaganda? Public opinion did not shift b/c of a tidal wave of Cato white papers. (1/2)
8:42 PM Oct 18th via TweetDeck .

@empeos If you think there was a Koch-supressed groundswell of support for increasing price of gasoline/electricity, get out more.
8:31 PM Oct 18th via TweetDeck.

RT @reihansalam: Incredible. Just read a serious person write that voters wouldn't have opposed cap-and-trade if not for the Kochs. Amazing.
8:26 PM Oct 18th via TweetDeck

Wow, that's some serious love for the oil and gas industry mavens! Naturally McArdle utterly ignores their tea-party organization and support, making it all about cap and trade and a few Cato white papers. But what else can she say when they support P. Suderman, boy husband, and all her bestest buds? (And let's not forget that she might need some of that wingnut welfare herself, the way she keeps screwing up in The Atlantic.)

But please don't think that McArdle tongue-bathes the Kochs just because they give her money, via her husband. McArdle met David Koch at a cocktail party and he seems very nice to her, so naturally he wouldn't try to screw over his fellow Americans for money. To read more go here, where you can see McArdle explain in great detail how the Kochs couldn't possibly be behind the tea parties, something that was just coming out at the time and has been amply proven since then. McArdle, of course, is far too much of an ideological hack to either find out the truth or care about the truth, but it sure does make her look very stupid (again!) to be so very, very wrong (again!).

But hey, nobody ever said that being educated means you're intelligent. It just means you know what to do to get people to give you Ivy League degrees for little work and no intellectual growth.

It wouldn't be quite so bad being ruled over by a money-hungry, deeply crooked elite if they didn't shove their lack of intelligence in our faces constantly. It's just adding insult to injury.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Shorter Megan McArdle: Life Is Wonderful

Less Studious Megan: I'd love to describe how this business writer is wrong about baggage fees but that would take more work than I am willing to devote to my job, which I dearly love and see as a public service worthy of endless sacrifices.

Less Canny Megan: I am quoting Katherine Mangu-Ward, a perky up-and-coming Reason staffer who was born in a test tube, weaned by Ayn Rand, and fed on an endless supply of self-satisfied self regard. In four years she will be given my job at one third my salary.

Less Critical Megan: The American capitalist system is perfect, especially if you are on its lowest rung, are powerless, and are forced to work for exploitation wages in under-regulated industries.

McArdle's other posts were too atrocious to abbreviate; sometimes the horror just can't be boiled down to one sentence.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Bless Her Heart

Ann Althouse reads that the miners stuck underground in Chile were made as comfortable as they could be under the circumstances and is pleased, then reads Chris Matthews and is most displeased.

Meanwhile, Chris Matthews is an idiot:

If the trapped Chilean miners had subscribed to the tea party’s “every-man-for-himself” philosophy, “they would have been killing each other after about two days,” MSNBC host Chris Matthews said on his “Hardball” show Wednesday night....

"You know these people, if they were every man for himself down in that mine, they wouldn't have gotten out.... They would have been killing each other after about two days.”

What that shows is that Matthews — in stereotypical liberal fashion — has forgotten the way private individuals cooperate and help each other. The government and only the government must be the source of all beneficence. If you don't want the government to solve all your problems, you must think you and everyone else can be 100% self-reliant.

Ann, honey? Who do you think rescued those miners?

Finding the mine’s owners overwhelmed by Chile’s worst mining accident in decades, [Chilean president Sebastián Piñera] ordered his government to take charge and called in experts from Codelco, the big state-owned copper producer.

It was a risky move, but it paid off. Probes by Codelco’s engineers found the miners still alive 17 days after the rockfall. Codelco mobilised contractors and equipment from around the world to drill three separate rescue shafts. Some lay near at hand. The rig that drilled the successful shaft was supplied by a contractor at Collahuasi, a mine controlled by two multinationals, Anglo American and Xstrata.

The government also brought in Chile’s navy, whose submariners have experience working at great depths in confined spaces. The wire rescue capsules were made at the naval shipyard in Talcahuano, in southern Chile, and two navy paramedics were lowered to check the men’s health.

The government has not specified the cost of the rescue operation, though Codelco says its share has cost $15m (Collahuasi lent its equipment free of charge). Few Chileans will begrudge that. They appreciate Mr Piñera’s handling of the disaster.

The government rescued the miners, Ann. The government. Gooo-veeeern-meeeent.

Some people are conservative because they think it means dignity and responsibility. But some people are conservative because they're just stupid.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Helping The Helpless

Shorter Megan McArdle: Please, won't you think of the rich people? When you tickle them do they not laugh? When you prick them do they not bleed?

Ode To The Rich, by A Lady Econoblogger

We might never know the bequest motive
Of rich men's thoughts and rich men's dreams,
If they doth grow their golden garden
To give life's succor to their suffering child,
Or if they merely love its glittering sheen.

Philosophers might debate the arrogance
Of entitled claims on noblesse oblige
But listen not to the common men's envy
Their voices raised in anger shrill, who
Desire to take what they refuse to earn.

Little do they know of labors that weigh down
The rich man's dreams. While the common man
Goes bowling or watches wrestling on tv screens,
Labors on the savvy rich man, giving up his
Precious leisure to pass on wisdom he has gained.

Oh ye critics! Men of letters, who dare to sneer
At Others who bear the world's weary weight.
Filled with envy of the honest rich man's due rewards,
Would angrily deny any else the pleasures labor brings.
Will Porsche survive when Atlas shrugs and only Brad DeLong is left?

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Real Scandal

Ordinarily we try to ease the reader into the cesspool that is the work of Megan McArdle, but today you're on your own.

The Real Scandal of the Foreclosure Mess
The story on the foreclosure mess has become a bit overblown in some tellings. It's clear that banks have been taking some shortcuts in preparing their foreclosure documents.

Like not doing the paperwork to legally transfer the title. Courts are very particular when it comes to filling out the paperwork correctly. If you don't fill out the paperwork correctly the court doesn't know if you're lazy or dishonest, they just know that you haven't followed the law and there will be consequences.

The banks are obviously overwhelmed with the volume of foreclosures, and the (apparently) many instances in which sloppy securitization has resulted in lost paper trails, obscuring who, exactly has a right to foreclose. Rather than seeking legislative or judicial clarification, they've resorted to dubious practices that seem (to my non-legally-trained eye) illegal.

Yes, if you don't legally own a house, you don't own it. That's so people can't just go around and take other people's property. For instance, McArdle just bought a house. If McArdle didn't have the title of the property transferred to her name, she doesn't own the property. And if she were to be shit-canned by The Atlantic to make way for a younger, more telegenic ecnoblogger (God forbid!) and P. Suderman, boy bride, were to be the sole resource for paying off the house, the car, the student loans and their expenses, she just might find herself in need of the laws regarding transfer of title after all.

That is bad.

It's big of McArdle to admit this, but we are dealing with banks, so we know that allowances must be made, somewhere and somehow. How will McArdle wiggle her way out of this dilemma? She loves owning things and just bought a house after years of pining for one, yet the banks want to take houses away from people. But these are banks, which are the most important institutions in the entire history of the universe. How will McArdle reconcile these two colliding worlds??

But as Arnold Kling points out, there's little evidence that this has resulted in improper foreclosures: evicting people who've paid, or who never had a mortgage with your company.

Ah, her usual method: bait and switch. She switches from talking about invalid foreclosures due to illegal transfers of title to talking about invalid foreclosures due to other issues. Now she can claim that the whole problem isn't very serious after all since the other issues aren't serious, according to her.

Anectdotally, these things do seem to have happened, but there's no evidence that they're frequent, or that they are connected to the procedural irregularities that we're now discovering with foreclosure documents.

Assuming she's correct (work with me, folks!) that's right. They're irrelevant to the title problem. McArdle is doing her usual obfuscation and misdirection. Usually when we wish to redirect someone's attention we say, "Look! There's George Clooney/Megan Fox/an ice cream truck!" depending on the sex and age of the person we're trying to distract, but The Atlantic has more sophisticated methods, such as blowing smoke or throwing sand in people's faces.

Arnold says that the real scandal is our antiquated title system:

The real scandal is that the process of recording property title is so antiquated, and there are so many interest groups that resist modernizing it. The MERS mortgage database shows what a modern system could look like. But all of the counties that charge fees for title recording, the title "insurance" companies that shake down home buyers to buy "protection" from getting sued to prove that they own their property--these interest groups want to keep the title recording system as expensive and unreliable as possible.

. . . and that it's taking so long to get people out of homes they can't afford.

Interest groups! Shakedowns! Protection rackets! Gosh, that property title system sure is antiquated and corrupt because Mr. Kling says it is.

On the latter point, I can't say I agree.
I don't even think the banks want to get people out faster, because they can't sell the damn houses anyway.

Then why are they rushing through the foreclosure process so fast that they aren't even doing the paperwork?

And while yes, many of the people who are now being foreclosed upon got themselves into this mess with a combination of stupidity and greed, who's it hurting if they get to live rent free for a few more months while their credit report is being trashed?

Stupid people and their greed. Not the banks, though. Sure, they were in such a hurry to make fat fees and bonuses by selling as many mortgages as possible that they didn't even bother (and maybe wouldn't have been able) to transfer title but it's not because they're greedy--it's jut that rich people work harder/faster/better than everyone else.

A lot of other people being foreclosed on are normal folks who bought a home in an overvalued market, and then lost their jobs. In places like Michigan, Las Vegas, and California, it is entirely possible to have seen a prudent 20% downpayment wiped out, leaving you underwater. To be fair, that's in large part because so many of your neighbors took out crazy loans . . . but I'm still glad that those people are getting a rent-free hiatus to get their shattered fiscal lives together.

McArdle has a big and generous heart that bleeds for the poor homeowner. Therefore, whatever she says next in the support of banks will be fair and balanced.

On the former point, however, I think he is 100% correct. We are witnessing the confluence of two problems: our antiquated titling system, and a massive move to securitization without adequate systems for tracking the chain of custody on these mortgages. The result is that it is now unclear who has title to these houses.

No, this is what happens when people don't follow the law. It doesn't mean the law is bad, necessarily. It means the bankers were very naughty and couldn't be bothered to follow the law, even though it caused them and everyone so much trouble later on.

I know some of my readers will be tempted to cheer at the thought of the little guy getting one over on the bank, but what about the people who bought foreclosed houses? They just bought into a whole world of legal problems.

We must let the banks break the law not for themselves, but for the Little People.

As Hernando de Soto has chronicled,

Oh for Christ's sake.

good land titling is important. It is also emergent. When there are changes in the marketplace, we need new legal mechanisms for dealing with any resulting irregularities.

Or we could follow the old ones instead of reinventing the wheel every five minutes.

I don't know if the the bill that Obama just pocket vetoed would have done more good than harm.

Why not? Can't she read?

But I sure hope he isn't planning to just let this mess continue for fear of being seen to do anything that "helps the banks"--or in hopes that some lucky voters will get to default and keep the house.

Why would he? Especially when he's already done plenty to help the banks and has told everyone to shut up if they didn't like it. Imaginary Obama is much nicer than Real Obama, even for conservatives.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Why We Can't Have Nice Things

John Derbyshire proudly relates a tale of free market capitalism, in which he proves that conservatism is just an excuse to be a jerk. And to prove that his assholery was not a fluke, he adds a condescending little post about his wife. I cannot even begin to imagine what his children have had to endure--the hostility, sexism and warped ideas of masculinity he radiates at all times must be unendurable.

Speaking of assholes, Alan Greenspan tells us flatly that the poor must suffer so the tax rate for the rich remains at its current obscenely low level. Hey, he's been right so far!

ADDED: Sadly, No! animates the Derbyshire exchange . We give it two thumbs up!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Argument By Assertion

I know it's in here somewhere....

The most interesting thing about this post by Megan McArdle is not what she thinks, it is how she thinks. McArdle has frequently said that nobody can know anything ever, which must make the decision-making process quite difficult. But as McArdle is also an expert on failure--its causes, its cures, and its frequent occurrence in her life--it would be useful to watch her work her way through an intellectual problem.

Dan Drezner notes that pundits have been predicting the twilight of American power for at least half a century:

Twenty-two years ago, in a refreshingly clear-sighted article for Foreign Affairs, Harvard's Samuel P. Huntington noted that the theme of "America's decline" had in fact been a constant in American culture and politics since at least the late 1950s. It had come, he wrote, in several distinct waves: in reaction to the Soviet Union's launch of Sputnik; to the Vietnam War; to the oil shock of 1973; to Soviet aggression in the late 1970s; and to the general unease that accompanied the end of the Cold War. Since Huntington wrote, we can add at least two more waves: in reaction to 9/11, and to the current "Great Recession."....

What the long history of American "declinism" -- as opposed to America's actual possible decline -- suggests is that these anxieties have an existence of their own that is quite distinct from the actual geopolitical position of our country; that they arise as much from something deeply rooted in the collective psyche of our chattering classes as from sober political and economic analyses.

For whatever reason, it is clear that for more than half a century, many of America's leading commentators have had a powerful impulse consistently to see the United States as a weak, "bred out" basket case that will fall to stronger rivals as inevitably as Rome fell to the barbarians, or France to Henry V at Agincourt.

On the foreign policy front, selective U.S. retrenchment doesn't imply terminal decline so much as a temporary realignment to ensure that American power and interest are matched up going forward.

While we do not pretend to know enough about geopolitics to assess Drezner's facts, we do know that people usually do not realign out of strength. Empires that have overextended their influence beyond their means to maintain it must realign. We also instinctively mistrust any argument that strokes the ego of the person making the argument. The only reason the right sees the left as weaker is because the left must be weaker for the the right to be stronger than everyone else.

Speaking of weak links, let's get back to McArdle:

Drezner is talking about geopolitical power, but he might as well have been talking about economic power; at least since the 1970s, we've been hearing that America was just about to have its lunch eaten by some emerging power. In the 1970s it was the Arabs; in the 1980s and early 1990s, it was the Japanese and the Germans; and after a brief bout of optimism, the Chinese became our betes noires. Each time, the narrative was largely the same: American market capitalism was a failure. The competitive model rendered us incapable of long term planning. We allowed corporate loose cannons to seduce our consumers into bad choices and disrupt our markets, rather than sensibly regulating them. The American consumer was greedy, lazy, and selfish, interested only in sating himself with an endless parade of consumer gimcrackery. Meanwhile, our competition were masters of central planning, manipulating everything from their currency to the American psyche. Eventually, this saturnalia of selfishness and sensation-seeking would have to end as the Huns master technocrats finished conquering the decadent remnants of a once-great nation.

So McArdle's biggest argument for her belief in American Exceptionalism to the inevitable collapse of every Empire ever built by man is that it hasn't happened yet, so it isn't going to happen now?

This is not to deny that American capitalists made some colossal mistakes, driven by a combination of greed and stupidity. Nor that we are in for some hard economic times. And of course, the little boy who cried wolf was right--eventually. American dominance is not going to last forever, after all, and there's no particular reason that we couldn't be living at the moment when our power finally wanes.

McArdle acknowledges the arguments against her points, but by simply stating them she seems to think she is refuting them. (We have seen this strange mental blip before). Argument by assertion is a quick and easy way of supporting one's argument, but simply stating something, even in italics, is not the most effective way of winning an argument. It would be very nice if McArdle gave some sort of proof of her assertions that the American Empire is still going strong. Perhaps McArdle labors under the mistaken idea that it is impossible to find such information; if so she should learn to use something called a "Google," which will point her to articles such as this one, which uses evidence to support its conclusions. McArdle might want to try that some time, for the novelty if nothing else.
But it's worth remembering that the other declinists were powerfully convinced of their own argument. The human brain is programmed to look for what is new, and what is dangerous. That means that we're prone to ignore all the strengths of the American economy that are still there: the dynamism, the willingness to take risks, the immense flexibility to change and invent and grow. Instead, we focus on what has gone wrong. And since something has usually gone wrong--badly wrong, in our current situation--the narrative of decline is usually the best fit for the facts that loom largest in our imaginations.

It's funny that McArdle should mention the financial industry's willingness to take risks and create new, innovative financial products as its greatest strengths, considering that those factors were instrumental in bringing us to this point in the narrative of decline. By stating that the market's biggest mistakes were the market's biggest strengths, McArdle can (and will) continue to argue that the financial industry was not an agent in its own failures, and therefore it should not be changed.

But those are not all the facts, and if you're tempted to make confident pronouncements on the future of American power--economic or geopolitical--its worth reading all the commentators in the past who were equally confident,and absolutely wrong.

Nobody can know anything ever because all commentary is equal and there is no way of assessing accuracy, such as facts, numbers, charts, logic or experience. Those who were right were right for the wrong reason and those who were wrong must be permitted to continue on their path of success through failure. And, most important of all, our American financial system is successful just as it is, and it always will be. Until it isn't.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Why Do Journalists Lie?

The Savvy Tribe thinks hard thoughts.*

Let's see what the Serious People are up to today. They are always ready to lend a helping hand to their fellow Americans by giving them the very best advice, which we all know will be smart and moderate because they have deep and thinky minds that have been educated by the very best Institutions of Higher Learning and Networking.

So what has Megan McArdle been thinking about?

Why Do Politicians Lie?

Thomas Friedman thinks only a third party can save us:

We have to rip open this two-party duopoly and have it challenged by a serious third party that will talk about education reform, without worrying about offending unions; financial reform, without worrying about losing donations from Wall Street; corporate tax reductions to stimulate jobs, without worrying about offending the far left; energy and climate reform, without worrying about offending the far right and coal-state Democrats; and proper health care reform, without worrying about offending insurers and drug companies.

Gosh, that is so moderate and reasonable! Obviously we have to do something about all those lazy, stupid teachers without worrying about their American right to organize to protect themselves from the scary, eeeeeevil government regulations. And we must be considerate to the nice Wall Street people holding out money to us and waving it in our faces. If people want jobs then of course we must give more money to oil and gas companies, refineries, strip miners, insurance companies and drug companies. Handing over even more middle class money to the rich is just the sensible thing to do.

[Friedman:]"If competition is good for our economy," asks Diamond, "why isn't it good for our politics?"

We need a third party on the stage of the next presidential debate to look Americans in the eye and say: "These two parties are lying to you. They can't tell you the truth because they are each trapped in decades of special interests. I am not going to tell you what you want to hear. I am going to tell you what you need to hear if we want to be the world's leaders, not the new Romans."

Friedman is Spartacus!

So what does our Savvy Tribe princess think of Mr. Friedman's moderate and sensible ideas?

To me, the most parsimonious story is not that politicians are lying because they are in hock to special interests--after all, their job is to appease the 200 million special interests in the electorate.

Because when someone decides to run for office and needs money, he asks 200 million people to give him a dollar each, instead of asking two hundred people to give him a million each. Also, bank robbers steal one dollar from hundreds of houses instead of hundreds of dollars from one house. And you want to do thousands of favors when you're appeasing Mr. and Mrs. Special Interest instead of just letting a corporation write legislation and hand over a couple of million. Politicians are just like Tom Sawyer and will paint your fence for a kite or a dead rat on a string!

Rather, I think that politicians lie because lying works; the guy who wins is often the guy who can tell the best lies. If you can generate an intuitively compelling, but empirically false, story about how you are going to deliver sumptuous goodies to the voters without costing them anything, you may well have a good shot at elected office.

Does McArdle really believe that everyone but she is so stupid that they don't realize goods and services must be paid for? (And does she realize that she promises sumptuous goodies of economic knowledge without costing the reader anything? Or giving them anything?)

That's why Republicans claim to absurdly high growth effects from supply-side tax cuts, and why Democrats promised that health care reform won't result in any changes voters don't like, unless those voters happen to be "rich".

Republicans are just as bad as Democrats, especially when you make stuff up. Not that McArdle has to make up stuff about Democrats, but she likes it when they give away money to the upper class. And somehow rich has become "rich," since there is no way of telling who is rich and who isn't in these difficult economic times when a person can hardly afford servants, private schools, and million dollar houses.

For a third party to succeed, it too would have to tell wild lies about something. Like, say, that the only thing standing between Americans and more effective government is the lack of a third party.

It's not that I'm against third parties, mind you. It's just that when I look at multiparty states elsewhere, I can't say that they look noticeably more honest than our two-party system. A third party might be an improvement over the ones we've got.

Say, doesn't McArdle belong to a third party? Is she finally admitting that their whole Libertarian movement is filled with lying, self-deluded hacks just out to make a quick buck?

But I doubt it would get into office by telling us the truth: that solving our problems is going to mean hefty tax increases or unpleasant spending cuts, or both. American voters seem to like being lied to.

No, they're just used to it. That's why nobody bats an eye anymore when the richest people in the country tell the newly poor that they must sacrifice for the greater good. Tax increases on the middle class and fewer services for the poor, so the rich don't have to suffer the indignity of tax increase on their massive wealth.

*My apologies to the cute kids for substituting them for Reason's staff.