Atlas Shrugged: The Mocking

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Research and Development



No, this woman is not using a dishwasher because it has not been invented yet.

Paul Krugman and Tyler Cowen discuss the lack of technological innovation in kitchens over the last 50 or so years and McArdle doesn't agree; why, just look at all the labor-saving appliances that she has!

I'm not sure I know what it means to cook in a 1950s-era kitchen. I've lived in a kitchen that was installed in 1953, and still had the original refrigerator. But was it really a 1953 kitchen? Everything else had been repaired many times over, because neither appliances nor cabinetry often last for fifty years of hard use.

For that matter, how should we define what a 1953 kitchen was? Is it a kitchen with anything that had been invented by the time? Or is it a kitchen with the things that an average income family could afford? Surely it must matter not merely that something existed, but that it was cheap enough to become widespread?



If she had read the source material that she is supposedly commenting on she would understand what the gentlemen are talking about. In the first half of the last century we went from chopping wood and cutting ice to electrical grids and natural gas lines. Since then there have not been any major technological advances that would have a similar breakthrough change in the way we do housework. I still use electricity and gas to heat and cool, even if my electrical and gas appliances are better than the early models. The closest we come to a revolution in cooking is the microwave oven, which uses microwaves to heat instead of gas or electricity, but it is still an electrical appliance. And it was invented in 1946, although it wasn't developed and put on the market until 1967.

But the articles give McArdle an excuse to talk about herself, her new house, and her kitchen appliances, so she's off to the races!

As it happens, my kitchen--a galley kitchen in an urban apartment--was probably typical of 1953 in terms of major appliances (a stove and a refrigerator) and cupboard space. And yet, in some of the most important respects, it still wasn't a 1953 kitchen. 1953 kitchens did not have electric drip coffee brewers, stand mixers, blenders, food processors, or crock pots.


Yes, they did.




1. A "Morissharp Pencil Sharpener" made by the Ben F. Morris Company of Los Angeles (all bakelite case) for more about this (including the Patent Diagram) see our page on Waterfall Furniture
2. An immersion heater for boiling water in a cup without recourse to a teapot
3. An Egg Poacher -- scroll on down just a few lines to see hundreds of them
4. A bakelite slide projector
5. An ultra-violet "Gro-lamp" to keep your plants happy indoors
6. A Farfisi "Clavinette Pianorgan" -- a very cheap, cheesy electronic piano/accordion that became the backbone of reggae music. ( The Farfisa "Pianorgan" series of chord/reed organs as well as the larger uprights were made in the mid-to-late 50's by the famous Scandalli accordion company. The founders of "Farfisa" were Silvio Scandalli and Settimio Soprani back in the late 40's. The name "Farfisa" stands for FAbbriche Riunite di FISArmoniche (The United Accordion factories).)
7. A Detecto "bugeye" Scale, so named for the magnification lens that enabled the scale to be read without bending over. (More details on our Knicknacks Page)
8. A very early airless paint sprayer
9. An Ice crusher
10. A Waring Blender - scroll down on this page to learn more
11. A very early electric insect trap or "bug zapper"
12. A personal coffee grinder
13. A very early home espresso machine (see our Coffee page for more detail)
14. A foot vibrator, the grandfather of today's "shiatsu" massagers
15. A shoe polisher (the staple of every executive washroom)
16. A window fan
17. (a) and (b) Intercom receiver units
18. An electric plate warmer, similar to an electric blanket
19. An ice cream maker
20. A home tanning light


That photo is from 1959, but the Sumbeam mixer "was first marketed in 1930." A housewife wouldn't have a food processor but it is not a major technological innovation anyway--it was based on "an elaborate industrial blender." Blenders were invented in 1922. Rationing ended in 1954 so perhaps that date would be a better starting point, but electric mixers and coffee percolators were available. And my Chambers stove from the 1940s has a heat-retention system and a well with pot inserts to do slow cooking while the stove was off, using retained heat. But McArdle seems to think that minor technological innovations are the same as a new electrical grid.

I used at least one of these, and often two or more, every day. Saran Wrap, aluminum foil, and tupperware were novelty products; my 1950 Betty Crocker picture cookbook contains instructions for storing food using waxed paper and damp towels, because that's how the majority of housewives did it. The book also assumes that its readers will cream butter and sugar by hand for cakes, percolate or boil their coffee, beat egg whites with a rotary beater, and so forth. Anyone who has attempted to beat egg whites by hand can attest that the transition to electrically-assisted baking is not a small improvement. (Men, who tend not to bake as much as women, may be prone to overlook this.)


Again, mixers existed in the '50s. Saran was invented in 1933 and developed as Saran Wrap in 1956. Aluminum foil began rolling off factory lines in 1910. Tupperware was introduced in 1946 and "its popularity exploded in the early 1950s." And none are major technological advances in housework. What is she babbling about?

My pots and pans are also vastly higher quality--aside from the privileged few who could afford copper, most Americans were cooking on thin, low-quality stainless steel and aluminum pans that deformed easily and had hot spots.


I thought they cooked with cast iron, the way older women still do sometimes in the South. And pots are not a major technological advance either.

While I'm obviously an outlier--a guest at my birthday party this weekend gaped and said "What do you do with all those pans on your wall?" most Americans still have substantially better quality cookware than they used to. Nonstick is a major innovation, even if it has degraded the quality of pan-searing.

It's still just a pan on an electric or gas stove, but if mindless consumerism makes her happy, then she should go for it.

McArdle blathers on about free trade, shipping and air conditioners, but continuously manages to miss the point. She does, however, get her own point across: This is the best of all possible times in the best of all possible worlds. And she is the luckiest goddam pundit in the world to be paid to write this.

ADDED: McArdle tweets:

asymmetricinfo Megan McArdle
Yes, I just spent virtually all day researching the history of kitchen appliances. http://bit.ly/dNiEtJ
31 Jan Favorite Retweet Reply
I am, for once, speechless.

26 comments:

Anonymous said...

In the early 1950s, my mother-in-law bought a Hobart mixer. Some time later, the home kitchen version of the Hobart mixer had its name changed to KitchenAid. And KitchenAid is the very snazzyest kind of stand mixer. I bet Megan's got one. And if she'd been born early enough, I bet she could have bought one in 1953.

KWillow said...

",,,Yes, I just spent virtually all day researching the history of stuff I pull out of MY ASS...

DocAmazing said...

She spent all day researching and learned nothing true or applicable.

That's Our Megan!(tm)

Susan of Texas said...

She does, she's mentioned it several times.

Susan of Texas said...

It's amazing how she assumes her mix of prejudice, class assumptions and wishful ideological thinking just has to be right.

Lurking Canadian said...

You mean Megan wrote an unresearched, made-up article in which she assumed that her experience was in some way uniquely valuable to readers?

Shocking!

Anonymous said...

You need to see things from her POV. Now, imagine you are the self-centered, elite-wannabe, aspirational hack she is (I know it hurts, but we'll only stay there for a second. come on, trust me).
Now imagine you say this:

"Yes, I just spent virtually all day researching the history of kitchen appliances. "

obviously, she means she was looking through her old receipts.

-ecl.

Clever Pseudonym said...

I like the birthday party guest who was baffled and awe-struck by Megan's pots and pans, who sounds about as real as her wise but submissive black man on the bus. Has anyone ever heard of an adult who needs to have the uses of basic cookware explained to them? Also, somebody has hopefully explained to her that there are plenty of places south of Vermont with mild summers where no AC is needed. Or that there is nothing grueling about the heat required to make lemonade.

KWillow said...

"For that matter, how should we define what a 1953 kitchen was? Is it a kitchen with anything that had been invented by the time? Or is it a kitchen with the things that an average income family could afford?

Using that criteria, how can anyone know anything?

Then, she actually makes the claim that everybody but the "privileged few" (McArgles, I supposed) cooked on cheap aluminum.

...aside from the privileged few who could afford copper, most Americans were cooking on thin, low-quality stainless steel and aluminum pans that deformed easily and had hot spots...

THAT is pure crap. I came from a poor family and we had Revere Ware- most of the families I knew had something like Revere Ware or other popular "Sears" brands. Or cast iron.

I despise her so much I hope she ends up married to Dr. Mike of World O'Crap fame. They deserve one another.

Lurking Canadian said...

Using that criteria, how can anyone know anything?

That nobody can know anything is the foundation of what passes for Megan's philosophy.

NonyNony said...

Yes, I just spent virtually all day researching the history of kitchen appliances.

Attention anyone who was involved in the graduate education of Megan McArdle:

If you let her out of your grad school thinking that what she just did there was known as research you are guilty of educational malpractice. If you have any shame you need to resign from the faculty immediately. Or at the very least you need to stop teaching and become research faculty.

I'm not going to blame the undergrad instructors because, even though she went to Penn and her parents probably paid top dollar for the ugrad degree, teaching undergrads what "research" is is not a priority in most institutions. But goddamn it if you get a graduate degree of any kind and don't know the difference between "research" and "bloviating by pulling it out of my ass" then...

Oh wait. She got her Master's from Booth didn't she. Nevermind.

satch said...

True fact: when The Atlantic hired Megan as an "Economics Blogger", their understanding was that it would be Home Economics.

El Cid said...

I really wouldn't have expected to encounter someone speaking loudly about the 1950s who didn't think they had blenders back then.

You know, we could apparently deploy an aerial jet fighter force to battle in Korea, but, you know, those spinning metal blades to stir up ice cream and such were beyond our primitive 1950s technology.

But then I remember that this is the carnie show of Megan McAddled, so, whatever.

Anonymous said...

For some reason, Susan, I misread your last "pundit" as "garden gnome." Megan makes a whole lot more sense if you assume she's a garden gnome.

aimai

Rugosa said...

Beating egg whites by hand is pretty easy. Megan is not only an ass, she also has weak arm muscles.

Julie The Vintage Goddess said...

All she had to do was go on eBay and use the search words vintage and blender and she would have seen everything from 50's hand held mixers to KichenAid stand mixers (until last year I actually was still using the Sunbeam stand mixer my mother got in the early 60's as a wedding present and I replaced it with a 1950's KitchenAid stand mixer) and immersion blenders.

Cast iron is still a better choice in cookware.

I could go on, but others have already pointed out that she's a dim bulb and Jesus, how pretentious.

Anonymous said...

I think Megan meant beating eat whites stiff, which takes some time when you do it by hand. She writes as badly as she seems to cook.

KWillow said...

Apparently Meg can't cook, and likes to blame her cookware & appliances for this problem. Can't whip egg-whites with a stainless steel spoon in a plastic bowl? Must be the "cheap" implements- so she gets the pure copper bowl and special whisk. And organic eggs at room temp. Stovetop food burns? Must be the cheapo aluminum pots! I'll get the $250.00 pot and even tho the food still burns (cheap ingredients!) my friends will be soooo impressed! Coffee tastes like stale, burnt mud? Better get the latest and BEST coffeemaker, drip, percolator, vacuum, whatever costs the most. Coffee still makes you choke? Get the $100.00lb Jamaican beans, no make that Kona, no no no! Better get... here is where I refuse to tell Megan what the best beans are!

Way OT: My english husband put in for citizenship: he passed the various tests, oral exam and so on, but just got a letter declining to make him an American because... he can't find paperwork regarding a traffic ticket from 4 years ago. His feelings are really hurt.

Batocchio said...

It's amazing how she assumes her mix of prejudice, class assumptions and wishful ideological thinking just has to be right.

Well, that is every post she's ever written, other than the ones where she's outright lying - and she does mix genres. I find that most of the glibertarian set suffer this malady. They start with the premise of their own brilliance and superiority, and the notion that their ideology/dogma is always correct. It's one of the reasons research is superfluous. Of course McMegan, Nick Gillepsie and Rand Paul are correct! Didn't you read premise #1?!?

If that fails, there's always the "no true libertarian" and "libertarianism cannot fail, it can only be failed," defenses, very popular at Reason. Form dictates they must be delivered as smugly as possible.

fish said...

Has anyone ever heard of an adult who needs to have the uses of basic cookware explained to them?

Among friends of Megan's? Who would have seen how the help made dinner?

we had Revere Ware- most of the families I knew had something like Revere Ware or other popular "Sears" brands.

We still use a Revereware saucepan I got from my mother, so the thing is probably 60 years old. Despite having the money to buy relatively fancy cookware for our house, it still outperforms much of what passes for high-end these days.
But our opportunity to buy cheap Calphalon made in Guangzhou by people earning 30 cents an hour far outweighs, you know, the facts.

Anonymous said...

Also, of course, if you look at restaurant kitchen wear its not high end at all: cheap, multiple copies, battered, disposable. That's the name of the game.

KWillow: I'm very sorry about the trouble you and your husband are having. Is there anything to be done?

aimai

Anonymous said...

I am sorry I went to read McCardle's latest pieces.

Megan on crystal meth and legalizing drugs is particularly awful though.

brad said...

According to Megan's research we're only 4 years from having flying cars, hoverboards, automated home hydroponic vegetable gardens, shoes which tie themselves, and clothing with built in dryers.

Anonymous said...

She's also wrong in that throw-away remark about the longevity of appliances.

The reason I know this is two-fold:

I grew up in a household (1960s, 1970s) that had a working fridge built in 1939 (still works too) and a working dishwasher built in 1949 (which bit the dust last December).

She's, um, full of it. & I aint talking about pink salt.

KWillow said...

aimai: The problem is solvable, caused by mostly petty red tape, and, in Husband's opinion, an effort to gouge him for $600.00 more.

I commented on the situation because his feelings really were hurt and I felt sorry for him. But it'll work out.

Narya said...

For anyone interested in facts about these matters, check out "More Work for Mother" by Ruth Schwartz Cowan. Great book.