Atlas Shrugged: The Mocking

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Elite Ratiocination

Megan McArdle has a question:

Can the Rise of the Internet Explain D.C. Zoning Fights?
By Megan McArdle

Does she have an answer? She is, after all, a graduate of the Booth School at the University of Chicago, the Ivy League's University of Pennsylvania, and exclusive, expensive Riverside Day School. Let's see what hundreds of thousands of dollars of schooling taught our Megan.

DC's young gentrifiers are, even as gentrifiers go, disproportionately well-connected to the internet.

Okay, it's a theory. Let's take a look at her evidence.

Indeed, I wonder if Amazon isn't partly responsible for the pace of gentrification here. In the neighborhoods that are currently gentrifying, the retail corridors were destroyed in the 1968 riots and never really came back; it's no joke living in a neighborhood like that without a car.

Well, that's two statements: the people who are moving in to old neighborhoods are connected to the internet, and Amazon in particular is speeding up gentrification by eliminating the need for most physical stores. The evidence that supports McArdle's suppositions and wondering must be next.

Most of the affluent "new" people I know in DC are like my husband and I: they order everything they can over the internet. We don't need much in the way of brick-and-mortar retail; what we need is bars and restaurants, and maybe a salon or two. If you are not so thoroughly web-ified, you almost certainly want a much more retail-heavy commercial district.

"Everybody I know does it" is rather a small (and unverified) sample. Perhaps McArdle is just teasing us to get us to continue reading, the little scamp. The proof must be somewhere!

All of which is another way of saying that your neighbors cause externalities.

Wait a second. I must have missed something. Here is the following text:

. . . unless Amazon delivers bulky stuff to your door. Most of the affluent "new" people I know in DC are like my husband and I: they order everything they can over the internet. We don't need much in the way of brick-and-mortar retail; what we need is bars and restaurants, and maybe a salon or two. If you are not so thoroughly web-ified, you almost certainly want a much more retail-heavy commercial district. And while many of the "old DC' residents are of course on the internet and social media, many others cannot afford broadband connections, or credit cards--and given their older age skew, many others probably simply aren't that comfortable with, or interested in, shopping online.

I'd been thinking of the bar-and-restaurant complaint as a convenient shorthand, rather than something that is almost literally true: the gentrified districts in DC boast very little other than places for young people to gather and refresh themselves. Not nothing, but much less than, say, the streets I grew up on in New York.

Lots of statements, no links or numbers. Hmmmm. That's strange. It's almost as if McArdle is simply assuming that everyone else in the world is just like her, with the same needs, wants and motivations. There must be some chain of argumentation somewhere, right?

All of which is another way of saying that your neighbors cause externalities.

Strange. We have a hypothesis and conclusion, but no evidence. How can you verify a hypothesis with no data? That's crazy. You can't just state something is true because you think it is true, or it seems to be true, or that if it is true for you then it must be true for everyone else. You actually have to look at the numbers to check if your theory is true.

The corollary of that is that it is not irrational to want to control who moves in around you--or even to want to maximize the number of people who are like yourself. The more people there are like you, the more the neighborhood will suit your needs.

And here is yet another unproven conclusion based on invisible data. The only thing this paragraph proves is that McArdle wants to live in a homogeneous bubble.

I'm not saying that we should cater to this desire (in either the gentrifiers, or the gentrified). But we shouldn't act like it's necessarily crazy or evil, either.

Which provides the moral justification for pricing the neighborhood's older inhabitants out of their own neighborhood, by increasing expenses and decreasing livability for the middle class residents. But McArdle is not finished, so maybe there is hope for data after all!

* (Note: there's a another sort of argument that takes place when the neighborhood has already gentrified, and the residents band together to prevent new people from coming in to block their views and compete for free street parking spaces. But these arguments are basically pretty naked displays of self interest, so I've left them out.)

I hate to break it to the business and economics senior editor of The Atlantic, but saying that everyone else is shit out of luck because McArdle can order what she needs online is a pretty naked display of self-interest as well.  If McArdle had bothered to do any research about gentrification in DC she might have noted this:

In the District, white households raked in a median income of $99,220, while black households made $37,430 and income amongst hispanics hovered right above the city’s $60,798 median.


In “changing neighborhoods,” marked by rapid development and rising prices, the task of preserving affordable housing looms large.

Demographic changes on H Street since 2000

“The question is how do you develop in a way that allows low-income communities to stay in place,” said Derek Hyra, the author of a forthcoming book on gentrification in D.C.’s Shaw neighborhood. “Redevelopment has sought to move poverty out of the city.”

D.C. is the ninth most expensive rental market in the country, asking $1,461 for a two-bedroom apartment at fair market rate, according to the National Housing Conference, a D.C.-based research group. The group says housing is defined as “affordable” when the rent or mortgage payment does not exceed 30 percent of the tenant’s income.

A D.C. resident has to make $58,440 a year for a 2-bedroom, fair market apartment to be affordable, using this metric. A fifth of D.C. residents struggle on $22,314 or less.

The study also looks at five sectors that are hiring the most nationwide. Four of them—groundskeeper, janitor, office clerk, and security guard—have average salaries far too low to make rent, let alone home ownership, affordable in the District.
Income inequality is high in DC, as is joblessness for the poor. The population in DC is booming, and the richer inhabitants are supplanting the poorer ones, who are moving farther out from the city center. Also, not all the gentrifiers are white and  not all the people who were displaced were forced out because of income. The issue is far more interesting and complex than McArdle presents it.

But  McArdle uses Amazon to buy toilet paper, therefore Amazon is a reason her neighborhood gentrified quickly. QED! Which makes it very odd that McArdle would present her theory as a question.

What a wonderfully easy way to get rich.

43 comments:

zombie rotten mcdonald said...

So before the internet, there weren't zoning fights?

Huh.

Susan of Texas said...

And evidently the areas of the country with the most Amzaon use are also the fastest to gentrify.

ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© said...

Scary thought: Meegan was more competent as an I/T consultant than she is as business and economics senior editor.
~

Anonymous said...

We don't have data for that!^

Susan of Texas said...

Yeah, what happened to that job?

Lurking Canadian said...

We can't really blame her for the flaws in the argument. After all, everything she knows about gentrification, she learned from that old guy on the bus.

KWillow said...

I hope a "Sam's Club" or "Costco" goes in right down the street from ArgleBargle.

cynic said...

it is also a wonderful thing to behold how her groupies just take any old argument she makes and run with it.

fish said...

We don't need much in the way of brick-and-mortar retail

I was just thinking the same thing as I was on Amazon buying fresh produce, getting my tires rotated, and having them cut my hair.

aimai said...

So Sears Roebuck resulted in the gentrification of the prarie?

aimai

Susan of Texas said...

Shhh--don't tell McArdle or she'll start handing out smallpox blankets to the "natives."

Anonymous said...

How many times has McArdle bitched about not having a place to get sloshed in public at now?

Landru said...

I can't stand to read McArdle--I'm grateful to you for doing it for me--but given my small sample size, I'm always astonished at the percentage of columns that I see into which she weaves her plaintive whine for more hipster bars in NoMa/Shaw.

Also, what you said.

Landru said...

Whoa, verbose synchronicity with the anonymous.

Anonymous said...

"Like my husband and I"??? The Atlantic pays her how much?

Anonymous said...

How many times has McArdle bitched about not having a place to get sloshed in public at now?

Ha ha I noticed that too. This from a person who was just told by her doctor that she really needed to cut down on her drinking (McMeg's response: that doctor doesn't know anything!)

Evidence that McMeg suffers from a growing *glug* *glug* problem contnues to accumulate.

Also: big laughs at Meg complaining about other people exercising their naked self-interest.

--FMguru

Larkspur said...

Sometimes McArdle makes me think of that old cartoon that shows a guy coming out of a bomb shelter into the smoking ruins of a city, and he's holding his television set in one hand, with the plug in the other hand, and he looks so stricken: where is he supposed to plug that TV in?

So yeah, MMcA, brick & mortar places are for the little troglodytic post-hominids that clutter up your landscape, the ones who are gonna die out because everyone knows that there will always be plenty of fuel and a perpetually robust electrical grid, all of which can be had forever, even after we winnow out the troglodytes.

Yeah, sure, the troglodytes get the oil, pump the gas, repair the lines, and keep the roads clear so that McM can have uninterrupted access to all of that, which is her birthright. But really, how hard can a job be if primitive non-academics can do it? Heck, these is modern times: jobs like that pretty much do themselves, leaving the intelligentsia to ponder and pontificate and yammer and blog, kind of like Romans did, except for the blogging (which they'd have loved). Every day in every way, life gets better and better until the power goes o

Larkspur said...

Or at least, that's how it looks to I.

Brad said...

Totally OT, but I ran into this and just had to share with the friends of McMegan. She can thumb her nose at her doctor and add an entry to her World Famous gift list all at the same time!

vacuumslayer said...

I was just thinking the same thing as I was on Amazon buying fresh produce, getting my tires rotated, and having them cut my hair.


You don't wanna do that. The Amazon haircut return policy sucks.

Anonymous said...

$29.99 is kind of cheap for that much Pink Himalayan Salt brad.

She'll have to import salt from Saturn's rings soon if it's not exclusive enough.

Mr.Wonderful said...

The first comment/review of the pink salt slab:

Waste
January 1, 2012
We let the salt block heat up on the grill as advised and when we went to put the food on the block it had exploded. - If you can't grill on the salt block it should not be advertised that way.

(Somehow this illustrates something. I don't even care what it is, though. It's great.)

DocAmazing said...

Exploding Salt Block is today's band name.

fish said...

The Amazon haircut return policy sucks.

They do send the hair back.

Downpuppy said...

I finally got around to giving you a link back on my AWESOME site - http://downpuppy.blogspot.com/

Dunno, but McArdle is just tedious to me now that she's back to lazy, sloppy fellation of the MotU again.

Brad said...

Oh my, I hadn't actually read the salt plate comments. I guess there is a good reason that things like frying pans have traditionally been made of metal rather than blocks of salt. Hoocoodanode! Let's hope "nobody can know anything" Megs doesn't let that stand in her way.

cynic said...

her latest screed about Buffet's secretary's taxes is a regular laugh riot.

Funny stuff.

vacuumslayer said...

I bet it's not.

Lurking Canadian said...

VS, that's laugh riot in the Megan sense, in which one tightly clamps one's jaws together and giggles, in an attempt to suppress one's rising gorge.

KWillow said...

Always have a barf-bag with you when visiting her blog.

Susan of Texas said...

"Susan's House of Pain, Mockery & Anti-Authoritarianism"

Ha! It's so Irene Adler. I love it.

Anonymous said...

Meanwhile, Charles Murray asks if the elite are disconnected from real murkins.
sigh.

cynic said...

I am reading Alfie Kohn's Unconditional Parenting and I am having many, many 'aha' moments.

He is shedding tremendous light on the authoritarianism inherent even in the most well meaning parent child relationships.

dianedp said...

Does she think that is happening only in her little pocket of the universe???
Those of us who have lived in the country or live in small cities that do not have many choices also use the internet in the same way we used the Sears catalogs way back when.

I find her articles difficult to understand in the sense of, "why did she bother to waste her time and mine, writing this stuff"/

Susan of Texas said...

Dianedp, watching McArdle reason backwards from her prejudices and vanities is one of the small joys of reading her blog.

In this case, McArdle wrote the article so she could say, "I'm not saying that we should cater to this desire (in either the gentrifiers, or the gentrified). But we shouldn't act like it's necessarily crazy or evil, either."

She spends a great deal of time creating justifications so she does not have to feel guilty for being selfish, self-centered, and greedy.

Susan of Texas said...

Cynic, I've found that one of the biggest problems with raising kids with unconditional love is that they learn you love them unconditionally so they then go out and do whatever they want--which is guaranteed to drive you nuts. I discuss motivation a great deal with the kids, including my own motivation, because I screw up all the time. Probably one of the the most important things I do is let the kids know that they have the right to be angry with me, to be critical of me or disapponted with me. I apologize when I did something wrong and I always admit when they are right and I am wrong. This lets them develop confidence in their moral judgment, and self-respect.

nate said...

My Father's take on that was, "Do as I say, not as I do."

Lurking Canadian said...

Kohn certainly imposes a very high standard to follow. It is made especially difficult when you are surrounded by friends and family who think "unconditional parenting" is "bad parenting" because you must not be sufficiently vigorous in punishing misbehaviour.

However, his description of what he calls "praise-junkie" adults is such an uncanny description of both me and my wife as adults that we are determined to stay the course. Anything that might keep the little rascal from turning out like me is worth trying.

Susan of Texas said...

Yes, that's usually how kids are raised.

As a nation we ignore our torture, war-mongering and economic destruction because we don't question authority but our descendents won't ignore them. The future will not speak well of us.

Susan of Texas said...

Lurking Canadian, I have to laugh sometimes at how much I (and most people) need and want praise and acceptance. We'll do almost anything to get it.

And blogging is like being an starving rat in a laboratory maze. Give me comments! Hit the like button! Feed me a pellet!

Anonymous said...

lurking canadian, I totally agree. we got so much grief for not "disciplining" (meaning punishing) our children when they were little. Now that they are older (and awesome!) I've had more than one person come back to me and say I was right and they were wrong.

The strange thing is, though, even with all that, these people still seem to believe that my kids are fine because of some inherent innate goodness in them, and that not punishing children or avoiding building an authoritarian relationship with them is taking a huge risk.

vacuumslayer said...

She spends a great deal of time creating justifications so she does not have to feel guilty for being selfish, self-centered, and greedy.


ALSO it's clearly very important to her that she reiterate as often as possible she thinks she's in a class she's desperate to be a member of. If it weren't so repulsive, it would be sad.

pseudonymous in nc said...

It's almost as if McArdle is simply assuming that everyone else in the world is just like her, with the same needs, wants and motivations."

Megan McMuggle explains everything by reference to her best friend Ann Ecdote.