Atlas Shrugged: The Mocking

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

All Our Wombs Belong To Ross Douthat

I began this post Sunday night and in the meantime everyone else has already thoroughly covered it, but repetition has never stopped me before. Onward, mocking, ho!

Ross Douthat once again takes pen in hand to explain why we will all be very, very sorry that we do not obey his Catholic rules.

When liberals are in a philosophical mood, they like to cast debates over the role of government not as a clash between the individual and the state, but as a conflict between the individual and the community. Liberals are for cooperation and joint effort; conservatives are for self-interest and selfishness.

You know who else was for cooperation and selflessness? Ross's good buddy Jesus!

Liberals build the Hoover Dam and the interstate highways; conservatives sit home and dog-ear copies of “The Fountainhead.”

"Dog-ear"? That's not what we think they are doing while reading Ayn Rand.

Liberals know that it takes a village; conservatives pretend that all it takes is John Wayne.

While they are enjoying the benefits given to them by a cooperative government.

In this worldview, the government is just the natural expression of our national community, and the place where we all join hands to pursue the common good. Or to borrow a line attributed to Representative Barney Frank, “Government is simply the name we give to the things we choose to do together.”

Many conservatives would go this far with Frank: Government is one way we choose to work together, and there are certain things we need to do collectively that only government can do.

Douthat goes on to ignore the fact that the government can only or best do certain things because he wants to support religious organizations over secular organizations. We want secular organizations running our military, our public benefits, our schools and our economy. Conservatives want religious laws to run our organizations so those organizations will follow their religious laws, thereby reinforcing the "truth" and power of their religion.

But there are trade-offs as well, which liberal communitarians don’t always like to acknowledge. When government expands, it’s often at the expense of alternative expressions of community, alternative groups that seek to serve the common good. Unlike most communal organizations, the government has coercive power — the power to regulate, to mandate and to tax. These advantages make it all too easy for the state to gradually crowd out its rivals. The more things we “do together” as a government, in many cases, the fewer things we’re allowed to do together in other spheres.

Douthat also ignores the fact that nobody is stopping religious organizations from doing anything. They just won't give them "secular" money to do it. Not everyone is Catholic and wants to support the Catholic church.

Sometimes this crowding out happens gradually, subtly, indirectly. Every tax dollar the government takes is a dollar that can’t go to charities and churches.

Let's see, which would I rather support--missile defense or St. Rose of Lima? The highway system or Catholic Charities?

Every program the government runs, from education to health care to the welfare office, can easily become a kind of taxpayer-backed monopoly.

That's because we want them to be a "monopoly." We don't want education or social services or national defense to rely on the free market.

But sometimes the state goes further. Not content with crowding out alternative forms of common effort, it presents its rivals an impossible choice: Play by our rules, even if it means violating the moral ideals that inspired your efforts in the first place, or get out of the community-building business entirely.

Every threat must be backed by force or it is meaningless. The threat in this case is the withdrawal or expense of money. The churches can do whatever they want, they just can't do it with public money.

This is exactly the choice that the White House has decided to offer a host of religious institutions — hospitals, schools and charities — in the era of Obamacare. The new health care law requires that all employer-provided insurance plans cover contraception, sterilization and the morning-after (or week-after) pill known as ella, which can work as an abortifacient. A number of religious groups, led by the American Catholic bishops, had requested an exemption for plans purchased by their institutions. Instead, the White House has settled on an exemption that only covers religious institutions that primarily serve members of their own faith. A parish would be exempt from the mandate, in other words, but a Catholic hospital would not.

A religious organization can refuse to pay for reproductive health care if their members are of that religion, but not if they are of other religions or are secular. By law we cannot be forced to give money to a church. (In theory, at least.) Douthat doesn't like that law. He believes that God wants him to control all women's reproductive systems. The fact that all women do not want to hand over their free will to Ross Douthat is beside the point to him. He is Catholic so all women should live by his rules. His arrogance is unreal.

Ponder that for a moment. In effect, the Department of Health and Human Services is telling religious groups that if they don’t want to pay for practices they consider immoral, they should stick to serving their own co-religionists rather than the wider public. Sectarian self-segregation is O.K., but good Samaritanism is not. The rule suggests a preposterous scenario in which a Catholic hospital avoids paying for sterilizations and the morning-after pill by closing its doors to atheists and Muslims, and hanging out a sign saying “no Protestants need apply.”

Or they could simply refuse that tainted government money and tax exemptions and do whatever they want. Usually at this point I would say that it's all about money but Douthat is one of those rare birds whose personal issue supersede even their lust for power. Douthat thinks sex with women is icky. He is the Monk of the pundit set. The thought of gettin' it on with a pretty coed nearly made him sick to his stomach.

The regulations are a particularly cruel betrayal of Catholic Democrats, many of whom had defended the health care law as an admirable fulfillment of Catholicism’s emphasis on social justice. Now they find that their government’s communitarianism leaves no room for their church’s communitarianism, and threatens to regulate it out of existence.

Douthat is terribly concerned about taking the government Danegeld for welfare but suddenly expects his religious Danegeld to come without strings attached. Too bad.

Critics of the administration’s policy are framing this as a religious liberty issue, and rightly so. But what’s at stake here is bigger even than religious freedom.

The religious freedom to take government money without following the government's rules. Sorry, when someone gives you money they have the right to set conditions. If you don't like the conditions, don't take the money. Who needs that tax exemption anyway?

The Obama White House’s decision is a threat to any kind of voluntary community that doesn’t share the moral sensibilities of whichever party controls the health care bureaucracy.

So don't take the money and do what you want.

The Catholic Church’s position on contraception is not widely appreciated, to put it mildly, and many liberals are inclined to see the White House’s decision as a blow for the progressive cause.

The Catholic Church's position on contraception is not widely appreciated by Catholics either. Almost all women use birth control at some point in their lives, which means a lot of Catholic men benefit from the use of birth control as well. Douthat and all controlled birth advocates ignore this fact. And, as TBogg notes, Mr. Douthat has one child in his three years of marriage. His wife has a career and evidently does not intend to reproduce ever year or as often as God allows Douthat to plant His Holy Seed.

If Douthat wants to make our reproductive decisions for us then it only seems fair that we get to make his. Douthat thinks that having the power--and by that I mean money--of the Catholic Church behind him means that this is all one-way: He tells us if we are allowed to use contraception and we have to do what he says. I say that his wife must use contraception because the last thing any of us want is another generation of Douthats let loose in the world, telling us what we can or cannot do with our bodies. If she refuses then we should fine and imprison her, where she will be forced to take the Pill.

They should think again. Once claimed, such powers tend to be used in ways that nobody quite anticipated, and the logic behind these regulations could be applied in equally punitive ways by administrations with very different values from this one.

The more the federal government becomes an instrument of culture war, the greater the incentive for both conservatives and liberals to expand its powers and turn them to ideological ends. It is Catholics hospitals today; it will be someone else tomorrow.

Just as Megan McArdle is constantly warning us of Armageddon if banks bonuses are cut, Douthat tries to tell us that if the government requires faith-based health care providers to pay for basic services for non-Catholic women, fascism will crush us.

The White House attack on conscience is a vindication of health care reform’s critics, who saw exactly this kind of overreach coming. But it’s also an intimation of a darker American future, in which our voluntary communities wither away and government becomes the only word we have for the things we do together.

Which is why our Founding Fathers created a faith-based government--to ensure that our public institutions are based on religious values. Oh, wait--they created a secular government, so moral scolds like Douthat can't force everyone else to live by their unpopular and almost completely ignored religious rules. Why this bizarre need for moral purity? It's hard to tell, but maybe an article from Mother Jones can give us a clue.

Ross Douthat has the hair of an older man—thinning on top, a trim beard below—and the air of one. He's had only one girlfriend since college, and they are now married.

One?! Maybe TBogg's  wrong. Maybe he's only had sex once. Twice, if Douthat took one for the team and had sex on his honeymoon.

And nowhere, at any time, do we have any indication whatsoever that Douthat takes into account what women want or need. They are always utterly absent from his little ruminations, without body or voice or will. It's all about Douthat and what he wants, and the end of civilisation as we know it if we do not do what he says.

Friday, January 27, 2012


If you ever wanted to see a group of raving lunatics swarm over Megan McArdle with blood in their eyes and venom in their keyboards, skip on over to What Did Ron Paul Know, and When Did He Know It?  It's rather refreshing to see libertarians use their slash and burn techniques each other instead of liberals.

Added: Combine the McArdle commentariat--selfish, smug, racist and elitist--with the Ron Paul commentariat--conspiracy-minded, empty-headed, racist and unable to work a caps lock--and what do you get?

Ken Magalnik2 hours ago
I'm far from Ron Pauls biggest fan, but are you saying that race-bating should disqualify one from office?

mike1 hour agoin reply to Ken Magalnik
No, she's saying editing a racist newsletter should disqualify you.

kitkatt18 minutes agoin reply to mike
and that it's 'ok' to vote for a guy that hates white people, since hating on white people isn't racism in Megan's and Obama's world

JoshlNHB15 minutes agoin reply to kitkatt
White people suck.

marshuff14 minutes agoin reply to JoshlNHB
you suck

JoshlNHB13 minutes agoin reply to marshuff
Shut your Jew face.

marshuff10 minutes agoin reply to JoshlNHB
Shut your butt ugly face

James Russell Lowell would be so proud.

Unspoken Assumptions

While I admire people who adopt tremendously, Nancy French's Corner post on her adopted daughter strikes me as more than a little off.

The Joy of Pretty Things

By Nancy French

In 2008, we decided to adopt. At first, like many couples who hear of the dreaded “one child” policy, I wanted to adopt from China. However, when we contacted our agency, the wait for a Chinese baby was four years. Instead we decided to go the quickest and most affordable route.

And so, several months — and a lot of paperwork — later, we got our referral photo from Ethiopia. She was a 14-pound two-year-old with a large head and twiggy arms. She was wearing camouflage, and it was noted on her file that she had experienced “extreme starvation.”

In retrospect, she wasn’t that cute, but we were blinded by love and adoration. My son, who was eight at the time, printed off her photo and took it proudly to school.
She "wasn't that cute"? What a thing to say in print.

“Is that a girl?” a classmate asked. “Are you sure?”

On the way home from school, my son was devastated. “Why does she wear boys’ clothes if she’s really a girl?” he asked, his pride pricked by his friends’ doubt. “Are we sure?”

We weren’t. As with everything adoption-related, it’s hard to know much with certainty. Information is hard to come by. Language barriers and other factors make it hard to really figure out the truth. It’s an exercise in trusting God’s sovereignty.

I sure hope that little girl doesn't want to be an engineer. The family might think she's really a guy. Or a lesbian.

A year and a half ago, my family traveled to Africa and met two-year-old Konjit, an apt name which means “beautiful.” My blonde-headed kids were amazed at her rich, brown skin and her dark-brown fuzz on the top of her head. The orphanage had shaved her hair off almost completely. It was probably a good thing — so much was changing in our family. I cannot imagine actually getting a new kid and learning how to feed, bathe, and take care of her exotic hair without sharing the same language.
"Exotic"? " "Fuzz"? "A good thing"? And a woman with children needs to learn how to feed and bathe them? I am relieved that French let the girl's hair grow at all. And have her children never seen an African-American before? Either French is an idiot or her Baron Munchausen tendencies are acting up again.

French goes on to tell us how her daughter grew to love pretty clothers, even running around on their new wood floors in her favorite boots.

“Naomi,” I said sternly. This is the new first name we chose to go with her African name. It means “pleasant.”
She refused to call her child by her real name? Why? She's a person, not a puppy you got from the pound. Our names are part of our identities.
“You’ve either got to stand still or take off those boots.”

She stood still, right in that spot for a very long time, motionless.

As I looked at that little brown girl trying too hard to maintain the style and beauty of those little brown boots, I smiled. And I finally said, “Okay, go ahead and run around.”

My reluctant permission was like a gunshot at a race. She smiled and ran around the house with even more joy. And with every clomp, she drove poverty and death a little further back into her past.
No child should be that obedient; it's a sign of deep insecurity. And why was French just watching her "for a very long time"? French might want to rethink this whole Conservative Mommy gig. She comes off as a little loopy and it cuts into her time servicing Mitt and Ann Romney.

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.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Those Knees Are Looking A Little Ragged

Journalists were never intended to be the cheerleaders of a society, the conductors of applause, the sycophants. Tragically, that is their assigned role in authoritarian societies, but not here -- not yet.

-Chet Huntley

That was then--this is now.

After informing us that The Welfares (and we all know who they are) will violently take the streets if bankers are forced to have smaller bonuses, McMoron McArdle doubles down on the offensiveness. Her distaste for those below her on the social and economic ladder couldn't be more obvious, but in her world ass-kissing the rich is the new black, and McSycophant is nothing if not stylish.

SYCOPHANT, n. One who approaches Greatness on his belly so that he

may not be commanded to turn and be kicked. He is sometimes an editor.

As the lean leech, its victim found, is pleased
To fix itself upon a part diseased
Till, its black hide distended with bad blood,
It drops to die of surfeit in the mud,
So the base sycophant with joy descries
His neighbor's weak spot and his mouth applies,
Gorges and prospers like the leech, although,
Unlike that reptile, he will not let go.
Gelasma, if it paid you to devote
Your talent to the service of a goat,
Showing by forceful logic that its beard
Is more than Aaron's fit to be revered;
If to the task of honoring its smell
Profit had prompted you, and love as well,
The world would benefit at last by you
And wealthy malefactors weep anew --
Your favor for a moment's space denied
And to the nobler object turned aside.
Is't not enough that thrifty millionaires
Who loot in freight and spoliate in fares,
Or, cursed with consciences that bid them fly
To safer villainies of darker dye,
Forswearing robbery and fain, instead,
To steal (they call it "cornering") our bread
May see you groveling their boots to lick
And begging for the favor of a kick?
Still must you follow to the bitter end
Your sycophantic disposition's trend,
And in your eagerness to please the rich
Hunt hungry sinners to their final ditch?
In Morgan's praise you smite the sounding wire,
And sing hosannas to great Havemeyher!
What's Satan done that him you should eschew?
He too is reeking rich -- deducting _you_.
-Ambrose Bierce

Let's look at this again: :"Still must you follow to the bitter end Your sycophantic disposition's trend,
And in your eagerness to please the rich Hunt hungry sinners to their final ditch?" It seems that for every Golden Age of robber barons we must endure their boot-lickers telling us to bow before the rich and serve them.

I've said before that I don't care about income inequality per se, and that focusing on it seems more like institutionalized envy than sound policy.  I care about the absolute condition of the poor--do they have the basics of a decent life?  And I care about whether income inequality itself produces some sort of structural advantage in the political system.  (I'm skeptical).
What possible advantage could one  have by being very very rich while everyone else is poor? I just can't think of a single one. If a few people have almost all the money, and therefore almost all the power, and all the access to all the advantages money buys, how could that possibly hurt the poor? Anyone who thinks that having the nation's wealth concentrated in a few hands is unhealthy for the economy is just, well, jealous of the super-smart, super-hard-working, super-wonderful rich, who deserve everything they get!

Frederick: I thought we liked stripes this year.
Cruella De Vil: What kind of sycophant are you?
Frederick: Uh... what kind of sycophant would you like me to be?

On the other hand, income mobility is a very important issue. Regardless of how far the top is from the bottom, children born in America should have an equal chance to move from the latter to the former. This is especially important given that so many of the highest-paid jobs are also the most pleasant.

Many people apparently agree with me: the issue of income mobility has become more prominent in policy debates over the last few years. And yet I submit that this agreement is entirely theoretical. How many of the people reading this blog would actually tolerate a one-in-five chance that their children would end up poor?

Because that's what income mobility actually means. It doesn't just mean giving a lift to the folks at the bottom--superior health care, better K-12 education. Everyone in the country cannot be above average. For the poor to have a better shot at ending up in the top quintiles, the folks in the top few quintiles have to run the risk of ending up in the lowest.
This is how this woman thinks. There it is, her weltanschauung and raison d'etre and all those other cool foreign words, spread out for the world to see in all is sickening glory. The only goal in life is to claw your way to the top, it's either you or me, and let's face it--just between us upper middle class Atlantic readers--it's going to be me on top, and not them

"But if you say, you can still pass the violations over, then I ask, hath your house been burnt? Hath your property been destroyed before your face? Are your wife and children destitute of a bed to lie on, or bread to live on? Have you lost a parent or a child by their hands, and yourself the ruined and wretched survivor? If you have not, then you are not a judge of those who have. But if you have, and can still shake hands with the murderers, then you are unworthy of the name of husband, father, friend, or lover, and whatever may be your rank or title in life, you have the heart of a coward and the spirit of a sycophant." ~ Thomas Paine

Who among the parents fighting so hard to get their kids into a good school is going to volunteer to have their kid give up the slot in the upper middle class? People are willing to accept a certain amount of slippage, but only as long as it comes with added job security (government) or special fulfillment (the ministry, the arts)--and even in the latter cases, Mom and Dad will often be strenuously arguing against following your calling. But how many doctors and lawyers would simply glumly accept it if you told them that sorry, junior's going to be an intermittently employed long-haul trucker, and your darling daughter is going to work the supermarket checkout, because all the more lucrative and interesting slots went to smarter and more talented people?

I thought we lived in a meritocracy? God knows McArdle has spouted those words often enough. Now we are told that the upper middle class must keep out the smarter and more talented members of the lower class to preserve their own privilege, which just happens to be McArdle's main goal in life. Which also makes her a conservative, not libertarian, but McArdle does not mind elbowing out real libertarians if it gains her an advantage. For we live in some zero-sum game in which every time someone else makes good, McArdle is deprived of some of her birthright.

To a first approximation, none. Oh, of course, middle class families do have those spectacular screw-ups who end up stuck in dead-end jobs, and they don't expel them or anything. But they would not cooperate with any system that made such a result fairly likely--and that is what we're actually talking about, when we're talking about rising income mobility. Someone in society is going to end up doing crappy jobs, because trash needs to be hauled and Alzheimer's patients need to have their diapers changed. The primary job of a middle class parent is to ensure that their children are not those people.

To a well deserving person God will show favor. To an ill deserving person He will simply be just. 

One of the reasons this is so hard is that so many of the problems poor people deal with are created by living near other poor people. Most poor people are not criminals, but most criminals are poor people, because crime actually doesn't pay (very well).
This is what happens when you don't prosecute Wall Street thugs and thieves: Megan McArdle gets to yammer in the Atlantic about how criminals are poor people who caught criminality from their degenerate neighbors. Crime paid very, very well for bankers, but this is ass-kissing, not journalism.
Most poor people take out their trash, maintain their homes, and stay off drugs--but the kind of people who don't do those things are disproportionately likely to end up in poverty. Which is to say, in your neighborhood, if you are poor--shooting at each other and hitting bystanders, breeding vermin that migrate into your living space, pilfering your stuff to support their drug habit.

Someone has to live near those people; whatever your expectations for antipoverty policy, it surely does not include the end of drug addiction and slovenly habits. But should it be your kid? Would you want them to have a one-in-five chance of living in those conditions? (Or the different, but not necessarily less miserable, conditions of rural poverty?) Of course not. You'd do anything you had to in order to keep that from happening.
McArdle ignores the cocaine-fueled upper class like Larry Kudlow and his ilk, as well as her own pot-smoking friends and relations. They aren't drug addicts, they are---uh---fighting for economic and civil freedom! That's it!
And so middle class parents do. They pay lip service to mobility, but they work damn hard to make sure that their kids don't get exposed to a peer group that might normalize dropping out and working low-wage, dead end jobs, or going on welfare.

No matter how deeply ideologically committed you are to public education and income mobility, you will not leave your kid in a high-poverty school where gangs are valorized and college is not--or even in a working class school that will close off the chances for admission to Harvard. You'll agitate against zoning that would bring poor people in (though of course, not because of the poor people, it's just that, you know, the character of the town is quiet single family houses and the infrastructure won't support multi-family plus we don't really have the social services here and they'd be much better off in Camden, actually.) With other like-minded parents, you'll take over the school and reshape its priorities to match those of the upper-middle class. Or you'll move to a different school system, naturally talking about the enrichment programs rather than the more affluent, education-focused peer group you're buying for your kids.
The one thing you will not say--unless you are isolated in a rural area with exactly one school and no critical mass of similar parents--is, "Oh, well, I guess the best we can hope for is a third-tier state school." It is no accident that the middle class bits of the New York City school system have managed to hijack the best resources for themselves, in the process building a pretty good public school system which exists cheek-by-jowl with a very lousy one.
Income mobility is one of the pillars of the American dream, one of the basic precepts of American Exceptionalism. And McArdle simply denies it. She is upper middle class, her audience is upper middle class, therefore income inequality is just fine and income mobility is a bad thing that might rob them of something, somewhere, somehow. This paean to selfishness, this laudatory lavatory paper, this I-got-mine-fuck-you-Jack--it contradicts everything we are supposed to hold dear. It's not that McArdle is selfish and greedy and miserly. It's that she feels perfectly at ease admitting it. She does not fear any kind of retribution whatsoever, socially or professionally. No priest is going to denounce her--she has no religion but money. No friends will shun her--they are as eager for wealth and power as she. And of course the more servile she becomes, the richer she becomes. It's win-win, if you are a lackey with no pride, morality or shame.

Remember, this is the meritocratic system we're talking about. This is the system that was supposed to break the spine of the old aristocracy of wealth and pull--and did, only to replace it with one that seems to be even more ruthlessly effective at shielding their children from competition.

And that's the optimistic case--the case that assumes that there is virtually no parental transmission of real economic virtues, through genetics, intensive nurturing, or through the learned behaviors and peer effects that conservatives bundle up as "culture". Obviously, as you introduce those sorts of elements into the model, for which the sorts of interventions one can imagine run from horribly difficult to morally monstrous, the picture gets rather bleaker.

It will be very hard, I believe, to state in what respect the king has profited by that faction which presumptuously choose to call themselves his friends.

If particular men had grown into an attachment, by the distinguished honour of the society of their sovereign; and, by being the partakers of his amusements, came sometimes to prefer the gratification of his personal inclinations to the support of his high character, the thing would be very natural, and it would be excusable enough. But the pleasant part of the story is, that these king's friends have no more ground for usurping such a title, than a resident freeholder in Cumberland or in Cornwall. They are only known to their sovereign bv kissing his hand, for the offices, pensions, and grants, into which they have deceived his benignitv. May no storm ever come, which will put the firmness of their attachment to the proof; and which, in the midst of confusions. and terrours, and sufferings, may demonstrate the eternal difference between a true and severe friend to the monarchy, and a slippery sycophant to the court! Quantum infido scarrtB distabit amicus. --Edmund Burke

We should be talking about income mobility--it's probably the most important moral challenge facing our society. But I very much doubt that we'll end up doing much more than talk.

Not as long as McArdle has anything to say about it. The funny thing, however--and there is always a funny thing, thank God--is that nobody despises sycophants more than the rich and powerful.

"I, uh... I want to thank you all for coming here tonight and drinking all of my booze." [the guests laugh] "No, really. uh..." "To all of you, uh, to all of you phonies, all of you two-faced friends, you sycophantic suck-ups who smile through your teeth at me, please... leave me in peace. Please... go. Stop smiling. It's not a joke. Please leave. The party's over. Get out."-Bruce Wayne in Batman Begins

Monday, January 16, 2012

How To Become A Rich And Successful Pundit

David Brooks sees a member of the elite and does what comes naturally.

The more authoritarian you are, the  more successful you will become. We are speaking of followers, not leaders, as leaders are born, not made. Authoritarian leaders will richly reward their servants who are so eager to obey that they do not even need to be given orders. Which brings us to David Brooks.

There are two questions concerning Mitt Romney’s service at the private equity firm Bain Capital. The narrower question is: Did Bain help ailing companies and add value to the economy or did it plunder dying firms? The larger question is: Does Romney’s success in business tell us anything about whether he would be a successful president?
Wave bye-bye to the first issue, the one filling the headlines, because you will not see it again. Questioning the ways of the elite will not do anyone any good here, and Brooks knows his duty. He will pull a McArdle and substitute his own, less politically dangerous, issue for discussion. It's a very clumsy bait and switch but talented hacks are rare, and usually British. Brooks worships power with his entire soul and that was all he needed to gain his present social and political prominence.

Let’s tackle the bigger question here.

At first blush, business success would seem to be good preparation for political success. A C.E.O. learns to set priorities, manage organizations and hone analytic skills. But these traits are more transferable to being a mayor, which is more administrative, than to being president.

Moreover, for every Michael Bloomberg who successfully moves from business to politics, there is a Jon Corzine, Donald Rumsfeld, Donald Regan, Meg Whitman or Carly Fiorina — former executives who were either unsuccessful in political office or who couldn’t get elected in the first place. If you look back over history, you see that while business success can sensitize a politician to the realities other executives face, there’s little correlation between business success and political success.
 It's like Bush never existed. He did far more damage than we realize; the right seems to emit a collective shudder whenever Rick Perry reminds them of his predecessor.
The traits that actually correlate with successful presidencies have deeper roots.
Of course they do. Calling someone a CEO president doesn't have the same connotations that it had in Bush's time so presidents must now be something else, something.....Mittens-y.

First, successful presidents tend to be emotionally secure. They have none of the social resentments and desperate needs that plagued men like Richard Nixon. Instead they were raised, often in an aristocratic family, with a sense that they were the natural leaders of the nation. They were infused, often at an elite prep school, with a sense of obligation and responsibility to perform public service.

Our elite are infused with noblessnoblesse oblige?  We are supposed to swallow this after our financial industry spent the last year demanded thanks for running the economy into the ground? Have we not heard the elite tell us endlessly that we must end the entitlement society? It's like Occupy Wall Street never happened, inequality never rose, social mobility never fell. The eternal sunshine of the empty mind illuminates everything Brooks writes.

Equally wacky is the notion that being bred for greatness installs emotional security. Just as often it installs callousness, selfishness and arrogance.

Whether it is a George Washington, a Franklin or Theodore Roosevelt or a John F. Kennedy, this sort of president enters the White House with ease and confidence, is relatively unscathed by the criticism of the crowd, is able to separate the mask he must wear for public display from the real honest self he knows himself to be.
Oh, now we're supposed to approve of self-esteem?

This sense of emotional security can also be found in great military leaders, like Dwight Eisenhower, and in serenely successful movie stars, like Ronald Reagan.
 If I were a One-Percenter I'd think this David Brooks fellow is a marvelous chap. His appreciation of the quality of the very rich, their inherent superiority, is superb. Give this man a column at the Times!
Second, great presidents tend to have superb political judgment. In his essay on this subject, Isaiah Berlin defines political judgment as “a capacity for integrating a vast amalgam of constantly changing, multicolored, evanescent perpetually overlapping data.”

A president with political judgment has a subtle feel for the texture of his circumstance. He has a feel for where opportunities lie, what will go together and what will never go together. This implicit knowledge is developed slowly in people like Harry Truman or Lyndon Johnson who have spent decades as political insiders and who have a rich repertoire of experiences to draw on.
 But--but--they weren't raised in wealth, bred by prep schools to rule the universe. How could they be great?
It also comes from voracious social contact. It comes to leaders who have a compulsive desire to be around people and who can harvest from a million social encounters a sense of what people want and can deliver.
"Compulsive desire to be around people" doesn't always go with emotionally secure.

Third, great leaders have often experienced crushing personal setbacks. This experience, whether it’s Lincoln’s depression or F.D.R.’s polio, not only gives them a sense of sympathy for those who are suffering, but a personal contact with frailty. They are resilient when things go wrong. They know how dependent they are on others, how prone they are to overconfidence. They are both modest, because they have felt weakness, and aggressive, because they know how hard it is to change anything.
 Okay, now our candidates should have experienced personal tragedy, which surely will prove that they have that "empathy" thing that liberals are always droning on about.

Finally, great leaders tend to have an instrumental mentality. They do not feel the office is about them. They are just God’s temporary instrument in service of a larger cause. Lincoln felt he was God’s instrument in preserving the union. F.D.R. felt he was an instrument to help the common man and defeat fascism.

This sense of being an instrument gives them an organizing purpose. It gives them a longer perspective, so they don’t get distracted by ephemera. It means their administration marches in one direction, even though it is flexible and willing to accept incremental gains along the way.

In sum, great presidents are often aristocrats and experienced political insiders. They experience great setbacks. They feel the presence of God’s hand on their every move.
I haven't read anything this creepy since I read that Rick Santorum took his dead newborn home to show to his kids, like it was show-and-tell day at the morgue. The arrogance of his belief that God favors us above all others, the literal worshipfullnessworshipfulness of his attitude towards power, the authoritarian love of knowing one's place--David Brooks is an utterly devoted sycophant and authoritarian follower.
Unfortunately, we’re not allowed to talk about these things openly these days. We disdain elitism, political experience and explicit God-talk. Great failure is considered “baggage” in today’s campaign lingo.
Says the man with the column in the Times. But Brooks is overcome with disbelief that everyone does not worship the rich as he does. The rich have the political experience of the poorer politicians, who doggedly worked their way up the ladder of power, because Brooks says so. Their failures are great failures, that benefit the rich by increasing their wisdom. And they are personally backed by God. God! He's, like, the best endorsement any politician ever had!

Today’s candidates have to invent bogus story lines to explain their qualifications to be president — that they are innocent outsiders or business whizzes. In reality, Romney’s Bain success is largely irrelevant to the question of whether he could be a good president. The real question is whether he has picked up traits like emotional security, political judgment and an instrumental mind-set from his upbringing and the deeper experiences of life.
 Look into his soul, not his bank account or public record. How can Brooks not be humiliated by his subservience, his naked power worship?

We’ll learn more about that as he confronts brutal attacks that now besiege him.
This is why there was never any doubt who would be the Republican nominee. Romney is One Of Them and the others are not. The Republicans did not run anyone who might have had a chance against him, which made the rat race for the nomination even more amusingly fake, and now the party has dropped all pretense and is ready to offer us a constant stream of Romney-worship and devout praise.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Expert Opinion

Sometimes being a knee-jerk contrarian, always eager to assume that the little people who serve you are inept, is not a good idea.

Megan McArdle is once again telling us far more than we need to know about her personal life. This time she is discussing her medical condition, one of her favorite subjects.

Medical Advice for the New Year: Don't Get Sick

By Megan McArdle

I have a family history of high blood pressure, so naturally when I saw that the Wall Street Journal had a piece up on "starting early for cardiovascular health", I clicked through.
The article said that "[b]ringing high blood pressure under control at any time reduces risk of disease. But not letting it creep up in the first place can be even better." McArdle is verklempt, because nobody knows anything ever and nobody can do anything ever in her philosophy.

[Y]ou'd really be surprised to learn how little control hypertension patients have over their condition. Yes, there are risk factors. But without medication, my blood pressure routinely spikes over 155 even though I have a perfectly normal BMI. It began creeping up in my mid-thirties for no obvious reason.

Actually, there is one obvious possibility.

That did not stop my doctor from offering ridiculous suggestions as to how I might control it. In her defense, she was a resident in internal medicine, and was presumably required to give me ludicrous advice by whatever shadowy figure was supervising her and actually making the decisions. First she came back and told me that a glass of wine with dinner more nights than not was "really a lot" of drinking, in a tone that would have been more appropriate had I confessed that I frequently woke up on the floor of our living room, surrounded by empty scotch bottles that I couldn't remember having purchased.

If McArdle drinks more than 9 drinks a week (5 oz of wine is one drink), she is considered a higher risk drinker. (A standard wineglass is a little over half full when it holds 5 oz of liquid.) Someone whose criteria for buying a house included bars within walking distance and who says she drinks at least four times a week could easily exceed a safe drinking level, and McArdle's response is quippy but unwise. You don't have to drink until you pass out to drink too much and these guidelines are for healthy people, which McArdle is not. She has Hashimoto's Thyroiditis and asthma, as she has mentioned several times.

McArdle's doctor told her to cut back on salt, which she decided was stupid advice.

 It made more sense just to ignore her advice, as I'm sure that everyone else she gave it to did. (And with good reason: the evidence that reducing your salt intake has a big impact on your blood pressure is pretty mixed.)

McArdle links to fellow professional contrarian John Tierney, whose article is far from convincing but who is as against government intervention as McArdle.

I am sure that it would, in theory, have been better for me to not have developed high blood pressure in the first place. It might also have been better for me to be 5'10 instead of 6'2--and unfortunately, I have no idea how I could have achieved either stunt.

Nor did most of the people in the study cited by the WSJ; according to the authors: "The prevalence of hypertension treatment in this study is low because of the time period during which these cohorts were initiated". The Journal compresses this to "patients who curbed their levels in the Circulation study did so only with lifestyle changes " but that is not actually what the authors said. Rather, they said that they don't know why people's blood pressure fell. People whose blood pressure fell did see smaller increases in body mass index and cholesterol than those whose blood pressure rose. But those things were still increasing, not decreasing. So:

Decreases in BP may have been due to lifestyle changes, as suggested by the changes in body mass index and total cholesterol, although it is possible that differences were due to random variation or regression to the mean.

So what we really know is that if your blood pressure is high, and then falls, it is better than if it just stays high--and it's even better if it doesn't get high in the first place. Except we knew that before. Having high blood pressure is bad for you. So is getting Lou Gehrig's disease. But it is not very useful to tell people that they will be better off not contracting these conditions.

The article that McArdle read discussed rising blood pressure in aging men. The advice would be appropriate for them, if not her.

You can treat the condition, of course--but to my chagrin, even well-controlled hypertension is not the same thing as having normal blood pressure. Whatever underlying process is causing my blood pressure to rise is also probably damaging my cardiovascular system, even when the blood-pressure itself reads normal. Moreover, at least as far as I know, doctors don't give you blood pressure meds when your BP hits 121. They wait until you're, well, hypertensive, or close to it. That's because there's substantial error in blood pressure readings (you're having a bad day, you were late and ran up the stairs, you're scared of hospitals). They don't want to put you on diuretics for years to treat that rumor you heard that your company might be having layoffs.

Of course, you should exercise--but research seems to indicate that it's good for a few points, not a drop from "Stage 2 hypertension" to "normal". And you should quit smoking--but much to my surprise, smoking apparently doesn't cause high blood pressure. Maybe you should eat less salt, too, but the evidence that this will improve your hypertension is not all that convincing. Even losing weight, the most plausible intervention, seems to generate modest improvement, not radical reduction. All of these things together, at the most generous estimates, would not have reduced my blood pressure below 120/80.

Don't get me wrong: hypertension is a serious condition; it's imperative to treat it, and it would be even better if we could avoid it entirely. But I only know one sure-fire way to keep your blood pressure from rising, and that's to avoid reading articles telling you that you really shouldn't have become hypertensive in the first place.
McArdle does not believe fat people can lose weight, poor people can have discipline, or rich people can be greedy and make bad decisions. Things just happen for no reason and there's nothing we can do about it. Experts don't know anything, governments can't help people, the poor we will have with us always. This casual disregard for logic and reason and hand-waving dismissal of expertise can have very detrimental effects.

For instance, evidently McArdle was so busy dismissing everything her doctor told her that she did not ask about a connection between her autoimmune disease and high blood pressure. According to the American Heart Association, the two are associated.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Much Ado About Nothing

Digby is worried about Rick Santorum's views about birth control.

[Kathryn Jean Lopez is] mischaracterizing the (very silly) article, which suggested that using birth control is causing infertility ---because women are waiting too long to get pregnant. It's idiotic but I'm guessing it's the next big paternalistic ploy by the forced childbirth brigades --- too many dizzy gals are damaged by waiting too long to conceive that the choice must be taken out of their flighty little hands.

She goes on to complain about having to pay for birth control --- which is going to be the hook these zealots will use to whittle away at women's access and then ends with this:

In this campaign, Rick Santorum has not been lecturing us about so-called social issues. But he gets asked about them, and he answers honestly. Can’t we be honest about what he is saying?

Here's what he's saying (go to the end):[snipped video]

"The state has a right to [make a law outlawing the right of married people to use birth control], I have never questioned that the state has a right to do that. It is not a constitutional right, the state has the right to pass whatever statues they have.

And he explained very thoroughly elsewhere that he believes birth control is wrong unless sex is procreative it "becomes deconstructed to the point where it's simply pleasure."

I think we understand him very well.

So what? It's not our responsibility to tell the president what to do. If he wants to make it harder to get birth control (like Obama) or outlaw it altogether (like Santorum, in his wet dreams) then that's his right. Making it harder to get birth control will get Obama more votes and if we make a fuss then we'll discourage Democrats from voting and Obama might lose. And then we might end up with no birth control at all. Of course that will happen anyway because the right will always demand more concessions for the sheer joy of exerting control over their ideological enemies and Obama will always give in to get more votes. Obviously he does not have to worry about losing Democratic votes because they will always choose the lesser of two evils.

I really don't care because it doesn't affect me; I can afford to work around the law and where there's an outlawed drug there's always a black market. Just like I don't care if Obama murders Muslim children because it doesn't affect anyone I know personally.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

For The Greater Good

Poor Megan McArdle. Always a bridesmaid and never a bride, intellectually speaking.

The economist equivalent of a brawl is going on between Paul Krugman and the guys at Marginal Revolution. I'm not going to pile into the dispute directly--I prefer both the style and substance of Marginal Revolution, but am well aware that Paul Krugman has forgotten more economics than I will ever know.

Of course McArdle will not address an actual argument; that takes effort.

However, I will note that the commenters Paul Krugman sends to other sites harbor a very strange faith in his predictive powers. When other economists dispute something that Paul Krugman has said, they tend to rejoinder that the reason Paul Krugman is obviously a more reliable source than this crappy ideological hack they're speaking to is that, unlike YOU, Paul Krugman has gotten things right over and over.

But it takes no effort to accuse Mr. Krugman of sending commenters to other sites. Or to say that if you ever get anything wrong then obviously you're not reliable. McArdle gets almost everything wrong and is very unreliable but almost everyone has different standards for the other side than they have for themselves.

What is so strange about this belief--aside from the collective hyperlocal amnesia that prevents them from remembering that yes, even the great Paul Krugman has made some bloomers in his time--is that the examples of his Nostradamus-like powers are not, in fact, at all special. Chief among them--the sort of Ur prediction upon which he has apparently made his reputation--is "calling" the housing bubble in 2003.

This is chief to McArdle because it is one of the few things she did not get wrong, and since she free rides off the intellectual efforts of others (in this case Pam Woodall, as she mentions below), that's not exactly a brilliant achievement. This is the woman who said that the US would not have a recession, after all.

Contra the fuzzy recollections of his readers, this is not an example of unusual foresight unparalleled in the world of journalism. I called the housing bubble a full year earlier than he did, in 2002. The Economist was writing about the global housing bubble even earlier than that, thanks to Pam Woodall's fearsome analytic talents.

This is obviously not a sign that I am possessed of near-superhuman foresight, because while I foresaw the collapse, I did not foresee it leading to a run on the money markets, or any of the other specific events of 2008. Neither, as far as I am aware, did Paul Krugman. Nor, for that matter, Nouriel Roubini, who was predicting a crisis, to be sure, but a completely different crisis from the one we actually got, one that would be triggered by America's persistent current account deficits and dollar devaluation.

McArdle believed what she was told. Krugman based his analysis on the information he had at the time. To compare the two is the worst sort of preening.

So far, none of the people who have urged me to recognize Krugman's superior analytic abilities on the grounds that he called the housing bubble, have changed their minds and agreed with me when I informed them that I "called" it even earlier than their sage. Nor have they switched their allegiance to The Economist, which has been quite sharp about Krugman in its time.

I get the feeling that Krugman himself rather encourages this touching faith in his unusual forecasting abilities, and more generally, the notion that the only reason he is such a flaming jerk to economists he disagrees with is that they really are, every one of them, too stupid to count to twenty with their shoes on. His latest response to Marginal Revolution is a case in point:

I plead innocent. I only treat people as mendacious idiots if they are mendacious idiots.

Seriously: I have some big disagreements with Ken Rogoff, but if you use the little search box up there on the upper right and enter "Rogoff" I think you'll find that I have always treated him with respect. On the other hand, enter "Heritage" and you'll find me pretty scornful -- but with very good reason! And I always document what I'm saying.

This is true, as far as it goes: in my recollection, he always has been pretty respectful to Ken Rogoff.

But allow me to suggest--gently, gently!--that this might not be quite the whole story. For those of Krugman's readers who are not familiar with Ken Rogoff's oeuvre beyond what they have read of it on Paul Krugman's blog, it's worth noting that Ken Rogoff has not, in the past, been shy about shredding Nobel Prizewinners who made the mistake of going all Defcon 1 in Professor Rogoff's vicinity. And that it's generally agreed that the last time this happened, he got by far the better of the argument.

Paul Krugman is a brilliant man with a very fine memory. Though this angle probably eludes most of his readers, I doubt it's eluded him.

It's all about austerity and Keynesian economics. McArdle believes that a consumer spending-based economy will recover by slashing spending and Krugman does not. It should be obvious who is right but McArdle doesn't care about right or wrong. It might be wrong to lie and obfuscate but she has no choice--if liberals control the direction of the economy the entire financial industry will collapse.

She just chose the lesser evil.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Get Out Your Handkerchiefs

You have to love The Corner. If only William F. Buckley, arrogant elite, were still alive to see how his legacy has degenerated into a collection of racists, torture apologists, pious nitwits and the terminally uncool. NR interviews Steven King (R-Subconscious) who tells them:

Santorum’s surge: “I think Santorum has arrived in third place,” King says. “His ascension has been impressive. The question is whether he can win. I’m not as much of an optimist about that; I don’t see that happening. But his timing has been excellent. Another week wouldn’t help Rick Santorum. He’s already done everything he could do. In the end, I think he’ll get to third, and that will be a result of hard work, of pounding the ground.” In sparsely-populated western Iowa, Santorum, a former Pennsylvania senator, has found a way to connect with Midwestern conservatives, King says, making a national race very local, from visiting all of Iowa’s 99 counties to pheasant hunting with local pols. “He’s even a good shot,” King chuckles.

First comes the pounding, then the surging. And hey, look out for Santorum shooting his gun.