Atlas Shrugged: The Mocking

Friday, January 25, 2013

The Increasingly Poor Decisions Of Megan McArdle

It's not easy being Megan McArdle. Despite the fact that she is the world's greatest pundit ever (just ask her!), it seems that enormous success, achieved entirely through hard work, dedication, innate superiority, courage and pluck, has its drawbacks. There are people out in the intertoobs, horrible people that do horrible things for utterly unknown reasons, things that harm wide-eyed and innocent pundits. For no reason!
When Someone Tells Lies About You on the Internet  
by Megan McArdle Jan 24, 2013 5:24 PM EST    
Don't assume it's true just because someone bothered to type it 
James Lasdun has an incredible piece on what it feels like to have someone making up crazy stories about you:

What follows is a longish quote from a very long article about a writer and teacher who was stalked by a crazed student whose advances he had rejected. Naturally McArdle is moved to link to this article, as she suffers herself from constant and unjust criticisms. For example, Ezra Klein bothered to type:
The argument you’d get for leaving prices in the hands of the private sector is that you get a much better product with much more innovation, much of it cost-saving. That’s clearly not happening in American health care, as America’s care is not, in general, measurably better than that of other nations. The more sophisticated argument you hear for why we need to spend so much more on health care is that by spending more, we’re subsidizing the medical innovation that makes other countries’ systems so good. That’s a more interesting (though unproven) argument, but I doubt that Americans would be happy to hear that the reason our health care costs so much, and needs to continue costing so much, is that we have a duty to subsidize the French.

 McArdle never did answer that question.

Perhaps McArdle is peeved about something Noah Smith typed:
Megan McArdle has committed three large mistakes when discussing health spending and the national debt. These mistakes are: 1. She does not label Medicare as "healthcare" spending. 2. She uses data on cost growth rates to try to rebut a point about cost levels. 3. She uses only current spending figures, when everyone agrees that the health care deficit problem is going to really bite starting a few years from now. Bloggers and opinion writers, please take note: If you want to make the case that America's government is spending too much on non-health items, you're going to have to make a better case than this.
Or Jonathan Chait:
Unless I am missing a very subtle parody of libertarianism, McArdle’s plan to teach children to launch banzai charges against mass murderers is the single worst solution to any problem I have ever seen offered in a major publication. Newsweek, I award this essay no points, and may God have mercy on your soul.
But we have no way of knowing who Megan McArdle is talking about, or what they actually said. All we know is that McArdle says people are telling lies about her people. On the internet.
"Where there's smoke, there must be fire" is pernicious balderdash, especially in the age of the internet, when the only barrier to the number of crazy lies you can tell is the speed at which you can type. And yet, we are all seduced by the feeling that if someone bothered to write it down, it must be true. Why would they bother, otherwise?

 Exactly! I have often wondered why so many people believe whatever McArdle writes, just because she typed it out.  I guess this explains that phenomenon.
But of course there are crazy, or merely vicious and revenge-bent, people who do stuff like this all the time. Which we should remember every time we read an indignant diatribe against someone we don't know, by someone we don't know. Yes, it would be insane to make this sort of thing up. But there are a lot of insane people on the web.

 It certainly is nice of McArdle to warn us about all the vicious people on the internet. Especially since she obviously is not a victim of this phenomenon; she does not mention one single critic of her own, does not claim that anyone is telling lies about her, and does not mention a single, solitary lie being told about her. But people tell lies on the internet, so watch out!

It seems that someone on the internet is concerned about someone's reputation, perhaps because someone is realizing that she might be looking for work in the near future, now that someone's employment is not quite as prestigious or secure as someone thought it would be. And certain someones have lately acquired a slightly damaged reputation, which is what happens when someone decides to tell children to rush gunmen firing semi-automatic weapon. Or lie about statistics. Or support rampant polluters. Or reject equal rights for gays. Or support the gutting of the middle class and enrichment of the obscenely wealth.

For example.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Countdown To Doom: Zero Hour

It's here! Lord have mercy, Part II of the famed Elizabeth Warren slam down has arrived at last!. After a wait of only, let's see, 898 days, give or take, Megan McArdle has delivered unto us her mighty tome, as related below on July 26, 2010:
As I’m going to write in the next few days, the thing I don’t like about Warren is that she’s sloppy with data, and also that her mistrust manifests itself in paternalism. It’s one thing to think consumers would be better off without certain kinds of credit; it’s another thing to be positively certain that you’ll be making them better off by making such credit unprofitable.
In The Four Most Important Things You Need to Know About the New Mortgage Rules, McArdle discusses the dread pirate Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection, an entity that Megan McArdle fought valiantly to vanquish. She declared that we didn't need financial transparency because we would never be able to understand financial documents anyway and that regulations can backfire; for instance, if you regulate payday loans, the poor might be forced to go to a loan shark instead.  As McArdle said in What Good Will The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Do?:
The problem isn't that banks don't have the right disclosure form for high-annual fee credit cards; it's that people don't want them. Maybe they shouldn't want them. Maybe we should only get the things that Elizabeth Warren wants to give us. But now we're not talking about transparency. We're talking about the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau "protecting" you right out of financial products that the paternalistic technocrats don't think will be good for you. And that's problematic, both because it assumes that people are kind of like children, and because that protection often carries a high price. Usury Laws used to "protect" poor people from very expensive loans; they are often spoken of fondly by consumer advocates ruminating about payday lenders. The laws protected them so well that many of them couldn't get loans at all, and had to pawn their stuff, borrow from friends and family, or hit up a loan shark.
You thought I was kidding about the loan shark, didn't you?

Also paternalistic is regulating sub-prime mortgages.
[W]e frequently hear that there's too much information, now, and we need to simplify: better transparency, instead of just more. But long before the crisis we required simplified disclosures for both mortgages and credit cards; you got a sheet saying what your annual rate was, the minimum monthly payment, etc. Where the loan was adjustable, people had to be told that their rate could adjust. They didn't read it. Or they didn't understand it. Or they figured they'd pay of the car or refinance the house long before that happened.
The people who took out sub-prime mortgages were just stupid and lazy. There was no fraud; no no-doc loans or liar loans or robo-signing or corrupt rating agencies or criminal banks. Just a bunch of greedy homeowners who got what they deserved. Remember; the financial industry and its billionaires and CEOs, did nothing wrong. Why would they need more regulation?
There are two basic narratives of what happened. The first is that bankers had bad incentives: they took massive risks because the profits were so good in the up years that it was worth the risk of the bad, or because they could pass the risks onto some other sucker, or they thought Uncle Sugar would bail them out. The other narrative is that bankers had bad information: they didn't understand the risks they were taking.  
I've always preferred narrative B, because Narrative A doesn't make much sense. The CEOs of big banks lost vast sums of money, and their jobs, most of their social status, and so forth. They held onto the worst tranches of their securities, which implies they didn't know how badly they were going to blow up. Etc.  
I find it vastly more plausible, if not so comforting, to believe that systems can occasionally produce bad results even if the incentives basically point in the right direction. The FICO score revolution was valuable, but we took it too far. The money sloshing around US markets disguised the problems, because people who got into trouble tapped their home equity, or in a pinch, sold the house at a tidy profit. Everyone from borrowers to regulators was getting the same bad signal, that their behavior was much less risky than it actually was.
Having conclusively proven that the financial industry was just an innocent bystander in events that increased their wealth tremendously, McArdle concluded that a consumer financial protection agency would be useless.
It seems to me that the most likely outcome is a fairly useless agency that spends a lot of time playing with disclosure documents, and occasionally yells at banks about penalty fees, maybe requires banks to offer these plain vanilla loans of which Warren is so fond . . . but shies away from doing anything which will actually restrict credit availability. This agency won't do much harm, but of course, it's hard to see how it could do much good, either.
However, when McArdle wanted to warn us about the dangers of Elizabeth Warren, the consumer financial protection agency suddenly became much more dangerous.
.[..] I think it matters on two levels.  One, it matters how we evaluate [Warren's] work--and I've been disappointed at how uncritically some people I really respect have been willing to accept the 2001 and 2007 [medical bankruptcy] findings....  
It matters that we get this stuff right. I am among the majority who would like to see bankruptcies reduced in this country, and we're not going to be very effective at that if we run around thinking we can cure 2/3 of them by putting a national health care system in place, when in reality a third or less have any strong causal relationship with medical bills. Obviously, this was also held out as an argument for PPACA, making an implicit promise to the American people which I believe to be false.   
But it also matters because a large part of Warren's prominence comes from the fact that she's an academic. If she came from . . . well, the sort of think tank that publishes this sort of advocacy science . . . she would have considerably less glamor, and power.  
And perhaps it mattes most of all because this woman is now under consideration to head a powerful new agency. If this is how she evaluates data, then isn't that going to hamper her in making good policy? If we're going to have a consumer financial protection agency, I want one that has a keen eye to the empirical evidence on consumer welfare--not one that makes progressives most happy by reinforcing their prior beliefs.
And now that the Agency has issued the Ability to Repay rule, Megan McArdle helpfully explains how it will affect her readers. She does not explain much of the rule itself so let's go to the release from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau:
Today, we’re issuing one of our most important rules to date, the Ability-to-Repay rule. It’s designed to assure the reliability of mortgages – making sure that lenders offer mortgages that consumers can actually afford to pay back. This is a simple, obvious principle that needs to be cemented in the housing market.  
In the run-up to the financial crisis, we had a housing market that was reckless about lending money. Lenders thought they could make money on a loan even if the consumer could not pay back that loan, either by banking on rising housing prices or by off-loading the mortgage into the secondary market. This encouraged broad indifference to the ability of many consumers to repay loans, which dramatically increased mortgage delinquencies and rates of foreclosures ...  
The 2010 Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act created broad-based changes to how creditors make loans including new ability-to-repay standards, which we are charged with implementing. Among the features of our new Ability-to-Repay rule:
  • Potential borrowers have to supply financial information, and lenders must verify it;
  • To qualify for a particular loan, a consumer has to have sufficient assets or income to pay back the loan; and
  • Lenders will have to determine the consumer’s ability to repay both the principal and the interest over the long term − not just during an introductory period when the rate may be lower.
Since McArdle wants to blame homeowners, not the mortgage industry, for the housing bubble and crash, one would think that she would be happy to see an end to  no-doc and liar loans. But McArdle is also ideologically opposed to any regulation that might affect her own interests or those of her tribe. The Koches did not pay McArdle to be anti-regulation, they paid for internships and seminars and think tanks and magazines to find people who were already anti-regulation, people who would be happy to fight any attempt to protect consumers if it might harm the profit margin of corporations.

People who pride themselves on their support for a corrupt and deadly system because it personally enriches them and feeds their starving ego.

But let's get back to McArdle.
Last week, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau released what it calls "one of our most important rules to date", the "Ability to Repay" criteria. Here's what you need to know:  
1.This will probably make it harder to get a mortgage, particularly if you are poorer  

Since that is the purpose of the rule, yes,  it will be harder to buy a house someone can't afford and will probably lose.
2. Nonetheless, it will not do that much to prevent default Arnold Kling, a former Freddie Mac economist who has long been my favorite source on housing finance, points out that debt-to-income ratios aren't a very good predictor of default risk.
As I point out in a new essay, mortgage defaults are driven largely by the borrower’s loss of equity. Thus, the most important risk factor at the time the loan is made is the size of the down payment. The rules ignore that. Instead, the focus in the borrower’s debt/income ratio, which is far and away the least predictive of the major factors used in predicting default (the down payment is most useful, followed by credit score and then by loan purpose, although the effects of these variables interact with one another so that it is not so easy to rank-order their importance).
Kling blames mortgages defaults on the government and feckless homeowners.
Defaults on appreciated homes almost never happen. Thus, in an environment of rising home prices, underwriting standards tend to become lax, and other risk-management measures tend to be loose. When house prices are rising, lenders are not punished for poor judgment, mistakes, or even for making loans based on fraudulent claims by borrowers regarding their income and financial situation. As long as house prices continue to rise, borrowers either keep up with their payments or sell their homes and use the proceeds to pay off their mortgages.
It is rising home prices that created lax standards, not lax standards that created a housing bubble to goose the economy. Kling:
Congress and regulators put pressure on financial institutions to broaden access to mortgage credit by lowering down-payment requirements. This allocated house price risk away from home buyers and toward financial institutions. Meanwhile, regulators approved maneuvers by financial institutions to minimize capital, notably through the creation of structured mortgage securities that earned high ratings from credit rating agencies. (See “Not What They Had in Mind: A History of Policies that Produced the Financial Crisis of 2008.”)   
Capital standards play a big role in determining the shape of the mortgage market. Financial institutions and mortgage financing mechanisms that are favored with low capital requirements are at a competitive advantage. Invariably, growth will take place where capital requirements are weakest.   
Mortgage capital requirements are very difficult to calibrate. If regulators make them too high, lenders will be driven out of the mortgage market and into other forms of lending, which may be even riskier. If regulators make capital requirements for mortgage lending too loose, they allow lenders to build up dangerous leverage, as happened in the years leading up to the financial crisis. It is my belief, based on what we saw take place in the recent decade, that it is impossible for regulators to allocate house price risk effectively to financial institutions. The only way to avoid a repeat of what we saw in 2008 is to make sure that home buyers take on some of this risk.

Don't regulate the financial industry, unload the risk on the homeowner. McArdle:
3.The government can continue writing mortgages under the old rules AEI's Ed Pinto notes that government entities like the Federal Housing Administration are grandfathered for up to seven years (or until they write their own final rules). So while it's probably going to get harder to obtain a new mortgage, it won't get much harder for quite some time. These days, federal government is effectively almost the whole market for mortgage originations. As long as they don't have to follow these new standards, borrowers with high debt-to-income ratios will still have options.
 The CFPB covers this as well.
In addition to the Ability-to-Repay rule, today we are also issuing a proposal for potential adjustments. There are two key parts to the proposal:
  • First, a proposed exemption for designated non-profit creditors and homeownership stabilization programs, as well as certain Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and Federal agency refinancing programs. These programs generally appear to be already subject to their own specialized underwriting criteria, and they are designed to help consumers refinance into a more affordable home loan.
  • Second, a proposed a new category for certain loans made and held in portfolio by small creditors, such as small community banks and credit unions, called “Qualified Mortgages.”
Qualified Mortgages are a category of loans where borrowers would be the most protected. They, among other things, cannot have certain risky features like negative-amortization, where the amount owed actually increases for some period because the borrower does not even pay the interest and the unpaid interest gets added to the amount borrowed.
While it is possible that McArdle did not read the release she linked to, it is more probable, given her history of misleading, misunderstanding and obfuscating regarding Warren, that McArdle is very carefully giving the wrong impression by withholding part of the truth. She does not say that Fannie and Freddie don't have to follow rules, she says they do not have to follow that rule, which is correct.They must follow other rules. She thereby creates the impression that the CFPB's rules are typical governmental bureaucratic waste of time. This is why she gets the big bucks; her skill in using elision and misdirection make her a valuable asset to propagandists.
4. The new rules tell you a lot about how the CFPB thinks
Actually, they tell you a lot about how Megan McArdle thinks.
The new rules are part of the CFPB's drive to create "qualified" mortgages: low-risk, easy to understand products that will prevent consumers from getting themselves into trouble. Their mandate is not to protect banks (and savers) from default; it's to protect borrowers from themselves. That's why their approach is focused on the household income statement. I go along with the CFPB in saying that even if you aren't likely to default, you should not have a debt to income ratio that approaches 50%. It's bad for your financial health. Too much of your income is tied up in long-term fixed obligations which cannot be shed without major financial repercussions. That leaves you extremely vulnerable to any sort of financial shock: a job loss, a family member who needs expensive care, an emergency. People whose debt-to-income ratios are so high are almost certainly skimping on necessary line items like savings.  
The difference between the CFPB and me is that I wouldn't mandate it; I don't like rules that make some people worse off, in order to protect still other people from themselves. But this sort of paternalism has strong support in a lot of the wonkosphere, most notably from Elizabeth Warren, the intellectual progenitor of this agency. They have clearly embraced financial paternalism as a core part of their mission. And this rule reflects that emphasis.

Here we see the other major category of McArdle's skill set, concern trolling. McArdle thinks accusing liberals of paternalism will give conservatives the opportunity to shout down liberals with accusations of hypocrisy, who will be immobilized by their white liberal guilt and unable to fight back.

So at long last, we have the Considering Elizabeth Warren, The Scholar Part II: The Paternalisming takedown! True, McArdle was so wary of stirring up another hornet's nest of embarrassment that she did not mention Warren by name until the last paragraph and the Warren part of the takedown is a few sentences, not the earthshaking event we were expecting, but beggars must not be choosers.

Although I'm kind of worried about her book. Going by the Warren example, the essence of it will fit inside a Twitter.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The Latest Moral Crusade of Andrew Sullivan

Chronic failure Andrew Sullivan is incensed that Jodie Foster did not publicly fight for gay rights, instead trying to preserve a little privacy throughout the length of her extremely public life.
I'm thrilled Foster can now live a fuller life with less fear. I'm saddened she waited until others far less powerful had made the sacrifice to make that possible. And that she waited for the safest moment of all - winning a well-deserved Lifetime Achievement Award - to do so.
Sullivan is not just an activist for gay rights, he's also an activist for white people seeking to prove the genetic inferiority of blacks. But he's furious that Foster brought her friend Mel Gibson to the event.
Her date last night, believe it or not, was wife-abusing, homophobic anti-Semite, Mel Gibson. Would you entrust your young sons to a man with Gibson's violent and vile history?
Mel Gibson, at least, has a reason for being a bigoted nut; he was cruelly and thoroughly brainwashed by a bigoted, nutty ultra-Catholic father. (The linked post is extremely good.) Gibson is the inevitable product of his grossly authoritarian upbringing but Foster, a highly respected figure, is his friend anyway. There is probably a little more to him than his demons.

But what is Andrew Sullivan's excuse for his own demons, that set him to persecute his political enemies in the tradition of the very worst anti-Semites and homophobes? Watching Sullivan rack up page hits by trashing yet another woman he deems "narcissistic" and "self-loving" is nothing new but it seems that many people never tire of Sullivan's man-of-the-world-man-of-the-people shtick.

Sullivan quotes Foster saying:
I already did my coming out about a thousand years ago, back in the Stone Age, in those very quaint days when a fragile young girl would open up to trusted friends and family, co-workers, and then gradually, proudly, to everyone who knew her, to everyone she actually met. But now, apparently, I’m told that every celebrity is expected to honor the details of their private life with a press conference, a fragrance, and a prime-time reality show.
Bizarrely, Sullivan ignores Foster's statement that she came out publicly to the people in her life, the only people with whom she felt that she should share the information.

What unadulterated bullshit. She never came out until, very obliquely, in 2007.

Sullivan's public is not Foster's public. Sullivan wants as much attention as possible and built a career based on  forcing the public to accept the legitimacy of a gay Catholic Tory/Republican. He is driven by his demons to gain public recognition and admiration, in which he finds personal validation. Foster has lived in the public eye all her life. And of course she does not mention it but her early adulthood was spent in an especially and  horribly conspicuous public circus, when John Hinkley Jr. shot Ronald Reagan to impress her. 

[S]eriously, if you had been a public figure from the time that you were a toddler, if you’d had to fight for a life that felt real and honest and normal against all odds, then, maybe, then you too would value privacy against all else. Privacy. Some day, in the future, people will look back and remember how beautiful it once was. I have given everything up there, from the time that I was 3 years old. That’s reality show enough, don’t you think?
 Foster was probably referring to the loss of privacy in our crowded and security-minded world as well as her own media-saturated life but Sullivan unaccountably assumes she is talking about his own predominate concerns.

 "How beautiful it once was"? When gay people were put in jail, or mental institutions, or thrown out of their families - all because of the "beauty" of privacy for Hollywood royalty like Foster?

Foster was born in 1962. It's more than a little unfair to blame her for events that were already changing when she was a little girl. It is especially unfair to blame Hollywood for public persecution of gays. Rock Hudson was not obligated to ruin his career so Andrew Sullivan wouldn't have to deal with the homophobes in his own party.

When someone defends Foster's desire to live her life on her own terms Sullivan just hand-waves the issue away.

Yes, yes, yes. But the only way we were ever going to get past that oppression was through it. I'm thrilled Foster can now live a fuller life with less fear. I'm saddened she waited until others far less powerful had made the sacrifice to make that possible. And that she waited for the safest moment of all - winning a well-deserved Lifetime Achievement Award - to do so.

There is something very familiar about such a complaint. Oh, I know. Andrew Sullivan now lives a richer, fuller life with less fear because soldiers far less powerful than he make the sacrifice of their lives and limbs to feed his career. Andrew Sullivan is evidently hoping that Jodie Foster will do the same.


Thursday, January 10, 2013

Sex And The Libertarian Male

It seems there has been a debate recently in LibertarianLand regarding the male/female ratio of the libertarian population. One participant was Sweet Young Thing Julie Borowski, as mentioned in the comments to an earlier post (thanks, anon!), an ambitious young libertarian who has supped delicately at the Koch teat for some time, finally ending up at the Koch-supported Freedomworks.

(As we all know, Freedomworks is a grassroots-activism-for-hire company, providing a populist veneer to plutocrat activities. Since Ms. Borowski is a university graduate (with honors!), she presumably understands the nature of her job but her enthusiasm for the specialness of her political group sees to carry her past this little road bump in her idealism's path.)

Borowski told her viewers that few women are libertarians because women are passive and submissive. Sarah Skwire and Steve Horwitz responded at Bleeding Heart Libertarians (no, I've never head of it either), taking Borowski to task for her sexist attack on other libertarian women. Obviously Borowski is accustomed to working at the shallow end of the intellectual and moral pool (after all, P. Suderman, boy rat-f*cker, used to work at Freedomworks). She did not realize that demeaning women, a time-honored conservative path to wealth and power, does not work as well with libertarian women, who consider themselves above conservative sexual mores.

But Megan McArdle, whose never misses a chance to extol her own virtues and rhapsodize about her domestic bliss, immediately made the controversy All About Megan.

The Problem With Libertarian Women is Not Libertarian Men

They're great relationship material

A few days ago, Sarah Skwire and Steve Horwitz penned a thoughtful essay on why there are so few women libertarians. This has triggered some natural chaffing, most recently from my colleague, David Frum:
"[Maybe the best answer to why women reject libertarianism is that so many women feel they already spend enough time with toddlers."]  
Mr Frum is treading well-worn ground here. Six months ago Ann Friedman somehow persuaded New York Magazine to publish a piece titled "Paul Ryan is Your Annoying Libertarian Ex-Boyfriend" which checked off every trope. Libertarian guys are totally selfish, because--Ayn Rand! And sexist! And they don't use birth control! 
. . . er, what? Friedman appears to have taken her notions about libertarians from a Very Special Episode of Sex in the City rather than, from, say, observing actual libertarians. And this particular stereotype doesn't make any sense: if libertarian men really were as selfish as she suggests, wouldn't they be maniacal about protecting themselves from unwanted, time-and-money-sucking children?

McArdle's low reading comprehension level often leads her astray, the poor little addle-headed thing. This is what Friedman actually said:
In the dating world, an infatuation with Ayn Rand is a red flag. You might not see it right away: Your date is probably conventionally attractive, decidedly wealthy, and doesn’t really talk politics. But then you get back to his apartment, set your bag down on his glass-topped coffee table, give his bookshelf the once-over — and find it lined with Ayn Rand....  
[T]hat dog-eared copy of Atlas Shrugged tells you everything you need to know. He sees himself as an objective iconoclast. He's unapologetically selfish, because it's only rational, he says. Sure, he grew up with money but he worked to get where he is today. He’s all about individual responsibility but he just isn’t, metaphorically, into wearing protection.  
This is the part where you collect your shoes and bag and GTFO.
Not that we blame McArdle for her confusion. True, Friedman didn't just use a condom metaphor, she actually pointed out she was using sexual protection as a metaphor by writing the word "metaphorically," but Megan McArdle is on a mission. Like Miss Borowski, McArdle wants to be cool and if she can't be cool by actually doing cool things, she'll be cool by telling everyone at great length and with fervent enthusiasm that she is really, really cool, and of course so is the male of her species.

This touches on something I said in the comments of my previous post:

They are libertarians because they want to be cool. That is, they want to be free of authoritarian control. They rant about the same thing as social conservatives because they are reflexively anti-liberal but unlike conservatives they see no reason why they should publicly conform to tribal boundaries.

They think they are leaders because they flaunt tribal rules but making up a fictional political class to legitimize your tribal transgressions is hopelessly authoritarian. They want to make their own rules, follow their own moral code, create their own art, gain power and influence through their own political action but they can't.

The rules, morals, art (propaganda), power and influence on their side is controlled by the wealthy, for the wealthy's very own benefit. This is why the followers chose that side to begin with; it was the side of the rich and powerful and they hoped to benefit from their proximity to all that money, safety, acceptance, admiration.

But being a follower means that their art, politics, entertainment, and religion must be tailored to help the leaders, not the followers. They have broken free of the followers' rules but they will never be able to break away from their leaders' rules, unless they were to abjure their position in the group.

They don't understand--they never understood--that they don't make the rules, they just enforce them.

So Julie Borowski wants libertarians to hurry up and gain power over the dominant liberal culture by creating libertarian culture, which will somehow immediately become popular. More Dennis Millers and Judd Aaptows and Atlas Shrugged!

But "art" is the creation of a connection from the artist to the viewer. The artist attempts to express his own emotional/intellectual life through his work and the viewer interprets the work through his own emotional/intellectual prism. Art tells us who we were, who we are, who we can be. Propaganda tells us who or what we must be, for the benefit of the propagandist. And it will never be cool.
The right longs to be cool because they long to feel special, to both belong to a group and be admired by everyone out of the group. Being cool is the only way they can think of to distinguish themselves from the rest of the conservative followers and defeat their hip liberal enemies. As McArdle says, it's not like they are really trying to govern anyway.

So perhaps it's useful to offer the perspective of someone who's observed the species in its native habitat. Unlike Friedman (and I presume, Frum), I have dated a bunch of libertarian guys . . . and a bunch of liberal guys . . . and a few social conservatives for good measure. And I'm here to report that libertarians make terrific relationship material.
To be sure, I am the first to admit that libertarians are . . . quirky. Asperger's is definitely overrepresented in the community, and with it, various nerdy obsessions. Spend a bunch of time around libertarian guys and you're apt to learn a lot about music, and comic books, and action movies, and computer programming . . . a lot. He could lend you a book, if you want. And he'd be really happy to sit down and spend four or five hours explaining college football statistics to you. Do you want that alphabetically, or north to south?
 I am reminded of something else Friedman said in her post:
As GQ’s Marin Cogan points out, Romney has a tendency to mansplain — informing listeners, in great detail, about mundane things with which they are already familiar.
Libertarian men, McArdle tells us, are not just intelligent; they are also good people.

What libertarian guys are not, in my experience, is selfish cads. Full disclosure: I am biased. Some of my best friends are libertarian men, and I even married one. Nonetheless, I'd like to issue a memo to pundits: the personal is not political.  
"The personal is not political."  Those are pretty strange words coming from a woman. Political decisions affect our personal lives every day in fundamental ways. Political decisions gave us the ability to control our own lives legally and physically. Perhaps McArdle is thinking that people make political decisions for ideological reasons, which fits her previous statements. She says she does not understand why people disagree vehemently about politics. Why do they get angry or refuse to come to agreement or make unpleasant accusations of heartlessness and moral degeneracy? It's not personal, after all! From an article on the phrase:
[Carol Hanisch's] essay "The Personal Is Political" said that coming to a personal realization of how "grim" the situation was for women was as important as doing political "action" such as protests. Hanisch noted that "political" refers to any power relationships, not just those of government or elected officials.

But McArdle is an authoritarian and does not want to change the current power structure, which pays her a lot of money to churn out propaganda. Therefore she denies that the personal is political to serve her personal needs.

Even if we accept the absurd notion that it is the blackest sort of selfishness to oppose taxing away someone else's money in order to give it to a third party, that belief wouldn't tell you anything about their personal behavior. Some of the greatest humanitarians in history have been some of the worst husbands, friends, and fathers.
Yes it would, because only a selfish rat would want to enjoy all the benefits of modern, expensive society without paying for them, or attempt to ensure that only the wealthy benefit from taxes.  Selfish people are also selfish to their loved ones.

My personal empirical research indicates that in fact, libertarians make great boyfriends and husbands (though my sample size on the latter is pretty small). The ones I've dated have actually been super considerate, and very concerned with pulling their own weight, though I couldn't say whether this is random chance, or the natural outgrowth of a value system that emphasizes voluntary, mutually beneficial cooperation. I will say that it is unusually easy to divide chores with someone who favors simple, rules-based systems for cooperation.
Bullshit. Libertarianism is "the natural outgrowth of a value system that emphasizes voluntary, mutually beneficial cooperation" only in her dreams. Perhaps she meant "voluntary, personally beneficial exploitation" instead but mis-typed. One can only imagine how tedious it is to constantly have to negotiate terms with a libertarian partner who must be convinced that he is not being taken advantage of by a moocher spouse.

On a personal level, it seems that there is no power conflict in her marriage, which is a wonder under the circumstances. McArdle is almost ten years older than P. Suderman, is better and more prestigiously educated, almost certainly makes more money, has a more-prominent social and professional profile, and enjoys a very high degree of confidence in her own abilities. It is impossible for a perfect balance of power to exist in a marriage without constant and conscious effort on the part of both partners.

But that is libertarians for you, a mighty and egalitarian folk who, despite their beliefs that some people are simply better than others and all those better people just happen to be rich, are only too willing to pull their own weight. For instance, when P. Suderman was creating fake grassroots websites to fool the rubes into supporting bank bailouts he was merely being self-sufficient. By supporting the rich he was actually supporting himself, and who could argue with such rugged individualism?
Libertarians are also surprisingly good at romantic surprises. They are usually what Adam Smith called a "Man of System": they love sitting around by the hour, constructing elaborate systems for solving every problem. Which means that they do a smash-up job of planning that extra special, over-the-top anniversary or birthday extravaganza. Virtually all of the best gifts I've ever gotten have come from libertarian guys.
And we all know how important getting gifts is to Megan McArdle.
Of course, I have also dated lovely liberals and considerate conservatives. In fact, while I've had generally great experiences with libertarian men, I can't say I detect much of a correlation between political views and personal qualities: the worst louse I ever dated was a bleeding-heart liberal, as were some of the nicest, most upstanding fellows. Choosing a mate by political label is like choosing food by the picture on the box.
So while McArdle has just written a post saying that libertarian men are great because they abide by  libertarian ideology in their personal lives, ideology really doesn't matter after all.
So no, the lack of libertarian ladies is not due to the inadequacy of libertarian guys. I have some theories as to what might be behind it . . . but I'm afraid that at the moment, I have to go make a non-ideological dinner for myself and my husband.
Evidently P. Suderman lost the negotiation over who would do the cooking.

We eagerly await McArdle's article on why so few women are libertarian when libertarian men are such swell and egalitarian guys.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Freedom Is Obedience

Only through perfect obedience will you achieve freedom. Freedom from the terrible burden of free will, which means we are responsible for our choices and the consequences of those choices. Freedom from self-doubt, from the fear of failure. Freedom from loneliness, as you join others seeking the same nirvana. God promises eternal life, God is the superhero buddy that's always on your side, God's love will take away fear and pain and give you perfect happiness.

For K-Lo, it's a no-brainer. (Literally.) The only kind of freedom she wants is the freedom to give away her rights as an individual and take away the individual rights of others for their own good. For authoritarians, just as goodness is obedience, freedom is obedience. If God gives us liberty we will never truly be free because our freedom depends on the indulgence of God. But K-Lo, bless her heart, never sees the contradiction in her words. If God gave us free will he wants us to have the right to make our own choices instead of being forced to obey him.

But in K-Lo's interpretation of her religion, our only purpose in life is to worship God by demonstrating absolute obedience to his will. Therefore anything that interferes with absolute obedience is abridging her freedom to be obeisant to her god. It is impossible to find common ground politically with such a person because they feel they are standing on consecrated ground and you are trying to drag them to hell.