Atlas Shrugged: The Mocking

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Structual Problems

It is, no doubt, an extraordinary coincidence, but Megan McArdle seems to constantly find structural problems that cannot be solved. For example, we must eliminate social security because of its structural problems.
The supporters of the system are right that Social Security is not quite the catastrophe that conservatives claim--but they're wrong when they aver that the system doesn't have deep structural problems. It does, and those problems are going to become big political problems over the next decade.

And unions have a structural problem.
I know that my liberal friends and readers think of me as a union basher who just can't stand the thought of workers claiming a bigger share of the pie. I'm actually not particularly anti-union, and to the extent that I do have problems with unions, it is not because they seek higher wages and benefits for their members. Rather, it is because they introduce serious structural rigidities into the economy. Witness the problems that Delta is having merging with Northwest because they can't get the pilots--who are all in the same union--to agree on a seniority structure.

So does the media.
Of course, I would have to turn in my MSM Secret Decoder Ring if I did not follow up my criticism of Glenn Greenwald's take on "What's Wrong With the Media" with . . . my own take on "What's Wrong With the Media". Caveat Emptor.
Some of my current readers will no doubt be surprised to hear that I actually share Glenn Greenwald's frustration with the "Obama: Hot or Not?" coverage the often dominates campaign news cycles. I just disagree with his diagnosis of the underlying causes. Mr Greenwald locates the problem in a corrupt journalistic culture that wants to protect itself and the powerful by denying readers vital information. I think the problem is a side effect of powerful structural changes in the marketplace.

And the reason conservatives don't flock to academia is not because a preference for other areas of work and life--it's because of structural problems.
Is academia serious about diversity?. . . asks Greg Mankiw. It's hard to come to the conclusion that the answer is "Yes". Faced with overwhelming evidence that there is a massive, massive underrepresentation of conservatives at the elite level, almost none of them even considers, in passing, that there might be some sort of structural problem. No, clearly the reason that conservatives don't make it into the academy is that . . . they're inferior.
It's not as if we're talking about a severe shortage of fly-fishers either. One would think that a committment to diversity would start with a committment to diversity of thought. But then, having thoughts that disagree with the thoughts that academics have probably means there's something wrong with you, doesn't it?
Don't get me wrong: I don't think there's any sort of conspiracy against conservatives in the academy. I think, rather, that a combination of more subtle factors erects a wall that it's harder for conservatives to climb over. Unless they are really, really brilliant, academics, like everyone else, need personal connections to help them up the academic ladder, from recommendations to mentors to advisors. Those personal connections are always much easier to make with people you agree with. Nor would I discount the possibility that, just as women's work can be subtly dismissed because we know women aren't as bright as men, academics who think that conservatives are stupid would factor that into their assessment of someone's intelligence--and then factor that assessment into their assessment of someone's work. And of course, one's ideas are to some extent socially constructed; simply by virtue of the arguments and information we hear, even if there is no social pressure to conform, being surrounded by a political culture will tend to drag our ideas in their direction.

Skipped over and didn't read it? I don't blame you. There's lots more, anyway. Here is just one mention of the structural problems that McArdle says created the current banking problems. Here is another attempt to blame the system, not the actors who cheated, maneuvered, lied and stole. It's an easy dodge that avoids assigning responsibility and holding others to account, thereby ensuring that our elite continue their superior lives without any interference from what McArdle would call the peanut gallery.


Jonathan Versen said...

Your profile info is darn ironic, because I posted this in 2005. Anyway, hi.

Susan of Texas said...

Hello, and welcome.

Ha! I knew it was a good idea. Those crazy kids could make it work, I'm sure.

Austen is the original master of snark, in my opinion. Subtle and cutting, a stiletto instead of a cudgel.

Substance McGravitas said...

This "structural problems" guff is gonna come in handy at work.

Downpuppy said...

As always, she's just faking. Real economics requires math; saying "Structural problems" sounds like you did the work, but, as I needn't mention

So I won't.

Mr. Wonderful said...

I almost DID skip over it. Get out of my HEAD, man.

Also, can we all at least agree that many conservatives ARE stupid? To the extent that they involve themselves at all, in any way, in politics?

"Conservative" politics (not just "scare quotes." TERROR QUOTES) is a pool of India ink. Any academic who dips even the tiniest toe therein comes out stained. Any one who doesn't resides in a world of pure theory (like libertarians) and can be safely ignored by all right thinking people.

I'm starting to hate MM as much as you do, Susan. I hope you're happy.

Ken Houghton said...

It's not hatred, Mr. Wonderful—it's abject despair that someone who does not thinking and writes so poorly is viewed as a bright, shining light in the Conservative ecosphere.

One can remember when the competition presented more of a fair fight.

I admire Downpuppy's optimism, having heard far too many economists use the equivalent of "structural problems" as an out.

Downpuppy said...

So economists can fake it too.

I'm shocked. Shocked, I tell you.

atheist said...

"Structural Problems" are both safely invisible, and so hard to stop that you might as well give up. Plus, it sounds kind of smart. The perfect excuse for everything.