Atlas Shrugged: The Mocking

Friday, December 30, 2011

Running In Place

Andrew Sullivan:

If I got beaten to a pulp for being gay, any president is required to enforce the laws against assault, as are the local police. There is absolutely no need for hate crimes laws to bring violent individuals to justice. If the authorities tried to turn such an assault into a hate crime, I would strongly object. I am not a gay person first and foremost. I am a person. I need no liberal sanctimony to remind me of that.

It must be child's play to yank Sullivan around on a string. He refused to support hate crime legislation because he doesn't want people to think of him primarily as a gay person yet he is a conservative, who are people who think of him primarily as a gay person. And the people who do see him as a person first must be rejected because they are liberal, and liberals are not elite, and Sullivan is an elite, and elites are conservative. But conservatives see Sullivan as a gay man, not a person, and Sullivan is a person, not a gay person, but Sullivan is conservative....

Here is a visual representation of the inner workings of Sullivan's mind:

More Adventures of the Crystal Skull

Shorter Megan McArdle: My house will hold its value. But DC schools are poor.

Private school is the answer! Sure, you won't be able to spend as much money on kitchen appliances but the alternative is working hard to improve your local school, and that would just encourage the moochers and looters.


Dear, devout Elizabeth Scalia, professional Catholic, has written often of the evils of abortion. No doubt she feels the same way about contraceptives, which are strictly forbidden by her Catholic Church. Elizabeth enthusiastically supports the Catholic Church's right to refuse to pay for birth control for its employees.

Elizabeth has two children.

Not four, or six, or twenty, Duggar style. Two.

I guess Catholic rules are for everyone else and Elizabeth's super-duper-special brand of devotion means she can pick and choose which child-bearing laws she will obey, in true cafeteria Catholic fashion.

From the Guttmacher Institute:


• There are 62 million U.S. women in their childbearing years (15–44).[1]

• Seven in 10 women of reproductive age (43 million women) are sexually active and do not want to become pregnant, but could become pregnant if they and their partners fail to use a contraceptive method.[2]

• The typical U.S. woman wants only two children. To achieve this goal, she must use contraceptives for roughly three decades.[3]


• Virtually all women (more than 99%) aged 15–44 who have ever had sexual intercourse have used at least one contraceptive method.[2]

• Overall, 62% of the 62 million women aged 15–44 are currently using a method.[2]

• Almost one-third (31%) of these 62 million women do not need a method because they are infertile; are pregnant, postpartum or trying to become pregnant; have never had intercourse; or are not sexually active.[2]

• Thus, only 7% of women aged 15–44 are at risk for unintended pregnancy but are not using contraceptives.[2]

• Among the 43 million fertile, sexually active women who do not want to become pregnant, 89% are practicing contraception.[2]

Control over my reproductive system for me, but not for thee.

Every time a woman says she supports the Catholic Church's rules on family planning, ask her if she has ever used contraceptives. The answer will be yes, and I see no reason why we should listen to people who want everyone else to live by onerous, dangerous rules that they will not follow themselves. If Elizabeth has never used contraceptives that information is important as well, since women's reproductive decisions are matters of public concern, not private decisions made by her family in consultation with her physician.

Thursday, December 29, 2011


Oh no, Megan McArdle! Are the protesters interfering with your shopping?

Our Shop 'Til You Drop Princess is driven to pout by all the careless, clueless protesters who don't even care that they are inconveniencing her, or, worse yet, costing her money!

The head of DC's Fraternal Order of Police sent a rather blistering open letter to Mayor Vincent Gray, chastising him for not admitting that the Occupy DC protests are causing a rise in crime, as neighborhood policing resources are pulled away in order to police the protests.

One needs to take this with a grain of salt--gentrification is creating a lot more opportunities for muggings and property crimes, which may have something to do with the spike he identifies. And he's clearly got other issues with the Mayor over budget cuts and the rate of new hires.

He does indeed. Mr. Baumann seems very upset with the mayor because 400 policemen were fired. We cannot, however, understand why Miss Megan is suddenly on the side of a union representative, since unions, as we all know, only want to preserve jobs for incompetent workers who don't want to actually work.

Nonetheless, it's a plausible case. And it highlights an inherent tension that Julian Sanchez wrote about well in November: these protests are not simply about the protesters v. "the 1%". The protesters also impose costs, possibly significant costs, on the surrounding communities. And the protesters themselves seem to refuse to acknowledge this--that they are not simply a representative of "the 99%", but also often at odds with a significant portion of that larger population.

McArdle will never acknowledge the need to protest or the legitimacy of the protesters' complaints. She does not care about income inequality at all, supports bankers at all costs, and giggled at her idea of hitting protesters in the head with a 2x4 before they did any damage. God only knows what she thinks should be done to protesters who might possibly cost her money--probably evisceration.

Now, I'm sure that the members of OccupyDC would contest the need for extra policing.

Especially since the police were guarding the 1%, not the 99%, from the protesters.

But the active protests certainly do--sometime before Thanksgiving, I spent about twenty minutes trapped behind a handful of people who had decided to march down K Street at rush hour. They absolutely did need the large police escort that they had in order to keep angry drivers (not me) from running them over.

A handful of people delayed her trip home! Off with their heads! Or perhaps the heads of the "large police escort," who seemed to be the ones actually blocking most of the traffic.

And even the passive part of the protest had, last time I was down there, become a magnet for homeless people, with the attendant worries about petty crime and acting out by the mentally ill.

It does not occur to Princess Megan that a decent society would take care of its homeless and mentally ill. She just wants them safely out of sight, under a freeway overpass perhaps, or dead in a ditch.

It seems to me that a movement claiming to represent the 99% should consciously take these costs into account--particularly over the longer term. A one day crime spike is not a big deal. A three month increase is a pretty sizable cost, particularly in a city that already has a very high crime rate.

Now, which was a greater source of this crime spike--firing officers or having a protest? We might be able to find out but that would take work, and McArdle doesn't do work. Total crime is up 10% from the previous year, according to Mr. Baumann's statistics, with 9% of that increase being property crime. Burglaries are down 24% but robberies without a gun are up 34%. The greater meaning of the statistics is not clear; the economy has been worsening and DC "has the fastest population growth in the US", both of which could be large contributors to the crime numbers. But let's not bother with nuance; Megan McArdle does not like the idea of protesting income inequality and therefore Occupy DC must be blamed for any increase in crime.

For the life of me, I cannot understand why our libertarian pin-up girl is so worried about the police anyway. If libertarians had their way the government would let private businesses handle her security, or she could always hire her own police force. But McArdle is only libertarian when she is being paid to be libertarian, and would never, ever want to take on the entire expense of her protection and safety. She does not want the taxpayer to pay for schools or health care because she had her daddy and her boss to pay for those, but since she cannot find anyone to pick up that tab for her, she is perfectly willing to spread the cost among the rest of the taxpayers.

The Jon Swift Memorial Roundup Rides Again!

Batocchio has put up his Jon Swift Memorial Roundup 2011 at his blog Vagabond Scholar. There is a lot of great stuff there, and I added my post on Occupy Wall Street and Jane Austen as well. Take a look! I especially like the post on the plans to eliminate public schooling so our multi-billionaires can make more money scamming families just trying to educate their children.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

You Are Next

Megan McArdle says she wants you to save more. Why?

But the most important thing is this: don't start looking for reasons you can't. If you hunt hard enough, you'll find them. Unfortunately, those reasons aren't going to do a damn thing to pay your house payment if you get laid off, or keep you in prescription drugs when you retire.

Because if she has anything to say about there will not be any social spending at all. Just enough charity to keep the mob from rioting will be more than enough, and no government action is otherwise needed.

Let's try to make this simple for McArdle.

The rich wanted more money so they took it.

Now they are much richer and the middle class is much poorer.

Income data indicate that the middle class, including the upper middle class, have seen far slower income growth than the top 1% since 1980.[39][40] While its income increased as fast as that of the rich in the years following the second World War, it has since experienced far slower income gains than the top. According to economist Janet Yellen "the growth [in real income] was heavily concentrated at the very tip of the top, that is, the top 1 percent."[40] Between 1979 and 2005, the mean after-tax income of the top 1% increased by an inflation adjusted 176% versus 69% for the top 20% overall. The fourth quintile saw its mean net income increase by 29%, the middle income quintile by 21%, the second quintile by 17% and the bottom quintile by 6%, respectively.[38] The share of gross annual household income of the top 1% has increased to 19.4%, the largest share since the late 1920s.[41][42][43] As the U.S. is home to a progressive tax structure the share of net-income received by the top 1% is smaller, and the share of the middle class consequently larger, than their shares of gross pre-tax income. In 2004, the top percentile’s share of net income was 14%, 27.8% less than its share of gross income, but nonetheless nearly twice as large as in 1979, when it was clocked at 7.5%.[38] The reduced size of the share of aggregate share of income, both pre and after tax, of the middle class has been attributed to the reduced bargaining power of wage earning employees, caused by the decline of unions; a lessening of government redistribution;[44] and technological changes which have created opportunities for certain people to accumulate far greater relative wealth very quickly (including larger markets due to globalization and Information Age technologies allowing faster and wider distribution of work product).

The notion that the middle class is shrinking is controversial because the economic boundaries that define the middle class vary. Households that earn between $25,000 and $75,000 represent approximately the middle half of the income distribution tables provided by the U.S. Census Bureau. Over the past two decades, the number of households in those brackets decreased by 3.9%, from 48.2% to 44.3%. During the same time period, the number of households with incomes below $25,000 decreased 3.5%, from 28.7% to 25.2%, while the number of households with incomes above $75,000 increased over 7%, from 23.2% to 30.4%.[45] A possible explanation for the increase in the higher earnings categories is that more households now have two wage earners.[46] However, a closer analysis reveals all of the 7% increase can be found in households who earn over $100,000.[45]

The change has not always been in the same direction. Poverty rates increased early in the 1980s until late in the 1990s when they started to go back down. Since 2000, the percent of all people living in poverty has risen from 11.3% to 15.1% in 2010.[45][47]

A study by Brookings Institution in June 2006 revealed that Middle-income neighborhoods as a proportion of all metropolitan neighborhoods declined from 58 percent in 1970 to 41 percent in 2000. As housing costs increase, the middle class is squeezed and forced to live in less desirable areas making upward mobility more difficult. Safety, school systems, and even jobs are all linked to neighborhood types.

Thieves go where the money is.

Now that the 90% have been milked dry, the 9% will surely be next. That is where the money is.

It's called the 1%, not the 10%.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Authoritarian Parenting

There is no way I will be able to give this post the attention it deserves, so a quick post will have to suffice. Let me start by saying:

Megan McArdle, without quite knowing that she is doing so, decided to discuss authoritarian child-rearing, the better to peddle her libertarian, contrarian bullshit, the only skill she has to offer the world. Since every thought that ever wafted through Indiana Galt's Crystal Skull ends up on her blog, we must (painfully, regretfully and cringingly) acknowledge that reproduction is on the McArdle mind, and a Happy Announcement might be forthcoming at some time in the future. Fortunately the human mind has created immensely strong methods of self-protection, such as denial and hysterical blindness, so we will merely offer this observation and move on, never to return. (God willing.)

McMommy quotes Darshak Sanghavi discussing the shift away from spanking children, as the present generation of parents begin to realize the enormous damage to self-esteem and self-sufficiency that occur when parents see children as property. For all their talk of personhood, conservatives (which includes McArdle) do not see children as persons, with their own will, interests, feelings and needs. Raised to obey and deny their own autonomy, they demand obedience and deny autonomy in and from their children in turn. The purpose of conservatism is to conserve the contemporary power structure, something they learn from their parents, who demand all power and control in the parent-child relationship. If they didn't get any love, tolerance or acceptance from their parents, then by God neither will their kids. Sanghavi says:

Without really realizing it, we zeroed in on a style of parenting that sociologist Annette Lareau calls "concerted cultivation." This is, I think, what separates those who hit kids from those who don't, and divides largely along socioeconomic fault lines. As popularized in Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers, Lareau tried to document how these differences emerged. The issue wasn't that one group was more or less lenient with bad behavior. Instead, middle- and upper-class parents tended to treat children as peers, with the pint-sized ability to make choices, respond to reason, and have valid emotions. It's not a huge leap then to see children as having nascent civil rights that conflict with regular corporal punishment.

Such a view underlies the approach of Supernanny or How To Talk, where parents make behavior charts or create token economies for rewards, answer questions with explanations, and encourage kids to accept and express their feelings. According to Lareau, such discipline tends to be self-reinforcing, and part of a broader ecology of parenting. As a result, these children who experience it develop an "emerging sense of entitlement"--a trait that may carry some negative connotations but generally correlates with better verbal skills, school performance, and a sense that they can actively shape the world around them.

If a child learns that he is important and valued, that he has the right to his own opinions and can trust his own judgement, he is less amenable to control from others. He does not spend his life trying to find parent substitutes in religion and politics. He does not grow up filled with anger at how he was mistreated, or resentment that he is forced to obey all authorities and cannot make his own choices. He does not try to compensate for the lack of love and unconditional acceptance in childhood with consumerism (*ahem*) or sex or alcohol and drugs. And he is much hard to control and mistreat than the authoritarian follower that was raised to obey and "trust" and "have faith" instead of question and defend himself from abuse.

McArdle, of course, does not address any of these issues. It's rather difficult these days to argue that children deserve or need to be hit. Instead she simply begins to ramble about a pet peeve of hers utterly unrelated to the issue she is purportedly discussing.

I wonder, however, if "better" is quite the right word. It seems to me that what parents have discovered is a much, much more intensive form of parenting than their grandparents employed. The elaborate charts and systems of incentives are enabled by the fact that modern children are effectively monitored by adults every waking hour until they become quite old.

Just what we all want--advice based on "I wonder" and "it seems to me." Why bother with science when one can simply do a gut-check? McArdle has decided that raising a child to think and feel for himself is the same thing as helicopter parenting (which she conflates with safety issues), an authoritarian practice in which parents expect the child to achieve in ways that flatters the parents' ego. It is just another form of authoritarian parenting and not at all related to raising a child who knows himself, is confident and empathetic, and reasons rather than blindly obeys. But McArdle has the chance to put in a plug for several of her pet theories and science be damned, McArdle has something to say!

Naturally she starts off by talking about herself. For Mrs. Megan McArdle, her own experiences are sufficient to asses everyone else's.

My grandmother literally never worked outside the home a day in her life. But she would have been bewildered by the intensive parenting of today's "stay at home Moms". When my mother got home from school, my grandmother gave her a cookie and told her to go outside and play. She was not supposed to come back until dinner--rain or shine, sleet or snow.

My mother, who was also home when we were young, did not let us run around outside by ourselves, because I grew up in Manhattan. However, from a very young age, I spent quite a lot of time running around between apartments in my building, where there were four other girls approximately my age. At nine or ten, I walked to school by myself across many New York streets, and past several housing projects. While my mother (and I) always knew approximately where I was supposed to be, I was not directly supervised during most of my free time.

Today's kids seem to be not only supervised but regimented; most of their time is supposed to be spent in some sort of structured activity. This makes it very easy to create elaborate reward systems, because there is all this elaborate surveillance that makes it very easy to monitor compliance.

None of this has anything to do with hitting your kid, but McArdle pointedly does not want to talk about that. Different parents have different comfort levels based on their experience and situations. Parents who were attacked as children or who knew people attacked as children are going to be much more cautious than those who assume that the odds of their child being mistreated are vanishingly small. City or town, working or not, wealthy or poor--these all affect parents' decisions as well. But naturally the world begins and ends with McArdle, and since she was safe as a child then so is everyone else.

But if kids are unmonitored most of the time, then I wonder how well that works. It strikes me as plausible that a world in which kids spend more time unsupervised requires a parenting style more reliant on swift punishment for detected wrongdoing than rewards for good behavior.

McArdle is really talking about what she thinks of as conservative and liberal parenting styles. Conservatives punish their children to teach them right from wrong and liberal parents just praise them all the time so they will grow up vain and egotistical, which they call "self-esteem." Conservatives good, liberals bad.

To be sure, my mother was actually quite well watched--by all the other mothers on the block. But while you could be quite sure that an adult would report it if they saw your kid doing something really wrong, it's much less likely that they're going to tell you that Sally deserves her tidyness gold star for the afternoon because she threw her litter in the garbage can.

All that monitoring and incentivizing probably is better at turning out kids who are able to successfully negotiate the hierarchical American university system.

McArdle adores her theory that liberal academia is just like conservative business world, only more hypocritical because of their totally unfair and mean ideological drive to keep all conservatives out of the liberal club. McArdle has often fumed that conservatives are not able to take over academia and that conservative ideas based on ideology and bullshit do not command the same authority and respect as ideas based on fact and reason. Naturally she also declares that it is liberals who are hierarchical. Rubber, glue, etc.

But crotchety as I am, I find it sort of creepy--and anecdotally, as the first generation of what David Brooks calls "Organization Kids" enters the workforce, employers are apparently complaining that they have an outsized sense of entitlement combined with a difficulty coping with unstructured tasks. Obviously, I'm not advocating a return to an era of brutal beatings. But I'd like to think that there's some alternative to raising children in a sort of well-padded, benevolent police state where no action is too small or large that it can't be managed with an appropriately placed gold star.

McArdle has kind of a Bloody-Mary-urban-legend theory about David Brooks--if she says his name often enough he will magically appear and help her career. Naturally she sees self-esteem as a sense of entitlement and "wonders" if respecting children will make them weak and unfocused. And naturally anti-authoritarians are the ones with a police state, not authoritarian regimes. When she has a child you can bet your bottom dollar that he or she won't have any self-esteem at all, except that which is given to the child by his or her mind-boggingly expensive prep school, the better to prepare little Milton Pinochet McSuderman for his future career as a Master Of The Universe.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Somebody--Anybody--Save Me

So Andrew Sullivan is endorsing Ron Paul as the voice of reason who will save the Republican party, thereby once again establishing himself as someone who is incapable of thinking in more than one dimension.

I regard this primary campaign as the beginning of a process to save conservatism from itself. In this difficult endeavor, Paul has kept his cool, his good will, his charm, his honesty and his passion. His scorn is for ideas, not people, but he knows how to play legitimate political hardball. Look at his ads - the best of the season so far. His worldview is too extreme for my tastes, but it is more honestly achieved than most of his competitors, and joined to a temperament that has worn well as time has gone by.

I feel the same way about him on the right in 2012 as I did about Obama in 2008. Both were regarded as having zero chance of being elected. And around now, people decided: Why not? And a movement was born. He is the "Change You Can Believe In" on the right. If you are an Independent and can vote in a GOP primary, vote Paul. If you are a Republican concerned about the degeneracy of the GOP, vote Paul. If you are a citizen who wants more decency and honesty in our politics, vote Paul. If you want someone in the White House who has spent decades in Washington and never been corrupted, vote Paul.

Ah, the never-ending search for an authority worthy of the great Andrew Sullivan. Naturally Paul's racism and sexism do not bother Sullivan in the least. After going over all the reasons why Paul is a nut, Sullivan says:

Paul's libertarianism may be the next best thing available in the GOP. It would ensure real pressure to make real cuts in entitlements and defense; it would extricate America from the religious wars of the Middle East, where we do not belong. It would challenge the statist, liberal and progressive delusion that for every problem there is a solution, let alone a solution devised by government. As part of offering the world a decent, tolerant conservatism, these instincts are welcome. As an antidote - and a very strong one - to the fiscal recklessness and lawless belligerence of Bush-Cheney, it is hard to beat. The Tea Party, for all their flaws, are right about spending and the crony capitalism it foments. So is Paul.

Sullivan just isn't very bright, is he? We have ample proof in the corpus of Megan McArdle that it is possible to be highly educated and even intelligent in certain areas, but a fundamental lack of intellectual honesty invariably leads Sullivan into making poorly reasoned decisions. He will always make the decision that flatters his ego and always turn his back on those he considers beneath him. You can never trust an authoritarian leader, even (or especially) when you agree with him.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

My Tribute To Christopher Hitchens

 Christopher Hitchens died recently and many writers mourned the death of the man who introduced them to famous people and made them feel important. His alcoholism was celebrated and his death-mongering was feebly regretted. Or was it the other way around? Either way, the world celebrated his intellectual achievements and diamond-cut prose. For example:

Now, why is this? Why is it the case?, I mean. Why are women, who have the whole male world at their mercy, not funny? Please do not pretend not to know what I am talking about.

All right—try it the other way (as the bishop said to the barmaid). Why are men, taken on average and as a whole, funnier than women? Well, for one thing, they had damn well better be. The chief task in life that a man has to perform is that of impressing the opposite sex, and Mother Nature (as we laughingly call her) is not so kind to men.
"Hitch" goes on to explain that evolution made men funny but not women. Women do not compete for men, they just stand there looking stunning and men compete for them. Of course this only works if you are stunning; if you are not you do not matter, most especially to "Hitch." After all, who wants a plain woman that nobody will envy you for sleeping with? Ha ha! "Hitch" did not become an elite to sleep with ordinary women!

And if you need proof, a study at Stanford that looked at 10 women's response to a cartoon gave you all the proof you would need.

Slower to get it, more pleased when they do, and swift to locate the unfunny—for this we need the Stanford University School of Medicine? And remember, this is women when confronted with humor. Is it any wonder that they are backward in generating it?

But "Hitch" does allow that some women are funny; ones who are not "real" women.

In any case, my argument doesn't say that there are no decent women comedians. There are more terrible female comedians than there are terrible male comedians, but there are some impressive ladies out there. Most of them, though, when you come to review the situation, are hefty or dykey or Jewish, or some combo of the three. When Roseanne stands up and tells biker jokes and invites people who don't dig her shtick to suck her dick—know what I am saying? And the Sapphic faction may have its own reasons for wanting what I want—the sweet surrender of female laughter. While Jewish humor, boiling as it is with angst and self-deprecation, is almost masculine by definition.

I can see why "Hitch" thinks women are not funny; when you redefine every funny woman out of existance, of course you are left with no funny women. But fear not, "Hitch" gives us lots of more reasons why women are not funny. They don't like to appear smart before men because then men won't want to sleep with them. (Which manages to insult both women and men.) But most (and worse) of all, they have....WOMBS!!

But "child" is the key word. For women, reproduction is, if not the only thing, certainly the main thing. Apart from giving them a very different attitude to filth and embarrassment, it also imbues them with the kind of seriousness and solemnity at which men can only goggle. This womanly seriousness was well caught by Rudyard Kipling in his poem "The Female of the Species."


Men are overawed, not to say terrified, by the ability of women to produce babies. (Asked by a lady intellectual to summarize the differences between the sexes, another bishop responded, "Madam, I cannot conceive.") It gives women an unchallengeable authority. And one of the earliest origins of humor that we know about is its role in the mockery of authority. Irony itself has been called "the glory of slaves." So you could argue that when men get together to be funny and do not expect women to be there, or in on the joke, they are really playing truant and implicitly conceding who is really the boss.

And we all know how powerful women are, how men only seem to be the ones who rule countries and religions and societies. "Hitch" says so, and he has to be really smart because he name-drops Kipling and Mencken and Thurber and Nietzsche all in the same article! And none of them are women, which proves that women aren't funny.

Humor, if we are to be serious about it, arises from the ineluctable fact that we are all born into a losing struggle. Those who risk agony and death to bring children into this fiasco simply can't afford to be too frivolous. (And there just aren't that many episiotomy jokes, even in the male repertoire.) I am certain that this is also partly why, in all cultures, it is females who are the rank-and-file mainstay of religion, which in turn is the official enemy of all humor.... And because fear is the mother of superstition, and because they are partly ruled in any case by the moon and the tides, women also fall more heavily for dreams, for supposedly significant dates like birthdays and anniversaries, for romantic love, crystals and stones, lockets and relics, and other things that men know are fit mainly for mockery and limericks. Good grief! Is there anything less funny than hearing a woman relate a dream she's just had? ("And then Quentin was there somehow. And so were you, in a strange sort of way. And it was all so peaceful." Peaceful?)

For men, it is a tragedy that the two things they prize the most—women and humor—should be so antithetical. But without tragedy there could be no comedy. My beloved said to me, when I told her I was going to have to address this melancholy topic, that I should cheer up because "women get funnier as they get older."

Observation suggests to me that this might indeed be true, but, excuse me, isn't that rather a long time to have to wait?

Happily "Hitch" must wait no longer, what with being dead and no longer anxious to sleep with beautiful but humor-deficient women, who, now that "Hitch" is gone, are getting the last laugh after all.

A Study In Stupidity

When you live in a soap bubble-thin fantasy world of superiority and persecution, no detail is too small to overlook. The entire world must conform to the fantasy or the bubble will pop and reality will rush in to take its place. And, as we all know, reality has a liberal bias and must never be allowed to darken the door of the mind.

Take Charles C. Johnson, who cannot watch the new Sherlock Holmes movie without trying to twist it to conform to his ideology. He is peeved that Moriarty, who organized the criminal underworld and took a cut of its profits, is depicted as greedy and evil instead of just evil.

Alas, [director guy] Ritchie goes a trope too far by having Moriarty do it all for a buck. In a tired story line you have seen or heard many times before, Moriarty is hoping to make money off Europe’s descent into chaos and mechanized slaughter. It’s capitalism, not a love of crime, that sets him in motion, and even his capitalism is based not on evil genius but on keen insight that a war is coming anyway and he might as well profit. A profiteer he may well be, but the sinister element is missing.

In so doing, Ritchie cheapens Moriarty’s evil. The specter of mass killing hangs over the film for a moment, only to be banished by the awesome power of mechanized Europe. This wouldn’t be bad if it were more fully explored. Holmes and Watson note the coming of the automobile, but only dimly notice the tanks, machine guns, and modern cannon, all of which make their deafening debut.


It would have been far more fun and far more interesting to return to the old Moriarty and Holmes of Doyle’s beautiful series. Theirs was a real game and a deadly one, played for love of the game. Moriarty kills because he can and because he leaves no loose ends. So evil is Moriarty, and so clever, that he is almost too powerful even for Holmes — “the most perfect reasoning and observing machine that the world has seen,” as Watson describes him. Doyle’s Holmes knew well the danger Moriarty presented. “If I were assured of your eventual destruction I would, in the interests of the public, cheerfully accept my own,” he told him in “The Final Problem.” Holmes knows what Moriarty is, just as he knows who he is.

Holmes, who loves the public interest, never loses his ethical focus in Doyle’s work. He knows that “all great criminals have a complex mind,” and so submits his own mind to the pursuit of something far more worthy: justice. “I am not the law, but I represent justice so far as my feeble powers go,” he explains in one story. Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, for all its $125 million budget, isn’t sure of its focus at all. Maybe the sure-to-follow sequel will set it on the right path.

Nobody who profits from capitalism or worships power wants to be told that ordinary-or even extraordinary--people act out of greed and their acts end up killing or harming millions of people. They want a black and white world of good and evil where evil is a disembodied force stalking the land, for which nobody is directly responsible. They do not want to know that their leaders are ordinary, petty, selfish, greedy men who attain enough power to do whatever they want and ignore the consequences.

Mr. Johnson is a real piece of work.

Charles C. Johnson dual majored in economics and government at Claremont McKenna College. He is a native of Boston, but now lives in Los Angeles and New York.

He is the founding editor of the award-winning news site, The Claremont Conservative, a daily blog devoted to Claremont Colleges’ news from a conservative/libertarian perspective.

He served as editor of the award-winning independent monthly, The Claremont Independent, where he broke stories about the Arabic department head’s ties to Hezbollah and compulsory racial sensitivity retreats for resident advisors. His coverage of two pro-life students being banned from campus for asking a question resulted in a complete overturning of their sentence and an administrative apology, just seven days later.

He has spoken on using technology to defend freedom at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education’s annual event. He has worked as a research assistant to Alan M. Dershowitz and for the Kauffman Foundation, America’s largest foundation dedicated to economic research and entrepreneurship. He has served as an opposition researcher for the Pollak for Congress campaign, among others.

He has served as a research assistant to Charles Kesler, editor of the Claremont Review of Books.

At 22, he serves as a Claremont Review of Books Fellow at the Claremont Review of Books and as a research fellow at the Henry R. Salvatori Center for the Study of Individual Freedom in the Modern World at Claremont McKenna. He is currently writing his Honors Government thesis on Calvin Coolidge. He has won both the Robert F. Bartley and the Eric Breindel Collegiate Fellowship at the Wall Street Journal.

He was selected for a prestigious Honors Fellowship with the Institute for Intercollegiate Studies and his journalistic work has been recognized by the Cato Institute. He is the winner of the prestigious award for government, the Harrison Fellowship.

His work has been published in The Claremont Review of Books, City Journal, National Review Online, The American, The Weekly Standard, Big Hollywood, Big Government, The Pope Center for Higher Education, American Thinker, and The New York Sun. On campus he has written for The Claremont Independent, The CMC Forum, and The Student Life.

Please email him at He loves fan -- and hate -- mail.


Charles C. Johnson is the winner of this year's Eric Breindel Collegiate and ISI's Devos Leadership awards. He is also a recent Robert F. Bartley Fellow at the Wall Street Journal, and a Robert Novak Fellow at the Phillips Foundation.

The Robert Novak Fellowship. Now there's a high honor. And it comes with its own traffic sign.

Money, awards, jobs: all yours for the taking, as long as you help criminals steal everything they can get their hands on. Johnson obviously is very fond of Sherlock Holmes. Too bad he doesn't realize that he is working for Moriarty's side, and that Holmes would be as disgusted by him as he would by any other eager little minion.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Gods And Monsters

In Business We Trust

Since propaganda is designed to appeal to people's fears and wants, it's interesting to take it apart and see what tactics our authoritarian leaders will use and which emotions they will try to manipulate. Writers always reveal themselves in their work, even when it is propaganda. Let's look at a fine bit of crowd control ostensibly written by Jeb Bush for The Wall Street Journal.

Congressman Paul Ryan recently coined a smart phrase to describe the core concept of economic freedom: "The right to rise."

We start off by identifying our group via a name check of our leader. We now know exactly what the author will say and with whom he will be aligned and authoritarian followers will automatically be receptive to what he has to say. 

Think about it. We talk about the right to free speech, the right to bear arms, the right to assembly. The right to rise doesn't seem like something we should have to protect.

"I'm one of you" is only half of the identification process. Authoritarian leaders must also allude to those outside of the tribe and remind their followers that they are in danger from The Other.

But we do. We have to make it easier for people to do the things that allow them to rise. We have to let them compete. We need to let people fight for business. We need to let people take risks. We need to let people fail. We need to let people suffer the consequences of bad decisions. And we need to let people enjoy the fruits of good decisions, even good luck.

Repetition for effect, a fundamental propaganda tool. Simple declarative sentence for simple minds. The propagandist admits that people are having a hard time and are not getting rich in this, the land of milk and honey. He pushes competition over cooperation, which would decrease his own power and increase the power of the people. He tells us that people should be fighting to help businesses, placing the needs of businesses over the needs of people, which is why Megan McArdle is trying to convince us that corporations should have the right to walk away from unsuccessful property deals and people should not.  The propagandist, like the slave dealer, wants to take away people's civil rights to make money, the crassest and most immoral reason possible.

Jeb Bush says that the power that he has and wants to keep actually belongs to the people--that they are taking the risks and gaining the reward or suffering the consequences of their actions. The propagandist utterly ignores the facts, that businesses took the risk, gained the rewards, and dumped the risk on the taxpayer. He wants to make Big Business into an authority that must be protected and supported at all costs to humans.

That is what economic freedom looks like.

It certainly does, unfortunately.

Freedom to succeed as well as to fail, freedom to do something or nothing. People understand this. Freedom of speech, for example, means that we put up with a lot of verbal and visual garbage in order to make sure that individuals have the right to say what needs to be said, even when it is inconvenient or unpopular. We forgive the sacrifices of free speech because we value its blessings.

Civil rights, the rights of the people, are conflated with business rights, the rights of the rich who control the economy. By constantly dangling the hope of wealth in front of the poor, the propagandist is able to get away with giving legal rights to corporations. The authoritarian leader simultaneously takes away the civil rights of the people but that is only discussed when The Other does it. He also throws in a little Christian dog-whistle and flag waving to reinforce the bonds of the tribe and distract the follower from his slight of hand.

But when it comes to economic freedom, we are less forgiving of the cycles of growth and loss, of trial and error, and of failure and success that are part of the realities of the marketplace and life itself.

"Free market" is a lie. Money is power and power does not want freedom, it wants control.

Increasingly, we have let our elected officials abridge our own economic freedoms through the annual passage of thousands of laws and their associated regulations. We see human tragedy and we demand a regulation to prevent it. We see a criminal fraud and we demand more laws. We see an industry dying and we demand it be saved. Each time, we demand "Do something . . . anything."

Leaders do not want their followers to realize that their leaders actually make plans and carry them out, leaving everyone else poorer. "Jeb Bush"  pretends that the people accidentally curtailed their own freedom by "letting" elected officials make laws. In the same paragraph he says that the people demanded those laws out of a knee-jerk emotional reaction to society's problems. So Bush is simultaneously pinning responsibility for our economic problems on the people and absolving them of responsibility for the problem. Followers do not accept responsibility for the consequences of their actions since they give up all power to their leaders. The contradiction might seem a little crazy but authoritarian follows judge themselves by how well they obey, not by how well they think.

As Florida's governor for eight years, I was asked to "do something" almost every day. Many times I resisted through vetoes but many times I succumbed. And I wasn't alone. Mayors, county chairs, governors and presidents never think their laws will harm the free market. But cumulatively, they do, and we have now imperiled the right to rise.

Leaders have succumbed to human weakness by giving in to the people and now "we" have hurt Baby Jesus the Free Market.

Woe to the elected leader who fails to deliver a multipoint plan for economic success, driven by specific government action. "Trust in the dynamism of the market" is not a phrase in today's political lexicon.

The foolish people demand government action and do not have faith in their Free Market religion. The followers are not trusting their authority. Again, business is placed above humans in the authoritarian line-up.

Have we lost faith in the free-market system of entrepreneurial capitalism? Are we no longer willing to place our trust in the creative chaos unleashed by millions of people pursuing their own best economic interests?

And in case you didn't get the point the first time, here it is again, using the touchstone word "faith." Faith is a good thing, right? God demands faith and so do all the other authorities. Do you not trust your leaders? They are looking after your economic interests! Except when they aren't!

What happens next is rather interesting. Despite the libertarian dog-whistles, the little hints that libertarians are One Of Us, "Jeb Bush" does not support Ron Paul and the latter must be subtly isolated as The Other, so that his followers toe the Republican authoritarian line.

The right to rise does not require a libertarian utopia to exist. Rather, it requires fewer, simpler and more outcome-oriented rules. Rules for which an honest cost-benefit analysis is done before their imposition. Rules that sunset so they can be eliminated or adjusted as conditions change. Rules that have disputes resolved faster and less expensively through arbitration than litigation.

More repetition, and a sentence that neatly puts libertarians in their place, on the fringes. Worse of all, they are pegged as dreamy Utopians, the same claim made of liberals. Could there be anything more embarrassing to an American authoritarian follower than to be equated to a hippie?

In Washington, D.C., rules are going in the opposite direction. They are exploding in reach and complexity. They are created under a cloud of uncertainty, and years after their passage nobody really knows how they will work.

Nobody knows anything ever.

We either can go down the road we are on, a road where the individual is allowed to succeed only so much before being punished with ruinous taxation, where commerce ignores government action at its own peril, and where the state decides how a massive share of the economy's resources should be spent.

Fear! Statism! Fascism!

Or we can return to the road we once knew and which has served us well: a road where individuals acting freely and with little restraint are able to pursue fortune and prosperity as they see fit, a road where the government's role is not to shape the marketplace but to help prepare its citizens to prosper from it.

Or money! Glorious, powerful money!

In short, we must choose between the straight line promised by the statists and the jagged line of economic freedom. The straight line of gradual and controlled growth is what the statists promise but can never deliver. The jagged line offers no guarantees but has a powerful record of delivering the most prosperity and the most opportunity to the most people. We cannot possibly know in advance what freedom promises for 312 million individuals. But unless we are willing to explore the jagged line of freedom, we will be stuck with the straight line. And the straight line, it turns out, is a flat line.

Stick with me, kid, and I'll make you rich. That is all it takes to manipulate and control. Where would our con men be without greed?

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Rich People Hate You

At the very least, they think you are poor because you are weak. By blaming the victim, so to speak, they can ignore any guilt they might feel for working to ensure that even more people will suffer poverty.  They can also enjoy that very special little thrill that social dominators enjoy so, the thrill of knowing that they can preach virtue to the millions they grind into poverty. It's not enough to have oh, say, an eclair. You have to have the eclair and then eat it in front of a starving child while lecturing her on gluttony.


As I wrote in an op-ed for the Daily that came out today, it's all too common for well-meaning middle class people to think that if the poor just had the same stuff we do, they wouldn't be poor any more (where "stuff" includes anything from a college education to a marriage license to a home). But this is not true.

You silly liberals  might think that the poor just need money and then they wouldn't be poor anymore but you are wrong.

 Welfare reform, by pushing mothers into work, produced real if modest improvements in most measures of average well-being. But as Jason De Parle documents, it didn't make them act like middle class parents. They were still single mothers with a lot of kids and no very helpful men available, and their kids did not start going to school more--in fact, more work hours meant the kids were less carefully supervised, and the daughter of one of the three women he followed got pregnant at 17, continuing a major portion of the "cycle" that welfare reform was supposed to break.
There is a cesspool of underlying assumptions built into Miss Megan's worldview. She assumes that the poor is made up entirely of Black women and their (presumably illegitimate) children, who actually make up 41% of the families in poverty headed by a single mother. (She could always look up the information but that would cut into her "me time." ) 
If poor people did the stuff that middle class people do, it's possible--maybe probable--that they wouldn't be poor. But this is easier than it sounds. As John Scalzi once memorably put it, "Being poor is having to live with choices you didn't know you made when you were 14 years old." Which often means, he might have added, spending your whole life doing the sort of jobs that middle class people sometimes do when they're 14. It isn't that people can't get out of this: they do it quite frequently. But in order to do so, you need the will and the skill--and the luck--to execute perfectly. There is no margin for error in the lives of the working poor.

Here McArdle assumes that the poor chose to be poor because they are incapable of doing otherwise. McArdle chooses to believe that everyone gets what he deserves because she wants to think that she deserves everything that she has. McArdle publicly aired her feelings of guilt for making an expensive, utterly unnecessary purchase in the Wall Street Journal so she could emphasize how it was a reward for her hard work, work that she, as a "middle class" person, performed due to superior work ethic and strong moral fiber. McArdle earns a living by writing propaganda for corporations. It is not like being a journalist, where you supposedly want to tell the truth, or an advertising copywriter, where you are up front about your motives and status as employee. It is lying to unsuspecting people in the hopes of secretly achieving your political/economic gains. It is stealing from the poor to give to the rich, the antithesis of all moral teachings.

McArdle is not a sociopath and is capable of experiencing guilt and regret, whether or not she chooses to do so. Naturally she usually chooses to not do so. McArdle frequently writes about how people cannot overcome their baser instincts, as she does in this piece, no doubt because she makes little effort to overcome her own. She is morally lazy, part of a class that cannot be bothered to think about others because she has created a lovely imaginary world of superiority that she would rather live in instead. Her moral self-indulgence leads to genuinely evil acts, such as taking Koch and Bradley money to write propaganda. Evil people are usually not serial killers lurking in the city shadows or plucking banjos by the crick. They are callous, morally lazy, greedy, pleasure-loving, self-indulgent and deeply insecure people who always take the easy way out. They are the Juice Box Villagers, the Pentagon pencil-pushers, the money-grubbers, the casually cruel. They are the people who were never loved, do not know how to love, and will spend their entire lives trying to find some way of killing the emptiness that never goes away.

And some problems are collective problems. It's all very well to say that poor women shouldn't have kids unless they can find a solid man to help raise them. (And I agree that this is a superior strategy). But men with solid jobs are rather scarce in many poor communities, not least because we've imprisoned so many of them. What you're asking poor women to do is actually, for most of them, to not have babies. This is an easy edict to deliver from a comfortable middle class home where you have all the kids you want. It probably sounds pretty shitty, however, to the poor women who you are blithely commanding to spend their lives alone.

This bizarre little bit of fake sympathy is supposed to undermine your middle class bourgeoisie morality and liberal sympathy for the suffering of minorities and reinforce McArdle's point.
Poor people are people who make decisions.
And this, ladies and gentlemen, is the face of evil. One soft little sentence, a sad-yet-brave sentence that manfully faces the truth and sorrowfully accepts it, wishing only that you, too, will accept this simple fact--that the poor chose to be poor and therefore deserve to be poor. Of course she is too cautious to say exactly what she means, which is that poor people are people who make poor decisions. That is a much more quotable line, and McArdle knows that propagandist must be exceptionally cautious and never overplay their hands or people will stop believing their lies.
They are not a combination of circumstances that can be tweaked to make them stop acting like poor people.I'm not arguing against incentives, or a safety net--I favor a generous EITC, substantial (if usually brief) unemployment benefits, etc. I think that the low salaries available to people who are not cut out for school represent a real problem for our society (unfortunately, not one I have any idea how to solve, which is why I rarely blog about it). And I also think that welfare reform was a good idea. But I chafe at the supposition that anything as simple as "jobs" could fix the problems in poor schools, or poor lives.

Nobody can do anything ever, so don't raise my taxes to help the poor.
A girl I grew up with basically voluntarily dropped out of the middle class and into the underclass, complete with a baby by her 30-year-old drug dealer boyfriend who then went to jail. She got her GED because she didn't like the strictures of school. She has worked at a series of low wage jobs--sometimes quite hard, working two jobs at a time. She's also lost a lot of jobs, and it's hard to believe that it's all bad luck. She's on the Section 8 waiting list, and has at various times been on other forms of state assistance. She buys her 5 year old daughter a cell phone and a television for her birthday, but takes little interest in her education. Her family is completely horrified.

Well, that proves it. If an acquaintance of McArdle was too stupid or undisciplined to stay chaste and in school, that means that all poor people chose to be poor, such as the mentally ill, the physically ill, the elderly, widowed mothers, men who can't find work, and children with unstable parents.  And now McArdle is telling us that not only do the poor make bad choices, they do so because they have poor characters. But since argument by anecdote is a valid method of argumentation, I can tell the story of a girl I am acquainted with who had a baby in high school but did not end up poor because her very wealthy, very Republican parents supported her and the baby. She ended up living happily ever after amid great wealth. Her pregnancy was, of course, an accident, not a choice, and despite her history of reckless choices her parents supported her instead of cutting off all contact.  McArdle does not address why her acquittance used drugs and had a drug-dealer daddy-substitute because such thoughts might lead to uncomfortable questions that would undermine her belief that wealthy people such as herself earned everything they have through personal merit.
What program would fix this festival of dysfunction? Would a higher paying job make her get out of bed even when she doesn't feel like it? To assume that there is something that could change her behavior is to assume away her agency.

Oh, those silly, paternalistic liberals!
Obviously, most poor people did not choose to be poor in the same stark way: she doesn't have racial prejudice against her, grew up in a middle class home which would happily have paid for college (and which sent her sister through a PhD program), and still has access to cultural and (limited) financial capital that people who grow up in a housing project don't. But I use her story to illustrate a point: while she may have had far more choice in the matter, she is poor because she does the things that poor people do. Is it meaningful to say that she has agency in her poverty, while "real" poor people (ie., people who grew up that way) don't?

A middle class parent after a long and crappy day at work struggles to deal with the kid's school because other parents expect it, because they were raised to treasure education, and because people will work harder to avoid loss (a kid who drops out of the middle class) than to achieve gains (a kid who makes it into the middle class). Also, that middle class job probably isn't as miserable as changing diapers on Alzheimer's patients, or cleaning houses, so you have more psychic energy to spare. Or you can blame a "sick culture" or personal laziness, as some conservatives do--at some level, it doesn't matter. Poor people are actually choosing not to hassle with their kid's school. It's a real choice that they have made. There is no reason to assume that you will be able to override it if you just get the policy levers in the right position.
McArdle did not do very well in school by Ivy League standards. She has admitted that she was pushed and prodded and coddled the entire way by private schools that were making a small fortune on her tuition. Her parents were able to buy that special treatment for their little darling because they had a lot of money. And if you are rich enough you don't have to hassle with your child's education at all; that is what headmasters, teachers and tutors are for. But, despite the fact that the poor are poor because they make bad choices, it doesn't matter if parents make bad choices or just don't have the time and energy to help their children succeed in school. Either way the poor are poor because they-or maybe their parents or grandparents--chose to be poor.
If little lower class Megan McArdle had drifted through school she would have ended up in a state school at best, competing for average-paying jobs with all the other middle-of-the-road young people. Money made all the difference in her life but that little fact doesn't flatter her ego.

What I am struggling to say is that however much those choices are now inflected by what went before--and the problems of other people in their families and communities--they are choices. We understand that the middle class girl I grew up with is driving her situation by behavior that is probably not very amenable to outside influence. Why do we assume that people who grew up poor are somehow more pliable?

It is her own fault; she was not pliable and led astray by circumstances of birth.
As adults they are the products of everything that has happened to them, and everything that they have done, but they are also now exercising free will. If you assume you know the choice they should make, and that there is some reliable way to entice them to make it, you're imagining away their humanity, and replacing it with an automaton.
And you wouldn't want to objectify the poor, would you? That would be wrong, and we all know how much liberals care about morality.

Public policy can modestly improve the incentives and choice sets that poor people face--and it should do those things. But it cannot remake people into something more to the liking of bourgeois taxpayers. And it would actually be pretty creepy if it could.
Oh, those creepy liberals, with their eugenics and social engineering! It is much better to let the poor continue to be poor because it is exactly what they chose to be and no more than they deserve.

McArdle reinforces her statement that not having a job has little to do with being poor in the comments.

I don't even think it's that--certainly not for education. Many of the largest problems in the lives of the poor stem from being around other poor people. The majority of poor people are not criminals, but the majority of criminals are poor people, preying on other poor people, and if you live in a poor neighborhood, you will be troubled by your proximity to that minority. Living in a poor neighborhood means your kids have greater opportunity to find a peer group that valorizes dropping out of high school. Etc. What does adding "jobs" do to this mix? It's a solution that can work for one person, who can move away from the problems. But if we chopped off the top of the income distribution, and distributed it among the poor, they would still be forced to live near poor people and go to school with them. There would be actual problems that money fixed--dentistry, better cars, less hassle with the various problems that acute money shortages cause. But not most of the big ones.
Excuse me, I have to go take a shower now and try to scrub the cloying self-love and callous selfishness off my skin.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Add It To The List

Because I am a helpful sort of person, I wish to recommend this kitchen appliance to Mrs. Megan McArdle. It will be perfect for her cosy little nest.

It costs two thousand pounds so McArdle can once again buy her appliances abroad and amaze her neighbors by being the only one on the block with a coffee maker covered with Swarovski crystals.

Ghosts Of Christmas Lists Past

You know you want it.

Megan McArdle's Christmas kitchen gift list is out again and is much like the old ones, with a few notable exceptions. Evidently entertaining her dinner guests with a list of her appliances and utensils was not enough and now the entire world must know the contents of her kitchen cabinets. McArdle includes a lengthy list of reasons why she (if not you*) is right to buy a $1500 mixer/saucier, entirely missing the reason her purchase was criticized. When you make a small fortune trying to eliminate Social Security, Medicaid, Medicare, insurance reform, corporate taxes, corporate regulations, and public schools while preaching austerity for everyone not being paid by right-wing billionaires, it's rather bad form, as McArdle would say, to flaunt your wealth.

Or, as one commenter says:

Tom Doran 3 hours ago
Oh, Megan. Bless you, but this is why revolutions happen.

McMegan 3 hours ago in reply to Tom Doran
Really? The majority of the things on this list cost less than dinner for three at McDonalds.

Tom Doran 2 hours ago in reply to McMegan
It's more the existence of this entire industry of ludicrously-specialised gadgetry for culinary obsessives. Also, the combined worth of all the kitchen accessories you own or have owned must be in the tens of thousands of dollars by now.

This is more my personal hobby horse, however. It's like your "Megan Tax" aimed at expropriating those with an excessive sense-to-money deficit; obviously you'd be horrified if such a thing actually happened, as I would if you were shot as a bourgeois enemy of the people.

However, you must admit: Marie Antoinette would totally have a Thermomix.

*McArdle:"The verdict: unless you're so rich that it just doesn't matter, I'd think hard about buying one."

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The House Always Wins

Shorter Megan McArdle: It is with deep and abiding regret that I say that banks that make bad loans in Europe must never lose money or the poor will suffer.

Long version:

We can agree at the injustice of transferring money from moderate-income pensioners to wealthy bondholders. But I think the even more important question is what makes the average Joe better off. And it's not clear to me that "stiffing the creditors" is the right answer.

For starters, some of those creditors--maybe a lot of those creditors, depending on the country--are insurance companies and pension funds that serve the aforementioned Average Joes. But leave that aside. Europe is not, at least as I understand it, making the creditors whole because of their abiding love for foreign holders of European sovereign debt. They're stepping in and guaranteeing this debt in order to prevent a run on their banks and their bond markets.

Runs on financial markets, as far as I can tell, do not righteously limit their damage to rich jerks who didn't need the money anyway. In fact, the people who suffer the worst from a rapid contraction of the credit markets are the poor. They're the ones who actually end up hungry and on the street when companies start failing and they can't get jobs.

Now, perhaps you think that Iceland proves that default works. But I think that even the serious proponents of this idea recognize that this is a contested notion which is far from bulletproof. Ireland might be doing better now if they'd just told the bank creditors go go get stuffed. They also might be in much worse shape. We don't have a whole lot of data points here.

In the case of the current eurodeal, it seems to me that announcing that debtors are getting haircuts on their Italian or Spanish sovereign debt--or even failing to convincingly close off that possibility--would create the very outcome that they're trying to prevent: an all-out run on a bond market that is too big to save, and a follow-on collapse of banks that have bought too much Italian or Spanish debt.

Maybe this would be the best thing in the long run. But when I think about the histories of the Great Depression I've read, I have to say that it's certainly not obvious to me that making the creditors eat their losses is the safest and best options.

But even stipulating that it is, you can certainly see why the governments in question are frightened of the immediate consequences--and why they might try to stave them off, even at great expense.

Don't get me wrong--I think this is a pretty bad plan. But I'm not actually sure Europe has any obviously better plans left open to them.

This is why McArdle claimed that defaulting didn't help Argentina: Banks that make bad loans must always be made good. Moral hazard, like taxes, is for the little people.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

For Their Own Good

From The Hill:

GOP presidential candidate Newt Gingrich said Thursday that “really poor children” have bad work habits and no knowledge of how to make an income “unless it’s illegal.”
Doubling down on his argument that children in poor neighborhoods should be employed as janitors in schools, Gingrich argued that the best way to teach children in poor neighborhoods good working habits is to put them to work as soon as possible.

“Start with the following two facts,” Gingrich said Thursday at a campaign stop in Iowa.

“Really poor children in really poor neighborhoods have no habits of working and have nobody around them who works, so they literally have no habit of showing up on Monday,” Gingrich said.

“They have no habit of staying all day. They have no habit of ‘I do this and you give me cash’ unless it’s illegal.”

Gingrich said every successful person he knows started working at an early age in explaining his position that schools should hire poor children in their neighborhoods for part-time jobs as assistant librarians or assistant janitors.

“I come around to this question,” he said. “You have a very poor neighborhood. You have kids who are required under law to go to school. They have no money. They have no habit of work. What if you paid them part-time in the afternoon to sit at the clerical office and greet people when they come in? What if you paid them to work as the assistant librarian?”

“What if they became assistant janitors and their job was to mop the floor and clean the bathroom?” Gingrich added.


The comments from Gingrich echo the argument he first made in November, when he called child labor laws that might prevent the hiring of school children as janitors as “stupid.”

“This is something that no liberal wants to deal with,” Gingrich said at the time. “Core policies of protecting unionization and bureaucratization against children in the poorest neighborhoods, crippling them by putting them in schools that fail has done more to create income inequality in the United States than any other single policy.

“It is tragic what we do in the poorest neighborhoods, entrapping children in, first of all, child laws, which are truly stupid.”

There were many people just like Newt Gingrich back in the day.
The Manufacturers Record published an article against attempts to bring an end to child labor (4th September, 1924)

This proposed amendment is fathered by Socialists, Communists, and Bolshevists. They are the active workers in its favor. They look forward to its adoption as giving them the power to nationalize the children of the land and bring about in this country the exact conditions which prevail in Russia. These people are the active workers back of this undertaking, but many patriotic men and women, without at all realizing the seriousness of this proposition, thinking only
of it as an effort to lessen child labor in factories, are giving countenance to it.

If adopted, this amendment would be the greatest thing ever done in America in behalf of the activities of hell. It would make millions of young people under eighteen years of age idlers in brain and body, and thus make them the devil's best workshop. It would destroy the initiative and self-reliance and manhood and womanhood of all the coming generations.

A solemn responsibility to this country and to all future generations rests upon every man and woman who understands this situation to fight, and fight unceasingly, to make the facts known to their acquaintances everywhere. Aggressive work is needed. It would be worse than folly for people who realize the danger of this situation to rest content under the belief that the amendment cannot become a part of our Constitution. The only thing that can prevent its adoption will be active, untiring work on the part of every man and woman who appreciates its destructive power and who wants to save the young people of all future generations from moral and physical decay under the domination of the devil himself.

Appealing to people's consciences to end child labor was unsuccessful.
It took the Great Depression to end child labor nationwide; adults had become so desperate for jobs that they would work for the same wage as children. In 1938, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Fair Labor Standards Act, which, among other things, placed limits on many forms of child labor.

It is always about money. The goal of Corporate America is to lower wages, eliminate benefits and unload expenses onto the taxpayer. The obscene income disparity that results is then blamed on the powerless. This method works in America because we are accustomed to dividing ourselves into the haves and have-nots by race. We drown out our guilty consciences by claiming we are morally superior (exceptional) because we are raised in a "Christian democracy."

All photographs are by Lewis W. Hine.

Sunday, December 4, 2011


Congratulations to Senior Editor Megan McArdle on her raise (which we assume she received). We hope your career at The Atlantic and its assorted affiliations continues to earn you all the respect and admiration you deserve.

And many thanks to Geoffrey Zoref, who made the wonderful meme above. Who could forget her words of wisdom and the beneficial effect they have had on the world?

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Best Wishes On Your Endeavor

There was a discussion in the comments of one of my posts (I can't remember which one) in which we noted that McArdle seemed to be working a bit harder than usual. Her posts had more data and she attempted to be more fair-n-balanced. Now we know why.

One of the reasons that women are paid less than men is that they don't negotiate.  The advice that follows is usually, "Well, negotiate!"  But in fact, women don't negotiate for very good reason, as Kevin Drum points out....

Some woman or women unknown (we have absolutely no idea who) was negotiating for a raise (or perhaps applying for a new job).  McArdle said she and P. Suderman, boy house toy, make over $300,00 a year, so we can see how she, or someone like her, must be suffering.

For some reason, this post comes to mind:

Why not food stamps?

By Megan McArdle

Jan 24 2008, 5:52 PM ET 187

1) The poor don't need more food. Obesity is a problem for the poor in America; except for people who are too screwed up to get food stamps (because they don't have an address), food insufficiency is not.

2) Food stamps only imperfectly translate into increased cash income, meaning that the poor will spend . . . more money on food.

3) If the increase in food stamps takes the form of expanded eligibility, rather than larger grants, the administrative issues and public outreach will delay your stimulus until well after it is no longer needed.

4) The limits on the type of goods available to food stamp consumers, and the growing season, mean that some (it's hard to say how much) of the food stamp spending will simply draw down perishable stocks rather than generating new economic activity. Eventually this will probably generate more economic activity, but probably well after your stimulus is needed.

5) The economy doesn't need a food sector more distorted by daft government programs than it already is. If you want to give money to the poor, give it to them. Even if they spend it all on drugs, it will hardly be much worse than spending it all on increasing their already astronomical obesity rates.

Meanwhile, liberal bloggers need contributions because you don't have to pay people to tell the truth, they are driven by innate decency to do so. You have to pay people to lie.

Enjoy your gastropubs and $1500 kitchen appliances, Mrs. McArdle. You earned them.

Atlas Shrugged: The Mocking Part 7

Oh, Hank!

Chapter 8

The John Galt Line

In this chapter a train goes through a tunnel.

But let's start at the beginning. Our story resumes with a conversation between Eddie Willers, who at Dagny's command is keeping her seat warm as Vice President of Taggart Industries, and a nameless worker. Because Rand is utterly uninterested in anything not Ubermensch-ish she does not bother give us the worker's side of the conversation. Instead we have a nearly two page monologue in which Eddie fawns over Dagny and celebrates her accomplishments and flair. Rand said that Dagny is herself, although more healthy and energetic, and Rand doesn't miss a chance to wallow in self-glorification. A good writer (or a good person) would show flaws as well as good traits to humanize her characters but Rand was neither. Rand needed to glorify the few at the expense of everyone else; her bad guys are uniformly repulsive and wretched and her good guys are flawless. Rand's writing began as an escape into a happier world of imagination but over time hardened into a mean-spirited attack on everyone who refused to play along with Rand's inflated views of herself.

Her greatest pleasure was inventing plots. And when the plot had been put into words, she discovered the heady feeling of living in the world of her own creation. She experienced the joy of creating a world more interesting than the world around her, of creating purposes more important than the purposes around her, of creating characters more admirable and heroic than the people around her. She was discovering, without yet the words to name it, the Aristotelian principle that the fiction writer creates the world "as it might be and ought to be."
When Rand inserted herself into her stories she, too, became greater, more important, and more interesting than anyone else. Rand Dagny takes a moment to rest in her new office, two nearly empty rooms in an abandoned building next to her old office.

[Dagny] glanced at a jagged crack on the wall of her office. She heard no sound. She knew she was alone in the ruins of a building. It seemed as if she were alone in the city. She felt an emotion held back for years; a loneliness much beyond this moment, beyond the silence of the room and the wet, glistening, emptiness of he street, the loneliness of a gray wasteland where nothing was worth reaching; the loneliness of her childhood.


She stood, in a room of crumbling plaster, pressed to the windowpane, looking up at the unattainable form of everything she loved. She did not know the nature of her loneliness. The only words that named it were: This is not the world I expected.

Dagny feels her body longing for someone to give her the same kind of satisfaction and joy that her work gives her. As she rubs against her desk (yes, you read that correctly), she longs for a man who can give her that kind of satisfaction. A shadow falls across the room; a man disappears into the shadows. Who could it have been? Francisco D'Anconia warned her than John Galt would come for her but he also warned her that he would behave strangely, which Dagny also ignored. She is left to wonder for another 800 pages.

Hank Reardon is faring better than Dagny. Despite the anguish of being forced to sign over most of his industries he is determined to succeed. His Reardon Metal bridge is rising and that gives him the energy to soldier on. He meets Eddie at his hotel which, despite the overall decrepitude of the city, manages to serve Reardon orange juice over crushed ice on a crisp, white tablecloth. Rand pays no attention to consistency or reality; her half-dead city has virtually no street crime and Dagny walks through the city in the middle of the night, dressed to the nines, and nobody accosts her. The city is falling apart when Rand wants it to and operates efficiently when she doesn't want it to. Reardon tells Eddie that all will be well, and to not worry about the scum.

Reardon laughed. "Eddie, what do we care about people like [Jim Taggart]?" We're driving an express, and they're riding on the roof, making a lot of noise about being leaders. Why should we care? We have enough power to carry them along--haven't we?"

Ayn Rand is balm to the soul of authoritarian leaders, who believe that rules are for the little people. But Rand's characters are stiff with a kind of honor; they don't mind supporting the scum as long as the scum leaves them alone. They loathe unearned honor or respect and glorify both natural ability and ability gained through hard work. Libertarians, that is authoritarian wanna-be leaders, try to claim superior status without actual living up to that superiority. Bob Altemeyer describes (pdf)  these "social dominators."

They thrill to power in and of itself. They want to control others, period. (Make that, “exclamation mark!”) Their name says it all. And they come bundled with a shock of nasty attitudes that completes the package.

Social dominance scores correlate very strongly with [...] answers to the Power Mad scale. High scorers are inclined to be intimidating, ruthless, and vengeful They scorn such noble acts as helping others, and being kind, charitable, and forgiving. Instead they would rather be feared than loved, and be viewed as mean, pitiless, and vengeful. They love power, including the power to hurt in their drive to the top. Authoritarian followers do not feel this way because they seldom have such a drive to start with.


In a similar vein, remember those “group cohesiveness” items in chapter 3, such as, “For any group to succeed, all its members have to give it their complete loyalty.” We saw that authoritarian followers endorse such sentiments. But social dominators do not. Oh sure, they want their followers to be super loyal to the group they lead. But they themselves are not really in it so much for the group or its cause, but more for themselves. It’s all about them, not about a higher purpose. If trouble arises, don’t be surprised if they start playing “Every man for himself” and even sell out the group to save their own skin.


Empathy. Here’s an easy one. How empathetic, how compassionate do you think dominators are? Not very, right? You got it, for they agree with statements such as “I don’t spend a lot of time feeling sorry for people less fortunate than me,” and “I have a ‘tough’ attitude toward people having difficulty: ‘That’s their problem, not mine.’” And they disagree with, “I feel very sorry for people who are treated unfairly” and “I have a lot of compassion for people who have gotten the bad breaks in life.” For high social dominators “sympathy” indeed falls, as the saying goes, between “ship” and “syphilis” in the dictionary. (Well, maybe that’s not the exact saying, but this is a family web-site.)

Altemeyer says that social dominators don't believe in equality.

Given all of this, do you really believe the social dominator who says people should have to earn their success in life? He’s quite willing to let the children of the rich get rich merely through inheritance. Do you trust him when he says he’s in favor of a level playing field? He’s against programs that would give the disadvantaged a better chance. Does he really believe the poor can pull themselves up by their bootstraps, or is he content to let them face an uphill struggle that very few can overcome? It doesn’t bother the social dominator that masses of people are poor. That’s their tough luck. And some racial groups are just naturally inferior to others, he says. Justice should not be applied equally to all. The rich and powerful should have advantages in court, even if that completely violates the concept of justice. Who cares if prejudice plays a role in the justice system? He certainly doesn’t. The “right people” should have more votes than everybody else in elections. And so on.

If you stare deeply into the souls of social dominators, they believe “equality” is a sucker word. Only fools believe in it, they say. And if people took equality seriously, if society did try to provide equal opportunity for all, and if the playing field really were made level so that bootstraps could be pulled up and multitudes of lives bettered, the social dominator knows he would get less. And he very much dislikes that notion. He says so.

This is how social dominators can tell us that insider trading is no big deal, that we live in a meritocracy instead of a country with third-world levels of economic inequality, and that if workers are permitted to retire instead of working until they die, they will get lazy and greedy. They genuinely believe that rules are for the little people and do not hesitate to take advantage of every opportunity for personal profit while lecturing the poor on morality and humility.  Some sheep are a little smarter than others, however, so the elite and their servants dress up their greed and callousness with pretty bows and ribbons, calling them a philosophy and their adherents people of principle. Think tanks are formed, magazines are financed, fellowships are handed out with great ceremony, large prizes are awarded. But in the end it's nothing but propaganda to disguise greed and exploitation.

In Atlas Shrugged, however, it is the scum and lice who collaborate on propaganda that attacks the Ubermensch. Libertarians routinely use tactics that their heroes looked upon with disdain and disgust, such as making excuses for failure and using propaganda.  The tactics used to fight Reardon are very familiar to those who read libertarian and conservative propaganda. Facts are useless, the people are told. Magazines, newspapers, pundits and radio hosts all spread the message that Reardon metal is unsafe. The unions refuse to let their men work on the John Galt Line so Dagny calls for volunteers, who line up for the honor of working for her. When the work is nearly completed, Dagny calls a press conference.

The reporters who came to the press conference in the offices of the John Galt Line were young men who had been trained to think that their job consisted of concealing from the world the nature of its events. It was their daily duty to serve as audiences for some public figure who made utterances about the public good, in phrases carefully chosen to convey no meaning. It was their daily job to sling words together in any combination they pleased, so long as the words did not fall into a sequence saying something specific.

Substitute "corporate good" for "public good" and you will have every Koch or Bradley-fed libertarian magazine that exists. The newspapermen are shocked that Dagny and Reardon state they are in business to make money; in RandLand money is a dirty word. Dagny invites everyone to witness the first train run and tells them that she (and Reardon) will be riding along. When the day arrives she is swept away with joy at her success, the only joy in life, according to Rand.

Only if one feels immensely important, she had told [Reardon], can one feel truly light. Whatever the train's run would men to others, for the two of them their own persons were this day's sole meaning. Whatever it was that others sought in life, their right to what they now felt was all the two of them wished to find. It was as if, across the platform, they said it to each other.

She looked at the crowd , and she felt, simultaneously, astonishment that they should stare at her, when this event was so personally her own that no communication about it was possible, and a sense of fitness that they should be here, that they should want to see it, because the sight of an achievement was the greatest gift a human being could offer to others.
Rand describes how the train's crew gathered to make this first run to Denver and Ellis Wyatt's oil fields, with contemptuous, indifferent looks of superiority at the rabble. For Rand, these qualities are both natural and right; who could not feel contemptuous, indifferent and superior when looking at scum? It's no more than they deserve for their inferiority. The newsmen are caught up in the excitement despite themselves; the sight of all that superiority makes them wish to be superior as well. As the train flashes across the countryside at 100 mph, Dagny sees old men and boys lining the track, guarding it against sabotage. The stations they pass are covered in decorations as railwaymen celebrates Dagny's great accomplishment and Ellis Wyatt is there to help her down when they make their triumphant arrival. He welcomes them to his home and that night she and Reardon have sex in the spirit of mutual triumph and contempt.

It was like an act of hatred, like the cutting blow of a lash encircling her body; she felt his arms around her, she felt her legs pulled forward against him and her chest bent back under the pressure of his, his mouth on hers.... He was not smiling; his face was tight, it was the face of an enemy; he jerk her head and caught her mouth again, as if he were inflicting a wound.

She felt him trembling and she thought that this was the kind of cry she had wanted to tear from him-this surrender through the shreds of his tortured resistance. Yet she knew, at the same time, that the triumph was his, that her laughter was her tribute to him, that her defiance was submission, that the purpose of all of her violent strength was only to make his victory the greater-he was holding her body against his, as if stressing his wish to let her know that she was now only a tool for the satisfaction of his desire-and his victory, she knew, was her wish to let him reduce her to that. Whatever I am, she thought, whatever pride of person I may hold, the pride of my courage, of my work, of my mind and my freedom-that is what I offer you for the pleasure of your body, that is what I want you to use in your service-and that you want it to serve you is the greatest reward I can have.
Reardon tears off Dagny's clothes and give her more looks of contempt. Dagny gladly gives herself to him and rejoices that he takes what he wants, which is the only way for proper Ubermenschen to live.

... [T]hey had moved by the power of the thought that one remakes the earth for one's enjoyment, that man's spirit gives meaning to insentient matter by molding it to serve one's chosen goal.
The world and its people exist to fulfill the needs of the Special, and when the lice and scum forget that, it is time for them to be eliminated.