Atlas Shrugged: The Mocking

Friday, February 28, 2014

On Undermining Religious Authority

Alexis de Tocqueville :

In speaking of philosophical method among the Americans I have shown that nothing is more repugnant to the human mind in an age of equality than the idea of subjection to forms. Men living at such times are impatient of figures; to their eyes, symbols appear to be puerile artifices used to conceal or to set off truths that should more naturally be bared to the light of day; they are unmoved by ceremonial observances and are disposed to attach only a secondary importance to the details of public worship.  
Those who have to regulate the external forms of religion in a democratic age should pay a close attention to these natural propensities of the human mind in order not to run counter to them unnecessarily.  
I firmly believe in the necessity of forms, which fix the human mind in the contemplation of abstract truths and aid it in embracing them warmly and holding them with firmness. Nor do I suppose that it is possible to maintain a religion without external observances; but, on the other hand, I am persuaded that in the ages upon which we are entering it would be peculiarly dangerous to multiply them beyond measure, and that they ought rather to be limited to as much as is absolutely necessary to perpetuate the doctrine itself, which is the substance of religion, of which the ritual is only the form.1 A religion which became more insistent in details, more inflexible, and more burdened with small observances during the time that men became more equal would soon find itself limited to a band of fanatic zealots in the midst of a skeptical multitude.

I showed in the first Part of this work how the American clergy stand aloof from secular affairs. This is the most obvious but not the only example of their self-restraint. In America religion is a distinct sphere, in which the priest is sovereign, but out of which he takes care never to go. Within its limits he is master of the mind; beyond them he leaves men to themselves and surrenders them to the independence and instability that belong to their nature and their age. I have seen no country in which Christianity is clothed with fewer forms, figures, and observances than in the United States, or where it presents more distinct, simple, and general notions to the mind. Although the Christians of America are divided into a multitude of sects, they all look upon their religion in the same light. This applies to Roman Catholicism as well as to the other forms of belief. There are no Roman Catholic priests who show less taste for the minute individual observances, for extraordinary or peculiar means of salvation, or who cling more to the spirit and less to the letter of the law than the Roman Catholic priests of the United States. Nowhere is that doctrine of the church which prohibits the worship reserved to God alone from being offered to the saints more clearly inculcated or more generally followed. Yet the Roman Catholics of America are very submissive and very sincere.  
Another remark is applicable to the clergy of every communion. The American ministers of the Gospel do not attempt to draw or to fix all the thoughts of man upon the life to come; they are willing to surrender a portion of his heart to the cares of the present, seeming to consider the goods of this world as important, though secondary, objects. If they take no part themselves in productive labor, they are at least interested in its progress and they applaud its results, and while they never cease to point to the other world as the great object of the hopes and fears of the believer, they do not forbid him honestly to court prosperity in this. Far from attempting to show that these things are distinct and contrary to one another, they study rather to find out on what point they are most nearly and closely connected.  
All the American clergy know and respect the intellectual supremacy exercised by the majority; they never sustain any but necessary conflicts with it. They take no share in the altercations of parties, but they readily adopt the general opinions of their country and their age, and they allow themselves to be borne away without opposition in the current of feeling and opinion by which everything around them is carried along. They endeavor to amend their contemporaries, but they do not quit fellowship with them. Public opinion is therefore never hostile to them; it rather supports and protects them, and their belief owes its authority at the same time to the strength which is its own and to that which it borrows from the opinions of the majority.  
Thus it is that by respecting all democratic tendencies not absolutely contrary to herself and by making use of several of them for her own purposes, religion sustains a successful struggle with that spirit of individual independence which is her most dangerous opponent.

 It's too bad that authoritarians instinctively ignore anything that threatens their view of the world. The public is, publicly, rejecting their authority, showing and telling them that they have no power. Conservative authoritarians tried to keep a Black man out of the White House and failed. They tried to get rid of Hillary Clinton and failed.  They tried to shove gays back into the closet and failed. If you can't demonstrate your power you have none.

Their belief that a conservative sugar daddy will always come through for them and make the bad people go away doesn't work when it comes to making money.  They are accustomed to hiding behind the churches' skirts, depending on civil authority to preserve their religious authority. By attempting to reinforce their power, the right has only exposed its weakness.

Now is the time to press back on abortion. Fighting religious authority has always been difficult because both civil and religious authority say "do not kill." The strawman issue of fetus/not fetus distracts from the real issue: we must choose between secular law and religious law, and adopting religious laws regarding abortion is conceding to religious law over secular law. (The religious law of some (but not all) religions.)  We have chosen secular law and the authoritarians are very unhappy about that as well.

Catholic doctrine says only God can kill. Secular law (in reality if not always theory) says we can kill if the president says so, if we feel threatened, if the judicial system chooses to execute a criminal, if a woman wants to have an abortion. Women do not need to apologize for choosing civil authority over religious authority. The right never apologizes when it chooses American secular laws over Muslim, Jewish, or any other religious laws.

The religious right will not want to hear that they are obviously weak but they will never believe it until the majority tells them so, as often and as loudly as possible. Civility never won a battle.

The right does not want religious freedom laws They want religious supremacy laws.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Following the Money

April Ponnuru posted an article on The Corner titled The White House’s Attack on Medicare’s Prescription-Drug Plans Is Obamacare 2.0. In this post she defends Bush's prescription drug bill, which as we know was a giveaway to the drug industry.

April Ponnuru is the wife of Ramesh Ponnuru and was Executive Director of  the National Review Institute. She is now Policy Director at YG Network. YG Network is a 501(c)(4), as is the YG Action Fund. The "YG" stands for Young Guns, tea-party  politicians determined to supplant an older Republican establishment.

From Roll Call:

It’s not easy to explain the three entities that fall under the YG umbrella — all of which have nuanced missions and legally separate purposes. There’s the super PAC, YG Action Fund; the nonprofit, YG Network; and the wonk shop, YG Policy Center.

They make independent expenditures for candidates, such as Hudson, through the super PAC. Among other missions, the nonprofit served as a testing group for energy policy messaging in the Indiana primary. It also recently started a partnership to cultivate young donors with MavPAC, a political project of George P. Bush.

John Murray is both the Senior Strategist for YG Network and the president, founder and treasurer of YG Action Fund. The latter had little resources until it received a $5,000,000 donation from Sheldon Adelson and his wife, Dr. Miriam Adelson. Dr. and Mr. Adelson founded the Adelson Clinics, which treat drug addiction with methadone. The YG Network is, ostensibly:
The YG Network is organized as a non-profit 501(c)(4) dedicated to supporting conservative center-right policies and the efforts of policymakers who fight for those policies. By seeking solutions that create jobs, encourage innovation, instill fiscal discipline, establish a patient-centered health care system and pursue energy security, we can foster the optimal environment for America’s businesses and entrepreneurs to succeed and flourish. The YG Network will operate independently of any officeholder, candidate or political party.
So it is a wonder that Mrs. Ponnuru would support the socialist Medicare Part D.
Medicare Part D, which covers prescription drugs for senior citizens, is one of the few government health-care programs that has demonstrated success in increasing coverage, reducing costs, and improving the health of its beneficiaries. The Obama administration’s new regulations threaten this achievement. Part D has worked so well because it is more market-oriented than most health programs.  
But the administration appears to want to remake it in the image of Obamacare — inserting the federal government into negotiations between prescription-drug providers and pharmacies, limiting the number of prescription-drug plans an insurance company can offer, and putting an end to the preferred pharmacy networks that have dramatically reduced costs for America’s seniors.

Until you follow the money. Then it becomes the most natural thing in the world for Mrs. Ponnuru to state that the free market functions better when the producer is able to control prices and the consumer is not able to negotiate for lower prices.

The YG has had a few bumps in its short history.
Much of the organization's money -- likely including that additional amount not reported to the FEC -- went to digital and radio ad campaigns in support of various hot-button issues like the sequester. Among the ads the YG Network paid for in 2012 were a digital and radio campaign warning of the dangers of automatic budget cuts to national security, as well as a digital campaign focusing on preventing tax hikes for small businesses. In addition, though -- despite stating on its tax documents that it was formed "primarily for the purpose of informing the public on, and advocating for" various conservative issues -- YG Network got involved in several big congressional races in 2012. During the Indiana Senate GOP primary it generated some controversy when it spent $200,000 on mailers encouraging votes for incumbent Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) over his challenger, state Treasurer Richard Mourdock. Many Republicans were angered by the fact that the mailers targeted Democrats and independent voters, urging them to support Lugar. In the end, the mailers didn't make much of a difference: Lugar lost to Mourdock in the primary, who subsequently lost to Democratic candidate Joe Donnelly. Overall, YG Network spent nearly $2.9 million directly asking people to vote for or against 24 congressional candidates in 2012.
Mrs. Ponnuru is a perfect fit for her organization's goals and actions.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Assessing Failure: Obamacare

Because Megan McArdle is a noted and respected propagandist, not a noted and respected journalist and author, McArdle's opinion is even more valuable than her journalistic skills. When you add her keen and elegant prose, McArdle was obviously destined for far greater things than most reporters: media stardom, piles of books listed in the politics section on Amazon, lucrative speaking gigs,  the best table at the local gastropub. And a column in the Times, of course, to lead public opinion and tell everyone else the very best way to live their lives.

Which brings us back to failure, McArdle's self-professed specialty. Failure leads to success because failure never leads to consequences from which one never fully recovers, even though her own failure through success did just that. This, like all her advice, might seem contradictory but it worked for Megan McArdle and it'll work for you too.

It will not, however, work for Obamacare. Obamacare is an exception to McArdle's Path To Success. McArdle does not tell herself to wait until Obamacare fails so she can learn how to make Obamacare succeed. She doesn't want Obamacare to succeed. How do we know this? She tells us so.

Megan McArdle:  But I will say that Mr. Chait says that I’m against national health care and which is actually not true. I have long been proposing that the government should provide catastrophic reinsurance for people, basically picking up medical costs above fifteen percent of their income. It’s something that preserves the market mechanism. It’s progressive. Everyone is -- you know, you're taking care [unintelligible] poor, but otherwise it's progressive. It preserves the market mechanism, it makes sure people do not get bankrupted by their medical bills. I think that is actually the kind of system that you could grow out of Obamacare if it failed.  
John Donvan: Jonathan Chait.  
Jonathan Chait: The reason I wrote that you're against national health care is because in 2009 you wrote a column called "Why I Oppose National Health Care."  
You've also predicted -- a few months ago you predicted the exchanges might not even open on January 1, that the administration would have to stop its whole law. So if you're talking about moving the goal post your definition of failure just keeps getting smaller and smaller.  
Megan McArdle: Well, I'm just saying that in 2010, 2011, and 2012, and 2013, I have written that I support the sort of catastrophic reinsurance program. I've been proposing it for a fairly long time.
Notice Mr. Chait calls McArdle on her well-worn deceptive techniques. First comes the lie necessary to win the argument, which depends on the ignorance and civility of her audience. When someone questions her conclusions, then comes the goalpost-moving to evade responsibility for her rhetoric. McArdle wants the taxpayer to pick up the big bills for the insurance companies and get no benefits in return.

McArdle pulled out another whopper later in the debate, along with a few right-wing rumors created to whip up paranoia.

Jonathan Chait: Then the study that Megan cited is still not a very good use of data. It's not a good use of data for two reasons -- if I may --  
John Donvan: Very --  
Jonathan Chait: Number one --  
John Donvan: Very briefly, but you've got two people lined up to defend themselves.  
Male Speaker: That's right.  
Jonathan Chait: So, there are a series of studies on the effectiveness of Medicaid. Many of these studies -- most of them show what you would intuitively think. Going on Medicaid and being able to see doctors, even if you don't get a lot of choice, even if a lot of doctors don't want to take the low prices, is better than not having health insurance and going to good -- going to the doctor at all. Because as my partner explained in fairly strong detail, not having health insurance is dangerous. It's terrible. Nobody wants to have it. And people are right not to want it --  
John Donvan: Megan McArdle.  
Megan McArdle: Well, it shows actually --  
Here's something interesting -- is a lot of these studies have looked at Medicaid versus the uninsured. And the uninsured do better. Having no insurance is better in these studies than having Medicaid, even when you control for [unintelligible] --  
Now, that said, do I think that having Medicaid is actually worse than being uninsured? No, I don't. It's very hard to actually measure lots of things. But the -- you would want to know about the impulse control, or social support and so forth. But I think that most people agree that Medicaid is bad coverage. It's not good coverage. You wouldn't want to go on it. And there are people who had cheap policies canceled -- got cancellation notices and found that when they went to the exchanges, they were were into Medicaid. That's [inaudible] --  
John Donvan: So, let -- I think -- 
Megan McArdle: So I'm not --
McArdle also told her readers that Obamacare would fail because the insurance companies hated it.
Megan McArdle: I think that Jonathan is way more optimistic than I, that a death spiral isn’t possible. For one thing, you know, a lot of the -- the thing that everyone has been leaning very hard on -- I haven't heard the insurers saying that they are real pleased with the mix. Humana and other people have said it's more adverse than they expected.

Jonathan Chait: No, at the JPMorgan Conference a series of insurers were interviewed, and they all said that they were generally expecting getting what they expected.  
Megan McArdle: But that -- neither -- leaving that point aside --  
-- well, I mean, like he can say, "Yes, they have," and we can say, "No, they haven't," and you guys don't know either way, so I think this is not --  
John Donvan: Yeah, I'm actually with her on that.  
Unless -- were any of you at that conference?  
Scott Gottlieb: I was [unintelligible]. 
Jonathan Chait: There were a series of insurers quoted at the JPMorgan Conference on January 15.  
Megan McArdle: There were also a series of insurers quoted, saying that they've had adverse --  
Scott Gottlieb: And they've announced --  
Megan McArdle: That they're announcing earnings adjustments because of their adverse selection. But that's not really even -- the issue is that, you know, a lot of the mechanisms they're depending on are these things called these risk corridors, which are temporary kind of reinsurance facilities to help insurers transition, and also the fact that these subsidies basically grow with the cost of the policy so that if we do start seeing adverse selection, if we do see young people not in the pools, healthy people not in the pools and so costs go up, well, then the subsidies will rise and these risk corridors will kick in. But those things end in 2018. Subsidy --  
John Donvan: All right, let's let  Jonathan Chait --
Jonathan Chait: Right, but what we're seeing right now is that they're not even going to need that kind of adjustment in the first place because they're saying the pool of people is young enough that it's meeting their expectations, that they don't need to raise premiums, whatsoever. And so if you want to -- if you have to ask, "What is the definition of success?" The definition of success is putting in place a law that will get at a certain point to having a dramatic expansion of coverage. So at one point you said, "Well, by January 1, there aren't as many people covered as there were before." 
Megan McArdle: I said we don't know.  
Jonathan Chait: Right, we don't know.  
Megan McArdle: The government will not --  
Jonathan Chait: You're right, you said -- that's correct.  
Megan McArdle: -- the administration will not say --  
Jonathan Chait: Right, we don't know exactly --  
Megan McArdle: -- that we have more people covered.  
Jonathan Chait: -- right -- we don't know the number of people who had their plans cancelled. It's way less than five million. We don't know, so we can't say exactly how many [inaudible]. But why is January 1, the first date the law started, the best mark? The law's supposed to --  
John Donvan: Stop right there because I want to hear the answer to that question.  
Megan McArdle: Well --  
Scott Gottlieb: We know this pool is exceedingly unhealthy by virtue of --  
John Donvan: No, no, no, that's -- his question is "Why set January 1 on the day that everything has to be successful?" It's a fair question. I just want to hear the answer to it. Megan, Megan.  
Megan McArdle: [inaudible] totally fair question, but, again, this is so much worse than I would've predicted. I was a critic of the law, but if you had asked me, "Is it likely that there could be fewer people insured, even that small number, on January 1?" I would've said, "No, that's insane." But that may actually be -- the administration won't -- it's not asking them how many people. When reporters on conference calls say, "Can you assure us that more people are insured through anything, through private insurance, through Medicaid?" they won't say, "Yes."

Here is a demonstration of another McArdle technique, pulling up a lone or disputed or arbitrary study that (she claims) supports her theory and destroys her opponent's theory. McArdle and Chait are debating whether or not Obamacare has failed. McArdle says it has.

Failure: Obamacare

Point of Failure: Goals Not Met By Opening of Exchange

Causes of failure:

1. Sebelius said seven million people would sign up by March 2114 and as February they had not all signed up.

2. "They" said 40% of the exchange needs to be young adults and only 20-25%  are as of now.

3. Slowing health care costs were caused by the recession, not Obamacare changes.

4. We don't have the numbers to determine if Obamacare is successful so far.

5. Some people will have to join Medicaid and Medicaid is so awful that nobody will want to be on it.

Of course it immediately becomes obvious that McArdle etc. are arguing that Obamacare has not met its goals, not that Obamacare has already failed. She attempts to disguise this elision by:

1. Claiming it is better to be uninsured than be on Medicaid while claiming she was not stating it was better to be uninsured than to be on Medicaid.

2. Claiming Obamacare would need more subsidies.

3. Claiming Obamacare would explode the budget.

4. Claiming Obamacare would "tamp down" medical innovation.

5. Claiming cost controls would not "hold."

6. Claiming Obamacare would destroy medical insurance.

7. Claiming the mandate would not be enforced and the law would be slowly dismantled.

8.  Claiming Obamacare will mainly benefit the old and the benefits will become increasingly unpopular.

9. Claiming the popular part of Obamacare have nothing to do with the popularity of Obamacare.

10. Claiming the US is uniquely unfitted to a national health plan because Americans love Freedom and would have different patients and staff than they do abroad.

Chait responded in part:

So you have to wonder, "Why are they simple moving from one disaster scenario to another disaster scenario?" Actually, I wanted to debunk a couple points they made, because a lot of this is just -- we've heard from the other side -- are not true. I can't give you links and charts to debunk them, but let me say that it's not the case that 5 million policies have been canceled. That's a number that was floating about that you can't verify. It's almost certainly not true. Many journalists have tried to figure out exactly how many policies have been canceled. And they don't have good enough records to know, but they know it's not 5 million. And they suspect -- the administration suspects it's closer to one-tenth of that figure. They can't actually prove that either, but for various reasons, you don't have a good enough count. This -- that's almost certainly nowhere close to 5 million. And that's a big number that's -- they're citing because they're saying, that -- those are the losers. But it's really nowhere close to that. Yet they say -- Megan said we can't -- we can't say for sure how many -- how -- that there are more insured now than there were before. We can't say for sure, because again, this number can't exactly be counted. We don't know that 400,000 -- it was 500,000. But we know it's not anywhere close to 5 million. And it's a mortal certainty that far more people have health insurance now than would have had in absence of the law.

So why are we having this kind of lurch, from one argument, abandoning these arguments when they disappear, and simply coming up with new ones? The truth is, they disagree with the goals of the law. And I think you could hear that in their remarks. They say, "There's less choice.” And it's true. The government says insurers have to provide certain benefits right. They have to provide pregnancy coverage. That's -- and maternity care. Those are the most controversial things that are mostly cited, because they want people who are male or old to not have to pay for those things. And they want people who are young and female and might have to bear children to pay those costs themselves, because that's an ideological difference between the two sides. And that's fine for them to have an ideological difference between the two sides. But we're not here to debate whether this law is a good idea. We're here to debate whether the law is actually working, and the truth is the only reason they're desperately trying to claim the law is not working is because they oppose national health insurance.

Megan McArdle was not hired to give the libertarian view, or woman's view, or even secret conservative view. She's hired to give the tea-bagger view. She quotes National Review writers and Fox News pundits and Koch-fed think tanks. She repeats hysterical right-wing screeds and attempts to gorilla-glue a thin veneer of science over the emptiness of her arguments. And she fails, since her arguments are based on gut feelings that she pretends are actually principled ideology.

But these are not ordinary failures. There is no need to claim responsibility, figure out the point of error, correct mistakes and grow wiser. These failures are ignored because anyone who is being paid six figures to give financial advice to the striving masses or given book contracts for advice that somehow always benefits the wealthy cannot possibly be a failure. Her success proves the superiority of her arguments. Her gut tells her so. And when her argument was battered and beaten, she was still the winner because she had another argument waiting in the wings: Obamacare is certain to fail some time in the future.
The question is whether the law is undermining its own goals. And to think about going forward, we, you know, Mr. Chait says it’s now here. In fact, we still have a long way to go with a bunch of unpopular stuff that is going to happen. Small businesses are starting to get a wave of cancellations that are going to come through the year, and they're being asked for a lot more money. A lot of that is due to Obamacare. The Cadillac tax, 40 percent surcharge on generous health insurance is especially hard on companies with old sick people, but a lot of benefits managers are saying basically everyone is going to have to go to light plans and scale down rather than get hit by that tax. We’ve got comparative effectiveness research which is going to start determining what sorts of things Medicare will reimburse at what rates.
In her book McArdle points out to her successful life as proof that she has recovered from failure. Her property proves her worth and her husband proves her merit. The failure of one relationship just lead to the success of her present marriage. And the failure of one argument just leads to the success of another. The audience laughed at McArdle at least three times. Her arguments were ridiculous and the audience didn't believe them but  failure at one job leads to success at another when there is always a billionaire around to pick up the bill.

Failing up is only for the rich.

(I will now go back to writing my book. I am 1/4 done with the first draft.)

Friday, February 14, 2014

Systemic Falure

As we all know because we read the brilliant and incisive Megan McArdle, failure has no villains, it just happens for systemic reasons.
All of these papers suggest that the search for a villain behind the crisis will ultimately be fruitless. There are two basic narratives of what happened. The first is that bankers had bad incentives: they took massive risks because the profits were so good in the up years that it was worth the risk of the bad, or because they could pass the risks onto some other sucker, or they thought Uncle Sugar would bail them out. The other narrative is that bankers had bad information: they didn't understand the risks they were taking.  
I've always preferred narrative B, because Narrative A doesn't make much sense. The CEOs of big banks lost vast sums of money, and their jobs, most of their social status, and so forth. They held onto the worst tranches of their securities, which implies they didn't know how badly they were going to blow up. Etc.  
I find it vastly more plausible, if not so comforting, to believe that systems can occasionally produce bad results even if the incentives basically point in the right direction. The FICO score revolution was valuable, but we took it too far. The money sloshing around US markets disguised the problems, because people who got into trouble tapped their home equity, or in a pinch, sold the house at a tidy profit. Everyone from borrowers to regulators was getting the same bad signal, that their behavior was much less risky than it actually was.  
That doesn't mean that nothing can be done. Maybe we decide we want a less complex financial system. But it won't be because there's some villain manipulating everything into ruin; rather, we may decide that there are certain kinds of risks we can trust ourselves to handle.  
I'm not sure that this would work, and I'm skeptical that it's a good idea. But the more time we waste trying to figure out who did us wrong, the less quickly we will arrive at an actual solution.
Problem Identified: The System

Basis For Claim: Gut Feeling

Causes Of Problem: Unknowable

Solution For Problem: Solve problem without figuring out what went wrong.

It is absolutely incredible that Megan McArdle can be splashed all over tv, radio, and internet peddling a book that directly contradicts her earlier work. McArdle is being presented as a brilliant economist/journalist/Big Thinker, her book praised and welcomed and feted, called innovative, illuminating, humble, intelligent, "gracefully written, carefully researched," vibrant, seminal, and wise. But when the financial system collapsed under the weight of its own greed and graft McArdle leaped to its rescue, telling us nobody could know anything ever and there are no villains and CEO compensation shouldn't be cut. For systemic reasons.

Failure also, however, tells us exactly what went wrong. Ms. McArdle said, "Failure tells us exactly what doesn't work" and "Failure tells us more than success because success is usually a matter of a whole system." Now that she is selling a book on failure, she tells a different story.

God bless America, where income and social mobility are so easily achieved. All you have to do is be born to wealth and then latch onto a billionaire like a remora, spending the rest of your life sucking up the crumbs that fall from his mouth.

This is why I keep taking mental vacations. It is as stomach-churning as it is sad.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Reviewing Failure

More reviews of Megan McArdle's book The Failure Of America To Obey My Ideology are pouring in, this time from The Corner's Yural Levin, one of the few Cornerites who hasn't jumped ship. Yet.
Megan McArdle’s new book, The Upside of Down, is out this week, and I just can’t recommend it enough.  
We conservatives value markets and like to argue that they make for far better means of obtaining and applying knowledge than the a priori certitudes of technocratic know-it-alls. But we are not always ready to contend with what that commitment to decentralized, dispersed, trial-and-error learning really means: It means lots and lots of errors, and lots and lots of failures, and it requires us to constantly keep in mind that these errors and failures are what make success possible.  
That sort of humility doesn’t come easy, especially if you’re the person doing the failing. It requires great champions who will help us see the virtue of humble open-mindedness and the value of learning from calamity, grueling and difficult though it always is. I think McArdle’s wonderful book puts her high on the list of such champions. Her easy command of the intricacies of our complicated economy make her especially well suited to the task in our own time, and her talent for storytelling, disarming humor, and keen eye for just the right detail to make a key point would serve readers well at any time. You should read this book.
I suspect he did not read the book, going by the fact that he did not mention anything at all in the text. But at least we know how humble and open-minded McArdle is.

Tyler Cowen give McArdle's book an enthusiastic if oddly nebulous thumbs up.
That is the forthcoming book by Megan McArdle and the subtitle is Why Failing Well is the Key to Success. I think this book will be a big deal. It is extremely well written, engages the reader, is based upon entirely fresh anecdotes and research results, and develops an important point. I look forward to seeing it make its mark.
As some commenters point out, Cowen comes perilously close to damning with faint praise. He does not say the book is good or important. But he does say it's well-written; a lot of people like McArdle's chatty style and copious anecdotes, although going by what I have seen in reviews, McArdle has told those tales many times before.

DCist lets us know McArdle's message: "We can turn failures around best by learning from them, and failing faster next time in order to sooner reach success." The more times and the faster you fail the more successful you will be, and everyone needs to hurry up and fail often  in order to learn what will work!

Failure magazine reviews the book as well, naturally.

McArdle traces cultural attitudes to failure back to differences between hunter-gatherers and farmers. Hunter-gatherers forgive failure easily. They must, as hunter-gatherers can scour a forest for prey and still return home empty-handed if they aren’t lucky enough to cross paths with an animal. Thus, survival requires that successful hunters share meat with those who failed to catch anything (often through no fault of their own). When a community transitions to agriculture, though, that lax approach is disastrous because inadequate sanctions for shirking mean people play hooky from the fields. Thus, agrarian societies emphasize individual responsibility and insist that those who neglect their crops suffer the penalty of meager or nonexistent harvests. McArdle explains that modern economies are more like hunter-gatherer societies in terms of the uncertain connection between effort and reward. No one can tell for sure if a new product will take off or flop. Accordingly, she argues that gentle policies toward failed risk-takers, such as the option to declare bankruptcy and start over, encourage industriousness and enterprise.

I would dearly love to know how McArdle determined these "facts." Early societies of prehistoric man often hunted in groups, going by their artwork and artifacts. They would share the meat because they all participated in the hunt. Others might have operated differently; McArdle's gross generalization leaves holes in her narrative that one could drive a truck through. And McArdle has obviously never read the Bible or heard of gleaning. Prehistoric society wrote into their laws that crops must be shared with the poor and hungry.
Old Testament  
According to the Holiness Code and the Deuteronomic Code of the Torah, farmers should leave the corners of their fields unharvested, and they should not attempt to harvest any left-overs that had been forgotten when they had harvested the majority of a field.[2][3][4] On one of the two occasions that this is mentioned by the Holiness Code, it adds that, in vineyards, some grapes should be left ungathered,[5] an argument made also by the Deuteronomic Code.[6]  
These verses additionally argue that olive trees should not be beaten on multiple occasions, and whatever remains from the first set of beatings should be left.[7] According to the Holiness Code, these things should be left for the poor and for strangers,[3][5] and the Deuteronomic Code commands that it should be left for widows, strangers, and paternal orphans.[4][6][7]  
The Book of Ruth features gleaning by the widow Ruth to provide for herself and Naomi, also a widow.[8]  
New Testament  
Jesus and his disciples practiced a form of gleaning as they walked through grain fields breaking off heads of wheat to eat.[9] The expectation to glean rather than beg, steal, or covet is a basis for Paul's seemingly harsh injunction: "Whoever does not work, neither shall he eat."II Thessalonians 3:10[10]
Ah, McArdle. You never disappoint. No doubt her failures will lead her to even greater literary success!

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The Failure Begins!

Very briefly, let us look at Megan McArdle's excerpt of How To Fail Up If You're Just Like Me. I will return to her excerpt later when I have more time. Here is The Secret To Shortening Long-Term Unemployment:

McArdle attacks the unemployment problem by dividing the world into Democrat and Republican approaches to the problem, and then telling us that the Republicans are right. She tells us there are no villains; evidently unemployment just happens for structural reasons. Although she earlier said that the government shouldn't create jobs because they would just be make-work, she now says that the government should provide jobs that pay less than "normal" jobs temporarily, waive the payroll tax for new employees, or provide "grants" so people could move to a place where jobs are available. Or perhaps, like Denmark, the government could pay support and for retraining, but McArdle understands if her reader doesn't like the idea of helping his fellow man.

She does not tell us how a guy over 50 in middle management in Pennsylvania with a house he can't sell, a wife who managed to hold on to her job, and a couple of kids in school could sell his home and move to North Dakota to work in the oil industry, but she can't solve everyone's problems, can she? And while it was a tragedy when the rich were no longer able to afford prep school for their children, it's nothing for a middle class kid to leave school and end up in North Dakota.

Failure: Too many people on unemployment for too long (note that the problem is not the lack of jobs)

Point of Failure: The unemployed stop looking for jobs until benefits are about to run out. Then they look for jobs again. (Note that McArdle does not discuss what happens if they can't find a job. For Randians, there is always another job out there just for the taking, if you look hard enough.)

Cause of Failure: Looking for work is painful so people stop, according to a survey McArdle read.

Solution: Make it easier to look for a job.

Unemployment solved!

Monday, February 10, 2014

A Failure Of Mercy

Let's look at an assessment of failure that has already been thoroughly discussed, the Newtown shooting. We know Megan McArdle will respond to the Newtown massacre by analyzing the failure and using that information to make correct decisions in the future. Alternately she will ignore failure since it is systemic and therefore indecipherable; it all depends on whether she is currently on Team Failure or Team Success. So McArdle (probably) will determine the point of failure, which will be fairly obvious, and that failure will point the way to success.

The universe being a complicated place, you can usually tell multiple stories from the same pieces of evidence. We learn by gambling on what we think the best answer is, and seeing how it turns out. Most of us know that we have learned more about the world, and ourselves, from failing than from success. Success can be accidental; failure is definite. Failure tells us exactly what doesn't work.
Yet--somehow---Megan McArdle was unable to figure out what to do about child massacres. She did manage to come up with a solution but sadly the Constitution would make it impossible to implement.

There's Little We Can Do To Prevent Another Massacre

But I doubt we're going to tell people to gang rush mass shooters, because that would involve admitting that there is no mental health service or "reasonable gun control" which is going to prevent all of these attacks. Which is to say, admitting that we have no box big enough to completely contain evil.
Problem Identified: Evil

Basis For Claim: Judeo-Christian mythology

Solution For Problem: None

And there you go. Megan McArdle has finished turning failure into success, as she has garnered what must have been an astonishing number of hits.

Not everyone is brave and honest enough to advise parents to train their children to rush a gunman firing an automatic weapon at them. It takes a libertarian to show that kind of personal responsibility and ability to obtain gains (freedom!) from trade (children's lives!). Not to mention a Randian disdain for childish weakness.

Let's look at the causes of the massacre, according to McArdle. As we just said, the massacre was caused by Evil.
The alternative is Newtown. When one tries to picture the mind that plans it, one quickly comes to a dead end. Even if I had been raised with no moral laws at all, even if there were no cops and no prisons, I'm pretty sure that I still wouldn't want to spend a crisp Friday morning shooting cowering children. Trying to climb this mountain of wickedness is like trying to climb a glass wall with your bare hands. What happened there is pure evil, and evil, unlike common badness, gives an ordinary mind no foothold. Since we can't understand it, we can't change it. And since we can't change it, our best hope is to box it in.
The obvious alternate cause is mental illness but McArdle does not discuss it as a cause. She states the killer had access to mental health professionals so obviously providing more mental health opportunities would not prevent future killings. McArdle does not compare this shooter to any other mass shooters; a sample of one is enough. Because we can do nothing about Evil, which is random and invisible and strikes without warning, any solution we come up with will fail.
Not every problem has a policy solution. We should always be mindful of Johnson's famous epigram:
How small, of all that human hearts endure  
That part which laws or kings can cause or cure!
In this case, there probably is a policy which could stop mass shootings. But we are not going to implement that policy. And since nothing else is going to work, we are not going to pass a law that will stop these sorts of mass shootings. We may pass a law, mind you. But whatever we do pass, we will have more of these evil happenings ahead of us.
McArdle examines possible laws for flaws:

Ban guns and ammunition--can't be done, it's unconstitutional.

Lock up the mentally ill--can't be done, it's unconstitutional.

Naturally, nobody can do anything ever.
When I pointed out some of these things on Facebook this weekend, the responses were generally angry, or incredulous. "Megan, you're not presenting an argument, you're just poking holes in others' arguments," said one friend. "Anyone can do that. Bottom line, how do you suggest improving things?"  
The answer, I'm afraid, is that I don't. I know this is a very frustrating answer. It got me a fair amount of angry pushback on Facebook, particularly since my friends know that I am in favor of much less stringent gun control than they are. It's not surprising that they feel that I'm hiding the football--poking holes in the stuff that won't work while ignoring the stuff that will, in an attempt to deceive people into giving up on a gun control that I would oppose for entirely separate reasons.  
There's a terrible syllogism that tends to follow on tragedies like this:  
1. Something must be done  
2. This is something  
3. Therefore this must be done 
. . . . and hello, Gulf War II.  
It would certainly be more comfortable for me to endorse doing something symbolic--bring back the "assault weapons ban"--in order to signal that I care. But I would rather do nothing than do something stupid because it makes us feel better. We shouldn't have laws on the books unless we think there's a good chance they'll work: they add regulatory complexity and sap law-enforcement resources from more needed tasks. This is not because I don't care about dead children; my heart, like yours, broke about a thousand times this weekend. But they will not breathe again because we pass a law. A law would make us feel better, because it would make us feel as if we'd "done something", as if we'd made it less likely that more children would die. But I think that would be false security. And false security is more dangerous than none.
Yes, nothing can be done and it is dangerous to try to find a solution. Which is what happens when you start off with an ideological platform that states we cannot enact serious gun laws ever. Now a pundit can avoid researching countries that have enacted serious gun laws and discourage any substantial increase in regulations, which are abhorrent to the Koch-fed.
My guess is that we're going to get a law anyway, and my hope is that it will consist of small measures that might have some tiny actual effect, like restrictions on magazine capacity. I'd also like us to encourage people to gang rush shooters, rather than following their instincts to hide; if we drilled it into young people that the correct thing to do is for everyone to instantly run at the guy with the gun, these sorts of mass shootings would be less deadly, because even a guy with a very powerful weapon can be brought down by 8-12 unarmed bodies piling on him at once. Would it work? Would people do it? I have no idea; all I can say is that both these things would be more effective than banning rifles with pistol grips.
Remember this the next time someone tells you that we have to listen to the people in authority because they are smarter, better educated, richer and more successful than we are. They have no heart. They claim they do; they say their hearts bleed for the poor but they are lying, as they lie about so very many things.
It breaks my heart to even type these details; it was worse to read all the stories in which I collected them. 
This is not because I don't care about dead children; my heart, like yours, broke about a thousand times this weekend.
And yet, the only solution McArdle could come up with was a little law tweaking and training children to rush gunmen "because even a guy with a very powerful weapon can be brought down by 8-12 unarmed bodies piling on him at once." Doesn't that statement just ooze with heartbreak?

Dead children and a few parents don't support think tanks and provide internships, jobs, book contracts and tours and speaking fees. Anti-regulation billionaires do.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Jonah Goldberg Makes A Funny

In a strange, rambling post filled with unfunny "humor," Jonah Goldberg lowers himself even more than usual.

Cracked has a list of the three most depressing minor characters in major movies. But it leaves out The Gimp from Pulp Fiction. I understand it’s awkward since the man the character is based on is now the vice president of the United States. But come on.

Perhaps he sees an end to his gravy train and no longer bothers to be either coherent or marginally tasteful. But Goldberg should have enough self-preservation to realize that Mark Steyn is not the only one who can be sued for (in part) comparing a public figure to a sex offender.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

An Examination Of The Mechanisms of Success Through Failure

On an earlier comment I attempted to discern the reasoning behind Megan McArdle's new book, Why Being Wrong Means I Am Better Than People Who Were Right, using the famous Underpants Gnome Theory as my template.

1.McArdle reiterates Warren is sloppy with data, basically ignoring the multitude of corrections. She will write another post describing that sloppiness and of how Warren's mistrust (of what? who?) manifests itself in paternalism. The rest is silence.  
So this is Step 2:  
1. Declare your argument is not destroyed and smouldering in a heap of broken glass and twisted metal.  
2. Promise that you will respond to your critics at a later date, perhaps in the sweet bye-and-bye.  
3. In the future link to debunked posts as proof of your argument.  
That's pretty much it.  
For her book we'll see more analysis no doubt.  
1. Admit failure.  
2. Declare that the analysis of failure leads to success.  
3. Declare success without any analysis of failure.  
Not that she did not try.
 1. Admit that her predictions were wrong and her reasoning was wrong. 
2. State that one must find out why one was wrong.  
3. Claim people who were wrong are now wiser.
In her post The Art Of Explanation, we see McArdle did indeed raise explaining to a high art. She also explained a question I have often asked; why should we listen to the people who were wrong instead of the people who were right?

It's very simple, as Megan McArdle tells us. People who were right for the right reasons only think they were right for the right reasons. They were not. Since they were not, they will not look for the right reasons. People who were wrong will look for the right reasons because they were disastrously wrong.
Slate's What I got Wrong series on the five-year anniversary of the Iraq War, and similar efforts from other media outlets, have triggered a fair amount of irritation, especially among those who opposed it. Says Timothy Noah:
Why should you waste your time, at this late date, ingesting the opinions of people who were wrong about Iraq? Wouldn't you benefit more from considering the views of people who were right? Five years after this terrible war began, it remains true that respectable mainstream discussion about its lessons is nearly exclusively confined to people who supported the war, even though that same mainstream acknowledges, for the most part, that the war was a mistake. That's true of Slate's symposium, and it was true of a similar symposium that appeared March 16 on the New York Times' op-ed pages. The people who opposed U.S. entry into the Iraq war, it would appear, are insufficiently "serious" to explain why they were right.
I heard a fair amount of that this weekend. But I think it's seriously misguided. The universe being a complicated place, you can usually tell multiple stories from the same pieces of evidence. We learn by gambling on what we think the best answer is, and seeing how it turns out. Most of us know that we have learned more about the world, and ourselves, from failing than from success. Success can be accidental; failure is definite.  
Failure tells us exactly what doesn't work.
There is no way to find solutions to problems. The universe is too complicated. The only way to make a choice or decision is to guess. If you are wrong you will be able gain in wisdom by examining the point of failure and determining the causes, so you are able to make better decisions in the future. Although those decisions are also complicated and nobody knows and choices must be made by guesswork.
Failure tells us more than success because success is usually a matter of a whole system.
Although failure is also systemic, as McArdle has told us many times.
A few weeks ago, I was talking to a well-respected journalist who doesn't cover financial matters. She was pushing me for the culprit behind this mess, and was unsatisfied when I pointed out that there were a lot of good reasons to make most of these bad decisions. Ultimately she cried in frustration, "but somebody must have done it!" This is how we approach the problem: we want villains, guilt, punishment. But when systems fail, they usually fail systemically. If one person, even Alan Greenspan, could bring down the entire edifice, then we'd be in massive trouble, so we should be grateful that it isn't the case.
When you don't want someone to look into the causes of the recent massive economic crises you tell your readers that failure is systemic and too complicated to understand and nobody should be prosecuted for economic crimes. When you want to sell a book called The Up Side Of Down: Why Failing Well Is The Key To Success, you claim success is systemic and too difficult to understand, so we are forced to learn from failure.
And as development economists have proven over and over and over again, those complex webs of interactions are impossible to tease apart into one or two concrete actions. Things can fail, on the other hand, at a single point. And even when they fail in multiple ways, those ways are usually more obvious than the emergent interactions that produced a success.
McArdle goes on to reduce all emergent interactions with Iraq to two neocon bits of propaganda. This is a central feature in McArdle's inability to learn (and therefore teach others to learn) from failure. She starts reasoning from propaganda, not facts. McArdle knew nothing about Iraq and didn't care to learn. She knew a lot about propaganda and how to get hits. A female warblogger in 2001 was money in the bank.

When McArdle went to Penn, she stated, she was liberal because her friends were liberal. She became much more conservative after 9/11 and conservative warbloggers were all the rage. Koch-fed training and ample Koch-fed jobs made her libertarian. No doubt when she succeeds in failing her way to tv punditry she will sink easily into a comfortable stolid conservative ideology like the rest of them.

So Megan McArdle did not make a choice between two bad outcomes. She decided that we were forced to choose between two bad options that would both harm Iraqis. She ignored any information that conflicted with her ideology. She misapplied lessons from history, not taking the time and effort to figure out if they applied to the current situation. And she admitted that she did not think about the effect her decisions would make on Iraqis.

McArdle is considered an intellectual on the right. As Mark Kleiman said:
There’s something about Megan McArdle that drives some of my fellow Blue-team pundits crazy. She’s way smarter, way saner, far more nuanced in her thinking, and a much better writer than most of her Red-team colleagues. She doesn’t fawn on the rich or despise the poor. Her ideas about how to deal with failure fit no ideological mold, and imply policy positions that won’t make her any friends at Cato. But the Rage Against the McArdle seems to run deep in Left Blogistan.
Incidentally,  the Cato Institute will be hosting a forum for McArdle's new book on Feb. 24 in the Hayek Auditorium.

Remember, we examine failure to learn but you cannot learn from failure and you cannot make a decision based on the facts, which are too numerous to tease out.
At the decision point where we decided to go into Iraq, there were two hypotheses we could have tested:  
1) Something terrible will happen if we leave Saddam in power  
2) We can depose Saddam and leave the world a better place We chose to test hypothesis number two. So far, it looks like a dud.
Unlike our bombs.
Since it failed, the more interesting question is not what did you get right, but what did you get wrong.
McArdle has given her reasons for being wrong. She said that she failed to think like Saddam Hussein (and who can blame her?). She also underestimated the time and expense of the war because she had contemplated invading Iraq using the lessons we learned through the successful invasion of Japan and Germany.
a) I overlooked the fact that Japan and Germany were both stable bourgeois nations with solid industrial bases long before we got into the act.  
b) I overlooked the fact that we completely destroyed this nations before occupying and reconstructing them.
Sadly, we are forced to ask ourselves if McArdle has indeed learned how to succeed through failure. We did a rather thorough job of destroying Iraq, we just never bothered to build it up again. McArdle tells us that the reason Iraq wasn't rebuilt was the culture of corruption in Iraq and onerous Iraqi government rules and regulations. McArdle simply claimed that while Iraq might have its difficulties it was being rebuilt, as a rising invasion lifts all boats.
Since the invasion, I think it's pretty clear that living standards have risen (quality of life, which would include the heightened risk of violence, and also the lesser risk of being tortured by your awful authoritarian regime, is a little harder to assess). Access to electricity has improved pretty dramatically, as their government and ours have started to repair Iraq's crumbling infrastructure (though this has been uneven--Baghdad, which used to get 24 hours a day of electricity, now has to share with the rest of the country, so their service level has dropped, making the residents very angry). The sorts of consumer goods that require electricity have also risen substantially, as the lifting of sanctions has made it easier to bring these things into the country. Other basic needs such as potable water, adequate fuel, trash collection, fire service, and so on are also being better filled. Meanwhile, of course, higher oil prices are making the country richer--and since the government employs about half the country's workers, and many more Iraqis receive basic income support from the state, this has translated into a better standard of living for Iraqis.
Because McArdle's thinking begins and ends with ideology, she will never learn from failure.
The people who were right can (and will) rewrite their memories of what they believed to show themselves in the most attractive light; they will come to honestly believe that they were more prescient than they were.
Fortunately many people wrote up their reasons on that thing called the internet and they are still there, prescient as ever. Unlike Jane Galt's archives, which are thoroughly erased.
This is not some attack on people who were against the war: I was wrong, they were right. But everyone does this with almost everything--indeed, not rewriting memory in this way is so rare that there's a clinical term for it. We call it "major depression". They will also quite possibly simply be wrong about how they got it right; correct analysis often operates at a subconscious as well as a conscious level.
You may have been right but not as right as you thought you were or for the same reasons.
The people who failed will also do this. But unlike the people who were right, there is a central fact stopping them from flattering themselves too much: things are blowing up in Iraq and people are dying. Thus they will have to look for some coherent explanation. To be sure, many of those explanations are wan and self-serving--"I trusted too much." But others of them aren't. And the honest ones are vastly more interesting than listening to a parade of people say "Well, obviously, I'm a genius, and also, not mean."
Honest propagandists are vastly more interesting than those mean, stuck-up right people.

Ideology and money rule their world but a lonely, resentful child rules their hearts.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Learning Through Failure

Along with her book media blitz (really, she's going to be everywhere), Megan McArdle is going to appear at the Mercatus Center of George Mason University. Like many of McArdle's places of employment or venues to give speeches, the Center was a happy recipient of Koch funds, this time to the tune of over $30,000,000. Naturally, the Center is not exactly pro-consumer.

The F. A. Hayek Program for Advanced Study in Philosophy, Politics and Economics at the Mercatus Center invites you to a panel discussion featuring Benjamin Powell and his new book, Out of Poverty: Sweatshops in the Global Economy. This book provides a comprehensive defense of third-world sweatshops. It explains how these sweatshops provide the best available opportunity to workers and how they play an important role in the process of development that eventually leads to better wages and working conditions. Using economic theory, Professor Powell argues that much of what the anti-sweatshop movement has agitated for would actually harm the very workers they intend to help by creating less desirable alternatives and undermining the process of development. Nowhere does this book put "profits" or "economic efficiency" above people. Improving the welfare of poorer citizens of third world countries is the goal, and the book explores which methods best achieve that goal. Sweatshops will help readers understand how activists and policy makers can help third world workers. For a preview of this topic, watch this short Learn Liberty video featuring Professor Powell.

We will be pleased to hear from the author, Benjamin Powell, as well as chair, Peter Boettke, and commenters, Matthew Yglesias and Megan McArdle.

We do not need to guess which side McArdle will take; she is pro-sweatshop because it is paternalistic to think that we should force foreigners who manufacture our goods to have safety rules.
[... Should we lean on US and European corporations to impose our safety standards on Bangladesh? Or any safety standards? I don't think that answer is obvious, even if we concede that the Bangladeshi government is inadequately responsive. The obvious critique of such efforts is bascially the same critique that many of the same people made about Iraq: foriegners who impose themselves into a strange country's problems rarely do a very good job. Most of us probably agree that Iraq would be better off as a stable, pluralistic society. But imposing this coercively is problematic, no matter how well intentioned it may be. Even if we don't simply fail through lack of information, we will almost certainly end up subsituting our vision of a good society for the vision that the locals themselves hold, while creating considerable collateral damage in the process. [yipyip] Who's qualified to make that decision? Me, sitting in my comfy Washington office? You can argue that the workers shouldn't face those terrible tradeoffs, but absent an immediate revolution, they do. Should we shut down a factory that provides jobs, and great danger, or should we let it continue to operate, even though it may harm future workers who may not really grasp the risks? I don't know the answer to that in my own country. How can I answer it for Bangladesh? Even if we allow that the Bangladeshi government is thouroughly captured by the garment interests, it doesn't therefore follow that our intervention will be an improvement . . . just as you can think that Saddam Hussein was a horrible dictator who was dreadful for his country, and still think that the Iraq War was a bad idea.
So because invading Iraq was a bad idea, refusing to use sweatshops that kill their employees is a bad idea. Which is an excellent example of how Megan McArdle has learned through failure.

Failure Is For The Rich

The wait for Megan McArdle's new book, How To Succeed In Journalism Without Really Trying, continues! We eagerly anticipate its wealth of information on success through failure. But before we look to the future let us take a little look at the past, when McArdle was a tiny bit less bullish on failing miserably.

Fear Of Failure  
I'm a big proponent of the transformative power of failure. Failure is nature's way of saying "Don't do that any more!", and is therefore a necessary part of achievement and innovation. And so I'm inclined to like this speech very much. On the other hand, something niggles me about the end:
So here is the point: you are going to meet the dragon of failure in your life. You may not get into the school you want, or you may get kicked out of the school you are in. You may get rejected by the girl of your dreams, or, God forbid, get into an accident beyond your control. But the point is, everything happens for a reason. At the time, it may not be clear. And certainly the pain and the shame are going to be overwhelming and devastating. But as sure as the sun comes up, there will come a time on the next day or next week or next year when you will grab that sword and tell him "Be gone, dragon."
This seems like a pretty safe bet when you're talking to Buckley students, who have an ample safety net underneath them to allow them to bounce back from nearly any failure. But would he really say this to, say, a 55 year old man who'd just been fired from his sales job? Bad things--persistent bad things--happen to good people, and while it's comforting to think of them as merely a waystation, for lots of people that isn't really true. It only seems true.
McArdle expected to make a small fortune off of advising corporations and also expected to become a card-carrying member of the Ubermenschen. Nobody who used to blog under the name Jane Galt wants to be a failure and forever cast out of the hallowed halls of money and power. She has gone on to make a small fortune as a journalist but it's just not the same. John Galt, Dagny Taggart and Hank Reardon didn't fail; they were so inherently superior that their every move was successful, as long as the lice and scum stayed out of their way. What is a Jane Galt to do when bad things happen to good little Randians?

(Note: McArdle has said that she posted under the name Jane Galt to tweak a New York Times forum commenter, not because she wanted to call herself Jane Galt in homage to Ayn Rand's hero. No doubt she kept on calling herself Jane Galt because as far as she knew the anonymous irritant was still alive and it was necessary to keep up the pressure.)

Failure is all well and good if you are able to profit from it. McArdle was and yet she still yearned for the good life lost through happenstance and misfortune. Others are usually not as lucky as McArdle, whose father was able to afford an apartment on Manhattan's Upper West Side and a very hefty private school tuition for McArdle so that she would be able to grow up with advantages that are far out of reach of most people.

For most people failure means years of catching up and paying for your mistake, suffering for bad luck or judgment or simply lack of opportunity to succeed. McArdle tells the poor that they could have been successful if they got married and educated and put off child-rearing because it worked for her, just as failure worked for her. However, the poor don't have her opportunities and their failures will not result in success. But they won't be buying her book anyway, so who cares?

Failure, like success, is only beneficial for the rich.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

The Reviews Are Starting To Pour In!

Michael Barone, whose  "presidential predictions were among the least accurate offered by major political observers" and who demonstrated his keen analytical skills by declaring '"journalists trashed Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, the Republicans' vice presidential nominee, because "she did not abort her Down syndrome baby,"' has written a review of Megan McArdle's book, "How Kindergartners Playing With Spaghetti Teaches Us To Throw Shit Against The Wall And See What Sticks." Let's take a look.

America succeeds because Americans fail and forgive. That's the intriguing message -- or part of it -- of Megan McArdle's new book The Up Side of Down: Why Failing Well Is the Key to Success.

McArdle, a Bloomberg blogger and columnist, stands out among economic writers, and not just because she’s the only woman among them who is 6-foot-2. She combines a shrewd knowledge of economics and practical experience with a writing style that every so often segues into comedy monologue.

Americans fail a lot, she argues. Most new businesses fail. Most predictions are wrong. As the screenwriter William Goldman wrote about Hollywood, “Nobody knows anything.”

So don't blame McArdle if she is habitually wrong. Nobody knows anything ever.
And attempts to guard against failure can result in greater failures later on. Children prevented from rough-housing at recess may engage in riskier behavior later. Antibiotic overuse makes bacteria resistant to antibiotics, which then don’t work when you really need them.

But good judgment comes from experience. And experience comes from bad judgment — from failures. The key question is how you respond, whether you learn from failure and rebound.

That's the rub, isn't it? Do you learn or do you simply say you have grown wiser and keep making the same mistakes like McArdle?

Drawing from pre-history, McArdle contrasts farmers and foragers, the hunter-gatherers who lived before the development of agriculture.

Yeah, right. McArdle the anthropologist. We all know what happened the last time she tried to discuss prehistoric hunters.
Foragers tend to share success with neighbors, in the expectation that others will share later. They see success as the result of luck — the hunter who happens to spy a particularly vulnerable mammoth.

Farmers tend to share success only with family members. They see success — a plenteous harvest — as the result of their own families’ hard work and conscientiousness. They see no reason to share it with the lazy and feckless.

This book is going to be a gold mine of stuff McArdle just made up or misinterpreted. I am reminded of McArdle's declaration that the Depression made America more moral because they had to share to survive. Which is why the 1940s bloomed with peace and love.
Americans, in McArdle’s view, have values like those of farmers. Much more than Europeans, they believe that there is a connection between effort and reward. Those who have earned more deserve it.

Europeans tend to believe that success comes mostly from luck. They enlist government to, in President Obama's words to Joe the Plumber, “spread the wealth around.”

Nothing demonstrates keen analytical skill like gross generalizations.
But in some respects Americans behave like foragers. They’re often ready to forgive failures. High-tech entrepreneurs like to hire people whose businesses failed, because it shows a willingness to take chances.

The surest way to get a high tech job is to burn through your venture capital and flame out in a glorious burst of failure.
The United States, McArdle points out, has the most accessible bankruptcy laws in the world. You can slough off your debts (except for student loans) relatively easily. In supposedly progressive Denmark, they hang over you for life.

I don't know anything about Denmark that is outside a Hans Christian Anderson book but I've learned to not take McArdle's word for anything. In the US you can slough off your debts relatively easily in Chapter 7 if you have nothing but must arrange pay your debts back in Chapter 13 if you are not poor. Let's see what the European Union site says about Danish bankruptcies.
Coping with bankruptcy It is possible to start a new company even after bankruptcy. If, however, it is established that the debtor has committed a criminal offence, they generally forfeit their right to found the company, be the managing director or sit on the board of directors. ... Entrepreneurs having experienced bankruptcy should not lose confidence in their ability to embark on a new business.
No doubt McArdle's book clears up this little matter.
The result is that, contrary to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s adage, there are many, many second acts in American life.

Americans also, though McArdle doesn’t mention this, donate far more to charity than Europeans do. Great philanthropists have created beneficial institutions — Andrew Carnegie’s libraries, John D. Rockefeller’s research medical schools, many donors’ universities — which Europe can’t match.
Yeah. No institutions created by rich benefactors in Europe could possibly match those of the US. They have no charity hospitals, libraries, research centers. The schmucks.

McArdle mostly ignores religion, but this blend of farmer property-owning and forager sharing is in line with Christian teaching. There is such a thing as sin, and it should be penalized. But there is also the possibility of forgiveness and redemption and a duty to share in your own way.
"In your own way," not in Jesus' way.

Though not technically part of the Millennial generation (those born after 1980), McArdle presents a Millennials’ view of the world.
Gotta hook that Millennial demographic!

Sudden macroeconomic shifts can result in months of soul-deadening unemployment (she was working in IT just as the dot-com bubble burst).

The future is wildly unpredictable, failure is frequent, success seemingly serendipitous (her freelance blogging got her a job blogging at the Economist).
If you have an Ivy League degree, free room and board and influential parents, friends and teachers you, too, can profit from failure.

Her advice is to avoid enterprises that are in long-term decline, like General Motors starting in the 1970s. In business and public policy, try to learn from well-conducted experiments — but recognize that successful trials can’t always be replicated on a large scale.

That's why she went into journalism. It wasn't in long-term decline.
Don’t rush to conclude that disasters like the 2008 financial crash are the result of conspiracy or the errors of one easily identified group of malefactors. Bubbles happen in any free market economy and are hard to identify until they burst.
There Are No Villains!

“The world is an increasingly insecure place,” she writes, “and there is no way to make it less risky.”

The best way ahead is to admit mistakes quickly, understand that you may well fail but you can usually rebound and punish rule-breaking promptly and consistently but lightly.
Do as I say, not as I do.

This book about people who fail is also a book about how a nation succeeds. The “American Bourgeois Synthesis,” McArdle writes, is good but not perfect, promoting entrepreneurship but over-penalizing some mistakes.

Americans — and America — can succeed but only if people learn from their failures.

Thanks, but we already know that there is a sucker born every minute, and most of them read McArdle already.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Always Wrong. Never In Doubt.

We are entering an enormously exciting time. Megan McArdle's book, How To Turn My Failures Into My Success By Buying My Book, will be released February 11th and she is everywhere to promote it. In her own blog she discusses "Learning From Iraq, Katrina, And Other Policy Disasters" since failure must be on her mind now more than ever. McArdle interviews political scientist Steve Teles, and as always she is as wrong as she is certain.
MM: It's interesting with the financial crisis and the Iraq war. The people who "predicted the crisis," or said the war was a bad idea, were, by and large, not correct about what happened, or why it was a bad idea. 
ST: Yes, that's true. Although, just to be clear, in almost all cases of major policy mistakes, there were people who predicted what would happen. That is, the information that could have allowed you to know what was going to happen was available, but policy makers ignored it or discounted it.
McArdle's book tells us how to succeed through failure, and McArdle states that the people who made the correct assessment regarding the financial crises and the Iraq war just happened to be on the winning side of those issues. Their predictions about the outcome of events were wrong and their analysis of why the events would fail were wrong. This is not true and Dr. Teles was obligated to clarify the issue. Some might have been right for the wrong reasons but plenty of people were right for the right reasons.

Which makes it all the more curious that Megan McArdle was paid to write a book on success through failure. By all rights the people who were right should be the ones being paid to give advice. They should be teaching how to make correct decisions, instead of how to profit from failure while ignoring the consequences of those failures. Of course we need to learn to learn from our mistakes and improve our ability to reason but we do not need to indulge the callous, careless warbloggers and economically illiterate econobloggers while they attempt to cash in for a little while longer.