Atlas Shrugged: The Mocking

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

The Rod and the Cross

Get off the cross. Someone else needs the wood. (TM tengrain)

We will begin our study of Rod Dreher with his second book, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming: A Southern Girl, a Small Town, and the Secret of a Good Life because it was the first to be delivered to my library.

The title of Rod's book immediately calls to mind the story of Saint Therese of Lisiex, the "little flower," as it no doubt is meant to do. St. Therese was a young nun who found relief in abasing herself as much as possible and enjoyed suffering from tuberculosis. She said:

Love proves itself by deeds, so how am I to show my love? Great deeds are forbidden me. The only way I can prove my love is by scattering flowers and these flowers are every little sacrifice, every glance and word, and the doing of the least actions for love.

The Little Way of St. Therese is the devotion of every little action of one's life to God.

For me, prayer is a movement of the heart; it is a simple glance toward Heaven; it is a cry of gratitude and love in times of trial as well as in times of joy; finally, it is something great, supernatural, which expands my soul and unites me to Jesus...I have not the courage to look through books for beautiful prayers...I do like a child who does not know how to read; I say very simply to God what I want to say, and He always understands me.

Dreher's book is the story of his sister Ruth and the way in which her goodness revealed Dreher's specialness and sanctity. Through her life devoted to her family, teaching job, and community, she showed the superiority of Rod Dreher and his chosen ways of life. Her death purified and sanctified Rod and perhaps everyone else and the beautiful tale is overflowing with God's gifts and special attentions to him. And Ruth.

Rod first became aware that there was something special about his younger sister when, at about five years old, she begged her father to beat her with a belt instead of Rod for something obnoxious he had done. Despite the deep impression her attempted sacrifice made on him, Rod could not recall what he had done to deserve the beating. He did, however, remember the exact words she used, and that her father couldn't beat either one of them due to the sweet purity of her act.

Despite the fact that they both grew up in the country, Rod condescends to refer to his sister as a "country mouse" and to himself as a "city mouse." The two could not have been more different and Rod didn't realize her specialness at first, although he describes her as "quite possibly the kindest person many people in our Louisiana parish had ever met." One aspect of her specialness, which Rod mentions twice in the first two pages of the book, is her Little Way of frequently beating up her brother when his teasing irritated her past all patience.

Rod lovingly related all the times in which his sister showed him up in sports, speed and strength, in competitiveness, in closeness and rapport with their parents, and in popularity. She had lots of friends and "no enemies," said Rod, and their mother said she was "just kind of magical." He describes their childhood in the small town of Starhill as halcyon days of baseball games, fishing, and neighborly closeness that Rod did not always feel part of. When a local boy died and Rod overheard his father and another man weeping. "I didn't know how to take it, and went away," he said; it was not the last time Rod didn't understand those around him.

Despite Rod's penchant for needling his sister, his physical description of himself as "pudgy, weak and embarrassingly uncoordinated," his inability to hunt without gagging, and his preference for television, comic books and novels instead of the outdoor activities beloved of almost every other boy in the community, Rod said he "had been one of the most popular kids in my class." And despite Ruth's penchant for whaling the tar out of Rod, when he was jumped by two of his "pals" in childhood, Ruthie came to his rescue. But Ruth couldn't help Rod when, "for some reason," everyone in his school turned on him and hazed him during a class trip. The event made an indelible impression on 14-year-old Rod, so much so that the rest of the first chapter is devoted entirely to his suffering.

In 19 all-too-brief pages we are shown the course of Ruth's childhood which formed her character and made her into the saint that she became, along with extensive detours into Rod's life, character and travails. "Ruthie and I knew we were in a special family," Rod said. "Our family was happy and secure."

"Paw was a strict disciplinarian, but he didn't have to do it [beat them with a belt] often because we had such respect for him and for Mam. He was the kind of man you wanted to please because he seemed so strong, so wise, and so good.... We hero-worshipped him, Ruthie and I did."

Unfortunately, Paw didn't think much of Rod, as Rod explains in loving detail. "Me, the kind of man I was, I wanted you to be outside, with me," his father said.

"During this time I fought often with my father. I honestly can't remember what we argued over, but I remember him being frustrated with my outcast status.... It was especially hard for my strong-willed father, who could not empathize with a son whose way of seeing the world was increasingly alien to his own. In one of our yelling matches Paw accused me of bringing all this on myself for being so obstinately strange. And that's when I knew how alone I was."
Paw fought with Rod all the time. "To my father for me to disagree with him on important matters was not simply to be mistaken. It was to reject him and what he stood for. You can imagine the hurt he suffered. You can imagine the frustration I endured." Actually we don't need to imagine because Rod covers it in great detail. Rod tells of how his father buckled under and did what his own parents wanted instead of what he wanted to do. Paw endured family disapproval and rejection but did his duty anyway, putting family and community first. The least Rod could have done was reinforce the validity of Paw's sacrifices by doing the same but Rod refused.

Rod's only consolation as a child was his two ancient great-great aunts, who petted him but rejected Ruth, not caring for little girls. They described their adventures in France to little Rod and read his palm, mystically predicting he would travel far as they had. They met famous people and ate exotic foods, had expensive and fine works of art, read the newspapers and discussed world events with the little boy, and Rod adored the special attention they gave him and him alone. As an adult Rod continued to feel special through fine foods, travel and writing.

Ruth's Little Way blossomed in her teenage years, where her saintly "doing of the least actions for love" manifested as happy days spent working hard in school, hanging out at beery parties with her friends, and making out with her boyfriend and eventual husband Mike. Mike became the son Paw never had, one who actually enjoyed being with him and learning from him. Ruth was class valedictorian and homecoming queen and fit in with the elite students that tormented young Rod until he escaped to a public boarding school for gifted and talented students. Ruth's girlhood speeds by in 14 short pages and before we know it Ruth and Rod are both attending LSU. But Ruth was still the simple girl with, Rod pointed out over and over, a simple mind and simple heart.

During the week [Ruth] stayed buried in her books, worked hard, and made perfect grades. I was studying journalism, philosophy, political science, and considered long, beery arguments over existentialism with my fellow young scholars to be time well spent. My college transcript, while respectable, does not support this generous interpretation.

At LSU Ruthie thought I was getting away with something, and not only because I managed to ace tests even though I had stayed out late drinking beer and barely studied. she my have experienced on campus the same frustration and envy I felt when Ruthie triumphed on every front back home with so little effort. Worse, Ruthie could not understand what I studied, and what engaged me intellectually, and therefore she regarded it with suspicion, even loathing.  
One evening she shared a table in the cafeteria with my best friend Paul and me. Paul, a political theory major and I, minoring in philosophy and political science, loved to talk about big ideas. That evening we got off on something about Nietzsche and the death of God. Ruthie listened patiently, but finally lost her cool. She told us she thought that was the "stupidest bunch of you-know-what" that she had ever heard.  
"What is wrong with y'all? she said. "Listen to you. You sit here for hours talking about his crap, and it doesn't mean anything. You're just talking; you're not doing anything.  
We thought she was putting us on, but Ruthie wasn't joking.  
"I'm serious, y'all," she said. "I don't understand the two of you. I really don't . What good is any of this y'all are talking about going to do anybody? Do you really think you're going to support yourselves with this stuff? What does any of it mean in the real world?"  
She wouldn't listen to anything either of us had to say in defense of philosophy or philosophizing. At the time I thought Ruthie's prickly anti-intellectualism was funny.
Despite her holiness, Ruth underestimated Rod's ability to talk (and write) endlessly about nothing and sell his nothings to conservative venues eager to publish rambling, pseudo-intellectual moralizing,  spiteful, angry attacks on people Rod considered his enemies, and self-satisfied, condescending observations of people Rod considered his inferiors.

When Ruth's first daughter was born Rod tried to return home and his father was triumphant. Rod was horrified that his father thought Rod was finally giving in and reinforcing his father's values instead of accepting and appreciating his son for who he was. He left home once again but Rod never stopped trying to get approval and acceptance and what he did get was never enough because it wasn't from his father and sister.  He turned each of his likes and dislikes into movements and crusades. His elitism became the Crunch Con movement, as he tried to show that his way was the right and moral and only way to live and he deflected his anger at his family by showering scorn on people who lived in McMansions or refused to homeschool their children.

Rod's suffering is central and foremost to his depiction of Ruth and her Little Way.  He subtitles his book "the secret to a good life" but alas, the secret is never revealed to him because he is so different from Ruth. Rod tells us that he is complex where Ruth is simple in mind and faith, stubbornly set in her mind where "it was my nature to investigate, to dissect, to analyze." Ruth hated elitism and extravagance while Rod loved eating elite foods, renting grand homes, and mixing with the great and powerful at places such as National Review (one assumes; he never mentions that job). Every shopping trip to buy imported ham or every fine bottle of wine reinforced Rod's elite status in his own eyes but Ruth just didn't understand their or his importance in the world.

Ruth's inability to appreciate Rod's specialness affected their relationship for the rest of her brief life. While Ruth taught school and gave birth to three daughters, Mike joined the National Guard, served in Iraq, and became a fireman. Rod made "twice their salary combined" writing movie review in New York for the New York Post and his wife Julie worked at Commentary with "a number of the leading intellectual polemicists and essayists of our time," such as John Podhoretz, Elliot Abrams, and  Marty Peretz. Rod's visits home were always filled with tension as Ruth stubbornly refused to appreciate Rod's "important work" in journalism and as intellectual thought leader.

His overwhelming need to feel special to compensate for his family's rejection sent him on a permanent religious quest, to get from God what he could not get from them. He joined the Catholic Church, attracted to the grandeur of its possessions and its self-soothing rituals. Its enemies became his enemies and he raged at and scorned gays, blaming them for the priest's rapes and molestations.  Ruth told him he was "holier-than-thou." He bought icons, relics, rosaries, and prayer ropes, went on pilgrimages and prayed obsessively. He saw miracles everywhere, telling himself that the Blessed Virgin Mary took time out of her busy afterlife to bathe him in the scent of roses, that angels and dead relatives visited him and his family. He became Orthodox Christian for the mysticism. He said, "I don't know what my sister thought of this, but if she gave it any thought at all, she probably figured it was more of her flighty brother's churchy nonsense."

Whenever Rod visited home he patiently tried to explain to her why public schools were cultural and moral wastelands but inexplicably the public school teacher was not impressed that Julie homeschooled their children because it was the only moral way to raise children. Ross's alienation from home and family became the country's alienation from family and community.
"I had spent my professional life writing newspaper columns, blog posts, and even a book, lamenting the loss of community and traditions in American life. I had a reputation as a pop theoretician of cultural decline, but in truth I was long on words, short on deeds.... My friends and I talked a lot about the fragmentation of the modern family, about the deracinating effects of late capitalism, about mass media and the erosion of localist consciousness, about the consumerization of religion and the levanthian state and every other thing under the sun that undermines our sense of home and permanence."
But Ruth's illness from lung cancer and death revealed that for some people, community support and family love still existed. Rod badly wanted what Ruth had and couldn't understand why she didn't like or respect him despite all his great accomplishments and refined, godly nature.  "Ruthie plainly loved me, but she just as plainly though that I was a snob and a fraud," he said. He wrote The Little Way as a glorification of what he had once rejected, imbuing Ruth with sanctity and telling himself that her suffering had purified him, Rod Dreher, and brought him closer to God and family. As the book closes Rod and family move back home to have "the opportunity to be a part of something extraordinary." He rented a beautiful house in the Historic District and pictured himself "sipping bourbon and putting the world to rights." He felt "the grace around us, pushing us forward."

Rod and Julie "made sure to explain [to their Philadelphia friends] that we weren't moving away from something bad-we loved them, and we loved our Philly life-but toward something good." Their friends all were no doubt grateful for the Rod Dreher Seal of Approval despite their failure to appreciate rural life because they all immediately told Rod that he was right and they were lacking something in their lives. But it didn't work. Rod still felt unwanted and unappreciated by his father and developed a new movement and wrote a new book about using Dante to find one's way in life.

Recently Rod's father died, forever denying him his unconditional love,  and he is now pushing yet another book in which he tells his readers that the only way to live is to retreat from others into a small, tightly knit community of Orthodox Christians. He still battles his enemies, for Islam and secular humanism are trying to destroy his little communities, just like gays destroyed the Catholic Church and the cool kids in high school destroyed his happy childhood.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

A Hanky For Megan

As we have seen in the past, it is possible to obtain Megan McArdle's sympathy if she personally sees or has personally experienced your suffering. (See: unemployment.) While avoiding any blogging on the drug pricing scandal, McArdle took the time to (over)write an ode to Syrian refugee suffering.

Her commenters are having none of it. Attracted to McArdle's work by the natural section of their own lack of empathy, they are now informing the little miss that the refugees are just gold-digging proto-terrorists.

You get the commenters you deserve, which is why Roy Edroso's comment section is awesome.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

There Are None So Blind As Those Who Will Not See

Clock-truther Rod Dreher backs up his crazy by using his son.
One of those teenagers [upset about Ahmed Mohammad] is my electronics geek son, who was initially furious over what happened to Ahmed, but now thinks Ahmed is a plagiarizing little punk. My son said to me last night, wearing his MIT t-shirt, “I’m actually inventing things, but this kid is getting all the intention for something he didn’t even invent. This is really disappointing.”
Dreher's son supported Ahmed at first, identifying with the other boy's love of electronics. Then something happened to change his mind. That something is almost certainly dear old Dad. It might be that Dreher is passing on his sense of entitlement and bottomless resentments as well as his bigotry.
You know what’s interesting about the Talbot part of that story? That here’s a scientist offering an analysis that debunks what might be a tall tale, but the Social Justice Warriors want to shut him up because his analysis might disprove the initial narrative. I jumped to conclusions about Ahmed’s clock the first time, so I’m not going to do it now.
Dreher immediately goes on to jump to conclusions. Dreher always makes observations that he then ignores. It's incredible. He can see a problem and see the effect of that problem but invariably goes on to embrace the problematic action.
But what these geeks show us makes the entire episode look very fishy. The early Ahmed Truthers on this blog who suspected the kid was put up to this stunt by his attention-seeking gadfly of a father might have been on to something. Whatever the truth is, it seems at least likely that Ahmed did not “invent” anything. That may not justify the overreaction of school officials and the Irving police, but it’s worth seriously considering, if Ahmed did, in fact, plagiarize this device, whether or not he was trying to provoke exactly this kind of overreaction. Somebody needs to get to the bottom of this — or has the story become too useful for the White House and others who rushed to Ahmed’s defense to discredit?
If you looked up "attention-seeking gadfly" in the dictionary you would find a picture of Dreher.

ADDED: A commenter warns Rod to avoid emotional reactions:

We need Conservatives to be cool, calm, and collected, especially our best thinkers – so as to offer the perfect opposite of the prevailing sentiment. I understand this must be difficult in blog format where one is expected to opine on the day’s cultural news. I am thinking here, too, of the immature reaction from a lot of the Right around the early stages of information flow regarding the Trayvon and Michael Brown incidents.

We need you, Rod…and we need you to be penetrating!

Yes, conservatives need a penetrating Rod.

Monday, September 21, 2015

The Comments Section Strikes Back

Too funny. From one of the McArdle's posts on Greece:

  • I would just like to thank McMegan for maintaining a united front with every other journalist and commentator covering Greece by telling us ABSOLUTELY NOTHING WHATSOEVER about any relevant facts, such as:
    - the specifics of Greece's fiscal policy status quo or status quo ante;
    - the demands of its creditors;
    - the counter-proposals of the Greek government;
    - the likely effects of the creditor demands;
    - the likely effects of the counter-proposals;
    - the views of any other parties, Right, Left or Center, about responding to creditor demands (e.g.: Does Golden Dawn even have its own position on Grexit?).
    After reading McMegan, and every other "analytical" piece on the Greek Debt Crisis, I have expended much time, expended non-trivial mental effort, and still have no firm basis for an informed opinion about the merits. Congratulations on going all the way to Athens and back without ever tipping your hand, even slightly, to your readers.
    • I wrote the piece on the party positions on Friday. The Communists want Grexit, slowly, not now; Popular Unity wanted to reject the third memorandum but didn't make parliament; Golden Dawn is the only large "tear it all down" presence left, and they got 7% of the vote. If you read those two together, you would have that information. What exactly is it that you would like me to summarize about the third memorandum--linked from the Friday piece, I might mention--other than that it calls for a series of tight structural administrative reforms combined with higher taxes and better enforcement? Which is also kind of mentioned in the piece? Would you have liked a blow by blow list of each little tax and administrative bullet point? Or do you feel that the internet would be a more informative place if I joined left-wing journalists in ranting about how the creditors are big fat dummies who don't get Keynesian economics?
          • Well that clarifies everything. Just like the GOP wants "smaller government" that is shorn of "waste, fraud and abuse." Now we can accept your assessment of the situation with confidence.

              • " Or do you feel that the internet would be a more informative place if I joined left-wing journalists in ranting about how the creditors are bigfat dummies who don't get Keynesian economics? Yes, it probably would. 

                The Greek debt cannot be repaid--you might want to cover that little detail while you're giving the austerians a big massage. According to the IMF (not me.)

              What I think Greece needs is someone, or some people, who will give up any hope of future political careers, and simply do any slashing and burning that's necessary. Those people would do well to take heed of General Sherman's advice about war: "There's no use trying to reform it. The crueler it is, the sooner it'll be over." The same could be said about strong economic leadership like firing unnecessary employees and really, truly collecting taxes. Then they can step aside to let people with no connection to them, no baggage, start with a fresh slate. At some point down the road, after the dust had settled, it would become clear what a blessing they were.

                • The problem is, the leadership of a nation cannot run it single-handedly. If the bureaucracy is corrupt or ineffectual, it makes all commands from on high quite a bit harder to implement.

                  • What exactly is supposed to be "slashed and burned" to the benefit of others?
                    What is the actual "scarcity" that is supposed to be addressed by this austerity?
                    Who does it help when we throw dumpsters full of food into landfills while people go hungry?

                      • What austerity?

                          • Whatever austerity the creditors are demanding of the Greek government, the specifics of which I do not know because NO ONE EVER GIVES THE SPECIFICS.

                              • Read the memorandum. I linked it on Friday. They give all the specifics. The reason people don't dive into the specifics is that they are very, very specific. The 30,000 feet summary is "higher taxes, better enforcement, administrative reforms to make Greece's civil service more productive"--i.e. exactly what you've been reading from every journalist writing about it.

                                Great idea. I'll just follow this daisy chain back to the hyperlink to the "Third Memorandum" and pluck through it myself. Because God forbid a working journalist actually give a coherent summary of the underlying factual issues for the layperson.

                                  • That rather was my point. Since you don't know the specifics, how do you know it's fair to call it austerity?

                                      • Because that is what everyone else calls it, and it might be sorta confusing if I decided to call it "asparagus" or "Voltron-lions" or "Trumphair." So I use the same word everybody else does.
                                        You got a problem with that, friendo?

                                A Different Type Of Piggish Scandal

                                Yes, I said I was fed up with Megan McArdle. And I have work to do. But I could not ignore this story; many thanks to cynic for the link. From The New York Times:

                                Specialists in infectious disease are protesting a gigantic overnight increase in the price of a 62-year-old drug that is the standard of care for treating a life-threatening parasitic infection.

                                The drug, called Daraprim, was acquired in August by Turing Pharmaceuticals, a start-up run by a former hedge fund manager. Turing immediately raised the price to $750 a tablet from $13.50, bringing the annual cost of treatment for some patients to hundreds of thousands of dollars.

                                “What is it that they are doing differently that has led to this dramatic increase?” said Dr. Judith Aberg, the chief of the division of infectious diseases at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. She said the price increase could force hospitals to use “alternative therapies that may not have the same efficacy.”

                                Turing’s price increase is not an isolated example. While most of the attention on pharmaceutical prices has been on new drugs for diseases like cancer, hepatitis C and high cholesterol, there is also growing concern about huge price increases on older drugs, some of them generic, that have long been mainstays of treatment.

                                Although some price increases have been caused by shortages, others have resulted from a business strategy of buying old neglected drugs and turning them into high-priced “specialty drugs.”

                                 McArdle's solution for the hepatitis C high price tag was to have the government pick up the tab. That's an odd solution for a libertarian but obviously that just means McArdle contains multitudes. The government should do this because, as McArdle has always said, drug innovation depends on high US drug prices. She does not note that the company that owns the drug did not develop the drug itself; it bought the company that did, which used government-funded research.

                                So the optimal pricing strategy -- for everyone, not just pharmaceutical companies -- is to charge rich countries a lot and sell the drug at near-marginal cost in poor countries. If the rich countries insist that they should also get the drug near-marginal cost, then they benefit in the short term. But over the long run, the company loses money on its products, and then we don't get any new drugs.

                                See also:


                                The former hedge fund manager is Martin Shkreli.

                                This is not the first time the 32-year-old Mr. Shkreli, who has a reputation for both brilliance and brashness, has been the center of controversy. He started MSMB Capital, a hedge fund company, in his 20s and drew attention for urging the Food and Drug Administration not to approve certain drugs made by companies whose stock he was shorting.

                                In 2011, Mr. Shkreli started Retrophin, which also acquired old neglected drugs and sharply raised their prices. Retrophin’s board fired Mr. Shkreli a year ago. Last month, it filed a complaint in Federal District Court in Manhattan, accusing him of using Retrophin as a personal piggy bank to pay back angry investors in his hedge fund.

                                Mr. Shkreli has denied the accusations. He has filed for arbitration against his old company, which he says owes him at least $25 million in severance. “They are sort of concocting this wild and crazy and unlikely story to swindle me out of the money,” he said.

                                You can find more details of Shkreli's malfeasance here.

                                I think we can safely predict that McArdle's free market fairy tale will not change when confronted with any new and/or damaging information. Right now she is busy discussing Greece's need for more austerity and busy not discussing Greece's poverty.

                                Thursday, September 17, 2015

                                Story Time

                                "You don't know much," said the Duchess, "and that's a fact."

                                I am learning so much from Megan McArdle. I just discovered that if you make a mistake that damages your argument you can erase the mistake, not mention the little fact that you erased your mistake, and go on your merry way. No doubt to make as many more mistakes as you please because it's not like you are a real journalist or analyst anyway; why bother holding someone to professional ethics and standards when they are just putting on an act?

                                True, it's odd that Bloomberg publishes a fictional column which has every appearance of being a factual column but now it is clear that McArdle is a storyteller, not a journalist. She makes up Free Market fairy tales and relates them to her kindergartners readers, who enjoy the little tales enormously. Everybody wins except for the people who could be damaged by her little fictions and they obviously don't count.

                                In her recent post How Hash Hash Went So, So, Hash Wrong Hash Hash Hash, McArdle said that the faulty 2012 rollout of the website was a contributing factor to the Republican's House win in 2010. You will not know this unless you read the comments because McArdle erased her mistake without making a note that she had done so. Erasable McArdle is so much more diligent than non-eraseable McArdle!

                                Not to split hairs, but the GOP took the House in 2010, not 2012. Obamacare played a part in those midterms, but did not.

                                  The Democrats lost the House of Representatives in 2010... not 2012.
                                  (or Jan 2011 if you want to get hyper-technical about it)

                                  "(although not sure that the failure of the website is the reason the House went GOP. Certainly a contributing factor, but only one of many)."
                                  The House went GOP in the 2010 election. The website wasn't an obvious failure until 2013. So, no, not a factor.

                                  You can see in the above quote exactly what McArdle said. That parenthetical quote is now gone. This is what her post says now:

                                  They couldn’t, because they still lacked the votes to break a filibuster, and in 2012, Obamacare cost them the House of Representatives.

                                  Since McArdle's material keeps appearing and disappearing like the Cheshire Cat's smile, let's reprint the end of her post. If/when an admittance of error magically appears we will be able to see the difference.

                                  [...]architects didn’t understand how big it was. The holes in the legislation created an impossible management structure. And the federal contracting system was optimized to prevent corruption rather than deliver working systems on time and on budget.

                                  It’s hard to see how spending more hours creating and reading reports would have fixed any of these problems. At best, it would just have provided slightly better documentation of the disaster in progress.

                                  This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

                                  To contact the author of this story:
                                  Megan McArdle at

                                  To contact the editor responsible for this story:
                                  Philip Gray at

                                  At this point I feel like I am complaining that the clown is wearing clown make-up and making pratfalls and throwing buckets of glitter. Of course she is. What else would a clown do?

                                  One of the fractured fairy tales in her post: rules and regulations just get in the way of business deals, which are based on trusting relationships.

                                  A client is a long-term relationship; you want to preserve that.

                                  But the federal contracting system specifically discourages these sorts of relationships, because relationships might lead to something unfair happening. (In fact, the report specifically faults CMS for not documenting that one of the people involved in the process had previously worked for a firm that was bidding.) Instead the process tries to use rules and paperwork to substitute for reputation and trust. There’s a reason that private companies do not try to make this substitution, which is that it’s doomed.

                                  Yes, you end up with some self-dealing; people with the authority to spend money on outside vendors dine very well, can count on a nice fruit basket or bottle of liquor at Christmas, and sometimes abuse their power in other less savory ways. But the alternative is worse, because relying entirely on rules kills trust, and trust is what helps you get the best out of your vendors.

                                  Trust is open ended: You do your best for me, I do my best for you. That means that people will go above and beyond when necessary, because they hope you’ll be grateful and reciprocate in the future. Rules, by contrast, are both a floor and a ceiling; people do the minimum, which is also the maximum, because what do they get out of doing more?

                                  McArdle should watch an episode of American Greed some time.

                                  This is the same woman who said that people in the financial industry had no incentive to manipulate the system.
                                  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.

                                  Another example of McArdle's storytelling habit:

                                  Once upon a time, there was a country with a housing market that started to rise. As the market started to rise, housing defaults started to fall. They fell not because people had gotten wiser about borrowing, or better at managing their money, but because borrowers in a rising housing market virtually never need to default; they can always simply sell the house, walking away with whatever equity is left over after paying off the mortgage.

                                  Lenders loved this. "Splendid! If default has become less likely," the lenders said, "we do not need to worry so much about things like down payments or credit histories. Who cares if they can't pay the mortgage each month; if they get into trouble, they'll just sell the house and pay us."

                                   I have to stop reading McArdle. There is no point in fact-checking fiction. Nobody cares that she lies. Nobody will ever hold her to account. Nobody holds anybody to account, from Obama to Trump to McArdle. (Except the poor, of course.) I am wasting my time.

                                  Go, little liar! Fly free and fly high! Enjoy screwing over the poor! It's not like I can do anything about it anyway.

                                  Wednesday, September 16, 2015


                                  Shorter Megan McArdle: Nobody in the government can do anything ever.

                                  Conservative Man: You sit here, dear.

                                  Conservative Wife: All right.

                                  Man: Morning!

                                  Megan McArdle: Morning!

                                  Man: Well, what've you got?

                                  McArdle: Well, there's egg and bacon; egg sausage and bacon; egg and hash; egg bacon and hash; egg bacon sausage and hash; hash bacon sausage and hash; hash egg hash hash bacon and hash; hash sausage hash hash bacon hash tomato and hash.

                                  Commenters: Hash hash hash hash...

                                  McArdle: ...hash hash hash egg and hash; hash hash hash hash hash hash baked beans hash hash hash.

                                  Commenters: Hash! Lovely hash! Lovely hash!

                                  McArdle: ...or Lobster Thermidor a Crevette with a mornay sauce served in a Provencale manner with shallots and aubergines garnished with truffle pate, brandy and with a fried egg on top and hash.

                                  Wife: Have you got anything without hash?

                                  McArdle: Well, there's hash egg sausage and hash, that's not got much hash in it.

                                  Wife: I don't want ANY hash!

                                  Man: Why can't she have egg bacon hash and sausage?

                                  Wife: THAT'S got hash in it!

                                  Man: Hasn't got as much hash in it as hash egg sausage and hash, has it? Commenters: Hash hash hash hash...

                                  Wife: Could you do the egg bacon hash and sausage without the hash then?

                                  McArdle: Urgghh!

                                  Wife: What do you mean 'Urgghh'? I don't like hash!

                                  Commenters: Lovely hash! Wonderful hash!

                                  McArdle: Shut up!

                                  Commenters: Lovely hash! Wonderful hash!

                                  McArdle: Shut up! (Commenters stop) Bloody commenters! You can't have egg bacon hash and sausage without the hash.

                                  Wife: I don't like hash!

                                  Man: Sshh, dear, don't cause a fuss. I'll have your hash. I love it. I'm having hash hash hash hash hash hash hash beaked beans hash hash hash and hash!

                                  Commenters: Hash hash hash hash. Lovely hash! Wonderful hash!

                                  McArdle: Shut up!! Baked beans are off.

                                  Man: Well could I have her hash instead of the baked beans then?

                                  McArdle: You mean hash hash hash hash hash hash...

                                  Commenters: Hash hash hash hash. Lovely hash! Wonderful hash! Hash ha-a-a-a-a-ash hash ha-a-a-a-a-ash hash. Lovely hash! Lovely hash! Lovely hash! Lovely hash! Lovely hash! Hash hash hash hash!

                                  Tuesday, September 15, 2015

                                  Today's Blue Plate Special: More Hash!

                                  Today's Megan McArdle rehash: There were no villains in the 2008 crash.
                                  Bubbles are not fundamentally about evil people doing evil things. They are not even about stupid people doing stupid things. No, the problem with bubbles is worse: It's quite ordinary people, doing stupid things that a trick of the light has made appear very smart.

                                  McArdle also discussed this in There Are No Villains in Financial Crises, Villains of the Piece,  an appearance on CNN with Matt Taibbi  and The Government's Role in the Housing Bubble.   There are probably more posts on the subject as well. It is not surprising that a blogger would revisit a topic but it is notable that she would continue to peddle the same debunked material for years.

                                  McArdle adds variety and changes focus on her rehashes but whether or not you serve it with catsup or poached eggs on top, it's all hash.

                                  Monday, September 14, 2015

                                  Post Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc

                                  We all remember that Megan McArdle lied about data to support her attempt to destroy subsidies for the poor so they could afford to buy health insurance like the middle and upper classes, who usually get subsidized insurance through their jobs. I apologize for rehashing old material but it is necessary because McArdle is still attempting to tell the same lies. She now skips over data and merely restates her premise, confident that there is nothing anyone can do to hold her to account. She is right.

                                  But the truth is always the truth, no matter how many lies are told.
                                  [yap yap yip] Right now, the U.S. accounts for a disproportionate share of the profits that make it attractive to keep looking for new drugs, precisely because we do not have a pricing board that attempts to hold down reimbursements to levels closer to marginal cost. That means we're providing a disproportionate share of the incentive for new research. Every so often, there is a clamor about lowering our prices and forcing other countries to pay their "fair share" of research costs, but there is no practical way to do it. So the only question is, are we willing to subsidize new research?
                                  I am not arguing that the current prices of these drugs reflects some platonic ideal of value, or that the free market has found the best possible combination of affordability and incentive for innovation. As I mentioned above, the pharmaceutical market has all sorts of strange wrinkles that make it hard to assess the value they are delivering for the prices they charge.  
                                  However, people who are advocating for a government price-setting board cannot simply say, "Well, there are some issues with the way that pharmaceuticals are priced." The onus is on them to show that the government would do a better job of determining the tradeoff between innovation and current prices than the market already does -- that it would not, for example, set prices artificially low in order to reap temporary political benefit, at the expense of future generations who would then have to go without beneficial treatments. And perhaps they will. But saying "Merck could still make drugs with a 9 percent profit margin" is hardly adequate.
                                  Unfortunately, making that case is hard, because the systems in other countries are smaller, and benefit from that implicit subsidy from the U.S. There's no way to see what the world would look like if the U.S. decided to hold prices closer to marginal cost, except by moving to a pricing board and accepting the risk that we might be shooting the goose that's laying the golden eggs.
                                  Look, Ma, no data! See how easy that was? We already subsidize research via the government but trying to fight lies with facts is crazy talk. McArdle would just hide behind even more vague statement and implications. You'd have to be an idiot to fight back.
                                  susanoftexas • 3 days ago You said you made up the statistics that were the basis for this claim. From your Washington Post chat:  
                                  Anonymous: You said that medical innovation will be wiped out if we have a type of national health care, because European drug companies get 80% of their revenue from Americans. Where did you get this statistic?  
                                  Megan McArdle: It wasn't a statistic--it was a hypothetical.  
                                  McMegan > susanoftexas • 3 days ago As I believe I explained after that exchange, I had confused the question with a different post than the one the questioner referred to. I also stopped using that stat, because I don't think it's reliable. However, I don't think we need to relitigate an offhand remark in a web chat that is now seven years in the past. It's basically arithmetic. If we agree that drug prices for brand names are higher here--and we all do!--then mathematically, the US must be producing a disproportionate share of the profits for new drugs.  
                                  If you think this is not the case, could you explain where you think the extra spending on drugs that we're all complaining about is going. Is it being diverted to complicated money laundering operations that place most of it in the hands of someone other than the company, its managers, or its shareholders? Are pharmaceutical firms paying higher taxes here than in the United States? Is it being destroyed by the hyperinflation of the US dollar? Is FDA overregulation making it unprofitable to release drugs here? What is your working theory of what happens to the money that does not produce disproportionate profits on new drugs in the United States?
                                  McArdle attempts to confuse the issue by switching to a discussion of whether or not the US provides most profit for drugs. This is a time-honored trick of propagandists; get the enemy to agree with something-anything-and use that distraction to insist you are right about the main point. It is a big mistake to engage in an argument created only to distract.
                                  susanoftexas > McMegan • 3 days ago If I were you I would not base my claims on my ability to do arithmetic.  
                                  McMegan > susanoftexas • 3 days ago I am more than happy for you to correct my arithmetic and tell me where the money is going.  
                                  ratiocination > McMegan • 3 days ago It's moot! Seven years is wayyy past the statute of limitations for Internet errors (or non-errors - I'm disinclined to see what the other poster is referring to because it's, well, moot). A skier who doesn't fall down once in a while is not trying hard enough. A pundit who does not go out on a limb, only to see the limb break, isn't being bold enough. Keep on keeping on! A divided and uneasy nation looks forward to your thought-provoking essays, cogency, and engaging writing style.
                                  "Going out on a limb" is an interesting way of describing lies.

                                  JoshInca > ratiocination • 2 days ago I can't believe that I agree with rationalization. What's next, cats and dogs sleeping together?  
                                  susanoftexas > McMegan • 3 days ago It is up to you to explain, not me. You admitted you made up your statistics. Perhaps it would be a good idea to do a little investigative journalism and find out. You can start off with this.  
                                  McMegan > susanoftexas • 3 days ago This about sums up my opinion of Marcia Angell's incredible lack of understanding of how businesses and investment works. Or as I said above: budget decisions and investment decisions are very different. If you confuse them, you go badly astray.
                                  McArdle has never analyzed Angell's work herself for obvious reasons.
                                  SgtFraggleRock > susanoftexas • 3 days ago You cut out the rest of her statement: "However, whenever I have been able to find pharma financial statements that break down their profits by region, the lion's share always comes from the US." For those who want the full context:
                                  And the trap is sprung.
                                  susanoftexas > SgtFraggleRock • 3 days ago McArdle:  
                                  'A reader sends in this note: "I am a former tax lawyer who worked for years on pharmaceutical international transfer pricing cases. The basis for such cases revolves around what share of profits is attributable to a given country. Let me tell you, you will never get an accurate figure, because no such figure exists - all the numbers are purely notional.  
                                  For this reason, any number as to the percentage of pharma profits made in the U.S. should be treated as arbitrary and bogus. It will entirely depend on how the costs were allocated, which will differ from company to company, and may even differ from one company's financial statements to its tax returns."  
                                  I find this argument pretty compelling. So it looks like I got taken, at least in the sense that there's probably no way to come up with an estimate that I would find acceptable. I wouldn't have put that number in a blog post, because I would have looked for better corroboration, and I'm sorry that I used it when responding on the fly, which I did several times.  
                                  I'm now adding this to my long list of "dark numbers", with the best available proxy being the global sales of New Chemical Entities. Two thirds of those, not more than three quarters, occur in the United States, versus about a quarter in Europe. You can argue about what the fixed costs are in various places, but as my correspondent implies, given how much cross border activity there is, the problem seems to be indeterminate, so I'll stick with a number we know. This doesn't really change my assessment of the problem, since 2/3 is still pretty overwhelming, but statistics matter.  
                                  On a side note, the reason I said 80% was a hypothetical in the Washington Post chat is that . . . well, I didn't. I forgot that conversation, and thought the commenter was referring to this post. These are the perils of typing thousands of words a week, and also, of getting old.'  
                                  I may be in error on that--I've heard 80-90% from people in healthcare consulting, and I've seen that sales and profits in the US are usually larger when they're broken out on financial statements, which they aren't all that often. But they were not speaking on the record, and financial statements are not necessarily a very good guide to allocating the net profitability of a drug, because of various tedious pricing strategies involving market timing that you can read about in an exhaustive volume from the OECD that I have on my desk, if you want to come to my office, or spend $100 to buy it yourself. There are also issues of the way that companies allocate profits across international borders, which vary for all sorts of reasons, including the location of the company." http://meganmcardle.theatlanti...  
                                  80% may not be right, and I can't back it up with any hard numbers, because there are no hard numbers available. But multiple corresponding sources suggest that the number is well over 50%. 60% is probably the floor of likely."  
                                  "I'm glad that you have never, ever made a basic cognitive error, NDM, but there you are, I do from time to time. We live in a world of imperfection and travail. " For those who want the full context, excepting people not Megan McArdle who have also debunked this claim.  
                                  SgtFraggleRock > susanoftexas • 3 days ago So, she admitted a mistake and corrected it multiple times about a stat . This is why I trust her more than the Washington Post or the New York Times (who tried to claim Kim Davis (a Democrat) was a Republican).
                                  She foolishly admitted she lied out of arrogance. Naturally this had no effect on her readers who wanted to believe her lies. He even rationalizes that the "mistake" means McArdle is honest. There is nothing anyone can say or do to convince such people. The truth has no effect but that never stopped me before.
                                  susanoftexas > SgtFraggleRock • 3 days ago Except here she is, repeating that same claim after denying it--as she has done many times since.  
                                  McMegan > susanoftexas • 3 days ago I'm not repeating a statistic. I merely made the obvious arithmetical point that if prices are higher here, and production costs are not, then the profits must be higher here, as well.  
                                  susanoftexas > McMegan • 3 days ago Proof that depends on belief is not proof.  
                                  McMegan > susanoftexas • 3 days ago ... and refutation that depends on non-responsive answers is not refutation--nor, grasshopper, is it even argument.
                                  McArdle thinks her "witticisms" will hide the truth; she is admitting she simply believes this to be true and doesn't have any facts to back her up. She thinks my refusal to argue her distraction is a sign of weakness.
                                  susanoftexas > McMegan • 3 days ago Nice goalpost moving. The issue is not whether profits are higher here. The issue is whether medical innovation depends on keeping American drug prices high.  
                                  McMegan > susanoftexas • 3 days ago You are, of course, free to believe that the size of the available profits has no impact on the number of drugs developed. I have stated a different opinion.  
                                  susanoftexas > McMegan • 3 days ago More goalpost moving. I did not say profits have no impact on the number of drugs developed. I said you made up statistics in support of your claim that medical innovation would be wiped out.  
                                  McMegan > susanoftexas • 3 days ago And yet I neither used said statistic in this post, nor claimed that medical innovation would be wiped out--only that we would run the risk of losing beneficial treatments, if we brought monopsony pricing to the US.  
                                  susanoftexas > McMegan • 3 days ago Yes, it is true that your warnings are getting less and less specific and you are relying on implication rather than made-up "facts."  
                                  McMegan > susanoftexas • 3 days ago I do not think the words "repeating" and "statistic" mean what you think they mean.
                                  This retort must have been devastating at some point in her life since she continues to use it.
                                  Maggie Mahar > susanoftexas • 2 days ago Yes.
                                  Ms. Mahar says elsewhere in the comments that she is a 'Long-time senior editor at Barron's--wrote many investigative pieces about the drug industry. Author of Money-Driven Medicine--a book that was favorably reviewed by NEJM, and then made into a documentary by Alex Gibney Healthcare Fellow at The Century Foudation, where I created the blog ""'
                                  susanoftexas > McMegan • 3 days ago Then by all means continue to pass off information you personally debunked as the truth. Your readers do not care and you have been very successful using your current business model.  
                                  ajwpip > susanoftexas • 3 days ago it kind of lessens the Perry Mason go ha moment when the surprise witness against Megan is Megan herself. It doesn't actually show her having less integrity. It does the opposite. But I give you points for implying she lies for money without going the full Kochtopuss. You must have wanted to very badly. Hey, I haven't read anything posted by Nepotismis(whatwastherestofthatscreenname?) lately. Nep is that you?  
                                  susanoftexas > ajwpip • 3 days ago Actually, nothing could be more effective than the person making the claim admitting that the claim is not proven. If you want to discuss Ms. McArdle's connection to the Koches (I do not) you can find that information elsewhere very easily.
                                  Trap set.
                                  ajwpip > susanoftexas • 3 days ago Making the most reasonable inference and being open about doing so is not something that calls one's integrity or motivations into question. For instance I am inferring that you buy into Koch paranoia by your implicit endorsement of all the Koch -mcardle screeds on the Internet. Is it proven? No. But am I intellectually dishonest for making an inference. Nope. Yet under your schema you would feel justified in implying that I am a paid Koch shill. That seems ironic in an Alanis Morisette kind of way.
                                  Trap sprung.
                                  susanoftexas > ajwpip • 3 days ago  
                                  Endorsement means "an act of giving one's public approval or support to someone or something." Saying that I will not discuss McArdle's ties to the Koches and telling someone to look elsewhere for that information is not an endorsement. In fact, such a statement might imply that I do not endorse them because I refused to discuss them. Therefore you are being intellectually dishonest by implying I am endorsing unethical connections between McArdle and the Koches.  
                                  However, relating facts about any of McArdle's associations with the Koches would not be an endorsement either. For instance:  
                                  McArdle trained as a journalist at the Institute for Humane Studies. The IHS's board chairman is Charles Koch. Charles Koch donated $12.4 million to the organization from 2008-2012. She was emcee for IHS's 50th anniversary dinner in honor of Charles Koch. Those are facts. Reciting those facts does not imply McArdle is a shill for the Koches.  
                                  McArdle has spoken and/or moderated at centers that have received Koch funding such as the Mercatus Center, America's Future Foundation, and Cato Institute. Stating these facts does not imply she shills for the Koches.  
                                  McArdle was a judge for Reason's Bastiat prize. Reason received funds from Koch Foundations. She has written for Reason. McArdle defended the Koches from accusations that it was funding the Tea Party. The Tea Party received funds and/or assistance from Freedomworks and Americans for Prosperity, both of which have received Koch funds. (McArdle's husband worked for Freedomworks and works for Reason but that is pertinent only to her public disclosures of Koch associations required by professional journalism standards and practices.)  
                                  McArdle defended the Heartland Institute from an Obama fundraising letter. The Heartland Institute also received Koch funds. These are facts. Stating those facts does not imply McArdle is a Koch shill.  
                                  However, "a shill, also called a plant or a stooge, is a person who publicly helps a person or organization without disclosing that they have a close relationship with the person or organization." McArdle has disclosed some but not all of her ties to organizations funded by the Koches while stating that she was making a complete disclosure and so has left herself open to accusations of being a shill.  
                                  Maggie Mahar > susanoftexas • 2 days ago Susan-- -Thanks for so many facts  
                                  sufferingsuccatash > Maggie Mahar • 2 days ago Maggie---McArdle is a libertarian who is a Koch Bros. shill. Her columns draw the libertarian crowd like Marshal and Joshlnca below. They are a condescending lot---  
                                  susanoftexas > Maggie Mahar • 2 days ago You're welcome.  
                                  JoshInca > Maggie Mahar • 2 days ago She didn't post any 'facts'. Your believing that she did discredits you.  
                                  Joe_Hubris > ajwpip • 3 days ago Not Koch. Koche.  
                                  McMegan > susanoftexas • 3 days ago I'm not sure what your complaint is. You seem to be upset that I am continuing to use statistics that I abandoned years ago, and also that I am not continuing to use them. Which is it?  
                                  JoshInca > susanoftexas • 2 days ago Logic, how does it work? 
                                  y81 > susanoftexas • 3 days ago This lawyer is talking about profits, McMegan is talking about revenues, which are much less subject to manipulation.
                                  McArdle made a rare substantive post later that day discussing microaggressions, thereby giving her audience something new and less embarrassing to read and discuss.

                                  Fighting lies might be a waste of time but it beats getting futilely upset that the rich can control our lives and pay for an endless stream of propaganda. It won't harm or bother McArdle; what is a fleeting humiliation compared to all that lovely cash?

                                  Friday, September 11, 2015

                                  I Know I'm Going To Regret This

                                  I do not like to make comments on Megan McArdle's blog but since she is still pushing her lines about drug innovation I went ahead and dived into the muck.

                                  UPDATE: The muck is getting deeper.

                                  Thursday, September 10, 2015

                                  Consuming More Than You Need

                                  Shorter Megan McArdle: We are not cruel enough to the poors. For their own good, of course.

                                  Much Longer Megan McArdle:

                                  McArdle begins her latest exercise in empathy-free poor-shaming by rehashing old material. (Bloomberg ought to send her cancelled checks for her pay; if she can endlessly send out old material why can't they?) She once again describes a program that she saw firsthand in Hawaii regarding repeat offenders. She did not suggest that they fail upwards, oddly enough. She noted that sending parole violators to jail for a day or two will clean up their acts tout suite. Those violators will lose their jobs if they were actually able to find one but so what, "we" must be cruel to be kind.

                                  McArdle uses the old material as a launchpad for new cruelty. McArdle complains that the due process of law is keeping noble landlord from tossing evil scofflaws into the street when the rent check is late.

                                  This approach has been tried with drunk drivers, as well, and is now being explored for people on parole (probation is what you get instead of prison time; parole is what you get after prison time).  A few days ago Lowry Heussler asked if we shouldn't think about expanding Swift-Certain-Fair outside of the criminal justice system, to other contexts where this sort of dynamic operates. Specifically, evictions from public housing.

                                  Because people so poor that they live in public housing should be treated just like criminals.

                                  Heussler describes an eviction process that looks a lot like the old probation system. You miss your rent. The agency sends written notices of the arrears. You miss it again. There's a meeting with someone, followed by more reminders. A notice to vacate, followed by a grievance procedure. At all these steps, the tenant is offered the opportunity to cure the debt on a payment plan. Only after these steps is a case filed in court. But even then, judges frequently balk at evicting someone. These are, after all, needy families with few resources to negotiate a housing crisis. Then one day, the judge finally gives up, because the tenant is not complying, and they're evicted. And said tenant is shocked to find themselves out on the street.

                                  Despite the fact that they are given so many chances to be not poor, people persist in being poor and unable to pay the rent. Some fools might think that this problem should be attacked by addressing poverty but as McArdle has said in the past our poor aren't really poor because they have stuff like tvs and refrigerators. That makes them rich compared to people in, say, Africa, where the poor have nothing. If only our poor could be shipped to Africa they would realize how lucky they are but they aren't and they don't. They live in a very rich country and unaccountably they compare themselves to their fellow Americans, not Africans or Indonesians or other really poor people. In fact, Africans are so poor that McArdle says they would be happy to "slave" at garment "sweatshops," two words that would take on a whole new/very old meaning in Africa.

                                  Before one advocates being cruel, however, one must be kind.

                                  If you've ever seen an eviction, you know the awfulness of it: broken belongings out on the street, a stunned family trying to figure out where to go. Why not try to avoid this, Heussler asks, by making the process less all-or-nothing? Follow the jail approach: Lock people out for a few hours, or a day, every single time they miss their rent, instead of waiting until you have to do something catastrophic.

                                  How much kinder it would be to lock a single mother working at a minimum wage job for a few hours rather than tossing her out! True, her children would come home and be forced to sit on the front step until the landlord figured he had been kind enough and finally let them in to safety. But it would be kinder to teach them a valuable lesson about personal responsibility and the bootstrapping virtues of hard work than to let them in their rooms to go to the bathroom, get something to eat and do their homework as richer and therefore better children are able to do.

                                  There's a poignant moment in the essay when Heussler describes a tenant explaining why they didn't pay their rent (which is calculated as a percentage of income). "I realized the system was completely nuts when one honest tenant told me why she didn’t have the rent. 'If you don’t pay the cable bill they cut you off,' she said.  I tried. I told her that cable TV wouldn’t be much good without a roof over her head. She looked at me with pity, quite sure eviction was not on the horizon."

                                  You see, the poor are poor because they are inferior.  One hates to say it but what can one do? They are short-sighted and self-indulgent and would rather watch "Game of Thrones" than pay their rent. Rich children can have cable and therefore internet, which is now essential for children to do their schoolwork, much of which is on-line. Poor children should not. It's much kinder to accustom children to being deprived because let's face it, they'll never amount to anything anyway because poor people value social connections over money.

                                  The private market has figured out how to solve this problem: If you don't pay the bill, the service goes away. There is no uncertainty that might tempt people to stop paying their bills. But government benefits are girded round with thick layers of procedural protections that make it hard to predict the outcome of any particular action.

                                  Poor people always choose to not pay their bills which is very foolish. They need to be taught a sharp and immediate lesson. Then they will make good choices and stop being poor and be able to watch "Game of Thrones."

                                  Of course, the stakes are so much higher. There's a big difference between sleeping on the street and missing the latest "Game of Thrones." In order to protect people from catastrophic risks, we've raised the bar higher for depriving people of electricity, or their homes. But in doing so, we have actually made it more attractive to run the risk. The way to fix it is to make the risks clearer and more immediate -- and less catastrophic.

                                  We could be doing so much more to teach people valuable lessons. There is so much to take away from people who think they are poor but really aren't. For instance, those expensive children. Do they really deserve to have something they can't afford? It would be far kinder to take away their children for a few hours or days when their parents are unable to support them. The children might be kind of traumatized but which is better, a little trauma once or twice a month or a lot of trauma later when they are so poor that their children are taken away for good?

                                  This probably doesn't stop at public housing, either. These kinds of procedural protections surround all sorts of government programs, and undoubtedly often have the same undesired result: encouraging people to make decisions that are defensible in the short term and disastrous in the long term. Now that we've seen the success of Swift-Certain-Fair in one context, we should be looking for other places where we need to be a little more cruel, to be a lot more kind.

                                  Medicaid. They would probably rather spend the money on a new dress anyway. Social Security and Medicare. Those poor old women should have saved their pennies when they were young. Welfare. Woops, we already took that away. Aid to Dependent Children. Why are those children dependent when they should have trust funds? Going hungry will be much kinder and teach them a very valuable lesson about being born with mountains of things instead of nothing.

                                  One last word:

                                  This is a Thermomix. I didn't need it and it cost $1500 but I deserve it because I worked hard (or didn't, but whatever), stayed in school ( despite my lackadaisical attitude and poor work ethic but whatever), and didn't have kids (actually, cannot have kids but whatever).*

                                  *I would link to "jane galt's" confessions that she was a poor student who spent most of her time staring out the window and had a low GPA but the proud author deleted her past crimes against humanity, aka her old blog.

                                  ADDED: One of McArdle's commenters takes her suggestion and runs with it:

                                  Fish Heads
                                  I work my bird dogs using a Swift-Certain-Fair technique, also know as a shock collar. Tech is a wonderful thing, they even make them with GPS locators now. Violate your probation, expect some voltage. Really brings home the old phrase "reach out and touch someone". Very swift and certain.