Megan-McArdle

Did you go to college? Do you think it was a lousy investment? Megan McArdle writes this week’s cover story on the mythomania around getting a degree - sending parents to the poorhouse and saddling kids with buckets of debt and no guarantee of a job to pay it back. There is also a chilling piece about Nazi ties to the drug thalidomide and we take a deep look inside Naomi Wolf’s Vagina. You can get it on iPad today http://bit.ly/b4mv6q and at the newsstand Monday! 

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.
—  Megan McArdle’s solution to preventing mass shootings, as pointed out by New York Magazine’s Jonathan Chait. “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,” she continues. Oh, so it’s an explanation to tell us that gun control won’t work… I think?!
I’m always fascinated by the number of people who proudly build columns, tweets, blog posts or Facebook posts around the same core statement: “I don’t understand how anyone could (oppose legal abortion/support a carbon tax/sympathize with the Palestinians over the Israelis/want to privatize Social Security/insert your pet issue here).“ It’s such an interesting statement, because it has three layers of meaning.
The first layer is the literal meaning of the words: I lack the knowledge and understanding to figure this out. But the second, intended meaning is the opposite: I am such a superior moral being that I cannot even imagine the cognitive errors or moral turpitude that could lead someone to such obviously wrong conclusions. And yet, the third, true meaning is actually more like the first: I lack the empathy, moral imagination or analytical skills to attempt even a basic understanding of the people who disagree with me.
In short, “I’m stupid.” Something that few people would ever post so starkly on their Facebook feeds.
—  Megan McArdle, “Only Stupid People Call People Stupid

I recently decided to chart another genre, this time post-apocalyptic fiction. I love the genre, which has more variety that most people suspect. Why do we love books about the end of the world? .

LJ’s own sf/fantasy columnist, Megan McArdle offers insights into this popular genre. Follow her blog at http://www.genrify.com/.

"A Conservative Vision for Social Justice" Was Neither (But It Could Be)

On Monday at the National Geographic Museum, the American Enterprise Institute inaugurated its Vision Talks series with the topic of “A Conservative Vision for Social Justice.” It was neither — but it was not unpromising.

The evening began with the president of AEI, Arthur Brooks, who preached about the need for “moral transformation” and “hope” among the poor instead of illustrating concrete policy. He mostly encouraged conservatives to focus on increasing the poor’s access to the free enterprise system. While he did focus on one policy issue — ”Education is the civil rights struggle of our time” — he did not delve into this structural, fixable inequality with any specificity. Rather, his greatest contribution to the discussion was an attitude, sadly somehow rare among conservatives, that sees the poor as actual human beings. “It’s time to stop fighting against ideas, and start fighting for people.”

Journalist Megan McArdle dropped the moralizing in favor of thorough substance. Specifically, she outlined the poor’s reliance on social capital (giving up a job to help a friend is investing in eventual reciprocality), and how badly conservatives have misconstrued that system: “This is not an ethic of irresponsibility but of charity, duty, and loyalty.” Displacement and gentrification are so disruptive, she went on, because they break up these valuable social networks. Meanwhile, the poor are unable to rely on financial capital the way the middle class can (the inability to save money means poverty is expensive, buying ten pairs of cheap shoes instead of one pair that will last). Two ways to change that are long-term home ownership and microfinance. Home ownership is a financial asset that provides financial capital, while microfinance can be used either for entrepreneurship or for investment in social or “human capital” (i.e. paying a child’s school fees or medical bills).

AEI Fellow Robert Doar, the former commissioner of the New York City Human Resources Administration, drew on his experience in administering poverty programs to outline conservative approaches. His main insight was that work must be required in exchange for assistance, but that assistance must also reward work with health benefits, childcare, and the like in order to make wages go further. Doar also emphasized that the two-parent family must be a part of this conversation in order to decrease the economic burden on single mothers. Lastly, conservatives must work toward a job-creating economy so that diverse jobs are available to the poor.

Brooks said in the Q&A that the difference between conservative and progressive social justice is that the former “is about tearing down barriers, not increasing government involvement.” But this misses the other key characteristic of progressive social justice: it encompasses not only class, but also gender, race, and sexual orientation, among other factors. The intersections of these characteristics create a more complicated hierarchical economic reality that conservatives are usually ready to deal with, or willing to acknowledge. Conservatives are wrong to appropriate this movement to name their counterargument if it is not going to address those ideas.

Rather, conservatives need more of McArdle’s approach, which actually listens to the stated concerns and realities of the poor and uses their perspectives to challenge the establishment views. McArdle named her talk “Capital and Poverty,” a straightforward way to deal with the subject at hand, rather than trying to fit a conservative angle into a progressive “social justice” shoebox. The AEI vision talks could go somewhere if they weren’t trying so hard to be conservative-friendly editions of TED talks. And with the involvement of serious, undoctrinaire scholars like McArdle, they might.

New York just killed every economist’s favorite thing about Uber: surge pricing. Sure, many economists also love convenient car service at the touch of a button. But black-car services have been around for a long time. Explicit surge pricing – which both creates new supply and rations demand – has not, but it’s long been a core feature of Uber Technologies Inc.’s business model. While it can be annoying at times (during a recent rainstorm, I noticed a sudden epidemic of drivers canceling rides, which I suspect was due to the rapidly rising surge price), it also allows you to be sure that you will be able to get a taxi on New Year’s Eve or during a rainstorm as long as you’re willing to pay extra.

Sadly, no one else loves surge pricing as much as economists do. Instead of getting all excited about the subtle, elegant machinery ofprice discovery, people get all outraged about “price gouging.” No matter how earnestly economists and their fellow travelers explain that this is irrational madness – that price gouging actually makes everyone better off by ensuring greater supply and allocating the supply to (approximately) those with the greatest demand – the rest of the country continues to view marking up generators after a hurricane, or similar maneuvers, as a pretty serious moral crime.

Some of the outraged people happen to be legislators, who then go and make laws against price gouging in emergencies, which apparently include needing to get a taxi in a bad snowstorm. New York has such a law, and its attorney general was preparing to go after Uber for violating it. In response, the company has announced that it will cap its surge-pricing rates, not just in New York but throughout the country.

This is going to make many people worse off: the drivers who would have liked to make extra on rides, and the riders who don’t get rides because some drivers couldn’t be lured out of their warm beds on a cold and needy night. Of course, the people who manage to get rides will be better off, but there will be fewer of them, and it’ll be harder to predict whether they’ll succeed in getting a cab. It’s the difference between a raffle ticket and a charity auction.

Yet when it comes to these sorts of transactions, we seem to instinctively prefer the raffle ticket. Michael Munger argues that this is because we don’t see them as “euvoluntary,” or truly voluntary. The aspect of great need makes them feel coercive, even if the person fulfilling the need is not the person who created it. So we’d rather that no one gets ice after a hurricane than see entrepreneurial people get rich selling it to willing buyers. So while this latest development is not economically optimal, it was probably politically predictable.

To contact the writer of this article: Megan McArdle at mmcardle3@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this article: Brooke Sample at bsample1@bloomberg.net.

Bird's Eye View

     

     Megan McArdle has a post up over at The Atlantic, “Expensive Urban Real Estate Is a Choice.” This is a response to someone looking up the arrest records of Occupy Wall Streeters and subsequently finding that their addresses were (outside the context of New York) relatively pricey. While that original article described protesters as living in “luxury,” it perhaps shouldn’t surprise anyone that it’s expensive to live in and around New York City. Yet some of this is besides the point. From McArdle:

My initial reaction was the same as many people I’ve seen in comments sections: the protest is in New York, which is expensive.  This is hardly surprising.
But on second thought, I don’t think that’s quite right.  At least some of the houses identified by the Daily Caller are in places like Texas and Wisconsin.  But more importantly, I’m not sure we should “discount” these home values for location.  The fact is that living in an expensive city is a consumption choice.


Well, I suppose you could think about it that way. She continues:

There’s a sort of irritating supposition in all of this that living in New York (or San Francisco, or Boston) is something that just happens to you, like getting cholera.  And that therefore high incomes, expensive real estate, and so forth, somehow don’t count for the purposes of assessing how well off you are relative to the rest of society.  In fact, perhaps society should get busy making it up to you for all the hardships.
Perhaps we should offer such a perceptual discount to the small number of people who really couldn’t make anything like their current incomes in any other place–investment bankers, some securities lawyers, a handful of entertainers and creative types.  But in most cases, this is ludicrous

     This kind of idea might work for, say, middle-management bankers and payroll associates at small businesses. Indeed, it would be disingenuous to imagine that a branch manager for a national pest control company or shift manager at a chain burger joint couldn’t enjoy a higher standard of living in Topeka or Omaha.

     However, there are inherent flaws to this sort of thinking. It imagines living in NYC as only a choice of consumption. You must disregard that the burger joint employee might have been born and raised there, that subsequently their entire social support network is not in Topeka or Omaha. Social safety nets are a powerful incentive for individuals to live in an area regardless of costs, but for the purpose of this discussion it isn’t even the most relevant incentive. The most relevant incentive for our burger joint employee is the demand for their employment. NYC is a global city. They’re hosts to major economic factors and thus require lots of high skilled, high wage employees. Those high skilled, high wage employees create demand for goods and services provided by low wage workers. They demand things like pet food and enjoy their niche burger joints and bars. They need to have their clothes dry cleaned, taxis to drive them to their destinations and people to clean their offices. Yet because they earn high wages and lots of them want to live in and around NYC the cost of living rises with them. Therefore low wage workers must be compensated at a level that is bearable for them to live close enough to provide those goods and services. If all of them left because they were tired of paying $1800.00 a month for a crappy apartment the demand for that job would still be there. Yes, of course, any one of them may be able to leave for a comparable job with a lower cost of living. That may be the very advice you would give to a friend. That isn’t the advice that a senior editor for The Atlantic who writes about business and economics should be giving to an entire economic sector.

     Viewing individuals and their actions as economic actors is just a way to judge individuals for the choices they make. It is not a good way to explain why a shift manager at a fast food restaurant has the income and expenses that to anyone outside NYC would think is absurd. 

Over the years, I developed a theory about why writers are such procrastinators: We were too good in English class. This sounds crazy, but hear me out.

Most writers were the kids who easily, almost automatically, got A’s in English class. (There are exceptions, but they often also seem to be exceptions to the general writerly habit of putting off writing as long as possible.) At an early age, when grammar school teachers were struggling to inculcate the lesson that effort was the main key to success in school, these future scribblers gave the obvious lie to this assertion. Where others read haltingly, they were plowing two grades ahead in the reading workbooks. These are the kids who turned in a completed YA novel for their fifth-grade project. It isn’t that they never failed, but at a very early age, they didn’t have to fail much; their natural talent kept them at the head of the class.

This teaches a very bad, very false lesson: that success in work mostly depends on natural talent. Unfortunately, when you are a professional writer, you are competing with all the other kids who were at the top of their English class. Your stuff may not—indeed, probably won’t—be the best anymore.

If you’ve spent most of your life cruising ahead on natural ability, doing what came easily and quickly, every word you write becomes a test of just how much ability you have, every article a referendum on how good a writer you are. As long as you have not written that article, that speech, that novel, it could still be good. Before you take to the keys, you are Proust and Oscar Wilde and George Orwell all rolled up into one delicious package. By the time you’re finished, you’re more like one of those 1940’s pulp hacks who strung hundred-page paragraphs together with semicolons because it was too much effort to figure out where the sentence should end.

McArdle, who is currently on book leave, has blogged about business and economics for the Atlantic since 2007. In August, she will start as special correspondent on economics, business, and public policy at Newsweek/Daily Beast, based out of their Washington, D.C., bureau.

McArdle joins Newsweek/Daily Beast as it slowly but surely continues to expand its roster of prominent bloggers — including, most recently, conservative columnist David Frum, who joined in January — and as the website has seen its highest traffic numbers since launching in 2008 (it received 12.7 million unique visitors in May, according to internal data.)

This is the second big-time blogger the company has poached from The Atlantic — the first was Andrew Sullivan, who has written a number of cover stories for the magazine, most infamously this one. In The Atlantic’s defense, they're also seeing some record traffic numbers and scoring some big hires.

Over the years, I developed a theory about why writers are such procrastinators: We were too good in English class. This sounds crazy, but hear me out.

Most writers were the kids who easily, almost automatically, got A’s in English class. (There are exceptions, but they often also seem to be exceptions to the general writerly habit of putting off writing as long as possible.) At an early age, when grammar school teachers were struggling to inculcate the lesson that effort was the main key to success in school, these future scribblers gave the obvious lie to this assertion. Where others read haltingly, they were plowing two grades ahead in the reading workbooks. These are the kids who turned in a completed YA novel for their fifth-grade project. It isn’t that they never failed, but at a very early age, they didn’t have to fail much; their natural talents kept them at the head of the class.

This teaches a very bad, very false lesson: that success in work mostly depends on natural talent. Unfortunately, when you are a professional writer, you are competing with all the other kids who were at the top of their English classes. Your stuff may not—indeed, probably won’t—be the best anymore.

If you’ve spent most of your life cruising ahead on natural ability, doing what came easily and quickly, every word you write becomes a test of just how much ability you have, every article a referendum on how good a writer you are. As long as you have not written that article, that speech, that novel, it could still be good. Before you take to the keys, you are Proust and Oscar Wilde and George Orwell all rolled up into one delicious package. By the time you’re finished, you’re more like one of those 1940’s pulp hacks who strung hundred-page paragraphs together with semicolons because it was too much effort to figure out where the sentence should end.

Loomis:

“Not only does Megan McArdle not understand how agricultural subsidies work, she creates a myth about giving money to people for working being better than giving money to people for just living that she would never apply to people who were not consistent Republican voters. I’m sure once this inconsistency is pointed out to her, she will be happy to support massive government projects that guarantees work to all unemployed Americans.”

In a nutshell: McArdle bitches about opposition to the House’s Farm Bill (which guts food stamps while preserving ag subsidies to mostly wealthy farmers), because (she says) farm subsidies are paid to farmers for working, while food stamps are given to people regardless of whether they work. For starters, this is stupid on its face: plenty of food stamp recipients are working, they just can’t make enough money to live on. And farm subsidies are shoveled out to farmers for such highly taxing activities such as NOT GROWING CROPS. But also, as Loomis points out, McArdle would be the first person to lose her mind if the government proposed solving our poverty problem by just giving everyone a job.

The fact that Megan McArdle has a job is proof that we are not living in a meritocracy.

I once asked a talented and fairly famous colleague how he managed to regularly produce such highly regarded 8,000 word features. “Well,” he said, “first, I put it off for two or three weeks. Then I sit down to write. That’s when I get up and go clean the garage. After that, I go upstairs, and then I come back downstairs and complain to my wife for a couple of hours. Finally, but only after a couple more days have passed and I’m really freaking out about missing my deadline, I ultimately sit down and write.”
Is There a Fake MLK Jr Quote Floating Around the Interent? Kind of.

Over the last few days I’ve seen a few quotes attributed to Martin Luther King Jr.

“I mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy.  Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars.  Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that.  Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”

As well as a shortened version

“I mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy.”

A few of my friends have also posted an article by Megan McArdle from The Atlantic pronouncing that the second quote above is falsely attributed to MLK Jr.  While this is true, MLK Jr. never said that, it’s not the whole story.

The true story starts with Jessica Dovey, who misquoted a passage from Martin Luther King Jr’s book Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?  and added her own commentary, aka the second quote from above.

Although she got the MLK Jr. quote almost right (“Returning hate for hate multiplies hate” should actually be “Returning violence for violence multiplies violence”) she added her own comment in addition to the quote.  

Jessica’s Status

Somewhere in the process of the dissemination of this quote a person put the quotation marks in the wrong spot and incorporated Dovey’s portion of the post to MLK Jr, which brings us up to now.  

This is an interesting case study in how information is distributed across the internet and the importance of finding sources for quotes.  The internet makes finding a “source” incredibly easy as false information is perpetually used, as was the case here.  Hopefully this message will clear up some confusion regarding the quote.  This article was also particularly helpful to find the truth of the matter.  To end I’ll leave you with the actual quote.

“Are we seeking power for power’s sake?  Or are we seeking to make the world and our nation better places to live.  If we seek the latter, violence can never provide the answer.  The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy.  Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it.  Through violence you may murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth.  Through violence you may murder the hater, but you do not murder hate.  In fact, violence merely increases hate.  So it goes.  Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a nigh already devoid of stars.  Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that.  Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”

-Martin Luther King Jr.