It is with a heavy heart that I must announce that the nation’s foremost newspaper editorial sections are at it again.
On Tuesday, the Washington Post announced it is hiring Megan McArdle to its esteemed Opinion section. McArdle comes to the Post from Bloomberg View, where she has been espousing her minarchist ideas for years. From her new perch, McArdle will “write columns with a focus on the intersection of economics, business and public policy.” Fred Hiatt, the Post’s editorial page editor, praised McArdle’s “distinctive voice,” along with her lively and unpredictable takes.
What makes McArdle’s voice so distinctive, lively and unpredictable? Mainly, her blithe contempt for the the poor, combined with an unbudgeable belief in the virtue and wisdom of her fellow members of the upper classes, and in the justness of their social position.
Past behavior, in opinion-mongers, is the best predictor of future results. So, what from McArdle’s past work can inform us of the rhetorical delicacies she might offer us in her new position? Here’s a rundown of some of McArdle’s more provocative—sorry, lively—works.
In 2011, as activists camped out in Zucotti Park to protest the largest economic recession in modernity, McArdle made three extraordinary claims in an Atlantic column. First, that conservative white people are the real victims of elitism in the United States:
It’s not entirely crazy to suspect, as Orwell did, that this has something to do with money. Specifically, you sneer at the customs of the people you might be mistaken for. For aside from a few very stuffy conservatives, no white people I know sneer at hip-hop music, telenovelas, Tyler Perry films, or any of the other things often consumed by people of modest incomes who don’t look like them. They save it for Thomas Kinkade paintings, “Cozy cottage” style home decoration, collectibles, child beauty pageants, large pickup trucks***, and so forth.
Second, that the people protesting too big to fail banks in the streets were the real rich people:
But in all that time, I’m not sure I heard any complaints about rich people, or even traders or bankers, as a class. Since OWS started, I’ve occasionally wondered: does this explain why there seem to be so many more educated white kids than long-haul truckers or home health care aides occupying Wall Street?
And third, that she, Megan McArdle, was the real aggrieved party in this whole Occupy Wall Street mess, because she didn’t end up making as much money as her business school pals did:
And if Orwell (and I) are right, then it is I who should have had the most resentment. I did all the same things they did—went to the right schools, got good test scores—and they ended up in banking, while I ended up making a small fraction of what they did. In fact, this happened to me twice: once after college, and again after business school. My first job at the Economist paid approximately a third of what the management consulting job that I’d originally accepted had promised to pay.
The day after 71 people died in a fire at Grenfell Tower in London, McArdle whipped up a think piece arguing that not having a sprinkler system in place in public housing is simply a “trade-off” for other public services.
Before news came out that government inspectors had failed to prevent the use of flammable building materials in the 24-story apartment building, McArdle came out with a column bearing the headline: “Beware of Blaming Government for London Tower Fire.”.
In the column, McArdle urges caution against jumping to political conclusions about the fire, in a political column she wrote and published before learning about the circumstances of the fire:
This, however, is only a quibble; even if Grenfell Tower could not have been saved, there are surely other buildings where fires will soon occur that would benefit from sprinklers. Must we wait for those deaths before we can say that his was a bad calculation?
Well, no. But we should wait until we can establish that it was actually a bad calculation.
Finally, McArdle gets to the crux of the argument, which is essentially that life involves risk. Why bother installing sprinkler systems in public housing, she argues, if you could die just as easily in a car crash?
In the U.S., tens of thousands of people were killed in auto accidents last year. We could probably eliminate most of those deaths if we simply made sure that no one ever piloted their personal vehicle above some prudent speed — say, 25 mph — which would reduce both the likelihood of crashes occurring, and the damage any crashes would do.
Are you willing to make that trade-off? To avert 40,000 deaths a year, all you have to do is move closer to work, take public transportation (where available), or spend a lot more time in the car.
McArdle’s moral code is a sort of econometric nihilism, informed not by data or history but mainly by her own lazy self-satisfaction, and the privileged dummy’s usual belief in a Just World. (Sure, we could allocate more resources to caring for the poor, but those dummies would probably find some other inconvenient way to die. Why bother?)
This Twitter thread best sums up McArdle’s belief that she can pick and choose which privileges count as real privilege, and which do not. Private school tuition and a pass to the Ivy League? Privilege! OK, we’re off to a good start.
Living in your parents’ New York apartment for nine months while you’re unemployed? Not privileged! Wait, wha—
I had a safety net, and was aware of it, and that knowledge made it easier to endure the temporary precarity common in the early adult lives of many young professional class people, so, in other words, I, too, know what it is to be Poor.
The entire thread is a fine example of McArdle’s primary rhetorical mode: A determined refusal to understand obvious things.
The Grenfell Tower column is McArdle’s most cited work, but it’s just one in a series of takes arguing that the fact that bad things happen in our society might not really be that bad, or at least not bad enough to warrant doing anything to improve that society.
Consider this take, published in the Daily Beast three days after Adam Lanza shot up a classroom full of kindergarteners in Newtown, Connecticut:
I’d also like us to encourage people to gang rush shooters, rather than following their instincts to hide; if we drilled it into young people that the correct thing to do is for everyone to instantly run at the guy with the gun, these sorts of mass shootings would be less deadly, because even a guy with a very powerful weapon can be brought down by 8-12 unarmed bodies piling on him at once. Would it work? Would people do it? I have no idea; all I can say is that both these things would be more effective than banning rifles with pistol grips.
“I have no idea.” The through line is the confident display of shameless ignorance. In the lead-up to the Iraq War, McArdle ran interference for the Bush administration against critics who said the war would end up costing the U.S. trillions of dollars:
Anyone who’s sat through a budget meeting knows that almost everyone overestimates their successess, underestimates their costs; it’s easier to go back for money later, when you can wave a nice hunk of sunk costs around, than say up front that you think whatever it is you’re proposing will be expensive as hell.
But trillions? US GDP is roughly $10 trillion. Alterman is saying that over the long run, this war is going to cost us at least 20% of GDP. That’s nuts, and it’s not the first time I’ve seen those sorts of numbers around.
A 2013 report estimated that the war itself has cost $1.7 trillion, while its combined costs adds up to roughly $4 trillion.
Then, in a league of its own, is this take.
This was published on November 28, 2007. Perhaps you remember what happened next, across the entire world?