I very rarely read Megan McArdle. She gets filtered by the “life is too short to read stupid people” mesh. Specifically, in the area in which she claims expertise, economics, especially political economy she has neither formal training (Lit degree as an undergraduate, and an MBA for post-graduate work) nor any demonstration of subsequently acquired understanding.
But, some will say, she’s got an MBA!. Well, yes. That and a token gets you (showing our age here –ed.) on the T.
Which brings me back to my headline. I don’t read McArdle much because I know she doesn’t know what she’s talking about, and the glibness of her ignorance and the infantile quality of her ideology (that brand of libertarianism present in populations that include my nine-year-old and that can be summed up “you can’t tell me what to do”) piss me off. Why read annoying, uninformed –if glibly written — dreck?
But Andrew Sullivan, who is one of the most infuriatingly variable bloggers in the quality of his bullshit detector, pointed me to this post by McArdle, calling it a “must-read.”
Well, if I must, I must, and so I did.
And with that, he took McMegan’s argument against government involvement in health care and stomped that sucker flat.
This week Levensen reluctantly returned to McMeganWorld and points out that, beyond the much ridiculed McMeltdown, lies the deeper problem of Dishonest Business Shill McMegan as evidenced by her attempted dismissal of Elizabeth Warren by artfully (and by “artfully” we mean: “maliciously”) and selectively (and by “selectively, we mean: “maliciously” ) misrepresenting research to make Warren sound as sloppy and uninformed as a certain person who will go unnamed, except to point out that she happens to be the business and economics editor for The Atlantic.
To be fair Zhu concludes that overconsumption — spending too much on housing, cars and credit cards account for more of the total burden of bankruptcy than medical events, divorce or unemployment, as McArdle wrote.
But as McArdle completely failed to acknowledge, Zhu does so while using somewhat more stringent standard for counting medical expenses as a factor in bankruptcy than other scholars employed — as he explicitly acknowledges. He concedes the continuing significance of medically -induced bankruptcy. He acknowledges what he believes to be a weak underweighting of that factor (because some people pay for medical expenses on credit cards). And he notes that a number of other studies, not limited to those co-authored by Warren, come to different conclusions.
In other words: McArdle correctly describes one conclusion of this paper in a way that yields for its readers a false conclusion about what the paper itself actually says. And look what that false impression implies: if medical bankruptcy is a trivial problem, society-wide, then Warren can be shown to be both a sloppy scholar and, as McArdle more or less explicitly says, a dishonest one as well.
And that leads me back to the thought that got me going on this post. It seems to me that what we read in McArdle here is a genteel excursion into Andrew Breitbart territory. Like the Big Hollywood thug, she misleads by contraction, by the omission of necessary context, by simply making stuff up when she thinks no one will check (again, see the footnotes for examples). And like Breitbart, she does so here to achieve a more than on goal. The first is simply to damage Elizabeth Warren as an individual, to harm her career prospects.
If anyone else got a performance review like this:.
Perhaps lying is too harsh a word — but the serial errors that all fall on the side that supports her initial claims and that recur again and again in her work suggest to me that something other than mere intellectual sloth and sloppiness is the driver.
Ordinarily, such a record wouldn’t matter much, especially in journalism. In theory, a series of clips as riddled with error as McArdle’s would end most careers in high prestige journalism. Hot Air might still find a use for you, but The Atlantic?
But the problem is that McArdle is useful: she advances an agenda — that which comforts the comfortable — and she does so with what I think is truly her original talent, the capacity not to notice the ridicule and ferociously dismissive debunking that she so often attracts.
Being able to be wrong in a form and fashion that aids the powerful, and possessing the ability not to mind a life that must be thus lived in willing embrace of error…now that’s a trick.
…they might very well be sad or, at the very least, horribly embarrassed. But the sad truth is that at The Atlantic this is considered high praise.
Maybe David Bradley will buy her a pony.