The Rage Against the McArdle

There’s something about Megan McArdle that drives some of my fellow Blue-team pundits crazy. She’s way smarter, way saner, far more nuanced in her thinking, and a much better writer than most of her Red-team colleagues. She doesn’t fawn on the rich or despise the poor. Her ideas about how to deal with failure fit no ideological mold, and imply policy positions that won’t make her any friends at Cato. But the Rage Against the McArdle seems to run deep in Left Blogistan.

The latest instance is the reaction to her column on Sandy Hook, which reviews a bunch of ideas about preventing spree killings and decides that most of them wouldn’t be worth much. That doesn’t keep her from endorsing a ban on high-capacity clips and extending the background-check rules to cover private sales; it isn’t as if her column is carrying water for the NRA.

The piece starts with a meditation on how different spree-killing is from ordinary crime. It ends:

A law would make us feel better, because it would make us feel as if we’d “done something”, as if we’d made it less likely that more children would die. But I think that would be false security. And false security is more dangerous than none.

My guess is that we’re going to get a law anyway, and my hope is that it will consist of small measures that might have some tiny actual effect, like restrictions on magazine capacity. I’d also like us to encourage people to gang rush shooters, rather than following their instincts to hide; if we drilled it into young people that the correct thing to do is for everyone to instantly run at the guy with the gun, these sorts of mass shootings would be less deadly, because even a guy with a very powerful weapon can be brought down by 8-12 unarmed bodies piling on him at once. Would it work? Would people do it? I have no idea; all I can say is that both these things would be more effective than banning rifles with pistol grips.

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.

McArdle isn’t – doesn’t pretend to be – an expert on gun policy or crime policy generally, and her piece does have one howler: the problem with gun flows across the U.S.-Mexican border is southbound, not northbound. (If we got bettec control over our gun markets, we might save some lives in Mexico; there’s some evidence that repealing the assault weapons ban increased the bloodshed in some Mexican cities).

Overall, though, her essay is one of the more sensible pieces of writing about Sandy Hook. What she says about encouraging victims to attack rather than hiding is, as far as I can tell, correct: it would save lives if you could get people to do it – by contrast with lots of the non-starter ideas now being seriously discussed, such as making it easier to lock weird people up in mental hospitals – but it would be hard-to-impossible to foster that sort of socially desirable but individually self-sacrificing behavior.

As Jeffrey Goldberg notes, the idea of fighting back is already embodied in various official documents, without – as Goldberg doesn’t note – the key coordination point McArdle makes; you don’t want one person charging a shooter, you want a crowd big enough to overwhelm him. Individuals acted heroically at Sandy Hook; what was missing was the concerted action that might have made their self-sacrifice efficacious. I’m agnostic-to-not-very-hopeful about the feasibility of encouraging such concerted action, but it’s not obviously silly.

Still, the post sent Jonathan Chait at New York into a frenzy of denunciation. He starts: “In what can only be seen as a malicious plot by Newsweek’s editors to ensure Megan McArdle’s reputation does not outlive Newsweek, the Daily Beast has published a 4,000 word essay by its new hire on how to stop massacres like last Friday’s.”

And he concludes:

Are you kidding me? You think gun control is impractical, so your plan is to turn the entire national population, including young children, into a standby suicide squad? Through private initiative, of course. It’s way more feasible than gun control!

McArdle does allow that such behavior runs contrary to instinct. Well, yes. Teaching even fairly aggressive young boys who are learning football to avoid their self-preservation instinct and crash into their opponent full speed rather than shying away from contact usually takes rigorous, lengthy training. This is when they’re wearing a helmet and full-body padding and going up against a kid their age. Trying to get them to fling their bodies into danger in a situation where they’re in shock, have no protection, and are facing an adult with a gun rather than a kid with a football is beyond impossible.

Unless I am missing a very subtle parody of libertarianism, McArdle’s plan to teach children to launch banzai charges against mass murderers is the single worst solution to any problem I have ever seen offered in a major publication. Newsweek, I award this essay no points, and may God have mercy on your soul.

Notice that the “standby suicide squad” and “plan to teach children to launch banzai charges” are entirely in Chait’s fevered imagination. Nor does McArdle pose the idea as a “solution” to the problem.

Brad DeLong then linked approvingly to Chait’s column, and David Wagner at Atlantic Wire listed McArdle’s piece among the “50 Worst Columns of 2012″ without even attempting to refute her point.

So color me puzzled. I count McArdle as a friend, so my puzzlement isn’t entirely impersonal – and my conflict of interest in that regard slowed me down when I first thought of responding to Chait’s screed – but I think it’s objectively justified.

Update McArdle responds to Chait.

A commenter calls out a point I should have made: McArdle’s proposal is about unarmed collective self-defense, cutting against the grain of the NRA line that only guns can respond to guns.

Comments

  1. says

    I gave up reading her four or five years ago after an extended exchange between her and Henry Farrell, in which she was so willfully obtuse that I could no longer believe she was discussing in anything like good faith. Since then, her writing has had a truth value of zero for me.

    • Mavis Beacon says

      Years ago I once posted something on a liberal blog about gun control; I made the somewhat banal point that some weapons may be safe enough in rural areas but are unsafe in urban areas (this could be right or wrong – I’m no expert). She took my comment and reposted it on her high-traffic blog with some others accusing us liberals of being racists. Her insight? Liberals think brown-skinned people can’t have weapons. When I contacted her and explained my position further – that the difference I was highlighting between urban and rural areas isn’t skin color but (obviously) population density, she stuck to her guns and refused to apologize. That was some time ago and she’s managed not to be so rude and obtuse to important people, but I certainly still remember and take issue with Mark’s high praise.

      • Anderson says

        Wikipedia provides a clue for those puzzled by McArdle’s reputation:

        In a July 2009 blog post, McArdle listed two reasons that she objected to such a system: first, that it would stifle innovation, because “Monopolies are not innovative, whether they are public or private,” and second, that “Once the government gets into the business of providing our health care, the government gets into the business of deciding whose life matters, and how much.” Commentator Ezra Klein of the Washington Post criticized this post, writing, “In 1,600 words, she doesn’t muster a single link to a study or argument, nor a single number that she didn’t make up (what numbers do exist come in the form of thought experiments and assumptions). Megan’s argument against national health insurance boils down to a visceral hatred of the government.”

  2. Zach says

    “Notice that the “standby suicide squad” and “plan to teach children to launch banzai charges” are entirely in Chait’s fevered imagination.”

    Huh?

    “run at the guy with the gun” = “launch banzai charges”
    “drilled it into young people … to instantly run at the guy with the gun” = “standby suicide squad”

    Chait’s not exactly so far off in his rephrasing. In what sense are these phrases entirely of his imagination? Where does McArdle elaborate on how part of her shooter-charger training should emphasize that you not charge until a force of some critical mass is reached? And saying shooter-rushing would be “more effective than banning rifles with pistol grips” is calling it a solution if not a perfect one.

    For not pretending to be an expert, McArdle’s ability to identify a critical mass of 8-12 young people capable of bringing down shooters is quite exact. The biggest weakness that I find in McArdle’s writing is imagining to be an expert in just about everything after some limited analysis. I recognize it because it’s a weakness I totally share… thinking that a few minutes of Googling and clever thought is likely to give you more insight than calling up folks who’ve spent years working on this stuff. I don’t know who coined the term, but “glibertarian” is exactly the right word for this sort of analysis.

    And for what it’s worth, as horrible as it is I’d much rather live in a country with a non-zero frequency of attacks like this than in one where mandatory courses (for people of any age) in disarming deranged shooters are part of the civil defense strategy.

    • Kurzleg says

      This part is pretty hard to defend:

      “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.”

      And she knows this how, exactly?

      • Alsadius says

        Because pistol grips are about as meaningful as the colour of the paint job on the gun. She was using it as a fancy term for “nothing”.

        • Byomtov says

          Except that even if a ban is competely ineffective, on what basis can she argue that if the students – of whatever age she has in mind – rush the shooter more will survive than if they run? No basis other than sheer speculation.

          She is talking about chaotic conditions. What makes you think the rushers won’t turn and run when one of them is shot in the head? Or that they won’t stumble over each other when there are dead and wounded on the floor. How will that work out? What if only a few charge? Should you charge if there’s a closet you can get in, or a classroom you can lock and barricade? Who decides all that? We are not talking about a group of soldiers with someone in command. We are talking about individuals making their own decisions under extreme stress.

          My speculation, as good as McArdle’s, is that charging is more likley to increase the body count than reduce it.

          • Alsadius says

            She cites examples of cases where mass unarmed civilian intervention stopped the attackers(United 93 and Loughner). Do we know of examples where it failed in the ways you suggest? Anecdote is not data, of course, but I’m unfamiliar with there even being anecdote to back up your suggestions.

  3. Anomalous says

    Kevlar from GapKids! Stops those pesky hollow point rounds and resists stains fron peanut butter and jelly.
    It’s not that there are no reasonable measures that can improve the situation. It’s that “The Cold Dead Hands” crowd won’t get out of the way.
    Yes we know there are lots of high capacity weapons out there because we have allowed them to be sold and controling those sales now won’t get the existing munitions off the streets. So next is to figure out the best way to get those armaments off the streets. Right? How about a buy back program for starters. One less killing machine is one less. We gotta start somewhere.

    • Brett Bellmore says

      “How about a buy back program for starters. One less killing machine is one less. We gotta start somewhere.”

      Hey, disarm the cops, then. One less killing machine is one less killing machine, and we gotta start somewhere.

      • Matt says

        More guns = more homicide. This is a fact that you cannot get around.

        I’m tired of all of your nuanced statistics that fundamentally evade this simple truth.

        • Brett Bellmore says

          Me, I’m tired of people who are tired of nuanced statistics which get in the way of assuming their personal intuitions are cosmic truth.

          • Matt says

            I am not arguing that this fact is a cosmic truth; it is a simple truth supported by peer-reviewed research from legitimate and reputable sources.

            More guns = more homicide.

          • Brett Bellmore says

            You’re the one who attacked nuanced statistics, but apparently you like ‘em if they say what you want. Not that I’d call a guy who doesn’t even understand the difference between correlation and causality “nuanced”.

            I’ve already explained why it is, as a practical matter, impossible to derive a valid correlation between a weak factor in the presence of a very powerful confounding variable, and why the huge variation in crime rates independent of guns in this country proves such factors are present. There are a lot of statistics in this field, almost all of them are little more than propaganda pieces with the look of science.

          • Matt says

            I linked to peer reviewed, verifiable research from a prominent and respected researcher. You come back with hyperbole and a bunch of insinuations that you expect us to somehow trust just because you’re saying it, and then accuse me of presenting “propaganda pieces with the look of science.” Strange irony.

            Like I said, peer-reviewed, legitimate facts or don’t come back.

          • Clark says

            I, for one, am never tired of people who do not derive metaphysical certitude of the Americannness of a president despite a birth certificate, but get tremendous comfort and satisfaction from nuanced statistics that have to be selectively interpreted to support their beliefs.

  4. Brett Bellmore says

    “the problem with gun flows across the U.S.-Mexican border is southbound, not northbound.”

    I could argue with that, but why distract from your main point.

    No, a mass charge against a mad dog killer isn’t “suicide”, as the purpose of suicide is for you to die, and if done competently, will reliably have that result. While the mass charge has the purpose of stopping the killer, and only involves the risk of dying, which risk drops as the tactic is employed more competently. The term for things like this is “heroic”, not “suicidal”.

    And if we can successfully discourage heroism, (Leading to 9-11) we can successfully encourage it. Publicly noticing the difference between “suicide” and “heroics” is a large part of how you do it.

        • Henry Stimson says

          “Everyone died anyway” – No. The number of people who died on the plane was the same. The number of people who died on the ground was reduced, perhaps by a large number.

          Just another example of essential selfishness of the left’s positions.

          • Freethinker says

            Just another example of essential selfishness of the left’s positions.

            Does not compute. Perhaps this makes sense internally for you Henry, but the rest of us our lacking the foundational thoughts. Please explain.

        • Freeman says

          No sir. While technically correct your statement leaves out important facts pertinent to the conversation. Rather, that’s the one where the plane was attacked by a small gang of men armed with deadly weapons for the purpose of utilizing the aircraft as a far, far deadlier weapon, and everyone on the plane died in the effort to prevent that. The storyline I recall involved terrorists cutting the throats of stewardesses with razor-sharp box-cutters in order to cower the rest of the passengers. And it worked except in the case where passengers discovered what was planned.

          A cowardice-to-heroism transformation seems to come quite naturally to ordinary people faced with the knowledge that their survival is very unlikely and their actions may secure the survival of others. The particular weapon is irrelevant. “Let’s roll”.

    • Ayn Randian Freeman says

      The term for things like this is “heroic”, not “suicidal”.

      Let the bums rush the shooter. Me? No no no. Not me. Instead: My survival first.
      I am going for the exits. Just survive baby. Change my name and get on the Medicare list.
      Brett and Freeman, may I suggest you yell “Geronimo” when you sacrifice yourself for me?

      • Freethinker says

        Huh? Survival of the least heroic? Is Ayn a freerider for sprinting for the exit first? Or is she merely looking out for #1? And what about the idea of paying more taxes to help society? There is rightwing pledge against that! Yet Brett and Freeman expect me an others to rush someone shooting real bullets to help society? Someplace deep in the conservative brain all this makes happy sense.

      • Freeman says

        Sorry, I’m having difficulty parsing your comments, (Randian and Freethinker) and I must confess I don’t get your point.

        You seem to be influenced by mistaken prejudices. Speaking only for myself, I’ve never been a fan of Rand’s philosophy or conservatism’s politics, however I’m a huge fan of liberty. Politically I tend to tilt somewhat leftward on the liberal/conservative scale, leading my tea-party acquaintances to refer to me as a liberaltarian. My perception of Brett (and I hope he’ll correct me if I’m wrong) is that he is similarly politically oriented with more of a rightward tilt. I find we share much common ground on issues of liberty, and considerably less on partisan issues.

      • Nick says

        I assume Brett was referring to GWB there.

        I have to assume that because the other alternative is just completely nuts.

      • Alsadius says

        In what sense? When the people on the planes waited to be rescued, they were used as unwilling suicide bombers to kill thousands. When they stood up for themselves, they stopped the attack. Now, it’s a lot easier to be a hero when you’re going to die either way, but it was still heroism that saved a lot of people on the ground. I don’t see any practical way to convince the passengers to rush the hijackers on the first 3 planes, whatever the official government “How to respond to a hijacking” suggestions might have said, but if it could have been done, it’d have saved a hell of a lot of lives.

        • RMerriam says

          The government advice was correct for hijackings prior to 9/11. In those the hijackers were not suicidal. They were holding the passengers hostage and dead hostages have no value. The dynamic changed with 9/11 when suicidal hijackers appeared.

      • Freeman says

        Barry: “And if we can successfully discourage heroism, (Leading to 9-11) …”

        Liar.

        How very convincing!

        Can you recall for us what the standard procedure for dealing with hijackings entailed before 9-11? I believe the exercise will illustrate Brett’s point for you quite effectively.

    • says

      I think the analogy to Flight 93 breaks down at the part where everyone on the plane was going to die anyway if no one did anything. And also maybe at the part where the people who did the charging weren’t school-aged children.

      • Timb says

        And had 20 minutes to discuss and execute a plan, rather than several milliseconds….

        Megan’s stupid suggestion not only lacks any knowledge of human behavior, but, specifically, is ignorant of the behavior of children.

        NO ONE runs toward a shooter, sans trainng

  5. Jonathan H. Adler says

    I think the rage results from the incredulity that someone who is smart, thoughtful, and not-clearly-evil could reach different conclusions. There is a common impulse to ascribe radically differing opinions to stupidity or malice. When this intuition is crushed, the response is bewilderment or (in some cases, particularly when there is no personal relationship involved) anger and rage.

    Note: I am not saying this phenomenon is the province of any particular ideological group. I think it’s (at least in part) a consequence of the cocooning and resulting echo chamber in which many operate (academics in particular).

    I also think David Hoffman’s recent post on “The Good Life and Gun Control” adds to this discussion.
    http://www.concurringopinions.com/archives/2012/12/the-good-life-and-gun-control.html

    • Cranky Observer says

      = = = someone who is smart, thoughtful, and not-clearly-evil could reach different conclusions.= = =

      McArdle used to participate in comments at TPMCafe, Crooked Timber, and a few similar sites (she still hits Crooked Timber occasionally). Her argumentation didn’t strike me as very smart and certainly not thoughtful personally (YMMV). But the rage-inducing part was that most of her commenting involved some level of bad faith (usually in premises, though not seldom in inferences). And much as with one of our favorite participants here at RBC when one of her assertions or conclusions was thoroughly sliced up via logic or simple presentation of documented facts she would disappear from the thread and then assert her failed argument as fact the next day in one of her commercial venues (Atlantic, etc).

      If that’s the best the glibertarian wing of the hard Radical Right can do for “smart, thoughtful, and not-clearly-evil” it is better than Rush Limbaugh I guess, but forgive me if I am unimpressed.

      Cranky

      • Barry says

        “But the rage-inducing part was that most of her commenting involved some level of bad faith (usually in premises, though not seldom in inferences). ”

        And the most, ah – ‘extraordinary talent’ to make math errors.
        Oddly enough, always in her favor.

        And the ability to argue with somebody about whether or not 2+2=4, starting with her not necessarily agreeing that she had indeed written the numbers which she had written.

    • Anonymous says

      Let the people who disagree with you describe why they feel the way they do.
      I respect a rigorous argument even if I don’t accept the premise.
      McArdle, however, argues dishonestly, and I have nothing but intellectual contempt for people who do that.
      Time after time she distorts statistics, invents “gotchas” from factual claims that are suspect, and dismisses any social policy out of hand as doomed to failure.

      I despise sophists and she is one. I have much more respect for someone who actually says what they believe rather than adopting a mask of “reasonableness.”
      David Brooks causes the same reaction in me, for what it is worth.

        • Cranky Observer says

          There’s that tiny difference where Krugman backs ups what he says with detailed statistics, mathematical analysis, charts, graphs, etc, and “shows his work” in how he got from the data his conclusions. Further backed up by similar analyses published in peer-reviewed academic journals. That’s not to say his analysis is perfect or even right, given the complexities of human nature and therefore the study of economics. But to compare Krugman to McArdle or Brooks is ludicrous.

          Cranky

    • Freeman says

      Thanks for the link, Jonathon. Hoffman raised several good points. Kahn’s ideas occurred to me as well, but there seemed little point in my adding those to the discussion here. Count me among those surprised and unaware of how certain ideas about defending school children might be received.

  6. Freeman says

    I found McArdle’s column well-reasoned and superbly articulated. Her conclusion in favor of self-defensive measures is similar to the conclusion I reached, but has the rhetorical advantage over mine that it does not offend those who are justifiably uncomfortable with the idea of more guns around children. The idea of one’s children rushing an armed attacker naturally horrifies parents, but it’s more likely to successfully mitigate damage than cowering in the corner, however unlikely one imagines that it’s success remains. There are obvious practical barriers to implementation in her approach, as with mine, but let’s not ignore the consensus which I’m confident most of us share that no small band of lunatics armed with box cutters is likely to be able to commandeer a jetliner while passengers cower again after 9/11, nor forget that further damage was mitigated in the case of the one plane in which the armed attackers were rushed, even though everyone on the plane perished.

    But I’m puzzled by your puzzlement. Have you not been following the discussions right here in your own backyard? Defenses of gun ownership were met with howls of outrage all over this blog. People were accused of not caring that children are being slaughtered, or worse, that they enjoyed such spectacle. After participating in some of these discussions I’ve felt compelled to apologize to a few of my gun-enthusiast friends for mocking their paranoia that all liberals are out to grab their guns. While they can be quite hyperbolic in the pictures they paint of liberals, there is a very real faction on the left that absolutely would be in favor of trying to snatch guns from the cold dead fingers of my compadres, and they seem to be more prevalent and vocal than I had imagined.

    • LoriK says

      I’m confused by the fact that people keep bringing up Flight 93 in connection with McArdle’s column. The passengers who rushed the cockpit were indeed heroic and admirable. They were also adults and knew enough about what the hijackers had planned to be aware that retaking the plane was their only chance of survival (the fact that they sadly did not survive does not retroactively make their actions suicidal when in the moment they were quite the opposite). Neither of those conditions apply to McArdle’s idea for dealing with school shooters by teaching children to rush the gun men.

      As for liberals wanting to grab guns, yes there are some people who would like an outright ban on private gun ownership. Those people have effectively zero power and no such ban is going to happen, so their existence doesn’t actually make your gun-enthusiast friends any less paranoid.

      • Douglas6 says

        Everyone here seems to be ignoring McCardle’s main point – the only way to prevent future Newtowns would be to ban the private ownership of guns and confiscate all private weapons. Gun regulation short of that – especially such feel-good but ridiculous regulations as bans on “assault weapons” (defined as semi-automatic rifles with certain cosmetic features) – will have only a small impact, if any. How can anyone dispute this? Connecticut has pretty strong gun regulation – you need a license to have handguns, there are background checks, etc., etc. – and none of that mattered. The guns here were lawfully owned and registered and the shooter’s attempt to buy his own weapons was unsuccessful – he had to steal his mother’s.

        I think that emotion is the main factor explaining the anger at McCardle. There is no rational explanation.

        • Cranky Observer says

          = = = Gun regulation short of that – especially such feel-good but ridiculous regulations as bans on “assault weapons” (defined as semi-automatic rifles with certain cosmetic features) – will have only a small impact, if any. How can anyone dispute this? = = =

          By reading the statistics on murders, including the subset of gun murders, in the UK before and after the strict regulations on the ownership of private firearms were enacted? Still several million gun owners in England and Scotland, yet the number of gun murders has plummeted.

          Cranky

      • Alsadius says

        Children become adults. The obvious parsing of “teach young people” is to put it into the curriculum at some appropriate time, likely highschool, so that adults will have been taught. Assuming that it’s about 6 year olds using human wave tactics is a pretty malicious misreading.

        • Cranky Observer says

          The “obvious parsing” in the context of a column discussing the Sandy Hook mass murder by gun is that “young people” refers to people in a school similar to Sandy Hook. This back-formation of a justification for McArdle’s horrifying words is touching but intellectually dishonest.

          Cranky

          • Alsadius says

            And yet, if you actually read the article, she specifically said that doing it in the Sandy Hook context would be ridiculous. I try not to start debates with the assumption that my opponent is insane.

          • Warren Terra says

            No. If you read the article in which she backtracks and attempts to recover from the ridicule to which her mad suggestion rightly exposed her she “specifically said that doing it in the Sandy Hook context would be ridiculous”. She initially made the suggestion in response to Sandy Hook.

            It’s also worth noting that the positive examples she musters regarding the rushing of a spree killer are about Jared Loughner – who was rushed by civilians while attempting to reload. I will point out that “enthusiasts” like Brett insist that no shooter must ever be forced to reload, that there is a legitimate self-defense or sporting purpose for magazines, drums, or presumably belts that hold thirty, fifty, or even hundreds of bullets. It is perhaps relevant that – while she did not reject limits on magazine sizes as being somehow impermissible – McArdle sneered at the usefulness of limitations on magazine sizes, the day before she frantically invoked the gang-rushing of a shooter trying to reload.

          • Alsadius says

            She also specifically endorsed banning high-capacity magazines. Whatever Brett says, McArdle is at least consistent on that point.

      • Freeman says

        As someone who doesn’t share that attachment in a big way (my attachment to my gun stems from it’s status as a cherished gift from my father — it hasn’t been fired in several decades), I’m confident that my efforts at apologia are necessarily inadequate, but I’ll attempt to paint you a picture gleaned from my experiences existing in a gun-infused environment.

        I can say that firing such a weapon is fun, though not so much fun to me personally that I would go to the trouble necessary to safely keep one in my suburban home. Out in nearby farm country, outdoor “shooting ranges” are ubiquitous on private acreage, and at social gatherings it’s not uncommon for friends to gather in the back-40 to shoot guns while others play volleyball in the front yard. The unfamiliar would probably be acutely startled by the number of “assault weapons” and the magnitude of firepower at hand at a typical gathering of 20 or so friends in those back-40 shooting sessions. I’ve participated in many such events, and can tell you that it can be quite fun to set up a bunch of targets you can obliterate and shoot at them with a rapid-fire weapon with plenty of ammo in the clip, whether it be an AR-15 or a Glock (I’ve fired both). In my decidedly limited experience, participants in these events have always adhered to well-practiced safe handling and targeting procedures as a natural, mutually-understood course of action, always respecting the deadly potential of the toys they play with.

        Aside from the rapturous joy of toying with deadly weapons of mass-murder, it seems quite natural to me for rural farmers to keep and bear arms. They have a need to defend against predatory wild animals threatening their livestock for one thing. Nor does it seem odd to me that most of them are highly independent and take personal responsibility for their own defense of life and property in an environment where expensive equipment and livestock are kept in open fields and law enforcement consists of a county sheriff and one or two deputies. Their weapons of choice are not of much concern to me. They know what they’re doing (.30-06 — never .223 — for slaughtering steers).

        My perception of the motives of my suburban concealed-carry enthusiast co-workers in fulfilling the necessary certification of competent gunmanship and understanding of applicable law, and then eagerly participating in government registration of an activity they might not otherwise wish to have registered with a government they understand may use that information to help confiscate their guns at some future date, includes the preservation of their gun rights as a primary motivator — rights which aren’t openly exercised by a significant portion of the public are often easily legislated away — the gang-banger doesn’t register his weapons, so take his and leave mine alone — that sort of thinking.

        Now I don’t wish to give the impression that I’m asserting that this description accurately represents the entire dataset. I’ve been squirrel hunting (once, never again) with a couple of local hillbillies who, as it turned out, liked to consume mass quantities of alcohol while hunting and as a result did not observe appropriate caution, to put it lightly. I acknowledge that unacceptably unsafe behaviors occur with unacceptable frequency among some groups often touted as “responsible” gun owners, let alone criminals.

        • Timb says

          ” whether it be an AR-15 or a Glock (I’ve fired both). ”

          Cool. So did Adam Lanza!

          Seems irresponsible to suggest that rural folk might be forced to have different diversions in order that 20 first graders could turn 8 years old and we’d sure to hate to inconvenience their party past-times, but…

          • Freeman says

            And so have a lot of other people who didn’t shoot up a school.

            To me it seems irresponsible to suggest taking up a culture war against the people who grow your food, but what do I know?

  7. Ebenezer Scrooge says

    McArdle is smart and a good writer. As far as nuanced thinking and sanity goes, I think her work is a mixed bag. I sometimes see first-rate libertarian (or unclassifiable) work, and sometimes see David Brooks. As Zach says, she often seems to write the first thing that pops into her mind, without much research or mulling time. This guarantees a lot of silly stuff.

    This proposal is part of the silly stuff. At risk of a Godwin’s law violation, remember that the prisoners at Auschwitz knew exactly what was going to happen to them and had plenty of time to coordinate, but could only once or twice essay McArdlesque collective action. Human beings aren’t ants, and their payout structures have fairly predictable distortions. (I’m amused at gun-libertarians like Brett getting all collectivist on us here.) Flight 99 is not to the contrary. It had a very different payout structure than nut-with-a-gun: certain death for all versus improbable death for any.

    • Colin says

      On similar lines, one of the oddest arguments I’ve heard for gun ownership is the claim that the Germans had an easy and profitable time occupying a huge chunk of Europe because so few of the civilian population had guns or military training. If only the French, Poles, Dutch etc had been more pro-gun in the interwar years, they’d have risen up as one and driven up the costs of pacification so high that the Third Reich would have collapsed in on itself. (Bonus points: the guy giving me this argument was German.)

      • Barry says

        Genocide (and the credible threat thereof) makes these things easier.
        Remember that Iraqis made the US look like a bunch of gunophobes, but Saddam seemed to rule juuuuust fine.

        You might want to read http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Occupation_of_Poland

        As for France, remember that there was a massive Fascist wing of French politics, so the Germans had many ‘friends’ for ideological reasons.

      • Ralph says

        Speaking of the 3rd reich, I think McMegan’s suggestion sort of resonates with the “If the concentration camp folks had just rushed the concentration camp guards, the holocaust would never have happened” meme. Which is BS, no?

        • Alsadius says

          BS, but mostly because even escaping wouldn’t really have helped. The Nazis did control all the area around the camps, and have the ability to bring overwhelming force to bear on any escapees. Their best odds were to keep working and hope to stay useful until the Nazis lost and the camps were liberated. This is not the same as in a school shooting, because the school shooter doesn’t have backup.

    • cthulhu says

      I don’t get the concentration camp reference. The concentration camps had more than adequate armed security forces to quell any uprisings, plus were sitting in the midst of territory hostile to the camp inhabitants. The camp prisoners were also deliberately kept malnourished, almost certainly in part to reduce their ability to revolt.

      McArdle’s point, a version of which is also made strongly in Robert Heinlein’s SF novel “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress”, is that a dozen unarmed people can take down one person with a gun, at a cost in lives much lower than waiting for the shooter to run out of ammo or for the armed authorities to arrive. I think there is some relevance in the analogy with United Flight 93 – people under attack from a spree killer are not that different in terms of life expectancy than the passengers on that plane, so why just wait passively to be killed? The big advantage of the Flight 93 passengers was that they had some time to plan, but maybe some thinking about these kind of situations beforehand would help more coordinated action in the moment of truth.

      This is in no way, shape, or form meant to denigrate any of the victims in Newtown, the vast majority of whom were far too young to defend themselves, and of those who were adults, seemed to have been heroic in their actions. But maybe the adults would have had more of a chance to improve the odds if they had undergone some training beforehand.

  8. GeoffBr says

    Mark, I think your affection for McArdle is blinding you to the more glaring flaws in her piece. A few of the problems that people take issue with:

    1. Her prescription to “instantly run at the guy with the gun” is not, as you suggest, embodied in official doctrine. Rather, rushing the attacker is suggested universally as a choice of last resort, after running and hiding have failed. This is on the theory that an extremely slim chance of survival is better than none.

    2. McArdle is clearing advocating that children (“if we drilled it into young people”) be trained to do this. The likelihood that even 8 – 12 young children will be able to subdue a grown shooter armed with a semi-automatic handgun or rifle is pretty risible – assuming you can somehow “train” children to run at the shooter in a coordinated fashion anyway. Training soldiers to run into fire is something that takes a lot of work as it is; would children drill at this regularly.

    3. Perhaps worst of all, McArdle doesn’t even have the courage of her convictions – “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.” After shooting down the other ideas presented, she can contribute only an idea whose viability she doesn’t even seem to believe herself. This is intellectually lazy at best.

    It’s this combination of flippancy and illogic that I think struck a nerve here. (And I grant that the rest of the piece isn’t bad.) As to why she drives people crazy, her writing often reminds me of Matthew Yglesias’s: when she writes in her areas of expertise, she’s cogent, articulate, and insightful. However, she seems to have an undeserved faith that her sheer intellectual horsepower equip her to opine widely outside of those areas. To me, McArdle often comes across as arrogant – particularly, like Yglesias, when she speculates further afield.

    • Ken Doran says

      Let us assume that we had been the security team in Newtown, and had successfully trained the first graders to rush the gunman as well as that is possible to do; and that instead of trying to hide they had done so. How long would the charge have continued after a dozen classmates lay dead and wounded? Zero seconds. And how many of the security team would now be in jail? All. Sorry, Mark, she may be a smart lady, but to offer that idea __in this context__ was really, really dumb. She deserves the ridicule, and it predictably colors the reaction to plausible sentiments elsewhere in the column.

      • Dan Staley says

        What a miserable c—s——- existence – training kids that there is nothing we can do about mass murder except to have kids rush the murderer. What a miserable society that would be. That is not a sane or civil society. Time to take our country back from these creepy gun cultists.

          • Alsadius says

            This would be my point. She specifically says that strong gun control would be the most effective way to prevent similar events, and yet everyone seems to miss that part, probably because they’re arguing with a snippet and not the article.

  9. Matt says

    Yes yes yes yes yes. I’m a lefty, often disagree with McArdle, but I generally think she’s one of the best opinion writers going and I’ve never understood the lefty rage against her. And I agree with you that her Sandy Hook post was one of the best and most thoughtful pieces of writing about that tragedy, though I disagreed with many of its specific points. And I was baffled that Chait, whom I often like, so willfully misread her, and that his mockery so quickly became the Official Received Wisdom of the left.

  10. Greg Abbott says

    I believe “glibertarian” was coined specifically for McArdle. She has two characteristics as a writer which combine to generate irritation — (1) an intellectual smugness, as if her approach is the only logical, non-partisan way of addressing a topic; and (2) occasional tone-deaf or awkward treatment of certain topics. The column in question is a great example — regardless of how she phrased it, in the context of Sandy Hook, she suggests the proper course of action is to teach 5 and 6 year old to try and run at the shooter. This is obviously a terrible, unworkable, and stupid idea. If McArdle had normal human instincts she would have realized how poorly people would react to her post before she posted it, and edited it accordingly.

    • Semper Why says

      “This is obviously a terrible, unworkable, and stupid idea.”

      Agreed. But it’s still a better solution than banning rifles with a pistol grip. They’re both terrible attempts at a solution. Which was McArdle’s point.

      For some reason, people keep missing the qualifications on her recommendation.

      • curious says

        “But it’s still a better solution than banning rifles with a pistol grip.”

        Please explain why that is?

  11. says

    I agree with most of the negative things said here about McArdle, even still, it seems that opprobrium she receives from left blogistan seems far outstrip what she’s actually said or done. She seems to get more than her share of directly personal commentary.

    Some of the anti-McArdle threads on Balloon Juice have been particularly vile, not that that’s anything really out of the ordinary for that joint.

    • Warren Terra says

      There are some things said about McArdle that are simply abusive, and that reflect badly on the people saying them. It is possible that her gender or other characteristics cause her inanities to be thoroughly attacked when others’ go ignored – although I’d argue that by far the most important determinant is that she imparts her inanities from the offices of respectable publications like The Economist, The Atlantic, and Newsweek; if she was similarly obtuse or disingenuous under the imprimatur of publications that come pre-discredited for the reader’s convenience, I suspect many people would be less exercised about her transgressions.

      But whatever the reason for people to focus on her offenses rather than on those of other writers, there are so, so many times when she has said something that has richly deserved the opprobrium it has received. The term “glibertarian” was coined to describe the lackadaisical approach she so often takes to whether her numbers add up or her ideas make sense, and her common retreats to claims that she wasn’t serious – as in this case of the Kindergarten Kamikaze Squad – is merely a symptom. I’m fairly sure that it’s a symptom of her unwillingness to take responsibility for the jaw-droppingly stupid things she is occasionally criticized for saying, but there is a bare possibility that it’s a symptom of a writing style and an authorial voice that makes it impossible for the reader to distinguish her consciously asinine ideas from the ideas she intends to be taken seriously.

      I am sorry that Mark cannot see this. I will say that at least one Bloggingheads Mark did with Megan was one of the best I’ve ever listened to – though at least in my recollection this was because it functioned largely as an interview or a guided lecture rather than as a debate.

  12. politicalfootball says

    Notice that the “standby suicide squad” and “plan to teach children to launch banzai charges” are entirely in Chait’s fevered imagination.

    McArdle makes it very clear that she doesn’t want to talk about solutions that aren’t specific to Sandy Hook:

    As soon as Newtown happened, people reached into a mental basket already full of “ways to stop school shootings” and pulled out a few of their favorite items. They did not stop to find out whether those causes had actually obtained in this case. … the proposed cure didn’t have anything to do with the specifics of Lanza’s situation. … “Make more mental health resources available” or “early identification and treatment of troubled children” is a fine answer to many cases, but Adam Lanza had all that you could wish for in terms of resources. It didn’t stop him from picking up a gun and going to that school.

    She goes on in this vein, but you get the point.

    And note that McArdle specifically cites “young people” as the people who need to be trained to rush shooters. So if she’s not talking about teaching children to mount banzai charges, then she’s arguing in bad faith or is completely incoherent. My guess is that you are right – that she’s not prepared to defend her own recommendation – but you can’t blame Chait for treating her argument as being lucid and in good faith.

    Nor does McArdle pose the idea as a “solution” to the problem.

    McArdle similarly and repeatedly says that people are proposing various measures that she opposes as “solutions” to the problem. Chait has merely adopted McArdle’s use of that word.

    what was missing was the concerted action that might have made their self-sacrifice efficacious. I’m agnostic-to-not-very-hopeful about the feasibility of encouraging such concerted action, but it’s not obviously silly.

    Why is it not obviously silly? What makes you think that it’s even potentially practical to teach “young people” to be ready at a moment’s notice to rush shooters in a concerted fashion? A lot of liberals like to ridicule the “duck and cover” drills of the 50s, but those made a lot more sense than what McArdle is proposing here.

    I gather that Ms. McArdle is a very charming person, and I am sympathetic to people who say awful things if I happen to like them (or be related to them). But I truly don’t expect other people to ignore the awful things that people say, and neither should you.

  13. Ebenezer Scrooge says

    Could this be the woman problem on the Internet? McArdle gets more crap thrown at her than, say, Conor Friedersdorf. They’re both similar types: smart righties who occasionally write silly things. Friedersdorf is more of a conservative, and McArdle is more of a libertarian, but I don’t think it makes much difference. Friedersdorf sometimes gets savaged (don’t we all), but his batting average isn’t much higher than McArdle’s, and he gets a lot fewer boos from the left blogosphere.

    If so, the left blogosphere is not the only community with a pro-feminist ideology that doesn’t do so well in practice. Ah, well, we’re human. The best we can do is remember our flaws, and try to do better the next time.

    • Barry says

      It might be, but I think that a lot of it is that McArdle was also a pioneering blogger (Conor is really a columnist). My analogy is that McArdle is the Bright Young Thing who turned out to be just as hackish, corrupt as the 60-year old hacks who generally populate ‘old media’ op-ed pages.

      • Ebenezer Scrooge says

        Ouch! Comparing McArdle to 60-year old “old media” hacks is probably the unkindest thing written on this thread. I would much rather it be said about me: “Ebenezer Scrooge is worse than Hitler!” than to have said: “Ebenezer Scrooge is significantly better than Richard Cohen.”

      • matt w says

        Yup. I’ve been dealing with McArdle’s dishonesty on the internet since at least 2002.* Friedersdorf is a guy I just started to hear of a couple of years ago.

        *She did some sort of faux-statistical analysis purporting to show that the Democrats were committing voter fraud on Indian reservations in the South Dakota senate election. As it turned out, of course, the only fraud in that election turned out to be Republicans filing fraudulent affidavits of Democratic fraud.

        Note the racial undertones here; those used to be a lot more common in McArdle’s work, the prime case being a post she wrote defending someone who called John McWhorter an “affirmative action hire,” where she was explicitly arguing that any black academic outside of, say, African-American studies was an affirmative action hire.

  14. Barry says

    Mark Kleiman:

    “There’s something about Megan McArdle that drives some of my fellow Blue-team pundits crazy. ”

    It’s because she’s an incredibly dishonest hack.

    “She’s way smarter, way saner, far more nuanced in her thinking, and a much better writer than most of her Red-team colleagues.”

    That’s not saying much, and I note that you don’t compare her to Blue-team people. Why is that?

    ” She doesn’t fawn on the rich or despise the poor. Her ideas about how to deal with failure fit no ideological mold,”

    Neoliberal glibertarianism sums her up quite nicely.

    “… and imply policy positions that won’t make her any friends at Cato.”

    What would these be?

    ” But the Rage Against the McArdle seems to run deep in Left Blogistan.”

    Because she’s a dishonest hack, and probably also because she was a pioneering dishonest hack blogger.

  15. Barry says

    “Overall, though, her essay is one of the more sensible pieces of writing about Sandy Hook. What she says about encouraging victims to attack rather than hiding is, as far as I can tell, correct: it would save lives if you could get people to do it – by contrast with lots of the non-starter ideas now being seriously discussed, such as making it easier to lock weird people up in mental hospitals – but it would be hard-to-impossible to foster that sort of socially desirable but individually self-sacrificing behavior.”

    I’ll e-mail Mark, and let him know that somebody’s hacked his account here :)

    Mark, here’s a clue – we know that you had lunch with her, and for some darn fool reason think that you know her, and that’s she’s a decent person, probably because she refrained from doing any odious during that hour. But the rest of us have actually read what she’s written, and formed our opinions based on that.

  16. Russell L. Carter says

    You have to elide a decade of documented history of McArdle iteratively performing as a mendacious hack in order to write this post. The careful, lengthy, high integrity takedowns are out there; if you don’t know about them then that’s your own fault. And as Daniel Davies once put it in another context, “fibbers forecasts are worthless”.

    At this point she’s viewed as a buffoon by anyone with a trifle respect for the history. That’s the context in which I read Chait’s take.

  17. guy44 says

    Mark,

    I respect your opinions a great deal, and I love your work on drug policy. But please do not fall prey to the D.C.-esque villager problem, in which you absolve powerful people of their actions and statements because you dined with them and found them to be pleasant company.

    Let’s review some favorite McArdle quotes, shall we?

    1. Referencing anti-war protesters marching against the Iraq war in February 2003, McArdle wrote “I can’t be mad at these little dweebs. I’m too busy laughing. And I think some in New York are going to laugh even harder when they try to unleash some civil disobedience, Lenin style, and some New Yorker who understands the horrors of war all too well picks up a two-by-four and teaches them how very effective violence can be when it’s applied in a firm, pre-emptive manner.”

    2. In an article titled “The Virtue of Riches: How Wealth Makes Us More Moral,” McArdle wrote that wealth makes people “more tolerant of minorities, more welcoming to immigrants, more solicitous of their fellow citizens, more supportive of democratic institutions, and just plain better specimens of humanity.”

    3. McArdle’s very first post at the Atlantic warned people not to panic during the liquidity shock of 2007.

    4. In 2008, she suggested that the economic downturn would reduce income equality, and that “Recessions are bad for everyone, but they’re worse for the wealthy.”

    And the idea that her opinions would make her at outcast at Cato? Really, Cato? I quote: “I love Cato. I love school choice. I read their stuff all the time, and I think a lot of it is great. I cite it and use it.” This is organization that just barely escaped literally being forcefully taken over by the Koch brothers, correct? McArdle’s entire career has been spent orbiting the sun that is Koch money:

    McArdle received journalism training from the right-wing Institute for Humane Studies, headed by Charles Koch since the 1960s. In 2011, McArdle returned to her Koch alma mater as a guest lecturer and instructor at the Institute for Humane Studies’ “Journalism & the Free Society” summer internship program. In October 2011, she was chosen to emcee Charles Koch’s 50th Anniversary gala celebration of his flagship libertarian think-tank, the Institute for Humane Studies, featuring Charles Koch as the keynote speaker and guest of honor. In January 2009, McArdle was singled out for her “leadership role” by the Koch-connected America’s Future Foundation and took part in a panel of GOP strategists and top conservative activists pushing for “re-branding the Republican party.” In February 2009, McArdle led a propaganda campaign in her Atlantic blog to discredit investigative journalism exposing the first Tea Party protest in February 2009 as an Astroturf campaign backed by the Koch brothers and FreedomWorks. McArdle wrote of the Kochs: “from what I know of them, astroturfing doesn’t really seem like their style. I’ve seen Koch in action at private events, and though I’ll respect the privacy, I’ll say that even in the company of other like-minded rich people, he displayed rather a mania for honest dealing.” In June 2010, McArdle married fellow Koch activist Peter Suderman.

    And there’s so much more. Should we discuss her opposition to gay marriage? The fact that she defends Wall Street salaries? I haven’t even gotten into the complicated back-and-forths for which McArdle is so famous, in which commenters point out her (inevitable) errors and she obtusely quasi-responds until she comes up with some made up reason to no longer engage because she refuses to ever admit she’s wrong.

    How about this as evidence that McArdle is pretty terrible? When she started blogging, she used the pseudonym Jane Galt. Case closed.

        • Ohio Mom says

          Project Shame’s tone is certainly exaggerated but I’ve followed a few of their links and they’ve checked out. e.g., the event held last October that they described as “Koch Activist Megan McArdle Speaking at CATO Institute Supply Side Social Club that Helped Launch (sic) Paul Ryan’s Career,” is described on the Prosperity Caucus’s page as “You are Invited To A Meeting of the Prosperity Caucus with Guest Speaker Megan McArdle, Senior Writer for Newsweek and The Daily Beast, Who will talk about “Risk, Equality, and Economic Narratives”.”

          She may or may not have any friends at CATO but they appear to have at least a cordial relationship.

        • Zen Punk says

          Do the cuss words upset your sensibilities? There’s nothing wrong with the source. The facts check out. Thanks for this post though. One more blog I can safely prune from my RSS.

    • Alsadius says

      1) She’s apologized for that on several occasions.
      2) This seems like an accurate statement, so I’m not sure what you’re criticizing.
      3) If you actually read the article, she says that it’s likely to be “very bad”, and cause a recession, but that it won’t be Armageddon. Again, this seems an accurate summary.
      4) Yet again, isn’t this empirically true? (At least, in the way that data is measured for inequality stats – the loss of quality of life is of course worse among the poor, but the loss of income is worse among the rich)

      Other than #1, which was genuinely boneheaded, mostly you seem to be mocking her for accurate statements either by taking them out of context, or by getting offended at the political opinions that you think are being implied.

        • Alsadius says

          You don’t have a lot of ability to be charitable and kind when you have to spend 80 hours a week keeping food on the table. On an individual, societal, or historical level, more wealth is strongly correlated with more charity, lower violence, and better attitudes towards freedom. Not to mention that the most common way of getting rich by far is to make other people’s lives better somehow, so even being rich in the first place is usually a good sign(though of course there’s a lot of counterexamples). It’s not Afghanistan that legalized gay marriage, it was the Netherlands. It’s not Zimbabwe that leads the world in charity, it’s the US. The highest murder rate in the world is in Honduras, and the lowest is in Japan.

          I know it’s not a fashionable thing to say, but it is nonetheless true. Wealth makes people better. Not in every case, but it’s a simple statistical truth.

          • Warren Terra says

            Congratulations: your McArdle imitation is getting quite good. You have made an argument based on your first principles and on your assumptions that is – unless I am quite mistaken – not only false but trivially testable. It is practically a trusim that – contrary to everything you say in your comment – wealth is not strongly correlated with charity. Among Americans, at the very least, charitable giving as a proportion of income is higher among the less-well-off than among the wealthy; measured against wealth instead of income, the difference would be even more pronounced.

            And your attempts to compare nations rather than individuals are laughable. The income differences between Afghanistan and the Netherlands are profound, but are not the only and likely not the most important differences between those countries. I have no idea whether the US leads the world in charity; certainly if you’re looking at government aid, that’s not the case. And it’s beyond macabre in this particular, Sandy Hook-inspired thread to claim a tight correlation between national income and the murder rate by invoking Japan, when the US is in the middle of the murder-rate distribution and has more than 10x the murder rate of Japan with a comparable national income – in fact, Japan’s per-capita GDP is about 3/4 of that of the US.

          • Alsadius says

            I’m open to new data, of course. A quick Google on the topic of intranational charitable contributions by wealth level says that you seem to be right. The exact numbers vary pretty widely, but they do seem to agree that relative donations go down as wealth goes up. So, I’ll grant you that point. That said, I did run across an interesting study with different results – http://www.urban.org/uploadedpdf/412136-charitable-giving.pdf – which basically says that the very rich are the most generous, the very poor next, and the middle incomes are the worst. Unfortunately, it’s using 40 year old data, so take it with a nice big grain of salt. (Off-topic: I wonder if this has changed, or if it’s just a function of methodology? If it’s changed, it really does say some unpleasant things about the modern wealthy, Gates and Buffet or no.)

            With regard to charity internationally, https://docs.google.com/spreadsheet/ccc?key=0AonYZs4MzlZbdHEtRUY3dllDZEI4RnFtR1A1NmpZUmc&hl=en#gid=0 is the only large-sample data set I’ve found, though admittedly it uses binary data(Have you donated?) rather than relative data(How much?), so it’s not quite the same as the other data above. But certainly to an eyeball, a wealth-charity correlation seems fairly obvious(even with outliers like Sri Lanka and France). It’s not a terribly strong result, but it’s at least indicative.

            With regard to crime, and especially murder, of course wealth is hardly the only effect. The US murder rate is atrociously high, certainly. Part of that is gun ownership, part is the sheer awfulness of American urban centres(though that’s in large part a euphemism for “poor people killing each other”), and part just seems to be an American love of murder. But if you break the data down, poor people commit far, far more crime than rich people. Richer states are safer states, richer cities are safer cities, and richer people are safer people. (Though it is damned hard to find concrete data for that last one. The closest I can come is getting stats for offenses committed by intimate partners, sorted by *victim’s* income, on the assumption that partners will generally be in the same income bracket – for reference, the five-year average violent crime rate by intimate partners is is 11.5/1000 in the <$7500 set, 10/1000 for $7500-15k, 6.1/1000 for $15-25k, 4.6/1000 for $25-35k, 2.6/1000 for $35-50k, 2.2/1000 for $50-75k, and 1.6/1000 for $75k+, which is an incredibly strong correlation, actually stronger than I expected)

            Now, one thing I will say that should be noted here is that even if we were to agree that the wealth-niceness correlation seems pretty robust, there's the issue of causality to take up. I think that a big part of the correlation, especially internationally and historically, is that acting like decent human beings tends to make you wealthier. Charity, low levels of violence, and respect for human rights and the rule of law are all strong factors in growing the wealth of a nation, and(while I suspect you'll balk at me claiming this is "nice") so is respect for private property and private enterprise. My gut feeling is that the "it's easier to be nice when you're richer" effect has some impact on the end results, but that "being nice gets you richer" has a bigger effect, but disentangling the two is far beyond the scope of this blog comment.

          • says

            Warren–to clear this up a bit, the place where I said “being rich makes us nicer” is in a 7-year-old review of a book called “The Moral Consequences of Economic Growth” by Benjamin Friedman. The argument is not an argument that individual rich people are nicer than individual middle managers; it’s a book about the effect of rising incomes on societies. The idea is that as members of society get farther from starvation, they become more tolerant of strangers, less brutal towards crime and dissent, and more generous with their charity or tax dollars. The basic idea is that when we feel we are doing well–relative to our own history, or to others–we feel less pressure to hoard resources. Neither Schwartz nor I endorsed the idea that rich people are better than other members of their society, though I did make a tongue-in-cheek observation that bankers tend to be fountains of cheer, goodwill, and charity checks around bonus time.

  18. Paul Gottlieb says

    But Mark, you’d be hard pressed to find a single Mcardle column without at least one enormous howler: a complete misunderstanding of gun flow, an order of magnitude error in a simple arithmetic calculation, being off by a century–or a continent–when making a historic reference. These kinds of errors just don’t occur in the work of a writer who is “way smarter,” or “way saner” than anyone. They are the hallmark of a glib, superficial writer who assumes that all the facts she doesn’t know actually line up in her favor. It’s simply impossible to have a “nuanced” discussion with someone who simply doesn’t care what the facts are.

    Her “nuanced” suggestion that the potential victims should have mobbed their attacker, she also reveals that she has probably never met or hugged a six-year old child. Anyone whose idea of a solution involves training these little creatures to throw themselves in the path of high velocity bullets is quite simply a moral imbicile

  19. politicalfootball says

    I hadn’t read the response, linked by Matt above:

    I can see how taken out of context, if you maybe hadn’t read the whole article, “young people” could be read to refer to the Newtown school children. But I was talking about teenagers, not first graders.

    So she repeatedly criticizes people for proposing “solutions” that don’t address Newtown, but thinks she is being taken out of context because Chait assumed she was talking about Newtown. One of McArdle’s trademarks is her willingness to change the terms of the debate as she moves along, then criticizing others for assuming that she was arguing in good faith.

    And even as modified, she’s telling us now that she wants to drill teenagers to mass-rush armed attackers. Prof. Kleiman calls this “not obviously silly” – as though that’s the proper measure of informed commentary – but McArdle fails to clear even that low bar.

    • Alsadius says

      Why is it obviously silly to have teenagers fight back? They’re old enough to understand what they’re doing, what the stakes are, and how to do a decent job of it, and telling them to die like sheep hardly seems like a better suggestion. It seems like most of the criticism is based on the principle that the choice is between running at guns on one hand and dancing with puppies on the other – there’s no safe option in school shootings, so advocating dangerous ones makes you sane, not monstrous. The world is not always a nice place, and people who refuse to acknowledge that simple fact make it worse.

      • Jeffrey Kramer says

        “Have teenagers fight back” is not at all a reasonable paraphrase of “Drill teenagers to mass-rush armed attackers.” It’s like defending a proposal to form the Junior Anti-Sex League by saying “what’s so silly about having teenagers fight unwanted pregnancy?” They point at which it becomes silly is the point at which it becomes a league, or a “drill.” In order for the McArdle “plan” to have any use, virtually ALL of the targets in any Newtown need to be members of this well-trained militia, or else nobody would begin the rush. (Each potential “rusher” would likely suspect that he or she would be the only one in the crowd who knew what to do, and hold back.) So the “drilling” would have to be universal and compulsory, or it would be basically useless. In other words, there would be a draft, in which all teenagers went through training to become unpaid members of this national security team. This, apparently, is where thoughtful and intelligent libertarianism gets us.

        • Alsadius says

          You don’t need a “trained militia”, you need a couple people with courage and a bunch who can follow along. Neither of those are hard to find an an average human population. Even without training, it happens sometimes. With even minimal discussion of the possibility, it’d probably happen more. There’ll be times it doesn’t, but more attackers taken down early and fewer left to rampage seems like an improvement to me, even if it’s not perfect.

          • Jeffrey Kramer says

            OK, no training, no tactics, just “one guy rushes and some others, hopefully, follow.” That’s the McMegan plan as you see it, the one which you’d have to be a terrible, terrible person to make fun of. And in order to have this scenario come about marginally more often, to the point where it saves, maybe, ten lives a year, we need to have… what? More speeches praising the passengers of Flight 93? Federal subsidies for dojos? Gold stars for husky 12-year-olds who excel at throwing buckets?

          • Alsadius says

            Well I’d hope you have some time to coordinate, even if it’s something as simple as “Okay guys, we can take him down. Go on 3″. One leader in a crisis is usually enough to get people following very quickly, because “He seems to know what he’s doing, let’s follow him” is most people’s usual reaction. It won’t be instant, and it won’t be perfect, but it’ll sometimes do the job. If you can’t run or hide, it’s as good a third-best as any.

            Also, from what I know of rampage shooter psychology(which, I will freely admit, I am far from an expert on), a surprisingly high percentage of them back down when they’re actually confronted. Even if a particular rush wouldn’t work against a true stone killer, it sometimes will against someone who is just pissed off at the world.

          • Jeffrey Kramer says

            But what is the point of saying “I hope there is somebody extraordinarily brave, and I hope he has time to prepare other people, and I hope those people follow him, and I hope they manage to reduce fatalities”? You can hope for precisely this scenario just as fervently, and just as optimistically, right now. How does this constitute a “plan” to reduce gun casualties? Again, if you think more gunrushings are the best that could be done, how are we supposed to bring about more and better gunrushings? (Speeches, Dojo subsidies, gold stars…?)

  20. noseeum says

    My main issue with McArdle’s writings is that she just does not seem to spend much time investigating a topic before she starts writing about it. She far too often combines being misinformed with being certain. Very often I read a post of hers and think she should either add a dose of humility or a dose of research. Her pieces often come across to me as “I just read this news in the New York Times, and here’s what I think about it,” without having done anything other than reading the article in the Times.

    To her credit, she’s willing to modify her opinions when new information comes in. I just never feel like I’m learning very much from her, so I stopped reading. This is partially due to my love of the policy wonk types and getting lots of detail on an issue. There’s clearly an audience for her more surface level opinionating, so more power to her.

  21. Sebastian H says

    She’s a smart woman who disagrees with many on the left and they are still more sexist than they like to admit.

  22. harrync says

    While I agree with most of the comments on McArdle’s lack of integrity, she is right that most gun laws are ineffective. That is because, of course, the NRA and gun industry (at least for the past 30 years or so) have made sure that they were written that way. I could write (an admittedly slow to take full effect) but very powerful gun control law in one sentence: “It shall be a felony to transfer control of any firearm with a detachable magazine, or any firearm with a non-detachable magazine with a capacity greater that 7 rounds, to any person who has not filed with the ATF proof of a firearms liability insurance policy in excess of $1,000,000.” It would not effect anyone now owning a gun until they sold it or gave it away, but eventually every gun owner would be checked out by an insurance company which would examine the likelihood that their gun would cause damage, and be assessed the appropriate premium.

      • harrync says

        My proposal is only in regard to preventing mass murder. Unfortunately, it would not prevent a poor person from buying a revolver – magazine is not detachable. [Though they could probably only afford a less than reliable "Saturday night special".] My proposal would also not effect most lever action rifles or pump shotguns. And I checked a few prices on Bushmasters – the most recent choice of mass murder – and saw one on sale for only $2300. Not likely many poor people will be buying one of those.

  23. Right/Left = Impulse/Thoughtfulness says

    {facepalm}

    Fluffing the specious, illogical, and often simply corrupt writing of Megan McArdle is a new low point for Mark.

    Rushing a semi-automatic is predictably a death sentence for everyone rushing until the clip is empty.

    You can imagine scenarios where it might not be, but the real world scenario that McArdle was responding to was a class room full of 6 and 7 YEAR OLD CHILDREN.

    Anyone familiar with Megan ‘beat peaceful protesters with a two by four’ McArdle’s Ayn ‘sociopathy is a virtue’ Randian philosophy would recognize that the last person to ‘rush’ a killer would be the libertarian objectivist.

    Being familiar with Megan McArdle’s work it’s easy to imagine her encouraging a school full of 7 year olds to rush a semi-automatic wielding mass murderer while she hid in a closet.

    Anyone that gives her more credit is not honestly familiar with her, her work, or her Koch funded malevolent philosophy.

    Jon Chait got this one right.

  24. CharleyCarp says

    Mindreading is the very laziest, and least reality based, form of punditry. Rather than make up why people don’t like Ms. McArdle’s work, listen to them: it’s the perception of bad faith.

    • Sebastian H says

      That really can’t explain it enough. Why completely freak out more over Megan than say Jonah Goldberg? He is clearly arguing in bad faith, not just maybe. Why not Will wilkinson? He makes most of the same arguments as Megan. Like many women in political commentary (or really politics in general) she gets attacked well out of proportion for the level of disagreement. She also gets attacked for more ‘womanly things’ like not caring enough.

      • politicalfootball says

        You look around the liberal internet awhile and you might be surprised at how poorly Goldberg is regarded, and how widely he is mocked. I don’t read Wilkinson, and nobody I read links to him, so that explains why I don’t rebut him. If Prof. Kleiman wants to talk about what a great guy Goldberg is, and then incorrectly, if faintly, praise Goldberg’s ideas as “not obviously silly,” I bet there’d be a similar response.

        As Charley says, you want to find out why people are repelled by Ms. McArdle, read what they say.

        You probably see more mockery of David Brooks or Thomas Friedman in the liberal blogosphere – even though they, too, are arguably not as repellent as Goldberg. I’d guess the main reason is the fact that they regularly engage liberals with their arguments, where Goldberg seldom does.

      • Anderson says

        One reason, I think, why MM annoys so is her pretense not to be partisan. Goldberg’s at NR, so we expect him to be a troll.

        MM’s apparently at the Daily Beast now, Atlantic before that. She just so happens to agree with Republicans 97.9% of the time.

        Plus, she’s a libertarian and enough of an Ayn Rand fan to have called herself “Jane Galt”; those are signs of intellectual vacuity.

        And frankly, while I don’t read Goldberg, Wilkinson is five times as smart as she is.

        There are plenty of smart women writing on the internet. McArdle isn’t one of them.

        • politicalfootball says

          Right. She always carefully weighs both sides before coming up with silly answers that, coincidentally, toe the glibertarian line. Here, she rejects a gun ban because it’s impossible to achieve, rejects other ideas because they wouldn’t apply to Sandy Hook, then proposes that young people be taught to rush mass-shooters instead of running away. It’s characteristic of her writing that she carefully sets up a set of rules that she then fails to follow.

          That kind of bad-faith argument is really unpleasant to read, but it’s made more frustrating because well-meaning liberals defend her for her demeanor, or spuriously attack her critics as sexist.

          Mind you, I don’t doubt that she’s a nice person, and she is usually able to couch her appalling ideas in polite language, and I don’t doubt that she has sexist critics. I just don’t think that’s relevant to this conversation.

        • Sebastian H says

          There are plenty of smarter women on the Internet you read regularly? Care to name five without looking them up?

          • politicalfootball says

            Seriously? I don’t hang out in the right-wing fever swamps, so it’s been awhile since I’ve read a remark this dismissive of women.

          • Anderson says

            Whoaaa. Mindboggling. And you’re the one, Sebastian, trying to play the sexism card? I laugh.

          • John G says

            I don’t read much political or social commentary on the Internet, but right here on RBC I can name without looking them up five women I am always glad to see posting, because I am confident in their good sense and perceptiveness and I often learn things or enjoy their phrasing of their ideas: Katja, NCG, Ohio Mom, Betty, Lowery Heuston. There may be five men commentators I am equally glad to see, but probably not many more.

        • Sebastian H says

          They explain why you don’t like Megan, they don’t explain the giganticly out of proportion reaction to relatively mild disagreementswith her in the face of many other, equally or more prominent writers with far more disagreeable views. They don’t explain far lesser reactions to men who share Megan’s views. You find Megan MORE annoying or MORE threatening than them. She seems to particularly grate on your nerves in a way that is surprising.

  25. says

    This seems to be a case of familiarity breeding obtuseness. The former “Jane Galt” – if that choice of pseudonym alone doesn’t give her game away – is a Republican. No decent human being who is not also an idiot could possibly self-identify as a Republican, not to mention promote Republican politicians, under current circumstances.

    Perhaps Mark should ask Ms. McArdle what is it about the Democratic Party that makes her eschew it. The answer might be illuminating.

    Also – accusing people who disagree with someone you like of being driven “crazy” is a, shall we say, Republican tactic. I don’t think Mark would appreciate a response indicating that he was driven into a Crazy Rage by writings critical of his friend.

    • Alsadius says

      And posts like this are why I hate politics. Take a pseudonym someone picked to troll with in their mid 20s, assume that it implies a partisan affiliation in the same person at age 40(despite their last openly stated vote being for the other party), and then take it on blind faith that anyone who supports The Other Team is inherently malicious and stupid. It’s like you’re trying to make the discourse as bad as human effort can achieve. And sadly, Team Idiot(be they red itiots or blue idiots) seem to be winning the debate handily.

      Frankly, this is half the reason I like McArdle – she’s one of the very few political writers I’m familiar with who doesn’t just assume that disagreement implies malice. You can go a long way in my books with an assumption of goodwill. Sadly, 95% of political debate is allergic to the idea.

  26. KLG says

    From the McArdle compendium at Naked Capitalism:

    “In December 2010, McArdle attacked a New York Times investigation into the dangerous effects of formaldehyde, which causes cancer in humans. McArdle mocked those dangers: “It’s a chemical! Indeed it is. You’re surrounded by chemicals. Your couch is made of chemicals. So is the table. So is the hand-carded wool sweater you bought from the woman who raises her own sheep on organic feed. Distilled water is a chemical. Fine wine is full of them.” Once again, McArdle ran cover for Koch Industries’ business interests: According to an investigation into the Koch family by New Yorker reporter Jane Meyer, “Koch Industries has been lobbying to prevent the E.P.A. from classifying formaldehyde, which the company produces in great quantities, as a ‘known carcinogen’ in humans.”

    As a biochemist I’ll just use this passage as good and sufficient reason to continue to not pay Megan McArdle the slightest attention. She forgot to add that oxygen is just a chemical, too. Can’t live without it, but reactive oxygen species in the wrong place and wrong time cause severe damage. Not to mention that preemies placed in high-oxygen environments back in the day paid for their survival with their eyesight. Oh, and carbon dioxide is a chemical, too. Plants use it to make the carbohydrates we eat. But, it will kill you. Not to mention what it does in the atmosphere as a greenhouse gas.

    A low point indeed. Can’t wait to hear the reason that mucking about with Social Security and Medicare for no good reason (except apparently to rescue Boehner from his own peeps) is a good thing from the president. That should be good.

    • Semper Why says

      Let me see if I have your argument spelled out correctly:

      1. McArdle thinks the NYT’s article on formaldehyde being regulated as a carcinogen is silly and posts such.
      2. McArdle is more conservative than most Democrats.
      3. The Koch Brothers are conservative.
      4. The Koch Brothers have a business interest in keeping formaldehyde off the list of carcinogens.
      5. McArdle is therefore carrying water for the Koch brothers and wrote that article to help them make money.

      Is that about right?

      • KLG says

        Actually, I forgot to add that I agree with Ms. McArdle that water is a chemical, too, 89% oxygen in fact. So we should be able to breathe it. Right?

        • Alsadius says

          Dude, can’t you count? Water is only 33% oxygen, which is why we can’t breathe it. Duh. (Little-known fact: Gills are just a biological method of multiplying by three)

      • Warren Terra says

        You seem not to have read the comment you are responding to. It highlights a typically exasperating argument, one that is either disingenuous and mendacious or is inconceivably ignorant. To respond to fears about the possible risks posed by exposure to one chemical by insisting that all chemicals must be treated equally is just nuts.

  27. anon says

    Because Mark is not friends with and never will be friends with Jonah Goldberg, Rush Limbaugh, or a host of others. Just like David Brooks, Megan has the veneer of reasonableness that your good totebagger desires.

  28. thewesson says

    A McArdle column is always advancing the right-wing agenda by means more palatable to intelligent centrists: concern-trolling liberal proposals “from-the-couch” (sounds like casual conversations with Peter Sudermann during TV commercials – “sure saving the environment is great but what about my inhaler?”) or throwing up fog and dust to baffle the liberal initiative.

    McArdle’s topic of rushing the shooter exists only to turn attention away from controlling guns. One can go ahead and chew on all the ins and outs of this topic, which has about as much nutriment and sustenance as chewing gum, but what is the take-away? Nothing, except that you’re distracted from gun control and that you’re left somehow feeling that maybe guns aren’t THAT bad and yeah people could take more responsibility for their self-defense like perhaps getting guns of their own (but she would never SAY that.)

    Her columns don’t have to make sense. They just have to sound like maybe they make sense.

    She exists to make right-wing topics and initiatives more palatable to people who want to think of themselves as “intelligent” and “moderate”. Her columns … are BAIT … for YOU, Professor Kleiman.

    • Alsadius says

      Heller basically means that you’d need to pass an amendment to enact serious gun control. Sure, you can tinker around the edges, but we both know that won’t actually matter a damn with 200+ million guns floating around. Bets on finding 38 states that will sign on to repealing the Second? Second-best is sometimes all you can do.

  29. George E says

    Mark wrote: “There’s something about Megan McArdle that drives some of my fellow Blue-team pundits crazy. She’s way smarter, way saner, far more nuanced in her thinking, and a much better writer than most of her Red-team colleagues.” What drives Blue-teamers crazy is not that Megan is smarter, saner, more nuanced, and more skilful in writing than other Red-teamers. What drives them crazy is that she’s smarter, saner, more nuanced, and more skilful in writing than Blue-teamers. That, and because she will neither regard their assumptions as fact nor pretend that their perceived relationships exist where none do. Megan represents the Reality-based Community; they do not but want to believe that they do.

  30. James Wimberley says

    The test is: when a journalist is writing on something you know a bit about, do they talk sense? My little run-in with Ms McArdle was on renewable energy and capital markets. I’m not a real expert on these, but I do read around. Sure enough, she didn’t know what she was talking about.

    • noseeum says

      This is it exactly, James. If you have no expertise on the topic she’s discussing, she sounds smart and reasonable if clearly libertarian. If it’s a topic you care deeply about, she’s clearly misinformed and hasn’t bothered to spend much time informing herself before hitting “publish.”

      That, combined with her generally dismissive way of belittling opinions that often turn out to be more grounded in reality that her own will tend to antagonize.

      • says

        Wasting time on one of the links from comments, there’s a case study here at The Hunting of the Snark, where McArdle for some reason makes assertions about fat content in game meat, and runs up against a genuine expert. A Dr. Kurt Harris explains carefully and politely why she’s wrong. The issue is recondite and of little importance, but she won’t let go, and blusters on in a mulish defence of her mistake, digging herself deeper and deeper into humiliation. She has to be right, always.
        The blogger nails it I think:

        McArdle must create a scenario in which she is the expert in everything and everyone else is not, a scenario guaranteed to lead to disaster. There is always someone who knows more than you on the internet and you risk looking like an utter fool.

        • Alsadius says

          I don’t see where Harris actually refuted any claims that McArdle made. (Or the converse, for that matter). It mostly reads like the two are arguing right past each other. McArdle is saying that even “paleo” diets are meaningfully different that what people actually ate 20,000 years ago, which seems pretty clearly true(unless you want to argue that millennia of dedicated genetic engineering has had no effect). Harris is saying that even lean animals are pretty fatty all told, which is again true. I’m not sure either of them is even trying to refute the other’s points, because neither is stupid enough to try.

          • CBrinton says

            McArdle: “game animals don’t have that much body fat”

            Harris decisively refuted this.

            If you don’t see that, you didn’t read the whole exchange. McArdle made an incorrect statement, and refused to retract it when called on it by someone with superior expertise. Very typical behavior for her.

          • Warren Terra says

            You are being vastly too kin to McArdle. She makes, and then insists repeatedly on, a specific claim (“The meat our ancestors ate in the wild was not mostly fat-rich steak”, arguing that people nowadays eat the fatty meat of sedentary barn-raised cattle instead of the lean muscles of tough, self-sufficient game. Harris quashes this notion that by eating wild game our ancestors avoided fat, and they go back and forth as McArdle flatly refuses to concede her errors. And then, having driven this one into the ground they start a whole ‘nother round in which McArdle willfully refuses to comprehend actuarial statistics, lest they count against her larger point. This simply isn’t people arguing past each other, it’s McArdle making a glib point that will not stand up against superior knowledge or deeper consideration – and then not backing down. Both aspects are sadly typical.

          • Alsadius says

            CBrinton: She never actually said that, though. At least, not within the sections quoted by the linked post, and the quotes are extensive enough that I’d assume it would be in there. Even going back and looking at the original the closest she comes to it is “game animals don’t have that much body fat”. Harris mostly tried to talk about fatty tissues – cell membranes, bone marrow, brain, etc. – which is not generally considered to be the same as “body fat”. It’s certainly not the sort of stuff that modern paleos tend to eat.

          • says

            The game fat exchange is a good control case, as the topic is not an issue for conservatism or the Kochs. Nobody pressed McArdle to take the line she did and defend it when refuted. So I think it’s revealing of a character trait, obstinacy, which is useful in cops, soldiers in defence, and dog trainers, but a vice in honest intellectuals. It is very handy in propagandists, and that’s where I place her. At a lower level, you can see the same in denialist trolls in climate blogs.

          • CBrinton says

            OK, Alsadius is clearly a parody troll. Let’s review.

            I pointed out that McArdle had said, inaccurately, that

            “game animals don’t have that much body fat”

            Alasadius replies “She never actually said that, though” and then says “the closest she come to it is” [wait for it]

            “game animals don’t have that much body fat” [does that look familiar?]

            Or, in other words, Alsadius says I was wrong and then proves I was right. A McArdle-worthy performance, to be sure.
            She says it in the original post that Harris was replying to, which is linked in the post you read. You can find it here:

            http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2011/04/are-grains-making-us-fat/237030/

            I quoted her accurately. She wasa wrong

          • Alsadius says

            Sorry, that post would probably have made a lot more sense if I’d edited it properly. I was originally going to make a reply to both of you, then realized I had nothing interesting to say in reply to CBrinton, and left my comment for Warren Terra intact…but then deleted the wrong header. Apologies for the confusion(and for making myself look like a bit of a dunce).

          • Warren Terra says

            If I understand correctly, Alsadius is defending McArdle’s stance in this linked debate, insisting apparently that a profoundly literal interpretation of her initial claim (that a steak from a game animal caught by paleolithic humans would be leaner than a steak from a steer on a modern feedlot) is accurate, even though the intent of her claim (that paleolithic humans had a vastly leaner, near-zero-fat-content diet compared to that of modern humans) is utterly defenestrated in a series of comments that see McArdle becoming increasingly obviously ridiculous as she attempts to avoid acknowledging error. And that’s before her inexplicable blindness to fairly simple actuarial concepts, an issue on which one might expect an MBA who writes about Social Security and Medicare to have a grasp on.

            One reason the linked debate is so enlightening is that surely no-one cares what McArdle thinks about paleolithic diets – not even McArdle. No-one expects a writer on politics, policy, and the business world to know the first thing about the subject, and if that writer should choose to put their idle speculations about paleolithic diets in pixels, and should turn out to be wrong, they’re so far from their areas of expertise that there need be no possibility of shame in any errors they make, so long as they (1) couch their initial speculation appropriately to their level of knowledge; and (2) appear ready to learn from genuine experts. And it’s here where McArdle fails in this example, and where she fails in many others. It’s a test of humility, and of honesty, and of respecting her audience. If we can’t trust McArdle to reconsider, to back down, and to accept superior knowledge on the diet of paleolithic humans, how can we trust her on subjects where she is similarly defending positions closer to her area of expertise?

          • Alsadius says

            This is the sort of thing I see happen with my own debates quite frequently, and I think it’s probably the same for McArdle. Basically, it goes as follows:

            Me: Hm, that’s interesting – (minor point)
            Them: So, you’re saying (big point)?
            Me: No…
            Them: Then why did you bring up (minor point)? Clearly, you’re trying to use it to support (big point).
            Me: No, I just thought it was interesting. (Big point) is complicated, and not something I was going to go into at all, or else I probably would have mentioned it up front.
            Them: You’re moving the goalposts!

            One community I occasionally visit refers to this as the belief that “arguments are soldiers” – anything that supports your team should be defended, and anything that opposes your team should be attacked, regardless of truth, because to do otherwise is to betray your cause. While this is a disturbingly common sentiment in political debate, it’s one that I do my best to avoid. Sometimes a minor point is just intended to stand on its own. I understand that this looks superficially like concern trolling or other similar tactics, but it’s genuinely not.

            In the context of the debate we’re analyzing, it seems to me that the primary attack on the grain-causes-obesity theory was “…you notice that our sturdy forebears were in fact giant balls of carbohydrates…”, with the we’re-not-eating-the-evolutionary-environment-diet-anyways” in second, and not a particularly close second. The primary argument seems quite telling to me – obestity has only been a problem for a generation or two, while we’ve been off the game-animals-and-acorns diet for 10,000 years. If a medieval diet of porridge and beer didn’t make people fat, and a pre-war diet of white bread and potatoes didn’t either, then I really have to wonder if our modern diet is really to blame.

            The second point does carry some weight – even a rudimentary knowledge of the last 10,000 years of genetic engineering will tell you that most of the things we ate pre-agriculture aren’t available in a supermarket, and some probably don’t exist at all. Not to mention that we ourselves have evolved to consume a significantly different diet – alcohol and lactose tolerance being the most obvious examples of this. You’d have to be quite dedicated to ape a pre-agricultural diet closely, and you’d frankly have to guess about how to eat the diet that we today are best evolved for. But despite all that, it’s still not as telling as the argument made with empirical data a paragraph above it.

          • CBrinton says

            Alsadius: “One community I occasionally visit refers to this as the belief that “arguments are soldiers” – anything that supports your team should be defended, and anything that opposes your team should be attacked, regardless of truth, because to do otherwise is to betray your cause. While this is a disturbingly common sentiment in political debate, it’s one that I do my best to avoid. Sometimes a minor point is just intended to stand on its own. I understand that this looks superficially like concern trolling or other similar tactics, but it’s genuinely not. ”

            To use your typology, McArdle is the one using the “arguments are soldiers” method. She could have deferred to clearly superior expertise on a point she raised (on that, as you point out yourself, does not invalidate her overall argument), but chose instead to dig in, blather, dissemble, and obfuscate.

          • Alsadius says

            But the point was not actually one she raised. Her point was that people who try to eat like hunter-gatherers, if they can find things in the supermarket and it fits into their budget, eat differently than actual hunter-gatherers. The animals are different, the methods of slaughter are different, and the parts of the animals that we eat are different. Nobody even attempted to refute that, expert or otherwise. The arguments were against points that she was not making in an attempt to fight against an argument she was not making, for the seeming reason that she might have said something that could possibly have been used to argue for a diet that the other side doesn’t believe in.

            In other words, they were not disputing what she said, they were disputing the possibility of somebody else saying something else…by mocking her for things she didn’t say, and then ignoring all attempts to bring the debate back to the actual point that was originally being made. Do you actually consider that to be intellectually honest debating?

          • CBrinton says

            McArdle wrote that “game animals don’t have that much body fat” (we agree that she made that statement, right?)

            When shown evidence this was false, she did not point out that her mistake did not invalidate her overall argument on supposedly-paleolithic diets, but rather dug in and blathered.

            This is typical behavior for her, and is one of the reasons she is disliked.

          • Alsadius says

            “Not that much” is not a precise mathematical statement, and as such its truth depends on what precisely was meant by it. Given that the comparison used in the original post was to a modern cow(which, we can all agree, is much fattier), and that the number she first gave when challenged was one that Harris agreed to be entirely accurate(and was, in fact, the source of), we can assume that it was “not that much” in comparison to a modern cow that was meant, and not “not that much” in comparison to a potato. 25% fat by weight is nobody’s idea of fat-free, but when that’s the fattiest cut on the animal, it’s a very lean animal by comparison to the farm animals we have today.

      • says

        PS: This may come in handy for those prepared to spend their short lives responding to Ms McArdle’s pronouncements: the Latin converse of ex cathedra – from the throne, especially that of the Pope – would be ex scamno – from the dunce’s stool.

  31. Will says

    Not much to add here

    1. my experience matches that of other commenters: the more I know about what she’s writing about, the less sense it makes, and in a way that suggests not just glibness, but much worse.

    2. the content of the column in question really is both offensive and stupid for reasons amply described above.

    She obviously has a knack for getting column inches. Those who are friends with her might ponder a way to suggest that she use that knack for good.

  32. Patrick L says

    Considering only people who go to beaches, a person’s chance of getting attacked by a shark in the United States is 1 in 11.5 million, which is about the same order of magnitude for dying in a rampage killing.

    Suppose a killer shark attacks a teen girl and a very young boy. Some people suggest closing the beach, and others that the shark should be hunted. Suppose the pundit Megan comes along and suggests that closing the beach is not likely to happen given the economic conditions and the cost benefit analysis, and that the second is kind of a silly proposal. She then ends this major blogpost saying that we should teach swimmers to avoid swimming at dawn and dusk and to attack weak parts of a shark such as the gills or eyes.

    “Oh you would have 10 year old boy punch a shark. Maybe we should have you wrestle the sharks first. You just are a fish lover, you kochtopus!”. Kind of ignoring the point. These events are super rare, and there are very few good solutions other than avoiding the situation, but it doesn’t mean there aren’t tactics you can use in those situations that could be useful and that the kind of advice could be easily taught. Based on what she linked to in her blog posts, it’s very clear that in a subset of rampage shootings a huge part of it is psychological necessity for dominance that allows the suppression of the normal emotional responses that prevent us from engaging in violence. Collective attack that undermines that emotional suppression and may help end the shooting.
    This is a very counter intuitive proposal, and is a much better suggestion offered than ‘banning guns that look scary’ or ignoring the second amendment. Maybe it wouldn’t work at all – it probably wouldn’t have worked at University of Austin or the Fort Hood shootings since the pathways to those violent were different. Then again, I don’t know if punching a shark in the eyes would do anything either – the attacks are so rare as to make the advice irrelevant, but we have some evidence to support the advice, and those really are the weak points of the shark.

    • politicalfootball says

      I think it would make more sense to have everybody rush the shark. Or maybe have harpoon-armed guards on all the beaches.

  33. anon says

    Bullshit! Because the part she dismisses which is sane gun control as being politically infeasible is much, much, much, much, much, much, much, much, much, much, much more likely to happen due to the ability of people to change their mind than the part she advocates which is a coordinated effort by unarmed (children?) to rush the shooter. It’s Megan being Megan – intellectually dishonest because she the real answer is sane gun control and she either doesn’t like it for her own philosophical reasons or because it contradicts the tribe which she aligns herself with.

    • Alsadius says

      Unarmed people can and do rush armed people successfully. Flight 93 and Loughner are the most obvious examples, but you can hardly go a week without some grainy security-camera footage of a convenience store clerk beating the crap out of a would-be armed robber hitting the internet. Successful self-defence is far more likely than strict gun control in the US.

      • Timb says

        As weighed pointed out, until Loughner stopped to re-load, the only people who charged him were shot and killed or disabled.

        Stop citing stupid apples to ranges

  34. Matt says

    A serious question: before arming school teachers, why would we not first consider bulletproof security doors on classrooms, a class bathroom or closet that doubles as a safe room (with a bulletproof door), and a method for a principal or teacher to hit a panic button that tells the entire school to go into lockdown?

    I don’t like the suggestions about making our schools into high security zones, but on the other hand, I think there are non-gun measures that could drastically increase the chances that a child lives through a situation like this (rushing the gunman and/or arming the teacher likely lowers their chances.)

    • Ohio Mom says

      Fine. How much do you think it would cost to retrofit or replace gazillions of school buildings?

  35. chrismealy says

    McArdle’s terrible for the many reasons everybody has mentioned, but there’s more I’d like to add:

    She’s a standard-issue libertarian crank who gets published centrist outlets. That’s why she gets extra criticism. People expect that junk from Reason magazine or whatever.

    She’s really terrible at economics. Whenever she trots out something about the Coase theorem or whatever she gets it completely wrong and doesn’t care. She’s Frankfurt’s bullshitter. She’s been like from the very beginning and she keeps failing upward.

    Oh, and she totally fawns on the rich and despises the poor, so forget about that one Mark.

  36. Anderson says

    The “Pink Himalayan Salt” category at Balloon Juice provides a running chronicle on McArdle.

    If you read only one, perhaps this is the best example, taking off on this from MM:

    When Obama extends the Bush tax cuts for the rich under pressure from Congressional Republicans, that disappears from his side of the ledger, because after all, he didn’t want to do it. When Bush enacts Medicare Part D under pressure from Congressional Democrats, the full cost is charged against his presidency.>

    DougJ quote Jon Chait (see, he’s dealt with MM for a while):

    Republicans controlled both houses of Congress at the time, and exerted massive pressure to pass the bill. The coalition that squeezed the bill through after the vote was held open for hours consisted of 207 Republicans and 9 Democrats.

    It’s not that she *can’t* tell the truth; it’s her sincere *indifference* to truth.

  37. navarro says

    i find it interesting that mr. kleiman hasn’t bothered responding to or commenting on any of the comment threads on this post. i suppose it’s for the best to just let us get it out of our systems so we can move on. it’s kind of the way mr. drum approaches things over at mother jones on every post he makes.

    • Barry says

      I would say that Mark is trolling his own blogs for sh*ts and giggles, but he has a history here – he actually thinks that McArdle is worth something.

      • navarro says

        i’ve noticed that and i’ve seen ms. mcardle comment here before. all i really know about her is that a few years ago a friend of mine pointed to her as a conservative worth reading but after reading several of her writings i told my friend we would have to agree to disagree.

  38. Craig says

    I’m sure Megan is wonderful conversation at a dinner party, but that in no way makes up for the single least useful bit of analysis I’ve read in some time.

    “She’s way smarter, way saner, far more nuanced in her thinking, and a much better writer than most of her Red-team colleagues,” can only be called damning with faint praise. Not false, but not very illuminating either. I’ll stipulate to at least the 51st percentile of right-bloggers in all named qualities. And so what?

    As for “She doesn’t fawn on the rich or despise the poor”–that might just be true, depending on how hard we twist the calibration knobs for the words “fawn” and “despise.” But again, so what? Even if she doesn’t exactly “fawn on” the rich, her entire stock in trade is comforting the comfortable and afflicting the afflicted. It’s a good line of work, but it earns no admiration, intellectual or otherwise, from me. And I kind of suspect she does despise the poor. Don’t you, really?

    Atrios summed her career up pretty well in a recent post. I’d only add that her favorite method of argument is to conduct half-assed thought experiments in which she assumes the world agrees with her prejudices, and then–WOW!–concludes that the world agrees with her prejudices. Plenty of examples have already been cited in this thread. To praise her–even with faint damns–on a blog called “the reality-based community” is really something else.

  39. anon says

    Mark,

    Serious question. Why would you not reevaluate a friendship with such a person who so easily represents the evil impulse of the rich thug who never has to actually get her own hands dirty, but who benefits from bad policy, greed, and misanthropy of her fellow travelers? And then always has an argument to support them in those efforts; why be friends with that?

  40. says

    “What she says about encouraging victims to attack rather than hiding is, as far as I can tell, correct: it would save lives if you could get people to do it”

    Encouraging grade schoolers to rush a gunman would only increase the body count. McArdle acknowledges as much in her own follow-up post. The problem is that instead of just admitting that she said something stupid, she pretends that she “was talking about teenagers, not first graders.”

    Now, even if we accept that adopting a policy of encouraging teenagers to collectively rush gunmen is not a crackpot idea, her attempted reinterpretation is not terribly plausible: As you yourself note, Mark, McArdle’s was a “column on Sandy Hook.” Sandy Hook is not a high school. McArdle never talks about “high school” shootings, or “teenage” victims. So the best interpretation of her remarks is Chait’s. The second-best is that she spoke with careless imprecision.

    Yet she can’t even admit to misspeaking. Instead, it’s just everyone else is taking her “out of context.” This is classic McArdle. And it’s the reason I find her columns worse than worthless.

  41. BHirsh says

    McCardle et al are totally, unequivocally wrong to support the infringement of rights of the non-criminal, non-mental majority (as in VAST majority) of gun-owning citizens in this country. Fundamental rights are not subject to any cost/benefit analysis, and that is a bright line, not a grey mushy one.

    • Warren Terra says

      Your logic is impeccable, but your premises are completely debatable. You insist that there is a fundamental right to possess multiple cheap, tremendously efficient machines whose only purpose is the killing of other human beings in quantity, and you appear to insist that this fundamental right must not be hindered by any of the various restrictions, regulatory measures, record-keeping, taxation, insurance requirements, etcetera, that have been proposed. You insist on the obviousness and the absoluteness of this “bright line”. I disagree, in the strongest terms possible. In fact, I stare rather aghast at the notion that this constitutes an absolute “fundamental righr” whose importance and whose details are not subject to debate.

  42. CharleyCarp says

    Looking back at the thread, I just wanted to make an observation about flight 93. Heroic, absolutely (and of great personal interest to me since I was at the time within 100 yards of the WH, and thus potentially vulnerable), and an example to all of us should we be on a plane hijacked by suicide bombers.

    But here’s the essential public policy takeaway: We are not training passengers in how to rush hijackers. Instead, we have banned bringing boxcutters or similar objects on planes, and imposed serious measures (grossly inefficient though they are) to make sure no one evades it.

  43. Right/Left = Impulse/Thoughtfulness says

    Adults rushing box cutter wielding fanatics in close quarters is NOT the same as SEVEN YEAR OLD CHILDREN rushing a semi-automatic wielding madman in an open school room.

    And there is NO “Fundamental rights” to wielding anything more than a 1789 musket and even that is explicitly “well regulated” by anyone that can read plain English and respects the Constitution.

    And yes, Koch funded and trained Megan McArdle is an extreme right-winger; many of her ideas are completely insane if not outright dishonest; and much of her work is riddled with errors, shoddy and shallow thinking, and illogical conclusions that inevitably push a right-wing narrative.

Trackbacks

  1. [...] Mark Kleiman wonders why so many of his ideological compatriots are driven to fits of rage by Megan McArdle, noting the fevered reaction to her recent column on the Sandy Hook shooting and potential policy responses. (See also here.) Though Kleiman would not endorse everything in the piece, he thinks it’s “one of the more sensible pieces of writing about Sandy Hook,” and yet has sent some liberal bloggers into a frenzy. [...]