It sure would be nice to be Megan McArdle, wouldn't it? What could beat having Dad's money buy you an MBA from the University of Chicago and then, unable to land a real job, securing a gig as some sort of expert on economics, business, and finance for a major publication! And once you wrap up this high paying, high visibility position in which important people will treat you like an authority, here's the best part: you don't have to do any research! You're so brilliant that you can just write whatever flies off the top of your head – or better yet, just repeat what lobbyists or other bobbleheads say!

If you're thinking "That sounds like a great deal, where do I sign?" the answer is right the fuck here. I don't know if you know this about us Polacks, but we are codebreakers. We broke Enigma before the British took credit for it. And now after millions of man-hours of labor I have cracked the McArdle code. It's a formula. And once you master it, you too will be a Famous Very Serious Libertarian Expert!! Ready your note-taking pens and thank me later. A McColumn is broken into three simple parts – an introduction, the presentation of "facts," and the moral of the story. Since you are a beginner I will start you out with plenty of examples to choose from in the McColumn Template.

THE INTRO: "The other day I was talking with (one of my friends / a cabdriver / a stranger at the airport / the Yeti) about (insert current event or issue – just use whatever all the other columnists are talking about!) and I'm (confused / angry) by the reaction from (the liberal media / other people who aren't as smart as me). Since when did (insert Straw Man unrelated to the chosen issue – something like "Our 1st Amendment rights" – or an finance topic you don't fully understand but is in bold on the Cato Institute website) become such a radical idea?"

THE FACTS: "(insert economic concept here) is (insert incorrect definition). For example, (insert hypothetical like 'Suppose X makes $Y and is taxed at a 10% rate' rather than looking up the actual facts and figures relevant to the subject). If we (insert hated liberal proposal here), then (insert outcome that in no way is a logical or necessary consequent of said proposal). What sense does that make? Why not (Cato talking point) instead? According to (insert for-profit "think tank" / industry trade association / lobbyist group / Glenn Reynolds), if we (what our corporate betters want us to do) instead then (the entire economy will be fixed overnight / the world will be a better place / the skies will rain gold doubloons / your farts will smell like warm vanilla potpourri). (Insert incorrectly cited, erroneous, fabricated, misinterpreted, or misleading statistics and half-truths). So (innocently ask why we as a nation – nay, as a species – cannot pursue this clearly superior course of action)?"

THE MORAL: "(Expression of frustration that people just. don't. get it.). I mean, (recognition of the reader's skepticism of industry-supplied talking points as economic wisdom – you know, show your target demographic that you're hip, young, and jaded too!). I get that, but (recognition that the reader has been brainwashed to believe that conservative – er, "libertarian" – solutions are uncool). Nothing could be further from the truth! Of course, it will never happen because (Obama is a socialist dictator / more liberal brainwashing / repeat talking points one last time for the fanboys with minimal reading comprehension skills). (Pithy, sarcastic, high school newspaper editorial-caliber "closer" to remind readers one final time that you're way different than the rest of the financial talking heads out there. Different, and therefore more trustworthy, because you're a jaded skeptic too!)."

It's just that simple! Keep in mind that the point is to regurgitate the talking points in a package that Hip Young Folks will find appealing. Readers are used to seeing "suits" and stodgy old corporate types shilling this kind of message. But when they hear them from a totally Independent, non-partisan Expert and Journalist it will have a lot more credibility. And that's what this is all about: credibility. You're selling credibility. If you think it's impossible to shill and be credible at the same time, maybe this line of work isn't for you.

POST SCRIPT: Per one of my astute commenters, a Real McColumn must also include the author following up in the comment section when readers start pointing out your butchery or total disregard of the facts. Keep it simple here! You don't want to start taxing those neurons trying to "support your argument" with "facts." Remember, credibility is all about how pretty you look, how confident you sound, and how many big words you use! So choose one of the following: "You're misunderstanding my argument / Read (insert link to lobbyist press release or CBO report that you badly distorted) / Just because I got the facts wrong doesn't mean I'm not right / You're banned."

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  1. hR Says:

    I think that another important aspect of the McArdle Formula is to pepper your column with typos and misspellings, and spice it all up with random colloquialisms from places you've never been to and time periods in which you've never lived.

  2. Dillon Says:

    Another ingredient in the McArdle Formula is to make sure any mathematical calculations used to support your argument are incorrect by at least an order of magnitude.

    For follow-up blog posts, slough off any legitimate criticism by using a phrase similar to the following:

    "clearly you misunderstood my point"
    "it wasn't a statistic, it was a hypothetical"
    "such is blogging"
    "In hindsight I may have been wrong about 'x', but I was wrong for the right reasons"

  3. Chris Says:

    I prefer "Just because my facts were wrong does not mean I am not right".

    Who is left as a credible Conservative thinker? There used to be some good ideas there (Do not spend more than you have, Gov't should stay out of personal issues), but they seem to have gone away now. And I was planning to become a crusty old Conservative browbeating my kids when I grow up :(

  4. Mr. Wonderful Says:

    Quick gloss on what hR said: Occasionally use Britishisms. Call a "guy" a "chap."

    But, more importantly, *spew jargon* like a squid squirting ink. It enhances your aura of expertise AND flatters your fans, since you don't bother to explain it, secure in the knowledge that they're smart enough to keep up.

    Thus, don't say, "these days we buy stuff made in China instead of stuff made in North Carolina." Say, "With commodity imports trending asymptotic to net 100 %…"

    Then, if you're contradicted (as you will be), dismiss the criticism with "You misunderstood." The next day, write about your new Blu-Ray player.

  5. whiskey and nachos Says:

    You also need to accomodate for immodest boasting about her expensive education. Remember, she needs to remind us of this at least once a week. Also, it's very important that you pay no mind to editing or grammar and vital that you keep a thesaurus handy so you can look up those high-filutin' words that nobody except pretentious idiots trying to sound smart use anymore. This will only apply for a short while now, but you do need to assure your readers that you are not going to blog about your pending nuptuals and then blog about them at least three times a week. And mention your fiance [sic] twice as often, though only by his first name, because you naturally assume that everyone who reads the Atlantic who has the misfortune of stumbling on to her blog knows and cares deeply about all of the minor details of her daily life.

  6. Susan of Texas Says:

    Awsome work, from you all. THe only thing I can add is her frequent digs, snipes and insults at fellow bloggers, both friends and foes.

    Her inevitable reproduction will, of course, dwarf all earlier sins, but as Mao says, we'll cross that bridge when we come to it.

  7. Blue Texan Says:

    Leave Megan alone. She's very serious!

  8. Ken Houghton Says:

    Susan's assumption that Peter isn't shooting blanks and/or that her parents didn't Do the Right Thing (rhymes with "libation") is clearly intended to muddy the waters of her mind, since the idea that she would have to consider that there will be a Next Generation undermines most of her one-period models.

  9. Desargues Says:

    “The other day I was talking with (one of my friends / a cabdriver / a stranger at the airport / the Yeti) about … Is she also a plagiarist? That is the kind of intro that the peerless 'Stache of Understanding has pretty much trademarked.

    I guess a glibertarian only respects copyrights when they're to her own "ideas." Everyone else's are up for grabs.

  10. Doctor Couth Says:

    Could it be that an graphic editor at The Atlantic has also had enough of Megan's act? Only two letters separate the recent headline on the print cover (The Economic Tool That Gets Everything Wrong: By Megan McArdle) from perfection. Could TETTGEW become the Doughy Pantload of 2009?

  11. beau Says:

    great post, ed. also, best comments evah.

  12. Tierra Mccoy Says:

    Just keep doing good stuff.

  13. KWillow Says:

    Dont forget her numerous, dozens, nay hundreds of Straw-friends and Foes. Easy for her to knock down, but a serious fire hazard if she uses too many in her 'column'.

  14. Big D Says:

    Excellent. I think there is actually enough here to automate production of these things. Let me put some chatterbot code to work… :-)

    Now, does anyone have the stomach for automating the master of hypocradox, Krauthammer?

  15. Wilfred Dentel Says:


  16. Vinny Says:

    It's January 22nd 2011. This article was so memorable to me that when I was listening to Marketplace on WNYC.ORG, last night, and heard Megan McArdle talk about how Chinese companies are more efficient than American companies, and we should be thankful to them for providing really cheap goods, I had to come back and re-read it.

  17. LildVioclople Says:

    Спасибо, очень интересная заметка.

  18. Lenny Gray Says:

    After writing a rant TO her, and unable to find how to send it to her, I came across this thread, so I'll just post it here:

    Megan McArdle
    Business & Economics Editor, The Atlantic

    When you said, and clips are included in the video 'Overdose – the Next Financial Crisis': "The [auto] executives came out and they said 'if you don't do this, we are going to see a jobs holocaust'. They issued extremely high estimates of how many jobs would be lost, that included every single company that supplies them with anything."

    But you went on to say: "Congress wanted to believe them. Congress wanted an excuse to bail out the auto workers, and the executives gave them just enough political cover to say 'well, I'm not really doing this because I want auto-worker votes, and I'm going to give them a huge amount of money, I'm really doing this for the American economy'"


    Did you think YOUR slant, that it was about the auto WORKERS, at all, was honest? Even the attribution of what Congress wanted to believe, was YOUR slant. It didn't at all occur to you that the auto WORKERS wouldn't have been GIVEN anything in any case — they'd still be trading their man-hours for dollars, just as before? You couldn't see that it was shareholders of those auto companies who were being GIVEN something? That if the companies were allowed to fold, that the stock values would go to zero?


    Is this coherent enough for you?