IN WHICH I DEFEND MEGAN McARDLE

Posted in Rants on September 28th, 2010 by Ed

The thing I hate about right-wing bloggers in the main is not their ideology or their all too frequent disregard for facts. It is the purity and consistency of their partisan hackery that drives me nuts. They take the role of "the opposition" so far beyond its logical conclusion that there is neither a reason to respect them nor any basis on which to do so. If Barack Obama says white, they say black. If he says yes, they say no. If he comes out in favor of happiness and puppies, they fly into a hysterical rage because he has insulted contentness and kittens. It's histrionic, it's mindless, and it's what they do. I am not wrong because I make bad arguments; I am wrong because I am a liberal and therefore everything I say must be wrong, or on the off chance that I am correct it is their duty to loudly disagree with me anyway.

I fail to see the need for anyone on the left to emulate this logic. It's lazy and we hardly need to disregard the truth in order to find ways to insult people like Glenn Reynolds. Why disagree with everything he says? Just wait for him to say things that are flat-out wrong or make no sense, which he does about 10 times per day. Keeping the moral high ground requires surprisingly little effort and patience. These people say so many idiotic things that there is no need to grasp at straws for the sake of bashing everything they say. Unfortunately my favorite blog, Sadly, No!, has succumbed to that temptation. Here is their famous "shorter version" gag, in which they post a link to a right-wing opinion column and then re-phrase it in one short sentence, applied to a recent Megan McArdle piece:

The problem is that her piece ("How to Survive a Layoff") says absolutely nothing of the sort. In fact, I would go as far as to say that it constitutes reasonable advice to the laid-off. An excerpt from the New York Times piece that forms the basis of McMegan's criticisms:

As an auditor, Ms. Reid loved figuring out the kinks in a manufacturing or parts delivery process. But after more than 20 years of commuting across Puget Sound to Boeing, Ms. Reid was exhausted when she was let go from her $80,000-a-year job. Stunned and depressed, she sent out resumes, but figured she had a little time to recover. So she took vacations to Turkey and Thailand with her husband, who is a home repairman. She sought chiropractic treatments for a neck injury and helped nurse a priest dying of cancer.

In four years of job hunting, Ms. Reid has discovered that she is no longer technologically proficient. In one of a handful of interviews she has secured, for an auditing position at the Port of Seattle, she learned that the job required skills in PeopleSoft, financial software she had never used. She assumes that deficiency cost her the job.

Ms. Reid is still five years away from being eligible for Social Security. But even then, she would be drawing early, which reduces monthly payments. Taking Social Security at 62 means a retiree would receive a 25 percent lower monthly payout than if she worked until 66.

(snip) And she admits some regrets: she had a $180,000 balance in her 401(k) account, and paid $80,000 in penalties and taxes when she cashed it out early. She did not rein in her expenses right away. And now, her $500-a-week unemployment benefits have been exhausted. She has since cut back, forgoing Nordstrom shopping sprees and theater subscriptions, but also cutting out red meat at home and putting off home repairs.

McArdle identifies these as "common mistakes" among the laid-off. We can debate the use of "common" as an adjective and criticize the right-wing assumption that everyone who is unemployed behaves this way, but there is no disputing the basic fact that this person's response to being laid off was a series of bad decisions. Cut her some slack on raiding the 401(k), which may have been out of desperation, but generally this is a good example of what not to do. So Megan says with her advice, which boils down to:

1. Start saving while you are working (Useless in hindsight, but just plain common sense for the currently employed)
2. Develop a crisis plan when you are fired
3. Look for a new job immediately
4. Don't raid retirement funds prior to age 60
5. Don't refi the house for short-term cash
6. Get a job doing something to help keep you afloat (i.e., a Starbucks job)

Look, it all sounds very preachy and smug coming from The Megan, who wouldn't know economic hardship if if blew a load in her face. That doesn't change the fact that this is remarkably similar to the advice you, I, or anyone else would give a laid off person. Start planning while you're still getting paid. Go into Emergency Spending Mode when you lose your source of income. Don't dawdle with your job search. The refi and 401(k) advice is debatable, but is merely subjective rather than glaringly incorrect. And while I have said before that I understand exactly why people with skills don't go work at Burger King immediately upon losing their jobs, I have plainly agreed with the idea that if you can't pay your bills that is a necessary step ("If I had six months of benefits, I would look for an academic job for six months. When it ran out and the next step was eviction, then I'd swallow pride and see if Wal-Mart needs a cart wrangler.")

God knows I love kicking Megan McArdle around, and it is remarkably easy to do so on a regular basis. Every couple of days she says something incorrect, annoyingly condescending, or ridiculous. It requires so little patience to wait for the next opportunity if I'm filled with a sudden urge to give her a beatdown. There is nothing to be gained by trying to savage everything she says just for the sake of doing it. Leave the partisan hackery to those who do it well, namely Megan and her ideological colleagues. When she says something intelligent I am more than happy to give her some credit for it. To do as Sadly, No! has done here not only demeans our message but, frankly, it makes it look like they didn't really read the article before criticizing it. Let's leave that kind of intellectually lazy, morally bankrupt garbage to the people who are so very good at it.