IN WHICH I DEFEND MEGAN McARDLE

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.

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30 Responses to “IN WHICH I DEFEND MEGAN McARDLE”

  1. roberto Says:

    Thanks for this post. Similar thoughts occurred to me when I read the Sadly No post yesterday.

    I think we may all occasionally succumb to that kind of blind tribalism now and again. It's very important to periodically check yourself.

  2. comrade x Says:

    Good luck getting that burger- flipping job if you are over 40. Or any job. The refrain you will hear over and over is " your overqualified" when in fact Burger King, Starbucks, and other fast food francjises thrive on the quick turnover of adolescents and twentysomethings employees. Older employees are more apt to ask awkward questions and know their rights as workers.

  3. grumpygradstudent Says:

    I appreciate this critique. I often turn on Limbaugh or Hannity in the car, just to get a sense of what the opposing talking points are likely to be (and also to marvel at their skill in demagoguery). The very point you're making finally dawned on me. I think it's one of those things that you know in your head, but you don't really know it until you feel it in your gut.

    It really, truly doesn't matter what Obama does; they will find a way to criticize it. I agree that this is the fundamental insight necessary for understanding the incidiousness of right-wing (and apparently left-wing) punditry. The question moves from "how does so and so's action comport with right or left wing ideology?"to "what rhetorical smokescreen will most effectively trash this person?" Obama throws a party for dying orphans at the white house? WHY IS HE WASTING TIME and TAXPAYER MONEY? HIS EGOMANIA DEMANDS AN AUDIENCE of COMPLACENT ORPHANS!

  4. anotherbozo Says:

    There is a certain mind which manifests a team mentality, perhaps because there is no interior intellectual life, no reflectivity. The us-vs.-them mindset is so much easier than an examination of ideas, an assessment of individual positions, and we see this with conservatives and with the Republican Party as a whole. Of course treating governance as a sport trivializes it, but it's so much easier! And it works most of the time. Talking points, a unified front, lockstep voting and lockstep blogging–there's strength in numbers, and by the very dint of repetition! Given that most Americans are lazy as well, it's a perfect match. Watch the elections in November.

    Shantih shantih shantih

  5. heydave Says:

    Maybe the Sadly, no treatment was too brusque, but I'd argue that MacBlargle's attitude was way too damn smug and condescending. You don't hit a fly with the butt of a rifle, but you don't need to let it buzz around and annoy you,either.

  6. heydave Says:

    And by attitude, I mean her delivery and perspective.

    Damn, I hate just being an in and out kinda blog commenter, but gotta go…

  7. Satur9 Says:

    S,N! is a joke now, and not a good one. What does most of the output consist of these days, some stupid Photoshops from whichever of the eighteen bloggers is currently running the place, alternating with their "Shorter" ripoffs of Busy, Busy Busy? Not to mention that their comment section is a haven for the most retarded jackholes this side of Eschaton. Flush it already.

  8. Jimcat Says:

    @heydave: I read the article earlier and didn't find anything smug and condescending in it. After your post, I read it again and still had the same opinion.

    When people who have been doing the wrong things have their mistakes pointed out to them, they will often characterize the person who tries to help them as "condescending" or "arrogant". This is because, once they realize that they are wrong, they get angry at themselves for not having been able to see the right thing. They then transfer that anger to the one who pointed out their mistake, because people would rather feel antipathy towards anyone but themselves for their own errors.

  9. John Says:

    This post is one of many examples of how people who have genuine ideas and thoughts of their own function, as compared to professional pundits who — and this is a very important thing to remind oneself of constantly — are *paid* to have a certain view.

    Ed can concede that McArdle has some basic, sound advice in her column because he's a person, not a pundit. Hannity, Pillbaugh, Boortz and the like are pundits, not people. They constantly trash everything Obama or any other Democrat does *because that is their job*. They are paid to trash Democrats.

    Lately Hannity's been going on about various Democrat congressmen having "a 9X% record of voting with the party!11!11!!!11!!". And this would perhaps be a valid complaint, if not for the fact that the Republicans he supports have the exact same records of voting almost entirely along party lines. He doesn't bash these congressmen because they vote lockstep; he bashes them *because they are Democrats*. Because *that is his job*. Similarly, he has nothing to say about Paladino's claims that, if elected governor of New York, he will seize the Park51 site via Eminent Domain. This man is openly saying "I will use the power of the governorship to usurp the legally held property of a private citizen in the name of the State", and Sean "SOCIALISMSOCIALISMSOCIALISM" Hannity doesn't think that's newsworthy. Because Paladino is a Republican, and Hannity is paid to support Republicans. *That is his job*.

    The worst thing that ever happened to our democracy was turning news media into a for-profit corporate enterprise.

  10. Monkey Business Says:

    I loathe the idea of sinking to the level that the conservatives have. I hate the idea of resorting to fear and paranoia to energize the public enough to keep them from taking over. But really, the GOP has crossed the intellectual Rubicon. They're no longer hamstrung by being forced to make their arguments even remotely factual. They're just making shit up at this point. This has put progressives at a huge disadvantage. I can spout facts all I want, demonstrate conclusively that the GOP is bad for America, that their plans will almost certainly make things worse, and that we haven't even given Obama 2 years to fix 8 years of fuckery, but the other side will just claim I'm a liberal secret Muslim terrorist sympathizer who wants to tax the fuck out of everyone and hates America.

    So fuck it. You guys take the moral high ground with these assholes. I'm just gonna start making shit up and see what sticks.

  11. Cat Says:

    You don't raid the 401(k) as its offlimits in most states in bankruptcy court.

    You don't refi the home for cash as in a lot of states the mortgage company can't come after you for their losses if they are the original mortgage on the home.

    Reality is that if you lose your job you are going to be bankrupt and losing your house in today's economy anyways, so start planning for bankruptcy at the start.

  12. Andrew R. Says:

    Good point, Ed, but can you also please avoid the rather unpleasant tendency of leftists and liberals to use language like, "The Megan, who wouldn't know economic hardship if if blew a load in her face." when referring to folks like McArdle or Malkin? I get really, really annoyed when folks feel that it's just fine to use misogynistic language (and the imagery of the so-called facial as it appears in pr0n is clearly misogynistic) when speaking about say, a Palin, a McArdle, or a Hillary Clinton and then excusing themselves by saying, "It's okay for me because I'm left wing."

  13. SeaTea Says:

    I think it's presumptuous to assume that a woman having a load in her face is being degraded. I think what degrades one person is potentially a huge turn-on for another. Wasn't there a sexual revolution at one point? Also, in general, I think women should be the arbiter of what's degrading to women. Even then it's dangerous to extend the thought much beyond what they consider degrading to themselves personally.

    Is it ok to say "Sean Hannity wouldn't know economic hardship if it took a dump on his chest?" It's probably not very nice, but it is funny. Whether such imagery degrades Sean Hannity is ultimately up to Mr. Hannity IMO.

  14. Andrew R. Says:

    SeaTea, when using such language in respect to a political enemy, it's clearly meant in terms of sexual degradation, just like referring to Michelle Malkin as an LBFM or talking about which political enemy you'd like to "hate f*ck."

  15. Ed Says:

    Oh, for fuck's sake.

  16. Andrew Says:

    My mortgage payment is almost $3,700/month. If I lost my job, spent down my savings, and exhausted my unemployment benefits, I'd lose my house just as fast whether I had a Wal-Mart greeter job or no job at all. So that particular piece of advice is worthless to me, but the rest is spot on and is pretty much what I've been doing.

  17. displaced Capitalist Says:

    @Andrew R.

    It's tribalism again: if Ed didn't degrade to a little bit of name-calling in this piece the ideological "pure" would ridicule him of offering material support to The Enemy.

    Also, Ed, when you say "fuck" do you mean you would like to do that to Ms. McArdle? (I keed, I keed)

  18. Scott Says:

    RAPE CULTURE!!!!!!!!11!!one!

  19. Monkey Business Says:

    @Andrew: That would mean that, assuming a standard 30 year fixed rate, your total mortgage is somewhere in the neighborhood of $1.3 million.

    You spend roughly five times more than I do on your housing versus my rent. So even if you extrapolate incomes appropriately, I would question whether or not purchasing a million plus dollar home whilst making approximately a quarter million a year was a wise decision. If you happen to make less than that, it becomes even less wise.

  20. aimai Says:

    I think the problem with the "give Megan a break" is that it presumes that Megan's advice is meant, honestly, as advice. Its not. First of all, the woman in question did not ask Megan for advice. Second of all, no sane person would because Megan has zero experience with real financial hardship, and her perspective is skewed by her family's wealth and her reliance on nepotism. Thirdly, the post appears to function in an absolutely standard way: its not "about" people who are laid off. It is a place holder in Megan's long running series "when people suffer its their own damned fault." Megan is a propagandist for a particularly pernicious form of laissez-faire capitalism. She's the market's hagiographer. She may or may not be correct that there are things this poor woman could do that would have mitigated the harm of her situation but everyone's hindsight is twenty/twenty. The point about Megan is that never, in a million years, would she touch the case of a worker wrongfully laid off, cheated out of her retirement pay, in a crashing housing market, with an ill husband, if she couldn't offload all responsibility onto the worker.

    When you look at the totality of "advice" Megan has given, or alluded to giving, in her blogging life you find that the central thread is not honestly considering what is best for the person serving as the object lesson but rather the object lesson itself. Megan cares no more about this woman and her problems than she has cared for the people she thinks die when they see their doctors too much, or the people who are gouged on pharma prices so that pharmaceutical companies can keep their monopolies, or any other individuals whose interests get in the way of the corporate interests Megan shills for. I think asking yourself whether Megan accidentally managed to correctly assess someone else's financial status or not is a mistake. Basically, Megan is not interested in helping anyone "survive a layoff" and if they took her advice and were still in trouble she'd just shrug her shoulders and say "oh well." Megan's function is to focus her readers attention on the individual as the sole source of the individual's problems. Its just randian dogma and its a very good financial wheeze for Megan. But its not really real.

    She's like those home made make up articles that appear in a certain kind of women's magazine. The article explains in chipper detail how you can make your own facial cream/suntan lotion/hats or whatever and after you've realized how complicated it is you simply turn to the ads and buy the thing over the counter. Megan's essay is meant to make you, the reader, feel a certain way. You can see how this works by reading her reader comments. The readers are under no illusion that the function of Megan's advice is to help any one person. The whole thread reads like, as we discussed over at alicublog, the four yorkshireman sketch in monty python. Its an excercise in magical thinking in which each reader explains that they can never suffer from a layoff when they are too old to be able to cope because *they* are wise, or virtuous, or thrify enough never to need money, or a job, or whatever. As I said over there its simply a version of the prosperity gospel–a kind of cargo cult approach to the economy which says that if I do the right things I can't be hurt. If the poor ex boeing worker didn't exist she'd have been invented, because that's Megan's goal. Keep the readers chumming (in Susan of Texas's phrase) and snapping at the fish bait while failing to fight back against the larger economic issues which make them all vulnerable to layoffs and to disaster.

    aimai

  21. SaminMpls Says:

    I sort of take issue with the last point, the Starbucks job, in that I don't think it is actually sound advice. If you are in that sort of financial/employment position, I think that you have to take several things into account as far as your current needs but also to consider your eventual need to amass savings once you do find regular employment.

    Going the consultant or temp route is obviously the first, best step if regular employment isn't available.

    A part-time UNION job like UPS provides full benefits and offers enough schedule flexibility that you could conceivably keep the job for awhile after you find regular employment. It also offers the potential for advancement which, worst comes to worst, is preferable to vying for an assistant manager position at a coffee shop. And no one you know sees you pouring coffee, which is frankly what prevents some people from taking hourly positions. In know a few self-employed people who have worked at UPS as far back as college (12-15 years) because the benefits are that good. Plus it means they don't need to work out.

    Failing those possibilities, I think the next best option is hourly work like teaching GRE classes or grading academic papers where the only qualification required is a bachelor's degree. Like UPS, these offer flexibility and could be continued around a full-time job.

    Coffee shops, restaurants and bars are all going to offer the potential for more money but I think the physical and mental effort they consume is going to harm a job hunt. This is right up their with McMegan's point about charity work.

  22. Bob Says:

    Frankly the whole "shorter" thing needs to go away. I almost never see the article referenced as being as bad as the blogger claims. Even Tbogg – whom I have nothing but respect for – falls flatest when using that gimmick.

  23. jazzbumpa Says:

    Well, I read Megan's piece and my head didn't explode. That's something. I
    have very little direct experience with her, so I was able to read it as a one-off, and actually found nothing objectionable in it.

    Her advice is trite, perhaps, but many people have no sense of fiscal responsibility, or even the slightest financial sense. I would have told them the same things.

    saminMpls – Didn't UPS eliminate 1800 jobs this year? Are they hiring now?

    JzB

  24. Hazy Davy Says:

    For the sake of a f***, I'd like a free pizza.
    In my face.
    For the sake of a blog, I liked better when the knee-jerk accusations
    Were about race.

    (I blew it. Didn't I?)

  25. eau Says:

    aimai's right, though I can't claim to have seen it before it was pointed out.

    Perhaps the "shorter" should have read something like

    "Forgo Nordstrom shopping sprees, theater subscriptions. No European holidays. Find a new job. Fixed!"

  26. SaminMpls Says:

    @JzB they regularly hire entry level at distribution facilities and there's always a ramp up in hiring come Q4. They go after college students and will throw in up to $3K in tuition.

    I'm not trying to endorse UPS as a company but rather to point out that union jobs are overlooked by people like McMegan who don't even want to admit that unions haven't been shown to have a positive or negative effect on productivity. Plus, I doubt she needed to punch a clock for 25 hours a week while they were in school.

    McMegan's post was, for me, a good example of the differences between affluent liberals and libertarians. Both have been known to come across as entitled and elitist but the liberal flavor tends to include at least a hint of self-awareness and class consciousness. A liberal version of McMegan would probably frame the same sort of content around what contingencies you should put in place while you are still employed.

  27. karen marie Says:

    The problem I see with McArdle's advice to take any job, even one paying minimum wage, especially for someone five years from retirement, is that — to my understanding — the woman's social security payout is going to be based on earnings during the last four years of employment. Instead of getting the larger benefit she would have had based on $80,000/year, she's going to get a very small benefit based on making a quarter of that.

    And the woman in the example is lucky — she had a 401K with money in it that she could raid and still have some money left.

    I gotta say, I think McArdle's "advice" is complete and utter bullshit and Sadly, No! was correct in their assessment.

  28. beergoggles Says:

    There are way too many issues with McMegan's article to go into. I have more productive things to do with my time.. like picking my boogers and eating them.

    Suffice to say that Sadly, No only marginally missed their mark.

  29. jjack Says:

    Or like lefties, especially atheist ones, going after Christine O'Donnell for "dabbling in witchcraft" when they've never criticized a candidate for believing in Noah's Ark and Moses parting the Red Sea.

  30. Satur9 Says:

    Save the ludicrous strawmen for Halloween, jjack. Seriously, who the fuck are these supposed lefty atheist bloggers who make fun of witchcraft but not Christianity?