Category Archive 'Megan McArdle'
28 Feb 2017

“Authentic Food”

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Megan McArdle heartlessly debunks the haute bourgeois obsession with food traditions.

Americans of a certain social class love nothing more than an “authentic” food experience. It is the highest praise that they can heap on a restaurant. The ideal food is one that was perfected by honest local peasants in some picturesque locale, then served the same way for centuries, the traditions passed down from mother to daughter (less occasionally, from father to son), with stern admonitions not to dishonor their ancestry by making it wrong.

These American diners are constantly in a quest for their own lost heritage, along with the traditions of other peoples they don’t know very well. We live, the lore says, in a fallen state, victims of Big Agriculture and a food industry that has rendered everything bland, fatty and sweet. By tapping the traditions of centuries past — or other, poorer places — we can regain the paradise that our grandparents unaccountably abandoned. …

[M]uch of what we eat now as “authentic” is mostly some combination of peasant special-occasion dishes and the rich-people food of yesteryear, fused with modern technology and a global food-supply chain to become something quite different from what our ancestors ate, or the ancestors of people half a world away ate. And that’s OK. The baguette is delicious, and so is that pricey “peasant” loaf. But they are no better for having been invented decades ago than something that was invented last week, nor would they be better still if Caesar’s legions had been carrying them across Europe.

Read the whole thing.

27 Jun 2016

McArdle Explains Britain’s Decision to the Elites

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GlobalCitizen

Megan McArdle tries to explain to the elites why Brexit won.

When asked “Where are you from?” almost no one would answer “Europe,” because after 50 years of assiduous labor by the eurocrats, Europe remains a continent, not an identity. As Matthew Yglesias points out, an EU-wide soccer team would be invincible — but who would root for it? These sorts of tribal affiliations cause problems, obviously, which is why elites were so eager to tamp them down. Unfortunately, they are also what glues polities together, and makes people willing to sacrifice for them. Trying to build the state without the nation has led to the mess that is the current EU. And to Thursday’s election results.

Elites missed this because they’re the exception — the one group that has a transnational identity. And in fact the arguments for the EU look a lot like the old arguments for national states: a project that will empower people like us against the scary people who aren’t.

Unhappily for the elites, there is no “Transnationalprofessionalistan” to which they can move. (And who would trim the hedges, make the widgets, and staff the nursing homes if there were?) They have to live in physical places, filled with other people whose loyalties are to a particular place and way of life, not an abstract ideal, or the joys of rootless cosmopolitanism.

Even simple self-interest suggests that it may be time for the elites in Britain and beyond to sue for peace, rather than letting their newborn transnational identity drive them into a war they can’t win.

Read the whole thing.

04 Feb 2015

Megan McArdle Identifies What’s Wrong With Obama’s Community College Plan

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Graduation

Megan McArdle notes that Barack Obama’s Free Community College scheme is really just one more example of the pseudo-intelligentsia’s typical attempt to make the world better by making everybody more like themselves.

I would argue instead that what’s elitist is our current fixation on college. It starts from the supposition that being good at school is some sort of great personal virtue, so that any suggestion that many people aren’t good at school must mean that those people are not equal and valuable members of society. And that supposition is triple-distilled balderdash.

My grandparents had perhaps ten adult books in their house, most of which were either Bibles or biographies of presidents. I don’t think there’s anything to be ashamed of in not regarding reading as great recreation. Bookishness has added greatly to society. So has the ability to run a business well, which my grandfather did for many years, employing dozens, maybe hundreds, of people over his lifetime. So has community service, which both my parents did with great distinction, and being kind and decent and generous. I don’t need to hide the fact that neither of my grandparents much cared for books or school, because I don’t think that made them some sort of lesser class of person. Pretending that everyone has the potential to be like the tiny class of educated people who run policy in this country is not egalitarianism; it is the secret snobbery of a mandarin class who really do think that being good at school made them more worthy and important than everyone else. …

Higher education is becoming the ginseng of the policy world: a sort of all-purpose snake oil for solving any problem you’d care to name, as long as we consume enough of it. Education is a very good thing, but it is not the only good thing. An indiscriminate focus on pushing more people into the system is no cure for society’s ills–and indeed, often functions as a substitute for helping the people who are struggling in the current system.

What if people in the policy elite stopped assuming that the ideal was to make everyone more like them, and started thinking about making society more hospitable to those who aren’t? My grandfather graduated into a world where a man with a high-school diploma could reasonably hope to own his own business, or become someone else’s highly valued employee, a successful pillar of a supportive community. His grandchildren graduated into a world where a college diploma was almost the bare necessity to get any kind of a decent job. Why aren’t we at least asking ourselves if there’s something we can do to create more opportunity for people without diplomas, instead of asking how many more years we can keep everyone in school? Why do all of our proposed solutions essentially ratify the structure that excludes so many people, instead of questioning it?

I have some ideas about what those policies might look like: broad deregulation, especially at the state and local level, to ease things for business creators and make it easier to get various sorts of jobs that are currently protected by licensing requirements; more co-op and apprenticeship programs; wage subsidies for entry-level workers, and perhaps a broad system of government internships that could help people gain experience outside of the classroom. I’m sure that there are many more I haven’t named. But we won’t find them as long as the only politically interesting solution is ever more years in school.

Read the whole thing.

30 Jan 2015

American Material Abundance and Our Forgotten Past

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LittleHouse
Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie reconstructed at the original location, 12 miles southwest of Independence, Kansas.

Megan McArdle reflects on the amazing way in which contemporary Americans enjoy an unprecedented kind of material abundance and have forgotten completely that there was ever a time when people got by with so much less.

Last week, in her State of the Union response, Joni Ernst mentioned going to school with bread bags on her feet to protect her shoes. These sorts of remembrances of poor but honest childhoods used to be a staple among politicians — that’s why you’ve heard so much about Abe Lincoln’s beginnings in a log cabin. But the bread bags triggered a lot of hilarity on Twitter, which in turn triggered this powerful meditation from Peggy Noonan on how rich we have become. So rich that we have forgotten things that are well within living memory:

    I liked what Ernst said because it was real. And it reminded me of the old days.

    There are a lot of Americans, and most of them seem to be on social media, who do not know some essentials about their country, but this is the way it was in America once, only 40 and 50 years ago:

    America had less then. Americans had less. …

I am a few years younger than Noonan, but I grew up in a very different world — one where a number of my grammar school classmates were living in public housing or on food stamps, but everyone had more than one pair of shoes. In rural areas, like the one where Joni Ernst grew up, this lingered longer. But all along, Americans got richer and things got cheaper — especially when global markets opened up. Payless will sell you a pair of child’s shoes for $15, which is two hours of work even at minimum wage.

Perhaps that sounds like a lot to you — two whole hours! But I’ve been researching historical American living standards for a project I’m working on, and if you’re familiar with what Americans used to spend on things, this sounds like a very good deal.

Consider the “Little House on the Prairie” books, which I’d bet almost every woman in my readership, and many of the men, recalls from their childhoods. I loved those books when I was a kid, which seemed to describe an enchanted world — horses! sleighs! a fire merrily crackling in the fireplace, and children frolicking in the snow all winter, then running barefoot across the prairies! Then I reread them as an adult, as a prelude to my research, and what really strikes you is how incredibly poor these people were. The Ingalls family were in many ways bourgeoisie: educated by the standards of the day, active in community leadership, landowners. And they had nothing.

There’s a scene in one of the books where Laura is excited to get her own tin cup for Christmas, because she previously had to share with her sister. Think about that. No, go into your kitchen and look at your dishes. Then imagine if you had three kids, four plates and three cups, because buying another cup was simply beyond your household budget — because a single cup for your kid to drink out of represented not a few hours of work, but a substantial fraction of your annual earnings, the kind of money you really had to think hard before spending.

Read the whole thing.

28 Jun 2012

Decision Time in a Few Hours

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Megan McArdle has returned to blogging just in time to deliver a post anticipating the Supreme Court’s decision on Obamacare.

Personally, I suspect that progressives will stop attacking the court pretty soon. I have been much amused watching people try to simultaneously defend the fruits of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s outrageous court-bullying, while also indignantly claiming that it would be abusive, infamous, fundamentally illegitimate and also, downright mean, for conservative justices to even think about overturning long-standing precedent. Suddenly, the internet is full of Latter Day Originalists who think that the constitution was handed down by God on stone tablets—in January 1936.

Since the argument that justices aren’t allowed to overturn laws passed by the legislature, or that they aren’t allowed to overturn long-standing precedent, or that 5-4 decisions aren’t legitimate, would undercut a vast body of laws liberals love—from Miranda to Roe to Boumediene—I tend to think they’ll give up on this line fairly quickly. Especially since going on the attack means spending even more valuable pre-election airspace saying “Hey, voters! Remember that health care law that we passed even though you hated it? The one you still don’t like? Well, I just wanted to remind you that it was also unconstitutional, according to the Supreme Court!”

On the other hand, I consistently underestimate both the hypocrisy, and the political stupidity, of politicians and political activists.

23 Aug 2011

Rejecting Junk Science Is Not Religion

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Jonathan Adler got himself quoted approvingly by Megan McArdle, in her Atlantic blog, for identifying conservatives outraged by NJ Governor Chris Christie’s recent public testimony to his belief in Warmism as being guilty of “anti-scientific know-nothingism.”

Last week, Christie vetoed legislation that would have required New Jersey to remain in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), a multi-state agreement to control greenhouse gas emissions through a regional cap-and-trade program. The bill was an effort to overturn Christie’s decision earlier this year to withdraw from the program. Given conservative opposition to greenhouse gas emission controls, the veto should have been something to cheer, right? Nope.

The problem, according to some conservatives, is that Christie accompanied his veto with a statement acknowledging that human activity is contributing to global climate change. Specifically, Christie explained that his original decision to withdraw from RGGI was not based upon any “quarrel” with the science.

    While I acknowledge that the levels of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in our atmosphere are increasing, that climate change is real, that human activity plays a role in these changes and that these changes are impacting our state, I simply disagree that RGGI is an effective mechanism for addressing global warming.

As Christie explained, RGGI is based upon faulty economic assumptions and “does nothing more than impose a tax on electricity” for no real environmental benefit. As he noted, “To be effective, greenhouse gas emissions must be addressed on a national and international scale.”

Although Christie adopted the desired policy — withdrawing from RGGI — some conservatives are aghast that he would acknowledge a human contribution to global warming. According to one, this makes Christie “Part RINO. Part man. Only more RINO than man.” [“RINO” as in “Republican in Name Only.”]

Those attacking Christie are suggesting there is only one politically acceptable position on climate science — that one’s ideological bona fides are to be determined by one’s scientific beliefs, and not simply one’s policy preferences. This is a problem on multiple levels. Among other things, it leads conservatives to embrace an anti-scientific know-nothingism whereby scientific claims are to be evaluated not by scientific evidence but their political implications. Thus climate science must be attacked because it provides a too ready justification for government regulation. This is the same reason some conservatives attack evolution — they fear it undermines religious belief — and it is just as wrong. …

[E]ven the vast majority of warming “skeptics” within the scientific community would agree with Governor Christie’s statement that “human activity plays a role” in rising greenhouse gas levels and resulting changes in the climate.

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McArdle refers to scientific “denialism,” then establishes a new confirmatory experimental principle: if three libertarians accept it, then it must be true.

I am quite convinced that the planet is warming, and fairly convinced that human beings play a role in this. (When you’ve got Reason’s Ron Bailey, Cato’s Patrick Michaels, and Jonathan Adler, you’ve convinced me). I reserve the right to be skeptical about particular claims about effects (particularly when those claims come via people who implausibly insist that every major effect will be negative) . . . and, of course, of ludicrous worries that global warming will cause aliens to destroy us. But generally, I think global warming is happening, and even that we should probably do something about that, though I’m flexible on “something.”

However. Even if you disagree, it is reprehensible to have a litmus test around empirical matters of fact.

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It is always difficult in addressing the enormous pile of rubbish and intellctual confusion that constitutes Warmism to decide exactly where to begin.

Megan McArdle tells us that she is “quite convinced that the planet is warming.” What does she mean exactly? If McArdle means that the climate is generally warmer today than in the 17th century when the Thames froze regularly in the winter, she is obviously correct. If she, on the other hand, thinks that the widely noticed warming trend that began around 1980 has continued uninterrupted to the present day and constitutes a meaningful pattern, she is obviously wrong.

It is generally accepted by everyone that mankind has been living for the last eleven thousand years in a period of Interglacial Warming. So, yes, Megan, the planet is warming. That’s is what happens during periods between glaciations.

The catastrophist statists allege that there is a grave danger of “climate change.” Climate change is a heads I win, tails you lose kind of proposition, as the climate is always changing. There is a major warming (or cooling) trend direction of the earth’s climate, and there are constant short-term variations of irregular interval.

Geologic evidence indicates that periods of glaciation have lasted as long as nearly two hundred million years. Climate change is an enormously long-term phenomenon and the earth’s climate has moved from extremes far beyond anything known in human history during times in which there was no possibility of human agency playing any role.

Human observational capabilities with respect to phenomena occurring over geologic periods of time is limited by the brevity of our life spans and also by the brevity of the existence of our species and our civilization. Anyone attempting to draw some kind of conclusions on the basis of temperature patterns going back three decades is an idiot.

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Warmism rests on unverifiable models and on one grand scientific metaphor, the notion that the earth’s atmosphere is like a greenhouse. But the greenhouse reference is only a metaphor.

A 2007 paper by Gerhard Gerlich and Ralf D. Tscheuschner argues, I think quite successfully, that the greenhouse model is incompatible with Physics.

The atmospheric greenhouse effect, an idea that authors trace back to the traditional works of Fourier 1824, Tyndall 1861, and Arrhenius 1896, and which is still supported in global climatology, essentially describes a fictitious mechanism, in which a planetary atmosphere acts as a heat pump driven by an environment that is radiatively interacting with but radiatively equilibrated to the atmospheric system. According to the second law of thermodynamics such a planetary machine can never exist. Nevertheless, in almost all texts of global climatology and in a widespread secondary literature it is taken for granted that such mechanism is real and stands on a firm scientific foundation.

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Mr. Adler’s accusation that aversion to Warmism amounts to “know-nothingism” is based on uncritical acceptance of the greenhouse metaphor and acceptance of the proposition that increased atmospheric carbon dioxide causes warming. Only superstitious savages would deny that carbon dioxide must be decreased.

Well, the role of CO2 in warming and the timing of increased CO2 is a seriously controversial issue.

There are good grounds for doubt that CO2 really is meaningfully increasing.

There is excellent data also showing that historically increases in CO2 occurred after planetary warming, not before.

Patrick J. Michaels may accept the Greenhouse model and claims of increasing CO2, but Mr. Adler and Ms. McArdle ought to delve a little deeper into these issues before climbing on board.

I will only mention in passing that it is possible, further, to dissent from Warmist Catastrophism by taking the view that a slightly warmer climate would not be an entirely bad thing, particularly if you happen to live in Canada, Scandinavia, or Russia.

And, even if one were to surrender completely and abandon critical science and skepticism, even if one were to simply accept that everything Al Gore says is true, human reproduction and increased energy use and industrial development will inevitably continue. The undeveloped world will not relinquish material progress and efforts to close the gap with the developed world, and no collection of treaties and international conferences will prevent everyone in India and China from wanting an automobile and a full assortment of electrical appliances. If human population growth and economic activity really dooms the planet, the planet is well and truly doomed, because government efforts will not succeed in preventing growth and progress.

The real Know-Nothings, the real parties guilty of a lack of seriousness and respect for science, are the people who accept the herd consensus of interested parties and the community of fashion as probative, and who are willing to accept on its say-so unverifiable models as established science.

Adler and McArdle are totally wrong. It would take a very thick book to discuss all the ways that Warmism fails to represent legitimate science, worthy of acceptance and suitable as a basis for public policy. Some of the issues are technical, but a lot of all this is basically pretty obvious.

To believe in Anthropogenic Global Warming, you have be an urban narcissist whose perspective on reality resembles Saul Steinberg’s 1976 “View of the World From 9th Avenue” cover. You have to be the sort of person who believes that human actions, the human world, biomass, and mental life absolutely dominate the natural world, that mankind could “destroy the planet” through nuclear war, or by further indulgence in materialistic consumption. You have to be a dualist and a fool, who believes that there is an essential disjunction between humanity and the natural world and that the key ingredient of the fundamental basis of life on this planet (photosynthesis) is a dangerous pollutant, and you have to be stupid enough to fail to notice that we are dealing with a popular theory based, at root, on a few years of warmer weather beginning in 1980 promulgated by the same people who were previously warning us about a New Ice Age.

Stupidity on this scale is incompatible with a role in the Conservative Movement. Sorry about that! That’s not religion. That’s just having intellectual standards.

21 Apr 2011

Return to Clinton Era Tax Levels

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Moderate Megan McArdle warns that accepting the liberal Kevin Drum‘s prescription to return to Clinton era tax rates would not come even close to paying for the federal deficit but would have very serious economic consequences.

Saying “all we have to do is go back to the tax rates under Clinton” is effectively saying “all we need is another asset price bubble that funnels a huge amount of money into the pockets of the rich”. This seems neither particularly feasible, nor desirable.

If we pick, somewhat optimistically, the mean tax take of the Clinton years, that means that we need a tax hike of 5-6% of GDP. And not over 20-30 years. …

A tax hike of 5-6% of GDP doesn’t sound like much. But that’s a big tax hike if your baseline is 19%–it means that everyone’s taxes go up by about a third. If the equilibrium tax revenue at Clinton rates is more like 18-18.5% of GDP, then obviously, they have to go up even higher, from a lower baseline. If you try to concentrate the pain on the wealthy or corporations, it’s an even bigger whack. Meanwhile, state and local taxes will be going up too; they have many of the same pension and entitlement problems that the federal government does.

These aren’t little adjustments. They’re huge changes in the overall tax burden, and they will have big effects on peoples lives, and the economy.

22 Mar 2010

After the Health Care Bill

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Megan McArdle explains why the democrats’ success in getting their way represents a procedural precedent likely to change the legislative process permanently.

Regardless of what you think about health care, tomorrow we wake up in a different political world.

Parties have passed legislation before that wasn’t broadly publicly supported. But the only substantial instances I can think of in America are budget bills and TARP–bills that the congressmen were basically forced to by emergencies in the markets.

One cannot help but admire Nancy Pelosi’s skill as a legislator. But it’s also pretty worrying. Are we now in a world where there is absolutely no recourse to the tyranny of the majority? Republicans and other opponents of the bill did their job on this; they persuaded the country that they didn’t want this bill. And that mattered basically not at all. If you don’t find that terrifying, let me suggest that you are a Democrat who has not yet contemplated what Republicans might do under similar circumstances. Farewell, social security! Au revoir, Medicare! The reason entitlements are hard to repeal is that the Republicans care about getting re-elected. If they didn’t–if they were willing to undertake this sort of suicide mission–then the legislative lock-in you’re counting on wouldn’t exist.

Oh, wait–suddenly it doesn’t seem quite fair that Republicans could just ignore the will of their constituents that way, does it? Yet I guarantee you that there are a lot of GOP members out there tonight who think that they should get at least one free “Screw You” vote to balance out what the Democrats just did.

But I hope they don’t. What I hope is that the Democrats take a beating at the ballot boxand rethink their contempt for those mouth-breathing illiterates in the electorate. I hope Obama gets his wish to be a one-term president who passed health care. Not because I think I will like his opponent–I very much doubt that I will support much of anything Obama’s opponent says. But because politicians shouldn’t feel that the best route to electoral success is to lie to the voters, and then ignore them.

Read the whole thing.

19 Mar 2010

That CBO Estimate

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Megan McArdle critiques the Congressional Budget Office’s estimate of the cost of Obamacare.

Thanks to reconciliation instructions, they needed to improve the budget impact by at least $1 billion in the sidecar. They improved it by exactly $1 billion. Which goes back to what I’ve now said several times: the CBO process has now been so thoroughly gamed that it’s useless. …

The proposed changes increase spending dramatically, most heavily concentrated in the out-years. The gross cost of the bill has risen from $875 billion to $940 billion over ten years–but almost $40 billion of that comes in 2019. The net cost has increased even more dramatically, from $624 billion to $794 billion. That’s because the excise tax has been so badly weakened. This is of dual concern: it’s a financing risk, but it also means that the one provision which had a genuine shot at “bending the cost curve” in the broader health care market has at this point, basically been gutted. Moreover, it’s hard not to believe that the reason it has been moved to 2018 is that no one really thinks it’s ever going to take effect. It’s one thing to have a period of adjustment. But a tax that takes effect in eight years is a tax so unpopular that it has little realistic chance of being allowed to stand. …

As I expected, the size of the magic asterisk–the modern equivalent of David Stockman’s infamous “savings to be named later” in the Reagan budgets–has had to be beefed up to offset the new spending. …

[A]re we really going to cut Medicare? If we’re not, this gargantuan new entitlement is going to end up costing us about $200 billion a year next decade, which even in government terms is an awful lot of money. There are offsetting taxes, but they’re either trivial or likely to be unpopular–look forward to a 4% rent increase when your landlord has to stump over the same amount for the new tax on rents. Then look forward to repeal of same.

I think this is a fiscal disaster waiting to happen. But no one on the other side cares, so I’m not sure how much point there is in saying that any more.

24 Feb 2010

They Will Pay The Price, If They Try It

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Megan McArdle warns that trying an end run around the Senate’s rules will prove a costly mistake for democrats.

If the Democrats use budget reconciliation to bypass the Republicans, they will be making a big mistake.

Reconciliation is not meant to handle these sorts of problems; it’s meant to help Congress get revenues in line with outlays without letting protracted negotiations push us into a budget crisis. It’s not possible to do any sort of comprehensive, rational overhaul of the Senate health bill — which after all, was intended to be the opening salvo in a negotiation, not the final bill.

More broadly, for all that Democrats are declaring that they have a mandate, it’s pretty clear that the public does not want them to pass any of the health care bills on the table — which has to include the Obama plan, since it is only a minor tweak on the existing proposals. Polls have shown more Americans opposing passage than supporting it since early summer, and opposition has risen fairly steadily over time.

Democrats have had plenty of time to make their case. They have failed to do so. The longer they have talked, the more firmly the voters have rejected their ideas. If Congress goes ahead anyway, they will pay a terrible political price.

Many progressives are pushing the notion that having already once voted for it, Democrats will pay that political price no matter what, so they might as well pass it. That ignores several factors. First, a hated bill that failed last December is not going to engender the same ire as a hated bill that passed in May.

10 Feb 2010

Megan McArdle Blogs the Snowpocalypse

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It’s entertaining to read MM exercising her wit on real life as opposed to politics and economics for a change.

[I]n DC, only the main streets have been plowed. And by “plowed”, I mean that one meager lane has been cleared, so that even major arteries like New York Avenue frequently narrow to one lane. The side streets have been turned into defacto one-way streets–except that no one knows which way. The result is a lot like driving on a country road in Ireland, where you are apt to come upon someone going the other way, and then spend precious moments staring at each other until one party reluctantly backs up to a wider spot.

The difference is that Irish drivers are somewhat familiar with the conditions. DC today is the province of taxi drivers and SUV owners who seem simultaneously confused and overconfident. As I eased down the street in our little Japanese sedan, I quickly surmised that none of the drivers in the bite-sized tanks surrounding me had ever seen snow before. Three blocks later I revised that opinion: I don’t think any of them had ever seen cars before. Certainly not the ones they were operating. …

By the time I finally got to the grocery store, I discovered the scene many of you have already viewed on cable television. There was virtually no meat. There were no eggs–I thought I was missing them, until I realized that the egg section comprised the rows and rows of empty shelves stretching beneath one lonely carton of egg beaters. The frozen pizzas were pretty well decimated. Oddly, all of the shredded cheese and sliced cheese was gone, but there was plenty of the stuff in blocks. And I scored the last three containers of Yoplait Light. Oh, and the last four twelve-packs of regular diet coke. Sorry, Safeway shoppers–but I’m told that Diet Dr. Pepper tastes more like regular Dr. Pepper. More than what, I couldn’t say.

I also noticed what Brian Caplan has remarked upon: the store brand frozen foods were pretty much still stocked at normal levels. This, even though Safeway’s store brands tend to be private label versions of top premium brands–and more than occasionally, are better than anything else on offer. I helped myself freely to their quite tasty rising crust pizza, but anyone who wanted a slab of Red Baron’s tomato-flavored cardboard was out of luck.

Naturally, both the fresh and frozen vegetable sections were still stocked to overflowing. I spent quite a bit of time last night making backup lists of vegetables I might buy, since I naturally expected that the produce would be picked over pretty well by now. Silly Megan. Apparently, when DC gets snowed in, it wants to do so with diet soda, Ritz crackers, six pounds of shredded cheddar, and a lifetime supply of stew meat. Me, I’m making slow cooker spaghetti sauce tomorrow.

When I got to the store, the lines looked reasonable. But by well before 9 am, they were stretching towards the back of the store. God knows what was left for the people who put off their shopping until noon.

I understand that it doesn’t necessarily make sense for DC to maintain plentiful snow moving equipment, when these types of heavy snowfalls only occur about once every seven years. But it seems to me we could try to maintain some psychological readiness. If this is how we react to a snow storm, what are we going to do when the Russkis invade?

02 Feb 2010

A Woman’s Advice to Democrats

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Megan McArdle responds to Jonathan Chait’s reiteration of the democrats-all-in perspective on the health care bill.

Last week, Jonathan Chait responded to me, arguing that Democrats have already taken all the political hit they’re going to from passing health care, since each house voted for a bill. Of course, if Chait is right, then Democrats should probably do it–at least, if you think that democracy should put zero weight on the actual opinions of those slack-jawed rubes in the electorate. But this logic seems highly questionable to me.

Who are you more likely to leave: the spouse who makes a pass at another woman, and then thinks the better of it, or the spouse who goes through with it? Maybe you’ll leave them either way. But it does not follow that they are better off going through with it. I don’t think it is actually true that trying to pass a bill people hate, and then thinking the better of it because it turns out the electorate hates it, is no different from trying to pass a bill people hate, finding out that they really, really hate it, and then ignoring them and pushing it through anyway.

26 Jan 2010

Let’s Hope the Health Care Bill Is Dead

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Megan McArdle doesn’t believe the progressive commentariat can cheerlead congressional democrats into a desperation move involving getting the House to pass the Senate bill on the basis of written pledges to amend it later to meet House requirements then ramming it through the Senate by cheating and using reconciliation (as described by Dick Morris).

Health care’s popularity drops any time Congress discusses it. With respect to Nate Silver, who argues that the bill would be popular if they ever passed it and could discuss what’s in it, you cannot “prove” that voters like a bill because various bits of it poll well on their own. Do I want a sous vide machine? Certainly! I could take a poll that would show nine or ten wonderful things I would love about owning a sous vide machine. Am I going to buy one? No I am not, because it costs hundreds of dollars I need for other things.

Almost everything polls well on its own, except tax increases. …

I think Yglesias is right that this process was always more fragile than it appeared. As I read it, majorities of both houses do not want to pass this bill–otherwise, they wouldn’t have run for the exits so quick. They were looking for an excuse that they could deploy without risking retaliation from the leadership–and what the Massachusetts election showed, is that they don’t have all that much to fear from the leadership, because the leadership may not be there after November. Reid’s almost certain to lose his seat, and Pelosi may lose her majority in the house.

They don’t want to say they want to kill it, of course. So instead, they’re doing pretty much what I expected: putting it on the back burner. We want to pass health care, but we just have a few things to do first . . .

Once it goes on the back burner, it’s over. As time goes by, voters will be thinking less and less about the health care bill they hated, and more and more about other things in the news. There is not going to be any appetite among Democrats for returning to this toxic process and refreshing those bad memories. They’re going to want to spend the time between now and the election talking about things that voters, y’know, like.

10 Dec 2009

Megan McArdle: “Surely, It Wasn’t Fraud!”

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Megan McArdle does not believe that conscious dishonesty can be behind the University of East Anglia emails, or the “corrected” temperature charts produced by NIWA and GHCN (the Global Historical Climate Network) .

I am thoroughly unimpressed with the belief that global warming scientists have been engaging in some kind of massive conspiracy to conceal the truth. First, because we seem to be able to observe things like polar ice sheets melting, which point to warming. And second, because, well, why the hell would they? I can imagine a sort of selection bias in the grant process. I cannot imagine hundreds of scientists thinking, well, I put ten years into getting my PhD–time to spend the rest of my life faking data in order to get some grant money! One, yes. All of them, no.

Yet, the facts are troubling. When she looks at the kind of data correction illustrated here:

Megan McArdle is reduced to hoping somebody on the Warmist side has an explanation.

More than one blog is saying this proves that some of the data was falsified. I think that’s too strong. But it does look like maybe they got a little too aggressive massaging it.

Is this an anomaly? I hope it is, and think it probably is. But I worry that it isn’t. And I’m eagerly awaiting someone at RealClimate or similar to explain why and how this kind of correction got applied.

—————————————————

Some of her own commenters do. Wells, at December 10, 2009 6:09 AM, responds:

Oddly for a blog that used to be called “asymmetrical information”, Megan’s missing the agency theory here.

A perceived climate crisis drives grants for research. Grants drive careers: they get you paid, they help you hire others, they give you data that you can use to score the publications that create the public perception of a climate crisis.

Virtuous cycle– as long as the publications support the perception of crisis. Those publications also drive promotions / tenure / editorships. They get you out of low-paid post-doctoral fellowships and into tenure-track professorships. They get your grad students onto a good career track.

If your results are non-significant, then you’re less likely to get published (less contribution to literature). You’re less likely to get grant money, because that goes to people in good career tracks with lots of publications in good journals.

So we have two selection effects: people who are True Believers are more likely to get PhD’s in climate studies to begin with. Then the True Believers are more likely to write papers that help their careers rather than neutral or bad papers. You don’t even need to assume malice: the good scientists just get selected out of the population because they can’t keep up with the phonies, who beat them in grant money, prestige, editorships and faculty appointments.

The temptation to fudge data must be unbelievable, because in that environment, Everybody Does It. And the temptation to fool yourself is certainly unbelievable because all the best people follow the same best practices, so it can’t be wrong. Can it?

Altoids, December 9, 2009 5:11 PM, expands on the same analysis:

Megan,

With respect, you’re setting up a strawman. None of the scientists who have “come out” as climate skeptics allege a massive conspiracy by scientists, any more than there is a massive liberal conspiracy in Hollywood. What you have is a self-emergent, self-organizing bias. I hope I can illustrate it briefly.

I work in academic science (check my IP address if you wish). Scientists are, in general, uncompromising idealists for objective, physical truth. But occasionally, politics encroaches. Most of my work is funded by DoE, DoD, ONR, and a few big companies. We get the grants, because we are simply the best in the field. But we don’t work in isolation. We work as part of a department, which has equipment, lab space, and maintenance staff, IT, et cetera. We have a system for the strict partition of unclassified/classified research through collaboration with government labs. The department had set a research policy and infrastructure goal to attract defense funding, and it worked.

The same is true in climate science. Universities and departments have set policies to attract climate science funding. Climate science centers don’t spontaneously spring into existence – they were created, in increasingly rapid numbers, to partake in the funding bonanza that is AGW. This by itself is not political – currently, universities are scrambling to set up “clean energy” and “sustainable technology” centers. Before it was bio-tech and nanotechnology. But because AGW-funding is politically motivated, departments have adroitly set their research goals to match the political goals of their funding sources. Just look at the mission statements of these climate research institutes – they don’t seek to investigate the scientific validity or soundness of AGW-theory, they assume that it is true, and seek to research the implications or consequences of it.

This filters through every level. Having created such a department, they must fill it with faculty that will carry out their mission statement. The department will hire professors who already believe in AGW and conduct research based on that premise. Those professors will hire students that will conduct their research without much fuss about AGW. And honestly, if you know anything about my generation, we will do or say whatever it is we think we’re supposed to do or say. There is no conspiracy, just a slightly cozy, unthinking myopia. Don’t rock the boat.

The former editor of the New Scientist, Nigel Calder, said it best – if you want funding to study the feeding habits of squirrels, you won’t get it. If you wants to study the effects of climate change on the feeding habits of squirrels, you will. And so in these subtle ways, there is a gravitational pull towards the AGW monolith.

I think it the most damning evidence for this soft tyranny is in the work of climate scientists whose scientific integrity has led them to publish results that clearly contradict basic assumptions in AGW modeling. Yet, in their papers, they are very careful to skirt around the issue, keeping their heads down, describing their results in a way obfuscates the contradiction. They will describe their results as an individual case, with no greater implications, and issue reassuring boilerplate statements about how AGW is true anyways.

For the field as a whole, it’s not a conspiracy. It’s the unfortunate consequence of having a field totally dominated by politically-motivated, strings-attached money. In the case of the CRU email group, well, the emails speak for themselves. Call it whatever you want.

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