Further to Galt’s Gulch: A Sorta, Kinda, No Not Really Apology To an Aggrieved Ms. McArdle
I see from a rather intemperate comment on this post that Megan McArdle has committed a cardinal error: never give a (sadly) obscure critic the satisfaction — or the notice — that may render them (and their critiques) less obscure.
Not that I mind, mind you — always judge a person by the enemies they attract. (Though in this case I am reminded a bit of Denis Healey’s famous characterization of a debate with Sir Geoffrey Howe.)
Ms. McArdle actually has just a bit of a cause for complaint.
She writes — at more length than I would have thought the provocation deserved, but such is blogging — that I accuse her of claims she has not made, that she is in fact a supporter of government in its proper place, and that therefore I should not have associated her with Colorado Springs’ announcement of severe cuts in government services brought on by a revenue shortfall.
On reflection: she has not posted any opinions on Colorado Springs tax or spending policies, so far as I know (I don’t read her regularly enough to be sure — rather I ration myself to a kind of once a month rubbernecking of the analytical and journalistic trainwreck her blogging (and the next three parts of the tome that begins at that link) presents to make sure I don’t get too caught up in documenting the fail).
Given that silence, leaping to the thought of someone who used to blog under the pseudonym “Jane Galt” in my bit of reflection on the real-world consequences of a Randian view of government was, if predictable, something of a stretch — for which lapse I apologize.
But — I can’t resist this — Ms. McArdle can’t even protest such leaps of association without committing further rhetorical sins. I’ve documented before her passion for straw man arguments, and they show up here again:
…have I ever advocated getting rid of the police, streetlights, or education spending? Why no, I haven’t! Of course that way requires actually firing up Google, which means you could sprain your fingers. You can understand why Thomas Levenson didn’t want to risk it.
Let us leave aside how the wounded soul ramps up the rhetoric…after all my contempt for Ms. McArdle’s work should be clear from the pieces linked above, so I can’t exactly fault her for her attempts at returning the favor.
But, in fact, you will note in the objected-to passage that I did not say the Ms. McArdle favored the things she says she does not. What I did and do assert, in effect, is that in the body of her work you will find a consistent argument that government cannot perform well a broad array of functions, including those that many of us, at least would recognize as essential. See for example, this post, which I excoriated here and here.
It is certainly true that when you pound through Ms. McArdle’s posts you will find support for some government actions — not health care reform, in any of its current guises, nor many aspects of proposed financial reforms and so on — but certainly some taxes (on health care plans, among other targets) and in some areas.
But she’s much more nervous about a lot of other stuff too — regulating or legislating against credit card company exploitation of seniors suffering from dementia, for one example, because, in her view constraining such behavior would involve too great a transfer of individual autonomy to governmental paternalism.
Well, that’s a point of view, and it’s not my intent here to reargue the obvious responses to the weaknesses within that perspective. (Think — what significant non-governmental, non-individual center of power is left out of the libertarian argument here?)
Rather, what I’m saying is that, for all of Ms. McArdle’s claim of balance and the pure exercise of sweet reason, when it comes down to cases, she most often defaults to the ideal of an individual’s choice trumping an assertion of a common good that requires some constraint on or cost to the individual. There is both a logical end (drown government in a bathtub) and a practical outcome that derives from that kind of thumb on the intellectual scale. And I stand by my claim a real-world example of that endpoint can be seen right now in Colorado Springs.
So no, I don’t think, nor did I ever say, that McArdle wants to fire every cop in Colorado.
What I do think, and say, is that there are recognizable consequences to arguments consistently made…and Ms.McArdle’s position leads in practice, if not in the theory that lights the spotless sunshine of her mind, to local disaster and, unchecked, the long term erosion of American power and (relative) wealth.
Image: John Leech, “Rome Saved By The Cackling of Geese” from The Comic History of Rome by Gilbert Abbott A Beckett, c.1850.