Pity to folks on the bunny slopes of writing

Megan McArdle says that she tries not to write bad reviews to avoid the lack of substance of ‘snotty putdowns’, by making…a snotty putdown (HT: Instapundit):

But if you’re basically pretty good at snotty putdowns — and most bloggers have at least an apprentice-level facility with this art — it’s almost too much fun. It’s too easy. It’s the writing equivalent of skiing the bunny slope.

I’m not a fan of McArdle’s writing. Credit to her for building an audience that can pay her bills (partly off her snark), but I’m not one of them. I tried. But, I find her to be a bit too full of herself.

I sometimes think she makes good points and helps advance discussions. But, more often I’m turned off by her snotty and elite attitude.

When I saw the link to this article on Instapundit, I thought perhaps she decided to turn over a new leaf. Like maybe the reason why she decided to try not to be snarky was that she realized that she could be wrong.  That while she didn’t find much use in something that she reviewed, her opinion may be proven wrong.

But, no such luck. Now, it appears, that she now believes she has graduated from “bunny slope” of writing. Good for her.

There are parts where I agree with her. Like here:

…it seems to me perfectly adequate to say “This person is wrong, and here’s why.”

Though, I’d edit that to say “I think this person is wrong, and here’s why”, because it’s good to leave open the possibility that I’m wrong and that I don’t nearly have as much figured out as I think I might.

This can allow you to get past the window dressing of who is more clever in their comebacks and get to the heart of the disagreement.

But, I think I would be misdirected to say any snark is bad. Glenn Reynolds’ Instapundit, for example, is snarky, too. But, his snark is different. It’s not about, as McArdle writes, “Look at me! I am so smart and funny! Not like this stupid person I am making fun of! You should think less of them and more of me!”.

He doesn’t use snark to elevate himself above others, as one example illustrates. When linking to articles of the IRS audit scandal, Reynold’s likes to remind his readers that Obama joked about auditing his enemies in 2009.



Higher-than-inflation challenge

Glenn Reynolds had a nice piece about student loans in the Wall Street Journal yesterday. These two paragraphs reminded me of an observation (that I will turn into a challenge) I’ve had for a while:

Why do students have so much debt? According to a recent study by Mark Perry, a professor of economics and finance at the University of Michigan at Flint, between 1978 and 2011 college tuition in the U.S. increased at an annual rate of 7.45%, vastly exceeding the rate of inflation and the almost-stagnant rate of growth in family incomes.

The difference has been made up by more and more debt. With costs above $60,000 a year for many private schools, and out-of-state costs at many state schools exceeding $40,000, some young people are graduating with student loan debts of $100,000 or more, sometimes much more. A study released last month by Fidelity Investments found that 70% of the class of 2013 is graduating with college-related debt—averaging $35,200.


Here’s the observation/challenge:

Name a sector of the economy where prices have consistently grown at rates higher than overall inflation and that does not have government involved to a heavy extent. 

Education (K-12 and college) and health care are two common examples where cost increases have consistently outpaced inflation and both have government — Federal, State and Local — heavily involved.

In sectors of the economy without a great deal of government involvement, we generally enjoy more innovation and lower costs, or at least costs that do not rise faster than inflation consistently.

Signals vs. Causes: Reynolds’ Law

I hadn’t realized that someone had dubbed confusing signals with causes, Reynolds’ Law. Glenn Reynolds does a nice job of summing up the disease:

The government decides to try to increase the middle class by subsidizing things that middle class people have: If middle-class people go to college and own homes, then surely if more people go to college and own homes, we’ll have more middle-class people. But homeownership and college aren’t causes of middle-class status, they’re markers for possessing the kinds of traits — self-discipline, the ability to defer gratification, etc. — that let you enter, and stay, in the middle class. Subsidizing the markers doesn’t produce the traits; if anything, it undermines them.

Yes. And by undermine, I believe he means changes.

Home ownership, for example, was once a reward for making tough choices to live beneath your means, save for a down payment and protect the value of your equity stake in your home by keeping it up.

By bending the rules to make ‘home ownership’ a participation trophy that anybody could get by signing theirs’ (or their dog’s) name on the dotted line, it changed what home ownership meant. As someone (can’t remember who) correctly put it, someone with no equity in their home is a renter with a mortgage, not a home owner.

Precious Childhood Syndrome

Our society places a great deal of priority on preserving precious childhoods as long as possible. I wrote about some of its effects in Too much education? and Your Mom was right: It pays to practice.

Others have written about it, too. Like, Is 25 the new 15? (HT: Instapundit). I believe so. Which means 15 is the new 5, or maybe 8. When my nephew turned 13, I told him that he was just two years younger than his grandpa was when he decided to move 8 hours away from home to a bigger city to get a job and be on his own for the rest of his life. This was a bit of a shock.  It would have been to me at 13, as well. Or 15 and 18.

Instapundit, himself thought so back in 2002.

Give the Governor Harumph!

In this week’s EconTalk podcast, guest Glenn Reynolds says well something I think about often:

 …it’s always funny to me that the people who go on the most about sustainability in other areas seem the least concerned about sustainability when it comes to things like government and spending.

Here he sums why government grows:

…there is a scene in it [the movie Blazing Saddles]–which I regard as one of the most powerful metaphors for our political situation every produced–and it’s the one where Mel Brooks, playing Governor Le Petomane, has all his cronies around a big conference table and he says: Gentlemen, we’ve got to protect our phony-baloney jobs. And the problem with making the government smaller is it threatens a lot of people’s phony-baloney jobs.


This immediately follows his plea to protect their phoney-baloney jobs:

Here Reynolds mentions what motivates politicians, something that should get more airtime:

I think it’s a mistake that a lot of economists make–not just economists but a lot of other critics of government–to think that the only question is just sort of money. I think the other issue that people guard almost as vigorously, and maybe more vigorously, is the non-monetary economy of self-importance.

Which I think for politicians is really what drives them more than anything else. I think the sense of being a big man.

It’s funny to me that it is assumed by default that CEOs are motivated by greed, but this motivation of a politician goes past society nearly undetected. Rather, politicians are often considered to be ‘serving the people’, when all they’re doing is spending other people’s money and getting their kicks out of being loved and a big shot.

Reynolds offers a nice rebuttal to a previous guest, Louis Michael Seidman’s, position that we shouldn’t be beholden to the Constitution.

If you are the President, if you are a member of Congress, if you are a TSA agent, the only reason why somebody should listen to what you say instead of horse-whipping you out of town for your impertinence is because you exercise power via the Constitution. If the Constitution doesn’t count, you don’t have any legitimate power.  …if we are going to start ignoring the Constitution, I’m fine with that; the first part I’m going to start ignoring is I have to do whatever they say.

Though, in Seidman’s defense, I think Russ and Reynolds are missing something in Seidman’s argument (even though they kind of mention it in the podcast, but don’t connect the dot back to Seidman’s argument). I hear Seidman basically saying that what ‘we’ consider the Constitution has evolved over time, without necessarily being updated through the official amendment process. I believe this is a fundamental point made by libertarian-minded folks like F.A. Hayek. Law isn’t the set of rules written on paper. That’s legislation. Law is the set of norms and customs by which people get along with one another. When legislation lines up with the customs, it looks like we are following the written rules (like stopping at red lights). But, when legislation doesn’t line up with custom, we generally ignore them (like driving 5 miles over the speed limit).

One last tidbit. Here’s Reynolds’ idea to help slow the growth of government (emphasis added — incentives matter):

…create a third house of Congress, which I call a House of Repeal, in which people run for election in which their only power is to repeal laws. And if that one house repeals a law, that law is repealed. And when you go before the voters every two or four years or whatever term you choose for it, the only thing you’ve got to run on is which laws you struck down. Because right now, one reason why we’ve got growth of big government is there is literally nobody in the government with an institutional incentive to shrink government. Courts can strike down laws as unconstitutional, and they do sometimes, but it doesn’t do anything for them institutionally to do so. The other two branches are all about making government bigger. And everybody runs for election and tells voters what they are going to do for them; it would be nice if we could have somebody run for election and tell voters what they are going to undo for them.

Ruled by poor logic II

Glenn Reynolds, writing in the Washington Examiner, (via Mark Perry of Carpe Diem), agrees with me about how poor logic leads to damaging policy.

Here’s a sample from the column:

If the government really wants to encourage people to achieve, and maintain, middle-class status, it should be encouraging things like self-discipline and the ability to defer gratification. But that’s not how politics works.

The whole thing is worth a read.