A not-so-brief history of violence

by Henry on October 27, 2010

Public health warning: much much more McArdle-blogging beneath the fold. But take heart – this may possibly be my last and most definitive statement on the topic. I certainly can’t imagine that I will want to write at length about this any more.

Megan McArdle objects strongly to my suggestion in comments that her writing is generally pernicious and that I really should be doing more to combat it. Well – it would have been rather odd if she had cheered me on enthusiastically, but I still think this is worth a response. First, I’ll excerpt what she says, and then I’ll respond.

This in the comments to a post in which Henry Farrell accused me of rank hypocrisy by juxtaposing something I wrote yesterday with something that I wrote close on eight years ago. Mr. Farrell was unaware that I had publicly retracted these remarks, and apologized for them, two years ago.
Did he “care whether he was right on the facts or not”? It seems to me that if he had, he might have taken the elementary step of asking me, before he wrote the post, whether I still supported what I wrote all those years ago. At the very least, he might have thought, “well, eight years is a long time and there’s always a small chance that she’s changed her mind”, and hedged a little, rather than launching the all-out frontal sarcasm assault.
When his error was pointed out, rather than simply graciously admit that he had misjudged me in this instance, he resorted to talmudic readings of what I said in the comments thread to that long-ago post, rather than tender an apology. Yet no matter how you read those comments—and I think Henry is reading them extremely selectively—that doesn’t really change the fact that I already said years ago that I oughtn’t to have written it. Is this the shining example of “caring whether one is right on the facts” that I am supposed to emulate?
You’d think he’d have at least interspersed a few posts between mote and beam . . .

And then, lots more on C.S. Lewis and charity, which I invite you to click through to if you really want to read about C.S. Lewis and charity.

The problem here is pretty straightforward. Megan McArdle believes that we would all benefit from more intellectual charity in the exciting cut and thrust of the blogosphere. There is indeed a plausible case for this. What there is not a plausible case for, in my opinion, is more intellectual charity towards Megan McArdle. It is doubtless upsetting to be told that your work is intellectually pernicious, even by someone whom you perhaps do not care about, or for (as a sidenote since Ms. McArdle suggests that I “dislike” her, it is not so much her that I dislike – I have no very strong views for or against – as her writing). But as Randall Jarrell sarcastically observed long ago, when an editor remonstrated with him for a cruel review of bad poetry.

I had thought a good motto for critics might be what the Persians taught their children: to shoot the bow and speak the truth; but perhaps a better one would be Cordelia’s love and be silent.

While there is an excellent case for intellectual charity when one is dealing with someone whom one does not know, or who usually seems straightforward, intelligent and honest, it is positively harmful to intellectual life to extend such charity to people who engage in persistent obfuscation and shoddy argument over a period of years. There, far better to shoot the bow.

And there is just such a pattern of lousy argument followed by obfuscation, denial, I’m-sure-I’ll-shortly-get-around-to-giving-you-my-devastating-comeback-argument-soons and No!-what-I-was-really saying-even-though-it-completely-contradicts-plain-language-readings-of-my-words in McArdle’s work, as can be seen if you read through some of the debates that she has been involved in over the years. Here, I provide a few examples, with only very short discussions, since this is already going to be a monster post (I also want to discuss the apology she is upset about, and its background, in some detail). I link only to the examples that most easily come to mind, usually because they involved me and other commentators at CT. Other readers may have their own particular favorites in her broader ouevre.

(1) The spanking Eric Rauchway incident where she told us that “Alex Tabarrok takes Eric Rauchway to the woodshed and spanks him so hard my butt hurts. As a general rule, it is a bad idea to title an exceptionally misleading and/or ignorant post “Stop lying”. ” Unfortunately, it turned out that this was neither a ‘misleading’ or an ‘ignorant’ post. Alex Tabarrok had in fact gotten his facts completely wrong, rendering his argument worthless. McArdle did promise an update to Rauchway back on November 10, 2008. However, as far as I am aware, she never in fact provided one (I have done a Google search which has come up with nothing; if I am wrong, I have no doubts that she will inform me). As a general rule though – if your butt hurts after a butt-spanking incident, it is a good indicator that it is you who has been spanked.In McArdle’s defense, Tabarrok (who was the worse offender here), has himself yet to substantively respond or apologize himself for having impugned the competence of a colleague on the basis of his own stupid mistake, seeming to prefer to pretend that the whole sorry incident didn’t happen.

(2) The Health Care as Rationing debate. This took place over a long series of posts, which I don’t dare to try summarize. But I will give a free Crooked Timber subscription to anyone, including Ms. McArdle herself, who can find good supporting evidence within those posts for the propositions that:

Holbo’s response to me consists of abstracting away all of the potential problems with national health care, and then demanding to know why I don’t support it—I mean, apart from the fact that if millions of poor people die, there will be more room on the subway for me.

and

Mr. Holbo’s answer is that I am an evil idiot who hates poor people, doesn’t understand how markets and governments really work, and is philosophically incoherent.

(except for the last bit, which Holbo happily cops to ). It’s far easier to argue against straw men than, you know, what people have actually argued. But I would have thought myself that it would grow increasingly dissatisfying over time.

(3) The Smithfield Meatpackers contretemps, in which Ms. McArdle devoted a number of posts to defending a palpably dishonest Economist story which defended Smithfield’s record on employing undocumented workers, without ever mentioning the inconvenient fact that there had been a legal determination that Smithfield had in fact been an abusive employer. The level of indignation and illogic in Ms. McArdle’s replies (I refer you in particular to the partisan hackery and Soylent Green conspiracy theory claims discussed here ) was such that I’ve always suspected that she wrote the offending article herself.

(4) My personal favorite: The Great Tax Debate. Wherein, Ms. McArdle starts by telling us that “What most of us are really in favor of is higher taxes on other people. If we wanted higher taxes on ourselves, we’d give the money to charity,” and finishes by telling us that what she was actually saying was “people aren’t interested in increasing their own taxes; they’re willing to pay to increase other peoples’ taxes.” Even though this latter claim is nonsensical, it does allow her to reinterpret the apparent plain language meaning of her original post in argumentatively convenient ways. However, the really nice bit is when she responds to the fact that she has completely misunderstood collective action theory (she has claimed that it “generally applies” to situations where ” the outcome is binary” – this is flatly untrue in ways that are obvious to anyone who knows the basic literature in collective action theory), by acknowledging that ‘Binary was perhaps an inelegant choice of words.’ Such chutzpah is almost worthy of admiration. Almost.

I could provide more examples – but I hope this list at the least provides sufficient resources for those who wish to investigate the intricacies of Ms. McArdle’s style of thinking and argumentation. Now onto the apology that she reprimands me for having treated so cavalierly. The reason that I was not especially impressed by this apology is because of its manifest inadequacies. It’s as much apologia as apology. Let’s take a look.

The apology, entitled “Let’s get this out of the way,” begins thusly.

I suspect that I shall spend the rest of my life being pursued by lefty bloggers who think that linking this six year old post is a substitute for argument. Nonetheless, it occurs to me that while I have repeatedly dealt with it in various places, I probably haven’t here. So here’s the deal. I’m going to talk about it now, because it was, frankly, a pretty stupid thing to write, and mea culpas are good for the soul.

The fact that she explicitly has mixed motivations for writing the apology – she both wants to apologize and to try to take the issue off the table, needn’t concern us unnecessarily. Most public apologies have mixed motivations of this sort – that an apology has strategic advantages does not mean that it is necessarily insincere. But from here on in, it starts to go downhill.

I have yet to see anyone deploy it against me who could even vaguely be accused of acting in good faith. On the other hand, there are readers in good faith who are surprised by it, and I think I owe them an explanation.

If she really did say something that she has since acknowledged was ‘creepy,’ it is an unusual run of luck indeed that everyone who has criticized her for this post has done so in bad faith. But why does she think that they have been in bad faith? It is because they haven’t mentioned that she only wanted two-by-fours to be used pre-emptively against violent protesters.

This discussion is foreshadowed by McArdle’s disavowal of any sympathy for ‘rioters’ (nb that in the following, I am not carrying out what Ms. McArdle’s friends used to refer to as a ‘fisking’ – i.e. I am not excerpting every word in order and responding to it. I do try to include everything pertinent – readers who spot stuff that I miss are invited to tell me so).

I still shouldn’t have written what I did. Not because I’m particularly sympathetic to rioters—which is what people who think it would be fun to turn a peaceful protest into a violent scene are The proper response to such people is to restrain them, by violent force if necessary. I certainly hope that if I were standing behind such people at a protest, I would have the physical courage to jump on them and use my 140 pounds of bony mass to wrestle them to the ground.

We certainly hope so too. But let’s continue.

As an aside, I note that riots certainly aren’t necessarily the fault of the protesters—I was at an ACT-UP die-in in Philadelphia around 1991 that turned violent because the coffin some of the protesters were carrying tipped over onto the barricades, and Philly’s trigger-happy police interpreted this as an attack. Needless to say, we were the ones who got beat on, not them. I mean “we” only in solidarity—the police tended to focus on the folks with the nose rings and the purple hair.

And now we start to get to the important bits.

I shouldn’t have written it because even if whacking a rioter in the head is necessary to stop the riot, it’s not funny. It’s not funny even when the rioter is a total scumwrangler who is deliberately wreaking mayhem—any more than it is ever funny when a thoroughly repulsive criminal gets raped in prison. To the extent that either the state or private citizens are forced to use violence to prevent violence, it should always be more-in-sorrow-than-in-anger. This is not amusing.

The problem hence, is not that violence against mayhem-wreaking scumwranglers is unwarranted – it is that one shouldn’t laugh at it, but instead treat of it in grave and serious tones. This is indeed the bit that I should have known about and responded to when writing my own post. But let’s continue. McArdle apologizes for having written it, explains that she had been in her “mid-twenties” (in fact she had just turned thirty), was exploring the new medium of blogging, and was “more than a tad overemotional at the thought of my city getting another dose of random ideological violence.” She then goes on to tell us that

But the way it’s used in the blogosphere is, for want of a better word, pathetic. Those who link it never, ever mention that it referred to violent protesters, even when they have to do some exceptionally creative editing to avoid that fairly central fact. Indeed, they often explicitly state that it referred to peaceful protesters, even though there is no possible reasonable reading of that post which interprets it as randomly exhorting violence against people who were lawfully marching in protest of the war. I have been a peaceful protester, though obviously not against this war. Moreover, my boyfriend at the time was a peaceful anti-war protester; I can assure you that I didn’t want him damaged, and since the relationship continued for years afterwards, I’m pretty sure he didn’t think so either. That post is supposed to impugn my character. What does it say that the people who link it are invariably either outright lying, or deliberately misleading inflicting creative omissions on their readers?

McArdle does provide us with the original post in its entirety (although she accidentally omits some italicizations, which I have reinserted, since one is quite pertinent).

Diane E. has a link seeming to indicate that the scruffier element of Saturday’s peace rally is planning on demonstrating for peace by, er, wreaking mayhem. Nothing says “Stop the Madness of Western Imperialism” like a white college student from Winnetka opening a can of whup-ass on some Korean vegetable stand!
So I was chatting about this with a friend of mine, a propos of the fact that everyone I know in New York is a) more frightened than they’ve been since mid-September 2001 and b) madly working on keeping up the who-the-hell-cares ifI-get-hit-by-a-truck? insouciance that New Yorkers feel is their sole civic obligation. Said friend was, two short years ago, an avowed pacifist and also a little bit to the left of Ho Chi Minh. And do you know what he said? “Bring it on.”
I can’t be mad at these little dweebs. I’m too busy laughing. And I think some in New York are going to laugh even harder when they try to unleash some civil disobedience, Lenin style, and some New Yorker who understands the horrors of war all too well picks up a two-by-four and teaches them how very effective violence can be when it’s applied in a firm, pre-emptive manner.

Unfortunately, however, some of the relevant context for the post is missing from the historical record. For she has told us earlier that:

Diane E. wrote the sadly now defunct Letter from Gotham blog. Though her politics—indeed, like mine—changed in those first few post 9/11 years, I think it’s safe to say that she would have a very pungent reaction to anyone calling her a neo-con loving warblogger. The post is now gone, but any of the libertarian antiwar bloggers should be happy to confirm that Diane E. was not a rumormongering warhorse who hated peace. The post was written in response to a credible belief that there were antiwar protesters who thought it would be fun to get a little WTO on New York.

So – she apologizes, apparently sincerely, for thinking that violence against mayhem-wreaking scumwranglers was funny, even though they’re scumwranglers (it’s worth drawing attention to the gradual transformation over the years of laughable “little dweebs” that you can’t even be mad at, into mayhem-wreaking “rioters” and “scumwranglers” who are self-evidently a threat to life, property and civilization; they must have been eating all their greens). She does not apologize for her belief back then that “rioters” need to be “restrained” with “violent force, if necessary,” perhaps by “whacking a rioter in the head … to stop the riot.” And she feels hard done by – none of the bloggers who link to the post ever mention that she is only referring to “violent protesters.” And if only we could read Diane E.’s post, we could see that there was “a credible belief” that we were going to see a WTO-style ” dose of random ideological violence.”

I do have good news for Ms. McArdle – the original Diane E. post that she thought was lost to posterity, has been located. Very likely, Ms. McArdle is unaware of how valuable archive.org is in retrieving such lost historical moments. Unfortunately the news gets less good for her from there.

I enclose the Diane E. post that McArdle was relying on in its entirety at the bottom of this post for people who really want the full context. There are a couple of general observations worth making. First – that Diane E., whether she was a “war-horse” or not, was clearly and emphatically a rumor-monger, contra McArdle. Indeed, I could think of many less polite descriptions of her attitude to truth than “rumor-monger.” Second, that Diane E.s writing in this post reaches Pam-Geller levels of batshit crazy. Myself, I would not be swift to describe a post like this as a justifiable basis for “credible belief.” But then I’m not Megan McArdle.

The key bits from the report that Diane E. is raving on about as evidence of planned mayhem are as follows (if I have made any significant omissions, critics should feel free to point them out, using the material that I have provided below for their convenience).

Then there are those who will seek a more creative outlet, avoiding the pens and hoping to sow chaos all over Manhattan. The Net features discussion of such tactics, honed at past free-form protests, as using cell phones to coordinate splinter actions. Of the currently 29 UFPJ-sanctioned “feeder” marches – by such groups as the “Queer Anti-War Contingent,” the “Interfaith Ministers for Peace,” not to mention the “Anarchist Red & Black Contingent” and the “Anti-Capitalist Bloc” – how many might break up like mercury in a dish, blobs going off on their own rather than being shunted into the pens? As former Brooklyn DA and Congresswoman Liz Holtzman told me, “It’s tough to distinguish [regular] walkers from marchers.” One contributor to the NYC Indymedia Center Web site called for “a tactical plan for widescale CD [civil disobedience] throughout Manhattan. This could include surprise ‘people’s inspections’ of various corporate and governmental sites, traffic lockdowns, a mass die-in, street theatre, prayer vigils, snowball fights, you name it. It’s time to be both bold and creative. Let’s transform Feb. 15 into a carnival of peace and resistance throughout Manhattan all afternoon. Save the protest pit for last call.” This is among the more temperate postings. Another stated mildly, “We can’t settle for tired megaphone speakers inside a protest pen encircled by police – we gotta bust out into the streets.”

So, what evidence do we have that college student rioters are planning a “can of whup-ass on some Korean vegetable stand,” to use McArdle’s memorable description? Diddly squat. What does this tell us about rioters’ plans to … er … riot? Again. Diddly squat. The protesters plans are explicitly to “transform Feb. 15 into a carnival of peace and resistance.” There are a number of proposed actions – but the only one that can be even faintly thought of as violent, is the proposal to have snowball fights. McArdle’s source of wisdom, the indefatigable Diane E., rants that this isn’t peaceful protest. But it obviously is. All of these actions are taken from the standard repertoire of peaceful disruptive protest. Many of them are certainly massive pains in the arse. None of them would seem to me to be forms of violence that would justify pre-emptive whacks in the head.

There is a later bit that talks about how there might be some hooliganism associated with the protests.

As endorsed by Judge Jones on Monday, the city has seemingly transformed a largely self-policing, follow-your-nose chant-and-sing march along any route the city might choose – UFPJ having abandoned its goal of marching by the UN - into an unpredictable and potentially chaotic cat-and-mouse struggle. Any rampant hooliganism will besmirch the peace movement, true, but also black the eye of civil liberties in a country touting itself as a democratic example to the world. And, to the degree that news cameras focus on cops tussling with some kids decked out in anarchist regalia or some shattered plate glass rather than on throngs tramping by under a Unitarian or Queer or Labor peace banner, that apparently suits the authorities just fine. … With effective, massed dissent an intolerable visual spectacle as war approaches, the city now invites struggle on both ends of a nightstick.

But again – this is not exactly strong evidence of planned riots. If one wants to suggest, as 2008-McArdle does, that she was terrified of an outbreak of “random ideological violence” that was in some sense comparable to September 11, one needs to do better than broken windows and “police tussling with some kids” (rather than vice-versa).

And indeed, this proved a problem for McArdle back in 2003. As dsquared pointed out to her back then:

The “mayhem” referred to appears to refer to such actions as “walking down the street” when told not to by the police.

To which Megan McArdle replied by telling us that anyone who tried to push through a barrier was going to get into a tussle with the cops and that:

Announcing that you’re going to walk on the street where the police tell you not to is announcing that you’re going to start a melee.

And then started in on anecdotes about the many rallies she had been at, how going through barriers invariably involved knocking down police and so on. This claim, like many of her convenient arguments-from-personal-anecdote, happens to be untrue.

So what does all of this tell us? First – that there are some fundamental problems with her apology (which is why I didn’t respond to it in the abjectly respectful manner that she clearly believes it deserves). To use her own words, she is inflicting some “creative omissions” on her readers.

She is correct to observe that she only claimed that the 2 by 4s and other forms of violence should be visited on the heads of violent protesters. But much of what she says about those purportedly violent protesters is untrue, and was clearly so at the time. She falsely claims that her beliefs were based in a credible source, indicating that there was a risk of widespread random violence on the day. See the source, and judge it for yourself at the end of this post. Her claim about college students opening whup-ass on Korean vegetable stands, or anything of the sort, appear to be entirely of her own invention – the relevant plans were for a (doubtless highly annoying) “carnival of peace and resistance.” And when she was called on the dearth of evidence of actual plans for violent mayhem, she fell back on a personal-anecdote-based claim that anyone who wanted to get out from the police cordon was necessarily looking for a “melee.”

This tells us two things. First, and most obviously, it calls her apology/apologia into question. There are many creepy elements to her original post which she appears to prefer not to discuss. I think Salient’s discussion of this in comments is excellent, and since this post is already horribly long, I see no reason not to make it longer by quoting him at length.

McMegan has an operative definition of ‘violence’ which allows her to say the things she does. This operative definition is, I would say, insane. My definition of ‘violence’ differs from hers. I, for one, distinguish between “Lenin-style violence” and “walking through a police barricade without their permission.” McMegan confuses one with the other, equivocating these examples.
Whatever. We know what she’s doing. … . She’s intentionally equivocating between violence and civil disobedience, because she enjoys the thought of enacting violence against a particular subgroup of people she finds distasteful, namely civil disobedients. So she confuses their behavior with the behavior of violent thugs until someone explicitly calls her out on it, at which time she pretends she knew all along, and dissembles until the equivocation is buried under murk. Oh, she was really just talking about . She buries her comments about pushing past police equaling violence under a mound of further blather, including things that contradict any conceivably reasonable interpretation of what she said earlier.
She can very plausibly be read as having a definition of violence that is either insane, or is deliberately chosen so that she can cheer on horrific acts of violence against victims on the grounds that, in some weird technical sense, those victims were ‘violent.’
Megan McArdle has equivocated an act that I have done—walking through a police barricade, bumping shoulders with police—with Lenin-style violence. She has equivocated civil disobedience—which I have practiced—with violent rioting—which I have acted against …. McMegan has advocated, with palpable relish, that police act violently against people who do things that I have done.1

I would add that the creepiest aspect of her original post is its emphasis on pre-emptive (her italicization; not mine) violence against protesters. When your definition of violence by protesters is highly elastic, and you believe that it should be pre-empted with a good beating, you’re setting things up for some very nasty outcomes. She doesn’t disown this in her apology – instead she doubles up on the benefits of violence (conducted with very grave and serious faces) against those she considers to be violent protesters.

Secondly, it provides a good example of her habitual mode of argument on these things. Start with a stupid and/or offensive claim. Get attacked. Come up with qualifications, alternative arguments (from anecdote, preferably, since they can’t be disproven), claims that what you really meant was this, hyperbolic distortions and whatever else you want. Get upset and outraged that people don’t treat your obfuscations with the respect that they truly deserve. And then repeat as often as necessary.

1 I would qualify this. McArdle doesn’t directly call (as far as I can see) for police violence against protesters who try to push through barriers. However, this is at the least a highly plausible reading of her statement that “I’m not saying that New Yorkers are going to attack people for breaching the police line, nor should they. It’s the job of the police to control things,” when taken together with her emphasis on pre-emptive violence, and her claim that anyone trying to go where the police doesn’t want them is looking to start a melee.———————————————-
[Retrieved post from Letter from Gotham below]

I WAS AFRAID OF THIS. Someone named Daniel Forbes, in an online Marxist rag called Progressive Review, informs us of the planned mayhem in the upcoming protest parade. Of course, he blames it all on Judge Jones’ decision, but I know leftists better than to swallow that rancid baloney. Excerpts:

With Monday’s ruling against an orderly, nonviolent protest march anywhere on the streets of Manhattan this Saturday,

Lie

S. District Judge Barbara S. Jones has steered the City of New York towards chaos.

Lie. How? This is simply an admission that they were planning to use violence all along. They don’t get what they want, they threaten. How typical of the radical left.

Though event organizer United for Peace and Justice states its willingness to follow any route the New York Police Department designates, the only legal option at hand is for anti-war demonstrators to be massed in tightly controlled police pens stretching far up First Avenue north of the United Nations.

Lie. Dag Hammarskjold Plaza is a reasonably large, open-air space. “Tightly-controlled police pens” sounds like “cattle cars.” What he should say is that rally-participants will be restrained by police barriers—standard operating procedure in a large public gathering.

Of the perhaps 100,000 people corralled

Lie. Nobody will be corralled.

there – stationary, cold, unable to hear or see the program directly, unable to duck out without difficulty for coffee or the Port-o-John

Ah, gee. No coffee and no visit to the Port-o-Potty! To a latter-day leftist from an indulgent Western country not being able to do exactly what you want when you want is Naziism. Seriously folks, the only coffee available nowadays in NYC is Starbucks, so Judge Jones is doing them a favor by preventing them from patronizing the Evil Zionist Capitalist Howard Schultz!

Then there are those who will seek a more creative outlet, avoiding the pens and hoping to sow chaos all over Manhattan.

Here we get to the point.

The Net features discussion of such tactics, honed at past free-form protests, as using cell phones to coordinate splinter actions.

Honed at past free-form protests? Then why should I believe you ever intended to march peacefully?

Of the currently 29 UFPJ-sanctioned “feeder” marches – by such groups as the “Queer Anti-War Contingent,” the “Interfaith Ministers for Peace,” not to mention the “Anarchist Red & Black Contingent” and the “Anti-Capitalist Bloc” – how many might break up like mercury in a dish, blobs going off on their own rather than being shunted into the pens?

As I have already said, no one is going to be penned up. But to answer the question, can anybody possibly believe that the “Queer Anti-War Contingent” and the “Anarchist Red & Black Contingent” was planning to come to NY to protest peacefully? Hell, no! No way in the world they didn’t want to turn this into a violent, Davos-like spectacle, surging through the streets in battle formation.

So much for the bullshit about comparing this radical leftist chaos “march” to the St. Patrick’s Day Parade! So much for comparing the “Anarchist Red & Black Contingent” to the Westchester County Hibernian Bagpipers!

As former Brooklyn DA and Congresswoman Liz Holtzman told me, “It’s tough to distinguish [regular] walkers from marchers.”

I think it’s really easy to distinguish peaceful pedestrians from members of the Anarchist Red & Black Contingent heaving bricks through shop-windows.

One contributor to the NYC Indymedia

Indymedia, I should have known…

Center Web site called for “a tactical plan for widescale CD [civil disobedience] throughout Manhattan. This could include surprise ‘people’s inspections’ of various corporate and governmental sites, traffic lockdowns, a mass die-in, street theatre, prayer vigils, snowball fights, you name it. It’s time to be both bold and creative. Let’s transform Feb. 15 into a carnival of peace and resistance throughout Manhattan all afternoon. Save the protest pit for last call.”

Jim Henley, I’m calling you out. This is peaceful protest?

This is among the more temperate postings. Another stated mildly, “We can’t settle for tired megaphone speakers inside a protest pen encircled by police – we gotta bust out into the streets.”

Again, I ask, is this peaceful protest?

Writing in ZNet online,

Znet, I should have known…

Brian Dominick, an emergency medical technician from Syracuse, NY, noted his phone message to New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg that, “permit or no permit, we will march.”

Then he’ll be breaking the law, and he’ll be arrested.

He added, “This latest clash between the streets and the elites is at this phase neither cataclysmic nor revolutionary, but it is certainly momentous.”

Actually, it’s none of the above. Petty street thuggery is petty thuggery; it’s been around since the year one, and accomplishes nothing.

One rally participant disagrees with threatening violence (which proves that those who are bent on it have a choice in the matter, as always):
Ted Glick represents such groups as the National Lawyers Guild and the Green Party. An organizer of Saturday’s demonstration, he disagreed about taking it to the streets, saying in an interview, “I doubt there will be a breach of police barricades – it will be absolutely peaceful and nonviolent. We’re not looking for a confrontation, but to manifest the views of millions of people.”
But he says: “But to the extent they don’t cooperate with those of us with a history of organizing peaceful demonstrations, then they put a lot of stress on what can happen.”

He issues a few soothing bromides and then disclaims responsibility for what he might bring about by his own actions.

By phone, Brian Dominick, a veteran of many demonstrations,

Er, you’ve already described him

wondered about an exit strategy – both citizens’ and the cops’.

The NYPD has a lot of experience in these matters, and if you just listen to them and work with them, all will go fine.

While he’s helped organize medical facilities at prior demonstrations, he’s just coordinating buses for this one. Based on his experience, he speculated that, “With hundreds of thousands of people at what was planned and promoted as a march, they will have that expectation.

It’s your fault if you promised something you couldn’t deliver. Don’t expect me to believe (with your cell phones and laptops provided by your upper-middle-class parents) that every person attending this rally doesn’t know about the judge’s decision. This is poppycock, even by Marxist standards.

What, are the police somehow going to manage to say we have to leave in very small groups and disperse us a few at a time?

Yes.

That’s what they do when there’s hundreds or even a few thousand people. But unless the police want to keep us penned up

How many times do I have to say, there will be no pens?

there for hours on end, it’s going to be chaos.

More threats.

In reality, there’s going to be a march.

More threats.

People will be at a rally pumped up for it, and that’s the natural inclination.”

Restrain yourselves. As Katherine Hepburn said to Humphrey Bogart in The African Queen, “Nature, Mr. Allnutt, is what we were put on earth to overcome.”

As endorsed by Judge Jones on Monday, the city has seemingly transformed a largely self-policing, follow-your-nose chant-and-sing march along any route the city might choose – UFPJ having abandoned its goal of marching by the UN - into an unpredictable and potentially chaotic cat-and-mouse struggle. Any rampant hooliganism will besmirch the peace movement, true, but also black the eye of civil liberties in a country touting itself as a democratic example to the world.

No comment. The Marxist lies keep coming, like garbage out of Fibber McGee’s closet.

And, to the degree that news cameras focus on cops tussling with some kids decked out in anarchist regalia or some shattered plate glass rather than on throngs tramping by under a Unitarian or Queer or Labor peace banner…

Blah blah blah blah. Where’s the shattered plate glass coming from? Peaceful marchers?

With effective, massed dissent an intolerable visual spectacle as war approaches, the city now invites struggle on both ends of a nightstick….

Both ends of a nightstick….did he just make that up, or is it his most-used macro? Blah blah blah.

Just go read the rest.

Thanks to Bill Quick for the link to the article.

NOTE: The NYCLU appealed Jones’s ruling Wednesday morning before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. In an oral decision Wednesday afternoon, Judge Jose A. Cabranes upheld the city’s ban, saying his ruling applied to Saturday’s demonstration only.

Yes!

UPDATE: “On Friday, we made contact with NYPD’s Intelligence Division and confirmed that the New York City Area has been at the “ORANGE” alert level since September 11, 2001.” This is quoted directly from an e-mail from my building’s security/logistics manager.
posted by Diane at 12:30 PM

{ 167 comments }

1

y81 10.27.10 at 7:44 pm

Goodness. I remember the Tabarrok/Rauchway dust-up, in which McArdle was a bit player. I thought Tabarrok had the better of the argument on the underlying topic, i.e., how to measure unemployment, but concede freely that reasonable minds could differ. That being so, there isn’t any justification for calling those who disagree with you liars, but it was Rauchway, not Tabarrok, who employed that genre of overheated rhetoric.

All of which leads back to a point that I made before: the blogosphere, even the part supplied by academics, doesn’t operate according to scholarly norms. I read McArdle because she is an entertaining writer, while recognizing that her level of accuracy is what you would get at a cocktail party, not a peer-reviewed journal.

2

Substance McGravitas 10.27.10 at 7:50 pm

I read McArdle because she is an entertaining writer, while recognizing that her level of accuracy is what you would get at a cocktail party, not a peer-reviewed journal.

Why don’t you think you should get more from The Atlantic than chatter?

3

politicalfootball 10.27.10 at 7:54 pm

y81, you must go to some shitty cocktail parties.

4

politicalfootball 10.27.10 at 7:59 pm

Says McMegan;

I have yet to see anyone deploy it against me who could even vaguely be accused of acting in good faith. On the other hand, there are readers in good faith who are surprised by it, and I think I owe them an explanation.

If McMegan says something despicable, those who criticize her for it are acting in bad faith, by definition. Were they acting in good faith, they would merely be surprised by her loathsomeness.

5

actor212 10.27.10 at 8:04 pm

So McArdles is basically asking you to treat her writing like a tee-ball game, and grade her on a curve?

I’d gladly do that if she wasn’t paid to write for The Atlantic.

6

Everett 10.27.10 at 8:12 pm

It would appear that Tim Profitt subscribes the McArdle school of preemptive political violence.

7

Anderson 10.27.10 at 8:16 pm

Tabarrok (who was the worse offender here), has himself yet to substantively respond or apologize himself for having impugned the competence of a colleague on the basis of his own stupid mistake, seeming to prefer to pretend that the whole sorry incident didn’t happen.

FWIW, Tabarrok did respond, in Rauchway’s comment thread. And Rauchway responded to the response.

8

ed 10.27.10 at 8:21 pm

(as a sidenote since Ms. McArdle suggests that I “dislike” her, it is not so much her that I dislike – I have no very strong views for or against – as her writing)

Well, she is an insufferable, narcissistic, pseudo-libertarian, Pink Himalayan salt-sprinkling, failing upwards fraud and a scolding jackass to boot. Does this mean that I “dislike” her? Yes, I think it does. Her writing sucks too (and such large portions). And she’s never been funny either.

9

Downpuppy 10.27.10 at 8:22 pm

Lest we forget, Megan’s usual standard of civility is her by calling him Sarah Palin

Which also met her usual standard of throwing a huge roundhouse to her own face, plus super quotes like Whether or not you agree with me, I am in fact required to get the details right in the pieces I publish in my magazine. There’s no out for “truthiness”.

10

Downpuppy 10.27.10 at 8:24 pm

Ooops -that was her Taibbi piece. Oddly enough, the link works even though it ate part of the text.

11

y81 10.27.10 at 8:25 pm

“Why don’t you think you should get more from The Atlantic than chatter?”

I have been reading The Atlantic, off and on, for thirty years, since I was in college. (Of course, what once seemed like an intellectual activity now seems like slumming, but that is a change in me, not the magazine.) Possibly the Atlantic blogs contain less in the way of timeless truths than the magazine, but I’m not sure. If the blogs are below the print standard, surely Andrew Sullivan, with his endless gynophobic rages, crushes on the male politician du jour (remember the pictures of Cheney’s penis?), and bizarre fixation on Trig Palin’s maternity, is the worst offender.

I used to meet people like Andrew Sullivan, though not strictly at cocktail parties, but now I don’t go drinking at Partners anymore.

12

Substance McGravitas 10.27.10 at 8:28 pm

If the blogs are below the print standard, surely Andrew Sullivan, with his endless gynophobic rages, crushes on the male politician du jour (remember the pictures of Cheney’s penis?), and bizarre fixation on Trig Palin’s maternity, is the worst offender.

I agree that Sullivan’s horrible, but “Look how horrible THAT guy is!” does not improve McArdle.

13

Anderson 10.27.10 at 8:33 pm

I agree that Sullivan’s horrible

Sullivan has positives to weigh vs. his negatives.

What are McArdle’s positives?

14

Downpuppy 10.27.10 at 8:40 pm

McArdle’s positive is that she is always wrong.

With other writers, you have to sort out what’s right, what’s wrong, & what’s worthy of thinking over.

With Megan, you have a shortcut to ruling out whole swaths of thought.

15

Salient 10.27.10 at 8:41 pm

My own justification of the plausibility of my reading rests principally on McArdle’s comment that she feels a “hell yes I shot the burglar” attitude of pride and solidarity with police^1^ who get physically “violent with vandals.” Of course, ‘vandals’ get conflated with ‘rioters’ get conflated with people ‘forcing’ their way past barricades, elsewhere in her writing. Had she not specified that she feels a “hell yes I shot the burglar” sense of elation in response to accusations of inappropriate violence against rioters / vandals / what have you — a feeling/attitude which, to my knowledge, she has not retracted — I would not have leveled the particular accusations that I did.

^1^Maybe individuals in general, instead of police. If there’s one weak link in my interpretation, it’s that she didn’t specifically restrict her endorsement to police violence against vandals; she endorses violence against vandals in general. So, ok. I feel that my reading, which is narrower, is more generous to her, but I’m willing to extend my restriction of the accusation to police violence to include 140-pound spectators and the like.

I’d forgotten McArdle’s expression of her desire to trounce somebody deserving, which is weakly enough stated that I can’t credibly accuse her of actually wanting an excuse to do that. There’s strong inferential evidence that she relishes the chance to vicariously celebrate or cheer on violence against vandals / rioters / what have you, and there’s strong straightforward evidence that she feels a proportional response to potential destruction of property is pre-emptive physical violence against the alleged property-destroyer-to-be — and that she cheers on this form of physical violence.

16

y81 10.27.10 at 8:50 pm

“What are McArdle’s positives?”

She’s a person like me. (Upper West Side, Ivy League, sort of right of center, interested in economics and finance, etc.) Another person like me, although in different ways, is Laura McKenna. I like reading that sort of stuff, and often find it thought-provoking, whereas (say) articles on the Talmud, or something like that which has no relevance to my daily life, is less interesting.

But if someone can suggest another UWS, Ivy, right of center (knocks out Yglesias), econblogger, I’d be glad to check them out.

17

Salient 10.27.10 at 8:51 pm

Also for the record, I would agree that one proportional and reasonable response to an individual destroying property, e.g. windows, would be to detain and arrest that individual, following what I understand to be standard pre-Taser-era police protocols.^1^ These protocols might include physically detaining the individual, constraining their freedom of motion by holding their limbs in place with handcuffs, and so on. I emphatically reject the notion that a proportional or reasonable response would be to club that individual into submission, or to subdue them with electricity or bludgeoning of any kind.

There are, as always, exceptions that can be constructed. An individual firing a pistol at windows is presumably endangering public safety in a way that an individual throwing rocks is probably not. Still, in such a case, the appropriate and proportional response will normally be to instruct the individual to drop the weapon, and then proceed with a civil arrest provided the individual complies with the lawfully given order.

^1^And post-Taser-era protocols in those communities sane enough to recognize that discharging a Taser should be equivalent to discharging a firearm, in terms of proportionality of response. As digby has documented, though, that’s not a universal interpretation of proportionality.

18

Sebastian 10.27.10 at 8:53 pm

Not to distract from the Megan bashing, but counting the Rauchway/Tabarrok thing as a clear win for Rauchway such that it requires apologies seems, ummm, crazy. The thesis of Tabarrok’s claim is

“Moreover, it’s quite reasonable to count people on work-relief as unemployed. Notice that if we counted people on work-relief as employed then eliminating unemployment would be very easy – just require everyone on any kind of unemployment relief to lick stamps. Of course if we made this change, politicians would immediately conspire to hide as much unemployment as possible behind the fig leaf of workfare/work-relief.”

To which Rauchway’s response, so far as I can tell, is ummm nothing convincing.

The fact that these jobs were mostly abandoned in the war and never resumed, suggests that they were make-work. Which is fine as a pure government welfare program. I’m not going to complain about giving people money so that they didn’t starve. Heaven knows I’ve taken government checks. But that doesn’t make them ‘employed’ in the sense of figuring out how well the government worked to get the economy running again.

So far as I can tell, that is a completely legitimate argument.

The problem with all that seems to be that everyone wants to mix a bunch of different things together and pretend that they are all the same.

Take 2 propositions:

A) The Government Programs for the New Deal successfully jumpstarted the economy.

and

B) The Government Programs for the New Deal successfully mitigated much of the poverty created by the Great Depression.

Those are not equivalent statements. You could easily, and without contradiction, believe one or the other or both or neither.

Rauchway is attempting to use evidence for B) to suggest that A) was true. Tabarrok was showing that B) and A) are not the same thing, and that evidence for B) doesn’t tend to do much to prove A).

It isn’t a distinction without a difference either. Tabarrok can and would argue that the US government can and should mitigate poverty but that it pretty much sucks at jump starting the economy. That leads to spending more energy on things like unemployment payouts, food stamps, and other mitigation.

19

Medrawt 10.27.10 at 8:55 pm

Perhaps this is my failing for not undertaking the wearisome task of rereading all this old material myself, but why and how did the interaction between protestors and police officers become the topic? “Some New Yorker” does not imply the NYPD, and law enforcement officials not named Buford Pusser don’t seem to be in the habit of employing 2x4s as a weapon.

Other than the normal amount of “perhaps my word choice was less than elegant” dissembling.

20

Salient 10.27.10 at 8:59 pm

Perhaps this is my failing for not undertaking the wearisome task of rereading all this old material myself, but why and how did the interaction between protestors and police officers become the topic?

Insofar as this question is implicit criticism, I accept responsibility for having pushed the thread in that direction, and you have my apologies. I was focused on the times when she mentioned police, but of course you’re quite right: she doesn’t limit her endorsement of violence (against vandals/rioters/barricade-forcers) to police violence (against vandals/rioters/barricade-forcers).

21

Anderson 10.27.10 at 9:05 pm

Sebastian: “The thesis of Tabarrok’s claim is ….”

Stop. Tabarrok did not merely have an academic disagreement with Rauchway over how best to categorize WPA-style workers.

Here is Tabarrok in pertinent part:

In 1938 the unemployment rate was 19.1%, i.e. almost one out of five workers was unemployed, this is from the official Bureau of Census/Bureau of Labor Statistics data series for the 1930s. You can find the series in Historical Statistics of the United States here (big PDF) or a graph from Rauchway here. Rauchway knows this but wants to measure unemployment using an alternative series which shows a lower unemployment rate in 1938 (12.5%). Nothing wrong with that but there’s no reason to call people who use the official series liars. (Emphasis added.)

Rauchway’s rebuttal was, quite simply, that Tabarrok was not citing to the current edition of HSUS, i.e., that Rauchway himself, not Tabarrok or the WSJ, was the one “using the official series.”

Tabarrok, like Sebastian, thought it best at that point to change the subject to his overall “thesis.” Never mind accusing Rauchway of cherry-picking statistics.

Tabarrok did not, AFAIK, ever have the grace to say, “y’know, although I disagree with the current HSUS methodology, Rauchway was indeed using ‘the official series,’ and I apologize for implying otherwise.” Would’ve been easy, wouldn’t have compromised his “overall thesis,” would’ve suggested that maybe Tabarrok is not, simply, an asshole.

22

Uncle Kvetch 10.27.10 at 9:19 pm

Sullivan has positives to weigh vs. his negatives.

Yeah…he thinks torture is a Bad Thing. Woo-hoo.

23

Rick James 10.27.10 at 9:27 pm

Yeah, it’s self-absorbed posts like these that make me check this blog less and less…

24

politicalfootball 10.27.10 at 9:27 pm

She’s a person like me.

I’m not a huge fan of your comments, but this seems unduly harsh.

25

Jaybird 10.27.10 at 9:35 pm

Blogposts from the future:

“Seriously, this is my last post on McArdle.”

“I know I promised to stop talking about McArdle but…”

“Why do people keep talking about McArdle when there are more important things to talk about? Well, here’s a list of reasons that came to me while I was writing a different post about McArdle…”

“Castro’s death should be an opportunity for us to question how much damage the US and world opinion has done to weaker countries rather than rattle off a list of his alleged crimes that pale next to Batista’s anyway.”

“I can’t believe McArdle’s latest post. How someone as vile and loathsome as that could possibly get into a position where serious people take her seriously is beyond me.”

26

Sebastian 10.27.10 at 9:36 pm

“Tabarrok, like Sebastian, thought it best at that point to change the subject to his overall “thesis.” Never mind accusing Rauchway of cherry-picking statistics.”

Ugh. That is because Rauchway decided to call it lying. Tabarrok went through the actual pieces of evidence, about why you might choose one method or the other. Rauchway pretty much didn’t, and where he did he didn’t engage the problems of his methodology. You read Tabarrok and you can understand what the issue is and why people might choose either method. Tabarrok has a preferred method, but he also discusses WHY you might choose one or the other. If you read JUST Tabarrok, you would have understood more about the issue. If you read JUST Rauchway, you wouldn’t. If you read just Tabarrok you could have decided “hmm, not convinced but I can see why there is a dispute”. If you read just Rauchway, you don’t come to any better understanding because he just asserts his correctness. It isn’t changing the subject, as Rauchway asserts that the statistics are useful for understanding government “pump-priming” the economy when they pretty clearly don’t. (That is the subject of the initial post which provoked it all). Calling it changing the subject is just weird.

For my money the Tabarrok approach is more helpful on the meta-discussion and more precise on the merits.

27

someguy 10.27.10 at 9:38 pm

What happened to the Volokh link on the side menu?

28

Medrawt 10.27.10 at 9:41 pm

Salient -

Though I admit to being somewhat perplexed due to my failure to just go reread the various posts strafing this subject over the past eight years (I’m not being snide, btw, I generally try to do stuff like that, inasmuch as I’m the sort of person who gets disproportionately annoyed when someone posts the 150th comment in a thread and starts with “I haven’t had time to read the whole thing, but did anyone mention [the main subject of comments 8-27]?”), I didn’t think I was being implicitly critical of you. As best as I could tell, McArdle, perhaps with the unwitting collaboration of dsquared back in the day, is responsible for introducing cops into the discussion, with the idea that one signifier of the kind of protesting conduct that could result in violence would be the attempt to breach police barriers or otherwise get into it physically with the cops. In the context of her initial post, this strikes me as a red herring, because again, cops != “some New Yorkers” and 2x4s != police batons and riot shields. Not to mention the whole idea of “some New Yorker” enacting a little preemptive street justice on this terroristic dweebs, who are dweebs but also inspire the most fear McArdle felt as a New Yorker since 9/11 (?!) implying that it happens in a police free context, because – and maybe I’m wrong – I have a pretty strong presumption that if I crack someone over the head in front of a line of police officers, even if I’m “on their side” I’m going to wind up with my face approaching the pavement with worrisome velocity. You don’t do the kind of street justice she’s talking about in front of cops primed to shut down a potential riot. That’s what, after all, the cops are there for.

29

tedra 10.27.10 at 9:42 pm

“Announcing that you’re going to walk on the street where the police tell you not to is announcing that you’re going to start a melee.”

Speaking as someone who, in fact, announced to my husband that I was damn well going to go for a walk in my neighborhood when the police were announcing (via tv and radio) that “everyone in Capitol Hill should stay indoors” during the WTO protests*–and who got teargassed for my trouble, thankyouverymuch–I can confidently declare that this is bullshit.

*This was after I’d returned home from the earlier march. I feel the need to explain that I wasn’t actually sitting home all day during the WTO protests watching tv.

30

David 10.27.10 at 9:58 pm

That is because Rauchway decided to call it lying

Would it trouble you too much to understand what Rauchway actually said? It apparently did Tabarrok.

http://edgeofthewest.wordpress.com/2008/11/07/please-read-before-posting/#comment-25927

31

Left Outside 10.27.10 at 10:04 pm

I’ve now definitely read more about Megan McArdle than I have read of her.

32

James Wimberley 10.27.10 at 10:15 pm

McArdle: ¨ … when they try to unleash some civil disobedience, Lenin style…¨
Contemporary agitator: ¨..a tactical plan for widescale CD [civil disobedience] throughout Manhattan. This could include surprise ‘people’s inspections’ of various corporate and governmental sites, traffic lockdowns, a mass die-in, street theatre, prayer vigils, snowball fights, you name it.¨
Did I miss a Monty Python episode where Lenin and Trotsky seize the Winter Palace after a snowball fight with Kerensky´s bodyguard?

33

Anderson 10.27.10 at 10:17 pm

Yeah…he thinks torture is a Bad Thing. Woo-hoo.

These days, Uncle, that’s actually something. O tempora, etc.

I’ve now definitely read more about Megan McArdle than I have read of her.

And that is cause for self-congratulation. She is only one notch above Althouse.

34

Ben Alpers 10.27.10 at 10:18 pm

>The fact that these jobs were mostly abandoned in the war and never resumed, suggests that they were make-work. Which is fine as a pure government welfare program. I’m not going to complain about giving people money so that they didn’t starve. Heaven knows I’ve taken government checks. But that doesn’t make them ‘employed’ in the sense of figuring out how well the government worked to get the economy running again.

By this logic, anyone working in the public sector is potentially not really employed if, sometime in the future, his or her job is eliminated.

Employment statistics ought to measure people working at the moment. If someone gets a government check without working, s/he is not employed. If someone receives a government check in exchange for work, that person is employed.

I work for a state university. I am employed. If my state government decides to eliminate its university system sometime in the future and I find myself out of work as a result, that does not make me any less employed right now.

35

Michael H Schneider 10.27.10 at 10:24 pm

Why do you people hate America? Using dubious (or bogus) claims of threatened violence to justify official violence is an old tradition. From Haymarket to the Tonkin Resolution to the Chicago Democratic Convention to Kent State to our invasion of Iraq to Mr Profitt, we’ve always been willing to blame the victim. We’ve always cheered those who use violence to avert violence (whether real or imaginary), from the people on Flight 93 to George Custer to Dick Cheney’s torturers. McArdle is just expressing this traditional virtue, celebrating a traditional American value, and you’re trashing her. That’s like trashing Clint Eastwood and John Wayne, and picking on a scrawny 130lb girl besides. For shame.

36

Sebastian 10.27.10 at 10:42 pm

“Employment statistics ought to measure people working at the moment. If someone gets a government check without working, s/he is not employed. If someone receives a government check in exchange for work, that person is employed.”

So you buy the government stamp-licking = employment argument. Ok. I don’t. That doesn’t make me a liar. It means I think the argument is bad. And there are at least a few pretty darn good reasons to think that the argument is bad. But at that point you’re quibbling. I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t argue that it is economically useful employment. We all agree that the government can, at any given moment, completely get rid of ‘unemployment’ so long as we use your definition of it.

I guess that is great. But when you play the statistical game that way, it doesn’t shed much light on how effective the government pump-priming is because you’ve transformed unemployment statistics into something fairly non-useful.

37

AlanDownunder 10.27.10 at 10:45 pm

“Binary was perhaps an inelegant choice of words.”
What a wimp. At least Humpty Dumpty was unapologetic.

38

Sebastian (2) 10.27.10 at 11:04 pm

Sebastian -
read Rauch’s original post and his post on lying:
http://edgeofthewest.wordpress.com/2008/11/07/when-is-it-lying/
Short version: The WSJ article that he claimed was dishonest would have been dishonest regardless of the data series used.
He never said Tabarrok was lying – he said that Shlaes was lying, which he was. The data-series is just one part of the story here.

39

Eric Rauchway 10.27.10 at 11:04 pm

That is because Rauchway decided to call it lying. Tabarrok went through the actual pieces of evidence, about why you might choose one method or the other. Rauchway pretty much didn’t, and where he did he didn’t engage the problems of his methodology

(1) The thing I called “lying” was the lying in the WSJ editorial, not what Tabarrok did.

(2) In fact, a month before this unpleasantness broke out, I did write a post going through the different pieces of evidence, and pointing out why the new HSUS chose one series over another.

(3) As Anderson correctly notes above, the dispute between Tabarrok and me was not over which measure of unemployment was better, it was over which statistical set should be regarded as authoritative. As Anderson notes above, Tabarrok apparently did not know about the new HSUS, and said I had used an “alternative” series.

You, and Alex, are free to argue that the old series is better. The editors of the Historical Statistics of the United States disagree with you.

In different ways you will find Brad DeLong and Paul Krugman suggesting that I was correct as well.

40

politicalfootball 10.27.10 at 11:05 pm

MH Schneider, some folks might suggest you are engaging in hyperbole or sarcasm, but McArdle explicitly invokes the tradition you cite with her italicized use of the word “pre-emptively.”

In 2003, especially in a post related to Iraq, that’s a word with a very specific meaning.

41

Freshly Squeezed Cynic 10.27.10 at 11:06 pm

I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t argue that it is economically useful employment.

Which work? For what reasons? What did this work produce? Would the private sector at that moment during the Great Depression have produced similar outputs?

42

jdkbrown 10.27.10 at 11:19 pm

“That doesn’t make me a liar.”

No, but continuing–even after David’s link @ 29–to misrepresent the basis of Rauchway’s charge just might.

43

Russell L. Carter 10.27.10 at 11:21 pm

“So you buy the government stamp-licking = employment argument. Ok. I don’t. That doesn’t make me a liar. “

That’s quite true. It just makes you tendentious, and quite likely obtuse.

Can we get back to sadly shaking our heads over McGarble?

44

Daragh McDowell 10.27.10 at 11:23 pm

Uh-oh, McMegan has provided a final update that’s just deliciously passive-aggressive. Meanwhile her own commenters are eating her alive…

45

ScentOfViolets 10.27.10 at 11:24 pm

So you buy the government stamp-licking = employment argument. Ok. I don’t. That doesn’t make me a liar. It means I think the argument is bad. And there are at least a few pretty darn good reasons to think that the argument is bad. But at that point you’re quibbling. I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t argue that it is economically useful employment. We all agree that the government can, at any given moment, completely get rid of ‘unemployment’ so long as we use your definition of it.

So, care to show the rest of us – with cites and statistics of course – how many of those people and what percentage of them were “government stamp-lickers”? I’m sure you can do this, since you happen to think this is a relevant criticism.

What’s that you say? You wanted us to provided you those stats so you could decide whether or not you were wrong? Sebastian in another recent post thought it was “funny” how burden of proof requirements never seem to me, SoV all that hard . . .

I guess that is great. But when you play the statistical game that way, it doesn’t shed much light on how effective the government pump-priming is because you’ve transformed unemployment statistics into something fairly non-useful.

Here’s another thing about Sebastian: on the basis of what he’s said here and from what I know of his personality and his personal standards of honesty, I’m going to take a wild guess and say that he doesn’t think New Deal Keynesian policies helped all that much during the Depression.

How about it, Sebastian? Am I right? Did I just discern your opinion of the New Deal just from the way you are, the way you argue ;-)

46

ScentOfViolets 10.27.10 at 11:30 pm

I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t argue that it is economically useful employment.

Which work? For what reasons? What did this work produce? Would the private sector at that moment during the Great Depression have produced similar outputs?

Hey, don’t you know how the game is supposed to be played? Sebastian gets to “suppose” and “wonder” and “not be convinced” about whatever goes against the point he’s trying to make at the time. Then the rest of us are supposed to supply him with cites, links, data, etc. about those particular assertions he’s “not sure of” for him to look at so that he can then decide whether or not he was wrong ;-)

47

Ben Alpers 10.27.10 at 11:32 pm

. I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t argue that it is economically useful employment. We all agree that the government can, at any given moment, completely get rid of ‘unemployment’ so long as we use your definition of it.

Well, all the sidewalks in my neighborhood were made by the WPA. So, yes, I’m inclined to think that this was economically useful employment, even if market mechanisms were broken to the point that the private sector wouldn’t have produced said employment on its own.

And, yes, any government can clearly get rid of unemployment if it wants to, though obviously that doesn’t make it a good idea for the government to create work for everyone who is unemployed.

48

geo 10.27.10 at 11:42 pm

In any case, considering how many useless, even pernicious things people are paid (sometimes quite a lot) to do by private employers, paying people to lick stamps (assuming anyone anywhere was paid for such, and that it was reasonably typical of government emergency employment at the time) may not require too much of an apology.

49

M. Bouffant 10.27.10 at 11:51 pm

she told us that “Alex Tabarrok takes Eric Rauchway to the woodshed and spanks him so hard my butt hurts.

Ah. Metaphorical expeditions to the woodshed, OK; metaphorical “curb-stomping,” grab those pearls!!

50

y81 10.27.10 at 11:52 pm

@39: I remember the entire Tabarrok/Rauchway debate, which I have now re-read. Rauchway was quite unclear, originally, about why he was using the word “lying,” but after admitting, grudgingly, that the unemployment rate in 1938 might very fairly be said to be much higher than the rate he quoted, he then focused on the use of the phrase “remained” as the basis for his rather overheated language. I didn’t find that part convincing then, and I don’t find it convincing now. The plain fact is, there was no basis for Rauchway’s language.

51

Syz 10.28.10 at 12:07 am

Just to be clear: the unapologetic libertarian conservative is begging for charity because she does not think it is fair to judge her based on her work.

52

Aulus Gellius 10.28.10 at 12:13 am

On the difference between walking on a street and hitting someone with a 2×4, Luke Roelefs has a lot of interesting things to say, actually:

http://majesticequality.wordpress.com/category/political-philosophy/the-concept-of-violence/

53

Aulus Gellius 10.28.10 at 12:14 am

Sorry, Roelofs, with a second “o.” As someone whose name is often misspelled, I feel inordinately bad about that.

54

Henry 10.28.10 at 12:16 am

I’ve just seen an Eric Rauchway comment in the moderation queue and liberated it along with a couple of others (now at #39).

55

Brian 10.28.10 at 12:30 am

That being so, there isn’t any justification for calling those who disagree with you liars, but it was Rauchway, not Tabarrok, who employed that genre of overheated rhetoric.

There is a reason to call those who disagree with you “liars” — if they happen to be intentionally lying in order prop up that disagreement.

McArdle is a liar. And a shitty one.

56

HP 10.28.10 at 12:30 am

picking on a scrawny 130lb girl besides

Well, by her own admission, she’s 140 lbs. However, given McMegan’s widely documented innumeracy, I don’t think we can safely rule out 140 oz or 140 kg. Being the charitable sort, I like to think of her as at least 8 lbs, 12 oz, and quite a bit less than 309 lbs.

57

y81 10.28.10 at 12:31 am

@54: But that throws off the cross-references, such as mine @50, which should now refer to @42. Although I would say to Prof. Rauchway directly that I don’t find credible his claim that by his use of the word “lying,” he was referring primarily to the use of the word “remained,” not the selection of a particular unemployment time series.

58

David 10.28.10 at 12:45 am

@50

In 1982, the second year of Reagan’s Presidency, the US economy shrank. In 1992, after 12 years of Reaganomics, the US economy remained in contraction.

How do you feel about “remained” now?

59

Sebastian 10.28.10 at 1:32 am

Eric: “The thing I called “lying” was the lying in the WSJ editorial, not what Tabarrok did.”

Yes that is what you said in your UPDATE, not in the original post. Which humorously considering the context of this post, is exactly the kind of thing that McArdle is accused of doing on a regular basis and is allegedly a sign of her bad faith in arguing.

Your original post says: “As late as 1938, after almost a decade of governmental “pump priming,” almost one out of five workers remained unemployed.

Readers of this site know this is simply not true. For pity’s sake, Conrad Black knows this is not true. “

The link at “this is simply not true” [which annoyingly doesn’t copy but can be easily found at your web site] goes straight to here which is exactly the issue Tabarrok talks about. It doesn’t focus on ‘remaining’ at all. In fact it focuses on exactly the issue that Tabarrok talks about, the data set. The ‘remaining’ issue isn’t raised by you at all until the update.

Which is fine if that is what really ticked you off. But you can’t really get huffy about Tabarrok not knowing what REALLY ticked you off because you didn’t REALLY write about it until later.

As I said upthread, your preferred method of counting unemployment makes sense if you want to track the number of people that the US government kept from being horribly impoverished. Which is great. It was a good thing that we weren’t stupid enough to let them starve.

But it isn’t a good method for discovering whether or not the US government action helped get the economy back on its feet. Because counting it that way *masks* the usefulness of unemployment for figuring out whether or not the economy is back on its feet. And since “priming the pump” is about whether or not the overall economic situation was better, that seems to be at issue.

I’m perfectly ok with you saying NOW that “remained” ticked you off. That seems reasonable. But that wasn’t included in the initial round of posts, and Tabarrok can’t be faulted for the fact that you hadn’t McCardled your position until then.

60

David 10.28.10 at 1:42 am

I’m perfectly ok with you saying NOW that “remained” ticked you off. That seems reasonable. But that wasn’t included in the initial round of posts,.

Why yes, yes it was. In fact, Rauchway did an entire post on why looking at the 1938 figures were misleading, a post he cited in the original comment. Please do your reading before commenting. It helps.

http://edgeofthewest.wordpress.com/2008/10/10/very-short-reading-list-unemployment-in-the-1930s/

61

Will McLean 10.28.10 at 1:47 am

Shorter Henry Farrel:

It’s not that I really need to win the argument, it’s that her arguments are so pernicious that I have a moral duty to refute them

I refute them thusly:

McGargle. Her name is easy to mock.

I win. she loses. And when I say that, I mean that my virtuous arguments defeat her pernicious ones

62

rea 10.28.10 at 2:14 am

What’s infuriating about, “As late as 1938, after almost a decade of governmental ‘pump priming,’ almost one out of five workers remained unemployed,” is that in 1937, FDR abandoned “pump priming” in favor of trying to balance the budget, and the result was a major recession, wiping out much of the gains from the New Deal. In that context, making an argument from 1938 is either ignorant or dishonest.

63

LFC 10.28.10 at 2:29 am

y81@16, asked for McCardle’s positives, replies that she is “someone like me”: I really hope that was meant as a joke. Why should her place of residence (Upper West Side), education (Ivy League) or position on the ideological spectrum (somewhere right of center) matter? All that should matter is what she writes and whether any of it is any good. I’m hoping y81 was joking, but I’m fearing he wasn’t.

64

ScentOfViolets 10.28.10 at 2:46 am

I’ll say something positive about McArdle, and faint praise though it is, it does put her a cut above a lot of others in the machine: she actually, really believes in objective facts, reason, and logic, and of the necessary reliance of those preconditions to formulating policy. She may not practice what she preaches, she’s horrible with numbers, but at least we have that in common. Unlike a lot of others also in infernal employ who – I am sorry to say – bring a very Straussian attitude to their opinions on the managing of public affairs. Does anyone entertain even for a second the notion that, say, Jonah Goldberg really believes that liberals are fascists?

65

geo 10.28.10 at 2:53 am

Sebastian: do you agree with rea @62?

And about your (frequently reiterated) point that newly-created government jobs shouldn’t count as jobs: why not? The labor involved may have been (in fact, generally was and is) as valuable, on average, as that involved in most private-sector employment. “Pump-priming,” defined as stimulating private-sector employment by increasing demand, isn’t the only way to reduce unemployment. Another way is to reduce it directly, by creating employment. As I hope you’ll recognize, this observation is not equivalent to claiming that a centrally-planned economy in permancence is the correct solution to capitalist crises.

66

geo 10.28.10 at 2:55 am

“permancence” = permanence

67

Bloix 10.28.10 at 3:20 am

The phrase “economically useful” employment begs the question. If what you mean by it is “work that produces goods or services in response to market demand,” then the answer is, OF COURSE NOT, THERE WAS 25 PERCENT UNEMPLOYMENT AND GROTESQUE MARKET INABILITY TO PROVIDE THE NECESSITIES OF LIFE TO THE CITIZENS OF OUR COUNTRY, MORON!!

If what you mean by it is, does it produce useful goods and services that people want and need, well, then, the answer is clearly yes, as anyone who has ever hiked in Yosemite or Shenandoah or any other national park can tell you.

And the definition of unemployment is “not working.” People who are paid by the government to work are working. Or perhaps you want to argue that the soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan are unemployed.

68

Sebastian 10.28.10 at 3:21 am

“Why yes, yes it was. In fact, Rauchway did an entire post on why looking at the 1938 figures were misleading, a post he cited in the original comment. Please do your reading before commenting. It helps.”

Ummm, huh. You’re aware that I already pointed post out right? Sheesh, maybe you should read my comment before sarcastic whining about it.

Again. Alex talked about the stats because of that link. Eric THEN said that it WAS NOT the stats it was something else. So directing me to the stat question and then berating me for allegedly not noticing the very post I directly commented on, is just deeply strange.

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Sebastian 10.28.10 at 3:39 am

“And about your (frequently reiterated) point that newly-created government jobs shouldn’t count as jobs: why not? The labor involved may have been (in fact, generally was and is) as valuable, on average, as that involved in most private-sector employment. “Pump-priming,” defined as stimulating private-sector employment by increasing demand, isn’t the only way to reduce unemployment. “

Of course it isn’t. But if you want to discuss pump-priming it is dishonest to use unemployment in that way. As I have said repeatedly, *if you want to talk about some sort of other good thing the government did* you can talk about unemployment for make work any way you want. It probably isn’t helping the economy recover per se, but it is keeping people from abject poverty which is a good all its own.

But if you want to talk about unemployment as a signal for the overall health of the economy, it doesn’t make sense to use make-work figures that way.

That is fine. Different tools for different analysis. But it is an important difference, because you should definitely NOT use it to prove that the make-work jobs improved the health of the overall economy–which is the very question at issue when you are talking about pump-priming.

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Tom M 10.28.10 at 3:45 am

McCardle? Upper West Side? But, but what about the bus ride

71

geo 10.28.10 at 4:11 am

the overall health of the economy

You keep insisting that “the economy” means nothing more than “the private economy,” perhaps because it is only in the private economy that profits are made. But this is a quite arbitrary definition of “the economy.” Most people who use the word would include the public sector as well as the private sector — that’s why we have the word “sector,” after all; it means “a part.” The purpose of government spending in a depression is not merely to increase profits, nor is the main purpose even of a market economy in normal times to generate profits. The purpose, at least according to Adam Smith, is to produce the material conditions of a decent common life. So yes, federally generated employment (which was not, as you keep insinuating, mostly “make-work”) in the 30s does seem to have improved the “overall health of the economy.”

72

Roger Ailes 10.28.10 at 4:19 am

I read McArdle because she is an entertaining writer, while recognizing that her level of accuracy is what you would get at a cocktail party, not a peer-reviewed journal.

Yes. A cocktail party attended by Ann Althouse, Glenn Beck and Dudley Moore as Arthur.

73

nick s 10.28.10 at 4:32 am

Does anyone entertain even for a second the notion that, say, Jonah Goldberg really believes that liberals are fascists?

I do. His career is an ongoing travesty of scholarship, so yes.

74

Dr. Hilarius 10.28.10 at 4:53 am

Thank you Bloix and geo. I’m not an economist but it does seem obvious that paying people to build bridges, fix roads, document history, and even produce art is employment.

WPA not only kept people from starving it gave them money to spend in the private sector. People learned new skills while improving, or creating, the infrastructure that facilitates economic growth. These activities seem at least on a par with farm subsidy payments or letting private cows overgraze public land.

WPA-type projects would be useful today to re-build all the infrastructure built by WPA .

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Sebastian 10.28.10 at 4:58 am

No, if it stays stuck in make-work, that isn’t good. There is a distinction between hiring people to do the normal functions of government and hiring them to avoid the poverty problems of the Great Depression. And again you seem to be totally ignoring the whole concept of prime-pumping, which is completely integral to the conversation.

I’m not arguing that the government shouldn’t have done it. I’m arguing that it isn’t good for the economy to be in the state of a large number of people needing to rely on things like the WPA for jobs. So long as lots of people are relying on things like the WPA for jobs, that is a strong sign that the overall health of the economy is poor. And I’m pretty sure that most economists (even left and center-left) would agree with that statement. So when you are looking at the question of how government action primed the pump of returning the economy to health, citing unemployment numbers in that way isn’t very accurate because the WPA employment is masking the health of the economy *insofar as you measure the health by unemployment figures*.

Please, for the love of god, note: that isn’t the same as saying that the WPA-as-assistance-to-ward-off-intense-poverty was a bad thing. It clearly wasn’t. Just like using aspirin to ward off pain so you can do some important thing or other is good. But you always cause trouble if you forget that you are masking the pain and start believing that the underlying health problem is gone.

76

Thers 10.28.10 at 5:30 am

insofar as you measure the health by unemployment figures.

You… heartless… bastards…

77

Modulo Myself 10.28.10 at 5:36 am

Sebastian

Is there some sort of giant Internet signal that can be sent to you convince you to retire, for your own good, and at the height of natural bullshit? Or can someone throw you a fat pitch down the middle of the plate, so you can hit over .400 for the season and go away? Because between this blog and Obsidian Wings, you make even casual lurking painful. I’m skimming one out of eight words and can tell how bad it is. We people came here to rightfully mock absurd McCardle, and instead, it’s a futile debate on whether work = work. And that’s at every eighth word, and several beers. I can’t imagine what it must be like to piece soberly through your crap, and to try figure out your ad hoc injunctions against normal space, time, and counting.

I mean, don’t get me wrong. You seem to have some classification of a skill-set. But instead of wasting them on derailing numerous threads, why not try making friends in the real world or something and bothering them?

78

Thers 10.28.10 at 5:47 am

Scent of Violets

Jonah Goldberg doesn’t know what “liberals” or “fascists” are, so it’s kind of a pointless question.

But I’ve read almost everything he’s written, for reasons that escape me right now — I should have done something more constructive lo these many years, like develop a sincere heroin addiction.

Yes, he believes everything he writes. Yes, he is that stupid.

79

Sebastian (2) 10.28.10 at 5:53 am

Sebastian – you do need to re-read Eric’s original post with an open mind. Yes, he uses the link and doesn’t refer to “remained” (though he does in the comments) but he also points to a whole range of other issues. It’s the cumulation of these that leads to the “lying” assessment – not just wrong stats.

I think you’re right that it’s debatable which of the two timelines is better for which purpose. I think you’re right that private employment/unemployment is probably a better measure of real economic performance. But note that that’s not what the original data is – Eric addresses this in his third figure in the original data post.

Also, note that one of the things the WSJ editorial says is
“Where the market had failed, the government stepped in to protect ordinary people” – which you, too, don’t seem to by as you seem to agree with the “don’t let people starve” effect of WPA. Again – the original post by Rauchway was about the general deceptiveness of the WSJ editorial – and I think that’s a pretty fair assessment.

80

idlemind 10.28.10 at 9:22 am

I weep for the humanity of those who argue over what “unemployment” means without once reflecting on the human misery implied.

“Licking stamps” is obvious code for make-work, something grossly contradicted by the observation that the infrastructure created by many of these these “make-work” projects have been enjoyed by several generations hence. But aside from that, the mere action of providing ostensibly useful work to human beings in exchange for their sustenance is a social good that only an economist (or a libertarian) could argue was somehow evil.

81

David 10.28.10 at 11:42 am

Again. Alex talked about the stats because of that link. Eric THEN said that it WAS NOT the stats it was something else. So directing me to the stat question and then berating me for allegedly not noticing the very post I directly commented on, is just deeply strange

What’s strange–if you did indeed read that post–was your complete incomprehension of it. Rauchway laid out an entire post as to why focusing on the 1938 unemployment figures was cherry-picking, and then when he criticized a WSJ article for lying because it did exactly that (and not using the word “remains” in his first post is a failure of your imagination, not his), you come along and are able seemingly to read the entire post without understanding it.

I wouldn’t be so proud to boast of my own reading incomprehension, were I you.

82

Bloix 10.28.10 at 1:09 pm

“citing unemployment numbers in that way isn’t very accurate because the WPA employment is masking the health of the economy insofar as you measure the health by unemployment figures.”

Sebastian, you’re begging the question again. You’re defining “health of the economy” as “how well the private market is providing goods and services the population needs.” Why is that the definition of “health of the economy”? Every society has both government and private sectors of the economy. Every society has public employees. There’s nothing “unhealthy” about government employment.

83

David 10.28.10 at 1:37 pm

Why is that the definition of “health of the economy”?

A good question, especially because none of the New Deal denialists ever acknowledge that, by their argument, all the soldiers, sailors, and marines should be counted as unemployed as well.

84

straightwood 10.28.10 at 1:48 pm

The relevant question isn’t “What is wrong with McArdle?” It is “What is wrong with the Atlantic?” McArdle was inflicted upon us by a right-wing publisher who hijacked what was once one of America’s most respected journals of ideas. McArdle works for David Bradley because she consistently defends the powerful against the weak. That is how Mr. Bradley made his fortune as an “adviser,” to big businesses, and that is the tone he wishes to maintain at the Atlantic. McArdle’s argumentative incoherence is simply a side effect of defending a nonsensical premise: the moral superiority of the wealthy.

85

y81 10.28.10 at 1:50 pm

@83: “none of the New Deal denialists ever acknowledge that, by their argument, all the soldiers, sailors, and marines should be counted as unemployed as well.”

Actually, lots of people, on both right and left, both critics and supporters of the New Deal, have suggested that the low unemployment numbers of World War II are not an indicator that the economy was healthy.

I must say, it is baffling to me that almost every economist (by “economist,” I mean people with degrees in economics who work in the field) would agree that, all things considered, people in work-relief programs (as opposed to people in regular government employment) should be counted as unemployed, and so many of the commentators, and possibly the author of the original post, consider such a contention to be a hideously immoral (“weep for humanity”) lie.

86

Anderson 10.28.10 at 2:01 pm

Bouncing up and down shitty interstates, I would sure appreciate a horde of make-work WPA-style employees. Maybe the infrastructure’s great where some of *you* live.

(What do you want to bet, btw, that the vast majority of “stamp-lickers” were actually doing something a bit more arduous than whatever the heck Sebastian does for a paycheck?)

Meanwhile her own commenters are eating her alive…

See, that’s what worries me. I think the Atlantic’s editors know that McArdle is a dingbat, but she’s a dingbat with lots of page hits. The modern version of the op-ed columnist that the readers love to hate. Looks great to advertisers.

87

Anderson 10.28.10 at 2:02 pm

almost every economist (by “economist,” I mean people with degrees in economics who work in the field) would agree that, all things considered, people in work-relief programs (as opposed to people in regular government employment) should be counted as unemployed

Link, s’il vous plait?

88

politicalfootball 10.28.10 at 2:08 pm

Sebastian, your argument seems really odd.

As late as 1938, after almost a decade of governmental “pump priming,” almost one out of five workers remained unemployed.

This is the statement under dispute. Do I get you right that you regard this statement as truthful?

Even if government employees aren’t really employed, surely the word “remained” in this context is false to anyone minimally acquainted with the situation. And the word “remained” was central to the WSJ author’s point – it wasn’t some trivial misstep.

And holy cow, am I the only one who’s old enough to recognize that Rauchway’s headline, “Stop Lying About FDR’s record” was a jokey invocation of Bob Dole? Part of McMegan’s shtick (to return to the original topic) is to be showily offended by other peoples’ alleged lack of civility, but come on, are we really going to need to the smelling salts and fainting couch for this?

89

David 10.28.10 at 2:11 pm

Actually, lots of people, on both right and left, both critics and supporters of the New Deal, have suggested that the low unemployment numbers of World War II are not an indicator that the economy was healthy.

Would you consider citing some of them, then? And I didn’t say “critics and supporters”, I said “denialists”. You can be a critic of the New Deal and still recognize its strengths; you can be a supporter of the New Deal and still be aware of its weaknesses. The “denialist” strain–cf Amity Shlaes–however, thinks of the New Deal as actively malign, without redeeming features. I am not aware of anyone from that group dealing with the issue of World War II, but perhaps you could enlighten me?

must say, it is baffling to me that almost every economist (by “economist,” I mean people with degrees in economics who work in the field) would agree that, all things considered, people in work-relief programs (as opposed to people in regular government employment) should be counted as unemployed, and so many of the commentators, and possibly the author of the original post, consider such a contention to be a hideously immoral (“weep for humanity”) lie.

Again with the generalities. In terms of the people who are actually being discussed here, Rauchway has said explicitly that one could make arguments for both the Lebergott and Weir series, but that the Weir series was the one being used by the Census Bureau and was thus the official one, not an “alternative” one, as Tabarrok claimed. As to the idea that “every economist” thinks that way; well, that’s not remotely true, since we already can see that Dr. Weir, Dr. DeLong, and Dr. Krugman (he of the Nobel prize) do not agree.

90

geo 10.28.10 at 2:11 pm

Sebastian: I’m arguing that it isn’t good for the economy to be in the state of a large number of people needing to rely on things like the WPA for jobs. So long as lots of people are relying on things like the WPA for jobs, that is a strong sign that the overall health of the economy is poor. And I’m pretty sure that most economists (even left and center-left) would agree with that statement.

Yes, we all understand what you’re arguing, and likewise that most economists (bourgeois lackeys!) would agree with you. But you keep refusing to recognize that your identification of “the economy” with the private, for-profit economy is ideological. It won’t do to insist on the distinction between “regular government employment” and “things like the WPA” on the basis that one is permanent and the other temporary, since the distinction would be nullified if the WPA were made permanent, which would then simply count as “expanding regular government employment.” It also won’t do, as many of us have already pointed out, to suggest that while “regular government employment” is productive and socially useful, “things like the WPA” are not. The only relevant distinction is “public” vs. “private.” And this leads directly to the observation that the “overall economy” is intrinsically both public and private. And, as only the most besotted market-fundamentalists would deny, there are many useful things that the private, for-profit economy does not, cannot, and will never produce, and that the public sector must produce.

By the way, I don’t think you should go away. You’re always worth arguing with. You are also, however, nearly always wrong, which says something discouraging about my and other commenters’ powers of persuasion.

91

jacob 10.28.10 at 2:43 pm

I must say, it is baffling to me that almost every economist (by “economist,” I mean people with degrees in economics who work in the field) would agree that, all things considered, people in work-relief programs (as opposed to people in regular government employment) should be counted as unemployed, and so many of the commentators, and possibly the author of the original post, consider such a contention to be a hideously immoral (“weep for humanity”) lie.

It’s rather unclear (not to say baffling) to me why we should place any great stock in the analysis of economists to analyze the history of the New Deal–certainly I don’t understand why we should value the professional analysis of economists to the professional analysis of historians, which of course is what Rauchway is. The last I checked, economists were pretty bad at analysis within their own claimed area of expertise, and it seems peculiar to suggest we should defer to them in other areas.

92

Sebastian 10.28.10 at 3:30 pm

“But you keep refusing to recognize that your identification of “the economy” with the private, for-profit economy is ideological. It won’t do to insist on the distinction between “regular government employment” and “things like the WPA” on the basis that one is permanent and the other temporary, since the distinction would be nullified if the WPA were made permanent, which would then simply count as “expanding regular government employment.” “

And you keep refusing to recognize that your definition of unemployment sucks the usefulness out of it. It is exactly the same kind of error that people make when they suggest that government debt can’t be a big deal for the US because it could always print money to pay it off. (Please note I’m not attributing that error to you, and in fact I’m choosing an error that I think most people will agree is an error). It is of course a fact that the government could print as much money as it wants to pay the debt, but it is not true that such a fact means that the government can easily escape the problems of the debt. If the government did just print money to pay off the debt, it wouldn’t have fixed the underlying economic problems at all.

Similarly, the government is *capable* of completely eliminating nominal unemployment by just hiring everyone. But if they are doing so because the economy is weak, instead of out of some other need, where are they getting the money to pay these people? From a healthy economy you get it from taxing the private sector. But from an unhealthy one you can’t get enough money that way. So you haven’t helped your overall economic situation by just hiring these people–even if you think what they are doing is useful. You’ve masked the poor health of the economy by taking a pill which eases the pain of high unemployment. You have NOT cured the health problem.

And again, I’m not arguing that you shouldn’t take the pill to ease the pain. I’m arguing that it is dangerous to forget that the lower pain hasn’t cured the economic problems.

93

Sebastian 10.28.10 at 3:34 pm

Also we should note that workfare is STILL classified as being unemployed. The direct heirs to the WPA such as here are classified as unemployed.

94

Kevin Donoghue 10.28.10 at 3:37 pm

As to the idea that “every economist” thinks that way; well, that’s not remotely true, since we already can see that Dr. Weir, Dr. DeLong, and Dr. Krugman (he of the Nobel prize) do not agree.

Ah, but Alex Tabarrok has been known to say that Krugman “used to be an economist.” Time and again with these guys the Humpty Dumpty theory of meaning pops up. Employment, monetary policy, economist — these and many other words mean whatever they currently want them to mean, no more and no less. But funnily enough, I’ve never seen it asserted that the GNP numbers should be adjusted downwards so as to exclude the output of those whose employment “doesn’t count” although consistency would seem to require this.

95

Walt 10.28.10 at 3:43 pm

I’m now sentimental for Sebastian’s long vacation from befouling the comment section of this blog. Ah, the good old days.

96

bh 10.28.10 at 3:52 pm

Jacob, there’s no need — or point — to turn this into generic econ-bashing. There’s plenty of good work done by economists on the Great Depression — just to pick someone currently prominent, consider Cristina Romer. And you’d find her conclusions aren’t that different from Rauchway’s, though of course the approach and emphasis are very different.

There is, without question, a lot of rot in academic economics, so I’m not saying it shouldn’t be criticized. I feel pretty comfortable that what’s currently known as ‘freshwater macro’ (popularized at U of Chicago, Minnesota, etc.) will be about as well-regarded as phrenology in 50 years.

But those guys aren’t the whole discipline, and more to the point — most Econ 101 trolls like McArdle aren’t economists. Which, for that brand of free-market religion, is actually an advantage, because things get a bit more complicated in the second year of classes.

97

tarun 10.28.10 at 4:01 pm

All fine and good, even though taking all the time to write it seems a bit over the top to me. I think she is a hack and it is nice that someone went to all that trouble.

But I think it is also intellectually dishonest not to put a note front and center on your initial post about the retraction she actually did make and apologize yourself. Either you can hold her and yourself to a higher standard or not – and, in this particular case, you blew it.

98

geo 10.28.10 at 4:04 pm

Sebastian @92: Again the purely ideological notion that only the private economy creates value. Where would we get the money to expand government employment if not from the private sector, you ask. Where does the private sector get the money to expand employment? From retained earnings and by borrowing what are ultimately the savings of individuals, deposited in banks. There is nothing to prevent government employment from generating sufficient earnings, and government can just as well borrow from citizens as business can, especially when business isn’t investing at all. (I say “nothing to prevent,” but of course preventing government from functioning efficiently and supplying the needs of citizens when the private sector can’t or won’t is one of the chief purposes of the Republican Party — see Thomas Frank’s The Wrecking Crew for details.)

As for your aspirin analogy … well, I know it’s faulty but I can’t put my finger on why at the moment, and I have to get back to work. Perhaps another commenter can help out? D-squared, where are you?

99

bh 10.28.10 at 4:05 pm

Tarun,

What the hell are you talking about? Or is the ‘front-and-center’ bit because you can’t be bothered to read the whole article? That seems to be a bit of a habit McArdle and her defenders. (And yes, in your passive-aggressive way, that’s certainly what you’re doing here.)

100

tarun 10.28.10 at 4:15 pm

Oh, so now I am a supporter? Just because I think a byline update at the end of the article doesn’t seem enough of a retraction versus in red text to make it clear the basis for the article was crap?

That is a lot of supposition – especially since I pretty much think that McArdle is knowingly dishonest and harmful.

101

Sebastian (2) 10.28.10 at 4:30 pm

I think people are being unfair to the other Sebastian and y81 on the unemployment question.
The Keynesian argument for deficit (gov’t) spending (aka pump priming) is, after all, that it has a multiplier effect that helps the private sector grow. So I think it’s a perfectly legitimate question to ask if deficit spending has that effect on the private sector – and arguably private sector (un)employment is a better measure for that than overall (un)employment. I find it hard to believe that there would be much disagreement around that.
but
1. As Rauchway points out the degree of deficit spending between 32 and 38 was quite limited and
2. Private unemployment actually did decrease substantially between 32 and 38
So the New Deal is kind of useless as a test here – contrary to what the WSJ editorial claims.

Also, Sebastian, you continue to ignore that the WSJ article _also_ made the argument that the New Deal didn’t help anyone – which you, yourself, don’t seem to believe.

102

LizardBreath 10.28.10 at 4:41 pm

Not that staying on topic is that much of a virtue, considering the topic, but isn’t the issue at hand more whether the disagreement between Rauchway and Tabarrok was resolved so unambiguously in Tabarrok’s favor that McArdle’s use of violent imagery to report it (“Alex Tabarrok takes Eric Rauchway to the woodshed and spanks him so hard my butt hurts”) was reasonable, or whether her characterization of Rauchway’s post as “exceptionally misleading and/or ignorant” was sensible? I’d read Rauchway as right on all of the disputed issues: someone with a WPA job is working — they’re going to a job and getting a paycheck. But even if there are some arguments for Tabarrok’s position, McArdle’s characterization of the disagreement as a “spanking” for Rauchway seems both unjustified by the relative strengths of the arguments on both sides, and the same sort of uncivilly angry and violent writing she’s now decrying.

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daelm 10.28.10 at 4:45 pm

syz@51 won this thread a long time ago.

d

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bh 10.28.10 at 4:52 pm

Well, ‘pox on both houses’ types seem to come in two varieties, the tacticians and the moral exhibitionists. The tacticians help trivialize the conflict by arbitrarily equating the sides, which, if one side is actually far more in the wrong (like McArdle), is a net gain for them. The moral exhibitionists just have two sides at fault, with the complainant holding the high ground ‘in the middle.’ Of course, some times that’s actually an accurate analysis, but when it seems rammed into place, like here…

I’d probably have a kinder view if I could buy into your original complaint, but even on second telling, it just doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.

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engels 10.28.10 at 4:54 pm

Ah, but does Prof. Rauchway’s being right on all the issues necessarily mean that Prof. Tabarrok couldn’t have taken him the woodshed and spanked him so hard that Megan McArdle’s butt hurts? Thorny questions…

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engels 10.28.10 at 5:17 pm

Sorry, I didn’t bother reading most of the long dialogue with Sebastian. Is it possible that much of the sentiment behind this comes from the old conservative view that working for state isn’t real work anyway. Rather public sector works are mostly useless pen-pushers, incompetent teachers (on holiday half the year), layabout lecturers doing pointless research into media studies and feminism, nosey inspectors and regulators getting in the way of honest businessmen and entrepreneurs. As we all know 90% of any government operation is made of completely redundant bureaucrats who can be immediately disposed of without affecting ‘front-line services’.

Another possibility: if you are getting paid by the government than that means you aren’t (directly) doing what you do because some capitalist wants you to do it. Some people might find that worrying.

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bh 10.28.10 at 5:58 pm

@106: I think all those cases probably apply. Unfortunately, at least in the US, that belief system (as described in Geo’s insightful comments) goes way deeper and broader, to the point where a lot of people, like Sebastian, can’t even seem to tell they’re propounding an idealogy. The assumed superiority — or realness — of private over public is so ingrained that’s it’s simply understood as a law of nature, rather than the social, political, and idealogical construction it actually is.

If you only know economic history starting from the late European Middle Ages, capitalism-as-state-of-nature seems pretty plausible. But with a longer time frame and geographic range, there’s quite a lot of variation. Ptolemaic Egypt, for around 300 years one of the most prosperous societies on the planet, had a deeply planned economy. And in the Americas, you have places like Tenochticlan, a city of around 200,000 that, at least on the basis of archeological evidence, seems to have had no markets or commercial structures at all.

I’m not saying either or those systems were welfare-maximizing, but they were somewhat successful and long-lasting. And they most certainly existed, despite the lack of ‘real’ economic activity.

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David M. Nieporent 10.28.10 at 6:20 pm

Tabarrok did not, AFAIK, ever have the grace to say, “y’know, although I disagree with the current HSUS methodology, Rauchway was indeed using ‘the official series,’ and I apologize for implying otherwise.” Would’ve been easy, wouldn’t have compromised his “overall thesis,” would’ve suggested that maybe Tabarrok is not, simply, an asshole.

This is a bizarre, Alice-in-Wonderlandesqe misreading of the debate. There is more than one legitimate analysis of the data. (This is not a case where the data itself wildly differs; this is a case where a certain portion of the data is reclassified, changing the label but not the underlying facts.) Rauchway falsely pretends that there’s only one way to analyze the data and calls people who use the other one liars.

Tabarrok gently chides him, pointing out that there’s more than one, that Rauchway is using a different one, and that it’s uncalled for to use the term liars just because people choose to use the other one. And yet you think it’s Tabarrok who needs to apologize? Uh, no.

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David M. Nieporent 10.28.10 at 6:41 pm

“And the definition of unemployment is “not working.” People who are paid by the government to work are working. Or perhaps you want to argue that the soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan are unemployed.”

The definition of unemployment is not, and has never been, “not working.” Many people who are “not working” are not considered unemployed, including children, stay-at-home-by-choice parents, students, prison inmates, and the retired.

That’s because the unemployment rate is generally not used to measure, literally, the number of people who don’t get up every day and pick up a paycheck; it’s used to measure the strength of the economy. Thus, factoring in all sorts of people, such as the retired, who aren’t looking for work would obscure more than enlighten. So, yes, there is certainly a sense in which people who are paid by the government to work are working. But is it a useful sense? If the jobs are make-work jobs of little utility, designed to be temporary until “real” jobs are available, then there’s a sense in which they’re not working. The economy isn’t generating those jobs; the government is. But only at a pretend level, because if they were real jobs, producing stuff for which there was demand, then there would be no need for them to be temporary.

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y81 10.28.10 at 6:47 pm

@106: “Is it possible that much of the sentiment behind this comes from the old conservative view that working for state isn’t real work anyway.”

I can’t speak for Sebastian, but I used to work for the state myself. It was real work. (I was a lawyer for the government, just as I am a lawyer for various banks now.) Nor have I ever suggested that people like Tim Geithner or David Petraeus or Ann Althouse aren’t doing real work. That has no bearing on the econometric question of whether people on work-relief should be classified as employed or unemployed.

It would be more persuasive to make econometric arguments, not arguments about the psychological defects of people who disagree with you.

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ScentOfViolets 10.28.10 at 6:50 pm

Sorry, I didn’t bother reading most of the long dialogue with Sebastian. Is it possible that much of the sentiment behind this comes from the old conservative view that working for state isn’t real work anyway. Rather public sector works are mostly useless pen-pushers, incompetent teachers (on holiday half the year), layabout lecturers doing pointless research into media studies and feminism, nosey inspectors and regulators getting in the way of honest businessmen and entrepreneurs.

Unlike some, I don’t mind Sebastian’s presence at all. To the contrary, he’s a showcase of what passes for the “conservative” style of argument.

Notice, for example, how little effort he puts towards rigor and specificity while at the same time laboring mightily to find just the right emotive buzzwords to characterize the agents and actions he dis/approves of. So, for example he objects to the notion that stuff like the WPA shouldn’t be included because “under that definition” (huh?) there would be these so-called “government stamp-lickers” who would be included in the employment figures. In this instance, he’s being both derogative, as you note, but he’s also avoiding specifically naming which WPA positions were actually “government stamp lickers”, and he’s avoiding the actual numbers of people employed in those “government stamp licker” positions.

He can’t tell you either of those, of course – certainly he’s no scholar – but he’ll expect you to do plenty of research before he’ll “decide” whether or not he’s wrong. Guess which way he’s going to “decide” while offering nothing in particular to support his thesis ;-)

It’s easy to pick on Sebastian, of course, he’s a slow moving target. But it’s also easy to forget that his style of argumentation is now the defacto standard just about everyone on the right . . . with Megan McArdle as an obvious example of the school.

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jacob 10.28.10 at 9:10 pm

bh # 96. Fair enough. I was too broad. But my point, which I stand by, is that it is silly to imply that Rauchway, a historian, is somehow out of his professional jurisdiction when analyzing the New Deal.

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Anderson 10.28.10 at 9:24 pm

Tabarrok gently chides him, pointing out that there’s more than one, that Rauchway is using a different one, and that it’s uncalled for to use the term liars just because people choose to use the other one. And yet you think it’s Tabarrok who needs to apologize? Uh, no.

Nieporent, I expect better of you.

We are not talking about data set A and data set B. Let me quote Tabarrok again, bolding for emphasis, so you can read him this time around:

In 1938 the unemployment rate was 19.1%, i.e. almost one out of five workers was unemployed, this is from the official Bureau of Census/Bureau of Labor Statistics data series for the 1930s. You can find the series in Historical Statistics of the United States here (big PDF) or a graph from Rauchway here. Rauchway knows this but wants to measure unemployment using an alternative series which shows a lower unemployment rate in 1938 (12.5%). Nothing wrong with that but there’s no reason to call people who use the official series liars.

Rauchway did in fact use the official series — the UPDATED, CURRENT official series. The older data is no longer “official” in that sense; it, not the data Rauchway cites, is “alternative.” And “Rauchway knows this” implies that Rauchway is dodging “the official series” in favor of “an alternative series” to support his case, which impugns Rauchway, and which is flatly incorrect.

Okay? Are we reading the same words now?

If Rauchway was incorrect, and the current HSUS did not in fact contain the data he cited, then please point that out. Otherwise, don’t fucking waste my time.

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bh 10.28.10 at 9:24 pm

The needless middle initial is the greatest predictor of clueless blowhardism in the history of the universe.

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ScentOfViolets 10.28.10 at 9:28 pm

So, yes, there is certainly a sense in which people who are paid by the government to work are working. But is it a useful sense? If the jobs are make-work jobs of little utility, designed to be temporary until “real” jobs are available, then there’s a sense in which they’re not working. The economy isn’t generating those jobs; the government is. But only at a pretend level, because if they were real jobs, producing stuff for which there was demand, then there would be no need for them to be temporary.

That’s fine if you want to argue this. But you seem to expect other people to do your homework for you. Which jobs, specifically, done under the auspices of the WPA were not “real” jobs? And of those, how many people did those jobs both in absolute numbers and as a percentage of total number put to work under the WPA?

All you’ve got at this point are vague suppositions that you are unable or unwilling to research. Now, if you can show that one class of jobs were literally “government stamp lickers”, and if you can show that this one category accounted for 90% of those employed, then yes, I’ll certainly concede that you’re correct.

But until then, you’ve got bupkas, and no one is under any obligation to prove that your ruminations are correct.

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engels 10.28.10 at 9:39 pm

If the jobs are make-work jobs of little utility, designed to be temporary until “real” jobs are available, then there’s a sense in which they’re not working.

I am confident that for consistency you are also going to apply this definition to private sector employment in the US as well. Any idea what the unemployment rate will be then?

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jacob 10.28.10 at 9:58 pm

By the way, those implying that WPA workers were unemployed because they were “licking stamps” or doing similar “make-work” may be interested in this old posts by, yes, Eric Rauchway. Note both the chart showing what WPA funds actually paid for, and also the photographs of the supposed “make-work.”

http://edgeofthewest.wordpress.com/2008/12/15/make-work/

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ScentOfViolets 10.28.10 at 10:24 pm

Thanks for the link, Jacob. I wonder how much of the first three categories – roads, buildings & utilities – which account for the lion’s share of the funding will be pooh-poohed as “government stamp-licking” by Nieporent, y81, Sebastian, and others on the right.

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Anderson 10.28.10 at 10:37 pm

Come on, SOV, many of those roads built in the 1930s are already falling apart!

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Sebastian 10.28.10 at 11:08 pm

“So, for example he objects to the notion that stuff like the WPA shouldn’t be included because “under that definition” (huh?) there would be these so-called “government stamp-lickers” who would be included in the employment figures.”

Well as I linked above, people doing stuff like the WPA *aren’t included as employed in the statistics now*. The question isn’t about the alleged importance of doing the job or not job. The question is more akin to “would the government be paying for this independent of the desire to put otherwise unemployed people to work”. If the answer is ‘yes’ than fanfrickingtastic. But if the answer is ‘no’ then masking unemployment numbers by employing the people masks the utility of using those numbers for assessing the health of the economy.

Which again, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take the aspirin for the pain. It just means that you aren’t actually healthy just because you don’t feel the pain. But it does mean that when conducting a historical retrospective we shouldn’t use the pain-dampened numbers as proof of economic health.

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ScentOfViolets 10.28.10 at 11:15 pm

“So, for example he objects to the notion that stuff like the WPA shouldn’t be included because “under that definition” (huh?) there would be these so-called “government stamp-lickers” who would be included in the employment figures.”

Well as I linked above, people doing stuff like the WPA aren’t included as employed in the statistics now.

Letting that statement pass for the nonce, does this mean that you specifically disavow your earlier argument about “government stamp-lickers”? If you do, please say that you do. If you don’t, please indicate which jobs listed under the purview of the WPA were “government stamp lickers” as well as how many people as a percentage of the total were employed in them.

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Sebastian 10.28.10 at 11:38 pm

“Letting that statement pass for the nonce”

Ummmm I’m sorry SoV, considering your constant burden of proof game by which in years of commenting you have never had the burden of proof, I’m afraid I can’t answer your questions until you deal with mine. Thanks.

Workfare counts as unemployed in modern statistics. That is a fact worth dealing with, no?

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ScentOfViolets 10.28.10 at 11:46 pm

Sigh. I say let that statement pass because, while I disagree with your characterization, I didn’t want the discussion to get derailed[1]. Which is what you are trying to do now.

In any event, since you seem to think that order of comments is important, and I asked my questions first and more than once (still with no response from you) I rather think it behooves you to actually answer them. Your answer please – are you explicitly dropping the “government stamp-licker” argument?

[1] Odd, btw, that you would think that I have “never had the burden of proof”, or that I thought that to be the case. Care to provide evidence for this? Or is this what you would call an “ad hominem”?

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dsquared 10.29.10 at 12:02 am

Why are we messing around with hypotheticals about the government hypothetically paying people to lick stamps? Between 1941 and 1945, the American government joined the European and Asian trend of paying people (some of whom had been previously unemployed, many of whom were withdrawn from productive industries for the task) to wander round and actually destroy expensive pieces of capital equipment, and also to kill and injure members of the labour force. From an economic point of view, sitting around licking stamps is a comparatively productive activity.

So, Sebastian, would you consider that serving members of the armed forces ought to be registered in the statistics as “unemployed”?

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politicalfootball 10.29.10 at 12:08 am

I think Bloix gets it right above when he suggests that Sebastian is begging the question.

Right at the start, here’s Sebastian:

Take 2 propositions:

A) The Government Programs for the New Deal successfully jumpstarted the economy.

and

B) The Government Programs for the New Deal successfully mitigated much of the poverty created by the Great Depression.

Those are not equivalent statements. You could easily, and without contradiction, believe one or the other or both or neither.

And that’s fair enough. But it ignores the fact that the WSJ piece was dishonest because it was specifically designed to conceal the facts that lead to Conclusion A. Mind you, one might still doubt Conclusion A, but the statement Tabarrok quotes – the one that Rauchway disputes – has the look of a deliberate lie.

Or maybe conservatives really are that goddam myopic and stupid. I see that in one of Rauchway’s threads, I twice linked Public Intellectual George Will explaining that it was War, not government spending, that lifted the U.S. out of the Depression. Seriously.

Extra bonus idiocy: Not only is Will insensible to the fact that World War II involved gigantic government spending, he contrasts the New Deal with global war by noting that massive economic uncertainty was created by … the New Deal!

Is Will the dumbest son of a bitch in the conservative pantheon? Hell, he’s probably not even the dumbest conservative on the Washington Post’s op-ed page. Robert Samuelson is, at least, a serious challenger:

Despite bottoming in 1933, the Depression didn’t really end until World War II. Government didn’t ensure recovery.

But even Samuelson acknowledges that the Depression bottomed in 1933.

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politicalfootball 10.29.10 at 12:10 am

Ack. Everything from “Take 2 propositions:” to “one or the other or both or neither” should have been italicized as a quote of Sebastian, and dsquared beat me to the key point anyway.

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Lemuel Pitkin 10.29.10 at 12:32 am

we should note that workfare is STILL classified as being unemployed.

Where on earth did you get this idea? The BLS counts as employed anyone who worked for pay in the previous week.

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geo 10.29.10 at 12:33 am

Sebastian: people doing stuff like the WPA aren’t included as employed in the statistics now

Are they officially considered “unemployed”? Hard to see how they could be if the official definition of unemployment is “people actively seeking full-time employment.” So that means they’re officially neither employed nor unemployed, like retirees — simply not part of the labor force? Is that correct? Does anyone know?

masking unemployment numbers by employing the people masks the utility of using those numbers for assessing the health of the economy

Since you continue to insist on restricting “economy” to “private, for-profit economy,” let’s introduce the novel (to Thatcherite libertarians, at least) term “society.” Immediately it’s obvious that one good measure of the health of the society is the percentage of people employed at decent wages. So that if government can expand employment, whether by paying people to wage war, lick stamps, paint murals, build roads, do basic scientific research, visit lonely people in nursing homes,
build solar panels, teach the latest organic farming techniques in poor countries, or any of innumerable other things more useful than managing a hedge fund, designing tax-avoidance schemes, and innumerable other destructive things that contribute mightily to the health of the “economy,” it is at least contributing to the good of the society.

Really, someone ought to give some thought to whether the health of the “economy,” as you (along with, I’ll grant you, most economists) insist is really a useful measure of the health of the society.

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Sebastian 10.29.10 at 12:34 am

Ummm, you can’t disagree with the facts, SoV. People in states who are required to work at workfare in order to collect their state benefits count as unemployed.

That is not a characterization. That is a fact. “Disagreeing” with it, means you aren’t dealing with the facts.

“Odd, btw, that you would think that I have “never had the burden of proof”, or that I thought that to be the case.” I’m just calling it like I see it. You’re a bully who almost never responds to a question, constantly demands research projects from people you bully to defend mangled propositions that aren’t even what they are talking about, and then makes assertions of your own with incredible resistance to backing them up.

You aren’t characterizing my discussion fairly, so I’m certainly not interested in doing a research project to defend your mischaracterization. You aren’t even bothering to read the context of the comments, and I’ve had plenty enough experience with you to know that pointing out the context and exhaustively demonstrating your misreading of it won’t do any good.

Purely for the sake of other people reading, my ACTUAL argument is: whatever the overall utility of the job actually performed (good, bad, neutral) workfare tends to mask the utility of using unemployment statistics to gauge the overall health of the economy.

That is NOT a statement about the wisdom of workfare for helping people’s lives during times of economic downturn. That is NOT a statement about whether or not workfare is a good idea. For whatever reason, people like SoV seem insistent on turning my argument into some sort of attack on workfare. It is not. I think it is a good thing that the government puts people to work rather than letting them starve during a serious economic downturn.

But what you can’t do is try to cite employment figures as a sign of overall economic health during a period where workfare is a prominent. We all understand that pain in the body is often related to a state of poor health. We all understand that sometimes it is better to mask the pain with drugs so that we can do other necessary things rather than let the pain cripple us and keep us from doing such things. But if we are wise, we don’t take the lack of pain *while still on the drugs* as a sign that the underlying health problem has been resolved. The fact that the drug may even have some positive effects somewhat apart from the pain (anti-inflammatory drugs can) should not lead us to believe that the underlying health issue is gone.

It isn’t that workfare or aspirin are useless. Quite the contrary, they are VERY useful. It is that while you are in the process of using them, you can’t measure the thing they are masking and properly diagnose your overall health.

To bring it all back to the topic at hand, that is exactly what Rauchway tries to do. He tries to use somewhat lowered unemployment as proof that the act of workfare had improved the overall economic health. That is in the graph he linked. That is what Tabarrok objected to. And in that, he is wrong.

And that is exactly what Tabarrok wrote:

“Moreover, it’s quite reasonable to count people on work-relief as unemployed. Notice that if we counted people on work-relief as employed then eliminating unemployment would be very easy – just require everyone on any kind of unemployment relief to lick stamps. Of course if we made this change, politicians would immediately conspire to hide as much unemployment as possible behind the fig leaf of workfare/work-relief.

There is a second reason we may not want to count people on work-relief as employed and that is if we are interested in the effect of the New Deal on the private economy. In other words, did the fiscal stimulus work to restore the economy and get people back to work? Well, we can’t answer that question using unemployment statistics if we count people on work-relief as employed. Notice that this was precisely the context of the WSJ quote. “

You’ll also note that this is where the stamp-licking thing came in. And you should note that in this context he isn’t saying that the WPA is all stamp-licking, he is illustrating why you can’t use workfare inflated statistics to decide whether or not the fiscal stimulus was working. He is showing that *even in the stamp-licking case* the employment figures would look good.

Transforming that into an argument that the WPA was stamp-licking is completely confusing the argument. And doing so in an especially ironic way, because there is a whole post complaining about the unfairness of doing that on the front page of crookedtimber right this very second

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geo 10.29.10 at 12:35 am

Sorry, last sentence should read “insist on defining it is really a useful measure … “

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Lemuel Pitkin 10.29.10 at 12:38 am

People in states who are required to work at workfare in order to collect their state benefits count as unemployed.

Nope, you’re wrong. Anyone who works for pay is counted as employed. There’s no ambiguity about this.

(Yes, someone who is e.g. required to do public service work as a condition of receiving non-cash benefits, as in the program you linked to, may still be unemployed, since they are not working for pay. But this has nothing to do with the WPA.)

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Sebastian 10.29.10 at 1:17 am

I decided to research it further, and I was partially wrong. Well, no, mostly wrong on the classification issue. Programs of the type I linked are not counted as employed. If you are working solely for the purpose of retaining benefits, you are counted as unemployed. But if you are in workfare to continue benefits and you get paid in cash on top of the benefit, you are counted as employed no matter how small the cash amount is. I actually came across the best complaints about it on Green Party websites saying that it amounted to slave labor to try to create the appearance of low unemployment.

Interestingly , this highlights the concern that Tabarrok was worried about, that the state can easily manipulate the unemployment numbers through workfare without improving the overall health of the economy.

But to be clear: I was correct about the program I linked, but wrong about the unemployment classification of most workfare requirements.

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Sebastian 10.29.10 at 1:24 am

“So, Sebastian, would you consider that serving members of the armed forces ought to be registered in the statistics as “unemployed”?”

Nice deflection, d-squared. I would say that their classification as employed or unemployed was irrelevant to the health of the economy.

So, would *you* consider that if the US forced the enlistment of 100% of the currently unemployed that the then resulting 0% unemployment level would represent a generally healthy economy?

Or would you suggest that the forced enlistment might be more like an aspirin, masking the poor health of the economy as measured by the employment statistics?

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Dragon-King Wangchuck 10.29.10 at 1:34 am

I’m not an economist. Heck I don’t even have an mba. Let me see if I understand the argument anyways.

Sebastian is saying that (some) workfare recipients are counted as unemployed by today’s definition and therefore folks doing WPA stuff back in the thirties should also be counted as unemployed. Despite the fact that by today’s definition they were considered employed since they received pay.

This may seem like nonsense, but let’s try and figure out what the actual point is. Sebasitian takes offense at the use of “artificially” lowered unemployment stats as a measure of economic health. He contends that workfare programs, while they do very well to ease suffering – don’t actually benefit the economy. It’s a case of treating the symptom and not the disease. geo@98 thought there was a problem with this analogy but couldn’t put a finger on it. Here’s my take – sick people die from their symptoms.

Aspirin was the example. But painkillers only treat symptoms and reduce suffering. What’s the economic value in that? Should workers in the pharmaceutical industry be considered unemployed?

As for the WPA and even the workfare program Sebastian linked – how are these unemployment? It’s been demonstrated that people in employed by WPA were in fact producing things of value. Additionally, those people were working. As in they were doing things to prevent their descent into the ranks of the unemployable. At the workfare link Sebastian provided there is a list of Participant benefits – mostly about putting them into better shape to land a “real” job. Since that’s the case, perhaps anyone at an entry-level position should be considered unemployed.

As to the argument that WPA was a temporary emergency program, I’m not sure what difference that makes. Contract workers are considered employed. Seasonal workers are considered employed. Emergency situations change needs of private enterprise as well. Contractors who were working for BP to address the Deepwater Horizon were considered employed (provided they got paid).

As to the stamp-licker argument, well I’m sure we’ve all met our fair share of stamp-lickers in private industry. They count as employed.

So the only difference seems to be the question of “who pays”. That for some reason, if the government is writing the checks, it doesn’t count. That if the government employs a bunch of people in programs where they produce useful things, personally develop skills* and receive remuneration for it which they can then spend on goods and services – it doesn’t affect the state of the economy. Maybe there’s a valid reason for that argument, to be honest – I really don’t know. But I’ve certainly got an intuitive feeling about it that hasn’t been budged much by Sebastian’s arguments thus far.

*Normally I would have linked skill development to the stamp licking and then something about someone’s mother, but I’m trying to be on my best behaviour so please ignore this crude footnote.

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Lemuel Pitkin 10.29.10 at 1:54 am

Whoa. That’s a second graceful concession in less than an hour. What’s gotten into the CT water?

Seriously, I appreciate Sebastian’s willingness to adjust his views as he learns more. We could all do more of that.

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politicalfootball 10.29.10 at 1:55 am

Sebastian, I’m not sure who was arguing that the economy was “generally healthy” during the Great Depression.

Or would you suggest that the forced enlistment might be more like an aspirin, masking the poor health of the economy as measured by the employment statistics?

An alternative: One could suggest what actually happened: That government stimulus cured a demand-starved economy.

But fine. That’s only what happened in my universe. What happened in yours? If I understand the narrative, FDR’s intervention in the economy resulted in worsening conditions until he finally agreed to austerity in 1937, resulting in the mini-boom of 1938. That boom, in turn, was crushed by the massive economic disaster of World War II. The post-war resumption of the Depression, in your world, was attributable to the enormous economic intervention that came as a result of World War II. Right?

If not, what’s your story?

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Sebastian 10.29.10 at 2:58 am

Politicalfootball, the problem is that you are sweeping under all of the FDR interventions as if they all helped cure the economy. But unless he was some magical politician, it is pretty likely that not all of the things he did ‘cured’ the economy. It might even be possible that some were neutral and others negative. Or it might be possible that he mitigated the damage of the depression and the economy mostly cured itself. Or it might be possible that the central bank took steps that were poorly understood at the time, but helped more than his direct programs. Or all sorts of other permutations.

And since our Depression probably isn’t exactly like his in every particular, it might be better to know which things worked for which purpose rather than make some sort of sweeping statement about FDR curing the Great Depression.

Which is why a historian like Rauchway, or really anyone, should be careful when criticizing comments about one area of analysis not to misuse statistics from another. His analysis on unemployment figures makes sense from a mitigation-of-damage standpoint, but is pretty shaky verging on accidentally misleading on the pump-priming issue.

Looking at the whole thing, (including his later explanations) it seems like he might have been guilty of slightly hyperbolic language and lazy linking (as in: “I just wrote something sort of dealing with a close issue, so I’ll link it rather than directly adapting it to my argument). Which is frankly fine in a blog post. In fact, even having your position evolve a little as you refine it in comments seems ok to me. But Tabarrok was just responding to the issue as Rauchway initially presented it. And he seems pretty much right on in that. The fact that Rauchway’s view either evolved or was more clearly explained doesn’t retroactively make Tabarrok’s criticism wrong.

And really Rauchway never clearly distinguishes between workfare as mitigation and workfare as pump-priming, which is to say that Rauchway completely ignores the core of Tabarrok’s criticism, focusing instead on the “which data set is *authority*” issue which isn’t even the crux of Tabarrok’s argument.

Have you looked at Tabarrok’s actual argument? It is here. You can see that Tabarrok spends one line on which one he thinks is the official version, and then paragraphs over why there is a controversy, why there are multiple versions, and which version is appropriate for which purpose. He has at least 3 good paragraphs of clear discussion which Rauchway ignores, choosing to focus on the appeal to authority issue.

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Freshly Squeezed Cynic 10.29.10 at 3:18 am

But if we are wise, we don’t take the lack of pain while still on the drugs as a sign that the underlying health problem has been resolved. The fact that the drug may even have some positive effects somewhat apart from the pain (anti-inflammatory drugs can) should not lead us to believe that the underlying health issue is gone.

This assumes that taking the “drug” only has positive effects on the “pain” and does not have any kind of beneficial effect on the “underlying health issue” itself, which is an assumption I cannot take for granted.

139

Michael H Schneider 10.29.10 at 3:32 am

And really Rauchway never clearly distinguishes between workfare as mitigation and workfare as pump-priming,

I must be missing something here, because I don’t see how it’s possible to make this distinction except by somehow reading the mind of government. Assuming a depression caused by lack of demand, then the mitigation primes the pump by giving people money to spend to buy stuff, to exactly the extent that it mitigates the sufferring by giving people money to spend to buy stuff.

And, of course, the percentage of people not receiving paychecks is directly related to the lack of demand, and demand can be increased (and thus, the health of the economy improved) by more people receiving a paycheck irrespective of the source or the motivation.

I’ve the same confusion with this test:

The question is more akin to “would the government be paying for this independent of the desire to put otherwise unemployed people to work”.

Again, for example, the government might want to pay to build a rail tunnel under the Hudson right now, rather than some other time, because it can get a really good low interest deal on the construction loan and there are a lot of unemployed people, so it won’t be crowding out either private borrowing or private employment. So it’s both the desire to put people to work and the desire to build a productive asset, and how can one distinguish among simultaneous motivations?

moral: give a man an aspirin, and he’ll not have a headache for a few hours. Teach a man to shoplift aspirin, and he’ll be headache free for the rest of his life.

140

Down and Out Of Sài Gòn 10.29.10 at 3:55 am

I really don’t understand why Americans bag their own WPA. If this Bob Herbert article is right, the US sounds like they could do with another one.

The need is tremendous. The nation’s network of water systems was right at the bottom of the latest infrastructure grades handed out by the American Society of Civil Engineers, receiving a D-minus. Jeffrey Griffiths, the chairman of the Drinking Water Panel of the Science Advisory Board of the Environmental Protection Agency, told The Times: “We’re relying on water systems built by our great-grandparents, and no one wants to pay for the decades we’ve spent ignoring them. There’s a lot of evidence that people are getting sick. But because everything is out of sight, no one really understands how bad things have become.”

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Salient 10.29.10 at 3:56 am

Ummm, you can’t disagree with the facts, SoV.

Later on:

I decided to research it further, and I was partially wrong. Well, no, mostly wrong on the classification issue. Programs of the type I linked are not counted as employed

…N.b. this is why not to say things like “Ummm, you can’t disagree with the facts” to people. (A lesson which I’m still trying to pound into my own head, for what it’s worth.)

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Sebastian 10.29.10 at 4:12 am

“…N.b. this is why not to say things like “Ummm, you can’t disagree with the facts” to people.”

You just need to be more sure you’re right. And we should note that SoV wasn’t disagreeing out of knowledge. Claimed only interpretation.

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politicalfootball 10.29.10 at 9:03 am

Regarding Rauchway, Sebastian says:

His analysis on unemployment figures makes sense from a mitigation-of-damage standpoint, but is pretty shaky verging on accidentally misleading on the pump-priming issue.

So you say, but in fact, Rauchway didn’t limit his analysis to unemployment, and you (and Tabarrok) offer no evidence that he got the unemployment thing wrong.

Yes, I read Tabarrok, and I quoted him above in a comment that you didn’t acknowledge. Tabarrok’s whole point in the link you provide is that Rauchway is wrong and this statement is correct. I’ll quote the statement Tabarrok defends again. :

As late as 1938, after almost a decade of governmental “pump priming,” almost one out of five workers remained unemployed.

I may have missed it, but I’ve yet to see you defend this statement, which is clearly wrong. Rauchway said so.

Sure, Tabarrok chose to base his argument on a boring, off-point misunderstanding about statistics, and Rauchway felt compelled to point out that Tabarrok had done so, making Rauchway’s own comment uninteresting and off his original point. But I really don’t think you can blame Rauchway for that, and I can’t see why, if you find Rauchway to be off point, you’ve chosen to repeat Rauchway’s “error” by not addressing the substantive issue and instead going off on this tangent about statistics.

The fact that Tabarrok goes on at length about what “Rauchway thinks,” but only chose to engage the unemployment issue is also not Rauchway’s fault. Rauchway has quite a lot to say about the economy during the Depression, but he doesn’t repeat it all every time he posts. Instead, he provides links.

Anyway, like you, I don’t think the issue about how you count the unemployed is particularly on-point. I asked a question in 135, and I’m genuinely interested in an answer. Rauchway’s version of events regarding pump-priming is straightforward. Yours is non-existent. What happened in your universe?

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dsquared 10.29.10 at 10:19 am

Just one point:

almost every economist (by “economist,” I mean people with degrees in economics who work in the field) would agree that, all things considered, people in work-relief programs (as opposed to people in regular government employment) should be counted as unemployed

Unemployment statistics don’t arise out of a black box called “the government”. They are prepared by people, many of whom are very good labour economists, and a lot of thought goes into the definitions. The very existence of the statistical series in question refutes this claim.

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Sebastian 10.29.10 at 3:27 pm

Actually Rauchway didn’t mention the ‘remained’ objection in his original post or the followup post. He mentioned it deep into the comments. Which again is fine as an overall comment on the article. It may have even been the thing that set him off. But saying things like “Sure, Tabarrok chose to base his argument on a boring, off-point misunderstanding about statistics, and Rauchway felt compelled to point out that Tabarrok had done so, making Rauchway’s own comment uninteresting and off his original point. But I really don’t think you can blame Rauchway for that, and I can’t see why, if you find Rauchway to be off point, you’ve chosen to repeat Rauchway’s “error” by not addressing the substantive issue and instead going off on this tangent about statistics.” is weird as Rauchway didn’t articulate that point until well after the Tabarrok post. Essentially you’re blaming Tabarrok for not responding in his initial point to a ‘substantive issue’ that Rauchway had not yet identified.

“Rauchway’s version of events regarding pump-priming is straightforward. “

Umm, it really isn’t. He actually doesn’t talk about it in the post at all. If you think it is, please quote the part of his post that you are talking about. What he actually says are things like “I’m sure the people saved from starving and homelessness by CWA, WPA, and CCC would differ; so would those saved from penury by FDIC; so would those saved from poverty by Social Security.”

That speaks to the damage mitigation question, as I talk about above pretty much every other comment. He attributes overall improvement to “the New Deal”, which I’m pretty sure he is aware involved multiple programs doing very different things.

D-squared “Unemployment statistics don’t arise out of a black box called “the government”. They are prepared by people, many of whom are very good labour economists, and a lot of thought goes into the definitions. The very existence of the statistical series in question refutes this claim.”

And like all statistics, they have proper uses and improper uses. Trying to use this particular series to show that emergency hiring ‘fixed’ the economy, or ‘pump-primed’ is probably an improper use of the series because of the masking effect of the emergency hiring on the utility of using that statistical series to measure overall economic health.

Using a perfectly good statistic for an improper use is a something I’ve seen you complain about from time to time.

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Lemuel Pitkin 10.29.10 at 3:40 pm

Sebastian, I think part of the problem here is that you don’t realize that the proposition that you accept as obvious — that government hiring can reduce measured unemployment — is actually rejected by most conservatives. The general conservative view is that an increase in public employment will, through some mix of higher prices, higher interest rates or taxes (depending how it’s financed), and higher real wages, reduce private employment by as much as public employment increases. This was explicitly the view of e.g. Hayek in the 1930s.

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y81 10.29.10 at 3:53 pm

@144: Fair enough; let’s change it to “large numbers of economists . . . .” That’s why various time series have been prepared and published, none of which is a “lie,” none of which should cause someone to weep for humanity, and none of which is evidence of the unique mendacity of Megan McArdle. Agreed?

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politicalfootball 10.29.10 at 4:05 pm

Umm, it really isn’t. He actually doesn’t talk about it in the post at all. If you think it is, please quote the part of his post that you are talking about.

I think, Sebastian, that we can agree that in the places Rauchway doesn’t address a particular issue, he doesn’t address it. Fine. Rauchway is pretty darn good about linking, though. Are you saying that he has to repeat every argument he’s ever made in every post he’s every made, and that links used to make an argument don’t count? Seems unwieldy.

Tabarrok devotes a post entirely to defending this absurd statement, which I will now repeat for the third time:

As late as 1938, after almost a decade of governmental “pump priming,” almost one out of five workers remained unemployed.

Why, in defending Tabarrok’s post, do you abstain from defending the thing he is defending? Are you really going to base an entire argument on the idea that Rauchway didn’t properly dispose of Tabarrok’s argument in one particular post, regardless of what he did in the arguments he links in that one particular post? I mean, yeah, you’d be wrong about that anyway, but is that really where you want to plant your flag on this issue?

And are you really going to insist on defending Tabarrok’s argument regardless of what you think the actual truth is behind his argument? A fourth time:

As late as 1938, after almost a decade of governmental “pump priming,” almost one out of five workers remained unemployed.

How is that statement defensible? (Or, alternatively, why do you find the subject of Tabarrok’s post irrelevant in a discussion about Tabarrok’s post?)

And (for a third time), I’ll repeat my query from 135: What is your alternative history of the Depression, WWII, and the economy of 1938? You can continue to ignore Rauchway’s discussion of this if you like, but what’s your version?

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Lemuel Pitkin 10.29.10 at 4:08 pm

I should add that while I believe both that (a) Rauchway was unambiguous right in this debate, and Tabarrok-McArdle were unambiguously wrong, and that (b) McArdle is an exceptionally dishonest writer, who regularly makes up factual claims to support whatever position she’s arguing, nonetheless I don’t think (a) offers any particular evidence for (b).

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ScentOfViolets 10.29.10 at 4:56 pm

“…N.b. this is why not to say things like “Ummm, you can’t disagree with the facts” to people.”

You just need to be more sure you’re right. And we should note that SoV wasn’t disagreeing out of knowledge. Claimed only interpretation.

No, Sebastian, that’s not true. Would it hurt to reread what people have actually written, rather than mischaracterize what they have written:

Sigh. I say let that statement pass because, while I disagree with your characterization, I didn’t want the discussion to get derailed[1]. Which is what you are trying to do now.

That is, I disagreed with your characterization of what you wrote as “the facts”. So you’re wrong – again. I also see a certain lack of courtesy in acknowledging your errors to me . . . but that’s par for the course. Meanwhile, you still haven’t told us what jobs done under the auspices of the WPA were of the “government stamp-licking sort”, nor how many people were employed in those jobs. Nor have you explicitly disavowed this line of thought. Let me refresh your memory:

So you buy the government stamp-licking = employment argument. Ok. I don’t. That doesn’t make me a liar. It means I think the argument is bad. And there are at least a few pretty darn good reasons to think that the argument is bad.

Would you please, at long weary last squat or get off the pot? Are you saying all of those jobs done under the WPA are “government stamp-licking” jobs? Only some of them? Or none of them? I must say that you’ve got a lot of crust telling other people what they believe, then refusing to back up what you say, then refusing to explicitly retract that line of argument.

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politicalfootball 10.29.10 at 5:10 pm

That’s why various time series have been prepared and published, none of which is a “lie,”

One of the peculiarities of this hair-splitting conversation is that all of the participants have incorrectly assumed that this statement, from Tabarrok’s post, is correct:

Historian Eric Rauchway says this is a lie,

But actually, no, Rauchway didn’t say that in the post Tabarrok links. I don’t mind Tabarrok drawing the inference that Rauchway thinks that, but Rauchway didn’t say it.

As I say, that’s a hyper-legalistic reading on my part, but hey, that’s the sort of conversation this is.

In my opinion, McArdle doesn’t get her due as a careful reader and writer. Even while she endorsed Tabarrok’s bullshit opinion, she deftly avoided repeating his error. Look:

As a general rule, it is a bad idea to title an exceptionally misleading and/or ignorant post “Stop lying”. ”

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ScentOfViolets 10.29.10 at 5:14 pm

In yet another weird bit of antilogic, Sebastian says:

Also we should note that workfare is STILL classified as being unemployed. The direct heirs to the WPA such as here are classified as unemployed.

Which he seems to think is significant and that it implies we shouldn’t count the older WPA stuff as employment because that would be contradictory. And yet, when it turns out that he has, ah, mischaracterized his evidence, we get:

Programs of the type I linked are not counted as employed. If you are working solely for the purpose of retaining benefits, you are counted as unemployed. But if you are in workfare to continue benefits and you get paid in cash on top of the benefit, you are counted as employed no matter how small the cash amount is. I actually came across the best complaints about it on Green Party websites saying that it amounted to slave labor to try to create the appearance of low unemployment.

Interestingly , this highlights the concern that Tabarrok was worried about, that the state can easily manipulate the unemployment numbers through workfare without improving the overall health of the economy.

Catch that one? What he thinks he has posted is strong evidence that WPA workers should be counted as unemployed . . . because these people are counted as employed. But when it turns out, that no, his link says the opposite of what he thinks, why, it’s still evidence that he’s right.

Gee, must be nice to be right no matter which way the evidence flops around.

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Sebastian 10.29.10 at 5:41 pm

“Are you saying that he has to repeat every argument he’s ever made in every post he’s every made, and that links used to make an argument don’t count? “

Ok, which link that he provided do YOU think talks about how the WPA consists of something like priming the pump? The link used to make an argument do count, and I counted them. If I missed a pertinent one in the post Tabarrok criticized, just point it out.

“But actually, no, Rauchway didn’t say that in the post Tabarrok links. I don’t mind Tabarrok drawing the inference that Rauchway thinks that, but Rauchway didn’t say it.”

Maybe we have different ideas about appropriate inferences but entitling a post with “stop lying” is generally a pretty good indicator. I’m willing to accept evidence that Rauchway was not in control of the title (that sometimes happens in editorials, but I suspect rarely in blog posts).

SoV, I’ve already dealt with your silliness in 129. Your accusation that I’m unwilling to retract is fascinating since I’m at this very moment referring you back to a comment which contains a bit I’ve conspicuously retracted. To sum up, you seem to be reading only very small parts of my discussion, then dramatically misinterpreting them, then pushing off the dramatic misinterpretation with demands that I defend the misinterpretation through research projects of your own devising. When I fail to do that, instead trying to show your misinterpretation, you go flying into a long litany of bad faith accusations. Now this is your normal mode of operations. We’ve seen it here and elsewhere repeatedly so I know it isn’t just me (see for example your recent hysterics with Sapient, a commenter I think is fairly well respected in these parts).

My position is well outlined in the non-retracted parts of 129, and it doesn’t depend on any of the questions you think it does. You don’t seem to have read the underlying posts which form the basis for this discussion, so I don’t see much point in bothering responding further to your complaints until you evidence some basic reading of the posts. I don’t mind if you disagree with my interpretations of them, but it appears that you are just reading bits from the comments here and spinning out of control from there. Read the posts, read 129, and if you can fairly characterize the actual arguments instead of figments, I’ll be happy to discuss it.

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norbizness 10.29.10 at 6:46 pm

Never underestimate the possibility of a marginally boring CT thread to become positively coma-inducing.

155

politicalfootball 10.29.10 at 7:10 pm

Maybe we have different ideas about appropriate inferences but entitling a post with “stop lying” is generally a pretty good indicator.

Indicator of what? Finish that sentence and you’ll see that doesn’t work. If I title a post “Why is Sebastian lying,” I might detail a number of things you said, some true, some false but not dishonest, and some lies.

And the only time in that post that Rauchway brought up lying was in the title, which was a little joke about Bob Dole. (I took the title as a bit of self-deprecating humor – with Rauchway suggesting that, as Dole did, he was taking false criticism of FDR personally. But that reading relies on having read Rauchway’s previous FDR stuff. Hint: If you see Rauchway suggest that FDR could kick Lincoln’s ass, you probably shouldn’t take him seriously.)

I mean, we’re all clear here that Henry isn’t actually accusing McMegan of having a history of violence, right?

But yes, as I said upfront, it’s a very legalistic point, all the more so because Rauchway adopts to Tabarrok’s language later on, in a post asking and answering the question When is it lying?

In that post, Rauchway discusses the details of the stimulus issue, and Roosevelt’s successes and failures with that approach.

So that’s Rauchway, but what about you? Rauchway’s opinion isn’t particularly exotic in its broad outlines, and I don’t really see why you’d need to acquaint yourself with it to answer my question. For the fourth time, my question from 135: What is your alternative history of the Depression, WWII, and the economy of 1938?

And I’m really trying to understand: Is your only point that Tabarrok makes a good observation about statistics in the course of defending a false statement? Or (for the fifth time) are you willing to defend this statement as accurate?

As late as 1938, after almost a decade of governmental “pump priming,” almost one out of five workers remained unemployed.

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politicalfootball 10.29.10 at 7:14 pm

Never underestimate the possibility of a marginally boring CT thread to become positively coma-inducing.

Every now and then I indulge myself at the bottom of one of these threads. I’m really interested in getting into how some peoples’ minds function – or fail to, as the case may be.

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Sebastian 10.29.10 at 8:06 pm

My point is summarized in 129, and doesn’t read to me like a defense of “remained”. Does it read that way to you?

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ScentOfViolets 10.29.10 at 9:01 pm

SoV, I’ve already dealt with your silliness in 129. Your accusation that I’m unwilling to retract is fascinating since I’m at this very moment referring you back to a comment which contains a bit I’ve conspicuously retracted.

No, I don’t see anything in there about explicitly dropping this sort of reasoning:

So you buy the government stamp-licking = employment argument. Ok. I don’t.

Instead of all these words back and forth being wasted, why don’t you just, you know, say “I explicitly drop the claim that any significant proportion of the people doing jobs under the WPA program were government stamp-lickers.”

You know that is what I’ve been asking for, right?

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ScentOfViolets 10.29.10 at 9:11 pm

And I’m really trying to understand: Is your only point that Tabarrok makes a good observation about statistics in the course of defending a false statement? Or (for the fifth time) are you willing to defend this statement as accurate?

Sebastian doesn’t seem to be able to answer these sorts of direct questions, though I really can’t see any reason why he wouldn’t.

Every now and then I indulge myself at the bottom of one of these threads. I’m really interested in getting into how some peoples’ minds function – or fail to, as the case may be.

That’s pretty much my perspective as well. I’m approaching this from the angle that these sorts of people, e.g., Sebastian, are also the people who go on about “liberal academia is biased against conservatives.” They don’t seem to realize that the problem is not with conservative ideas per se, but the sort of scholarship, research, and reasoning that goes along with promoting and defending them. I get the distinct impression that Sebastian thinks we’re opposed to his version of events because they’re “conservative”, not that we think he’s doing a horrible job defending them. Heck, I’ve already said in a post above that if there really were significant numbers of people employed as “government stamp-lickers” under the WPA that I’d agree counting them as employed seems a bit dicey. But Sebastian seems to want to go with the idea that as long as there’s even the possibility that this could have happened, counting them as employed is suspect. Never mind what was actually the case.

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tom bach 10.29.10 at 9:30 pm

To return, just for a moment, to the topic of Megan McArdle’s awfulness this is pretty awesome.

And, for what it’s worth, Rauchway was and is correct.

161

Dragon-King Wangchuck 10.30.10 at 12:35 am

I’m going to take another shot at understanding the argument. It seems to me that Sebastian’s main point is summed up in the following sentence:
“But what you can’t do is try to cite employment figures as a sign of overall economic health during a period where workfare is a prominent.”

I still don’t know why.

Maybe I’m misinterpreting but it sounds like the basic idea is that programs like the WPA that provide jobs to distressed citizens do not benefit the economy. And yet WPA workers received pay for work. Pay that they could then use to purchase goods and services for themselves and their dependents. Why is it different if the salary is paid by “Keep Americans From Starving Work Program” or by “General Corporate Entity, a Limited Liability Partnership”?

It can’t be because WPA projects were “make-work” fake jobs that provided no benefit. It’s been demonstrated that the overwhelming majority of the work was for infrastructure projects like roads and buildings, some of which are still being used seven decades later. Regardless, it’s not like there aren’t any “make-work” projects in private enterprise. Loads of resources are spent by industry on things with very little or no value – for example McArdle draws a salary. I suppose that this isn’t true in a corruption-free perfectly optimized capitalist system with a perfectly and instantaneously responsive market. But such a system does not exist.

The argument that “if we did define workfare as work than unscrupulous politicians could get full employment simply by requiring a nominal amount of work for unemployment benefits”. Well I suppose that’s true, but at the same time I don’t see how it’s relevant. Firstly, no evidence has been provided that this is happening. Secondly, and so what. If every single person in the country was provided the opportunity to earn a pittance by doing some utterly mindless joe job – those folks are still getting their pittances which then goes into the economy when they spend it, and whatever thing is accomplished by their efforts still gets accomplished. How is that worth zero economic value?

Also note that these workfare recipients are developing skills even at mindless joe jobs. And while the actual work they may be doing may be “worthless” i.e. licking stamps or blogging under the pseudonym of Jane Galt, they still learn to be a part of the workforce. To receive their work orders from some higher-up and then to complete it regardless of how pointless it seems to them. that may not be high value additions to the pool of human resources, but it’s definitely positive c.f. the do-nothing scenario.

But that’s my take. Perhaps there’s something in Econ101 that explains it all, in which case I’d love to hear it. Otherwise it just seems that the whole thing is based on the premise that it’s better if private industry does it because shut up that’s why. In this case it’s so much better that if government does it, it’s worth zero.

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Will McLean 10.30.10 at 12:53 am

As to the value of the WPA work relief jobs:

Counting them at zero seems too low.

Counting them the same as a normal private sector job seems too high.

The government was acutely aware of the problem if WPA work was at least as attractive as working in the private sector. Early on, wages were supposed to be below prevailing wages in the private sector. Later, prevailing wages could be offered, but with a ceiling on hours per week.

And there was always a tension between offering maximum relief to the unemployed and optimum output for the government. At best, the government got infrastructure it wanted for a fair price. But often it got something it would never have paid for if it wasn’t trying to find work for the unemployed.

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bianca steele 10.30.10 at 1:56 am

@160 This–She (like us) is a Mean Girl, and through long observation and practice (unlike us, who bloomed late), she has perfected social control through manipulation and ritual social humiliations.–is a good sentence.

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Pinko Punko 10.31.10 at 4:57 am

I almost get the feeling that norbizness hates the internet.

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IM 10.31.10 at 12:43 pm

But regarding WPA, CCC and so on we are not talking about underemployment, not really unemployment.
in Germany in the thirties – a somewhat similiar case – unemployment dropped because of buildings projects. He build the autobahns, you know. Now to count theese people as unemployed would be nutty. But you can argue that there was underemployment, because it was policy to use as much human labour as possible at this projects, restricting the use of machines.

On to the US: You can argue the WPA etc., used three people where only two were needed etc. But this doesn’t mean all three were really unemployed.

So you can say somethign like: The fall of unemploment in the New deal era was stopped and reversed in 1937 and 1938, were ~ 12% were still unemployed, beside a significant proportion of underemployment hidden in the WPA and elsewhere.

But that is not what the WSJ wrote.

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Woodrow L. Goode, IV 11.01.10 at 1:52 am

I hate to break into the tennis match between the Glibertarians and the folks with functioning brain stems, but I want underscore a point in the original Diane E. post.

Diane E. begins by saying “in an online Marxist rag called Progressive Review”. I’d never heard of the publication, and Googled it

The Progressive Review (to use its correct title), was founded in 1964 to protest the Vietnam War and support Civil Rights movement. During its career (which has included myriad title changes and format shifts), it has published work from such notorious Leninist thinkers as Ralph Nader, R. Crumb, Dave Barry, Tom Tomorrow, Tom Shales, Eugene McCarthy, Paul Krassner, Ron Cobb, James Ridgeway and Tony Auth.

To describe this publication as”an online Marxist Rag” is factually incorrect. So, 20 words into the piece, we have an error significant enough to call the writer’s authority into question. An intelligent reader would immediately question anything else she has to say.

But to The Woman Formerly Known as Jane Galt, this was credible evidence. So credible, in fact, that she openly advocated– and still defends– beating people who were, to use her own words, completely innocent.

Second point that needs emphasizing: ‘pre-emptive” means “designed or having the power to deter or prevent an anticipated situation or occurrence” Deter or prevent means it hasn’t happened.

If you’re using pre-emptive force against a rioter, you’re beating them before they’ve rioted. If they haven’t rioted, ipso facto, they’re innocent.

I’m sure Ms. Galt has an elaborate explanation of how “pre-emptive” doesn’t actually mean “Sentence first, verdict later.” When it comes to on-the-fly redefinitions of words whose meanings are perfectly clea, she rivals Ann Althouse. One notes that– even in late 2010– she still hasn’t apologized for wanting to beat rioters who hadn’t actually rioted.

Third, let’s credit Ms. Galt’s genius for misdirection. She and her droogs have managed to hijack the discussion. It has become whether it’s OK to be violent to violent protesters– and what qualifies as “violent”– and whether one should be snarky about it– rather than (as it should be) whether it’s OK to beat people who haven’t done anything, because you think they might. Even so dogged an opponent as Henry has been sidetracked.

By the way, I continue to call her Ms. Galt because she chose the pseudonym of her own free will and wore it proudly for many years– until Malcolm Gladwell took her to the woodshed and spanked her so hard that she recanted it.

Just because Ms. Galt finds her former persona inconvenient to her new pose as a Very Serious Person doesn’t mean the rest of us should give up the name that encapsulates the intellectual content of her body of work so neatly. Part of being a Glibertarian, as I understand it, is understanding that one makes choices in life and then must accept responsibility for them.

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Will McLean 11.01.10 at 2:12 pm

Here’s a useful post on different unemployment series for the 1930s:

http://tlrii.typepad.com/theliscioreport/2009/01/calculating-the-unemployment-rate.html

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