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A Man Who Has Nothing In Particular To Recommend Him Discusses All Sorts of Subjects at Random as Though He Knew Everything

Megan McArdle = Pauline Kael

[I would like to get two things out of the way before we begin. One: I don’t give a fig if Pauline Kael actually said the quote attributed to her, and I double plus don’t care to listen to any “evidence” to the contrary, or in support of the provenance of the quote for that matter. Two: Megan McArdle is a perfectly cromulent writer for the blog with which she’s been entrusted.]

I don’t read all that much stuff on these here Intertubes. I’m busy, and since I’m a content generator now, I busy myself with writing barely readable, worthless text. I’m not that big a consumer.

I did read quite a bit for a while, just to see what everyone’s about. It doesn’t take long to figger out who’s who and what’s what. But I have little interest in going to Memeorandum every day and seeing what everyone’s interested in. I already know what I’m interested in.

So ipso facto I’m a content generator, not so much a consumer, and I’ll confine my remarks to the production side of things. Someone pointed me to the remarks by Megan McArdle at the Atlantic, and they struck me funny. But because I’m a little different, It seems that I’m the only one that had the reaction I did.

Pauline Kael is famous for supposedly uttering the opinion that Nixon couldn’t have won because she didn’t know anybody that voted for him. And now Megan McArdle says everybody that she knows that could possibly write an economics blog already has one, or isn’t interested:

I was at lunch with some blog people today, one of whom wants to recruit an economics blogger and asked for names. I basically drew a blank. All of the high-traffic economics bloggers I read are either professors, in some similarly rewarding profession, or already tied up by a media organization.
I think this is becoming broadly true of the wider blog world: the biggest bloggers are either professionals, or they have an even more lucrative job.

The comments were interesting, and a few bright people I know from blog correspondence like Tim Worstall appeared with cogent comments, but I couldn’t shake off one little aspect of the whole idea as stated.

Megan says her Rolodex is fresh out of names of people who are willing, capable, and have the credentials to blog about economics. Who’s left out of her equation? Why, anyone who would know the first thing about economics.

You see, I couldn’t care less what people like Paul Krugman have to say about economics, because if they worked for me, they’d be qualified to sweep the floor and get us all lunch. You can indulge any sort of bizarre idea about economics if you have a sinecure. Hell, you have to be careful about the pronouncements of people who are already successful in the business world, as they have the money to indulge in all sorts of strange ideas now, too. I don’t really care what Warren Buffett thinks about what people that ride the bus should be doing. How the hell would he know? How the hell would an academic?

Megan McArdle, who is very bright and lively to read, says that all the people with sinecures are taken, so the game’s up. She’s not dumb. She’s blind.

Perhaps I’ve been too harsh to compare her to Pauline Kael, although Kael certainly was a very fine writer, so it’s not really less than a left-handed compliment. But my impression of economists, or more precisely people scribbling about economic matters, is that with a few exceptions, you’d all be much better off to be just like Mike Rowe, out in the landscape looking in wonder at things that average people do to make the world, and everything economic, go around. At least Mike Rowe doesn’t think he knows enough about anything to be placed in charge of the affairs of others, like most economists, academics, and writers do. He’s just inquisitive and deferential and lively.

A thermometer is not a weather god. Mind your own business, the whole lot of you, and pay attention to the people who know how an economy actually functions. Here’s a hint: You will never find even one of them in Washington DC. Not one.

4 Responses

  1. McArdle’s stuff for the Atlantic tends to be inferior to her personal blog. Perhaps it gets edited by somebody else.

    OTOH, I find her at times to be rather, well, like you said: blind.

    The sad fact is that one really needs a lot of experience to have some idea of what’s going on in the world and how it works.

    I’m in my 40’s now, and I think I’m just starting to get a clue.

  2. The key is to speak or write with extreme confidence. You do that too Sipp. For what it worth, I’d take your advice before many of the so-called experts especially the ones trapped in the Beltway.

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