How to Embarass a Libertarian

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Ben Cohen
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Megan McArdle 4 by David Shankbone

To me, The Atlantic's Megan McArdle symbolizes everything that is wrong with American intellectual culture. She is a bright woman who has managed to contort her intelligence and insight into economics into meaningless drivel. Her work is largely unreadable, partly because she's a bad writer, but mostly because her explanations are so long winded they are impossible to follow.

McArdle has found herself on the wrong side of every economic argument for the past 10 years - she has championed libertarian economics through the Bush years despite the gigantic inequalities, spiraling poverty and ballooning debt, and amazingly stuck to her guns after the enormous meltdown of the massively deregulated Wall St in 2008.

McArdle is still at it, this time essentially arguing that Obama is responsible for the deficit, not Bush- an incredible feat of intellectual gymnastics given the enormous evidence to the contrary. An example of McArdle's shocking lack of research/knowledge is her assertion that Bush blew up the deficit with his prescription drug bill under 'pressure from Congressional Democrats'. Jonathan Chait rips this apart in a matter of seconds:

Republicans controlled both houses of Congress at the time, and exerted massive pressure to pass the bill. The coalition that squeezed the bill through after the vote was held open for hours consisted of 207 Republicans and 9 Democrats. Some pressure!

Incredibly, McArdle also asks:

'What changed about Bush policies that made them so much more expensive once Barack Obama took office?'

Chait replies:

What changed about the Bush policies that made them more expensive when Obama took office? What changed is that the economy underwent its deepest crisis since the Great Depression. Bush inherited a budget that was structurally balanced, which became a large surplus at the peak of the business cycle. His policies turned it into a budget that was structurally in deficit even at the peak of the business cycle. And then when the economy collapsed, those structural deficits became massive.

Chait's response to McArdle is worth reading in full as it blows apart her superficial understanding of economics in devastating fashion (ie. with actual facts).

The thing that really amazes me is that McArdle continues to argue the same points week after week, month after month despite being embarrassed on numerous occasions (check out her confrontation with Matt Taibbi here). Her ability to completely ignore facts and spout fantasy is incredible, especially given the fact that she is clearly not stupid. The fact that McArdle has a influential position in American intellectual circles is very concerning - her views are incredibly poisonous given the damage free market ideology has done to the economy, but thankfully people like Chait and Taibbi are around to provide the antidote.