html xmlns="http://www.w3.org/1999/xhtml" xml:lang="en" lang="en"> From the archives: FIGHT! FIGHT! FIGHT!

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

FIGHT! FIGHT! FIGHT!

Aron sent me this:
Have you seen what Megan McArdle is throwing down? I think she’s deliberately provoking you:

“At any rate, do I believe that it takes longer to do things now because Progressives thought that there was no project that couldn't be improved by a really awesome committee full of smart, well meaning people thinking Big Thoughts about The Future? Yup, I do. I really do. And I invite anyone who does not think this to go sit through a public hearing on some trivial change to a valve in the sewer system, and then tell me with a straight face that I am wrong.”

But, see, I have no grief with Megan McArdle. In fact, I don't often read her. I don't think her pieces are rigorous and I don't share her biases, so I don't bother. Those qualities don't bug me; in fact, I think they are great for this media and it has clearly rewarded her. But they don't interest me either, so I... don't read them. I'm also starting to get tired of bloggers refuting her. Those posts are predictable too. "McArdle said this thing, based on no evidence but her gut feeling." And then you get thirty easy comments, half of which are bitchy attacks on Ms. McArdle and the other half are evenly split pro and con. She shows up, writes a long comment and you're good for another twenty comments. Rebutting Ms. McArdle gives off the feel of a cheap post for an afternoon when you've got nothing.

I'm kinda torn on the whole blogging-in-opposition-to-something dynamic. It is easy to be rebutting something. Whole thing just flows; you have something to expose as false, which is fun, and then you get to be even more right! That feels great. I do think I've written some good posts in rebuttal to the freakshow things y'all have said. My most-linked posts were rebuttals. Taken too far, it becomes inter-blog masturbation and that is only good for the participants. It has its place, and I'll keep doing it. But I have more respect for people who create content from scratch.

Aron clearly wanted me to respond to Ms. McArdle. I didn't read her whole post, so I can't put it in context. I had a couple thoughts on the quote he sent me. It reminded me of something my irrigation professor told me. He said that a District Board of Directors will take fifteen minutes to approve a $300,000 installation of a big gate without a single question, once they've accepted his credentials. But they'll argue for four hours about whether to get the thirty dollar shovel or the forty dollar shovel. He said they don't know enough to ask him questions on his gate design, but everybody has an opinion about daily tools and they will talk about that shovel until two in the morning.

The other thing I thought about Ms. McArdle's quote was that it was kinda cheap of her to make big assertions without telling us the details we need to understand them. She glossed over the important parts, so we're left without any way to understand the problem from here. I wish she'd been more careful, and told us: What kind of valve? Big valve? Little valve? Flow control or pressure control? Will it be remotely operated? What was it doing in the system? What were the consequences of that valve failing? Will the valve have to operate under a wide range of flows, or under constant conditions? Is it tied into the stormwater system, and does it need to do different things in storm events? Have they used this valve before? Will it be a trial for installing other similar valves throughout the sewer? What is the lifespan for that valve, and is anything likely to change about sewer usage during that lifespan? Too many bloggers tragically skip over this kind of important information, and Ms. McArdle is no exception.

17 Comments:

Blogger grant said...

Most people skip over that sort of important information in their daily lives.

11:38 AM  
Blogger Megan said...

I weep for them.

11:51 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh, yes, right. Painting the bike shed:

www.bikeshed.com

12:13 PM  
Anonymous Francis said...

she also doesn't know the first thing about NEPA, which just kinda calls into question her ability to comment fairly.

12:19 PM  
Anonymous Mitch said...

As I understand it, one major argument underlying the small-government philosophy is that government-employed people often don't get the right set of incentives. So sometimes you get people who (for example) protect their bureaucratic turf in unproductive ways. Or who are just waiting for retirement.

So I'd be interested in hearing about your incentives. What reasons do you have to do a good job? Are they generated entirely from within you, or are there external ones? What happens if you do a bad job? Have you seen people in the public sector who are just phoning it in? And do you have private sector experience to compare that to?

I guess what I'm trying to say is that there are ways to respond to this that go beyond simple rebuttal.

I know you've written about some of this already. However, some of the things you've said in defense of the bureaucracy seem more like defenses of specialization rather than defenses of a governmental role. Or if those two things necessarily go together then I don't think you've made that case yet.

12:39 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

12:13 Anonymouse:

That was brilliant.

Mitch:

I owe you answers on those. I've got some other stuff queued, but I'm not forgetting your very good questions.

1:33 PM  
Blogger Jacqueline Passey said...

"Rebutting Ms. McArdle gives off the feel of a cheap post for an afternoon when you've got nothing."

No exciting love life updates to titillate us with then?

3:56 PM  
Blogger LizardBreath said...

So I'd be interested in hearing about your incentives. What reasons do you have to do a good job? Are they generated entirely from within you, or are there external ones? What happens if you do a bad job? Have you seen people in the public sector who are just phoning it in? And do you have private sector experience to compare that to?

These are good questions, particular the one about comparing incentives for public sector workers to those for private sector workers. When I see these issues raised, there's often a simplistic assumption that the interests of a private sector worker are identical with those of their employer, which isn't terribly realistic.

4:02 PM  
Blogger a progressive crank said...

anonymous beat me to it.

On the notion of refuting/rebutting idiotic posts, so long as someone with an understanding of the issue takes the time to hack down those weeds before they go to seed, great. It's when they're allowed to stand that we have a problem.

I wonder if these libertarians see how close they come to authoritarianism in their gripes about the pesky democratic process. On the one hand, they hate the process since it empowers the proles and on the other they hate the science because it clashes with their fairytale view of the world.

5:39 PM  
Blogger t.s. said...

No McArdle comment yet. That's odd.

7:47 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

I didn't argue with her on any points, so I don't see why she'd comment.

8:15 PM  
Anonymous doctorpat said...

To suck Megan Mc into commenting, you may want to address her actual point:
Do the review and comment procedures in government mean that it takes decades to achieve any real change?

Or in other words, should libertarians and conservatives push for MORE layers of red, black and green tape, because it effectively prevents government from doing anything?

(This comment aimed more at other commenters than Megan's original post, which clearly was concentrating on the most interesting tangent of the matter.)

8:15 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

I figure I've talked about that plenty. I can't believe anyone here is in doubt about my views.

9:33 PM  
Blogger dcw said...

Indeed, I think that was among the most entertaining acknowledgements disguised as a rebuttal I have encountered on the internets.

9:42 PM  
Anonymous HC said...

I'm a bit in doubt, actually. You've been very clear that you believe in adherence to process as enacted; that's not necessarily the same as stating that this is the process you would have enacted if you had full discretion.

11:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I only know about you because Tyler Cowen confused you (at least in fun) with Megan McArdle.

Your analysis is more trenchant. Since I am the son of an engineer (but trained in economics) it is also more familiar than hers. She's a journalist, you are a policy professional. Your interlocutors more polite and friendly and tractable (maybe because there are way less of them?).

Megan is fun for what her posts say about her, her insecurities and hangups, her life. And she's not quite the libertarian she pretends to be (or she would be unreadable to me), she's got distinctly Tory traits and opinions.

You're both quite glam and sexy in entirely different ways.

So Megan McArdle's great contribution to my universe is that she brought me to you.

Valuethinker

7:02 AM  
Blogger Scott Lemieux said...

Rebutting Ms. McArdle gives off the feel of a cheap post for an afternoon when you've got nothing.

You can't take this weapon from my arsenal! I have no life to blog about!!!

8:51 AM  

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