Mark Ames just penned an expose on Megan McArdle, my old "friend" "Jane Galt". Far from the Libertarian hero she's portrayed herself as, it turns out that Ames has revealed a person who has benefited, from beginning to end, from public largess. Why? Well, meet her dad:
Megan McArdle is the daughter of one Francis X. McArdle, who built his career as a public servant in the New York City administration, then moved over to the private side, where he could leverage his contacts with the government -- and finally moved back onto the public payroll in 2006, when Mr. McArdle was appointed by then-Sen. Hillary Clinton to advise the federal government how public funds should be spent, and on whom. Earlier this year, Mr. McArdle was reportedly in Albany lobbying the New York state government for a job as the "stimulus czar," appropriating President Obama's federal spending money.So. Her dad was a public servant who cashed in on the private side, and then made even bigger bucks as a lobbyist. Our heroic libertarian individualist is the daughter of a wealthy lobbyist.
Megan was born in 1973, a few years after Francis got his big fat job on the public payroll in the New York City administration, where he stayed for 11 years. Among the first big jobs Megan's daddy took while climbing up the public payroll career ladder were jobs as Inspector General for the New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation, and Director of Program Budget for the New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation.
So Megan McArdle's entry into this world was literally greased by taxpayer funds. But of course, it wouldn't stop there.
Francis McArdle, rose up the Big Government ranks in the New York city. His public-funded career reached its peak in 1978 when then-Mayor Ed Koch named him as Commissioner of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, where he served until 1981. That job put McArdle in control of all sorts of public works: water supply, waste water, sewage infrastructure. It's kind of fitting that McArdle's privileged childhood was funded by taxpayer's shit and urine -- a Freudian might say that this is the source of her inexplicable hatred of the same Big Government that pissed dollars and shat gold on the McArdle household.
Megan's dad moved from the public sector overseeing public works to a job with real estate developer Olympia & York -- just in time to take advantage of the huge Battery Park City project that Olympia & York was developing under contract. The success of the project relied on huge taxpayer subsidies -- at least $65 million in 1981 dollars -- as well as major public works projects to make the development attractive, including the disastrous Westway road project, which drained at least $85 million of federal subsidies until it was finally mothballed in the mid-80s, due to environmental concerns and public protests -- the kinds of protesters whom grown-up Megan McArdle would later attack. No matter, though, because by the time the Westway was canceled and all that public money was wasted, Olympia & York, Megan's daddy's company, had catapulted into one of the top real estate moguls in the world, and Megan's daddy was ready to move on to even bigger things.
In 1985, F. X. McArdle had moved from the private sector to a position that Megan understands better than any other: a lobbyist who manipulates Big Government on behalf of private companies. Francis X. McArdle was named to head the General Contractor's Association of New York. He stayed in that lucrative position for the next 20 years.
It doesn't stop there, though:
Megan showed how much she owes to her dad's way of doing business when she admitted in a blog post that she owes her success to personal contacts "I sent out about 1400 resumes blind after my firm failed. I got not one response. All the jobs I interviewed for came from personal contacts."There's a lot more there about the Atlantic Monthly, which I'll leave aside, since it is the former employer of Matthew Yglesias, a blogger I still respect.
We learn just how useful these personal contacts are for Megan McArdle thanks to a gushing profile on her published in early 2007 in a rightwing magazine called "Doublethink" -- put out by a corporate-funded advocacy group with ties to Tom Delay and Cato, whose mission is to "identify and develop future conservative and libertarian leaders." In the profile, we learn that Megan's first job in 2001, after graduating from the University of Chicago's graduate business program as a committed Ayn Rand libertarian, was canceled due to the market drop in 2001. So instead of flipping burgers to make ends meet, the libertarian moved back home into her parents' Upper West Side digs -- a home that taxpayer money helped to fund. There, in the hard knocks of the Upper West Side, the 28-year-old MBA seethed in libertarian anger at all the welfare queens and wasteful government spending programs she saw all around her. But it wasn't until bin Laden created an opportunity that Megan finally got a job -- as an "executive copy girl" for a post-9/11 cleanup crew near the site of the WTC. It was exactly the sort of job that those "personal contacts" can help you get in the "byzantine" world of construction in NYC.
It was at this time, living in her parent's swank Manhattan pad and working a job in her daddy's line of business, that Megan McArdle's blogging career as a right-wing libertarian crusader was born.
Instead of admitting that she got her first job thanks to daddy's shady connections with the corrupt construction trades, Megan pretended that she took the WTC-cleanup job as a sort of personal penance, a gift to the people of her stricken city: "[I}t was easier to bear it all than it would be working somewhere else, and worrying, and unable to do anything about it." Really Megan, you shouldn't have born that cross for us.
And, honestly, the quality of an argument is not dependent on the identity and nature of the author. This whole enterprise of mine here would be somewhat silly if I didn't believe that. I could have just gone eponymous like the aforementioned Yglesias. I didn't, and that was for a reason.
So, instead, I'll say that this is more instructive than anything else. it's about a key problem with modern opinion journalism, which is that far, far too many people in that business are in it because of being born to the right people and belonging to the right class, instead of due to skill, talent, and insight. They are wealthy and secure enough that they don't have to worry about the economic repercussions of what they have to say; yet somehow almost inevitably spout conclusions that support the wealthy and powerful, because that's who they identify with.
And, yes, the "libertarians" tend to be the worst, because they don't understand and don't recognize the structures that placed them where they are. They want to think the best of themselves, they want to think that they're responsible for their success, so they adopt an ideology that lets them do that. It's understandable, sure, but that doesn't mean the rest of us should fall sway to that same ideology. Yet precisely because it's so convenient, they're the ones with the bullhorns, at least on "economic" issues.
I see this in a number of the defences out there, too. John Carney's rant about how "ugly" the Ames piece is ignores the privilege that he enjoyed as the son of a successful antitrust lawyer. (I have little sympathy for it anyway, considering how "ugly" the results of the policies both Carney and McArdle advocate, but regardless.) Ezra Klein posted a more thoughtful response, but again misses the point that it's McArdle's privilege that is the point here, and the incoherence of her ideological advocacy in light of that privilege.
And that's all assuming that she makes utterly impersonal, completely logical and rational arguments. But she doesn't. Her blogs have always been peppered with autobiographical details that are supposed to support her claims, and I remember "Jane Galt" constantly appealing to her authority as some kind of economic expert. She isn't, and has been roundly castigated for that already- but if you want to appeal to your personal authority, you're fair game, because it's your credibility that's at question here.
(That's also not getting into the hypocrisy of the right complaining about personal attacks. Seen her birth certificate lately?)
For all that his column may be uncomfortably personal, Ames has delivered an explosive broadside to McArdle's credibility. And considering how much he's written on privilege in America, it makes a lot of sense. "Ugly" or no.