Here McArdle assumes that the poor chose to be poor because they are incapable of doing otherwise. McArdle chooses to believe that everyone gets what he deserves because she wants to think that she deserves everything that she has. McArdle publicly aired her feelings of guilt for making an expensive, utterly unnecessary purchase in the Wall Street Journal so she could emphasize how it was a reward for her hard work, work that she, as a “middle class” person, performed due to superior work ethic and strong moral fiber. McArdle earns a living by writing propaganda for corporations. It is not like being a journalist, where you supposedly want to tell the truth, or an advertising copywriter, where you are up front about your motives and status as employee. It is lying to unsuspecting people in the hopes of secretly achieving your political/economic gains. It is stealing from the poor to give to the rich, the antithesis of all moral teachings.
McArdle is not a sociopath and is capable of experiencing guilt and regret, whether or not she chooses to do so. Naturally she usually chooses to not do so. McArdle frequently writes about how people cannot overcome their baser instincts, as she does in this piece, no doubt because she makes little effort to overcome her own. She is morally lazy, part of a class that cannot be bothered to think about others because she has created a lovely imaginary world of superiority that she would rather live in instead. Her moral self-indulgence leads to genuinely evil acts, such as taking Koch and Bradley money to write propaganda. Evil people are usually not serial killers lurking in the city shadows or plucking banjos by the crick. They are callous, morally lazy, greedy, pleasure-loving, self-indulgent and deeply insecure people who always take the easy way out. They are the Juice Box Villagers, the Pentagon pencil-pushers, the money-grubbers, the casually cruel. They are the people who were never loved, do not know how to love, and will spend their entire lives trying to find some way of killing the emptiness that never goes away.
An example that McMegan provides and the lesson she draws from it are, let’s say, illuminating:
A girl I grew up with basically voluntarily dropped out of the middle class and into the underclass, complete with a baby by her 30-year-old drug dealer boyfriend who then went to jail. She got her GED because she didn’t like the strictures of school. She has worked at a series of low wage jobs–sometimes quite hard, working two jobs at a time. She’s also lost a lot of jobs, and it’s hard to believe that it’s all bad luck. She’s on the Section 8 waiting list, and has at various times been on other forms of state assistance. She buys her 5 year old daughter a cell phone and a television for her birthday, but takes little interest in her education. Her family is completely horrified.
What program would fix this festival of dysfunction? Would a higher paying job make her get out of bed even when she doesn’t feel like it? To assume that there is something that could change her behavior is to assume away her agency.
Later, that same day….
What I am struggling to say is that however much those choices are now inflected by what went before–and the problems of other people in their families and communities–they are choices. We understand that the middle class girl I grew up with is driving her situation by behavior that is probably not very amenable to outside influence. Why do we assume that people who grew up poor are somehow more pliable simply because similar choices are influenced by decades of generational poverty?
As adults they are the products of everything that has happened to them, and everything that they have done, but they are also now exercising free will. If you assume you know the choice they should make, and that there is some reliable way to entice them to make it, you’re imagining away their humanity, and replacing it with an automaton.
So why bother? They’re damaged goods. And it is not as if there are many well-remunerated jobs floating around out there that will appeal to them by requiring a minimum amount of effort or competency … at least until McMegan or Jonah Goldberg leave an opening in their wake as they move up the Wingnut Welfare Who’s-Your-Daddy/Mommy Ladder Of Success.
But that was yesterday.
Today McMegan expands her horizons (well, really not exactly her horizons. Tebow aside, this is not exactly the Age of Miracles) as she considers not only the Poors, but also the Fatties and the Blacks:
After yesterday’s post, someone asked me: why am I cutting more slack to fat people than I am to poor kids? After all, when I write about obese people, I write about the biological systems making it hard to eat less than your body wants. When I write about poor kids, he said, I emphasize choice.
Not exactly. Yesterday, I was writing about an argument for an environmental intervention (more jobs) that was supposed to be a “silver bullet” for the problems of educating poor kids. And when people have proposed such silver bullets for obesity (menu labeling, sugar/calorie taxes, restrictions on fast food restaurants), I’ve made approximately the same argument as I did yesterday: heavy people are choosing to eat because they want to, not because there aren’t enough carrots available at McDonalds.
But when people blithely say “They’re fat because they’re lazy/greedy/insert bad character trait here”, I point out that the people making the accusation have a much easier time making “good choices”. Their bodies are not insistently demanding food in the same way that obese bodies are, so of course it’s easier to pass up that big helping of pasta.
I’d say the same thing about people who are poor. They could be middle class if they made a series of hard choices. But those choices are really hard–much harder than they are for the people who are already there. Chances are, you would also have a hard time making those choices.
Obviously, I am not going to adequately characterize all the difficulties of being poor. And since I have not actually been poor, I can only write about what I understand from a combination of imagination, interaction, and academic research.
Oh, let’s not forget ‘Randian hoo-hah’ and ‘cultural stereotypes’, shall we?:
4. Their payoff matrix is different. Middle class kids can make $75,000 out of school if they get a solid degree in engineering, or a job at an investment bank. But most poor kids who study hard and go to college are not going to get one of those jobs. Realistically, dealing drugs probably offers many of them a more certain chance of making good money in their twenties than staying in high school.
Is it crazy that poor black kids focus on being entertainers and sports stars? Numerically, yes. But the odds must seem longer still of becoming an investment banker. People from their backgrounds become rap stars and football players. Few of them end up as the president of Merrill Lynch.
….and here she is being sympathetic to the Poors because she feels their pain since she has, for some reason, also suffered the slings and arrows of the hard knock life, but she has been able to ameliorate the agony because she made all those good decisions that the Poors didn’t … or couldn’t … or wouldn’t:
11. The jobs the poor do are really unpleasant. Yes, yes–we all did them in high school and college! But that was temporary. It’s very different to work your way through college as an orderly at a school for the retarded (as my mother did) and to have that be your actual whole life. Particularly since that sort of thing wears on your body. I’m 38, and I can no longer raise my left arm all the way over my head. Thank God my job doesn’t actually require that sort of thing.
When I’ve had a particularly crappy, tiring day, I throw money at the problem: I get nice takeout instead of cooking, pay Peapod to deliver my groceries instead of trekking to the store, treat myself to a manicure or a massage, whatever. I have fewer crappy tiring days than people who do unpleasant manual labor for years on end–and I have more money to make the associated stress go away.
I’m thinking it’s a lot harder to get out of bed on Monday in year 13 of your stint as a janitor than it was on day 300–and that it’s harder to get out of bed on Day 300 if you know there’s probably going to be a Year 13.
Finally, we are still living in a Blazing Saddles world:
16. Racism in hiring still exists. It’s harder to get your resume picked out of a pile if your name is LaShonda (or Elvis). Maybe your mother shouldn’t have named you something so strongly identified with low-income mothers, but the fact remains, you may find it harder to get a job. And changing your name to please employers who are prejudiced against your ethnic group is just as fraught for LaShonda Washington as it was for Moishe Rabinowitz and Mairead Murphy–especially if you suspect that passing the initial screen just means you’ll get dinged in the next round when you walk in looking identifiably Jewish, Irish, or Black.