If someone benefits from government spending, should she be barred from criticising government?
The affirmative answer to that question forms the central thesis of an attack on Megan McArdle by Mark Ames.
McArdle, who runs the business section of The Atlantic’s website, has been critical of president Obama’s health care reform. Ames wants to paint her as a hypocrite for opposing the growth of government after being raised by parents who benefited from government spending.
“From birth, Megan McArdle has been the beneficiary of public funds: taxes paid for her upbringing, paid her father to venture into a corruption-ridden business world based on using public money for private gain, and paid her wages in her first breakthrough job. Her response is to revile government intervention,” Ames writes.
That’s nonsense. It’s not hypocritical to oppose something you have benefited from. I benefited from vigorous enforcement of antitrust laws because my father was an antitrust lawyer during my youth. Thanks to corporations hiring my father’s firm to defend against antitrust lawsuits, my family got to spend our summers in Maine and Nantucket. If I now oppose the vigorrous enforcement of antitrust, that hardly makes me a hypocrite. In fact, it seems that something close to the opposite would be the case: I’d be guilty of intellectual corruption if I supported antitrust enforcement just because it helped my family.
More generally, white males are not obliged to support racism or sexism simply because they benefit from the legacies of racism or sexism. In the same way, the children of arms makers need not support wars and the descendants of slave owners are not hypocrites for opposing slavery.
Ames claims that McArdle’s father lobbied for wasteful construction contracts and government spending. But shouldn’t this bolster McArdle’s libertariam program? If Ames’ assertions are true, McArdle’s been able to observe up close the way special interests inevitably corrupt government programs. She’s an eyewitness to the insights of public choice theory.
The deeper problem with Ames piece is the personal nature of his critique. He goes after McArdle’s father and her boyfriend. It is a scorched-earth tactic that couldn’t be better-designed to have a chilling effect on anyone who might want to debate positions Ames supports. This is the political journalism of personal destruction.
Even Ezra Klein, a regular critic of McArdle’s postions, is taking umbrage with Ames. “It’s an effort to discredit her. And it doesn’t make any sense. If anything, it makes me wonder whether Megan McArdle is right about everything,” Klein writes.
(Note: we know that’s not McArdle. But we dont have a good picture of her. So you get the other Megan.)
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