August 29, 2006

This blogging thing really not working out for Malcolm Gladwell:

The author of "Blink" gets paid, last I heard, $250,000 per year to write 40,000-50,000 words annually for The New Yorker, or $5 or $6 per word. So, it's a testament to the power of fashion that he has started his own blog. Sensibly, he doesn't update it often. But when he does, it's frequently because he is offended that somebody has dared to dispute any aspect of his latest New Yorker article. For displays of wounded amour propre, Gladwell's blog is getting awfully amusing. Here's his latest:

"Dependency Ratios: one last time

One of my frustrations with the blogosphere--as those of you who read this blog know--is that I think that the immediacy of web publishing makes some people lazy. They type faster than they think; or they believe that a reaction is the same thing as an argument.

Speaking of "typing faster than they think," as you read what follows, see if don't you suspect Gladwell himself would have been better advised to take a few deep breaths and not click on "Post?" Maybe first sleep on it overnight? In the blogging business, you don't have all the editors and fact-checkers that make New Yorker writers look good. Gladwell goes on:

"Case in point. The blogger known as Jane Galt had the following criticisms of my "Risk Pool" piece:

'For starters, [Gladwell] attributes Ireland's success as the "Celtic Tiger" to falling birthrates, which (temporarily) reduced the dependancy ratio. He utterly ignores a more parsimonious explanation, which is that Ireland slashed its marginal tax rates in 1987, including a cut in the corporate income tax to 10%, which turned it into Europe's first outsourcing destination. If you look at the handy spreadsheet I have uploaded, containing data on Irish growth from 1980-2005 obtained from the invaluable Economist Intelligence Unit, you will see that this fits the Celtic Tiger period much better than a 1979 relaxation of birth control restrictions. Moreover, since there is much evidence that economic growth causes falling birthrates by raising the opportunity cost of childrearing, even if there were a correlation it would be hard to say which way it ran. This also applies to his arguments about Asia and Africa.'

"Where to start? Let's ignore, for the moment, the quaint right-wing affectation of assuming that marginal tax rates are the most "parsimonius" explanation for all variety of complex human behaviors. Instead, let me make two small points.

"1. "Gladwell" does not attribute Irish success to falling birth rates. David Bloom and David Canning do. Gladwell is a journalist. Bloom and Canning are two exceedingly prestigious economists at Harvard, who are considered world experts in the field of demography and economics. Gladwell was impressed by them. He talked to them. He read their work. He was convinced by them. But he didn't make this argument up on the back of his journalistic notepad. And to neglect the true source of this argument is to trivilize and demean it. This is not Gladwell v. Jane Galt; journalist v. blogger. It's world experts v. blogger. Just so we are clear on this. And acknowledging the origins of this idea means that you can't depose of the dependency ratio argument just by dismissing Gladwell. You may actually have to read Canning and Bloom.

Personally, I think he should refer to himself as "Mr. Gladwell" and issue annual lists of the Ten Worst-Dressed Bloggers.

"2. Galt says that Gladwell neglects a more parsimonious explanation: Ireland's tax cuts. As we've seen, Gladwell did no such thing, because Gladwell didn't do an analysis of Ireland's economic growth. What about Bloom and Canning? Did they neglect the larger economic picture? Well, actually, no. In the "Celtic Tiger" paper, they construct a complex mathematical model to try and tease out the various factors that led to the Celtic miracle. They think that the opening up of Ireland's economy in the 1970's was very important. But the data, they argue, also suggest that the country's demographic transition played an important role as well. Bloom and Canning, apparently, are of the view that sometimes things that happen in the world happen for more than one reason.

"All of this information is quite readily available in the "Celtic Tiger" paper, which is in turn quite readily available on a marvelous invention called the world wide web. The paper itself is just under twenty pages long. It can be read in under half an hour. It's not that hard. Trust Gladwell on this one.

Was Gladwell always so prone to go into a snit like this? Or is giving speeches for $60,000 a pop and having everybody tell you they read your book on the airplane and you're a genius bad for the soul?

To be accurate, Jane Galt (whose day job is reporter for The Economist) called him "Mr. Gladwell" the three times she mentioned his name in a long post (and presumably not in the Mr. Blackwell-sense that I suggest above), so I have no idea what set off this flurry of references to himself in the third person.

Galt responds in "Malcolm Gladwell hates me" that she did read the paper and disagrees with it for some cogent reasons that she makes at length.

Gladwell's article is 4,825 words long, which means he got paid about $25,000 for it. For that kind of money, yes, I expect him to read a 20 page academic paper. I also expect him to read more than one paper. I also expect him to run some reality checks on the original paper's theory, as I did for him a couple of days ago, rather than just credulously pass it on.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

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