August 29, 2005

Mickey Kaus on Malcolm Gladwell

Gladwell was a fairly original thinker for a journalist back in the 1990s (here's his rather brave 1997 article on racial differences in sports), but the opportunity to get rich has not been good for his soul. As his popularity as a corporate speaker has skyrocketed, his insight and honesty have fallen (see my review of his bestseller Blink). Mickey lashes out at a Gladwell piece on health care, then steps back to generalize perceptively about the upscale liberal reading public:

Like many New Yorker policy articles, Gladwell's reads like a lecture to an isolated, ill-informed and somewhat gullible group of highly literate children. They are cheap dates. They won't think of the obvious objections. They won't demand that you "play Notre Dame," as my boss Charles Peters used to say, and take on the best arguments for the other side. They just need to be given a bit of intellectual entertainment and pointed off in a comforting anti-Bush direction. [Like highbrow sheep?-- ed You said that.]...

Indeed, there's a huge market in this country for people who will flatter liberals about how they are culturally and ethically superior to conservatives. Just as there is plenty of money to be made telling conservatives why they are more patriotic, practical, and moral (conservatives are "moral," liberals are "ethical"). Over the years, Gladwell has been perfecting a spiel that might eventually prove the most profitable of all: he tries to appeal to his readers' capitalist greed and progressive snobbery simultaneously.

Mickey goes on:

Late hit: This is the second Gladwell article I've read that enthusiastically promotes the ideas in a book without grappling with even the obvious possible criticisms. (The other author given similar treatment was Judith Rich Harris). He's becoming the Cousin Brucie of the bien pensants! 9:59 P.M. link

In contrast, here's my essay on Harris's book The Nurture Assumption from National Review. In general, the quality of book reviewing in prestige dailies is atrocious, as the initial reviews of Freakonomics by Gladwell's buddies Levitt and Dubner displayed.

By the way, I've wondered whether Gladwell really makes $40,000 per speech for the 25 speeches he gives a year. So, a reader sent me what it cost to get P.J. O'Rourke to give a speech at a corporate shindig in the middle of the country: $32,500.

Now, P.J. was, and perhaps still is, a heck of a writer, but these days it would be hard to say he's any better than the War Nerd. So, you can see the restraining effect that being able to make $32,500 for a day's work could have on you: a single publicized "gaffe" where you tell the truth about some taboo topic and your annual corporate speaking engagement income suddenly drops to the same level as the War Nerd's: zero.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

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