you're probably looking for Matt's new digs at Slate, which can be found here. I noticed a recent uptick of hits on this post because people are Googling "Yglesias Slate" and come here. You can read on if you like, but to me this is a dead issue and I'd just as soon you read other more recent blog posts of mine as opposed to this one.
That said, I'm writing this addendum before the post to set a few things straight:
Matt and I are cool. We're not going for ice cream together any time in the forseeable future, but this was a spat from nearly two years ago because neither of us was feeling particularly charitable toward the other. I didn't understand where his unspoken shift from businessman meaning 'business owner' to businessman meaning 'rent-seeking Master of the Universe' was and the subsequent placement of nominally anti-immigrant condescension in the MOTU was somewhat unfair, but I overstated it. Likewise, he has a tendency to bite the heads off trolls on Twitter now and again, so it's totally understandable that he reacted the way he did.
Thanks for stopping by. JPB
So, in the mess that was the Health Care vote last night, I was checking Twitter for the various 140 character reax from conservatives, liberals and libertarians whom I follow. I noticed a tweet from Tim Carney referencing a post on rent-seeking earlier in the day from Matt Yglesias, late of the Atlantic and now a blogger at ThinkProgress: (In its original entirety)
As long as we’re talking about intellectual influences, I thought I might talk about an idea that’s important to me that, as best I can tell, I thought up all by myself. I don’t want to claim that it’s actually original—and certainly one way to think about it is that it’s just public choice economics looked at through the other end of the telescope—but I didn’t read it anywhere.Having read this--and not really knowing what to make of it--I tweeted:
This is an idea about the simple story you’ll find in your intro micro textbook about the behavior of a perfectly competitive market. The normal way people seem to react to this story is that people with right-wing views start talking about how bad government intervention is and people with left-wing views start talking about how unrealistic the assumptions underlying the model are. But another way is to think about it from the point of view of a businessman. This competitive market sure looks like a horrible place! You might make a living there, but you sure as hell aren’t going to get rich. Think of the immigrant family that owns the dry cleaning shop around the corner—long hours, hard work, modest income. That’s your capitalism and it pretty much sucks.
Obviously the whole reason to become a businessman in the first place is to get rich. Operating a business in a competitive marketplace is for suckers, or immigrants with limited English ability. The whole name of the game is to do something else. Get a license for something. Get into a line of work with network effects. Win government contracts. Get your hands on some intellectual property. Become a monopoly. Find some barriers to entry. If you think about Bill Gates, who’s about as successful a businessman as they’ve got, and he’s doing a whole bunch of those things simultaneously. That’s how you get rich.
From a formal point of view, you could consider this a libertarian analysis. But I don’t think the formal aspects of ideology are very important, and it has relatively little to do with any concrete political program I see anyone trying to advance. And to me it suggests that people overrate tax cuts as a means to spur capitalistic growth.
Shorter @mattyglesias: Working immigrants' life "pretty much sucks" http://ow.ly/1pa1I || wonder why they don't all leave then? #opportunityAs befits an Ivy League educated journo/talking head, Yglesias picked up and responded with the title of this post. Stay classy, Matt.
Given that we have a number of mutual friends and that my few brief personal encounters with him have been generally positive, I have developed a certain respect for Yglesias. I don't agree with what he says more often than not, but usually his writing is thoughtful and I have learned from him.
But the post I reprinted above is simply garbage, and well beneath him. Despite my deficiencies, I would like to flesh out my thoughts on the post.
The first paragraph sets no discernible tone for the piece. It's simply superfluous, but I'm as guilty as anyone for writing my train of thought too literally and, additionally, working without strict editing constraints sometimes leads to sub-par posts. c'est la blogging.
In the second graf, Matt moves from banality to straw-man land. He couches his forthcoming argument about rent-seeking in political Left versus Right terms, but then puts the reader in the position of an entrepreneurial businessman and the narrative takes an unsettling turn: (again):
But another way is to think about it from the point of view of a businessman. This competitive market sure looks like a horrible place! You might make a living there, but you sure as hell aren’t going to get rich. Think of the immigrant family that owns the dry cleaning shop around the corner—long hours, hard work, modest income. That’s your capitalism and it pretty much sucks.Maybe it's my aforementioned stupidity, but I don't see the argumentative value of the two swipes at immigrants. I have no reason to believe Yglesias is a quasi-nationalist American exceptionalist who views all fer'ners as the "other"--so I can only operate on the assumption that this implicit suckers/immigrants comparison is projected upon the business owner.
Obviously the whole reason to become a businessman in the first place is to get rich. Operating a business in a competitive marketplace is for suckers, or immigrants with limited English ability.
As my tweet implied, the immigrants of limited English capacity are probably, in fact, very grateful for the opportunities this country gives them and for the opportunities they could pass on to their children. Yet, I fail to see how their national origin would in any way differentiate their motivations for busting their asses and providing for their families from the businessman in whose mind Yglesias puts his readers. I don't think my father and his now-deceased brothers began a janitorial and security service with the expectations they were going to become the next Brinks or join the ranks of those numerous millionaire janitors that pepper the country. Of course, there is nothing wrong with wanting to be "rich," but I don't think most entrepreneurs start businesses with greatly exaggerated expectations of wealth. After all, the harsh realities would set in rather quickly and all non-millionaire-making ventures would probably fold in short order once the owner realized that so much time, work, and energy was necessary to simply provide for his family and make the lives of his customers and employees better.
I don't know Matt well enough to understand his intentions for projecting this disdain for the sucker/fer'ner into the mind of your average American businessman. One could read either he actually does think their life sucks or that entrepreneurs look down their noses at them. Either way, I don't see what it has to do with anything, and that he did it twice is just odd.
I agree that rent-seeking is bad, but your average entrepreneur never gets to the monopolist/professional rent-seeker status he alludes to. Indeed, one has to first attain more than moderate success to influence the government in the ways Matt describes--thus undercutting the crux of whatever argument he was trying to make.
And to that end, the last graf doesn't clarify what exactly that point was. Um, tax cuts? Disparaging the immigrants who work tirelessly to make a demonstrably better life in America than they had in their native country is a novel way of criticizing tax policy, I'll grant you, but hardly illuminating.
The post was crap, and apparently I'm stupid for saying so. Can anyone explain to me what sublime brilliance--or, I'd settle for a cogent point, actually--I missed in his post?