Tuesday, April 23, 2013

What Happens When Adam Davidson Goes On Vacation (or New York City: Cheaper For The 'Professional Class')

What happens when insidious Planet Money host and New York Times Magazine columnist Adam Davidson goes on vacation?

They replace him with Catherine Rampell, who—she’ll tell you herself, in a lede—is “an educated young woman who loves her job, sometimes gushingly, occasionally annoyingly.” You don’t say!

She also, apparently, loves Davidson’s job, given the way she’s subbed in for him while on vacation. Take for example this week’s NYT Magazine economics essay, titled Who Says New York Is Not Affordable?

Just like the previously linked essay from earlier this month, Rampell opens up with an anecdote about her own difficult life:
One of the first things you learn when living in New York is that what qualifies as wealthy somewhere else seems barely middle-class here. On the Upper West Side, where I live, it’s hard not to feel as if Manhattan is impossibly expensive for young professionals. The average nondoorman, one-bedroom apartment in the neighborhood rents for about $2,500 a month. Oatmeal-raisin cookies at Levain Bakery cost $4 each. A pair of sensible, unstylish walking flats from Harry’s Shoes can set you back $480. I suppose, by comparison, that the $198 chef’s menu at Jean-Georges doesn’t sound so ridiculous.
Rampell goes on to extoll the virtues of Manhattan not for the “rich,” but for“professional-class workers.” No, really:
Professional-class workers who like to moan about the cost of living in New York — and I’m including myself in this group — don’t realize how spoiled we are by both variety and competitive pricing. Truthfully, things seem more expensive here because there’s just way more high-end stuff around to tempt us, and we don’t do the mental accounting to adjust sticker prices for the higher quality.
Yes: Catherine Rampell invented a class of people in New York last Sunday. Which would be impressive on its own, but then there's the label she affixed to it, one that implies that a certain station of wealth capable of drawing the line in the sand for those who are worthy of being deemed “professionals.” Which, logic would follow, makes everyone under that economic station unprofessional (surely, some of her lesser-cash rich NYT colleagues would enjoy this).

You can practically hear her sigh with boredom when she gets to the How This Affects The Poors section of her piece in the second half, which is actually right at the pagination mark—for anyone reading online, you have to get to the second page to find out what poor people might have to do with all of this. This is not what we call ‘burying the lede,’ mind you, because Rampell’s M.O. gives zero fucks about poor people, who are less a lede than a obligatory aside:
There is, however, an ominous flip side to Handbury’s findings. When you look at the cost of living for low-income people based on their tastes and preferences, New York’s poor turn out to be even poorer than you think. According to her research, a household earning $15,000 a year faces approximately 20 percent higher grocery costs in cities with relatively high per-capita income. The same is very likely to be true for other essentials, like clothing. Real estate is most crushing for all but those lucky enough to get into subsidized housing. For the poor, it is impossible to unbundle apartments from all the perks that help drive up costs.
Okay, this is kinda-good, right? Except, not: Rather than explain why this is, or what we can do to fix it, Rampell explores why New York City feels like it’s changed so much the way a character on the final season of Friends might cry about the West Village losing character:
I began to realize why, in part, New York seems so wealthy. It’s not so much that the city has been colonized by hedge-fund millionaires (though it often feels that way) as it is losing its lower classes.
And then there’s her capsule summary, which, I mean,
Deep thoughts this week:
1. New Yorkers don’t shop like other Americans.
2. Which is good news for some and bad news for others.
3. Hello, Houston!
Again, this is either some of the best trolling or dumbest writing in the history of ostensibly utilitarian economics columns. Not that there’s anything wrong with Rampell trying to steal Adam Davidson’s job, or that he shouldn’t have a job stolen from him. But Davidson’s writing is, to his credit, insidious because employs subtlety—something his Koch crony colleagues (e.g. Megan McArdle) are far less adept at—or is just boring enough to convince most This American Life listeners to deem him an important presence in their lives without actually listening to anything he says.

Rampell, on the other hand, doesn’t have time for subtlety, which makes her marginally less insidious but also far more easy to identify as straight-up stupid, awful, and wholly mean-spirited. It also makes her far more entertaining, and thus, capable of holding a far more captive audience (that won't actually listen to her or read between her lines) than Davidson ever could. Which makes her dangerous to Adam Davidson, though in an ideal world, less dangerous to the marketplace of ideas (that's having a lot of—maybe too much—faith in the people that read The New York Times Magazine, though). As such,

Deep thoughts this week:
1. Catherine Rampell is an Adam Davidson crony.
2. Adam Davidson is the perfect model for nu-economists who want media careers because
3. Adam Davidson and Catherine Rampell have demonstrated that there's no money or fame in writing about or for anyone but those who can bestow in upon them.