Tuesday, June 21, 2005

I'm going to annoy some of you by saying this, but I think John Tierney is marginally more bearable than David Brooks. Brooks gets more kind words from the left, but virtually everything he writes leads to the same conclusion: that latte-swilling coastal knowledge workers constitute a noxious nationwide blight that threatens Virtue, a hardy but endangered crop native to Middle America. Tierney, by contrast, says a lot of stupid things, but what he wants to be is not an ideologue but a freakonomist -- he likes to baffle readers with unexpected notions, and one or two of them may actually contradict his libertarian ideology. Consider his current column, in which he gives two reasons that an employer might not hire a senior-citizen job-seeker:

Given a choice between two equally qualified candidates, whom would you hire, a 35-year-old who could be quickly demoted or fired if he turns out to be incompetent, or a 65-year-old who could sue you for age discrimination?

A more immediate reason not to hire the 65-year-old is that he would be more expensive to add to the company health plan. If federal policy were changed to allow older full-time workers to rely primarily on Medicare instead of on their employer, they'd have a much better shot at jobs.

Yeah, that first one is pure libertarianism, but give the guy a begrudging golf clap: In the second one he's actually urging the expansion of a federal social program.

As a New Yorker and a renter, I've long loathed Tierney's take on the city's rent laws -- rent control and rent stabilization may be a bad solution to the city's shortage of affordable housing within reasonable commuting distance from Downtown and Midtown, but his alternative is no solution whatsoever, i.e., throwing all New Yorkers into a pitiless free market; the inability to tack more land onto the five boroughs means supply will never meet demand at a reasonable price. (Incidentally, Atrios, to some extent, agrees with Tierney on this issue.)

On the other hand, Tierney has denounced car alarms as a useless nuisance in a city where absolutely no one takes them seriously -- and he's 100% correct about that. That's the Tierney I think might surprise us (once in a great while) -- the playful (if painfully cheery) guy who looks for odd angles.

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