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"Write out of love, write out of instinct, write out of reason. But always for money."
Louis Untermeyer


The Burden of Bad Ideas
How Modern Intellectuals Misshape our Society

By Heather Mac Donald 
Ivan R. Dee, 242 pp, 2000

In publishing this book, the world learned that journalist and think tank fellow Heather Mac Donald has reached that status in which old, recycled articles from other publications are deemed worthy enough to appear in book form. Those looking for an original work, as I was, will be disappointed.

Because I hadn't read any of these articles, though, the disappointment was mild. Most of them appeared in City Journal throughout the 1990s. I don't read the City Journal, never have, probably never will. I don't have anything against the magazine. There is only so much time during the day, and I already struggle to stay current with the magazines I do read.

I don't have a lot to say about this book. The articles are dated and could have used some editing. For example, when Mac Donald mentions dates like "next March" and "late 1995," it's a bit jarring. You'd think the editor could have cleaned up some of those references to make the article seem less old.

Most of the essays are standard conservative fare - Mac Donald shows government programs to help the poor are inefficient and wasteful, not to mention harmful to those who are supposed to benefit. Little in this book is surprising to most conservatives and libertarians.

There are a few original stories, though. Perhaps the most interesting was Mac Donald's inspection of the New York Times Hundred Neediest Cases. She explains how it began during the Depression and then changed into something barely recognizable in subsequent decades. The Times, for example, used to distinguish between the "deserving" poor and those who were poor because of their own irresponsible behavior. Not anymore - now all behavior is coddled or excused, no matter how tragic the consequences. Few attempts are made anymore to encourage irresponsible people to change their ways.

Mac Donald also examines how liberal endowments like the Ford Foundation have corrupted American society with their grants and feel-good programs.

Other than that, the book is a standard conservative/libertarian critique of much of the hot-button social issues of the 1990s, like political correctness and the Smithsonian and government subsidies to drug dealers. For those readers not familiar with these issues, you'll probably be surprised and dismayed at how your tax dollars are wasted.

Heather Mac Donald is a fine writer and deserves credit for reporting these stories. I just wish this book had been an original work rather than recycled work.

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