How to Anger Absolutely Everyone: Notes From a Passionate Centrist

Simultaneously occupying the roles of Milton Friedman and Emma Goldman is no mean feat, but, somehow, I’ve managed it over the past few years.

During the day, I worked in emerging markets distressed investment, where I would frequently battle with my friend about his love of Mitt Romney and voice my support for Obamacare and Dodd Frank. I became the team socialist.

But at night, when I went home to my English-major friends, my interest, and, I’ll admit it, my love of markets rendered me suspect. It didn’t help when I pointed out that Benny really had a point in Rent.

To be a liberal feminist today – at least to be one on the Internet – one must hold the following to be true: (1) all rich people (who are not entertainers) are inherently evil; (2) everything is superior in Europe, or better yet, Scandinavia; and (3) everyone who works in finance is an amoral alpha male who thinks The Catcher in the Rye is about baseball. Heresy may not be a popular stance, but I’m a liberal feminist who prefers many finance bros to France’s 35-hour workweek.

Now, I don’t support laissez-faire economic policies, I don’t believe “tax cuts” are always the correct answer, and I agree that income inequality (and climate change) are the most serious problems we currently face. But I also think high corporate income tax rates and strict labor laws often backfire, and I don’t think investment bankers are dementors with pitch decks. I would vote for Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren if my only other choices were Donald Trump and Gary Johnson. But I wouldn’t be happy about my options.

In short, I tend to anger everyone, and never more so than when I try to defend finance. Although I often hear people say “investment banker” like it’s an ethnic slur. few of these people have any idea what an investment banker does. Or a commercial banker, for that matter, as evidenced by the fact that my reference to NIM is normally met with blank stares. And this is a problem.

First, it’s a problem because the vast majority of people employed in finance are not masters of the universe who commute via Teterboro. The vast majority are men and women who commute via New Jersey Transit. This is not John Meriwether playing “liar’s poker” with John Gutfreund. This is Marc in compliance telling you about his 3-year-old’s birthday. Marc is not the enemy.

More importantly, this lack of knowledge is a problem because finance is the backbone of the global economy, and, a decade after the start of the financial crisis, finance is still a backbone with many fractures. And the industry won’t be fixed in the current climate, with Gordon Gekko on one side and Bernie Sanders on the other. The right has monopolized the financial conversation, leaving centrist Democrats in the bizarre position of having to apologize for the unspeakable sin of understanding comparative advantage. When Hillary was forced to defend capitalism in the first primary debate, you could almost hear her thinking, “Really, we’re having this conversation again?”.

Having this conversation isn’t going to advance the cause of economic justice or minority rights. It’s going to make purists feel good about themselves and leave the greedy comforted in the knowledge that the opposition is still stuck somewhere in 1968. Debating how best to bring back the past is not only useless; it’s dangerous. We’re accomplishing nothing while the far right — which is currently the entire right — is unwinding the New Deal and the Civil Rights Act.

Centrism often gets a bad rap, either because it’s considered mealy-mouthed or because it’s embodied by David Brooks. But centrism isn’t about finding a compromise between positions: it’s a position all its own that prizes pragmatism over ideology. While it may never be as fun being a centrist as it is being a firebrand, firebrands burn out. Centrists are left to clean up the ashes.

Spoiler Alert: You’re Old

When I was in my late twenties, a 30-year-old acquaintance told me she was pregnant. In most populations, this would be considered a fairly normal occurrence, and the proper response would include one part squealing and two parts envy. But my immediate response was not to ask the due date or inquire about possible names. My immediate response was shock: wow, babies having babies. Let me repeat: she was 30. If this were a Jane Austen novel, a 30-year-old woman would already be a mother of four or an avowed spinster with an unhealthy interest in cribbage. And if this were Paleolithic times, a 30-year-old woman would, statistically speaking, be dead. But like many urban women under 30, I still believed that ovaries were entirely ornamental and that real life was something that happened tomorrow.

I wasn’t the only person under this delusion. Few of my New York friends were married, let alone packing diapers. And despite our claims that we lived in New York because we were so career oriented, we mostly dabbled in professional life without much direction. We all claimed that we were working in administrative positions because we wanted to write or direct or act, but, with very few exceptions, no one actually did any of these things. In theory, we were all very creative. In reality, we mostly just went to brunch. We existed in a perpetual post-college phase—a term that seemed increasingly ridiculous when we started receiving notices for our ten-year-high-school reunions. Even though we logically knew our parents were settled into careers and families by our age, we still considered ourselves firmly within our salad days. But then 30 hit, and something started to shift. Continue reading “Spoiler Alert: You’re Old”

Pinterest Is the New Vibrator

The target market for the 21st-century cult of domesticity may include everyone from Brooklyn makers to Salt Lake City sister wives, but, up until recently, I never thought it would include me. All of my cooking involved a George Foreman grill, and I honestly didn’t understand what one would possibly do with a whisk or, for that matter, an iron. When I heard about some efficiency-obsessed San Francisco programmer who invented a food(ish) product that could provide all of your daily calories and nutrients, I immediately checked the price. (It’s $65 a week in case you’re interested.) So I wasn’t a domestic goddess or even a domestic cleric. I was more like the stock photo of a single girl used in every article about America’s declining birth rate. But then I embarked on a search for an oatmeal-colored sofa, and everything changed. Continue reading “Pinterest Is the New Vibrator”

Why I’m a Picky Single Woman in Brooklyn

Image Credit: New York Observer
Image Credit: New York Observer

Should we believe the recent New York Post assertion that Brooklyn women are the nation’s pickiest? I’m suspicious if only because this claim manages to cram three of the trendiest of all trend topics—single women, online dating, and, of course, Brooklyn—into a 250-word article. I was shocked that they didn’t manage to squeeze Miley Cyrus in there as well. That was a missed opportunity. But the brief article does offer the standard picture of outer-borough dating with entitled women, lazy men, and the obligatory use of the word “artisanal.” Lurking beneath this generalization is the assumption that single women are a problem and that this problem is the result of our heightened expectations. Why won’t we just respond to the dudes sending us unsolicited dick pics on OKCupid? Why won’t we be chill and engage in a commitment-free non-relationship with a guy who takes voting advice from Russell Brand? What’s wrong with us? Don’t we know that our ovaries aren’t a renewable resource? Haven’t we read the statistics about marrying after 40? Yes we do, and yes we have. But, perhaps, shockingly, some of us would still rather be happy than be married. Continue reading “Why I’m a Picky Single Woman in Brooklyn”

The Year I Stopped Reading Men

Image via Morgan Learning Solutions
Image via Morgan Learning Solutions

It happened while I was reading a perfectly normal novel by a perfectly normal author: Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom, to be specific. Although I had read The Corrections during the Oprah kerfuffle and responded with an equivocal “meh,” I finished this novel in a fit of gender rage. Have you ever met a woman who would be cool with her husband converting their vacation home into a bird sanctuary named after his dead girlfriend? I have not. As my self-righteous anger escalated, I started to wonder where this fury was coming from. Sure, Freedom is sexist, but so are scores of books, many films, and every show that has ever aired on CBS. Why the feminist rage? But then it hit me. Freedom was different from every other book I had read in 2013. It was written by a man.

I hadn’t planned to swear off men. It just happened. Reading women turns out to be an occupational hazard of starting a gender and culture blog. Shocking, I know. And there were just so many women to read. Zadie Smith, Shelia Heti, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Meg Wolitzer, Chinelo Okparanta, Rachel Kushner, Claire Messud, Susan Choi, Lauren Beukes—90% of all YA authors. I was enmeshed in a veritable cornucopia of lady talent. But when I finally emerged from this estrogen bubble—dizzy and smelling of vanilla lotion—everything seemed a bit off. Continue reading “The Year I Stopped Reading Men”