I know it’s been conventional wisdom for a while that Yglesias has gone downhill since moving to Slate, but he seems to be reaching new lows. He’s now done two columns that are literally just him going to a random JCPenney and looking at stuff. He adds in some very superficial analysis of what his observations imply about the company’s various changes of strategic direction, but this is just astonishingly shoddy stuff. There are so many uncontrolled variables that this isn’t anywhere near useful as serious research, and it’s too boring to even be entertaining as fluffy journalism. It’s unfortunate, because well-done business journalism can be really interesting, and Yglesias is a very talented writer who can be very entertaining when he tries. This is in addition to all his other recent missteps, most grievously his horribly tone-deaf post on the factory collapse in Bangladesh and equally tone-deaf response to all the people who criticized him for it. Overall, it’s increasingly looking like his future is as an increasingly marginal contrarian safely ensconced at Slate but not otherwise very influential.
I find this especially unfortunate because he seemed to have so much potential. He’s always had problems with glibness and superficiality, and I disagree strongly with some of his long-held beliefs on certain issues, but he’s a very smart guy and a good writer, and overall I agree with both his overall approach to policy and his positions on most issues (including important but under-discussed ones like local land-use regulation). For a while it seemed like he was a rising star who would go on to greater influence and learn enough in the process to overcome his lack of real-world knowledge of stuff, but his move to Slate seems to have disrupted that trajectory and now he’s on a different and less promising path. Oh well.