February 11, 2014

MEGAN MCARDLE: What AOL’s Tim Armstrong Got Right.

What he said about the effects of changing the 401(k) match isn’t exactly true, however — it’s not just people who leave the company who will pay. All the AOL workers who contribute to a 401(k) will miss out on gains they might have made over the course of the year, had AOL stuck with its old program. In a boom year, that could add up to thousands of dollars.

But relatively few people objected to Armstrong’s misleading characterization of the 401(k) plan. Instead, the Internet went all atwitter at Armstrong for daring to mention that babies with special medical needs cost a lot, and that the money had to come from somewhere.1 The mother of one of the babies wrote a moving piece for Slate about her daughter’s “catastrophic birth,” which went viral even though it didn’t actually seem to rebut anything Armstrong had said. Fei’s baby is beautiful, and all of us are very glad that modern medicine was able to give her a shot at life she wouldn’t have had 20 years ago. But Armstrong didn’t say that he wished the babies weren’t alive; he just said they were expensive. . . .

Myself, I think AOL made absolutely the right choice: saving Deanna Fei’s baby, not 401(k) matches for job-switchers. But people seem mad at Armstrong for saying that this is a choice — that the resources to pay for such babies do not just materialize out of some primordial miasma surrounding the maternity ward but must be redirected from something else.

But he made a woman feel bad about her situation, which is an unforgivable sin in today’s America. If you’re actually right, that only makes the sin graver, since the woman might feel even worse.