National Review is looking for two full-time news writers to join our News Department and work out of our New York City office. The ideal candidate would be a news junkie who keeps a constant eye on the headlines, and who is skilled at writing up rapidly evolving situations at speed. The ideal candidate would have at least one year of experience aggregating breaking news and doing original political reporting. Those interested should send a cover letter, a resume, and some examples of their work to: email@example.com.
Kevin Williamson disputes my characterization of his riposte. He writes:
I wrote that people can choose what kind of work they want to do, and what kind of services they want to consume, without any help from Michael.
Kevin then accuses me of being a stouthearted defender of the “Real America.” If accuracy is Kevin’s complaint, he can show me where in fifteen years of writing I’ve ever used the phrase “real America” in the treacly and cynical way he accuses. It’s possible that it’s happened but I can’t recall it.
Anytime someone on the right tries to discuss whether policy is driving a trend toward more precarious employment, whether this policy is re-shaping our society in ways that are politically or socially repugnant, or why we might judge it to be so, we get diverted into this sideshow about whether the discussants have calibrated their esteem for Uber drivers and lobster processors correctly. Or how many haircuts I might get compared to my grandfather.
So let’s accept Kevin betrays no judgement or esteem save for the “revealed preferences” of our workers.
Revealed preferences against what options? I suppose the difference between Kevin’s view and my own is that I simply don’t find revealed preferences alone all that telling. Most people will try to make the best of it, the question is what “it” is.
Kevin says that workers don’t need help from me. Fine enough, I haven’t been elected. But our labor market is subject to lots of “help” or at least input from other sources. Our workers have the skills that were imparted to them by circumstance, or by mandates from various boards of education. Or they have skills that were encouraged by the massive subsidies to higher education and various fads. The financial sector’s behavior can be shaped, indirectly, by the governors of the Fed. Which in turn shapes the behavior of investors and entrepreneurs. Options are further shaped by the legislators of their states, by the legislators of their Congress in Washington, by executive order. And, of course, by the industrial policy of those nations who do a lot of business with us and seek, in the course of it, to capture high-value industries, whether for strategic, economic, or political advantage. Kevin points to the mysterium tremendum of the market at work- of revealed preferences to stop the conversation. Soon we must point to the mysterium tremendum of our large trading partner’s five year policy on economic management to try to start one.
Kevin has written quite interestingly about the social and economic stratification of India. That stratification pre-exists India’s modern economy. But how do those social facts shape democracy in India?
Should all the people who have an “input” on the shape of the American workforce, who give a little help to the real Americans wherever they live, be concerned about the results?
3. This is becoming more a part of first-world culture and it’s poison to us all: British Columbia man with ALS chooses medically assisted death after years of struggling to fund 24-hour care
Michael Brendan Dougherty writes:
In response to a column about those of us who have qualms about the explosion of service work, Kevin implies factory work is just miserable and no one wants it.
I wrote no such thing. I wrote that people can choose what kind of work they want to do, and what kind of services they want to consume, without any help from Michael.
Michael writes that it is expensive to live in the Greater New York City area. It is, as I remember. If Michael or Tucker Carlson or any of our other stouthearted defenders of the “Real America” are ready to move to it, I’ll hook them up with a great deal on a place in Levelland. Real America as far as you can point your hand.
In response to Getting Snooty about Service Jobs
In response to a column about those of us who have qualms about the explosion of service work, Kevin implies factory work is just miserable and no one wants it. Is he sure? He mentions eggs. They likely come from an industrial farm. I worked in a factory, and it had its trials, benefits, and even dangers. My father-in-law worked in a factory for decades. Lots of people — workers, not just entrepreneurs — would love to make plans that stretch that long. My brother-in-law works in a factory, and he does the midnight shift. For Kevin, factory work is just crab guts. For people in my family, the factory and its smells are a sign of major capital investment, which can be a rough market signal of stability, a place where employer and employees make long-term commitments. And that helps the employees themselves make long-term commitments at home. My brother-in-law just got engaged, hence why he took the better-paying night shift. I guess in 2019 America we could say that my brother in law has the “perk” that he won’t be terminated by app. Who is sneering here?
Kevin says (and has said before) that “anybody who wants a 1959 standard of living can have one — cheap.” I’m never quite sure what to make of this. Yes, a 20-year-old Volvo is cheap to purchase. But there are lots of people who want to economize on a car. They don’t typically buy cars that are 20, 30, or 50 years old. This isn’t because these buyers are snooty people who don’t appreciate how good they have it in the present moment, but because 1990s cars can be ruinously expensive to keep running in 2019.
And yes, I grant that homes like the ones that Kevin’s grandparents live in can be had for $20,000. Though, I’m not sure this stands in for 1959. Where I live the two words “pre-war” are used to justify a premium price, not a discount. I can look up the precise house that my grandparents bought in their 20s on a single-breadwinner salary. I lived in it with them when I was a child. It’s right there on Zillow with an estimate next to it. The house has a few updates, sure — 1950s finishes are unavailable at Home Depot — but there are no expansions. It’s smaller than the median-sized American house today, though it wasn’t then when it was relatively new. Currently the house of their 1959 lifestyle is bigger, more expensive, and closer to New York City than the one I live in now in my 30s. Kevin says it’s because I’m opting for the 2019 lifestyle. Is this the avocado-toast argument? Try buying a 1959 car seat for a child. In many states its not even legal to put a child in a 2009 car seat. Is the 1959 level of insurance available somewhere, cheap? Is it legal? Kevin says that people in 1959 economized by cutting their own hair. People in the infinitely more wealthy America of 2019 still do the same. Less often perhaps. My kids have nearly eight years of life between them now. Not one visit to the barber yet. Maybe I shouldn’t admit that, because for some reason — even though my piece argued for policymakers to think harder about policy — Kevin seems to upbraid me for not believing in the division of labor.
There is a difference between a car detailer who owns his business and a Mercedes, and a worker who enters the gig economy, or who goes into domestic service precisely because a cash job is their only legal bet. There’s also a difference between that and someone who enters the gig economy — say, a freelance Amazon delivery contractor — after having seen their career investment dry up into nothing.
And it’s useful for Kevin to point out that some service jobs are more attractive than factory jobs. These are tremendously large categories. Historically, many people loved escaping domestic service for the factory. And some people I’m sure have preferred the movement in the other direction. But not all.
My worry is that the newer type of service jobs, the ones not available in 1959, are a product of economic policies that discouraged long-term investment in American workers (at least relative to others), consequently leaving many of them in precarious arrangements that are not as useful for forming families and investing in civic life. Unfortunately, few nations have solved the modern problem. The countries with intelligent industrial policies tend to have birth rates as bad or worse than ours, though they are blessed with moderate political cultures. We were once so blessed. But, as Kevin reminds us, we were cutting our own hair then.
I noted yesterday that many in the press are helping Beto O’Rourke use an Orwellian euphemism — “mandatory buy-back” — to describe his federal gun-confiscation plan. Today, the Washington Post demonstrates another way in which certain figures within the media are helping to launder his extremism:
Former Texas congressman Beto O’Rourke unveiled a detailed gun-control proposal this morning that calls for a “mandatory buyback program for assault weapons and a voluntary buyback program for handguns.” Critics say this would amount to government confiscation of firearms that people have bought legally.
Of course, “critics say” that O’Rourke’s plan “would amount to government confiscation of firearms that people have bought legally,” because O’Rourke’s plan would . . . amount to government confiscation of firearms that people have bought legally. That’s the whole point. That’s what “mandatory” means. As the Post confirms, under O’Rourke’s plan “individuals who fail to sell their assault rifles” would be punished. What else should the “critics” say? What, for that matter, should the non-critics say?
The same day The Guardian published a story on the travails of the white New School professor Laurie Sheck, who was under investigation for using the n-word in quotation of James Baldwin, and after the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) got involved on the professor’s behalf, it has emerged that the New School has dropped the case and properly exonerated Sheck in a letter dated August 14. The New School’s letter to Sheck is here. “We have determined that you did not violate the University’s policy on discrimination,” it reads. (There is no apology.) The New School convened a meeting with Sheck way back on June 27.
“If I have a hope for what can come out of this, it is for a university community that seeks to open itself in the deepest and most informed of ways to the exchange and contemplation of ideas about which there is genuine urgency and concern but not consensus,” said Sheck in a FIRE press release. “It is crucial that the right to do this be protected.”
Sheck quoted Baldwin’s use of the n-word in a course on “radical questioning” in writing. She noted that the celebrated 2016 documentary about Baldwin misquoted him by using the title I Am Not Your Negro — he used the slur, not the word “Negro” — and “asked her students what this change may reveal about Americans’ ability to reckon with what Baldwin identified as ‘the darker forces of history,'” FIRE reported. Two students complained; at least one, according to the professor, was a white person who said Sheck, as a white person, was not allowed to speak the word out loud.
Under Obamacare, states have the option of expanding their Medicaid programs to cover residents who earn up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level, overwhelmingly at federal expense: For every $100 a state spends on its expansion, taxpayers nationwide chip in at least $90. Unsurprisingly, states seem less than enthusiastic about restricting the expansion to people who actually qualify for it, as Brian Blase and Aaron Yelowitz lay out in a Wall Street Journal piece.
The latest research on this issue, released earlier this week, is a paper that Yelowitz co-authored. It finds that much of the increase in Medicaid enrollment, as measured by the American Community Survey, seems to be among people above 138 percent of poverty:
We examine 21 states where alternative routes for higher-income, abled-bodied, working-age adults to qualify for Medicaid were essentially non-existent prior to the implementation of the ACA in 2014. Of these 21 states, 9 of them implemented full Medicaid expansions to 138% of the FPL in 2014, while 12 of them never implemented expansions (as of 2019). . . .
We find that the 2014 Medicaid expansions led to a 3.0 percentage point increase in Medicaid enrollment among working-age adults with incomes at or above 138% of the FPL, a sizable effect from a baseline rate of 2.7%. This translates into approximately 522,000 seemingly income-ineligible enrollees across the 9 states, and 47% of the entire gain in insurance coverage for these relatively higher income adults [who are supposed to enroll on the exchanges, not through Medicaid]. . . .
While we cannot say with certainty why these individuals were able to participate in Medicaid, we offer several potential explanations that should be explored further in future work. One possible reason — echoed in longstanding literature on effective tax rates in welfare programs (Ziliak 2007) — is that the way ACA rules are enforced in states or localities differ from formal federal policy. In practice, issues of prospectively forecasting income for the next calendar year along with anticipating possible deductions in order to compute modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) could lead to income-ineligible individuals receiving Medicaid instead of Marketplace coverage. It is also possible that these findings are attributable to measurement error in either insurance coverage or income in the ACS.
In the study’s Medicaid-expanding states, working-age Medicaid enrollment grew by 1.6 million between 2012 and 2017. If 522,000 enrollments are incorrect, that’s a big problem.
It’s worth stressing, as the authors do, that the data here come from surveys of individuals — who might misreport their earnings or benefit receipt. But if the estimate is even in the right ballpark, federal taxpayers are doling out a lot of money to fund benefits for people who don’t qualify for them, and this problem should be addressed.
I will take issue with the WSJ piece on one particular, however: the claim that in a Louisiana audit, “82% of expansion enrollees were ineligible at some point during the year they were enrolled.” As I laid out on Twitter earlier this year when I first became aware of this claim, it appears to be based on a misreading of a very confusingly written government report. The auditors did a quick search of the data to find people who seemed ineligible, and upon further investigation found that about 82 percent of those pre-selected people indeed were.
In something of a miracle, Sir John Tomlinson speaks almost as beautifully as he sings. I mean the quality of his voice — his speaking voice. And what he says. He is wonderfully eloquent, and you can learn a lot from him.
Sir John is an eminent British bass, now appearing at the Salzburg Festival. He took part in a series of conversations we have here, and we turned this session into a podcast — a Q&A, here.
We talked about his growing up in Lancashire; his development as a singer; what life is like as a bass; the mystery of Britishness in music; and many other things. Sir John was born in 1946, in a community with lots of music-making. Not just listening to the radio and that sort of thing — actual music-making, in church, brass bands, men’s choirs, etc. Is that all gone now? What difference does it make?
Anyway, you will enjoying listening to Sir John Tomlinson. And he does more than talk: He does a fair amount of singing in the course of this conversation — including the opening of Boris Godunov. Not bad. Not bad at all.
Michael Brendan Dougherty writes: “There’s nothing wrong with being a barre instructor. There’s nothing wrong with detailing cars. But we should be wary of the social and political effects of an economy that encourages the creation of these types of jobs instead of others.” The nation’s barre instructors and car detailers no doubt would express their gratitude to Michael for his affirmation, if only they knew how.
Question: Where is the evidence supporting the use of the word “instead” in that sentence?
It is likely that the alternative to working in a service job is unemployment or another service job rather than the “others” that Michael says he prefers. Lots of people say they prefer those jobs, too. But their revealed preferences say otherwise. If you want to work in a food-processing plant, Alaska awaits. Delta is ready when you are.
More to the point: “The economy” doesn’t create service jobs. Disposable income and a desire for more leisure time create service jobs. My grandparents raised chickens. I get my eggs from somebody else who raises chickens. Why? Because raising chickens is not a very good use of my time, and the other guy has really, really good eggs. There are a lot of people who have the opportunity to raise chickens. But, strangely, most of them prefer the grocery store.
Michael writes about his envy of his grandparents’ generation. “They were part of America’s post-war middle class,” he writes, “really, an affluent proletariat.” As I’ve pointed out before, the “proletariat” of that time was not really very affluent at all, and anybody who wants a 1959 standard of living can have one — cheap. You can buy yourself a 20-year-old Volvo for about two grand and have a better car than a millionaire had in the postwar golden years. You can buy a house typical of my grandparents’ generation for about $20,000 in a place like Liberal, Kansas, or Borger, Texas, where some of our affluent proletarian ancestors worked in carbon-black plants. They still do, in Borger, and other towns like that. In fact, there are jobs open at carbon-black plants right now. Get thee to Ponca City, Okla.
My grandparents, like Michael’s, lived in a very different America. They cut their own hair and made their own clothes, and they saved money on entertainment by spending their afternoons and evenings picking cotton and canning their own food. In their view, at the time, people who did otherwise were symptomatic of a “labor market drifting toward service work for the rich,” as Michael quotes Oren Cass telling the story. The difference between a service job in 1963 and a service job today is that our grandparents did not sneer at barbers for being barbers, or judge that they had failed in life because they weren’t down on the assembly line bolting bumpers on Buicks.
Why not cut your own hair? Why not make your own clothes? Why not grow your own food? Why not dig your own well and provide your own water? If the answers to those questions seems obvious, why is it so difficult to imagine that we who are radically wealthiest than our grandparents also consume services that were not common in the Eisenhower years or the Kennedy years?
The guy who details my car drives a Mercedes. He owns his own business and gives no indication that he feels victimized by his situation. If only he knew what he was missing! He could be plucking a chicken for his dinner! He could be a yeoman! The poor prole just doesn’t know any better.
These days, you seldom find real debates over important public issues on our college campuses. That is the finding of political-science professor George La Noue in his book Silenced Stages. In today’s Martin Center article, I review it.
Intimidation from leftist bullies has succeeded in making many school officials wary of hosting non-leftist speakers both individually and as debaters. That’s a serious intellectual loss. Students don’t get to see how the exchange of arguments and counter-arguments works to advance understanding and sharpen the mind.
La Noue writes, “Opening up spaces for different ideas can be pursued by sponsoring on-campus debates and forums about important policy issues. That action will send a message to groups that when offended they do not have the right to suppress speech they do not like. Moreover, debates can create recognition and a space for dissenting ideas that will enrich classroom discussions, research agendas, and hiring decisions Policy debates can function like tilling exhausted soil so that new life can grow.”
Exhausted soil — that’s a good description of many college campuses. School officials should forget about their fixation over “diversity” and focus on something that’s really lacking, namely respectful intellectual combat. At least some of our students who are utterly certain of their correctness might one of those, “Wait — I never thought about that” moments if they listened to a good debate.
Building the Middle Ages one LEGO Brick at a Time.
National Geographic shows you how easily rats can swim up through your toilet.
Florida company offering ‘alien abduction insurance’ has sold nearly 6,000 policies.
The surprisingly interesting history of the lightbulb.
ICYMI, most recent links are here, and include the anniversary of the battle of Thermopylae, washing machine history, Churchillian and Shakespearean insults, underwater wine cellars, and why only some people remember dreams.
Ridiculous, but true: Laurie Sheck, a white New School professor in downtown Manhattan, is in trouble after she brought up for discussion James Baldwin’s use of the n-word. She pointed out that the acclaimed documentary about Baldwin is entitled “I Am Not Your Negro” . . . yet “negro” is not the n-word used by Baldwin in that remark, made on The Dick Cavett Show. She asked the class to consider why this bowdlerization happened. Sheck tells Inside Higher Education that a white student complained about her speaking the n-word aloud and that some sort of investigation ensued.
“With a new semester approaching, Sheck isn’t sure where she stands at the New School,” reports IHE. She’s heard almost nothing from the institution since a June meeting, during which she was accused of saying the N-word in class while quoting the black writer James Baldwin.” A faculty union advised/strongly hinted that she should take a “conciliatory position,” such as “by changing her curriculum, providing trigger warnings or having students read potentially offending passages themselves, instead of out loud,” IHE reported.
Sheck has impeccable credentials — she was shortlisted for the Pulitzer and has contributed to The New Yorker and The Paris Review. “I haven’t done anything wrong,” she told IHE. “So what we’re trying to do here is get things out in the open. When these things are covert and people feel quietly intimidated into changing the syllabus, that’s not going to help students. It just feels like enough is enough.”
She has asked the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education to help clear her name. FIRE is asking the New School to drop its investigation. Recall that the chief communications officer for Netflix, Jonathan Friedland, was fired after advising employees that the word “retard” was just as offensive as the n-word, which he used in a meeting. In other words, just pronouncing these syllables aloud, without supporting or expressing racism in any way, is an excellent way to get yourself in hot water, whether it’s in corporate America or a university. The New School, by the way, has a proud history of supporting the Frankfurt School, so this is another instance of circular gunfire on the left.
1. Russell Moore talks with Kay Warren about mental illness, suicide, and living with the death of her son.
3. Naomi Schaefer Riley on legislation in New York that would make it harder to help kids in seriously neglectful situations
“With private help now bid up to $50 an hour, Janet and her two sisters have been forced to do what millions of families in an aging America have done: take up second, unpaid jobs caring full time for their [elderly] mother” https://t.co/9z0gup5Ufm
— W Bradford Wilcox (@WilcoxNMP) August 15, 2019
I know how horrid Twitter can be at its worst, but for me, it's mostly a wonderful diversion from the trials of a caregiver's life. All I have to do is push a button and suddenly I'm at a cocktail party full of nice, smart, interesting, caring people. Bless you all!
— Terry Teachout (@TerryTeachout1) August 15, 2019
7. The Washington Post is hiring a “social issues” editor, which includes religion.
9. Notre Dame acquires G.K. Chesterton’s library
10. Someone will appreciate this: What Hans Urs von Balthasar learned from St. Ignatius
While Republicans in Washington are talking about the possibility of passing a “red-flag” law and expanding background checks for gun sales, 2020 Democrats continue to put the Assault Weapons Ban front and center.
2020 frontrunner Joe Biden published a New York Times op-ed this week promising to reinstate the ban if elected president, and he’s blaming the failure to pass it on “weak-willed leaders who care more about their campaign coffers than children in coffins.” This incendiary attack is odd given the fact that the Obama-Biden administration never led Democrats to even hold a vote on the ban—nor any other gun-control measure—when there were 60 Democrats in the Senate and nearly 260 in the House.
If Democrats didn’t have the will to pass the Assault Weapons Ban back then, is there any reason to think they would actually have the votes to pass the if they take back the Senate and the White House in 2020? It’s possible but very unlikely, even if they abolish the filibuster.
Not a single Republican in the Senate, not even moderate Susan Collins of Maine, backed the ban the last time it received a vote in the Senate in 2013. Seven of the sixteen Democrats who voted against the ban in 2013 are still serving: Michael Bennet (Colorado), Martin Heinrich (New Mexico), Angus King (Maine), Joe Manchin (West Virginia), Jon Tester (Montana), Tom Udall (New Mexico), Mark Warner (Virginia). And Democrats have picked up a couple new members who have been cagey about the ban: Kyrsten Sinema (Arizona) and Doug Jones (Alabama).
It’s possible to imagine most of these Democratic senators flip-flopping on the issue (Mark Warner already has done so) if they were under pressure. But it’s very hard to see Joe Manchin and Jon Tester ever voting for the ban, a move that would very likely end their political careers.
So Democrats and gun-control activists, in their best-case scenario, would likely need to hold at least 52 Senate seats and abolish the filibuster to pass the ban in 2021.
Right now, Republicans control the Senate 53 to 47, and it will be quite a difficult task for Democrats to pick up five seats. They have to defend a seat in deep-red Alabama, but also have pick-up opportunities in the blue and purple states of Maine, Colorado, Arizona, North Carolina, and Iowa. If Democrats don’t run the table these races, they’d need look for one or more pick-ups in red states—such as Georgia, Texas, or Montana—to get to 52 seats. Again, that seems very unlikely but not impossible.
The Walt Disney Co. is at an inflection point. It has proved a mammoth success with family entertainment, not to mention its ABC programming, but ever since it dumped Miramax in 2010 it has proved averse to edgy and R-rated fare. The challenge it faces is that entertainment-industry oracles think it isn’t big enough. Look at Netflix’s market cap: $129 billion. That’s more than half of Disney’s $241 billion, and Netflix pretty much just does streaming — no theme parks, no ESPN, no 75 years of beloved characters and stories, etc. Disney is taking on Netflix directly by both launching the Disney+ streaming service in November (that’s for families) and also by buying the rest of Hulu, so Hulu can be Disney’s brand for programming not aimed at families. Pursuant to this, Disney bought 20th Century Fox to beef up its production slate.
With Fox Disney acquired a bunch of . . . odd stuff. Everything Fox had waiting to go since Disney bought it has flopped (Dark Phoenix, Stuber, and now The Art of Racing in the Rain). Fox’s arthouse unit, Fox Searchlight, whose proud history includes Sideways, Little Miss Sunshine and Slumdog Millionaire, has a bunch of stuff that looks pretty peculiar coming from the House of Mouse. Next up is a Hitler satire, Jojo Rabbit.
Jojo is directed by the New Zealander Taika Waititi, who worked on Flight of the Conchords and became a big-time movie director with Thor: Ragnarok. It debuts next month at the Toronto Film Festival, and Disney is already expressing jitters about it. Apparently it’s a “cutting-edge satire” about a boy with an idiotic imaginary friend named Adolf Hitler. So, this isn’t Toy Story 5. But then again, if Disney is going to be the all-things-to-all-people offering that Netflix has built, it can’t just do kiddie stuff. Nevertheless, a Disney exec grew “audibly uncomfortable” during a screening, reports Variety. Disney CEO Bob Iger was so angry with his new Fox unit that a quarterly earnings call was compared to a “public hanging” by a producer quoted in Variety. Fox-at-Disney still has the Brad Pitt space epic Ad Astra coming, plus the Avatar sequels, but I worry that Chateau Mouse will shy away from doing interesting movies if Jojo Rabbit flops. And Jojo Rabbit sounds like exactly the kind of movie that will flop unless it is given expert marketing attention. Does Disney have the will to back this film?