Capital Matters

The Fed Sees More Trouble Ahead

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Federal Reserve Board Chairman Jerome Powell pauses during a news conference in Washington, D.C., September 21, 2022. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

The Federal Open Market Committee raised the federal funds rate by 75 basis points today. It’s the third consecutive 75-point increase.

The FOMC’s statement on its decision says:

Recent indicators point to modest growth in spending and production. Job gains have been robust in recent months, and the unemployment rate has remained low. Inflation remains elevated, reflecting supply and demand imbalances related to the pandemic, higher food and energy prices, and broader price pressures.

But their projections suggest that FOMC members remain concerned. The unemployment rate in the most recent jobs report was 3.7 percent. FOMC members predict that this will rise to 4.4 percent in 2023 and stay there for 2024. They believe that this will coincide with personal-consumption-expenditure (PCE) inflation falling from 5.8 percent this year to 2.6 percent next year and to 2.2 percent in 2024. (PCE inflation is the Fed’s preferred measure, and it is lower than the Consumer Price Index due to methodological differences.) At the same time, however, they project real GDP growth of 0.2 percent this year, 1.2 percent next year, and 1.7 percent in 2024.

Put otherwise, they expect that the Fed’s rate hikes will succeed in quelling inflation — necessarily by reducing demand. Consequently, they think, this will result in higher unemployment (which is consistent with macroeconomic theory). But how will falling demand and higher unemployment coincide with economic growth?

And yet this peachy picture is less optimistic than the previous projections from the FOMC, made during its last meeting in June. Members then predicted unemployment at 3.9 percent in 2023 and 4.1 percent in 2024, and they put real GDP growth at 1.7 percent in 2023 and 1.9 percent in 2024. That suggests that they think they had underestimated the economic damage their policies will cause in the service of quelling inflation.

They probably still underestimate it. The FOMC statement continues to include boilerplate language about the war in Ukraine:

Russia’s war against Ukraine is causing tremendous human and economic hardship. The war and related events are creating additional upward pressure on inflation and are weighing on global economic activity. The Committee is highly attentive to inflation risks.

No doubt this is true, but the Fed cannot end the war. Assuming the war continues, so will the price pressures. Nonetheless, the Fed insists that it has all the tools it needs to bring inflation back to 2 percent, repeating the same inconsistent reasoning it has used for some time now.

Meanwhile, nominal spending continues to be above-trend. The elected parts of government are spending recklessly, and fiscal policy is working against monetary policy. Under these circumstances, the Fed will need to continue to raise rates.

Thus the major difference between the FOMC’s June projections and the ones it released today: In June, members thought the federal-funds rate would be 3.8 percent next year and 3.4 percent in 2024. Today, they think it will need to be 4.6 percent next year and 3.9 percent in 2024, which means accelerating increases through next year with the hope of beginning to cut in 2024.

This is not very promising.

Culture

How Would Celebrities Who Died Young Look If They Had Lived to Old Age?

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Elvis Presley (Public Domain/via Wikimedia)

When I turned 28, I wrote about my exit from the so-called 27 Club, that infamous group of young talents who expired before reaching the age I just had. In doing so, I noted that there may not actually be such a group, statistically speaking, and argued that romanticizing an early death was mistaken. Even so, I wrote:

It’s hard to deny the cultural power of the 27 Club. It serves as a seemingly perfect representation of youth cut down in its prime, with an added tinge that these particular members yielded themselves entirely to a kind of reckless excess that seemed inseparable from their talent. They seemed incapable of living lives of anything but extremes, and that can only go on for so long. As the line from Blade Runner goes, “the candle that burns twice as bright, burns half as long.” The power of the 27 Club as an idea is reinforced by one’s simple inability to imagine its members as any older than the age at which they perished. Kurt Cobain, if alive today, would now be 54; who can project his quintessentially ’90s demeanor into the present? Jim Morrison would be 78; would he be joining his fellow Boomer acts in reprising his greatest hits — including his notoriously unpredictable onstage behavior — on Social Security? It’s hard to fathom.

Well, someone has done the fathoming for us. Look here to find AI-aided projections of what famous talents who expired young, from Jimi Hendrix to Elvis Presley, might have looked like today. Not all of the subjects of these projections died at an age as young as 27, but it is still striking to see them aged. Hendrix as an elder statesman of rock, like Mick Jagger or some such, just seems . . . wrong. Kurt Cobain as a 50-something-year-old Gen-Xer appears woefully out of place. And the depiction of “Silver Fox” Elvis is welcome, but perhaps generous, given his condition at the time of his death.

It’s amusing to imagine, at any rate.

Law & the Courts

A Lawless Sheriff with His Eye on DeSantis

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Florida Governor Ron DeSantis speaks after the primary election for the midterms during the “Keep Florida Free Tour” at Pepin’s Hospitality Centre in Tampa, Fla., August 24, 2022. (Octavio Jones/Reuters)

Javier Salazar is the elected sheriff for Bexar County, Texas. He’s a Democrat and has launched a criminal investigation into the migrant flights from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard. Many claim that the sheriff is investigating Florida governor Ron DeSantis, but he said on CNN this week, “I have not said and nor will I say that I’m — that I’ve got the governor under investigation, but I do, from what we’re hearing, people that may have been associated with him or may have been employed by him or contracted by him or his folks, may have broken the law here in Bexar County.”

In that same interview, Sheriff Salazar called on U.S. companies to hire illegal immigrants:

I think at some point, you’re going to have to embrace the fact that this is happening to a certain extent. I would say, look, we’ve got people that want to work, they want to do an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay not for slave wages, give them an honest day’s pay, and you’ve got a shortage of workers. If you go to any restaurant in San Antonio, Texas, right now, you’re going to wait a long time to get your table, even though there’s empty tables because there’s not enough wait staff to wait on you.

They’re — you’re going to wait a long time for your food, because there’s not enough people to cook it in the back. Half of the cooks maybe aren’t showing up to work or they’ve quit. Hire these folks.

The problem is that hiring illegal immigrants is against the law — thus, the term — and we’re now faced with an instance of a sheriff encouraging others to break the law.

Business

Mark Zuckerberg’s Net Wealth Has Dropped by $71 Billion

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Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifies before a House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing regarding the company’s use and protection of user data on Capitol Hill, April 11, 2018. (Leah Millis/Reuters)

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and decay destroy, and thieves break in and steal. But store up treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor decay destroys, nor thieves break in and steal.” So preaches Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew. Presumably, physical-world risks do not afflict the metaverse, either: The hybrid realm of augmented and virtual reality to which the would-be masters of the digital age are turning their focus. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg has gone all-in, indeed so far as to rename his company “Meta,” and has placed much of his treasure there. How is that working out for him? Bloomberg reports:

Mark Zuckerberg’s pivot into the metaverse has cost him dearly in the real world.

Even in a rough year for just about every US tech titan, the wealth erased from the chief executive officer of Meta Platforms Inc. stands out. His fortune has been cut in half and then some, dropping by $71 billion so far this year, the most among the ultra-rich tracked by the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. At $55.9 billion, his net worth ranks 20th among global billionaires, his lowest spot since 2014 and behind three Waltons and two members of the Koch family.

Analysts of Meta’s performance blame Zuckerberg’s turn to the metaverse:

The stock is also being dragged down by the company’s investments in the metaverse, said Laura Martin, senior internet analyst at Needham & Co. Zuckerberg has said he expects the project will lose “significant” amounts of money in the next three to five years. . . . If not for its endeavor into virtual reality, the social media giant “would be more in line with where Alphabet is,” said Mandeep Singh, technology analyst at Bloomberg Intelligence.

To be sure, initial losses do not always indicate folly. Amazon was a money-losing enterprise until 2002, when the company posted its first quarterly profit, something the New York Times described as a “surprise” at the time. (Now, Amazon can afford to blow hundreds of millions of dollars on, say, a Lord of the Rings TV series.) But, given the hollow, sterile, and destructive nature of the metaverse’s turn away from the physical world, one hopes that this trend continues. Perhaps this is even a sign of a prioritization of reality over digital alternatives. After all, to return to Matthew, “For where your treasure is, there also your heart will be.”

World

Nikki Haley: Latest Iran Protests ‘Very Different from Anything We’ve Seen Before’

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A man gestures during a protest over the death of Mahsa Amini, a woman who died after being arrested by the Islamic Republic’s “morality police,” in Tehran, Iran, September 19, 2022. (WANA (West Asia News Agency) via Reuters)

Former ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley said that Washington should step up its support of the growing protest movement in Iran, saying that the demonstrations that have unfolded over the past several days are unprecedented.

“These protests are very different than anything we’ve seen before,” she said responding to National Review’s question during a press conference. “They’re much more aggressive. They’re much more upset about what the regime is doing, and they’re fighting back.” Haley made the comments just before she appeared at the United Against a Nuclear Iran annual summit in New York City, on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly where Iranian president Ebrahim Raisi spoke this morning.

The death of a 22-year old Iranian woman in the custody of Iran’s morality police on Friday has sparked a protest movement that has spread to multiple cities and prompted a government crackdown. Mahsah Amini was arrested for wearing a hijab the wrong way, and eyewitnesses say that officers beat her in a police van after her arrest last Tuesday. Since then, demonstrators have clashed with Iranian security forces, and Iranian officials claim that seven people have died. An independent report from a Kurdish human-rights groups says that security forces killed seven demonstrators, per Reuters. Meanwhile, the authorities have blocked access to certain social-media platforms, such as Instagram.

In late 2019, Iranian forces crushed protests that had been sparked by a fuel-price hike, a crackdown which resulted in 3,000 deaths by some estimates.

Haley said that the Biden administration should undertake efforts to restore internet access, or “anything that will allow the Iranian voices to be heard.” She added that “we need to make sure that we start sanctioning people that are responsible for anything that led to the brutality of what happened,” and that “we shouldn’t consider getting into a deal with anyone that treats their people this way.”

PHOTOS: Iran Protests

President Biden acknowledged the protests in his address to the U.N. General Assembly today, saying that the U.S. stands with the “brave women of Iran,” and several administration officials have condemned Iranian authorities’ actions leading up and in response to the protests. Still, the White House hasn’t shown any signs of reconsidering, over Amini’s death, its ongoing negotiations to reenter the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.

Haley is a harsh critic of the Biden administration’s continued efforts on this front, but she allowed for one situation in which she would support U.S. reentry into the deal: “The only way we should consider an Iran deal again is if Israel and the Arab countries are at the table because they face the threat every day. It doesn’t make sense if you’re doing this just with America and Europeans.”

Education

Harvey Mansfield on Football, Fedoras, and More

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Not often do I recommend readers check out something in the Harvard Crimson, that Boston-area college’s student newspaper. In fact, I don’t think I ever have. Well, there’s a first time for everything, and a recent interview with longtime (since 1969!) political-philosophy professor Harvey Mansfield marks a fitting occasion for such a first. At 90 years old, Mansfield has lost none of his wit or erudition. A sample:

[Questioner] I don’t know if you’re on Twitter, but some students on Twitter have complained about some off-color comments you’ve made in class that could be offensive. Is that something you try to do intentionally?

[Mansfield]: A little bit. I want to keep the parameters of free speech, so I try to test the borders sometimes. Certainly I am sexist. I say that plainly. I think there are differences in the sexes, and I think they ought to be respected, and to some extent laughed about. It’s good for men and women to tease each other. And it’s very bad for students as they do today to take offense so easily.

Read the whole interview to learn what he thinks of football, ideological diversity, fedoras, and more. And check here for his thoughts on automatic toilets.

Economy & Business

Mercantilism Lives (Alas)

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Bad ideas seldom stay dead for long. They may receive an intellectual decapitation, but they often come back to life, resurrected by people who find them useful.

Mercantilism is a prime example. Adam Smith slew its doctrines, and several generations of economists used his writings as a springboard to show how trade interferences can only enrich a few at the expense of the many. But in 2022, we still hear cries for mercantilistic policies.

In this excellent AIER essay, Samuel Gregg reflects on the current clamor for trade interventions, coming largely from conservatives who think we need to put the interests of workers (some of them, anyway) and firms (some of them, anyway) ahead of the “materialistic” concerns of consumers.

Here’s a great paragraph:

What economic nationalists downplay or ignore is that it is precisely through serving consumers in a competitive market that businesses produce wealth. In these conditions, companies must constantly innovate, find efficiencies, and reduce their margins to outpace their competitors. In the process of doing so, they create new wealth. That same wealth allows businesses to employ millions of people, thereby providing individuals and families with the salaries, wages, and benefits that enable them to pursue numerous non-economic goals. How, I ask, is this materialistic?

Read the whole thing, and share it with people you know who may be swayed by the meretricious claims of the mercantilists.

Law & the Courts

The Bogus Lawsuit against DeSantis

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Jonathan Turley has a good rundown why the migrant suit doesn’t look to be going anywhere.

World

Germany Is Cynical and Ridiculous, Cont.

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German Chancellor Olaf Scholz arrives for a statement on Ukraine at the chancellery in Berlin, Germany, February 24, 2022. (Michael Kappeler/Pool via Reuters)

During the Trump presidency, Angela Merkel was puffed up into something she wasn’t based in large part on the idiotic calculus that Trump was a bumptious nationalist and therefore the opposite — namely, a boring cosmopolitan — was what the world needed. Since then, it’s become more obvious how irresponsible and self-serving Germany was, and is.

From a New York Times article on the struggle to maintain aid to Ukraine:

Most of that flow has come from America.

But material support for Ukraine from Europe has faded. The total of new commitments of military and financial aid from six of the largest European countries decreased in May and dropped sharply in June, according to an analysis by the Kiel Institute for the World Economy.

In July, the last month for which data was available, none of those countries — Britain, Germany, Poland, France, Italy and Spain — made any significant new pledges.

“We were surprised that aid basically went to zero, especially from the big European powers,” said Christoph Trebesch, the institute’s director for international finance and macroeconomics and the head of the team conducting the analysis. . . .

Analysts say that Germany in particular has fallen short, in spite of its earlier rhetoric.

Markus Kaim, a senior fellow for international security at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, said he and other analysts were at first “totally surprised” by Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s pledge to significantly raise military spending to support Ukraine “for as long as it takes” and to eventually eliminate the country’s dependence on Russian energy.

But the policy changes since then have been less dramatic, he said.

Critics say the German government has not done enough to help Ukraine. A particular sticking point is Germany’s refusal to send Leopard 2 main battle tanks to Ukraine. Mr. Scholz and his government ministers have said that the German military’s arsenal was too depleted to send heavier equipment and that they do not want Germany to be the first country to send modern Western tanks to Ukraine.

Germany announced a 100 billion euro ($113 billion) increase in defense funding this year. Even so, it will not reach NATO’s goal of having each member spend at least 2 percent of its gross domestic product on its own defense each year, a target Mr. Scholz vowed to meet, according to a forecast by the German Economic Institute, a think tank based in Cologne.

In other words, par for the course.

World

Nothing Is Working for Russia

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Russian President Vladimir Putin delivers a speech in Moscow, Russia, September 20, 2022. (Grigory Sysoev/Sputnik via REuters)

In his newsletter today, Matthew Yglesias digs down into how Russia isn’t achieving anything it wants geopolitically.

Putin hopes to destabilize European governments, but even where it’s happening, he’s not getting what he wants:

Incumbent governments are, in fact, ailing. The Swedish center-left coalition just got knocked out in favor of a new right-wing coalition whose largest constituent member will be the far-right Sweden Democrats.

But while the SDs, like many far-right European parties, were pro-Russian in the very recent past, they flipped during Sweden’s accession to NATO membership. And in order to appease the smaller right-of-center parties, the new coalition will be led by the traditional center-right and strongly Atlanticist Moderate Party. The story in Italy is broadly similar. Mario Draghi’s grand coalition was strongly pro-Ukrainian, and it looks set to be replaced with a right-wing coalition that includes two parties that have historically been pro-Russian. But the new coalition is going to be led by Giorgia Meloni’s Brothers of Italy party, which despite a lot of frankly alarming fascist associations, has been trying very hard to position itself as clearly anti-Russian.

The Europeans I know are overwhelmingly center-left cosmopolitan types, and they hate the SDs and the Brothers and like to emphasize that these parties are bad and insincere.

I certainly accept that, but the gyrations of opportunists are significant. From Putin’s perspective, the gambit of backing right-populist anti-system parties seemed to be working pretty well. But the war in Ukraine has made him toxic, and while kneecapping the European economy is genuinely helpful to these parties, it is also making him more toxic than ever.

Then, there’s the energy weapon, which can only be used once:

Russian gas is crucially important to the European economy because Europe has the infrastructure to get Russian gas and doesn’t have the infrastructure in place to substitute away from it. But when forced to substitute, you start substituting. Europe is standing up new floating LNG terminals as fast as they can.

Unfortunately, “as fast as they can” is not fast enough to rescue the situation this coming winter. But there will be more in 2023 and even more in 2024. Germany has decided to keep their nuclear plants running and is reopening coal-fired power plants, along with Austria, Italy, and the Netherlands. The fact that losing access to natural gas is causing EU emissions to go up rather than down is something I wish American environmentalists would take more seriously, but the point is that one way or another, Europe is going to be much less reliant on Russian gas 12 months from now than they are today.

This is the big problem with the gas weapon. It’s a good threat, and I think it’s entirely possible that if the European publics had fully understood what they were signing up for last February, the wave of pro-Ukrainian sentiment wouldn’t have happened. But once you actually fire it, you’re out of ammo. With winter looming, the worst is yet to come for the people of Europe. But making Dutch people uncomfortably cold this winter won’t win the war for Russia, and in political terms, Putin hasn’t broken the western alliance. Europe is going to keep building renewables, keep building LNG terminals, and is even contemplating some domestic fracking.

Education

What Large College Endowments Buy

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Larger administrations, more selectivity, higher institutional rankings — but only a bit more financial aid (via Tyler Cowen).

Politics & Policy

Poll: Americans Split on Sending Migrants to Blue Cities

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Migrants seeking asylum in the U.S., mostly from Venezuela, stand near the border fence while waiting to be processed by the U.S. Border Patrol after crossing the border from Mexico at Yuma, Ariz., January 23, 2022. (Go Nakamura/Reuters)

A new The Economist/YouGov poll, conducted September 17–20, found that Americans are evenly split on the issue of Florida and Texas sending illegal immigrants to northern cities.

Republican governors Ron DeSantis and Greg Abbott have targeted wealthy, deep-blue areas like Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts and Kamala Harris’s house in Washington, D.C., by flying or busing in relatively small numbers of illegal immigrants detained in their states. One of the move’s “virtues,” as NR’s editors wrote last week, “is that it forces sanctuary cities to confront the real-world consequences of encouraging illegal migration. If a few coach buses of migrants are enough to cause Democrats to declare emergencies and beg for the National Guard, how much more serious for border states are the estimated 18,000 illegal crossings per day?”

The initiative has also garnered withering criticism from top Democrats, including the mayors of cities that have been recipients of the migrants, as well as progressives in the media. Very few, if any, have actually addressed the discrepancy between their stated commitment to policies like sanctuary cities and their adverse reaction to being forced to confront the real-world consequences of such policies. As for how the issue plays politically, the most recent poll seems to suggest that it’s neither a definitive winner nor a definitive loser for either side — at least for now. 

Let the President Kneecap Himself, Please

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President Joe Biden interviewed on 60 Minutes, in a clip released September 16, 2022. (60 Minutes/YouTube)

Call me old-fashioned, but I abhor administration grubs, public officials, and media figures who immediately backtrack a president’s comments. Almost as soon as the man is done speaking, the press and officials dive on the mic to undo what he said. If the man truly messed up or misspoke, let him correct the record, not some vice undersecretary of the posterior. We hired him for the job, not this unelected coterie of natterers who come in to rearrange everything that comes out of his mouth. 

Biden said a good and proper thing on 60 Minutes, that the pandemic is over. Hurrah!

Health Care

Daily Dose of Insanity

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Here’s a little bit of text I came across in the Irish Times this morning. Under the heading “Your Wellness,” a letter asking for advice is summarized this way:

“I am a gay man in a straight woman’s body. If I were to speak to my husband about this, it could end our marriage.”

I’m not sure wellness is really the point here. Of course the advice proceeds like this:

“There is no way of protecting your husband from the truth you have uncovered about yourself and so you must allow him the honour of knowing where you have arrived at.”

 

Media

When Liberal Media Bias Backfires

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It can lead to liberal complacency and then liberal defeat. My Bloomberg Opinion column goes into two New York Times stories — front-pagers on two successive days — that offered liberal readers comforting stories that won’t serve them well in the long run.

The first of them concerned a new poll of Hispanic voters.

The poll says they favor Democrats over Republicans 56%–32%. Those look like pretty strong numbers for the Democrats. Until you look at the ones for the last midterm election, in 2018, when Latinos went 69%–29% for Democrats. The margin has shrunk from 40 to 24 percentage points.

Then I go into the next day’s example, which is significantly worse: a whitewashing of the record of the Women’s March and its leaders. They produced a fiasco, but the Times is apparently committed to keeping its readers from learning anything from it.

World

WATCH: Videos Capture Defiance in Iran

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A police motorcycle burns during a protest over the death of Mahsa Amini, a woman who died after being arrested by the Islamic Republic’s “morality police,” in Tehran, Iran, September 19, 2022. (WANA (West Asia News Agency) via Reuters)

The horrifying death of Mahsa Amini at the hands of Iran’s savage and unsparing Guidance Patrol, known as the “morality police” in the West, after she was detained for the “crime” of non-compliance with government hijab standards has shocked and repulsed people around the globe. Amini’s death has become a symbol of the systemic repression of women and minorities living under the yoke of this barbaric regime. The people of Iran are now taking to the streets to protest in what appears to be the largest instance of mass civil unrest in months, as dissidents clash with security forces. Scenes of women burning their head coverings, a brave act of defiance, are emerging all over the Islamic Republic. Check out these extraordinary videos of the demonstrations on the ground:

 

 

 

 

All this is happening as the Biden administration weighs reentering the Iran nuclear deal. One can only hope that the awe-inspiring display of resistance from the Iranian people dissuades the West Wing from giving their Holocaust-denying, mass-murdering counterparts any reprieve from the maximum-pressure campaign that the Trump administration began.

Economy & Business

The Silence of the Economists

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(scanrail/Getty Images)

Throughout the Covid crisis, the world heard very little from the economics profession. Economists love to find fault with governmental policies, but few of them questioned the extreme dirigisme of the way the U.S. and most other governments reacted to events. Few warned that we would suffer from high inflation as a result of spending binges and locking down of much economic activity.

In this Brownstone Institute essay, Jay Bhattacharya and Mikko Packalen explore that failure. They write, “Many in the economics profession did see that government policies of the last couple of years would result in high inflation. But most who saw it coming chose not to inform the public or raise the alarm until it was too late.”

Disturbingly, well-known economists took the route of declaring that government policies shouldn’t be questioned, must as Dr. Fauci did. The authors write, “Even as late as September 2021, influential economists sought to silence debate on lockdowns. For example, Austan Goolsbee, University of Chicago professor and former chairman of President Obama’s council of economic advisors, stipulated that anyone daring to question economists’ lockdown orthodoxy should be ‘embarrassed’. Such edicts on debate from the profession’s leaders made it prohibitively costly for many to voice their own opinions on Covid policies such as lockdowns and school closures.”

Bhattacharya and Packalen don’t come right out and say it, but I think the explanation is that a great many economists now see their future success as depending on being in the good graces of the government. Become known as a critic of “progressive” government, and your chances of advancement diminish, your access to research dollars goes away, invitations to give paid presentations vanish, and colleagues will shun you. In short, many economists calculate that speaking truth to power is now a personal mistake.

I applaud their conclusion: “Ultimately, whether economists can gain back the public’s trust depends on their honesty in admitting the profession’s failure. The profession needs reform so that dissent from orthodoxy is encouraged and self-censorship seen as a failure to live up to economists’ basic professional obligations.”

World

Europe (and Biden) Bullying Hungary to Raise Its Taxes

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Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán addresses a business conference in Budapest, Hungary, June 9, 2021. (Bernadett Szabo/Reuterss)

The Wall Street Journal reports that the Europeans are threatening to boot Hungary out of the EU and punish the country financially because its “nationalist government” is “undermining the bloc’s Democratic values.”

These are laughable claims. It is true that Hungary’s government is far from exemplary (it has problems with corruption and a muddled response record over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine), but this assault on Hungary has nothing to do with “Democratic values.” Prosperity and freedom are the most important values, and the EU is now a gang of socialist, shrinking economies. Nearly the entire continent is mired in deep recession thanks to green-energy foolishness, high tax rates, low productivity, big-government socialism initiatives, and a collapsing currency.

So why is Hungary being targeted? Because the country has courageously decided to stand up for its national sovereignty and has refused to join the tax cartel concocted by Biden, Treasury secretary Janet Yellen, and the EU, which would force low-tax nations to raise their tax rates to a “global minimum” of 15 percent. (How pathetic that the United States is not joining Hungary in its staunch opposition.)

The numbers below show that, other than a few Caribbean countries, Hungary has the lowest tax rate — well below most of the other EU nations. That’s the real reason the European leaders want them out.

Corporate Tax Rates in Selected Countries

Hungary 9%

Montenegro 9%

Ireland 12.5%

Spain 25.5%

Italy 28%

France 28%

Germany 30%

EU Average 24%

United States 25% (including state tax rates)

As for the U.S., if Republicans take over Congress in January 2023, they should immediately take action to withdraw from the Biden–Yellen–EU tax cartel. This should be treated like an international treaty requiring a two-thirds vote of the Senate for ratification.

Politics & Policy

Governors DeSantis and Newsom Should Debate at Notre Dame

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Gov. Gavin Newsom (D., Calif) and Gov. Ron DeSantis (R., Fla.) (Lucy Nicholson & Octavio Jones/Reuters)

Late last week, California governor Gavin Newsom challenged Florida governor Ron DeSantis to a debate. “Since you have only one overriding need — attention –let’s take this up & debate,” Newsom tweeted, in part.

Earlier this week, the Wall Street Journal editorial board published an editorial calling on the governors to debate, saying that such an event would be “instructive.”

Luckily for Newsom and DeSantis, they already have an outstanding invitation to do just that, at the University of Notre Dame. In late July, the university’s Center for Citizenship & Constitutional Government sent an invitation to the offices of both Newsom and DeSantis, asking them to participate in a Lincoln–Douglas debate on Notre Dame’s campus sometime this year.

The proposed debate would consist of two parts, including a Lincoln–Douglas-style component allowing one governor to speak for 15 minutes, the other to respond for 20, and the first to respond for five. The second part of the debate would allow each governor to pose three questions to the other, giving the respondent three minutes for each reply.

The proposed theme for the event is “America’s Principles and America’s Future,” and the CCCG’s director Vincent Phillip Muñoz told the governors he’d like them to to address three key questions:

  • What is your understanding of America’s core philosophical and constitutional
    principles?
  • How are those principles threatened today?
  • How do you believe those principles can be best secured in the immediate future?

According to the CCCG, DeSantis’s office acknowledged receipt of the invitation but has not yet decided one way or another. Newsom’s office has yet to acknowledge receipt. If the California governor is serious about wanting a debate, he’s already been offered the ideal opportunity. Both he and DeSantis should accept.

Culture

An Interview with Dean Koontz

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I was delighted to interview the best-selling novelist Dean Koontz on my podcast, Humanize. We discussed his entry into writing, how he fashions his characters, the importance of human exceptionalism in his work, why he worries that transhumanism reflects a will to power, and his love for dogs. But what does he think of cats? Tune in and find out.

Education

Take College Credentials off Their Legal Pedestal

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(Caiaimage/Sam Edwards/Getty Images)

Many employers (including the federal government) require that job applicants have college degrees if they want to be considered — even if the work could be done by someone without such credentials. That makes the demand for college education (or degrees, anyway) higher than they otherwise would be and also tends to crowd people who don’t have college credentials into the mostly lower-paying part of the labor market where credentials are not demanded.

What should be done?

In today’s Martin Center article, Rick Hess of American Enterprise Institute argues that, especially in the wake of Biden’s unilateral decision to forgive a vast amount of student-loan debt, it is time for the feds to downgrade the need for college degrees.

Hess writes, “Why are borrowers going into so much debt in the first place? Some of it is the product of dubious choices (buying a fine arts or women’s studies degree from a pricey private school should be viewed as a luxury purchase, not an investment). On the other hand, there are also lots of examples of students who have been encouraged—by counselors, popular culture, and parents—to see attending college as an obligation.”

The mania for college credentials, Hess argues, has its roots in the Supreme Court’s 1971 Griggs decision, which make it legally risky for employers to screen applicants by tests unless the tests could be proven to be perfectly aligned with the job requirements and have no “disparate impact.” So, employers began turning to a means of screening that was allowed, namely college completion.

Ah, but college completion also has “disparate impact,” and officials could and should lower the demand for them by executive orders. Hess continues, “If President Biden is truly concerned about the burdens of unnecessary borrowing, he can order the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) to rewrite its rules regarding degree requirements for the federal government’s two million employees. Biden should instruct the OPM to offer new guidance stipulating that a degree may be required only when it is ‘job-related’ and provides a ‘reasonable measure of job performance.’ That same standard should extend to the classification and qualification standards governing federal contractors.”

Wouldn’t it be fun to see what would happen if a reporter were to ask Biden if he’s considering that?

Culture

A Writer’s Pique, Etc.

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Harlan Ellison in Boston, Mass., 1977 (Barbara Alper/Getty Images)

Impromptus today begins with Nick Saban and sportsmanship — he exhibited it — and ends with the subject of cursive (cursive writing). In between, there are sundry items, including Iran, the GOP, and animals. (The animals, specifically, are cheetahs and maggots — an odd combination.)

Before getting to mail, I’d like to say an additional word about cursive. When I arrived at National Review, in the 1990s, I saw the penmanship of Ed Capano, our publisher. I was amazed. I had never seen such excellent handwriting from a male hand. It was positively beautiful.

When I marveled at this to Ed, he said, “Nuns.” I believe they taught him the Palmer Method. These teachers may not have been kind and gentle when it came to the enforcement of handwriting — but, man, does Ed Capano have great penmanship.

Will anyone in the future? I am hoping for a revival.

In an Impromptus last week, I spoke of a January 6 defendant, who, on the day in question, sported apparel celebrating the SS and Auschwitz. His sister has asked the court not to “judge a book by its cover.”

In 2014, I wrote an essay called, in fact, “Books and Covers.” I quoted from it in my column:

When we were in kindergarten — if not before — we were taught that you can’t judge a book by its cover. Which is true. Or rather, you can’t necessarily judge a book by its cover. Often, it is an error to do so. Related is an old expression, usually attributed to Oscar Wilde: “When you assume, you make an ass out of u and me.”

Well and good. But I remember something I heard a writer say on television, many years ago. (It wasn’t Oscar Wilde. It may have been Harlan Ellison.) He said, “If the cover shows a strapping woman amid the stars, wearing a metallic brassiere and brandishing a light saber, chances are the book is science fiction.”

In my column, I said, “I love that remark — I think it was Ellison.”

A reader writes,

Jay, I assure you that Harlan Ellison would NOT say that “if the cover shows a strapping woman amid the stars, wearing a metallic brassiere and brandishing a light saber, chances are the book is science fiction.” He would tell you instead that the book is “sci-fi” or “skiffy,” fake or vulgarized science fiction, which alas has totally subsumed the “hard stuff” at bookstores and conventions.

Our reader, Andrew Kidd, continues,

Here’s a memorial piece I wrote on Harlan. I get a kick out of knowing the far-left Harlan must have been a regular NR reader just for the John Simon reviews. I seem to recall one column of his where he described how he would throw the latest copy across the bathroom after reading it. Oh well, there are worse things he could have done with it there . . .

A couple of times recently, I have cited “human nature,” or simply “nature.” In this Impromptus, I wrote,

Liberal-democratic societies are so rare, they are borderline weird. . . . The norm in the world is blood-and-soil collectivism. A free and open society — that is almost contra naturam, like many good things (such as the teachings you’ll find in the Sermon on the Mount).

In a post on Ukraine, I wrote,

A Ukrainian victory, and a Russian defeat, would be a tremendous boost to the democratic world. To a lot of people, might makes right. They see Vladimir Putin as a strong muscly man, superior to the democratic weenies in the Free World, with their constitutions and rule of law and all that weak beer. This is a pathetic fact about human nature. But it is, I’m afraid, a fact.

A reader writes,

Human nature, as all Christians know, is a mess — John 3:19 and all that. One of my favorite lines in any movie is Katherine Hepburn in The African Queen, telling Bogart, “Nature, Mr. Allnut, is what we are put in this world to rise above.”

Another reader sends me a note about Ukraine. She says,

Our church was able to send several boxes of aid with missionaries a few weeks ago and the people of Ukraine are constantly in our prayers.

I was encouraged by that note. As by this one:

Please continue to write as often as you can about Ukraine. Ukraine is one instance where, for all of our sakes, good must triumph over evil.

Thank you to all readers and correspondents.

Politics & Policy

Ridicule Is Man’s Most Potent Weapon

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A migrant is seen at Martha’s Vineyard, Mass., September 14, 2022. (Ray Ewing/Vineyard Gazette/Handout via Reuters)

I haven’t seen a convincing explanation of why the Left went so bat-guano crazy over the recent delivery of a handful of illegal aliens to Martha’s Vineyard. Yes, they don’t want people talking about the border in the run-up to the election, since they’re behind the eight ball on the issue. But that’s not it.

And, yes, the hypocrisy of sanctuary cities and “In This House We Believe” posturing has been exposed. That’s getting closer, but the buses to New York, Washington, and Chicago were doing that already; the Left was complaining about it, for sure, they didn’t go all Godwin’s Law until Martha’s Vineyard happened.

I think the reason for the freak-out was explained by Saul Alinsky half a century ago. The fifth of his “rules for radicals” is:

Ridicule is man’s most potent weapon. There is no defense. It is almost impossible to counterattack ridicule. Also it infuriates the opposition, who then react to your advantage.

It was ridiculous enough that New York mayor Eric Adams described experiencing a tiny part of Biden’s border crisis as “horrific” and D.C. mayor Bowser declared a state of emergency and called on the Pentagon for help. Even today, the total number of people sent to those cities is less than two days’ worth of what is happening at the border.

But Operation Martha’s Vineyard was the real comedy payoff. The situation was like something out of a farce by Tom Wolfe or Christopher Buckley: a few dozen border-jumpers arrive at the retreat of the lefty rich and famous, where “no human is illegal” and there are enough empty mansions to house them a thousand-fold, and after being given some cereal they’re whisked away by soldiers.

This is hypocrisy dialed up to 11, a target for mockery so irresistible that even non-political people can appreciate it. And it sure did “infuriate the opposition” and cause them to “react to your advantage” with laughable cries of kidnapping and human trafficking.

As Jack Woltz screamed to Tom Hagan, “a man in my position can’t afford to be made to look ridiculous!”

Alinsky’s Rule six is “a good tactic is one your people enjoy” and boy have people on the right enjoyed this. But it’s also important to heed Rule seven: “A tactic that drags on too long becomes a drag.” There’s still mileage to be gotten from this tactic; apparently DeSantis is planning on flying some to Georgetown, Delaware, near President Biden’s beach mansion in Rehoboth. (I’d just send a couple busloads straight down Rehoboth Avenue to the boardwalk, and tell them president’s house is a ways off to the left.) But at some point the novelty – and ridicule value – will wear off. Before then, we’ll need to come up with some new guerrilla political theater to force a reluctant media to cover the border mess.

National Review

R.I.P. to Mad Dogs and Englishmen (Again)

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From left: National Review’s Kevin D. Williamson, Representative Dan Crenshaw (R., Texas), and National Review’s Charles C.W. Cooke (Pete Marovich)

Kevin and I started our Mad Dogs and Englishmen podcast nearly ten years ago. We didn’t really mean to start a podcast; it just happened. We were both based in NR’s office in New York City, and I had a habit of wandering into Kevin’s office (I didn’t have an office) and talking to him — at him, sometimes — about anything that was on my mind: politics, music, movies, America. One day, Kevin said, “you know, we should record these conversations and put it on the Internet.” So we did. We called it Mad Dogs and Englishmen.

And then: a stroke of luck. It just so happened that during our second or third week of doing this, I was booked to appear on Bill Maher’s show on HBO. Bill Maher’s show, it turned out, had a lot of viewers, and when the chyron they put up announced that I was the co-host of something called the “Mad Dogs and Englishmen Podcast,” a lot of those viewers dutifully signed up as listeners. From there, we never looked back. Overnight, we went from about 300 followers to about 15,000 followers. And up, and up, and up.

And now, after 368 episodes: down. Mad Dogs died once before, when Kevin went to the Atlantic, only to be resuscitated a few weeks later, when he returned to NR. This time, Lazarus will stay home. A few listeners have emailed me to ask whether I’ll continue the show on my own, but, of course, I can’t do that. Mad Dogs was a two-man show, and those two men were me and Kevin. This week, Kevin left for the Dispatch, where I wish him the greatest of luck. That heralds the end of this show.

And — for me at least — the beginning of a new show, to be announced and inaugurated within a couple of weeks. I’ll have more details in due course, but, for now, I’ll just encourage anyone who is currently subscribed to the Mad Dogs and Englishmen feeds on Apple, Google, Spotify, etc., to stay there. If possible, we’ll put all the existing Mad Dogs episodes into the archive on NR (available to NR Plus members) and redirect the existing feeds to the new show.

For now, I’ll just say thank you to everyone who listened to us for all those years. Onwards and upwards! And remember: we’ll always have the bar.

What Would a Russian Mobilization Look Like?

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Russian marines take part in the Seaborne Assault 2022 international competition as part of the International Army Games at the Khmelevka firing ground in Kaliningrad Region, Russia, August 17, 2022. (Vitaly Nevar/Reuters)

The news that the Kremlin is moving to hold sham referenda in the occupied regions of Ukraine on joining the Russian Federation — beginning as soon as this Friday! — as well as the rumblings that Russia may be inching towards a declaration of war and a partial or full mobilization, has been met with understandable alarm.

According to the New York Times, legislation is set to pass through the Duma — the Russian parliament — and reach President Putin’s desk for his signature within days:

It would introduce tougher prison terms for desertion, evading service by “simulating illness,” and insubordination. It

Religion

Adoption after Roe – Two Opportunities for Conversation

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Raphael Ruggero and Kirk Cameron in Lifemark. (Trailer image via YouTube)

RSVP here for an entirely virtual event I’ll be doing  tomorrow at 10 a.m. Eastern – Wednesday, September 21 — surrounding the movie Lifemark, currently in theaters. It’s the story of David Scotton’s life, made possible by his birthmother’s courageous choice for life. Rebecca Nelson, who plays David’s adoptive mother in the movie (who has adopted in real life, with her husband) will join us. Also, Benjamin Clapper, executive producer of I Lived on Parker Avenue, the documentary that inspired Lifemark. We’ll be talking about the adoption option and how to make it better known and supported.

Again, sign up to join us live in the morning here.

On Thursday, in-person, I’ll be moderating an all-star panel at the Catholic University of America’s Columbus School of Law in Washington, D.C., at 5:30 p.m. You’re welcome to join us in person, but there is also a livestream option. Details here.

Elections

Don’t Do It, Governor Youngkin

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Then-Virginia Republican gubernatorial nominee Glenn Youngkin speaks during his election night party at a hotel in Chantilly, Va., November 3, 2021. (Elizabeth Frantz
/Reuters)

Virginia governor Glenn Youngkin, a rising star in Republican politics, recently announced that he will be stumping for Arizona GOP gubernatorial nominee Kari Lake. Typically, this would not be a particularly newsworthy story item. Republican elected officials make appearances on behalf of fellow party members all the time. But Lake is not a typical candidate.

Lake, a former Democrat who backed John Kerry in 2004 and Barack Obama in 2008, has been embroiled in a series of controversies since the outset of her candidacy. Belying Lake’s rightfully critical remarks about exposing children to adult entertainment, Rick Stevens, an Arizona drag queen, said he came to Lake’s home at her invitation to put on a show in front of her young daughter. She denies these allegations. Lake also endorsed Jarrin Jackson, the antisemitic candidate for the Oklahoma state senate, which she later retracted after his past comments resurfaced.

Most notably, Lake has made 2020 election denialism the centerpiece of her campaign. While many Republicans have bought into and propagated this pernicious falsity, Lake has stood out from the pack as one of the chief proponents of the Big Lie.

After the Maricopa County presidential-ballot audit determined that no mass electoral fraud transpired, she insisted the presidential election in Arizona be “decertified” without corroborating evidence to back her claims, even though no decertification mechanism exists. Lake has advocated imprisoning journalists who disagree with her about these assertions, as well as Arizona secretary of state Katie Hobbs, her general-election opponent, on the basis of unsubstantiated allegations of criminality related to the 2020 election. What’s most concerning about Lake’s 2020 trutherism is that, if elected, she will potentially be in a position to sway the 2024 Arizona presidential-election result in favor of the Republican nominee, regardless of her state’s vote totals. 

One might agree with Lake more than Hobbs on matters of policy, but if we are to preserve our republic, threats of this nature cannot be tolerated. Youngkin is better than this. Contrary to progressive contentions, he appears to have a robust moral compass.

Beyond the ethical concerns, there are political pitfalls awaiting Youngkin if he goes ahead with his plans. Admittedly, there are obvious incentives for him to go to Arizona, prove he’s a reliable party man to the Republican Governors Association, and endear himself to GOP primary voters if he ultimately decides to run for the White House in two years. Ron DeSantis, another widely speculated 2024 hopeful, recently did something similar by campaigning on behalf of Doug Mastriano, who is running for governor in Pennsylvania and is also an election denier.

But Youngkin has crafted a different political brand from DeSantis. Contrary to Chris Rufo’s account, Youngkin won in 2021 by being a sensible culture warrior. He denounced CRT and the infiltration of wokeness into the public-school system without straying too far from traditional GOP concerns. Most important, he didn’t fully embrace Trump. Unlike DeSantis, he’s not a firebrand. He has broad appeal that an appearance with Lake would weaken.

Youngkin also should hew closely to the lane he has staked out for himself. Trump sycophants are clogging up the rest of the road. Joining their caravan of conspiracism as the laggard doesn’t help his cause. If Trump chooses not to run in 2024, Youngkin is better off contrasting himself with the bombastic Florida governor than mimicking him.

Science & Tech

Challenges from Technology Don’t Make Caesarism Inevitable

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A bust of Julius Caesar at the Art History Museum in Vienna, Austria (Andrew Bossi/Wikimedia Commons)

Earlier this month, Unherd contributing editor Mary Harrington responded to my criticism of her apparent willingness to consider “Caesarism” — that is, strongman, authoritarian rule — as a solution for the problems that plague the modern world. Harrington begins by describing the odious, anti-republican, and demagogic content and optics of President Biden’s speech in Philadelphia, in which the allegedly comity-seeking politician considerably escalated the partisan warfare against his political opponents. “The remainder of the speech re-invoked American democracy while suggesting that Biden’s political opponents were a threat not to his presidency but to all of that 200-year-old project,” she writes. “Both sides claimed the speech as evidence that the other side is the real threat to American democracy.”

All good so far. But she then continues, lumping me in with Biden’s hysteria:

Or perhaps the real threat is me? This, at least, is the implication of a recent article in US conservative journal National Review, which noted that I’ve suggested more than once lately that I think Caesarism may be the least worst option for future Western politics, and accused me of shilling for authoritarianism.

My case against Harrington is wholly distinct from Biden’s “case” against his political adversaries. She is, after all, up to something else. She does not believe herself to be a partisan actor of either stripe. Rather, she believes that “liberal democracy is probably doomed,” but not due to the efforts “of either Left [or] Right, so much as deep structural reasons.”

What are those structural reasons? Harrington believes that the nature of modern technology has destroyed the possibility of democratic citizenship. Citing the work of Adam Garfinkle, she argues that the rise of literacy and the virtues attendant to it created and sustained the American regime. Ergo, could not the rise of attention-destroying stimuli and the concomitant erosion of attention spans destroy that regime, as we have come to know it? Garfinkle wonders if, with the decline in abstract thinking, “is it possible that an emotionally more volatile post-deep-literate society may at a certain tipping point regress to accommodate, and even to prefer, less-refined and -earned forms of governance?” Harrington cites Garfinkle’s conclusion that a politics in which this is true would come to be dominated by “a less abstract, re-personalized form of social and political authority concentrated in a ‘great’ authoritarian leader.”

Here’s one thing Harrington is right about: Technology is not some universal panacea for all social problems. It creates many as well. Nor is it always inherently liberating; fascists found ways to use the radio, and the Chinese Communist Party is creating a mightily oppressive digital-surveillance state. Even outside such regimes, technology can have downsides. (It can even be a pathway to sin!) Neil Postman warned of such things in his 1985 anti-television jeremiad Amusing Ourselves to Death. His lament about how television was moving us away from a “typographic age” that sustained more rigorous public thought is downright quaint now. One can even long for merely the ills described in the introduction to the 2005 edition, written by Postman’s son, Andrew, which notes that 1985 had “yet to be infiltrated by the Internet, cell phones, PDAs, cable channels, by the hundreds, DVDs, call-waiting, caller ID, blogs, flat-screens, HDTV, and iPods.”

Figuring out how to respond to the digital age is one of the main challenges our politics faces in the coming decades. Just as Whittaker Chambers warned that “a conservatism that cannot face the facts of the machine and mass production, and its consequences in government and politics, is foredoomed to futility and petulance,” a conservatism that cannot face the facts of the computer and digital life will have little to offer politics.

Where I differ from Harrington is in the way she casts Caesarism as a kind of acceptable inevitability. She rightly notes that authoritarianism is a growing attribute of modern politics, and that in some respects the young are worse on this score than the old, thus increasing the likelihood of further deviation from the habits of self-government. This is indeed something to worry about. But it always is. Transmission of these habits is a perennial focus — and difficulty — of such systems, whatever the circumstances of a given polity. And just as perennial are arguments that some new crisis or set of conditions has made such systems obsolete. Arguments of this nature are often presented with a patina of objectivity.

Or, better yet, in Harrington’s case, with a bit of wistful remorse. So, although Harrington claims it is her “sincere wish that our democratic ships will find a way to right themselves,” she nonetheless fears that they won’t, and that no amount of wishing on her part can make it so. “Accusing me of trying to conjure this shift into existence is like accusing someone who points out an oncoming tsunami of making it up because they really love swimming,” she says. And if “we just aren’t making the kind of people who founded” our democratic system, “the system will become something new.” Thus to my case that we should reject Caesar, she merely retorts, pace Trotsky, “you may not be interested in Caesarism, but Caesarism will be interested in you.”

What this ignores is that Caesar is always interested in us. The Caesarian temptation is not new; it is the default of human affairs. Which is why I find it so curious that ostensibly forward-thinking minds, such as Harrington and Curtis Yarvin (whose specter looms large over Harrington’s latest piece though he goes unnamed in it), see for modern political problems this ancient solution. Alternatives, such as adapting to new realities through our existing institutions, are considered futile.

Harrington presents her argument about Caesarism as descriptive, not prescriptive. “If I’m right,” she prefaces relevant observations in multiple pieces, a kind of hedging that acts to enhance her ostensible credibility as an impartial observer. But those truly interested in sustaining self-government know that its survival has always depended on agency and volition. The flipside of this is that looking at such a system as though its failure is inevitable can easily become a self-fulfilling prophecy, even — or perhaps especially — when such analyses are heavy on deterministic analyses of material conditions. By providing one of her own, Mary Harrington is not a threat to democracy. But, if I’m right, she displays an unseemly insouciance about the possibility of its demise.

CNN’s Don Lemon Gets a History Lesson on the Slave Trade

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Don Lemon gestures as he arrives on the red carpet for the annual White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner in Washington, D.C., April 30, 2022. (Tom Brenner/Reuters)

There is a hilariously large gulf between what progressive TV commentators think they know about history and what they actually know. On occasion, they make the mistake of engaging publicly with somebody who knows what she’s talking about. Don Lemon of CNN offered a textbook example. He decided to ask British commentator Hilary Fordwich a mealy-mouthed question about those who see the wealth of the royal family and ask “for reparations for colonialism.” Characteristically, this was framed in terms of other, unnamed peoples’ raising “legitimate concerns.” Lemon wasn’t even willing to make the argument himself: He just assumed that one

Education

Trans Teacher’s Way-Out Wardrobe

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Video of a man wearing enormous prosthetic breasts with visible nipples under a tight top, complete with bicycle shorts, has gone viral on social media. That’s because the man in question is an Ontario high-school teacher who, at the time the images were captured, was teaching a class.

In a statement to parents, the school said: “As a school within the Halton District School Board (HDSB), Oakville Trafalgar High School recognizes the rights of students, staff, parents/guardians and community members to equitable treatment without discrimination based upon gender identity and gender expression.”

For some men who identify as transgender, the point is to “pass” as a woman. But for others, the point is to be overtly sexual, outrageous, and conspicuous. If all “gender identit[ies] and gender expression[s]” are to be treated as equally valid, it is impossible to accommodate one and not the other.

What works better is to prohibit discrimination based on sex and to apply the same standards for everyone regarding wardrobe appropriateness. For reasons that ought to be obvious, no teacher or student — regardless of their sex or “gender identity” — should be permitted to show up to school looking like a blow-up sex doll.

U.S. Diplomats Required to ‘Advance’ DEI to Receive Promotions

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Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks at a Pride Month celebration at the State Department in Washington, D.C., June 17, 2022. (Tasos Katopodis/Reuters)

Members of America’s diplomatic corps will now be expected to promote diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility principles, the State Department recently announced.

An internal document obtained exclusively by National Review provides further detail on how State Department officials must now promote and advance DEI principles to receive tenure and promotions. While that document details uncontroversial promotion criteria, such as ensuring respectful behavior in the workplace, the specific focus on DEI echoes the language of left-leaning activists.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced last week that the department had finalized its “Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility Strategic Plan,” which was mandated by a

White House

The President Who Bombs Every Interview

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President Joe Biden interviewed on 60 Minutes, in a clip released September 18, 2022. (60 Minutes/YouTube)

We know President Biden doesn’t perform well in sit-down interviews; if he was good at them, he would do them all the time. His 60 Minutes interview was his first on-camera sit-down interview in 208 days, since his interview on Jimmy Kimmel’s late-night program. That was 118 days after his sit-down with Lester Holt of NBC News.

I think it’s revealing how quickly Biden gets prickly and irritated at the slightest pushback:

SCOTT PELLEY: Mr. President, as you know, last Tuesday the annual inflation rate came in at 8.3 percent. The stock market nosedived. People are shocked by their grocery bills. What can you do better and faster?

BIDEN: Well, first of all, let’s put this in perspective. Inflation rate month to month was just — just an inch, hardly at all,

PELLEY: You’re not arguing that 8.3 percent is good news.

BIDEN: No, I’m not saying it is good news. But it was 8.2 percent or — 8.2 percent before. I mean, it’s not — you’re ac — we act — make it sound like all of a sudden, “My God, it went to 8.2 percent.” It’s been –

PELLEY: It’s the highest inflation rate, Mr. President in 40 years.

BIDEN: I got that. But guess what we are. We’re in a position where, for the last several months, it hasn’t spiked. It has just barely — it’s been basically even. And in the meantime, we created all these jobs and — and prices — have — have gone up, but they’ve come down for energy. The fact is that we’ve created 10 million new jobs.

Just about every Biden sit-down interview features something like this — “that was four or five days ago, man!” or “you’re being a wise guy!” And that’s not getting into Biden’s irritation with the press in non sit-down interviews — “what a stupid son of a bitch!” “Read the polls, Jack! You guys are all the same!

Biden represented Delaware in the Senate from 1973 to 2009, and at the risk of offending everyone who worked in Delaware political media during those years, I don’t think Biden was subject to the toughest scrutiny or the hardest questions while he was senator. When Biden stepped into the national arena with his presidential races in 1988 and 2008, Biden fell flat on his face with some train-wreck answers and cringe-inducing exchanges with voters. Profiles of Biden in the national press, even from expectedly friendly sources like the New Republicpointed out, “he’s also legendary for speaking impulsively and leaving others to clean up the mess.” Back in 2008, Politico wrote that during the Reagan years, Biden “started to fashion a reputation — a somewhat unfair one, the Washington consensus seems to be these days — as a clownish figure. He was sometimes dismissed as a not-so-bright windbag.”

Biden was a big fish in the small pond of Delaware. But when he was on a debate stage, standing next to the better-known and sharper knives of his party, he looked like that clownish, not-so-bright figure.

Eight years as vice president gave Biden more practice in dealing with the spotlight, and no doubt Biden emerged from the Obama years with an elder statesman status in Democratic circles. But he also got older. As John Ellis put it last summer:

Biden is used to softballs, and people not calling him out when he says something that isn’t accurate or plausible. If Democrats do decide to use Biden on the campaign trail over the next six weeks or so, he probably won’t be doing a lot of interviews.

World

Russia to Mobilize?

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In a surprise session, the Russian Duma is passing laws introducing mobilization and martial law into the criminal code. The upper house could vote on this tomorrow. Meanwhile, Russia claims to be organizing lightning referenda, partly by mail and partly online, in Luhansk and Donetsk and in Kherson on whether the people living there want to be incorporated into the Russian Federation. About that: Ukrainian forces still control significant portions of these areas. Huge areas have no reliable Internet service or postal service. And of course, many thousands have abandoned their homes in these regions for refuge in western Ukraine, Western Europe, or — depending on their political allegiances and family ties — in Russia. Any referendum will be not just a sham, it will be obviously and provocatively presented as a sham.

At first glance, it looks politically like the Russian government is moving on from recognizing “the independence” of Luhansk and Donetsk, to preparing itself to announce their full annexation, before mobilizing the Russian economy and society to achieve that end.

Nothing is guaranteed in war. But a mobilization of Russian society will take months to complete, suggesting that Putin is hunkering down for a longer war, with all the dangers, death, and destabilization that implies.

Elections

Romney Rips Schumer for Delaying Vote to Reform the Electoral Count Act

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Senator Mitt Romney (R., Utah.) speaks at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., April 26, 2022. (Al Drago/Pool via Reuters)

On July 20, a bipartisan group of 16 senators introduced a bill to clarify the Electoral Count Act, the 1887 law that governs how Congress counts the results of the Electoral College. Despite urgent pleas to pass the legislation immediately to update the law Donald Trump and his allies tried to exploit on January 6, 2021, Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer has not brought the bill up for debate.

Speaking to reporters in the Capitol last week, Utah GOP senator Mitt Romney got about as exasperated as Mitt Romney can get. “Chuck Schumer is not bringing forth the Electoral Count Act. How in the world can you talk about democracy — the need to protect democracy — and not bring forth the Electoral Count Act?” Romney said. This week, Romney thinks he found an answer to that question. “I presume [Schumer] is looking for a messaging bill to show that Republicans are unwilling to protect our elections process,” Romney told National Review in the Capitol on Tuesday. “In fact, quite the opposite is true. We’re very anxious to put in place a reform of the Electoral Count Act, and [Schumer’s] delay has now led to a setting where the House is apparently proposing their own bill, which unfortunately will be a party-line vote in the House that makes it more difficult to actually do something on a bipartisan basis.”

“[The House] really should have taken our bill because it’s bipartisan. It has support from enough Republicans and Democrats to actually become law,” Romney added. “I’m afraid that our Democrat friends these days are more interested in messaging than they are in legislating.”

World

Former U.N. Human-Rights Chief Criticizes Omission of ‘Genocide Lens’ from Xinjiang Report

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Ethnic Uyghur men work at a farming area near Lukqun town, in Xinjiang province October 30, 2013. (Carlos Barria/Reuters)

Former U.N. high commissioner for human rights Zeid Ra’ad Al-Hussein criticized the organization’s recently released report on the Chinese government’s human-rights atrocities in Xinjiang for sidestepping the possibility that Beijing is carrying out genocide against Uyghurs. He made the comments during an Atlantic Council event yesterday on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly, where world leaders and U.N. officials this week are expected to largely overlook the widespread human-rights abuses.

Hussein’s successor, Michelle Bachelet, issued the long-awaited U.N. report just 13 minutes before her term closed at the end of August. The assessment detailed a series of human-rights abuses carried out by Chinese officials, such as mass arbitrary detention, torture, and rape, finding that these acts “may constitute international crimes, in particular crimes against humanity.”

While Hussein gave Bachelet “credit because [the report] wasn’t mandated by the Human Rights Council” and was, he said, put together at Bachelet’s discretion, he pointed out two “shortcomings.”

“I would have applied the genocide lens to it, using the lower threshold, where I would have said I could not exclude acts of genocide, particularly Article 2(b) of the genocide convention from having been perpetrated,” he said, specifying that that clause pertains to the perpetration of serious bodily harm with intent to destroy a group.

Crimes against humanity and genocide are generally viewed by lawyers as similarly egregious, though the label of genocide specifically describes deliberate efforts to eliminate a group in whole or in part.

Hussein said he also would have preferred that the report recommend that the U.N. Human Rights Council establish a specially designated panel to specifically investigate Beijing’s actions in Xinjiang. Similar investigative panels have unearthed grave human-rights abuses in Syria, North Korea, and elsewhere, and have given the findings the U.N.’s official imprimatur.

But Chinese diplomats had reportedly pressured Bachelet not to release the assessment at all. Although the report had reportedly been finalized in late 2021, Bachelet claimed that she needed to visit Xinjiang before making a final determination on the Chinese government’s campaign of repression. Bachelet ultimately visited Xinjiang in May but still refused to release the report, until she faced vocal public pressure from the U.S. and other governments.

As Beijing’s diplomats reviewed a draft of the report ahead of its publication, a section addressing the Chinese government’s forced sterilization “was watered down,” Politico EU reported, based on a conversation with a diplomat. Evidence that Chinese Communist Party officials have carried out a forced sterilization campaign against Uyghurs was critical to the January 2021 decision by former secretary of state Mike Pompeo to determine that the Chinese government has been carrying out genocide.

Still, Beijing was outraged by the publication of the report, and China’s top diplomat in Geneva said that his country would suspend all cooperation with the human-rights commissioner’s office over it.

A senior U.S. diplomat said during the Atlantic Council event that the U.N. report is consequential to sharing the truth about Beijing’s human-rights atrocities.

“The release of the High Commissioner’s report,” said Jeffrey Prescott, the deputy U.S. ambassador to the U.N., “reaffirms what we’ve all known to be true and what’s happening in Xinjiang: appalling crimes are being committed against Uyghurs and Turkic peoples in a brutal and systematic way. Full stop.”

Politics & Policy

Essays for Fall

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Autumn is upon us, and with it comes the fall 2022 issue of National Affairs. Among the offerings this time:

  • Nat Malkus on Republicans, Democrats, and the education vote
  • John Yoo and Robert Delahunty on what West Virginia v. EPA portends
  • James Glassman on Doug Ducey’s legacy in Arizona
  • Richard Reeves on why some public programs work for women but not men
  • Ivana Greco on how to help stay-at-home parents
  • Naomi Schaefer Riley and James Piereson on donor-driven journalism
  • Todd Washburn on the polarization of our elites
  • Ronald Dworkin on the meaning of expertise
  • Michael Zuckert on race and the American creed
  • Jenna and Ben Storey on political speech in divided times
  • Emily Pears on what makes a demagogue
  • John Grove on Michael Oakeshott and post-liberalism
  • Sanford Kessler on Lincoln as a civic educator

You can find them all here, and also subscribe to get the magazine in print and scour the archives. Happy reading!

How Ron DeSantis Is Positioning Himself on the 2020 Election

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Florida Governor Ron DeSantis speaks after the primary election for the midterms during the “Keep Florida Free Tour” at Pepin’s Hospitality Center in Tampa, Fla., August 24, 2022. (Octavio Jones/Reuters)

If you’re closely watching Ron DeSantis and his positioning for a widely anticipated presidential run in 2024, I highly recommend setting aside an hour to watch his full speech at NatCon, the National Conservatism Conference, which was conveniently held in Miami, Fla., in mid September. The speech strikes a lot of notes familiar to regular watchers of his stump speeches, but if you haven’t watched him at work in a long-form address, this is a good sample. He makes a vigorous case for his philosophy, his ideas, and his actions — from his highlights to more dubious ideas such as

Elections

‘Bizarre,’ Phil? Try ‘Awesome’

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A screenshot of Paulson’s ad (Linda Paulson/YouTube)

In response to Utah Republican Grandma Posts Most Bizarre Election Ad of the 2022 Cycle

Phil thinks Utah state senate candidate/grandma Linda Paulson’s campaign ad featuring a decidedly unhip rap song is “bizarre.”

Well, sign me up for politicians not taking themselves too seriously. If I’ve seen one political ad with a blue-blazer-sans-necktie-wearing candidate talking to a bunch of guys on a construction site or a factory floor over patriotic music and serious-sounding-but-meaningless campaign promises, I’ve seen a thousand.

I don’t know anything about Linda Paulson — other than that she has a sense of humor and that her rap-infused ad lays out political positions that are 100 percent unobjectionable to me.

For all we know, Gramma Linda might end up being the Titan of the Utah Senate and the second coming of Margaret Thatcher. Or, yes, we may never hear from her again. But don’t forget that Paulson raps that she “tried to get another conservative to run; nobody could do it, so I’m getting it done.”

I don’t know about you, Phil, but that sounds like much-needed citizenship to me.

Culture

Death Lays His Icy Hand on Kings

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Like everybody else, I could hardly help seeing moments of the lying-in-state and burial of Elizabeth II. It was both grand and moving, a fitting envoi to a job well done.

And yet, I could not help thinking of the letter Gouverneur Morris, revolutionary and Constitution writer, sent to the Austrian emperor, asking that Lafayette be released from the prison in Olmutz (now Olomuc in the Czech Republic) where the Austrians were holding him: “Think, also, that forgiveness granted to others is the only unobjectionable title, of which we can avail ourselves before the King of Kings.”

Economy & Business

Today in Capital Matters: Water

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Edward Ring of the California Policy Center writes about dam removal in western states:

The great cities of the American southwest would not exist if it weren’t for dams. Without the massive federal and state projects to build dams, pumping stations, and aqueducts (most of them completed 50 to 100 years ago), more than 60 million Americans would be living somewhere else. Without dams to capture and store millions of acre-feet of rainfall every year, and aqueducts to transport that water to thirsty metropolitan customers, the land these cities sit upon would be uninhabitable desert.

Such is the conundrum facing environmentalists who want to set these rivers free. Without dams, crops would wither, people would die of thirst, and devastating floods would tear through towns and cities every time there’s a big storm. Without hydroelectric power from dams, 18 percent of the in-state generated electricity Californians consume would be gone.

Read the whole thing here.