U.S.

A Fact Worth Repeating

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(Carlo Allegri/Reuters)

In a Wall Street Journal piece yesterday, Phil Gramm and John Early expose a weakness in the way that some politicians and pundits interpret Census Bureau data to talk about the child poverty rate. The weakness is this: No matter how much money the government pours into refundable child tax credits, the consequences won’t show up in the Census Bureau’s numbers measuring child poverty. That’s because the agency, when assembling data on poverty, doesn’t include transfers in their data on household incomes.

Gramm and Early explain:

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer assured us in July 2021 that expanding the child tax credit would “cut the nation’s child poverty rate in half.” Shortly thereafter, President Biden proclaimed that the expanded credit would “cut child poverty in half this year.” …

As we pointed out on these pages, the Democrats’ rosy promise wouldn’t be recorded in the official Census Bureau poverty numbers, because the income numbers used to calculate the official poverty rates don’t count refundable tax credits as income to the recipients. No matter how much money the government pours into any of these tax credits, it will never raise the official income measure given the way the census defines income.

This is not unique to the measurement of child poverty:

The Census Bureau fails to count two-thirds of all government transfer payments to households in the income numbers it uses to calculate not only poverty levels but also income inequality and income growth. In addition to not counting refundable tax credits, which are paid by checks from the U.S. Treasury, the official Census Bureau measure doesn’t count food stamps, Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program, rent subsidies, energy subsidies and health-insurance subsidies under the Affordable Care Act. In total, benefits provided in more than 100 other federal, state and local transfer payments aren’t counted by the Census Bureau as income to the recipients.

This is why it matters:

If the Census Bureau had included the missing $1.9 trillion in transfer payments, child poverty would have been only 3.2% in 2017, compared with the official rate of 17.5%. Government transfer payments that were distributed in 2017 had already cut child poverty by 82%….

Last year, the official census numbers for 2020 failed the laugh test. They showed that household income was down by 2.9% and the poverty rate was up by 1 percentage point in a year when federal transfer payments expanded by 36%. For the first time ever, the Census Bureau included the supplemental estimate in the same release as the official number, showing that income had actually risen by 4% and the poverty rate had fallen from 11.8% to 9.1%. Had it counted all the transfer payments, the poverty rate would have been about 2%.

By the way, this measurement convention isn’t unique to the Census Bureau. I have pointed out many times that using the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ (BLS) measurement of the prevalence of paid leave in America paints a picture that’s utterly incomplete. I once wrote for the Acton Institute:

First, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 17 percent of workers have access to a paid leave program (an increase from 13 percent in two years). However, this number is highly misleading since it severely underestimate the actual number of workers that benefit from leave due to BLS’s peculiar survey methods which require paid leave to exist separately from “sick leave, vacation, personal leave or short-term disability leave that is available to the employee.” Proper accounting using several government surveys about worker benefits reveals that a majority of workers have access to paid family leave benefits and three out of four who take leave in a given year get full or partial pay.

The way the Census and BLS measure these things is not convenient. For instance, I would prefer for the Census to report both strict income and tax and transfer data. However, the agencies themselves are transparent about the choices they make. The problem is with the people who use these raw numbers to advocate for more child-poverty subsidies or a federal paid-leave program without acknowledging the measurement caveat.

Gramm, Early, and Robert Ekelund have a new book out that looks at how measurement choices affect the debate over inequality.

The Triumph of the Boring Democrats

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(Left to Right) Senators Mark Kelly, Michael Bennet, and Maggie Hassan. (Mandel Ngan, Anna Moneymaker & Shawn Thew/Reuters)

The future is still unwritten, and we don’t know how the midterms will shake out. But if you follow David Byler’s reasonable theory that turnout in the midterm primaries is a good indicator of each party’s energy and interest in voting, 2022 is on pace to be a modestly good year for Republicans — not quite as good a year as 2010 or 2014, but a year of gains that should give them at least a small House majority and a decent shot at winning control of the Senate.

Considering the near-apocalyptic outlook for Democrats earlier this year, progressives may crow

Economy & Business

Today in Capital Matters: ESG

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Russ Greene of Stand Together writes about how ESG functions as a tax:

We can only truly understand ESG, therefore, if we look at the bigger picture. And there we see that ESG functions as “an effective carbon tax on the consumers in places like the United States and Europe” whose revenue ends up “going to places like Russia.” That’s according to Goldman Sachs’ top commodity strategist, Jeff Currie.

Let’s unpack Currie’s two points. The first point is that ESG functions as a de facto tax on politically unfavorable sectors: not just oil and gas, but mining, steel, shipping, and more. ESG raises the cost of capital for these politically unfriendly sectors by an estimated 15 percentage points. This means it’s harder for people working in the “old economy” to access loans and investment. For example, a dairy farmer may have a harder time getting a loan due to happening to work in an ESG-unfavorable industry.

The second point is that the ESG “tax” is paid by Western citizens to foreign nations such as Russia. While the narrative around ESG spread by Michael Bloomberg and others holds that it’s simply “investing 101,” that’s hard to square with what Larry Fink has stated: that public companies’ decreased investment in oil and gas has created “the biggest capital market arbitrage.” When ESG pressures decrease public-company investment in politically unfavored opportunities, the opportunities don’t disappear. Instead, they’re largely captured by other actors less committed to ESG.

David Bahnsen talks to Sheila Weinberg of Truth in Accounting about government accountability. Listen here, or wherever you get your podcasts.

Appeals Court Thoroughly Rebukes Federal Judge in Ruling on Mar-a-Lago Files

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Former President Donald Trump speaks during a rally in Delaware, Ohio, April 23, 2022. (Gaelen Morse/Reuters)

The Eleventh Circuit federal appeals court has granted the Justice Department’s requests that it be permitted to (a) withhold approximately 100 documents bearing classification markings from a special-master review, and (b) continue to use those documents in the ongoing criminal investigation of former president Donald Trump’s suspected felony mishandling of national-defense secrets.

The 29-page ruling, issued Wednesday night, is a thoroughgoing rebuke of Florida federal district judge Aileen Cannon, who directed that all of the approximately 11,000 documents and 1,800 other items seized by the FBI from Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate, including the classified documents, be included in a special-master review.

Judge Cannon,

Music

The Most American Band

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A group portrait of Creedence Clearwater Revival at Heathrow Airport, London, England, April 7, 1970 (Michael Putland/Getty Images)

I recently watched the new Creedence Clearwater Revival documentary on Netflix (narrated lightly by Jeff Bridges), which is a cross between a rise-of-the-band story, contemporary interview footage from their first European tour, and a full concert film of the band’s first show in the U.K., a twelve-song set at the Royal Albert Hall on April 14, 1970. Like the band it follows, the documentary is basic and straightforward but powerful in capturing Creedence at the very height of its creative and commercial success.

Maybe Creedence wasn’t the greatest of all American bands. That’s a whole debate to itself, and even aside from questions of taste, much depends on which genres you include, whether you count bands fronted by a dominating solo artist, and how much you value factors such as longevity, innovation, live performances, artistic influence, and commercial appeal. Certainly, they are on the very short list of bands without whom one cannot have the argument.

But they are, I would submit, the most American band. No other band so thoroughly integrated the sounds of white music and black music; of rock, blues, and country; of San Francisco with the Mississippi Delta, Memphis, and Detroit. With good reason, Creedence is regarded as the most foundational band in the “roots rock” genre we associate with the likes of Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty, Bob Seger, and John Mellencamp (other key progenitors included the Animals and the Band). Some of the other contenders for “greatest American band” were distinctly American: the Beach Boys embodied the sound of Southern California in the Space Age in a way that could only have been American, the Grateful Dead drew on all manner of streams of American music and folk tradition, and, of course, the entire African-American musical scenes of Motown and Stax were uniquely American. But nobody sounded as American in so many simultaneously different ways, yet drawing them into a cohesive sound, as Creedence. E pluribus unum.

The documentary captures some important realities about the band and its explosive overnight success after a decade of struggle. We hear John Fogerty, in a surprisingly soft-speaking voice as a 24-year-old, describe how he wrote “Proud Mary” the day he got his discharge from the Army — military service that caused the band to miss the “Summer of Love” in their home city of San Francisco, seemingly dooming them to miss a golden opportunity but actually preparing them for their great success. We see Fogerty’s Deep South musical influences contrasted with his total firsthand unfamiliarity with the region. We see the contrast between Creedence’s set at Woodstock and their TV appearance the night before on the decidedly un-countercultural Andy Williams Show.

We are reminded that this band did not so much play rock n’ roll as work rock n’ roll. In their live show before a staid crowd in the Royal Albert Hall, drummer Doug Clifford drives the band relentlessly forward, and bassist Stu Cook wears the expression of a man working a lathe rather than making entertainment. We hear them describe beforehand the pressure they put upon themselves for this show. Only when they reached their closing song, “Keep On Chooglin’,” do we see people get up and dance and the band break out of their tightly wound set to jam at length. John Fogerty does not even speak to the crowd until just before that song. It’s all business, played with manic intensity. The band is just four young men and their instruments, no staging, Fogerty (in leather pants and his trademark flannel shirt) unable to wander far from the cord plugged into his amp. It’s England’s most prestigious venue, but they may as well be playing in a garage.

Nobody ever had a run quite like Creedence, which released six platinum-selling albums in 31 months between May 1968 and December 1970, including three albums in 1969 alone — a year in which they outsold the Beatles. We are reminded that the news of the Beatles breaking up hit the British papers just days before Creedence’s show, escalating the sense that the band (three members of which turned 25 in 1970) was there to try to claim the title of the world’s biggest band. The documentary leaves off with the close of the show rather than dwell on the swift and bitter collapse of the band over the next two years. Like Brigadoon, Creedence was gone almost as quickly as it arrived, leaving little trace besides its timeless body of work from 1968-72 and Centerfield, John Fogerty’s 1985 comeback album.

Ultimately, the documentary is worth watching for the show, which is played in full with no interruption. The sound is fantastic, and the band had such a wealth of hits that they could leave gems such as “Down on the Corner” out and batter the audience with the likes of “Travelin’ Band” (as explosive an opening as any song in rock), “Born on the Bayou,” “Green River,” and “Fortunate Son.” These songs are so familiar to any rock listener — and Fogerty had such a gift for writing songs that sounded as if they’d always existed — that it is hard to hear them with fresh ears, especially because the band played them live almost exactly as they were on the record. It is nonetheless a revelation to see what a primal force this music was when played when it was new, by young men full of ambition and energy and palpable desperation to impress.

Economy & Business

Biden’s Gas Problem

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(Larry Downing/Reuters)

The New York Times reported this morning that the average price of a gallon of gasoline nosed upward for the first time in a hundred days — by seven-tenths of a copper-plated Lincoln visage.

My first inclination was to shout “Yes!” and thrill at the arrested descent of fuel prices because of how harmful it will be for the Biden administration. The second was to mutter a shamefaced “Ah, nuts.” 

We’ve all been there. What’s bad for the other side is good for us, or so the political binary would suggest. But higher gas prices are borne by us all, with increased manufacturing and shipping costs resulting in scarcity and elevated consumer value — thus higher prices — nothing to be celebrated.

Isabella Simonetti writes for the Times:

The national average gas price rose seven-tenths of one cent to $3.68 a gallon on Wednesday, according to AAA. That was down from $3.90 a month ago but up from $3.19 at the same time last year. Gas prices peaked at just above $5 a gallon in June.

The price of gasoline at the pump is primarily determined by global oil prices. West Texas Intermediate crude oil, the U.S. benchmark, rose above $120 per barrel in mid-June and has since tumbled to about $86 on worries about a recession’s denting demand and signs of increased supply coming to market.

While gas prices in the United States remain higher than they were for several years before the recent spike, the drop below $4 a gallon in August was seen as a political win for Mr. Biden, who has been under pressure to tame stubbornly high inflation and has released oil from strategic reserves, urged oil-producing countries to pump more crude and chided energy companies for what he considered profiteering.

Phil Klein pointed out that the price of gasoline is one of the only things keeping inflation in check for the top-line inflation numbers. Food and sundry goods continue their march up the Rockies, and the energy sector has been camouflaging their ascent these last few months. The Biden administration will have to throw every incentive at the issue to avoid what appears to be an inescapable uptick in inflation for the coming months — election months — with fuel rates plateauing and possibly increasing. 

It’s reasonable to claim that both Biden and I are cheering for lower gas prices, though for divergent reasons. He cheers because deflation may be the difference between a Democratic Senate and the specter of a Cocaine Mitch ascendancy, while I do so because I’m a magnanimous gentleman (and the wife’s Insight is at an eighth of a tank, and I don’t think I can put off filling it up much longer). 

Culture

Gender Fanaticism

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My colleague Charles noted a piece by Maggie Mertens published in the Atlantic, titled “Separating Sports by Sex Doesn’t Make Sense.” Charlie is skeptical that anyone could really believe that sex is irrelevant to sports. I sympathize. But in my experience, at least some of these people really do believe what they’re saying. Such individuals are gender fanatics, detached from reality, and insensate even to the most blatant facts of biology.

Here, for example, is a true believer:

From Russia with Good and Bad News

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Russia’s President Vladimir Putin oversees the Kavkaz-2020 multinational military exercises at the Kapustin Yar training ground in Astrakhan Region, Russia, September 25, 2020. (Sputnik/Mikhail Klimentyev/Kremlin via Reuters)

First, the bad news.

Vladimir Putin is clearly escalating this war in hope of rescuing victory (or at least a favorable settlement) from the jaws of defeat. Too much Russian blood and treasure has been wasted for the Kremlin to limp away with its credibility intact. The Russians are going to throw hard punches in the next weeks and months. If the war remains merely a conventional conflict, it’s improbable that the Russian army will regain the initiative. A growing and confident Ukrainian army, armed and supplied by the West, should be able to defeat any renewed Russian offensives.

But, unless the

Culture

Newsom’s Blasphemy: Loving Your Neighbor Is Not Insisting a Mother Needs to Kill Her Unborn Child

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California Governor Gavin Newsom speaks during an appearance ahead of facing a Republican-led recall election in in San Leandro, Calif., September 8, 2021. (Fred Greaves/Reuters)

Gavin Newsom took to Twitter in recent days with enthusiasm for his ad campaign in states that have post-Roe protections for the unborn. He tweeted at the governor of Mississippi:

the people of Mississippi deserve to know they have access to the care you are refusing to provide. This will be launching in your state today.

The accompanying image of a young woman in distress advertises California as an abortion destination.

“Need an abortion? California is ready to help.”

And Newsom brings God into his outreach to women beyond California to bombard them with abortion messaging.

In italics, it reads: “Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no greater commandment than these,” from the Gospel according to Mark 12:31.

Earlier this month we were told on MSNBC that the Bible does not say anything about ending the life of innocent unborn children. Gavin Newsom goes one further — suggesting that the Bible commands abortion. The former Republican congressman who claimed Jesus had nothing to say about abortion perhaps can claim ignorance — surely it’s been a long time since Sunday school, and he didn’t have the Catholic Catechism to fall back on, as Newsom does. There are a lot of people professing to be Christians claiming a lot of crazy things these days — most especially on abortion. Gavin Newsom, on the other hand, has entered into blasphemy territory. All for abortion.

Newsom is a father. And that young woman in the ad looks like a young woman who could use some protection, some men in her life being men and supporting her as the mother she already is. As governor, Newsom’s enthusiasm for abortion lets women down. But, of course, if his image of God — he says he is Catholic — is a Father who sent His Son to urge you to help the woman next door and states away to kill her child, it’s little surprise.

“My commandment is this: love one another as I have loved you.” That was the lead antiphon in morning prayer in the Liturgy of the Hours in the church that Newsom claims to be a member of. It struck me today how I fall so terribly short of that command daily. I can’t imagine I’m alone. Jesus Christ died for our sins — each and every one of us — is what Christians believe. Only the martyrs don’t fall short. Jesus in His Passion and Death is the measure. What a miserable perversion to say that God wants us to join the chorus urging the supposed quick fix of abortion.

Abortion is evidence that we are not loving our neighbors — that we are expecting them to choose the most intimate violence, severing the most natural relationship in the world, the bond between a mother and her child.

How about asking how many women feel like abortion is their only option? How about pushing for informed consent at the very least?

Earlier today I had a conversation on the new movie Lifemark, a true story about a woman who almost had an abortion — she was in the abortion clinic, on the table. A woman praying outside the clinic that day loved her enough to tell her the truth — some details about the baby she was about to have killed. On the table, no doubt in my mind because of the power of prayer, she had the confidence in God to get up and choose life. Melissa Coles courageously chose adoption for her son. She chose the couple who would become her child’s parents. She chose to love her neighbors — including the one whose beating heart was within her.

Loving our neighbor means life-giving choices. Loving our neighbor means wrapping around women and families with love and support. How dare you say God asks for death, when He died to give us life in abundance and for eternity.

Today is the feast day of Saint Matthew. I pity Governor Newsom if he truly believes the message of an apostle’s conversion story is to go out and make sure women in all states of the union can boost California’s economy by killing her child there. Perhaps the pre-conversion tax collector would be pleased, but not the one who God chose for sanctity.

 

Culture

The Weird Wendy’s, One Year Later

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The Wendy’s in Northeast Washington, D.C, one year after its closure. (Jack Butler)

A year ago today, the Weird Wendy’s closed down. It had long sat in the middle of what Northeast D.C. residents had jokingly taken to calling “Dave Thomas Circle,” the famously unnavigable intersection of Florida and New York Avenues and First Street. I was present for its demise, and noted the wistful atmosphere:

. . . what brought people here tonight, then? Aside from a desire for Wendy’s, there seemed to be an ineffable feeling that something more than just a fast-food restaurant was about to be lost. To many, the Weird Wendy’s was a testament to an older Washington, D.C. A place that had not yet so thoroughly benefited from the increasingly ostentatious and unseemly nexus of government and corporate power. A place in which long-extant neighborhoods maintained something of their abiding charm. A place that, despite being the nation’s capital, could seem at times more like a small town than a big city.

You could make all sorts of arguments in favor of the removal of the Weird Wendy’s. But what can’t be denied is that it was a lingering rebuke to the designs of planners who have grand ambitions for what places should look like at the same time that they have contempt for the seemingly haphazard features of neighborhoods to which their residents nonetheless become attached. Evidencing this attachment, Joshua told me he hoped that the park planned for the Wendy’s lot honors its past in some way. “Leave a sign here that says, ‘This was a Wendy’s,” he suggested.

Indeed, it was.

Today, the building that was once the Weird Wendy’s still stands, though long emptied of its franchise. To counter graffiti, it was surrounded by a chain-link fence. When graffiti appeared anyway, the city painted over what others had, ah, “decorated” it with. But there it still sits. Traffic continued its labored journey around the Weird Wendy’s lot as I walked by this afternoon. Two men hawked refreshments to idling motorists on the hot, humid, D.C. September day; they had a few takers.

I spoke to one of the drink-hawkers about the demise of the place. He suggested it should have been turned into a “strip club.” This is not, as far as I know, part of the D.C. government’s plans. But official designs to turn the area into a park and to improve the navigability of one of the city’s most chaotic intersections are still being worked out. So far, the only marginal improvement in traffic flow has come from the fact that cars are no longer entering or leaving the restaurant.

For now, the Weird Wendy’s remains the monument to unplanned oddity that it was when it existed. With one difference. When active, it was at least lively, and quirky. Now, it is just a stark, barren reminder of what used to be. Look on my Works, Ye Mighty, and despair!

There’s not much else to do when you’re waiting for your light.

Politics & Policy

New Year, Same Texas, Different Office, Same Old Beto

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Beto O’Rourke speaks during a protest in Austin, Texas, May 8, 2021. (Mikala Compton/Reuters)

Polls that have Texas governor Greg Abbott ahead of challenger Beto O’Rourke aren’t exactly shocking news at this point. But they’re worth noting every now and then for two reasons. First, these polls refute the narrative that took root this spring, particularly after the Uvalde shooting, when Democrats and their allies convinced themselves one more time that, “this time, it’s different. Texas has changed! A Democrat has a real shot at winning!” It was as if Democrats believed that because they wanted that to be true so badly, they could will that political dynamic into existence.

The second is that the consistent Abbott lead demonstrates how much the traits of Beto O’Rourke, the hottest Democratic Party star of 2018, are starting to feel like a tired schtick.

Texas Monthly offers another big, detailed, colorful and well-reported profile piece, with a lot of the familiar notes from all of those profiles of O’Rourke in 2018 – his use of profanity, standing on tables, the huge fundraising, his musical tastes. “He’s still driving around Texas in a Toyota Tundra, still drawing crowds in the reddest parts of the state, still guerrilla marketing himself in sprawling selfie lines.” And at certain points, correspondent Dan Solomon sounds like he feels a bit of that old magic from four years ago:

 O’Rourke does this because he finds purpose in it… Maybe what he told Vanity Fair three years ago wasn’t a regrettable boast, but something that’s at the core of who he is. Maybe he really was born to be in it. And maybe he foresaw some possibilities for Democrats in 2022 that others, at least until recently, did not.

But Solomon acknowledges that in a lot of ways, this is the same old stuff that came respectably close but fell short four years ago. “The novelty of his campaigning has long since worn off—O’Rourke has stood on tables to speak to crowds from Iowa to Virginia, and he’s stumped in every county in Texas—and a third loss would be humiliating.”

In the closing paragraphs, you can almost feel the clash between the desire to believe in this idealistic image of O’Rourke, against the cold hard reality of Texas politics – this is still a heavily Republican state, and this year is a much worse political environment for Democrats than 2018.

If he beats Abbott, O’Rourke said, Republican lawmakers “are going to be paying attention.” He believes the jolt of his victory will make them receptive to modest reforms on abortion rights, gun control, and immigration. “I think there’s a lot of common ground there,” he said, “and I will make the most of every single inch of it.” He may be right about the existence of common ground. But it’s equally possible that resisting cooperation with Governor O’Rourke would become a requirement for Republican legislators who wanted to survive primary challenges from the right in 2024 and beyond.

Even if we can’t predict what the repercussions would be, O’Rourke is certainly correct that a victory in November would send shock waves through Texas politics. That’s partly because it seems so unlikely. Polling in the governor’s race has narrowed—but from a 15-point Abbott lead last December to 7.2 points on average by the end of August. O’Rourke’s betting odds have improved, too; instead of being a ten-to-one long shot, he’s closer to five-to-one now. That’s a fine trend line if your goal is to score a moral victory. But moral victories don’t change who’s in charge.

O’Rourke learned that lesson the hard way in 2018. But as the 2022 campaign reaches its final months, the candidate is convinced that what he’s seen on the road speaks to something happening in the electorate that the pollsters and oddsmakers haven’t picked up on yet. “As our honorary fellow Texan Joe Strummer would say, the future is unwritten,” O’Rourke told me after his event in Fredericksburg, name-dropping the punk-rock icon who fronted the Clash and whose music can be heard from the speakers at every rally. “We get to decide this at the ballot box.”

Yes… and when the votes are counted, Abbott’s likely to win by five to 11 percentage points, a bit wider margin than Ted Cruz’s three-point win over Beto in the 2018 Senate race.

World

China’s Climate Envoy Ignores John Kerry’s Emails

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U.S. climate envoy John Kerry gestures during a news conference at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland May 25, 2022. (Arnd Wiegmann/Reuters)

Beijing suspended bilateral cooperation with the U.S. on climate and other issues in protest of Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s trip to Taiwan last month. This hasn’t stopped climate envoy John Kerry from trying to restart talks with his Chinese counterpart. At a New York Times–hosted conference yesterday, he said that he’s holding out hope — even though China’s envoy is ignoring his messages. Bloomberg reports:

“They suspended — they didn’t terminate,” Kerry said at a New York Times climate event, adding that it was a conscious word choice. “I really hope China will decide sometime in the next days it is worth coming back to this because we owe it to humankind.”

“I have emailed,” Kerry said. “He’s not allowed to answer me, and it’s very complicated.”

“And he hasn’t,” he quickly added.

The Chinese government’s conduct seems to show that Beijing views climate-cooperation talks as an instrument with which it can influence U.S. policy in other areas. Given Kerry’s statements on human rights, that strategy might be yielding some results.

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.