National Review

National Review Summer Editorial Internship

National Review is accepting applications for its summer editorial internship. The intern will work in our New York office, receive a modest stipend, participate in every part of the editorial process, and have some opportunities to write. The ideal candidate will have an excellent academic record and some experience in student or professional journalism. If you wish to apply, please send a cover letter, your résumé, and two of your best writing samples (no more, please) to editorial.applications (at) nationalrevew.com. (Please note: This internship is separate from internships offered by National Review Institute, as well as a business and publishing internship that will be advertised separately.)

Education

Trouble Looming Ahead for Christian Colleges

Combine the loss of true Christian emphasis at many colleges and universities with the rising hostility toward religion (especially Christianity) among Democrats and you have the makings of a crisis for America’s remaining Christian institutions of higher education. Economics professor William Anderson explains the trouble he sees ahead in today’s Martin Center piece.

Politics & Policy

The ‘Trump Hid His Meetings with Putin’ Stories Begin to Unravel

On Sunday, the mainstream media launched a new ploy to promote their Trump-Russia collusion narrative with a story that first appeared in the Washington Post titled “Officials in dark on Putin talks.” A similar piece was published in the Wall Street Journal on Monday, titled “Trump didn’t use notetakers at Putin/ Meeting.” Cable-news networks and Democratic congressmen claim these stories indicate that President Trump held secret discussions with Russian president Putin that were revealed to no one. For example, Senator Mark Warner (D-VA) told CNN on Sunday that the U.S. government “does not know” what Trump and Putin discussed.

It is now clear that these stories were misleading, if not mostly false. First, they neglected to mention that the president’s decision to restrict access to read-outs of his two one-on-one meetings with Putin were due to the extraordinary number of leaks to the press of his phone calls and meetings with foreign officials at the beginning of his presidency.

Second, it is untrue that senior officials are unaware of what was discussed in President Trump’s meetings with Putin.

Concerning Trump’s first meeting with Putin in 2017, although a notetaker reportedly was not present and Mr. Trump allegedly took possession of his interpreter’s notes, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson attended this meeting and provided a detailed read-out to senior U.S. officials. It is clear that the unnamed officials cited in the Washington Post piece on the 2017 Trump-Putin meeting were irritated that they were not provided with copies of Tillerson’s read-out of the meeting, not that there wasn’t a read-out. It also is ridiculous for the press to assert that President Trump said something nefarious to Putin with Tillerson present.

Concerning President Trump’s one-on-one meeting with Putin in Helsinki last July, I can attest as former national-security council executive secretary and chief of staff that senior U.S. officials — including myself — know everything that was discussed. Again, the real issue here is that some U.S. officials are irritated that they do not know what was discussed in this meeting and voiced their frustrations to the press.

The media’s claim that this story amounts to a U.S. president concealing his secret discussions with the Russian president as part of his alleged collusion with Russia is fake news. Senior U.S. officials knew exactly what was discussed in these meetings. This story is really about a successful effort by President Trump to prevent anti-Trump government officials from leaking sensitive national-security information to the press.

Music

A Dazzler

André Previn as Kennedy Center honoree, 1998. With him is Mia Farrow. (Larry Downing / Reuters)

In my Impromptus today, I begin with talent — with James Harden in particular, whose talent is hard to fathom. This leads me to André Previn — whose son Fletcher, the chief information officer of IBM, was quoted in a Wall Street Journal piece recently.

Who is Previn? André, that is? Well, a musician, born in 1929. (Got the hell out of Berlin just in time.) He is — let us count the ways — a classical composer; a popular composer; a classical pianist; a jazz pianist; a conductor; and — this will stick in some writers’ craws — a damn good writer.

I have been fooling around in the National Review archives. In April 1999, I had a piece called “André, Anyone?” It begins,

Who is the great man of music in the world today? The question, though playful, is not frivolous. Musicians and others like to kick it around, and sometimes they kick hard. A desire to rank — to establish a Number One — is as forgivable in music as it is in tennis (though music, unlike tennis, has no formula). For one thing, the exercise is amusing; but for another, it brings into clarity what we believe and value about this art.

What credentials should our crowned one bear? He ought to bestride his world like a colossus, casting a shadow on its every byway. He ought to have a versatility that invites him into every endeavor. He should be the master — more than just the casual acquaintance — of an instrument. (The piano would be nice.) He ought surely to be a conductor, at home in every type of music, from Byrd to yesterday. And — there is no escaping this — he must compose. He has to be an originator of music, not merely its reproducer, no matter how exalted.

How formally, or at least how differently, I wrote back then! Anyway, André Previn is one of the greatest men of music we have ever seen, or heard.

I have a little potpourri for you. Previn as classical composer? Try the violin concerto he wrote for Anne-Sophie Mutter (one of his wives). As popular composer? Try his song “Like Young.” As classical pianist? Here he is in Mozart’s C-minor concerto (which he conducts at the same time). As jazz pianist? “This Can’t Be Love,” in 1947, when Previn was a teen. As conductor? His famous recording of Rachmaninoff’s Symphony No. 2.

As writer? Prose writer? His memoir of Hollywood, No Minor Chords.

You get the picture. Extraordinary picture.

By the way, Previn wrote an opera on A Streetcar Named Desire. Years ago, I was talking with Lee Hoiby, another American composer. In 1964, Tennessee Williams offered him his choice: any Williams play, for operatic treatment. Hoiby chose Summer and Smoke. He passed over Streetcar, thinking that it did not lend itself well to an opera. For one thing, what would you do with Stanley Kowalski’s bellowing of “Stella!”? How would you set that to music?

About 35 years later, Previn did Streetcar. And he simply let Stanley bellow. No music. Hoiby said, “That’s a perfect solution. It never occurred to me.” (He was still glad he had done Summer and Smoke.)

Anyway, that Impromptus of mine is here. In addition to Harden and Previn, I write of Donald Trump, Elizabeth Warren, George W. Bush, and other characters, including, at the end, Moses.

Politics & Policy

Beto O’Rourke Not Sure the Constitution Still Works

Democratic senate candidate Rep. Beto O’Rourke concedes to senator Ted Cruz at his midterm election night party in El Paso, Texas, November 6, 2018. (Mike Segar/REUTERS)

Most of the WaPo interview on Beto O’Rourke is a nonprescription sleep aid. O’Rourke thinks he maybe has something to say about immigration and the border but apart from opposing the wall he isn’t too sure what. He says things like “I don’t know” and “worth debating.” He equivocates on what to do about border security, about withdrawing troops from Syria, about the Green New Deal. He says “I don’t know what to do” in so many ways that you wonder why he bothered to give an interview. Apparently it went on for two hours. How many espressos reporter Jenna Johnson needed to ward off somnolence is unknown.

The piece goes on for 36 paragraphs. It isn’t until paragraph 35 that O’Rourke says something interesting, indeed shocking: That he isn’t sold on the basis of the United States of America.

Johnson doesn’t record her question but it was something about how O’Rourke is torn between a “bright-eyed hope that the United States will soon dramatically change its approach to a whole host of issues” — not a partial host! — “and a dismal suspicion that the country is now incapable of implementing sweeping change.” Sounds like a totally neutral framing of where matters stand.

O’Rourke blathers on. It takes a moment for it to sink in that he isn’t sure the Constitution still works. “I’m hesitant to answer it because I really feel like it deserves its due, and I don’t want to give you a — actually, just selfishly, I don’t want a sound bite of it reported, but, yeah, I think that’s the question of the moment: Does this still work? Can an empire like ours with military presence in over 170 countries around the globe, with trading relationships…and security arrangements in every continent, can it still be managed by the same principles that were set down 230-plus years ago?” (Emphasis mine.)

The Constitution was ratified 231 years ago. There’s not much doubt what he’s referring to. Beto O’Rourke’s take on the Constitution is, “Does this still work?” Exactly what he said to conclude the thought is also not recorded in the story but Johnson adds, “O’Rourke doesn’t yet know the answer, but he’s ready to discuss it.” (If O’Rourke did in fact say, “I don’t know,” that’s immensely more interesting than all of the other “I don’t knows” Johnson reported. Indeed, if he said that, “O’Rourke on the Constitution: ‘I don’t know'” should have been her headline, and the last four paragraphs should have been the first four.)

I’d say a man who appears to be intent on running for president dismissing the Constitution as something that may or may not work is an even bigger gaffe than Jesse Jackson’s reference to New York City as “Hymietown” in the WaPo in 1984. That little nugget wasn’t mentioned until the 37th paragraph of a friendly 52-paragraph Jackson profile, the rest of which has been completely forgotten.

U.S.

Forget the Gillette Ad, This Is What an Attack on Masculinity Looks Like

Gillette’s commercial on “toxic masculinity” (Gillette/via YouTube)

I confess to being profoundly un-offended by the now-infamous Gillette ad. Yes, it was preachy, and the indictment of suburban dads made no sense (after all, our real problem isn’t mean dads, it’s not enough dads), but the message was little more than “bad things are bad, and good things are good.” No one decent is for bullying or sexual harassment, and at least the ad extolled the masculine virtue of protectiveness.

In fact, if our culture’s “masculinity wars” were entirely about preventing such unquestionably bad actions as bullying and harassment, they would be but a minor blip on the radar screen of most men and boys. Most of us don’t bully or harass anyone. However, the masculinity wars are about much more than unquestionably bad acts. They veer into the very nature of masculinity itself.

If you want to see the difference between a rather awkward attack on truly toxic masculinity and a frontal assault on actual masculine virtue, then look no farther than this 2017 Twitter ad from Harry’s (Update: It appears Harry’s deleted the tweet):

Watch the whole thing.  It takes masculine aspirational statements — like “be tough,” “be a rock,” “be a man,” and “be the breadwinner“ — and crosses them out. It’s so over-the-top that it’s almost like a parody of modern woke attacks on masculinity.  Whereas the Gillette’s message is, “Bad things are bad,” Harry’s message is, “Good things are bad.”

It is absolutely true that there are cruel and toxic ways to teach virtues like toughness or proper forms of stoicism, but to throw out the actual virtues themselves as harmful is, frankly, absurd. No, it’s worse than absurd. It’s destructive to men and boys.

Spend any time with young men, and you will know and understand that the vast majority want to be tough, they want to be seen as a “rock,” and they want to provide for their families. At the same time, however, many of them will balk at the discipline necessary to inculcate those virtues. We do them no favors when we declare their aspirations illegitimate.

And, by the way, these virtues benefit women. There are many millions of women who want to see those virtues developed in their sons and want the men they marry to possess those virtues in abundance.

Honestly, how many older men have you met in your life who have said to you, “I wish I was less tough, was less able to provide for my family, and more dependent on the whims of my emotions”? How many men have said, “I hate that people perceive me as the rock of the family”? In fact, while we seek compassion and understanding for our inevitable failures, I would assert that the vast majority of men achieve deep and profound satisfaction and meaning by attaining those qualities.

By striking through manly virtues, Harry’s liberates no one. Instead, a brand designed to cater to men attacks the aspirational ideals of its customer base. Masculine virtues are virtues, and any message to the contrary contributes (in however small a way) to the challenges facing all too many men and boys in modern America.

Energy & Environment

PETA’s Synthetic Excuse

A PETA activist protests outside a clothing store in Berlin in 2007. (Tobias Schwarz/Reuters)

Animal-rights group PETA recently reiterated its criticism of the harvesting of natural furs from animals for use in coats. ‘Tis the season, after all, to lambast people for wearing leather, wool, hide, and fur garments.

On December 13, PETA added “#CanadaGooseKillsDay” to their Twitter account. Currently, PETA has a page on their website dedicated to detailing what coyotes undergo for the sake of the creation of Canada Goose coats. It describes how wild coyotes are trapped and the physical and psychological effects they can suffer, including dehydration, shock, frostbite, and gangrene. PETA says that “Canada Goose jackets are products of cruelty.”

Of course, PETA is not advocating for an end to coats. The same page declares that there is “no need for any of this to occur when so many fashionable, functional fur and down alternatives exist,” linking to a series of faux fur brands.

While at first glance, faux fur and synthetic garments might seem like a reasonable and compassionate alternative to natural fur coats, synthetic coats have a surprisingly large effect on the environment.

The list of materials in the making of one of the winter coats of Donna Salyers’ Fabulous Furs — one of the faux fur brands on PETA’s list of recommended alternatives — includes acrylic, modacrylic and polyester fur trim. Other faux coats boast a similar make-up of synthetic fibers, principally acrylic and polyester.

Polyester, invented in the early decades of the twentieth century as a cheap and more insulating alternative to cotton and wool, shortly overtook the competition and became one of the most popular fabrics. In the fashion world, polyester, like other plastics in other domains, became a quick and easy alternative to organic materials.

However, there is nothing quick nor easy about the production or destruction of polyester, which is one of the least environmentally friendly fabrics. Unlike organic fibers, polyester and other synthetic fibers do not easily biodegrade; a synthetic garment can take from 20 to 200 years to break down, whereas leather takes 50 years at the longest. Wool can take only six months, and a cotton garment can take as little as five months, to biodegrade.

And unlike wool and cotton that is harvested exclusively from organic sources, polyester is in part derived from coal and petroleum, industries much maligned by PETA: Another page on its website bears the headline “Fight Climate Change by Going Vegan” and says: “Climate change has been called humankind’s greatest challenge and the world’s gravest environmental threat.” In another list on the ethics group’s website, “save the planet” is one of their top ten reasons to go vegan. But PETA’s concern for the environment only seems to crop up when it is convenient for itself.

PETA has criticized the environmental toll of the oil industry before. However, the group’s criticism took a strange tack. It declared that consumers should stop eating meat, which drives demand for oil. In one instance PETA flew a plane over Mobile, Alabama, with the banner “Meat on Your Grill = Oil Spill.”

It is absurd of PETA to put the brunt of responsibility on consumers with limited options, but this is becoming an increasingly common position for the animal-rights group. PETA has endorsed practices that have much more toxic results than the production of animal-derived goods at a time when warnings about the environment are growing louder.

The process of creating and maintaining synthetic coats takes a toll, the garments themselves remain pollutants for hundreds of years after they are discarded, and when they are washed for everyday use, they shed additional plastic fibers. According to the Guardian, “researchers at the University of California at Santa Barbara found that, on average, synthetic fleece jackets release 1.7 grams of microfibers each wash.

And using the same coat from year to year will do little less damage. The amount of microfibers that synthetic coats and jackets release into water when washed only increases as the garment age. The same study found that “older jackets shed almost twice as many fibers as new jackets.”

Manifest pollution from polyester microfibers in synthetic garments have already been found by multiple studies to be a primary source of plastic pollutants in oceans, lakes and rivers. Plastic pollutants contribute to increased acidification of the ocean, which, UN scientists recently warned, “is projected to amplify the adverse effects of warming” and affect the “abundance of a broad range of species, for example, from algae to fish.

If PETA truly cared about environmental health and the health of the animals whose very existence depend on that healthy ecosystem, they would not promote fake fur as adamantly as they do. PETA’s facile reasoning doesn’t take into account the long-term repercussions of using non-biodegradable alternatives to natural garments.

Natural fibers are ultimately more sustainable than synthetic, even though they demand a more immediate use of resources, including livestock. PETA ought to consider whether, in the long-term, it is promoting trends that will prolong the length and quality of the lives of the animals it claims to speak for.

White House

‘Great American Food’

President Trump in the State Dining Room at the White House, January 14, 2019. (Joyce N. Boghosian/White House)

My stomach has guided me to many different places, and in my gastronomic globe-trotting, I’ve eaten traditional dishes ranging from beef-tongue tramezzini to squid chowder. National cuisines often reflect what a country values and its history, and despite the antiquity of many other nations and the food produced by it, the national cuisine that intrigues me the most is that of the fresh-faced America.

America is an infant compared to the rest of the world that had the benefit of time to design the dishes that would represent them. Our forebears fumbled around with food, integrating the cuisines of their native countries to the degree that they could with what was agriculturally available to them. France may have La Petite Chaise and Paul Bucose and foie gras, but America has the glorious golden arches, and inside this great reliquary are the trans fats and artery-clogging sustenance that defines “great American food.” McDonald’s is arguably more American than apple pie. 

Deride Trump all you want, but in that iconic photo of him standing with demonstrative jazz hands underneath Lincoln’s portrait, in front of a dining spread of sterling silver and fine china, in between golden candelabras, is the American National Cuisine: Filet O’Fish, Big Macs, Domino’s, and Whoppers.

The imagery coming out of the White House has reached the media and Trump’s largest critics (I’m being redundant), who have harangued him for what they consider a pathetic display of congratulation, but I don’t know what could make the image more American. The context itself is even patently, on-brand American: College football players, anticipating dining with the president at the White House after they won a national championship during the longest government shutdown in American history; the billionaire-turned-president wearing his staple red power tie, paying for the fast food on his own dime.

McDonald’s is cheap, fast, and satisfying (even if the satisfaction is only emphemeral). The obsession with automation and convenience is an American one, and our food reflects this. When I have an intense food craving, it’s not duck confit or cassoulet that I want — it’s the addictive, guilt-inducing soul food that only an employee behind a drive-through window can give me. Big Macs and Whoppers are immediately accessible food for the working class, and Trump knows this — he could’ve easily afforded to purchase roasted russet potatoes and salmon, followed by other upscale-dinner norms of petite desserts with fancy coulis designs. He could’ve afforded a reception with rotating waiters holding glistening trays of hors d’oeuvres.

But he didn’t. He chose “great American food.” The naysayers are saying “Qu’ils mangent de la brioche” — Let them eat cake.

Health Care

Twenty-Seven Euthanasia Killings at Ohio Hospital?

Dr. Jack Kevorkian’s ‘Thanatron,’ often referred in the media as the ‘Death Machine,’ is seen during a press preview for the Sale of the Estate of Jack Kevorkian at the New York Institute of Technology, N.Y., October 27, 2011. (Shannon Stapleton/REUTERS)

A major euthanasia scandal is brewing at a hospital in Ohio, where a doctor and other staff professionals are being investigated for lethally overdosing dying patients. From the Columbus Dispatch story:

Mount Carmel Health System says one of its intensive-care doctors gave “significantly excessive and potentially fatal” doses of pain medication to at least 27 near-death patients between 2015 and 2018.

Dr. William Husel, who had worked for the system since 2013, has been fired, and details of an internal investigation by Mount Carmel have been turned over to authorities, the health system’s top executive said in a statement Monday.

The alleged perpetrator may have thought he was doing the patients a favor by cutting the dying process short:

The families of all patients involved had requested that lifesaving measures be stopped, but the amount of painkiller prescribed was beyond what was needed to provide comfort, said Ed Lamb, president and CEO of the Columbus-based health system.

It is one thing to refuse life-support. Then, if death comes — sometimes it doesn’t — the demise is natural, the person’s “time” as the saying goes. It is quite another to make that happen by ending the patient’s life.

The problem apparently involved more than a lone-wolf killer:

Along with Husel’s firing, 20 employees have been placed on administrative leave, among them pharmacists who were involved with related patient care, and nurses who administered the medication, Mount Carmel executives said. The health system said only one doctor was involved.

If these allegations prove true — innocent until proven guilty — does the euthanasia movement bear some of the blame? Not directly. The acts are the sole responsibility of the perpetrator(s). Moreover, such crimes have happened before legalizing assisted suicide was a dark cloud on the horizon.

Still, I think that the ubiquitous presentation — even celebration — in media and popular culture of dying by overdose as “death with dignity” contributes to a cultural atmosphere around death and serious illness that might lead a disturbed person to feel justified in speeding things up.

This seems particularly so if these deaths involved a conspiracy among hospital personnel or a clear willingness by some staffers to look the other way. What would have given them the idea that administering a mass overdose of fentanyl was in any way acceptable?

I’ll keep an eye on this and report as there are further developments.

Politics & Policy

China Aftershocks

Scott Lincicome examines, with appropriate skepticism, the claim that U.S. policymakers made a big mistake in 2000 by extending normal trade relations to China on a permanent basis. It is perverse that research that shows that China made big improvements to its productivity by cutting tariffs on Chinese companies’ inputs has been used to justify America’s raising tariffs on American companies’ inputs.

National Review

National Review Summer Editorial Internship

National Review is accepting applications for its summer editorial internship. The intern will work in our New York office, receive a modest stipend, participate in every part of the editorial process, and have some opportunities to write. The ideal candidate will have an excellent academic record and some experience in student or professional journalism. If you wish to apply, please send a cover letter, your résumé, and two of your best writing samples (no more, please) to editorial.applications (at) nationalrevew.com. (Please note: This internship is separate from internships offered by National Review Institute, as well as a business and publishing internship that will be advertised separately.)

Economy & Business

What GDP Growth Misses

(Ajay Verma/REUTERS)

In light of “the growth wars” — the ongoing intra-right debate over whether or not conservatives have been in the grip of an unseemly “GDP fetishism,” which prioritizes GDP growth over all else — I wonder if it’s worth considering the subject from a different, more prosaic angle. Even if we were to stipulate that what policymakers ought to care most about is material well-being, it is not obvious that GDP growth is the right target. For one, you should at the very least focus on growth in GDP per capita. Otherwise, robust work-force expansion coupled with stagnant or even declining productivity would create the illusion of progress, even if improvement in material living standards were stuck in reverse. And as Random Critical Analysis has explained at length, GDP per capita is itself a decreasingly reliable proxy for material living standards. To get a sense of the resources available to the average household, you’d be better off with a measure like actual individual consumption per capita or household net adjusted disposable income. In Luxembourg and Ireland, for example, GDP per capita is swelled by the fact that many multinationals park their profits in tax havens, but actual individual consumption per capita in both countries is markedly lower. (The economist Diane Coyle has much more on the idiosyncrasies of calculating GDP in her much-admired GDP: A Brief but Affectionate History.)

Further, one could argue that a sound assessment of the welfare of people in a given country is affected by other factors as well, such as life expectancy and leisure. This shouldn’t be too controversial. It’s not hard to see why one might prefer earning slightly less income over a much longer lifespan, or slightly less income while working far fewer hours. Granted, this does get us into subjective territory, which is always treacherous. But it’s possible to stick to plain-vanilla considerations to come up with a new summary statistic designed to capture living standards. That’s what the economists Charles Jones and Peter Klenow tried to do in a 2016 paper, and their findings are revealing. Viewed solely through the lens of GDP per capita, the French look much worse off than Americans. Once we adjust for life expectancy, leisure, and inequality — yes, I know this might strike you as awfully political, but a high average might conceal lackluster consumption for those in the middle of the pack — Americans are still better off, but the gap closes quite a bit. Most of the time, GDP per capita and Jones and Klenow’s consumption-equivalent welfare measure are highly correlated, as one would expect. However, the gap between living standards in the U.S. and Western Europe shrinks while the gap between the advanced market economies and most developing countries, including China, grows dramatically, in large part due to shorter life expectancies and more extreme inequality in the latter.

Perhaps the justification for prioritizing GDP growth is not that it’s the best way to capture material living standards, as there are another number of summary statistics that would do a better job of hitting that target, but rather that it’s a solid measure of aggregate national power. As the political scientist Michael Beckley argues in a recent issue of International Security, however, gross indicators, including GDP, “systematically exaggerate the wealth and military capabilities of poor, populous countries, because they tally countries’ resources without deducting the costs countries pay to police, protect, and serve their people.” Rather than rely on gross indicators, he recommends the use of net indicators. “In essence,” writes Beckley, “this process involves creating a balance sheet for each country: assets go on one side of the ledger; liabilities go on the other side; and net resources are calculated by subtracting the latter from the former.” To illustrate his point, Beckley points to the 19th century, when a rising British empire bested the decaying Chinese empire in a series of military conflicts. Britain did this despite the fact that China’s GDP was at the time substantially larger, owing to its much larger, but also far more impoverished, population. China, he notes, “had the largest GDP and military in the world until the 1890s, and the second largest GDP and military until the 1930s.” Yet the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries can hardly be characterized as an age of triumph for the Chinese people.

Drawing on the work of historian Paul Bairoch, Beckley uses a simple index that multiplies overall GDP by GDP per capita, the latter of which he uses as a proxy for economic and military efficiency. Doing so yields valuable lessons for understanding why the Britain prevailed over China in the nineteenth century and why the U.S. prevailed over the Soviet Union in the twentieth. Towards the end of his article, Beckley pours cold water on the notion that Chinese power will soon surpass that of the U.S.:

Obviously China is not as weak today as it was in the nineteenth century, but neither is it as powerful as its gross resources suggest. China may have the world’s biggest economy and military, but it also leads the world in debt; resource consumption; pollution; useless infrastructure and wasted industrial capacity; scientific fraud; internal security spending; border disputes; and populations of invalids, geriatrics, and pensioners. China also uses seven times the input to generate a given level of economic output as the United States and is surrounded by nineteen countries, most of which are hostile toward China, politically unstable, or both.

To return to the growth wars, there is no question that economic growth matters. Of course it does. But so does deploying our human resources more effectively. Judging by the decline in life expectancy in the U.S. and some other high-income countries, we could be doing better on that front.

Economy & Business

‘Markets Exist To Serve People’

Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange in N.Y., December 20, 2018. (Brendan McDermid/REUTERS )

I agree with what Charlie has written below, but would add and emphasize: The sentence “Markets exist to serve people” does not really mean anything. It has no meaningful content. Markets are made up of people interacting with other people. They don’t exist to serve turnips or interstellar dust or sublimity. Just people. The same goes for empty-headed slogans such as “People over profits.” Who the hell do profits accrue to, if not people? Honeybees? Badgers? Monkeys? Profits go to people. Otherwise, they aren’t really profits.

“But I don’t like those people!” is the unspoken addition. Why not just say so? “We think that the people who invest and save shouldn’t make the level of returns they currently make on their investments and savings, and that knocking them down a peg would help the Benighted Common Man because . . . well, hell, we haven’t actually figured that part out yet, but we sure as hell have a few things to say about the calculation of GDP and how that goes over in Steubenville. Real America!”

It’s easy enough to say. Harder to defend. I don’t think this mush is going to end up being very helpful to anybody.

Culture

Manners, Morals, and Trump’s Twitter Typos

President Donald Trump speaks in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington, D.C., January 14, 2019. (Joshua Roberts/REUTERS)

In criticizing the ragged nature of President Trump’s written communications, John McWhorter at The Atlantic cites as an example a spelling that the president or someone on the White House staff got right: “commonsense,” the adjective, in the phrase “commonsense legislation.” The noun is “common sense.” When it modifies other nouns, you can either hyphenate it (“common-sense legislation”) or, in Germanic style, close it up. In this case, the closed-up style, “commonsense,” is neater and (my impression is) preferred in American publications edited at some level above the Mendoza line.

McWhorter argues that Trump’s writing shows “inadequate thought” and “not just inadequate manners or polish.” I’ll pass over the part about inadequate thought. Why that minimizing “just” to modify “manners”? They have a moral dimension. One reason we’re careful with words is that they have tonic and toxic effects on the soul. We can bless, and we can curse.

Sometimes words cause unintended harm by slipping away from us, like a fastball from a pitcher with poor control. All of us have been on both sides of that. In the course of a spirited conversation, you hear coming out of your mouth a word or phrase that could have unfortunate associations for your interlocutor. They evaded your awareness in the nanosecond between the formation of the thought you wanted to express and your choice of words to express it, and now it’s too late.

The misspellings, wrong homonyms (“boarder security”), and unconventional capitalization that are signature features of Trump’s Twitter output and that show up now and then even under official White House letterhead are also offenses, though of a lower order, like that food stain on your tie — it’s a distraction. The energy that others spend feeling embarrassed for you is energy they won’t have available to devote to the business at hand. The better part of good manners is to be silent and invisible except to the extent that it’s helpful to others for you to be heard and seen. Churchgoers understand this, except the ones who don’t. Unless you sit in the back pew, you’re going to be in the line of vision of people trying to focus on the altar, so dress appropriately, which means unremarkably, and don’t fidget. And put the usual number of e’s in the word “immediately.”

White House

‘The FBI Tramples Our Political Order’

I wrote today about the FBI’s counter-intelligence investigation of the president:

The Times story is another sign that we have forgotten the role of our respective branches of government. It is Congress that exists to check and investigate the president, not the FBI. Congress can inveigh against his foreign policy and constrain his options. It can build a case for not reelecting him and perhaps impeach him. These are all actions to be undertaken out in the open by politically accountable players, so the public can make informed judgments about them.

Perhaps the Times report is exaggerated, or the FBI has serious evidence of a criminally corrupt quid pro quo between Trump and Moscow that there’s no public indication of yet.

Otherwise, the Times story is a damning account of an offense against our political order, and not by Donald Trump.

 

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Culture

Gillette Is Not Wrong

Is the new Gillette razor ad a radical feminist attack on masculinity — the commercial embodiment of a woke sensibility? I was prepared to think so. But having watched it twice, I find a lot to like. The ad has been panned by some conservative commentators. With all due respect, I think they are falling into a ... Read More