I’m back from vacation; thanks to Theodore Kupfer for writing the Morning Jolt last week. Making the click-through worthwhile today: What you need to know about that caravan of migrants in Mexico slowly approaching the U.S. border; how our old friend Kevin Williamson turned into last week’s Emmanuel Goldstein; The Rise of the Working Class Shareholder, and a couple works that hit the public while I was away.
That Caravan of Migrants in Mexico Is Still. . . Almost 900 Miles from the U.S. Border
This morning, President Trump tweeted, “Congress must immediately pass Border Legislation, use Nuclear Option if necessary, to stop the massive inflow of Drugs and People. Border Patrol Agents (and ICE) are GREAT, but the weak Dem laws don’t allow them to do their job. Act now Congress, our country is being stolen!”
Those of us with memories of. . . several months will remember when President Trump was boasting on February 28, “45-year low on illegal border crossings this year. Ice and Border Patrol Agents are doing a great job for our Country. MS-13 thugs being hit hard.” What a change in a little more than a month!
Here are the actual numbers on Southwest border patrol apprehensions. In the last full month of the Obama administration, U.S. Customs and Border Protection apprehended a little over 48,000 individuals; the peak in the past few years was May 2014 at nearly 69,000. The first full month of the Trump administration, the number dropped to 23,000; by April it was below 16,000. But the number of apprehended attempted crossers creeped up to between 35,000 and 40,000 in the past few months.
The border is on the president’s mind, after Fox News did a segment on a caravan of 1,200 migrants from Central America making their way north towards the United States. According to Adolfo Flores, a BuzzFeed reporter traveling with the caravan, there are about 1,200 participants and “about two-thirds of people are planning on crossing into the United States undetected or asking for some type of protection like asylum.” (This means the caravan amounts to roughly 2 percent of the recent typical monthly sum of intercepted migrants.)
This morning Trump also tweeted that “Mexico has the absolute power not to let these large “Caravans” of people enter their country” — although the caravan began reportedly gathered in Tapachula, meaning it formed within Mexico, not Guatemala. But the BuzzFeed reporter’s account does describe Mexican efforts to stop migrants: “Twenty-nine-year-old Mateo Juan said the caravan was his third attempt at getting to the United States. Seven months ago, Mexican immigration officers pulled him off the bus. The same happened about a month ago.”
In Flores’ last update, he describes the migrant caravan setting up camp in Santiago Niltepec, in Mexico’s Oaxaca state. That is nearly 900 miles from Brownsville, Texas, the closest point on the U.S. border.
We Need to Talk About Kevin
While I was away, our old friend Kevin Williamson became the Emmanuel Goldstein of the week — the mild-mannered figure who committed the sin of writing words that offended the Left and who suddenly became one of the most important and most denounced figures in media: “The program of the Two Minutes Hate varied from day to day, but there was none in which Goldstein was not the principal figure. He was the primal traitor, the earliest defiler of the Party’s purity. All subsequent crimes against the Party, all treacheries, acts of sabotage, heresies, deviations, sprang directly out of his teaching.”
Atlantic editor Jeffrey Goldberg offers a memo to the staff, explaining — some might say, justifying — his decision to hire Kevin. Over at Slate, Jordan Weissman quotes the memo and trashes Kevin, calling him “a troll.”
When National Review hires somebody, I usually send a little “welcome” message and then go about my job. It takes some gumption, nerve, or arrogance to think that you know who your boss should hire better than your boss does. You notice that when a liberal publication hires somebody right-of-center — Bret Stephens at the New York Times, Megan McArdle at the Washington Post — the left-of-center staffers begin griping to management, on or off the record, and organizing an effort to oust the newbie.
Weissman writes that mainstream publications hiring the likes of Williamson, Stephens, and McArdle and other NeverTrump conservatives amounts to letting “fairly abhorrent writers and thinkers launder their careers, provid[ing] them an unearned sheen of legitimacy.” When you list Williamson, Stephens, and McArdle among the abhorrent and illegitimate, you’re revealing that your range of socially-acceptable opinions runs from A to B.
The ‘Ownership Society’ and the ‘Working Class Shareholder’
Back in 2004, the editors of National Review wrote about the expansion of the “investor class” and declared that America is becoming an “ownership society,” a seismic development in both economics and politics. But the stock market crash and Great Recession whittled down the percentage of Americans who own stocks — from 62 percent in 2008 to 54 percent in 2017.
Boston University law professor David Webber is my metaphorical brother-in-law, and he has a new book out, The Rise of the Working Class Shareholder: Labor’s Last Best Weapon. Organized labor has taken it on the chin for the past few decades, but one bright spot for labor unions is the massive growth of worker pension funds, which amount to anywhere between $3 billion to $6 billion, invested in corporations, hedge funds, and private equity funds.
This means that when institutions like CalPERS (the California Public Employees Retirement System, with about $340 billion in assets) and NYCERS (the New York City Employees Retirement System, with roughly $60 billion in assets) pick up the phone and dial with the intention of saying, “jump,” a lot of company CEOs will pick up the phone and at least begin negotiations on “how high?” The collective assets of the retirement savings of hundreds of thousands of employees amounts to a considerable amount of leverage.
I doubt David would dispute me characterizing him as a left-of-center professor and thinker; his book offers a lot of food for thought for the Right, both in its critiques of the Left and the unresolved question about whether the Right has contemplated this realm of corporate governance as thoroughly as needed.
“For far too long, labor and its progressive sympathizers have sought to transform the market from outside the market: from courts, from legislatures, from regulators, from street protests, from strikes. These tools are important. But ultimately, it is not possible to transform the market from the outside. It must be transformed from within,” David writes. “The American left — particularly the segment that is focused on worker issues – is viscerally uncomfortable with labor wielding shareholder power, a capitalist weapon.”
Shareholder activism should strike most thinking conservatives as perhaps the fairest form of activism. The shareholder has earned his seat at the table; he’s bought the stock. He’s got skin in the game and an interest in the long-term health of the company. This isn’t some lawmaker or bureaucrat imposing a change from the outside, with or without an understanding of the challenges facing that business. And while we might dispute just how many corporations live down to the worst stereotypes, we’ve never had to look too hard for examples of bad corporate leaders who were completely unaccountable to their shareholders — enjoying outlandish pay, enacting short-sighted layoffs, pushing overly ambitious expansions and risky borrowing, and so on.
Some might argue that activist shareholders are muddling the mission of the corporation and that activist-minded funds are serving their clients badly, and that the wisest investor only focuses on maximizing the rate of return. But we all have our moral red lines. Many of us would find it morally unacceptable to invest in North Korea, but some do. For a long time, a big advertiser in the pages of National Review was the Ave Maria Mutual Fund — a fund that only invested in companies that did not violate the principles of the Catholic Church, i.e., no investing in businesses that provide abortions or pornography, etc. The California State Teachers Retirement System divested from gun companies after the Newtown shootings.
During a Q&A at a book reading in Washington D.C. last month, David said something along the lines of, “the capital markets are so powerful, that by the time you’ve elected the leaders you want, passed the law you want, and managed to fight all the lawsuits you’ll have to fight over that law, the capital has already moved out. . . The only way to reform the markets is by working within the markets.” (I was ready to stand up and applaud that line; the professional labor-lawyer, probably-voted-for-Bernie-Sanders crowd around me didn’t seem to share the sentiment.)
David’s skeptical that there is a dire public employee pension crisis facing the country, more skeptical than I am, although I generally agree with his assessment that if the stock market performs over the next fifty years as it has for the past century or so, most pension funds should be okay. At the reading, one of the audience members contended that a more secure future for pension funds could be achieved by a combination of A) higher employee donations (which I figure most righty folks would be fine with), B) reduced benefits for future retirees (again, folks on the right won’t object), and C) a higher rate of return on investments going forward.
Of course, if you want to get the highest rate of return on investments going forward. . . it means you might have to drop some of the moral objections to certain companies and industries.
ADDENDA: Christian Toto, one of the most interesting and unpredictable right-of-center voices discussing film and Hollywood, was kind enough to have me on his podcast a little while back. You can listen to his podcast here. We discussed whether Hollywood was likely to change much after the Harvey Weinstein scandal, our mixed feelings about Disney producing a new Star Wars movie every year, and watching movies with children and figuring out what’s age-appropriate.
Over in the magazine, I profile Maryland’s GOP governor Larry Hogan, blocking bad legislation and thriving in a heavily-Democratic state during the Trump era.
A new study concludes that the 2016 exit polls overestimated the turnout of college-educated whites and underestimated the turnout of whites without college degrees. Over in the Corner, I pointed out that this is part of a familiar pattern of complaints about the exit polls in recent years.
A pleasant surprise last night: I’m sure plenty of Christians will have some theological/doctrinal objections to NBC’s production of Jesus Christ Superstar last night: no Resurrection, unless you count the curtain call. . . but NBC just spent a bundle and recruited big stars to tell the story of Jesus in prime time on Easter Sunday.