TGIF: Inflation Rises. Russiagate Falls Apart. And J.K. Rowling Is Erased.
Plus: The challenge of reporting about Kenosha in the aftermath of the riots.
Welcome back to TGIF. We’ve got the news that fills our group chats, a few good reads, and a summary of this week in Common Sense.
You’ll find a short interview with the economist Tyler Cowen about why the political left can’t talk about inflation — and why the political right is a little nervous, too. Plus a personal story of what it was like trying to cover the wreckage of Kenosha from inside the legacy press.
To the news:
→ Inflation is good for you! The Times published “179 Reasons You Probably Don’t Need to Panic About Inflation.” Bloomberg, taking note of supply chain problems, said it is actually a positive development: “Store shelves are emptying, and it can take months to find a car. If this continues, we may need to — gasp! — live more like Europeans. … It’s about time.” And my old colleague, Sarah Jeong, who used to sit on The New York Times Editorial Board, the quiet and powerful group that writes edicts from the paper’s institutional voice, wrote: “All that stuff you see about inflation in the news is driven by rich people flipping their shit because their parasitic assets aren’t doing as well as they’d like and they’re scared that unemployment benefits + stimmy checks + minimum wage + labor shortage is why.”
It’s all cynical. Of course inflation hurts the poor and middle class more than the rich. The people making these arguments are smart. They know that. But it’s a politically inconvenient fact right now, as progressives are pushing for more and more government spending. Inflation must be mocked. After a middle class family went on a news show talking about the price of milk, they became a days-long viral joke for the media class, who thought the amount of milk the family consumed was very, very funny.
So I called someone smart (Tyler Cowen, an economist, author, and professor at George Mason University) to explain the dynamics to me.
“Inflation right now is still transitory in that we can choose to end it,” Cowen told me. The Federal Reserve could disinflate and raise interest rates—mortgage interest rates today remain well below 3%—though that risks starting a recession.
Cowen explained that the reason the inflation-wary are still pretty quiet is that all the anti-Obama Republicans were so wrong in 2008. After the Obama-era bailout during the Great Recession, Republicans were convinced inflation would run rampant. And they said so. A lot. But inflation stayed mostly in control. “They all got egg on their faces after that,” Cowen said. “So the crowd that would complain now, they’re whispering about it but not shouting yet.” (Larry Summers and Steve Rattner have sounded the alarm.)
“I think the inflation will last two to three years, and it will be bad,” Cowen said. But really grim hyper-inflation à la Carter-era, he thinks is unlikely. It could only happen if the Federal Reserve decides it’s too risky to trim the sails of cheap money. “I’d put it at 20% chance that the Fed will think, ‘Trump might run again, and we don’t want Biden to lose . . . history’s in our hands, so we’ll wait to tighten.’ And then it just goes on, and then it’s very bad.”
But a recession is also bad. It’s hard to sort it all out. “As the saying goes, ‘If you’re not confused, you don’t know what’s going on,’” Cowen told me.
→ Russiagate is falling apart: I spent many hours of my precious youth reading about Russia, learning the names of mid-level Russian leaders, getting jazzed on Rachel Maddow, doing Twitter game theory, and staring at pictures of Robert Mueller’s patrician face thinking yes good, get ‘em Mueller. And then the whole thing fell … flat. It seemed, maybe, hyped up way out of proportion? I was mad. I wanted those hours back. The media tried to swap in Ukraine shadiness, but nothing had the ole pee tape frisson. And now it seems like the whole dossier was very, very fake. The Washington Post, to its credit, corrected stories and removed erroneous portions. I wonder if they’ll return the Pulitzers. All I know is that I want the year 2017 back, thank you very much.
→ Beto jumped into the Texas Governor’s race: Beto is the hot Gen X Democrat star of the south and is a strange man who did not win his election and whose politics are far to the left of the average Texan. The challenge for Democrats: No one can make it up inside The Party machine without being ultra-woke, and yet Americans do not in fact like ultra-woke politics. In 2022, Dems might think about harnessing a move I call The Buffalo, named for the recent mayor’s race in Buffalo, NY: a socialist with glowing New Yorker profile wins the primary — then an actually popular moderate Dem wins with a write-in. That’s The Buffalo.
→ Extremely un-American activities: One-time U.S. National Security Advisor Michael Flynn called for America to become a religious state. Just as the founders dreamed! It’s deranged:
→ Dept of Not Her Fault: Speaking of deranged: Sen. John Kennedy, a Republican from Louisiana, seemed confused that a child raised in the Soviet Union might leave for the freedom of America. He said Biden’s pick for currency comptroller, a woman named Saule Omarova, who was born in Kazakhstan: “You used to be a member of a group called The Young Communists. . . . I don’t know whether to call you professor or comrade.” Her elegant (and American) response: “I could not choose where I was born.”
→ Ai Weiwei on the authoritarians: Dissident Chinese artist Ai Weiwei was asked on PBS about Trump being an authoritarian. He pushed back. Trump’s not, he said, because he lacks the power of a system. But there is authoritarianism in the U.S. now. “You’re already in an authoritarian state. You just don’t know it. Many things happen today in the U.S. that can be compared to the Cultural Revolution in China. Like people trying to be unified in certain political correctness.”
→ Biden Might Spurn the Beijing Olympics: Kudos to Joe Biden for indicating that the White House might not send a delegation to the Beijing Olympics. The Olympics shouldn’t be there in the first place. Case in point: After accusing a former top Chinese official of sexual assault, the tennis star Peng Shuai has been disappeared.
→ Merit Is Back: San Francisco’s elite public high school, Lowell, can, once again, use merit to determine who gets in, after the city’s school board briefly (successfully!) abolished it, citing white supremacy. The decision was reversed thanks in large part to local lawyer Christine Linnenbach, who filed a lawsuit on behalf of the Friends of Lowell Foundation in April: “87% of the school is not white. 37% are on meal assistance. And our Board of Education wanted to destroy that school. I just was so tired of this,” she said by phone.
→ J.K. Rowling? Never heard of her: For the 20th anniversary of Harry Potter, the cast is getting together for an HBO special. One J.K. Rowling is curiously missing. Not hard to imagine this is because of her falling afoul of the fringes of the trans movement. We at Common Sense, in favor of common sense and of adults who can handle political disagreements, salute Jo.
A note on Kenosha in light of the Kyle Rittenhouse trial: Until quite recently, the mainstream liberal argument was that burning down businesses for racial justice was both good and healthy. Burnings allowed for the expression of righteous rage, and the businesses all had insurance to rebuild.
When I was at the New York Times, I went to Kenosha to see about this, and it turned out to be not true. The part of Kenosha that people burned in the riots was the poor, multi-racial commercial district, full of small, underinsured cell phone shops and car lots. It was very sad to see and to hear from people who had suffered. Beyond the financial loss, small storefronts are quite meaningful to their owners and communities, which continuously baffles the Zoom-class.
Something odd happened with that story after I filed it. It didn’t run. It sat and sat.
Now it could be that the piece was just bad. I’ve sent in bad ones before, and I’ll do it again. A few weeks after I filed, an editor told me: The Times wouldn’t be able to run my Kenosha insurance debacle piece until after the 2020 election, so sorry.
There were a variety of reasons given—space, timing, tweaks here or there.
Eventually the election passed. Biden was in the White House. And my Kenosha story ran. Whatever the reason for holding the piece, covering the suffering after the riots was not a priority. The reality that brought Kyle Rittenhouse into the streets was one we reporters were meant to ignore. The old man who tried to put out a blaze at a Kenosha store had his jaw broken. The top editor of the Philadelphia Inquirer had to resign in June 2020 amid staff outcry for publishing a piece with the headline, “Buildings Matter, Too.”
If you lived in those neighborhoods on fire, you were not supposed to get an extinguisher. The proper response — the only acceptable response — was to see the brick and mortar torn down, to watch the fires burn and to say: thank you.
The writer Scott Alexander does not disappoint with Ivermectin: Much More Than You Wanted To Know, where he explores the studies backing Ivermectin’s effectiveness in treating COVID-19. They are studies that just happen to often come from countries with a lot of … intestinal worms. Conclusion: Ivermectin is getting rid of someone’s worms, which then improves their chances of beating COVID-19. It’s the definitive piece on this controversial subject.
Two students are suing Yale Law administrators for alleged retaliation. They are arguing that the dean of the school and administrators asked them to lie about and smear a professor who had fallen afoul of woke (that professor is Amy Chua, the Tiger Mom, whom we stan). When the students refused, they were blackballed by school leaders. This episode features many of the same progressive bureaucrats from the last Yale Law drama. Common Sense suggestion: When you want to do illegal things, don’t do them to lawyers. Story by Eda Aker and Philip Mousavizadeh at The Yale Daily News.
This week on Common Sense:
Last week, Pano Kanelos, the former President of St. John’s College, announced in this newsletter the creation of a new university in Austin dedicated to liberal values. The response on Twitter was predictably apoplectic. But the press actually was good. One of the best parts? Common Sense set the conversation for two weeks.
Earlier this week, Bari broke down why so many got the Kyle Rittenhouse story so wrong. One of the few journalists to get it right was Jesse Singal, who came on the podcast to talk about the trial. Listen here:
Thank you, as always, to the subscribers who make this work possible. Starting next week, TGIF will just be for paying subscribers. Which means in order to yell at me, people have to pay for the pleasure:
See you next week. TGIF everyone.