03/28/2022 - The 1970s: Good for Movies, Bad for Inflation

Mark Blyth, political economist at Brown University's Watson Institute, and Carrie Nordlund, political scientist and Assistant Dean for Undergraduate Programs at Brown University, share their take on the news.

On this episode:

  • The economic and political ramifications of the war in Ukraine
  • Why presidents shouldn’t ad lib foreign policy
  • What the 1970s can and can’t teach us about handling inflation today
  • The sighs and shrugs of Ketanji Brown Jackson’s Supreme Court nomination hearings
  • State legislation restricting LGBTQ and abortion rights, and the Republican ramp-up to the 2022 midterms.
  • Are “the movies” over?

Learn more about the Watson Institute's other podcasts.


[MUSIC PLAYING] SUBJECT: Well hello, we're back.

INTERVIEWER: I'm actually meant to be in that room with you and I completely forgot, because I had loads of other stuff on. So I'm here. And I haven't been in my basement for two days and I'm totally Scottish, which means that I switch off the heating when I don't need it so it's freezing. So I'm literally sitting in a freezing basement with a woolly jumper, rather than sitting in a studio with you. So [INAUDIBLE] me.

SUBJECT: Well this feels like that's very authentic to your brand of woolly sweater in a cold basement. But it's confusing, where are we supposed to be? I keep hearing people say it's Groundhog here, and that makes me feel better when I forget people's names.

INTERVIEWER: It's funny we were talking about this earlier at work, which for us is Brown University. And there's a bunch of faculty having a conversation about this, and there was this kind of moment. It was me who did it, and it was this kind of semi cathartic moment where I just thought, oh you know what? This whole mask thing?


INTERVIEWER: This whole COVID thing? We keep saying to each other how is your events going? And/or is this working out? And that sort of stuff. We should stop for a minute, why would we expect anything to work out? There's a cohort of students now that have been at Brown for two years, who've never seen their instructor's faces.

SUBJECT: Yeah, yeah.

INTERVIEWER: It's just crap.

SUBJECT: When does it not become a new normal and just the normal? And is it OK just to be over the whole thing too over COVID and just like--

INTERVIEWER: Well, I think you can't really be over it until you do away with masks.

SUBJECT: Yeah, yeah.

INTERVIEWER: And it's not the whole sort of this is science or not right, it's the kind of symbolism of not being able to see people's faces and read their emotions. I think it just becomes paralyzing and stunting after a while. It's like, hey, how was that event you had? It's like, I don't know. I couldn't see anyone's face.

SUBJECT: Yeah, yeah. And it just makes you want to run away from people because think, Oh they're going to make me sick or they're going to-- they represent something that I've been scared of for two years.

INTERVIEWER: Well at this point in time, neither of the three vaccines plus had the breakthrough infection and now have natural immunity. I think I've done my bit.

SUBJECT: Oh you got the breakthrough?

INTERVIEWER: Yeah. Oh I didn't tell you?


INTERVIEWER: Oh I got the breakthrough. Yeah, I was like down for a little while. Well, I wasn't down but I was in the house testing positive for 10 days. In terms of how bad it was, I had one sort of rough night and then honestly for two days I've had worse hangovers. So clearly, yeah clearly the vaccines work. They're not like you don't get infected, but you simply don't get very sick. But then you test positive for like 10 days and you can't go anywhere. I'm like Oh Yeah, this kind of crap. So of course top of the news and likely to remain top of the news for the next 30 years while he masses forces on the border and never actually retreats, as of course, Ukraine. So given that nobody knows anything Corey, what's your take on what's going on?

SUBJECT: So I have very sterling foreign policy credentials, having foreign policy magazine on my bookshelf from the '80s. I wonder, is he just paying playing this really weird game of chicken? And that he just like, yes I'm building up troops, I'm pulling them back. Omicron is talking to me, I have all these Europeans coming to visit me and I'm on the front page of all the newspapers. And now it just seems to be some weird game of upmanship. But it's hard for me to understand the strategy behind it. But again, that's coming from a non foreign policy person.

INTERVIEWER: Well, somebody who really does know Putin, is Fiona Hill. And she's coming to town next week. To everybody who's listening, if we get this out in time then you can listen to it online and if not can listen to it afterwards. And we're going to do a podcast as well. Blah, blah, blah. But anyway, this was of course, the person who was most famous because she was one of Trump's Russia advisors, but she also worked with Obama, she also what the administration prior to that. And she's a long term Russianist. She's basically got a line in a couple of recent interviews, where she says, doing this you want your intuiting is exactly right. He has got the West exactly where he wants it. Whereby, when he makes a move everyone has to react.


INTERVIEWER: Right. And he can basically keep doing this, pushing on this little piece of string here and pulling on there, and moving troops there, and doing that next thing. And eventually, does this come to an end? Possibly. But he can turn it back on in a heartbeat. And what he's done is he's exposed the fact that the West is, particularly the Europeans, have had this kind of hubristic moment of, Well we'll just expand and go and keep going.

And everyone has a sovereign right, and everyone can join in, et cetera, et cetera. But at the end of the day, NATO is a military alliance. And if you literally have been not spending any money on defense, Trump had a point, spoiler alert, then your credibility as a military alliance is pretty much shot. So you're going to bring this giant country with 40 million people into a military alliance when you can't even get your own helicopters off the ground?


INTERVIEWER: Great, how is he not going to take advantage of this? So long as the Europeans are really willing to stand together and particularly Germany, because of the dependence on gas exports and the fact that no political party in Germany wants to spend any money on defense whatsoever, he's going to be able to do this. He can turn this on like a tap and turn it off like a tap.

SUBJECT: That's so interesting because I wonder, some of the criticism on the new chancellor is that he hadn't really been involved and been somewhat absent from the Western talks. So I was wondering why that was. But oh, that's good insight, that turning right. If he steps back he's like being a diplomat, and he's right. But if he turns back on--


SUBJECT: Yeah, yeah.

INTERVIEWER: That's it, he'll make you jump again. He doesn't actually have to invade to do it. So the question is, will he actually invade? And it's like, well that's the $64,000 question. Does he really want to risk all of the stuff that could happen if he'll really go and try. This isn't grabbing a couple of territories and sticking your mates in there, this is a full scale invasion of a major country that will fight back.

SUBJECT: But maybe to what you're just saying is that he's already won, that he doesn't have to invade. Right? He's already won by just getting everybody jumping.

INTERVIEWER: He's changed the game, he's changed the game. Now when he says jump, it's a question of how high.

SUBJECT: Yeah. The thing that I was taken with is how short he is. Macron was there, and he's a petite man and he's taller than Putin is. So just how short is Putin? Was my question. And what kind of lifts does he wear?

INTERVIEWER: I don't know, but he is the jujitsu and judo master.


And the thing about that is you just keep moving your weight and throwing the other person around. So maybe that's the analogy we should be working with.

SUBJECT: Low center of gravity for that.

INTERVIEWER: So let's jump to somewhere else. How about Canada? That seems to be nuts. When did Canada get nuts?

SUBJECT: Well, that's the thing I think that have people shaking their heads, is that Canada our friendly neighbor to the North which always seems to be so friendly and serene suddenly has American style protests happening in their capital of Ottawa. Which a lot of people don't know that that's the capital. So that was a fun geography lesson. From the news reports, of course it's coming from either, it's like funded by the right wing of American billionaires. Or that it's truckers who are upset with the mandate, the COVID vaccine mandate, some combination of both, and then all the other marginal entities that can exist.

But I think the thing that's most interesting to me is that the prime minister has taken these executive powers or emergency powers, and essentially said that he can disperse the protests and they're now starting to arrest people. And that in contrast with the Olympics and all the criticism of the Olympics, I thought was so interesting to have those two examples side by side. Of a strong man in China and then to think that is Trudeau and his authoritarian, or the powers that could be authoritarian-esque.

INTERVIEWER: No, definitely. I followed this from the start inadvertently. I happened to be on Twitter when it started trending, the Canadian truckers, and all these people getting this big convoy together and all that sort of stuff. And I started watching it. And you just saw all the posts that were flying in, like some guy in Quebec basically saying, "I run a diesel truck, I've done a diesel repair shop. If any of your trucks get into trouble, I will fix them for free. Here's my number." This sort of stuff.

And you look at the sheer volume of tweets, forget this is organized by billionaires. Yeah, maybe after the fact. But so much of this was just basically, once again, a whole bunch of people that just said, Oh the people on high have decided we need to have another restriction once again. Well, you know what? I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore. And what was brilliant about Trudeau, as a member of the literally the one percenters with cool hair and tattoos.


The minute this happened, he fled town.


INTERVIEWER: He ran out, right? And then he comes back and he's all tough, and he's going to do these executive orders. It's this weird thing, I think Matt Taibbi said this actually in a post about it. It's like, when did the ruling elites of the West just forget how to govern? It's either sort of like, Oh peasants, here's another rule I will just dispose upon you.

And then you run away to Versailles, and then you come back with the army. It's like, no it doesn't work out well when you do that kind of stuff. And that whole thing really winds people up, and that becomes a self-fulfilling thing. The polls in Canada are really interesting. It's not that you've got 70% of people supporting this, but you've got 40%. And you've got 60% that are sympathetic.


INTERVIEWER: So that tells you that, again, this is just another example of the classic disconnected elite. Oh we have a slight problem with COVID again, how about everyone who has a real job and suffers from shutdowns and stuff pays the price again? Whereas all of us who work at home on our Macs it will be fine.

SUBJECT: Right, and that's exactly why I'm going to run to you too is home. It's so interesting to me that people are so angry at government. And you get that point, to what you just said, of rules for some but not for everybody. But just reading the headlines day after day, maybe this is just the New York Times doing their thing. Which is that billionaires have become trillionares and that how much money has been made off the pandemic.

But I'm not mad at them, I'm not mad at Zuckerberg, I'm mad at the government. And shouldn't my anger be more transferred at the people that are gouging me for tests or masks or whatever? So moving from Canada, let's talk about Joe Rogan who names his own country at $200 million.

INTERVIEWER: And that's a bit of a segue. But you're referring to the controversy over Mr. Rogan. In the fact that he has long rambling interviews with people, he talks about stuff that he doesn't really know and people get dead upset about this. And he gets paid more money than God for doing so.

SUBJECT: Yes. Well, and the specific part is that he had on a doctor. And medical doctor who spotted a lot of conspiracy theories about COVID, and that the US government makes money $3,000 from COVID positive cases, et cetera. And then Neil Young and Joni Mitchell, who maybe are not as important as they may believe it but maybe they are in Spotify, pulled their music from Spotify in protest. And I think a few others have as well. What's your take on this? And do you listen to his podcast?

INTERVIEWER: No. Well, I've listen to a couple of episodes, it's just not really my thing. As you know from our podcast, we do 35 minutes and we stop. One of my favorite podcasts is Desert Island Disk, because it's 35 minutes and it stops. Once you've got AN Nutjob basically given a free run for an hour and a half, I'm not interested. It's not really my thing. No, to me this is actually really fascinating, because this is Facebook all over again.

Spotify is a platform. And it's just another example of the platform getting caught, right? Because the old defense of like, Oh we are just a shopping mall, we don't put this stuff in the shops. Which is the platform's defense for putting bad stuff on their sites. It's the same thing. So you sign up this guy because you get some 11 million downloads or listeners per episode, right? He's the most popular guy in the world for podcasting, he's a celebrity brand, the whole thing. Boom, great.

And then it turns out that he allows people to come on and show and say stuff that basically wine some people up, and may be factually incorrect. All right, you're the shopping mall. How do you deal with that? Now you've got people boycotting the shopping mall, because there's a big shop in the shopping mall and they don't like what it sells. Not clear what you do with that.

SUBJECT: And it's been interesting to me that Spotify hasn't moved. You might expect that their reaction, or to your point not. You wouldn't expect, they shouldn't expect it because the shopping mall doesn't boycott the store or shut the store down, is that they've been pretty quiet about that. And they haven't really said there's no penalty. I don't think--

INTERVIEWER: There's no penalty. What are they meant to do, take them outside and smack them? I think they have basically pushed them a little bit to cloudify his stance on vaccines, or whatever it happens to be. But this is what happens when you have free range talk shows. You're going to invite people on, they're going to say crazy stuff. And then in the kind of Twitter verse world that we live, 2,000 people are going to be instantly offended.

SUBJECT: Well, and he got in more trouble because he did go on and say, "I'm just a guy trying to have a conversation and I'm curious," for the compilation of times that he has said the N-word. And that, I think started to get more. But Spotify still didn't take him outside and slap him.

INTERVIEWER: No, no, no. Because you get to 11 million downloads per episode, they are a business.

SUBJECT: Yeah, yeah, yeah. And he probably has more now too because of the controversy. Actually speaking of ratings, I'm not watching The Olympics but mostly because I don't know where to find The Olympics.


But I did do something to prep for this. Rating to television viewing is down by 50%, as compared to Twenty-Eighteen. But NBC has, I don't think it's actually that new anymore, Peacock which is their streaming service. But I don't know where to find it and all that stuff.

INTERVIEWER: It's not that difficult, it's basically it's just an app. If your TV is modern by which I mean the last five years, it will download apps for you. And then you set up an account, and then they take out $5 a month, and then you get to watch the Olympics. It's not that difficult. It's actually better than cable. Because remember what cable used to be, which was can spend $130 a month on a billion channels none of which you want.

SUBJECT: But now I feel like I'm spending $1 billion on a bunch of streaming services, like three of them. So it's still on the consumer right for me to cancel this [INAUDIBLE] that I'm not watching?

INTERVIEWER: There's actually even an app for that? There's an app, which you can get which if you then put all your financial payment data into it, partly is secure, right? It will basically run a search algorithm through the error and find out all these subscriptions that you're paying that you forgot about.

SUBJECT: Oh jeez, do I have to pay for that?

INTERVIEWER: Yes, you have to pay for that. It's brilliant. What a game, right? So in order to find the payments that you forgot that you're making, you have to pay for an app that you pay for to find the payments. I can't even follow it myself.

SUBJECT: So the big controversy is with the Russian skater, [INAUDIBLE]. And I love figure skating too, so I was paying attention to this. 15 years old, got caught for the drug that increases endurance. And then she had a breakdown yesterday because she fell. I feel bad for her.

INTERVIEWER: And then her coach basically verbally bullied her for falling down, there's all that as well.

SUBJECT: But then you think the coach that everybody is just a cog in this gigantic Russian steroid machine.

INTERVIEWER: It seems to be the case.

SUBJECT: Everybody is complicit in this whole thing. I don't know who the head of the Russian Olympic Committee is, but those are the people that are using the coaches and the talent and everything.

INTERVIEWER: Well, look at some story about basically the person who runs this little group or training outfit, or whatever you call it has a coterie or a retinue of teenagers who can all do the quad jump.


INTERVIEWER: And then basically you wheel one out and then they do it, and they win a gold and then they disappear. And then the next one comes out, and then they do it and they disappear. And it seems to be brutal and unfair and horrible, like something of a Hollywood script, right? But if it wins you the gold and that's what people care about, that's the business model they're going to work with. There's not much anyone can do about it. But it just seems to be horrible. And why should we put up with a system that allows you to basically treat people like commodities in this way? Until you realize it's like, Oh you mean the lives of millions of people throughout the world.

SUBJECT: Well, yeah. My heyday of figure skating was the East Germans when they used to produce the figure skaters.

INTERVIEWER: Yeah, absolutely.

SUBJECT: And same question too or same point of, why people? They do because they get ratings and medals and national glory, and all of that sort of stuff too. Anyway, I felt bad for her. I felt bad for everybody. And I didn't feel bad for the IOC, or the Olympics.

INTERVIEWER: But what's your feeling about these Olympics? Because I know this is something that normally you would be into if you just went there.

SUBJECT: Yeah, and I haven't. I read this article that made more sense to me, is that it's the time difference maybe more than anything. That it's so delayed and we already know who won, so there's less excitement than being then like, Oh this is Prime Time figure skating. And then I think I feel a little bit like the veil has maybe been ripped off just in terms of the whole corporatism of it all. And it just feels that everything is closed, and there doesn't really seem to be any real joy. I mean, maybe some from some of the athletes, but there's no even that Coca-Cola ads that we would get, it feels a little less like harmony and unity than it normally does.

INTERVIEWER: Yeah, there's definitely. I've been watching it on Peacock. And what we would do is, because I don't really care about the sort of stuff, but because of the time zone difference you'd have dinner and you get things done, homework or whatever, right? And then you sit down about 8:00 o'clock, and then you could watch yesterday's highlights.


INTERVIEWER: Right? And it's absolutely too, because it gave this feeling of these utterly disconnected events that just happened to be randomly happening. And then there'd be lots of people in masks.


INTERVIEWER: And then somebody would win and the mask would come off, and then that would be it. And you will be like, Oh, that was a bit weird.

SUBJECT: Right? And they pull back and you see there's no crowd, or there's very sparse crowd.


SUBJECT: And it feels a little less exciting.

INTERVIEWER: And the ski jump, that's next to the giant smokestack things.


Yeah, it's a bit of modern dystopian and that sort of way.

SUBJECT: The brown mountain where there are no trees.

INTERVIEWER: So anyway, let's pivot back from Olympics. I thought that you would take the easy route, which would have been from Joe Rogan to Boris Johnson.

SUBJECT: Oh jeez, yeah.

INTERVIEWER: Speaking of guys who basically defy public opinion, who people get really outraged about and say that he's got to be lobbed off the platform, and then they survive. And it looks like he's done it again.

SUBJECT: And you said it. The last time we spoke, I said something about Boris. He's still there and he hasn't moved. He's got super low approval ratings, I think he's in the 40s now. Oh no, 25% think he's doing a good job. 70% think he's doing badly. But he's still there.

INTERVIEWER: It doesn't necessarily mean the Tories will get rid of him.

SUBJECT: Well, right? There's no person B, C, or D.

INTERVIEWER: No. Well there is, in the sense that there's two wings to the Conservative Party. There is the Rishi Sunak. I could almost be a kind of centrist politician. In fact, if I was in the US I'd definitely be a Democrat, not so. Then you have the Jacob Rees-Mogg, Brexit, and let's sign a free trade deal with Mesopotamia, and rebuild the empire type mob. And either of them is unacceptable to the other, regardless of how acceptable they are to the public.

And I think about Boris, he's like this blancmange of nothingness that dumps itself on top of the party and somehow holds it together as a weird gelatinous mass. I know it's a very weird analogy, but there you go. But anyway, that's why it's there and that's why it's hard to get rid of in that sense. And then the other side of that, of course, is the opposition Labor Party. Because they're still led by Sir Keir, who seems to basically be a giant media and personality bypass.

Who no matter how hard he tries at the dispatch box, and the guy used to be a barrister he's pretty good at this stuff, just never seems to land the punch on the blancmange. Just never seems to really hurt him that much. But we'll see, maybe Boris gets fed up himself. My hunch on Boris, and I probably said this last night, is that he's going to hold on for a little while yet because it's too early for him to quit and then do the speaker circuit as a retired prime minister.

SUBJECT: Oh I see, I see.

INTERVIEWER: So if he does it now, he's going to get Theresa May's level fees. He wants to basically stay on at least one election and get Tony Blair level fees. So I think that's the plan.

SUBJECT: Yeah, right. And get a deal with Spotify.

INTERVIEWER: He probably would, wouldn't he? And we can imagine that's what it would be, and you're like bashing around with Boris.


SUBJECT: You know what Sam? My partner is half British. But anyway, talking to his cousin about Boris, who is 100% British. And Ashley was saying that he--

INTERVIEWER: Actually Boris is American.

SUBJECT: Oh I didn't realize.

INTERVIEWER: Yeah, he had to give up his nationality.

SUBJECT: Oh he was born in the States?

INTERVIEWER: Yeah, because he kept paying US taxes. So was Winston Churchill. People don't realize this. Winston was a Yank. So was his mum.


INTERVIEWER: Yeah, now go figure. I think he was actually born in the US, and he actually still had rights of residency and stuff and he had to give it up at one point because he got fed up paying the taxes.

SUBJECT: Let's see his birth certificate. I was just thinking that a Tory voter wanted to leave the EU. And was fed up with Boris only because, they're happy with Brexit, but they said his policies weren't necessarily in line with his views on taxes and a couple of other issues. So I just thought that was interesting to hear from an actual voter, and non-COVID policies and why they were unhappy with the prime minister.

INTERVIEWER: So let's jump to somewhere else then, I think it's home turf for you. It looks like that not all Democrats on the Supreme Court die in office.

SUBJECT: Well, yes. I thank you for that lead-in, because this was especially interesting. Stephen Breyer is going to retire, but in a strange wording laid it out very clearly that he would not step down until somebody had been voted and approved upon by the Senate. So what happens if you don't die while in the job? President Biden said that he's going to select an African-American woman, that announcement is supposedly coming in by March 1.

And what I thought was interesting is that out of the potential candidates, one woman is 45 years old, the most recent Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett is 48 years old. So essentially we're getting people next time it's going to be someone who's like 37. But they'll be on the court, if we use the average age for the next 40 years.

INTERVIEWER: Yeah, definitely.

SUBJECT: And it's so interesting in the selection and who exactly that will be, but also I thought interesting commentary about how the liberal wing of the court is pretty small right now but that person will likely remake the liberal wing of the court because she will be probably further left than Sotomayor or Kagan. Breyer was pretty moderate. So even though they're in the minority, that will pull them a little bit more to the left. So I think now we're just waiting to see, of course, who he will nominate to the court.

INTERVIEWER: So I'm trying to figure out the politics on this. There's been lots of commentary on this, and just interested in your take on it because literally I don't understand this. Why come out and say African-American woman? Why specifically target right out of the gate, rather than any other criteria that particular characteristic? Because if you're signaling to that community, getting something done on the racial justice bill might be something that will make them impressed. I don't think there's so many people lying around even in the African-American community going, That it, Biden's done it for me now.

SUBJECT: Yeah. I had this exact same discussion.

INTERVIEWER: What's going on with that? What did your discussion reveal about this?

SUBJECT: Well, just pure political part of this is that he's fulfilling a campaign promise. And then my friend said exactly what you said, which is that, Are they keeping track of this? And now they're like, Oh great, he did one thing that he said he do. So now I'm good. So I think there's the fulfilling of convenient campaign promise, and especially heading into a midterm election as well. But it does seem he is playing to the left of the party which is pulling the party apart, right?

Two thoughts coming out both sides of my mouth. Is that pulling the party, or go playing to the left wing of the party to fulfill this thing that should have been done probably many, many nominations ago. Well then, also trying to fulfill the campaign promise and showing that he's ahead on racial issues. But you're right, not being able to actually do something on the front that might affect everyone's life, though some would say that this might. It's a tough needle for him to thread, because he would have gotten raked over the coals if he hadn't.

If he just said I'm going to nominate the most qualified person, and then nominated a Black woman. Because people would have said, well you said that you're going to do this. Why don't you just elevate it when Breyer retired. But I think it's pure political calculation of him having to say this, knowing that he can't get stuff done on the legislative front. Build Back Better, or whatever, yeah, it's dead. And they have a State of the Union address coming up, that they have to say they've done something.

INTERVIEWER: But doesn't this also risk misreading the electorate again? In the sense that it's fine to play to what you think your base wants et cetera, but in a sense, you've already got them or they might stay at home rather than defect. But if you look at the San Francisco School Board elections, which just came out, the fact that the right has been playing this incredibly effective culture war where they've been given all the ammunition that they need by the left of the Democratic Party.

And it seems that basically 70% of the public are firmly on the side of the, This is going too far campaign. Then doing this is just simply giving another weapon to the right to just say, all he cares about as minorities, et cetera, et cetera. And I just don't understand the calculus that they're trying to do, if this is an electoral calculus.

SUBJECT: Well and to do it, to play the inside DC, inside Democratic Party game to satisfy the Bernie's and the AOCs. But then, this is the point that I was trying to make and didn't do it very well. But then to also slide to the middle and say, But I'm still your moderate guy and you should reelect all the Democrats for the midterm. This is where it's such a hard calculation for him to make and to do it correctly as well.

Clearly he thought, I need to get this thing done on the judicial side of things or else they're going to eat me for lunch in the midterms even more, or people are going to stay home and not vote. But I'm with you on the interesting signaling part of things. But I think there's so much especially given that the John Lewis Voting Rights Bill didn't go through.

INTERVIEWER: So really what it is , is it's simply we can't get Build Back Better. We can't get voting rights. We can't do anything really substantive. So in a sense, we'll go for the one thing that we can't do. But of course, this then still has to go through the Senate, right?


INTERVIEWER: It doesn't matter if Garland got rather held up by this sort of stuff.

SUBJECT: Yeah, the Republicans have made it easy because now it's just a simple majority on judges. So they have 51, so that that's good. The other thing I'll add in is that every president wants to have a first, right? The first woman, Sandra Day O'Connor Reagan. And so this is like a nice historical note for him, in terms of having that first. In fact, Nixon wanted to put the first woman on the court, but he just didn't have the political capital to do that.

INTERVIEWER: No I feel. So thinking of Nixon and going back to the nineteen-sixties and '70s, that's when something else was in fashion which seems to be coming back, which is banning books.

SUBJECT: Yes. And the good old classics Handmaid's Tale, The Bluest Eye, and then To kill a Mockingbird. And I also saw one of my favorite, His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman on that list is as well.

INTERVIEWER: No way, no way. They did not put that on there.

SUBJECT: I know.

INTERVIEWER: Oh that's ridiculous, that's one of the best books ever.

SUBJECT: It's a great series, yeah.


SUBJECT: At least my reading of it is it comes out of the critical race theory, and parents not--

INTERVIEWER: What the hell has Philip Pullman got to do with critical race theory?

SUBJECT: Well, I don't know. He's got lots of stuff. There's hidden text in there, in the spyglass.

INTERVIEWER: There must be. God, wow. But hey, sorry, you were saying this is all part of that culture war.

SUBJECT: Yes, yeah, exactly. And it seems to be a bigger deal on the left. I think there's certainly are local school districts that are pushing this forward. It's in Texas, happening in Texas. I think there's a couple of places, Virginia, Florida is moving this. But it does feel like it's maybe surprisingly it's been blown up by the media more than, yeah.

INTERVIEWER: Oh, there we go.

SUBJECT: It is part of this just weird stuff that's going on right now. And especially I think about this with how the Chinese have made the Olympics to be the best Olympics ever through all their censorship, and just that censorship seems to be this running theme around the world right now.

INTERVIEWER: Yeah, it's funny. I've been in the United States for 30 years. Unlike when I got here, there was always somebody banning a book.


INTERVIEWER: Somewhere school board somewhere was banning a book or two, right? And it seems like it goes through ebbs and flows, but it never really goes away. And this is some kind of go to play on local politics, where somebody is trying to make a name for themselves. So they're a County supervisor and they ban this book because it's gay, or whatever it happens to be. And then the media descend on it, and it becomes the thing. And it them all the publicity that they want, and maybe that helps them win the school board election or not. But now we seem to have taken and it's part of this whole general thing of anything at all to do with culture can now be weaponized into politics.

SUBJECT: Yeah, yeah.

INTERVIEWER: To Kill a Mockingbird, there used to be an uncontested part of if you will, American haute couture, as the Germans would call it. A classic novel that everybody knows. Now that becomes a football in the middle of this. Philip Pullman, he's not even American for God's sake. It's about a fantasy world. It seems to be any sort of culture. Take a cultural artifact now, put it down, look at it and go, Right, can we weaponize this? OK let's go. Did you watch the Super Bowl? I didn't.

SUBJECT: I did watch the Super Bowl, yeah. I was part of, I think 100 million people watched it. I don't know, 10% more than last year. So it was slightly better in terms of ratings. But I think it still is that one event that most people watch, if there's any show like that anymore. So you didn't watch any of the commercials then either? Or the halftime show?

INTERVIEWER: No commercials, or the halftime show. I actually just forgot it was on.

SUBJECT: Yeah, yeah.

INTERVIEWER: I just completely forgot. It's not on my radar. I don't think I could even tell you before I saw the headlines the next day who was even in it--

SUBJECT: Confession,

INTERVIEWER: The fact that it was on.

SUBJECT: I had to sign up for Peacock to actually watch it. So then I did, I had to put down my 4.99 to watch it.

INTERVIEWER: So there you go, absolutely.

SUBJECT: The halftime show was total. We've talked about this a lot, but all nostalgia for my age group in terms of who was Dr. Dre and Eminem. But I thought there was interesting commentary just about how it totally papered over the controversies in the NFL. Biased hiring practices continued, toting health problems for NFL players, the NFL stand on violence against women. So all that felt good.


All the bad stuff, of course, gets pushed to the side. It was a close game though.

INTERVIEWER: I'll take your word for it. You know what else seemed to be a close game and then ended up just being a home team slam dunk?

SUBJECT: What's that?

INTERVIEWER: Prince Andrew.


SUBJECT: Oh jeez, his poor mother.

INTERVIEWER: I know, I know. It's brilliant. See, the weird thing is when you get these out of court settlements and nobody admits wrongdoing, well that works if you're a bank. There's actually some evidence that if you go back to the nineteen-nineties and two-thousands, banks were actually making the following calculation: all right, let's do all this really dodgy stuff that's illegal. We'll make about 600 million. When we get caught, nobody will go to jail because nobody ever does. We'll say that we ask you a statement saying we don't really do anything wrong, and we'll pay a fine of 400 million. So we're up to 200 million, who's in? That doesn't work if you're a person.

SUBJECT: No, it doesn't.

INTERVIEWER: Right, it's not the same thing, is it? Because at the end of the day Lehman Brothers or whoever you want to pick, they're a faceless corporate entity. And faceless corporate entity admits no wrongdoing, that's one thing. But when you a person and you give that completely whack job interview that he did about PizzaExpress and walking and all this stuff, sweating. And then you just know that eventually, he's going to have to eat all those words.


INTERVIEWER: And then he issues a statement that basically talks about victims rights, and all the stuff that he said that this woman was fantasizing is completely gone and all there is. He has in fact basically without saying anything, said quite a lot.


INTERVIEWER: And then the question is, how do you come back from that one? Do you come back?

SUBJECT: Is he-- but does he need to? Oh no, is he still a prince? He's not His Royal Highness, but he still has [INAUDIBLE].

INTERVIEWER: He's not HRH. He stole the Duke of York and apparently the city of York is not too happy about it.

SUBJECT: Right. And he's still probably has millions of dollars, although he had to sell a Swiss ski chalet or something.

INTERVIEWER: Oh, because I didn't follow this, but where did he get the money? Because part of the reason he was piling it over with [INAUDIBLE] in the first place, is because he was broke and he needed a loan to bail out his ex-wife.

SUBJECT: Oh I don't know where he got the money from.

INTERVIEWER: Oh, that's it.


INTERVIEWER: Here's the weird thing about the Royals, and this is why Harry and Meghan basically bailed. It's really hard to coin it.


INTERVIEWER: You're a public servant and you're on the Civil list, right? You live in free housing, you get free travel, you get free food, and they give you a big stipend, but you're not rich.


INTERVIEWER: If you do this in terms of the way the Bourdieusian sociologists do this-- sorry to drop this in. But you had this idea of people have financial capital, or they going to have social capital, or they can have intellectual capital. And these guys are 100% social capital and 10% financial capital. And somebody like Epstein was 100% financial capital.


INTERVIEWER: Quite a lot of social capital, a smidgen of intellectual capital. They could move in broader circuits, right? So they're really stuck in their ability to monetize the brand. So I'm just fascinated. If this was a major settlement, where did he get the cash?

SUBJECT: He's not going to get Spotify money, right? But only a certain set of the Royals can really. That's a super interesting point. Well, according to the Daily Mail, my source of all news is that the Queen gave him the money.

INTERVIEWER: Well, that would make sense. She's probably got a bag with 2 billion underneath the bed somewhere.


SUBJECT: Right. And even though--

INTERVIEWER: The queen owns all of the nation's art treasures in trust.

SUBJECT: She owns it?

INTERVIEWER: She owns it, yeah. It's brilliant, right? So all the art that's hanging in Buckingham Palace. She's basically the largest private collector the world, but she doesn't actually own anything. She owns it all in trust for the British people. It's like, Oh it's a nice scam.



SUBJECT: Well, as one of my friends says, they're not even British. Which I always think is like--

INTERVIEWER: Yeah. Well, we do like to point this out. I used to call them elderly German squatters living off the state and public property.


Yeah, but that's probably a bit harsh. So it now seems that the Camilla and the Queen have done kitty kitty makeup. And the queen is getting ready to basically, if not slip the mortal coil, then at least stepped down. Which means that we finally get King Charles who has never been popular, and now basically just looks like a really old dude who should be retired.

SUBJECT: Yeah. And a queen consort.

INTERVIEWER: And a queen consort, exactly. So it's like super geriatric goes away the two geriatrics that no one cares about, meanwhile Andy is sawing the hole in the bottom of the boat.


INTERVIEWER: Right? Harry and Meghan have already jumped ship.


SUBJECT: Harry looks like a genius.

INTERVIEWER: What's left?

SUBJECT: He looks like a genius leader.

INTERVIEWER: Yeah, he's out of here. He's like, I've got the Spotify deal. I've got a mate called Joe Rogan, he set me up for this. We're good.

SUBJECT: Exactly. He was at the Super Bowl, come on.


SUBJECT: Yeah with his cousin, actually one of Andy's daughters.


SUBJECT: So maybe they're going to come to the US. Are you paying any attention to the movies right now and Academy Awards? I've watched none of the movies.

INTERVIEWER: Well, the thing is like many people, I haven't been back to a cinema.


INTERVIEWER: So the whole notion of movies as a thing is so far off my consciousness now.


INTERVIEWER: Because movies are things that happen, and then end up on a platform, and then I watch them. And I know that if everybody does this, this is meant to be the end of movies, but here's a really scary number that I found out. I don't remember exactly the number, but it was something along the lines of companies in the US doing ESG stuff to basically deal with decarbonization are going to spend something like $2.3 billion over the next year. If you add together Disney, Spotify, Netflix, every platform, they're spending that plus 50% on content.

SUBJECT: Oh wow, OK.

INTERVIEWER: Yeah, so basically even if Hollywood quote unquote "goes down," there's never been more production.

SUBJECT: Yeah, and they're buying, making everything.

INTERVIEWER: And they're buying everything and making everything, right? And Amazon has got this insane Lord of the Rings thing going on for The Next Big Thing and blah, blah, blah. We're all going to be sucker done for it, so I don't know. Do movies, these things even matter anymore?

SUBJECT: Maybe that's why I haven't watched it, that makes me feel better, that why I haven't seen any of them or maybe heard of even half of them. Because it's just yet another thing that I see as I scroll past on it. Yeah, I love going to the movies, or I used to until it became something scary to do.

INTERVIEWER: Well, there's that as well, right? As we've developed less and less ability to tolerate each other, let alone be nice to each other, the notion of hanging out in public spaces with random strangers plus a pandemic is not a great business model.

SUBJECT: Yeah, the real estate probably isn't so hot right now either. I just have to end on one thing, that I did watch the Book of Boba Fett and I don't know if you watched that.

INTERVIEWER: Also did I, totally. I loved it.

SUBJECT: Oh you loved it? I didn't understand.

INTERVIEWER: I loved it.

SUBJECT: There were so many things that I didn't understand.

INTERVIEWER: You had to watch The Mandalorian first.

SUBJECT: I did, I watched-- but I liked the Mando parts. It was the parts when I was like, is this about a water rights in the desert on Tatooine? And the plot lines.

INTERVIEWER: Oh no. So here's the classic. So if you think that the Mandalorian was Sergio Leone, a spaghetti Western.


INTERVIEWER: Then what you had was a French twist on that with the first part, where you had the two narratives and you didn't know which one was forward in time and which one was backwards in time. And it didn't really become clear until you got to the fifth episode.


INTERVIEWER: But basically what he was doing wasn't a simultaneous story, it wasn't. Or it couldn't conceivably be the future that he is in the desert, it had to be the past. And then these two things came together. So it was being clever in a sense, to make it more interesting than it was.


INTERVIEWER: But I think once you've figured that out, you're like, OK I'm going to go with it. And then I'll go weird anyways, sorry spoiler alert.


INTERVIEWER: Because then it was basically dead Luke showed up.

SUBJECT: Yes, yes.

INTERVIEWER: The thing about Luke, so the character of Luke is like, he's an annoying brat. He's filled with emotion, he's just like a twit, right? And somehow they brought him back from the dead as a holograph, and he has all the emotions of a dead holograph. They played him completely dead. "I am dead Luke, I have no emotions." "Good, you have to try. You must choose this." And it was like, that's really weird that you would do that. But apart from that in general, I loved it because my bar for entertainment is really low.

SUBJECT: Well, I just was put off because it's nineteen-seventies Mark Hamill. So then it just took a moment for my brain to be OK with seeing this.

INTERVIEWER: Here's the question I had. And I was very tempted to tweet Mark Hamill and see if I could get an answer.


INTERVIEWER: Does he get paid for the digital avatar?

SUBJECT: I wondered. I actually wondered the same thing, yeah.

INTERVIEWER: Even if he's the one who's not doing the voicing.

SUBJECT: Right, yeah, just his face.

INTERVIEWER: Does Lucas qua Disney have rights to that character such that he no longer has any rights to that character being played? Because if it does, that gets us into interesting space when we go forward. Because movies are like, forget it. Because you would just basically have to sell the rights to your person.


INTERVIEWER: And then they can make you into whatever character you are.


INTERVIEWER: Digital acting.

SUBJECT: I want to find this out because I think that's super interesting, given all nostalgia right now. And that has got to come up again. Well, always great to see you. And I'm so glad we ended on Boba Fett as well.

INTERVIEWER: By the way, are you sure this is the first time we've done in this new year?

SUBJECT: No, that's not the point that I was-- or this is what I was having memory of when I said happy new year. I have seen you in January.

INTERVIEWER: Yeah, we did one in January. Yeah.

SUBJECT: Because it's Groundhog year, or so the media says.



INTERVIEWER: Definitely COVID brain.

SUBJECT: Yes, or bad short term memory. Yeah.


INTERVIEWER: OK well, let's try and do one in March.


INTERVIEWER: That's the one that comes next month.

SUBJECT: Oh thank you, I wasn't sure.


SUBJECT: Thank you for listening.

INTERVIEWER: Always a pleasure.

SUBJECT: See you soon.




About the Podcast

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Mark and Carrie
Mark Blyth, political economist at The Watson Ins…

About your hosts

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Mark Blyth

Host, Rhodes Center Podcast
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Carrie Nordlund

Co-Host, Mark and Carrie