04/11/24 - Light banter and philosophical malaise

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

On this episode:

  • What Truth Social going public means for Donald Trump’s finances
  • How Trump is navigating the complex politics of abortion within the Republican Party
  • Looking ahead to congressional special elections, and how they could affect Washington going into the 2024 election
  • Congress is back from recess…but will they do anything? 
  • Why Democrats’ much-hoped-for ‘Biden bump’ has yet to materialize
  • Inflation, wages, price-setting, and the pleasantly informative world of econo-Tik Tok
  • The Israel-Hamas War six months in, and what’s next for Israel, Gaza, and the Biden Administration
  • Russia blames Ukraine for a devastating attack in the suburbs of Moscow
  • Is this the year women’s college basketball entered the mainstream?
  • The Kate Middleton, AI, and epistemic nihilism 

Learn more about the Watson Institute's other podcasts



CARRIE NORDLUND: From the Watson Institute for International Public Affairs at Brown University, hello to Mark and Carrie, the podcast, and hello to Mark.

MARK BLYTH: And hello to Carrie who just introduced herself by saying hello to herself, which is really weird. Are you having a confusing week?

CARRIE NORDLUND: I am. I think it's the solar eclipse, maybe. I'm not sure. It's scrambled the darkness-- early darkness scrambled my brain. I'm not quite sure.

MARK BLYTH: We'll get to that. I didn't even think it was much of an eclipse, and we had 90% coverage.

CARRIE NORDLUND: Well, was it cloudy up there?

MARK BLYTH: No, it was totally fine. It's just that what happened was, it got a little bit dark. You could see a little bit of interfacing on your shadow. And then it got a bit cold. And then, it was over. And I was on a roof with a bunch of 12-year-olds and a couple of parents. And they all just got so bored, they started watching their phones.


MARK BLYTH: It's like, oh my god.

CARRIE NORDLUND: Even the eclipse wasn't enough for you. I did think when it passed through the Mayans thousands of years ago must have been really freaked out and started sacrificing things.

MARK BLYTH: And then killing people, right? And we had this-- this is the classic false verification thing. It's like, so it got dark. We took Bob and killed him, and then the sun came back. So every year now, we need to kill Bob. You can see how this happens.

CARRIE NORDLUND: Set up these temples. That's exactly right. Well, that's actually a great segue into our Twenty Twenty-Four presidential election here in the United States and what's been going on. I mean, it's only early April. And yet, we're still-- I mean, there's so much going on, major money coming into both parties.

MARK BLYTH: What's that got to do with temples?

CARRIE NORDLUND: Well, I mean, there's the White House, which, I guess, is a temple to the president.

MARK BLYTH: That was a brilliantly abstruse segue. That segway's right into something. That's completely different. But we'll go with it. It's fine. It's great. Hey, actually, why don't we mention this, right? What about Truth Social?

CARRIE NORDLUND: That's what I was going to say is like, what is truth anymore? So my truth can just be my truth, and I can just say whatever I'd like, as does former President Trump on Truth Social.

MARK BLYTH: Which in the last episode, yes, remember, I was like, he's going to make loads of money out of this. I've actually got quite a lot of feedback from people saying, yes and no and maybe, whatever. And it's really hard to interpret what this is.

Because on the one hand, you've got the accountancy firm that audits his books, who's basically one guy who used to not be an auditor. It's a bit weird, right? So there's a piece in the FT about it today. And he says, they could run a cash in a month's time.

At the same time, there are meme stock that were valued at $11 billion, and it fell back to what I said the valuation would be, which is about $4 billion. So if he exercises the option to basically cash out 60% of that, then, yeah, I mean, basically, boom, legit instant billions. So very interesting to see how this one plays out.

CARRIE NORDLUND: But isn't this all predicated on a company that only brings in $3 or $4 million?

MARK BLYTH: Yeah, but remember, if he becomes porous again, he'll get 100 million subscribers.

CARRIE NORDLUND: OK, so it's all speculation?

MARK BLYTH: Yeah, of course, all these things are always speculation. Don't get me started about AI and how that's just a huge speculative bubble at this point in time. But anyway, yeah, it looks like he's going to get that cash. So that was a long call option. That was like, we know thales wasn't meant to happen, right?

And then all the stuff that we've been talking about for months is about his prosecutions. And it looks like none of them are going to happen.

CARRIE NORDLUND: Well, I mean, delayed. It looks like the soon-- the one that will start the earliest will be in maybe a month. Although, it's unclear where that one stands as well. This is all such a jumbled mess. And I mean, I follow this, but I'm still like, how many cases are there? When does this whole thing start? What year is it?

So it might start in like late April for the immunity hearing that the Supreme Court is hearing, but then all these state level cases. So I mean, it's going to be a hot summer for Trump in terms of campaigning and his appearances in court, and where he's going to split his time. Just back to Truth Social for a second.

I mean, he'll have the cash to pay his legal bills, but he also stacked the Republican National committee with his people. And now, his daughter-in-law, I think, is maybe the head of it. And so he'll now have another cash flow for all his legal troubles as well. So it's going to be an interesting summer of campaign appearances, court appearances, and then whatever other stuff he has to appear before.

MARK BLYTH: Right. And this basically runs right into his narrative of they've been out to get me since day one, and they continue to do it. And the fact that these cases are falling apart shows that there's nothing there. They're unable to prosecute. You can see exactly how this is playing in his hands again. It's incredible.

It's almost as if the Democrats are like, how can we help Trump become president? Why don't we just hamfist a bunch of prosecutions based on what people think is very minor stuff, and then we'll harangue him and cost him lots of money. And then what he'll do is he'll pull 2 billion out of thin air, proving what is successful business money is. And we'll all look like chumps again.

CARRIE NORDLUND: Yep. And the first case up is the hush money case, which is one of the weakest ones. So, of course, that just plays right.

MARK BLYTH: And the one that literally nobody cares about. Because didn't we legislate this in Twenty Sixteen, and nobody cared?

CARRIE NORDLUND: Yes, and you're right. And we still shrugging our shoulders on this.

MARK BLYTH: Ridiculous. So anyway, one of the ways that he is tied up in things, though, is in this the Arizona thing, where it's like Eighteen Sixty-Seven abortion law because Nineteen Twelve abortion law isn't good enough. And now you've got even people like Kari Lake are like, hang on a minute, right?

And Trump basically comes out and says that he's a states' rights guy for this one. So states should choose their own policy, right? Does this tell us anything, or is this just noise, and they don't know what they're doing?

CARRIE NORDLUND: It's the easiest place for him to take a stake out a political position in that, right? He doesn't have to actually say, because he's flip flopped on this issue, he was super pro-choice. And now, of course, he's pro-life. So this is a good, quote, unquote, "middle ground" for him to be.

But more to the point, this is what we always talk about, like hard foundational political science literature is mobilization. And who's going to turn out for you in November? And is it going to be in Arizona and Florida? I mean, Florida's not a swing state. It's a red state.

Arizona is a swing state. Is it going to turn out those Suburban College women to say, we think this is total garbage policy. And the referendum that is potentially going to end up in Arizona, it will be on the ballot in Florida. We're going to vote to have abortion access. And then that's going to change these states.

Of course, that's a Democratic stream. Is that reality? It's, of course, hard to know at this point. But if anything, it just puts the heat on the states, where I don't know that for the Senate candidates that are in tight races that they really want to be put in that particular position.

MARK BLYTH: So it does play out there at the state level, absolutely. Is Congress actually doing anything just now, or are they-- are they even in town? I mean, what's going on?

CARRIE NORDLUND: Congress is back. Mike Johnson, the speaker, is hanging by a thread. A cliffhanger, Marjorie Taylor Greene said that she was starting to look for a new speaker right before the break. So where he stands, who knows? Potentially, this is all resting on Ukraine aid.

It looks like that's going to get through, but this is what the Marjorie Taylor Green's are really upset about. And then also there's a lot going on in Congress, specifically in the House with special elections. So this is going to be just a tiny bit of detail. So right now, there are 218 Republicans and 213 Democrats.

There are three different special elections for Republicans and one for Democrats. So that's a total of four different special elections. So if the Democrats ran the table on all of those seats, it is possible that the Democrats could end up with a 216 majority to 214 Republicans at the end of June.

I don't know that does anything for the Democrats or Congress, and I think it's probably easier for Democrats to run behind. Just those special elections are something that I'll be watching into the summer.

MARK BLYTH: And of course, the other thing you like to watch is the SCOTUS. So you mentioned already, we're waiting on Trump's immunity hearing, April 25, right? What else are they doing?

CARRIE NORDLUND: Well, back to our three branches of government appears that SCOTUS is going to allow for mifepristone, the so-called abortion pill, to continue to be available. That was argued late March. There's a bunch of stuff that we're waiting to hear about, as usual.

But the stuff that is directly related to the President Trump is stuff that happens later in this month, and then early in May. So I mean, they're going hardcore until the end of the term.

MARK BLYTH: All right, we'll keep an eye on that. Let's see what we want to go now. I'm still waiting for the Biden bump. So we continue to post strong job numbers, all the rest of it, blah, blah, blah. And we keep waiting for Biden to get a bump on this one.

And it's funny that there's an increasing shrillness to the commentary about this one because they're largely Democratic or Democratic leaning. And it's like, why don't people get it? Why don't they understand the economy? Almost like if you just Hector them into it, right?

And just a couple of very simple things, right? I mean, first of all, we don't live on an average. But basically, you're average income, right? You're median income, actually, not your average. Average is higher. But it's about 55,000, right? It's not a lot of money, right?

It's not a lot of money, right? Now let's then say you got that, and then your mortgage costs are fixed. OK, so you're all right, so you've got fixed mortgage. But let's say you're paying rent, right? Rents been going through the roof, right? Literally, pardon the pun.

Supermarkets, you go in there, everything is more expensive. It's as simple as that. So you're constantly being told that you should feel grateful because we've got full employment in a fantastic economy. And at the same time, you're cash strapped all the time, and inflation has really hit you the further on down the come distribution you go.

CARRIE NORDLUND: Well, I was talking to a friend, and they just had a new baby. And they were talking about the price of daycare. And they live in a middle-sized Midwestern city. So this is not New York. This is not San Francisco. And they're both professionals.

And she said, we're just working to live. Daycare is $2,000 a month. I mean, this is not-- I mean, this is exactly what you were saying in terms of, let me hand you a research paper from the Journal of Economics of blah, blah to show you how great the economy is.

And people are like, well, that's fine, but I'm just trying to pay for my basic costs here. And we're just barely keeping our head above water. So it doesn't seem like the Biden campaign has gotten that yet.

MARK BLYTH: No, they've not got the memo on that one at all. The other one is, so I finished this book on inflation, as you know. So spoiler alert for everyone, I've got a book coming out next year called, Inflation. A Guide for Users and Losers.

And the bet on it is that we're going to continue to see inflation, because it's not really what we think it is the whole Friedman story about it's always money. It's turns out to be not true. It's usually supply shocks, all this sort of stuff. But anyway, the point being, it looks like it's sticking around.

And it's not sticking around at a very high level. But again, go back to sort of the supermarket example, right? Even the European Central Bank said that in Twenty Twenty-Three, 40% of the inflation that they were seeing was coming from firms, jacking up prices. And the economic establishment and the journalistic class are just completely resistant to this narrative, right?

The central banks are always looking for wage price spirals and all this stuff. And you're like, no, once you got the initial supply shocks worked out from Ukraine and the supply chains the pandemic, firms naturally leapt on this and just pushed it up. And how do we know this?

Look at their margins, right? They've maintained their margins and making huge amounts of profits. And I'm paying $7, an so everybody else is paying $7 for meal, right? So do you think that that's going to go down to $6 anytime soon? No, it's going to go from $7 to $7.50.

So you're going to have continued price rises at a lower rate. Now when your economy is growing pretty well as the US is in comparison to most, et cetera, when wages are growing, over time, that becomes less of an issue. We'll sort of normalize it.

But the notion that we're going to fall back to, like, 2% inflation rate, and we're going to cut interest rates all the way down to zero, it's like that moment after Two Thousand Eight, when there was a big financial crash. And you used to say to German audiences, it's the savings thing.

You guys think you have a god-given right to show up at the sparkasse or the savings bank and get 4% real just for showing up. And unfortunately, that world isn't coming back, right? And it's this same nostalgia, that, oh, great, we'll go back to lower rates now.

And it's like, but you have to remember, the only reason you had zero interest rates was because of the effect of the financial crisis, then the disastrous contractionary policies that followed, that shrunk the economy. You had the slowest recovery ever. And central banks, in response, cut their rates to zero.

That's why we got crypto, sparks, and all the rest of the nonsense, right? The central banks aren't stupid. They don't want that to ever happen again. That was an emergency that they let go on too long, that caused a lot of capital misallocation. Let's think about Sam Bankman-Fried finally going to jail, right?

And maybe we shouldn't do that again. So the idea that we're going to cut rates from where they are now, about 5.5, all the way down to two or something, forget it. We're just going to have to face higher rates. Now let's put this in historical perspective.

The rates that we have now are the rates that we had in Two Thousand Five, Two Thousand Six. Nobody, back then, was talking about the inability to buy houses because rates were too high. Nobody back then was saying that we had screamingly high interest rates, right? That was just normal.

And that was actually in the run up to the crisis, a boom time. So again, the way that we think about this is just really strange, how we forget where we've been, and we draw really stupid lessons from the immediate past.

CARRIE NORDLUND: Well, this is so interesting to me, because I don't remember what paper that it was in, but survey respondents had this nostalgia for the Trump economy, and they thought that they were doing better. And so this really-- I mean, we were, in fact, doing better.

I was so annoyed, because I was at the grocery store, buying my eggs, and it was like $5,000 for a dozen eggs. And so I was like, why are these costumes so much? And it was the same-- the largest producer of eggs-- egg producers owns 20% of the market. Their profits increased by--

MARK BLYTH: They basically squeeze all the egg farmers. They get nothing. They take all the surplus by basically buying cheap and then selling dear. And this is an excuse to sell dear. Plus, there's also a fairness, like bird flu, running through all the egg farms. There's a shortage of hens that are laying, et cetera. So you just lay it all that on top of each other. And yeah, guess what, now you're talking about $7 for crappy eggs.

CARRIE NORDLUND: But then you're right in that I'm thinking, well, the egg prices are going to go back. And this is all going to return back to-- and you're like, no, it's going to be $8.50.

MARK BLYTH: That's your new baseline.

CARRIE NORDLUND: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.

MARK BLYTH: So then, of course, what happens is people would like their wages to catch up. But the only way you ever get your wages to catch up is if you have things like unions, so you can actually force employers to share those gains with the workers, given the fact that less than 10% of the US workforce, the private sector is unionized, you can forget about that one happening. So that's not going to happen.

CARRIE NORDLUND: To put this in presidential politics terms, if the Biden campaign were nimble, they would be able to reframe things, just as you said. There is no-- I mean, in a much more politically astute way, there is no going back. This is what we have.

And to somehow-- I mean, this is the trick that they're unable to do is to then reframe things to show voters of, we're not going back. There is going to be no $1.99 dozen eggs anymore. And so what like what does the next year or however much time look like?

MARK BLYTH: But if they had met that, they'll get absolutely crushed for basically bolting up the economy, right? And the thing is-- and again, this is what the book shows is, literally, it got nothing to do with them. It happens everywhere, right? I don't think inflation in Austria was due to Joe Biden, right?

And secondly, it's perfectly well explained by the giant supply shocks coming from the pandemic, particularly for Europe. It was a fuel-- the fuel crisis caused by the Ukraine-Russia war. And then once those things begin to dissipate, firms jump on that and begin to push it up as prices.

And we have no way of controlling that. So what we do then is we talk about wages. Because we understand prices go up. People would like their wages to follow. But you can't really control prices without doing-- and it's harder to control prices. It really is.

It's not just like put price controls, and things will be fine. It's more complex. We showed this in the book. But we then just focus on wages and try and browbeat people into not getting rises. Now go back to our people who are on 55k or less.

They are the ones who are suffering from all this, and they're the ones who are being told, don't you dare think about getting a raise because that will make it worse, as if it's their fault it's going on. And you understand why people get justifiably annoyed about this.

CARRIE NORDLUND: And they blame the person who they think should be dealing with this thing, as such like-- and also, by the way, explaining why price controls don't work. I just don't have the attention span for it, so unless it's on TikTok, I've just-- it's just too complex for me to understand, too. So I just want to blame somebody.

MARK BLYTH: Exactly. Although, I must say, there are actually some pretty good economic commentators on TikTok because what they do is they record it, and then they play it at 1 and 1/2 half speed, and then they have a translation on the bottom. Because everybody who's younger than us actually just reads with the subtitles on all the time.

So there's this woman who does it. She's in her 20s, and she covers tons of topics. I can't remember her name. She's really, really good. And then there's another guy-- a guy who's on, who does the same thing. So Angus Deaton, who I did a podcast with a little while ago, did a thing last week, where he said, you know, I've changed my mind about how I think about economics.

We always say that efficiency is the thing we aim for. But ultimately, efficiency means upward redistribution. So Amazon makes things more efficient. Yeah, but Jeff gets $300 billion, and the rest of us get diddly squat. So it was an interesting intervention he made.

But I found out about it because somebody forwarded me a TikTok video where a guy was talking about it. So I was like, that's interesting. Let's see how people go on these different platforms. So somebody said to me, you should do that. And I'm like, I have already got enough to do.

And I'm way too old to have my face on TikTok. Forget about it. I'd be like the oldest person on TikTok. I'd be like the Gandalf-- the crap Gandalf of TikTok.

CARRIE NORDLUND: Well, then, you just become your own meme, right?

MARK BLYTH: Yeah, literally, you become your own meme. That's it. All right, let's shift gears.


MARK BLYTH: Where are we going to go?

CARRIE NORDLUND: Well, the Israel-Gaza, I mean, the gamechanger, I think you had used that term, was the humanitarian workers for the World Community Kitchen-- yes-- that were bombed delivering food last week. And that really seemed to encapsulate so many of the different frustrations.

Biden, as a result, had a really terse conversation with Netanyahu. I think prior to that, Chuck Schumer, who had been a hard and fast supporter of Israel, had given a pretty strongly worded speech in the Senate, telling Israel there has to be changes in their policies.

But this has this story of the humanitarian aid workers really has lasted longer than the usual news cycle. And it does seem to be putting more pressure on Netanyahu to change, where the direction that they're going.

MARK BLYTH: Well, what was interesting was Jose Andre himself, who I've actually had the pleasure of meeting and talking to a while ago. And he's a really like force of nature character. And this World Community Kitchen, I mean, he basically has been doing this all around the world.

So for example, he was in-- I can't remember what it was an earthquake zone. I think it was when Haiti had an earthquake, right? And you know, USAID is in there, and they're trying to build this, that, and the next thing. And he was already in there a week later.

Just got together with all the local kitchens and cooks and stuff, set up their own food and distribution network and were doing 40,000 meals while USAID was still at the airport. I mean, tremendously impactful organization. So I don't know if you saw it, but he did this video, where he just said-- he did this deliberately.

This is totally outrageous blah, blah, blah, the rest of it. And it was this thing, where you just think to yourself, you're not going to call him an anti-semi, are you? Right? And it's a bit when this begins to like lose its bite. Because, eventually, you're like, OK, when there was also the database, apparently, the IDF used for targeting Hamas, right?

Whereby, the implied casualty rate is like a low and a low operative was 25 civilian deaths and a high operatives, as high as up to a hundred civilian deaths. That begins to explain why you have the casualty list that you do, right? And then just looking at this is just like, OK, and the problem with all this is that now seems to be that the ground offensive in the south has at least been, if not halted, stalled, right?

They say they're going to go back in, but there's a question of, would you go back in after this has happened? Can you really withstand that? And the thing is, even if they do-- I mean, if you look at the pictures of the place, it's just been utterly destroyed, right?

And the vast majority of people are there. They're hungry. Their homes have been destroyed, et cetera, right? How are you going to-- how are you going to rebuild this? How are you going to build-- how are you going to have-- because these people are still there. You didn't throw them into Egypt or into the sea.

So what exactly is the political settlement that's going to come out of this after you've done all that damage, and you've killed all those people. And just as on the Israeli side, they say that every family was directly or indirectly affected by what happened in 10/7.

Well, I'm sure that they have exactly the same narrative going on the other side. So how do you win out of this? Even if you destroy all the established leaders of Hamas, it's not as if there's going to be no force for resistance or retribution after this degree of damage and killing.

So I don't know. This just goes to, is this basically just Bebe trying to survive? Is this just like permanent war mobilization just to keep himself in power? Because it's increasingly looking like that.

CARRIE NORDLUND: And not even from a cynical point of view that it's just about maintenance of power. I mean, it does seem-- because you're exactly right. What is the plan? If this is not a forever war, that it is just about whether or not he just stays as prime minister.

MARK BLYTH: No, go back to the US election, right? It's like very, very tight, as we know. And there's enough people who are committed to Israel winning in this country, who are both donors and voters, that any party, Republicans or Democrats, they go, right, we're going to halt the weapons deliveries, right?

You're going to pay an electoral price for this. So you know, by growing criticism, they're saying this whatever, right? They're absolutely not. This is a classic example of where the allies leading the hegemon.

CARRIE NORDLUND: And that was something-- I heard this on the BBC, that it was supposedly a drone strike on BBC UK. And that it was potentially a botched AI, and whose technology was it that actually-- I mean, and that's when it gets really complicated. Was it American? Was it British? Whose technology was it? And whose flub on the side was it? I mean, that's when it gets really like, yeah, yuck.

MARK BLYTH: Yes. Yeah, yuck is basically a way to describe it. Another yeah, yuck on the other side was, of course, the concert hall attack in Russia, which was truly horrific.


MARK BLYTH: I mean, just absolutely nuts. You're there to see a rock band, and bang. It's just like the French nightclub from a few years ago, right? All of it. But then Putin turns around and starts blaming Ukraine. Despite the fact that you've got a group an Islamist group that says, it's us.

And you're like, why is he doing this? Because does he think anyone's going to believe this, or does he-- or perhaps, he thinks that if there's another front that he has to pay attention to, he can't really just focus on Ukraine, what he wants to do.

CARRIE NORDLUND: Well, and that's another question to me. That's similar to Israel-Gaza. Another forever war? I mean, again, is Putin just going to leave his office and go retire to Paris or something? I don't quite understand what the end game is for that.

MARK BLYTH: Once you've decided to become the international law-breaking dictator with huge amounts of blood on your hands, plus a reputation for targeted killings, et cetera, et cetera, it's really hard to retire to the Scottish Highlands and play golf, right?

So you're in this one for life. So this lasts as long as they do, right? This is the way it goes. And this is the real downside to autocracy. I mean, the way that the Chinese Communist Party thought about this-- and Xi has reversed this. So it's interesting-- was that during Mao, they had the whole period of chaos with the cultural revolution, right?

What they decided once Mao went out of the way and had the chaos period? The Gang of Four we're basically going to have a party that rotates leadership. Nobody gets to be too powerful, et cetera. And that seemed to work quite well. And then Xi comes along.

And he basically goes, no, I'm getting rid of the guy in Shanghai, and blah, blah, blah, the rest and consolidate power with me. And now we're back up to the, well, is Xi forever, right? So it's Putin forever. It's Xi forever. These are actually very, very different and regimes.

And the fact that the Republicans try and normalize Russia, I just find really, really well demonizing China. It's like, no, no, they're both very different from us, and they are definitely things to be feared, in part because there's no succession plan.


MARK BLYTH: And then it's just, you get the chaos that comes afterwards. And you get the possibility of forever wars and all the rest of it. So, yeah, it's all a bit bonkers.

CARRIE NORDLUND: And it's just weird, too, because you're exactly right. The demonization of Russia or the demonization of China and the--

MARK BLYTH: The free pass, the whole pass.

CARRIE NORDLUND: --yeah, the Russia gets. And you're like, well, is that just basic xenophobia?

MARK BLYTH: Right. Is it xenophobia? What is it, godly goodness? What else have we got to talk about? Is there anything about the UK? They still haven't had an election. Sunak still holding on. The Tories are still a circular firing squad. Labor is still saying absolutely nothing about what they're ever going to do, which is really harmful.

If you think about it-- so funny, right? We spoke about this before. They're facing a circular firing squad. They're 30 points ahead in the polls, right? They don't need to say anything, right? But here's the thing. If you spend your whole time just going as Angela Rayner, the putative next chancellor is like, my mom taught me balance the books.

It's like, maybe it's your dad, but that's weird, right? You're signaling all this fiscal responsibility stuff, as if you need to get Tory voters on your side. You're 30 points ahead. What are you doing, right? So the argument is, if we make any spending pledges at all the, right wing press in Britain, which is so virtuous, will have billboards in every town, with a credit card on file that says, your future under labor, so we can't say anything.

But the problem with that is two things. Either you don't have a plan, in which case, when you get elected, you won't do anything different. And people will be incredibly disappointed, and you'll be out immediately. And you're done. Or alternatively, you do have a plan, but you won't tell anyone what it is, so you're a liar.

So then your version of democracy is, I'm not going to say anything. I'm not going to tell you I'm going to do. We're not going to discuss politics. We're not going to discuss policies. We're not going to discuss futures. We're just going to say nothing. And then when we come in, we're going to go right. Now we're going to tell you everything we're going to do. And you're like, you wonder why people are cynical about politics?

CARRIE NORDLUND: I know. You're like, well, isn't that the whole point of politics is telling the voter what you're going to do?

MARK BLYTH: Particularly when you're 30 points ahead. Imagine you're 30 points ahead. You tell them the truth, what you want to do. And it goes down by 10 points. You're still 20 points ahead.

CARRIE NORDLUND: But does that signal that they are so worried about saying the wrong thing, and totally plummeting in the polls?

MARK BLYTH: No, no, plummeting. Just say nothing, and it stays up. So in a sense, the proof of the pudding is the fact that they're ahead by saying nothing. But I do worry that what they end up with is either a world where they inherit something, and they don't do anything because they really don't have a plan.

Or they do have a plan, and they spring it on people, and everyone says, hang on, I didn't sign up to this. So, yeah, we're not doing well with democracy just now. It's really not working out.

CARRIE NORDLUND: I was just going to say, democracy looks really, really great these days, doesn't it? One thing I just wanted to bring up very quickly is that, so this year, there are 83 national elections in 78 countries. It's one of the first times that there's been so many national elections.

MARK BLYTH: There's more in countries. That's kind of interesting.

CARRIE NORDLUND: Well, there's all these bi-elections and snap elections. That's your lingo. But the big ones are India, Mexico, and the US. And it's just--

MARK BLYTH: Britain, good God.

CARRIE NORDLUND: Sorry, excuse me, and the UK.

MARK BLYTH: It doesn't really matter.

CARRIE NORDLUND: And it's an interesting way to think about global democracy. And that democracy on the ballot, the Americans, the Democratic Party says, and all this stuff. And everyone rolls her eyes. But it doesn't-- I mean, from an intellectual point of view, it does seem like that might be the case.

MARK BLYTH: I don't often agree with John Ash, who writes in the Financial Times. In fact, I disagree a lot. But he did say something today that was quite simple and straightforward. It's a generational thing. We now no longer have a living generation who remembers what happened the last time you put authoritarian nutjobs in power.


MARK BLYTH: So it seems quite attractive, right? Let's put in the crazy guy. That'll be good for a laugh. That'll be good for shits and giggles, and then we'll see what happens. Well, OK, we'll see what happens. Anyway, eclipse, we mentioned that at the start. I was bored by the whole thing, to be perfectly honest. You got anything else to add?

CARRIE NORDLUND: Well, I just like the-- I love the term the path of totality, because it both sounds like a Star Trek movie.

MARK BLYTH: It totally does.

CARRIE NORDLUND: And like total planetary destruction.

MARK BLYTH: One of the minor episodes of Voyager that you'll never watch.

CARRIE NORDLUND: Right. The path of totality. And I just had to bring this up because I love college basketball. I've been a huge fan. I can talk about Nineteen Eighty-Nine.

MARK BLYTH: I didn't know that about you. I didn't you're into it.

CARRIE NORDLUND: Yes, Nineteen Eighty-Nine, University of Michigan wins in a nail biter. But anyway, so exciting to see the women's game. Higher ratings than the men's game. Just lots and lots of buzz around it. I thought it was really, really exciting. Of course, Caitlin Clark from Iowa, JuJu Watkins from University of Southern California, Angel Reese from LSU.

They were just really just exciting and energetic final four. And to think about whether that can then translate to the WNBA, which suffers from low ratings and low attendance and all of that sort of stuff. But I just thought it was like, in these moments, when there's no unity and everything sucks, that people were excited about an eclipse, maybe minus you, and that people were excited for March Madness. I thought that was nice.

MARK BLYTH: Thank goodness, we have basketball to distract us. Speaking of distractions, I want to close it out. We were trying to remember if we talked about this last time. So if we did, we apologize, but it's the Kate Middleton thing.


MARK BLYTH: Yeah, right. So I got a-- I have a friend who is actually one of these social media disinformation people, right? And that means that she's well down the rabbit hole on this stuff, not in terms of she believes it, but she actually studies it, right? And she's like, you will not believe the stuff that they're saying about Kate Middleton and William.

And I'm like, well, tell me, and I'm not going to repeat any of it because it's probably libelous, right? But nonetheless, it was like, that's some crazy stuff, right? So there's this-- then, there's this whole thing about there was a body double. It's not her. She hasn't been seen, right?

So then, the poor woman finally gets it, sits on a bench, and goes, look, I have cancer. Effectively, can you alone? And then, there's this scene in the video, where if you focus on her hand, you see that she's got a ring. And then the ring disappears, and then it reappears.

And people are like, see, she's not really real. She's an AI generated deepfake and blah, blah, blah, the rest of it. And there's like two things going on. Number one, how do that ring thing isn't itself the deepfake that people put out there just to make you think that? Right?

And the second thing is why is this such a focus? Not because it's her. It's like, you get to a point where, like, OK, well, literally, unless she came to your house and knocked on the door and said, hi, I'm Kate Middleton. I really am, right? Is there any proof that people would accept, once they start to go down this?

And I don't think there is. And I think it proves that this is a very scary thing. Because it means that there are people who will never trust anything. There's no such thing as like secondary evidence that could be portrayed on a screen by someone that will convince them of something.

So this is what I worry about November. Because what exactly is the standard of proof that the losing side is going to accept?

CARRIE NORDLUND: Well-- I mean, this is such a great point. I mean, one commentator had to say, the reason why Mike Johnson was installed, I mean, no one had ever-- I mean, a very low profile house member was installed as speaker was because he's going to certify whatever Donald Trump tells him to.

And I mean, this is when you're like, OK, so the institutions are now part of all of these deep fakes as well. I think it's such a good point. I mean, the picture that, initially, was put out for Kate Middleton, the family, then the AP, then posted a kill notice, it had too much futzing around on Photoshop.

And she was like, I was Photoshopping at home. And you're like, is that true? So I mean, even for somebody, for me, who generally believes stuff, you see yourself heading towards nihilism. Because you're right, you're just like, what? Even if she shows up at my door, like you just described, I'll ask for her fingerprints. I don't know.

MARK BLYTH: Exactly. We need a DNA test. And then how do we know that the DNA hasn't been falsified, right? So, yeah, I mean, it's just it's infinite regress on a lack of trust, which is just-- I mean, all the stuff that we've been talking about like increasingly falls into this trap, right?

I mean, whether it's Gaza, whether it's Russia, whether it's Kate Middleton, whether it's abortion rights, I mean, all this stuff is like-- it's not just about the thing itself, It's about the representation of the thing. And then how that increasingly gets weaponized.

CARRIE NORDLUND: Well, and it's the bowling alone stuff, which a lot of people looked askance at and have beaten up over the years. But you know no social capital, and so we don't believe each other, unless it's my mother telling me something. And now, even I may not believe her. I mean, just so your point about trust and that we have no capital with each other. It does seem like a precarious point in time.

MARK BLYTH: It does. But then, again, I remember growing up with the ever present threat of nuclear annihilation. Operation Evil Archer Nineteen Eighty-Three, look it up, folks, it nearly happened, right? And we had a long quiet bit, where, basically, we got to pump ourselves full of credit and buy stuff that we basically didn't need.

And then the wheels came off of that, and we've been trying to deal with it ever since. And it turns out, we have all, not just in the United States, generate highly unequal societies, where we don't intermix with each other, where we don't go to the same schools, where we don't actually spend time with each other, right?

And because of that this is fertile ground for the weaponization of this through traditional media and through social media, which we've got an abundance. So in a sense, we reap what we sow in the world that we've built.

CARRIE NORDLUND: And you're so right. I was just talking to your friend who moved jobs. And in their prior job, it was everybody talked the same, set the same-- sent their kids to the same school. And in their new job, people are from all different walks of life.

And he's like, and it's actually taught me or retaught me how to talk to people. And that we just don't-- we just made assumptions at my old company that it was like, well, everybody just flies off to wherever on the weekend to go skiing. And now, it's like--

MARK BLYTH: Yeah. It's like, no. No, they don't, because they're the people actually in that ski resort on 15 bucks an hour, making you the crappy burgers that enables this to happen. Right, exactly.


MARK BLYTH: All right, on the crappy burger note, I think we should leave at that point. And then we'll get together. We're now April. We'll come back for the sunny May episode, when it's the summer.


MARK BLYTH: And it's fabulous. It'll be lovely.

CARRIE NORDLUND: Great to see you.

MARK BLYTH: Good to see you, too.

CARRIE NORDLUND: Thanks for listening.


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