05/05/2022 - Despite the Despair, It Was Great Seeing You

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 political implications of the Supreme Court’s leaked decision overturning Roe v. Wade
  • Bipartisan support in Congress for arming Ukraine, and what the next phase of this war might look like
  • Making sense of the Republican Senate Primary in Ohio, and the extent of Trump’s continued influence on the GOP
  • China’s struggle with news Covid waves, and the limits of top-down China’s governing model
  • Elon Musk’s purchase of Twitter. Is he trying to own ‘the public square’ and change the world, or is he just trying to make some money?
  • Inflation, recessions, and the limits of the Fed’s ability to fix either. 
  • Tucker Carlson’s concerns about male fertility
  • Watching the world burn and the Met Gala at the same time. 

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Learn about other podcasts from the Watson Institute.


CARRIE NORDLUND: Hey there. Before we get started, I wanted to say, if you like Mark and Carrie, you should check out another podcast from the Watson Institute at Brown University. It's called Trending Globally, and it features conversations with leading experts about the world's biggest political and policy challenges and how to fix them. You'll even hear from Mark and me from time to time. You can find it by subscribing to Trending Globally wherever you listen to podcasts. Again, that's Trending Globally.

All right, onto the show. Thank you.


Hello, and welcome to the Mark and Carrie Show, from the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs at Brown University. Happy May there, Professor Blyth. I'm thinking that you are done with class, maybe potentially done with the end of the semester. I don't know if that's wishful thinking for you.

MARK BLYTH: Yeah, that's totally wishful thinking. What actually happens-- and hello, Carrie, and hello, listeners. No, this is hell time, right? So basically there's two parts of the year that are just insanely bonkers, where you have every single hour filled, and people want to fill it again twice. And it's between sort of October 15 and Thanksgiving.

And then it's the start of April through until graduation. It's just one thing after another. And the pace of events and stuff that needs to be done quickens and quickens and quickens. And then you finally get to graduation, which for us is very late. It's right at the end of the month.


MARK BLYTH: And then basically you spend June in recovery. That's pretty much it.

CARRIE NORDLUND: So here we are then.


CARRIE NORDLUND: I mean, so much happened in the last like 48 hours. And I think the big headline, of course, is the leaked Supreme Court decision, written by Justice Alito, which would essentially overturn Roe v Wade. So I've been thinking about this, and of course prepping for us to talk as well, and I think I have two ways that I want to talk about it.

MARK BLYTH: Go for it. Just you go for it.

CARRIE NORDLUND: All right, I'll just let it rip. So two perspectives, the institutional perspective and then the political perspective-- if one can imagine that there's politics involved with the Supreme Court. From an institutional perspective-- and then there's just the conspiracy theories, that maybe we can talk about at the end. But the institutional perspective would be-- and this is not new-- so many people have said this-- is that it's just so bad for our political institutions. And this court was the one, out of the three branches of government, that the public usually held in pretty high esteem.

And of course, over the last, I think since Twenty-Fifteen, you started to see a deterioration of that approval. And funnily enough, the deterioration really comes from Republicans, in terms of less and less approval for the court. But this leaked draft, along with what was happening with Justice Thomas and he's not recusing himself from January 6 hearings, in which his wife has been implicated in texting with all the people--


CARRIE NORDLUND: I think these two things have now really cast into doubt, in the public's mind, the-- I wouldn't say legitimacy, and I think that's thrown around too much-- but just the role of the court. I mean, the court has always been above the political fray. Of course, it's a very politicized institution, but for some reason we always thought that it was above that. And now it's really down in the mud, with all the rest of-- with the other two branches of government.

So I just think it's so bad for our institutions at a time when we really need them to be as strong as possible.

MARK BLYTH: And what's your second point?

CARRIE NORDLUND: Well, politically, of course, is that, what does this do for the midterms? And this isn't to dismiss the larger policy issue that's involved with this decision, if this ends up being the decision, which it sounds like it will be, with maybe a little bit of softening to it. But the political-- what does this do for the midterms? Does this mobilize people in the suburbs? I mean, are the Democrats going to lose as badly as a result? Like, all of that sort of stuff.

But more immediate is whether or not the Democrats in the Senate are going to decide to codify the law and, in order to do that, turn over-- get rid of the filibuster. There aren't the votes there for the filibuster. Does Biden want to put his shoulder into this and really push people on the filibuster? I don't think that's probably going to happen. But it seems like the left in the Senate is really ginned up to try to do something along those lines.

And whether that fails-- maybe it's just the act of getting caught trying for their own constituencies as they head into reelection.

MARK BLYTH: Yeah, it's an interesting one. So there's a piece in The Atlantic that I read yesterday that actually made a really interesting point about this. Which is-- well, first of all, Samuel Alito is a very, very angry man, right? Is number one, right?


MARK BLYTH: But in the way that he wrote this, the basic claim is, it's not in the Constitution so it can't be real. That's basically it, right?


MARK BLYTH: Well, lots of things aren't in the Constitution, like privacy.


MARK BLYTH: In the digital age, the right to be forgotten. What else is not in the Constitution? Lots of rights and privileges that we take for granted as part of modern society. And basically, what you now have, or you seem to have at least-- when these judgments actually really come out, we'll know for sure-- but the Fed-- the Fed, listen to me-- the Supreme Court now is essentially sort of the-- how can I put this-- what the Republicans can rely on to do what they can't get through Congress, right?


MARK BLYTH: And so all you need to do now is basically say, OK, so what would be the top 10 Republican or super conservative wish list things for America to go back to like the late 19th century, right? What would we abolish next? Because if you can say that there's no grounding for Roe as a right because it's not in the Constitution, well, take loads of things. So let's take gay marriage. Maybe they really don't like that one, despite it being certainly popular.


MARK BLYTH: And there's no basis for that one. The hell with that, right? And it goes out. So that's kind of scary that way.

In terms of the Senate and the left doing anything, we've got JD Vance, who has got Trump's imprimatur on him, and then he wins, after being in the doldrums.


MARK BLYTH: But at the same time-- correct me if I'm wrong-- 70% of Republicans who voted didn't vote for Trump-type candidates, right? So that's a bit of a mixed signal. And once again, the left, the Bernie Sanders type left, completely failed to get any of their people at the top of the ballot.


MARK BLYTH: So it just seems to be kind of a weird sort of instit-- like, it's almost as if the institutions that are meant to be in the background are doing the leading role, because the parties themselves are so fragmented and broken they can't actually get anything like a coherent agenda going. What do you think?

CARRIE NORDLUND: I know. I heard an interesting observation that if whatever party was in power-- and I kind of wonder if Biden is trying to do this sometime-- if they just did like real middle of the road stuff and nothing on the left or the right, they probably would be voted back into power.

But because we're switching-- to your point-- all the time, and we're moving from what party is in power to the next every four years or every six years, like, no one actually can get any traction. And so these wedge issues become even so more important to mobilize people to switch parties and blame whoever's in power. And there's just no-- it's hard to make sense of where the dial is at any given moment.

MARK BLYTH: I mean, if you think about everything that's going on, right, you've got-- and we'll talk about Russia in a moment and Ukraine-- you've got the possibility of this spiraling into something much more serious. You've got the Republicans basically going to come back into power, and then you will hear this word again-- China, right?


MARK BLYTH: So they're spoiling for a fight, and they might well get one. There's climate change, which doesn't give a crap about any of the stuff that we do, and we're not doing anything to abate it. We seem to be completely on a brain fart mode with that one.

And what do we care about? We care about banning women from having reproductive control. It's like, really? This is what the greatest country in the world is obsessed with? You have to understand how weird this looks from the rest of the world, where this just isn't an issue in many places.

CARRIE NORDLUND: I know, because most--

MARK BLYTH: Even sort of conservative-- well, even conservative countries in Latin America have been basically giving the right, right?


MARK BLYTH: And we are taking it away.


MARK BLYTH: This is also redolent of Eastern Europe. This is kind of that Eastern European soft dictator's playbook, where you pack the court with your allies, and then you start to just eliminate all the stuff you don't like.


MARK BLYTH: And lo and behold, you're in power forever.


MARK BLYTH: So I'm not usually alarmist on this stuff, but last time around the court did play a moderating role, as it's meant to. This time it's like, pshhh, that's not happening.

CARRIE NORDLUND: But the Democrats just got outplayed. I mean, they got outplayed on the court. I mean, there's been however many years to get to build up to this specific moment. The Republicans are very transparent about what they were trying to do. So that I guess those that are like, what, that this is happening, it is that there has been a very concerted movement to do exactly what they're doing.

And I mean, your point about privacy I think is right on because-- and I try not to doom scroll too much, but if you go into the privacy laws and you think about Lawrence v Texas, you think about marriage equality with Obergefell, you think about even Skinner versus Oklahoma, which is forced sterilization, I mean, all of this stuff is queued up. And I think specifically around marriage equality, there was a thread that I went on that Greg Abbott, in Texas, has got has got this all lined up and ready to pounce on it whenever-- as soon as a decision on Dobbs v Jackson, which will undo Roe, is decided on.

So I think it's those set of privacy cases. But then also, I mean, what you see-- and we talked about this a couple of podcasts ago-- with what's happening at the state level with fetal viability or fetal-- I think it's fetal viability-- they're going to say that the fetus has rights.


CARRIE NORDLUND: And that if you do anything, that's going to be homicide. So it's suing abortion providers. It's suing mother-- I mean, it's all of this in swirl, and you just-- it's hard to-- the backsliding is certainly scary.

MARK BLYTH: Yes. Well, it will be interesting to see what happens when one half of the country lives in the 19th century and the other half lives in the 21st century.

CARRIE NORDLUND: I think that's-- I mean, that's just like that's so dangerous, right? When New York has one thing and South Carolina has another, yeah.

MARK BLYTH: Totally. Well, anyway, let's think about more dangerous things-- Ukraine.


MARK BLYTH: So our dear friend Adam Tooze has a nice piece in The Guardian I was reading this morning.


MARK BLYTH: I was traveling today, so basically I was reading all morning. And he makes the following point, which is very interesting. We've just signed into law a bipartisan bill-- it actually happened-- I don't know if you noticed this. It's to arm the crap out of Ukraine, to the tune of like $43 billion or something like this. It's equivalent to 1/3 third of pre-war GDP. So we're really going for it.

And they even call it Lend-Lease. Now, Adam makes the following very interesting observation. Lend-Lease was basically the United States abandoning any real principle of neutrality in the run-up to them joining World War II. And what actually happened was that when Pearl Harbor happened, the Americans kind got cold feet on Lend-Lease to the Brits, right? They were like, oh, hang on a minute. What's going on here?

And what saved them was-- saved the Brits, basically-- was that the Germans were mad enough to declare war on the United States themselves. The United States didn't declare war on Germany. It went the other way around, right? And that basically brought them in 100%.

So we've now done a bill that's called Lend-Lease, right? The next thing that you do is-- in doing so, you've abandoned any pretense of neutrality. What we're doing now is the prelude to joining in. And we're just not having that conversation. Because if you do at some point, if Russia's viewpoint on this is that Ukraine is an illegitimate state, and this is part of historic Russia-- if you go there and start putting your people in there, you have invaded Russia as far as they're concerned. And then all bets are off.

And as for how crap the Russian army is and all the rest of it, if you basically make them think that you are actually in their homeland, you will see a whole different set of things happening. So yes, I think we should be rather alarmed, like everyone's jumped on this whole sort of, well, let's just turn Ukraine into this enormous meat grinder, with no obvious political solution, or for anyone looking for a political solution. Because it's just important for us to beat the hell out of Russia, because we don't like them. Because that's the one thing we can all agree upon. That's a pretty dangerous set of things.

CARRIE NORDLUND: Do you think then the varsity team shows up if in fact that's the stand that Russia takes? Because I mean, right now, it's like they're paid help, right, that's in Ukraine? Or are those reports inaccurate?

MARK BLYTH: I have no idea what you're talking about.

CARRIE NORDLUND: So I read this piece that said that the soldiers that are currently in Ukraine from the Russian side are those that are sort of the Blackwater. So they're not the A-team. They're like the B and C team. And so you're seeing a lot of mistakes, or you're not seeing the strength of the Russian army. You're seeing, in fact, the ones that they decided to send in. And they're not-- they're waiting to send in the really powerful part of the Russian army when they see some-- when they feel they need to do that.

So I was just curious whether or not thought that was accurate. But maybe this is--

MARK BLYTH: No. I mean-- No. You don't basically allow 15,000 to 20,000 troops to get killed just to wait and see when you already know what you're dealing with. I mean, this doesn't make any sense.

There's another story doing the rounds, though, which is pretty interesting.


MARK BLYTH: So here's another version of why they all got caught short. So the story goes like this. About three or four years ago-- maybe even five-- Putin got in touch with all his KGB buddies and said, right, let's take Ukraine. It's a piece of crap. They're horrible. They can't agree amongst themselves. Half the country wants to be Russia. Go spend a couple of billion on a hearts and minds campaign so that we can eventually send in some troops. They'll be greeted with schoolgirl choirs and flowers and the whole nine yards.

And they went, OK, great. So they took a couple of billion a year and did nothing basically-- just kind of fomented conflict on the borderlines and stole the money and stuck it in Abu Dhabi. So then they realized that Putin was serious, right? He actually really wanted to do this. So they leaked all of the plans to Western intelligence on the assumption that, now that you've been found out, you'll call off the invasion.

And he didn't call off the invasion. Because he actually thought that these guys had done what they were meant to do. And the reason that they went there with border police and no heavy weapons initially, and trucks that have got a really crappy tires, that are not designed for going off road and actually doing combat, was because they'd really believed the reports that they'd been fed that we've done this huge disinformation campaign and we've destabilized the country and you can just come walking in there.

And it turns out, well, of course, that was completely false. So the reason that they got totally mauled is because the top guy himself basically was out-kleptocrated by the many kleptocrats. Isn't that brilliant?

CARRIE NORDLUND: Well, and you would have thought the intelligence would have cued them into this somehow. But their intelligence--

MARK BLYTH: They are the intelligence.


MARK BLYTH: That's the thing.


MARK BLYTH: It's your own intelligence people set you up and stole your money, right?

CARRIE NORDLUND: Right, right.

MARK BLYTH: I have no idea-- I mean, that story is just as plausible as the one that you said. We don't know.


MARK BLYTH: I think the only thing we do know is that spending $33 billion with no plausible sight of a political solution to this is just going to mean an immense amount of suffering for Ukraine for an extended period of time. And I just don't see why this is the best thing that we could be doing.

CARRIE NORDLUND: What do you think about cutting off Russian oil and gas to the EU? Is that a--

MARK BLYTH: Well, I like it from the following point of view. It's accelerating the European green transition.


MARK BLYTH: Right? So in that regard, yeah, great. Get off oil and gas is something we should all be doing, Russian or not, right? That's it. So I think it's good from that point of view.

But there is this danger of sort of every week you just keep ratcheting it up, ratcheting it up. And eventually you just completely isolate the Russians. And if they start taking serious losses or if they feel that you really are militarily intervening-- let's say that they really attack a convoy full of weapons, and the convoy full of weapons is filled with American and British instructors--


MARK BLYTH: What happens then once they're killed, right?


MARK BLYTH: What's the next step that you do? Do you send in armed convoys? Because then you know that you're going for it. And then you are in direct combat.


MARK BLYTH: So this thing can get very ugly, very, very quickly. And I think, with the attention span that we usually have, right-- I think I've mentioned this before-- my marker for if something is important is whether it's one to three or four on Apple News. And when this started off, all four stories were about Ukraine.


MARK BLYTH: Now it's usually about six.

CARRIE NORDLUND: Oh, geez. OK. So it's really dropped.

Wait. I have to go back to your travel. Were you on a plane? And how many people were wearing a mask?

MARK BLYTH: Oh, yeah. I was on a plane. I was on two planes, because I went there and came back. And on the first plane, I was wearing a mask until they gave me a cup of coffee. And then I completely forgot to put the mask back on. So that was that. And I think that was a common experience for a lot of people.

I would say about a third of the plane was still masked.



CARRIE NORDLUND: I mean, that seems like a pretty healthy percentage. OK.

Well, speaking of masks, let's turn to the Ohio and Indiana primary results. We talked a tiny bit about this just a few minutes ago, and I wanted to say something about how the lamestream media is really saying that this was a real test of strength for Trump's-- whether his endorsement-- whether he's still in control of the Republican Party or not, which we've been talking about for like 100 years.

And the one thing that I will say, because I was-- everyone will say that this was the case-- is that, so yes, all of his 22 endorsed candidates won, but 12 of them-- so 54%-- more than half of them-- were running unopposed. So there's a lot of padding in that 100%--


CARRIE NORDLUND: --100% of his endorsements won. Of course, the big one was JD Vance, who not so long ago called him an idiot. But they seem to have made up, and that was good for Vance.

The one thing I wanted to point out here is that Mike DeWine, who's the current Republican governor of Ohio-- actually, that was the race I was watching, because he had put into place fairly common sense protocols, like shut down businesses during the height of COVID. He actually-- shocker-- acknowledged that Biden had won the presidency. So really going off on his own. And he won-- I mean, he didn't win like by a ton, but he still won. So I mean, there were some pretty far right candidates in that primary.

So I saw that as like maybe there's still some "moderate Republicans" that are left in the party that can win.

MARK BLYTH: Yeah, I think that's a fair reading. I mean, I mentioned earlier, the statistic that I saw was that in one of these bigger races-- or the average of them-- I don't know what it is-- that yes, Trump's guys won, but they won in clustered fields. So they didn't actually win with that much-- 70% of the vote didn't go to those endorsed candidates.

But the big man, he's still there. He is still bigly calling the shots. There's no doubt about it.


MARK BLYTH: I mean, it's funny, though. I mean, it seems like it's been forever, but it's only 18 months, right? It's only 18 months since that happened.


MARK BLYTH: And a lot can happen. And what's going to happen, of course, is the Democrats will continue to self-immolate. But nonetheless, you don't really know if he's going to be here in 18 months, in the sense of the same kingmaker figure, right?


MARK BLYTH: A lot can happen in that time. And there's lots of other people, like DeSantis and others, who really want to take that crown from him.


MARK BLYTH: So I think it's a little bit early to be calling it, in terms of whether Trump's going to be back on us.

CARRIE NORDLUND: Oh, see, and I just think, like health-wise, he's not looking very good. So is he actually-- is he going to still be alive?

But I mean, I agree with you about DeSantis. Because DeSantis is willing to punch people straight in the face and just-- I mean, he is not at all scared of opposition and bullying. And I mean, he says it and then he does it. And I mean, the fight with Disney World, I mean, he's not backing down. I don't know that there's a lot of substance under that fight, but he picked a fight with Disney, and he didn't back down from Disney.


CARRIE NORDLUND: So I think just for his own "brand," I mean, he stays on task.

MARK BLYTH: So what else has been going on? China, right. They're locking down cities for weeks and weeks at a time. This, again, is kind of deeply worrying. Team autocracy isn't looking so good just now, right?

Maybe two years ago, even people like me would make the following argument-- democratic politics has become so dysfunctional that we can't get anything done. There are things out there like climate change. You might not like the system of government of China, but every year they install more solar than the United States has. At least they can get the crap done.

It's not even clear that that one is the case now, right? Because even though they're still installing lots of stuff and doing lots of things, et cetera, this whole command and control version of events, it's not good when the big guy at the top decides either to invade a neighboring country because he imagines they're filled with Nazis-- not true-- or alternatively, you actually think that can personally defeat a virus simply by telling everybody to stay home forever. It's enormously damaging, incredibly costly. It's going to screw up global supply chains even more.

This is going to encourage firms to basically de-globalize at an even more rapid pace. So eventually, this will lead to more offshoring and stuff coming back home. But in the short term, it's going to stoke inflation even more. And you're doing this at the same time as Xi is busily undermining confidence in his own one-man version of what modern socialism is.

So yeah, it's almost like, in both cases, it's like he's surrounded himself by people who will never tell him he's wrong. So he just keeps going.

CARRIE NORDLUND: Well, what's interesting to me on this is the human toll, in that you actually have people who are protesting. I mean, protesting by putting up signs or protesting by banging on pots or showing the inside of the containment centers. And it shows you the limits of what humans will take, that you can push and push and push, but even there is a breaking point. And that if you keep the lights on for however many weeks they've been in these gigantic stadiums and overflowing toilets, like people will get pushed and they will actually respond to that.

And so I guess that's been interesting to me to see this from very far away the response. And I'm sure it's a very, very tiny percentage. But that this stuff is even getting out-- and I saw one account that said some of the videos, they immediately get taken down, but people still find ways to put them up. I just thought, how long-- I mean, humans can only be pushed so far, I guess was my big takeaway.

MARK BLYTH: But it's also this kind of like, if we can control the media and control the message, then we can control the truth.


MARK BLYTH: And it's this weird sort of delusion that autocratic regimes have, like, if we just take down all the videos, we'll be fine. It's like, no. People know.


MARK BLYTH: Unless you can actually stop people talking to one another, then people will know.


MARK BLYTH: A couple of months ago-- actually, it was maybe about a month ago-- I was at the ISA conference. And there I met a political theorist I know called Albena Azmanova. And she told me the following story.

It was a member of her family-- I'm going to call it her uncle-- I can't remember who it was-- that was the director of the Bulgarian State Circus, right? And he was in charge when everything started to go to hell in '88-'89. So knowing that everything was going to hell, he basically put up billboards and placards all over the country to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the founding of the Bulgarian State Circus under communism, from '49 to '89.

So you had these billboards all over the country that said, 40 years of the Communist Circus.


Right. Brilliant, right? Now, if you think about it, that kind of like fantastic passive resistance, where I'm actually just making a statement, but of course it's an incredibly cutting comment at the same time, but you've got complete deniability, that's the type of resistance that you get in these types of regimes. And I imagine this is all over China at this point, right? People will be doing exactly those sort of memes that everybody knows what's really going on. And this stuff really undermines people's confidence and patience with regimes.

CARRIE NORDLUND: Yeah. Well, that's such a-- I mean, like that family member must have had the most fascinating stories, to run the Bulgarian State Circus.

MARK BLYTH: Yeah. And that on its own is kind of brilliant.


MARK BLYTH: What did you do? I ran the Bulgarian State Circus. Well, of course you did.

CARRIE NORDLUND: Yeah. Because of course that exists.

Well, and there was-- and now I'm of course forgetting-- there was like a hashtag that they were using to post about this, but it was not at all related to--

MARK BLYTH: Right. It would be like rainbow cupcakes or something, and everybody jumps on it. Yeah, exactly.

CARRIE NORDLUND: Yeah, exactly. Exactly

MARK BLYTH: Oh, well, sorry. So China is in a mess. Who's going to fix it? Is Elon going to fix it by buying Twitter? What do you think? Is he going to make the public square safe again for billionaires?

CARRIE NORDLUND: I know, seriously. You must have seen that the amount that he's spending to buy it is the same amount that's in Biden's climate change-- to spend on climate change. So the $44 billion that he's buying Twitter is the same amount that Biden proposed to spend on climate change.

MARK BLYTH: Which he can't get out of the Senate, right? I know.

CARRIE NORDLUND: Yeah, exactly.

MARK BLYTH: We are stupid at a species level. It's unbelievable. But anyway, back to Elon.


MARK BLYTH: What do you think this is all about?

CARRIE NORDLUND: Well, I mean, like you said, he wants to have the public square and freedom of speech. And I mean, it's not at all about his own ego. I mean, I guess I was mostly confused about why he wanted to do it, because Twitter just seems like a pain in the ass to run. Like, I just don't know why anyone would want that job.


CARRIE NORDLUND: He's making some sort of statement. I don't know what that was. He's going to let Trump back on, but Trump has now said he's going to stick with his own whatever his Twitter plat-- his--

MARK BLYTH: Oh, did he say he was going to let him back on? Did he say that?

CARRIE NORDLUND: No. I was just reading into that.

MARK BLYTH: Oh, right, right.

CARRIE NORDLUND: That's what I thought he'd do probably.

MARK BLYTH: I'm not so sure he is actually. I think what this is, is I think we're all, as usual, to quote Bush, we're mis-underestimating him, right?


MARK BLYTH: I think he's actually looked at this and said, I use this thing all the time. It's got a crap business model. Basically, the free portion, you monetize the data. It's a standard sort of Facebook thing. But they're just crap at it. And I'm going to buy this thing. I'm going to get rid of all the bots. So I'll lose 10% of users. So the price will go down. But I can take the hit.

I'm going to fix this. I'm going to do a premium edition. I'm going to do this. I've got all these plans I'm going to put into it. And I'm going to sell it back three years from now, and I'm going to make all that money back again. I really don't think it goes any further than that. I think this is sort of like this is what you do when you're basically like Robert Downey, Jr.'s character in the Marvel films. Like, this is who he is. So I'll just buy this, I'll fix it, and then I'll throw it back in the marketplace. I think that's pretty much where it goes.

CARRIE NORDLUND: Well, I mean, that would make the most sense, right? I mean, this is just him making a business deal then.

MARK BLYTH: Yeah. I mean, this is the guy who runs the Boring Company.



CARRIE NORDLUND: It's not quite as exciting as my conspiracy mind would like it to be, but that's probably the-- right, Occam's razor, yeah.

MARK BLYTH: This is it, right? I'm trying to think, like, why would this guy just-- yeah, it just seems to me, he's like, I bet I could sell this back in three years' time for $80 billion.

CARRIE NORDLUND: Yeah. So here's one of my burning questions I've been thinking a lot about in terms of all this economic news that I was waiting to ask you. And that is about the economy. Because as I've said to you many times, the economy is really confusing. Can there be a recession with low unemployment?

MARK BLYTH: You can go into a recession with low unemployment. But one of the definitions of a recession is negative growth for two quarters. Which implies that you would be increasing your unemployment.


MARK BLYTH: So an effect of a recession, which is negative growth, would be higher unemployment, right? That would be the standard way of looking at it. So there's a whole question here as to what's going on in the current moment.

I get very annoyed sometimes, even with things that I tend to read, like The Financial Times, where it's absolutely clear that this is not a monetary phenomena, right? There's a thing called the Milton dictum-- inflation is always and everywhere a monetary phenomena. And in this case it's proving that it's really not. It's simply the fracturing of global supply chains, right? That's what's driving all this.

And you can say the pandemic spending, but then you've got to say, yeah, but the pandemic spending wasn't actually a stimulus. It was income replacement because the economy had shut down. Those checks-- the last of those checks went out 12 months ago and were spent nine months ago. They were $2,000. That's not powering the price of goods anymore, right? That's not it.

It's not the fact that the Fed is spending all this money. Because you don't spend central bank money. You spend money that you get issued through the commercial banking sector. The banking sector is making money hand over fist, because everybody's buying a bunch of stuff. But as inflation goes up, that will slow down.

So it's really not clear to me that, let's raise interest rates, is going to actually do anything about the fact that you've got 500 ships parked off of Shanghai, and you can't get any stuff because this is in a lockdown, right? These things seem to be totally disconnected. But as usual, we've managed to whip ourselves up into a narrative, whereby, well, it's inflation, so it must be about money. The Fed must do something.


MARK BLYTH: And they probably spent too much look. Look at all that pandemic money. Just ignore the facts of the supply chain stuff. Or mention it, but then immediately pivot towards a monetary explanation for no reason.

So the Fed now finds itself in a position whereby it's looking at a recession, but it's been talking up interest rates. And it's looking at prices still going up in certain areas, in certain sectors, because of things like the breakdown of the global supply chain. And they are kind of baked into doing these rate increases.

So we will be increasing interest rates as the economy goes into a recession anyway. Which means that you get a very deep recession rather than a shallow one. So we're about to hurt ourselves because we've convinced ourselves that the inflation is caused by something it's not. So again, shocked, yes, surprised, never.

CARRIE NORDLUND: So as gas and groceries are going up because of inflation, and then the interest rates on my student--

MARK BLYTH: It's not because of. Gas and groceries going up is inflation.

CARRIE NORDLUND: Is inflation. And then my mortgage and my student loan and--

MARK BLYTH: Are going to get more expensive.

CARRIE NORDLUND: So then everything has gone up now.

MARK BLYTH: Right. And of course, that's a good thing. Because what happens is, by making everything more expensive, particularly for people who can afford it the least, the heavily indebted or the poor, whose credit is more expensive, somehow that helps them, because they are the people who suffer most from rising prices.

CARRIE NORDLUND: OK. So that I cannot connect these dots is not just--

MARK BLYTH: It's because it's unconnectable.


MARK BLYTH: No, it's unconnectable, right? It's actually really kind of shameful. The basic argument is, oh, look at those poor people. Prices going up. I mean, I don't care, I can afford the gas, but they can't. We need to do something about that. Why don't we make their credit, which is insanely expensive and hard to come by, even more expensive, because that'll help them with the cost of living? Sorry, that does not compute.

CARRIE NORDLUND: But is the intent to slow you down from spending or buying by increasing interest rates?

MARK BLYTH: Yeah. The intent is to basically stop people buying stuff so that prices fall. It's a very blunt weapon. And we proved back in Nineteen-Eighty, if you really, really push them up high, you can certainly do that. But you cause a tremendous recession. The problem here is that we don't live in-- despite the fact that we keep talking about it as if it's the '70s again, it's not the '70s Show.

One massive difference-- after Two Thousand and Eight, when we cut interest rates to zero, everybody who wanted more than zero pushed their money all around the rest of the world to so-called emerging markets, right? To Turkey, to Brazil, to Indonesia, all the rest of it, right? And that money has been parked there doing various things.

Now, if you jack up interest rates to basically 5%-- if inflation's at 7%, you still got a negative real rate. You're not even really crushing the inflation. But if you put it up to 5%, and I'm making 3% in Korea, pffft, all that money comes flying in, it goes back into the dollar. The dollar goes flying through the roof. Emerging markets suffer huge capital flight out. Their exchange rate goes down. Their dollar debts go up. And they all explode.

Now, the Fed knows this. We didn't have that problem in the '70s. We do now because of what we did from Two Thousand and Eight on. So there's a real limit to how far they can actually push this up without causing a big global debt capital flight problem.

CARRIE NORDLUND: I mean, this is when like the world careening off its axis feels like very possible.

MARK BLYTH: Yeah, there's a lot of stuff. I mean, it's funny. We've been doing this for a couple of years now, right?


MARK BLYTH: And it just seems to get madder.


MARK BLYTH: I mean, it really does. It's just sort of like, oh, great. So let's think about what'll happen. We had a huge financial crisis. And that took like a decade to recover from. And for many parts of society, we're not even back to where we were in Two Thousand and Eight.

In Greece-- this is the best one-- the IMF projected that Greece would get back to its GDP level of Two Thousand and Eight in Twenty-Forty-Six. Yeah, I know, it's insane, right?


MARK BLYTH: So then we had a pandemic, right? And then we managed to turn that into a political bunfight. And then we walk out of a pandemic into sort of the re-emergence of 19th century strongman Russia and the possibility of an actual big war in Europe spinning out of control.


MARK BLYTH: And then we've got politics, whereby the Republicans are going to come back in. They're going to basically give up on climate change for at least two electoral cycles, go for a big carbon binge, and if we're lucky, not get into a fight with China. Oh, and the Fed basically can't really do anything about inflation without blowing up the rest of the world financially. What?


MARK BLYTH: I mean, can I get off? Can I go to another planet?


MARK BLYTH: I want to go see the new-- what's it called again-- the new Dr. Strange. Apparently there's a multiverse where there's a version of me in a planet that's not totally screwed up. I'd like to go there. That would be good.

CARRIE NORDLUND: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Mars is looking better and better. So, Mark, I don't know when your next doctor's appointment is. But I wonder if you're going to be seeing Dr. Tucker Carlson to give you some important medical alerts or not.

MARK BLYTH: Tell us specifically what you're talking about.

CARRIE NORDLUND: So he has suggested or recommended that men tan their testicles. And this seems to be based on something that he was investigating, learning, understanding. And it had gotten a lot of-- I mean, you know Tucker Carlson in general, as I fumble around with this, has gotten a lot of play, because of course he said that the vaccination is dangerous, and blah, blah, blah, but it was clear that he was vaccinated. And so spinning this back through COVID, he's often given medical advice. But this was sort of even kind of fringe for the newly minted medical doctor Carlson.

MARK BLYTH: Wow. Yeah. The video that goes with this, it's worth looking at, folks, if you haven't seen it. It's a bit odd. But anyway, yeah, the weird thing about it is, there's a book, which I got recently, which I meant to get in Twenty-Twenty, and I forgot about, called Countdown, which is actually about the collapse of male sperm counts in the global North.


MARK BLYTH: And alongside of this is the whole thing about endocrine disrupting chemicals, everyday chemicals that are everywhere, that are basically very, very dangerous and just upsetting sex hormones, and actually interfering with testosterone and other hormonal products. So as usual, there's a grain of sense in what he said.


MARK BLYTH: And then it was of course taken to the n-th degree of weirdness in a five-minute video. But yeah, I mean, there's a thing out there. It's basically called endocrine disrupting chemicals. And yeah, we're polluting ourselves as well as the planet with it. In fact, according to this book-- I think I mentioned this before-- the calculation is that the model sperm carrier, i.e., bloke, in Twenty-Forty-Five, will contain no sperm.

So of course, the upside on this is you don't really have to worry about global warming. Because if that's true, by Twenty-Seventy, there won't be enough people to worry about it. So there you go.

CARRIE NORDLUND: Right around the time that Greece comes back is going to be--

MARK BLYTH: Exactly. Greece will come back and there'll be nobody in it. It'll be like, congratulations, you're back to Two-Thousand and Eight.

CARRIE NORDLUND: Nobody there, yeah.

MARK BLYTH: There's like one really old guy going, seriously? Seriously?

CARRIE NORDLUND: Yeah, yeah. Well, I mean, I guess this is somewhat good news, in that if the world is ending, and there are no humans left to populate that.

The one thing that I wanted to-- and I don't know if you saw this already-- but Sarah Palin is back. She's running-- she ran-- she was the vice presidential candidate, also former governor of Alaska. Then just resigned because she didn't want to be governor anymore. But she's running for the Senate seat in Alaska.

And they have like a runoff and a ranked choice. So it'll be interesting to see whether she comes through. But Sarah Palin, who many credit with starting this sort of fake news--

MARK BLYTH: Oh, the original Trump.


MARK BLYTH: Well, the original Trump, absolutely, in many ways. Yeah, totally.


MARK BLYTH: It'll be interesting to see if she finds her second wind on this one.


MARK BLYTH: And finally, once again, neither of us was invited to the Met Gala.

CARRIE NORDLUND: So I was watching this on Instagram, and then the Roe v Wade decision came through. And it felt a little bit like Rome is burning. And I know that Rome is burning all the time. But it did feel like all the fancy people-- like the prom for whatever-- celebrities and Vogue people, and then the rest of us eating our-- let them eat cake moment.

MARK BLYTH: Yeah. It's like usually when I see this stuff in the news the next day, you kind of scroll the pictures to see if you even recognize who is a celebrity these days--


MARK BLYTH: And it's not just movie stars and sports people and the whole thing. Now there's Instagram influencers, like the 22-year-old woman who's an influencer, who's there doing-- and maybe I'm just a cranky old guy at the end of the day, but it's just like, who the hell are you?


MARK BLYTH: And why are you doing this in public? And why does anyone give you attention? Why does anyone care? This is all just disgusting. Please, stop it.

CARRIE NORDLUND: Yes. Yeah. I felt similarly in terms of like, who are these people? I don't know who you are. Yeah.

MARK BLYTH: Yeah, completely. All right. Well, anyway, on that note of alienation--


MARK BLYTH: --amongst despair, that's another episode we've wrapped up.


MARK BLYTH: I really want to do something happy at some point. I'm just getting fed up with this. I really am.

CARRIE NORDLUND: I know. I know. We have to do one that's just like something lighter, that's just like rainbow cupcakes or something, because yeah, I'm with you.

MARK BLYTH: For me as well. So right now-- I don't know if you follow any of this, the Premier League Soccer-- Liverpool are on course for doing the Quadruple, which is the European big cup thing that you win the Champions League, the two domestic cups and the Premier League. Like, nobody's done it before. They're playing amazing. All that sort of stuff.

My own team is the other-- I support-- is the other team from Liverpool, which is Everton. And we are odds-on to get relegated. Because in UK sports, you don't just stay in the League because you're crap, because you've paid enough money. It's not a franchise. You actually go down.

So I think a lot of-- my fin de siecle for this year is really driven by the performance of Everton. I think I could probably look into a bag of hope filled with clowns and balloons and rainbow candyfloss and still despair.


MARK BLYTH: So maybe I just need the season to end, Everton to go down, and I'll feel much better. We'll see.

CARRIE NORDLUND: And I know relegated, because this was in the show on Apple TV, about the Premier--

MARK BLYTH: Oh, Ted Lasso.


MARK BLYTH: Yeah, Ted Lasso. Right.

CARRIE NORDLUND: Yeah, so I actually knew kind of what you're talking about.

MARK BLYTH: You knew. That's fantastic.

CARRIE NORDLUND: Well, I'm sorry Blyth.

MARK BLYTH: Oh, well.

CARRIE NORDLUND: I hope they're able to bounce back. Well, it was nice to see you, despite the despair.

MARK BLYTH: That's a great title for this episode-- it was nice to see you, despite the despair.

CARRIE NORDLUND: Thank you for listening.



CARRIE NORDLUND: Mark and Carrie is a production for the Watson Institute for International Public Affairs at Brown University. Our show is produced and edited by Dan Richards. You can learn more about the Watson Institute's other podcasts on our website. We'll put the link in the show notes. And if you haven't already, you can subscribe to Mark and Carrie wherever you listen to podcasts. Thanks so much 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