08/20/2020 - Welcome to America. Let's Sue Each Other.

Mark Blyth, political economist at Brown's Watson Institute, and political scientist Carrie Nordlund share their take on the news.

Steven Bannon's lack of imagination; the conundrum of reopening America's schools; following the money in the USPS; the implications of Apple's staggering wealth; Phil Collins forever.


DAN RICHARDS: Hey there. This is Dan, the producer of Mark and Carrie. If you like this show, we highly recommend you check out Watson's other podcast, Trending Globally. You'll hear more in-depth conversations about politics and policy from some of the world's leading experts, including, occasionally, Mark and Carrie. You can find it by subscribing to Trending Globally on Apple podcasts, Stitcher, Spotify, Google Play, or wherever you listen to podcasts. All right, on with the show. Thanks.

CARRIE NORDLUND: Hello there, Mark. How are you? Welcome to the, welcome to the podcast.

MARK BLYTH: Yay. We're back again. Fabulous fun times ahead as we slip towards chaos, authoritarianism, and possible Armageddon. Who's going to offer a few giggles?

CARRIE NORDLUND: Have you been in your boat maybe off the coast of Rhode Island and the Postal Service picked you up and brought you in on charges of embezzlement?

MARK BLYTH: No. That didn't happen to me. Did that happen to you or someone you know?

CARRIE NORDLUND: Well, I know we don't generally do this. But Steve Bannon, that just happened to him, I think early, right after around lunchtime today.


CARRIE NORDLUND: And of course, what's so funny is that the Postal Service were the ones to bring him in. They had a Build the Wall fund group.

MARK BLYTH: Right. I saw this. How is the post office picking him up? When did they start doing this?

CARRIE NORDLUND: I didn't know that they had the authority to do that. I'm with you. But also on another point. People need to learn how to embezzle money better. Because they spend money on the classic stuff, cars, jewelry, credit card debt, house renovation.

MARK BLYTH: Really? It's so tawdry. So funny thing is my wife listens to all these true crime podcasts. Because I think she's looking for like, tips on how to murder me for the insurance money. But the funny-- if you listen to these things, it's quite interesting that the numbers are so low. I mean, people are murdering each other for like, $30,000 in insurance money. And you're like, really?

I mean, how about, can you get a-- you must be looking at a hitman for like, three grand to make it worthwhile on $30,000. And this, to go back to the bottom story, although I don't know anything about it. But, you know, talking extemporaneously, I mean, if you're talking about, you know, you're at the levels of cars and shoes and stuff like that, you're really not trying hard enough. I mean that sounds like the truth.

CARRIE NORDLUND: No. Not at all. No at all. Yeah. You're right. $30,000, I mean, it's some motivation. But I'm not going to get my mega yacht with, my David Geffen mega yacht for $30,000.

MARK BLYTH: And then you could be in like, deep water away from the post office boat. So you'd be fine. You don't have to worry about that. So how is D.C? Have you melted yet?

CARRIE NORDLUND: No. It's actually turned cool. It's is a wonderful 85 degrees as compared to 99 degrees. And there were like, 40 plus days straight of above 90 and didn't get below 70. So yeah, not as hot as it has been on the West Coast, I know. Well, are you ready to go back to school? Do you have your new Zoom outfits ready?

MARK BLYTH: Well, I do. I bought a box of masks. Because I don't know what the ones I'm going to get from Brown are going to be like. We were originally meant to go back as normal after Labor Day with a quarantine period. What happened was Rhode Island started to see a bit of a spike in cases. So now we're delayed to the 16th, which means that I won't teach my first in person class until October the 4th.


MARK BLYTH: By that point, who knows where we'll be? The Klingons might have invaded, Donald Trump is actually a lizard God. The way things are going, who possibly knows? But let's get serious on this for a moment. What do we know about going back to school which is usually the big thing we do at this time of year?

CARRIE NORDLUND: Well, I mean, it's the, a wish went around Twitter the UNC student newspaper, the Daily Tar Heel, said that UNC has a cluster bleep on its hands. And that's what it seems at the University level, what it's like at least that universities who are bringing students back to campus, that essentially the framing is going to be we're doing everything we can.

But what they do off campus? And then if people get sick, well, you can't control 18 to 24-year-olds. But those who have brought students back, you'd think this would be the model, are already saying, Oh, now go home. And this includes UNC Chapel Hill, Notre Dame, I think Smith just recently reversed their policy decision as well.

MARK BLYTH: Yeah. It's a funny one in the sense that, of course, everybody is aware of this. But you've got a bunch of 18 to 24-year-olds who are all excited to be the host after lockdown. And they're hanging with their friends. They've all signed pledges to behave not like 18 to 24-year-olds. It's a really tough one.

CARRIE NORDLUND: Yeah. Now I agree. I agree. And it's also it's interesting to see the state institutions which obviously receive public funding where they were-- I mean, Cal State said really early on, and I guess, I mean, from a business perspective, we're able to say really early on we're going online for the fall. Because they were able to, sort of-- I mean, because the cost to attend them is much lower than the $70,000 to $90,000 price tag.

MARK BLYTH: But the reason their fees have gone up historically, in the past 10 years especially, is essentially because of the public contribution to those institutions has declined. Why? Because boomers love tax cuts. Right? So essentially, the money disappears, you have to charge more fees. You build more vulnerability even into the public system in this way.

So yeah. The whole thing basically needs to be rethought. I mean, in a way-- there's a weird way in which you could say that COVID coming along this way, it's not a good thing, but what can happen is that this is the shock that the entire sector needs to reorient itself. Because we forget that it's a pandemic. Pandemics pass. Right?

We're in the middle of this thing. Some people say we're in the third inning or in the fourth inning. Who knows if we need a ninth inning, et cetera. But baseball games end. They do actually end. Right? And whether it's a combination of, it looks like T cell, this kind of background immunity from T cells, lower numbers for herd immunity, vaccines if people take the damn thing. Right? We will get past this. And when we get past this, I have already recorded a whole series of lectures. I'm turning this room or a room downstairs into a green screen studio.


MARK BLYTH: And I'm going to actually record all my lectures. So that anytime that I'm in class, I can actually spend time with students.


MARK BLYTH: Rather than, sort of, standing in a room talking up. So there's ways in which we can really make this work and become much better at what we do.

CARRIE NORDLUND: Right. And actually increase the value that-- I mean, the human-to-human contact, which is increasing the value.

MARK BLYTH: Exactly.

CARRIE NORDLUND: The less lecture. But you have a school-age daughter. Where are you on the closing? Where's her school on closing, not closing? I mean, the K through 12 is what seems to be the real issue and--


CARRIE NORDLUND: Back to school part. Especially, obviously, for young, school age kids.

MARK BLYTH: So I like the South Korean approach to this one, which is schools canceled for a year. Nobody gets a grade. Everybody repeats a year.


MARK BLYTH: Just stop. Right? There is no nice way to pass through this. And the problem is you're not going to individualize it. So let's take my daughter's school which is a school that's small enough that you can put kids into bubbles and do all the right stuff. Right?

Well, you know, if your background infection rate in the community and the community transmission is high enough, it doesn't matter what you put in a bubble. They're going to walk out of the bubble at 3 o'clock and talk to other people and bring them back into the bubble. Right?


MARK BLYTH: If on the other hand, you live in a place that's got very little community transmission or has died down, interestingly you don't see much about Sweden these days. Because we like to say, ah, the Swedes screwed up. Right? But Sweden basically went, I think, it was eight days with a death over the past two weeks.


MARK BLYTH: Yeah, there was a few back up, but it's completely collapsed. Right? So if you're there or you're in Denmark, yeah, you can go back to the schools because your community [? is ?] done, right?


MARK BLYTH: So it's these sort of big-- it's the fact that the schools are situated at places particularly, United States whereby we just had like, the worst possible management of the pandemic. You have some, some states are better than others. I don't want to pooh-pooh Rhode Island. Rhode Island had done a really good job. It started to go up a little bit. And now it's coming down again. So maybe we'll get away with it. But large parts of the country certainly won't.

CARRIE NORDLUND: Right. And I know this is an oft-repeated point. But of course, I mean, you can't open the economy without having people have the ability to go back to work with their kids in school too. I was just going through the biggest school systems.

New York is I know it's, sort of, partial staggered thing. Like, one day or every other day, sort of, thing. Houston, first three weeks are fully online. In Chicago and L.A. Are remote at start. I think Chicago is up there. They'll try to be in person by November. But I mean, those are millions and millions of kids that represent those school districts.

MARK BLYTH: And also I wonder we're not thinking about is, what's the average age of teachers?


MARK BLYTH: I mean, you're talking about a pretty vulnerable population. The entire thing hinges on a pretty vulnerable population being super exposed. Now you know, again, if you go to other countries, what have they done?

They've basically retrofitted classrooms. They're given PPE. They've done that stuff. And most importantly, they got their community transmission rates down. So the chance of actually being affected is much lower anyway. We haven't done any of that stuff. We're like, here, have a box of Kleenex and some spray. Good luck with that.

CARRIE NORDLUND: Well, what's was interesting in Chicago too is that they wanted to open. And it was the teachers' union that put the pressure on the mayor. They said, we're going to go on strike if you make us go back. And so that is just an interesting way to think about that, just forcing the mayor on the issue too.

So I'm looking at the retail numbers. And I don't even know if this matters. But the retail spending and people's seemed to excited about. It went up from June 2-- I think it was reported early August-- by 1.2%. Does that make any-- it just seems like such a teeny tiny number. But I guess I see a lot of Amazon boxes being ordered.

MARK BLYTH: Well, people are still consuming. You when you're dead, you stop consuming. Right?

CARRIE NORDLUND: That's a good point.

MARK BLYTH: Something went up by 1%. It went down by 2% and went up by 1%. You're back to where you started. Wee! Now, that's no news, not in itself. I mean, I suppose it's the sort of, the big continuing story. And we'll talk about Apple in a minute, and it's $2 trillion law issue. Right?

Stock market, woo, is now higher than ever. The economy is more pummeled than ever. Unemployment for the most recent set of figures was above a million again on top of the total we've got now.

And of course, Congress fantastically managed to not do anything about extending unemployment benefits or actually giving a shit about anyone who works in the real economy. So finance and that sort of stuff is great. The real economy, but not doing so well. And we've got these numbers that come out that we look at and go, I wonder what that means. Also it's just a bit of a mess really.

CARRIE NORDLUND: Well, on the congressional power, I just couldn't, I mean, I could. But that they left and are not supposed to come back until Labor Day. There is a special vote for the post office. But what about-- so the benefits are just, they just went away. And we're just waiting for people to come back from their Labor Day holiday. And I thought, if there's ever a time for Congress to actually act, it would be his moment. But instead we broke for summer stuff, and for the conventions, and all that stuff.

MARK BLYTH: Right. Yeah. I mean, there's a, sort of, a legitimate argument that if you say that if people are getting say, 250 unemployment. And then they get 600 on top of that. It's 850. So it's actually only 400 a month. Now, that's 3,400 a month after tax. That is a lot more than a lot of people in this country earn. Now, to me, the real question at that point is why do they earn so little? Right?


MARK BLYTH: This becomes a disincentive. Because for a country as rich as we are, a $20 trillion economy, that's not actually that much money. So there is a question of why wages are so low. But it is also true that if you want to-- I'll give an example of this. When we had a big storm that blew through here, and everyone's trying to get trees holder in their gardens and all the rest of it. And get fences rebuilt.

You can call a fencing company. And they'll say they'll get back to you and they don't. And then you talk to people who say, well, why aren't getting back? They'll say the people that we usually use, who are putting these fences up, have no interest in doing this work. Because basically, they're getting that extra 600. Right?


MARK BLYTH: The bigger one on top of this, not to say that that's the right way to think about audits. You know, why these people are paid so little in the beginning, is what's the purpose of these schemes? The purpose of these schemes is ultimately to basically maintain consumption for the economy as a whole. so that when COVID passes, we haven't done grotesque damage to the economy, and we can go back to things. We'll always need fences rebuilt. When's the next time you are going for a body massage?

CARRIE NORDLUND: Yeah. Twenty-Ninety. Yeah.

MARK BLYTH: Right. Exactly. I mean, even getting your haircut. Right? You know, when's your next drunk mani-pedi with friends?

CARRIE NORDLUND: Right, exactly.

MARK BLYTH: Now, a lot of this stuff isn't coming back. And we're just beginning to figure out what that means. I posted something on Twitter. It's an interesting story. And it was very Brooklyn and bourgie. But it's an interesting story about a guy who owned a cocktail bar who said, well, that's screwed. So he turned it into high end grocery shop.

CARRIE NORDLUND: Oh. I did see that. A Republican posted-- Yeah. Yeah.

MARK BLYTH: And I just thought that's how we should be thinking about this. Right? It's all fine and well paying people not to work and all the rest of it. But the real question is, how do we get from where we were to where we're going to be? And we just haven't figured that one out yet.

CARRIE NORDLUND: You really know my life really well, too, Blyth, the drunk mani-pedi.

MARK BLYTH: I spy on you. I do. I totally-- I'm actually your digital stalker.

CARRIE NORDLUND: You're like Bush to Putin. You looked in my eyes and saw my soul.

MARK BLYTH: Exactly.

CARRIE NORDLUND: And we have to talk about the post office. And we've talked about this. But last time we talked about it, I was, kind of, in my head I was like, yeah, that's not never going to happen.

MARK BLYTH: Yeah, that's not.

CARRIE NORDLUND: And then here we are with locks on post office boxes and the slowdown--

MARK BLYTH: Yeah. The removal of apparently 671 high-speed sorting machines in large cities. I wonder why anyone would do that?

CARRIE NORDLUND: I know. You just don't, I mean, and the post office which is, as all the news has reported, like, one of the only governmental functions that people actually approve of and across partisan lines. And really, it's we think about rural Americans. I mean, it's like, birthday cards and mail. Like, mail is nice.

MARK BLYTH: The constant reminder for me that I'm eligible to join the AARP, which is just like, thanks. That's really awesome. Thanks very much. That's great.

CARRIE NORDLUND: I mean, I think one of the way, you know, obviously round vote by mail, and by the way, absentee voting, the same thing is that it's the volume that will happen within a very short period of time. And that states have all these different rules and laws around when you can request your application. But between the states that are going to be-- and I just looked at battleground states-- between four days before the election and 10 days.

And that's really where that two-week time period before the election will be the major crunch. So the Chicago saying of "vote early and vote often" is really true. I mean, vote as soon as you possibly can. And Rhode Island actually is the state that has the earliest deadline for requesting. And that's in early October.

MARK BLYTH: Exactly.

CARRIE NORDLUND: So at least Rhode Islanders' vote will be in good hands. But possible solutions, which I'm sure you've seen, are UPS and FedEx offering to deliver ballots.

MARK BLYTH: Yeah, I don't know about this. Tell me about this. So what's going on? So is this Jeff Bezos just going, oh, I get to really piss off Trump with this one.

CARRIE NORDLUND: Well, yeah. I just saw a couple of tweets about this, that UPS and FedEx should step up and say, we'll deliver ballots for free. Just drop them off wherever you can at whatever place takes UPS and FedEx. And then of course, Bezos because the hate relationship that Trump has with them, the Amazon. I mean, why couldn't Amazon do it?

MARK BLYTH: Yeah, totally.

CARRIE NORDLUND: Which would be pretty great.

MARK BLYTH: But has he actually said he's going to do it?

CARRIE NORDLUND: Bezos has not. They haven't. He hasn't. Amazon hasn't said anything yet. It's just a good gotcha thing on Twitter.

MARK BLYTH: Yeah. Well, in that case, it's not real.

CARRIE NORDLUND: No. That's right. But you can imagine it?



MARK BLYTH: You can imagine a lot of things being true on Twitter. So for example, there's a picture that was posted of a bunch of chained up mailboxes. Right?


MARK BLYTH: And that was from Wisconsin. And it was on Twitter. And it made its way to The Guardian. So I asked a friend of mine who follows this stuff very closely, a political scientist in Wisconsin, is this actually true? Is this a picture-- he says, no, it's a very old picture that's been around for a long time.

CARRIE NORDLUND: I actually wondered that. Because the government doesn't do anything quickly. So I thought, how is this happening so fast? I mean, they struggle to get stuff done quickly.

MARK BLYTH: Guess what? We replace-- we replace post box sometimes. That happens. There's a post office dump for busted post boxes. So we have to be careful in filtering this stuff out. To me, it's like the usual thing. It's follow the money. Right? So let's think about the guy who's in charge of this.

So everybody knows he's a Republican donor. Blah, blah, blah, the rest of that. Now, the really interesting thing is where this guy makes his money. He makes his money investing in alternatives to the post office. Right? So let's just do this on, sort of, like, Central Asian corruption dictatorship TV clunky clan-ness, right?


MARK BLYTH: Not only do you get a guy who's one of your financial backers to run a thing into the ground, that you fear the most for your reelection, which you must win because otherwise, you might be in trouble. You then put them in charge. But that person has a conflict of interest that would mean in any other circumstances-- I mean, it's a bit like getting a defense contractor to run an investigation into why F-15s crash. Right?


MARK BLYTH: It's about getting Boeing to run their own 737 investigation, right? I mean, and this is a 10x more than that. It's like, I make my money from investing in UPS. I am now in charge of the thing I want to destroy, so that my investments make more money. You should never get that job.

CARRIE NORDLUND: Yes. Right. Well, and I want to privatize it. And then UPS will buy it.

MARK BLYTH: Yeah, exactly.


MARK BLYTH: Or however it works, exactly.

CARRIE NORDLUND: Yeah, whatever scheme it is. Right. Apple's $2 trillion, it's hard for me to imagine like $200, let alone $2 trillion.

MARK BLYTH: Yes. $2 trillion dollars. Exactly.

CARRIE NORDLUND: I mean, I always think about like, where is it? Like, what bank holds that money, you know? And I know that it doesn't.


CARRIE NORDLUND: But I would just like to imagine this in my head. It's hard to think about that.

MARK BLYTH: Here's what we're basically saying, Apple is worth 10% or the equivalent to 10% of the US economy.

CARRIE NORDLUND: Yeah. That's just incredible.

MARK BLYTH: Right. Now, as somebody who's been using Apple products since before I even arrived in the United States-- I think my first Apple was Nineteen-Eighty-Eight, so I've--

CARRIE NORDLUND: Was it called Mac?

MARK BLYTH: Yeah, I've been stuck in the ecosystem for a very long time, right? I was dealing with them when Jobs left, and they had clones. I used to know the techs by name. You'd go literally, "Hi, Danny, is it you?" Like, literally, that used to happen. And now it's this like, conglomerate-- not a conglomerate, the behemothic giant company that's worth this much.

Now, here's a really interesting question. And this speaks to a fabulous book that I read last week when I was away for a couple of days, which I'll talk about it in a minute. Why is this thing worth so much money when it hasn't produced a new product in about seven years? All it does is update phones to be more sophisticated than you could ever use.

ITunes which is a perfectly serviceable platform, and then broke it up into lots of things, so that it becomes really annoying. Have I got a dongle lying around here? Yeah, I have. Right. You basically take all of the ports out of your computers and make you buy pieces of crap like this so you can plug the same stuff into it. Right?

What did they do? Why has its valuation gone up? Apple is basically playing the same game as lots of other companies, that what matters is control of assets and technology. And you make money from that. And you basically build these little monopolies, like Apple TV versus Netflix or whatever. And everybody's paying a fee.

And we're all subscribing to these services. And the markets basically making a bet that at the end of the day when all this shakes out, Apple's going to be one of the few things standing. And Apple is going to be basically a monopolist across this entire ecosystem of products that it control. The fact that they're actually not making anything new, innovating, doing anything like that, no. It's all about, basically, as this book was called, rents.

So there's a book by a guy called Brett Christopher that's coming out at the end of August or in November, called Rentier Capitalism. And although it's about the UK, he goes through the UK sector by sector by sector, and just shows how much of this is all about the control of assets. And if you make your money from the control of assets, think like a landlord, you own houses, you rent them out, how much innovation do you do?

CARRIE NORDLUND: Yeah, zero. You just are turning the same thing over again.

MARK BLYTH: That's right. How much investment do you do? Think of landlords. How much investment did they do?

CARRIE NORDLUND: Right. Some paint.

MARK BLYTH: Right, exactly. And basically, how much do they try and screw you as much as they can? Right. OK.


MARK BLYTH: So therefore, you've got collapsing investment, collapsing productivity, high inequality, all in one explanation. Because everything's just above the control of rent and generating rents.


MARK BLYTH: And this is it. Apple is it. The fact that Apple is $2 trillion, that's it. There's nothing more going on.

CARRIE NORDLUND: And that's why they're able to charge $40 for that dongle that costs less than a penny for them to make.

MARK BLYTH: Yeah. And this stuff that they're doing with the developers, right? So there's this huge game platform we're both too old to know about called Fortnite. Right? And basically, when you do in-app purchases, you're meant to give Apple 30% of the money.


MARK BLYTH: And Fortnite basically went, no. And they went, well, get off our platform, then.

CARRIE NORDLUND: Yeah. But Fortnite is big enough that they're able to do that and survive?

MARK BLYTH: Well, they can survive on Android. But then there's some kind of problem there as well, and everybody's suing each other, and so on and so forth.


MARK BLYTH: So welcome to modern capitalism. We don't do innovation. We just sue each other for rents.

CARRIE NORDLUND: Right. But meanwhile there is no possibility for competition, either, because they are-- I mean, they've got the best--

MARK BLYTH: Apple, Android. That's it.


MARK BLYTH: Think about it. So you're in DC, what are your choice of internet companies?

CARRIE NORDLUND: I think-- I think Verizon and maybe one other one. Maybe two other ones.

MARK BLYTH: Two? Then you're doing well. Because it's usually just two, right? How many big banks are there in America?

CARRIE NORDLUND: Four. A nice, round number.

MARK BLYTH: Four. Four that control basically over 60% to 70% of the market. Actually it's closer to 80% of the market, right? You can go through every sector, and it's basically giant corp that takes rents because there's no competition. This myth of America as a free market economy is, we're wonderful at telling ourselves fairy stories, and that's probably the biggest one.

CARRIE NORDLUND: Right. Well, I guess the other side would be that well, the market decided. And therefore Bank of America was like, the best bank. And if there is a better bank than Bank of America, they would have won. But I mean, that's always like--

MARK BLYTH: Yeah, but you know that that's complete nonsense, right?


MARK BLYTH: The reason being that like, Bank of America has branches everywhere, because they bought up lots of other smaller banks and killed the competition.


MARK BLYTH: Here's a good example. So central banks, the Federal Reserve basically lends money out to the commercial banking system, sends it out.

And then they do their magic. And it ends up in the economy, and this is how we end up with growth. That's one version of the story. Right? Now, basically, the Fed is giving them money at pretty much zero interest. How much are you paying on your credit card?

CARRIE NORDLUND: Like 17%, 15%, something like that.

MARK BLYTH: Right. So if interest rates were a decade ago are 4% and they went down to 0, you would think that your 17 would at least go to 13.


MARK BLYTH: Yeah. Why not? Because there's only four of them, and nobody's telling them to do it. So we'll just make as much money as we can, please.

CARRIE NORDLUND: Right. I mean, when you talk about competition like that, it really takes the wind out of your sails, because you think-- I mean, there's no chance that we're going to-- that anybody tiny in any sector, then, can make a new pair of shoes and suddenly make it or something.

MARK BLYTH: So what does Google do when it finds a competitor? Either basically its lawyers--


MARK BLYTH: --buy them, or its lawyers pummel them.


MARK BLYTH: So when I see Apple valued at $2 trillion, that basically tells me the market is pricing in. Basically, they are going to be the most successful monopolist rent-seeker. That's basically it.

CARRIE NORDLUND: Speaking of pummeling and Apple, California-- really nice transition on that one.

MARK BLYTH: Nice segue. That was a good one.

CARRIE NORDLUND: Well, I mean, massive, big wildfires again. Poor California. They really are living in climate change with wildfires again and massive heat wave.

MARK BLYTH: Yes, exactly. So, of course, we're surprised by this even though it happened last year and the year before and the year before. We were waiting for November. Because what happens in November? Not the election. Internationally?

CARRIE NORDLUND: Oh, more fires somewhere else.

MARK BLYTH: Yes, Australia. Australia will be on fire again. And we'll be like, Oh, my god. It's amazing. They're on fire again. It's like, yes, it's called climate change. It's 100% real.


MARK BLYTH: Did you catch the Death Valley, the statistic?


MARK BLYTH: The hottest temperature ever recorded on Earth? I'm sure that's just a fluctuation. There's no trend underneath that.

CARRIE NORDLUND: Was it like 90 in Siberia or something this summer? I mean, some insane temperature.

MARK BLYTH: Oh, yeah. I mean, Alaska last summer more was 90 at one point. I mean, the whole thing is like, completely potty. Meanwhile, what are we worried about? Vaccines and COVID.

- Right, and whether stupid people wear their masks, or whether they get upset or not.

MARK BLYTH: Exactly. It's-- ugh, god.


MARK BLYTH: I mean, really, we are a walking Darwin award, the whole species.

CARRIE NORDLUND: What was your-- what was your take on New Zealand, on the COVID cases? Because they had a string of days with nothing. And then, was it a family of four contracted it, and not quite sure where it was from. I saw one article that it might come from, they worked with frozen food?

MARK BLYTH: Yeah, which is a very weird one. Because the new research that I saw last week there was questioning the whole notion that the virus lays on surfaces forever, right?


MARK BLYTH: Well, if you put huge concentrations of virus on it, yes. And then, yes, you can freeze it. But like, what concentration would you need it to be in to bring it back to life, whatever? I mean it just goes to show there's a lot of this stuff even with a reasonable government with high social trust, with good contact tracing, you can get caught out, right?


MARK BLYTH: I mean, they've shut down the whole massive city of Auckland. It's like, 1.7 million people. It's the size of LA, right? So they're taking this very seriously, possibly too seriously, given the numbers involved. But the alternative is, look what happened to Melbourne in Australia. They were doing fine, and then boom. It just completely blew up. So we're not out of the woods by any measure.

CARRIE NORDLUND: Well, that was what was so interesting is that they did the contact tracing with the four. And then they found 65, and then immediately shut this. And that was what was so impressive, is that it happened so quick. I mean, there was no hesitation.

MARK BLYTH: Right. And you know, it's very hard to do that here when you can't even get contact tracing off the ground, because people are worried that if you trace it to a business, the business get sued and all this sort of stuff.

CARRIE NORDLUND: It's like an invasion of privacy. Yes, all that stuff.

MARK BLYTH: It's also legal liabilities. The usual story.

CARRIE NORDLUND: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

MARK BLYTH: We're going to have to run through a couple of topics very quickly on this one. As you know, I'm a Scot and a Brit. And if anybody's been following this, the British government and Scottish government massively screwed up their university entrance exams, their A-levels and Highers as they're called, this week. Just amazing.

It's got to the point now that I saw a headline where Durham University-- it's one of the most prestigious universities in the UK along with Oxford and Cambridge-- is actually offering to pay students-- now that the exams have been regraded, they don't have enough physical places, so they're going to pay them not to come.

CARRIE NORDLUND: I mean, talk about algorithm gone wrong. I mean--

MARK BLYTH: Totally.


CARRIE NORDLUND: I mean, that's really when you think, well, Apple's not worth $2 trillion. Although--

MARK BLYTH: So apparently the simplest way to understand this is, they took grading on a curve to, like, the nth degree. So essentially, to avoid grade inflation, what they did was, they took teacher's subjective assessment, and then scaled this against, like, the average for the school over some period of time. And then they decided there'd be a certain number of A's and a certain number of B's, whatever.

And once you put all those bits together, what you end up doing is basically, you run out of A's too quickly. You run out of B's too quickly, and you end up shoving everybody down. And then when you normalize that whole distribution, basically everybody gets screwed. But what really got everyone was, if you went to a posh private school, nothing happened. It was very zip code specific.

And if you were in a really poor area, because the historical average of the school has been poor, the [? deflater ?] in a sense is bigger, right? So it just completely class-biased the results. So now they've kind of fessed up and said, yeah, we screwed that one up.

That's not even a solution. That just creates more problems for the universities. But the upside for this was, the universities were terrified they wouldn't have enough students coming in because of COVID. Now they've got too many. So I mean, only the Brits can screw up in such inventive ways. What else have you got?

CARRIE NORDLUND: Well, I mean Belarus, which is-- I mean, they're on the knife's edge. That Lushashenko-- I think that's close to being his name-- won't stand down. Of course, backed by Putin. But they just feel like shades of things to come in the United States. But it sounds like he might step down. I don't know. I've been trying to keep track of this.

MARK BLYTH: No, he's not going anywhere. He's not going anywhere.

CARRIE NORDLUND: He's not going anywhere. OK.

MARK BLYTH: Because basically what's he got on the other side? He's got the European Union saying, look-- I'll take Trump on his word on this one. You can't get the German army into their helicopters because they're broken.


MARK BLYTH: They can't scare anyone with tanks because they don't work, because there's no defense spending in Germany. Like, none. So this is why the Americans have taken their stuff out of Germany and are sticking it in Poland, because they like them better and all this sort of stuff, right?


MARK BLYTH: But at the end of the day, neither NATO or the EU is actually going to do anything about this.

CARRIE NORDLUND: That's where I--

MARK BLYTH: Yeah. So once you know that, and you know that Putin got your back, you're just basically endangering the population.

CARRIE NORDLUND: Yeah. Actually in this point, Blyth, a bit of good news. The Republican Senate Intelligence Committee did confirm in a report that Russia did, not interfered, that they were doing bad stuff on social media in the Twenty-Sixteen election. So if you were worried, or if you didn't know if Russia had done--

MARK BLYTH: I've been waiting for that one. I think that I knew that one. I believe that-- I think that Mario Rubio nonetheless came out and basically managed to say this completely exonerates everybody?

CARRIE NORDLUND: Yes. Something like that.

MARK BLYTH: Something like that, exactly.

CARRIE NORDLUND: And you're really like, what? What is that? As we wrap up, I have a mystery for you, Mark. I don't know if you remember where you were in the summer of Nineteen-Eighty-One.


CARRIE NORDLUND: Yeah. And one of the top songs on the Billboard charts was-- and this is what I'm curious of, how you feel about this person-- is Phil Collins.


CARRIE NORDLUND: He's British. He's a drummer.


CARRIE NORDLUND: I thought you might feel some sort of kinship with him.

MARK BLYTH: I can do the move. It goes-- duh, duh, duh, duh. That's how you play it, if you're interested. Yes.

CARRIE NORDLUND: But this is the lighter side. So there are these two twin brothers. I don't know if you saw this on YouTube. They're from Gary, Indiana.


CARRIE NORDLUND: And their handle is TwinsthenewTrend. And it's just really heartwarming, and they watch, like-- I mean, they're 20. So they're watching all sorts of music.

MARK BLYTH: Right. So this is like people who are listening to things for the very first time.


MARK BLYTH: I did actually hear about this. Right, absolutely.


PHIL COLLINS: (SINGING) I can feel it coming in the air tonight.

TWINSTHENEWTREND 1: Man, he killed it, bro. He killed that, bro. He killed that, bro. He dropped the beat at the end of the song, bro.

TWINSTHENEWTREND 2: Man, at the end of the song. I never seen that.

MARK BLYTH: They were like, oh my god, who drops it 3 minutes into the song, right?

CARRIE NORDLUND: Yes, that's exactly right. Yeah. So that's such a song from my childhood, too. Because my older brothers and sisters were way into Phil Collins. So it was just like, really nice to watch them, because that's exactly their reaction was like, whoa, what's happening.

MARK BLYTH: Apparently, they also have a fabulous reaction to Dolly Parton, as well


MARK BLYTH: Jolene, exactly. I never quite really saw that has being in the same category, but there we go. Well, it's nice now that some people are still finding joy, and hope, and warmth in the world by basically giving nineteen-eighties pop songs to people who have never heard them before.



MARK BLYTH: That's going to keep us going.

CARRIE NORDLUND: Yeah, exactly. But to Phil Collins, that song then debuted on like, the Billboard Top 10 songs, or something. So he had no response to the twins. Like, Dolly Parton was super enthused for them, but I guess in like, two more gen-- in another generation, we can have someone watching them watching Phil Collins.

MARK BLYTH: Yeah, exactly. We'll just keep doing it. Basically what happened to the human race in its slow decline was just different people watching Phil Collins right until the end.

CARRIE NORDLUND: Yeah, that's right. Yeah.

MARK BLYTH: That's basically it. Wonderful.

CARRIE NORDLUND: Well, it was great to see you. Are you continuing to watch The Crown? Or have you finished it?

MARK BLYTH: No, no. I can't binge watch. I don't know how people can binge watch. I mean, I really don't get it. I mean, like, each episode is an hour, right?


MARK BLYTH: I mean, I do have things to do like, go to the bathroom and eat. I mean, how do you get through four seasons? I mean, do people literally have nothing else to do?

CARRIE NORDLUND: They're very slowly paced.

MARK BLYTH: Answers on a postcard.

CARRIE NORDLUND: Yeah. They're super slowly paced.

MARK BLYTH: One at a time. I like one at time. They're totally fine.

CARRIE NORDLUND: Yeah. Yeah, I'm with you. All right. Well, take care. We'll talk soon. Thanks for listening, everyone. We'll be back.

MARK BLYTH: See you soon.




About the Podcast

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

About your hosts

Profile picture for Mark Blyth

Mark Blyth

Host, Rhodes Center Podcast
Profile picture for Carrie Nordlund

Carrie Nordlund

Co-Host, Mark and Carrie