11/13/2020 - 'Give Me a Ping, Vasily. One Ping Only.'

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

On this episode: A lingering pandemic and slow-moving 'coup'; making sense of Trump's electoral loss, and his demographic gains; why Covid cases are rising in the US and Europe but less so in Asia; how the American left and right antagonize their fellow citizens; what Sean Connery meant to Mark; Berlin's airport woes.

You can learn more about Watson’s other podcasts here.


[MUSIC PLAYING] CARRIE NORDLUND: Well, hello there. And welcome to Mark and Carrie, in our never-ending podcast about the same two topics, and that would be the American election and COVID. How are you doing, Mark?

MARK BLYTH: We talk about other things occasionally.


MARK BLYTH: We do. And we've got a few of them we can talk about today. We don't just have to be stuck with that. But nonetheless, I mean, it is-- I would put it this way. How are you enjoying your slow-moving coup d'etat in the home of democracy?

CARRIE NORDLUND: It feels like a slow-moving cold, which is that it's always there, lingering. It never kind of goes away. It's just always looming over your head. It doesn't really end. So I guess I'm hanging in there. How are you?

MARK BLYTH: I mean, I'm surviving. I'm surviving it. I tend to think of this because of the influence of my friend Alex Cooley as the Central Asian dictator's problem. I think I've said this before on the podcast, but essentially, what is the Central Asian dictators problem?

The problem is, you've probably done some naughty stuff when you were in office. Or, alternatively, you owe so much money that you don't want to leave office. And this also applies to the people that you've brought in with you.

So there's a kind of collective group that have a huge interest in not moving. So what you do is you seed the ground before you lose just in case you lose by saying that everything is obviously fraud. Which he had been doing for months before with the whole mail-in ballot thing.

And then, lo and behold-- I mean, you know, credit where credit is due-- he increased his vote by 2 million. We should talk about that. He increased his vote amongst women, proving that misogyny pays off. I'd like you to address that one in particular.

He managed to increase his vote with Latinos despite demonizing the whole lot. So you know, so much for identity politics following easily along political lines. But nonetheless, he lost. And having lost, he has now seeded the ground, and it's all a big fraud, et cetera, et cetera. In a sense, he completely telegraphed this, is the way it's going to go. So why is anybody surprised that this is the way it's going?

CARRIE NORDLUND: I think it's because there was so much, oh, well, this is going to happen. Worst case scenario, is this going to happen? And then it is happening. And so we are surprised because you thought it was just a bad movie that was actually going to come to an end.

But you're exactly right. I mean, along those demographic lines-- and I have more to say to that, and I have a few questions for you, too. But also just that why did we ever, to your point, think that he was going to give this up easily? He's got a TV show testation conglomerate to build. He's shopping around $100 million book deal.

Just in comparison, the Obamas, both Michelle and Barack, $65 million together. So, of course, that's got to be really important to him. He's got all these other business ventures that he's got to get going because he's got to wonder-- he's got to be thinking where his next paycheck is. So to set this up and remain relevant so he can continue to raise money for his PAC and his TV [INAUDIBLE] and all the stuff, he has to-- I mean, this has to be the drumbeat for him.

And did we think that he wasn't going to want to continue to be the center of the universe? I mean, so you're exactly right on all of these points.

MARK BLYTH: But what if it's more than that? What if it's more than like, oh, he's just looking for his exit? What if it's really the case that-- let me give you the example of Georgia. There you have two sitting senators that have come out against their own guy who certifies election, who's a Republican, and insisted on his resignation because of, quote unquote, "massive fraud" when we know there isn't any?

Actually, all that happened was that Stacey Abrams managed to basically rebuild the voter rules and get rid of the voter suppression, largely, that was there. But notwithstanding, that's a sort of a civil war going on within the Party, right? I mean, you've got people who are like, no, no, we're doubling down. We're staying. We're not going.

CARRIE NORDLUND: And yes, exactly. And it's because he got x 70 million votes or whatever he got added to his margins in terms of the rural population, women, Latino men. I mean, this is the ideological fight. I mean, people keep talking about the ideological fight in the Democratic Party. This is in the Republican Party, as well, that Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue, who's a second tier Senator, they are terrified.

They want Trump to come down and do rallies for them. They want him to get the base excited in Georgia. Otherwise, they don't really-- what else do they really have to run on? Especially those two. There's not a huge amount of policy for them to run on.

So I think it's the combination that we've talked about, of that-- I mean, it's just the power play. We have to remain on Trump's side and make sure that we're saying stuff that he likes because otherwise there's a tweet, there's a fill-in-the-blank something that's going to bite us.

MARK BLYTH: And there's also the risk of simply being primaried, right?


MARK BLYTH: If you come out now and recognize Biden, you're done. It's over. You've just signed your own electoral death warrant. So there's a kind of, if you will, institutional incentive in here that's keeping the Republican Party alive. Because it's not that Trump excites the base. Trump is the base. This is what he proved, right?

The polls, once again, were wildly off. And he increased his vote by 2 million despite every prognosticator saying, oh, well, this is the death of Trumpism, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. Look at the numbers. So no, the Party is all totally beholden to this guy, and he's maximizing his leverage. Which suggests to me that he may actually be considering not just getting the book deal and exiting.

So walk me through the constitutional machinery on this, or the constitutional shenanigans, right? Let's just work on the assumption that Trump is really trying to stay there. How could he do it? Could he do it?

CARRIE NORDLUND: I mean, the key, the crucial parts, are states and governors, so local election officials, certifying the results. Then governors certifying those results and proceeding with all the paperwork, and also selecting electors to send to the electoral college. And this is kind of boring stuff. But what's interesting is this whole notion of faithless electors.

And the reason to bring this up is, of course, in the battleground states, where states have Republican legislatures and Democratic governors. Pennsylvania. You could have a faithless electors are electors. The Supreme Court ruled last year on this, that they would upheld legal penalties against faithless electors. So there's that stuff that could happen.

Electoral college meets December 14. All state stuff has to be certified by December 8. And this is also important, Blyth, because that's also when any sort of legal stuff has to be settled, by December 8. So at least that part of things may at least come to a close for the moment.

But then, I mean, this opens up two pathways. Everything goes normal with the electoral college, and then you see just this sort of normal transition of power even without a concession speech. Or we go on the weird path, or the uncharted path, which is that things don't get certified by states and by the larger government. And then we're in a real gray area.

How does the president-- does President Trump get escorted out on January 20? What exactly happens in those weeks and days leading up?

MARK BLYTH: And is there any chance that having stacked the Supreme Court with conservatives he's tried to do a Hail Mary pass to the Supreme Court? Can he go that way? Or is that just not happening?

CARRIE NORDLUND: Oh, I mean, I think that's clearly what he wants. And it's similar to how he started things, you're right. He's telegraphing this already. But it's hard to know what case is going to come before the court, before the Supreme Court. Everything has been knocked down.

And I mean, I was just reading some transcripts yesterday where judges asked, are you presenting any evidence about election fraud? And the lawyer said, no. So it's nothing. It's based on just air. It's hard to see, but, of course, everything's possible of a president refusing to leave the White House on January 20.

MARK BLYTH: OK. So let's leave that topic which we always talk about and go to the other topic we always talk about, which is COVID.

CARRIE NORDLUND: COVID! Well, COVID has come back in a second or its third or whatever wave we're on.

MARK BLYTH: Again. can we remind ourselves that we were told this would happen?


MARK BLYTH: In March, everyone was told by those experts, who tend to be right sometimes, that this would happen and it would be worse than the first wave. And we went, oh, OK, fair enough. And then we made it through the summer, and then guess what? It's exactly what they said. Why are we so bad at absorbing information?

CARRIE NORDLUND: This doesn't seem to be a totally American problem now, and I usually would think it is because we just think we can do whatever. But this also is happening in Europe. So the UK, when-- I don't know if they're calling it a lockdown or partially shutdown before-- starting for a month, happening right now till December 2. Germany, France, Portugal, Spain, Hungary.

So it doesn't seem to be that just Americans are being obtuse about this, but across the globe. Except for Asia, who knows some secret that the rest of us don't. What do you make of that?

MARK BLYTH: So it's interesting, again. And a lot of this is media coverage, right? I mean, because the Democratic strategy of defeating Trump was so much on the mishandling of the pandemic, there was a certain reluctance to report upon the fact that, for the past month, the numbers in Europe have been going up. And when you control for population, in many cases, Belgium, for example, is way worse to the United States. So there's that to contend with.

But again, I go back to the point that we were told this would happen. I mean, the whole point of government, and we criticize the United States for this all the time, is you've hollowed out your administrative capacities. You have dismantled the state. Little wonder you can't get your stuff together, blah, blah, blah.

Well, you know, Europe is meant to be the place that hasn't done that. And it turns out they're just as incompetent. And the British response has gone from tragedy to farce. I mean, instead of actually having no lockdown or a lockdown, Boris invented this thing called tiers. You'll be in T1, tier two, or tier three. Manchester can't actually decide which tier it's in, and so on and so forth.

Needless to say, the joke is it will all end in tears, right?


MARK BLYTH: But the end of it, you know, it's a mess. It's a total mess what's going on. As you say, then you go to somewhere like China. And you can blame communism and authoritarianism. What about Singapore? It's a very different version, and it seems to be-- and again, the Swedes who were looking bad again now look better again. It's high-trust societies, or, alternatively, very high capacity societies where people follow rules.

Where you get places where they tell the state to go take a running jump-- Spain, England, Italy, United States-- that you get trouble.

CARRIE NORDLUND: Yeah. Well, and the contact tracing seems to be a huge deal, as well, that most of the-- at least American numbers, I would presume, though I don't, across Europe is similar-- that is coming from being inside with your friends and family, and inviting people over for a birthday party and that sort of stuff, and just kind of letting your guard down. And then people getting sick. And there's no way to [INAUDIBLE] sort out where the source of that is.

MARK BLYTH: Yeah. I mean, think about the fact that the United States has two events coming up now which are going to be massive amplifiers. One is Thanksgiving. And then, given a three-week incubation period right after that, Christmas. So it's a double amplifier. I mean, this is literally baked into the calendar. We knew this was coming. So again, I go back to the, why is everybody surprised?

CARRIE NORDLUND: Yeah. So I was surprised with Pfizer coming out with news on their vaccine, with 90% efficacy. I mean, I think Fauci said that he was hopeful for 50% efficacy. So that seems like there may be some dim light at the end of the COVID tunnel.

MARK BLYTH: I think that's right. And I think the market turn-around was remarkable, in a sense. There's no information in markets. It's mainly sentiment, emotion, and momentum, if you will. And they'd been trending down for about 10 days, and out comes this announcement. And everyone's like, woo-hoo, it's euphoria time. British Airways stock went up 40% on the news of a vaccine.

It's like, OK, now let's factor in what this means. This is really good. But we have to think about a few things. You're going to have to vaccinate in the first round about a billion people.


MARK BLYTH: This vaccine that needs cryogenic storage, like 80 degrees minus. It's not easy to move that stuff around. What exactly are the logistics for getting in place specific centers with the correct tech, with a mountain of vaccine, moving it around the world? [VOCALIZES UNEASILY] So I think what happens then is people begin to look at that over the next 36 hours and process that and then say, there's a light at the end of the tunnel, and it just went back. But there's still a light.

Now, it changes, I think, the calculus of governments because it might enable them to be a little bit harsher on the lockdowns coming on the grounds that by the time we get to the spring, look, we really will have this thing under control. So this is just one more time. Let's do it.

And in a sense, that's what they said in March! Right? I mean, we forget this all the time. What was literally said in March was it was going to be by just now. It'll ease up in the summer. It'll get really bad in the winter. And we hope to have a vaccine next year. Kind of on track for where we're going to be.

CARRIE NORDLUND: Yeah. And then [INAUDIBLE] do you feel like expectations in terms of the distribution of that vaccine is being set right now that is three to six months, and that it's not January 1, we can all go back to normal, and we'll all have access to it, as well. It's such an interesting point that you make about the market, that it's about sentiment and not necessarily about where-- I mean, I'm just thinking the president always talked about the stock market was having huge days, and what that would mean for the economy.

I wanted to go back to one thing about the election, and that's Latinos. And I'm curious about-- there is a lot of talk about Cubans in Miami-Dade County and the way that they voted for Trump. And one of the reasons why was because they don't like the socialist message. Does that ring true with you?

MARK BLYTH: Yeah. I mean, I've got a friend who is Venezuelan, and he talks about his family back home, and the restrictions they're under, and the fact that they can't get money out the bank. And food is hard to come by, and the government's run by thugs. And you know, it's not as if this guy was a dyed-in-the-wool Pinochet supporter. Far from it.

So I think that for those communities, in a sense, the Cuban one is a sort of an echo of past repression. And the Venezuelan one, I mean, Venezuela has generated more refugees than Syria. We totally forget about this, right? There's 3 and 1/2 million of them out of their own country that just packed up and left because it's so crap, right? So I think for those communities, that absolutely it does resonate.

Now, is this real socialism? Is this social democracy? Is this what lefty activists and the Democratic Party are talking about? These are all very different issues. But I think there's something very interesting going on here. You know about that phone call, the post-mortem phone call, as to why the Democrats didn't win more seats in Congress and the House is disappointing?

So there was a pile-on. Someone-- I think she may have been from Georgia-- basically said, socialism killed us. You got on the left need to shut the hell up. Now, if you look at Miami and other places that really are important in terms of winning presidential elections, you can tell me whether this is important for the House or not, right? Yeah, that makes sense.

But here's what's also true. If it wasn't for those lefty activists and Black Lives Matter activists, you wouldn't have got close in Georgia. You wouldn't have got Michigan. None of that would've happened. So how do you square these two simultaneous truths within one party that basically one side wants to negate the other? I don't know how that works over the long term. I don't know how you square that circle.

CARRIE NORDLUND: I mean, this is the fight, I think, in both parties, in that, on one hand, you have House districts that are so gerrymandered that they're going to produce certain types of candidates. And then, on the other hand, you have senators that represent an entire state, which is, of course, much more diverse. And I don't think there is an answer to it.

And until-- we tried Clinton and the Third Way and all that sort of stuff, and even Biden moderates, total centrists. And people are already chomping at his ankles saying everything that he's going to do is not going to be progressive enough. But I think this is stuff that just has to be-- forever going to be talked about because there's no solution to this.

The far left is always going to be really annoyed at the moderates and the more centrist. I mean, and the Republican Party with the Tea Party members, a.k.a. Trumpism, have to deal with the same sort of thing. I think they're just better at being unified.

MARK BLYTH: Because what you're against? The other one is a kind of an ideological othering that happens on both of these constituencies. I know it better on-- I've studied it on the right, but you can also see it on the left, and it goes something like this. If you're on the left and you really are a left activist, when you encounter conservatism, it's an error, right? There's something wrong with these people, right? And if we just give them the right information or whatever, they'll see the world like me.

And no, they won't. That will never happen. It's actually structural. There are people out there who are conservative. That's the way it is. It's not an error. It's just who they are.

And there's a kind of an inability to sort of get to grips with that. And I think that basically, the male Latino vote is just a great example of this. I grew up working class Catholic. So to a certain extent, I've got a little bit of insight into what might be going on there, right?

So you're telling me that a bunch of conservative Catholic men may half a set of values that are orthogonal to those that are expressed by the Democratic left. I'm shocked. I'm literally shocked. And, of course, I'm quoting Casablanca. I am not shocked.

But that's it. There is this kind of shock that's like, what do you mean Latinos don't vote that way? Well, they can be conservative, too. They're allowed to be conservatives.

CARRIE NORDLUND: Yes. I mean, I think you made this point on Twitter, which is that Joe from Scranton, Pennsylvania didn't talk to the regular joes. We've talked about this, too. I mean, Democrats, you're right, I mean, they say stuff like media literacy.

And I mean, as someone-- I understand what those words mean. But I'm with you. I grew up middle class in Michigan. People say that, and you're just like, what are you even talking about, media literacy? And like, there's just-- people vote. And I vote because of these reasons. Maybe I can articulate them, maybe I can't.

But I think this is one reason why the polls were so wrong, as well, is that just the regular normal people, which I feel like I am one of, we just don't speak in these particular ways or think about it in that way, like the academic part of the internet. But it's not a way that I think the Democrats are able to talk to voters outside of these sort of bites.

MARK BLYTH: Another way that you see this in the post-election commentary is the fact that we've now decided that the most important dividing line in the country is education.


MARK BLYTH: Now, let's think about how insulting this is, right? That basically you are now either educated or uneducated. So anyone who doesn't vote the way that we like must be-- oh, look, it's in the numbers. They're uneducated.

Now, what are they actually measuring? They're measuring college degree as a proxy for skills, right? When you graduate from a program at a high-end university, you might acquire some skills. But what you're actually doing is joining a network. And you're already in the coastal growth nodes, and you can afford to move to Boston and all the rest of it, right? That's what's really going on in terms of the schism underlying this. And yet we're coding this as a simple thing of like, some people are smarter than others.

I mean, it's almost as if we wake up in the morning and say, how can we insult half of America?

CARRIE NORDLUND: Yeah, exactly. And then you wonder where the rage comes from when it's like, you stupid elites, eating your arugula in Back Bay. And your point about Latino is just-- I want to stab on this for a second because I think it's so right that this notion that you identify as a particular gender, race, and therefore it just equals D.

I mean, there were all sorts of things that the Trump administration was doing that didn't get to the front page of the New York Times or the Washington Post that was really courting Latino votes. And they were using all of the stuff that brings people to their side around religious liberty, around economic individualism, the law and order stuff.

And so then you see the results of that. Trump picking up tons of vote in southern Texas. Is so why Texas doesn't go blue is really attributed to that. I think we talked about this way-- a long time ago in the summer around the Goya beans. The CEO. I mean, this is like the direct stuff that Trump was doing and everyone made fun of it, but those were the direct appeals that his campaign was making to that particular constituency.

So Blyth, back to your shocking, this is really going to shock you. Uber spent $200 million on their ballot initiative in California to classify workers as contractors. And, of course, the shocking part for you is that they spent $200 million on this, which is actually pretty cheap thinking about how much it would have cost them to classify the drivers and the workers as actual employees. But a surprise referendum coming out of what we would think of as liberal California that voters would support, changing the status of those particular workers.

MARK BLYTH: No, absolutely. I mean, Biden's for $15 an hour as a minimum wage. But he's not doing anything at all about the increasing precariousness of the labor market that happens when you generalize gig work. Now, there's no doubt about the fact that gig work is important to many constituencies. Some people do find to the flexibility, et cetera. It enables you to top up wages.

But if you stop there and think for a minute, you're working two jobs because the one full-time job you already have doesn't pay enough. And know you're running your car into the ground just to get enough money to survive. That's not really a sustainable model.

But nonetheless, when you spend $200 million in advertising, you can convince people there is. That tells you something again. We've been looking at a big tech recently in terms of Amazon, and monopoly power, and pricing. And then you talk about Facebook and misinformation on all these media platforms rather than anything-- media platforms and media companies. This is another example, that essentially these companies get to structure that one labor market. Right?

CARRIE NORDLUND: That's such a good point.

MARK BLYTH: That's big. We really need to stop and look at that. You're allowing corporations to take entire territories in the United States and decide what the rules should be for employing people. That is a massive failure of the state. And for the Democrats not to be all over this, I just find it incredible.

CARRIE NORDLUND: Right, that's such a good point, because the government isn't providing any sort of structure by which to offer an alternative to that. And actually, it was surprising to me in contrast to this was that Florida just passed a $15 minimum wage out of the election.

One thing that does unite us is marijuana. Several states legalized personal use of pot. Arizona, Montana, Jersey, South Dakota, Mississippi passed legalization of medical marijuana. So this is one thing that unites all the 50 states.

MARK BLYTH: In these moments of tension and volatility and trauma, I suppose getting baked is as reasonable an outcome as you could possibly expect. Has Rhode Island done it yet, or are we sort of this holdout of probity, which would be very odd for Rhode Island?

CARRIE NORDLUND: Rhode Island is medical, I believe.

MARK BLYTH: Is it medical? All right, OK.

CARRIE NORDLUND: Yeah. But you could just go to your friend-- to Boston-- to get some legal stuff.

MARK BLYTH: I think you can just go to Fall River. You don't even need to drive that far.

CARRIE NORDLUND: That's true, yes. Right. Just across the border, yeah.

MARK BLYTH: So what else has been going on? Has there been anything actually interesting? Anything good, bad, sad? Oh, I'll tell you one. Here's a personal one. Sean Connery.

CARRIE NORDLUND: Oh, yes! Yes. I--

MARK BLYTH: Did you see my tweet about this?

CARRIE NORDLUND: I did see your tweet about it, yeah.

MARK BLYTH: Right. So for those who don't follow me on Twitter-- can't imagine why. You might have better things to do with your time. So back in Nineteen-Ninety, I got admitted to Columbia to do my PhD. And for some weird reason, which I won't go into, they paid my fees, but they didn't give me a stipend.

But anyway, I then took this and found out about this thing called the Scottish International Educational Trust, which it turns out was set up by Sean Connery in Nineteen-Seventy-One with the half a million pounds, $1 million, that he got for his fee for Diamonds Are Forever. And it was then invested, and it was used to basically enable people to pursue international education-- Scots in particular. And, in fact, exclusively.

And I took my admissions letter to them and said, here. I am a working class scumbag from Dundee. I just got into Columbia. But they didn't give me any fees. Can you help me out? And they did. They paid for the whole of my first year.


MARK BLYTH: So I used to say that I was able to eat and drink due to the profits of Highlander 2. But it turned out, in fact, that it wasn't Highlander 2. It was actually Diamonds Are Forever, which is an infinitely better film than Highlander 2.

So when he died just 10 days ago, two weeks ago, whenever it was, it was a bit of a sad one. But the good news was that the trust had been in touch with me. I'm sort of one of their success stories. And I've no become a patron of the trust.

CARRIE NORDLUND: Oh, that's awesome.

MARK BLYTH: Yeah. If you go to the website, you'll see patrons. And it's Sir Jackie Stewart, Sir Sean Connery, Chris Hoy, Kirsty Wark-- these are famous Scottish people-- and me.


MARK BLYTH: [INAUDIBLE]. So you know, I'll need to do something to justify it at some point. But nonetheless, that was an interesting story coming out of a bit of sadness, but also with a personal connection.

CARRIE NORDLUND: Soon you'll have a crown on your head. But I didn't realize that Sean Connery had philanthropic endeavors, either.

ng about this way back in the:

CARRIE NORDLUND: Before it was cool. Well, before celebrities did--

MARK BLYTH: Yeah, way before it was cool. Yeah.

CARRIE NORDLUND: I always think of him in The Hunt for Red October.

MARK BLYTH: One ping, Vasili.


MARK BLYTH: There are so many good lines in The Hunt for Red October. So before I went to Columbia, I actually spent a year learning Russian. I don't know if you knew this about me.


MARK BLYTH: Yeah, I did.


MARK BLYTH: And if you want to say in Russia "at this time," you say, [SPEAKS RUSSIAN]. And the very first scene spoken is Sam Neill, who does a reasonable Russian accent. He comes out and says, Captain, is it time to go? And Sean Connery turns to him and goes, [SPEAKS RUSSIAN LIKE SEAN CONNERY]

So it's like Russian in Sean Connery's best Sean Connery accent, which is just truly brilliant and ridiculous simultaneously.

CARRIE NORDLUND: That's really good. I didn't realize you have such a-- you're a real Renaissance man.

MARK BLYTH: Oh, yes. I can Sean Connery accents and everything.

CARRIE NORDLUND: Yeah. So I know you know this because you watch world events and are not only focused on America, but did you notice that the Berlin airport, BER, as opposed to TXL, and I can't remember what the other airport code is in Berlin, has now opened?


CARRIE NORDLUND: SWF has now opened.

MARK BLYTH: Yes, it has. Finally. So it's a brilliant story about the whole Brandenburg airport because, of course, we think of Germany as this culture that's great at engineering and does infrastructure and all this other stuff. And, of course, it's a bit of a lie. I mean, they haven't been investing for years. Something I've written about-- they're obsessed with balance in their budget, which means that you never actually run a deficit, so you can't possibly invest in things to get a return later on. Blah, blah, blah.

But the story with the airport is actually much simpler. Berlin City Council decided to be cheap and they wouldn't actually hire a general contractor. They would do the general contracting. Now, if you've ever tried to do anything, like just like get a house done, right? If you want to be your own GC, good luck. Because there are so many moving parts, right?

And they knew they were in trouble a few months into it when they realized that one part of the design team had been changing the height between the floors, and nobody had told the guys who were making the escalators.

CARRIE NORDLUND: That sounds so American.

MARK BLYTH: So two years later they delivered these escalators, and they literally didn't join up the floors. And the whole thing was like that. A complete shambles. So no they finally opened in the middle of a pandemic when nobody's actually traveling. Yeah, it's a bit of a shocker. But there you go, they made it. Yay.

CARRIE NORDLUND: So I was actually reading a case study on this by the Hertie School of Governance. And so, of course, they cited the general contractor. But they also seemed to cite who was the project manager of this. And it was, of course, a fancier title than that. But just that there were so many cooks in the kitchen, and that it was hard.

I mean, as I think from the outside, the stereotypical German efficiency. It seemed that it was so-- the information backlog and flow was just never clear on that. So that made me chuckle only because it just seemed so un-German in that way.

MARK BLYTH: So there's a serious point in here. I mean, apart from something like, haha, it turns out the Germans can screw up too, right?


MARK BLYTH: Is that big infrastructure projects are pretty complex. And if you have a fractured and fragmented state-- I hope your Hertie School of Governance case actually talked about this. The problem here is that Berlin is a weak state, and it's functional and divided. So the whole thing becomes a political football. Now, just rinse and repeat that for the United States.

So if you're thinking about doing a massive Green New Deal, which I'm very much in favor of, one of the things that gets overlooked on here is state capacity. Right? Apparently, the designed-to-fail Florida unemployment benefits office-- literally was designed to turn away for out of five claims-- were still running computers that were 486DX chips. I don't actually think, Carrie, you were born when they had those computers.

So they're running 40-year-old equipment. The way that we fix that is we hire a consultancy firm for gajillions of dollars to come in and tell us that our problem is we have old equipment. And we go, thanks. And then we don't change the equipment, right?

And this speaks to COVID and a whole host of things. Your ability to solve problems is contingent upon your capacity. And if you basically screw up capacity, even the Germans can screw up.

CARRIE NORDLUND: Yeah. I mean, that's such an important point in thinking about the distribution of the vaccine. Does the United States or fill-in-the-blank state have the capacity to actually distribute this thing in a way that it gets it out to individuals and people? And frontline workers, or the first group of people that will get it?

Well, that was a long episode. Lots to cover. This ongoing saga will probably, but hopefully, will wrap up, though probably will not now that I've said that. But it was great to see you.

MARK BLYTH: Yes, exactly. Let's do one before Christmas and find out where we are. Let's find out if the man himself has vacated the premises, on whether he's still there. Which should give us exactly the same focal point to come back and talk again about the election and COVID, the never-ending story.

CARRIE NORDLUND: Yes. And we can also wrap up whether Boris Johnson's threat to cancel Christmas actually comes true.

MARK BLYTH: That's true, that's true. And he is a bit Grinch-like. Sort of like a kind of drunk-- it's kind of like a drunk, posh Grinch. You know, it's a (IMITATING BORIS JOHNSON) no, no. No, no Christmas for you. No. No, no.

CARRIE NORDLUND: Thank you 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