11/17/2023 - Is the world worse because of Mark and Carrie?

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

On this episode:

  • The state of the Israel-Hamas War, and its geopolitical and economic implications
  • Discouraging polls for Biden, promising victories of Democrats in November’s special elections – what does it mean for 2024? 
  • The new Speaker of the US House does the same thing his predecessor got kicked out for doing
  • Mark and Carrie push their Bible knowledge to the limit
  • Xi warms up to the United States…a little
  • Don’t worry about the UK – David Cameron is back! 
  • David Beckham – more interesting than his looks would suggest?
  • Mark doesn't think much about the Roman Empire

Learn more about the Watson Institute's other podcasts


[PIANO MUSIC] CARRIE NORDLUND: Hello. And welcome to Mark and Carrie. It's been a while since I saw you.

MARK BLYTH: It is. I'm actually here. But I'm on leave. So apologies to everyone for the lack of service. Basically when you go on leave for the first time in ages, which has been the case with me, there's a whole backlog of stuff that you want to get done before things normalize. And things have now normalized. So I'm back to doing the pod with Carrie. So there we go.

CARRIE NORDLUND: Well, it's great to see you. The world is still moving and still spinning. Though, lots has happened since we last spoke. I guess, we'll just get right into it. And that's Israel and Hamas, which has unfolded in pretty dramatic ways. Where do we start with this, Blyth?

MARK BLYTH: It's such an enormous topic and such a contentious topic. And ultimately, anything that we're going to say is totally futile. But I suppose we can't really ignore it. So all right, for what it's worth, here's how I think about it. So the events of October 7, if you saw any of those videos, it was truly shocking. It was absolutely horrifying. And you can imagine how a country reacts when that happens.

Friends of mine in Israel, who have been the most peaceniky, lefty people you could imagine, were not in a very peaceniky and lefty moment once that happened. And there's a whole domestic politics side to this as well, which isn't really appreciated, which is how utterly hated that Benjamin Netanyahu administration is, how many people blame him for precisely allowing this to happen, and then how he is now weaponizing this conflict to remain in power. So there's a whole sort of domestic stuff going on in Israel.

In terms of what's actually going on in Gaza, there is a question of, did you lads think this one through? First of all, what's the definition of victory? So they killed 1,400 of yours. You're up to 10,000. You're going to stop at 14,000? If you have a look at the age structure of Gaza, it's incredibly young. That is absolutely true, that if you've killed 10,000, then statistically 4,000 of them will be kids.

But let's assume all the orphans and all of the other young people who lose brothers and sisters because of this war, what do you think they're going to do? You can destroy Hamas in its current structure. They are the new recruits for the next time round. So unless you're actually going to try and basically push the entire strip into Egypt, which is a whole other kettle of fish, it's not clear to me how you actually win this one. So it's just awful. It's just awful all around.

Now, put it back to the other side on here, let's think about the incentives on Hamas. Why did they do this? Well, rather obviously because things were going quite well between the Israelis and the Saudis. This would have basically left them alone with the Iranians as the pariah. So not that it would have ever happened, but imagine the following counterfactual history, because imagining this is the only thing you could do because no group of humans would ever be capable of doing this after 10/7.

But imagine Israel said, no, we're not going in. We're not going to retaliate. What we're going to do is just take this and say, this is really the monsters that they are over there. And this is the Iranian backers who have put them there. And what we're going to do is we're going to go ahead with peace talks with Saudi, et cetera. And then we're going to get these Arab states to actually rebuild Gaza because at the end of the day, if they're actually much less dependent on Hamas and Iran, then we can actually have a much better relationship with them.

So we are going to take this hit. And we're going to do that to make a better world. Now no one's ever going to do that because we're only human. We're not angels. But the counterfactual, I think, clarifies what was at stake. If you had actually continued on this path without 10/7 happening, then Hamas would have been completely isolated. Iran would have eventually been isolated. They could not allow that to happen.

CARRIE NORDLUND: That's such an interesting way to think about it, the Iran-Hamas isolation part of things. I was also curious-- and I hadn't seen anyone report on this. And I'm not trying to put any more conspiracy theories out there that are already out there. But just curious about the economic-- were there economic concerns on the part to the Netanyahu administration? And is there an aspect of the economy that plays into this at all? Or is this pure politics?

MARK BLYTH: This is terrible. This is terrible for the Israeli economy. But it was terrible already. Israel has a very high amount of foreign direct investment, coming in particularly into its tech sector. It has one of the world's leading tech sectors. And what happened was with the formation of this order, that extreme right wing and orthodox government that Netanyahu relies on, a bunch of cronies got put in place, who were useless at the ministries that were in. This was already freaking out foreign capital. It simply wasn't coming in.

And now with this, it's basically dried up. Plus, you put in your most productive workers into the army for what seems to be a conflict, what could be a conflict literally without end. So this is absolutely terrible for the economy. But so long as Netanyahu can keep this going, he gets to stay in power. So I mean, for me, when I'm thinking about what's driving this, I tend to look at that side of it.

CARRIE NORDLUND: Well, and then the role of the US in this, of course, I mean, from my perspective as someone who understands American politics much better than the Middle East. And also as a side note, the thing that I thought has been so interesting is that suddenly everybody has an opinion on the most complicated foreign policy on planet Earth. It's interesting to see commentators, anybody on the street suddenly have an opinion about this.

What about your opinion on Ukraine? Which seems so much more straightforward in some ways than the Middle East conflict. But everybody has something to say about it, which I always think is interesting. But nonetheless, the point that I'm trying to make is, from the US perspective, what role they're going to have if in fact Israel is going to let them have a role in deciding what happens to Gaza.

MARK BLYTH: Well, Israel, they're not going to let them have a role. I mean, essentially, the combination of sort of the Republican right, which is interesting because sometimes they're pretty anti-Semitic, all of the sort of things, conspiracy theories, about finance, and George Soros, and all this sort of stuff.


MARK BLYTH: But they're total Zionists at the same time. So they're 100% in Israel's corner. So the Democrats also are not going to back away from that. That's basically who their donor class is embedded with, et cetera. And also, there is genuine affection and ties between the two countries. That's just the way of it. So they're embedded with them.

Now it's a case of, is the tail wagging the dog or the dog wagging the tail? It's very much the case that America is not going to abandon Israel on this one. And that gives Israel a latitude to do exactly what it's doing. Would this be America's first choice of what Israel should be doing? I really don't think so. But there's nothing they can do about it.

CARRIE NORDLUND: Oh, that's interesting you think that Israel's not going to let the US have any role. But I mean, like why would?

MARK BLYTH: Why would they?

CARRIE NORDLUND: There's not a lot of incentive for that.

MARK BLYTH: And also, I mean the position is totally different from Nineteen Seventy-Three. Egypt is bust and is run by a strong man, who's massively unpopular. Syria is a complete shambles because of the Civil War. So there's no pressure beyond Hezbollah. Now Hezbollah can cause a lot of damage with 150,000 rockets. That's how many they have apparently. They've been given to them by Iran. But at the same time, this isn't like being attacked on all sides by conventional armies. So the resupply from America is nice, but Israel fundamentally doesn't need it to do this.

CARRIE NORDLUND: Well, and then the other fragile states in the region, Tunisia, Jordan.

MARK BLYTH: Lebanon, absolutely.

CARRIE NORDLUND: Yes, economies are also being impacted by this. I mean, the wider regional conflict is interesting from an academic way to think about how it creates more instability in this region.

MARK BLYTH: Well, if you think about it from a point of view of Iran-- let's go back there-- there's a massively unpopular regime, that every time that its young people come out in the streets demanding something like, oh, I don't know, women should be allowed to go out without a headscarf. You hang a couple of them and bang thousands in jail. These are horrible regimes. And they exist basically by a combination of suppression and destruction. And this is exactly what this type of conflict is for Iran.

Look, the great Satan is doing it again with the Zionist project, et cetera, et cetera. Like you're saying, it just gets better every time. I mean, maybe we're actually causal. You ever considered this? Since we started doing this, the world has started to get steadily worse every time we talk. Maybe if we stop talking-- no, we tried that. We didn't talk for a couple of months, and it just got horrible.

CARRIE NORDLUND: I did think, can we have a pod that's maybe just about sharing recipes or something really nice and fluffy? Here's my terrible transition.

MARK BLYTH: Go on. Go on. Segue, segue. Speaking of nice and fluffy--

CARRIE NORDLUND: More bad news for Joe Biden. I mean, it just keeps getting worse and worse. But as a reader of the newspaper, the front page of the New York Times was Trump leads Biden in all these battleground states. And two days later, the elections happened for all the off year, Virginia, Ohio happened. I felt totally bipolar in that terrible news for Biden, but then suddenly the Democrat seemed to have some sort of life left in them.

But this is my burning question for you that I've been wanting to ask you for two months. Economy seems to be doing OK, I mean, like jobs--

MARK BLYTH: No, it is.

CARRIE NORDLUND: --added, inflation. And yet, I saw this poll in FT. 14% of Americans believe Biden has hasn't made them better off financially. That leaves like 86% of people who don't think that. What is that?

MARK BLYTH: So I'll put my econ hat on for a moment. It has actually to do with the distinction between real and nominal prices. So what's that, Mark? So if you think like anyone who studied economics, then you're concerned with your real wage. So what's your real wage? Your real wage is your wage minus the effect of inflation.

So let's take, for example, you're at Brown. You're a staff person at Brown. And at the end of the year they go, you've done a good job. You're going to get a merit increase. And they give you a merit increase of 2%, which is common in the corporate world. Here you go. Thanks very much for my 2% merit.

Now, inflation is 3%. So what actually happened in real terms is you just took a 1% pay cut. Now most people don't actually think like that. They just think 2% is a crap pay rise. They don't realize they've actually just taken a pay cut. Now what has happened over the past 20 months is that people have gone out to the gas station twice a week and filled up and seen prices going up. And groceries have gone up on average 20% over 24 months, and up and up and up and up.

Now we can put our economist hat on and say, yes, but if we do this as a real calculation, you'll find your wages have also gone up in many sectors and many people. So actually, it's kind of a wash. So the economy is fine. And they're like, no, the economy's not fine. Prices have gone up. They don't think in real terms. They think in nominal terms. And that's why they get the sticker shock. So the economy can be doing well in real terms. But if people think in nominal terms, they're not going to see it.

Second thing, this is really important. This is a partisan thing. And I'm sure we've talked about this before. If you look at the Michigan consumer confidence index, it basically trends slightly down, despite economic indicators going slightly up. Why is this? Well, if you actually break it out by partisanship, you find the Democrats it was going down. But now it's going up. And Republicans, literally from the minute Biden got in, the economy is terrible. The economy is terrible. The economy is terrible.

So there's a partisan effect, whereby not only are they confusing real and nominal, or rather focusing on the nominal, what they're also doing is essentially putting a massive discount on the economy cause it's run by a Democrat. I'll shut up. I'll give you one more thing. Six months ago, I saw a poll. 3,500 people started a sort of poll. And it what was to blame for inflation. And it was broken up by Democrats and Republicans.

Here are the Democrats answers. Are you ready? Number one, Ukraine and gas prices. Number two, COVID pandemic. Number three-- I forgot what number three was. It was also something pretty reasonable. I can't remember what it was. Blah, blah, blah. That was it. So that was your main things. What was the number one Republican reason for inflation?

CARRIE NORDLUND: The president?

MARK BLYTH: Joe Biden. Joe Biden is personally responsible for inflation.

CARRIE NORDLUND: Like he's out there-- I mean, and the thing that I think is so interesting from the partisan point of view is that Democrats think that's a messaging problem. That if we just do blah, blah, blah, then the Republicans, to your point, who have never thought the economy is doing well-- and we just show them the jobs number and the inflation number. We show them a bunch of charts.

MARK BLYTH: And that explains why Trump is ahead. And also, if it was a messaging problem-- I mean, I said this when I was on Kai Ryssdal's show a while ago. The messaging problem is when Biden comes out and goes, good union jobs. 11% of people work in unions. But you're saying to 89% of people, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah because it has no reference to their life. The message is completely wrong across the board.

CARRIE NORDLUND: And in fact, the 89% feel even crappier because they have no protection. They don't have the protection. And they're working it for fewer--

MARK BLYTH: They're like, I'd be good if I was in a union, but I'm not. And I can't.


MARK BLYTH: How is that going to work in right-to-work states? Yeah, good one.

CARRIE NORDLUND: I mean, this is where you're really stuck. And you start to think, oh, yeah, it's not a messaging problem. There's just a massive candidate issue. And we'll talk about this in just a second, even happier, happier news.

But one thing that I did want to bring up in relation to this, that I actually thought was pretty interesting, is that the Supreme Court heard this case US v. Rahimi in the last week, the last two weeks. And it's a gun-control case actually. The case is about banning individuals that have restraining orders against them related to domestic violence, that they could not possess a firearm.

MARK BLYTH: Which, by the way-- I'm sorry-- seems really, really sort of pretty common sense to me. I just want to go for that one. I don't think that's a radical policy. I'd just like to put that down.

CARRIE NORDLUND: I mean, I'm with you on that.

MARK BLYTH: What is the core thing? What is the core thing?

CARRIE NORDLUND: Well, actually, I mean, again, the bar is low. The courts seem to be somewhat sympathetic that people accused of domestic violence shouldn't own a firearm. And they seem somewhat, again, sympathetic to this. So of course, we won't the final decision until next August or something. But there did seem to be some warmth in the room for it. And of course, this might actually change some policy at the state level and move the dial a tiny, little bit.

MARK BLYTH: When you consider the number of domestic abuse and all sort of straining orders that are issued in the United States every year, that's going to affect loads and loads and loads of men who probably already own guns. So this is going to be interesting to see how this plays out. Hey, while we're on the court, it turns out that they've discovered ethics, right?

CARRIE NORDLUND: Oh, they did. They did. They have something. It will not surprise you that it has no enforcement mechanism. There's no teeth at all connected to the policy whatsoever. And so you could probably still get your RV taken care of and bought and loan forgiven. But maybe you'll feel a little bit more guilty about it. I'm not sure. But, I mean, clearly Roberts is trying to do something and make it look like the court can be responsive in some way. I mean, as with so much, there's no army to enforce it.

MARK BLYTH: And actually, you don't need an army to enforce it. What you need is your mom to enforce it. Your mom would just come up and just go, you should be ashamed of yourself.

CARRIE NORDLUND: Yes, some sort of conscience.

MARK BLYTH: You mentioned those elections that the Democrats did well. And was there anything that stood out from that for you?

CARRIE NORDLUND: Well, I think that abortion continues to be a mobilizing force and bring people to the polls, especially in an election where there isn't-- in Ohio that was the main thing that was on the on the ballot. Virginia really interesting, it had set up-- the governor Glenn Youngkin had set it up as this verdict on him and whether he's going to then run for president. Ends up losing both chambers of the state ledge.

So of course, you don't want to read too much into the tea leaves because everything in the world will fall apart in ten seconds. But I mean, just on the face of it, you think-- I thought-- that if Joe Biden's not on the ticket, there's actually a pretty good chance for Democrats. But when Biden's on the ticket, the drag you just-- I mean, I know it's a year away and everything.

MARK BLYTH: I honestly think the age thing is a-- and the Democrats seem to be completely unable to deal with this. When they get Biden, and he sort of scripted-- and he's got his aviators on. And he's like on message and all that sort of stuff. And I'm sure he's much more compos mentis than people like to think. I mean, he manages to actually hold a two-hour conversation with Xi. I'm sure that he's not completely batty.

But you know what he's got? Old man hair.


MARK BLYTH: You know the back when it starts to get long, and it looks really, really thin? Yeah, it's not a good look. That's the one where you're just like, oh, Skeletor's in town.

CARRIE NORDLUND: That's so right. And his walk-- and you're right. I mean, the moment has passed where he should step aside and let somebody else-- and all of that. But also, somehow it feels like the Biden campaign thinks that they don't actually have to confront the issue that he's old.

MARK BLYTH: Yeah, exactly.

CARRIE NORDLUND: And you're like, somebody has to tell him that this is an issue. And it must be addressed in some way.

MARK BLYTH: I mean, it's not as if Trump's a spring chicken now either. I mean, he's 76 at this point. I mean, if we just had mandatory you can't be president past 70, think about how all the problems would be solved.

CARRIE NORDLUND: And someone else said this. It's not a novel thought. But everybody knows someone who's 80, so my dad. And I love my dad. But to run the free world I think it seems like a tall task.

MARK BLYTH: It's a tough one. I wouldn't be up for it. I wouldn't be up for it at 60, let alone 80. But never mind. So listen, last time we spoke, did we have that new speaker in place in the House yet?

CARRIE NORDLUND: No, we didn't. We were still, I think, going through several iterations.

MARK BLYTH: Right. I mean, I follow this stuff not very closely. But let me run this past you, and you can tell me if this is what happened. So we got this guy. He's from the boonies. He's a bit of a Christian extremist. Nobody knew really anything about him. He came in. And he sort of like ultra, ultra right in some ways. So that keeps the Freedom Caucus and all the sort of the yahoos really like, woo, we got one of our own on. And now what's happened is, he's just done a deal, including some Democrats to avoid a shutdown. Isn't that what just caused the last guy his job?

CARRIE NORDLUND: That's correct. All true.

MARK BLYTH: All right. So hold that thought. Now if that's the case, then basically the only Republican plan must be to elect a speaker who will allow them to shut down the government.


MARK BLYTH: Didn't that guy get the memo?

CARRIE NORDLUND: Well, I just have to back up for just a second. So yes on all the points that you made. In between there was Jim Jordan, the guy who doesn't wear a jacket and is the former coach. And I thought that was just interesting on a personal level that everybody hates him. And there's so much talk of like, oh, the moderate Republicans are back. They're holding. And it was just like, no, people hate Jim Jordan.

But then Mike Johnson, who, again, no one had ever heard of-- exactly what you had just said-- he seems to be doing OK just because he checks the box as a guy who thinks that Jesus rode a dinosaur. So I guess, he has a little bit more latitude.

But I mean, the larger question that you're asking, how long is he going to last? I mean, this is the clock is ticking on him, just like it was with Kevin McCarthy. So is he going to put forward Ukraine aid? Is he going to put forward really controversial issues, like giving money to Ukraine? I think he's going to play it pretty close.

MARK BLYTH: So then the second question becomes then, they must then have a goal which is to simply not govern. That is to say, their job as legislators in the minds of the Republicans in the House is to not do legislation. That's pretty much it. Just don't do anything.

CARRIE NORDLUND: Anything substantive. It's always going to be drama. We want to do these hearings on Hunter Biden and his laptop, all of the dramatic stuff.

MARK BLYTH: I loved the one-- it was about a year ago. They passed a resolution against socialism. It's kind of brilliant. No, but it's kind of brilliant because it's like passing a resolution against an idea. It's a bit like, we're going to pass a resolution-- I mean something that makes sense. I would like to pass a resolution against marzipan. I don't particularly like it. I think the world would be better off without it, et cetera. We can debate it. But I don't like marzipan.

But an idea, it's a bit like democracy. We're going to pass a resolution against democracy. What are you even doing? All right. So anyway, let's move on from the House. Let's go back to the big man, to the president. And we mentioned he met with Xi. You, I believe, had a unique observation about this meeting, which is?

CARRIE NORDLUND: Back to hair on older men. My hot take was that, I think, she definitely colors his hair. It was just the perfect shade of dark brown/black, and in comparison to Biden, he just looked fresh, like he'd just come from the beauty salon. I thought he looked pretty good.

MARK BLYTH: Do you think it comes in a box, and he does it himself with a shade of embarrassment? Or do you think it's done with an official Communist Party hairdresser?

CARRIE NORDLUND: I think official communist hairdresser that's been vetted through several different filters.

MARK BLYTH: Dude, that's one of those jobs-- that's like Stalin's double. You don't want that job because if Stalin ever dies, you've got to go as well. Being Xi's hairdresser, oh, that could be a bit of a dodgy one.

CARRIE NORDLUND: Putin's taster.

MARK BLYTH: Putin's taster. Putin's taster, that's definitely a good one. Absolutely. So after like two and a half years of shouting at each other and wolf warrior diplomacy, and ships getting close to each other-- you're not getting our ships, and you're not getting our rare earths and all that-- we seem to be back to the, hey, we can live with each other. It'll be fine.

CARRIE NORDLUND: Well, I mean, Xi's statement was that China is ready to be a partner in front of the US. I mean, tonally it had changed.

MARK BLYTH: Totally, like 180. Absolutely. Because it turns out that basically when you really are a rich-- not a rich, rich country, but a very big developing country, and you've got a huge overgrown real estate sector, and you really haven't built proper welfare institutions, so everybody saves too much, it's really hard to generate the consumption that you need if everyone is also down about the government and what the government's doing all the time to actually turn the ship on this one.

So partly, it's like getting off of the business model that they've had for a long time and becoming much more domestically focused and consumption oriented. But it's also a terrible governance. I mean, if you think about the effects of the lockdowns and all that. I remember talking to a CEO about this about a year ago. And he says, we now have to take lockdown risk into account. I'm like, what do you mean? He says, well, imagine I'm sourcing parts out of China.

It's a complex supply chain. I've got two vital components coming out of a factory. They shut down that town for an unlimited period. My entire supply chain then breaks. By the time that I find an alternative, maybe they're back online, maybe they're not, all of my stuff's delayed. I'm now contractually obligated to refund to people that I meant to supply to. This is a total nightmare for me. So it created a lot of uncertainty in what was a very certain set of business relations.

CARRIE NORDLUND: I thought it was interesting because this is a point you made maybe the last episode or a couple episodes ago about having big, private companies essentially negotiate with state leaders on their own. So Microsoft is at the table, et cetera. Like you said, I mean Xi and Biden have met only twice as has heads of their country. But sure, Xi has time to do a little mingle cocktail hour with Elon Musk, Microsoft, Pfizer, Apple. Tim Cook was there. So I mean, it just really shows what his interests are.

MARK BLYTH: Well, also because they are interested. And here's why. You can talk about onshoring and reshoring and putting stuff in friendly countries and how India is going to take up the slack. No, it's not going to happen. Here's a very simple statistic on this.

In order to do global supply chains, you need to have really, really good logistics and really good ports. China has, I think, somewhere in the order of about 20 odd ports that can do this. Everybody loves Vietnam. Vietnam is the new place you can go into. They can do it. They've got four.


MARK BLYTH: Yeah. India probably about eight or nine. And most of them are not up to quality. So you can make it somewhere else. But you can't get it out. And that's what China is really good at. There's a great book by Danny Bresnitz, who's at University of Toronto. He did it about 10 years ago, called The Run of the Red Queen. And basically, he went against this idea that China doesn't innovate. And only the West innervates. China just copies.

It's like, really? Have you seen what they've done to global supply chains. That's the innovation. They can make stuff in 12 different places, put it in a box, and get it on your table in a week. Nobody else could do that. That's their competitive advantage. And that's what they want to maximize.

CARRIE NORDLUND: That is incredible that India only has that many ports. I would think they'd have--

MARK BLYTH: I mean, I'm not getting the numbers exactly. I read this a little while ago. But basically, China dwarfs everybody else's capacity combined.

CARRIE NORDLUND: So I was chuckling to myself as I saw that David Cameron is back. And then the headline that accompanied the article was, you know you're in deep trouble if David Cameron is back.

MARK BLYTH: I think it was better than that. If David Cameron is the solution, you've got one hell of a problem.

CARRIE NORDLUND: That's right.

MARK BLYTH: That was basically it. I mean, to me, it's absolutely fascinating. So Cameron is this guy who-- there's the three term labor administration. Tony Blair, it's all going well. He does a rock. That totally turns public against him. Gordon Brown comes in. Gordon is very smart and good thinker and all the rest of it and good technocrat, but lousy politician basically. And he's grumpy, and angry, and Scottish. And it's just not going well. Everyone's fed up with them. There's a global financial crisis. Boom, they get thrown out.

Up to that point, Cameron had been this kind of one world. Tory, he had this thing called hug a hoodie. Basically, don't be afraid of metropolitan youth, just be nice to them. And then when the crisis hit, it was too good an opportunity to waste, and sort of his inner Tory came out along with George Osborne, who was basically the real hatchet man here. And this is what launched the austerity years.

Now the long-run result of this has been, first of all, you polarized society. Secondly, you impoverished the north. Thirdly, you create the conditions for chronically low investment for a decade. So like schools are literally falling down. Hospitals that weren't built are now never built. And the systems are creaking at overcapacity, all that good stuff. And then, of course, that builds up to a huge fight in the Conservative party. And then you do Brexit.

So then Brexit comes along. It's just been a decade of crap. And really, it all happened because Cameron decided to do austerity and have a referendum. So at the end of it, there's this giant sort of poop sandwich called the British experience at this point in time. The audacity of the guy to come back with a smile on his face and say, I'm back. Don't worry, lads. I've got this one. Literally, the building is on fire, and the arsonist has turned up with petrol saying, does anybody fancy a barbecue?

CARRIE NORDLUND: Because he starts Brexit. The referendum is under him, right?

MARK BLYTH: It's under him. And he comes back as foreign minister. I mean, you can't write this. It's literally worse than an episode of In the Thick of It. The guy who blew up British foreign policy for a generation is now the foreign minister. I can only assume that Sunak, the prime minister, is just high. He's just decided he's never going to win. And he's just going to get very high for the next year. And this was his first decision in high mode.

CARRIE NORDLUND: Because there really isn't anybody else. Or there are other people, but he's just selected David Cameron because he's high.

MARK BLYTH: No one can figure this one out. I mean, there's a brilliant picture of a reporter standing outside number 10. And the Brits have a great phrase for this, gobsmacked. But he is gobsmacked. You can see him-- he looks like somebody has slapped him in the face because he's just like, oh, I don't believe it, David Cameron. That's David. What's he doing here? There's no rhyme, no reason for it. It's just utter nonsense.

CARRIE NORDLUND: Oh, jeez. Well, I mean, I thought there was like some grand plan and that Sunak--

MARK BLYTH: I mean, there was a cabinet reshuffle. And you've got Cruella Braverman, who basically wants to ban immigration anywhere anytime ever under any circumstances as the foreign secretary. She was basically riot baiting the pro-Palestinian march in London, saying, if it gets out of control, then it's the police's fault. You don't do that as home secretary, all that sort of stuff. She's asking to be fired because she knows the Tories are a sinking ship.

She then turns on Sunak and says, you're the worst prime minister ever. She's now the darling of the right. She's going to spend the next year in America, Hoover or one of these places, basically tooling up. And then she's going to run for the conservatives as the leader at some point in time. So when she goes, this is an opportunity to rotate all the chairs. There's a chair spare. What do you do? You put David Cameron in it. I know it makes no sense, though.

CARRIE NORDLUND: Oh, wow. Maybe we can end on stuff that's maybe slightly happier than bringing in someone who was a total failure.

MARK BLYTH: Here's my segue for someone who's not a total failure. My daughter watched the Beckham documentary on Netflix.


MARK BLYTH: And she said, you should watch this. So Jules and I were sitting the other night, and we're like, let's just see what's on. And it was up there because she'd watched it. And we thought we'll give it a go. It's actually really well done. What's kind of amazing about it, there's much more of a story to it than you would think. And it goes along the following lines. He's this guy-- and you wouldn't think it from this guy-- because I have to admit, he's a pretty handsome dude.


MARK BLYTH: He had no friends when he was growing up. His dad was a football-obsessed maniac that just made him practice all the time. Luckily, he loved football. But you can think about this as sort of like a form of stress and abuse. He's always on him to be better, the whole thing. This is bomb. That's it.

Eventually, he signs for Manchester United as a kid, makes it through the ranks. And it turns out, guess what, he's a really, really good football player. And he comes up with this generation of other players at Man United that come through the youth team, et cetera, Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs, et cetera. And they dominate everything for about 10 years. So there's the happy story.

Then what happens is-- he's only 21 or 23. I can't remember. He's playing for England. And they are against Argentina in the quarterfinals of the World Cup. And a very experienced player called Diego Simeone goes over and basically pushes him over and winds him up. And David kicks his leg out. I mean, it's nothing. It's a yellow card if anything. The ref sent him off. England's down to ten men. They don't win the game. That's it.

And he is literally castigated. There are effigies of him hanging outside bars. I had no idea how intense this was. And for the next 18 months, every time he set foot outside, people spat on him. Every time he went to a restaurant, he needed protection. I mean, it was insane. Every time he kicked a ball, there were 40,000 people screaming at him, just constant abuse. And he never cracked once.

I had no idea. He is the hardest man I've ever seen. Nothing got to him. And he says, it got to him. And you can tell it definitely got to him. But to be able to get through it and come out the other side, amazing. I thought this is much more of an interesting story, a really good human interest story that actually thought was there. I was like, oh, Posh and Becks, they're both gorgeous. This will be boring. I'll last an hour. No, this is actually really interesting.

CARRIE NORDLUND: And he's way more interesting than I thought he was too, much more self-aware. And I thought the point that he made that essentially his dad's behavior towards him, because he would yell at him all the time, sort of prepped him for all of the hate that he received after that. And as an American who knows nothing about soccer, I just thought it was super interesting, like Sir Alex, the guy who's like the head of-- These people are just like super-- It was really interesting. And I thought actually Posh was even like somewhat self-aware as well.

MARK BLYTH: Yeah, definitely. I mean, you could see that. That line that they said about her. She was too posh to push, so she had a cesarean. You can see how that really, really upset her. Like, I was furious about that. But it's one of those things.

There's a great line from Julie Burchill, who used to be a Guardian journalist long time ago. And she had a great line on the royal family. And it was all about the time when there was the royal wedding of Charles and Diana. And everyone was still happy and all that sort of stuff. And she said, just wait. Anything that the media creates, the media eventually destroys.

CARRIE NORDLUND: That's so true.

MARK BLYTH: And that's also the Beckham story. Posh and Becks, it's the fantastic couple. And then, no, we're just going to tear them down. Let's exam the royal family, the whole nine yards.

CARRIE NORDLUND: And then interesting too that somehow LA becomes their refuge, just to get away from all the crazy stuff. On a Saturday afternoon, I was like, oh, I might as well check it out. But I was way more into it than I thought that I would be, especially given that they faded a little bit.

MARK BLYTH: Well, it's funny you should say that because it is two observations. Number one, most people run away from boring places to go to LA to do the crazy stuff. And they are the reverse. Just another great line that I was reminded of the other day. I was in Ireland at the Kilkenomics Festival. And I rediscovered this one. We're talking about Britain and British Prime ministers.

And there's been this kind of rediscovery of John Major, who was the guy who followed Thatcher. And he actually kept Britain in Europe. And he seems like a really nice guy. And they called him honest John. Eventually, his whole government went down in sleaze and corruption. But he came out of it OK. And now there's been this rediscovery of this guy.

And at one point, we were talking about him. And I just remembered, this is actually true. He came from a circus family. And he's the only guy in human history who's ever run away from the circus to become an accountant.

CARRIE NORDLUND: Wow. That's a real personality test.

MARK BLYTH: Isn't that fantastic? There we go.

CARRIE NORDLUND: Here's my connection-- wait, I have a connection with John Major. Nineteen Ninety-Seven, study abroad in college, I interned on a political campaign in the UK. It was for John Major. And the t-shirt was Simply the Best from Tina Turner's song. So there you go.

MARK BLYTH: There you go. Did you meet John? Did you meet him?

CARRIE NORDLUND: I did. I actually I think I did in the office.

MARK BLYTH: And you were like, he seems all right.

CARRIE NORDLUND: Yeah, he seemed friendly.

MARK BLYTH: Yeah, exactly. And of course, as opposed to the swivel-eyed loons that we've got running everything now.

CARRIE NORDLUND: Yeah, I mean, seriously.

MARK BLYTH: So let's end it. You want to ask me something, don't you?

CARRIE NORDLUND: Yeah, I wanted to ask you something. We're a little late to this, but I thought still relevant. This was happening towards the end of the summer. And that is, how often do you think about the Roman Empire, Blyth?

MARK BLYTH: That's the weirdest question I've ever heard. I want to say never, but that's not true. I mean, I don't immerse myself in it, I don't like think about it. Every now and again, if I'm making a joke about I'm running late-- I've got a gig at the Forum-- I might invoke a little Romanesque humor. But no, I don't think about it at all, basically. Why?

CARRIE NORDLUND: Well, the trend was on TikTok that it turns out that men think of it like once a day.

MARK BLYTH: What men?

CARRIE NORDLUND: Sometimes more than once a day. The general population of men are thinking about the Roman Empire like once a day. And so it became something that we constantly think about. So people would say, oh, my Roman Empire is pizza, or something that, to just show that I'm always thinking about this, or I frequently think about this particular thing.

MARK BLYTH: But which bit of the Roman Empire? I mean, are you thinking like pre-Augustine? Is it Caesar crossing the Rubicon? Is it the foundation of the Senate? Is it cracks? I mean, which bit? I want to know. It can't be the whole thing.

CARRIE NORDLUND: For some, I think, the fall of Rome.

MARK BLYTH: Yeah, the fall. Oh, yeah.

CARRIE NORDLUND: But others, I think, it was like Caesar. I don't know.

MARK BLYTH: It's so similar. They had a Senate. We have a Senate. They had a democracy. Then they became an authoritarian dictatorship. We've got somebody who kind of wants to be Caesar. Yeah, I get it. I understand why people are doing it.

CARRIE NORDLUND: But still, once a day seems like a lot to be thinking about--

MARK BLYTH: Yeah, it's a bit too much. Exactly. I think we should have a rule on that. It's a health warning. If you find yourself thinking about the Roman Empire more than once a day, please consult a specialist historian.

CARRIE NORDLUND: Yes, there you go. Well, I think we fit one more in before the end of the year, I hope.

MARK BLYTH: Yeah, definitely. Honestly, my schedule is stabilized now. We'll have to do the Mark and Carrie Christmas special because everything will be resolved by that point. Everything will be great. We'll all be kissing under the mistletoe. And we'll be hiding in a bomb basement.

CARRIE NORDLUND: Right. Movies that we liked. Movies that we're looking forward to, all of the hot topics.

MARK BLYTH: Because now that they are actually making movies again, we'll actually be able to do that.

CARRIE NORDLUND: Yes. Gladiator II coming to a theater near you, speaking of Rome.

MARK BLYTH: Oh, really?

CARRIE NORDLUND: No Russell Crowe, though.

MARK BLYTH: The first one was hard work enough.

CARRIE NORDLUND: [LAUGHS] I know. Well, great to see you. Thank you for listening. We'll be back soon.

MARK BLYTH: See you soon. Bye.


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