08/19/2022 - Far Too Clever and Overthinking It

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

On this episode:

  • Unpacking the Inflation Reduction Act
  • What this summer's good news for Democrats means for the midterms
  • Liz Cheney's political future, and what it could mean for Democrats and Republicans
  • Trump's Mar-a-Lago drama. What matters, what doesn't, and why it feels like we've been here before...
  • Multiple US Congresspeople head to Taiwan. Grand strategy, or ego-trip?
  • Mega droughts in Europe and California

Listen and subscribe to Trending Globally, another podcast from the Watson Institute.


DAN: Hey, there. This is Dan, the producer for 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 us by subscribing to Trending Globally on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Spotify, Google Play, or wherever you listen to podcasts. Again, that's Trending Globally. All right, on with the show. Thanks.


CARRIE: Hello, and welcome to Mark and Carrie. Hello there, professor. Happy summer.

MARK: Happy summer. We're actually together in face to face in an air conditioned office.

CARRIE: Yes, and all of the above. It's quite nice to see you in person.

MARK: You too. It's been quite a while.

CARRIE: Yes. What have you been up to, where have you been?

MARK: I actually had a vacation, which is the first real vacation since the pandemic.


MARK: And I met the farm who were overseeing the in-laws in Europe. And then we went to France and a little bit of Spain along the North coast. That was really nice. And now we're back. And now I'm trying to write-- it's going quite well, actually. I'm writing a book with a post-doc called Inflation, a Guide for Users and Losers."

CARRIE: Wow, I love that. I'm assuming it's about inflation, It's not about--

MARK: Exactly. Yeah.

CARRIE: --telenovela. OK.


CARRIE: Did you experience any travel I mean given that travel delays and pains is the storyline of the summer?

MARK: It was horrible. A little tip for anyone who's traveling in Europe in the near future-- cancel your flights, just get a train.


MARK: It's so much nicer and so easy and everything in the airports are horrible. And it's just like here, only, in some way, worse.

CARRIE: OK, so that's really makes it a feel good moment then--

MARK: Yeah, exactly. We're doing well comparatively speaking.

CARRIE: Yes. And inflation is going to be out at the holiday time in time for Christmas gifts or--

MARK: No, of course not. Let's start talking about it. I suppose the big story since the last time we chat is continuing inflation, no real sort of surprise there. I did a segment along with John Cassidy and Felix Salmon on the media on NPR. So if you want to have a listen to it there, they get into this stuff as well. So I'm kind of paraphrasing.

But it's a weird one. It's a very weird economy because we still have a labor shortage, right? And things are chugging along quite nicely in lots of sectors. But at the same time, you've got 10% inflation across the board.

If you are on a low income, which loads and loads of Americans are, then this really sucks because it means you'll lose 10% of your purchasing power. So if you're well off and you lose 10% of your purchasing power, it doesn't really matter. But if you're not, then that's the difference between barely making it and not making it, right? So this is serious stuff and not to be dismissed.

So the Federal Reserve feels it has to act and its constantly acting by doing big moves that really aren't big moves like yesterday's colossal move of 0.75 of 1%. And we've spoken about this before. There's problems if you raise it too much the emerging markets flows out and comes to the United States because that's when interest rates are higher then you create big problems globally, et cetera.

So the Fed is trying to tread softly on this. There's all this talk of doing a soft landing, which is to slow down the economy enough that you get rid of inflation without it causing mass unemployment in a crisis. That's really difficult to do.

And also I'm finding out from doing the research for this book, it's probably not necessary because here's the punch line-- there's a wonderful piece from Nineteen-Eighty-One from a central banker who became a central banker eventually called Alan Blinder where he talks about the great inflation in the '70s. And he says, ultimately, it wasn't really caused by too much money. That was all a symptom rather than the cause.

What was actually going on was two field harvests, food supply stock, two oil price spikes, massive ones and a much more industrialized economy, right, and then the end of mandatory price controls in the US that went voluntary and everybody blew right through them in Nineteen-Seventy-Three. He calls them the special factors. And he says, if you add them up, that explains pretty much all the inflation.

So when vocal came along in '81 and Nineteen-Eighteen jacked up interest rates caused a huge recession probably had nothing to do with it. And the lesson for today is you're going to cause all that pain to make people better off, right? But nobody can give me a straight answer as to why increasing the cost of debt is going to help anyone pay their electricity bill anywhere in the world or how that's going to increase the supply of oil from countries that don't want to sell it to you. So we've got a bit of a mismatch.

CARRIE: So on inflation, I'm always slightly confused about this. So if my regular Starbucks coffee, now due to inflation, goes from $3 to $5, when inflation goes down, Starbucks isn't going to decrease that price back to $3. Is it just by spending power has increased so that $5 doesn't hurt me as much?

MARK: Yeah, that's probably it. I mean, essentially, what you're talking about is are they price gouging, are they riding price increases and thus profit increases on the back of this inflation. And there's tons of evidence for this. So if you go on earning calls, you can get them on Bloomberg and get transcripts of them. CEO after CEO has been banging on about how profits have never been higher. Are they going to revise them down? Highly unlikely.

I'll give you one example of this. After Two Thousand and Eight-- I'm pretty sure it's Two Thousand and Eight-- British Airways put a surcharge on their fuel and that's because there was an oil price spike at the time. The oil price spike was over by Twenty-Ten. I think the surcharge lasted until about Twenty-Fourteen.


MARK: So these things are, let's say, sticky, downwardly sticky, to use that language. So yeah, I think you're exactly right. What you're hoping is that you can recover enough purchasing power or boost your income enough so that you can afford the new inflated prices.

CARRIE: So all the talk with the R-word, the recession, that you and I talked a lot about and that we're on, we're near it, we're in it or not. So are we--

MARK: So I just find this really bizarre. It's sort of like GDP is a measurement. Add up all the stuff in the country and divide it by the number of people and you get a per capita measure that doesn't represent anybody, right?


MARK: So you consider that 40% of Americans would have trouble putting $500 together. The inflation particularly in fuel prices and energy prices is already blown a hole in people's consumption baskets, which they could barely fill in the first instance. So the notion is sort of, oh, we're in a recession now. I got news for people-- about 40% of America is in a permanent recession. It's just that things went from crap to really crap, right?

Have we had two quarters of negative growth, if you want the technical definition? It looks like we have. But at the same time, parts of the market are booming. And an interesting little comment I read the other day pointed out that unlike other past periods of recessions and inflation, tons of stuff now is free.


MARK: Yeah.

CARRIE: That is interesting.

MARK: So think about it. You don't need to go to the cinema to watch a movie.


MARK: Right?


MARK: You've got huge sort of entertainment and work options at home. You can kill your commute if you're lucky enough to be able to telecommute, right? So there's loads of ways in which this is unevenly shared.


MARK: Let me give you one story about this. The economist Isabella Weaver gave me this story at a conference in Berlin. It's on YouTube if anybody wants to watch it. It's a great panel discussion on inflation. And she talks about two shoppers, right? So one is a single mom, she's already on a fixed budget, she already doesn't handle very much, she doesn't have any savings. So inflation comes along, takes away 10% of our purchasing power. That's horrible, right?

Then the next one is also a single mom, but she made out really well in a divorce. She's got 100,000 euros in the bank, right? And she likes to buy herself a bottle of champagne and some strawberries when she can because she's got a higher budget.

Now here's the weird thing about an inflation, right? The second person ends up paying less. How? Because there's a huge-- it's a really nice summer. So there's a huge oversupply of strawberries. So the price drops. And because inflation's there, the price of champagne, right, has become too expensive for your marginal buyer. Consequently, there's a huge glut of champagne and champagne prices drop by 40%. By the way, this has actually happened.

CARRIE: Really?

MARK: Yeah. So basically, if you're in the champagne and strawberry market, you're paying less now than you did before the inflation, yet the inflation is 10%.

CARRIE: Right.

MARK: So this affects people in loads of different ways. So the notion like we are in a recession I just think is totally dubious.

CARRIE: Right. But it also-- I mean, I'm assuming for other recessions in the past, it hurt people in different ways. And of course, I saw a pictures of Jeff Bezos today, and I think he was in Paris in $1,000 jeans or something. It hits much differently than it hits me. But no, that's the story that no one ever really talks about either is the inequity in which this I can buy strawberries in champagne, but it's actually costing me less versus just buying eggs is now $1,000 or something like that.

MARK: Absolutely.

CARRIE: So always a happy to talk to you about the recession.

MARK: From recession to what else is going on.

CARRIE: Yes. Last night or early this morning, word came from the Senate that Chuck Schumer had actually-- well, there's a deal between with Joe Manchin and the Senate Democrats on a climate and Tax Bill, which seems to be good news, at least in the moment, that something will possibly get through.

They have 10 days, 10 business days, to move this before the summer recess. But also because it's going to be considered a budget reconciliation bill, it's not going to be up against the filibuster. But there's all sorts of stuff that has to happen. They have to have all 50 senators present.

So the first hurdle is over, but there's a bunch more to go, not least of which is the Senator from Arizona, Kristen Sinema, and where she stands on this. But at least right now, there's some reason to feel somewhat hopeful. There's some tax credits for solar electric vehicles, tax subsidies for the ACA, other stuff in terms of the tax code as well, rehauling that, reducing the deficit and then Medicare that they would be able to negotiate some prescription drug prices. So there's lots of in there. But there's some potential bright spots in there as well.

MARK: I'm really shocked by this. As you know, I basically went on record over a year ago saying this is never going to because Manchin's local state where he works and where he's responsible for, where he makes his money, his investments, and his friends, is an entirely carbon dependent state. And basically the Green New Deal and Climate Legislation is basically the destruction of that business model. So I just don't see him going for it.

I hope that I'm wrong. I genuinely hope the hell I'm wrong because this is really important stuff. I would add to your list of ifs and buts and concerns. And this is something Adam Tooze pointed out in Chartbook, that the entire way that this is structured, as usual, is the Pelosi pay for model. You've got to pay for this stuff. It's like running a superpower with a global reserve asset as if it was a corner shop. But never mind.

And that creates the fact that you need to have new taxes. The taxes that you need to have are going to be the global 15% corporate tax. So there's a possibility that that doesn't go through the Senate because as you mentioned, the Senator from Arizona is dead set against that tax increase.

Also noteworthy that basically putting a surcharge on the richest Americans those who earn more than 10 million who, by the way, pay less taxes than your average Joe because they've got more ways to avoid it-- we can't possibly do that as well. So these are at best marginal gains and fragile gains.

I really hope that it's right because if we don't do this, when the GOP come back in 24, as I've said before and I'm still quite sure, they were already doing a fatwa on ESG environmental social governance stuff. Woke capitalism is the next target. They are going on the biggest carbon budget imaginable. So it's really important to get this locked in now.

CARRIE: Well, and that's an interesting point because when you read the sort of bullet points underneath it, it doesn't-- subsidies to buy an electric vehicle. It doesn't seem like that's like a really big deal. But I mean, these sort of low hurdles just get over--

MARK: Get the low hanging fruit, get it locked in, right? Make it more common, make it more normal, make it less threatening to the carbon states.


MARK: You got to do it and you got to do it now. So let's hope that it really goes ahead.

CARRIE: Yeah. I think there is one line in The Times article about Joe Manchin. And because, of course, the question is, what did he get in return for this, and one line was that there's going to be a natural pipeline built, natural gas pipeline built between West Virginia that will send some of that natural gas to Virginia. So that's nice for his state.

And then there's other stuff that I've seen about some of the company that Manchin's family owns that he's divested from and sort of where that money goes and the money that--

I bet isn't a Nancy Pelosi's internal hedge fund.

Oh, yeah. You think? Yeah, right. That her husband, by the way, has never used a stock tip to buy or sell stock. But anyway, so the internal stuff which has yet to come out and maybe the more soapy stuff of what he got out of this deal. But I mean, clearly, he was angling. He got some nice.

MARK: I don't care if he's been promised the Vatican so long as we get it, right? That's really it.

CARRIE: But then I mean is Schumer going to be adept enough to give cinema whatever it is that she wants? But I'm with you. Let's give the people who want what they want what they want and move forward with things.

MARK: Yes, exactly, because I was in Europe.


MARK: And you notice they were in a heat wave.


MARK: Have you done this fun thing on Apple weather app? I can show Carrie this because you're sitting across from me obviously. I can't show people this. But here we go. So here's Providence, right? And as you scroll down, you get the heat map, right? And it shows you that basically the whole world is on fire. Right, it's quite literally on fire.


MARK: And this is why this stuff's incredibly important. This is something that I said on my NPR interview last week. We have this way of thinking about the economy as a kind of stable equilibrium to use our language, which is you throw in all the people, all the people, all the ideas, all this stuff, and basically it works its way out with prices in such a way it's pretty stable state. And what really moves it to a different place, if you will, is kind of technological change, right?

And these economies can be hit with shocks, right? So they get whacked out of things, they get smacked in the face, get a little bit unstable. But then they come back to trend, right? And then they go on. My what you're looking at the heat map and thinking about the consequences of this is what if we don't ever go back to trend.

CARRIE: I know.

MARK: What if every summer is going to be like this?


MARK: What if it's going to get worse much faster than we thought? Little point on this one-- for an exercise, the British Meteorological Office did a weather report for Twenty-Fifty last year as an exercise.


MARK: It was literally the same weather report they gave last week.

CARRIE: No, 3 years ahead.

MARK: Right.


MARK: So what happens if you're no longer trending back to that equilibrium where you always have enough stuff? It's just a question of price, right? Let's think about the Colorado River. It is running dry. Nobody wants to talk about this. How do you do California with no Colorado River? How do you do America as a superpower with no California, right?

Let's join the dots on this. So we're in a very powerless and serious state. So Joe Manchin-- he probably never thought he was going to be this important and neither the Christian Sinema. But they really are.

CARRIE: Yeah. And I mean, the heat wave in the United States as well-- that was last week. It was just punishing as well. And of course, as Americans, less so in Europe, we just turn up the air conditioner even more, which is, of course, we all the implications of that.

But the back to normal-- I agree with you because if you look at the maps or you just think, there's not suddenly going to be oh we're going to have like a normal summer anymore or that is going to be consistent or we're going to have like six feet of snow in the Sierra Nevada which will feed the Colorado and everything will be-- I mean, we might. But that's going to be the outlier.

MARK: Exactly. This is sort of the new stochastic trend, if you will, that basically-- yeah, you might get a couple of nice summers, but the overall trend is heat wave. and more intensity. So it's shifting off of that path.

A simple way to think about it is we have spent all the past 200 years basically pooping into nature and taking from nature and paying very scant attention to the consequences like recycling as wish recycling as Kate O'Neill put it and essentially not really giving a shit until your rivers are on fire. Well, we're past that point. You can't do that anymore.

In the language, we can no longer externalize those internal externalities. We need to internalize them. And that's what this whole project is about. So we need to get moving.

CARRIE: I do have some hope that's probably naive that just-- I mean, I know there's all sorts of other stuff going on that's just totally selfish-- but that even the heat wave in the US like maybe moves Manchin a little bit. But I mean--

MARK: Yeah, I think so.

CARRIE: And that cinema is like 500 degrees--

MARK: I mean, even you would hope that sort of Ted Cruz, right, certainly boiling in 120 degrees for two months might have some reflections on this.

CARRIE: Yeah. Well, and I know the numbers are moving all over the place. But even Greg Abbott's Gubernatorial Race is starting to-- he's starting to see some Beddoes actually moving up on him and some voters because they're worried about the Texas great white totally dying in the fifth year--

MARK: And the solution is not more coal.

CARRIE: Yes. Imagine that. But speaking of very hot countries-- because the UK was 103 or something?

MARK: Yeah, 103, 104, absolutely. Blew through all the existing records.

CARRIE: --as a British, Scottish-- do you know--

MARK: Well, it's funny because-- so Skull Island didn't actually get that hot, right? If you looked at the map, it was really funny. It basically got to within about 10 miles of Glasgow and stopped. It's almost as if to say, no, come on. Glasgow having a heatwave, don't be ridiculous, right?

So the South of Scotland certainly got it. I think the hottest place in the UK was actually on the Scottish borders. But by and large, it was about what do you do. Well, you don't do much other than try and find a public building that has air conditioning or get close to water or something like that, open the window and hope for a draft through because they just don't have AC.

And the houses are built to the extent that they're built to any standard, and that's questionable. They're built to retain heat, not to let it pass through.

CARRIE: Right. Because brick--

MARK: Yeah, exactly. Brick stuff

CARRIE: Boris Johnson--

MARK: Speaking of brick stuff, yes.

CARRIE: --has finally stepped down after a lot of pressure from his--

MARK: Has he?

CARRIE: Well, that's my question. That was my question for you is-- but he said he's going to resign, but not till-- it doesn't take effect until the fall.

MARK: It's very weird. And they're having this leadership election, which won't be decided for another four weeks. So they're having these kind of internal leadership campaign with a lame duck prime minister who said to his friends last week that he thinks that the Tory Party faithful should just write his name in and then [INAUDIBLE]. It's very Trump, isn't it?


MARK: I'm not actually resigning, don't be ridiculous. I mean, I've always maintained that Boris' sort of logic here is just incredibly pecuniary, right? He's broke and he's not going to earn the money he needs on this speaker circuit if he's a failed prime minister. He needs to stay the term, win an election, be a success, and then he can go in the speaker circuit. And that's not happening for him just now, right? He's damaged goods. So I think he does have an incentive to hold on.

In the same time, we've got Sunak who, during the pandemic, shows that clearly he actually understands how the economy works and did a lot of sort of relatively good stuff. And now he's talking to the Tory Party Faithful. It's like old religion brimstone tighten your belt economics.


MARK: And you got Liz Truss who inadvertently says interesting things. But I encourage people to go on my Twitter feed and find the cheese speech.

CARRIE: I mean, that was 2 minutes of like--

MARK: Wasn't that the most utterly bizarre speech you've ever heard in your life?

CARRIE: Naming parts of the UK and connecting them to food?

MARK: Yes, and then sort of like-- I mean, the whole claim was as British minister of whatever, right, foreign secretary, which used to be an important job, I'm now going to go to a big trade show in France, right, and sell food, right? Well, hang on. You wouldn't have had to do that if you were in this thing called the EU, right, because when you're in the EU, you can sell stuff to France without any problem.


MARK: Yeah, exactly. So it's not looking so great.

CARRIE: I also found an interesting-- so I saw the clip from your Twitter feed of her speech. But super hawkish on China too.

MARK: Yeah. I mean, it's all cheap talk. I mean, at this point in time, it's like, ooh, the British are cross. Who cares?


MARK: I mean, really.

CARRIE: But that seems to be the standard, right? You just have to at least say the words.

MARK: Well, I think it's one of these things. It's about French politicians back in the day being crappy about America.


MARK: There was no downside to doing that because it was just sort of one of those things. And China's become the safe thing that everyone can hate.

CARRIE: Yes. Yeah. And I mean, it works in the United States as well. Right, yeah.

MARK: The only thing we agree on bipartisan is that we don't like China.


MARK: That's it.

CARRIE: Yes. We'll stay in Europe for just a second because I was really captured by Russia threatening to turn off the gas to Germany. And now Germany, they're like only cold showers now.

MARK: Yeah. I mean, basically they were like, oh, they're going to take this north stream one down for maintenance. And there was this whole thing about importing a turbine from Canada to make it work and then it didn't fit or some nonsense letters. So essentially, de facto, it's a gas embargo, right?

So you don't like us doing what we're doing in Ukraine. We were using the money we got from that, which were literally billions a week, to fight the war. You said that you want to get off Russian gas. All right, so I'm a monopolist. This is really is what econ 101 told that I'm totally useful, right? I'm a monopolist.


MARK: The only reason I don't squeeze you until it hurts is because you're a long term customer.


MARK: You've just told me you're not going to do this anymore? I'm going to squeeze you till it hurts. Now I can really raise the price to the roof or I can restrict the quantity which does what--


MARK: --it raises the price to the roof, right? So this is exactly what you're seeing. I mean, this is completely predictable that this would happen.

CARRIE: So they're we're going to the US is going to send natural gas to Germany? And they're going to be OK then?

MARK: Well, I mean, over time. What you hope is that what happens is this does two things-- one-- you really don't revert to coal.


MARK: And what you do is you continue with decarbonization. That means that the ECB, subsidizes directly credit allocation funding investment, et cetera, right? You're not looking for pay floors on this shit, right? You just fund it and then you pay it off over decades because you got an asset that has a value. It can do all that stuff, right?

So they're going to do that. So this is going to eventually deepen decarbonization Yeah because you're not going to like cut yourself off from carbon sources to find new carbon sources except when you build LNG infrastructure. You're talking about giant pressurized ships, you're talking about dedicated piers, you're talking about of regasification, et cetera. That stuff has a 20 or 30 year depreciation on it.


MARK: So you are building new carbon infrastructure. At the same time, you're trying to go off carbon while are talking a good game about decarbonization. It's a bit unclear how this is going to play out.

CARRIE: 'Cause I was like, how does natural gas get just put on a boat and then just--

MARK: You liquidize it and then you deliquidize it.

CARRIE: Right. But no, but building, I mean--

MARK: Yeah, it's a lot of infrastructure.

CARRIE: The infrastructure part of things. OK.

MARK: So let me ask you one because this is the type of stuff that you watch on TV that I can't because I just can't bear to watch it. The January the 6th hearings. Now it's all over. What was it, was it worth it, has it had any impact, is it going to matter? What's your take?

CARRIE: I saw a funny tweet that said, it had been renewed for season 2--

MARK: Oh, nice.

CARRIE: --there's going to be more in September.

MARK: Is it really?


MARK: Oh, my God.

CARRIE: I mean, you kind of feel like the January 6th hearing was really smart because they got a Hollywood producer to come in to actually produce it and produce it in a way that was pretty captivating and cliffhangers and the right music at the right time. Liz Cheney did a really good job like as the person--

MARK: She's clearly not going back to any Republican Party parties issue.

CARRIE: No, no, no. And yeah, she's napalm any of those, any and all of those bridges. I mean, I watched some of it. And then I would get the highlights the next day. But it was really well produced and you did understand what was happening and building the case to then present to the Department of Justice and Merrick Garland, what he's going to do next.

I think the thing is that who's actually watching it and who's persuaded by what's being said probably just the people that already were persuaded. But I think what has maybe been done is just that it's in the air more and that even for-- not die hard trumpists-- but those that were like, he's kind of a jerk, but whatever, now it's like the whatever's gone and the more like I'm just tired of him and his shenanigans.

MARK: But unless there's going to be criminal charges and a grand jury impaneled and all the rest of it, I mean, is it really going to have any impact in a sense if you can't-- this is my thing with the whole Trump period, right?


MARK: So we heard the remember the Mueller report-- remember that appointment? That nothing burger, right? And then there was the whole Russia investigation, right, which yeah, Russia was doing stuff. But Russia spent $100,000 on Facebook ads. We spent a billion or more on advertising. Let me show what are the most effective campaign people in human history, right?

So you kept throwing mud at the wall. Some of it stuck. People didn't care if it stuck. Most of them didn't stick. And this is just more of the same. There's a real danger if he just weaponizes this and goes, they will not stop. If there was anything here, they would have charged me and they're not going to charge me. So what are you left with?

CARRIE: I don't think Americans are comfortable with prosecuting a president and seeing that President put in handcuffs or put in jail or whatever the visual ends up being. So Merrick Garland or the Department of Justice, my heart goes out to them because the evidence is there, but do they actually want to pursue this because the next click is when Republicans take the House and the Senate, they're going to seek to do all the stuff that they feel like the Democrats did to Trump and impeachment and Hunter Biden's laptop and all this stuff.

So I'm with you. Why go through all this when we're not going to have any outcome? But I think there's something more which is-- because what's the goal of the January 6th hearing? I think at the beginning for me, the goal was indict Trump.

And now it kind of felt like this last time, it was public humiliation of Trump. Bring him down so bad that he can't recover. And just the outtakes of him bumbling and fumbling around the speech on January 6th. It felt just like let's just stimulate him so that he doesn't have the money, he doesn't have the support to run for office again.

MARK: Well, we'll see if it works. There's a high risk strategy on that one.


MARK: Speaking of the institutions, of course-- I haven't seen you I don't think since the raw decision.

CARRIE: I think that's right. I read the decision and there's a lot to say about the substance of it all which is probably already been said. What was so interesting to me was to see the internal fissures within the court between the nine justices.

So you had the majority decision, you had Chief Justice Roberts issue of concurrence, which was to say, I don't agree with the majority, but he agreed enough that that's how it became a 6-3 decision, and then you had the dissent with the three justices. And the dissent was just-- they were just like, what has changed about the court since Roe v Wade. The composition has changed.

If they were doing this on jurisprudence, the jurisprudence isn't there. But you also had-- and this has been talked a lot about already-- Clarence Thomas saying in the majority decision that this Obergefell is on the table.

MARK: We're going to look at a whole bunch of other stuff.

CARRIE: I mean, might as well throw like Marbury versus Madison is on the table. And then you really see our Chief Justice Roberts say incrementalism is what we like to do and then Kavanaugh say, we're not going to do all this stuff. And just the tension-- and I saw several articles that said that the court is now 3-3-3, it's not 6-3. You have the super conservatives led by Clarence Thomas, and then you have Roberts Kavanaugh, maybe Amy Coney Barrett.

But the tension really is around Alito and around who's always angry at somebody and Chief Justice Roberts. And Alito is still mad against Roberts from the ACA vote in Twenty-Fifteen. I mean, you have all the political stuff happening between the court and that's never been really as evident.

MARK: That's a really interesting take because what I hear and what I consume is it's the 6-3 split, right, and the featherless whack-jobs are now in charge and you can say goodbye to the modern administrative state. This seems to be more nuanced what you're saying. Actually, no, it's not the case. And you can imagine that sort of being plausible along the following lines.

I mean, for people like Barrett, abortion is a very personal and sensitive issue. This is something that they, regardless of what they said in the secret and the Senate testimony, something they clearly wanted, right? Now you've got that, it doesn't axiomatically follow that, therefore everything else falls as well. It may in Clarence's mind because this is payback for 30 years of not being taken seriously, right?


MARK: But for the others, perhaps not. So if that's the case, then perhaps the court does have a future. But if it does go the other way, then essentially it's the judicial arm of the Republican Party. And then we're in trouble because that means one of your major institutions has failed and has been seen to fail.

CARRIE: Well, and the dissenters say that this particular decision really puts the reputation of the court at risk for exactly what you just described. But Thomas, is just-- he is out there, man. He's got an ax to grind, and he is not letting up on that.

MARK: He's got like Thor's battle axe to drive. I mean--

CARRIE: Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah, yeah. And he's not going to be quiet about it either. And his wife is going to do all this stuff. And they're just not going to hide from any of this. So really exciting because we'll have a second term starting in October. So there'll be even more wonderful decisions for us to all digest and see sort of where Thomas is on because he's really leading, I think, that conservative part of the court. And whether Justice Roberts is able to pull them back at all, that's unfolding.

MARK: Yeah, it's weird to sort of, I mean, the genius of the founders and the genius of the Constitution. Who knew that what it would end up was basically a very large, highly dysfunctional family, breaching temporary modus vivendi so that they can reach decisions without anybody else's input and then basically pin it on some bit of law that's more or less BS.

CARRIE: Yes. And for them to say, all the law-- I mean, the court is built on precedents, right? That's the whole point. And then in this decision for them to be like, but that was bad precedent. We didn't like that.

MARK: We only get good precedent. The precedent we like--

CARRIE: We like the super duper--

MARK: We like super duper good precedent, exactly. So speaking of something super duper good to close us out, I want to talk about nostalgia.


MARK: So my first example of nostalgia is, of course, who got married.

CARRIE: Did you see them in Paris on their honeymoon?

MARK: No, I did not.

CARRIE: J-lo and Ben.

MARK: I managed to leave parties before they got out.

CARRIE: [LAUGHS] They were just--

MARK: I mean, even lots of cliche from the 9 days, right?

CARRIE: It really is?

MARK: Right? I mean, where would you go? You're a Hollywood superstar in the Nineteen-Ninety. You go to parties. You're doing right. So it's this sort of like we love the past because none of the threats of the present exist there.

CARRIE: Yes, yep.

MARK: Right? My other sort of like huge bit of nostalgia on this one was-- did you see the new Thor movie?

CARRIE: I haven't seen it yet.

MARK: I went in Berlin with my daughter and watched it. And it's great. It's really, really good. But it is, again, THIS sort of-- this is the fantasy realm rather than a nostalgia realm. How can Marvel keep putting out all this product and people keep buying it? Because it's this wonderful world where none of these problems exist and there's always a hero that's going to solve it.

CARRIE: Are they still on planet Earth?

MARK: On that one, they were part of the time. And then they went somewhere else.

CARRIE: OK. And this is the one where Natalie Portman is totally jacked up.

MARK: Yes, exactly.

CARRIE: OK. So well, but Earth still exist in some form, but then they've--

MARK: Yes, exactly. Exactly.

CARRIE: OK. Yeah, the nostalgia thing, we often talk about this just in terms of what's popular and Star Wars and how Disney has 7,000 different Star Wars based shows. But they all do really well.

MARK: Exactly, because we want to be 10-year-olds watching Star Wars again because everything was awesome back then and it was none of the stuff going on. My last example of this was when the leadership, conservative leadership thing in Britain was started off, the now leading contender Liz Truss did this TV interview where she literally dressed up exactly the same as Margaret Thatcher.


MARK: Yeah, you can get it online. It's literally the same dress. And then both of them are just channeling like Margaret Thatcher in the early '80s. And it's like-- does anybody actually remember what it was like? It was pretty crap. It really wasn't that fabulous at all. In fact, neither of you two can remember because you're too young.

CARRIE: Right. Oh, jeez. Well, there's that-- wow, that's some real-- remembering and then rewriting what history was. Well, it was great to see you.

MARK: It was.

CARRIE: I guess we'll talk more nostalgia in a few weeks.

's basically gin and tonic at:

CARRIE: I'm going to put my head under the pillow and just hope that when I wake up, the Manchin and Cinema are on board and that it hasn't been totally-- they haven't jumped off.

MARK: And that's got written all over it. Sorry for doing the nostalgia play. That's that bit in Dallas where somebody was dead for a year and then they wake up and go, oh, it was all a dream.

CARRIE: Thank you for listening. Nice to see you. Bye.

MARK: 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