This Week in the Mayonnaise Clinic: Just Desserts
And a prosecution for Hunter Biden. Also, dishwasher advice.
I want to start this issue by noting that Hunter Biden’s plea deal has fallen apart. The government says it doesn’t believe it will be possible to reach an agreement, and they expect to have to take the case to trial.
I think this is for the best.
When Hunter’s plea deal first came out, Ken White and I discussed it on Serious Trouble, and Ken’s take was that the deal was pretty lenient for Hunter. While not out of the realm of possible plea agreements for a similar alleged offense, Ken said that a misdemeanor plea for failing to pay the amount of taxes at issue in Hunter’s case would normally result in a recommendation for several months in jail, rather than the probationary sentence the government recommended.
Regardless of why prosecutors were initially willing to make this deal — and keeping in mind the possibility that they were willing because the deal was never intended to be as sweet as it looked, because prosecutors intended to reserve the right to prosecute Hunter for other crimes like violating the Foreign Agents’ Registration Act — I think it would be good for the country to see a child of the president go on trial for evading taxes. At a time when a former president is multiply indicted and his company has already been convicted of tax crimes, such a trial would serve as a useful reminder that nobody in either party is above facing the law, and that even the president’s son can go to prison.
That’s not to say Hunter will go to prison. Proving felony tax evasion is difficult, which is likely a reason that prosecutors were reluctant to charge him with it in the first place. Proving the offense requires showing specific intent to evade taxes, which may be further complicated by the fact that Hunter was heavily intoxicated for much of the time that he was failing to pay taxes. Like any other defendant, he is presumed innocent. But even if prosecutors obtain only a misdemeanor conviction, it’s likely he would do some time, and that would be a powerful demonstration of accountability.
Speaking of Hunter Biden, he was one of the topics I discussed with Andrew Sullivan on a recent edition of the Dishcast, in which I mounted a wide-ranging (though qualified) defense of Joe Biden’s presidential record, and of Joe’s status, for the second cycle in a row, as the Democratic Party’s best hope of winning the upcoming presidential election. I hope you’ll give it a listen.
Now, some reader questions:
Peter has a question about return-to-office:
This Wall Street Journal article about return-to-office policies at Farmers Insurance discusses assertions by employees that they are "just as productive" working remotely. With these increasingly aggressive moves to get people back to the office, it seems to me that CEOs have evidence that suggests otherwise. As someone who likes in-person work and finds obvious value in it, I can't help but see at least some of these protestations cynically. I'm sure many people like not having their boss physically nearby because, for example, it allows them more opportunities to goof off, browse Twitter, read Substack, etc., while on the clock.
Is pushback to these more strict return-to-office policies warranted? Is my cynicism baseless? Is this just a function of labor-market dynamics and the shifting power of workers vis-à-vis executives?
I think a lot of argumentation in favor of remote work has been cynical, especially the reliance on safety-related arguments — complaining in 2023 that you must not send workers to the office during a global pandemic — to promote what is mainly a convenience for workers.
That said, convenience is important, and commuting is inconvenient — it consumes a lot of workers’ time and money. Even if remote workers are somewhat less productive than in-person workers, that might be a good trade if working remotely means a worker saves 5-10 hours a week of commuting time and hundreds of dollars of monthly commuting expense. Employers should even be able to capture some of that gain by paying a lower wage for remote work than they’d have to pay for in person work.
To give a personal example, our Serious Trouble recording sessions are a little bit better when Ken, Sara and I are all in the same room than when we record virtually over the internet. But even if the three of us all lived in the same city, recording in person would be a lot more time consuming and a bit more expensive than recording over the internet, and it wouldn’t be worth doing most weeks.
Of course, this argument only applies if the difference in productivity or quality between remote and in-person work is small. If the difference is large, it’s probably worth going into the office.
And I think that’s what some organizations, including Farmers, are finding: that workers do a lot better when they’re in the office (whether due to better supervision, or better coordination, or better opportunities for training, or something else) and that it’s worth incurring both corporate and personal expense to bring employees to work. Companies that insist on return-to-work surely know that, in this tight labor market, some employees will quit if you try to make them come to the office, and others will demand and receive raises. If they’re going ahead anyway, it must be because they think everyone being in the office will make the organization substantially more effective.
As for whether the pushback against return to office is “warranted,” I think to a large extent people are moralizing what’s not a moral question. If your employer cares a lot about you coming to the office, and you care a lot about not going to the office, that doesn’t mean either of you is wrong — it just means you want incompatible things and you should probably get a new job.
Isaac has a two-part question about dessert:
1. When you’re at a restaurant, how often do you order dessert, and how do you choose which option?
2. When hosting dinner, I find the process of making and serving dessert to not really be worth the hassle of baking something from scratch (and sometimes there’s no oven time or prep time available for dessert) and often feel like it’s an invitation for guests to leave (which isn’t always bad? But sometimes is…). Do you agree? How do you decide what to serve for dessert or to just buy some berries and not fuss?
Good questions, Isaac. But let me start with a picture:
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