Today we released the first episode of the Very Serious podcast! The first episode is called “YOU are the economy,” and it features Liz Bruenig from the Atlantic and Megan McArdle from the Washington Post. (You can find it on Apple Podcasts or by searching for “Very Serious” on any of the other usual platforms where you listen to podcasts.)
Isn’t this cover tile handsome?
Here’s what this week’s show is about.
Ever since the pandemic started, we’ve heard a lot about “balancing the economy against people’s well-being.” I think that is an incoherent concept. The economy is a part of people’s well-being, and economic output numbers are just a way of measuring the things we do together.
The proceeds of economic output are distributed in all sorts of ways that people will find fair or unfair (and that will create good or bad incentives) but if you stop doing things that are part of the economy, people suffer overall. Failing to distinguish between production and distribution has led to errors in how people evaluate economic responses to COVID. You can pay people to stay home, sure — and we did a whole lot of that, for good reasons — but regardless, if less work is done overall, there are fewer goods and services for people to use.
At some point, that means cash income has to flow into inflation instead of rising real consumption, which makes people pretty upset. When there’s less production in the public sector, the quality of public services deteriorates. You’ve seen this in schools and, through a very different set of mechanisms, in policing.
Liz, Megan and I talk through these issues on today’s episode and we also talk about how these trends may relate to another trend that doesn’t initially look economic in nature: Customers behaving badly, acting out on airplanes and at Panera Bread and seemingly everywhere else.
I encourage you to listen, and to email Sara and me with your thoughts: Do you like the show? What would you like to hear about next? What should we do differently? Our mayo jar is always open to you.
Incidentally, we are recording the second episode of the podcast this afternoon. This one is about issue opinion and I’ll be talking with Kristen Soltis Anderson and Bryan Stryker — a Republican and a Democratic pollster, respectively.
We’ll be taping at 4 eastern today (Friday), so this is somewhat late notice, but if you have questions about issue polling and focus groups and how to tell whether their results mean anything, please send them our way.
If you’ve seen me tweet about it, you know I’m very skeptical of issue polling. It’s hard enough to figure out who people are going to vote for, and it’s really hard to get reliable answers out of people about what they believe and why, and which beliefs actually influence their votes. Also, issue polls are often conducted on behalf of groups trying to get politicians to do what they want on specific issues, rather than actually learn what the public thinks about issues.
But of course, “what does the public really want?” is an important question to answer in a democracy. I think Brian and Kristen are really sharp experts on finding useful answers to that question. We’re going to talk in particular about what we know about why Democrats lost last November’s elections in Virginia, and about how people from different political persuasions view the January 6 riot and its aftermath, looking at research that Brian and Kristen themselves have conducted.
I think it’s going to be really interesting. And of course, if you subscribe to the show today, you’ll see the new episode in your feed next week.
That’s all for today! I’ll have a note for you tomorrow on love and marriage, which are very serious matters indeed. And then we can talk more about politics next week.
Had to pause midway to do some family stuff but really enjoying.
Megan's comment that she was expecting more competency from govt is really telling of really how disappointing all this is.. given her libertarian foundations. Her expectations were low and should have been met.
Important to remember other govts elsewhere were more effective for different reasons at different things. In no way should this be a judgement on govt intervention universally but it's pretty damning for how we think about state use.
What gets to me the most about Psaki's eye rolls is that liberal governments should be begging to show us examples of the competency of state capacity. When I ran startups in b2b services I was literally begging folks to let me serve them in various ways. Begging for the opportunity to show them how well I could. As a private company I had the competency to serve the segments that could afford to pay for those services, but did not have the capacity to offer the services free or cheap enough for everyone to use them. Government shouldn't have this issue, since they should have the ultimate capacity in the economy.
"We can afford anything we can actually do"