This week: a conversation with economist Mark Blyth about all kinds of subjects. Listen today at 2 pm, or anytime at our website.
Approaching the end of 2021, the time seemed right to check in with Open Source favorite Mark Blyth, the economist from Brown University. This week, we go back to the sonic pub with Blyth, zooming through subjects from inflation to cryptocurrency to American electoral politics.
Early in the hour, Blyth says of the Democrats and Biden:
They can’t advertise what they’re doing because, as usual, the Democrats have turned into a circular firing squad. And you’ve got Joe Manchin on one thing gutting the clean electricity proposal, which means that Biden has nothing to go with when he goes to COP26. And on the other side, you’ve got the left basically saying, “Unless we invent a European welfare state and graft it on your infrastructure bill, we’re not going to pass anything.” Meanwhile, voters are looking around, going, “Weren’t you guys promising to do all this stuff? And what about all that racial justice stuff that you got animated about?”
And then Blyth describes a brick wall of an obstacle:
You have to remember that 70% of Republicans seem to believe—in surveys, at least—the election was stolen. It’s really hard to get past that . . . Imagine we’re talking about Europe, and I said, “You know, there’s a country in Europe where they’re really, really in trouble.”
And you go, “Oh, how’s that?”
“Well, imagine that there’s an election that’s pretty close. Really high turnout. Seems to be totally above board, all the international observers say it’s fine, but the guy who lost is like, ‘No, that was stolen,’ and he’d been seeding the ground for months for it being stolen. And there’s this whole information infrastructure out there saying it’s stolen, and 70% of the people who voted for that party actually think it was stolen. What do you think is going to happen the next time they have an election? Do you think they’re going to be OK with the result if they lose again?”
The conversation goes from the instability of our politics to the questionable world of cryptocurrency. Blyth says:
To take the case of Bitcoin, I mean, I think of the figure is something like 85 percent of all Bitcoin’s owned by about 29 wallets. So what happens is essentially every now and again, one of those wallets opens up and showers some Bitcoin at the common people, and the common people go, “Aaaaaahhh Bitcoin Bitcoin,” and they buy Bitcoin and the price goes up and the wallets that are there have earned even more money again. So to me, the whole thing seems to be like a giant scam. But nonetheless, people think it has value, and the fact is, if you bought Bitcoin when it was very, very cheap and it’s now 50 grand a coin, you have every right to turn around and call everyone else who didn’t an idiot. If that’s your metric of success.
Read: Of Bridges
From Thomas Harrison’s new book, Of Bridges:
Wherever we turn we find ourselves connected—to our families, careers, and the paths that we travel. The twenty-first century finds us stretched out more than ever, plugged into seemingly unending networks and matters of concern. On the one hand this condition presents unprecedented opportunities for interaction and cooperative democracy; on the other it creates an openness difficult to control, evoking cries for more borders and deep retrenchments. The more connected we are, the more we become prone to an anxiety of access. What promises to produce connection often does not. And then, with all these external bridges, what bonds do we forge inside, in the inner world of subjectivity? Though bridges are the very issue of our time, we have not thought hard enough about what they are, and what they need to be.
Listen: Vitamin C
A new Paul Thomas Anderson movie is on the way, with a title (Licorice Pizza) suggesting vinyl records, which might prompt reflection on songs in Anderson’s movies in general. “Vitamin C,” from the experimental German band Can, is pretty striking; it’s in Inherent Vice, the most bonkers and expansive movie, so far, in an expansive career.
This week’s ephemeral library
Richard Serra and Ai Weiwi vs. Sackler. The coup has already started.Why Does Biden Feel So Stuck? A Secretive Hedge Fund is Gutting Newsrooms. How to Care Less About Work. John Lanchester with a Covid roundup. The Lobster Trap.
That’s it for this week, this folks. Stay tuned for a long end of the year gab with our pal Randy Kennedy. Thanks for listening!
Your OS not-so-dismal scientists.