Transcript of Political Economy Podcast Interview with Arthur Diamond on Openness to Creative Destruction

The lightly edited transcript was posted on July 30, 2020 on the American Enterprise Institute web site.

Yesterday Jim Pethokoukis posted a lightly edited transcript of my conversation with him on his American Enterprise…

Posted by Arthur Diamond on Friday, July 31, 2020

“The Ever-Evolving Standards of Wokeness”

(p. A6) . . . I was pleased this month when “Hamilton” became available to watch on the streaming service Disney+. But now the show is being criticized for its portrayal of the American Founding by many of the same people who once gushed about it. Is it a coincidence that affluent people loved “Hamilton” when tickets were prohibitively expensive, but they disparage it now that ordinary people can see it?

. . .

The upper classes are driven to distinguish themselves from the little people even beyond art. This explains the ever-evolving standards of wokeness. To become acculturated into the elite requires knowing the habits, customs and manners of the upper class. Ideological purity tests now exist to indicate social class and block upward social mobility. Your opinion about social issues is the new powdered wig. In universities and in professional jobs, political correctness is a weapon used by white-collar professionals to weed out those who didn’t marinate in elite mores.

. . .

To understand the neologisms and practices of social justice, you need a bachelor’s degree from an expensive college. A common refrain to those who are not fully up to date on the latest fashions is “Educate yourself.” This is a way of keeping down people who work multiple jobs, have children to care for, and don’t have the time or means to read the latest woke bestseller.

For the full commentary, see:

Rob Henderson. “‘Hamilton’ Loses Its Snob Appeal.” The Wall Street Journal (Weds., July 15, 2020): A19.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date June 14, 2020, and has the same title as the print version.)

Blacks in Detroit Have Public Transit to Die For

(p. A1) DETROIT — Paris Banks sprayed the seat with Lysol before sliding into the last row on the right. Rochell Brown put out her cigarette, tucked herself behind the steering wheel and slapped the doors shut.

It was 8:37 a.m., and the No. 17 bus began chugging westward across Detroit.

. . .

This hardscrabble city, where nearly 80 percent of residents are black, has become a national hot spot with more than 7,000 infections and more than 400 deaths. One reason for the rapid spread, experts say, is that the city has a large working-class population that does not have the luxury of living in isolation. Their jobs cannot be performed from a laptop in a living room. They do not have vehicles to safely get them to the grocery store.

(p. A12) And so they end up on a bus. Just like the No. 17 — a reluctant yet essential gathering place, and also a potential accelerant for a pandemic that has engulfed Detroit.

For the full story, see:

John Eligon. “No Choice but Shoulder to Shoulder on the Bus.” The New York Times (Thursday, April 16, 2020): A1 & A12-A13.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story was updated April 16, 2020, and has the title “Rolling Through the Pandemic.”)

Despite Global Trading Routes, in Year 1000 Most Ordinary People Rejected the Unfamiliar

(p. C8) Valerie Hansen’s “The Year 1000: When Explorers Connected the World—and Globalization Began” is a gripping account of exploration and ingenuity, sweeping across the economic alliances and great networks of trade that connected disparate regions around the globe. By touching down in different parts of the world at that precise moment, Ms. Hansen reveals the social and economic changes that linked individuals and societies in astonishing ways.

. . .

People navigated along the trading routes from China to the Persian Gulf and East Africa, and from Scandinavia to North America and the Caspian Sea, long before da Gama, Magellan and Columbus. But for most ordinary people life was still circumscribed. Globalization in 1000 may have opened the world to rulers—and busy ports and cities like Quanzhou and Bukhara may have hosted culturally and religiously diverse populations—but there was little sense of a wider, cosmopolitan embrace of a common humanity. “The most important lesson we can learn from our forebears is how best to react to the unfamiliar,” Ms. Hansen writes. “Those who remained open to the unfamiliar did much better than those who rejected anything new.”

For the full review, see:

Karin Altenberg. “Setting The Globe Spinning.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, May 23, 2020): C8.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date May 22, 2020, and has the title “The Year 1000’ Review: Setting the Globe Spinning.”)

The book under review is:

Hansen, Valerie. The Year 1000: When Explorers Connected the World—and Globalization Began. New York: Scribner, 2020.

More Blacks Die of Covid-19 Partly Due to Greater Use of Public Transit

(p. A7) African-Americans may be dying at higher rates than white people from Covid-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, in part because of black people’s heavier reliance on public transportation for commuting, two new studies by economists suggest.

One of the studies, by University of Virginia economist John McLaren, found that the racial discrepancy remained even after controlling for income or insurance rates. Instead, Mr. McLaren found the gap was due in part to the fact that black workers are more likely to get to work via public transit, including subways and buses.

About 10.4% of black commuters take public transit, versus 3.4% of white commuters, according to the Census. After controlling for the use of public transit, Mr. McLaren finds the racial disparity in Covid-19 deaths is less pronounced.

. . .

The other study, by Christopher Knittel and Bora Ozaltun, both of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, found that a 10% increase in the share of a county’s residents who use public transit versus those who telecommute raised Covid-19 death rates by 1.21 per 1,000 people when looking at counties around the U.S.—or by 0.48 per 1,000 people when focusing only on counties within individual states. In their analysis, the researchers controlled for race, income, age, climate and other characteristics.

For the full story, see:

David Harrison. “Virus Deaths Linked to Transit.” The Wall Street Journal (Monday, June 29, 2020): A7.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date June 28, 2020, and has the title “Public Transit Use Is Associated With Higher Coronavirus Death Rates, Researchers Find.”)

The first academic study mentioned above, is:

McLaren, John. “Racial Disparity in Covid-19 Deaths: Seeking Economic Roots with Census Data.” National Bureau of Economic Research, NBER Working Paper #27407, June 2020.

The second academic study mentioned above, is:

Knittel, Christopher R., and Bora Ozaltun. “What Does and Does Not Correlate with Covid-19 Death Rates.” National Bureau of Economic Research, NBER Working Paper #27391, June 2020.

Covid-19 Caused Mass Transit Use to “Plummet by 80%” or More

(p. D1) Fears of being exposed to germs in cramped underground spaces have reportedly caused mass transit ridership to plummet by 80% in urban centers such as Milan and San Francisco—and by up to 96% in hot spots including New York, Washington, D.C., and Paris. When they head back to their corner offices, car-shunning members of the C-suite set might be more likely to commute in prudent solitude on electric bikes than to trudge up subway steps.

“No one wants to be in a dirty cab. We don’t want to be on a bus or subway. People want their own mode of transportation that they control,” said Michael Burtov, author of “The Evergreen Startup.” Mr. Burtov, who works with entrepreneurs as part of MIT’s Enterprise Forum, also noted a severe dip in usage of shared bikes and scooters; who yearns to spend an afternoon wiping down handlebars or riding in gloves? “For individualized modes of transportation, which are affordable and really efficient, it’s a renaissance.”

To wit, Seattle’s Rad Power Bikes recently announced that sales had leapt nearly 300% this April compared with the same period in 2019. Its Dutch competitor VanMoof claimed a similar growth of 264% for the first half of 2020 compared with the same six months last year.

For the full story, see:

Matthew Kitchen. “Wanted: A Safer Commute.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, June 27, 2020): D1.

(Note: the online version of the story has the same date as the print version, and has the title “Wary of Subways? 6 Electric Options for a Solo Work Commute.”)

The book by Burtov, mentioned above, is:

Burtov, Michael. The Evergreen Startup: The Entrepreneur’s Playbook for Everything from Venture Capital to Equity Crowdfunding. Hypercritical Publishing, 2020.

Quarantine Conditions Conspire Against “Flow”

(p. A24) Because I’m a mother, and because I once wrote a book about modern parenthood, I’ve spent a lot of time these days trying to diagnose why it is, exactly, that the nerves of so many parents have been torn to ribbons in the age of quarantine.

. . .

. . . : “Flow” is that heavenly state of total absorption in a project. Your sense of time vanishes; it’s just you and the task at hand, whether it’s painting or sinking shots through a basketball hoop.

It turns out that flow is critical to our well-being during this strange time of self-exile. A few weeks ago I spoke to Kate Sweeny, a professor of psychology at the University of California, Riverside, who recently collaborated on a survey of 5,115 people under quarantine in China. To her surprise, the people who best tolerated their confinement were not the most mindful or optimistic; they were the ones who’d found the most flow. She suspected it was why Americans have spent the last two months baking bread and doing puzzles. “They’re intuitively seeking out flow activities,” she said.

Flow, unfortunately, is rare in family life. The father of flow research, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, told me so point-blank when I wrote my book. When kids are small, their developing brains actually conspire against flow, because they’re wired to sweep in as much stimuli as possible, rather than to focus; even when they’re older, they’re still churning windmills of need.

And that’s during the best of times. Now, not only are we looking after our children, an inherently non-flow activity, and not only are we supervising their schoolwork and recreational pursuits — two things we used to outsource — but we’re working.

You need a stretch of continuous, unmolested time to do good work. Instead, your day is a torrent of interruptions, endlessly divided and subdivided, a Zeno’s paradox of infinite tasks. There’s no flow at all.

For the full commentary, see:

Jennifer Senior. “We’re Not Really Parenting. We’re Managing Parenthood in a Pandemic.” The New York Times (Monday, May 25, 2020): A24.

(Note: ellipses added; italics in original.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date May 24, 2020, and the title “Camp Is Canceled. Three More Months of Family Time. Help.”)

The book Senior mentions above, is:

Senior, Jennifer. All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2014.