Nobelist Phelps Opposes a Universal Basic Income, Since Recipients Might Miss the Fulfilment That Comes from Meaningful Work

UBI below stands for Universal Basic Income.

(p. C9) And yet Mr. Phelps, the winner of the 2006 Nobel Prize in economics and emeritus professor of political economy at Columbia University, is among the most lucid, passionate and original defenders of capitalism. (He is also the founding director of Columbia’s Center on Capitalism and Society.) He disparages European-style corporatist economies as being unsuited to dynamism or innovation. Progressives who’d claim him as their own would do well to remember that he takes a hostile view of the idea of a universal basic income.

In “My Journeys in Economic Theory,” Mr. Phelps declares that it is “disappointing that UBI”—embraced by such modish politicians as Andrew Yang and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez—“has not received widespread opposition.” The idea, if implemented, “would entice people and their children away from meaningful work and thus from a sense of involvement in the economy—society’s central project.”

It is this last, humane observation that distinguishes Mr. Phelps from the economists’ tribe, reflecting his belief that the nobility of capitalism lies in the chance it offers for prosperity and self-discovery on a national scale. He calls this phenomenon “mass flourishing,” words that make up the title of his late-in-life magnum opus, published in 2013 when he was 80.

. . .

It is apparent in his memoirs that Mr. Phelps wishes to be remembered most for his theories of the past two decades, which focus on the workplace and creativity. He believes that economists are mistaken in their supposition that the reward for work is pay alone. As he writes in “Dynamism” (2020), in America “it is very clear that work is central to a meaningful life.” People at all rungs of the economy “possess imagination and creativity,” and the modern economy is “a vast imaginarium” in which growth comes from “creativity within the workforce.”

Mr. Phelps underscores a connection between economic growth and job satisfaction. He urges economists “not to stop at the standard theory” but to explore an “uncharted realm” of human desires and fulfillments. There’s more to life than capital, mere employment and national income. And certainly more to economics.

For the full review, see:

Tunku Varadarajan. “On the Way to the Nobel, and After.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, May 13, 2023): C9.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date May 12, 2023, and has the title “‘My Journeys in Economic Theory’ Review: A Creative Nobelist.”)

The book under review is:

Phelps, Edmund S. My Journeys in Economic Theory. New York: Columbia University Press, 2023.

Phelps’s magnum opus, mentioned above, is:

Phelps, Edmund S. Mass Flourishing: How Grassroots Innovation Created Jobs, Challenge, and Change. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2013.

Banning the SAT as Racist Is an Insult “Against Black Intelligence”

The soundness of Prof. McWhorter’s argument is neither increased nor decreased by the fact that he is black. His courage in stating the argument is increased by the fact that he is black.

(p. 4) . . . lately, evidence has mounted, steadily, that the SAT is in fact useful in demonstrating students’ abilities regardless of their economic backgrounds or the quality of their high schools. Some studies show scores correlate with student performance in college more strongly than high-school grades, and that without the standardized test data it is harder to identify Black, Latino and lower-income white kids who would likely thrive in elite universities.

. . .

The SAT as racist, objectivity as white privilege, making academic training easier to attract Black majors and graduate students — there is a family relationship between them. Namely, an assumption that it is graceless or unfair to require Black people to grapple with detail, solve puzzles and make sense of the unfamiliar. At least, we are not to be expected to engage in such things nearly as much as, say, white people.

. . .

I’m sorry, but I find this a diminished, not to mention depressing, and downright boring racial self-image. It just doesn’t correspond with so very much that Black people do, and are, and seek and always have.

. . .

No coherent admissions assessment would use the SAT as the sole measure of an applicant’s potential. However, the elimination of such tests from the process is less a favor to than an insult leveled against Black intelligence.

For the full commentary, see:

John McWhorter. “No, the SAT Isn’t Racist.” The New York Times, SundayOpinion Section (Sunday, March 17, 2024): 4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date March 14, 2024, and has the title “The Best Way to Find Out if We Can Cool the Planet.”)

Most Illegal Immigrants to the U.S. Correctly Believe That They Will Be Able to Stay Forever

(p. A1) Today, people from around the globe are streaming across the southern border, most of them just as eager to work. But rather than trying to elude U.S. authorities, the overwhelming majority of migrants seek out border agents, sometimes waiting hours or days in makeshift encampments, to surrender.

. . .

In December [2023] alone, more than 300,000 people crossed the southern border, a record number.

It is not just because they believe they will be able to make it across the 2,000 mile southern frontier. They are also certain that once they make it to the United States they will be able to stay.

Forever.

And by and large, they are not wrong.

For the full commentary, see:

Miriam Jordan. “Most Migrants Arrive Believing They Can Stay.” The New York Times (Thursday, February 1, 2024): A1 & A13.

(Note: ellipsis, and bracketed year, added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Jan. 31, 2024, and has the title “One Big Reason Migrants Are Coming in Droves: They Believe They Can Stay.”)

Musk Fights for Right of Individuals in Sweden to Enter into Contracts

(p. A15) Sweden is the West’s most corporatist society. Powerful interest groups, often described as “social partners,” use collective bargaining to set rents for apartments and wages earned in labor markets.

This model is being challenged by Tesla CEO Elon Musk, who is refusing to enter into collective wage agreements with Swedish trade unions. The unions have responded with strikes and blockades on Tesla operations in the country.

. . .

Liberal democracy presupposes fundamental rights and freedoms. Some of these, such as the freedoms of opinion, press and expression, are enshrined in the Swedish constitution. But the right of the individual to enter into contracts isn’t similarly guaranteed.

. . .

Liberal democracy is being threatened globally by growing populist and illiberal movements. The government in Stockholm should counteract this threat by strengthening people’s individual rights and freedoms in the Swedish constitution. If this happens, Mr. Musk will have given Sweden a great gift.

For the full commentary, see:

Lars Jonung. “Musk Fights Sweden’s Unions.” The Wall Street Journal (Wednesday, February 14, 2024): A15.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date February 13, 2024, and has the same title as the print version.)

Dissenters from Orthodoxy Can Be Easily Blackballed When They Are Required to Write Diversity Statements

(p. A15) Amidst the explosion of university diversity, equity and inclusion policies, Texas Tech’s biology department adopted its own DEI motion promising to “require and strongly weight a diversity statement from all candidates.”

. . .

The biology department’s motion mandates that every search committee issue a report on its diversity statement evaluations. Through a Freedom of Information Act request, I have acquired the evaluations of more than a dozen job candidates.

To my knowledge, these documents—published in redacted form by the National Association of Scholars—are the first evaluations of prospective faculty DEI contributions to be made publicly available. They confirm what critics of DEI statements have long argued: That they inevitably act as ideological litmus tests.

One Texas Tech search committee penalized a candidate for espousing race-neutrality in teaching. The candidate “mentioned that DEI is not an issue because he respects his students and treats them equally,” the evaluation notes. “This indicates a lack of understanding of equity and inclusion issues.”

. . .

The biology department’s search committees also rewarded fluency in the language of identity politics. An immunology candidate was praised for awareness of the problems of “unconscious bias.” “Inclusivity in lab” was listed as a virology candidate’s strength: “her theme will be diversity, and she will actively work to creating the culture—e.g. enforce code of conduct, prevent microaggressions etc.”   . . .

Many critics rightly point out that diversity statements invite viewpoint discrimination. DEI connotes a set of highly contestable social and political views. Requiring faculty to catalog their commitment to those views necessarily blackballs anybody who dissents from an orthodoxy that has nothing to do with scientific competence.

For the full commentary, see:

John D. Sailer. “How ‘Diversity’ Policing Fails Science.” The Wall Street Journal (Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2023 [sic]): A15.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date February 6, 2023 [sic], and has the same title as the print version.)

Campus D.E.I. Perpetuates “a Strong Political Orientation Bias”

(p. A24) The same week that a U.C. Berkeley protest ended in violence, with doors broken, people allegedly injured, a guest lecture organized by Jewish students canceled and attendees evacuated by the police through an underground passageway, a group of academics gathered across the bay at Stanford to discuss restoring inclusive civil discourse on campus. The underlying question: In today’s heated political environment, is that even possible?

. . .

Hosted by Stanford Law School and the Stanford Graduate School of Education, the conference brought together professors, deans and academic leaders who were largely liberal, with libertarians and a few conservatives and progressives in the mix. Unfortunately, one of the organizers told me, most of the invited progressives, which is to say the group that currently dominates campus debates, refused to come.

. . .

Amna Khalid, a historian at Carleton College, endorsed the goal of diversifying staffs. The problem isn’t principle or legality, she said; it’s practice. Diversity according to whom? And in what context?

“It’s always ‘historically excluded and underrepresented,’” she said. “But historically when? Conservatives could argue they have been historically excluded. What’s underrepresented at Hillsdale College will be different from what’s underrepresented in the U.C. system.”

“We all know that there’s a strong political orientation bias being perpetuated,” she continued. “‘Not a good fit,’ they’ll say. It’s fundamentally dishonest, and it creates more problems than it addresses.”

. . .

“What they want are non-straights, nonwhites and non-men,” said Musa al-Gharbi, a sociologist at Stony Brook University. “But they don’t say it that way. There’s a lack of forthrightness that breaks people in these situations.” In his field, men are underrepresented, and queer scholarship is overrepresented. “But it strains credulity to say that anyone would read a D.E.I. statement about someone’s queer work and say that’s an overrepresented group.”

For the full story, see:

Pamela Paul. “Civil Discourse on Campus Is Put to the Test.” The New York Times (Friday, March 8, 2024): A24.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date March 7, 2024, and has the same title as the print version.)

Social Security Administration Is Lax in Stopping Fraud and Slow in Aiding Fraud Victims

(p. A1) For the past two decades, Liz Birenbaum’s 88-year-old mother, Marge, has received her Social Security check on the second Wednesday of each month. It’s her sole source of income, which pays for her room at a long-term care center, where she landed last October after having a stroke.

When the deposit didn’t arrive in January [2024], they logged into Marge’s Social Security account, where they found some startling clues: the last four digits of a bank account number that didn’t match her own, at a bank they didn’t recognize.

“Someone had gotten in,” said Ms. Birenbaum, of Chappaqua, N.Y. “Then I hit a panic button.”

It quickly became evident that a fraudster had redirected the $2,452 benefit to an unknown Citibank account. Marge, who lives in Minnesota, had never banked there. (Ms. Birenbaum requested to refer to her mother by her first name only to protect her from future fraud.)

Ms. Birenbaum immediately started making calls to set things right. When she finally connected with a Social Security representative from a local office in a Bloomington, Minn., the rep casually mentioned that this happens “all the time.”

“I was stunned,” Ms. Birenbaum said.

. . .

(p. A18) It can be a lucrative fraud, and a devastating benefit to lose. An estimated $33.5 million in benefits — intended for nearly 21,000 beneficiaries — were redirected in a five-year period ending in May 2018, according to the most recent audit from the Office of the Inspector General, an independent group responsible for overseeing investigations and audits at the agency. Another $23.9 million in fraudulent redirects were prevented before they happened over the same time period.

“Fraudsters were able to obtain sufficient information about a true beneficiary to convince the Social Security Administration that they were that beneficiary,” said Jeffrey Brown, a deputy assistant inspector general at the Office of the Inspector General, who analyzed the issue in 2019. “Once they were in the front door, they were able to change their direct deposits.”

. . .

Just months before Marge’s benefits were redirected, the O.I.G. issued a report that said the administration’s portal, called my Social Security, did not fully comply with federal requirements for identity verification: It said it didn’t go far enough to verify and validate new registrants’ identities, in all cases.

. . .

The issue would have been impossible for someone like Marge to rectify on her own. It was challenging enough for Ms. Birenbaum, a marketing consultant, and her brother, based near their mother in a Minneapolis suburb, who worked together to recover the benefits and secure Marge’s account.

Ms. Birenbaum — who reported the crime to the O.I.G. and the F.B.I. and alerted her state and federal representatives — once spent two and a half hours on hold with the Social Security Administration before connecting with a regional case worker. The rep was able to see that her mother’s direct deposit information had been altered in early December, the month before the benefits vanished.

Ms. Birenbaum’s brother visited their mother’s local Social Security office and became Marge’s “representative payee,” which allows him to handle her affairs (Social Security does not accept powers of attorney). They had to find ways to make the correction without bringing Marge to the office, which Ms. Birenbaum said would have been a “herculean task.”

Marge received the missing money on March 1, [2024] about a month and a half after they discovered the problem.

For the full story, see:

Tara Siegel Bernard. “Internet Thieves Drain Social Security Accounts.” The New York Times (Saturday, March 9, 2024): A1 & A18.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed years, added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the same date as the print version, and has the title “How Fraudsters Break Into Social Security Accounts and Steal Benefits.”)

“’The Bear’ Soars” With “The Chemistry of a Frantic Workplace” and the “Camaraderie” of “A Common Goal”

We are about halfway through the second season of “The Bear.” A lot of current shows are cliché-laden, woke, clones of each other. This one is not perfect (constant f-bombs are jarring), but the show is funny and intense and different. I like its sincere intensity. Carmy is intense about getting a job done well. He has flaws, as do the other characters, as do all classical heroes (see The Odyssey). But they keep trying, they keep showing up. In the end, the food matters. The sous chef comes to work for Carmy because she knows he is great at what he does, and can drive her toward greatness. When the sous chef at random times and places has an idea for a new dish, she pulls out her pad and writes notes. Deirdre McCloskey says we all should do that. Robert Loring Allen in Opening Doors says Schumpeter used to stop in the middle of a walk and jot notes before moving on–and his students would laugh at him. Let them laugh.

(p. C3) It’s jarring to watch the aggressive workaholism of “The Bear” amid the current reconsideration of work and work-life balance that’s been happening since the pandemic. Not a day passes without a new account of employees re-evaluating priorities; frustrated bosses urging staffers back to their offices; or social media phenomena like “quiet quitting” and “lazy girl jobs,” which really are rejections of wanton careerism.

. . .

At the same time, everyone’s in. No one’s “quiet quitting.” “The Bear” soars when it depicts the chemistry of a frantic workplace with camaraderie and a common goal. There is no place these characters would rather be, no people they’d rather be with. (One of the most poignant moments is when Sydney stops what she’s doing to make a harried co-worker an omelet.) They have found purpose—even Cousin Richie, who, in the season’s best episode, apprentices at a sleek Michelin three-star restaurant and discovers a talent for customer service, not to mention an upgraded taste in clothing.

“I wear suits now,” Richie says upon his return. Casual Fridays be damned!

Even a non-chef can appreciate this vibe. “The Bear” made me nostalgic for a time, before the (delightful!) arrival of family and children, when I lived alone, kept a refrigerator barren but for a jar of mustard, existed in my own self-absorbed, work-crazed head, socializing only with other self-absorbed work crazies.

For the full review, see:

Jason Gay. “What ‘The Bear’ Says About The Work-Life Revolution.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, July 29, 2023): C3.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date July 28, 2023, and has the title “‘I’m a Psycho’—What ‘The Bear’ Says About the Work-Life Revolution.”)

“If You Burn Out, Relight the Fire”

(p. A11) Dr. Gladys McGarey, 103, continues to consult, give talks and podcast interviews after nearly eight decades in the medical field. She started an Instagram account that has nearly 47,000 followers.

“If you burn out, relight the fire,” says McGarey. She ran a clinic while raising six children and had to start a new one when her husband and clinic partner left her when she was 69 and married one of their colleagues.

. . .

Not everyone wants to work in their later years, says Dr. Robert Waldinger, a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.

“It’s not burnout. It’s just ‘I don’t want to do this anymore,’ ” says Waldinger, director of the Harvard Study of Adult Development, a longitudinal study on how people thrive.

As people get older, they are better at discerning what really matters, he says, and what they can let go of. The goal isn’t necessarily an 80-year career, but finding purpose in whatever we chose to do in our 80s and beyond, whether that is taking care of a grandchild, playing the piano, or joining a community theater.

For many, there is passion, purpose and love in the work.

. . .

Like others who have remained engaged in their careers in their later years, she says the secret is to find things that make life important and our “hearts sing.”

For the full commentary, see:

Clare Ansberry. “At 103, Work Still Makes Heart Sing.” The Wall Street Journal (Wednesday, Jan. 3, 2024): A11.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date December 29, 2023, and has the title “TURNING POINTS; How to Work—and Love It—Into Your 80s and Beyond.”)

The memoir by McGarey mentioned above is:

McGarey, Gladys. The Well-Lived Life: A 102-Year-Old Doctor’s Six Secrets to Health and Happiness at Every Age. New York: Atria Books, 2023.

In Managing Workers Firms Should “Experiment with New Forms of Freedom”

(p. C1) In a classic 1958 lecture, the philosopher Isaiah Berlin distinguished between two types of freedom. Negative liberty is freedom from obstacles and interference by others. Positive liberty is freedom to control your own destiny and shape your own life. If we want to maximize net freedom in the future of work, we need to expand both positive and negative liberty.

The debate about whether work should be in-person, remote-first or hybrid is too narrow. Yes, people want the freedom to decide where they work. But they also want the freedom to decide who they work with, what they work on and when they work. Real flexibility is having autonomy to choose your people, your purpose and your priorities.

. . .

(p. C2) We need boundaries to protect individual focus time too.

. . .

One effective strategy seems to be blocking quiet time in the mornings as a window for deep work, and then coming together after lunch. When virtual meetings are held in the afternoon, people are less likely to multitask—probably in part because they’ve been able to make progress on their own tasks.

. . .

Flexible work is here to stay, but companies that resist it may not be. One of the biggest mistakes I saw companies make before Covid was failing to experiment with new forms of freedom.

For the full commentary, see:

Adam Grant. “The Real Meaning of Freedom at Work.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, Oct. 9, 2021 [sic]): C1-C2.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary was updated October 8, 2021 [sic], and has the same title as the print version.)

If Standards of Merit Are Too Narrow, the Solution Is to Improve Them, Not to Reject Merit

(p. A17) In recent decades, . . ., it has become clear that the definition of merit reflected in quantitative standards was too narrow and created new forms of exclusion. This has led some thinkers to reject the idea of merit and view it as an affront to individual equality and social solidarity.

This overreaction is wrong in theory and damaging in practice. Whenever the ability to do a task well matters, so does merit. Our current challenge is not to discard merit, but rather to understand it better—and use this new understanding to extend opportunities to all who can take advantage of it.

For the full commentary, see:

William A. Galston. “POLITICS & IDEAS; Merit Means More Than Grades and Tests.” The Wall Street Journal (Wednesday, July 26, 2023): A17.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date July 25, 2023, and has the same title as the print version.)