Where’s My Flying Car?

This week on The Big Show, we attempt to return to some sense of normalcy (while of course maintaining social distancing by at least 1,000 miles). Yes, we talk about that thing we’re all doing and what our new lives are like now. But then, we shift gears to visit with our good friend Ross Douthat, NYT columnist and podcaster (The Argument, which Ross co-hosts is one of our favorites) on the occasion of his new book., The Decadent Society. It’s a meditation on what happens when a rich and powerful society stops advancing and how the combination of wealth, technology, economic stagnation, political stalemates, and demographic decline (among other things) creates a “sustainable decadence” that could stick around for a long time. Needless to say, it’s a provocative conversation that we’d like to get your take on in the comments. Finally, we do round of What Are You Watching,  and do a deep dive on toilet paper, courtesy of the Lileks Post of The Week.

Music from this week’s show: I.G.Y by Donald Fagen

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  1. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVeyJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Between Fred MacMurray in “The Absent-Minded Professor” and Bob Gale writing “Back to the Future”, I’d say Hollywood conservatives are expert at small town science fiction comedies with flying cars in them. 

    • #1
    • April 3, 2020, at 3:28 PM PDT
    • 6 likes
  2. kedavis Member

    Oh, no; “A Meditation?”

     

    • #2
    • April 3, 2020, at 4:35 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  3. kedavis Member

    Sorry James, I think this is #490.

    • #3
    • April 3, 2020, at 4:41 PM PDT
    • Like
  4. kedavis Member

    Peter isn’t talking about his own children this time, but it still sounds like “Yes, we should do everything possible to control this awful disease, as long as it doesn’t cost any money.”

    • #4
    • April 3, 2020, at 4:47 PM PDT
    • Like
  5. kedavis Member

    Regarding the problem of declining population, this interview with Mark Steyn, from 2006!, still covers it better than anything I’ve heard elsewhere.

    https://www.adrive.com/public/DS9Nut/NARN%2012-02-06%20NARN%201%20Hour%202%20Mark%20Steyn.mp3

    • #5
    • April 3, 2020, at 5:24 PM PDT
    • Like
  6. Henry Racette Contributor

    At about the 15 minute mark, when Rob is explaining how “in good times we love our bureaucrats,” and says that “especially the conservatives need to do some soul searching here,” I had a little epiphany. Like most epiphanies, it’s the kind of thing that, once seen, seems it must have always been obvious. Rob doesn’t understand conservatives.

    Oh, I think he understands conservatism just fine. He’s a smart, educated, clever man, obviously. But he’s way off-key in his assessment of typical Americans — “especially the conservatives” — and what they really think.

    Now I don’t know why a bi-coastal Ivy League New York-to-LA Hollywood screen writer wouldn’t have a better handle on middle American sensibilities. That’s just a mystery to me. But there it is. And some other aspects of the Long view (to coin a phrase) make a little more sense, now that I see this.

    Hat tip to James for, as always, being an eloquent voice of reason.

     

    • #6
    • April 3, 2020, at 7:34 PM PDT
    • 12 likes
  7. Al Sparks Thatcher

    So at the beginning of the podcast, the first 20 minutes or so, Rob starts out talking about New York City residents opening their windows at 7pm and banging their pots and pans in support of the EMS and other medical workers in the city. Peggy Noonan mentioned that in her latest Wall Street Journal column.

    Then Peter says enough of this happy talk, and he mentioned that Rob might want to slug him, but…..

    Here’s my theory about Rob after listening to him about this on his various podcasts. Rob and Peggy Noonan, who by the way both reside in New York City, love that the country is being mobilized. I think both of them hate the virus itself, but actually love the mobilization. That’s their silver lining. Maybe a depression would also bring out that sense of mobilization too, another silver lining. And Rob doesn’t really like that Peter is speaking against that. That Peter doesn’t get the real benefits (or what Rob thinks are the real benefits).

    Rob hasn’t expressed this feeling very well, but if you want someone who has expressed it better, read Peggy Noonan. Especially her last WSJ column (behind a paywall) which was a rah-rah piece on how New York is going to beat this thing. She is all for these measures.

    As for the discussion on whether the governors have the legal powers to do what they’re doing, I think they do from a federal viewpoint, though maybe with some states the various state constitutions they work under might prohibit it or limit it. From a practical viewpoint, they have overwhelming support at the moment.

    As for the courts getting involved, they’re going to be gun shy. I think every state and federal judge looked very closely at where the Governor of Ohio ignored a court order from a state judge. There was some face saving where the state supreme court issued a stay, or simply ruled against that state judge, but during a time like this the courts are actually in a very weak position and they know it. Until the public starts turning against these measures, the courts are going to be hands off, especially when it comes to broad injunctions against the state or federal executive.

    Getting back to Peter’s complaint about that park closure he’s mad about, there will come a time when a lot of people are going to ignore those types of closures. And the cops and officers in the National Guard know that if they start shooting, they will likely end up in jail.

    Going back to the Kent State shootings, none of those National Guard members did go to jail. But the legal climate towards holding both law enforcement and the military accountable has changed since 1969, and they also know it.

    • #7
    • April 3, 2020, at 7:39 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  8. James Lileks Contributor

    kedavis (View Comment):

    Sorry James, I think this is #490.

    Argh

    • #8
    • April 3, 2020, at 7:39 PM PDT
    • Like
  9. James Lileks Contributor

    LOVE the illo, even if I am Elroy. Couldn’t be avoided, unless Peter had been a British music-hall version of Rosie with a knotted sweater, to call back to something from a hundred eps ago. 

    If we ever have Tom Nichols on again, he can be Uniblab. 

    • #9
    • April 3, 2020, at 7:43 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  10. kedavis Member

    Rob didn’t make his argument very well, but there is a good argument to be made there. James says he doesn’t like bureaucrats, but it’s bureaucrats who do a lot of things that help keep him and his family safe, such as licensing doctors etc. And maybe James would drive at reasonable speeds and stay on one side of the street etc, even if no bureaucrats ever made those rules. But what about people who fancy themselves as “mavericks” and “free men” etc? It may be easy to believe that most people are responsible etc, and so bureaucrats are just power-mad and party-poopers etc, but James has been around long enough, and worked in journalism long enough, to know better. 

    • #10
    • April 3, 2020, at 8:06 PM PDT
    • Like
  11. kedavis Member

    James Lileks (View Comment):

    LOVE the illo, even if I am Elroy. Couldn’t be avoided, unless Peter had been a British music-hall version of Rosie with a knotted sweater, to call back to something from a hundred eps ago.

    If we ever have Tom Nichols on again, he can be Uniblab.

    Just be glad none of you was Jane, or Judy. :-)

    • #11
    • April 3, 2020, at 8:11 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  12. Henry Racette Contributor

    kedavis (View Comment):

    Rob didn’t make his argument very well, but there is a good argument to be made there. James says he doesn’t like bureaucrats, but it’s bureaucrats who do a lot of things that help keep him and his family safe, such as licensing doctors etc. And maybe James would drive at reasonable speeds and stay on one side of the street etc, even if no bureaucrats ever made those rules. But what about people who fancy themselves as “mavericks” and “free men” etc? It may be easy to believe that most people are responsible etc, and so bureaucrats are just power-mad and party-poopers etc, but James has been around long enough, and worked in journalism long enough, to know better.

    I disagree. Rob wasn’t merely suggesting that we like the security and stability that comes from a social order maintained by sensible laws — a basic legal framework, traffic laws, licensing for certain critical professions, etc.

    Look at the examples he picked in his effort to support his position. “Conservatives never cut the big stuff. We like the big stuff. We like tariffs. We like it when it taxes the rich guy or taxes the other guy. We like it when it tells us when we can retire and how much to save for our retirement.”

    Well, no.

    He says we love the bureaucracy, but that “we pretend we don’t.” What Rob is doing is imputing hypocrisy, when what he’s really describing is the practical difficulty of dismantling a behemoth when entrenched interests make its dismantling almost impossible, and the compromise most of us accept of voting for the least evil we think we can elect. That’s not the same as conservatives gleefully voting for their own flavor of pork while protesting everyone else’s. But that’s the image Rob is invoking.

    We aren’t very good at shrinking the state. We all know that. But I disagree with Rob that the problem is that conservatives really want a bigger state, just like non-conservatives do.

    • #12
    • April 3, 2020, at 8:24 PM PDT
    • 8 likes
  13. Al Sparks Thatcher

    Henry Racette (View Comment):

    Look at the examples he picked in his effort to support his position. “Conservatives never cut the big stuff. We like the big stuff. We like tariffs. We like it when it taxes the rich guy or taxes the other guy. We like it when it tells us when we can retire and how much to save for our retirement.”

    Well, no.

    Remember he calls himself right of center.

    The modern presidents that Rob probably identifies the most is Eisenhower and the two Bushes. They were called big government conservatives.

    • #13
    • April 3, 2020, at 8:31 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  14. Peter Robinson Founder

    Gary McVey (View Comment):

    Between Fred MacMurray in “The Absent-Minded Professor” and Bob Gale writing “Back to the Future”, I’d say Hollywood conservatives are expert at small town science fiction comedies with flying cars in them.

    Gary McVey. Even when it’s only a one-sentence post, he’s the right way to start the weekend.

    • #14
    • April 3, 2020, at 8:41 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  15. Peter Robinson Founder

    Henry Racette (View Comment):

    I had a little epiphany. Like most epiphanies, it’s the kind of thing that, once seen, seems it must have always been obvious.

    Milton Friedman used to say something very similar. I’m quoting from memory, but this is pretty close: “It’s the nature of a genuine insight that, the moment someone first expresses it, it seems obvious.”

     

     

    • #15
    • April 3, 2020, at 8:43 PM PDT
    • 5 likes
  16. kedavis Member

    Henry Racette (View Comment):

    ...

     

    I disagree. Rob wasn’t merely suggesting that we like the security and stability that comes from a social order maintained by sensible laws — a basic legal framework, traffic laws, licensing for certain critical professions, etc.

    Look at the examples he picked in his effort to support his position. “Conservatives never cut the big stuff. We like the big stuff. We like tariffs. We like it when it taxes the rich guy or taxes the other guy. We like it when it tells us when we can retire and how much to save for our retirement.”

    Well, no.

    He says we love the bureaucracy, but that “we pretend we don’t.” What Rob is doing is imputing hypocrisy, when what he’s really describing is the practical difficulty of dismantling a behemoth when entrenched interests make its dismantling almost impossible, and the compromise most of us accept of voting for the least evil we think we can elect. That’s not the same as conservatives gleefully voting for their own flavor of pork while protesting everyone else’s. But that’s the image Rob is invoking.

    We aren’t very good at shrinking the state. We all know that. But I disagree with Rob that the problem is that conservatives really want a bigger state, just like non-conservatives do.

    Well in that sense wasn’t really talking about “conservatives,” but he was probably accurate when it comes to liberals and the “centrists.” Which would be, of course, the majority of the total population. Even if only by a few percent.

    One difference between me and James could be that I really don’t believe most people are in much of a position to be as self-sufficient as they arguably should be, especially in THIS country. Maybe James – and you – have neighbors that don’t make you shake your head in sadness. But mine believe Biden would be handling corona perfectly, and they never heard of “dog-faced pony soldier” or any of his other insanity. And likely wouldn’t believe it if they had.

    • #16
    • April 3, 2020, at 8:56 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  17. kedavis Member

    And in the cases of my mother and one surviving uncle, if you tell them about Biden’s screwy-ness, even accompanied by audio/video proof, or tell them about Obama’s inauguration with Greek columns and “now is when the oceans stop rising” etc, they insist that it didn’t really happen, Trump made it up.

    • #17
    • April 3, 2020, at 9:20 PM PDT
    • 1 like
    • This comment has been edited.
  18. SParker Member

    Peter Robinson (View Comment):

    Henry Racette (View Comment):

    I had a little epiphany. Like most epiphanies, it’s the kind of thing that, once seen, seems it must have always been obvious.

    Milton Friedman used to say something very similar. I’m quoting from memory, but this is pretty close: “It’s the nature of a genuine insight that, the moment someone first expresses it, it seems obvious.”

     

    A. N. Whitehead supposedly* said something like: The reason people don’t do mathematics more is that you work and work to come up with something that in the end is perfectly obvious.

    *Source is my brother, and therefore suspect. I haven’t found that quote among Whitehead’s many gems. Not that I’ve looked all that hard.

     

    • #18
    • April 3, 2020, at 9:35 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  19. James Lileks Contributor

    kedavis (View Comment):
    James says he doesn’t like bureaucrats, but it’s bureaucrats who do a lot of things that help keep him and his family safe, such as licensing doctors etc. And maybe James would drive at reasonable speeds and stay on one side of the street etc, even if no bureaucrats ever made those rules. But what about people who fancy themselves as “mavericks” and “free men” etc? It may be easy to believe that most people are responsible etc, and so bureaucrats are just power-mad and party-poopers etc, but James has been around long enough, and worked in journalism long enough, to know better. 

    Rob’s argument, albeit in compressed form because I kept interrupting, seemed to conflate “bureaucrats” with generous beneficial statism that gives us goodies, like Social Security. I have no problems with licensing doctors, and my opinion about that matter doesn’t change if times are good or bad. I have trouble with the idea that everything must be licensed, and the state decides that it’s illegal for someone to cut hair with out the proper piece of paper. 

    While most of the people engaged in the execution of the regulatory state are regular folk who have a job to do, there’s a not-insignificant percentage who enjoy the power, and a likewise number who see nothing but codes and rules and have a hard time adapting this mindset to shifting circumstances or special cases. Even if they’re all well-intentioned, the regulatory state is never content to justify its existence by carrying out a specific narrow mandate, and constantly seeks to expand the mandate.

    James has been around long enough, and worked in journalism long enough, to know better. 

    It’s not my work in journalism that informs my opinion, it’s my family’s experience – and wife’s extended family’s experience – in energy, retail, transportation, and health care.

    Let me put it this way: imagine your morning routine. You get out of bed, go to the bathroom, go to the kitchen, make coffee, make breakfast, take a shower, put on clothes, then go to your car, which you turn on and back out of the garage.

    Now imagine there’s a regulation governing each of those actions, and you’d better be able to document you followed them, and if you slip up – say, you left the shower on too long or didn’t hang up your towel – you get fined the day’s salary.

    • #19
    • April 3, 2020, at 10:03 PM PDT
    • 11 likes
  20. James Lileks Contributor

    kedavis (View Comment):
    Maybe James – and you – have neighbors that don’t make you shake your head in sadness. But mine believe Biden would be handling corona perfectly, and they never heard of “dog-faced pony soldier” or any of his other insanity. And likely wouldn’t believe it if they had.

    Dude, I live in Minneapolis, Minnesota!

    • #20
    • April 3, 2020, at 10:04 PM PDT
    • 7 likes
  21. RufusRJones Member

    kedavis (View Comment):
    I really don’t believe most people are in much of a position to be as self-sufficient as they arguably should be, especially in THIS country.

    This is because of our Keynesian system which is falling apart before our very eyes.

    • #21
    • April 3, 2020, at 11:36 PM PDT
    • Like
  22. RufusRJones Member

    “Public goods” only. There is no value added from non-public goods, (this is the worst time ever to go full Austrian, however) Don’t start a government actuarial system unless it has brutal, iron clad stabilizers. The only thing is central bank should do is back up the financial system in a punitive way, it can’t help the economy.

    Government Is How We Steal From Each Other™

    • #22
    • April 3, 2020, at 11:39 PM PDT
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    • This comment has been edited.
  23. Percival Thatcher
    PercivalJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    What did Rob do? Fall asleep next to a pod? Love bureaucrats!?

     

    • #23
    • April 4, 2020, at 1:04 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  24. Percival Thatcher
    PercivalJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    44:30 (or thereabouts): James Lileks channels Roger Scruton. Well said!

    • #24
    • April 4, 2020, at 1:28 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  25. RufusRJones Member

    I was recently told by somebody who’s really smart that Social Security mathematically was a tight annuity system until some point in the 1950s. You were buying an annuity. You were socking away principle that would come back to you regardless of your age. Mathematically the pool worked out. Then they just raise the benefits gratuitously.

    Medicare is worse. The whole thing was stupid. The pill was invented in 1960. Medicare 1965. Abortion 1974 or whatever. Then throw in feminism and the need for a two income household. Eight years after it started both parties knew it was a fiasco. Even one year in they were shocked at how much money they were spending. 

    Trump and spending: Trump has to keep the asset bubble in tact to get reelected. Valerie Jarrett pressured Janet Yellen in the same way. Activist central banking overrides elections.

    Supposedly the space race was about proving that our system was better than the Russians. It mitigated the spread of communism.

    • #25
    • April 4, 2020, at 1:49 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  26. kedavis Member

    James Lileks (View Comment):

    While most of the people engaged in the execution of the regulatory state are regular folk who have a job to do, there’s a not-insignificant percentage who enjoy the power, and a likewise number who see nothing but codes and rules and have a hard time adapting this mindset to shifting circumstances or special cases. Even if they’re all well-intentioned, the regulatory state is never content to justify its existence by carrying out a specific narrow mandate, and constantly seeks to expand the mandate.

    James has been around long enough, and worked in journalism long enough, to know better.

    It’s not my work in journalism that informs my opinion, it’s my family’s experience – and wife’s extended family’s experience – in energy, retail, transportation, and health care.

    Let me put it this way: imagine your morning routine. You get out of bed, go to the bathroom, go to the kitchen, make coffee, make breakfast, take a shower, put on clothes, then go to your car, which you turn on and back out of the garage.

    Now imagine there’s a regulation governing each of those actions, and you’d better be able to document you followed them, and if you slip up – say, you left the shower on too long or didn’t hang up your towel – you get fined the day’s salary.

    But in many ways that really does happen, you just don’t see it up-front and be reminded of it. Those things make you – and your family, and everyone around you – safer, and I doubt you would want to do without them. Starting with regulation of your bedding, to make sure that someone didn’t sell you used material instead of new, without your knowing. (That “federal penalty tag” etc.) The quality of the water that you shower in, the power that heats it, the water that you use for coffee, the tires on your car, the back-up lights to warn people behind you…

    • #26
    • April 4, 2020, at 1:51 AM PDT
    • Like
  27. kedavis Member

    And do you really want to have to subscribe to Consumer Reports or something to find out if the unlicensed barber shop you go to has been giving people lice or scabies or something? Is Consumer Reports really going to keep track of the THOUSANDS of places across the country, especially when – since they’re unlicensed – they may pop up all over, change names when they get complaints, etc etc.

    It goes on and on…

    • #27
    • April 4, 2020, at 1:55 AM PDT
    • Like
  28. kedavis Member

    To paraphrase an old saw about rockets, do you really want to be driving your family down the freeway at 70mph or more in a several-thousand-pound vehicle with a tank full of explosive liquid made of parts supplied by the unlicensed lowest bidders?

    • #28
    • April 4, 2020, at 1:58 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  29. Percival Thatcher
    PercivalJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    … and then James gives us Nancy Pelosi in fishnet stockings in Weimar-era Berlin.

    I started listening to the podcast because I couldn’t sleep. Now I’m afraid to.

    • #29
    • April 4, 2020, at 2:07 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  30. kedavis Member

    James Lileks (View Comment):

    kedavis (View Comment):
    Maybe James – and you – have neighbors that don’t make you shake your head in sadness. But mine believe Biden would be handling corona perfectly, and they never heard of “dog-faced pony soldier” or any of his other insanity. And likely wouldn’t believe it if they had.

    Dude, I live in Minneapolis, Minnesota!

    Are you saying that Minnesotans also commonly have no idea what Bernie or Biden or the others are about, yet plan to vote for them anyway; and you still want MORE of a free-for-all? That sounds to me like a recipe for disaster. Since the whole state, and the whole country for that matter, are not Lake Woebegone, that means you’d have a whole lot of people out there that aren’t very smart, all doing what THEY think is best.

    Yikes!

    Yes, (over-)regulation might chafe people like us, but I don’t underestimate how many people do need to have rules, even very strict rules, and how much damage they could cause if they didn’t have them.

    And that’s also probably the main reason why I don’t look forward to flying cars, since they won’t be Jetsons style maybe atomic-powered that fold up into a briefcase: I can imagine how much traffic death and destruction is MINIMIZED by two simple non-man-made laws: friction, and gravity. Take away those two factors with flying cars, and… wow.

    • #30
    • April 4, 2020, at 2:09 AM PDT
    • Like
    • This comment has been edited.