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02/05/2021 - If You Think Inflation is the Problem, Just Wait
25th February 2021 • Mark and Carrie • Mark and Carrie
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Mark Blyth, political economist at Brown University's Watson Institute, and political scientist Carrie Nordlund share their take on the news.

On this episode: Biden's relief bill, and a rethink on inflation; the EU's dark-horse bid for worst vaccine rollout; a coup in Myanmar; cold winds in the midwest -- and in the hearts of certain Texas Republicans; US explores Mars; the politics of Aleksei Navalny's imprisonment; Megan and Harry find themselves in LA; a new reason to fear for the future of humanity.

You can learn more about Watson’s other podcasts here.


DAN: Hey there. This is Dan, the producer for Mark and Carrie. If you like this show, we highly recommend you check out Watson's other podcast, Trending Globally. You'll hear more in-depth conversations about politics and policy from some of the world's leading experts, including occasionally, Mark and Carrie.

You can find us by subscribing to Trending Globally on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Spotify, Google Play or wherever you listen to podcasts. Again, that's Trending Globally. All right, on with the show. Thanks.

CARRIE NORDLUND: Hi everybody, and welcome to Mark and Carrie. We've been a few weeks in between episodes, so lots to talk about today. Hi Mark, how are you doing?

MARK BLYTH: I'm fine. Just a little clue in for everybody. The reason we've been off air for a couple of weeks is entirely my fault. I've been a little bit under the weather, but I am back, renewed, refreshed, and even more angry than usual. So let's get to it.

CARRIE NORDLUND: Thank goodness. So you're also teaching though, it's the middle of semester, two.

MARK BLYTH: Yeah, it's true. I didn't stop teaching, but, you know, it's just-- I think there's also this general sort of thing, a lot of people are thinking about this is, we're all done with the whole pandemic, lockdown. I was doing great in terms of like, oh, I don't miss travel, I don't miss planes and all the rest of it. And I found myself, the other night, looking at beach homes in Devon and Cornwall, and it was just like, oh, my God, like a week on a beach somewhere would be just lovely. You know, this kind of thinking.


MARK BLYTH: And I think we're just kind of like done with it now. And now, because the vaccines are there, they work. Spoiler alert, right? There is this, kind of like, can we just get this done? Can we please just get this done? So though

CARRIE NORDLUND: I've been watching-- similar to your beach homes-- watching Mission Impossible from the beginning, because they always do the glamor shots of all the global cities.

MARK BLYTH: That's true.

CARRIE NORDLUND: Like it my travel

MARK BLYTH: Living vicariously through Tom's introductions.

CARRIE NORDLUND: Exactly. Yes, and he ages pretty well over those 25 years, as well.

MARK BLYTH: In the last Mission Impossible, the intro scene has the Austrian premier and his wife being blown up in a car, right?


MARK BLYTH: The woman who acts the Austrian Premier's wife is a very good friend of mine and Jules.


MARK BLYTH: Yeah, Jules used to work with her in London at Bloomberg

CARRIE NORDLUND: Wow. That's cool

MARK BLYTH: That's cool.

CARRIE NORDLUND: You're like one degree away from Tom Cruise.

MARK BLYTH: Exactly.

CARRIE NORDLUND: I don't know if it's a good thing or a bad thing. Yeah.

MARK BLYTH: On with the show. What's been going on, what's in your mind?

CARRIE NORDLUND: Oh gosh, well lots of COVID still to your point about the vaccine. But of course, the talk in DC these days is around the COVID Relief Bill, and whether or not this is going to go. How are of the Democrats going to play it? What's happening with the Republicans? And honestly, Mark, I mean I have stopped even paying attention to the back and forth, because I'm lost as to whether we've moved ahead, we've not, it's on pause, where are we with the 5,000 other things that are going on?

And it seems to me that the Biden Administration needs to have at least one central talking point right now, as to what's going on with this particular bill, and whether or not-- I mean, he has the votes. There's a lot of talk that the Democrats should act like the winners they are, and stop trying to appeal to Republicans, where this quote unquote bipartisan thing, blah, blah, blah.

Suddenly, Republicans are now deficit hawks again. But I mean, there is a part of me that's just so happy to not have to worry about the daily details of what's going on, because you just feel like there's someone competent running this, or at least you hope that there's someone competent running this. So I think that's where we are, at least COVID-wise. But I think the point that the pandemic has to be under control in order for the American economy to even get restarted is-- I mean, it's like the point to be made, too.

MARK BLYTH: So for me, I'm looking at this in a slightly different way. I don't know-- There's been some shadowboxing amongst economists about this whole stimulus package. So on the one side, you had Olivier Blanchard, who used to run the IMF, well, IMF chief economist, and the ubiquitous Larry Summers saying, "This is too big, " and "It's going to result in inflation," and so on. And then on the other side, you've got the kind of more progressive economists, which are around the Biden team saying, "Nah, bullshit. It's not going to result in inflation." And in a sense, what we're doing is a kind of two trillion dollar-- it goes through $2 trillion experiment on different theories of inflation.

Now, why does that matter? Well, it matters for the following reason. The progressive side of the Democrats think of the world in this way. Here's the fundamental problem, wages for 60% of Americans haven't moved almost since the '70s, right?


MARK BLYTH: And up to the 50th percentile of the income distribution, Americans earn $20 or less, right? You can't run this country with that degree of working poverty. That's what's behind the anger, that's what's behind the populism. And we need to spend a lot of money to make the economy run hot. We don't need to worry about it, because interest rates are low for lots of reasons. There's not been any inflation for 40 years, we can boost wages. And if we do, we stabilize the situation, and a lot of the bad shit we've been dealing with for the past several years will not come back.

On the other hand, you have the deficit hawks, the Republicans, and sort of more centrist economists saying, "No, no, there'll be inflation, there'll be terrible inflation." And they're essentially saying, "Well, you know, things are OK. The reason that you've got this sort of populism and stuff is-- oh yeah, there's been some people have been left behind," but there's a lot of racism there. And you know, "This is a cultural struggle." And you know, "Really the economy is doing fine and this is far too much stimulus," right?

Now, what you see there is people using economic arguments to, basically, bolster their priors. So if you think that populism, and the ills of the US, is about low wages, you will say that inflation is not a problem. If you don't think it's that, then you will use that to say it's a problem. I doubt that it's really about people are actually worried about inflation. But I worry because I buy the argument that wages matter. And I worry that if we don't try this in this moment, we are not going to get wage growth. And if you don't get consistent wage growth over the next couple of years, the Democrats are dead when it comes round to the midterms.

CARRIE NORDLUND: Well what about the-- and I don't know how this fits into what you just laid out-- but that the inflation that does exist is within assets, and so housing inflation, et cetera. I mean that matches your argument with the wages, right? If I ever have any hope of buying a house in Austin, Texas or Seattle, Washington, I have to have wage growth in order to afford that.

MARK BLYTH: Yeah, I mean it's slightly different, and really when you think about inflation what it really refers to is a general increase in the level of all prices, not the factor of wealth and income have become incredibly concentrated, and people with money have overbought certain things like houses, turned them into an asset class, and it makes it less affordable for people.

And that's why there's this disconnect between the rate of inflation is low, and if you factor it in it's negative. And people will say, "Well, what are you talking about. Because education costs are up, health care costs are up, housing costs are up?" So what that means is-- in a kind of macro sense-- is there's fiscal room to spend a lot of money, and in doing so you will be able to raise wages. That will not necessarily result in a general increase in prices. And if you get away with that, then a lot of problems like housing affordability et cetera become more tractable. So it is really add to it.

But again, it's these two different positions. Either we've got a lot of wiggle room in inflation, and you can move wages without moving prices, right? The Phillips curve has gone. Or it's the old school, the Phillips curve is still there, and if you push it hard enough, you'll end up generating inflation, and you won't end up with any real wage increases. So that's where we are, and my worry, to reiterate it again, is that Biden won't end up trying. This will be like Clinton in '92. The stimulus will be hamstrung. And if that happens and wages don't rise, then you're still-- You're then running an economy with nineteen-seventies incomes with Twenty-Twenty prices. And that is behind a lot of our discontent.

CARRIE NORDLUND: Well right, and the politics of an increase in minimum wage, whether that is there or not, and then this goes back to the point that I was trying to make earlier, which is that Democrats have to act like they're winners, and stop trying to put together some sort of coalition or others, and just do what the Republicans would have done.

MARK BLYTH: Right exactly. And also, think about the minimum wage. So basically, if you put it through now and you just mandate it, yeah, there's going to be a lot of bottom end jobs that will disappear et cetera, but a lot of them don't. I mean, we know this from empirical work that's been done.

When you look at states that raise the minimum wage and states that don't, do the jobs flood to the other one? No, they don't, right? So there seems to be a lot of capacity for the economy to accommodate these wages. Why? Because cut the capital share, the share that has gone to business has become huge. You have to balance this back. Otherwise, you can't run the United States and say, "Social mobility," "the American dream," when half the country is earning $20 an hour, or less. It's just not going to work.

CARRIE NORDLUND: And your point about Trump Part Two is just sitting there, waiting to be--

MARK BLYTH: It is just sitting there waiting.


MARK BLYTH: And it's the classic one for the Democrats. It's yours to screw up.


MARK BLYTH: This time, just don't screw it up.

CARRIE NORDLUND: Right. On this point very quickly, former President Trump will be speaking over the weekend at the CPAC. So this will be the first that we will have heard from him since Twitter got cut off and kind of since the beginning of January, as well. So one of the questions on the talking heads is whether or not they're going to show it live or whether it's just going to be a news item that the former president spoke. So I guess we'll see how that unfolds--

MARK BLYTH: Well, the audio will be leaked. I mean, no doubt about it. To me, the real question is how much of it is sort of continued grievance against myself versus I'm ready to lead this movement. And so--


MARK BLYTH: We'll see how that--

CARRIE NORDLUND: Heavy bet on the grievance.

MARK BLYTH: Yes. Exactly. So speaking of totally screwing things up, so we're down on the US for many things. And we were down on vaccine distribution. And we were doing badly. And we were down on the Brits for Brexit. And it turns out the Brits are doing way better than most people thought in terms of vaccines. They're actually considering lifting their lockdowns. Apart from the great state of Rhode Island where we are, I don't understand why it's so bad here. Right? Rhode Island has half the population of Brooklyn. How difficult is it to vaccinate half of Brooklyn? For God's sake. Right?


MARK BLYTH: Putting that to one side, we're really ramping this up. We're rolling this out. It turns out the EU is the one that's really screwed up on this one. Who'd have thunk it? Have you been following this?

CARRIE NORDLUND: A little bit. But really, because they seem so efficient at everything they do.

MARK BLYTH: So the key one was this. AstraZeneca basically said, I'm sorry. You're not getting as much as you thought. And they also put their orders in late. So then the EU played hardball and published a contract with bits redacted and made them look bad. And then really interestingly, the German health authorities came out and said AstraZeneca doesn't work for the over 65s, which was total bullshit. Right?

So they managed to basically freak everybody out about the efficacy of the virus. Then Astra Zeneca came along and said, well, actually, we can give you these things now. And what they've done is they basically haven't actually got the supply chain or the delivery systems or any of that in place. And now that they're going to be able to get the vaccine, they've managed to basically make people think it doesn't work. And today-- get this-- Merkel refused the vaccine.


MARK BLYTH: Yeah. Jules told me just before I came on. I was like, you've got to be joking. So I hope that's correct.

CARRIE NORDLUND: What the hell?

MARK BLYTH: In the sense that I'm telling you the truth. I hope that it's not true.


MARK BLYTH: But I mean, what a signal. Right? I mean, if she's not taking it, I mean, holy crap. You've just destroyed your vaccine optic.

CARRIE NORDLUND: Well, and also an interesting-- the questions around Brexit, the whole thing that Brexit is premised on is that they don't want to be part, they want to be separated away from the EU. So I mean, does this make the EU look even more weak than it has in the past?

MARK BLYTH: Well, exactly. That's it. I mean, the Brits really seem-- I mean, once the Brits stopped farting about with, Oh, I'm a government minister, I've got a cousin called Fred. He does inflatable parties for kids. He can run track and trace for the whole country. Right? Because they did a lot of that stupidity.


MARK BLYTH: Once they basically just gave it to the NHS and said, can you please vaccinate everyone? They went, yeah. OK. And then pfft. Done.

CARRIE NORDLUND: Yeah. OK. So this is going to be a really rough transition here from vaccine distribution to a coup in Myanmar.

MARK BLYTH: OK. What's the-- wait, wait. What's the link? No. I can't get one either. All right. So there.

CARRIE NORDLUND: Yeah. It's hard.

MARK BLYTH: There has been a coup d'etat in Myanmar. Apparently inspired by President Trump.

CARRIE NORDLUND: Well, right? I mean, part of this-- and I have a soft spot for Myanmar having been there a few times and just thinking of where it exists at the sort of crossroads in Southeast Asia between China and India-- anyway, right? I mean the military said that the election results were bunk and overturned it. Arrested Aung San Suu Kyi for having illegal radio or illegal whatever they're called--

MARK BLYTH: Walkie talkies. Walkie talkies.

CARRIE NORDLUND: Yes. Thank you. Yes. In her house. So I don't actually know where, I don't know if it's been reported where she is right now either. Whether she's under house arrest or in jail. But there are protests going on daily in the big cities. Actually, one of our students-- you might have had him-- a Developmental Studies alum from Brown, I follow his Twitter feed. And he's been out on the streets daily.

And the military has shot rubber bullets and that sort of thing. But they haven't done the big authoritarian thing yet. And I do worry about that happening. I really wonder a lot about China's role in this and just their desire for natural resources and access to ocean ports and all of that sort of stuff.

MARK BLYTH: See, that makes a lot of sense. Because otherwise, it's like, why do this? Right?


MARK BLYTH: I mean, the era of sort of the military stepped in to stop the Communists taking over, I mean that was the 60s. Right? We're done with that sort of stuff. They were already an outlier when they gave up 10 years ago. And now, they're back. You've got to wonder what the incentives are for the military to do this at this point. Because things were going OK. No one was threatening their privileges. No one was saying, let's shut down the military. And then it comes in. And so, yeah. That actually does make a lot of sense.

CARRIE NORDLUND: Right. That China is financially supporting it and their love of whatever liquor and spirits that they can get. This is something that I have been keeping track of just because you wonder how long they're going to be patient, how long the military will be patient with the protests and the bad press that they're getting, as well.

MARK BLYTH: So just, here's a segue. Here's a segue.


MARK BLYTH: So just as there's a cold wind blowing through Myanmar, there's a cold wind blowing through?

CARRIE NORDLUND: Ted Cruz's heart?


CARRIE NORDLUND: No? The Republican Party. Yes.

MARK BLYTH: All of it. All of the above.

CARRIE NORDLUND: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, this happens at both sides of the aisle. Not like the Democrats are super organized. And we surfaced a little bit of that. But the question really is like, where is the Republican Party these days? I mean, you had the state Republican parties in Nebraska, a deep red state, and Wyoming, a deep red state, censor Lynne Cheney and their Senator Ben Sasse. I mean, that sort of stuff is just kind of bonkers. Like why do that, especially for people, those two, the House member, Representative Cheney, and Ben Sasse who are going to win in their reelection efforts, as well?

So I think that the kind of esoteric question is, who's the head of the Republican Party? And everyone is, are you a Trumper or a Never Trumper? And I think there's something interesting there. But what's more interesting underneath that is just the role of these state Republican parties.


CARRIE NORDLUND: And what it is that they think they're doing to their elected officials.

MARK BLYTH: No, absolutely. So I read an interesting piece. I can't remember who wrote it. And it's one of those ones that's a bit of a stretch. But it was a nice analogy, which is the Republican Party is a bit like the Communist Party of the Soviet Union by the late 70s. Right? It's kind of totally run out of ideas. It stays in government because it's basically bent all the rules and turned it to its own advantage. It's a self-appointed clique that basically lords it over the people that vote for it and takes most of the spoils for itself. So the nomenclatura, if you want to put it that way.

And if you're an internal dissident and you stand up, what happens is you end up running a library in Kazakhstan. Right? You kind of just get thrown out of the inner circle. And it does actually seem to be a bit like that. This whole entity has kind of lost touch with the reality of governments. And you've got various people in the party who are quite serious about look, we could reposition ourselves as a working class party and really take this off because the Democrats are not able to do it. And there's real issues and real coalitions to be built.

But it just seems to be the sort of like there's Trump and then there's sort of the organization of loyalty around him. Like, Brezhnev. Right?


MARK BLYTH: And then you're either in or you're out. And that's where they are, which is very bizarre, to say the least.

CARRIE NORDLUND: Well, the really exciting thing for you and me is that we get to start talking about the Twenty-Twenty-Two primaries. I mean, when you thought we just turned the calendar to Twenty-Twenty-One, but actually we're moving on to Twenty-Twenty-Two. So we can start handicapping all of those races and be totally and utterly exhausted by the time November Twenty-Twenty-Two comes along.

MARK BLYTH: And Carrie, that's what I rely on you for. Because I can assure you my head is nowhere near Twenty-Twenty-Two at this point in time. But I'm glad that you're already on the case.

CARRIE NORDLUND: I'm there. I'm there. Did you see Google versus Australia?

MARK BLYTH: Yeah. I followed it a little bit. I mean, you know, don't mess with the Aussies when they're basically pissed off. That's kind of the rule.

CARRIE NORDLUND: Yeah. But I mean the Google, I mean those bastards, they withdrew all of the news from their platform.

MARK BLYTH: Was that Facebook? I don't think it was Google.

CARRIE NORDLUND: I'm sorry. You're right. Facebook.

MARK BLYTH: Don't call Google naughty names when it was Facebook who did it, who are the naughty people on the naughty step. Absolutely.


MARK BLYTH: But it shows you the dependence that we have on platforms. I mean the beef they had with Google was Google was going to say, all right. Well, how would you like life if all your email disappeared? Right? And it just goes to show you how utterly dependent you are on these services. You get them for free. But ultimately, once you rely on them, you are dependent on the platform. And they wield incredible power.

CARRIE NORDLUND: Yes. And that point just ripples across every, I mean in everything that we do. Especially work from home. And so, I mean, we said this before, you can't open up one document without having that connect to something else that's on your desktop in some way.

Of course, also since we're talking tech for a second, there's a new CEO at Amazon, Andy Jassy, who was running the Cloud, I believe. And what's interesting about this-- you know, I have jokes to make about Jeff Bezos-- is that he is a proponent of facial recognition. And they've shut it down for, they said they were going to shut it down. They have something called recognition with a capital K or something. But they said they were going to shut it down in June of Twenty-Twenty for a year because Amazon said they want the government to write regulations around facial recognition.

But it's just like, thinking about the power that technology has over our lives, of course, has so many implications. We think about what's happening with the Uighurs, how the Chinese government's using it. And you know, I mean it just seems like the US is not ready for this at all.

MARK BLYTH: No. Well, the classic one is, of course, we've self populated the data. Right? I mean, what do you think you do with all those Facebook pictures? Right? I mean, there's your recognition database right there. They know who you are because there's 50 pictures of you on somebody's Facebook page. Right? So in a sense, we are the authors of our own change once again.


MARK BLYTH: I want to circle back to something for a minute because I can't believe you haven't talked about it. Not just the chill wind blowing through the Republican Party, but what about the fact that those red states that are heavy carbon states, like Texas, are getting walloped by severe weather? They're blaming windmills. Windmills have nothing to do with it. It was the gas pipes that froze. Right? You can operate turbines, wind turbines in the bloody Arctic. It's just that they didn't weatherize them.

But the bigger point on this is that this cold snap isn't a cold snap. It's because of the destabilization of the jet stream. And there was also a report out this week about the destabilization of the Gulf Stream. Right? The mid-ocean circulatory system that comes out of the Gulf and basically keeps Europe temperate during the winter, despite how high up it is. Right? And that has actually weakened by about, I think the number was 35% over a very short period of time, 10, 15 years or so.

So what happens if basically polar vortex cold winds right down the middle of the country become normalized? And the Gulf stream basically slows down to a stop, and Europe starts to freeze over like an ice block in the winter? Then you're already deep in climate change. And then of course, the skeptics will say, well, I thought it was meant to get hotter. Right? But no. It's meant to destabilize. And it is destabilizing.

So you know, again it's like there's a story we could talk about Ted Cruz being his usual idiot itself, et cetera. And then the politics of this and everybody suffering with burst pipes and all that sort of stuff. And whether the utility is to blame. But the bigger story behind this is, this is happening because we are actually managing right now to destabilize climate.

CARRIE NORDLUND: Well, and with this particular storm, it wasn't a surprise. And they knew it was coming. So the forecasts were actually right on. So in that particular instance, clearly not at all prepared for it. But then to your much broader point, which is that we know that it's going to be 150 degrees in Texas this summer. And that they're also going to go to zero degrees in the winter. That these abnormalities are now normal. And how are we not accounting for that either in Texas or across the United States, just in general?

MARK BLYTH: This is another interesting one. You probably saw the stuff that's been bandying around the past couple of weeks about states that are losing population. So people are leaving New York. They're leaving California. And then they're going to Texas. Right? Now, seriously, why would you go to Texas? Nothing against the great state. I mean I've been there. I love it. I think they're lovely people, the whole lot. Right?

But basically it's a giant carbon dependency. The only way that this works is if Texas shuts down everything that it does. So you're moving to a place because it's cheap. All right. But it's also got a business model that has to end to save the planet. Right? And the species. And on top of that, it's got an incredibly dodgy electrical grid that doesn't connect to anything else. And it's got basically very cliquish politics, and so on and so forth.

But its biggest vulnerability seems to be the fact that, as you just pointed out, it's got-- what is it? 60 days a year above 95 degrees now. And now, it's got these cold snaps in the winter. And it's based upon a kind of carbon extraction economy. Why would you move there?

CARRIE NORDLUND: It's no income tax. Right?

MARK BLYTH: Well, yeah. That's your short term gain. But your long term gain is like, why would you want to move to a place that's burning hot, freezing cold, and ultimately pretty much most of us industry has to cease to be?

CARRIE NORDLUND: Yeah. And with no ability to accommodate for that. But you're right about the population declines. Because I think people, during COVID that have left New York and LA, have moved to Austin. I mean, that's one of the big hubs it's moving to. So I mean both politically, there's excitement around that in terms of Texas will probably get one or two more congressional seats. But then also just yeah, you're moving to this place that can't deal with the weather.

MARK BLYTH: Right. As this accelerates, its ability to absorb it declines reciprocally. It's sort of like the worst place you could move to in the long term. And it's very strange--

CARRIE NORDLUND: Move to Bismarck, North Dakota.

MARK BLYTH: Just goes to show you, people care about short term taxes more than anything else. Huh. There you go.

CARRIE NORDLUND: Yeah. I know. Are we surprised? Well, one thing our tax dollars have paid for that was pretty cool was the landing of Perseverance, or Percy, on Mars. I don't know if you watched that. But I love seeing those shots of the--

MARK BLYTH: It didn't happen. It's all a hoax. Christopher Nolan did the whole thing for the CIA. It's not even real.


MARK BLYTH: We have the shots.

CARRIE NORDLUND: I mean, it was pretty good, too. It was a pretty good public landing.

MARK BLYTH: It was a pretty good show. Absolutely. No, no. I mean, in all seriousness, the actual mission of this robot lander is kind of fascinating. And if you go to-- I read a story recently that, if you go to where the Japanese internment camps were during World War II, then one of the ways that they passed the time was to sift through the sand for tiny shells. Because those tiny shells in the middle of the desert used to be a big ocean 20 million years ago. And there are shells and evidence of this and all the rest of it.

And what they are doing is making a bet that landing on this ridge, which they think was a depression that was part of a large body of water three billion years ago, they're essentially going to be able to find-- if not shells-- then at least sort of fossilized microbial life. And if you do, that's a stop and shut the hell up moment. Right? Because that does mean that it is possible. We now have proof that there can be-- it may not be existing now-- but there can be life on other planets. And that's about as fundamental as you get as a kind of a wake up and smell the coffee moment, humans.

CARRIE NORDLUND: Well, yeah. And then, I mean when will we move to-- we will have destroyed Earth or at least enough of--

MARK BLYTH: But Jeff's going to move to Mars, right? So Jeff. And also, what's his name again? Mr. Tesla. They will move.


MARK BLYTH: They will move to Mars on their own ships. And then somehow these sort of 60-year-old gray men are going to repopulate the species, which I just think is a horrible idea.

CARRIE NORDLUND: I mean, Jeff will have to lift a lot more weights then. But it is true. SpaceX, Mars is next for them.

MARK BLYTH: Yeah. Totally. Absolutely.


MARK BLYTH: But it's a lot like spending $1 billion to go to a party that's crap. I mean, it wouldn't be my first choice. You know? I'd try and save the place that we have rather than get excited about the red sun but with no oxygen. But that's just me.

CARRIE NORDLUND: I was going to say, yeah. I mean, it seems like a tough place to have a really good time. But you never know. Maybe Americans are the humans who will figure some way to do it and then screw it up, as well.

MARK BLYTH: Did you follow the whole thing about Alexei Navalny and Amnesty International?

CARRIE NORDLUND: I followed the video that he did that was like two hours long of Putin's Black Sea Palace.

MARK BLYTH: No, this is after that. This is after.

CARRIE NORDLUND: So I followed it there, up to there.

MARK BLYTH: Right. So there's an interesting parallel between Aung San Suu Kyi in Burma and then this dude. Right? So why did we like them? We liked her because she stood up to the military. Then it turned out that basically there was the whole thing with the ethnic minority. And then we didn't like her anymore because she did really bad stuff. Right? But she's still remarkably popular domestically. So it's kind of a weird one for us. We don't like the military coup. But we don't really like her either because she's horrible. Right?

And Navalny, it turns out now, he said all these things which are racist and homophobic and all the rest of it. And you know, what a shock for a 50-year-old Russian guy. Right? But anyway, he said all this sort of stuff. And it's all xenophobic and nationalist, et cetera. It's come to light. And now Amnesty has basically withdrawn his status as a prisoner of conscience.


MARK BLYTH: Now, this is a really interesting one. Because there's somebody who gets poisoned by the KGB. Knows he's going to be arrested. And still goes back. Right? Because he is basically saying to the regime, I dare you. I dare you to do me in. Because if you do, you'll make me even stronger. And because he said things that we don't like these days, we've just basically helped to delegitimate him. Is that the right thing to do? I mean, is it still the right thing to do?

CARRIE NORDLUND: We just don't know what to. I mean, if you're thinking about the West, we just don't know where to land on these things. I mean, one of the things I'd read about Navalny is that he's really popular in the outer 500 kilometers from Moscow, where they don't even have indoor plumbing, that they're super fans of Navalny. And there certainly are strands of nationalism, Trumpism. Like all that sort of stuff.

I mean, Navalny is just out for himself. He wants to become Prime Minister. Right? So it's hard to know where we should be. Are we pro or against? I'm with you on Aung San Suu Kyi, as well.

MARK BLYTH: But in a sense, what happened was-- not that I don't want to sound like a sort of conservative talk show host-- but essentially Amnesty International just canceled Navalny.


MARK BLYTH: Is that the right thing to do? I mean, really empowering Putin? Is that the right thing to do?

CARRIE NORDLUND: I mean, at some point, you think maybe Amnesty shouldn't get involved or do their due diligence a little bit better. But I mean, I guess they can't stick with him. Because, I mean, then are they saying that homophobic stuff is OK? I mean, this is the pinch that--

MARK BLYTH: Yeah. No, absolutely. Yeah. I mean it's a bit, drawing these lines is very tricky. And the people who are in power-- because the sting in the story is apparently a lot of the information about Navalny doing these bad things and saying these bad things came basically from the Russian security services. Right? So essentially, Putin basically said, oh, you like this guy? Here. There you go. Oh all right, I can't like him anymore. Good, lads.

CARRIE NORDLUND: So we're not going to get him by poison. We'll get him by his racist and homophobic stuff.

MARK BLYTH: Yeah. Or at least, you know what we'll do? We'll let you undermine your hero because you can't deal with these standards. Whereas, as Putin, I really don't give a damn about this stuff. Whatever. It's fine for me. But I'm going to use it to get this guy. Because you lot out there in the West really care about this. It's a really interesting kind of like boomerang form of power and diplomacy.

CARRIE NORDLUND: Historical figures that we revere that had tawdry-- you know, JFK, who had lots of stuff going on in the background-- it's interesting how history just kind of is very quiet about that sort of stuff. And that you still hear about the affairs and the parties at the White House. But that's certainly not the legacy of the Kennedy presidency. So it is interesting from both what the current view and then the historical view of how that stuff gets either downplayed or becomes their legacy.

MARK BLYTH: So what are we left with, Carrie, at the end of this catch up?

CARRIE NORDLUND: We're left with Harry and Meghan on Oprah. Actually, I think it's just Megan on Oprah.

MARK BLYTH: Megan's on Oprah. Harry did, what's it? James Corden.

CARRIE NORDLUND: James Corden. Yeah. Yeah. So you know, it looks like Harry's loving LA. You know, loving the yoga and the smoothies. So it looks like they're really, really flourishing. I just thought this was funny. They released the picture that they're having their second baby. And Harry's feet were uncovered, which I guess is a big deal. But also bunion specialists weighed in that it looked like Harry had bunions. So that's some breaking news for you.

MARK BLYTH: Well, it's no surprise when you've spent a long time wearing army boots.


MARK BLYTH: Right? That can't be too good for you. I miss that bit. So I'm going to leave us with another thought. So there was a report that came out based on a book that came out from an endocrinologist and somebody who's been tracking, of all things, male sperm counts.


MARK BLYTH: So it turns out that sperm counts have been falling, as far as we can tell, precipitously since the nineteen-seventies. And I believe the numbers are like, there's been a 45% decline in count or something of that order of magnitude. And if you project forward, essentially your median guy by Twenty-Fourty-Five will contain no sperm.

CARRIE NORDLUND: That's not that far. I mean, that's 25 years. Right? I mean, that's not very far.



MARK BLYTH: Exactly. Right. So basically, you don't really have to worry about global warming and the future of the planet or the future of the species, at least.


MARK BLYTH: Because there'll be none of us left by the end of the century if we carry on at this rate, if this book is correct. So what's blamed on this is the kind of endocrine blocking everyday chemicals. Right? So the sort of stuff that's in everything from ATM receipts to sort of gasoline to plastics, the whole lot.


MARK BLYTH: And they are everywhere. And apparently, they massively muck up your endocrine system and therefore your reproductive system. And this, according to the book, is the reason that sperm counts have been plummeting. Right? So I just thought it was a kind of an ironic one. If we spend the next decade trying to bat off populism and we finally do something for real wages, and then we finally really start the kind of green transition and we bribe the right areas of the country to give up fossil fuels and all that, beneath all that, basically population is just declining and declining and declining.

And you know, at the end of the day, an economy-- this will solve the problem. Because if an economy at the end of the day is nothing more than the number of workers, the number of hours, the amount of capital they work with, if you basically massively cut back the number of workers, then you will shrink the economy. Your carbon footprint is going to go down.

CARRIE NORDLUND: That's right. Yeah.

MARK BLYTH: Right? So there's a way in which, I used to love the bumper sticker that said Nature Bats Last.


MARK BLYTH: And you know, everyone's looking at the carbon side of things. Like oh, nature bats last. It's like, oh yes. But watch what they're also doing to our ability to stay here as a species.

CARRIE NORDLUND: Wow. So the future really is female. And it really will be like--

MARK BLYTH: Well, it can't be. Because basically, if there is no sperm, there's no male or female.

CARRIE NORDLUND: Yeah. But I mean, maybe we'll figure it out from Mars, how to repopulate without men.

MARK BLYTH: Or alternatively with nothing but clones of Jeff Bezos.

CARRIE NORDLUND: Yes. Exactly. Yes. And Elon Musk. Yeah.

MARK BLYTH: Oh God, no. I think that's worse than the ultimate fate.

CARRIE NORDLUND: I love that you described those gray men, as well. Well, that's a-- wow. OK. So Twenty-Fourty-Five. That's when we--

MARK BLYTH: Twenty-Fourty-Five is what we look forward to. So anyway, there's a happy thought. So encourage everyone to go out and get that book. I forget what it's called. It's called something like Why Sperm Counts Falling Everywhere Means the End of the Universe. I'm sure if you Google that, you'll find the book. But there. What a sort of interesting extra crisis for everyone to think about.

CARRIE NORDLUND: Yeah. But I mean again, contrasted with global warming and climate change and the end--

MARK BLYTH: It's like, don't worry. We'll take care of that. We'll just disappear as a species.

CARRIE NORDLUND: Dinosaurs will come back.

MARK BLYTH: Oh my God. It's 5:00 on a Friday.


MARK BLYTH: And with that, I'm definitely going to have a drink.

CARRIE NORDLUND: Yes. Yes. Well, thanks for listening, everyone. We'll be back soon. Thanks, Mark. Talk to you later.

MARK BLYTH: Absolutely. Til soon.





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