#50 -- Plus the real problem with Twitter
Not taking one for the team: Why aren’t the knives out for Ron Klain, President Biden’s chief of staff? I’m not saying he’s necessarily bad at his job. Sure, he led a White House that misread its mandate, went way too big and too left and then was unable to prioritize, resulting in a legislative car crash of epic, probably fatal, proportions.** But, hey, maybe that was Biden’s fault. Klain seems to have ticked off Joe Manchin, and Speaker Pelosi holds him in minimal high regard. You can’t please everybody! And it’s true that (according to Axios) a new book says that when “tasked with vetting vice presidential candidates” Klain told Biden “that Harris was most qualified for the job”— a misjudgment so complete you can only hope it was the product of corruption.
But Klain could be the reincarnation of Harry Hopkins and it wouldn’t matter. Whatever he’s been doing isn’t working. A staff shakeup — in which the chief of staff gets replaced — is just something you do when a President is polling at 23.5% among independents and your party is about to lose power in Congress for perhaps a decade. It’s a local ritual. The tom-toms of doom start beating around the fringes of the campfire, the chants grow louder, and soon the unlucky chief of staff is carried off to head up a new International Pandemic Prevention Initiative, or to fight “disinformation” for Marc Benioff.
The result, at a minimum, is that the floundering President gets at least a brief fresh look from the public, a second chance to make a first impression. Maybe those old problems— Afghanistan, BBB, “running the economy hot,” migrants streaming across the border — have gone out the door with the old chief. Who knows? Maybe things will work better with a new train conductor. (And surely there’s a competent Democratic ex-governor or two who would be willing to take that job.)
Crucially, an unpopular president gets this benefit even if he, not the departing chief of staff, is the source of the problem. That’s the beauty of it. With a bit of luck, even a transparently stage-managed shake-up can lead to a saving bounce with voters.
So why hasn’t it happened? Where are the tom-toms? There was some modest thumping back in January, but it seems to have faded. Why? It can’t just be that the DC press corps wants Franklin Foer’s next book — supposedly an insider account of the early Biden administration based heavily on Klain — to have a happier ending for its chief source. …
**— My fear, back in November — that Klain’s refusal to confront progressive leader Pramila Jayapal would result in neither the “hard” nor “soft” infrastructure bill passing- — turned out to be misplaced. The “hard” bill did eventuallly pass (though not in time to save the Virginia governor’s race for the Democrats). …
A safer way to raise wages: Former Obama official Jason Furman critiques the basic economic foundation of Bidenism, the idea that if you “run the economy hot” it will create full employment, tighten the labor market, and raise wages. The flaw in this plan was that running a hot economy also produced inflation, and inflation has badly outpaced wage growth. So real wages have gone down, not up.
What Furman doesn’t say is that there’s more than one way tighten a labor market (and thereby give workers more bargaining power). Yes, you can run the whole economy “hot,” raising demand for everything, including workers. Or you can try to restrict the supply of groups of workers in a more targeted way — by encouraging older workers to retire, for example (one of the original goals of Social Security), by keeping young potential workers in school — or, most obviously, by regulating immigration.
This is a strategy for wage-raising Biden hasn’t pursued—quite the opposite. It seems promising, because it would tighten up the market we want to tighten (labor) without taking the risk of generally overheating the entire economy and producing inflation.**
Ron Klain will get right on it.
**—There’s a parallel argument for a WPA-like jobs plan — it pursues what we want, namely a full-employment, guaranteed jobs society, without having to heat up the whole economy. In other words, a neo-WPA would make it easier for the Fed to achieve its employment goal without threatening, through over-easing, its stable-prices goal, which is presumably why Nixon-era Fed chair Arthur Burns endorsed it.
Twitter is not a palindrome! Now, I would say this . . . but the more I think about it, the more the place to start when talking about political Twitter is the following fundamental asymmetry:
—The leftish blue check marks on the site are not proselytizers, by and large. (Yes, I’m generalizing.) They don’t need new recruits. They don’t really need to persuade. They don’t need to talk to conservatives much at all. Why? Because they control the main organs of the mainstream non-Twitter, non-Fox media. They’re happy to talk to each other, promote their articles, register their opinions for group approval, praise the latest efforts of their fellow blaumenschen, maybe egg each other on a bit. Follow Maggie Haberman’s feed for a worthy example of this relatively insular mix.
—In contrast, the right on Twitter—blue checks and non—is desperate to engage the leftish blue checks. The right does not control the MSM, so if they are to have a major impact (beyond riling up those who already agree with them) they need to persuade or at least partially soften up those who do control it — get them to rethink, ever so subtly, their positions on crime, or parental leave, or Disney. To maybe cover some of the right’s topics in their news outlets. Conservatives know there was a time, in the glory days of post-Carter neoliberalism, when this sort of appeal to MSM liberals was entirely possible. And Twitter originally offered the same possibility — to an unprecedented degree it was a place where weirdos, iconoclasts, and Republicans could get the attention of Establishment bigshots, if only for an instant.
It follows that the most important aspect of Twitter, if you’re, say, Elon Musk and want to restore its useful role in democracy, isn’t the question of outright censorship — of banning stories about Hunter’s laptop, or tweets satirizing trans dogma or proposing non-consensus theories on climate change. It’s not the issue of whether the algorithm amplifies right-wingers more than left wingers. The issue is siloing and segregation — whether the right is allowed to talk to the left, or at least left wing blue checks—to get their attention. It doesn’t do Ann Coulter that mch good if her tweets are amplified 100 times normal but they’re kept away from Democrats, including New York Times, Washington Post and CBS reporters.
I don’t know how much of this siloing goes on. I suspect at least some. The whole Twitter two-tier blue check scheme — where some users are anointed as more important than others and then given the ability to only talk to each other — is in part a siloing effort, given the near certain left-tilt in the Blue Check admission committee. (MSM writers are clearly favored, for example.) We talk about social media “polarization” as if the problem is just the algorithm giving us more of what we want — what we agree with. But what if the algorithm is affirmatievly instantiating polarization by stopping us from seeing what we don’t agree with even when it might otherwise pop up?
Elon will get to the bottom of it! (Actually, he might.) ….
Don’t follow her, she’s lost [Apologies to Richard Rushfield]: A well-written, detailed review of what looks to be an over-detailed biography of the singer Nico. She wasn’t just a stunning, heroin-using, probably racist, quirkily hypnotic, multilingual ice-queen chanteuse for whom half the male rock stars of the 1960s wrote (extremely good) songs. There’s more! …