Emily Jashinsky and Inez Stepman chat about what holds up in Milton Friedman’s classic Capitalism and Freedom — and what definitely doesn’t. They also talk about Twitter 2.0 and the insulting and anti-democratic omnibus bill. Culture Editor Emily gives her best recs for cozy week-off binge watches, and both hosts share their Christmas and New Year traditions.

High Noon is an intellectual download featuring conversations that make possible a free society. The podcast features interesting thinkers from all parts of the political spectrum to discuss the most controversial subjects of the day in a way that hopes to advance our common American future. Hosted by Inez Stepman of Independent Women’s Forum.


TRANSCRIPT

Inez Stepman:

Welcome to High Noon, where we talk about controversial subjects with interesting people. And as always, at the end of the month, the last episode of every month, we have Emily Jashinsky. She is a senior fellow with us at IWF, but she is also the culture editor over at The Federalist. She helps train up young journalists on the right at Young Americas Foundation, and she has a show every Friday with Ryan Grim over at Breaking Points, the spinoff from the Krystal and Saagar show Breaking Points. What’s it? I always forget what it’s called. CounterPoints.

Emily Jashinsky:

Yeah, we went with CounterPoints.

Inez Stepman:

So the Krystal and Saagar’s is Breaking Points, and yours is CounterPoints. But they do a great show every Friday even though it means that Emily is proximate to communism and comes back with all these wild Marxist ideas.

Emily Jashinsky:

Yeah, I support a minimum wage.

Inez Stepman:

It’s interesting. Actually I want to start out with this now that you’ve mentioned the minimum wage. I had the opportunity, interesting opportunity, to give a talk at Yale’s Buckley club, and it was on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of Milton Friedman’s Capitalism and Freedom. And so I was rereading Capitalism and Freedom, which I haven’t read for, I don’t know, a decade. I read it in college, and I just remember being really influenced by it in college. And when I was going back and rereading it, it was just wrong. The things that it described as impossible are things that we live with every day now, so it was just a very remarkable experience.

So I’ll just give you a couple of quick examples. He writes that the publisher cannot afford to publish books with which he personally agrees, or only publish books with which he personally agrees. That’s what’s happening with publishers and distribution outlets like Amazon. There were a few. Another one was about the BBC not allowing Churchill to give a warning pretty early on about Hitler because his views were considered extreme. And because it’s a state-run institution, he basically was denied access to the public’s ear. Well, that’s happening on YouTube and Twitter and that whole shebang. So anyway, your comment about the minimum wages reminded me. Because there’s still a lot of really great stuff in that book, but there’s just these discordant notes in the theory that I once believed about the free market. Because it’s just, if you open your eyes to what’s going on around us, it seems like Milton Friedman didn’t really predict the kind of corporate collusion that we have going on right now.

Emily Jashinsky:

Yeah, that’s really interesting because I thought you were going to say the opposite. I thought you were going to say when you revisited the book, you were struck by how interesting and prescient some of it was. And I’m sure some of it still is. Because I find that when I go and read a Mary Rothbart or something like the real anti-statists, they tap into that. But what you just described from Friedman is so interesting because it’s this total, I think, lack of prescience when it comes to where the cultural institutions were going. If you combine it with God and Man at Yale and you combine monopolization in the tech industry with God and Man at Yale, those two particular points are very interesting.

Inez Stepman:

Yeah, God and Man at Yale turned out to be a lot more important and prescient [inaudible 00:04:06] freedom. Ought-oh, I think I just cut out. But I thought God and Man at Yale ended up being quite prescient in a way that Milton Friedman sadly did not. He still had a lot of really great proposals, but what struck me was a contempt for the political, more broadly speaking, and he explicitly says basically democracy and the political process, more generally, is a least bad option. It’s better always to allow the complete freedom of choice that the market allows. So every individual can choose between a smorgasbord of options.

And then for those things that really doesn’t work for because there are specific conditions in that particular area of life, then we submit ourselves reluctantly to this political process, which is the least bad of the political processes. And it really was interesting. It was interesting to reread it because I think that would have rang very true with me 10 to 15 years ago, and now I am a unapologetic enthusiast of the political process because it seems to me that the problem is that that sphere has shrunk so much, and basically that vacuum wasn’t filled by this individualistic free market that Milton Friedman imagined. It was filled by technocracy, bureaucracy-like forms of power, whether public or private and sometimes both.

Emily Jashinsky:

But that has to also have been incorrect at the time, the notion that there are no publishers. Or you could even replicate that in other industries that can’t afford to publish things they disagree with. I assume if he’s talking only about major publishers, that makes more sense. But there had to have been, for instance, small Catholic publishing shops. There had to have been small Jewish publishing shops that would not be publishing the Catholic stuff and vice versa. So even at the time, unless he was just talking about the major people, the major players, that can’t have even been true.

Inez Stepman:

I think he was saying something a little more reasonable, which is that the entire market of publishing can’t afford to exclude a large part of their customers. So I don’t think he would disagree with any particular publisher can do that.

Emily Jashinsky:

I see that.

Inez Stepman:

The point he was making was more just that you’ll find a publisher because somebody wants to make money. If some people want to read something, somebody wants to make money on it. And what it doesn’t account for is that if you have, even outside of a monopoly context, because the only context that he could acknowledge this kind of situation happening was in a monopoly context, but you don’t need a monopoly if you all agree with each other.

If, let’s say, 80% of the publishing market space is taken by companies who compete with each other but still hold the same cultural views and still find the same books repugnant, you can end up just excluding part of the market because you can just count on your competitors to do the same. And I think he would have imagined that there would be this gutsy little pop-up publisher or whatever, but we’ve seen that that doesn’t actually happen as smoothly, that competitive entrance to the market to try to serve ideologically-excluded customers. We haven’t really seen that market mechanism work very well. I don’t know.

Emily Jashinsky:

And I’m wondering-

Inez Stepman:

Maybe it has worked a little better, but-

Emily Jashinsky:

I’m wondering at the time what it was like for virulent communists in America or virulent pro-gay writers in America on the publishing side. I don’t know, but I’m wondering if that was also just a blind spot at the time, or that the Overton window was such that he was talking about things that were considered within a reasonable viewpoint, and now we’ve pushed mainstream things out of the reasonable Overton window space, and you’ve seen that shift happen.

Inez Stepman:

He explicitly defends the right of communists to participate in the market and so on and to spread their ideas through the market, and so he’s very explicit about not being a hypocrite actually and saying yes, even communists need to have their fair shake at the market. So I think he-

Emily Jashinsky:

I guess I’m just wondering if they did, if the market worked in the way that he envisioned at the time.

Inez Stepman:

In some ways, yes. In some ways, no. You do have obviously the Red Scare and then the McCarthy era, which McCarthy was more correct than most people wanted to admit. Even if you disagree with how he dealt with it, the fact that there were a lot of communists in U.S. government.

Emily Jashinsky:

I’m reading the Stanton Evans book right now actually.

Inez Stepman:

It’s the VENONA papers, everything is. But there were a lot of communists. It’s interesting, the Golden Age of American communism was clearly the ’30s and ’40s. And then once it becomes clear that there’s going to be a Cold War between the USSR and the United States, it’s hard to imagine, I guess not fully today because they have reasserted themselves in the political discourse, but in the ’30s and ’40s, it was very common for very prominent people to be members of the Communist Party.

Emily Jashinsky:

Yeah. I was just thinking about this actually because it reminds me in some ways of Trump. And when Trump comes along, because everybody else has lost all of their trust, Trump says something, and then the people who rightfully have no trust in anything left will believe Donald Trump and his version of current affairs or history or whatever. It’s the same thing though with people, like Oliver Stone will say something bad about Churchill, and because everybody else has maybe given a less than balanced view of Churchill or someone forever, it’s automatically like, well, Oliver Stone must be right. He’s the one that’s jumping in. So what some folks on the right are experiencing is what has plagued the left for decades. And that Howard Zinn comes along, and because he tells a different version of a story that has been told without some balance in certain cases, they’re like, well, Howard Zinn’s version of history is 100% accurate.

Inez Stepman:

Zinn was very explicit that he wasn’t even really writing history. But this was not the tangent I was planning on going on, but-

Emily Jashinsky:

A good one nonetheless.

Inez Stepman:

That form of libertarianism just doesn’t seem to describe the world that we live in very well, which is not to say that there are no good libertarian impulses or that all libertarian ideas are bad. Actually that book, Capitalism and Freedom, is literally full of examples of really good policies that are still really important and necessary, so the most obvious one being school choice. So if there’s something that’s good about libertarians, I think they often find wonky good policy solutions to very specific problems, but they’re overall analysis of life, politics, the art of human beings living together in a political community just seems very obviously wrong today in a way that it wasn’t obviously wrong. Maybe I was just younger and dumber, I don’t know. But I also think the world just hadn’t shown certain trends or tendencies yet that would totally and obviously disprove some of the things that sound really good on paper about libertarianism.

Emily Jashinsky:

Yeah, it makes more sense to reflexively err on the side of free markets and individuals when you have more of a public consensus, but it gets harder to protect everybody’s rights, et cetera, and to do that when you don’t have that consensus.

Inez Stepman:

So speaking of consensus, this is a very smooth operation I’m running here. Consensus, it is lacking in the Republican party right now, which is fighting a type of civil war over this omnibus bill. So the omnibus bill passed the Senate, we’re talking on Friday before Christmas. It did pass the Senate. I think it’s going to be voted on in the House. You probably know better than I do, but it passed the Senate by a big margin. I think it was 68, and then there were several other Republican senators who didn’t show up. And there are a lot of unusual names of people on this list too. Tom Cotton voted for it. Ben Sasse didn’t show up. I guess that’s not surprising.

And then there is this rebellion. In the House, there’s this talk of a rebellion and how the House members, because they’re angry about the fact that this omnibus bill is killing one of their major tools in their toolbox for this incoming House majority, that they might kill Republican senators’ earmarks specifically. So there might be this civil war. What is the situation with that, first of all, and then what do you think as to how it’s going to turn out, and what does it say about the state of the Republican Party?

Emily Jashinsky:

It’s definitely omnibus theater, which the Republican Party is used to, and it is reminiscent of a lot of the Tea Party era fights. And I think it’s good. It’s fundamentally a good thing to say we’re drawing a line. And they’re not entirely naive. It’s the same thing with what’s happening in the speaker battle right now where you have Andy Biggs mounting a challenge to Kevin McCarthy that is a long shot, at best, but also designed to threaten McCarthy with not getting the votes that he would need. It’s possible, if this really played out, you end up with a speaker Hakeem Jeffries of a GOP majority. That’s not going to happen though because nobody’s naive. There’s an aspect of theater to all of this, and what Mike Lee has been doing is putting up amendments like the Title 42 one to push Democrats.

It’s sort of poison pills that shouldn’t be poison pills to push Democrats to push centrist Republicans and to see what their breaking points are. Because what’s really happening here is they’re saying, on the House side, Republicans are saying, and on the Senate side, Republicans who are siding with the House Republicans who are saying, we don’t have to pass this year-long massive budget. We can pass a CR, a continuing resolution, and kick the can for a month until we have control of the House of Representatives and can knock out some of these leftist priorities. There are analyses of the omnibus bill that show a lot of money being funneled to pet causes of the left, and that would include, I think, some really noxious organizations that are pushing woke agendas, if we use that word, and continuing to divide and radicalize Americans. And there’s plenty of pork in it.

So what they’re saying is, why are you not wielding your power? Why are you wielding your power in this go-along-to-get-along way? Mitch McConnell is pretty happy about what he’s gotten out of the omnibus because he’s said we’ve secured some conservative priorities, some spending for conservative priorities. It’s the best that you’re going to get. Let’s not be naive. Let’s not be greedy. Let’s take it, fund the government, get home for Christmas and avoid any PR nightmares. Again, very reminiscent of some Tea Party era fights, but at the end of the day, House Republicans and other folks on the Senate side are saying, why are we doing this? We can actually have a better bill. We can easily push for the CR. It wouldn’t be easy, but that’s what we can do. We have the power to do it if only we had the votes. But this is typical DC Republican Party saying that it’s more important to just get this over with, get it done and dusted, wipe our hands, go home for Christmas and enjoy the season.

Inez Stepman:

I think we cut out in the middle there. So what does this say about … because nobody wants this. Americans don’t want the government to shut down, I suppose, but if you read a list of what’s in this bill, this is not popular. Actually, nobody’s even bothering to make an argument for how this bill is good. Have you noticed that? McConnell is saying, oh, it’s the best we’re going to get, or whatever, but nobody’s actually like, oh, there’s some really great things in this. It’s very obviously a huge pork-stuffed bill with a bunch of projects, and everybody got their little thing, but the American people obviously don’t … First of all, there’s thousands of pet projects in this bill, but I haven’t heard anyone actually defend and say, this is a great bill, and it does X, Y, and Z for the American people. This has become our hollowed-out, decline-era tradition where we just roll everything and desperately try to fund the government at the last minute. And it’s an entirely horse trading, behind the scenes exercise in which there really is no small Democratic input.

Emily Jashinsky:

And all of these dumb priorities get their pork through it, and we perpetuate these questionable groups because Republicans aren’t pushing back hard enough because they’d rather get home for Christmas and avoid the PR nightmare of a Christmastime government shutdown. It’s extremely frustrating, and we’d have to ask Rachel Bovard what the mechanism is to change the … I know I’ve seen it floated by people like Rachel and others. I couldn’t describe it specifically, but it’s depressing to think that in the Trump era we didn’t get to a place where we would also be avoiding omnibuses, because honestly, people love omnibuses. Congress loves omnibuses. They love it, and it’s where they can sneak in the interesting spending, that they can go home and say, we renamed the Lake Champlain basin for Patrick Leahy, which is part of this bill. We can do X, Y, and Z. And so they like it. They can placate special interests while funding the government, and it’s a way to just have their cake and eat it too. But it is truly, like you said, it feels like a symptom of decay that we can’t get out of this vicious cycle.

Inez Stepman:

Yeah, because it’s the same thing with extending or raising the debt ceiling. There are these things that have to happen that are the most basic functions of government and the most basic functions of Congress. It almost seems like Congress does almost nothing other than these bills, and these bills don’t actually address any of the priorities that either side, for the most part, is actually running on. The Democrats, in the midterms, did not run on renaming Lake Champlain for Patrick Leahy. It’s entirely this horse-trading exercise. And I’m not wholly against the horse trading. I understand that this is the messy, this is how a sausage gets made and how-

Emily Jashinsky:

It’s the lubricant.

Inez Stepman:

… it gets passed. I do think the alternative with no earmarks, actually I was huge member of the Tea Party, but I was very much against their anti-earmark stance because the alternative is they just write these vague funding provisions to the administrative state, and then the administrative state does the earmarks. So instead of this Democrat who wants to rename something for Patrick Leahy, it’s some bureaucrat who’s like, I really like this park and I’d like to name it for my friend, which in my view is even worse. So I’m not entirely against the earmarks, but as you said, it seems like a really obvious symptom of just failure of institutions and decay of institutions that this is literally all that Congress does because it has to.

Emily Jashinsky:

I think that’s a good point. Well, it’s a good point because if you look at what’s been considered in the omnibus, we’ve just been seeing random things get jammed into the omnibus per usual. There are bills about press freedom. There’s bills about the border. There’s bills about opening up the app marketplace and the big tech front. All of this getting jammed into an omnibus and for an interesting reason, which is it’s testing to see where everybody’s red line really is, but also because they don’t vote on this stuff anymore. They don’t bring it to the floor on an individual basis because, again, that lack of consensus, the lack of will to actually do this stuff. Border stuff, in particular, is such a great example. The Title 42 extension, why do we have to slap that in an omnibus?

I understand the timing, but it’s a great question of this stuff can all be litigated more directly through the democratic process, and it never is. And I’m not talking about California, your home state’s referendum system, but just in the normal sort of function of Congress, republicanism, we should be able to litigate the border without having to kick it to an executive order or a provision that we attempt to slap into an omnibus to test Democrats. It’s Congress. It’s not the fault of Mike Lee. It’s the fault of Congress more generally that it comes to this every year.

Inez Stepman:

It’s like the normal order of things. The standard operating procedure now is flying by the seat of your pants everywhere in a very corrupt and anti-democratic way. And I think you’re really right to bring up that Title 42 as an example. We don’t have a functioning immigration law and border protection law. We don’t have a functioning border. And now we are reliant on the Supreme Court in the last few days, sweeping in a day before this emergency declaration emergency power under the pandemic expires, and essentially saving even the semblance of law on the border, which is already a disaster because you had Democratic mayors declaring states of emergency all up and down the border, because it was going to be an incredible flood of people. Because by the way, there are Democratic NGOs who are probably funded via this omnibus bill who are going down and telling people, “Oh, hey, Title 42 is expiring. Now is the time to cross the border.” There’s something-

Emily Jashinsky:

That is a really good point. That is a really, really good point that this could be completely counter-productive on the one hand if you have the provision to save Title 42, and at the same time you’re funding the NGOs because there is no direction or purpose to an omnibus bill other than funding the government and in a million different directions that you’re just going to be undercutting yourself. And Title 42 is a good example of this, in and of itself, because it’s already a bureaucratic stopgap measure. It’s already there. The only reason that Title 42, most Republicans agree the pandemic is over, but they want Title 42. It’s already this bureaucratic stopgap measured because Democrats refuse to really seriously consider border legislation.

And so we’re already kicking the can to the administrative state because there’s no consensus to be had period on what securing the border would look like. And there’s a total undermining of the rule of law on behalf of Democratic mayors around the country who drag these migrants, bait these migrants to coming into the country by saying they’ll be safe in sanctuary cities. So it means that you can come to the country, cross the border, disappear into the shadows, never show up for an asylum hearing, or just hope that laws get changed while you wait it out, which absolutely happens. And that’s just the way it goes. And it’s already exactly what you’re talking about, the lack of ability to cover.

Inez Stepman:

There’s this weird dynamic now, and I guess you could call it a late-stage empire dynamic or something, if you want it to be depressing before Christmas.

Emily Jashinsky:

You’re wearing a skull sweater.

Inez Stepman:

I thought it was cute, but it’s kind of like a Wednesday Adam’s take on the Fair Aisle sweater, for those not watching on YouTube. No, but there’s this weird dichotomy that really rankles me whereby there’s this incredible amount of direct consequence and accountability for totally stupid, irrelevant things like a tweet from five years ago from someone who made a joke one time, or there were a couple of examples in the last few months of students who had their college acceptance rescinded because there was a video of them singing along to a rap song and dropping the N word. Therefore, their whole lives should be ruined, and they should be …

Those kinds of things, there’s this incredible, very specific accountability, immediate accountability. In fact, I think the left, instead of calling it cancel culture, they call it accountability culture. And at the same time, people who actually have enormous amounts of power who are making decisions every day that affect millions of people’s lives in very significant ways up to and including war, there’s no accountability whatsoever. You have that perfect Thomas Sowell. That’s a guy who held up, by the way. But they got that perfect Thomas Sowell situation where people who are making incredibly important decisions suffering no consequences if they did make those decisions wrong.

We lost a war, and people got promoted. Nobody got fired. There’s no accountability for people who are actually making incredibly important decisions, and there’s this very intense accountability for everybody else who made a joke three years ago. And it’s incredibly frustrating, and there just seem to be some kind of power class dynamic angle to this because it’s disgusting. It really makes me angry. You can tell I’m getting worked up, but it really makes me angry that people can make such important decisions. I guess this boils down to the Spider-Man thing. With great power ought to come great responsibility, and instead what we’ve done is with great power comes absolutely no responsibility. But if you’re just a random dude, then you have all the responsibility in the world.

Emily Jashinsky:

I think what you just described accurately is a really simple formulation. It’s oligarchy. And I remember when Bernie Sanders said something about how we were living in an oligarchy back in, I don’t know, 2018 something. And I think I got hot and bothered about it. I think I was annoyed because that seemed hyperbolic to me, and it seemed like the fearmongering that a lot of the left fundraises off of and doesn’t seriously mean. And I think maybe at the time we were right on the precipice, so I would disagree even with what I wrote at the time, but I actually think it’s shifted very clearly. There have been changes that have pushed us, nudged us pretty squarely into oligarchy, categorically into an oligarchy. And exactly what you’re just describing, I think, is exactly that because it’s not just government and it’s not just private interests. It’s both government and private interests that shield themselves while wielding their power against everybody outside of that elite space of power. And that’s basically what it feels like to me.

Inez Stepman:

It’s like nobody has any responsibility because there’s a lot of overlapping layers of this, and I think it’s defensible that you would call it oligarchy. You would think that via capitalism and freedom and Milton Friedman and all this stuff, there would be a market accountability for private actors. We’ve now seen that that mechanism has broken down through a combination of cultural collusion between major companies and something, frankly, we have to admit that the left had a point that there is enormous concentration of market share, usually not in the monopoly, but usually something more like an oligopoly within a lot of these different fields. It really blunts the consumer response.

And then there’s the cultural collusion, which I think is the bigger problem. And then thinking about the last Twitter drop, Twitter files drop, where you’ve literally got … It’s so quintessential. This story is now the American story of how one becomes powerful and rich. This guy Yoel Roth gets into the University of Pennsylvania and does his doctorate work on his own sex life. His dissertation is about Grindr, and this is the qualification that launches him into an incredibly powerful and lucrative position where he’s policing perhaps the most influential social media network, not by usership, but by influence on the national discourse and in media.

And what’s his qualification? What actual elite qualifications does he have? It’s literally a dissertation about his sex life. That’s why he’s there, and there’s no accountability. And now he’s emailing every day back and forth with the FBI to some guy who’s probably also wrote his dissertation on his sex life, because that is the qualification now. It’s this very hollow ideological qualification for a pipeline into the elite and an enormous amount of money, an enormous amount of power. And it all feels fake. This doesn’t seem real. And the fact that we seem to continue and to be able to perpetuate an at least quasi normal day-to-day life in America, I think, is just a function of how rich we are.

Emily Jashinsky:

I think that’s true. I think Yoel Roth is a good case study in something that you talk about absolutely all the time, the breakdown in our system of credentialing. But it’s also like when we broke down our system of credentialing because we questioned all legitimate standards. It totally threw the baby out with the bathwater, as we were in the post-modern milieu as we were trying to say, we need to correct for discrimination against women and minorities. We just threw everything out the window and said none of it matters because truth is relative. And by the way, there’s an incoherence in that message. If truth is relative, then we can’t prize some truths simply because they’re bad imitations of FUCO. We can’t say doing a bad imitation of FUCO is better than writing your dissertation on the problems of the reformation or something like that simply because it’s a bad invitation of FUCO. But that’s where we’ve landed.

If you throw truth out the window in the name of hedonism, that’s really what it is. And it’s a faux moral relativism because it’s not really relativistic. At the end of the day, it prizes the hedonism above everything else. It will come up with a million different justifications for hedonism above everything else. And that’s the best way to succeed is to imitate the intellectualism that justifies any different hedonistic ends. And so it’s just a bad imitation of substance is how you win out. We see it how many times? Sam Brinkman, Yoel Roth, Kamala Harris, good example. It just is constant.

Inez Stepman:

It’s the vice-president, and the president can’t string three words together. And in Joe Biden’s defense, I always thought Joe Biden’s reputation as being an elder statesman or whatever was always overblown. Even when he was being selected as Obama’s VP, I couldn’t believe that they were describing this guy the way they were as this moderate elder statesman, or whatever. But in his defense, he’s clearly declined in age, but Kamala Harris is unable to … I don’t know, it just seems ridiculous to me that this person is the vice-president. And it was equally ridiculous that Donald Trump became President of the United States. It should be some flashing, all of this stuff. Is this our sending a horse to the Senate?

Emily Jashinsky:

Yes, it is. Yes.

Inez Stepman:

And we put Yoel Roth in charge of the digital public square because he wrote an essay about Grindr, and we’re going to have Kamala Harris as our vice-president, and before that we had Donald Trump. Is all of this just we’re sending a horse to the Senate? What is this?

Emily Jashinsky:

It’s exactly what it is. And it’s because identity politics make us feel good in the absence of any moral grounding or foundation, we’re obviously just flailing for things that make us feel good. And that’s what identity politics is, and that’s where you can connect the dots between the hedonism I was talking about and Kamala Harris. It’s not like Kamala Harris is talking about doing her PhD dissertation on Grindr, but she’s this manifestation of how identity politics makes us feel better than substance, that it is mistaken for substance in and of itself. And that’s how you elevate somebody like Kamala Harris, who couldn’t even get to Iowa because voters weren’t responding to her, to the vice presidency. And again, your society then becomes built on a house of cards because it’s not rooted in any firm foundation.

It’s just a house of cards. There’s nothing real substantive there other than the signaling and the attempts to feel like you have purpose and meaning. And Kamala Harris and Yoel Roth are both fantastic representations of that because there it is. These two people who are way more style than substance, and by style, I mean identity politics and all the rest, and it all crumbles when you’re pushed to do something serious. And you can actually bring that to the omnibus. Again, when we’re pushed to do something serious, we’re utterly incapable of doing anything meaningful and serious because we’re built on a house of cards now.

Inez Stepman:

No, I think that’s really well put. Ultimately, it’s not just identity politics and ideology and wokism and all that that’s the problem. It’s pushing out. I can’t believe we didn’t mention Sam Brinton yet, but he’s also obviously in this category. We literally-

Emily Jashinsky:

I did, but I think I said Sam Brinkman. I don’t know why I said that. I think I was thinking Brinkman.

Inez Stepman:

I’m always confused. SBF, the names. I know the people, but SBF, that’s the reason I’m calling him SBF instead of … but Sam Bankman-Fried, or whatever, with-

Emily Jashinsky:

Brinton.

Inez Stepman:

… Sam Brinton, they have similar names. But anyway, they’re two very good examples of this. It’s this bottom-line assumption, and maybe this is just born from incredible wealth that this is inevitable, but it’s this assumption that the way we live is the baseline of the world, that the enormous wealth and power in the United States is just how it is, and that will continue to perpetuate endlessly without adding to it. And it’s this idea that you can have absolutely no competence or productivity. I wonder how much of our economy is completely fake. How much of our GDP is just paying people to police other people’s speech or keep the employees in line from making a joke about a bikini or something? And how much of our economy is completely fake?

Emily Jashinsky:

Or is it fake?

Inez Stepman:

Completely fake?

Emily Jashinsky:

Speaking of Sam Bankman-Fried, how much of it’s fake based on effective altruism? This post-modern attempt to feel something good, to feel as though you’re contributing to the world, flailing and grasping for a sense of meaning that is actually rooted in nothing other than signaling. We now know that a decent chunk of our economy was built exactly on that. And I think it does raise the question, to your point, or you can go even further and you can talk about Lehman Brothers. You can talk about this stuff. It wasn’t intended. The only moral end was making more and more money, which is as empty as the moral end of racking up more and more virtue signal points. It’s the exact same thing. It’s just the other side of the coin.

And so yeah, I think it’s a huge chunk of our economy, and I think one of the lost chapters of American history that’s just not told very well is the Gilded Age. I think it’s very interesting that HBO poured millions and millions of dollars into making a show on the Gilded Age. It was very good last year, and I’m hoping it continues. But I think it’s interesting that that came out now because listen, Carnegie had all of his reasons for turning to his version of effective altruism, but it was rooted in something much realer than what Sam Bankman-Fried’s effective altruism was rooted in. And so is this all part of the same time period? Is this all just the ice age of tech and whatever? Or are these two distinct periods where the money that we’ve racked up in this era is fundamentally going to be used differently than it was before the turn of the 20th century? I think it’s an open question.

Inez Stepman:

And run out because it’s not being regenerated. That wealth, if it’s being regenerated, it’s being regenerated by a very small percentage of very productive people, especially in these tech companies. I think that’s the real danger of Elon Musk. I actually have a essay coming out in the Washington Examiner magazine about this, but I really think that’s the real danger that Elon Musk poses to the left. I think the censorship stuff is what they throw out to their low-IQ rabble on the left. Everyone has a low-IQ rabble, but I think they’re like, oh yeah, Nazis are back on Twitter. Here’s Kanye tweeting a swastika, like he’s not clearly mentally ill. I don’t know. I think those are the smokescreen. And don’t get me wrong, free speech and a new sort of public square that is Twitter and Facebook and all these social media companies, I think, is an incredibly important issue.

But I think the real danger here is if Elon Musk can prove that he can run a tech company with a third of the staff, and it’s 99% a bunch of white and Asian guys and Pakistani guys in a clearly stinky cubicle coding all day. If he can prove that you can cut your payroll by 70% and stick your finger in the eye of the diversocrats, and there was some really good back-of-the-envelope calculations done of basically just by cutting payroll, how potentially profitable Elon Musk has made Twitter.

I don’t know, man. Those tech companies the last two months, they’ve been laying off a lot of people. They’re copying Elon Musk. They’re getting rid of a lot of those perks. Meta just got rid of the $200 a month in Lyft vouchers or whatever they were giving every employee. They got rid of some of that. There’s going to be a belt tightening. And I think that’s really what the institutionalized left is afraid of is that Elon Musk will show how many people making $150,000 or $300,000 in not just the tech sector, but in every facet of our economy, are producing absolutely no value. And they’re either doing email jobs or they’re shifting one spreadsheet to another, but they’re not actually producing any value, or the value they produce is purely ideological. They’re political officers.

Emily Jashinsky:

And that they’re-

Inez Stepman:

Political officers.

Emily Jashinsky:

And their control. I think it’s also that if he shows that the folly of their self-appointed police force mentality, fundamentally that we don’t need to be controlled by them. And that, in fact, it’s not good for shareholders to be parts of companies where they appoint themselves to exert that level of control and work with the FBI to control the American population and the American discourse, and that you can let speech exist. Because people are always going to think bad thoughts and always going to express bad thoughts, you can let it exist, and the truth wins out. The light wins out ultimately. In the end, it creates for a better world. If he shows that, man, there are a lot of jobs in trouble. There are a lot of HR manuals that will have aged very poorly and probably get quietly revised.

Inez Stepman:

And a lot of people who are going to lose their jobs. Well, since this is our Christmas, this episode will air just after Christmas, let’s start with you mentioned Gilded Age, and I know you’ve written a review of White Lotus. What are you planning to watch when you have maybe a little downtime over Christmas? What do you recommend? What have you enjoyed this year in terms of the cultural output of our declining civilization?

Emily Jashinsky:

Oh my gosh. This is an impossible question because I basically watch everything. So it’s easier for people to tell me examples, and then I can say whether it’s good or bad, I’ve been really enjoying the new season of Reno 911!, which is the lowest of the low brow possible. But it has been fantastic. It’s just like what was airing in the Aughts on Comedy Central unchanged, except for in the best possible way, which is that it is skewering the absurdities of both Trump conservatism and woke leftism. And so it’s just been fabulous. They’ve been absolutely fearless. They have a great cold open on pronouns that I hope the clip is online. I think I’ve seen it online, which everybody should go check out. But yeah, White Lotus, if people haven’t checked out White Lotus, I can’t possibly recommend it enough.

I thought the second season built on the first season’s momentum, and it’s clearly a criticism, not a criticism. It’s clearly a commentary on our decadent society, to borrow a phrase from Ross Douthat, which is a very brave thing to do on HBO, except it’s very subtle to the point where I think it’s tricked some people into enjoying this commentary on decadence. I think it’s an open question, whether it’s a full critique, but it is at least a commentary. So that’s a super, super bingeable show. As far as anything else, I’m trying to talk my way into remembering more of what I’ve watched this year off the top of my head, because it’s an overwhelming question. There’s so much, but I’m not coming up with any answers while I try to run out the clock here.

Inez Stepman:

No, but those are two good recommendations. I watched White Lotus. I finished the second season just a week ago or something, a couple of days ago. I don’t know. It’s beautiful. It’s beautifully done. I see what you’re saying, that it’s not clear it’s a critique. At the same time, it’s making fun of it and making fun of how we are now, but it’s done in a way that makes it aesthetically appealing in a certain way. And so I’m not clear on whether it’s a critique or not, at least not a deep one. I think it’s a superficial critique for sure, but I don’t know what he was trying to say, if he’s really trying to deeply criticize these people.

But one of the things that I like about it, without giving away too much, is that you see things go wrong, but then fundamentally, with a few notable exceptions, things actually work out for the rich and powerful, for the most part, especially in the first season. Things work out for the rich and powerful, even though you think they won’t, which I actually think is very true to life and very important to see. Because usually you don’t see that on film anymore, I feel like.

Emily Jashinsky:

That’s true in the first season, and that’s why I think the first season is more of a class commentary, and the second season is less of a class commentary and more of a sex-gender commentary, because I don’t want to spoil the ending for anyone. But I think it’s almost like it ends the class commentary in a very particular and definitive way itself. I don’t know that that’s true. I doubt it because the whole premise is basically following the rich and powerful on their vacations, and apparently they’re going to the Maldives next, which is very, very exciting. But I saw it as one thing I really haven’t seen a lot of conversation about is its treatment of LGBT culture.

And again, is this a commentary on androgyny? Is it a commentary on the life of extremely wealthy, powerful people without children? Whether it’s Jennifer Coolidge or the LGBT characters, I don’t know. Divorce, marriage, whatever it is, adultery, you get all of it. But I thought it was really fascinating this season, how it took a Paglian lens to sex dynamics between men and women and really, I think, honored women’s … I think the most important Paglia piece of writing is the opening chapter of Sexual Personae on sex and nature. I think it’s called Sex and Nature or Men and Violence, something like that. But this is ripped straight out of the pages of that essay, which I think sets the tone for all of her work.

Inez Stepman:

I’ve long thought that the biggest difference between Paglia and conservatives is basically that she’s a conservative. I think she has an identical, at least to mine, identical worldview on what the state of nature is and what the nature of sex is. It’s a deeply conservative worldview, but I’ve always thought it’s almost a personality difference. She’s obviously really excited by the state of nature and all of its violence and erotic passion. And I think there is something about conservatism that is easily parodied, of course, by the left of well beyond any reality. But there is something about the instinctive conservative reaction that oh, this is really powerful, and we really need to be very careful with how we mess with this. And Paglia just seems totally thrilled by the whole thing, by the state of nature. But Emily and I did a whole episode on Paglia one time.

Emily Jashinsky:

We should do another one.

Inez Stepman:

Yeah, we should do another one. We should update on Paglia. But I do think she’s in that category of a handful of people whose views were unusual, and I can’t really say this about Paglia, but James Burnham, Christopher Lasch is having a revival. There is these thinkers that seem like, wow, they really nailed something about where we’re at right now. Whether they were writing in the 1940s or 1970s, they really were prescient. Paglia, I think, is the most prescient chronicler of the sexual revolution and where we are. So I would put her in that trio of thinkers that is just being proved more and more right every day.

Emily Jashinsky:

I think she’s excited by the sexual revolution. She has a great line that I was referring to, that everything great in the West has come from the quarrel with nature. And again, I think you see that in White Lotus, even with the LGBT characters as I was talking about earlier. What happens when you push all of this into the mainstream? Whether it’s good or bad, I don’t think we know what White Lotus is saying, but we know what it’s saying is that there are going to be unforeseen challenges and difficulties. But Paglia, I think where she refers to herself as a Baby Boomer, transgender, she’s always referred to herself as transgender in a different sense in that she tests the limits and enjoys pushing the limits of typical gender roles.

But in that sense, I think she has also always been clear, and I think White Lotus is getting at something similar, that the quarrel with nature means there is a fight back. That human nature fights back with nature. It’s part of nature for humans to also fight for limits. Because Paglia talks about how the obscenity codes created the Golden Age of Hollywood, that the best films of all time are those that were operating within the strictest limits, because the mystery of woman is what makes sex. It’s what makes sex true to nature. It’s what makes it beautiful. And if you are in a world absent any obscenity, what you get is the Kardashians posting pictures of their butts on Instagram every day, and Paglia is very critical of that. So that’s, I think, a huge point of divorce from her and a lot of the other Boomer philosophers. And that’s a very, very key distinction.

Inez Stepman:

I guess we’ll wrap up on saying this. There seems to be no accountability and no limits, and instead of creating the flourishing of even passion in art, we’ve found the opposite. One of the things that always comes back to me is one of the most ridiculous things I’ve ever heard in my life is in the context of UBI, but I think it applies to the conversation we’re having now is Nancy Pelosi arguing in favor of UBI on the basis that people will write poetry all day-

Emily Jashinsky:

That’s just Marx.

Inez Stepman:

… on UBI. And I think we’re finding the opposite. That without limits, without accountability, without real responsibility, we have not only-

Emily Jashinsky:

Miserable.

Inez Stepman:

Yeah. Not only are we not happy, we’re miserable. Not only do we have quote, unquote no limits on who we are, now we don’t know who we are, and then we’re just floating in the ether. Or at least maybe we’re having a revival now, but we don’t seem to have, in the last couple of decades, produced notable art or beauty of any kind. We really haven’t used our freedom from limitation-

Emily Jashinsky:

No, we are the richest-

Inez Stepman:

Beautiful.

Emily Jashinsky:

The richest, most privileged society to ever exist can buy $10 lattes out of free shipping containers. This is what we are building with our money is we’re dotting the suburbs with freaking shipping containers, Starbucks that are built to look like storage facilities that serve us $10 lattes. And it’s just insane, the juxtaposition with the wealth that you see with this total lack of real and true beauty. And I think White Lotus is very much on that.

And a super quick recommendation for people on a show that you may have missed because it’s an Amy Schumer show, I highly recommend Life & Beth. That aired on Hulu earlier this year. It was in the spring, and it’s very much in the vein of Girls. I think Girls is one of the best pieces of millennial art that will probably ever exist. It’s self-aware, but not self-aware in the places that count. And I would describe Life & Beth as basically the exact same thing, this return to beauty and return to nature and return to truth. And it doesn’t even know that’s where it’s going.

So I just can’t recommend that show enough. It’s also funny. I know a lot of people hate Amy Schumer. She’s had some really, really … The vast majority of her work since Train Wreck has been terrible, whereas before, the vast majority of it was excellent. But this is actually, it’s funny and it’s watchable and I highly recommend it.

Inez Stepman:

Well, that’s good. Why don’t we close out? I’m going to ask you what your plans are. You’re at home. You’re hanging out, which is why there’s been little drops in the internet and so on. But what are you doing for Christmas? What are your Christmas traditions?

Emily Jashinsky:

Yes, I am in Wisconsin. It’s 11 degrees below zero. The wind is blowing some 40, 50 mile per hour wind gusts outside. So I think the internet may not be as reliable as usual, but we’ll just be celebrating Christmas with the cold and the snow, which is the best kind of Christmas possible that makes you grateful for all of the enormous blessings that we have in today’s day and age and keeps everybody indoors together and nice and cozy. So we’ll be going to church, opening presents. My mom wants me to make cookies with her today, so I guess I’ll be doing that.

Inez Stepman:

That sounds wonderful. On my end, my husband is Christian, so I’m rookie Christmas because I didn’t celebrate Christmas most of my life, but we always went back to his family. But for the last couple of years, it’s been complicated by COVID and now by extremely high prices. I don’t know if anyone has checked the cross-country planes lately, and apparently half of them are not going to make it given the storm coming in. So I’ve had to do a little bit of rookie Christmas myself. But the real holiday of the season for me has always been New Year’s. A lot of people hate New Year’s. I think that’s ridiculous. I think it’s kind of a secular Yom Kippur for people. I think it is really important to mark the passage of time and to take stock of the decisions you’ve made in your life.

And I’m actually a very unsuperstitious person. I have a hard time not laughing when people talk about astrology, for example. But I am superstitious that the company and the feeling and, I guess, the vibes that you have for New Year’s, I think it does set some kind of tone for the year. So it’s always very important to me to have good company, good cheer, and bring in the new year. So that’s really my tradition here. But Emily, thank you for once again stopping by High Noon, and I hope that you and your family have a very merry Christmas cuddled in your warm home, away from the minus 11 degrees, 50 mile an hour wind chill weather of Wisconsin.

Emily Jashinsky:

Same to you folks up in New York. It’s not warm there either.

Inez Stepman:

No, it is not. All right. Thanks for coming on, Emily.

Emily Jashinsky:

Thanks, Inez.

Inez Stepman:

Thanks to our listeners. I always read this at the end. Thanks to our listeners. This is an IWF production. High Noon is an IWF production. We also have other productions. We have a podcast, She Thinks, and At the Bar, the latter being a legal podcast and the former being more day-to-day politics. So you should check those out. And if you hate Emily’s recommendations for shows that you can watch over Christmas or you just want to chime in on some of the things we’ve been talking about here, you can email me at [email protected] And as always, be brave, and we’ll see you next time on High Noon.