Back to school



Back when I was moving to DC in 2008, getting ready to take the helm of AEI, a leader I admired gave me some advice: “Before you say something publicly, think about how it would feel to have to walk it back.” That served me well over the past decade, in which I’ve given about 1,500 speeches and published a few hundred thousand words.

But finally, the day has come when I need to correct the record.

In 2013, I wrote a piece in The New York Times titled “My valuable, cheap college degree.” It was a response to a debate going on at the time over whether inexpensive college degrees by distance learning could provide a high-quality education. My article argued that my own education by correspondence in my late 20s (at the end of what my long-suffering parents called my “gap decade”) was evidence in support of distance learning.

So far, so good. In the NYT article, however, I then noted that obviously my degree wasn’t as highly regarded as that of my colleagues who went to famous universities. As I put it, “It is true that I am no Harvard Man.” It seemed like a clever line.

Well, turns out I have to retract that today. As regular readers know, I announced a few months ago I will be leaving AEI in June 2019, after we find a new president. (The search is going well, by the way.) I made this announcement with no clue of what I would do next.

I announced last week that I’ll be going back to academia. Where? Yep, Harvard. So much for clever lines.

This doesn’t take effect until next summer, and I’ll stay at AEI after that as a visiting scholar. This coming year there will be lots of exciting projects, including a new book, “Love Your Enemies”; a documentary film, “The Pursuit”; and a second season of “The Arthur Brooks Show.”

Season 1 of the podcast just concluded, so make sure you listen to the final episode. Will there be a surprise ending? Will the murderer be caught? (Wait, wrong show.) Listen and subscribe here!




I was home a bit more than usual this week and decided to use a little free time to give my pal Chucho a little trim. Here’s the result. That little bald spot should grow right back.



I recorded Dan Harris’ popular podcast “10% Happier” this week in New York. You might know Dan as one of the hosts of “Nightline” and other ABC news shows. We had a great conversation on everything from meditation practice to conservative politics. The conversation left me 11.47 percent happier.



All the lonely people. Recent reports have indicated that America is suffering from a loneliness epidemic, with individuals saying that they have fewer close friends and social contacts than in previous decades. However, new work from Sen. Mike Lee’s (R-UT) Social Capital Project challenges this narrative, suggesting that the evidence is overstated. So while there is reason for concern about declines in social ties, it would appear that “loneliness epidemic” is an incorrect characterization of our current culture.

The middle class. A common narrative in Western politics today is that income inequality is the primary cause of stagnant middle-class incomes. But according to a recent paper, the story is more complicated than that. The conclusion? Neither high nor rising inequality consistently boosts or reduces real income growth for those in the middle.

More trade, please. In the midst of America’s populist surge in 2016, those on both the left and the right harshly criticized free trade. But just two years later, survey data suggest that support for trade is at its highest levels since at least 2004. The number of Americans who believe international trade helps the US economy, US job creation, and US consumers has risen 23, 27, and 15 percentage points, respectively, in the past two years alone.



How to play our way to a better democracy. Social psychologist Jonathan Haidt and Foundation for Individual Rights in Education President Greg Lukianoff believe that our society’s growing concern with safety is making us less resilient — and thus less safe. Their suggestion for raising Americans who are mentally tougher? More unstructured and adult-free play for kids. In this article, they show how the simple act of playing with others without supervision makes children more resilient and socially capable, thereby preparing them for healthy democratic engagement.

Did tariffs make America great? American trade policy is a complex issue with a fascinating history, and few are better qualified to discuss it than Douglas Irwin, an economics professor at Dartmouth and researcher for the National Bureau of Economic Research. In this interview, Irwin and AEI’s Jim Pethokoukis discuss the impacts of the country’s trade policy over time and the most common myths about free trade.

Amazon and welfare. Critics on both the left and right have recently suggested that companies such as Amazon or Walmart should face larger tax burdens if their workers are also recipients of government safety-net payments. But as Michael Strain notes in his latest op-ed, this idea has it backward: If not for the jobs created by big business, the welfare burden the federal government shoulders would actually be much larger.



How about a little chamber music? This is one of my go-to favorites: Antonin Dvořák’s American Quartet in F major, Op. 96. This is the first movement, in an arrangement for string orchestra (effectively, doubling and tripling up the parts and adding a string bass playing the cello parts an octave lower), performed by the Philadelphia Virtuosi Chamber Orchestra.

Life lessons from the world


Dvořák was Czech but fell in love with America when visiting as an adult. He wrote this piece in 1893 during a summer vacation in the small town of Spillville, Iowa. Listen closely, and you’ll hear the American folk songs he was listening to. If Dvořák sounds a little like movie music to you, that’s because later Hollywood composers loved his music and copied it.


Until next time,



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