I hope you are enjoying your midwinter.
Since I last wrote to you, I launched my snazzy new Washington Post column. I am so pleased to be with the Post — it’s a great editorial page that hosted the late, great Charles Krauthammer — a dear friend of so many at AEI — and is still the home of George Will, who has influenced all of our thinking.
You can read the first installment here. It’s about New Year’s resolutions — why we usually break them and how to start over for a better 2019 and be happier people.
For the first six months of 2019, I’ll be publishing on the third Sunday of each month. Later in the year, I’ll most likely increase the frequency. I mean, the market demands it. Just have a peek at a sample of comments from anonymous fans after my first column.
- Someone calling themselves Leaving weighs in with, “Well, this column is garbage.”
- dogbath adds, “The personable but warped Mr. Brooks provides a second home for psychopaths at AEI.”
- Benzaiten comments, “Ok I didn’t finish this article because it was becoming sappy nonsense.”
It’s great to see this kind of rigorous intellectual jousting. Although I have to nitpick my interlocutor dogbath. AEI scholars are virtually all full time, so it really shouldn’t be considered a “second home” for psychopaths.
WHERE I’VE BEEN
Air travel is challenging this time of the year. Here’s what I see most days.
I’m just livin’ the dream, man.
Travel was especially tough with the government shutdown that led to ground stops and cancellations at the East Coast airports, which — contrary to popular opinion — can actually get worse! Great to see people can always reach new goals.
But still, I can’t complain. I love traveling and meeting people. Here are a few highlights.
I went out to Grand Rapids, Michigan, for a lecture at Calvin College. I told the audience that Grand Rapids is the site of the only really crazy thing my beloved, mild-mannered father ever did. When I was 15, he got into his head the idea of trading lives with another family someplace in America we had never seen. He found a math professor (like my dad) at Calvin College (my dad taught at Seattle Pacific), who also had a 15-year-old son. We moved to Michigan and traded houses, jobs, and lives with the other family. I slept in the other kid’s bed, read his comic books, went to his school, hung out with his friends, and rode his bike. He did the reverse with all my stuff. That was my sophomore year in high school, after which we returned to our old lives.
By the way, we never met the other family in person.
Anyway, some incredulous person in the audience decided to see if I was lying and checked the local 1979–80 high school yearbook. They posted the result on Twitter.
I had a nice little ‘stache going there, don’t you think?
This last week I had a fantastic trip to Topeka, Tucson, and Phoenix. I started by keynoting the annual meeting of the Kansas Chamber. Here’s a photo they took of the speech.
I think they really got my good side here.
During the speech there was a big blizzard. Sitting at the head table, I got the message that my car service back to Kansas City — where I had a flight to catch — had canceled because it was too dangerous to drive. I told this to my dinner companion, former Kansas Gov. Jeff Colyer. If it were New York or California, the governor would have said, “Hey, that’s too bad.” But this is Kansas. Gov. Colyer drove me himself the 75 miles in his pickup truck.
From Kansas I went to Arizona, where I did full days at the University of Arizona in Tucson and Arizona State University (ASU) in Tempe. They were wonderful, fun visits at both schools, with friendly audiences and first-rate hospitality. At ASU I gave a speech at the original building from 1894, a school that became the university.
I would never have been admitted to this school.
WHAT I’M THINKING ABOUT
We have to keep saying it, over and over. There are numerous helpful options available to policymakers to address challenges that emerge in free trade regimes, but tariffs usually aren’t one of them. As a new study of 151 countries over 50 years has shown, tariff increases lead to declines in domestic output and productivity and result in more unemployment, higher inequality, and real exchange rate appreciation.
Stay on the sidelines. Pundits and academics alike have been lamenting the decline of local institutions in recent years. So what can you do to rebuild local communities? Start by going to your kids’ sports games. As scholars have recently found, parents’ social networks significantly increase after just one season of attending their kids’ sporting events. I think it helps if you scream at the refs that they are stupid and blind.
Breaking bread. As we all know, sharing a meal with others can be a wonderful sign of friendship and hospitality. But as recent research has demonstrated, we cooperate with one another more — total strangers included — when we eat from shared bowls of food. What’s the lesson here? Next time you want to solve a problem with someone, invite them over for dinner and then serve the meal family style. Want to take it even further? Try sharing the same fork. (Hey, lighten up, ya germophobe.)
WHAT I’M READING
China’s next policy change. Because of manipulated economic statistics and opaque foreign policy statements, it is often difficult to predict China’s future policy decisions. But in this article, Weifeng Zhong and Julian TszKin Chan outline a fascinating and reliable approach to understanding future policy moves by using a machine learning algorithm that “reads” China’s official newspaper, the People’s Daily.
The bipartisan group that’s not afraid of partisanship. It can be challenging to find examples of people or organizations committed to better disagreement rather than less disagreement or mushy moderation. But as David Graham observes in this essay, we can all learn a thing or two from Better Angels, a group that brings together people from both sides of the political divide and helps them relearn how to disagree well.
How our brains make the world. In the past 50 years, material well-being has improved at a staggering rate. And yet, while our physical needs are being met, most people are less happy today than they were 50 years ago. Why is that? In this thought-provoking report, psychiatrist Iain McGilchrist explores how modern society has privileged one hemisphere of our brains at the expense of the other and how recovering a balance between the two may lead to more purposeful and more meaningful lives.
WHAT I’M LISTENING TO
I feel like a little Berlioz this week. (Not like a three-foot-tall Berlioz, but rather a little of his music.) Back in my tender youth I spent my summers studying at the Tanglewood music festival in Western Massachusetts. During the day my friends and I would play chamber music and take lessons with members of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. At night we’d listen to the BSO play in Tanglewood’s famous shed, or semi-outdoor concert hall.
The summer when I was 16 — right after leaving Grand Rapids — I heard the BSO play Berlioz’s “Symphonie Fantastique,” and I thought it was maybe the most amazing thing I had ever heard. Here’s an old clip of one movement, featuring maestro Leonard Bernstein.
This uses the “Dies Irae” (or “Day of Wrath”), a 13th-century Latin hymn intended to depict the last judgment from the Book of Revelation. As you listen, see if you can hear where Berlioz intended listeners to imagine skeletons dancing on their coffins.
Talk to you again soon,
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