Editor’s Note

pub date

Published October 31, 2022


Boy, do we have a dandy line-up for the fall issue of the Review:

ZTaylor Callery

Nick Eberstadt, a demographer at the American Enterprise Institute, probes the Russian bear’s soft underbelly. “History is full of instances where an aggrieved rising power acts to expand its borders,” he writes. “In Russia today we see a much more unusual situation: notwithstanding its nuclear arsenal and its vast territory, a striking feature – arguably, the distinguishing feature – of contemporary Russia is its underdevelopment and relative economic weakness.”

Writing on behalf of Solve M.E., a research organization focused on poorly understood post-infection syndromes, Philippa Dunne, Melissa Smallwood and Emily Taylor analyze the economic impact of disabling long Covid (DLC) in terms of medical bills and lost productivity. Spoiler alert: it’s ginormous.

“The fact that large numbers of Americans have been affected by DLC points first and foremost to the need for changes to the U.S. disability benefit system,” they write. “Being creative about how to retain those with DLC in the workforce would yield a bonus on top of the direct impact, providing a path for millions of others living on disability benefits to get back to work as well.”

Jordy Lee, a program manager at the Colorado School of Mines, explains how affluent industrialized economies became so dependent on foreign sources of raw materials critical to modern technology, and what to do about it. “A variety of factors brought the golden age of mining and metals to an end,” he allows. “For one thing, the Soviet Union collapsed and the geopolitical imperative for near-self-sufficiency in strategic materials waned. For another, the glaring environmental sins of the mining industry belatedly came into focus. Arguably as important, globalization captured the imagination of opinion makers in the West.”

Larry Fisher, a former New York Times reporter, introduces us to an ancient form of life that could prove to be just what the doctor ordered. “As antibiotic-resistant microbial infections proliferate,” he explains, “health care providers are turning to a biological remedy, the phage – tiny viruses that infect bacteria and use them to replicate, killing the host in the process.”

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Aaron Klein, an economist at Brookings, takes a long, hard look at an incredibly profitable banking practice that largely comes at the expense of the working poor. “Overdraft privileges became common in the 1990s, when the service was introduced as a convenience for account holders,” he writes. “But what began as a modest add-on service to select customers quickly morphed into a profit center for banks (and credit unions), with estimates of total fees paid ranging up to $30 billion a year. No wonder one bank CEO named his yacht ‘Overdraft.’”

Benjamin Priday, an economist writing for the Niskanen Center think tank, takes aim at our failure to provide adequate incentives for business to hire underskilled workers. “Washington does incentivize work, investing considerable resources in raising the takehome pay of the working poor,” he acknowledges. “But its efforts from the demand side are both insufficient and inefficient.”

Edward Tenner, a polymath who writes frequently for the Review, identifies an old but little noticed socioeconomic phenomenon: “‘alt-thorities’ [are] individuals with elite backgrounds who break with their former colleagues to join fringe movements,” he writes. “John Eastman fits this category nicely. He has a PhD in government … [and] was a law school professor and dean before becoming the alleged chief architect of Trump’s strategy to toss out the results of the 2020 election. So does Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., son of the slain former attorney general, who was a leading environmental lawyer before becoming a spokesman for the anti-vaccine movement.”

John Siegfried of Vanderbilt and David Colander of Middlebury College take a deep dive into what economists mean when they talk about critical thinking. “Critical thinkers possess the virtues of intellectual integrity, humility, civility and a sense of justice. Who can argue with that?,” they say. “Unfortunately, as soon as one moves from generalities to specifics, the substance of critical thinking becomes elusive, and one person’s CT is another person’s systemically biased thinking. For example, is an economist who points out the sometimes-negative consequences of an anti-discrimination policy exhibiting CT, or are they demonstrating a racist bias that is embedded in economic methodology?”

In an excerpt from his new book, Jón Daníelsson, a researcher at the London School of Economics, offers an unconventional view of the sort of systemic financial risk that triggered the Great Recession. “Today’s primary source of financial risk is not excessive risk-taking,” he writes. “It is quantitative easing and low interest rates, Brexit and Donald Trump and the South China Sea, Russia, Ukraine, Qatar and Italy. The most severe financial crisis of the world today, that in Venezuela, is caused by politics.”

Happy perusing. —  Peter Passell