I am in the middle of article-writing. Thus this amuse-bouche.
In this space I have from time to time unkindly disparaged the state of Florida. If you’re from California, you are supposed to. Also, I blame the @_FloridaMan Twitter account. Still, in atonement let me mention two nice beers I found during a trip to Miami last Friday. I was there for a National League of Cities conference to hear six mayors talk about how their cities had come back from hardships, and to talk with people at the Knight Foundation about the “City Challenge” program I wrote about last week.
Last week I mentioned that Salisbury, Maryland, was among the towns taking the craft-brewery route to success. A local newspaper article mentioned Evolution brewery. In a local DC Kwik-E-Mart I have just found and tried some of its No. 3 IPA, which you see in the center below, and which like the others here I recommend. On the flanks are two old-friends Centennial IPAs, from Founders Brewing in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Thanks to my Atlantic colleague Kathy Gilsinan for the reminder of why today is different from all other days: It’s National Beer Day! Congratulations to beer.
Last week I did an item about the reasons to believe that craft breweries can actually play a significant part in the economic revival of communities. Short version: because startup breweries need a lot of space but typically don’t have a lot of money, they usually set up show in low-rent, fringe, non-fashionable parts of town. The jobs and activity they create in those neighborhoods have their own effect — which is then magnified by the customers they draw to the area, particularly at night and weekends when warehouse districts would ordinarily be deserted. As Jeff Alworth wrote in an All About Beer item I mentioned:
They are people magnets, bringing folks in who are curious to try a pint of locally made IPA. In fairly short order, breweries can create little pockets of prosperity in cities that can (and often do) radiate out into the neighborhood.
Pretty soon, other businesses see the bustle and consider moving in, too. It doesn’t hurt that breweries often find run-down parts of towns that have great buildings. Once a brewery moves in and refurbishes an old building, it reveals the innate promise of adjacent buildings to prospective renters.
My wife Deb and I have seen dozens of startup craft breweries around the country in recent years, and I could have used a photo of some random one in Vermont or South Carolina or Pennsylvania or Mississippi or Southern California to make the case. Or for variety I might have used a photo like the one at the top of this post, from Flowers Craft Beer and Wine in the developing/local-arts-centric Roosevelt Row district of Phoenix, which we visited earlier this week. Flowers sells craft beers (including in growlers and bombers) rather than brewing them on-site but has brewpub-like spillover economic effects.
But the photo I happened to use was of the four young founders of Bent Paddle Brewing in Duluth, Minnesota: Bryon and Karen Tonnis, and Colin and Laura Mullen, whom you see again below:
After using their photo, I heard from a number of people in Minnesota, all asking whether I was aware of the political controversy that Bent Paddle was in the middle of.
I wasn’t aware of it then, but I am now. And I think this dispute shows something interesting and potentially significant about the role of the young startup “makers” we’ve been reporting on around the country.
Bend Paddle and its founders have become members of a Duluth-area organization called the Downstream Business Coalition. In my March issue story, I quoted the Duluth entrepreneur Dave Benson as saying that the area had become a hotspot of startups and innovation. The kinds of companies he was talking about — including Loll furniture and Epicurean kitchenware, which he and his brother Greg founded — are very strongly represented in the Downstream membership. (You can see the full list here.) The organization has a strong environmental emphasis, directed especially to protecting Lake Superior and its watershed. These are as important to Duluth’s identity, and its emerging northern-paradise eco-tourism prospects, as the ocean is to Malibu or the mountains to Colorado. As the coalition’s manifesto says:
We are a growing group of nearly 80 small businesses in the North, representing a cross-section of industries including technology, manufacturing, service, entertainment, and the trades. We employ nearly 1000 people and we are continuing to succeed and invest, adding jobs and dollars to our economy. Our businesses depend on the health of the Lake Superior watershed.
For those of us in the over 17,000 job, $800 million annual tourist and outdoor industries of Northeast Minnesota, the water draws our customers. The St. Louis River, Boundary Waters and Lake Superior have become great attractions for our region, and others and we have built a foundation for an entire tourist economy. For all our regions businesses, healthy water and vibrant outdoor access have enabled us to recruit and retain skilled employees. The economy of the North overall depends in on the unparalleled quality of life the clean water provides. For several of our businesses, water is our raw material and our brand. Those of us in the beverage manufacturing industry have located our businesses in the watershed specifically for access to the pristine water of Lake Superior.
How could this outlook be controversial? Because it led the members of the coalition, to oppose a proposed new copper mine on the north shore of Lake Superior, near the town of Silver Bay. You can read the details of the dispute in the Duluth News Tribunehere and here, and the Downstream coalition’s warnings against the mine here. In essence they argue that even on purely economic grounds, a new mine would be a mistake, since in exchange for a relative handful of mining jobs the region would jeopardize its highest-value, fastest-growing industries.
Based on what I’ve seen across the country and around the world, I find this a compelling argument. But for understandable reasons, some residents of Silver Bay, which have lost old mining jobs and how for new ones with the proposed copper mine, see it differently. Thus one month ago the Silver Bay city council passed a resolution order the city-run Silver Bay Municipal Liquor Store and Lounge to take Bent Paddle products off its shelves. If city residents decided to express their disapproval by not buying Bent Paddle brews, that would be in the grand old tradition of people voting with their pocketbooks. The City Council move was in the cruder tradition of denying customers that choice.
Last week I called Laura Mullen, of Bent Paddle, to ask her how this appeared from the company’s point of view. She said that part of the tension was long-standing. The traditional mining communities of Minnesota’s Iron Range have felt themselves on the wrong side of history’s slope. (This is me talking, not Mullen.) Their populations have been shrinking, jobs and young people are going away, those who remain are older, and among their antagonists (as they see it) are the younger, environmentally active populations in the cities.
“As soon as we became part of the Downstream alliance, we knew we’d have trouble in the Range,” Laura Mullen told me. But she said that the company was expecting some customer resistance, not the council’s outright and heavy-handed ban. “The difference with Silver Bay is that it told the municipal liquor store what to do.”
“We’re not looking for a war with Silver Bay,” she said. “We actually feel kind of bad for all the negative publicity they’re getting.”
Based on what I’ve heard from friends in Duluth, the anti-Bent Paddle move is in fact backfiring. A move meant to punish the company in one small market for an environmental stand is winning it broader support elsewhere. (You can think of the obvious parallels with the national reaction against anti-LGBT measures in Georgia, North Carolina, Mississippi, and elsewhere.)
“This dispute has been happening through the fall and winter,” Laura Mullen said. “But the summer tourism season is about to kick in again. People have heard about our beer, and will be asking for it. Summer tourism will change the game, because people who aren’t selling the beer will lose a lot.”
There’s a fascinating report here, in Growler magazine, of Laura Mullen’s statement to the Silver Bay city council, after it imposed the ban. Speaking for all four Bent Paddle founders, she emphasized that the company was pro-mining, pro-union, pro-livable wage, pro-Northland. She added:
When this controversy first began, our first action was to get into our car and drive to every store and bar struggling under pressure to drop our product on the Range. We drove. We listened. We explained. While these accounts don’t represent huge sales volumes, it’s the relationships that truly matter to us. We want to take this time to thank those business owners who did not succumb to the pressure of a few and who believe in the free market by keeping our Northland-made beer on their shelves and menus. We also want to do everything in our power to help the Range and this region with the job insecurity that has been so prevalent in the traditional mining communities of our state. Please know that Bent Paddle will be right beside you as we demand action from our Northeast Minnesota policymakers and seek real, long-lasting, sustainable economic diversification for our region so we can all continue to live, work, and play here without fear of what tomorrow will lend….
Hard as this is, we’re proud of our stance. In our backyard sits 10% of the world’s fresh water—fresh, clean water is becoming a more valuable asset globally each day, and to think we are all the stewards of 10% of it is a large undertaking that we believe our Northeast Minnesota community should be protecting wholeheartedly—in our case even if it means upsetting friends and losing sales.
That’s as far as I want to get into the specifics of this dispute now. My point in bringing it up, on National Beer Day, is to underscore the way this part of America’s entrepreneurial- and place-making revival is playing a part in shaping and improving our national future. One further thought from the Bent Paddle statement to the Silver Bay council, which is relevant for its economic, environmental, and civic overtones:
None of this has been easy. Beer is often celebratory, bringing people together. We take a lot of pride in being a part of this region so it has been incredibly difficult to think of this issue dividing us….
Our brewery is located in a neighborhood that has historically been unattractive to business development. We have joined and been active in several organizations to revitalize the neighborhood we operate in and are trying to find ways and reasons for other businesses to open and provide jobs for neighborhood residents. At the end of the day we feel it is better to be proactive and stand up for what you believe to be right.
Congratulations to beer! Congratulations to America’s start-up brewers.
Last summer my wife Deb and I stopped through Chico, California, to hear the story of how Sierra Nevada, second-largest of America’s craft brewers, had ended up in this remote site in Butte County. More on that tale ahead.
For now, to catch up on our Cavalcade of Beers, a welcome harbinger of spring on the still-chilly Eastern seaboard. It’s a 2016 release from Sierra Nevada’s line of Beer Camp collaborative and experimental releases. This spring’s version, Tropical IPA, has been in ample stock at the neighborhood Safeway here in DC. (Sierra Nevada now serves the East Coast from a second brewery, in North Carolina.)
You can follow the whole discussion about this seasonal release on Beer Advocate here; most people who have weighed in like this Tropical IPA, as do I. Judge for yourself, if you still can find it in one of your stores — which is to say, if I haven’t been through your neighborhood.
Yesterday in this space I argued that Donald Trump should shut up. Amtrak’s recent decision to stock Victory Brewing Company’s Hop Devil IPA on some trains showed that America is already great again.
Today the evidence from the nation’s northeastern rail corridor is mixed. On the one hand,we have the livestock-pen-indignity of the Penn Station waiting area, in which people mill around waiting for the last-second announcement of which gate to rush toward. (Yes! I know about the secret lower-level workaround. I’m thinking of my fellow citizens.) This is better than most commercial airports, but just barely. Penn Station veterans will know that the miracle of the shot below is that you can see a little area of unoccupied linoleum. But after all, this was 3 pm.
If Trump would boil his platform down to, Making Penn Station Great Again, I might sign on.
On the other hand, I give you now the Zaro Family Bakery, a Penn Station vendor doing its part to make things great all around. In its cooler we find … cans of wonder! Sierra Nevada Torpedo, in the darker-green cans, plus its mainstay Pale Ale; Sam Adams Rebel IPA and (lower down) its mainstay Boston Lager; plus Brooklyn Lager and Magic Hat Not Quite Pale Ale, all at $5 per 16-ounce can. More than in a liquor store, less than on the train.
As always our world is complex. But I have a can of Torpedo with me, and the wifi is working on the train as it rolls along through the clear and icy landscape, so for now I’ll return to the can-is-half-full perspective on our land.
A new entry on Amtrak’s cafe-car offerings: Victory Brewing Company’s Hop Devil IPA!
This is a step forward on an already progressive menu. For years Amtrak has offered Sam Adams Boston Lager on northeastern routes, plus Yuengling — and then Dogfish Head’s super-potent 90 Minute IPA, which at 9% alcohol is too much for me. [Update: and I hear from a reader that San Diego’s wonderful Stone beers have been available on the west coast Surfliner.]
When my wife and I lived in Austin long ago, while she was a UT graduate student and I was working for the then-new Texas Monthly (and then-State Senator, now Congressman, Lloyd Doggett), we spent what seemed like every evening with friends at the famous Scholz Garten open-air beer garden downtown. The range of regional beer choice in those days was Shiner, Pearl, or Lone Star from Texas, and Negro Modelo, Bohemia, Dos Equis, etc from further south.
The craft brew age has come to Texas as it has everywhere else. Continuing our saga of appreciation for the increasing range of American beer greatness, please consider the four offerings above. They are shown on a Dallas doorstep, protectively nestled on a blanket with Dress Mackenzie tartan. From left to right:
Deep Ellum IPA, again from Deep Ellum brewery. If forced to choose between this and Mosaic, I would choose both.
My main point with these updates is to add little chronicles of the ongoing golden age of beer. For academic substantiation on that point, check out the new Journal of Wine Economics for a history and analysis of the American craft brewing movement by three academic economists: Kenneth Elzinga, Carol Horton Tremblay, and Victor Tremblay. A PDF of their 33-page essay is here. (Thanks to Russ Mitchell for spotting it.) The report includes this map of craft brewing’s expansion, after Jimmy Carter took the historic step of legalizing home brewing in 1979.
I have exactly two sources of recent interest in the fascinating-to-millions-of-people-but-previously-not-to-me world of SEC football.
One is the delightful recent book by Stuart Stevens — former Mitt Romney campaign strategist, book and TV writer, author for The Atlantic and other publications — called The Last Season. It’s the story of how, after the painful loss with Romney, Stevens spent a late summer and fall going with his 95-year-old father to every game of the football season for the University of Mississippi, his father’s alma mater. The book is about the modern role of football, especially the SEC variety. But it is also about the pre- and post- Civil Rights era deep south, about fathers and sons, about self-knowledge and self-delusion, about life’s losses and gains. I recommend it. It was 99% because of the book that I watched part of the game this afternoon in which Ole Miss steamrolled LSU.
The other is our series of visits in the past 18 months to the Golden Triangle of Mississippi, one of whose three component cities is Starkville, home of Mississippi State. One week ago I was flying over the Mississippi State campus with members of the Atlantic’s video crew, getting as close to the Alabama-Mississippi State showdown in Wade Davis Stadium as the gametime no-fly zone would allow.
A year ago at this time, the Mississippi State Bulldogs were just ending a multi-week run as the undefeated No. 1 team in the country. (They ended up with three losses, and a final ranking as #11.) In their game last weekend, the Bulldogs were crushed by the Crimson Tide. But as I type the Bulldogs are in an extremely high-scoring cliffhanger against the Arkansas Razorbacks. I will intentionally post this before I know the outcome.
Until three years ago, Mississippi had nothing like a craft brew industry. State law limited the alcohol content of beer to 5%, and most craft beers are above that. Since the law was changed in 2012, new breweries have sprung up. A week ago, at the indispensable Mississippi beer center known as the SmokeStack (in West Point), I loaded up on the Magnolia State products you see at top.
Very different styles, but I liked them all (and liked the two from Lazy Magnolia best). Keep an eye out for them; enjoy Stuart Stevens’s book; and now I’ll check to see how the Dogs-Hogs game turned out.
Update Very dramatic! The Dogs won in the final minute, 51-50, by blocking a Hogs chip-shot short-yardage field goal attempt with 40 seconds to go. I think I will now leave SEC football to its actual fans, going out on top after this exciting evening game.
Have been off the grid, mainly in Mississippi, so here is a good-news way to ease back in.
1) Ballast Point Bonanza. I’ve long enjoyed Ballast Point beers, from San Diego. Earlier this month I mentioned its lightish Longfin Lager. My favorites from its lineup are actually its Sculpin IPA, as shown at right, and the packs-a-punch, spicy-plus-bitter Habanero Sculpin. Also great: Ballast Point’s Fathom IPL (India Pale Lager), Big Eye IPA, and Dorado Double IPA.
In addition to liking the beer, I’ve liked the idea that Ballast Point was co-founded by fellow Cirrus airplane pilot (and skilled flight instructor) Bill Graham, whom I’ve come to know at a number of aviation gatherings over the years. When I saw him at a Cirrus convention in Dallas a few weeks ago, he didn’t mention that he was about to sell the craft brewery for … one billion dollars. That’s the news — sale of Ballast Point to Constellation Brands as a California-based non-tech billion-dollar “unicorn” — that was announced yesterday. Congratulations to the company, and to the Graham family.
Only little cloud on the horizon: some of Constellation’s other beer brands include Corona, Pacifico, and Tsingtao. Hmmm. Please keep your brewmasters, Bill!
2) Beer Road Trip. From Nathan Yau at FlowingData, a wonderful algorithmically generated map of how to visit the greatest number of the nation’s best craft breweries with the most efficient route. Not all of them are there — no Bent Paddle or Fitger’s of Duluth, Minnesota, no Yazoo of Nashville, no Victory Brewing (and its famous Hop Devil) of Downingtown, Pennsylvania, no DC Brau of DC, no Terrapin of Athens, Georgia, none of the Mississippi breweries I’ll be writing about shortly, of course no Hangar 24 or Escape or Ritual of Redlands, California — but, to be fair, it covers a lot. Nice job.
3) Know Your Craft Beers. The LA Times story on the Ballast Point sale also has a interesting / challenging test on “craft” vs. “crafty” beers — ones that are still independent, versus brands that are part (as Ballast Point is about to be) of larger chains. Many of the “crafty” beers are still very good! But see if you do better on this test than I did…
This was a day of travel-related travails of many sorts. Had expected to be en route to Mississippi on an American Futures-related update trip. Instead (seemingly) unrelated but mounting mechanical and electrical problems in a small plane meant no-go tonight.
The silver lining was the excuse to try out a place I had heard about (and whose beer I’d bought) but not visited: one of Dogfish Head’s three DC-area outlets. The brewery and headquarters are nearby in Delaware. I say: even if you’re not reflecting on a cancelled trip, worth checking out.
Posters for their beers:
Since you asked, the tattoo on the right says 酒 , jiu, for liquor or spirits. As in 啤酒, pijiu, for beer or 葡萄酒, putaojiu, for wine. Pijiu was the specialty at Dogfish head.
It’s been a while since I’ve been on the beer beat, and the tips I’d like to pass along are mounting up. So henceforth a new feature: early each month, an homage to interesting beers.
On this warmish November 1 in Washington DC (hmm, I wonder why that could be), I show you four canned beers that we had laid in before watching the GOP/CNBC debate this past week. With a view over the still-fully-leafed trees and bamboo in the backyard, you see these beers lined up left to right, in West-to-East order of their sites of origin:
Longfin Lager, from the Ballast Point brewery of San Diego. From a great brewery, a very nice light lager for those who like light lagers.
Hopnosh IPA, from the Uinta Brewing Company of Salt Lake City. A wonderfully retro-campy label on a wonderful IPA that is one of my staples (when I can find it).
Missile IPA, from the Champion Brewing Company of Charlottesville, Va. I am always mildly embarrassed by the labels on these cans, the brew-world equivalent of the pulpy covers on the wonderful Hard Case Crime series. But, as with the Hard Case novels, I do like this beer.
Brau Pils, from DC Brau here in the nation’s capital. You can say a lot of bad things about Washington, but one of the (many!) good things is the emergence of DC Brau. I usually buy their “The Corruption” IPA, but this is a nice Pilsner.
The election of the elders of an evangelical church is usually an uncontroversial, even unifying event. But this summer, at an influential megachurch in Northern Virginia, something went badly wrong. A trio of elders didn’t receive 75 percent of the vote, the threshold necessary to be installed.
“A small group of people, inside and outside this church, coordinated a divisive effort to use disinformation in order to persuade others to vote these men down as part of a broader effort to take control of this church,” David Platt, a 43-year-old minister at McLean Bible Church and a best-selling author, charged in a July 4 sermon.
Platt said church members had been misled, having been told, among other things, that the three individuals nominated to be elders would advocate selling the church building to Muslims, who would convert it into a mosque. In a second vote on July 18, all three nominees cleared the threshold. But that hardly resolved the conflict. Members of the church filed a lawsuit, claiming that the conduct of the election violated the church’s constitution.
Thousands of pages of internal documents offer the clearest picture yet of how Facebook endangers American democracy—and show that the company’s own employees know it.
Before I tell you what happened at exactly 2:28 p.m. on Wednesday, January 6, 2021, at the White House—and how it elicited a very specific reaction, some 2,400 miles away, in Menlo Park, California—you need to remember the mayhem of that day, the exuberance of the mob as it gave itself over to violence, and how several things seemed to happen all at once.
At 2:10 p.m., a live microphone captured a Senate aide’s panicked warning that “protesters are in the building,” and both houses of Congress began evacuating.
At 2:13 p.m., Vice President Mike Pence was hurried off the Senate floor and out of the chamber.
At 2:15 p.m., thunderous chants were heard: “Hang Mike Pence! Hang Mike Pence!”
At the White House, President Donald Trump was watching the insurrection live on television. The spectacle excited him. Which brings us to 2:28 p.m., the moment when Trump shared a message he had just tweeted with his 35 million Facebook followers: “Mike Pence didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our Country and our Constitution … USA demands the truth!”
Jason Sudeikis reprised his role on SNL as Barack Obama’s vice president—and showed how much the politician’s persona has shifted over the years.
President Joe Biden’s long career can be measured in decades, in legislative achievements, and in Saturday Night Live impersonations: Seven different actors have played him over the years. His first send-up on the show happened in 1991, when Kevin Nealon portrayed him as a straight-faced inquisitor of Anita Hill’s sexual-harassment allegations against Clarence Thomas during the the judge’s Supreme Court confirmation hearings. Throughout the most recent presidential campaign, Jim Carrey and Woody Harrelson brought star wattage to the job while painting candidate Biden as, essentially, a collection of tics and catchphrases.
Earlier this month, yet another Biden joined the annals. SNL’s Season 47 premiere opened with the rookie cast member James Austin Johnson flashing a strained smile under a white wig, his hairline so high it made Biden’s forehead seem like the National Mall. Johnson’s low-energy performance seemed designed to satirize a president without much presence: “Like an oil change, you don’t think about me until you absolutely have to,” went one line. This impersonation returned in last night’s cold open, but so did other Bidens, through inexplicable feats of time travel. The sketch offered a jarring reminder of the instability and haziness of the president’s public persona.
Claims about the drug are based on shoddy science—but that science is entirely unremarkable in its shoddiness.
Ivermectin is an antiparasitic drug, and a very good one. If you are infected with the roundworms that cause river blindness or the parasitic mites that cause scabies, it is wonderfully effective. It is cheap; it is accessible; and its discoverers won the Nobel Prize in 2015. It has also been widely promoted as a coronavirus prophylactic and treatment.
This promotion has been broadly criticized as a fever dream conceived in the memetic bowels of the internet and as a convenient buttress for bad arguments against vaccination. This is not entirely fair. Perhaps 70 to 100 studies have been conducted on the use of ivermectin for treating or preventing COVID-19; several dozen of them support the hypothesis that the drug is a plague mitigant. Twometa-analyses, which looked at data aggregated across subsets of these studies, concluded that the drug has value in the fight against the pandemic.
Breaking up social-media companies is one way to fix them. Shutting their users up is a better one.
Your social life has a biological limit: 150. That’s the number—Dunbar’s number, proposed by the British psychologist Robin Dunbar three decades ago—of people with whom you can have meaningful relationships.
What makes a relationship meaningful? Dunbar gave TheNew York Times a shorthand answer: “those people you know well enough to greet without feeling awkward if you ran into them in an airport lounge”—a take that may accidentally reveal the substantial spoils of having produced a predominant psychological theory. The construct encompasses multiple “layers” of intimacy in relationships. We can reasonably expect to develop up to 150 productive bonds, but we have our most intimate, and therefore most connected, relationships with only about five to 15 closest friends. We can maintain much larger networks, but only by compromising the quality or sincerity of those connections; most people operate in much smaller social circles.
A brilliant new account upends bedrock assumptions about 30,000 years of change.
Many years ago, when I was a junior professor at Yale, I cold-called a colleague in the anthropology department for assistance with a project I was working on. I didn’t know anything about the guy; I just selected him because he was young, and therefore, I figured, more likely to agree to talk.
Five minutes into our lunch, I realized that I was in the presence of a genius. Not an extremely intelligent person—a genius. There’s a qualitative difference. The individual across the table seemed to belong to a different order of being from me, like a visitor from a higher dimension. I had never experienced anything like it before. I quickly went from trying to keep up with him, to hanging on for dear life, to simply sitting there in wonder.
Internal documents show the company routinely placing public-relations, profit, and regulatory concerns over user welfare. And if you think it’s bad here, look beyond the U.S.
In the fall of 2019, Facebook launched a massive effort to combat the use of its platforms for human trafficking. Working around the clock, its employees searched Facebook and its subsidiary Instagram for keywords and hashtags that promoted domestic servitude in the Middle East and elsewhere. Over the course of a few weeks, the company took down 129,191 pieces of content, disabled more than 1,000 accounts, tightened its policies, and added new ways to detect this kind of behavior. After they were through, employees congratulated one another on a job well done.
It was a job well done. It just came a little late. In fact, a group of Facebook researchers focused on the Middle East and North Africa had found numerous Instagram profiles being used as advertisements for trafficked domestic servants as early as March 2018. “Indonesian brought with Tourist Visa,” one photo caption on a picture of a woman reads, in Arabic. “We have more of them.” But these profiles weren’t “actioned”—disabled or taken down—an internal report would explain, because Facebook’s policies “did not acknowledge the violation.” A year and a half later, an undercover BBC investigation revealed the full scope of the problem: a broad network that illegally trafficked domestic workers, facilitated by internet platforms and aided by algorithmically boosted hashtags. In response, Facebook banned one hashtag and took down some 700 Instagram profiles. But according to another internal report, “domestic servitude content remained on the platform.”
Lately, news stories about the supply chain tend to start in similar ways. The reader is dropped into an American container port, maybe in Long Beach, California, or Savannah, Georgia, full to bursting with trailer-size steel boxes loaded with toilet paper and exercise bikes and future Christmas presents. Some of the containers have gone untouched for weeks or months, waiting for their contents to be trucked to distribution centers. On the horizon, dozens of additional vessels are anchored and idle, waiting for their turn in the port. More ships keep arriving. Everyone involved—sailors, longshoremen, customs clerks, truckers—works as fast and hard as they possibly can. It’s not fast or hard enough.
The U.S. economy is booming, but there’s a mysterious hole in the labor force.
The U.S. economy right now is a little bit like Dune.
Not Frank Herbert’s magisterial sci-fi epic novel, or Denis Villeneuve’s new and reportedly sumptuous film adaptation. I mean David Lynch’s infamously bewildering 1984 movie version, which is remembered mostly for being a semi-glorious mess. Like that space oddity, today’s economy is too strange to neatly categorize as “clearly great” or “obviously terrible.” You keep waiting for it to just be normal. But it stays weird—big economic indicators point in conflicting directions—so you have to accept that nothing is going to make sense for a while, and maybe it’ll be okay.
Americans are buying more stuff than ever before. That’s good. But because of supply constraints, it can feel like there’s a painful shortage of just about everything. That’s bad. Economic growth is booming, but the president’s approval rating on the economy is falling, which is a historically odd juxtaposition. Businesses everywhere are struggling to fill jobs, which sounds bad, but employer pain is workers’ gain, and wages are rising, which is wonderful. But because prices are rising too, inflation-adjusted hourly-wage growth actually declined in September, which is not wonderful.
A lasting effect of this pandemic will be a revolution in worker expectations.
I first noticed that something weird was happening this past spring.
In April, the number of workers who quit their job in a single month broke an all-time U.S. record. Economists called it the “Great Resignation.” But America’s quittin’ spirit was just getting started. In July, even more people left their job. In August, quitters set yet another record. That Great Resignation? It just keeps getting greater.
“Quits,” as the Bureau of Labor Statistics calls them, are rising in almost every industry. For those in leisure and hospitality, especially, the workplace must feel like one giant revolving door. Nearly 7 percent of employees in the “accommodations and food services” sector left their job in August. That means one in 14 hotel clerks, restaurant servers, and barbacks said sayonara in a single month. Thanks to several pandemic-relief checks, a rent moratorium, and student-loan forgiveness, everybody, particularly if they are young and have a low income, has more freedom to quit jobs they hate and hop to something else.