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The Dispatch Monthly Mailbag with Alex Demas
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The Dispatch Monthly Mailbag with Alex Demas

Our fact checker answers readers’ questions.

Alex with an alpaca in the Cotswolds, England. (Photo courtesy of Alex Demas)

Hello everyone. Thanks a ton for the amazing questions. I’m going to separate them out into some general themes and try to hit as many as I can that way. Jump to the end if you want to check out the incredibly self-indulgent cocktail section—it’s a bit long, so I saved it for last.

On my time studying for an MA in political economy:

Jill Stewart: Alex, please explain what political economy is. I gather it is more “arts” than “sciences.” Does it focus on any particular theory or form of economy?

Jack: I’ll bite: What is “political economy?” Does it have anything to do with the witchcraft Scott Lincicome practices?

To put it super simply, political economy is exactly what it sounds like—the study of all the places where politics and economics intersect. But I like to describe it this way: As the field of economics has gradually shifted toward basically being a subdiscipline of applied mathematics, political economy has arisen to swallow everything traditional economics left behind. 

Institutions are the big focus of political economy, and the school of thought I studied in is referred to as “New Institutional Economics.” This discipline is heavily influenced by the Austrian, Virginian (i.e., Public Choice), and Bloomington Schools, which sets it apart from the very Marxist/critical-theory-based field of International Political Economy. Why Nations Fail is probably the most famous recent work of popular political economy, and I would argue that many famous historical works—including Marx’s The Communist Manifesto, Hayek’s The Constitution of Liberty, and Weber’s The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism all fall into the bucket of political economy.

Mark Holmlund: Is there much divergence in thought among Austrian economists, or is there an accepted orthodoxy? Also, besides George Mason, what colleges/universities have strong Austrian economics programs?

To oversimplify things a little, yes, there definitely are divisions in the Austrian School, particularly between the “Hayek” wing and “Mises” wing. There used to be a pretty deep rivalry between the Mercatus Austrians and Mises Institute Austrians, but I think it’s settled down a bit. As far as prominent Austrian programs, that is a difficult question. New York University has a few Austrian-influenced scholars in its economics department, as does Stanford’s business school. University of Indiana is home to the Ostrom Workshop (i.e., the aforementioned Bloomington school), which has a similar epistemology and influence. And, of course, my beloved alma mater, King’s College London, has a dedicated political economy department and a number of phenomenal Austrian-influenced scholars.

Jones_randy: Who is the best political philosopher relevant to today’s policymakers and economic environment?

Political philosophy is certainly not my area of expertise, and it’s been a while since I delved deeply into it, but I’ll offer a semi-answer. Sometimes prominent authors and thinkers can be so widely recognized and lauded that they actually become notably underrated. I think this is exactly what’s happened to Friedrich Hayek, who to many has basically become the stand-in for a generic libertarian free-market absolutist—in the eyes of both his supporters and detractors. 

Hayek’s thinking, however, is actually quite a bit more complicated and nuanced than is widely recognized, and he deserves much greater attention for his broader contributions to social theory. I’d argue his short essay, “The Use of Knowledge in Society,” is probably the single greatest article in economics, and a close reading is almost guaranteed to change the way you look at the world in some essential way. Pair this with “Competition as a Discovery Procedure” and James M. Buchanan’s “Order Defined in the Process of its Emergence,” and you have a pretty solid introduction into the greater philosophy by which Hayek and later Austrians viewed society and its institutions. 

Elinor Ostrom is another thinker who deserves more popular attention. She was primarily a political scientist, but was notably also the first woman to win the Nobel Prize in Economics. Her work analyzing the governance of common resources draws heavily on the same methodological framework of Hayek, and it is a great example of how his theories can be leveraged to address prescient modern issues.

On living in London:

DaviesContent: I’d enjoy hearing more about the pros and cons of living in England.

The largest pros for me were the incredible access to culture and the diversity of the city. I’d argue that cities like New York and Tokyo have superior culinary scenes than London, but London has to have the most diverse restaurant culture. London also has arguably the best cocktail scene in the world, and definitely the best concert scene. It’s also significantly cleaner, safer, and more livable than comparable cities like New York. Additionally, you end up with an incredibly diverse community living in London, and I now have great friends from every corner of the world. But this only holds true for London; many of these perks aren’t applicable to other British cities.

Ignoring the cons of big cities in general, the largest London-specific drawbacks are the substantially lower wages compared to the U.S., incredibly frustrating healthcare system, and how dark it is in the winter (rain isn’t as big an issue as many think). Similarly, little inconveniences like no air conditioning in apartments, horrible washers and dryers, and poorly stocked grocery stores add up over time to make some parts of everyday life needlessly frustrating. The British and Europeans are also—speaking very generally—less outgoing and less fun than Americans, and I found my kindred spirits much more often in the city’s Aussie, Kiwi, Saffa, and Canadian expat communities.

Eralph: Thoughts on Brexit and its effects?

I have two different opinions here. As an American, Atlantacist, and Anglophile, I generally am supportive of Brexit given it has brought the U.S. and U.K. closer together. As much as we might wish otherwise, language and culture are significant drivers of international relations, and I believe the U.K. and its Commonwealth siblings are our most important geopolitical and ideological allies. I also generally find it amusing when Europeans are upset, which Brexit definitely accomplished. 

That said, as someone actually living in England, I was much more sympathetic to the Remain argument and think I would have likely voted to remain myself had I been a voting resident at the time. This might be my Goldbergian anti-democratic side speaking, but a decision with as significant consequences as leaving the EU probably shouldn’t be decided by a single up-or-down majoritarian vote.

Craig Berry: What’s it like becoming a soccer (not football, we’re in ‘Merica, mister!) fan as an expat? Do the native fans embrace you or think you’re a poser? And how different is being a soccer fan in England v. a sports fan here in America?

It completely depends on which team you support. An American expat who decides to become a fan of one of the Premier League’s top teams is definitely going to be mocked a bit, but if you follow a less dominant club and know your stuff you’re generally appreciated. I was always warmly welcomed in Birmingham by other Aston Villa fans, and my Leeds-supporting flatmates seemed to respect me (most of the time). The biggest difference between English soccer and sports in the U.S. is that everything is far more local in England. This leads to the British vesting far more identity in their teams than we do, and each club serves as more of a community institution than you get with professional sports in America. It’s basically like being a college football fan—except you also grew up in your college town and never graduated.

On interning with Jonah:

A number of people have asked about my time interning with Jonah and Guy at the American Enterprise Institute. Please reference the below statement from my attorneys:

Due to multiple NDAs and an ongoing class-action lawsuit filed on behalf of former Goldberg interns, on advice of my legal counsel I must refrain from commenting on any questions related to my time working at the American Enterprise Institute, my professional relationship with either Jonah Goldberg or Guy Denton, and any harassment, hazing, bullying, mockery, emotional trauma, physical trauma, mental crises, grievous bodily harm, or spiritual torment experienced therein.

On various miscellany: 

Arsenir0: I live in Israel, and just a couple of days ago I canceled my New York Times subscription because they don’t call Hamas a terrorist organization, but rather “militants”—or even worse, “fighters.” Can you suggest other serious news and opinion outlets I should subscribe to?

First off, I subscribe to and read Commentary, National Review, and The Atlantic in order to satiate my need to nostalgically flip through print magazines. For more actual “news” content, I stick to the basics: Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Washington Post, Washington Examiner, and Politico. I’ve found that it’s much easier to learn to recognize and filter out bias than to find outlets that are truly neutral. I also read the Financial Times and The Economist a lot when I worked in financial journalism, and I generally enjoyed The Spectator while in England as well.

JohnM: Have you ever climbed at the Ouray Ice Park? If not, is it on your bucket list? Where do you like to climb closer to home?

Unfortunately I haven’t been to Ouray, but it’s certainly in the plans. I had a trip booked two years ago, but broke my shoulder shortly beforehand and had to cancel. I’ve been out of action for the last two years because of that injury, but I typically really enjoy the waterfall ice in Vermont and New Hampshire. Smuggler’s Notch in Vermont offers some great alpine-esque routes, and you can base yourself out of Burlington which makes for a fun weekend. There’s also a ton of amazing ice near North Conway in New Hampshire. I love the North Cascades out in Washington as well, but it’s incredibly expensive to put together a trip out there if you aren’t a local. I climbed the Kautz route on Mt. Rainier a few years ago and it was amazing, but my planned climbs of the North Ridge of Mt. Baker and Fisher Chimneys on Mt. Shuksan were unfortunately ruined by lockdowns.

Donald Johnson: What did you learn about politics while you were a financial journalist and involved in the wealth management business? Are you a speculator, buy-and-hold investor, or an options trader like me?

I’m definitely a buy-and-hold guy. If I learned one thing working in the alternative investments world, it’s that chasing true alpha (meaning returns above a market benchmark) is mostly a fool’s errand. I occasionally will use options to hedge my portfolio if I anticipate an economic downturn, but other than that I’ve mostly reverted to the strategy of throwing all of my excess savings into a portfolio of ETFs and then refusing to look at it unless the market is up.

The self-indulgent cocktail section:

Colleentoltzman: What cocktail (recipe included please) do you recommend I serve for the next Republican presidential debate and why?

  • 12 oz. bottom-shelf vodka

Dry shake

Strain into a coffee mug

For something more palatable, try a Jungle Bird:

  • 2 oz. Dark Jamaican Rum
  • 0.75 oz. Campari (or .5 oz if you don’t love Campari)
  • 0.5 oz. 1:1 simple syrup
  • 0.5 oz lime juice
  • 2 oz. pineapple juice (Trader Joe’s canned juice is the best I’ve found)

Shake with ice and strain over ice. Garnish with a frond if you’re feeling extra.

Dcarey1098: More than eager to know what is your favorite cocktail recipe.

One of the best cocktails I’ve ever had was a milk-clarified whiskey soda from a bar called Three Sheets in London (which is saying something, because I hate whiskey sodas). The recipe is complicated and time consuming, but trust me, it’s worth it. Plus, you can make a large shelf stable batch.

  1. Mix 500 mL of Scotch (they use Monkey Shoulder) with 200 mL of unfiltered fresh lemon juice. Pour this into 200 mL of milk and let it sit for ~30 minutes while the milk curdles. Then strain through a coffee filter until the liquid is relatively clear.
  2. Add 300 g of sugar, 3 g of citric acid, 1 g of malic acid, 1 g of vanilla paste (or extract), and the remaining 200 mL of scotch from the bottle. Stir to dissolve, pour into a bottle, and store in the fridge.
  3. When ready to serve, pour 60 mL (2 oz.) of the whiskey mix into a collins glass with a large chunk of ice, top with about 120 mL (4 oz.) club soda, and garnish with a lemon peel.
  4. Email me a long note expressing gratitude for introducing you to your new favorite drink.

Kally Carter: I’m going to need your go-to whiskey sour recipe. Loving that The Dispatch continues to broaden its horizons 🍻.

I go pretty standard here:

  • 2 oz. bourbon (I typically use Buffalo Trace)
  • 0.75 oz. lemon juice
  • 0.75 oz. 1:1 simple syrup
  • 1 egg white (or 0.75 oz. aquafaba if you’re vegan)

Reverse dry shake. Serve up and garnish with a ring of angostura bitters. You can also turn this into a New York Sour by floating a bit of red wine on top.

Philip Nizialek: I am a classic American cocktail guy, and one of my favorites is the Manhattan. Do you prefer rye or bourbon? Perfect or traditional? Luxardo or twist?

I’m actually not a big Manhattan fan, but when I order a classic whiskey drink such as a Manhattan or Old Fashioned it’s generally with rye (though I do sometimes infuse some bourbon with rooibos tea and use that). Rittenhouse Rye Bottled in Bond has got to be one of the best bang-for-your-buck spirits on the market for cocktails, but I also like Willett. For other solid whiskey cocktails, try a Gold Rush, a Boulevardier, or my egregiously complicated whiskey soda recipe above.

Max Marshall: What is your opinion on the recent trend where drinks traditionally served “up” (i.e., neat in a chilled coupe or similar stemmed glass) are instead served in a lowball glass with a single large cube? I’ve seen dirty martinis, Bee’s Knees, Manhattans, gimlets, even daiquiris served this way. Does keeping the drink colder for longer outweigh the gradual dilution that comes with the addition of ice? Does the chunky glass ruin the presentation of delicate drinks? Is this just a practical way for restaurants and bars to cut down on breaks and spills?

I think that the trend of serving down on ice is targeted towards slightly newer cocktail drinkers who don’t understand how strong most classic cocktails are. Serving that way is going to a) keep the drink colder for longer, and b) add dilution over time, both of which help round the sharper edges off of a more spirit-forward cocktail and make it a bit more palatable for your everyday drinker. 

I think classic cocktails should generally be served in their traditional glasses unless there’s a good reason otherwise, but I have absolutely no problem with modern classics, riffs, or a bar’s signature offerings being served differently. However, there is one very important condition—always use clear and well-tempered ice (unless the specific cocktail calls for crushed or pebble). The number one tell that a bar doesn’t take its cocktails seriously is if they play fast and loose with their ice. It can be time consuming and expensive to produce good ice, but it’s just as important to the presentation and taste of a cocktail as any individual spirit, syrup, infusion, or garnish.

If I can spend hours in my kitchen freezing and cutting my own clear ice—much to the mockery of my friends and family—then so can your local cocktail bar. If you’re making cocktails at home, at least invest in a large silicone cube mold. The ice won’t come out clear, but it will be much better for shaking, stirring, and serving than the cubes from the ice maker in your fridge.

Alex Demas is a fact checker at The Dispatch and is based in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining the company in 2023, he worked in England as a financial journalist and earned his MA in Political Economy at King's College London. When not heroically combating misinformation online, Alex can be found mixing cocktails, watching his beloved soccer team Aston Villa lose a match, or attempting to pet stray cats.