Print the Legend

Sen. Bernie Sanders listens as Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez speaks at a press conference outside the U.S. Capitol on March 21, 2024. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Dear Reader (including those of you who can’t decide whether you are the victim of a multi-million dollar theft),

Bless Bernie Sanders’ heart. I think his proposal for Americans to work less is kind of adorable. It’s so retro, so old school, I feel like he should follow up with calls to enforce the Kellogg-Briand Pact—“Stop this war or we’ll shoot!”—or for the abolition of private property. 

“It is time to reduce the stress level in our country and allow Americans to enjoy a better quality of life,” Sanders insists. “It is time for a 32-hour workweek with no loss in pay.”  

Kevin Williamson or Scott Lincicome are probably better equipped to illustrate why this is such a cockamamie idea. But I’ll give it a whirl. Imagine if Sanders proposed that every business in the country—large and small—give every American an extra day’s pay without requiring an additional day of work. That’s like a 25 percent raise. (I say “like” both because math is hard and because I have no idea if you should count the value of health benefits and stuff like that. But if the standard workweek is four days under Sanders’ plan, paying for a fifth day looks like a 25 percent bump to me).*

This would put a lot of people out of work. But there is an upside, of course: These people would now have a seven-day weekend to relax.

Even for businesses that could afford this, the rise in payroll would be an onerous tax, the cost of which would have to be passed on to consumers. When labor costs suddenly go up, either people have to be fired or prices have to go up.

The same concept applies to Sanders’ proposal. I don’t want to get super technical here, but businesses—all businesses—basically sell things. These things might be widgets, they might be inflatable romantic companions, they might be nuclear reactors or GI Joes with a Kung-Fu grip. Those are what some economists call “goods.” The other things businesses sell are called “services,” a category that includes things like haircuts, car repairs, bookkeeping, heart surgery, and companionship of the non-inflatable variety (which may come with a Kung-Fu grip, too). When you mandate that the labor inputs for goods and services be reduced by 20 percent while the compensation remains the same, you are imposing costs on businesses. A restaurant that in effect loses 20 percent of its staff will have to hire more people to work “weekends.” If the restaurant wants to stay open, it will either hire additional workers or buy machines that replace workers. Either way, the owner will have to pass the costs of that on to the customer. That won’t do wonders to fight inflation.

I could go on. There’s a fun philosophical point to be made here. Things that are true are true for many reasons (Plato talks about this somewhere). Two plus two equals four because the sum of two and two equals four. But “two plus two equals four” is also true because one plus one plus one plus one equals four. Two plus two equals four because two times two is also four. 

Conversely, things that are wrong are also wrong for many reasons. Two plus two doesn’t equal a duck, because ducks aren’t numbers. And for a bunch of other reasons. Trust me.  

Sanders’ suggestion that it’d be easy to suddenly reduce the number of days worked without also reducing the compensation is a cathedral of wrongness built upon a foundation of error, held together with the mortar of ridiculousness. It’s wrong from every angle I can think of and probably for many more that I can’t think of. Set aside the impropriety of the state telling businesses to pay people not to work. Set aside the inflationary aspects. Think about the effects such a move would have on productivity. 

Now, you might think some productivity isn’t that important. Who cares if it takes businesses longer to produce the next iPhone or TV show? Well, I do. But maybe you don’t. Fine. But what about the next cancer treatment? Sending researchers home every Thursday instead of every Friday has consequences. That’s 52 Fridays out of the year. Granted, I don’t know a lot about cancer research, but I suspect removing 52 days a year of looking at microscopes and Petri dishes would slow things down a bit.

Now, none of this is to say that businesses can’t—or shouldn’t—offer shorter work weeks. My only point is that if employers want to do that, they shouldn’t be forced to because an 82-year-old socialist thinks he has a firmer grasp of their balance sheet than they do. 

I mentioned last week that I recently gave a talk about how we live in a philodoxical age and I can’t really get the idea out of my head. Philodoxy means the love of opinion, and Eric Voegelin used the term to illuminate the purpose of philosophy. Philosophy is the love of wisdom, and wisdom depends on truth. Untrue wisdom is an oxymoron. So philosophers deal with truth. Philosophy that doesn’t deliberately engage with truth isn’t philosophy. Intellectual projects based on falsehood or opinion untethered from wisdom and reality are philodoxical—or BS, if you prefer. The philosopher tries to understand and describe reality; the philodoxer plays games with words, feelings, opinions, and myths that might tickle our intuitions and feel truthy, but aren’t actually true. From Voegelin:

The term philosophy does not stand alone but gains its meaning from its opposition to the predominant philodoxy. Problems of justice are not developed in the abstract but in opposition to wrong conceptions of justice, which in fact reflect the injustice current in the environment. The character of the Philosopher himself gains its specific meaning through its opposition to that of the Sophist, who engages in misconstructions of reality for the purpose of gaining social ascendance and material profits.

For Voegelin, philodoxy—again, love of opinion—is a way to escape what he called “the tension of existence.” Now, I’m no expert on Voegelin. I’m at best a dabbler. But what I take from this is that people find comfort in falsehood, myths, ideologies, ideas, opinions, or what Alexis de Tocqueville described somewhere as “clear, but false ideas.” It gets a bit more complicated for Voegelin, because what people really crave is a goal or end or eschaton that gives them a sense of purpose and transcendent meaning. 

But I’m going to pull up on the yoke before I crash this plane into a mountain of philosophical verbiage. We live in a moment where reality is a matter of opinion, where the “ought” crowds out the “is,” and where opinion is a substitute for what is real. 

At the highest level, our discourse is driven by what you might call intellectual aesthetics—only pretty or pleasing ideas are allowed. Facts that run counter to opinion are like pebbles in the soup or rubber bands in the ice cream. Get them out of there or eat around them. 

Bernie Sanders believes the economy ought to work the way he wants it to, so he’s going to just proceed as if it does. Electric vehicles fit the Biden administration’s narrative about how we ought to live, so let’s just ignore the costs—environmental and economic—and put the pedal to the metal. Hell, let’s just act as though Americans will eventually like them. Nuclear power would fight the “existential threat” of climate change far better than windmills, but nuclear power is aesthetically icky while windmills are lovely. Inflation is pissing people off, but the idea that reckless government spending might be responsible is discomfiting, so let’s blame corporate greed.

Indeed, Joe Biden is a victim of a generation of liberals who believed that inflation was a kind of myth, a dead metaphor, rather than an economic reality. Three years ago, Rick Perlstein thought he was really on to something when he came up with the searing hot philodoxical take that the inflation of the 1970s was nothing more than a “moral panic:”

So, you have to ask: What were these people really talking about when they talked about inflation?

The conclusion I’ve drawn is that this was a form of moral panic. The 1970s was when the social transformations of the 1960s worked their way into the mainstream. “Inflation spiraling out of control” was a way of talking about how more permissiveness, more profligacy, more individual freedom, more sexual freedom had sent society spiraling out of control. “Discipline” from the top down was a fantasy about how to make all the madness stop.

See? People weren’t really mad at high food and gas prices. They were pissed at “sexual freedom!” Nixon imposed wages and price controls to reassure people freaked out by licentiousness and libertinism.

The right, for what it’s worth, is hardly immune to philodoxical nonsense of its own. House Speaker Mike Johnson is open to a commission to study the national debt, but only if it refuses to consider raising taxes or cutting Social Security and Medicare. I’m open to a commission that addresses the problem of bears defecating in our national forests, but only if it mandates that bears be taught to poop in empty picnic baskets. Everything about Donald Trump is philodoxical now. His lovers cannot tolerate obvious facts, nor can his haters. With Trump, to borrow a phrase from The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence, the rule is always to print the legend

The glorification of opinion over reality helps explain why so many people of authority do not want to do their actual jobs. To do your actual job means dealing with the messiness of facts and risks that most terrible of consequences: “accountability.” We don’t need to cut spending or raise taxes, we can grow out of all of our problems or simply take a scythe to “waste, fraud, and abuse”—not because this is true, but because it has become a widely held opinion and asks nothing of people.

Crime in Washington, D.C., has soared in recent years, but in 2022, per the Washington Post, “federal prosecutors in the District’s U.S. attorney’s office chose not to prosecute 67 percent of those arrested by police officers in cases that would have been tried in D.C. Superior Court.” Earlier this year, D.C. Attorney General Brian Schwalb told an angry community meeting that, when it comes to crime, the city “cannot prosecute and arrest our way out of it.” He went on to talk about the need to deal with crime by “surrounding young people and their families with resources.”

This is a widely held opinion. It might even have some truth to it. But hear me out: Maybe, just maybe, it’s not an opinion that the capital’s chief law enforcement officer should hold. It’s a bit like having an underperforming salesman telling shareholders, “Look, we can’t solve all of the company’s problems by increasing sales.” But asking Schwalb to do the job he has would force him to deal with the pebbles in the soup. Better to reject wisdom—i.e., truth—and simply invoke an opinion that skirts the teeth-shattering facts.

Voegelin didn’t coin the term philodoxy—he got it from Plato—but he did coin the term “dogmatomachy,” which basically means conflict over opinions or ideology. The culture war today is dogmatomachic. It is a conflict of competing narratives, each of which has ample facts in the broth, but the facts are there purely for flavor.

I think the problems will only get worse as more and more of life moves to screens, where images and ideas can be tailored to what we want to see and hear. Google’s Gemini artificial intelligence was a great, albeit parodic, illustration of what is to come. The philodoxical imperative of diversity rendered images of black Nazis and Asian Vikings. Print the legend indeed. 

Various & Sundry

Canine Update

I’ve been traveling a lot this week, but I got in ample quality time with the beasts—including some much-needed hand-versus-dingo—and they had a lovely time in the spring weather. I also got to spend some time with my mom’s cats, Fafoon and Paddington, who still live at my mom’s place (and have lots of human visitation). Still, Paddington missed me and mugged me with love. The Fair Jessica got a visit from Monty, the rogue spaniel I told you about a few weeks ago. Jess tried bringing her in the house, but that was a bit too much for Zoë, who arooed from the regulations about interloper canines. So Jess walked Monty down to his house. I gotta run. Have a great weekend.


I’m old

Last weekend’s Ruminant

Stop making a martyr of Donald Trump

The Remnant with Allen C. Guelzo on the life of Abraham Lincoln

Define “bloodbath”

The Remnant with Tim Carney on why we should have more kids

The Dispatch Podcast on Trump, Ohio, and the 1619 Project

And now, the weird stuff

Acid reflex

Get him to the goat


Rock solid

Wasted away again

Dairy tales

What the duck


Out on a limb

Correction, March 23, 2024: This newsletter originally stated Sanders’ plan would amount to something “like a 20 percent pay raise.” It would actually amount to something like a 25 percent pay raise.

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