The Discourse Report: April 19, 2021
How states fared during the pandemic, the internet's turn toward ubiquitous monetization, do we still need mask mandates?, and more
State Performance Against Covid
Axios’s Felix Salmon has a useful chart showing the states who fared best and the states who fared worst against Covid-19.
I was fairly certain Hawaii would simultaneously feature as the least impacted with respect to death count, but most impacted with respect to job loss. They’re an island far removed from continental spread, which explains the low proportion of deaths. But, with travel—and, as a corollary, tourism—largely grounded during the heyday of the pandemic, the Hawaiian economy has seriously tanked.
It is absolutely wild that the Deep South triumvirate of Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama had comparable death counts to New York, given that the latter’s density was always going to make it a Covid nightmare, whereas those Southern states rank in the mid to lower half of the table in population density.
My own state, Florida (Yes, I am a Florida man—but I’m not a Florida Man) has received a lot of attention for its pandemic performance. What makes it an interesting case is, first, it’s the third most populous state; second, it’s got the second-highest proportion of elderly residents; third, its governor, Ron DeSantis, a major rising star in Republican politics, was often juxtaposed with Andrew Cuomo, governor of New York, whenever Covid performance came up in the news; fourth, during the early phase of the pandemic, news about college students descending on Florida for Spring Break revelry became a major point of coverage as an alleged superspreader event; and fifth, Florida’s lockdown measures were less restrictive than many states whose impacts turned out to be greater.
Derek Thompson’s Atlantic piece on Florida’s Covid performance is worth reading. Thompson writes: “While I think Florida’s pandemic success has been inflated, the state has surprised people. In 2020, smart media figures and scientists predicted that COVID-19 would especially ravage Florida, given its open economy and elderly population. They were wrong. Why? Did Florida just get lucky? Is this mostly about the salutary benefits of the outdoors, or the coronavirus’s sensitivity to heat and humidity? Do strict lockdowns simply fail the cost-benefit analysis? The answer to all three questions may be yes. But they are important unknowns, and we should investigate them with data rather than political headlines alternately claiming that Florida is an economic heaven and a pandemic hell. If the numbers can tell us anything at this point, it’s that Florida is neither.”
Cops, Crime, and Race by Cathy Young in Arc Digital on 4/16/21
Is there a mechanism by which white supremacy got “baked into” law enforcement so that it would continue to operate even when racist laws and policies were gone, overt racism declined dramatically, and black men and women rose to positions of power in numerous city governments and police departments? This is a strikingly conspiratorial idea. Racism, in this viewpoint, is either a mystical evil whose unexorcised presence at the foundation continues to taint institutions regardless of anyone’s intent, or a brilliantly insidious fail-safe mechanism built into the system by its racist founders.
Parents Are Sacrificing Their Social Lives on the Altar of Intensive Parenting by Joshua Coleman in The Atlantic on 4/18/21
The economists Matthias Doepke and Fabrizio Zilibotti explain that the turn to intensive parenting was, in part, a reaction to rising economic inequality. In their book, Love, Money and Parenting, they argue that in countries with high social inequality, such as the U.S. and China, parents are required to do far more to support and prepare their children, because business and government do so little. This reality stands in contrast to low-social-inequality countries that have more family-friendly policies, such as Germany and Sweden. Looked at another way: If I don’t have to worry about paying for good-quality preschool, high school, or college; if I know that my child will be okay even without a college degree, because there are plenty of decent jobs when they leave home; if I know I won’t be bankrupted by my child’s illness—let alone my own—then it’s easier for me to relax and hang out with my friends.
A Different Way of Thinking About Cancel Culture by Ezra Klein in The New York Times on 4/18/21
Cancellations are sometimes intended, and deserved. Some speech should have consequences. But many of the people who participate in the digital pile-ons that lead to cancellation don’t want to cancel anybody. They’re just joining in that day’s online conversation. They’re criticizing an offensive or even dangerous idea, mocking someone they think deserves it, hunting for retweets, demanding accountability, making a joke. They aren’t trying to get anyone fired. But collectively, they do get someone fired.
In all these cases, the economics of corporations that monetize attention are colliding with the incentives of employers to avoid bad publicity. One structural way social media has changed corporate management is that it has made P.R. problems harder to ignore. Outrage that used to play out relatively quietly, through letters and emails and phone calls, now plays out in public. Hasty meetings get called, senior executives get pulled in, and that’s when people get fired.
Paid in Full by Drew Austin in Real Life on 4/19/21
Web 2.0’s incentives emphasized quantity — more posts, more content, more engagement, more followers. Everything was free so that users would consume more of it and sink more of their attention into platforms, which had every incentive to increase information’s fluidity (more data should be collected, more information digitized and uploaded, more users should generate more content, etc.). This put them at cross-purposes with the creators whose content they depended on, who have come to see that their best path to earning money under those conditions is by restricting access to their content than letting it circulate freely. But as Web3 matures, creators will eventually be able to do away with Web 2.0’s legacy approaches to monetization and give their audiences the ability to directly invest and even speculate in content, purchasing tokens that correspond to specific images, texts, or relationships with creators and communities, while that content continues to circulate as widely as it could in Web 2.0. Instead of paywalls, NFTs.
The Ice Cream Man Cometh by Paul Thompson in The Ringer on 4/19/21
Master P’s fifth album, the languid, swaggering Ice Cream Man, was released 25 years ago this month. His breakthrough to national audiences, its sound is a close precursor to the one that would soon become No Limit’s signature: big and bombastic but with plenty of negative space, whining synths, and ad-libs as architecture. Yet it retains the silk and funk that marked his earlier music, which is heavily indebted to the West Coast, where he spent the crucial early years of his career. Like nearly every record No Limit issued during its heyday––of which this album marks the beginning––Ice Cream Man scans immediately as the sound of a counterculture that, at the end of the 1990s, was quickly becoming central, in terms of bankability as well as controversy.
Derek Thompson (@DKThomp)
David Leonhardt (@DLeonhardt)
Trung Phan (@TrungTPhan)
David Neiwert (@DavidNeiwert)
Colin Wright (@SwipeWright)