Saturday, June 16, 2018

My Letter to Spectrum/Charter and Disney/ABC Regarding the Roseanne Termination

PO Box 130
West Shokan, NY 12494
June 16, 2018

Thomas M. Rutledge,
Chairman and CEO, Charter Communications
400 Atlantic Street, 10th Floor
Stamford, CT 06901

Dear Mr. Rutledge:

I am writing to you, Mr. Iger, and Ms. Dungey concerning the termination of the Roseanne Barr series--even though I never watched the show, and I do not usually watch ABC television. 

The news broadcasts on the traditional networks, CNN, and MSNBC are not to my taste; hence, I never watch these stations except when I am in my gym in Woodstock, NY, when I am forced to watch by my left-wing neighbors.

My views are unconventional for a college professor with a Ph.D., but just yesterday I attended the Heterodox Academy Open Minds meeting in the New York Times building in Manhattan. The purpose of the meeting was to organize left-oriented academics to begin to reintroduce free speech elements into the academy.  As someone pointed out, the television networks are now run by Ivy League graduates who have been indoctrinated in anti-free speech, politically correct ideology. 

I am not the only one who considers the indoctrination many media executives received in college to reflect totalitarian ideology.  I am sure that you have received many complaints from viewers.  You may easily dismiss them as the unwashed.  The trouble is that people who are better educated than you are now raising similar concerns in increasing numbers.

The time has come to make basic cable television stations optional, just like HBO and Showtime. If you want to run television news to the taste of Bernie Sanders and Michael Moore, I should not be forced to pay, nor should the large number of Americans who agree with me.  

Cable television enjoys local government monopolies that enable it to earn economic rents.  It is not a competitive business, and your firm would not exist in a competitive marketplace.  The TV networks enjoy similar kinds of supports. 

It is time to begin serving the public as a competitive industry would if it existed, and that means increasing the number of options that you provide. I assume that you will eventually.  I assure you, Mr. Iger, and Ms. Dungey, that if you don’t, I will eventually drop cable, and if you do, ABC will be among the first to go.


Mitchell Langbert, PhD

Is there a New Classical Liberal Movement?

Dan Klein forwarded this Politico piece by Phillipe Huguen/Getty.  It suggests that there is a new, emerging  "classical liberal" (as opposed to "conservative,"  "libertarian," "progressive,"  or 1940s "liberal") movement.  Classical liberals favor free speech and limited government. Sounds good to me.  Huguen/Getty suggests that the classical liberal movement may  parallel the conservative movement of the 1950s, which spawned Barry Goldwater's candidacy only a few years after its founding.  

Gold and VIX Fall in Response to Trump Tariffs

Gold broke down on Friday, falling to 1279 from about 1300.  Some technicians were calling 1280 critical support. What puzzles me is that it fell on the same day that Trump announced $50 billion in new tariffs and China announced $50 billion in response.  Tariffs are disastrous; trade wars are worse.   I would have thought this news would spike gold, but it had a reverse effect. 

I looked at the VIX, the one-month forward volatility indicator, and it fell by 1.16% in response to the announcement of a trade war.  What? The announcement of a trade war led to less volatility? Sometimes the announcement of news causes a reverse result when insiders have been trading in anticipation of the announcement. Then, they sell on the news.  That may have happened here, but it still seems strange. Another possibility is that Mario Draghi, head of the European Central Bank, made dovish remarks about ECB interest rate policy, causing the euro to fall against the dollar. This has short-term bearish implications for gold, which often goes in the opposite direction to the dollar. Low European interest rates may fuel demand for US stocks.

Whatever the reason, the decline in gold and the VIX both suggest a market sentiment that risk in the dollar and in financial markets are falling despite a trade war with one of the largest holder of dollars.  As I've previously blogged, the massive monetary expansion of the Bush and Obama years may have created a lengthy bear market in commodities. Lower interest rates means more funds are available for exploration, which means lower commodity prices. Eventually, the pendulum swings the other way as falling prices cause miners to go bankrupt.  Then, there is an explosion to the upside, as gold experienced in the 1970s and 2000s.

Still, a bloated stock market, a high dollar, significant Chinese dollar holdings, and the announcement of a trade war don't support a strong dollar, rising stock market scenario.  I'm puzzling over the apparent decline in volatility in response to the trade war news. Is the trade war a ploy or fake news of some sort?  It was announced on the heels of positive news about North Korea, which should have helped improve Sino-US relations.

If the VIX falls much more, it might be sensible to buy it in case of a sharp market fall at some point. I've made the decision to buy gold when it falls, even if that means to $200.

Heterodox Academy Open Mind Conference

I just returned from the first Open Mind conference of Heterodox Academy, founded by Jonathan Haidt. I've been involved with the academic reform movement for more than 25 years, and this meeting was a watershed, not least because of the large audience of academics from all over the country who have taken an interest in campus speech issues and political correctness.

Haidt's strategic and organizational skills are impressive. The meeting integrated important mainstream and left-wing academics into some manner of organized expression of concern about an issue that heretofore conservatives have dominated. There have always been Democrats involved in leadership roles of the academic reform movement, such as Greg Lukianoff of FIRE (who has just coauthored a book with Haidt) and KC Johnson of Brooklyn College, but this meeting was different, for Heterodox is a mainstream academic and even left-organized group.

Among the speakers were President Robert Zimmer of the University of Chicago; President Michael Roth of Wesleyan; and a former president of the University of California, Mark Yudof.

They also included Heather Heying, who had resigned from Evergreen State with her husband, Bret Weinstein, in a bizarre controversy. (Weinstein has received a $500,000 settlement from Evergreen.)  Alice Dreger, a professor who had resigned from Northwestern over a censorship issue, also spoke. Scott Jaschik, editor of Inside Higher Education, moderated one of the panels.

The meeting was held in an auditorium on the ground floor of the New York Times building. In other words, the New York Times has lent support to Heterodox Academy.

The speakers were mostly from elite institutions, with the exceptions of Angus Johnston,  a left-oriented scholar of protest movements, a public scholar, and an adjunct at CUNY’s Hostos Community College, and Heather Heying, with whom I had a conversation during the breakfast hour. There were several speakers associated with Yale, Haidt's alma mater, including Michael B Poliakoff, president of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, and philosophy professor Jason Stanley.

Only a few of the speakers, like Robert George (founder of Princeton's James Madison program), were conservatives or libertarians. John McWhorter of Columbia (see his Atlantic article) made some comments that conservatives might like. ACTA's Michael B. Poliakoff also spoke.

There are strengths and weaknesses to organizing a higher ed protest movement from inside the higher ed Leviathan.  A strength is that the Republicans have dropped the ball on this issue, so reform from outside is unlikely in the short run.  A weakness is that this movement might forestall such reform. Moreover, many of the important failings of higher ed, such as the failure of higher ed institutions to do much in the way of real education, might get overlooked.

There may be a tendency to follow the mainstream Progressive patterns that led to political correctness in the first place. Insiders who oppose groupthink may offer Caspar Milquetoast prescriptions. It's not at all clear that moderate reform of some speech issues addresses what is required. 

Most of the speakers were on the obvious side of issues like opposition to shouting down campus speakers, but several said things like “free speech is just a justification for racism” and one or two defended shouting down.

I was skeptical of the degree to which President Zimmer painted Chicago as a center of academic freedom. I have no doubt that it’s better than most places, but I wonder what their D:R ratios look like, especially when you exit the economics department. (Illinois doesn’t provide voter registration information.) Also, although I had a pleasant conversation with Michael Roth before his talk,  I am skeptical that places like Wesleyan will become centers of free speech in the next 25 years.

That said, the brilliance of the movement that Jonathan Haidt and Heterodox Academy are creating is certain. Let's hope that great things will result.