Welcome to my weekly digest for December 15, 2022.
For new subscribers, this contains a roundup of my recent writings and podcasts, as well as links to the best articles from around the web this week. You can control what emails you get from me by visiting your account page.
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Selling Social Change
My latest column in Governing magazine is about how you can’t sell social change by telling people to eat their spinach. You need a genuinely better solution that you can sell as an aspirational change. The example I use is green energy. If we want people to embrace green energy, it has to be abundant, reliable, and cheap.
Several years ago the great urbanist Carol Coletta made the observation that you can never create social or political progress by telling people to eat their spinach. Instead, you have to portray your program as an attractive, aspirational vision of life. She highlighted how the GM Futurama exhibit at the 1939 World’s Fair had created a vision around an automobile-centered world that convinced the public that the car was the future they wanted.
I was prompted to write this column by the case of the electric car. There’s no problem selling the public on electric cars. In fact, they are very desirable, sexy even. I trace this back to the original Tesla Roadster, which was a hot car. Even today, new electric vehicles like the Rivian truck have cool designs that appeal apart from their power train. But electric cars are also great to drive, being quiet and wickedly fast. And plenty more benefits are likely to come. Ford’s new electric pickup truck features a “frunk” or trunk space in front where the engine used to be. And its battery can be used to power one’s house for short periods of time in the event of a power outage. The technology is already good, and in the future could be amazing.
Click through to read the whole thing.
The New York Times has written a lot about the abuses of non-profit hospitals. This week they ran a piece on Ascension Health, the largest non-profit hospital chain in the country. It’s called “How a Sprawling Hospital Chain Ignited Its Own Staffing Crisis: Ascension, one of the country’s largest health systems, spent years cutting jobs, leaving it flat-footed when the pandemic hit.”
At a hospital in a Chicago suburb last winter, there were so few nurses that psychiatric patients with Covid were left waiting a full day for beds, and a single aide was on hand to assist with 32 infected patients. Nurses were so distraught about the inadequate staffing that they banded together to file formal complaints every day for more than a month. About 300 miles away, at a hospital outside Flint, Mich., similar scenes were unfolding. Chronic understaffing meant that patients languished in dried feces, while robots replaced nursing assistants who would normally sit with mentally impaired patients.
Both hospitals are owned by one of the country’s largest health systems, Ascension. It spent years reducing its staffing levels in an effort to improve profitability, even though the chain is a nonprofit organization with nearly $18 billion of cash reserves.
Ascension was created in 1999 through the merger of two networks of hospitals, many founded in the 1800s by nuns who ministered to the poor. The combined hospital system swiftly became a juggernaut, its profits soaring sixfold in its first decade. (As a nonprofit, Ascension describes this figure as “excess of revenues and gains over expenses and losses.”) By 2010, Ascension’s $15 billion in revenue rivaled that of companies like General Mills and Gap. Today, Ascension operates in 19 states, mostly in the South and the Midwest. It serves about six million patients.
By many measures, Ascension is rich. In addition to its billions in cash, it runs an investment company that manages more than $41 billion. Last year it paid its chief executive, Joseph Impicciche, $13 million. Because of its nonprofit status, Ascension avoids more than $1 billion a year in federal, state and local taxes, according to the Lown Institute, a health care think tank.
Click over to read the whole thing.
Ascension is a Catholic hospital group, theoretically a church ministry. But the way they operate is the norm for how institutions do business in our society.
There are endless articles articles and columns denouncing crude behavior by “deplorable” types. But strangely enough, behavior like that of Ascension’s leadership rarely gets denounced. It’s only lower status groups devoid of financial or cultural power who get kicked.
As we know from every British crime drama ever imported to America, evil frequently comes packaged in a fully refined, “respectable” exterior. In America, as along as you don’t utter any gauche phrases like “Let’s go, Brandon,” you can remain in perfect social standing even if you are preying on the American people to get rich, even exploiting the vulnerable and the sick.
Make no mistake, whatever the problems of working class people and communities - which I critique frequently here - the real problem in America is the people who are actually running America and its major institutions. We don’t need to portray them as cartoon villains to accurately note that they aren’t especially competent when it comes to delivering good results for our people, and often reveal a dubious moral compass. New and improved leadership is desperately needed.
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Best of the Web
Scott Yenor: Anatomy of a Cancellation
My dear wife was not exempt from such attacks. Miscreants sent her vulgar, threatening messages on social media. Calls were made to her employer. “Is Scott Yenor married?” trended on Google. Though many of our friends rallied to my cause, many of my wife’s acquaintances avoided her or avoided the topic of the speech. Some ducked behind doors when she approached. Others stopped calling. Fewer lunch dates. More insecurity and anxiety. The social costs my wife bore could have led to bitterness and marital strife. But we were not without support and love. Text messages from our kids, and their wives, kept a smile on her face. Other friends kept her spirits up. Cancellations test marriages. They test friendships. Mine tested my ability to command myself. In all of life’s challenges, a Christian father and husband finds purpose in managing how the strife affects his family. By no means am I perfect at this, but I am getting ample opportunities to improve.
NYT: The Wife Left, but They’re Still Together
Jeff and Connie Ordway had been married for 18 years when Ms. Ordway approached her husband about getting her own apartment.
It was July 2021 — 17 months into the pandemic — and Ms. Ordway, an extrovert, wanted to live closer to the city of Columbia, Mo. Lockdown on their rural farm in Ashland, Mo., “was a lot harder on her than it was on me,” Mr. Ordway, 58, said.
They needed “to figure out how to give her what it is she needs in order to be happy,” he added. They have two children, ages 17 and 14, and felt that one of them would benefit from going to school in a less rural area.
WSJ: Homelessness Worsens in Older Populations as Housing Costs Take Toll - This is going to be one piece of fallout from post-familialism, as I’ve previously written about. While not all of the people in that article did not have family support networks, this would be a risk factor for homelessness.
WaPo: Washington faltered as fentanyl gripped America
Scott Alexander wrote a review of David Brooks’ Bobos in Paradise, and then put up a post with a collection of insightful comments from readers.
CBS: A restaurant refuses service to a Christian group - the negative world is here
New Content and Media Mentions
This podcast on “ark think” mentions me, though I haven’t had a chance to listen to it yet.
New this week:
In case you missed it, my monthly newsletter was a primer on doxxing.
I wrote about what the Elon Musk takeover of Twitter shows us about managerialism (paid only).
Wesley Reynolds at American Reformer writes about resurrecting bureaucracy.
You can subscribe to my podcast on Apple, Google, or YouTube.
The British royal family has extremely powerful aesthetics. While we associate them with a retro and even anachronistic style, this one is both traditional and modern. Rather than a 1950s style, this is what is a powerful representation of wholesomness today.
As someone who works at a 501c3 whose raison d'etre is to facilitate grants to other 501c3s, I'd love to be connected with anyone who's concerned about holding them accountable. Aside from the dearth of good leadership among American elites generally, nonprofits also have at least 3 structural factors working against them (I'm sure someone can think of others):
1.The tendency to view profit-seeking organizations as inherently suspect and charities as warm and fuzzy, regardless of what they do outside of the public eye.
2. Generally, nonprofit bylaws stipulate that directors of the organization are to be appointed by the other current directors, rather than outside actors / shareholders / membership. An effect of this is that *no outsider can shake anything up unless the directors give their permission*, unlike in for-profit corporations where there's always a possibility (however remote) of a shareholder revolt or a hostile takeover. A second order effect is that businesses run by nonprofit organizations tend to be run less accountably than businesses run for profit.
3. Additionally, because there aren't shareholders, there's no pressure for a cash-flush nonprofit to pay out a dividend, and the leadership has an easier time paying themselves higher salaries, funding their pet projects, etc..
This might be partially an urban-rural divide, but the average person in rural America is not enthusiastic about electric cars at all, let alone green energy. Much like we saw with the switch from incandescent light bulbs first to CFLs then LEDs, part of the issue is outright lying about the performance of the replacement product. People who drive longer distances through lightly populated areas don't trust the promises being made about electric vehicles and certainly don't trust that green energy will reliably heat their homes in winter. Here's a good article from MotorTrend on how pathetic the driving range is with the Ford F-150 Lightning when towing a camper. How much is the cost of camping going to go up when campground owners are forced to put in a bunch of "rapid" charging stations for electric trucks that only go 100 miles on a full charge?
The market for this truck is small and not going to grow unless, like with the light bulbs, the original product is made illegal. If the regime wanted public buy in on this they would be transparent about the shortcomings and pressure developers to improve performance quickly. Instead they will continue to lie and try to punish dissenters and drive competitors out of business.