The Great Antidote – Matt Welch

On this episode of The Great Antidote podcast with Juliette Sellgren, she is joined by guest Matt Welch. In their discussion, Juliette and Matt cover libertarianism, teacher’s unions, and the future of education in the United States.


Guest Bio

Matt Welch is an editor at large at Reason, the libertarian magazine of “free minds and free markets.” He served as Reason‘s editor in chief from 2008-2016. He is co-author, along with Nick Gillespie, of the 2011 book The Declaration of Independents: How Libertarian Politics Can Fix What’s Wrong With America, which Tyler Cowen called “the up-to-date statement of libertarianism.” Welch also wrote the 2007 book McCain: The Myth of a Maverick.

Reason has been a Western Publications Association magazine of the year finalist every year under Welch’s leadership, winning five first-place Maggie awards, as well as another 18 first-place notices from the Greater Los Angeles Press Club. Welch himself has won eight first-place L.A. Press Club awards over the years, for work on subjects ranging from Jackie Robinson to Cuba to the “banal authoritarianism” of Thomas L. Friedman and David Brooks. From December 2013 to January 2015 he was co-host of the nightly Fox Business Network program The Independents.

Before assuming editorship of Reason in 2008, Welch worked as an assistant editorial pages editor for the Los Angeles Times, media columnist for Reason, California correspondent for The National Post, political columnist for, and regular contributor to the Online Journalism Review. Before 1998, he lived for eight years in Central Europe, where he co-founded the region’s first post-communist English-language newspaper, Prognosis, worked as UPI’s Slovakia correspondent, and managed the Budapest Business Journal.

Welch’s work has appeared in The Wall Street JournalThe New York TimesThe Washington Post,,, The Hardball TimesThe Columbia Journalism ReviewSalon.comCommentaryLA WeeklyOrange County Register, and scores of other publications. He is a frequent guest on MSNBC, Fox News, Fox Business Network, CNN, public radio, and AM radio stations from coast to coast.

Welch lives in Brooklyn, New York, with his wife and two daughters.


Episode Transcript

Juliette Sellgren: Welcome back, it is my pleasure to have Matt Welch on today. I have been a Matt Welch fan for a long time. So for me, this is great. He’s an editor at large at Reason, the libertarian magazine of “Free minds and free markets.” He served as reasons editor in chief from 2008 to 2016. And he’s the co-author along with Nick Gillespie, of the 2011 book, The Declaration of Independence: How Libertarian Politics Can Fix What’s Wrong with America. Hi, Matt. Welcome.

Matt Welch: Hi, it’s great to hear you. And just to think everyone should know, I didn’t quite know you when you were in diapers, but I knew you and you were a tiny little person. And that makes me really happy to talk. I wouldn’t have guessed that I’d be talking to you on a podcast when I first met you, let’s say.

Juliette: Yeah, I mean, I’m still a pretty tiny person, but I’m an adult now. Technically. So. I feel like I’m still a kid. That’s okay. Yeah, I also can’t drink. So there’s that. So I’m not really an adult, I guess until I’m 21.

Matt: Don’t you have a French passport? Different rules.

Juliette: No, sadly, I don’t have a French passport. Because I just don’t. France is crazy. Kidding, not really. So what is the most important thing that people my age or in my generation should know that we don’t?

Matt: That it’s not too late. It’s never too late to do fill in the blank. I have this distinct memory of when I was a kid, like seven, eight years old max, I grew up in Long Beach, California in the 1970s. For those of you who cannot picture that just go watch the Bad News Bears. and treat it as a documentary. That’s kind of like what that was like, and I had this memory of going to the beach, and seeing kids my age, and maybe a little bit older, surfing, standing up on a surfboard just not easy to do. And those guys are always like, super cool looking. And they’re kind of arrogant. And I couldn’t stand a surfboard. And I had this thought, which I will never forget, which is like, “You know what, it’s just too late to learn surfing, I’m too old.” I was like eight. Because these kids are my age, they were like shredding on the waves. And you can fake yourself out, you can get in this mindset, like I’m too old to do X and, or it’s too late to change this one behavior that I have at some point, we all start putting a cap on the toothpaste instead of just leaving it on the sink, I don’t know, you’re not a dude, so maybe you didn’t go through this. But like, you can do, as you know, we were taught at in Frozen two, you can always do the next right thing, a small little thing to change the trajectory of your own personal behavior, your happiness or sadness, certainly your career. I picked up a guitar for the first time when I was 17 there’s some guitar lying around. And I could remember back then thinking that it’s probably too late to play guitar, I was in a band at that time, I was a singer. And all these guys were super shredding lead guitarists who are teenagers. And I could have treated this like it’s too late, of course, to begin to do that. But it was fun to work out and play on two strings at the same time. And what happens is that without faking myself out with the it’s too late thing, I got good enough playing on a guitar that I’ve made records, playing guitar. The impatience of youth is really important and and and also the uncertainty of it like can propel you to achieve and to do stuff, you don’t really know how life’s gonna work out. And that’s all fine and good. But don’t let it get you to a place where you just sort of feel like you’re at a dead end and there’s no possibility of doing something new and wonderful in the future. There always is.

Juliette: Okay, lots of things first, I didn’t watch Frozen two, but I can learn from what you said. I guess I will watch it later. I don’t know. Eventually. It’s not too late. I will watch it. Also, I pick up the guitar when I was seven. So funny. Also, can I listen to these records? Do they exist? Are they on the internet?

Matt: A couple of them are. So I was the rhythm guitar player and backup singer of a band called Ken Layne & The Corvids. And that stuff I believe is all on Spotify and on YouTube and Amazon and stuff. There are two records. One is called Fought Down. And the other one is called… Golly, I even forget something, trans civilization or something like that. I forget. I’m playing rhythm guitar and singing backups and a couple of songs I co-wrote, and you can hear me yelling and playing in other things. I have a sound cloud as the kids do. And you can hear some of the kind of home recordings that I did over the years. And so I made a couple of cassettes when I lived in Prague, and so I kind of cleaned up a couple of songs from those and they’re up there you can listen to.

Juliette: It’s not too late, everyone, if Matt Welch can do it, you can probably do it too.

Matt: Probably do it better. Exactly.

Juliette: Better. You’re pretty cool, dude. But that’s cool. I’m gonna give that a listen. Everybody give that a listen. Also, that’ll be cool. Okay, before we actually start, I also want to talk to you about this other thing. So your Twitter recently retweeted a guy who said he liked the pandemic song Zen by X ambassadors with K. Flay and Grandson. I showed this to my mom, she thought it was so funny that there’s an artist named Grandson. I’m not sure if this tweet means you like it or not. So I kind of just wants clarification.

Matt: Somebody had sent that to me, who tweeted at me and said, “Hey, look, most pandemic songs suck.” Which I think is accurate, at least the ones that I’ve heard. And he’s like, “But I think that you liked this one, this really good.” And he did, and I did like it sorry, retweeted it because I liked it. In this case, the RT was an endorsement.

Juliette: Interesting, interesting. How about Van Morrison’s anti-lockdown song?

Matt: I think I heard that just the one time and I was listening to it more as sort of just appreciating how he’s being angry old man Van Morrison. More than I was particularly paying attention to it. Rolling Stones had an anti-lockdown song or just sort of locked down ish song. That wasn’t that good. But then Mick Jagger and Dave Grohl did one that was released, like last week that I kind of liked just because it sort of sounded like the stones. But if I was reading it objectively, I probably wouldn’t say that it was all that great. So this other one was the is the best one that that I’ve heard so far.

Juliette: Nice. Thank you for your input. So on the topic of the Twitter feed, you have a great Twitter feed. Lots of music articles about musicians. Like how many people has Keith Richards: The outlived? I thought that was funny. And lots of baseballs. You are a Los Angeles Angels fan, right?

Matt: Correct.

Juliette: So I’m not a sportsperson. Really? I don’t follow sports. So I looked this up. I said, Are they any good? First one. Yes. the best team ever. Second one worst team ever. You should hate them. And I was like, “What?” So are they good?

Matt: This year, they’re playing golf to one of their best starts that they have in their 60-year history. That’s also kind of a tall list to dwarf category two, since a lot of their history. They were really mediocre team, including when I was first following him when I was a little tot my dad had season tickets. But they might be pretty good this year. They have one of the best players who’s ever played baseball on the team on a mike trout, who’s been there for 10 years. He plays in the style. It’s reminiscent of Mickey Mantle who’s one of the all-time greats in the game. And they have a player from Japan who is very exciting and athletically monstrous name Shohei Otani, sort of the Japanese Babe Ruth. And so they’re fun to watch. They haven’t been a good team for basically 10 years. 9-10 years, which makes me sad. But they’re more entertaining and they have a better chance to be good this year. And I should say we’re recording this on April 23. I think on a Thursday, I haven’t had the 22nd. I haven’t had access to my Twitter account in 10 days. That’s Matt Welch. It’s I fell victim to a stupid hack and I haven’t been able to retrieve it. So if you wonder if you go and listen to this very nice recommendation of my Bizarro world, little Twitter accounts. And do you wonder why there hasn’t been anything updated since April 12th? That’s because I got hacked and I can’t get back in yet. So it’s that if you want to fill in the blanks in the meantime, go to @welch, where I do a lot of the same stupid things.

Juliette: Nice. Thank you for that. Well, listeners, you heard it here. Matt Welch got hacked. So, the reason slogan is free minds and free markets. Can you tell my listeners what that means?

Matt: Yeah, that’s a good question. It’s just like it for those of you who grew up in the Catholic Church, just sort or any church, probably, you sort of say the same things over and over again, that you lose kind of relationship with it. So that can happen to slogans, as well. But I’ve always liked it. Free minds and free markets. And also in that order. In that, there was an aspiration, from the beginning from the founder, who was like a 20-year-old college student named Lanie Friedlaender, who’s a bit of wow, he didn’t like literally in his mom’s basement in Boston. Like me, I think he was a dropout. I was a college expellee, they kicked me out. But so he was but he’s a design genius, but also a really interesting thinker, a big feature on him. And we did the reason TV people that a wonderful video about it that came out last month, I think that I recommend people check out about this guy because he founded a lasting interesting magazine at age 20. And he basically disappeared at 25. And almost no one heard from him since and he died in a group home for veterans who have mental issues, although we did get in contact with him before he died. So that was a that was pretty cool and sort of reconnected.

But anyways, free minds and free markets, I’ve always taken the mind’s part to be as interesting and attractive as an outsider, as a consumer of a magazine, because it’s sort of like how can we just begin by a kind of decoding or giving people a different framework about the news and information and culture that were otherwise consuming. And the very first editor’s note from Lanie Friedlaender. In May 1968, when this thing was started, a couple of months before I was born, he has this great little, like, mini-manifesto of like, it’s going to be logic and not legends. Assertion of argument, not assertion, you have to lead with the mind-stuff first. And in the book that Nick Gillespie and I co-wrote, Declaration of Independence. Yes, it was about the rise of political independence for the TS as a category of people in America. And so what that means for politics and policy, but also, it was sort of an argument for that way of going through life, especially as it intersects with a policy like you don’t have to belong to a tribe. And in fact, when you don’t, and that includes the libertarian tribe, I hasten to add or any other like micro try within it, you don’t have to belong to a team. And then, therefore, carry water for that team, or look the other way, when that team does something bad, and also rally reliably to fight the team’s opponent. You don’t have to do that. And when you don’t do that, when you sort of step back and declare independence from that type of approach, the world opens up to you in pretty interesting ways. And so I’ve always taken the free minds and free markets stuff to be about that the free markets for me, is markets and everything as your brother would certainly remind us of that, like, what happens when people are allowed to exchange with one another. Absent of heavy central planning or the heavy hand of someone telling them what they cannot do. Its remarkable markets just show up. There’s literally markets and everything. We’re on the reason Slack channel and hopefully, I’m not giving too much away when I say this, but someone pointed out just today linking to a story about how to post-vaccine women are selling their breast milk online, because I guess there’s some, it’s safer for people for women who haven’t been vaccinated yet who does whatever, I haven’t looked at it but the little message he sent along with it was markets and everything. And he’s right, and like it’s great.

As someone who lived in post-communist countries right after they switched, Czechoslovakia in 1989 months after they overthrew communism, I saw firsthand the wreckage and the residue of what happens when you don’t allow for free markets. And what happens is, it’s not like it’s not just about like economics and business, it’s actually about life, it’s that the government is going to tell you, it’s going to approve your band name or not, and tell you that your setlist is okay. But don’t play that cover song until you can’t play in that venue. Like it’s the amount of totalizing control over your life is awful. So free minds and free markets, like open your mind to information but also recognize the responsibility that you’ve got to engage in good faith factual arguments while doing so. And then also free markets. It’s better and glorious to see what happens when people have the freedom to exchange and create and do whatever the hell they want to do.

Juliette: I like that. What was it like, kind of to see that? To see the post-communism. Did you see people adapting to a world without that? Or was there kind of a gap in people’s minds where they were like, “Wait, are we allowed to do this?” I don’t know, how do people interact with the world following that?

Matt: Well, the first thing they did is they made out with a world kind of literally. Yeah, so I showed up there when I was 22. And, Prague I mean, it’s literally the capital of Bohemia. Bohemia is one of the main regions of the Czech Republic. The way he is the practice, province, or region, I forget what they call it, progress. The capital, Bohemia was always a place that always except for the awful 40 years between 1948 and 1989, was always at the intersection of crazy culture arts, and international mixing. It’s the town of Franz Kafka who wrote I believe in German. He was a German, it was Jewish. Always gypsies, Czech, Slovak, Hungarian, just all over the world, there’s always this bohemian spirit. there that was choked off very artificially. So what happens when things open back up is two things and this is really hard to explain or describe in its totality. But you’re how old now? You’re 18-19?

Juliette: Eighteen.

Matt: You’re 18. Okay, so until I was 21, I grew up in a world in which I knew two things were true. One is that nothing ever happened. History was locked in place. Because I kind of came blinking awake to the current events around me maybe starting around 1976. So it was after the Vietnam War, it had missed Watergate and all the tumble. So history was something that you always look back at, and especially towards the 1960s, which seemed like this crazy convulsive time. And everything was in stasis, it just didn’t seem like it was nothing was happening. And especially because of the cold war. Cold War made it so that half of Europe was just a big black blotch, no one went there unless you were really, really sort of brave, trapped, thrill-seeking traveler, or you’re some kind of journalists that were allowed to go. But generally speaking, nobody went nobody had any idea what happened over there. I had been living in Czechoslovakia for more than a month, when someone had to explain to me, Slovakia is a whole different thing, right? Like with the language and like, “What, no, why would I know that? I’m American.” But more importantly, you didn’t know that because that whole map was dark. And so what happened is that all these Westerners, especially around my age, just flooded into and said, “Holy cow, this place is awesome. It’s beautiful.” Prague, it’s one of the only European capitals to never really get bombed at any given time, through a scene of strategic cowardice, either by themselves or by the international community. And so you have more than 1000 years of uninterrupted crazy architecture along this river.

So it’s incredible, beautiful, it has this bohemian spirit, and at the time, and even still now, but to a much lesser degree. It was like the cheapest place in the world. You could buy beer for 10 cents. And it was the best beer in the world. And so we were having a pretty fun time. But so were the people who were opening up especially the people exactly my age, exactly your age now. We met all these people between the ages of 18 and 22, who were the ones who propelled the revolution in 1989. It was students It was a student-led revolution. That was when students protested against the wishes have their parents who had gone through it themselves when they were students in 1968. And the Soviet Warsaw Pact brutally suppressed their movements towards freedom. And had a really profound impact on world events, then. So the parents like No, don’t do it, we see how this ends. It’s terrible. The students that were students, we’re gonna do what we want, on November 17th, of 1989. And the cops cracked down and clubbed a bunch of heads and the parents got really pissed off, and they went out the next day. And within a couple of days, it was 100,000. It was a million people. And within 14 days, essentially the end of November, that was it, the government resigned, without a shot being fired. It was amazing. And it was students who led it and it wasn’t just the students who protested in downtown Prague, all it was definitely them. But it was also like during the events of November, and I met a lot of these people who became lifelong friends to this day, who, if they were in their little town, 100 miles from Prague, in fact, had never set foot in Prague. They heard what was going on through the student grapevine. And so they fan out in buses. And they would go talk in factories to the workers and their blue overalls and say, “Hey, look, the revolution is happening now, here’s what we’re doing. Here’s what the students say, here’s what’s on the grapevine. We need your support. Let’s do this. There’s going to be a general strike on this day.”

It was a student-run revolution. So part of my desire of going there was just to hang out with people my age, who had just overthrown a communist government, that sounded pretty cool. And a lot of those kids flooded into Prague because they wanted to be foreigners. Because the place had been just there weren’t foreigners, no one spoke English. So it was a time for a lot of making out and just sort of the intersection of people rediscovering one another. So especially around people my age from there and coming in. It was marvelous because the old system had collapsed and the new one hadn’t been built yet. And there’s a lot of like anarchic possibility there and just incredibly creative, weirdo art taking place. I recommend people go look up a guy named David Cerny and you spell that last name C-E-R-N-Y with funny little diacritical marks in the C and on the Y. He’s an artist. It’s probably exactly my age. And he started doing crazy huge stunts of art even before communism collapsed. But, who put gigantic dinosaur legs on the Trabant which is their local crappy communist car, and put in the middle of Old Town Square he painted a Soviet tank, pink with a gigantic middle finger on the top of it. Boy, which causes to take a gigantic international incident, he’s got a great website, but go noodle around that, he embodied the sort of spirit there that was happening, especially among people of a certain age, I think to the spirit of your question, like what was it like for the older people? Is the big news terrifying, right? The world that they grew up in changed so dramatically overnight. For the most part, people were happy, but because you could talk to people, you could speak your mind. I mean, Czechoslovakia, one of the most totalitarian of the communism’s along with East Germany and Romania, and Albania, they’re really some of the worst police states. So people were kind of fearfully coming back out. And there’s a great unsettled sense of reckoning of what you do. Like, how do you deal with people from the former regime? How do you deal with the property that had been seized by various governments at various times? How do you handle restitution, all of these things that all the countries of that region had to deal with? So, the velocity of change is just so unsettling, so much faster than anything that we ever really experienced in America, which had a pretty profound effect on me, just seeing people’s capacity to deal with it, and also how like, soft we all are, in comparison, because we didn’t have to go through it. But it obviously put a huge stamp on me in my life. And I was lucky enough with some friends from I’d worked with at the college newspaper, at UC Santa Barbara, to start a newspaper that was the first independent post-communist English language newspaper in the whole region. And so that obviously had just a huge effect on the trajectory of my life.

Juliette: That’s fascinating. And mostly because I’ve never learned about it. I was not aware that I mean, I know in general like Europe was kind of this weird black hole that no one really knew about, because like, there was so much stuff going on, but I didn’t know that there were countries other than like the USSR, like China that had this sort of thing. I mean, I know the associated countries kind of did, but we never really learned that sort of stuff. So for me, that’s fascinating. But also just the idea of being there. It seems I don’t know the way you’re telling it. It’s like, so vibrant. Like, I want to feel that I want to see that and like feel the energy from the youth there. I don’t know, it just seems so cool.

Matt: Yeah, the one thing I’ll say that for, in that direction, I used to be asked this a lot when I came back to the United States in 1998 when I was nearly 30 years old. And I was like, trying to figure out how to live here, which was not easy. And people tell you, “What’s the next Prague?” Because Prague became quite the destination for travelers. And I would always say, like, “I don’t know why you asking me.” But also, like, whatever it is, especially if you’re young, go find it, your legs work better when you’re young, your mind is more open to that type of discovery. And there’s kind of no excuse not to if you have the wanderlust, you can always and this is what I did, when I decided that I was going to go, which I made that decision in November of 1989 when all of the revolutions were happening, and I had a job that was going to carry that I had a contract for until June of that year of the next year, [inaudible], I’ll stop spending money at restaurants, and I’ll stop buying everyone’s beer. Because I was making money and my friends weren’t in college. And, and I’ll just save money for four months, five months, and use that to spend a one-way ticket and give myself a cushion to go travel. Anyone can do that. You don’t have to, doesn’t require a whole lot. So like for those people who are feeling young and curious, and especially those who the key I wish I could do that, dude you can, you totally can if that’s what you decided you wanted to do. And Lord knows, I don’t know any people at all have dealt with a pandemic is just terrible. For people. I mean, it’s terrible for everybody. But I can’t imagine how bad it is for people exactly your age. I know parents and other kids who’ve had so much trouble like man, my instinct would be just to get the flesh out of town. But then again, the pandemic is everywhere. So I suppose it’s not very easy to escape. But yeah, go visit the world. You’re young, you have legs.

Juliette: Yeah, I’m excited for everyone to calm down. I mean, because I’m thinking like, I don’t know-how, what percentage of places are kind of calmer now. But Europe is not the place to go. That’s for sure. So kind of on that line talking about the exact antithesis of Prague. Let’s talk about teacher unions, pandemic, lockdown schools, you live in New York City or Brooklyn. So let’s talk about the public schools there since you write a lot about them.

Matt: Sorry.

Juliette: No, it’s great. I enjoy it. So in the city, a lot of private schools and Catholic schools have been doing in-person instruction since September. And I mean, it’s the same in DC and like in Virginia, where I am, and there have been no significant signs of like big outbreaks. However, still, today, about 70% of public school students are still only remote like 100%. And the kids were back at school or not at school full time. And sometimes they’re taught like, by kids or with kids that are also remote. And our schools in Arlington, they’re the exact same. But can you tell us a little bit about what the situation is like in New York City?

Matt: So beginning May 4th, may the fourth be with us. For the first time since mid-March of last year, my youngest daughter’s elementary school will be open. They say, five days a week. We can’t believe it. And we’re not sure exactly what it’s going to look like inside the classroom. But that’s supposed to be happening, what it looks like right now. give you just a snapshot of my day today. Is that my six-year-old who’s in kindergarten, what to say Thursday, oh, she actually went to school today. So she went to school in a school building when she does two and a half days a week. The other days. She is part of a pod with three other kids, there are two classes at our local elementary schools why we live here, public school, which have a dual-language French program because my wife is French and I want the girls to be able to be taught in French at least half the time while we’re in America especially so that they can easily be bilingual and they are and that’s great. So there are four kids from the two classes that do that, and they have a pod and they have a woman, a young woman who helps them shuffle through their remote classes and just hang out together and to do things in a pod situation at rotating houses, it’ll be at our house tomorrow, for example. Five feet from where I am talking to you. Tomorrow, I will be attempting to write an article about the Armenian Genocide, while there will be four 4-year olds, doing gym class and music class with bongo drums and stuff over a laptop with their pod leader.

Meanwhile, my 12-year-old who is in seventh grade, today, as most Thursdays were at home, and tomorrow, she’ll be in school, she goes to a class two days a week. And probably over the course of this year, the youngest one will have been in school on average, because it gets shut down very easily to it for a long time than a two positive case rule. So if a school with 1000 people, if two people in the entire school who are connected with it in any way shape, or form test positive for COVID, regardless of whether they caught it there or were spreading it there, then the whole school would get shut down for 10 days automatically, they only changed that rule very recently, over the objections of the aforementioned to teachers unions, who are very bad actors, in my opinion, and all of this. So my youngest daughter has been in school about one out of every three days, on average, in this school year, my oldest daughter didn’t go to school at all for four months. So it’s only remote learning. And so she probably, by the end of the year will have gone to maybe 10%, one out of 10 days maybe. And when she’s going in personnel to her middle school, at least two periods a day. There are no teachers because so many of the teachers have chosen remotes only teaching, even though they all have access to the vaccine, now, they just want to stay home. And so and there are not enough substitutes to go around. So even though the federal government just decided to wash $122 billion dollars injected into local schools, almost immediately, there’s still not enough teachers because they negotiated sweetheart deals for themselves to teach remotely.

So I’m happy she goes and just hangs out with friends in a yard. Because that’s better than just being pinned up at home forever. Because you become a creepy shut-in and spend all your time staring at your phone and doing horrifying TikTok dances. I mean, my god, these kids, and their TikToks. And they’re all doing the stuff with their hands, it’s terrible. So like, it’s fine to just to have that. But generally speaking, it’s been just a Wipeout of a year, and part of the really hard thing, at least our 12-year-old can kind of govern herself, mostly she hasn’t had a, I would say a smooth last 15 months been a lot of rough patches, for sure. But like we don’t have to mind her, six-year-olds aren’t built that way. Like they absolutely need to be in some kind of structured situation. And especially they need to be with friends and other human beings. They got to pick the lice out of each other’s hair when you don’t have that and we watched this happen. Last spring for the three months or however was on extreme lockdown here, it is so mangling for these little human bots to be starved for social interaction. I mean, it makes me tear up just thinking about it. So you have this massive uncertainty all the time, like schools up and two and a half days a week unless it’s not. And so we’re lucky we’re smart.

We’re lucky to have the wherewithal to organize a pod. And so that pod and then we did it, and so that pod has been able to absorb all this uncertainty, but we know so many people just like I can’t deal with this. And so people are moving back to Europe, God help them because it’s really bad, as over there with a pandemic, or they’re moving to Florida, or they’re moving to the closest nearby place, whether it’s New Jersey or Long Island or Westchester, where the schools are reliably open. And, and it is amazing to me how much teachers unions have just decided, screw it, we’re going to get as much as we can now while the getting’s good and they don’t realize how many people are losing the system. I wrote the first data that came in recently about a Fall Enrollment for the next school year beginning in Fall 2021. And the number of kindergarteners is down at who is applying is down 12% year over year, and that’s after a 9% the year before, and oh my god, that is such a seismic shift in people leaving the system. And from the public school point of view from a teacher point of view for people who are like super psyched about public education point of view that as a kid Free catastrophe for them, yet they have engineered it. It’s amazing to me it’s like, I keep telling them like you realize you people who hate libertarians are enacting libertarianism right now, you have just driven everyone into homeschooling, you’ve made everyone hate public education, and like, and question tax dollars in a way that they never have before and hate teachers unions who they never really thought about before you did all this I did not I actually tried to stay in the public system that as much as possible and to help improve from within. And next year, we’re taking out the uncertainty, I cannot depend on this city and this school system to be governed by adults that have kid’s best interests in mind. And so I’m paying a lot of money next fall so that my youngest daughter can go to a private school that I know is going to be open, and is not going to be run by people who do not put their own interests ahead of those of the kids. And that it makes me sad, but like, I am so happy to do that. Because of the uncertainty and the effect that it’s had on, especially my wife’s ability to work. It’s just it’s profound. It’s such a time suck, and that you’re way too much of your active brainpower has been spent on this. I just want to set it and forget it.

Juliette: Yeah, I mean, first, we only went back about a month ago, and we only go two days a week. And we have four days total of school weeks. So we don’t even have five days like virtual, we have four days virtual. And two of those days are some people are in person. It’s like four kids per class. And a lot of the teachers are still home. So you’re in the school, but there’s no teacher and then you’re like, why did I come here to do online school, in the school with no teacher. And then like at lunch, we have to sit like 10 feet away from each other. So it’s like, more depressing than being at home alone. So there’s that, but we seniors only have two whole months of school going to school twice a week. And so it’s kind of ridiculous. It’s like, why do we even come back? Well, because this is all they gave us and I tried really hard to switch schools. I wanted to go to a private school that was open because I was losing my mind. But I needed to get my IB Diploma, my international diploma to like, get into college or whatever. So I stayed but I don’t know if I look back at this. I don’t know if it was worth it. Really, I don’t know. But I’m here now, it’s kind of almost over. So that’s fine.

Matt: The best thing is just that, like, in the long run, none of it matters, I suppose. It matters a lot. But like, you’re, it’s not going to derail your life. It’s just that you got face to face with how really crushingly stupid adults are. Now you are one, two, so you can be crushing yourself. It’s awful. But you’ll still be able to do whatever the hell that you want to.

Juliette: Yeah, and it hurts me for kids that are younger than I am. Because I know that I’m fine. But kids that are developing, it bothers me so much. And we’ll get to that. But first, what is the role of teacher’s unions in this? Just kind of can you outline that situation and kind of how they played into the reason why schools are like this right now.

Matt: Yeah. So if you look at there’s a great service website called Burbio, B-U-R-B-I-O, that tracks school reopening and opening and how much is hybrid and how much is remote, and they vary it on district and county and state level. And they’re not the only ones who look at this. But they have, I think some of the best data, it’s overwhelming that the single biggest factor of whether a state or a district or whatever locality is going to be mostly open or fully open in person or fully remote is the partisan politics. It is the, for example, the 10 most open states in terms of K through 12 are all run by Republican governors. They all voted for Trump. And I think maybe one of them has a democratic governor 90% of the all voted for Trump. They all have republican run legislatures. And if you look at the 10, most closed systems, they all voted for Biden, on nine of the 10 Maryland being the exception, have Democratic governors, and they all have democratic legislators. Everyone who’s looked at this has come to this. It has nothing to do with the level of infection of the pandemic or the mortality or any of that. It is partisan politics. People look at it and said it’s the biggest factor is how much they hated Trump. That’s one finding. And then also the strength of teachers unions, so teachers unions, the American Federation of Teachers, the National Education Association, they are as a category one of the biggest spenders of political dollars in the country. It’s very big on this is a public school, teachers unions, so and 94% of the money that they spend on politics, through lobbying and donations, goes to democratic politicians and democratic parties. 99 to $20 goes to Democrats.

So in places where the teacher’s unions have the most sway, they tend to be the most democratic places. And they tend to elect politicians to go figure that has the most sense of favors to give to teachers unions. So look at all the biggest cities that have been the slowest and reopening, its places like Chicago, Illinois, Los Angeles, California, New York was held up as a model because it sort of opened up half-opened earlier. But in many ways, as I’ve written a lot about that was deliberately misleading. And so that’s it, it’s where they have the most power. And when a teachers union has a lot of power, think about what that means. So they are able to influence the election of politicians who are favorable to them. Joe Biden’s wife is a member of the National Education Association. And on her literal first day, in the White House, maybe it was the second day. But no later than the second day she had the heads of the two biggest teachers unions in the White House. Randi Weingarten from AFP has been at the White House at least four or five times already on the Biden ministration. And had her fingerprints on the center for disease control’s guidance towards schools, which when they first came out, were very favorable for her point of view. But on a local level, which is where education policy is met, set teachers unions, negotiate salaries and working conditions with local politicians who they helped elect. So it’s not hard to see what’s wrong in this picture here. And there you go. That pattern also develops in let’s say, more republican areas, with not teachers unions, but with firefighter unions and police unions. So you have the politicians that public-sector unions get, sit down and then make these sweetheart salary negotiations and especially pension negotiations, work condition, negotiations, with their hand picked her favorite politicians. It’s there’s a reason why Franklin Delano Roosevelt said way back in the day that he didn’t think it was a good idea to even have public-sector unions, because there’s a basic conflict of interest there where there isn’t a representative of the taxpayer, at those negotiations.

So it’s really because of that the places where the unions are strongest, the schools are the closest period. And that is hard to accept. And yet it is also totally true. And I think that you’re beginning to see some of the teacher’s unions, just for their public messaging, realize that they have a bit of a public relations problem on their hands. So there’s trying to portray themselves like, “No, no, we’re, we’ve been fighting open schools since last April.” Yeah, Lion Sacco, not untruths. They’ve been saying that. So they know that they need to sound like that. But people, there’s 54 or 55,000,000 K through 12 kids in this country, and the parents of those kids in places that have gone through this. I know so many it’s been a like, progressive Democrats. I live in a super democratic place. And man, are they mad at teachers’ unions, and the democrats who enable them right now. It’s amazing.

Juliette: Yeah, I mean, I remember at the beginning, I was like, I mean, just kind of like, very angry. And I was like, “You know, if they don’t want to go back to school, they should be fired.” And all my friends were like, “No, that’s insensitive, they should have their jobs. It’s a hard time.” But now they’re like, “If they don’t want to come back, fire them.” And I’m like, “See, you came around.” It’s bothersome because I don’t know. I mean, I’m assuming it’s the same in the city. But in Arlington, teachers were prioritized, like, almost first for vaccinations. And then we didn’t go back to school for like, a really long time for it. Not a really long time, like a month or two. But then also, people who were at grocery stores couldn’t get vaccinated before the teachers, and then these teachers would go to Disneyland and stuff. And then they posted on Facebook, and everyone in Arlington was pissed off. Because why did you post that? Like, you could at least keep it as like, you’re just not smart for doing that. What are their arguments? I mean, I know they’re like trying to put on this like, show, but like, what are their arguments, especially like the unions and the teachers, for teachers not going back to schools?

Matt: Oh, it’s that, hey, look, man, we don’t know what these variants are going to look like. And just until we know for sure, and in this place, and in that place, overseas, we’re seeing kids get infected more often, especially people your age. And so like, it’s just too soon, and these buildings are old, they don’t have good ventilation. We’re just trying to, keep everyone as safe as humanly possible. So and we’re working with our partners and our stakeholders, you’ve heard the drill, the reality behind the scenes when they’re not talking publicly when they’re talking amongst themselves, like here, the local units, the United Federation of Teachers, the president of that Michael Mulgrew is like fighting to make sure that no one ever finds out how many teachers are vaccinated. That’s a weird thing, isn’t it? I’m fighting for your privacy rights. Well, okay. I like privacy rights, too. But I also don’t like to hear about, I mean, these are public employees. And my kids so far are not eligible to be vaccinated. The older one will be at some point, but the younger one won’t. I kind of want to, I want them to be vaccinated, the teachers who are in there, and by God, do I not want to hear them say that they’re scared to go in and teach if they have access to the vaccination and have chosen not to get it? Which is a thing that exists in the world. And they’re trying to hide that information? Because they know they can see everyone’s blood pressure rising, just contemplating it. So yeah, that’s what their PR they are protecting their own.

They’re talking about like, well, we haven’t cleared this latest guidance with our scientists, who they never name who those scientists are. And like, on the rare occasion that they even a link to anything. It is some of the worst cherry-pick science and it’s I’m not an epidemiologist, but I can tell when something is super crappy. And, and like the stuff that they link to is really, really lousy on this because those science has been pretty overwhelming since at least last July, and arguably since last May, that kids don’t catching it, then they’re not spreading it. And school sites are not spreader sites you referenced before the Catholic and private schools and how it’s not really leading to we would have heard about that. Oh, my God. There’s so many people incentivized to absolutely over dramatize school settings as being super spreader events in the making. That’s an actual quote in a union ad that aired last September, I think it was. So yeah, they’ve been working really hard to open the schools by Miss labeling schools as possible super spreader locations. That doesn’t seem to work. So, yeah, it is a very frustrating kind of radicalizing, for a lot of people. And it’s going to have a profound, I think, long-lasting impact on the way that public education is administered and talked about in the United States in a way that will, in the long term really damage the very teacher’s unions who are doing the most to make it happen.

Juliette: I mean, you say it’s radicalizing, and I feel that I mean, I feel like I’m already people are like, “You’re such a radical”, but like, my blood boils when they’re like, “No, you can’t sit there, that’s one foot too close.” But it’s like 10 feet away. And I’m like, how is that? How does that make sense? I’m just, wondering what people are going to like, believe, and how they’re going to act in reaction to this when they kind of don’t have grounds for this. But I mean, speaking of not having grounds for this, the regulation from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention is their thing is three feet, they switched it from six to three, but my school is still following 10 to six, which is already for more, how do they get away with that? How is it that union, like teachers unions, get away with putting out that sort of information, and also saying that and kind of pushing their stuff, but also, not following the rules, that has been the rules that are set out by and like guidelines that have been set out by the government that they are pushing around, I don’t know.

Matt: This is a little rude, but you’re an adult now. There’s an old saying, like, “Why does a dog lick itself in the private bits?” It’s like because it can, it can do it. So you’re gonna do it. And that’s, I think, really been that their approach. I mean, they were pushing for a really long time, like, “Okay, we can’t, we’re not going to sign off on reopening until we get the Joe Biden CDC to follow the science and to really do some really good work on the guidelines, insert parentheses, which the unions are going to help write themselves.” And so those guidelines came out in February, shockingly, at least in terms of people who still have slim faith that a governmental science body should actually follow science and not reflect the input of stakeholders. Shockingly, they said, “We’re going to keep that six-foot distance guidance” Even though the very head of the CDC, Rochelle Walensky when giving advice to a school district in Massachusetts, in the previous July, said, “Yeah, just three feets fine, that’s enough, that six feet is gonna cause you to close too many schools and run halftime and that’s no good for kids. And there’s not really a significant difference go for three feet.” So she had to come out and very insincerely explain why six feet was still important. And not only that but the guidelines were written in such a way that talked about community spread. Like if the community has x amount of testing, then it’s too dangerous to open full time. And at the time that they issued that guidelines that would cover 90% of public schools. And so what you saw, fascinatingly, was a lot of states are like, “You know, what, screw the CDC, we’re going to, we’re going to issue our own guidelines.” And I’m not just talking about Florida, which is gonna do that anyways. But Illinois, and Massachusetts, places that are heavily democratic strongholds, but they couldn’t maintain the straight face about it anymore.

So to kind of answer your question, you do it while you can get away with it. But increasingly, there’s enough pushback by journalists and science scientists, like when the CDC came out with that lousy guidelines. They based it on a report by a couple of scientists who just immediately did a piece in the USA Today saying like, “Yeah, this is garbage, their interpretation, they’re misquoting our results.” And their guidelines are catastrophically bad and stupid. And that journalism in straight newspapers, Washington Post New York Times was overwhelmingly negative. And within a month, of course, Randi Weingarten had the A of t, the union was like, “Wow, this is great. We finally got the guidance that we’re looking for. And that’s why we’re going to work with our partners to blah, blah, blah, blah, blah” Because yes, she helped write those guidelines. And then after the blowback, a month later, six weeks later, maybe they reverse it. And go to three feet, which the entire rest of the world had gone to a long time ago. And suddenly the unions like, “Oh, I don’t know, that seems a bit rushed. We’re going to have to look at our experts are going to come back.” So they will just do as much as they can get away with. And part of my motivation for writing about this. Yes, I’m an angry parent. But also, it really bothers me when people stare into the camera in a position of power and influence and lie. And that’s what they’ve been doing. And so have a lot of the politicians that that are bending the knee towards them. And that’s intolerable to me. So I want to help people on their journeys of discovery about what the difference is between science and what politicians are doing. And the part of that, as we mentioned before, is pretty radicalizing, I mean, so many people are like, I never thought I would be I mean a lifelong Democrat. I’ve never thought it’d be so mad at the Democratic Party right now. And the unions that support them, but I can’t believe that they pushed our faces in it this badly and still do it. I mean, there are still quite a few major city school districts, and I’m probably having an Arlington too because you guys fed one of the worst. Yeah, I’m not sure we’re gonna be opening in the fall. We’re gonna need to have…

Juliette: We’re still part remote, I think.

Matt: Oh, my God. It’s the fall.

Juliette: Yeah. I think something… They’re not entirely sure. But they think right now more than 50% of the people in the school building. So not only the teachers, because there are way fewer teachers than there are kids even one more like a hybrid. That means that a ton of the kids are also vaccinated that are coming into school. So if that’s how it is now, how is it going to be in the fall? You no longer have an excuse. Sorry, I think you’ve already stretched it way past. It’s like, expiration date. But I don’t know. And I mean, the hygiene theater is just crazy. So like, we still have temperature checks. And they wipe down the surfaces every, like 20 seconds. And we have to wipe down the surfaces before and after we leave. And there’s like plexiglass around every desk, which is completely ridiculous. Like scientists said, no, we’ve known for a year that wiping down makes it worse. Yeah, it’s frustrating. And my mom has to fill out a survey every morning to be like, “Yeah, my kid will stay 10 feet apart, will not touch surfaces. My kid doesn’t have a fever. My kid doesn’t have this.” But then they still tech check our temperature and all that stuff. And I’m guessing it’s similar in New York City and just in a bunch of other places. But I don’t know if you’ve read the latest piece by John Tierney in The City Journal. And he talks about how younger kids are, like facing the consequences of this and how keeping them in masks and also adopting behaviors that are like COVID friendly and all this stuff. Like they’re talking about the damage that it does to their development. And so I don’t know what do you think the risk of these like hygiene, theatricals will be for, I mean, not only like people that are older, I mean, we all realize it’s like whatever, we’re gonna move on. But kids that are younger, that are growing up and are thinking that this is completely normal. And this is just how the world is.

Matt: I’m lucky enough. my six-year-old is a bit of a feisty critter. And she talks very much like when is Coronavirus going to be over. And because she’s tired of all of it, she wants and she’s she wears the mask she does what is required of her. And as you know has never been troubled by that. But she hates the masks. She wants to be able to see her friends and play with them normally. And just in the last couple of days. And Robbie Suave has written about this reason quite a bit. You’ve seen kind of like a big shift lot of Washington Post New York Times, slate or saying, “Hey, you know what, maybe we shouldn’t be wearing masks outdoors. Maybe that’s pointless.” And hopefully, that’s going to be translated soon into maybe we shouldn’t be having six-year-olds wear masks indoors, which is the norm in much of the country but lacking in these awful places that we’ve all decided to live which are in fact great places. But they’re governed very awfully. There is all that hygiene theater. So I don’t think that she’s going to be too mangled for that. She just strains the leash. And the moment it’s over, it’s going to be super over for her and she’s going to get back to making outlaw the six-year-old boys The five-year-old portion is a bit of a, just a bit of a cougar when it comes to that. And, and she’s going to be super happy. But yeah, there’s going to be there’s a lot of people who are going to learn a certain amount of fear and think about so my six-year-old is six years and three or four months old. So we can, we can 75 months. So 15 of her 75 months 20% of our lives have been under COVID.

Juliette: That’s weird.

Matt: It’s really weird. And it’s like also a majority of her pretty, self-conscious life where she can read and process information in a certain way. And if she was different temperamentally, ma’am, of course, that’s going to have a huge development, impact on you, even the couple of months where she didn’t have any social interaction, like it did. It just so obviously, was terrible for her, it’s terrible for all of us but really, really terrible for her. And she bounced back, but like it took a while she forgot how to act. But for people, there’s gonna be a whole class of people, and probably, especially adults, who come out of this as just kind of, like lifelong germaphobes, who like have forgotten the ability to weigh risks. I mean, most people don’t still don’t realize at all that for people 18 years and younger, by far, the flu has been more deadly than COVID. Like, they don’t understand that they can’t do that. And so if they process at all, they “Okay, cool.” So let’s mask up after COVID is gone, because the flu is so terrible, like, people have freaked out on risk. And the media has been really unhelpful through a lot of this, I am afraid to report just like looking for anecdotal scare stories in a field where there are actual better broad data. And granted, it’s very uncertain and things change, and it’s seasonal, and is geographical and all this, but we try to shove all this political morality into it.

So if you’re from New York, you’ve been sneering at Florida and Texas until recently, quite a lot. And all these people who don’t wear masks, and they’re anti-science and, and no one wants to confront a reality that may be public policy, it hasn’t been the main driver of, of whether you get it and whether you suffer for from it in a particular place. And that therefore, there are some conclusions that you might come there and including a certain amount of humility in the way that you deal in the world. But yeah, it’s impacted people really, really badly the economics of it is terrible, especially again, a democratic run state, the employment, so many women lost their jobs. It’s been a female recession basically because schools are closed and it became too difficult to figure out and plan out childcare for school-aged kids, and women still bear the brunt of child-rearing duties, whether we like that or not, that’s just how it is. And if you’re a single mom or someone who’s a poor, single mom, my God, it’s catastrophic. The labor force participation rate among women is back to where it was 40 plus years ago, that is an amazing backslide. And in that might take many years to recover from and really galls me is that, I mean, is the old joke about the New York Times headline of you know, if an asteroid comes and destroys the earth or country on the earth, He would say poor and minorities hardest hit. But in this case, it’s really the case specifically of the strategies that were embraced and adopted by democratic politicians. And I’m not a Republican. I don’t like this finding. But those things have hurt most of all women and poor people, poor minority students, they are the ones who absolutely got mangled because of public policy choices that were not related, or at least not correlative at all, with the amount of COVID in the community. And it’s horrifying. So, I hope that John Tierney is wrong, which is always bad to bet on that. It has to have some kind of impact. But then again, people have pointed out how one of the things about the roaring 20s that made it the roaring 20s is that people like Screw it, let’s forget about great influenza that just killed our sister. And they went out and it’s as if it didn’t happen. So hopefully, we have some kind of regenerative ability to scrub out the bad memories and not let it impact us but I do worry about it.

Juliette: That’s pretty optimistic. I mean, my biggest hope is that as more numbers come out, and as we get farther from this, that people can look back and see the numbers and be like, wait, the numbers actually had no influence upon our policy decisions. That’s crazy. I mean, I don’t know how much that’s gonna happen. But I think more and more as we get farther from people are and more frustrated with being stuck, like in this weird time, I think people are going to realize that, I hope, and another thing on child behavior, I mean, your daughter, definitely. So strong, especially compared to people that I’ve been reading about, I’ve been reading these stories and kids cry when strangers cross the street because they don’t understand COVID. But they also don’t understand that it’s not them, they are not the problem, but then they get accustomed to it. And they’re scared of people. And so it’s just, like, awful. And I hope that’s like, not the majority of kids. I mean, I doubt it is. But like, I bet a lot of kids are at least minorly influenced by this in that way. And I just hope that somehow the damage that has been done can be reversed or that it’s not as big as it seems like it is now.

Matt: Yeah, just to add quickly, I’ve seen my friends from California adults, that their personalities have changed a little bit. Their appetite for risk is all like prick wacky, they’re really fearful. They’ll drive by and see people outdoors at a beach. Look at those people. It’s like, don’t know, look at those people, and rejoice to be one of those people. But like, because California was so strict on its lockdowns. And just people got into this cycle where they are way more fearful than people in New York, even though New York was the epicenter, near the city of the epicenter of the pandemic. So it’s got to affect behavior. And I do worry about that maybe one of the reasons why it’s that least my daughter, or some people in New York are not completely mangled is that we’re just on so on top of each other anyway, that you don’t have the option. Like I say, if you’re gonna go outside your house, you’re gonna see people, you cannot be a creepy shut-in, in New York City. So hopefully, that will help. But yeah, I worry about it, too.

Juliette: I mean, California is like freaking another place. Amount that universities in California are still shut down compared to places on the East Coast or even more crowded places, like just anywhere else in the country. It’s fascinating. I mean, fascinating in a very negative way. Thank you so much for all of this. I know, I’ve taken so much of your time. But I want to wrap up with this final question. What is one thing you believed in at one time in your life that you later changed your position on and why?

Matt: This actually is proximity to reason. And I think probably specifically Nick Gillespie more than anybody else. I used to believe pretty strongly that one of the overwhelming factors of politics and governance that made it unsatisfying and made for bad policy and governed decisions was the role of campaign contributions. And that therefore, I was attracted to people who decried that, which was Jerry Brown, when he ran for president in 1992. It was Ralph Nader when he made his subsequent runs for president. Well, one of which I covered in 2000. And I thought that campaign finance reform would, it was important that the objections to it on free speech grounds were frivolous and opportunistic. And that once they were taken away, then policies X, Y, and Z would tumble forth. And I was wrong. I was persuaded first by talking to Brad Smith, who used to be on the Federal Elections Commission, and he’s been involved, in advocacy on this issue for a long time. And I found it to be very persuasive interviewing him about this. And including just like the size of contributions compared to the size of other things, and lobbying and whatnot, and then understanding more about how politicians and businesses respond to incentives and seeing the locus of decisions happen elsewhere. And understanding how individual politicians make decisions about things which are widely portrayed, as always keeping tax, lobby, but knowing the issue, whatever that might be, just having some exposure to all of that led me to a kind of the opposite point of view that campaign finance restrictions inevitably require censorship, they require disclosing some activity that should probably be allowed to be private. And that at any rate, the effect on actual policymaking is much more marginal than we normally associate with. If you want to look at some actual effect on policymaking, it’s usually what lobbyists do to the omnibus bill at the end of legislative here at the last minute that nobody reads, that will have more to do with it or promulgating rules at an agency. And this is outside the kind of high-profile realm of campaign competition and politics. So I believed that strongly once and now I believe something closer to the opposite. And it was exposure to crazy libertarians and reason magazine, in particular, that changed my mind about that.

Juliette: I mean, I’m not super well informed on that sort of stuff. I mean, money and financial things are just complicated for me in my brain. But I have been realizing more and more just how big role incentives play in everything really, even in your day-to-day life, and you just don’t realize that so I can imagine how that plays a role in that situation. Okay, that’s all the time we have for today. I like to thank you again, Matt, for your time and for your insight. I would also like to thank everyone who listens, subscribes, and shares the great antidote podcast. If you would like to be on the podcast, or if you have a guest in mind, please feel free to reach out to me at The Great Antidote at Bye and thank you.


CGO scholars and fellows frequently comment on a variety of topics for the popular press. The views expressed therein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Center for Growth and Opportunity or the views of Utah State University.