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Hamburgers will decide America’s future The nation is being starved of small luxuries

A McDonald's on Guantanamo (MLADEN ANTONOV/AFP via Getty Images)

A McDonald's on Guantanamo (MLADEN ANTONOV/AFP via Getty Images)


February 19, 2024   7 mins

American cultural cachet has long gone hand in hand with the abundance and affordability of fast food. But while it has manifested itself in strange and humorous ways, the connection runs deep. Boris Yeltsin’s visit to an Californian grocery store in 1989 has, for instance, become a part of the Americans’ collective memory: suitably impressed by the wide selection of ice cream, he seemed to personify the divide between wealthy, liberal-capitalist consumerist America and the states of the Eastern Bloc, where the consumer would be lucky to find any ice cream at all.

After the Soviet Union collapsed, its last President, Mikhail Gorbachev, signed on to do an advert for Pizza Hut, in which a family gathering of Russians debate whether the introduction of fast-food chains like Pizza Hut was truly worth the fall of the USSR. Unsurprisingly, the pro-Pizza Hut faction win. And though that particular advert is somewhat on the nose, it wasn’t a great leap from the post-Soviet reality. When the first McDonald’s opened in Moscow in 1990, hundreds queued to get a chance to taste American fast food.

Today, however, the “McDonald’s era” in Russia has come to a close, as all of the franchise’s restaurants have been sold off. Most of them are still being operated, but they carry new names. The elusive “magic” that those Big Macs held in the Nineties in the eyes of Russians as harbingers of modernity, symbols of a new, global market society, is now well and truly gone.

But American fast food was never only important for the ways it could dazzle the Russian proletariat, or anyone else in what is now called the Global South. It has become part of the American self-conception, at the lowest and uppermost reaches of society. Pictures of Burger King lorries being unloaded from US military cargo planes in bases across Afghanistan and Iraq were a powerful symbol of American power; the now-abandoned US military base at Kandahar, for example, once boasted a Burger King, a Pizza Hut and a TGI Fridays serving alcohol-free margaritas. Like the Roman legionaries before them, wherever American soldiers and marines deployed in force, they brought their own culture and preferences with them. Far from being a white elephant and a pointless waste of resources, that McDonald’s or Burger King inside the Green Zone was a little piece of America, one that soldiers — often worn down from their long deployments into the sandbox — genuinely appreciative. For them, it really was a little slice of home.

The Kandahar Burger King closed down a long time ago; ordering Pizza Hut at Bagram air base in Afghanistan is likewise a distant memory, as the US military slowly cuts back and retreats from the world. But even on the home front, inside the continental United States, fast food isn’t what it used to be. The industry is now locked in a genuine affordability crisis, and it is unclear when — or even if — things will ever improve. The famous McDonald’s dollar menu has been renamed to the “$1, $2, $3 Dollar Menu”, and an increasing amount of items on it — even the chicken nuggets — now cost upwards of $4.

In the early years of the post-Cold War era, the ridiculous affordability of American fast food was a point of pride, waved in the faces of the snobs of Europe. Michelin chefs be damned: in the US, mass prosperity and mass culture were the order of the day. The average American could be proud of the fact that he could eat more calories and afford more stuff than the average citizen of any other country in the world (even if nothing else).

But this is no longer the case, as massive cost increases, coupled with shrinkflation, have eaten away at this central aspect of American living standards. Those same supermarkets that Boris Yeltsin salivated over are putting locks on the displays. Once, Russians queued up in droves to get a taste of Pizza Hut or Burger King; now, Americans marvel on social media at just how cheap the hamburgers in Moscow seem to be compared to their own. But though many things are becoming increasingly unaffordable for ordinary Westerners these days, the rising price of hamburgers comes with its own poignant cultural significance. And this new reality is the source of a new type of dissatisfaction on social media.

One of the internet’s most popular content creators, John Jurasek — commonly nicknamed “Reviewbrah” — posted a cri de coeur on the topic several months ago, in which he described how the fast food he reviewed had skyrocketed in price and nosedived in quality over the last few years. After listing his own experiences and complaints, Jurasek opened up the floor to people to report their own experiences in the comments section. More than 10,000 comments later, the picture painted was overwhelmingly clear: the fast-food industry inside America seemed to be in a state of near-collapse.

In response, some might be tempted to ask: so what? Fast food is bad for your health; why would the unaffordability of a greasy pizza or a cardboard box of processed chicken nuggets even be a problem? These complaints are reasonable on one level, but they ignore the broader social, economic and political reality that this affordability crisis speaks to. The United States is possibly the only country in the world where the term “food desert” is in semi-regular use, denoting areas within the country where there is little or no access to supermarkets selling fresh vegetables and the like. In this nutritional frontier country, fast food is the only game in town. Though the extent and severity of this problem shouldn’t be overstated, it is an issue, and some Americans are, for various reasons, at least partly dependent on cheap fast food in the way that the citizens of ancient Rome were dependent on cura annonae: the provision of state-subsidised bread and grain.

On another level, however, tutting at Americans who resent that their burgers are now twice as expensive and increasingly filled with sawdust is just the Western equivalent of tutting at Soviet citizens for coveting American blue jeans. The USSR collapsed in part due to its citizens being disillusioned with the promises of socialist prosperity that had been made to them. Looking at their own shabby reality, blue jeans and hamburgers became symbols of something greater. America, by contrast, is now a consumerist society where the ability to actually be a happy consumer is rapidly collapsing. Just like the Soviet Union before it, the once-alluring story of American society is now being seen as an increasingly shabby fraud by a growing segment of its own citizenry. The same feelings of anomie and cynicism that once animated Soviet political jokes are now spreading to more and more Americans, forced to contrast the newspaper headline stories of economic growth and prosperity for all with their experiences of food inflation and wage stagnation.

A very stark illustration of this fact came recently, as the American journalist and cable TV profile, Tucker Carlson, travelled to Russia. The official goal was to interview Vladimir Putin, but there’s a fair chance their meeting was the least culturally impactful moment of the trip. It’s what Tucker decided to do afterwards that has now really stirred up consternation and controversy on social media: in an ironic repeat of Yeltsin’s visit to that American grocery store, Tucker decided to visit a Russian grocery store in Moscow, ride the Moscow subway, and then visit a Vkushno i tochka — Russian for “Tasty, that’s it”, the new hamburger chain that has taken over where McDonald’s left off.

In Tucker’s own words, his visits to Moscow “radicalised” him, in a sort of mirror image of how citizens of the USSR were once equally radicalised by seeing how the other side lived. Moscow simply wasn’t that bad: the groceries were cheap, the store selection was wide, nothing was locked down to prevent theft — which is becoming extremely common in many parts of the West — and the streets were free of drug addicts and homeless people. The burgers were far cheaper than in the United States, and they were indeed tasty.

“In Tucker’s own words, his visits to Moscow ‘radicalised’ him”

Given that Russia is, according to the official narrative in the West, a backwards tyranny, run by an incompetent, brutal kleptocracy, ridden with crime and lacking in basic services, things in Moscow reasonably shouldn’t be quite so, well, normal. Why can’t we in the West, with all the natural, inherent superiority our societies supposedly possess, manage to have clean public transit, cheap fast food, or stores where you don’t have to ask an employee to unlock the deodorant shelf?

History might not repeat, but it sure does rhyme: after Tucker posted these videos from Moscow to social media, a massive firestorm broke out, as people tried their best to debunk the very idea of Russians enjoying anything close to a decent living standard or a functional society. Statistics, often decades old, pointing to Americans spending only some 8-10% of their total income on groceries (compared to Russians who supposedly spent almost 50%) made the rounds, but it is hard not to get the sense that it is all, in a very real way, a futile effort at this point.

The problem isn’t that people suddenly love Russia — it’s that they remember when the West had affordable fast food, and when stores didn’t put half their wares under lock and key. They remember living in functioning societies, and now they increasingly feel that they don’t, anymore. What Tucker — like Boris Yeltsin before him — inadvertently did is simple: he revealed that the belief in the grand narrative of his own society has withered away and died. It doesn’t matter how many statistics and graphs are posted about PPP and GDP growth and how America is richer today than it has ever been before: people don’t feel richer. They see the decay around them and they now feel they are being lied to, and that the system is broken. And not least when it comes to their hamburgers.

Almost a freak accident of history, the hamburger has been pressed into service as a grand symbol for the past half century. In 1990, it was a symbol of American cultural and economic dominance, as Muscovites waited in line for their taste of the future. In 2004, as airlifted Burger King trucks rolled off the tarmac at Bagram air base, it became a symbol not just of cultural and economic dominance but of military power too. A mere 20 years later, the hamburger is now coming to symbolise very real feelings of political and economic decline, as people take to social media to bicker over whose fault it is that they’re no longer affordable.

Anger over expensive burgers won’t bring down America, just as the lack of blue jeans didn’t cause the collapse of the USSR. But they point to exactly the same thing: a shared vision of the future, once commonly held, is now in the process of dying. And nobody knows how to repair that vision, or what to replace it with when it’s gone.


Malcom Kyeyune is a freelance writer living in Uppsala, Sweden

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J Bryant
J Bryant
4 months ago

This article is spot on.
From my home I can drive north and shop in a relatively affluent community. The grocery stores there are clean and friendly, and have always been somewhat overpriced. Most of the inhabitants are left-leaning and reliably vote Democrat. Their lawns were bristling with BLM signs during the pandemic.
Driving south I can shop in a blue-collar community. Last week I bought a hamburger, small fries and small soda at a Burger King. It cost just over $12. I could have bought the same meal for about $7 pre-pandemic. And, as the author notes, the quality was obviously worse. A short distance from the Burger King, the main grocery store now has locked toilets that require a store employee to open (to prevent drug addicts shooting up). Some items are in locked cabinets, and there are security guards on the main doors who ask to see your receipt as you leave (to decrease shop lifting). These folks live with the consequences of progressive policies.
My wife and I only eat in restaurants for special occasions because they’re now so darned expensive.
The Democrat-aligned media are touting the brilliance of the economy under Biden, but I don’t believe people are buying into that story. We all live with the reality of inflation. I’m not convinced Russia, as a whole, is enjoying wonderful living standards, as the Carlson videos might suggest, but American living standards are slipping and everyone can see it.

Matt Hindman
Matt Hindman
4 months ago
Reply to  J Bryant

Geopolitics is one thing but asking why your quality of life domestically has gone downhill is something Western leaders cannot allow. Too bad for them it is no longer working. People can look around at the decay as they go down a street. They know how much they have to budget to make ends meet. Being aware of crime in their local area is just common sense. They even know other people who are having a rough time. Oh and while we are on the subject, low inflation is not the same as deflation. “Things are super expensive but the prices are only slowly going up now” does not quite match “good news, prices were expensive but they are going down now.” Our neoliberal leadership has no idea how to even begin fixing things if they even wanted to. They were taught economics and foreign policy as scientific fact instead of theory in Ivy League universities and all they know how to do is double down.
Edit: I should note that Moscow has a reputation for being much more modern and nicer than many other cities in Russia but the point about the decline of Western cities still stands.

m e
m e
4 months ago
Reply to  Matt Hindman

Thoughtful article but what a bunch of
entitled babies many American’s are. The biggest ones worship a dishonest corrupt tacky sore loser with an Orange face who tried to stop the peaceful transfer of power. I wish we could all agree that that person is beyond the pale. Most of us wouldn’t have cared if Haley or DeSantis were to have been elected in 2024. Sure we prefer a Dem because Dem governance performs much better economically and the right of women to choose are respected.

But you had to go with this divisive clown buffoon and now we will mobilize to defeat this joke AGAIN. He is the clear and present danger. After we defeat that clown again, many of us in the center and center left will turn to the woke left and cut them down to size. But first things first.

You all talk about the good old days? The big cities of American have never been nicer and fancier. Great museums, boutiques, restaurants, concert halls, etc. If you can’t afford it…up your games or settle for the bland suburbs and exurbs. Sure SF has some problems but those problems affect its citizens and NOT tourists. So it’s on them to fix it, but I’ve been twice in the last few years and I find it a little TOO upscale. All extremes are bad. The maga right everywhere and the extreme progressives in the SF city council. The maga right controls congress. The extreme progressives very little except a few city councils here and there.

It costs a lot of labor, materials, rent etc to produce a fast food meal in 2024. Try it at home. The problem in the world continues to be people. There’s never been more abundance and opportunity. Cars today are dull looking but infinitely better than the shit cars of the 1950s-1980s.

The only other thing that’s more depressing today than the extreme maga right and the most Extreme woke left is what the smart phone has done to the human mind. It’s promotes and produces stupidity and laziness and conspiratorial nonsense. When your life is empty u fill it with anything u can find.

Thomas Wagner
Thomas Wagner
4 months ago
Reply to  m e

Dem governance performs much better economically

The current Dem governance gave us inflation that peaked at 9.1% in June 2022. The peak during the previous governance was 2,9% in June 2018. The median household income for 2022, during Dem governance, is $74,580. The median household income during the previous governance was $78,250 in 2019 — both in constant dollars. The Census Bureau won’t release the numbers for 2023 until next September and the estimates I found are all over the map.
But let’s just reduce it to a practical level. Are you living better now than you were four years ago? The consensus seems to be NO!

Carl Valentine
Carl Valentine
4 months ago
Reply to  Thomas Wagner

We are no better off than in the 1980’s!

Cathy Carron
Cathy Carron
4 months ago
Reply to  J Bryant

But, but, but – Joe Biden and his Administration doth protest, as they insist the economy is roaring, so of course we need the 6 million illegal migrants he’s allowed in and that we’ll all live happily ever after. It’s odd though, how he doesn’t read the polls, showing he has the lowest approval rating for a President since the 1970’s. There’s some fierce cognitive dissonance going on there.

Steve Jolly
Steve Jolly
4 months ago
Reply to  Cathy Carron

Cognitive dissonance would require greater cognitive function than our aged President seems to possess at this point, so it’s more properly attributed to the several or several dozen handlers and staff who actually run things. Cognitive dissonance, though, applies only to individuals. What appears to be cognitive dissonance is more likely the natural result of sock puppet Biden being a mouthpiece for different people and interests on different days, and most of them are no doubt engaging in their own deceptive political spin whether consciously or unconsciously.

Thomas Wagner
Thomas Wagner
4 months ago
Reply to  Steve Jolly

You’re right. Cognitive dissonance involves being able to hold two thoughts at once and not notice the conflict between them. Joe’s ability to hold even one thought is rapidly diminishing.

Anna Bramwell
Anna Bramwell
4 months ago
Reply to  Cathy Carron

8 million?

Chris M
Chris M
4 months ago
Reply to  Cathy Carron

The issue for Americans isn’t a comparison/contrast with the rest of the world (free world or not). Rather, it’s a comparison with what was the norm just three years ago compared with today.
The fact is that the discretionary income (i.e., income left over after necessities and requirements for a standard of living) has dropped significantly over the past three years.
Moreover, the marching mantra of the Left is one of “income equality,” “moral change,” and “social engineering” amid cries about climate change, healthcare reform and wealth redistribution. Yet, all of these will result in a set of rules dictated by politicians that will take even more of this income away from Americans.
By most measures, Americans have the highest discretionary income in the world. However, if you ask most Americans, they are not willing to sacrifice their families over some politicians plan to help others or to “solve” problems like climate change.
The Left might convince some to sign up for “healthcare reform;” however, if the specifics are clarified (especially what it will specifically cost upfront out of our taxes), most of those healthcare reformers will suddenly change their views.
The cost of a burger is not a big deal to bureaucrats. However, it hits their constituents in the pocketbook. It also hits the lower income families the hardest. If history is any indicator, this will affect turnout in elections. Anyone who is credited with the increase will suffer for it.

Mark M Breza
Mark M Breza
4 months ago
Reply to  J Bryant

Move to LA !! From my home : Whole Foods, Ralphs, Trader Joe’s, Mitsua (Japanese),
The Korean Grocery *****, Armenian, Persian, Food for Less ****, Kosher, Russian, Philippine, etc
Plenty to eat in the 1st World.
Plus oodles of Hamburger places from all price ranges !!!
SoCal still the land of ‘milk and honey’
only cars and land are expensive.

Jerry Carroll
Jerry Carroll
4 months ago
Reply to  Mark M Breza

You are clearly a connoisseur of baloney.

Bernard Brothman
Bernard Brothman
4 months ago
Reply to  J Bryant

J Bryant brings the point across excellently regarding the cultural divide and the decline in living standards here in the USA.
I recommend a report called, “The Two Americas and How the Nation’s Elite Is Out of Touch with Average Americans,” prepared by the Committee to Unleash Prosperity Staff. Upper income (150K+ per person), graduate qualification holders, working in a large urban or leafy suburban locale (with the BLM posters on the lawn) and working in a large organization are in love with the Biden Administration and large institutions, except the Republican party and the US Supreme Court. People in this group are not fazed by the cost of hamburgers or dining out. And they cannot fathom why other people are upset with President Biden.
If we assume everything Tucker Carlson saw was a Potemkin village (Russian tradition), that does not negate the problems faced here in the US:
Unenforced immigration rules and for all practical purposes an open southern border.Crime in cities facilitated by no bail laws, lack of prosecution of shop lifting (up to $950 you basically go free, why bother paying for something). Hence, we see stores closing in higher crime areas and many products behind plastic. Criminals go unpunished, unless of course he was a former President of the US.A focus on intersectionality regarding race and gender. Who is more aggrieved and then more entitled to never ending preferences. Marxist based critical race theory is about breaking America apart.Going to eat out? Forget about it. It is not worth it if you can do your own shopping and cooking. Environmental rules and rental regulations result in less and more expensive housing. Remedies only drive-up costs.Government debt that only grows along with the interest on such debt.If you think Ukraine, has it bad, most young people in the US say they will not serve if this country were attacked. Many are overweight and have anxiety issues. I would take Israeli kids who serve in the IDF at age 18 any day over US kids.Education is a racket. High tuition funds big administrative staffs that push DEI on students and staff. Perhaps some of you saw the videos of former Havard President Gay testifying in Congress recently. This results in high levels of student debt which the Biden Administration is trying to cancel (or dump onto other taxpayers).
I could go on, although may readers of UnHerd are aware of these issues. Can the Republican party put together a coherent set of candidates for the fall elections? I am not sure.

Warren Trees
Warren Trees
4 months ago

$150k is upper income? That is almost a minimum wage these days. Many attorneys’, CEO’s and investment bankers are making $20 million plus, PER YEAR. They pay their drivers and cooks $150k+ per year. Talking about being out of touch!?

hugh shull
hugh shull
4 months ago
Reply to  J Bryant

Was it a whopper? I just had a double cheeseburger bundle at McDonald’s, comes with small fries and a small coke. $4.32. On Long Island. I do find that some fast food places with a captive audience have outrageous proces, espcially ones with a concession like at rest stops on the NJ Turnpike I-95. But there are usually relatively affordable options.

Chris M
Chris M
4 months ago
Reply to  hugh shull

I live in the Silicon Valley. A McDouble — by itself — is now $4.99 in Palo Alto. Three years ago, it was $1.49. If you add fries and a soda, it comes out to over $10.

hugh shull
hugh shull
4 months ago
Reply to  Chris M

The McDouble on El Camino Real in Palo Alto is $3.00. Maybe you are looking at the double cheeseburger (extra slice). There are also bundles, rewards for using app, etc. Yeah, prices are up, but even McDonald’s sees folks trading down and loses sales if priced too high. And not shilling for them. I have 3 kids and try to avoid going too often. Wendy’s has some cheaper deals. Otherwise it’s carrot sticks and PBJ. I don’t live in California. Y’all have the In and Out burger to look forward to.

Andy JS
Andy JS
4 months ago
Reply to  J Bryant

There’s something deeply wrong with American society if so many people have to rely on fast food to survive. I’m English, but I’ve just been to Rome, where there are loads of shops everywhere selling healthy food for incredibly low prices. And Italy obviously isn’t as rich a country as the United States. So there’s no real excuse for the situation Americans find themselves in with regard to cheap and healthy food.

hugh shull
hugh shull
4 months ago
Reply to  Andy JS

There are plenty of inexpensive, healthy alternatives in the U.S. (although yes, there are areas where major chains don’t go, which is a law and order issue).

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
4 months ago
Reply to  J Bryant

Where do you live?
Inflation is global.

T Bone
T Bone
4 months ago

If modern America seems comparable to late Soviet Post-Glasnost Era, its probably because both economies were redistributionary command and control bureacracies with bits of consumer Capitalism.

The US (along with the entire West) is trying to use public-private partnerships to micromanage wealth distribution throughout the population. DEI didn’t happen organically. It’s a political agenda to put left wing activists in positions of influence so they can implement top-down Social Justice bureacracies and “reimagine” Western economies to be more “Sustainable and Inclusive.”

It requires extensive government funding into the private sector and in return the private sector takes up left wing causes which focuses not on mass production of consumer goods but on telling people what goods they can have. There’s literally nothing “Neoliberal” about western economic planning. If the State micromanages an economy, prices will rise. You can do all the price controls you want but it won’t resolve the problem inherent to the economic philosophy.

David Harris
David Harris
4 months ago
Reply to  T Bone

“the private sector takes up left wing causes… telling people what goods they can have”
Exactly, like battery cars, ‘sustainable food’, ‘net zero’ energy, vast low-skill immigration, ‘diverse’ cultural consumption, etc, etc…

Abdul Alhazred
Abdul Alhazred
4 months ago
Reply to  David Harris

The two sacrements of righteousness used to bless sanctimonious values are Equity and Sustainability. These core tenets of the catechism are narrative beliefs, but fail to recognize their inherent bias. Both Sustainability and Equity are good principles or values, but when wielded by power elites, they aren’t much different than money or religion that were used in the past (and today, of course).

Sustainability criteria are bestowed by “experts” who choose where subsidies go, based on the opinions of these experts about the sustainable characteristics of actions. So the true power lands with the Sustainability Priests deciding what activities get holy water sprinkled on them.

Equity is a tool for using societal commandments to redistribute wealth or access to goods or services to reverse the effects of our past approach that did not result in such an even distribution. The criteria for receiving redistribution are either by self declared membership in a group (obviously ridiculously subject to bad faith) or by superficial judgment on the part of the decider assessing to whom redistribution goes. So, what starts as an effort to do good, is rapidly compromised, and cultivates an industry of classifying people and possibly entrenching difference.

You start with good ideas based on fairness and sober stewardship of the planet and you quickly create another tool for bias. Just because the old system was flawed, doesn’t mean anything replacing it will bd better.

Simon Templar
Simon Templar
4 months ago
Reply to  T Bone

Exactly!

What made America great (with cheap, good value products for consumers, and lots of jobs) was the work ethic; and trust that responsibility, providing value, and hard work would be rewarded with success.

Today’s entitlement philosophy has spawned a culture of resentment, so “Where envy and self-seeking exist, confusion and every evil thing will be there.” Decay and decadence increase because good work is punished and everyone is a victim.

Someone said (de Toqueville perhaps) “America is great because America is good; when America ceases to be good, America will cease to be great.”

That’s where we are

Tony Buck
Tony Buck
4 months ago
Reply to  Simon Templar

Goodness is much more than the Work Ethic.

It’s also honesty, public spirit, concern for others. Where are those now ?

Moreover, the top of society, where the Work Ethic still reigns, is also the most ruthless and dishonest part of society.

As for the objection to self-seeking: Capitalism is built on it, and always was.

US Capitalism used to be balanced by US Protestantism. The latter is no longer there (despite the ballyhoo pretending it is).

T Bone
T Bone
4 months ago
Reply to  Tony Buck

This is a word salad. You said very little here outside of vague, non-committal generalizations.

Work ethic refers to taking pride in what you do and working until the job is finished and not wanting to have things given to you. Work ethic is not exclusive to the top echelon of society.

I’d much rather live amongst hard working middle income people than grievance oriented complainers constantly demanding the government remediate their material conditions. Hard-working people will persevere no matter how much redistributionists try to make their lives difficult. Whatever your vague slight of Protestantism was about, it doesn’t reflect reality on the ground.

Tony Buck
Tony Buck
4 months ago
Reply to  T Bone

The worst and most effective redistributionists are big companies ripping off everyone else (esp middle income people) and making life horrible for small businesses.

But right-wing people like you worship those with power and money, so don’t object to being scr*we’d by them. Hence too, you always take care to punch downwards, not upwards.

But your reply is a word salad, full of vague generalizations.

The point I was making about Protestantism seems to be quite over your head.

T Bone
T Bone
4 months ago
Reply to  Tony Buck

This is a masterpiece of contradiction. So on one hand the big companies scr#wing people over are supposedly “Right-Wing” but just happen to be overwhelmingly donating to Left-Wing politicians.

So you’re voting with the Donor class and lecturing me about “punching down” while you sneer at the “uneducated” low income Trump voters that “cling to their bibles.”

I don’t resent the rich and powerful, especially if they’re uber-talented like an Elon Musk. But I do resent mediocre Midwits climbing the ladder while possessing no demonstrable talents other than being really good at enforcing comformity.

Tony Buck
Tony Buck
4 months ago
Reply to  T Bone

I don’t vote with the Donor Class, whom I detest as much as I do any conservative.

The Donor Class aren’t remotely left-wing (except in a few daft and crotchety ways) – they are best described as gentry liberals.

I wouldn’t dream of criticising Trump voters – it was because they’ve had a raw deal that Trump is at the top of US politics.

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
4 months ago
Reply to  Tony Buck

Oh I see better now. I’m not conservative about most things but I certainly don’t detest all who have preservationist or traditional values as a group. Not since I was about 16. Nor those who espouse radicalism or precipitous reform, though I usually disagree. You come here to do little else but denounce and dismiss people.
Why don’t you give us the much shorter list of people you do like, forgive, or admire?
Anyway, you have some intellect and passion but no evident balance or appetite for good-faith argument. Everyone you disagree with is preemptively condemned. Maybe take a look at that.

Carl Valentine
Carl Valentine
4 months ago
Reply to  AJ Mac

You often make sound comments, this isn’t one of them…

Chipoko
Chipoko
4 months ago
Reply to  Tony Buck

The pejorative ‘Rightwing = Bad’, Left-wing = Good’ trope is as puerile as it is stale and simply wrong. It is name-calling (e.g. ‘racist’, etc.); a negative device to which people who don’t have solid arguments typically resort.

Chipoko
Chipoko
4 months ago
Reply to  T Bone

DEI ‘… a political agenda to put left wing activists in positions of influence so they can implement top-down Social Justice bureacracies and “reimagine” Western economies to be more “Sustainable and Inclusive.”’
Oooh! I like that definition! Nail on the head, bullseye and similar clichés!

Fafa Fafa
Fafa Fafa
4 months ago

And the trains were running on time. Tucker was impressed, channeling William S Burroughs. The rest of the 99.99% of the country remained unexplored.

Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
4 months ago
Reply to  Fafa Fafa

Tucker fawning over Moscow amenities is pretty cringeworthy. Life is getting worse here, but I wouldn’t ever trade it for Russia.

Martin M
Martin M
4 months ago
Reply to  Jim Veenbaas

I am no friend of Russia, but apparently some of the Moscow subway stations are spectacular.

Jerry Carroll
Jerry Carroll
4 months ago
Reply to  Martin M

If you are anybody in Russia you live in Moscow. It can be compared to the suburbs of Washington, D.C. where the lobbyists and the politician they own live in grassy and leafy splendor.

Martin M
Martin M
4 months ago
Reply to  Jerry Carroll

I remember being in Jakarta some years ago. Most of it was as you’d expect – ramshackle and smelly and with a lot of street vendors. The “government district” was very nice though. Clean streets, nice buildings, and no street vendors, just the occasional guy with a machine gun standing around.

Cathy Carron
Cathy Carron
4 months ago
Reply to  Jim Veenbaas

Don’t you think Tucker was sticking a knife in the USA powers that be? – especially at a point in time where inflation is killing the average family budget, yet Biden & Co. are blissfully unaware, exclaiming how wonderful Biden is, a saint really and how much he’s done for his multitude of constituencies.

Steve Jolly
Steve Jolly
4 months ago
Reply to  Cathy Carron

Yes, the intent was rather obvious. I’m sure Tucker Carlson is well aware that Putin is viewed by the establishment as a threat but not so much in libertarian populist circles. Putin is admired by a few as a sort of model for how a nationalist dictator is in some ways preferable to a nominally democratic globalist regime. For most though, he’s simply easier to ignore as being not really important to the US as most libertarian populist sorts don’t care what people do in their own countries. This wasn’t new even in 2016 and it’s a big reason why the MSM fixated so much on Russian interference in the election, hoping to generate some grassroots anti-Russian sentiment while associating it with the anti-establishment Trump movement. Like so many other elite attempts to squash populist movements and raise the international awareness of the American voters, it backfired rather badly.

Jerry Carroll
Jerry Carroll
4 months ago
Reply to  Steve Jolly

Did it backfire? Joe’s in the White House dangling at the end of strings in the hands of puppet masters on the phone to Obama.

Steve Jolly
Steve Jolly
4 months ago
Reply to  Jim Veenbaas

Seems that way now but give it time. A lot can change. Who knows what the world will be like after a few more decades of populist revolutionaries and elite reactionaries trading political blows and obstructing any agenda popular or otherwise; when the boomer generation that still remembers the cold war is dying off; when the futility of trying to control climate change has been laid bare for all to see; when the equatorial regions are becoming nigh unlivable and Siberia is thawing. I can easily see a future where Russia actually performs the same historical role the USA once did, as the destination of choice for people choosing to try to escape an old civilization still under the thumb of undeserving aristocrats held over from the prior age and increasingly out of touch with the people.

Martin M
Martin M
4 months ago
Reply to  Fafa Fafa

Probably best not to analyse what goes in their burgers either.

Matt M
Matt M
4 months ago
Reply to  Fafa Fafa

If anyone is interested in that, I recommend the (pre-war) YouTube videos of a filmmaker called Bald and Bankrupt. He is an Englishman who learned Russian and travels round the less glamorous parts of the country chatting and drinking with the locals. It gives you a really good insight into the country. My takeaway is that outside the bug cities, the main problem is the aging population – all the kids move to Moscow or St Petersburg or abroad and the pensioners and a few less capable, younger adults are all that’s left. They aren’t hungry but they are lonely and bored, it seems. A lot of them claim to miss the Soviet days.

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
4 months ago
Reply to  Matt M

Interesting, I’ll check out B&Bs work. I wonder if their the fond remembrances of the USSR has anything to do with them hearkening back to a time when they were younger and less lonely.

Matt M
Matt M
4 months ago
Reply to  AJ Mac

I wonder if their the fond remembrances of the USSR has anything to do with them hearkening back to a time when they were younger and less lonely.

Almost certainly it is.

Tony Buck
Tony Buck
4 months ago
Reply to  Matt M

The West’s population is also ageing.

Migrants aside, of course.

Matt M
Matt M
4 months ago
Reply to  Tony Buck

True and some rural parts of some Western countries are also oldies only and probably have the same problems.

Tony Buck
Tony Buck
4 months ago
Reply to  Matt M

I think you mean “some non- Western countries.”

Yes, but the problem is total and more severe in the West.

Jerry Carroll
Jerry Carroll
4 months ago
Reply to  Fafa Fafa

This was a short visit to interview a vile, murdering autocrat. What do you expect from the guy?

Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
4 months ago

Very thoughtful essay. Love the hamburger analogy. Although we are blessed to be born and raised in the west – truly amongst the most privileged people in history – it’s so disheartening to see it being pissed away by the incompetent political class.

Tony Buck
Tony Buck
4 months ago
Reply to  Jim Veenbaas

Incompetent ? It the West’s political class – and the rest of the elites upholding them – were merely incompetent, they would be innocent.

In fact, they’re as Guilty as Hell.

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
4 months ago
Reply to  Tony Buck

But the claim that they are demonic enables you to dehumanize them in a convenient way, though the failings and vices Western elites exhibit are common among people in general–at least once they are positioned to get away with it.
Guilty? Yes: Guilty as Earth.

Tony Buck
Tony Buck
4 months ago
Reply to  AJ Mac

But most people AREN’T in a position to “get away with it “. The point here isn’t whether the elites are uniquely evil, but that they are uniquely powerful.

On your basis, everyone is as guilty as everyone else – so everyone should be in prison, presumably.

In fact, our current Western elites – unlike their predecessors only a few decades ago – are appalling.

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
4 months ago
Reply to  Tony Buck

Not at all. “Everyone is equally guilty” is both 1) a key Trumpian evasion: to claim everyone is corrupt and therefore why not get over on people if you can? and 2) the cynical nihilist’s favorite alibi: left, right, and center.
Your acknowledgement of non-unique evil will do for a start. Remembering our full shared humanity would be better (I’m not saying you don’t, but responding to what you emphasize). That doesn’t mean we ought to excuse or fail to oppose their bad behavior, but understand it largely as part of an interconnected human web in which people are all flawed to some extent, but NOT equally guilty. And their guilt or innocence is NOT reducible to whether they are elite or non-elite, except according to a kind of smuggled class-divisiveness in which success or elite status is conclusive evidence of evil, not unique perhaps but enhanced.
Let’s treat people as individuals more than as members of rather homogenous groups with binding moral characteristics. Are you not appalled by some less-than-elite people? Most mass shooters, for example, don’t fit any common definition of eliteness.
What era of Western elites was your favorite?

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
4 months ago
Reply to  AJ Mac

Well said.

Tony Buck
Tony Buck
4 months ago
Reply to  Clare Knight

Same breed, same opinions.

Tony Buck
Tony Buck
4 months ago
Reply to  AJ Mac

My favourite era of Western elites ? – well, when they were competent. Which in Britain was until 1990.

Since then. there has been a breakdown in competence both in politics and in parts of the civil service.

If you want to ruled by circus clowns, if you want much of your life to be run by awful administrators (public and private), then Enjoy.

The evil of elites is of course enhanced by their power. And of course, their community of interest – they are numerous as well as powerful. Whereas mass -shooters are lone loons – and dealt with by the law (they lack elite immunity).

That, instead of recognising the substantial truth in what I have said, you have subjected me to long sermons comprising only the bleedin’ obvious, suggests that you are over-tender towards elite misdeeds.

The class divisiveness is at its most obvious – and at its worst – in people like you.

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
4 months ago
Reply to  Tony Buck

Sure power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely, or will for most. But you tend to default to simplistic condemnations. Your praise seems reserved for things that occurred in the past, though not quite the way you remember or idealize them.
What is your proposed solution, rule by an non-communist proletariat? Celebration of all that is ordinary and ignorant? I agree that our elites are notably corrupt as a whole: political, financial, academic, and technocratic. Still, I am not clamoring to replace them with modern day Luddite or Iconoclast hordes from the Right or Left.
If you practiced intellectual charity and good-faith argument yourself, it would make more sense to extend you the same courtesy or benefit of the doubt, and acknowledge the kernels (even portions) of truth in your one-sided pronouncements.
I’m not saying I’m infallibly fair-minded or that I never preach and pontificate (ha!), but I try to limit myself and I’m willing and able to snap out of it when I do lapse. Right now you don’t seem like you are here to debate or discuss anything; I’m sermonizing and you’re not?
You seem to have soft spot for those you label non-elite, as if they acquire virtue or escape human evil through dint of non-accomplishment or lack of talent. Does history and human nature indicate that they would retain their salt-of-the-earth goodness once they held levers of power?
Incidentally: I assume you can demonstrate a semblance of consistency in your absolutism by declaring your opposition to Trump*, a person of profoundly misused privilege and elite access who has shown, even declared his readiness to use power to a dictatorial extreme if given the chance–but only for a day!
If so: we can agree on one thing, yet still categorize, label, and dismiss one another’s views when it’s convenient, or when egos or feelings get hurt.
Ah, to return to 1988, when I was a lad of 17 and Britain’s elites–glimpsed from across the Atlantic–were still so impressively competent!
*So you condemn corrupt, evil elites as one of your broad-brushed breeds, but not Trump in particular?
According to the measure you mete out, it will be measured unto you again.

Tony Buck
Tony Buck
4 months ago
Reply to  AJ Mac

You preach intellectual charity but are devoid of it.

Even to the extent of becoming fake-biblical at the end of your post. Absurdly so, since you fail to see the painful applicability of the quote to yourself.

My posts do indeed lack nuance – like just about every other comment here. There’s simply not the time or space for nuance.

You have a pitiful need to defend elites – the poor dear things !

Try defending their victims instead.

I have no solution to offer. It would be nice if the elite became eager to serve the public more than themselves. But I fear they will have to learn the hard way.

As for Trump, he’s an adventurer who took the political opportunity the conventional politicians had created for him. He can’t become a dictator, since the Armed Forces won’t follow him if he tries to.

There’s a quieter, more menacing threat to liberty from the gentry liberals on the Democrat side and their political correctness.

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
4 months ago
Reply to  Tony Buck

“You preach intellectual charity but are devoid of it”.
False. I could certainly stand to improve in that regard but that’s not accurate or fair. I came after you a bit combatively but that was influenced by your nasty tone, which proves more and more your standard online persona. Look in the mirror.
“No time for nuance” but yet plenty of time to respond at length with ranting diatribes that you think escape the charge of preachiness.
As if the world needs more meanness and self-certainty and you are doing some valuable service by denouncing everyone that in any way fails to fall in line with your black-and-white divisions.
Like no sympathy for “poor wittle elites” but a ludicrous blanket apology for downtrodden Trump voters, whom you “wouldn’t dream of criticizing” (or some similar phrase). In fact, many Trump voters are elite, or at least quite wealthy
You sound like someone who is about about 20-22 years old and has experienced very little, but learned just enough from a smattering of books to import dogmatic viewpoints that you regard as gospel.
Stop believing everything you think. Not all your opinions are golden.
Maybe you can practice a measure of what you preach and acknowledge some truth in what I am saying. But I’m not holding my breath. Be as kind and decent as you can–if you can spare the time and effort.

Carl Valentine
Carl Valentine
4 months ago
Reply to  AJ Mac

I think you are losing AJ… (We like a trier though)

Agnes Aurelius
Agnes Aurelius
4 months ago

I get why you’re using the case of fast food as an economic and cultural analogy, but really….the problem of obesity in USA is catastrophic & one I don’t understand. People have to pay so much for medical services & yet seem incapable of taking responsibility for their own health. Don’t give me the food poverty strapline. If you don’t have fresh food in your area then get a collective going to create allotments grow food. American’s attitude to food is so dysfunctional. Every time I watch American TV series or film, people leave food on their plates… it’s grotesque and ignorant. No other culture shows such disrespect towards their food.

Martin M
Martin M
4 months ago
Reply to  Agnes Aurelius

I defy you to go go to an American restaurant and eat everything that is on your plate. The servings are colossal.

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
4 months ago
Reply to  Martin M

As someone who abhors waste, i’d define overpriced too-big portion sizes as the height of idiocy and essentially uncivilsed.

Campaigns should be started to demand smaller (manageable) portions at lower prices – or new businesses opened in competition to do exactly that, as per the classical capitalist model. If that’s not happening, your economic model is failing.

Martin M
Martin M
4 months ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

It is an interesting idea, but I can’t see the Americans buying it. “Big is Good” over there.

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
4 months ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

When a portion is too big, you take what you don’t eat home to finish the next day. It’s not that complicated.

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
4 months ago
Reply to  Alex Lekas

So let me get this straight – Americans are paying restaurant prices not just for the restaurant experience but to use the leftovers too? I used the word idiocy, and i stand by it.

Peter F. Lee
Peter F. Lee
4 months ago
Reply to  Martin M

There is always the ‘doggie bag’; most restaurants seem to expect it these days.

Doug Pingel
Doug Pingel
4 months ago
Reply to  Agnes Aurelius

“If you can’t find fresh food in your area” What’s wrong with tinned, dehydrated, etc? Today it’s just as nutritious as the real thing and it lasts much longer.

Cathy Carron
Cathy Carron
4 months ago
Reply to  Doug Pingel

The real problem re: ‘food deserts’ is that most people don’t know how to prepare food and cook today. They don’t learn from their parents & relatives and Home Ec classes were disbanded decades ago. Most people wouldn’t know what to do with carrots, broccoli, Brussels sprouts etc to save their life.

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
4 months ago
Reply to  Cathy Carron

And some people in very low-grade housing–common in a food desert–don’t even have a stove, but a probably a microwave, mini-fridge and maybe a hotplate.
Of course such residents are not, strictly speaking, prevented from driving several expensive miles or taking two buses to a better food source. But for a single parent working full time, or someone with a minimum-wage job, this is indeed asking a lot.
Mr. Kyeyune frames it well:  “Though the extent and severity of this problem shouldn’t be overstated, it is an issue, and some Americans are, for various reasons, at least partly dependent on cheap fast food”. 

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
4 months ago
Reply to  Agnes Aurelius

People have to pay so much for medical services — They pay far less than you think. As it is, about half of Americans are on some version of govt-subsidized insurance, so if they’re paying too much, the govt/medical/pharma cartel has a bit to do with it. Beyond that, we have become so conditioned to insurance paying for everything that people whine about the occasional $20-40 co-pay that comes with certain meds and visits to specialists.

John Riordan
John Riordan
4 months ago
Reply to  Agnes Aurelius

I don’t understand how your remark is relevant unless you’re somehow recommending poverty as an effective weight-loss strategy.

Dr E C
Dr E C
4 months ago
Reply to  John Riordan

Fast food is as close to nutritionally empty as you can get – without eating sawdust neat. Moreover battery-caged animals are pumped so full of growth hormones (in the US), antibiotics & other drugs to the point that it’s medically harmful to consume cheap meat on a regular basis. So people advocating for ‘fast food’ are advocating for something close to nutritional starvation, while still costing families their hard-earned money. You’re far better off growing & cooking veg in your yard or setting up a coop allotment – as Agnes suggested (& got downvotes!) – & sticking the results in a frying pan for you & your kids. Scratch the surface of the ‘green revolution’ (based on dangerous levels of pesticide, herbicide, all the other cides & a mad misapplication of fossil fuels) & you’ll see an extremely short-term monopoly system profiteering under the guise of ‘feeding’ the masses for a couple of generations or two which has nearly wiped out insect life in the global north, emptied most top soil of the organic life needed to produce nutrition, & put so many drugs into general circulation, we’ll be dealing with the fallout, medically, for ages to come.

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
4 months ago
Reply to  Dr E C

I’m sure all those on minimum wage stuck living in grotty apartments in tenement blocks with no garden will take great delight in some semi retired middle class bore telling them to simply grow their own vegetables.
Never mind that they’re often working long hours with long commutes, they’re then expected to tend their (non existent) garden or traipse across town to a (likely non existent) allotment

John Riordan
John Riordan
4 months ago
Reply to  Dr E C

I’m sorry but you are talking nonsense. Fast food is not “nutritionally empty”, what a load of crap. Calories in any form ARE nutrition, and further to that fast food contains not only those calories but usually also a hefty dose of the proteins that about 2/5 of the rest of the world would kill for if they had the chance to get them on a daily basis.

Your remarks here are rooted in snobbery and baseless generalisations, not factual knowledge. You haven’t even bothered to discuss the variety in question: a standard burger/fries meal from McDonalds is not remotely the same as the sort of deep-fried horrors that Scots often consume (seemingly to prove how tough they are), it matters in this context that such distinctions should be made, and you haven’t bothered to do so.

Fast food is bad for a person principally because it is overly nutritious, not the opposite, that’s why people get fat if they eat too much of it. Those people certainly would benefit from replacing many of their meals with low calorie, plant-based alternatives possessing a better balance of minerals, vitamins and healthier fats/carbs, but the reason they tend not to isn’t that they’re poor and/or stupid, it’s that they prefer to be fat and enjoy their food than be thinner and less happy. Yes, it is also true that highly processed foods contain substances that can possess negative health consequences if ingested regularly for a long period of time, but once again this in no way supports your silly generalisations that form the main basis of your claims here.

Agnes Aurelius
Agnes Aurelius
4 months ago
Reply to  Dr E C

At last an informed response, thank you. I’m not an entitled, retiree telling people “to eat cake”. People all over the world grow food in pots, on balconies, in communal spaces. TV programmes like Master chef or Bake Off ( BBC promoting Eat Cake for goodness sake!!) Are detrimental because the former is about competition to create unrealistic dishes & the other is encouraging people to eat sugar.

Gerry Quinn
Gerry Quinn
4 months ago
Reply to  Agnes Aurelius

Regardless, the price of real food has gone up about as much.

Charles Farrar
Charles Farrar
4 months ago
Reply to  Agnes Aurelius

LET THEM EAT CAKE….I wonder where I heard that before

Martin M
Martin M
4 months ago

The Russians probably erected a series of “Potemkin Villages” along the route Carlson followed on his visit. Even the West does this – if the G7 or G20 is meeting somewhere, or if a major sporting event is on, all the homeless people get bussed somewhere else.

Stuart Sutherland
Stuart Sutherland
4 months ago
Reply to  Martin M

Yeah, the homeless and junkies will be outside the city centre.

hugh shull
hugh shull
4 months ago

I haven’t been in Moscow in about 13 years, but I saw a shirtless tatooed drunk using a vodka bottle for a pillow in a park, and some vaguely threatening panhandling while eating outside at a cafe. Maybe all cleaned up, and it was better than a junkie encampment near Penn Station, but not perfect. The subway was great. Even better was driving in Belorus near Polotsk some old ladies selling some gooseberries, currants and chanterelle mushrooms by the roadside. I think I paid about $2 for a quart or so of freshly foraged chanterelles.

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
4 months ago
Reply to  Martin M

You mean like what happened in San Francisco before Xi’s visit? Because there is no “probably” to that; it did happen.

Martin M
Martin M
4 months ago
Reply to  Alex Lekas

Yep, exactly that. Happens all the time all over the world.

Cathy Carron
Cathy Carron
4 months ago
Reply to  Martin M

Do recall that just a month ago, California Governor immediately and only momentarily ‘cleaned up’ San Francisco in anticipation of a Chinese delegation visit. After they left the disarray resumed – the homeless on the streets, the trash, garbage, drug paraphernalia, feces, etc. = “Potemkin California”

Tony Buck
Tony Buck
4 months ago
Reply to  Cathy Carron

Obviously, since no Potemkin arrangement can last more than a few days.

Simon South
Simon South
4 months ago

A really thought provoking piece of journalism. Reminding us all that “history is written by the victors”. I wonder who will be writing the history in ten years time? AI ? India or Africa? I also wonder what they will have to say about the way the West wanted and took everything?

Many of the points in this article reflecting Noam Chonsky’s challenging book (challenging to the USA and Britain anyway) “who rules the world?”

Jerry Carroll
Jerry Carroll
4 months ago
Reply to  Simon South

Noam was a radical leftist before it became modish.

Simon Blanchard
Simon Blanchard
4 months ago

The customer is king. Except that now he isn’t. There’s been a quiet coup and the shareholder has all the power. The evidence is everywhere from impenetrable “customer service” portals to automated checkouts that turn you, the customer, into a slave for the supermarket. Want your gas bill? Ok buddy YOU go on line, jump through my security hoops and search for it. The cost savings are returned to the shareholder and don’t manifest as reduced prices. Jobs are dumbed down and deskilled to command lowest possible wages. It’s scarcely a surprise that ingredients might be compromised and that your burger order has been half-arsed.

John Riordan
John Riordan
4 months ago

You’re assuming shareholders actually want those things. They don’t. Shareholders want returns on capital, same as they always did. There has been a growth in ESG presence at the shareholder level in recent years but as we’ve seen recently, ESG priorities do not serve the principle shareholder priority of return on capital. We’re in the middle of this you’d-think-obvious policy mistake unravelling.

Simon Blanchard
Simon Blanchard
4 months ago
Reply to  John Riordan

I’d venture that large institutional shareholders actually do want those things. Not that I’m disagreeing with your point about ESG. I think the two issues are rather unrelated. We’ve come an awful long way from “find a need; fill a need”. Standard MO now seems to be: achieve near monopoly status; gradually reduce product quality/service levels and regard customers as livestock. I mean I can see why that would be a nice outcome for a business but The Customer ought to be able to fight back by choosing to take his custom elsewhere. The trouble is all big organisations follow the same playbook and The Market (peace be upon it) offers no real choice anymore.

T Bone
T Bone
4 months ago

I think his point is that we’re in a “stakeholder” environment not a shareholder environment. All shareholders are stakeholders but but not all stakeholders are shareholders.

A Capitalist economy would be a pure shareholder environment. Retirement accounts have long been governed by shareholders big and small and they all had a vested interest in maximizing returns. An account aimed at stakeholders literally bypasses the fiduciary responsibility of achieving maximum returns for the people invested in the funds.

John Riordan
John Riordan
4 months ago
Reply to  T Bone

I read a rather scary opinion piece a few years back in which it was explained why pensions funds seemed to still have an appetite for government bonds possessing a negative real rate of return. The answer was that the same people in government who regulate the pension industry were making continued friendly regulation conditional upon the pensions industry not going on bond-strike. No specific evidence was offered for this hypothesis, but if it’s not true then we’re still left needing to find an explanation for why pension fund managers have been buying up government debt that they know in advance will be worth less money on redemption than it was bought for.

Rocky Martiano
Rocky Martiano
4 months ago

Hamburgers…the canary in the coalmine of the decline of empire.

Tony Buck
Tony Buck
4 months ago
Reply to  Rocky Martiano

Well put.

Rocky Martiano
Rocky Martiano
4 months ago
Reply to  Tony Buck

I wonder what it was for the Romans? When the price of slaves doubled maybe.

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
4 months ago
Reply to  Rocky Martiano

Actual lol.

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
4 months ago

The industry is now locked in a genuine affordability crisis, — And why is that? It can’t possibly have anything to do with govt-led idiocy demanding wages of 15-20 dollars an hour for what amounts to entry-level or income-supplementing work, can it? If ever a myth has been perpetrated on the American people, it’s that of people raising families on the minimum.
First of all, very few people are paid that wage. The de facto minimum is more than 12-13 dollars per hour, with some variances based on jurisdictions and local costs of living. Second, that wage tends to be earned by a few distinct groups: first-time employees, usually students; people who are supplementing a full-time income with a second job; and people in a household with a full-time earner.
Also, the takeaway from Yeltsin’s visit was not so much the abundance he witnessed, but his realization that the Soviet Union had been lied to about America by its leadership. What he saw was at odds what he had been conditioned to expect to see. Similarly, we have been conditioned to believe that the minimum wage is being widely used to run households. It isn’t.
By the way, there is another video on YouTube from a young man who lives in St. Petersburg. He does a video tour of what looks like a Russian Walmart. The shelves are well-stocked, the selection is wide, and the prices are not out of line. I suppose this guy can be dismissed as some secret Putin puppet, too, but the video is there for anyone interested in looking for it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SHJra4TJt0k. There are others if one wishes to compare and contrast.

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
4 months ago
Reply to  Alex Lekas

Are you suggesting that the route to prosperity is to reduce the wages of those at the bottom? I always find that view rather selfish, people are happy for their fellow countrymen to live in poverty as long as it saves them 50p on their burger or coffee

Sylvia Volk
Sylvia Volk
4 months ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

He’s not suggesting that prosperity will stem from reducing the wages at the bottom. What he’s saying is that “poor ol’ Joe Blow trying to raise a family on minimum wage” is probably a myth. Or at least, part of a very small minority.

John Riordan
John Riordan
4 months ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

“Are you suggesting that the route to prosperity is to reduce the wages of those at the bottom?”

No, he’s suggesting that the route to prosperity lies in keeping the government out of market forces in that respect. Now please don’t embarrass yourself by using phrases like “untrammelled free markets” or “race to the bottom” – those are just catchphrases for people who don’t actually want to understand the problem.

Michael Coleman
Michael Coleman
4 months ago

“Why can’t we in the West, with all the natural, inherent superiority our societies supposedly possess, manage to have clean public transit, cheap fast food, or stores where you don’t have to ask an employee to unlock the deodorant shelf?”
We all know the answer. Lock them up and throw away the key is considered cruel by large segments of society especially in urban areas where leftist utopias exist. In the US, it doesn’t help that even in law and order areas, leftist court created legislation makes it extremely expensive to incarcerate criminals.

Tony Buck
Tony Buck
4 months ago

The USA was in steep decline for years before the Defund the Police idiots took over cities.

And the article deals with matters unrelated to law and order.

btw mass- incarceration is cruel; and a society that feels driven to use it, has already failed in that it has produced so many dangerous criminals.

Rocky Martiano
Rocky Martiano
4 months ago
Reply to  Tony Buck

You could be talking about Covid lockdowns there…and the idiots who imposed them.

John Riordan
John Riordan
4 months ago

I did read the whole article, honest, so ignore the fact that I’m quoting the very last line:

“And nobody knows how to repair that vision, or what to replace it with when it’s gone.”

I’ll take a punt at the answer, or at least an explanation of the problem: cheap energy. For 30 years the West has gradually implemented the measures made inevitable by the conviction that cheap hydrocarbon energy will destroy the planet. So we’ve made it more expensive through taxation and heavy-handed regulation, and guess what? It has worked. Energy, both from hydrocarbons and from the ludicrously inefficient replacement platforms we are told are the future such as wind and solar power, is indeed far more expensive, and since energy is the primary component of every single product and service we can buy, all those products and services are more expensive.

Meanwhile of course, since the West can’t actually stop the rest of the world from using cheap energy, the rest of the world is prospering the same way we did in the West before we let a bunch of Liberal-Orthodox buffoons make all the important policy decisions.

What I’m saying here is that our collapsing prosperity is not a mystery, the non-West’s rising prosperity is not a mystery, and most sane people both in the West and non-West understand this perfectly well. What worries me is that the West’s political class is now so isolated from reality that it will drive the West off a cliff before getting it into their thick heads that the solution has always been in their hands if only they would take it.

Bret Larson
Bret Larson
4 months ago
Reply to  John Riordan

Certainly the case in Canada. The federal government has devolved to majoritarianism and doesn’t govern for the whole of the country. They only care about the jurisdictions they feel they need to make government. Which is convenient for them because they can tax one jurisdiction and buy votes where they need them. Course, their tax and governance policies are being challenged based on the constitution. They have lost in court a couple times so they are making more judges.

Peter Samson
Peter Samson
4 months ago

The American fast-food industry is hardly in a state of “near-collapse.” The stock prices of McDonald’s and the parent companies of Burger King and Kentucky Fried Chicken are all very close to their all-time highs. Yes, prices are up and people complain but this is not a sign of American decline. I would encourage Mr. Kyeyune to visit the U.S. and examine first hand the situation here.

John Riordan
John Riordan
4 months ago
Reply to  Peter Samson

Even if the claim is a bit of a stretch, it’s being used to illustrate a cost-of-living problem that America is experiencing to this degree for the first time in living memory. America has for decades been history’s poster-child for the most important claim by free-market capitalism, which is that progress is measured most usefully in terms of what the average man and woman can buy with their average amount of money. In recent years the usually-ever-increasing list of things you can get on the median income has stopped increasing and is getting shorter. It is not an overstatement to say that this isn’t just an economic shock for Americans, it’s a crisis of identity itself for them as well.

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
4 months ago
Reply to  John Riordan

America has for decades been history’s poster-child for the most important claim by free-market capitalism, which is that progress is measured most usefully in terms of what the average man and woman can buy with their average amount of money.
This is well and good if one believes that America practices free market capitalism. It does not and has not for a long time. America practices a hybrid version of various isms, as witnessed by various industry bailouts, the role of the regulatory state in trying to control behavior, and out of control govt spending that impacts everything else.

John Riordan
John Riordan
4 months ago
Reply to  Alex Lekas

These debates do have a tedious habit of descending into polarised stereotypes: my point doesn’t fail just because America doesn’t practice “pure” free market capitalism. Any nation in possession of a tax-funded government is very obviously not practising this pure free-market model you’re describing: the point here is that I wasn’t describing or assuming such a thing and my point doesn’t rely on the idea that I was.

I would however agree with you that, to whatever degree America operated a free market system (not an ideology, please note: if an economic system can exist in the absence of a State-led effort to support it, it’s not an ideology), it massively reduced that extent after 2008, with the indefensible and colossally destructive bank bailouts. This was a disaster, and it has permanently damaged western economic vitality ever since. The lie we were peddled at the time, namely that it was the only way to avoid global financial meltdown, was a lie created firstly to protect the investment banking system from the immolation of its derivatives asset-base: the fact that it also protected customer deposits in the retail banking sector was the justification, not the real reason it was done.

hugh shull
hugh shull
4 months ago
Reply to  John Riordan

There was pretty bad inflation in the ’70s and early 80s, and interest rates in the mid-teens, gas rationing during the ’73-’74 embargo, post-Viet Nam sense of weakness, etc. It feels like a bit of a re-run. Younger adults don’t remember it. Remember Network, the whole litany of crime going up, prices, air isn’t fit to breathe, “I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore.”

John Riordan
John Riordan
4 months ago
Reply to  hugh shull

I’m aware of the effect of the oil crisis in the 1970s but I do think that this time it’s worse. Fifty years ago the West didn’t have serious economic competitors so OPEC was only able to artificially constrain energy supply at the cost of hurting itself. This doesn’t apply any more, as the embarrassing failure by the West to decimate Russia’s oil exports has shown: the rest of the world won’t just happily soak up Western demand for hydrocarbons, it will do so without having to put up with any of the tedious grandstanding that Western political figures indulge in relating to climate change.

In short, the West might well be in the middle of permanently crippling itself, and it will be too late to do a turnaround once our politics finally catches up with the fact.

Mark epperson
Mark epperson
4 months ago

I calculate the “real”, not governmental, inflation index on the price of a McDonald’s Cheeseburger and large Coke. In 2020 the total cost was $3.02. It is now $5.08 cents and this is a more accurate measurement of inflation as what is coming out of my jeans to buy this combo and other consumables that aren’t included in the inflation index. The author has a point, and the price of Cheeseburgers and Cokes impacts the poorest the most, and is affecting middle class spending habits. They will be a reckoning, just what form will it take.

Steve Jolly
Steve Jolly
4 months ago

Yet they can’t figure out why Americans are voting for Trump. The answer is obvious. Self-interest trumps (pun intended) all other concerns. The triumphant ideologies of the comfortable ring hollow against the real experience of common folk. It’s just as true today in the US as it was in Moscow in 1985. Failure of perspective is a consistent theme when ruling classes begin to fail. In order to solve the problems of a society, the rulers must understand what the problems actually are and how they impact the society as a whole, from the top to the bottom. The western ruling class are simply failing to do so, and choosing to emphasize things that aren’t important to most people. Neither the war in Ukraine, nor aggregate GDP growth, nor the average temperature of the planet, nor the historical legacy of slavery, colonialism, and racism are nearly as important to common folk as affordable food so nothing the leaders can do regarding these issues they so obsess over make any serious impact. The more they hem and haw over these things while the situation on the ground gets worse, the more incompetent they look and the angrier the people get. When the ship is sinking, the passengers aren’t likely to praise the captain and crew for energetically rearranging the deck chairs. They’re likely to gravitate towards anyone who actually speaks to their problems, regardless of competence, expertise, or intent.

hugh shull
hugh shull
4 months ago
Reply to  Steve Jolly

People blamed Biden for gas being $5 a gallon, now around $3 where I am (and briefly under $3) because they compare it to the crazy low prices during Covid. And egg prices shot up and peope still moan about that in yahoo finance comments even though prices went back to normal prices. It had nothing to do with economic policy but was caused by a disease outbreak. Yes, the Fed went into printing and QE mode, and the government spent like crazy, although part of that was due to the economic dislocation and supply chain breakdown that was fueled by lockdowns, but that was in part caused by people’s panic and their own media fanning the panic. And food prices and everything else “skyrocketed”.
But wages have been going up and job creation snapped back quickly, and yes, we do not have deflation but merely lowering inflation. For better or worse that’s what the panjandrums at the Fed target to avoid outright depression.
I am not touting the economic policies or Biden, but the U.S. economy and system has been remarkably resilient, and if not equally shared, the rising wages and safety net, even with DIE overkill, has made it fairly widespread recovery. Wage growth is now at least above core inflation.
Per usual the middle pays the price. And I’m glad I’m not on the bottom, and would love to be a tech millionaire or billionaire. But the problems seem somewhat exagerrated. It wouldn’t be normal for only americans to be getting ten cent big juicy burgers, and I’d have thought Russians being better off financially would be a normal consequence over the long run of no longer being communist. Funny I was just reading about Stalin’s turn against the New Economic Policy back in the late 20’s was it?
I’m not trying to be pollyanna here, but from my recollection stagflation was worse in the ’70s, crime was wrose in the ’90s, we have retreated from long stalemate wars before. It stinks to revisit these things, to have self-inflicted border disasters, etc. But we have seen worse.

Steve Jolly
Steve Jolly
4 months ago
Reply to  hugh shull

It isn’t being Pollyanna to look at the facts. The fact is the US has things better than a lot of places, but facts aren’t the end of the story. Part of the author’s point is that narratives matter and I agree. The objective reality can seem comparatively decent compared to other times and places but that doesn’t necessarily mean the average Joe getting a Big Mac sees it that way. So long as the rich continue getting richer while things get more difficult or remain the same for the common folk, all the economic indicators amount to jack squat. I do understand a lot of what the Biden administration has done from a strategic standpoint and I do think he (or more accurately whoever is really in charge, maybe his wife) has done a fair job of playing the crap hand he has been dealt, but he’s done a terrible job of actually communicating with the people and shifting the narrative in a more positive direction. Maybe it’s his personal limitations or maybe it’s political realities, but he’s still planting his feet rhetorically on the narrative from 1991-2016 that is demonstrably failing, even if the actual policy hasn’t matched the message.

Not to be Debby Downer here, but this narrative can only end in a couple ways. Obviously, people would prefer things get better, and for the narrative coming through the media and elsewhere to reflect that. Part of that means politicians cutting through polarization and reaching common sense compromises on issues rather than pandering to the ideological movements we know very well are causing drag on the economy and generating angst over things nobody has any legitimate control over. The government can’t end racism or control the climate, full stop. I get that they’re trying to court young voters for the same reasons companies target young people with advertising. They’re hoping to establish long term voting patterns, but there’s a bigger picture to take into account. The more they try to do so in order to pander to certain voting demographics, the more they look like failures to everybody, including those voters, because they can’t end racism or control the weather anymore than they could empty the ocean with a gallon bucket. Instead of focusing on what they can’t control, they’d be better off sticking to the more concrete issues that they can conceivably solve, like fixing immigration policy or balancing free trade with wage levels and national security. The Biden administration has, to its credit, done some of this but not enough and not nearly loudly enough. The ruling class, at an absolute minimum, needs to do a better job of listening to people’s concerns and speaking to the issues they consider important in a much more direct and respectful way. They absolutely must drop the “we know what’s best” attitude that practically radiates off the davos class and a lot of politicians these days and show some respect for the people they’re supposed to serve. There are plenty of examples on both sides of the political aisle and in the real world outside politics of people who seem to be able to barely conceal their contempt for the people, and that is a big, big, problem that goes way beyond economics. It’s feeding the same type of narrative that brought down the Soviets. Arrogance is not an attractive personality trait. It very much CAN happen here.
The ruling class will be held responsible for the problems and failures of a society whether they are at fault or not. If the people aren’t listened to and can’t turn their countries, their societies, and their lives, in a more positive direction to their satisfaction, they’ll settle for punishing the people they perceive as enemies frustrating their efforts. If it gets bad enough, they’ll even inflict suffering upon themselves in order to inflict equal or greater suffering to the people they blame for causing the problems as they see them. The USSR was objectively better off in 1991 than it had been in 1981 or pretty much at any point during the Stalinist years, but it fell anyway. People didn’t care anymore and were willing to suffer a significant amount of short term pain in order to change the narrative in a long term way and punish the people in charge who had failed them. This author’s warning is a timely one, and with respect, I think you maybe ought to give it another read. The sort of argument you’re making is valid, but it’s also dangerous in the sense that you risk not seeing the forest for the trees, or maybe a better analogy would be admiring the construction of the train tracks too closely to notice the oncoming train.

Bret Larson
Bret Larson
4 months ago
Reply to  Steve Jolly

Unfortunately it’s worse than them not listening. They fully intend to make speech they don’t like hate speech.

Steve Jolly
Steve Jolly
4 months ago
Reply to  Bret Larson

Muzzling the press and restricting free speech did not save the Soviets, the Romanovs, or the Bourbons. It won’t save this ruling class either, and if they’re stupid enough to try they only prove their failure.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
4 months ago

What a great article!

Jerry Carroll
Jerry Carroll
4 months ago

One way to right the ship is to remove the left from office wherever found. But that would mean honest elections, which have also gone the way of the affordable hamburger.

Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
4 months ago

How did Britain turn around the 19th century slums created by rapid industrialisation during the Napoleonic War? Evangelical Christians such as Lord Shaftesbury had laws passed to improve the quality of lives of the poor and Non- Conformist Christian such as The Chartists, Rochdale Pioneers and founders of the Labour Party in calculated the ethos of poor but honest, cleanliness is next to Godliness, a sense of fair play, decency; self- help:  if a job is worth  doing , it’s worth doing well; self- respect. It takes very little money to keep clean and put rubbish in bins provided. Is the primary problem spiritual poverty, not material   poverty ? 

Bret Larson
Bret Larson
4 months ago

Well, when I visited Moscow and Leningrad in the 70’s they trotted us around their ideal living spaces. This included a two block long line up for the grocery store in downtown Moscow. (everyone was impeccably dressed and civil, perhaps because the Lefortovo was nearby?) I don’t think they realized how bad this would look to us.
Tucker Carlson needs to get out more if he believes the dog and pony show. That said, I don’t think he does, I just think he wants something better.

You get what you vote for.

Albireo Double
Albireo Double
4 months ago

In the West there is almost nobody who cannot afford to feed themselves properly. The fallacy that people cannot afford to feed themselves is just as untrue as its companion fallacy that people are “too busy to cook”.

People need to stop eating food which is cooked to be sold, they need to learn about nutrition, learn to cook and then start to batch cook.

Most will quickly feel better, lose weight, and enjoy life a lot more than they now do. And they will have more money in their pockets as well.

None of this is Rocket Science. It used to be known, and taught in schools, as Domestic Science.

Nancy Kmaxim
Nancy Kmaxim
4 months ago

I suppose I raised my children during the heyday of fast food. I didn’t however consider fast food a part of a nutritional diet. It was an occasional rather expensive treat. Something different than the daily fare prepared from scratch sans unpronounceable chemical ingredients. Expensive fast food is not an existential threat to American culture. One of the actual benefits of the internet is the availability of a recipe for pretty much anything. Just get cooking.

Richard Ross
Richard Ross
4 months ago

Perhaps the most egregious of Tucker Carlson’s impressions of Russia is the idea that Moscow is representative of the entire country. Numerous local vloggers (Eli from Russia, for one) make the point that Moscow is a showpiece city and, as I believe she put it, “what New York, Los Angeles, Washington, Chicago and Miami combined are to the USA”.
And I’m generally a fan of TC, by the way.