"Kerfuffles" Would Be a Pretty Good Name for a Breakfast Cereal

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James Freeman looks at the latest outrage: The ‘Cereal for Dinner’ Kerfuffle.

If Marie Antoinette had enjoyed a press corps as friendly as today’s Washington politicos do, she might have met a better end. Surging food inflation has inspired some desperate consumers to save a buck by eating inexpensive breakfast cereal for supper, and guess who the media wants to blame. No, not the policy makers at the White House and the Federal Reserve who created the inflation, but a CEO who provides the cereal and has noticed that customers often consume it outside of breakfast time.

“Cereal for dinner is something that is probably more on trend now, and we would expect to continue as that consumer is under pressure,” Kellogg’s C.E.O. Gary Pilnick recently told CNBC.

Naturally the standard rule in the Washington press corps is to avoid blaming politicians who create a problem when there’s a business to scapegoat. “Kellogg CEO under fire for suggesting cereal as a money-saving dinner,” says a Washington Post headline.

I've seen some folks recommending you add in a hard-boiled egg for additional protein. Prices for eggs spiked about a year ago, but they are not unreasonable now:

Notes: egg prices are not inflation adjusted. Journalists' opinions of themselves as economic pundits are drastically inflated.

Also of note:

  • It requires you to suppress that instinct to jerk your knee. At Josiah Bartlett, Drew Cline presents an Econ 101 primer to local advocates: How building more luxury apartments helps the poor.

    As pressure builds for local and state policymakers to address New Hampshire’s severe housing shortage, some activists and lawmakers are again blaming developers rather than regulators for the state’s high rents.

    Developers are building “too many” apartments for higher-income renters, some claim. This raises rents, hurting the poor, so government must intervene to make builders reserve a certain percentage of new construction for lower-income households, the argument goes. Some also want the state to give subsidies to low-income renters.

    The idea that building more apartments raises rents has achieved the status of conventional wisdom in some activist circles. It’s done so despite it being untrue, and confirmed untrue by growing stacks of economic evidence.

    This isn't hard to follow. But as we saw above, "activists and lawmakers" search for scapegoats in the private sector to blame and bully.

  • Because California politicians are corrupt. Next question? Eric Boehm asks: Why Is Panera Exempted From California's New Minimum Wage Law?

    When fast food restaurants across California have to start paying workers $20 per hour on April 1, one major chain will be exempted from the mandate—and it just so happens to have a connection to a longtime friend and donor to Gov. Gavin Newsom.

    Panera Bread is poised to get a boost from a bizarre clause in the fast-food minimum wage law that exempts "chains that bake bread and sell it as a standalone item," Bloomberg reports, adding that "Newsom pushed for that break, according to people familiar with the matter."

    Boehm blames Newsom, understandably. But let's also shower some opprobrium on California voters, who elected the legislators and governor. And it's doubtful they'll blame those pols, or themselves, when the fast food restaurants die off or their prices skyrocket. Except for Panera.

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    Wishful thinking. Kay S. Hymowitz reviews Abigail Shrier's new book, Amazon link at your right, and looks at the results When Every Day is a Mental Health Day.

    Abigail Shrier’s first book, 2020’s Irreversible Damage, launched the mother of all cancel campaigns. Because the book attributed the sudden and inexplicable rise in juvenile gender anxiety to social contagion rather than the activist-approved explanation of social progress, Shrier, an occasional contributor to City Journal, was branded a “transphobe.” Amazon employees demanded the company remove the book from its virtual shelves. Unlike the suits at Target, who briefly did exactly that, Amazon stopped short of cancelling the book and settled for banning any paid advertising. Despite growing questions about juvenile transgender treatment, including among practitioners, many libraries continue to treat Irreversible Damage as radioactive. Only last month, a Japanese publisher reneged on plans to publish the book, proving that, whether or not transgenderism is contagious, the urge to cancel those out of line with approved ideas unquestionably is.

    Shrier’s new book Bad Therapy, an astute and impassioned analysis of the mental-health crisis now afflicting adolescents, may cause a similar emotional meltdown in some corners of American culture. Shrier’s target is more expansive than it was in Irreversible Damage; she aims her fire at the therapeutic mindset that pervades not just the offices of psychologists and counsellors, but elementary, middle, and high school classrooms, best-seller lists, middle-class homes, and government agencies. It’s a pernicious development because a therapeutic mindset easily paralyzes kids’ natural defenses and resilience, hence the crisis we confront today. Assuming a Bad Therapy backlash comes, it is unlikely to be as heated as it was in the case of Irreversible Damage—therapists, who have the most to lose if Shrier’s analysis were to win out, are a more sedate crowd than trans activists—but one hopes that for the sake of the rising generation, any pushback won’t prevent people from heeding the warnings of this important book. 

    It's been a few months since Portsmouth Public Library proudly celebrated "Banned Books", proudly displaying one of their three copies of Gender Queer in their promotional exhibit. But they don't own either Irreversible Damage or Bad Therapy. Banned?

    I think I'll request they purchase Bad Therapy.

Recently on the book blog:, a report regular blog readers might find of interest:

Last Modified 2024-03-01 5:27 AM EDT

“Whatever It Is, I’m Against It”

Resistance to Change in Higher Education

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If I had $3610 I wanted to get rid of quickly, I'd buy a hundred copies of this book and gift them to key figures associated with the University Near Here: the president, trustees, appropriate legislators, department chairs, etc. (Maybe with instructions on what parts would be better ignored.)

The author, Brian Rosenberg, was a longtime president of Macalester College, out in St. Paul, Minnesota, and his experiences there qualify him for commentary on the challenges faced by colleges in an era of declining enrollment (and, I'd add, increasing irrelevance). The book's title, of course, is taken from the song sung by President Wagstaff (Groucho Marx) in the classic movie Horse Feathers. (You can see the movie clip here, you're welcome).

The book's overall argument is summed up in a quote I once heard (and unfortunately can't find anymore) to the effect that the political leanings of college faculties are heavily to the left; but when it comes to the governance of their own institutions, they become extremely conservative. Innovation is resisted, producing stasis in the face of crisis. And a system that fails a significant fraction of its customers/students, but saddles them with (you may have heard) piles of debt.

Rosenberg tells his story with punchy prose and humor (and, occasionally, a taste of bitterness). On lecturing:

Consider, for example, the lecture, "the style of teaching that has ruled universities for 600 years." 600 years ago, barbers were still performing surgery. Scott Freeman […] traces the history of the lecture back even further to 1050, when universities were founded in Western Europe and when barbers were just starting to perform surgery.


The largest and most influential universities in the United States combine undergraduate and graduate teaching with research institutes, hospital systems, professional schools, semiprofessional sports teams, major real estate holdings, and who knows what else. In some sense Harvard is like Pfizer with a football team, bringing together under the same brand multiple activities that have little or nothing to do with one another.

Another telling point: US News and World Report started ranking colleges in 1983. Top five then: Stanford, Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Berkeley. Their latest top five: Princeton, MIT, Harvard, Stanford, Yale.

Contrast this with the Fortune 500. In 1983, their top five were: Exxon, GM, Mobil, Texaco, and Ford. The most recent: Walmart, Amazon, Exxon Mobil, Apple, and United Health Group.

Whatever their faults, private companies prosper via innovation and competition, and the result is perpetual churn. Universities do not. Rosenberg notes that the incentives are all wrong for them; they have no reason to experiment. As Rosenberg notes, the odds of success are low, the price of trying is high. UNH is never going to vault into the US News top five, and (unless something very unexpected happens) Harvard is never going to leave.

Another quote:

Regardless of the fact that nearly every presidential job description and nearly every presidential search committee speaks to the desire of a "change agent," the truth is that an actual change agent is something that only the most desperate college communities want—and even the desperate ones are not sure about it.

Rosenberg's great on his theme… and, unfortunately, awful when he strays off it. His discussion of faculty tenure (another barrier to reform) wanders into "academic freedom"… and then falls into the pit of First Amendment issues. According to Rosenberg, all that free expression stuff can be "the right simply to act like a jerk." His footnoted "good example" of that is Stuart Reges, a computer science facule at the University of Washington. When encouraged by the unversity administration to include a "Native American land acknowledgement" on his syllabus, he went this way:

I acknowledge that by the labor theory of property the Coast Salish people can claim historical ownership of almost none of the land currently occupied by the University of Washington.

As you can imagine, the excrement hit the air circulation device. It escalated into a legal issue, and I encourage you to read the discussion at the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE) site. Make your own call about whether Rosenberg is being fair or accurate about this being a case of "the right simply to act like a jerk."

That caused me to look up Macalester College on FIRE's Free Speech Rankings. It is in position #211, with a "Below Average" speech climate. Reader, that's not far from the bottom (currently occupied by Harvard, at #248).

Rosenberg also takes a number of drive-by swipes at various conservatives/libertarians. "Drive-by" in the sense that they don't contibute anything to his overall thesis, and seem to serve mainly as signals to his (presumably leftist Democrat) tribe: "Don't worry, I'm not one of them, I'm one of you."

So: ignore that, and the book's pretty good. In the final chapter he outlines possibilities for reform, identifying six "long-standing and widespread assumptions" about higher ed: (1) "The faculty are the university." (2) "Higher education is a meritocracy." (3) "The university stands 'at a slight angle to the world.'" (4) "Students need a major." (5) "Offer lots of different stuff." (6) "Higher education can't change."

It probably has to change.