There are no offensive jokes

Here’s a joke:

You say Trump was doing fine until Covid came along? That’s like saying “Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you enjoy the play?”

OK, that’s a very lame and unfunny joke. But then I’m a deeply unfunny person. I wanted to make a joke about the assassination of the President of the United States, and it was the best I could come up with.

Here’s Will Wilkinson:

Wilkinson got fired for that joke, even though it is clearly funnier than my joke. Also more original. So why does Wilkinson get fired while I (presumably) keep my job?

I’d say 155 years and 20 IQ points.

The Lincoln assassination happened a long time ago, and it’s no longer a sensitive topic. It’s been barely two weeks since some Trumpistas tried to assassinate Pence. And Wilkinson’s joke is more subtle, so some readers might have thought he was serious.

[Which is a sad comment on our public, as even I got the joke. I’m the guy at the party who when everyone else is roaring with laughter says, “Wait, I don’t get it, can someone explain the joke to me.”]

In any case, I sort of know why Wilkinson was fired, but in another sense I don’t understand. Perhaps the Niskanen Center was under great pressure to fire him, but that raises the question of why do we have a society where institutions are pressured to fire people for tasteless jokes? Why not just have Wilkinson put out another tweet explaining the joke and apologizing to anyone who was offended? Why make a mountain out of a mole hill?

To answer this question, we need to dig deeper. Not only did I do a joke about assassinating President Lincoln, I repeated Wilkinson’s joke about assassinating Pence. Isn’t that bad? Now you might argue that I’m just repeating the joke as a “reporter”, not endorsing it. OK, but what if I endorse it? What if I say I think the joke is funny? Then do I get fired? Probably not, because almost no one reading this post would assume I favor assassinating people. Incredible as it may seem, some people seemed to think Wilkinson was serious. So it’s not so much the words you say, it’s the public’s perception as to whether you actually believe something. Wilkinson was fired because people (wrongly) believed he favored assassinating Pence.

Here’s another angle. Suppose Wilkinson does the exact same joke but uses Pelosi instead of Pence. Does he still get fired? I doubt it. The people who missed the humor in the Pence joke would obviously understand that a Biden supporter like Wilkinson would not actually favor lynching Pelosi.

And the situation gets even more absurd. Here’s Reason, one of the few reasonable voices on cancel culture:

This affair has produced several hypocrisies. First, if the Niskanen Center “draws the line at statements that are, or can in any way be interpreted as, condoning or promoting violence,” then it would have to fire its president. Taylor has arguably used Twitter in a manner that suggests he condones violence. He rooted for antifa to punch out Mark and Patricia McCloskey, the St. Louis couple who waved their guns at protesters encountered on their private street. “If I were in that march, and these racist lunatics were waiving [sic] guns at me, I’d like to think I’d rush them and beat their brains in,” said Taylor. “And I wouldn’t apologize for it for one goddam [sic] second.”

Unlike Wilkinson’s tweet, there’s little reason to assume this was meant in jest. And unlike Wilkinson, Taylor is the president of the organization and sets the tone for what is permissible. If the boss can tweet an unapologetic call to “beat their brains in,” his employees might very well think that edgy humor is okay. Perhaps that’s why Taylor deleted his statement regarding Wilkinson’s firing—he realized that it impugned him as well. 

In America, we have a lower moral standard for our leaders. Trump could say and do things that would get lower level people fired, and so can think tank presidents. We’ve had this double standard all throughout human history—especially in banana republics. (A bit less so in the Denmarks of the world.)

In the early years of blogging, I expected to eventually get enmeshed in some sort of scandal for a politically incorrect statement, but oddly it has not happened so far. And yet, I feel its only a matter of time, as each day I get a bit more out of touch with contemporary society. Fortunately, I’m in the enviable position of being able to say whatever I want, as I don’t need my job. I’m an affluent 65-year old, yearning for the quiet life.

People like Wilkinson and Matt Yglesias can always make a living with Substack, but cancel culture is a legitimate problem for lots of lower level people. Back when I was a professor, I knew several people who were seriously (and unfairly) damaged by the PC police. So don’t lecture me on it being a phony issue. On the other hand, it is a pretty trivial issue relative to the 400,000 people in prison for drug crimes.

In my view, there are no offensive jokes, only offended people. And don’t say, “Surely you are not saying joke X is not offensive.” I just said there are offended people, and that might include me on occasion.

You’ll never see me advocate that someone get fired for a joke that was well intended, but ended up in bad taste. An apology is sufficient. That’s why I’m not a conservative or a progressive—I oppose the cancel culture championed by both of those two misguided ideologies.



59 Responses to “There are no offensive jokes”

  1. Gravatar of Tacticus Tacticus
    23. January 2021 at 11:08

    I thought Wilkinson’s joke was amusing and clever, pointing out both that Pence is hated by people on the left and ring and pointing out the absurdity of people on the right complaining that Biden isn’t doing enough to unify people. What type of illiterate idiot reads it and takes away that Wilkinson wants Biden to lynch Pence? If that ‘can in any way be interpreted as, condoning or promoting violence,’ then what can’t? Shame he apologised for it, in my opinion.

    It is also a huge shame how much cancel culture is spreading. It has to burn out at some point, right? I’m glad I use a pseudonym.

  2. Gravatar of Nathan Taylor Nathan Taylor
    23. January 2021 at 11:19

    The parsimonious explanation for someone getting fired for reasons which don’t make any logical sense, given an organization’s stated views and principals, is they really pissed off the boss. So the boss was just waiting and waiting for an excuse, and jumped on it once the opportunity arose.

    President of Niskanen center Jerry Taylor advocated violence against that couple in St. Louis who brandished guns against BLM protestors. No biggie.

    Is that the kind of guy who quakes in his boots about twitter mobs? Here’s the actual twitter thread which kicked off Wilkinson’s firing.

    Does anyone really believe that made Jerry Taylor super super afraid? No way.

    I mean, it’s nice everyone is standing up to principals about making a joke. It’s fine. But my guess is a decent fraction of these cancel culture firings are just internal politics and coming up with a good excuse to dump someone the leaders of organizations wanted gone anyway, but couldn’t justify otherwise. To be clear, it’s a real problem! I’m just open to the possibility that some subset of them are just pretexts to fire people who otherwise couldn’t be fired.

  3. Gravatar of Philo Philo
    23. January 2021 at 11:38

    Who pays the bills? If Niskanen Center donors, or likely potential donors, were seriously offended by Wilkinson’s tweet, that’s sufficient reason to fire him.

  4. Gravatar of ee ee
    23. January 2021 at 11:49

    My first thoughts whenever I see someone get canceled:
    – That organization sucks and may be in decline
    – Hopefully that person lands somewhere better: somewhere more tolerant, and hopefully somewhere that grows their career. A lot of times people are complacent and just the act of looking might help them find someplace better.

    Cancel culture is real, but it’s also a political tool. Politicians use it to ramp up hatred of the other side. It also may be contagious. At the very least, when someone is successfully canceled, people who see might try to cancel more. For that reason: maybe we should talk about it less. Or at least focus on the high-level phenomenon (e.g. stats) over specific cases that just will piss people off. I’m not sure the attention for Will is helpful.

    It’s fun to read about cancel culture throughout history. I’m sure someone was kicked out of the very first group of humans that existed. Athens had a formal vote for ostracizing people. Socrates could have been canceled but he chose death instead (idiot).

    There are signs cancel culture is getting weaker if you combine it with violence: there’s less violence today than most of history. And today people in democratic countries are more tolerant and aware of opposing viewpoints than those in less democratic countries.

    However the last 5 years in the US shows that people are super dumb and can be manipulated into believing anything. So that’s a counter signal to the idea that people are better informed and more tolerant than before.

    Generally it’d be nice if someone invented social technology to lower peoples’ blood pressure and maybe think more rationally. This idea sometimes shows up in sci fi as a negative: a population becomes too chill and is either less creative/energetic (Vulcans) or they just die off from the passivity (can’t remember this one).

  5. Gravatar of Spencer B Hall Spencer B Hall
    23. January 2021 at 11:57

    Prices are exploding. When’s the last time you shopped for groceries? Gasoline to follow. And we’re not close to being done with the distributed lag effect.

    I think the Num Nuts that advocate N-gDp Level targeting should commit hara-kiri after their programmes fail.

    The concentration of wealth ownership among the few is inimical both to the capitalistic system and to democratic forms of government. A financial oligarchy and a government of, by, and for the people, simply cannot exist side by side.

  6. Gravatar of ee ee
    23. January 2021 at 12:01

    Thanks for reminding me Spencer B Hall. I’d love to cancel some of the commenters on this blog. Scott, can you add a bit of javascript that adds a “cancel” button to comments so I can hide commenters I don’t want to see? The data could be stored in my browser, no one else would be affected.

  7. Gravatar of Gene Frenkle Gene Frenkle
    23. January 2021 at 13:34

    When Rosanne Barr was getting cancelled for her offensive tweet I had hoped Valerie Jarrett would be the bigger person and forgive Rosanne before everything got out of hand. Now I watched the reboot of Rosanne and there is a reason TV stars like Seinfeld and Rosanne don’t have acting careers beyond their show—they are stand ups that really can’t act. So Rosanne was really bad on the reboot but the overall show was good. So maybe the others on the show deep down didn’t want her on the show because she was the weakest link, but unfortunately they joined the lynch mob very quickly and everyone knows what happened.

    But around that same time a comedian on SNL made a joke at the expense of Dan Crenshaw and Crenshaw actually behaved the way I had hoped Jarrett would behave, and Crenshaw ended up increasing his stature by NOT being offended by the joke. I read about the joke by Pete Davidson and it was clearly a last minute addition necessary to deal with his personal life which was a pop culture phenomenon at the time. So the joke wasn’t properly rehearsed and it fell flat and luckily for Davidson Crenshaw reacted like an adult and not someone in elementary school.

  8. Gravatar of Brian Brian
    23. January 2021 at 14:17

    The Valerie Jarrett and Dan Crenshaw cases are not comparable. There is no political movement to reconstitute society as a domain exclusively for people without eye patches or to otherwise dominate people that have his eye problem.

  9. Gravatar of TAFKAA TAFKAA
    23. January 2021 at 15:08

    ee, genius idea! Now that’s an online service I’d want to see.

  10. Gravatar of xu xu
    23. January 2021 at 15:18

    Fortunately, I’m in the enviable position of being able to say whatever I want, as I don’t need my job. I’m an affluent 65-year old, yearning for the quiet life.

    — Translation: I’m so amazing, look at me, I have a money and don’t need to conform.

    Well, Trump thought the same. And banks are shutting his accounts because he shares a different political philosophy. The wealthy thought the same in Stalinist Russia and Maoist China. Didn’t work out well for them. Hint: You are never save from apparatchiks, or the mob. Another hint: You are NOT affluent. You made a tiny salary for thirty years in which you MIGHT have earned about 100K. Tiny! After you earn 1M a year, come back and talk about affluency.

    “People like Wilkinson and Matt Yglesias can always make a living with Substack, but cancel culture is a legitimate problem for lots of lower level people.”

    Translation: “I don’t need to worry, because only those lower level people are affected”.

    This is the same type of reasoning that shipped millions of jobs abroad for thirty years. It’s not my job, so……it’s okay.

    And now the Sumner/Biden CCP war machine are back in action. Incursion in Taiwan, and military industrial complex back in Syria to overthrow Assad. We are only in day two of the pedophile regime.

  11. Gravatar of henry henry
    23. January 2021 at 15:52

    lol 🙂 🙂 🙂
    What Hubris.

    I’ve been working in investment banking for the last two decades, and still would never describe myself as “affluent”.

    But it doesn’t surprise me. This post just further depicts an old man with warped views of the human condition – filled with deep hatred towards life and humanity in general.

    Sumner believes in a caste society. And he imagines himself, wrongly, in the upper caste.

  12. Gravatar of Gene Frenkle Gene Frenkle
    23. January 2021 at 16:02

    Brian, I believe Rosanne that she wasn’t aware that Valerie Jarrett was African American and so she was merely making fun of her superficial looks the way Pete Davidson was making fun of Crenshaw’s looks. I became aware of Valerie Jarrett in 2007 and for some reason the first thing most people learned about her was she was a big deal in Chicago and she was born in Iran…so there aren’t too many African Americans born in Iran so initially I didn’t know she was African American. Btw, neither Davidson’s nor Rosanne’s jokes are funny but the purpose of Davidson’s joke was most likely a pretext to get him on camera to address his personal life and apparently Rosanne was just engaging in a Twitter back and forth when she made her unfortunate remark.

  13. Gravatar of Spencer B Hall Spencer B Hall
    23. January 2021 at 16:43

    @ ee re: censorship

    What, cat got your tongue? Ignorance of the economic law is no excuse. Bankrupt-u-Bernanke should be in Federal Prison.

    It’s stock vs. flow. QE-forever does exactly the opposite of what the advocates of N-gDp level targeting says is important (“It is the real interest rate that affects spending”).

    Adding infinite and misdirected money products (LSAPs on sovereigns) while remunerating IBDDs (inducing nonbank disintermediation), generates negative real rates of interest; has a negative economic multiplier; creates asset bubbles (results in an excess of savings over real investment outlets); exacerbates income inequality, and depreciates the exchange value of the U.S. $.

    Whereas the regulatory release of savings invokes a spontaneous chain reaction, an expanding sequence of reactions, a self-propelling and amplifying chain of events.

    The activation and discharge of $15 trillion of finite savings products (near money substitutes), via targeted real investment outlets has a positive economic multiplier, a ripple effect (increases productivity and real wages), while increasing both the real rate and nominal rates of interest.

    No, contrary to Bankrupt-u-Bernanke’s claim that: “Money is fungible”…“One dollar is like any other”, pg. 357 in “The Courage to Act”, the utilization of savings is a catalyst, it is not a matching of economic accounts, not a 1-2-1 economic transaction (correlation between two sets). This is demonstrated by debits to particular deposit accounts.

    “In economics, a multiplier broadly refers to an economic factor that, when increased or changed, causes increases or changes in many other related economic variables. In terms of gross domestic product, the multiplier effect causes gains in total output to be greater than the change in spending that caused it.”

    It’s a disputation of the Gurley-Shaw thesis (that there is no difference between money and liquid assets).

    N-gDp LPT is nothing other than stagflation reincarnated. It caps real output and maximizes inflation.

    See: “Should Commercial Banks Accept Savings Deposits?” Conference on Savings and Residential Financing 1961 Proceedings, United States Savings and loan league, Chicago, 1961, 42, 43.
    “Profit or Loss from Time Deposit Banking”, Banking and Monetary Studies, Comptroller of the Currency, United States Treasury Department, Irwin, 1963, pp. 369-386

    The fact is that an increase in bank CDs adds nothing to GDP. In fact, it shrinks AD.

  14. Gravatar of bob bob
    23. January 2021 at 17:21

    We need to cancel this old white geezer, before he takes us all out.
    Someone start a hashtag “cancel Sumner”, so that he stops shipping American jobs to the CCP.

    His wife works for the CCP, and both collect stipends.

    As Xu previously mentioned, he is scared to write anything publicly in support of Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Jimmy Lai. But he does write publicly about the redistribution of wealth, and his support for the communists Biden/Harris/BLM/ATNIFA. This is proof he is bought and paid for.

    Since he’s into redistribution, I say we redistribute his “affluency” to others who are not traitors.

  15. Gravatar of dtoh dtoh
    23. January 2021 at 17:27

    Easy to explain.

    1. The fascist wing of the Democratic Party wants to restrict the speech of their opponents.

    2. They occasionally need to sacrifice their own to avoid appearing hypocritical and too transparent.

    If you think there is any logic, ethics, objectivity or consistency to the PC culture, you’re smoking dope.

  16. Gravatar of TAFKAA TAFKAA
    23. January 2021 at 18:09

    dtoh, Do you think the Niskanen Center to be part of the “fascist wing” of the Democratic party? I’m not a fan of “cancel culture” on either side of the aisle but I don’t think this theory fits reality well and assigns too much planning and agency to things.

    Also again I know that there’s no point being upset at the lower casers (dtoh, I know you’re not part of that crew and I’m not talking about you) but how dumb does someone have to be to think that Biden is a communist?

  17. Gravatar of anon/portly anon/portly
    23. January 2021 at 18:20

    I kind of wonder if Nathan Taylor’s “waiting for an excuse” might not be right. If you really wanted to keep WW, you’d fire him for one poorly thought out joke?

    Or maybe it’s just the timid bureaucratic ass-covering thing, worried about offending some donors. That’s not really the “cancel culture” thing, which would be more like if other Niskanen people were saying they felt “unsafe” because of Wilkinson’s joke.

    I don’t agree that the joke is funny, as is. I only saw it in the context of it being a “joke” but even then it took me awhile to process it.

    Maybe Wilkinson needed a set up line, at least for the slower folk like me. Maybe something like, “if Biden really wants to unify the country, he should reach out to Trump and his supporters with an offer to lynch Mike Pence.”

  18. Gravatar of TAFKAA TAFKAA
    23. January 2021 at 19:29

    anon/portly, I agree with all of that. I did chuckle at the joke but it’s definitely not well written even for what it’s trying to say.

    I do have to say posting it reveals some bad judgment but at least for me when I hear Niskanen I think WW + some other people so firing him over that seems like a bad call if there are no other reasons.

  19. Gravatar of anon anon
    23. January 2021 at 19:33

    Was Amazon in principle support of expanded mail in balloting for Nov 4 2020?

    Since this topic touches on hypocrisy, wanted to bring this out here. Whats Amazon’s stance on $15 federally mandated minimum wage or would they pre-empt that and offer voluntarily $15 for their workers on hourly wage..

  20. Gravatar of sarah sarah
    23. January 2021 at 19:33

    1. The Biden administration has just forced American tax payers to pay $15 per hour to inefficient and unproductive federal workers.

    2. A military Convoy, for some unknown reason, just drove through the sovereign nation of Syria. It’s wonderful that Biden starts his presidency with international crimes, and more unwanted wars.

    3. Chinese nuclear armed fighter jets flew into Taiwan airspace, and the Biden administration is silent. Why? Because they hate liberty. And the love the CCP.

    4. Biden forced the national guard to sleep in unheated parking garages after defending his inauguration from an imaginary enemy. Thankfully, Trump opened his hotel free of charge for these guardsman.

    5. Ukraine issued an arrest warrant for Biden.

    6. CDC admits that the death numbers are inaccurate.

    7. CNN removes the death counter from their news room (i.e., now that Biden won, they don’t need to incite fear).

    8. Ends keystone pipeline, which terminated the jobs of 900 workers. It also makes oil more expensive, and ensures that Canadian Oil will now be shipped on Warren Buffets rails. Do you see how that corruption works? Buffet is a big Biden donor, and buffet’s rails are being threatened by the pipe. Who suffers? The American people at the gas pump. Who wins? Berkshire Hathaway stock!

    And this is the administration Sumner thinks is infinitely better to the Trump administration?


  21. Gravatar of anon anon
    23. January 2021 at 19:43

    xu, henry
    If scott feels affluent, he is affluent. Needs vs wants and yadda yadda.

    If you are a conservative, you should cheer for him. Why would your scale of affluence & scotts scale of affluence be exactly the same?

    henry – might be yours is a problem of keeping up with joneses. And the joneses have better IQ/earning capability & have translated that into reality…

  22. Gravatar of gt gt
    23. January 2021 at 21:41

    Spencer B Hall, I don’t know where you live, but groceries and gasoline here in Massachusetts are cheaper now than they were a year ago. People keep saying that crazy inflation is coming, but then it just doesn’t appear. Funny that. 🙂

  23. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    23. January 2021 at 23:20

    dtoh, I’m pretty sure the complainers were right wingers. The cancel culture is just as bad on the right.

    Trumpistas, Did you enjoy Trump’s second inaugural address? I know you were all looking forward to it. Was it as good as the first one?

    Everyone, I define “affluence” as “can live an upper middle class lifestyle without ever working another day in my life”.

    You are free to disagree.

  24. Gravatar of rinat rinat
    24. January 2021 at 00:25

    So the American people voted for guy who reshaped the NYC skyline, and kept every political promise he made. The economy was roaring.

    Instead of reelecting that genius guy, they were duped by the corrupt Washington Machine into trading him for a vindictive communist who went to a state school and failed the bar exam twice? And her running mate has dementia?

    Americans are very funny people.

    China will destroy you soon, unless you get smart.

  25. Gravatar of Spencer B Hall Spencer B Hall
    24. January 2021 at 00:44

    re: “cheaper now than they were a year ago”

    As the Chapwood index shows, price increases vary from city to city.

    “CPI Rose 0.4% in December with Gasoline the Major Factor”

    “CRB Index increased 5.38 points or 3.02% since the beginning of 2021, according to trading on a contract for difference (CFD) that tracks the benchmark market for this commodity.”

    Contrary to Dr. Milton Friedman, there is no “Fool in the Shower”. The distributed lag effect of money flows, for both R-gDp and inflation, are mathematical constants, and have been for > 100 years.
    See: “History and forms. Irving Fisher (1925) was the first to use and discuss the concept of a distributed lag. In a later paper (1937, p. 323), he stated that the basic problem in applying the theory of distributed lags “is to find the ’best’ distribution of lag, by which is meant the distribution such that … the total combined effect [of the lagged values of the variables taken with a distributed lag has] … the highest possible correlation with the actual statistical series … with which we wish to compare it.” Thus, we wish to find the distribution of lag that maximizes the explanation of “effect” by “cause” in a statistical sense”.

  26. Gravatar of Michael Rulle Michael Rulle
    24. January 2021 at 08:03

    What a world we live in. Scott felt the need to go through all these reasons why a joke is never a condition for canceling someone. I agree with his stated conclusion——but he did not mention the mega-point—-the absurdity that this is now a legitimate topic.

    I did not think the joke was funny——nor “sharply sarcastic”. I am also sure I did not “get it”. Was he mocking the left? Or just doing some “reductio ad absurdum” joke? Further, hardly anyone even read it. I often get triple the “likes” on WSJ comments on editorials. I also get 0 likes. The point is it was a non event. No one saw it. But I guess it does not matter how many read one’s cancelable comment.

    Scott rarely talks about politics—-except when Trump can be squeezed into the story—-and he has told us countless times he is a libertarian/utilitarian. And while Trump made a cameo appearance, his VP was the “macguffin”—-so still a Trump story.

    I will give him credit, however, (I am a liberal grader), for his first “post Trump” political comment—since he was criticizing what is usually associated with the left—(despite his need to link us to a site which claims both parties engage in cancel culture—-he cannot help it.)

    I still await his first full non Trump political comment.

  27. Gravatar of Student Student
    24. January 2021 at 08:26

    Dare you to make a joke about sexual assault, for some reason that gets people more riled up than even a murder joke.

  28. Gravatar of Michael Rulle Michael Rulle
    24. January 2021 at 08:29


    Scott does not need nor wants any defense from me, but your comment is ludicrous. But I will be kind and explain why it is ludicrous. Scott is affluent because he lives within his means, he is retired, and he can afford basically everything he enjoys.

    I was in Investment Banking for exactly 20 years before going to the “by side”. For you to not be “affluent” means either 1) you live above your means and/or are pretty low on the totem poll—OR 2) you know it can all go away tomorrow and that scares you——that is certainly what I felt——-then what do you do?

    Scott is past the “scared” stage (at least as it relates to money) and you are not. That is NOT a dig at you—as I said I felt that.

    If however, you feel like you have it made for life—-then why aren’t you “affluent”?

  29. Gravatar of Kester Pembroke Kester Pembroke
    24. January 2021 at 08:33

    The UK for example has no reserve requirements. How do you respond to this paper? See pg16:

  30. Gravatar of Michael Rulle Michael Rulle
    24. January 2021 at 08:38


    I am very glad you keep pushing on Scott. As much as he bashed Trump it seems impossible for a “libertarian” like Scott to not bash this new crowd. But we keep waiting. He will never agree that Trump did anything good (he had 2 things that were “good” by Trump and about 30 bads in his recent essay).

    I believe he just does not have the emotional charge in him to attack these guys—-something about Trump energized him. He just won’t do it. It will be like this essay “bad to cancel people for jokes”——a yawner.

    But maybe you can help charge his battery.

  31. Gravatar of Michael Rulle Michael Rulle
    24. January 2021 at 08:39

    buy side—-:-)

  32. Gravatar of Spencer B Hall Spencer B Hall
    24. January 2021 at 09:33

    @Kester Pembroke re: “none”

    Neither does the U.S.

    The only tool, credit control device, at the disposal of the monetary authority in a free capitalistic system through which the volume of money can be properly controlled is legal reserves. The FED will obviously, some time in the future, lose control of the money stock.

  33. Gravatar of Spencer B Hall Spencer B Hall
    24. January 2021 at 09:37

    From Wolf Street: “The signs of inflation building up in the economy are now everywhere. IHS Markit, in its release of the Flash PMI with data from companies in the services and manufacturing sectors, added to that pile of evidence.

    For companies, inflation happens on two sides: what they are having to pay their suppliers, and what they can get away with charging their own customers, which may be consumers, governments, or other companies.

    And increasingly, companies are able to pass higher input prices on to their customers – meaning, their customers are not totally balking at paying higher prices and they’re not switching to other sources to dodge those price increases. That’s a mindset that nurtures inflation.

    This PMI data is based on what executives said about their own companies (names are not disclosed) and the conditions they face in the current month. No quantitative measures or dollar amounts are involved.

    And this is what they said about their two aspects of inflation, according to Markit:

    On surging input prices:

    “Inflationary pressures intensified as supplier delays and shortages pushed input prices higher.”

    “The rate of input cost inflation [in January] was the fastest on record (since data collection began in October 2009), as soaring transportation and PPE costs were also noted.”

    Amid stronger expansions in output and new orders, manufacturers experienced “significant supply chain delays, raw material shortages, and evidence of stockpiling at goods producers” that “pushed input prices up.”

    Passing on higher input prices via higher selling prices:
    Manufactures raised selling prices “at the sharpest pace since July 2008 in an effort to partially pass on higher cost burdens to clients.”

    “A number of firms were able to partially pass-on greater cost burdens … as the pace of charge inflation quickened to a steep rate.”

    “The impact was less marked in the service sector as firms sought to boost sales.”

    “Capacity constraints are biting amid the growth spurt,” the report summarized. “Not only have the last two months seen supply shortages develop at a pace not previously seen in the survey’s history, but prices have also risen due to the imbalance of supply and demand.”

    “Input cost inflation consequently also hit a survey high and exerted further upward pressure on average selling prices for goods and services,” the report said.”

    This is confirmed by the distributed lag effect of monetary flows.

  34. Gravatar of Sean Sean
    24. January 2021 at 09:45

    Many of us still need to live in this world.

    I also think you are wrong that people didn’t get the joke. Everyone got the joke and cancelled him anyway. Perhaps it’s needing to sacrifice a liberal to make the whole system of canceling and deplatforming seem bipartisan.

  35. Gravatar of anon/portly anon/portly
    24. January 2021 at 10:27

    Sean: “Everyone got the joke and cancelled him anyway.”

    I don’t think this is true. I’m actually not sure I get the joke yet. I hadn’t read Wilkinson’s followup tweet (from above) until today, and I think *he* gets it right:

    “It was sharp sarcasm, but it looked like a call for violence.”

    And I think it looks too much like a call for violence, and not just an obvious joke, because it’s not “mixed” properly – the “call for violence” is too loud in the mix, as it were. Here are two alternative formulations of Wilkinson’s tweet:

    (A) “If Pence wanted unity, he’d do the one thing that would make Trump and his fans happy again: lynch Mike Pence.”

    (B) “If Pence wanted unity, he’d do the one thing that would make everybody happy: lynch Mike Pence.”

    Notice the difference? In formulation (A), the joke is mocking Trump and his fans. In formulation (B), it’s more mocking Pence! (And/or everybody). I’m honestly not 100% sure which one Wilkinson intended, or whether it wasn’t partly both.

    To be honest, I’m not sure either formulation is equivalent to what Wilkinson intended. Maybe there’s a third formulation I haven’t thought of. (Or maybe I just don’t have a sense of humor).

    But I think Wilkinson is right: it doesn’t “look” like a joke,, necessarily, when people read it. As I said in my first comment, I had to “process” it and part of the processing, for me, involved trying to figure how much of the “joke” involved Wilkinson’s own ill feelings toward Pence.

    By the way all this makes me more sympathetic when people use the “smiley” emoticon or emoji or whatever it is. Maybe it would have helped if Wilkinson had added one to his tweet?

  36. Gravatar of anon/portly anon/portly
    24. January 2021 at 10:31

    One other problem with the joke that I haven’t mentioned is that Wilkinson is simply wrong. If Biden really did want unity, he wouldn’t lynch Pence, he’d just announce that he really did steal the election.

  37. Gravatar of anon/portly anon/portly
    24. January 2021 at 10:58

    “Dare you to make a joke about sexual assault, for some reason that gets people more riled up than even a murder joke.”

    How about this old chestnut? “A women went to the police and said she was raped by the [any Commonwealth nation] cricket team, and when they asked how she knew it was them she said they were wearing white and they weren’t in very long.”

    I am only accepting this dare in the sense of posting this as a genuine cultural artifact from the past, not because it’s funny. It’s obviously not funny.

  38. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    24. January 2021 at 11:59

    rinat, Check out job “growth” under Trump. And he failed to do almost any of his promises (The Wall, Obamacare repeal, bring back manufacturing jobs, pay off the debt, reduce the trade deficit, deport the illegals, make it so people don’t laugh at America, etc.)

    Student, Good example.

    Michael, Henry has to share his computer with 3 other people, which suggests he is poor.

    As for bashing Biden, I’ve often called him a buffoon. You’ll see plenty of criticism of Biden’s policies, indeed I’ve already done posts criticizing his proposals on minimum wage, stimulus, Section 230, etc. As well as his opposition to pot legalization.

    Kester, I don’t believe concepts like bank lending channel are useful. QE boosts nominal lending, but then it boosts nominal everything. Real lending is another question.

    anon/portly, I read it as “A”, but I can see B is also an option. The problem with Twitter is that you get read by people that don’t know you. Anyone who knows Wilkinson immediately recognizes it as a joke. That’s how things are in everyday life, sitting around a table with friends. But on twitter people might really think you favor murder.

    Nobody’s mentioned Hitler jokes (The Producers, etc.)

  39. Gravatar of anon/portly anon/portly
    24. January 2021 at 12:11

    “henry” claims to be an investment banker, and then posts childish twaddle.

    Who knows whether “henry” is for real or not, or what is going on there – I certainly don’t care, and I can’t imagine why an investment banker would take the time to post childish twaddle, or not know that he was posting childish twaddle. It’s a mystery the resolving of which is of no interest.

    But Michael Rulle is an even stranger case. He too is or was an investment banker. But every one of his comments seems to me to be little more than the expression of hurt feelings – whining or whinging because this blog doesn’t share his own view of Trump and politics more generally.

    What sort of investment banker would feel it necessary to write this same comment over and over and over? I’m guessing the total is in the thousands now.

    And far be it from me to castigate others for writing stupid comments – lord knows that many of mine are stupid and ill thought out – but my point is why the *same* one, over and over? At least if you try varying things it shows some effort. (Maybe this is just a self-serving excuse on my part, but still).

    Also the hurt feelings about not having one’s own view validated doesn’t exactly demonstrate much depth of confidence in one’s own views. It sort of suggests the opposite. I generally agree with this blog, and learn much from it, and when I don’t agree I try to entertain the suspicion that I could be wrong. But when I don’t agree why should I feel hurt? I can’t see the point….

    I *am* kind of curious now about the personality profile of investment bankers, generally….

  40. Gravatar of Mark Barbieri Mark Barbieri
    24. January 2021 at 16:57

    I don’t believe that anyone seriously believed that he was advocating for Pence’s death or that anyone was truly offended. I believe that people have learned that they can weaponize situations where someone can be deliberately misinterpreted in a way that causes offense. This works because so many organizations respond cowardly like in this case. As long as people keep giving in to the “offended”, people will strive to be “offended”.

  41. Gravatar of Rajat Rajat
    24. January 2021 at 17:09

    OT, but did you see that Scott Alexander is making ~$50k/month on Substack? I realise you don’t need to work, but if you’re going to get cancelled eventually, might as well make hay until then 🙂

  42. Gravatar of Ray Lopez Ray Lopez
    24. January 2021 at 18:17

    The post by Nathan Taylor upstream was instructive: apparently Will Wilkinson indeed was on his boss’s s hit list and got fired, with the joke Tweet just an excuse. On Wilkinson’s Wikipedia page it states he’s no longer a Libertarian, which may have contributed to him being fired (I assumed his employer was a Libertarian think tank despite being labeled as Leftist in some circles).

    PS–I’m reading this book now on the cancel culture: “Cynical (Critical) Theories” by Pluckrose and Lindsay.

  43. Gravatar of Michael Rulle Michael Rulle
    24. January 2021 at 18:59

    @Anon Portly

    I have not read your comments before (maybe your handle sounds too much like “fat no one”). I have always felt annoyed when making Trump comments. Perhaps they sound “whiney” but I mean them to be irritating. You seem to have a very odd vibe about investment banking. What is that all about?

    God, I am boring myself. “Personality profile”? Are you a shrink? I will make a deal. We can exchange views or questions on each other’s “ “personality profile” based on our view of the others work history. Then all your curiosity will be satisfied. Mine won’t. Although who knows? You might be very interesting.

  44. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    24. January 2021 at 20:10

    Anon/portly, You said:

    “but my point is why the *same* one, over and over?”

    No one comes close to Ben Cole. He’s done the same comment literally 100s of times.

    Rajat, It’s great for people like Alexander, Yglesias, etc. But very few people would be able to monetize their random observations.

  45. Gravatar of BC BC
    25. January 2021 at 00:43

    The linked Reason article cites numerous instances where Wilkinson downplayed the cancel culture problem. Instead of apologizing for making a joke, I wish he would have apologized for his previous dismissiveness about the cancel culture problem. That would have shown contrition for his actual mistake.

  46. Gravatar of J Mann J Mann
    25. January 2021 at 06:34

    I think firing Wilkinson was silly, and I generally don’t get the cowardice of institutions who tend to fire people based on a knee-jerk reaction to controversy. (Some examples include Shirley Sherrod, who the Obama administration fired as soon as there was internet controversy about a speech she gave, or David Shor, who got fired after he wrote a post pointing out that there is some academic literature suggesting non-violent protest might be more effective in achieving a movement’s goals than violent protest).

    With that said, let me steelman a little bit:

    1) I don’t think it’s a firing offense, but I think it’s a bad idea to joke about killing people, including and to some degree in particular government officials, because it makes it hard to discourage the people who aren’t joking.

    Once you allow jokes that otherwise violate your speech limits, it’s hard to tell who is who on the margins. Although I’m generally fairly pro-free-speech, I’m OK with forbidding joking at an airport about blowing up airplanes, and for similar reasons. (And I think many of Trump’s most inflammatory statements are also jokes, and kind of funny, frankly.)

    Also, it introduces a lot of subjectivity. The outgroup is less likely to get slack for jokes because the ingroup (a) is confident they’re bad people who presumably have bad intentions and (b) is less likely to get their jokes.

    2) There’s a conflict between “two wrongs” and “sauce for the gander.” On the one hand, a free speech advocate might say that while she believes it was wrong to fire James Damore, also firing Will Wilkinson just magnifies the wrong. Or she might say that we can’t end getting fired for opinions and jokes as long as most of the country feels that their group is not at risk.

  47. Gravatar of Christian List Christian List
    25. January 2021 at 09:05

    I agree with Ray and anon: Nathan’s explanation was the best one so far.

    If you’re an essential person who performs a job that can’t be easily replaced and/or if you have a good relationship with your boss, you don’t get fired for something like that.

    If you work in an institution that is in the public eye, if you are easily replaceable, or if you don’t have a good relationship with your boss – then you get fired for something like that.

    Most of the time there is already a list of (alleged) misconduct. The bosses might just wait for an excuse to fire that person.

    That said, the joke was not a good one because there were real reports in neutral media that certain infiltrators in the Capitol were specifically looking for Pence, in order to lynch him if necessary. You don’t make a joke about a threat of violence that actually happened more or less like that just recently.

  48. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    25. January 2021 at 09:19

    BC, Maybe he still thinks the cancel culture issue is overrated. Why should this change his view? After all, Wilkinson is a really smart guy. It’s not like he wasn’t aware that people get fired for minor discretions.

  49. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    25. January 2021 at 09:36

    Everyone, Hidden motive or not, the fact that this was a plausible excuse for a firing itself speaks volumes. Would Taylor have fired him for jaywalking? Getting a parking ticket?

  50. Gravatar of bb bb
    25. January 2021 at 10:00

    I don’t think he should be fired. I think an apology is a good call, and his apology was exceptionally good, much better than the one you suggested.
    I think cancel culture is both good and bad. It definitely goes to far at times, but I think a lot of folks should be cancelled. Things were better a few years ago, when it was still unacceptable to say racist things in public. I read that misinformation on Twitter went down by 70% after Trump got his account suspended, which to me seems like a good use of cancel.
    But I think that only serial offenders should be fired.
    I also think a large percentage of the people who complain about cancel culture, really just want to protect the right to marginalize groups of people. And I have no sympathy for them. I don’t put you in that category, but I think a lot of the commenters here fall into that category.

  51. Gravatar of Bob Bob
    25. January 2021 at 10:48

    The joke was funny, and the firing made no sense.

    That said, I don’t think this is really a matter of a new, shiny, cancel culture. People have been fired for what they in front of a broad audience for quite a while. Really, all you needed to do was provide enough discomfort to your boss.

    What is really going on is that we are communicating a whole lot more not just in public, but in a recorded medium. “Cancel Culture” was with us all along, it’s just far easier to call for someone to be fired, and to be caught doing things that make others want us to get fired.

    The very same groups that often cry cancel culture themselves run similar mobs against people they don’t like, just for different kinds of things they don’t like to hear. Were we calling cancel culture on Kaepernick?

    So it’s not that you are wrong regarding how this is all generally bad (because it sure is), but that “getting rid of cancel culture” is like wanting San Francisco housing to be cheaper without increasing the supply, and claiming prices are high because current property owners are just too greedy. We have just reached a technological situation that makes this unfortunate property of human behavior very visible.

    So just wonder… are you the one reasoning from a price change this time?

  52. Gravatar of anon/portly anon/portly
    25. January 2021 at 11:29

    At 08:03 up above Michael Rulle leaves one comment whining about Sumner’s attitude toward Trump:

    “Scott rarely talks about politics—-except when Trump can be squeezed into the story…”

    Then at 08:29 another comment from Michael Rulle engaging with commenter (or “commenter”) “henry,” who is either a gag commenter or else, if expressing the actual views of an actual person, someone with the IQ of a box of Cheerios.

    Then at 08:38:

    “I believe he just does not have the emotional charge in him to attack these guys—-something about Trump energized him.”

    Okay, let’s go back to the last Trump thread, the “Bad Intentions are Not Enough” one. On 21 January at 07:20 Michael Rulle left a comment whining about Sumner’s view of Trump:

    “I always believed you when you expressed your revulsion about Trump—-you didn’t really need to write this—-but you might be showing signs of Trump addiction. Hope not. Maybe his existence and his supporters freak you out——so you will continue to write about him.”

    Then in the next thread, the “which party doesn’t like to wear masks” thread, Michael Rulle at 06:33 (entire comment):

    “Scott is getting lazy—-throw some obvious chum into the water and get 16 people to respond. He knows this means nothing—-yes nothing, No timing of when these happened, or what states these people were from etc. See what I mean? I am actually responding as if this were a serious point being made.”

    Then it actually took me awhile to find another whiny MR comment, the next one I found was from the “Winners and Losers” thread, written on January 8:

    “Scott’s winners and losers is a grotesque characterization of Wednesday. He is lost in his film noir fantasies. Like, as he said, the insane Howard Hughes.”

    Look, I’ll stop here. I don’t mean to pick on Michael Rulle, who is no doubt a very well meaning person. All blog commenters are weird people with weird hobby-horses and way too much free time, at least if I am a typical one. Maybe I am the only one who sees a pattern here.

    It’s really the “investment banker” thing that set me off…. Is there really much overlap between the “investment banker” category and the “Trump Dead-Ender” category? Oh well.

    And in fairness here is a Michael Rulle comment that suggests high levels of intelligence and perception:

    “I have not read [anon\portly’s] comments before….”

  53. Gravatar of Carl Carl
    25. January 2021 at 11:37

    Anyone stupid enough to call for Will Wilkinson’s head for making an obvious joke about calling for Pence’s head ought to be mocked ruthlessly for being obtuse. And then they should be left to continue doing whatever it is that they do for a living, hopefully, a little wiser for the embarrassment.

  54. Gravatar of msgkings msgkings
    25. January 2021 at 13:31

    Bob’s comment above is astute, this is all part of the social adjustments to new technology. I suspect norms and practices will evolve in such a way that over time very few people will use these media in a way that risks cancelling.

  55. Gravatar of bb bb
    25. January 2021 at 13:54

    @Nathan, @Christian,
    I have used this type of incident to fire people who I wanted to fire for other reasons. They didn’t piss me off, they were just bad employees. It’s a lot easier to explain to legal that you are firing someone for an explicit act than for being a poor employee. I don’t feel bad about it, because in every case the person had been given plenty of opportunities to improve.

  56. Gravatar of Michael Sandifer Michael Sandifer
    25. January 2021 at 19:06

    I don’t think Wilkinson should have been fired for his tweet, ultimately, but I think there’s a tendency for some to not require more responsibility of the people who make such tweets. For a very long time, there’ve been many in the public eye who either fail to understand their roles as public figures, or who feel free to reject the roles.

    For all of the talk about how cancel culture has grown worse, and it has in some ways and it definitely goes too far at times, we should also recall that it was much easier to get fired in some ways in decades past than it is today.

    Could Babe Ruth have gotten away with publicly boozing, womanizing, and the rest? Could public figures come out as bisexual or gay? Were interracial marriages tolerated?

    Cancel culture has always been with us, but the motives change. As a society, we used to put much more of an emphasis on adults maintaining certain images for the sake of children. And, unfortunately, we used to oppress many minorities, and women in some respects.

    Also, of course, we had less of the ruthless “gotcha” journalism in the past. I’m not talking about reporters refusing to hard questions. In fact, harder questions were asked when I was growing up. I immediately think of Tim Russert and Sam Donaldson.

    I’m talking about the press that helped hide FDR’s disability. This is the press that didn’t report on so many of Ruth’s vices. There was more of a shared sense of responsibility, as a country, to the collective good. Now, everyone wants to be a free agent, living on an island.

  57. Gravatar of Peter Schaeffer Peter Schaeffer
    27. January 2021 at 06:27

    It wasn’t obviously a joke. There is no context to indicate that Wilkinson was actually kidding. Worse, claims of ‘sarcasm’ are the standard excuse when anyone on the left gets caught advocating violence. For example, Claira Janover pleaded ‘just kidding’ when she got caught advocating violence.

  58. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    27. January 2021 at 09:28

    Peter, You said:

    “It wasn’t obviously a joke.”

    You must be the life of the party. How can someone not see that it was a joke?

    You said:

    “There is no context to indicate that Wilkinson was actually kidding.”

    No context, except Wilkinson’s entire life. Some of the commenters here . . . all I can do is shake my head. How can someone go through life with so little understanding of their fellow human beings? Can someone explain this to me?

  59. Gravatar of Christian List Christian List
    27. January 2021 at 11:36


    It’s a lot easier to explain to legal that you are firing someone for an explicit act than for being a poor employee.

    Exactly. In Germany, it might be even more extreme. You basically can’t fire an employee for poor performance. It is so grotesque, in fact the opposite is true, the sicker an employee presents himself (physically or mentally) and the more absurd medical certificates he presents, the harder it is to fire him. It’s basically impossible.

    But a violation of the mainstream opinion and political correctness? No problem, this path is much easier from a legal and social point of view.

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