December 14, 2017

Katharine Weymouth Takes Charge at the Washington Post

Around the dining room table in Ms. Weymouth’s airy Craftsman home sat a collection of Kay Graham’s intimates and descendants: Vernon Jordan, the Clinton consigliere; C. Boyden Gray, counsel to the first President Bush; her oldest son Donald, now chief executive of the company that owns The Post; and Lally Weymouth, Mrs. Graham’s daughter and Ms. Weymouth’s mother, a globe-trotting journalist and Manhattan socialite known for both her interviews with Middle East dictators and glitzy Fourth of July Hamptons parties.

At the head of the table sat Ms. Weymouth, a Harvard- and Stanford-educated lawyer, single mother of three and, at 47, a fourth-generation publisher of The Post. As her guests chatted, she gently intervened, steering the conversation, salon-style, toward the economy and presidential politics. When it was over, Mrs. Weymouth, not an easy one to please, showered her daughter with praise.

“It was a big moment,” said Molly Elkin, Ms. Weymouth’s best friend and one of the dinner party guests. “It was sort of like: ‘I’ve passed the baton, kid. You’ve learned well, you did a good job.’ ”

It was the kind of scene, rife with unspoken family drama, that captivates longtime Washingtonians, who have scrutinized and mythologized the Grahams for decades, much as the British do their royalty. Now, in an exceedingly difficult climate for newspapers, Ms. Weymouth is charged with saving the crown jewels. In a city and a clan filled with expectations for her, that is no easy task.

She is carving her path in a capital, and an industry, vastly changed from the one her grandmother inhabited when big-city newspapers were flush with advertising; The Post helped bring down a president; and for nearly four decades, Mrs. Graham ruled social Washington, feting presidents and prime ministers in her elegant Georgetown manse, dining at the White House with kings and queens.

“There is never going to be another Kay, never in Washington, because the times are different,” said Sally Quinn, the columnist and the wife of Ben Bradlee, the editor whose partnership with Mrs. Graham was chronicled in “All The President’s Men.” “People just don’t entertain that way,” Ms. Quinn said. “People have kids, they work late. That is not what Katharine wants to do.”

Ms. Weymouth is many things: a working mother and enthusiastic cook; a fearless skier (“She has not met a slope she won’t take,” says Liz Spayd, a former managing editor of The Post); a fitness buff (“She can crunch till the cows come home,” said Pari Bradlee, a yoga instructor and daughter-in-law to Ben) and, for a while, one of the most sought-after dates in town. (After seeing a local architect, Ms. Weymouth has recently reunited with an old flame, Marty Moe, a former AOL executive.)

She does not take her famous name too seriously, and she likes to have fun. For years, she and Ms. Elkin, a labor lawyer, held a backyard Summer White Party, a spoof on the lavish Black and White Ball hosted in 1966 by Truman Capote to honor Mrs. Graham. Once, at a club in Aspen, Colo., Ms. Weymouth spied Yankees shortstop Alex Rodriguez watching her dance.

“We are the only people in this club who don’t want anything from you,” she announced. “Come dance with us.” He said he would rather watch.

To her 2012 “grown-up” dinner, she wore a $35 scoop-neck sleeveless sundress from J. C. Penney, a playful nod to an important Post advertiser whose chief executive at the time, Ron Johnson, was a guest. (She bought J. C. Penney dresses for Ms. Elkin, who wore hers, and Mrs. Weymouth, who wouldn’t be caught dead in one.)

Ms. Weymouth’s penchant for showing off her athletic figure — she arrived for a photo shoot in a crisp white sleeveless sheath and four-inch lime green Jimmy Choos — provokes titters in the newsroom. Then again, she works hard for it; Ms. Elkin said the two spend Sunday mornings doing free weights and “boy push-ups” with a personal trainer.

“We smack-talk each other the entire time,” Ms. Elkin said, “just like we did when we were 20 years old.”

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/04/fashion/katharine-weymouth-takes-charge-at-the-washington-post.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Today’s Economist: Nancy Folbre: The Welfare Queen of Denmark

Nancy Folbre, economist at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

Nancy Folbre is an economics professor at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

To anyone who lived through Ronald Reagan’s presidency, it’s a familiar story. It begins with a detailed description of a woman living high off the hog on welfare. Then it asserts that runaway social spending poses a threat to economic growth and well-being. The up-close-and-personal touch makes a more memorable case for austerity than an argument based on numbers like debt ratios and growth rates.

Today’s Economist

Perspectives from expert contributors.

The headline on Suzanne Daley’s article about a political kerfuffle in Denmark, recently published in The New York Times, summarizes its main point: “Danes Rethink a Welfare State Ample to a Fault.” The star of this story, dubbed “Carina,” is real, unlike the single mother in Ronald Reagan’s famously fictional anecdote.

But the economic claims made in the debate go far beyond “welfare” (means-tested benefits) to concerns about the effects of excessive assistance to students and pensioners — recapitulating the evolution of austerity arguments in the United States from the early 1990s to the present.

Certainly, policy debates in Denmark, as here, reflect partisan dynamics. In 2001, a conservative coalition came to power in Denmark, with the strong support of the anti-immigration Danish People’s Party. The Social Democratic Party regained power by a narrow margin in 2011. Many members of this party see support for mothers like Carina as a means of reducing child poverty; as in the United States, conservatives put a lower priority on this goal.

Most important, however, are the economic arguments that come into play, both within this article and the larger genre. Ms. Daley reports concern that public benefits reduce incentives to work. While Danish labor-force participation rates are higher than those in the United States, average hours worked are lower because of more part-time employment, longer vacations and paid family leaves from work.

Is this a problem? It’s not as though the supply of hours to paid employment is constraining economic growth in Denmark or elsewhere. On the contrary, distressingly high rates of unemployment in both the United States and Europe indicate a shortfall of labor demand. Many Americans would love longer vacations and paid family leaves.

As Ms. Daley points out, surveys rank Denmark as the happiest country in the world and even conservative politicians are not suggesting abandoning the Danish model.

Christian Bjornskov, an economics professor at Aarhus Business School, elaborates: “We probably spend our money differently here. We don’t buy big houses or big cars, we like to spend our money on socializing with others.”

But note that the Danes are neither lazy nor poor. Despite high marginal tax rates (or perhaps because of them) they are about as rich, on average, as Americans are. The World Bank estimates that gross domestic product per capita in Denmark for the 2008-12 period at $59,889, compared with $48,112 for the United States. Adjusted for differences in the cost of living, Danes’ G.D.P. per capita is slightly lower than ours.

The Danes spend far less on health care per capita than we do in the United States, yet achieve better health outcomes in many areas, including life expectancy. Their child poverty rates are far lower: About 6.5 percent of Danish children live in families with disposable incomes under 50 percent of the median, compared with 23.1 percent in the United States.

The Danish banking system, like most, took a hit in the financial crisis. But its banking regulations prevented major losses in mortgage lending. Overall levels of public debt as a percentage of G.D.P. are far lower than ours, and remain well below the European Union average.

In short, the Danish record offers no support for the social-spending-hurts-growth position. That doesn’t mean that some economists can’t figure out a way to make that argument anyway. For instance, Daron Acemoglu, James A. Robinson and Thierry Verdier have devised a theoretical model to show why what they term “cuddly” capitalism of the Danish sort may just be free-riding on the “cutthroat” capitalism of the United States sort.

The model posits that cutthroat levels of inequality, as in the United States, promote high levels of technological innovation. The benefits of these innovations cross national borders to help Danes and other Scandinavians achieve growth. In other words, they may be able to get away with being “cuddly,” but some country (like the United States) just has to be tough enough to reward risk-taking, even if it leads to hurt feelings.

The gendered language deployed in this model echoes a general tendency to view social spending in feminine terms: women like to cuddle and are often described as more risk-averse than men. It’s not uncommon to see the term “nanny state” used as a synonym for the welfare state.

Call the Scandinavians sissies if you like, but plenty of evidence in the latest World Competitiveness Report testifies to high levels of overall innovation there — as you might expect in economies even more export-oriented than our own. Danes are world leaders in renewable energy technology, especially wind power.

Danes may do plenty of cuddling, but their form of capitalism is more aptly described as team-based. And international competition remains, to a very large extent, a team sport.

And about welfare queens: According to Ms. Daley, Carina is taking home about $32,400 a year in public assistance. A constitutional monarchy, Denmark spends roughly $52 million to $70 million a year supporting its royal family, headed by Queen Margrethe II.

Yet the Danish royal family is considered the most popular in Europe. Maybe that’s because queens can’t always be judged by their record of paid employment.

Article source: http://economix.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/04/29/the-welfare-queen-of-denmark/?partner=rss&emc=rss

Danes Rethink a Welfare State Ample to a Fault

It turned out, however, that life on welfare was not so hard. The 36-year-old single mother, given the pseudonym “Carina” in the news media, had more money to spend than many of the country’s full-time workers. All told, she was getting about $2,700 a month, and she had been on welfare since she was 16.

In past years, Danes might have shrugged off the case, finding Carina more pitiable than anything else. But even before her story was in the headlines 16 months ago, they were deeply engaged in a debate about whether their beloved welfare state, perhaps Europe’s most generous, had become too rich, undermining the country’s work ethic. Carina helped tip the scales.

With little fuss or political protest — or notice abroad — Denmark has been at work overhauling entitlements, trying to prod Danes into working more or longer or both. While much of southern Europe has been racked by strikes and protests as its creditors force austerity measures, Denmark still has a coveted AAA bond rating.

But Denmark’s long-term outlook is troubling. The population is aging, and in many regions of the country people without jobs now outnumber those with them.

Some of that is a result of a depressed economy. But many experts say a more basic problem is the proportion of Danes who are not participating in the work force at all — be they dawdling university students, young pensioners or welfare recipients like Carina who lean on hefty government support.

“Before the crisis there was a sense that there was always going to be more and more,” Bjarke Moller, the editor in chief of publications for Mandag Morgen, a research group in Copenhagen. “But that is not true anymore. There are a lot of pressures on us right now. We need to be an agile society to survive.”

The Danish model of government is close to a religion here, and it has produced a population that regularly claims to be among the happiest in the world. Even the country’s conservative politicians are not suggesting getting rid of it.

Denmark has among the highest marginal income-tax rates in the world, with the top bracket of 56.5 percent kicking in on incomes of more than about $80,000. But in exchange, the Danes get a cradle-to-grave safety net that includes free health care, a free university education and hefty payouts to even the richest citizens.

Parents in all income brackets, for instance, get quarterly checks from the government to help defray child-care costs. The elderly get free maid service if they need it, even if they are wealthy.

But few experts here believe that Denmark can long afford the current perks. So Denmark is retooling itself, tinkering with corporate tax rates, considering new public sector investments and, for the long term, trying to wean more people — the young and the old — off government benefits.

“In the past, people never asked for help unless they needed it,” said Karen Haekkerup, the minister of social affairs and integration, who has been outspoken on the subject. “My grandmother was offered a pension and she was offended. She did not need it.

“But now people do not have that mentality. They think of these benefits as their rights. The rights have just expanded and expanded. And it has brought us a good quality of life. But now we need to go back to the rights and the duties. We all have to contribute.”

In 2012, a little over 2.6 million people between the ages of 15 and 64 were working in Denmark, 47 percent of the total population and 73 percent of the 15- to 64-year-olds.

While only about 65 percent of working age adults are employed in the United States, comparisons are misleading, since many Danes work short hours and all enjoy perks like long vacations and lengthy paid maternity leaves, not to speak of a de facto minimum wage approaching $20 an hour. Danes would rank much lower in terms of hours worked per year.

In addition, the work force has far more older people to support. About 18 percent of Denmark’s population is over 65, compared with 13 percent in the United States.

Anna-Katarina Gravgaard contributed reporting.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/21/world/europe/danes-rethink-a-welfare-state-ample-to-a-fault.html?partner=rss&emc=rss