Last year was certainly eventful. The year 2023 brought spy balloons, Donald Trump’s indictments, the coronation of a king, the fall of a crypto prince, and no shortage of chaos in Washington, from the ouster of Kevin McCarthy to the farcical George Santos scandal. Oh, and then there’s the small matter of two major wars, one in Gaza and one in Ukraine. Plus ongoing tension between the U.S. and China. On a cheerier note, 2023 was also the year of Barbenheimer, the year it felt like AI really arrived, and the year the nineties were finally cool again.
But, as crazy as last year was, will the next twelve months prove that it was actually just the calm before the storm?
For us at least, 2024 begins with a distinct feeling of dread.
Just look around the world. The Middle East grows more unstable, the war in Ukraine is not going Kyiv’s way, and Xi Jinping’s rhetoric gets more bellicose by the day. Here at home, there’s the election from hell, in which American voters will likely face the rematch nobody wants: Donald Trump and Joe Biden.
To find out if things will really be as terrible as we fear, we are starting the year with a special 2024 predictions episode of Honestly. Here’s how it will work: we’re going to call up some friends of the pod—people we trust in their fields—to get a better sense of what’s coming down the pike.
The great Tyler Cowen looks into the economic crystal ball. Leandra Medine clues us in on fashion trends in 2024. Our very own Suzy Weiss talks through the cultural year ahead. Linguist John McWhorter looks at language. Doctor and longevity expert Peter Attia tells us how to start the year right. Eagle-eyed political observers Nate Silver and Frank Luntz try to forecast the election. And historian Niall Ferguson tells us whether we’re right to have nightmares about World War III.
Some guests cheered us up, whereas others freaked us out. All of them were a pleasure to talk to. We hope you enjoy these conversations with some of our favorite people.
Below is a small taste of each of those chats, but click here to listen to the full episode:
Peter Attia’s health advice for the start of a new year:
You would be hard-pressed to find a long list of people whose lives wouldn’t be materially better if they found more ways to exercise. So rule number one would be: Could a person commit to being more active?
A second thing that might seem a little bit out of my wheelhouse, but does tie in to health, especially as we go into this year, where everybody is going to be sucked into the vortex of world news and world affairs and politics, is being more disciplined about taking a vacation from media, social media, and electronics, and substituting all that with time outdoors. For me personally, and for my patients, no one is immune to the negative psychological forces of that awful vortex.
A third thing is to think twice before you have the drink. Ask yourself the question: If I’m going to allow myself to have only three or four of these a week, is this one really worth it?
Suzy Weiss on the cultural trends of 2024:
Okay, everyone’s been saying “the nineties are back” for so long, so it’s easy to say, “oh, the eighties are next.” You know: pencil eyebrows and shoulder pads. But I think we should actually be looking to the 1920s, a period of huge political and social upheaval and yet a huge time of economic prosperity. So my big predictions: hedonism, consumerism, dance music, and at the very least, short haircuts for women.
Leandra Medine on a risqué fashion trend for 2024:
This is a really high-stakes, risky trend to go with. But we are seeing more and more people opt out of wearing pants. It’s like the hemline index has come so high that we have actually forgone the skirt or the shorts altogether. We are just wearing underwear and pantyhose. It’s like this vaguely incomplete look that somehow makes the most uncool yet cool shoes look better, and complements oversize winter coats in the most unconventional ways, and makes it easier to pick a sweater because you don’t have to wonder about how it tucks into what you’re wearing on the bottom.
John McWhorter on “rizz” (defined as “style, charm, or attractiveness; the ability to attract a romantic or sexual partner”) being the Oxford Dictionary 2023 word of the year:
You know, I thought it was just right because I only picked it up summer of ’22 from my daughter’s ten-year-old friends. They started using it. And I thought it was just some random syllable. I only learned that it was from charisma about four months ago when I asked. And how current it is is clear from the fact that about a month ago, I used it in quotation marks in front of one of my classes at Columbia. I said, “I’m going to give you a word that I’m not supposed to use: rizz.” That got the biggest laugh because it was so inappropriate that I’m using it. And so I thought, that one must be really hot. And so, yeah, rizz, because if you had said that to me in 2021, it would have sounded like something Hungarian.
Tyler Cowen on the economic outlook for 2024:
This is not slated to be a terrible year. We have, in fact, actually licked inflation without a recession, which was a shock to many economists. The global order is possibly stabilizing somewhat compared to the last twelve months. The U.S. economy is highly innovative in artificial intelligence and the biomedical area, and there’s a fair amount to be happy about. But predictions are tough. Keep in mind that one out of every six years, the U.S. economy, you know, might be in recession. There’s always a chance of that. But so far, so good.
Frank Luntz on whether Biden will step aside before the election:
There has to be a chance because in the end, if he loses to Donald Trump, that will be his legacy for the rest of time. That he gave the presidency back to this individual. And I don’t believe, after passing all this significant legislation—you can argue whether it’s good or bad, but it is significant—I don’t believe that he will want to be known as that individual. The only person who could talk him out of it is his wife. And she has to decide what her legacy will be as well: an active, participatory, engaged first lady, one of our best in modern times, or the person who said to her husband, “You stay around; you fight this because you think you’re the only one who could beat Donald Trump.”
Nobody is looking Joe Biden straight in the eye and saying to him, “You’re going to lose this thing.” It doesn’t happen in the White House. It doesn’t happen in politics. She’s the only one who could do this. And clearly she’s not doing it.
Nate Silver, when asked, “Gun to your head, who is going to win: Trump or Biden?”
Niall Ferguson on the importance of contemplating defeat in Cold War II:
I think that there’s a decent chance we’ll lose Cold War II. And that’s what people find really hard to visualize. The reason people don’t worry is that they kind of think, “We’re always going to win. It’s going to be fine. Don’t worry.” And I’m like, no, you have to contemplate the possibility of losing. The United States did not inevitably win Cold War I. It looked like it was losing for most of the 1970s. By 1979, it really looked like it was in trouble. And I think we just don’t get across to people what losing might be like and why it might be bad.
Ukrainians understand what losing is like because they saw Bucha. They saw the bodies in the streets of Bucha. Israelis know what losing is like because they know that October 7 was a dress rehearsal for the Holocaust II. But we don’t really know what losing would mean. And young Americans absolutely have no concept. In fact, young Americans are so complacent about freedom that they’re basically against it now, which is a bizarre turn of events.
We need a bit more of what we would actually be like if we lost. Let’s just imagine that there is a Taiwan crisis and they send two aircraft carrier groups, and the Chinese just sink both the carriers, and the U.S. finds it has to sue for peace, and Taiwan is taken over, and Xi Jinping does the ticker-tape parade through Taipei. What then? What does that mean? I think a lot of people haven’t really got anywhere close to thinking that through.
They don’t realize that ceasing to be number one, losing the Pax Americana, has massive costs. These are the things people don’t spend enough time thinking about because they just complacently assume that somehow all of this stuff is going on over there in Ukraine and Israel and Taiwan, and somehow we’ll be fine. But the reality is we will definitely not be fine any more than we would have been fine if the Soviets had won the first Cold War.
For more vital conversation, become a Free Press subscriber today: