Rank #1: Can Raj Chetty save the American dream?
- Great Kindergarten teachers generate hundreds of thousands of dollars in future earnings for their students
- Solving poverty would increase life expectancy by more — far more — than curing cancer
- Public investment focused on children often pays for itself
- The American dream is more alive in Canada than in America
- Maps of American slavery look eerily like maps of American social mobility — but not for the reason you’d think
Chetty is a Harvard economist who has been called “the most influential economist alive today.” He’s considered by his peers to be a shoo-in for the Nobel prize. He specializes in bringing massive amounts of data to bear on the question of social mobility: which communities have it, how they got it, and what we can learn from them.
What Chetty says in this conversation could power a decade of American social policy. It probably should.
Scarcity:The New Science of Having Less and How It Defines Our Lives by Sendhil Mullainathan and Eldar Shafir
Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matt Desmond
How to Catch a Heffalump
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Rank #2: Rachel Maddow on skinhead rallies, AIDS activism, and why she doesn't read op-eds
Rank #3: Ta-Nehisi Coates: "There’s not gonna be a happy ending to this story"
Rank #4: Matt Bruenig’s case for single-payer health care
Wrapped in that question are dozens more. Why, if private health insurance is such a mess, do polls show most Americans want to keep it? What lessons should we take from the failure of past efforts at health reform? What does it mean to say “if you like your health insurance plan, you can keep it?”
Matt Bruenig, the founder of the People’s Policy Project, is firmly in support of true single-payer. No compromise, no chaser. He’s frustrated by those, like me, who try to work around the public’s resistance to disruptive change, who treat past failures and current polls as predictions about the future. And, in turn, I’m often frustrated by Matt’s tendency, mirrored by many on the left, to treat people with similar goals but different theories of reform as villains and shills.
In this podcast, Matt and I hash it out. The questions here are deep ones. When are political constraints real, and when are they invented by the people asserting their existence? If you already believe the political system is broken and corrupt, how can you entrust it to take over American health care? Can you cleave policy from politics? What would the ideal health care system look like, and why?
A Theory of Justice by John Rawls
What Is Property? by P. J. Proudhon
The Progressive Assault on Laissez Fair by Barbara H. Fried
Ezra’s recommended reading:
One Nation, Uninsured by Jill Quadagno
Remedy and Reaction by Paul Starr
It's the Institutions, Stupid! by Sven Steinmo, Jon Watts
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Rank #5: Astra Taylor will change how you think about democracy
Astra Taylor’s new book has the best title I’ve seen in a long time: Democracy May Not Exist, But We’ll Miss It When It’s Gone.
I talk a lot about democracy on this show, but not in the way Taylor talks about it. The democracy I discuss is bounded by the assumptions of American politics. This, however, is not a conversation about the filibuster, the Senate, or the Electoral College — it is far more diverse and far more radical.
Taylor and I cover a lot of ground in this interview. We discuss how what it would mean to extend democracy to our job and schools, whether animals, future humans, or even nature itself can have political rights, how democracy thinks about noncitizens and children, and what would happen if we selected congress by lottery.
Something I appreciate about Taylor’s work is it’s alive to paradoxes, ambiguities, and hard questions that don’t offer easy answers. This conversation is no different.
The link between support for animal rights and human rights
Interview with Will Wilkinson
How democratic is the American Constitution? By Robert Dahl
Abolition Democracy by Angela Davis
The Two Faces of American Freedom by Aziz Rana
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Rank #6: Work as identity, burnout as lifestyle
The two pieces speak to each other in interesting ways, and to some questions I’ve been reflecting on as my own relationship to work changes. So I asked the authors to join me for a conversation about what happens when work becomes an identity, capitalism becomes a religion, and productivity becomes the way we measure human value. The conversation exceeded even the high hopes I had for it. Enjoy this one.
Kids These Days: Human Capital and the Making of Millennialsby Malcolm Harris
White: Essays on Race and Cultureby Richard Dyer
The Vertigo Years: Europe, 1900-1914by Philipp Blom
A Visit from the Goon Squadby Jennifer Egan
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Rank #7: Hillary Clinton. Yes, that Hillary Clinton.
Rank #8: Pete Buttigieg’s theory of political change
Pete Buttigieg is a Rhodes scholar, a Navy veteran, and the mayor of South Bend, Indiana. He’s a married gay man, a churchgoing Episcopalian, and a proud millennial. He’s also, according to CNN, “the hottest candidate in the 2020 race right now.”
There’s been plenty of discussion of Buttigieg’s biography, and of whether a midsize-city mayorship is appropriate experience for the presidency. But I wanted to talk to him about something else: his theory of political change. How, in a broken system, would he get done even a fraction of what he’s promising? To my surprise, he actually had an answer.
Before I did this podcast, I was surprised to see Buttigieg catching fire. Now that I’ve had this conversation, I’m not.
Ulysses by James Joyce
Armageddon Averted: The Soviet Collapse, 1970-2000 by Stephen Kotkin
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Rank #9: Where Jonathan Haidt thinks the American mind went wrong
"Teen anxiety, depression, and suicide rates have risen sharply in the last few years," he writes in The Coddling of the American Mind, co-authored with Greg Lukianoff. "The culture on many college campuses has become more ideologically uniform, compromising the ability of scholars to seek truth, and of students to learn from a broad range of thinkers."
The kids, in other words, aren't all right. Haidt sees a generation warped by overparenting and smartphones and flirting with illiberalism. He worries over a culture of "safetyism" that confuses disagreement with violence. He sees political correctness on campus as a threat not just to speakers' incomes, but to students' psyches.
I often find myself a skeptic in this conversation. The panic over campus activism seems overblown to me. It's suffused with bad-faith efforts to nationalize isolated examples of college kids behaving badly in order to discredit serious critiques of social injustice. But that's why I wanted to have Haidt on the show: If anyone could convince me I'm wrong about this, it'd be him.
Meditations by Marcus Aurelius
How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie
The Authoritarian Dynamic by Karen Stenner
Notes from our sponsors:LEGO: In today's show you heard advertising content from The LEGO Store. With LEGO, every gift has a story. Start your story today at https://LEGO.build/EKS-Pop
Rank #10: The disillusionment of David Brooks
For Brooks, the past few years have been a radicalization. His new book, The Second Mountain, is an effort to work out a more service- and community-oriented definition of the good life. But on a deeper level, it’s a searing critique of meritocracy, of productivity, and, as I try to get him to admit in this podcast, of capitalism itself. But is Brooks really willing to embrace what that critique demands?
If you liked the “Work as identity, burnout as lifestyle” episode a few weeks back, you’ll love this one.
Reflections on the Revolution in France by Edmund Burke
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt by Edmund Morris
Rank #11: Malcolm Gladwell on the danger of joining consensus opinions
Rank #12: Taking Trump’s corruption seriously
Rank #13: Is modern society making us depressed?
In his new book, Lost Connections, Hari advances an argument both radical and obvious: Depression and anxiety are more than just chemical imbalances in the brain. They are the result of our social environments, our relationships, our political contexts — our lives, in short.
Hari, who has struggled with depression since his youth, went on a journey to try to understand the social causes of mental illness, the ones we prefer not to talk about because changing them is harder than handing out a pill. What he returned with is a book that claims to be about depression but is actually about the ways we’ve screwed up modern society and created a world that leaves far too many of us alienated, anxious, despairing, and lost.
The philosopher Jiddu Krishnamurti famously said, “It is no measure of health to be well-adjusted to a sick society.” So that, then, is the question Hari and I consider in this conversation: How sick, really, is our society?
Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media by Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky
This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate by Naomi Klein
A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster by Rebecca Solnit
Hope in the Dark: Untold Histories, Wild Possibilities by Rebecca Solnit
Rank #14: This conversation will change how you understand misogyny
Politics is thick right now with arguments over misogyny, patriarchy, and gender roles. These arguments are powering media controversies, political candidacies, and ideological movements. Manne’s framework makes so much more sense of this moment than the definitions and explanations most of us have been given. This is one of those conversations that will let you see the world through a new lens.
In part because her framework touches on so much, this is a conversation that covers an unusual amount of ground. We talk about misogyny and patriarchy, of course, but also anxiety, Jordan Peterson, the role of shame in politics, my recent meditation retreat, Sweden, the social roles that grind down men, and a piece of satire in McSweeney’s that might just be the key to understanding the 2016 and 2020 elections. Enjoy!
Information about Peltason Lecture at UC Irvine
Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil by Hannah Arendt
Obedience to Authority: An Experimental View by Stanley Milgram
Thick: And Other Essays by Tressie McMillan Cottom
Rank #15: David French on “The Great White Culture War"
Rank #16: How Hasan Minhaj is reinventing political comedy
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Rank #17: Andrew Sullivan and I work out our differences
Sullivan and I have both been writing about identity politics and demographic change, though from quite different perspectives. Our arguments of late have felt more like we’re talking past each other, or about each other, than to each other. We decided to do this podcast to talk it out, and trace where our differences really cut, and where they can be bridged.
This is a conversation about political movements, American religiosity, and identity. It’s about whether the illiberalism of today is really worse than the illiberalism of yesteryear, and whether the critiques of the campus left accurately describe anyone who holds real power. It’s about how much demographic change a society can absorb, and at what pace that change should occur. It’s about what conservatism is versus what it says it is.
A lot of what I try to do on this show is dig beneath the daily fights over whatever is in the news to the differences in worldview that power our disagreements. I think this conversation was unusually successful in doing that.
Some background links, if you want to dig into the articles we're discussing:
America's new religions
America, land of brutal binaries
The political tribalism of Andrew Sullivan
Democrats can't keep dodging immigration as a real issue
Rank #18: A mind-expanding conversation with Michael Pollan
You know Michael Pollan’s work. He wrote The Omnivore’s Dilemma, perhaps the most influential book about how we eat in the modern era. He’s the guy who told us, sensibly: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” His new book is called How To Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence. And it is, quite honestly, a trip.
Over the past decade or so, the scientific community has reengaged with psychedelic substances, and done so to extraordinary effect: The studies Pollan describes in this discussion are remarkable, but so too are the insights into how our minds work, the ways in which they become overly ordered and efficient as we age, and the power that a dedicated dose of disorder can hold.
You don’t have to be interested in taking magic mushrooms to listen to this conversation. Most of it isn’t about psychedelics at all. It’s about how we think, how we sense, how we learn, whether spiritual experiences can have materialist consequences, what makes us afraid of death, what our minds filter out in the world around us, and much more.
Pollan changed how I think about my mind. He’ll change how you think about yours.
The Doors of Perception by Aldous Huxley
Miserable Miracle by Henri Michaux
The Evolution of Beauty by Richard Prum
Rachel Aviv’s New Yorker article on refugees, trauma, and psychology