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Apr 2, 2021
Interesting conversations with interesting people.
Mar 23, 2021
Klein for years has carved out his niche as the new intellectual voice describing a necessary democratic sphere we need to develop in the world. Thanks for your great work.
Feb 21, 2021
Very thoughtful and enlightening
Jan 30, 2021
Jan 29, 2021
Tressie McMillan Cottom on the Moral Panics of Our Moment
Prepping for a conversation with Tressie McMillan Cottom is intimidating. McMillan Cottom is a sociologist at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, a 2020 MacArthur fellow, co-host of the podcast “Hear to Slay,” and the author of the essay collection “Thick,” which was a National Book Award finalist. And she’s one of those people who can seemingly write on anything: The way for-profit colleges generate inequality, the cultural meaning of Dolly Parton, the way the U.S. medical profession treats Black women, how beauty operates in contemporary America, the role of hustle in the economy — the list just keeps going.
And so did this conversation, in the end. I barely made it through a third of my planned questions because so many interesting topics came up in each answer. We discuss the dangers of nostalgia, the social construction of smartness, the moral panics gripping America, why journalists are racing to platforms like Substack, how different mediums of communication shape our conversations, the central role status plays in American life, her research on the root causes of the uptick in “deaths of despair,” how beauty is constructed and wielded and much, much more. This is one of those conversations that could’ve gone on for four more hours.
I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
|Apr 13, 2021|
The Best Explanation of Biden's Thinking I’ve Heard
With the $2 trillion American Jobs Plan, the economic theory that is Bidenomics is taking shape. It’s big. It puts climate at the center of everything. It is more worried about political risks — losing the House, giving Donald Trump a path back to power — than some traditional economic risks, like wasting money and bumping up inflation. It prefers to err on the side of spending more and making sure people know they got a bridge or a job than doing less and having people question whether government is working for them. But I still have a lot of questions about Bidenomics, in terms of both its economic theories and its political ones.
Brian Deese is the director of the National Economic Council, the nerve center that coordinates economic policy across the executive branch. He led the auto bailout in the Obama administration and then turned to climate, first in the Obama White House and then at BlackRock. When President Biden brought him on to run the N.E.C., it was a message: In the Biden administration, all economics was going to be climate economics.
I asked Deese to join me on the podcast to talk about how his economic policymaking and thinking have changed since 2009, what the Biden administration learned from the successes and failures of the Obama era, why so much of the White House’s economic policy is framed in terms of competition with China, why he doesn’t think a carbon tax is the right answer for climate, how the Biden administration will invest in the care economy and more.
|Apr 09, 2021|
Did the Boomers Ruin America? A Debate.
Donald Trump was the fourth member of the baby boomer generation to be elected president, after Barack Obama, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton. The Senate majority leader, Chuck Schumer, is a boomer. Chief Justice John Roberts is a boomer. The Federal Reserve chair, Jerome Powell, is a boomer. President Joe Biden and Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the Senate minority leader, Mitch McConnell, were born a few years too early to officially qualify as boomers, but they’re close. We’re living in the world the boomers and nearly boomers built, and are still building.
This is not, to younger Americans, a comfort. One 2018 poll found that just over half of millennials said that boomers made things worse for their generation; only 13 percent said they made things better. Then there was the rise of the “OK Boomer” meme in 2019, an all-purpose dismissal of boomer politics and rhetoric. But the boomers are a vast group, as are all generations. So is this a useful category for political argument? And even if it is, what, precisely, is it that the boomers did wrong?
Jill Filipovic is a journalist, former lawyer and the author of “OK Boomer, Let’s Talk: How My Generation Got Left Behind,” a primarily economic critique of the boomer generation from the left. Helen Andrews is a senior editor at The American Conservative and author of “Boomers: The Men and Women Who Promised Freedom and Delivered Disaster,” a searing cultural critique of the boomers from the right.
Filipovic and Andrews, both of whom are millennials (as am I), agree that the boomers left our generation worse off; but they disagree on just about everything else, which makes this conversation all the more interesting. We discuss the value of generational analysis, the legacy of the sexual revolution, the impact of boomer economic policies, the decline of the nuclear family, the so-called millennial sex recession, the millennial affordability crisis, the impact of pornography, how much the critique of the boomers is really a critique of technological change and much more.
|Apr 06, 2021|
Should We Edit Our Children's Genes? Would It Be Cruel Not To?
For years now, I’ve had the same recurring worry: Am I focusing on the trivial? When future generations look back on this moment in history, will they remember the daily political fights — or will everything just look like a sideshow compared to humans being able to edit genetic code?
The technology I’m referring to, known as CRISPR, could cure genetic diseases like sickle-cell anemia and Huntington’s. It could let us regulate height, hair color, and vulnerabilities in our children. And, one day, it has the potential to imbue human beings with superhuman characteristics — making us stronger, faster, smarter. Nor is it just us. CRISPR lets us edit other animals and plants, with all kinds of beckoning possibilities, some wonderful, some terrible. We cannot do all this yet. But it’s coming, and soon.
Walter Isaacson is the former editor of Time magazine, the former head of CNN, and author of biographies of everyone from Albert Einstein to Benjamin Franklin to Steve Jobs. However, his newest book, “The Code Breaker: Jennifer Doudna, Gene Editing, and the Future of the Human Race” is much more than a biography of Jennifer Doudna, a Nobel Prize winning scientist who was essential to developing CRISPR. It’s a biography of the scientific process that led to CRISPR, and the people trying to understand its moral, political and human implications.
In this conversation, I get to ask Isaacson the questions I’ve wanted to focus on myself: Is it wrong to edit your kid’s genes? Is it cruel not to? What happens when CRISPR and capitalism collide? Will we witness the rise of a superhuman genetic elite? And what kind of political and economic systems do we need to start building to ensure this technology is used in just ways?
|Apr 02, 2021|
Why Sci-Fi Legend Ted Chiang Fears Capitalism, Not A.I.
For years, I’ve kept a list of dream guests for this show. And as long as that list has existed, Ted Chiang has been atop it.
Chiang is a science fiction writer. But that undersells him. He has released two short story collections over 20 years — 2002’s “Stories of Your Life and Others” and 2019’s “Exhalation.” Those stories have won more awards than I can list, and one of them was turned into the film “Arrival.” They are remarkable pieces of work: Each is built around a profound scientific, philosophical or religious idea, and then the story or the story structure is shaped to represent that idea. They are wonders of precision and craft. But unlike a lot of science fiction, they are never cold. Chiang’s work is deeply, irrepressibly humane.
I’ve always wondered about the mind that would create Chiang’s stories. And in this conversation I got to watch it in action. Chiang doesn’t like to talk about himself. But he does like to talk about ideas. And so we do: We discuss the difference between magic and technology, why superheroes fight crime but ignore injustice, what it would do to the human psyche if we knew the future is fixed, whether free will exists, whether we’d want to know the exact date of our deaths, why Chiang fears what humans will do to artificial intelligence more than what A.I. will do to humans, the way capitalism turns people against technology, and much more.
The ideas Chiang offered in this conversation are still ringing in my head, and changing the way I see the world. It’s worth taking your time with this one.
|Mar 30, 2021|
A Top G.O.P. Pollster on Trump 2024, QAnon and What Republicans Really Want
In the aftermath of the Capitol attack, the polling firm Echelon Insights decided to ask voters a simple question: Do they think the goal of politics is more about “enacting good public policy” or “ensuring the country’s survival as we know it?”
Only 25 percent of Republicans said politics is about policy; nearly half said it’s about survival. That’s today’s Republican Party in a nutshell.
I’ve had some recent conversations with Republicans who are trying to reform their party, to push it back toward policy and, in some cases, reality. But, for now, we’re governing with the Republican Party we have, not the Republican Party many want. So what does that Republican Party, the real Republican Party, believe?
Kristen Soltis Anderson is a Republican pollster, host of Sirius XM’s “The Trendline,” and co-founder of Echelon Insights. She has done some of the most in-depth surveys of Republican voters to date: the issues that animate them, the traits they look for in presidential candidates, how they consume information, their faith in Donald Trump and much more. So I asked her about what today’s Republicans believe, and what that reveals about where the party is going next.
|Mar 26, 2021|
An Unusually Optimistic Conversation With Bernie Sanders
Bernie Sanders didn’t win the 2020 election. But he may have won its aftermath.
If you look back at Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders’s careers, the $1.9 trillion stimulus package, the American Rescue Plan, looks a lot like the proposals Sanders has fought for forever, without much of the compromise or concerns that you used to see from Senator Joe Biden. That’s not to take anything away from Biden. He’s the president. This is his plan. And it is to his credit that he saw what the country needed, what the politics of the moment would support and where his party had moved, and met it with full force.
But Sanders’s two presidential campaigns are part of the reason that the Democratic Party had moved, and the politics of the moment had changed. And so I’ve wondered what Sanders makes of this moment. Is it a triumph? A disappointment? A beginning?
And I’ve wondered about his take on some of the other questions swirling around the Democratic Party: Are liberals alienating people who agree with them on economics by being too censorious on culture? Is there room to work with populist Republicans who might be open to new economic ideas even as they turn against liberal democracy itself?
|Mar 23, 2021|
Andrew Cuomo and the Performance of Power
Six months ago, Andrew Cuomo was on top of the world. He was touted as the anti-Donald Trump — the calm, fact-driven coronavirus leader the country needed. Now, amid allegations of hiding the true number of Covid-19 deaths in New York nursing homes and of workplace sexual harassment and abusive behavior, most of the state’s major Democratic politicians are calling for Cuomo’s resignation.
Rebecca Traister is a writer at large at New York magazine and the author of “Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women’s Anger.” Last week, Traister published an extraordinary piece on the allegations against Cuomo. For her, the Andrew Cuomo story is a lot bigger than just Andrew Cuomo; it’s about the nature of toxic workplaces and the desire — even among Democrats — for strongmen leaders. And more than that, it’s about what we’ve been taught leadership looks like, and how the aesthetic of the tough, domineering male leader covers up, or contributes to, poor leadership.
So I wanted to bring Traister on the show to discuss the details of the Cuomo story and its broader implications. We discuss what Cuomo has actually been accused of (including Traister’s own in-depth reporting), why we often mistake bullying for leadership, what blind spots the Cuomo story reveals among liberals, the trade-offs between projecting an aesthetic of power and actually governing, why white male rage is so accepted and even admired, the parallels between Cuomo and Trump, how this story recasts reporting on Hillary Clinton and Amy Klobuchar, the double bind faced by female politicians, and much more.
|Mar 19, 2021|
Mark Bittman Cooked Everything. Now He Wants to Change Everything.
Mark Bittman taught me to cook. I read his New York Times cooking column, “The Minimalist,” religiously. I bought “How to Cook Everything,” that red brick of a cookbook, and then, when I gave up meat, I bought its green companion, “How to Cook Everything Vegetarian.” He was like my cranky, no-B.S. food uncle.
But now Bittman wants to do more than teach me, or you, how to cook. He wants to convince us that the whole food system has fallen into calamity. His new book, "Animal, Vegetable, Junk" is a stunning reinterpretation of humanity’s relationship to the food it forages, grows and, nowadays, concocts. It’s about the marvel of the modern food system, which feeds more than seven billion people and offers more food, with more variety, at less cost, than ever before. But even more so, it’s about the malignancy of that food system, which is sickening us, poisoning the planet and inflicting so much suffering on other creatures that the mind breaks contemplating it.
Even as someone who is fairly critical of our modern food system, I wasn’t prepared for the scale or sweep of Bittman’s indictment. And I’m not sure I’ve bought into every piece of it. But it is bracing. And it raises profound questions about the relationship among humans, animals, plants, capitalism, technology and morality. So I asked him on the show to discuss it.
|Mar 16, 2021|
Finally, a Covid Conversation You Can Feel Good About
On Jan. 28, I published a column that began like this: “I hope, in the end, that this article reads as alarmism. I hope that a year from now it’s a piece people point to as an overreaction.”
Today, that column, thankfully, does look like alarmism. Cases fell, and kept falling, even in places beset by new variants. The U.S. vaccination effort accelerated. And there’s going to be vastly more vaccine supply in the coming months.
Few emotions are as unnerving right now as hope. No one wants to permit themselves optimism, only to be crushed when death tolls rise. But the case for hope is strengthening. And there are important policy reasons to take that case seriously.
Dr. Ashish Jha is a physician, leading health policy researcher and dean of the Brown University School of Public Health. He’s been one of the clearest and most thoughtful voices through this crisis. And he’s feeling hopeful, too.
So I asked Jha on the show to guide us through these next months, to help us see what he’s seeing. Don’t get him, or me, wrong: This isn’t over. But in America, things are going to feel very, very different in 45 days, for reasons he explains. And then comes another question: How do we make sure the global end to this crisis comes soon after?
A note: This episode was recorded before President Biden’s March 11 address directing states to make all adult Americans eligible to receive Covid vaccines by no later than May 1; however, the timeline Jha and I discuss here is just as ambitious and its implications are just as promising.
This is one Covid discussion, finally, that is not going to leave you feeling in despair.
|Mar 12, 2021|
Covid’s Future, Trauma’s Long Shadow and California’s Lessons
Dr. Nadine Burke Harris’s pioneering work on how childhood trauma shapes adult outcomes led to her being named the first surgeon general of California. That was in 2019. And then, of course, the novel coronavirus hit. The job of California’s surgeon general in 2020 was not what it was in 2019. But in some ways, Burke Harris’s expertise was more necessary than ever.
This conversation is about the growing evidence that difficult experiences we face as children reverberate in our lives decades later. It’s profound research that should reshape how we think about social insurance, public morality and criminal justice. But it’s also a conversation about what the coronavirus has done to children — whether this year will be a trauma that marks a generation, and remakes their lives. How has it changed socialization for toddlers — like my 2-year-old son? What has it meant for children who can’t go to school, who watched their parents lose work or who had family members die alone in a hospital? How do we help them? How do we even understand what they’ve gone through, particularly when they can’t tell us?
We also discuss the lessons California learned from the early difficulties in its vaccine rollout (“simplicity saves lives,” Burke Harris says), why we need to be investing a lot more in mental health therapeutics, the debate over universal child allowances, how to address racial and income disparities in vaccine distribution, the drivers of vaccine hesitancy in Black and brown communities, what a safe path to post-pandemic reopening would look like, why Covid-19 cases have been declining across the country, and much more.
This is one of those conversations that will leave you looking at vast swaths of public policy differently. Don’t miss it.
|Mar 09, 2021|
Stop. Breathe. We Can’t Keep Working Like This.
We were promised, with the internet, a productivity revolution. We were told that we’d get more done, in less time, with less stress. Instead, we got always-on communication, the dissolution of the boundaries between work and home, the feeling of constantly being behind, lackluster productivity numbers, and, to be fair, reaction GIFs. What went wrong?
Cal Newport is a computer scientist at Georgetown and the author of books trying to figure that out. At the center of his work is the idea that the technologies billed as offering us more productive, happier, socially rich lives have left us more exhausted, empty and stressed out than ever. He’s doing something not enough people do: questioning whether this was all worth it.
My critique of Newport’s work has always been that it focuses too much on the individual: Telling someone whose workplace communicates exclusively via Slack and email to be a “digital minimalist” is like telling someone who lives in a candy store to diet. But his new book, “A World Without Email,” is all about systems — specifically, the systems that govern how we work. In it, Newport makes a radical argument: We are living through a massive, rolling failure of markets and firms to rethink work for the digital age. But that can change. We can change it.
"The Ezra Klein Show" is hiring an Associate Producer! Apply to work with us by visiting nytco.com/careers.
|Mar 05, 2021|
What a More Responsible Republican Party Would Look Like
If you watched this past weekend’s Conservative Political Action Conference, you heard a lot of debunked election conspiracies, dire warnings about “cancel culture” and unwavering fealty to Donald Trump. What you didn’t hear was much in the way of policy ideas to raise wages, improve health care or support families. This is the modern G.O.P.: a post-policy party obsessed with symbolic fights and curiously uninterested in the actual work of governing. But does it have to be that way?
Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor at National Review, a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion, a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and a Republican wonk who is pushing his party in a more responsible, policy-centric direction. We discuss:
And much more.
"The Ezra Klein Show" is hiring an Associate Producer! Apply to work with us by visiting nytco.com/careers.
|Mar 02, 2021|
How the Texas Crisis Could Become Everyone's Crisis
Last week, freezing temperatures overwhelmed the Texas power grid, setting off rolling blackouts that left millions without power during an intense winter storm. But this story is a lot bigger than Texas: Our world is built around a model of the climate from the 19th and 20th centuries. Global warming is going to crack that model apart, and with it, much of the physical and political infrastructure civilization relies on.
At the same time, there’s good news on the climate front, too. The Biden administration has rejoined the Paris climate accords, pushed through a blitz of executive orders on the environment, and is planning a multitrillion-dollar climate bill. China has also set newly ambitious targets for decarbonization. Renewable energy is getting cheaper, faster, than almost anyone dared hope. And if you follow climate models, you know the most catastrophic outcomes have become less likely in recent years.
I wanted to have a conversation about both the emergency in Texas, and the broader picture on climate. Leah Stokes is a political scientist at University of California, Santa Barbara, and author of the excellent book “Short Circuiting Policy,” which, among other things, explores Texas’ surprising history with renewables. David Wallace-Wells is an editor at large at New York magazine and author of "The Uninhabitable Earth," one of the most sobering, disquieting portraits of our future — though he is, as you’ll hear in this discussion, getting a bit more optimistic.
We discuss whether the Texas crisis is going to be the new normal worldwide, the harrowing implications of how Texas Republicans have responded, why liberals should be cheering on Elon Musk, the difficulties liberal states are having on climate policy, the obstacles to decarbonization, the horrifying truth of what “adapting” to climate change will actually entail, why air pollution alone is a public health crisis worth solving, whether nuclear energy is the answer, and much more. I learned so much getting to sit in on this conversation. You will, too.
"The Ezra Klein Show" is hiring an Associate Producer! Apply to work with us by visiting nytco.com/careers.
|Feb 26, 2021|
A Radical Proposal for True Democracy
One thing I want to do on this show is give space to truly radical ideas, to expand the boundaries of our political and moral imaginations. And Hélène Landemore, a political scientist at Yale, has one of those ideas. She calls it “open democracy,” and the premise is simple: What we call democracy is not very democratic.
The role of the people is confined to elections, to choosing the elites who will represent us. Landemore argues that our political thinking is stuck in “18th-century epistemologies and technologies.” It is not enough.
We’ve learned much in the last few hundred years about random sampling, about the benefits of cognitively diverse groups, about the ways elections are captured by those with the most social and financial capital. Landemore wants to take what we’ve learned and build a new vision of democracy atop it — one in which we let groups of randomly selected citizens actually deliberate and govern. One in which we trust deliberation and diversity, not elections and political parties, to shape our ideas and to restrain our worst impulses.
This is a challenging idea. I don’t know that it would work. But it’s a provocation worth wrestling with, particularly at this moment, when our ideas about democracy have so far outpaced the thin, corrupted ways in which we practice it.
You’ve heard people say, “We’re a republic, not a democracy.” Landemore’s challenge is this: What if we were a democracy? We honor those who came before us for radically reimagining who could govern, and how politics could work. But did they really discover the terminal state of democracy? Or are there bold steps left for us to take?
|Feb 23, 2021|
George Saunders on Kindness, Capitalism and the Human Condition
George Saunders is one of America’s greatest living writers. He’s the author of dozens of critically acclaimed short stories, including his 2013 collection, “Tenth of December”; his debut novel, “Lincoln in the Bardo,” won the 2017 Booker Prize; and his nonfiction work has empathy and insight that leave pieces from more than a decade ago ringing in my head today. His most recent book, “A Swim in A Pond in the Rain,” is a literary master class built around seven Russian short stories, analyzing how they work, and what they reveal about how we work.
I’ve wanted to interview Saunders for more than 15 years. I first saw him talk when I was in college, and there was a quality of compassion and consideration in every response that was, well, strange. His voice doesn’t sound like his fiction. His fiction is bitingly satirical, manic, often unsettling. His voice is calm, kind, gracious. The dissonance stuck with me.
Saunders’s central topic, literalized in his famous 2013 commencement speech, is about what it means to be kind in an unkind world. And that’s the organizing question of this conversation, too. We discuss the collisions between capitalism and human relations, the relationship between writing and meditation, Saunders’s personal editing process, the tension between empathizing with others and holding them to account, the promise of re-localizing our politics, the way our minds deceive us, Tolstoy’s unusual theory of personal transformation, and much more.
What a pleasure this conversation was. So worth the wait.
|Feb 19, 2021|
The Cost All Americans Pay for Racism
“The American landscape was once graced with resplendent public swimming pools, some big enough to hold thousands of swimmers at a time,” writes Heather McGhee in her new book, “The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together.” These pools were the pride of their communities, monuments to what public investment could do. But they were, in many places, whites-only. Then came the desegregation orders. The pools would need to be open to everyone. But these communities found a loophole. They could close them for everyone. Drain them. Fill them with concrete. Shutter their parks departments entirely. And so they did.
It’s a shocking tale. But it’s too easily dismissed as yet one more story of America’s racist past. McGhee shows otherwise. Drained-pool politics are still with us today and shaping issues of far more consequence than pool access. Drained-pool politics — if “they” can also have it, then no one can — helps explain why America still doesn’t have a truly universal health care system, a child care system, a decent social safety net. McGhee, the former president of the think tank Demos, offers a devastating tour of American public policy, and she shows how drained-pool politics have led to less for everyone, not just their intended targets.
I asked McGhee to join me for a discussion about drained-pool politics, the zero-sum stories at the heart of American policymaking, how people define and understand their political interests, and the path forward. This is, in my view, a hopeful book, and a hopeful conversation. There are so many issues where the trade-offs are real, and binding. But in this space, there are vast “solidarity dividends” just waiting for us, if we are willing to stand with, rather than against, each other.
|Feb 16, 2021|
The Senate Is Making a Mockery of Itself
The Senate is where Joe Biden’s agenda will live or die. More specifically, the intricacies of archaic Senate rules — the budget reconciliation process, the filibuster, the majority leader’s ability to control the floor — combined with the fealty today’s senators have to yesterday’s structures will decide the agenda’s fate. It would be the gravest mistake for progressives, or anyone else, to consider the fight over how the Senate works to be a sideshow compared with debates over a $15 minimum wage, a Green New Deal or democracy reform. The fight over how the Senate works is what will decide all those other debates.
Adam Jentleson served as deputy chief of staff to Senator Harry Reid when he was the majority leader. Jentleson was high enough to see how the institution really worked, and young enough to be free of gauzy nostalgia from the days of yore. And his book, "Kill Switch: The Rise of the Modern Senate and the Crippling of American Democracy," is both blistering and persuasive. “This is not a particularly uplifting history,” Jentleson writes. But nor is it without hope. “Unlike many of the structural features that determine the politics of our era, the Senate is relatively easy to reform.”
So I invited Jentleson on my podcast, “The Ezra Klein Show,” to explain how the modern Senate really works, why it works that way, and how to fix it. Along the way, we discuss what can — and crucially can’t — be passed through budget reconciliation, why senators like Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema continue to defend the filibuster (and why Jentleson thinks they will change their minds), the foundational myths of the Senate, like the idea that the modern filibuster encourages compromise, how Mitch McConnell understands the American political system better than his opponents and much more.
|Feb 12, 2021|
Should We Dim the Sun? Will We Even Have a Choice?
“We are as gods and might as well get good at it,” Stewart Brand famously wrote in “The Whole Earth Catalogue.” Human beings act upon nature at fantastic scale, altering whole ecosystems, terraforming the world to our purposes, breeding new species into existence and driving countless more into extinction. The power we wield is awesome. But Brand was overly optimistic. We did not get good at it. We are terrible at it, and the consequences surround us.
That’s the central theme of the Pulitzer Prize-winning author and journalist Elizabeth Kolbert’s new book, “Under a White Sky: The Nature of the Future.” And yet, there is no going back. We will not return to a prelapsarian period where humans let nature alone. Indeed, as Kolbert shows, there is no natural nature left — we live in the world (and in particular, a climate) we altered, and are altering. The awful knowledge that our interventions have gone awry again and again must be paired with the awful reality that we have no choice save to try to manage the mess we have made.
Examples abound in Kolbert’s book, but in my conversation with her I wanted to focus on one that obsesses me: solar geoengineering. To even contemplate it feels like the height of hubris. Are we really going to dim the sun? And yet, any reasonable analysis of the mismatch between our glacial politics and our rapidly warming planet demands that we deny ourselves the luxury of only contemplating the solutions we would prefer. With every subsequent day that our politics fails, the choices that we will need to make in the future become worse.
This is a conversation about some of the difficult trade-offs and suboptimal options that we are left with in what Kolbert describes as a “no-analog moment.” We discuss the prospect of intentionally sending sulfurous particles into the atmosphere to dim the sun, whether “carbon capture” technology could scale up to the levels needed to make a dent in emissions levels, the ethics of using gene editing technologies to make endangered species more resistant to climate change, the governance mechanisms needed to prevent these technologies from getting out of hand, what a healthier narrative about humanity’s relationship with nature would sound like, how the pandemic altered carbon emissions, and more.
At the end, we discuss another fascinating question that Kolbert wrote about recently in The New Yorker: Why is a Harvard astrophysicist arguing Earth has already been visited by aliens, and should we believe him?
|Feb 09, 2021|
Can the Republican Party Be Saved?
"I don’t think conservatism can do its job in a free society in opposition to the institutions of that society,” Yuval Levin told me. “I think it can only function in defense of them.”
Levin is the director of social, cultural and constitutional studies at the American Enterprise Institute, as well as the author of a number of great books, most recently, “A Time to Build.” I wanted to talk to him about a very specific question, though: What will the Republican Party become? Levin is one of its most thoughtful and sober analysts — a temperament that may, I realize, make him unsuited to interpreting its current incarnation, in which a majority of House Republicans voted to reject the results of the 2020 presidential election and one of them is, well, Marjorie Taylor Greene.
But Levin’s diagnosis is interesting. Histories of the modern Republican Party often place Ronald Reagan at their center. That is, in Levin’s view, a mistake. “I think Reagan is better understood as a detour from a history that is otherwise a story of a constant struggle between populism and conservatism,” he said. Donald Trump was an inheritor of a tradition that stretches long before him — Pat Buchanan’s tradition, and Strom Thurmond’s tradition. He didn’t form a new Republican Party; he allowed a long-existing part to express itself.
Behind that lie institutional changes both in the Republican Party and in the broader structure of American politics. That’s why I wanted to talk to Levin for this episode of “The Ezra Klein Show”: He, like me, thinks in terms of institutions. “The question for us in the coming years is whether we can move a little more in the direction of a politics of ‘what does government do,’ and less of a politics of ‘who rules,’” he says.
That’s exactly the right question, in my view. But we have very different views of what kinds of institutional changes would get us there. I’d like to see a more democratized, majoritarian system. Levin would, among other things, add a filibuster to the House.
So this is more than just a conversation about how to fix the Republican Party. It’s a conversation about how to fix American politics — how to recenter it on policy that changes people’s lives, rather than symbolic clashes that merely harden our hearts.
|Feb 05, 2021|
How to Think Like Zeynep Tufekci
As my colleague Ben Smith wrote in an August profile, sociologist Zeynep Tufekci has “made a habit of being right on the big things.” She saw the threat of the coronavirus early and clearly. She saw that the public health community was ignoring the evidence on masking, and raised the alarm persuasively enough that she tipped the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention toward new, lifesaving guidance. Before Tufekci was being prescient about the coronavirus, she was being prescient about disinformation online, about the way social media was changing political organizing, about what election forecasting models could actually tell us, about the rising threat of authoritarianism in America.
Tufekci attributes this track record to “systems thinking,” which she believes holds the key to forming a more accurate understanding of everything from pandemics to social media to the Republican Party. So I asked Tufekci to come on a podcast for a conversation about how she thinks, and what the rest of us can learn from it.
In answering those questions, we discuss why public health experts were slow to change guidance on disruptive measures like masking and travel bans, the logic of authoritarian regimes, why Asian countries so decisively outperformed Western Europe and America in containing coronavirus, why Tufekci thinks media coverage of the vaccines is too pessimistic, the crisis of American democracy, whether a more competent demagogue will succeed Donald Trump, and much more.
|Feb 02, 2021|
Paul Krugman on Covid Economics, Cryptocurrencies and Deficit Delusions
The Biden administration’s first legislative priority is a $1.9 trillion economic rescue package. It’s the kind of mega-package where the individual policies contained inside it — a $15 minimum wage, $1,400 checks, a huge child tax credit expansion, a $50 billion virus testing infrastructure — would be big deals on their own. But together, this would be one of the most consequential packages ever passed.
So there’s a lot to talk about here. And who better to talk about it with than my now-colleague Paul Krugman? We dig into the details of the plan and then spiral off into some other topics I wanted to run by the nearest Nobel laureate: the major rethinking of debt and deficits among left-of-center economists, the differences between Keynesians and Modern Monetary Theorists, how Krugman made a bunch of money off Bitcoin (it’s not how you’d think!), why progressives need a better theory of technological change, Krugman’s favorite indie bands of the mid-2000s, and more.
|Jan 29, 2021|
Inside Biden’s Plan to Beat Covid-19
I’ve never covered a moment that simultaneously merits so much despair and so much hope. It’s dizzying. The Biden administration takes office with over 25 million Covid-19 cases nationwide, over 420,000 Americans dead, and new, highly contagious variants of the virus stalking our future. It’s as grim a situation as I’ve seen.
But for the first time, we can do more than hide. We can immunize. Getting a population of 330 million to herd immunity is a hellishly difficult undertaking in the best of circumstances, and these are not the best of circumstances. Still, speed matters: Getting to herd immunity a few months faster could save hundreds of thousands of lives.
Dr. Vivek Murthy was surgeon general under Barack Obama, and is Joe Biden’s nominee for the same position. He’s also co-chair of Biden’s coronavirus task force.
In this episode, Murthy walks me through the Biden administration’s plan to beat the coronavirus. We discuss America’s botched vaccine rollout efforts, what the choke points are now, whether the Oxford-AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson vaccines will be approved, why the U.S. government should be shipping out free masks, what’s blocking 24/7 vaccination sites, the F.D.A.’s overly conservative approach to at-home testing kits, what we can and can’t do after getting the vaccine, the vaccine failures in blue states, how to change the minds of the nearly third of Americans who are vaccine-skeptical, why persuasion is as much about listening as talking, the new coronavirus variants, and much more.
|Jan 26, 2021|
Coming Soon: The Ezra Klein Show
Every Tuesday and Friday, Ezra Klein invites you into a conversation about something that matters. How do we address climate change if the political system fails to act? Has the logic of markets infiltrated too many aspects of our lives? What is the future of the Republican Party? What do psychedelics teach us about consciousness? What does sci-fi understand about our present that we miss? Can our food system be just to humans and animals alike?
Subscribe wherever you listen to podcasts.
|Jan 13, 2021|