The cognitive cost of poverty (with Sendhil Mullainathan)
If you’re a Parks and Rec fan, you’ll remember Ron Swanson’s Pyramid of Greatness. Right there at the base sits “Capitalism: God’s way of determining who is smart and who is poor.” It’s a joke, but not really. Few want to justify the existence of poverty, but when they do, that's how they do it. People in poverty just aren’t smart enough, or hard-working enough, or they’re not making good enough decisions. There’s a moral void in that logic to begin with — but it also gets the reality largely backward. “The poor do have lower effective capacity than those who are well off,” write Sendhil Mullainathan and Eldar Shafir in their book Scarcity . "This is not because they are less capable, but rather because part of their mind is captured by scarcity.” They show, across continents and contexts, that the more economic pressure you place on people, the worse their cognitive performance becomes. Mullainathan is a genius. A literal, MacArthur-certified genius. He’s an economist at the Chicago Booth School of Business who has published foundational work on a truly dizzying array of topics, but his most important research is around what scarcity does to the brain. This is work with radical implications for how we think about inequality and social policy. One thing I appreciated about Mullainathan in this conversation is that he doesn’t shy away from that. This is one of those conversations I wanted to have because the ideas are so important and persuasive. I didn’t expect Mullainathan to be such a delight to talk to. But since he was, we also discussed the economics of our AI-soaked future, the power of rigid rules, the reason conversation is so much better in person, why cigarette taxes make smokers happier, what Star Trek got wrong, and how he’s managed to do so much important work in such a vast array of disciplines. We could’ve gone for three more hours, easily. If you liked this episode, you should also check out the Robert Sapolsky and Mehrsa Baradaran podcasts. Book recommendations: by Viktor E. Frankl
Failing towards Utopia
on her quest to understand the perpetual search for the perfect place. Enjoy this special conversation between Ezra and Avery and an excerpt from the recent episode Oneida: Utopia, LLC, and subscribe to Nice Try! for free in your favorite podcast app.
Why liberals and conservatives create such different media (with Danna Young)
The debate over polarized media can make the two ecosystems sound equivalent. One is left, the other right, but otherwise they’re the same. That couldn’t be more wrong. They’re structured differently, they work differently, they value different things, they’re built atop different aesthetics. And behind all these differences is something we don’t talk about enough: their audiences, and what those audiences demand. Danna Young is an associate professor of communications at the University of Delaware and author of the forthcoming Irony and Outrage , a fascinating study of the differing aesthetics of the left and right media universes, and how those differences are rooted in the psychological composition of their audiences. This is tricky stuff to talk about, but it’s necessary for understanding why political media looks the way it does today. Book recommendations: by Danna Young (pre-order)
Stacey Abrams and Lauren Groh-Wargo (Live!)
“The phrase ‘identity politics’ is a weaponization of the Democrats’ structural advantage in elections from now until eternity,” says Stacey Abrams. In this live interview from 2019’s Code conference, Kara Swisher and I sat down with Abrams and her campaign manager, Lauren Groh-Wargo. Abrams lost the 2018 Georgia gubernatorial election, but became a Democratic superstar in the process. She was tapped to give the party’s response to Trump’s State of the Union, and she’s mentioned often as a top-tier vice president pick for 2020, and perhaps a candidate for the presidency herself. This conversation makes it clear why. Abrams says more interesting things in an hour than most politicians do in a year. Her take on identity politics is worth the conversation alone, but she also offers one of the clearest discussions of the role of regulation in an advanced economy I’ve heard. We also talk about her 2020 plans, why she’s not running for Georgia’s Senate seat, why she thinks Democrats aren’t in as much Senate recruiting trouble as the conventional wisdom holds, whether America is still a democracy, and much more. It’s particularly interesting to hear Abrams alongside her longtime friend and campaign manager, Groh-Wargo, who’s now the CEO of Fair Fight Action, the organization they founded to push for free and fair elections. Where Abrams is effortless with narrative, Groh-Wargo is tactical and specific. Listening to them play off each other, you get a much clearer sense of the strategic partnership and electoral theories at the core of Abrams’s 2018 run, and that might power whatever she does next.
This changed how I think about love (with Alison Gopnik)
Alison Gopnik is a professor of psychology and philosophy at the University of California Berkeley. She’s published more than 100 journal articles and half a dozen books. She runs a cognitive development and learning lab where she studies how young children come to understand the world around them, and she’s built on that research to do work in AI, to understand how adults form bonds with both children and each other, and to examine what creativity is and how we can nurture it in ourselves and — more importantly — each other. I worry when I post these podcasts with experts in child development that people without children will pass them by. So let me be direct: Listen to this one. I didn’t have Gopnik on the show to talk about children; I had her on the show to talk about human beings. What makes us feel love for each other. How we can best care for each other. How our minds really work in the formative, earliest days, and what we lose as we get older. The role community is meant to play in our lives. There is more great stuff in this conversation than I can write in an intro. She’s changed my thinking on not just parenting but friendships, marriage, and schooling. Some of these are ideas you could build a life around. This is worth your time. Book recommendations: