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The Ezra Klein Show

The Ezra Klein Show

Author: Vox

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Ezra Klein brings you far-reaching conversations about hard problems, big ideas, illuminating theories, and cutting-edge research. Want to know how Mark Zuckerberg intends to govern Facebook? What Barack Obama regrets in Obamacare? The dangers Yuval Harari sees in our future? What Michael Pollan learned on psychedelics? The lessons Bryan Stevenson learned freeing the wrongly convicted on death row? The way N.K. Jemisin imagines new worlds? This is the podcast for you. Produced by Vox and the Vox Media Podcast Network.
191 Episodes
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Robert Sapolsky on the toxic intersection of poverty and stress
Robert Sapolsky is a Stanford neuroscientist and primatologist. He’s the author of a slew of important books on human biology and behavior. But it’s an older book he wrote that forms the basis for this conversation. In Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers, Sapolsky works through how a stress response that evolved for fast, fight-or-flight situations on the savannah continuously wears on our bodies and brains in modern life. But stress isn’t just an individual phenomenon. It’s also a social force, applied brutally and unequally across our society. “If you want to see an example of chronic stress, study poverty,” Sapolsky says.I often say on the show that politics and policy need to begin with a realistic model of human nature. This is a show about that level of the policy conversation: It’s about how poverty and stress exist in a doom loop together, each amplifying the other’s effects on the brain and body, deepening their harms.And this is a conversation of intense relevance to how we make social policy. Much of the fight in Washington, and in the states, is about whether the best way to get people out of poverty is to make it harder to access help, to make sure the government doesn’t become, in Paul Ryan’s memorable phrase, “a hammock.” Understanding how the stress of poverty acts on people’s minds, how it saps their will and harms their cognitive function and hurts their children, exposes how cruel and wrongheaded that view really is.Sapolsky and I also discuss whether free will is a myth, why he believes the prison system is incompatible with modern neuroscience, how studying monkeys in times of social change helps makes sense of the current moment in American politics, and much more. This one’s worth your time.Book Recommendations:The 21 Balloons by William Pene DuboisChaos: Making a New Science by James GleickThe Tangled Wing: Biological Constraints on the Human Spirit by Melvin Konner
Frances Lee on why bipartisanship is irrational
There aren’t too many people with an idea that will actually change how you think about American politics. But Frances Lee is one of them. In her new book, Insecure Majorities, Lee makes a point that sounds strange when you hear it, but changes everything once you understand it.For most of American history, American politics has been under one-party rule. For decades, that party was the Republican Party. Then, for decades more, it was the Democratic Party. It’s only been in the past few decades that control of Congress has begun flipping back every few years, that presidential elections have become routinely decided by a few percentage points, that both parties are always this close to gaining or losing the majority.That kind of close competition, Lee shows, makes the daily compromises of bipartisan governance literally irrational. And politicians know it. Lee’s got the receipts."Confrontation fits our strategy,” Dick Cheney once said. "Polarization often has very beneficial results. If everything is handled through compromise and conciliation, if there are no real issues dividing us from the Democrats, why should the country change and make us the majority?”Why indeed? This is a conversation about that question, about how the system we have incentivizes a politics of confrontation we don’t seem to want and makes steady, stable governance a thing of the past.Book Recommendations:The Imprint of Congress by David R. MayhewFear Itself: The New Deal and the Origins of Our Time by Ira KatznelsonCongress's Constitution: Legislative Authority and the Separation of Powers by Josh Chafetz
Eric Holder’s plan to save democracy
Eric Holder was attorney general during the first six years of Barack Obama’s presidency, and there are days when it feels like he’s the attorney general of Obama’s post-presidency, too. Holder chairs the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, a cause close enough to Obama’s heart that the ex-president recently folded his Organizing for America operation into it.Holder calls the project “a partisan effort for good government,” a line rich with both the promise and problems of Obamaism. The NDRC doesn’t want to build a redistricting operation to match the GOP’s machine, they want to take redistricting out of the hands of politicians altogether. But critics worry that their organizing will work in blue states, fail in red states, and lead to Democrats unilaterally disarming in the redistricting wars.In this conversation, Holder lays out his strategy to end redistricting and answers his critics. We discuss whether there’s still the possibility of a Supreme Court ruling on the subject, and what tools Democrats have in red states. We also revisit Holder’s famous “nation of cowards” speech on race, and discuss whether more bankers should’ve been sent to jail during the financial crisis. Enjoy!Book Recommendations:An Unfinished Life: John F. Kennedy, 1917 - 1963 by Robert DallekThe Collected Poems of Langston Hughes by Langston Hughes1944: FDR and the Year That Changed History by Jay Winik
Anil Dash on the biases of tech
“Marc Andreessen famously said that ‘software is eating the world,’ but it’s far more accurate to say that the neoliberal values of software tycoons are eating the world,” wrote Anil Dash.Dash’s argument caught my eye. But then, a lot of Dash’s arguments catch my eye. He’s one of the most perceptive interpreters and critics of the tech industry around these days. That’s in part because Dash is part of the world he’s describing: He’s the CEO of Glitch, the host of the excellent tech podcast Function, and a longtime developer and blogger.In this conversation, Dash and I discuss his excellent list of the 12 things everyone should know about technology. This episode left me with an idea I didn’t have going in: What if the problem with a lot of the social technologies we use — and, lately, lament — isn’t the ethics of their creators or the revenue models they’re built on, but the sheer scale they’ve achieved? What if products like Facebook and Twitter and Google have just gotten too big and too powerful for anyone to truly understand, much less manage?You know the topics that obsess me on this podcast. Polarization. Identity. Attention. I’ve come to believe that all of them are downstream from the technologies on which they rest. If you feel like society has gone a bit wrong, it’s likely because the internet has gone a bit wrong. And Dash’s arguments help explain why.Book Recommendations:Respect: The Life of Aretha Franklin by David RitzPrince and the Purple Rain Era Studio Sessions: 1983 and 1984 by Duane Tudahl
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