My Conversation with Malcolm Gladwell

by on March 15, 2017 at 11:11 am in Books, Current Affairs, Economics, Education, History, Law, Philosophy, Political Science, Sports, Television | Permalink

He was superb, here is the transcript, audio, and video.  We considered satire as a weapon, Harvard, long-distance running, Washington vs. NYC, Daniel Ellsberg and Edward Snowden, Caribbean culture and intellectual history, and of course Malcolm’s mom, among other topics.  His answers are so fluid and narrative they are hard to excerpt, but here is one bit from him:

COWEN: Overrated or underrated, the idea of early childhood intervention to set societal ills right?

GLADWELL: Overrated because to my mind it’s just another form . . . it became politically impermissible to say that certain people in society would never make it because they were genetically inferior. So I feel like that group, it’s like, “All right, we can’t say that anymore. We’ll just move the goalpost up two years.” And we’ll say, “Well, if you don’t get . . .” Or three years — “If you don’t get the right kind of stimulation by the time you’re three, basically it’s curtains.”

Why is that argument, which we decided we didn’t like it when they set the goalpost at zero, and somehow it’s super-important and legitimate and chin-stroking-worthy when they moved the goalpost to three. Truth is, people, it’s not over at three any more than it was over at zero. There are certain things that it would be nice to get done by the age of three. But if they’re not, the idea that it’s curtains is preposterous. It’s the same kind of fatalism that I thought we had defeated in the . . .

If you want to say that the goalpost should be at 30, then I’m open to it.

I asked what changes he would make to higher education:

GLADWELL: OK. I would establish a set of baseline criteria for admissions, and then I would have a lottery after that. So if you’re in the top 2 percent of your high school class — 5 percent, whatever cutoff we want — following test scores at a certain point, whatever cutoff we want, some minimum number of other things you do — you just go into the pot and we’re pulling out names. I’d probably triple or quadruple the size in the next 10 years, open campuses — probably two other campuses in the United States, one overseas.

I had this idea, I’m not sure how you’d do it, where I think that it would be really, really useful to ban graduates of elite colleges from ever disclosing that they went to an elite college.

I thought the Steve Pearlstein material was perhaps Malcolm’s highlight, but you need to read it straight through.

Here is a very short bit from me:

Most of my questions will be quite short, but my first question will be really, really long. Since everyone knows you and your work so well, I asked myself, “Who is Malcolm Gladwell?” And I tried to come up with an answer. I’ll give you my answer, and then you can correct me or add to that, and this will take a little while.

Definitely recommended.

1 Thiago Ribeiro March 15, 2017 at 11:21 am

“COWEN: Overrated or underrated, the idea of early childhood intervention to set societal ills right?

GLADWELL: Overrated because to my mind it’s just another form . . . it became politically impermissible to say that certain people in society would never make it because they were genetically inferior. So I feel like that”

What if we force children to train ten thousand hour before they are 4 (I am told the Chinese do it before they are 2)?


2 Thiago Ribeiro March 15, 2017 at 11:25 am

It is the first time I saw someone watching blue socks.


3 Thomas March 15, 2017 at 12:32 pm

Universal Pre-K is polite racism for people who are both racist and cringe(d) at their racist tendencies.


4 The Other Jim March 15, 2017 at 1:02 pm

Actually it’s to help Teachers Unions, and therefore in turn, the Democrat party.

>… for people who are both racist and cringe(d) at their racist tendencies.

So yeah, we’re on the same page.


5 A Black Man March 15, 2017 at 1:42 pm

For a Brazilian, this was a rather clever comment.


6 Thiago Ribeiro March 15, 2017 at 3:44 pm

In fact, most Brazilians are unbearable clever.


7 Troll me March 16, 2017 at 12:18 am



8 Me troll March 16, 2017 at 2:05 am

Right. It’s the Canajans that are unbearable.

9 Thiago Ribeiro March 16, 2017 at 5:15 am


10 RM March 15, 2017 at 5:09 pm

This question was overrated. (Not Professor Cowen obvisouly, but the question). It is clearly framed to elicit an answer of overrated, or as if the questioner knew what the answer would be.


11 Li Zhi March 16, 2017 at 9:12 am



12 steveslr March 15, 2017 at 6:40 pm

As I always say, eventually polite society will move Malcolm’s goalpost back to 8 months and 29 days before birth and demand massive federal programs to provide pre-natal cognitive stimulation to Gestational-Americans.

But not a day sooner! That would be racist.


13 Troll me March 16, 2017 at 12:21 am

If I had to guess, I would think you might support government control over the reproductive future of the species.

Under the condition that a government that agrees with you about the main features of genetic quality (e.g., white skin, really good at mathematical rotations, knows lots of words that rarely used and spoken mostly by white people, etc.), of course.

You see, the way you’ve said it, it sounds like you already know who all would be castrated were Nazis to be in charge of reproduction.


14 albatross March 16, 2017 at 3:05 pm

Can you link to the post or article where Steve has advocated for government control over the reproductive future of the species? Because I’ve never seen it. The closest I recall is him saying something positive about some private charity that offered drug-addicted women cash to get their tubes tied. I’ll admit, that didn’t exactly sound monstrous to me.

Eugenics wasn’t just done by the Nazis, it was done by a bunch of countries, including the UK and US and a lot of Scandinavia. It was a big intellectual trend in the Western world, supported by lots of prominent public intellectuals. That included support for coercive stuff like having mentally or physically disabled people forcibly sterilized, and sometimes even for having the indigent (poor) sterilized.

The problem wasn’t the goal–improving the species would surely be worthwhile if we could do it, and in fact we’ve done a huge amount of that by improving the environment–making sure everyone gets the right nutrients, our towns have proper sewers and water supplies, kids get vaccinated, getting rid of lead exposure for little kids, making sure everyone gets to go to school, etc.

Currently, we see a lot of testing to avoid having kids with genetic diseases, which seems like a pure win for mankind to me. And we see abortions of babies with various problems detected prenatally, which is pretty ugly but is also a natural consequence of having legal abortion. I expect over time we will see babies where the fertility clinic removed the genes that would have caused genetic diseases or predisposition to cancer or whatever, and again, I don’t see this as anything bad.

The problem was giving governments the power to do it coercively. That let governments do awful things like forcibly sterilize people because some legislator or judge or bureaucrat thought they weren’t worthy of having kids.


15 Troll me March 16, 2017 at 3:46 pm

I do not believe that he supports the government taking control of the genetic future of the species. The point was that if that were the situation, it is quite clear who he thinks would not longer be around.

So, that on its own isn’t a problem. It’s where others might take such perspectives.

There will be many opportunities with genetic technologies. In the meantime, it is important to attend to what effects these technologies will have on society. For example, if it leads to people believing that anyone who is not in the top 50% in the more relevant fields in a present economic situatoin are a waste of air, this would not be a nice world to live in.

So, maybe knock out a few dozen of the completely understood genetic diseases, then sit back and talk about it for a 100 years or 1000 years or something? Because going much further, I think will lead to just a really nasty and crappy culture.

16 albatross March 17, 2017 at 11:11 am

The really scary example of eugenics gone wrong, to my mind, shows up in dog breeding. There are a bunch of dogs that have been bred to be perfect exemplars of their breed’s desired traits, and often this has come with known problems (back problems, hip dysplasia, etc.). Having dachshunds look *really dachshundy* at the cost of having to be put down when they’re 10 from back problems is just the kind of screw-up you could imagine with eugenics (via selective breeding or engineering embryos), where we end up with 2-meter tall people with 180 IQs because that’s what was selected for, but also end up with people with no empathy or an inability to appreciate music or with everyone with the same flat affect and lack of personality, because those were the side-effects of maximizing the height and IQ genes.

17 Art Deco March 15, 2017 at 11:33 am

Overrated or underrated, the idea of early childhood intervention to set societal ills right?

How about: Overrated because the county government is not your mother? Or overrated because social workers don’t know manure from apple butter?


18 Thiago Ribeiro March 15, 2017 at 11:49 am

“social workers don’t know manure from apple butter”
If it were so, one could make a killing selling manure as apple butter or apple butter as manure, whatever it is the profitable option.


19 Cliff March 16, 2017 at 1:24 am

Social workers need neither manure nor apple butter


20 Thiago Ribeiro March 16, 2017 at 5:16 am

They could be made to buy it to sell with profit.


21 Li Zhi March 16, 2017 at 9:15 am

They do. It’s called “academic social sciences” or “liberal arts”.


22 Alain March 15, 2017 at 11:38 am

He is the motherlosd of bad ideas but this one takes the cake : “I had this idea, I’m not sure how you’d do it, where I think that it would be really, really useful to ban graduates of elite colleges from ever disclosing that they went to an elite college.”

It has all of the illiberal left’s horrible touchstones in one ugly sentence : arbitrary authoritarianism, high cost of implementation, lack of cost benefit analysis, and virtue signaling. It’s amazing.


23 Rags March 15, 2017 at 11:46 am

It is a joke, Alain. It is about the human capital and signalling argument.

Weirdly though, you take the wrong side, and argue against yourself. If you don’t like arbitrary authority, and virtue signalling, you should agree that graduates should demonstrate with deeds, not diplomas.


24 Alain March 15, 2017 at 12:41 pm

No it isn’t a joke. He would love, love, dearly, love to take away from “all” something that he doesn’t have. He doesn’t care, on iota, how much it costs to do it.

The illiberal left. This is everything that they want, in a nutshell.


25 Rags March 15, 2017 at 12:50 pm

Here’s a thing, related to names and ideas ..

Don’t you think humans have a dangerous capacity to categorize a name as “an enemy, on the other side” and then apply harsh filters on that basis?

Are you sure this is a terrible paragraph? Or are you sure it is a Gadwell paragraph?

It sounds to me like it is about “he” more than “it.”


26 Cliff March 16, 2017 at 1:25 am

Please try that again, I don’t understand what you are getting at

27 Curt F. March 15, 2017 at 12:51 pm

It’s tough for me to understand how someone could take Gladwell’s “ban graduates of elite college from disclosing that they went there” idea seriously. It was obviously a joke. I’m not a fan of any Gladwell book that I read but this conversation with Tyler was very interesting.


28 Curt F. March 15, 2017 at 2:42 pm

The name of the show is “Conversations with Tyler”, not “Dryly presented, deadly serious policy prescriptions with Tyler”.

29 msgkings March 15, 2017 at 2:54 pm

There’s little point in you listening that’s for sure.

30 Anonymous March 15, 2017 at 5:39 pm

Ricardo, I think you should come over here and wash my car. I’m not even joking!

31 Cliff March 16, 2017 at 1:28 am

Sorry, what is the joke exactly? The only thing I can think of is that he truly thinks it would be better if you could somehow stop people from using the names of their elite colleges, he just acknowledges that it can’t be done and therefore it is “humorous” to suggest that you just mandate it.

32 Li Zhi March 16, 2017 at 9:23 am

Exactly! Just like Trump was joking about building a wall during his campaign! Or banning people of entering the US based on their religion. Or any other of Trump’s “alternate facts” and odious behavior – all jokes. He was joking when he said that the rich and powerful can grope 15 year olds. See, anything that I want to dismiss, I just label a joke.

33 Boonton March 15, 2017 at 3:58 pm

“The illiberal left”

The left wants to enact restrictive regulations that would inhibit the ability of graduates of elite colleges from exploiting their elitism? So that would make the Trump administration the champion of liberating elites?


34 carlospln March 15, 2017 at 10:01 pm

Alain puts a nickel in the gum ball machine; look what comes out!

“The illiberal left”

Mate, you’ve gotta get yourself some new material.


35 Troll me March 16, 2017 at 12:27 am

Sounds to me like you’re just looking for excuses to say “illiberal left”.

Unless … maybe you’re being careful to discern bewteen the pro-freedom left and those on the left who tends towards illiberal approaches?

This is important “on the right”, as well. Many on the right are staunch supporters of diverse freedoms, and are even actively bothered when these principles get in the way of following through on Christian values, etc. (e.g., when principles of freedom constrain their ability to support a government intervention that is likely to help people overall).

But really, I think you weren’t specifying “those rare folks on the left who are very anti-liberal”, but more just looking for excuses to say “illberal left”.

The liberal left and liberal right should spend more time looking for common causes. Like … freedom?

Since there’s no convenient way to set the extremists at each other’s throats, I guess the rest of us will either have to learn to live with them or find some way to persuade them that avoidance of pathways to slavery (or just authoritarianism) should be easily prioritized.


36 Cliff March 16, 2017 at 1:29 am

Who is liberal on the left exactly?

37 Troll me March 16, 2017 at 2:15 am

Difficult to answer without defining who is “left”.

Say … those who want to make weed legal. They tend to be more on the left. Throwing fewer people in prison for victimless “crimes” is also pretty pro-liberty, i.e., liberal.

Maybe that issue can be contrasted with positions related to guns, on the right.

What I’m disagreeing with is the innuendo which seeks to paint “left” or “right” as necessarily illiberal or anti-freedom.

As Fox News put out in a video skit a little while back, the right wingers, left wingers, Republicans, Democrats, EVERYONE, are “liberals”, i.e., pro-freedom. Exceptions are numerous, but in the meantime, it might be one of those things that’s kind of worth saying until it’s true.

38 Boonton March 16, 2017 at 6:14 am

Actually he was discussing what he would do if he ran Harvard. So ‘freedom’ is not an issue here. A college could indeed make a condition of acceptance that you don’t tell anyone you went there. That would make it no different than a secret club where keeping the secret is a condition of membership.

39 Boonton March 17, 2017 at 7:54 pm

Actually none of Alain’s criticisms ring true:

1. Authoritarianism? As opposed to petty judges deciding which clubs you join in high school indicate you are ‘worthy’? Leaving the first set of admissions for top academic students and deciding the rest by lottery is totally anti-authoritarianism. It would also address the issues affirmative action raises without raising the issue of ‘reverse racism’. The C student whose parents are white trash would have just as much a chance of getting into Harvard as a C-student son of an alumni or Bill Cosby.

2. High cost of implementation? Actually very easy. Harvard could partner with a lesser college, call it Modest University. For kids who are admitted on condition they don’t tell anyone they are from Harvard, they will get the Harvard education but their degree will be from Modest University. Modest University will get a fee for each kid run through the system so they raise much needed funds. Harvard preserves the prestige value of its name by remaining more exclusive (just as designer clothes demand a higher price than the same outfit minus the trendy label). You also get a serious controlled study on just how valuable Harvard is in terms of its education. Do the secret grads do better than the average Modest University grad?


40 wiki March 15, 2017 at 11:45 am

I love his idea that because HE or his group doesn’t like the fact that some things can’t be done at 0 or 3 years or whenever, that WE should decide to make it politically impermissible to say so.

Wow. And they say others are anti-science.


41 rayward March 15, 2017 at 11:49 am

Gladwell’s idea of using a lottery to pick college admissions would have fit the world in which I grew up (when everyone except for a few was average), but not today’s world (when there’s a large body of low performers). Back then getting admitted to an elite college wasn’t nearly as important as it is today, graduates of public universities about as marketable as graduates of the elite colleges. Today, getting admitted to an elite college is almost a prerequisite to the best jobs. Why the change? Is it because the quality of the students at non-elite colleges was better back then as compared to today? That would be consistent with the observation that everyone was average back then as compared to a large body of low performers today. Anyone who doubts what I have described should visit the local public high school. Of course, it’s understandable why there has been such a big change: I was in public schools in the 1950s and early 1960s, when all the students performed about the same because they looked the same. Viewed in this light, Gladwell’s idea is social engineering (i.e., integration) on steroids.


42 Thiago Ribeiro March 15, 2017 at 12:03 pm

As Professor Krugman pointed out, the American education system is much worse than it used to be and most people accept by elite universities nowadays wouldn’t have any business being there a few decades ago. As the same Krugman wrote a few months ago, America may have already become a failed state.


43 rayward March 15, 2017 at 12:19 pm

When Krugman and I grew up (I’m a few years older), “those people” (as Krugman likes to refer to them) were invisible (as Ralph Ellison so poignantly described).


44 Thiago Ribeiro March 15, 2017 at 12:31 pm

I doubt those people are the only culprits of America’s educational system’s collapse. They are not even 15% of the population and I dount they are overrepresentend at elite universities. Also, as Mr. Krugman pointed in the 90s, the collapse also touched affluent neighborhoods. As he wrote (in “Peddling Prosperity”, I think), American students don’t put anymore the effort to master the subjects.


45 Greg March 15, 2017 at 3:46 pm

I think you have it backwards. Whatever problems the US education system has (not few), elite higher education is more competitive than it used to be. Latger population, more ambitious parents and kids, and a basically fixed supply.


46 Thiago Ribeiro March 15, 2017 at 4:01 pm

I have read Mr. Sailer make this very point (it is also made about Brazil’s top universities, by the way, too), but Krugman clearly disagrees (or, at any rate, did in the 90’s). What if everything got worse (when measure by a fixed and “objective” standard, say, old SAT). Things could be more competitive and the students could still be ess capable than their elders (exagerating to make the point: image one thousand barely literate guys fighting for a spot – this is competitive for sure, but…).


47 Anonymous March 16, 2017 at 1:33 am

I basically had a perfect score on the SAT and 4.0 GPA and I did not get in to several highly selective schools (because of discrimination, basically). If they wanted to, they could very easily fill their entire class with 1600 SAT 4.0 GPA (I guess 5.0 or something now) students

48 Careless March 16, 2017 at 2:51 am

If they wanted to, they could very easily fill their entire class with 1600 SAT 4.0 GPA (I guess 5.0 or something now) students

that’s ridiculous. The number of 4.0 1600s in a year is in the low hundreds.

49 The Original D March 16, 2017 at 3:03 am

How did Mark Zuckerberg get into Harvard?

50 Thiago Ribeiro March 16, 2017 at 5:18 am

because of discrimination, basically”
Against whom?

51 Troll me March 16, 2017 at 12:29 am

Do you really think that the presence of 1000 C-grade universities makes the Ivy Leagues (and similar) worse in quality?

They hand out more As (unfortunate for those who attend Ivy League quality universities which insist on B- class averages max unless the prof has some explaining to do), but I do not see that this necessarily implies that quality itself is lower, for the fact of observed grade inflation.


52 Art Deco March 15, 2017 at 1:12 pm

Back then getting admitted to an elite college wasn’t nearly as important as it is today,

The Ivy League incorporates about 1.4% of the total population enrolled in baccalaureate granting institutions. Other private universities with a certain amount of cachet might account for 2.5%. Swank private colleges might account for 3% or so. If you’re not looking to be hired by Goldman Sachs or to land a job as a humanities professor, what’s it worth to you for undergraduate or graduate work?


53 Tyler Fan March 15, 2017 at 6:13 pm

Art you seem like you know but I confess, the idea that 1.4% of students enrolled in a bachelor’s program are students at Ivy League schools seems way, way, way higher than I would have thought.


54 Careless March 16, 2017 at 2:58 am

1.3 million BA/BS a year. An average entering class in the entire Ivy League is about 13000. So it’s 0.1%.


55 Careless March 16, 2017 at 3:35 am

And, assuming the Ivies have higher 4 year completion rates than average (which they obviously do), that percentage shrinks.

56 Lord Action March 16, 2017 at 5:30 pm

I don’t know the sources for your numbers, but 13,000/1300000 = 1%, not 0.1%.

Somewhere around 1 – 1.5% is also what you find via Google.

57 Jasy March 15, 2017 at 11:56 am

Early childhood trauma increases the probability of lasting and permanent harm to individuals later in life. Whether Gladwell likes this idea or not is inconsequential; the evidence from the psychology literature is clear. Early intervention may or may not be cost effective depending on the intervention, but that is where the debate should be focused. This comment is just another evidence-free assertion that is all too typical of Gladwell and I do not think it is even worth seriously discussing.

To Gladwell’s point, of course people can overcome early childhood trauma, but for many people of average or below average abilities, this is not easy. So why not acknowledge this, while also encouraging people to make the best of their situation?


58 Anonymous March 15, 2017 at 12:30 pm

From the context I thought it was about schools, not social work and childhood trauma. It was to contrast “intervention” in education from more open opportunity.


59 Art Deco March 15, 2017 at 12:55 pm

You’d likely not find a county in this country not part of the jurisdiction of a child protective corps. Your complaint is what, that this isn’t Sweden where state social workers steal people’s children with abandon??


60 Troll me March 16, 2017 at 12:34 am

Perhaps you can explain how in your mind, police can do no wrong but we must immediately place in doubt the work fo social workers?

Why do you assume that the one set of representatitives of the state are infallable in the face of regular evidence that bad apples exist, but then immediately assume the worst of those with much less power to abuse?


61 Art Deco March 16, 2017 at 9:58 am

Perhaps you can explain

It is not my job to refute the stupid caricatures you make of what other people say.


62 Troll me March 16, 2017 at 6:41 pm

Most police forces have a bad apple or two (or more). You cannot see that statement and not respond with an attack or insult of some sort.

63 Anonymous March 15, 2017 at 2:02 pm

You missed the point, “early childhood intervention” is just code for pre-school and pre-pre-school. Malcolm “Igon Values” Gladwell is right in this case.


64 Cliff March 16, 2017 at 1:35 am

Is your proposal to take more children into foster care?


65 Ted Craig March 15, 2017 at 12:06 pm

The most underrated Le Carre novel is “The Looking-Glass War,” according to Allen Dulles in his collection “Great Spy Stories from Fiction.”


66 prior_test2 March 15, 2017 at 12:12 pm

Possibly – but then any novel with Smiley, even in a cameo role, is clearly self-recommending.

But the senselessness, including likely murder by a security agency to start the chain of events in sequence, probably resembles reality just a bit too much to be highly rated


67 prior_test2 March 15, 2017 at 12:08 pm

So, is ‘definitely recommended’ a lesser recommendation than ‘self-recommending?’


68 Captain Obvious March 15, 2017 at 12:51 pm



69 rayward March 15, 2017 at 12:10 pm

Cowen used the term “intervention” in his question, but I suspect he used it in the broader sense. Just as we expect government intervention when the economy fails, we expect government intervention when children fail. If intervention is okay in the former case, why shouldn’t intervention be okay in the latter? Gladwell seems to oppose intervention, yet his idea, a lottery for admission to elite colleges, is intervention of the highest order. This contagion of saying the opposite of what one means is becoming very annoying.


70 prior_test2 March 15, 2017 at 12:48 pm

‘it became politically impermissible to say that certain people in society would never make it because they were genetically inferior’

Blame it on that ‘Nazi bump in the road’ – the one that Prof. Cowen is confident we will undoubtedly get beyond.

I won’t pick out quotes, but it is fascinating to see a Canadian not realize what Brown v. Board of Education was fundamentally about – the end of the idea that separate but equal was somehow acceptable after Plessy v. Ferguson. Making one wonder whether Gladwell could be pitched on a book detailing a Japanese-American critique of the now dominant rejection of of Korematsu v. United States and its supporting of Executive Order 9066, as currently it remains almost politically impermissible to suggest locking up a group of American citizens merely because the president orders it. However, Gladwell might want to wait until George Takei is dead before publication.


71 Art Deco March 15, 2017 at 1:04 pm

I won’t pick out quotes, but it is fascinating to see a Canadian not realize what Brown v. Board of Education was fundamentally about – the end of the idea that separate but equal was somehow acceptable after Plessy v. Ferguson.

No, it was fundamentally an assertion of power on the part of the appellate judiciary, though this was manifest more in some follow-up decisions. We didn’t used to live in a world where judges issued diktats on social policy.


72 prior_test2 March 15, 2017 at 1:25 pm

No, it was an assertion by the Supreme Court that state laws which clearly created second class citizens were not compatible with the Constitution. Or to put it a bit more concretely, the always threadbare justification of separate but equal had been clearly revealed as nothing but a legal fiction used to maintain segregation, where no one could seriously maintain the pretense that something like school funding was color blind, even if the schools weren’t.

But why argue? You have your viewpoint, and it apparently includes the idea that Plessy v. Ferguson was a correct decision by Supreme Court.


73 Art Deco March 15, 2017 at 1:52 pm

No, it was an assertion by the Supreme Court that state laws which clearly created second class citizens were not compatible with the Constitution.

The Congress which enacted the 14th Amendment also segregated DC schools.


74 Anonymous March 15, 2017 at 2:03 pm


75 prior_test2 March 15, 2017 at 1:35 pm

And to be bluntly obvious – anyone who thinks that Jim Crow laws were not social policy directed against a class of American citizens is being wilfully blind, and anyone who thinks that a Supreme Court ruling that no American citizen can be denied admittance to a public school based on skin color is an example of ‘diktat’ clearly has a very old-fashioned (circa 1857, to be charitable) idea of what the Constitution says regarding the equal rights of all American citizens.


76 Art Deco March 15, 2017 at 1:53 pm

And to be bluntly obvious – anyone who thinks that Jim Crow laws were not social policy directed against a class of American citizens is being wilfully blind,

Strange as it may seem to you, the Kansas legislature, well-advised or ill-advised, is not a panel of federal judges meeting in secret.


77 msgkings March 15, 2017 at 2:19 pm

Strange as it may seem to you, segregation and Jim Crow were immoral policies that needed to be removed.

78 Anonymous March 15, 2017 at 2:47 pm

Strange as it may seem to msgkings, that has nothing to do with the constitution.

79 msgkings March 15, 2017 at 2:54 pm

Never knew a Supreme Court justice named Anonymous before….

80 A Black Man March 15, 2017 at 2:56 pm


Strange as it may seem to you, the temporary morality of your cult is not a basis from which to make legal rulings. Statutes and precedents are how civilized nations administer the law.

81 msgkings March 15, 2017 at 3:03 pm

Indeed. And the law now has statutes and precedents in place to combat or nullify segregation and especially Jim Crow. Apparently to some that’s a mistake.

82 Anonymous March 15, 2017 at 4:11 pm

“Never knew a Supreme Court justice named Anonymous before….”

LOL. You aren’t even trying anymore.

83 dearieme March 15, 2017 at 12:54 pm

“it would be really, really useful to ban graduates of elite colleges from ever disclosing that they went to an elite college.” Dicky McDickhead.


84 Hadur March 15, 2017 at 12:57 pm

This is gonna be an unpopular opinion on this site, but…even if universal Pre-K is found to have absolutely no value for improving the future outcomes of children, it is still a worthwhile goal because of the benefits it will bring to parents and potential parents.

Likewise, even if after school programs are found to have absolutely no value for improving the academic performance of children, it is still a worthwhile goal to expand those programs because they keep kids off the street and expand the economic potential of their parents.


85 AlanG March 15, 2017 at 1:37 pm

Not at all unpopular. IMO, it’s right on the mark!!!


86 TMC March 15, 2017 at 1:56 pm

Now add some cost/benefit analysis.


87 The Other Jim March 15, 2017 at 2:38 pm

Dems: “Expanded after-school care will have tremendous value for our children!!”

Later, reality chimes in: “There was no value to the kids whatsoever.”

Dems: “OK, but at least we didn’t have to look at them after school any more! Which reminds me… why we do we have to deal with our kids all the way til age SIX?? Can’t we hand them off well before that? Universal Pre-K will offer tremendous value for our children!!”


88 Anonymous March 15, 2017 at 2:09 pm

Is it really a good idea to spend money to get even more people into the workforce? Perhaps, if an individual’s wage isn’t high enough to make it worthwhile to pay the cost of daycare so they can work, that’s because that person’s labor isn’t very valuable. Econ 101.


89 Cyrus March 15, 2017 at 5:59 pm

At least some of the workers whose compensation vs. the cost of childcare is a wash, are accumulating human capital from the experience of working.


90 Cliff March 16, 2017 at 1:38 am

The obvious answer is full deductibility of child care costs. No downside, all upside for everyone.


91 Troll me March 16, 2017 at 12:12 am

Maybe their time isn’t valuable because they have a hard time keep career momentum going forward?

Child care almost certainly pays for itself in the 5-10 year time frame.

The question is whether children really do better in the very long run if their early years include much less MOM.


92 Troll me March 16, 2017 at 12:13 am

Although in Canada and Scandiavia, men can now get paternity leave. So I guess in a couple decades there will be more info on how whether it really matters who stays at home.


93 Milo Fan March 16, 2017 at 11:51 am

“Almost certainly?” Show me some math!


94 Troll me March 16, 2017 at 6:44 pm

The point is that even if the math proves that more women working due to child care provisions pays for itself through their contributions to the economy … that this may be proven mathematically for the 5-10 year time frame (I believe that this would be the result obtained in most or all advanced countries except for those which already have very high child care provisions), but that other costs may exist in longer times frames.

Say, in 20 or 30 years, maybe there are social adjustment issues that start to arise when 80% of children spend very little time with their parents after year 1 or 2.

95 Troll me March 16, 2017 at 6:45 pm

Or maybe the opposite.

96 peri March 16, 2017 at 2:46 pm

Amen! I don’t understand why this subject is never explored.

Anyway, I enjoyed my time on the street. My mother didn’t have to deal with me that much, and some of my little friends’ mothers wouldn’t even allow us in the house. To be fair, our feet were super-dirty. Anyhoo, they could have been “working from home” on a computer more or less undisturbed.


97 Calvin Hobbes March 15, 2017 at 2:20 pm

National debt is approaching 20 trillion bucks. Should we run it up some more to pay for universal pre-K ?


98 Troll me March 16, 2017 at 12:17 am

Does the matter of $20 trillion in debt affect the calculus of whether it would be a good investment, whether from strictly economic perspectives or whether considering broader social objectives and values, etc?


99 Calvin Hobbes March 16, 2017 at 11:33 am

The twenty trillion debt leads me to think that we should be a lot more careful about running up debt. Ugly reckoning in the future?


100 albatross March 16, 2017 at 2:46 pm

How much would universal pre-K cost? Would it be a substantial part of the budget?

101 Gerber Baby March 15, 2017 at 3:37 pm

“because they keep kids off the street”

Video game consoles do that too, are they worthy of state subsidization?

“and expand the economic potential of their parents”

Or maybe the parents will use the extra time to go clubbing and make more children.


102 Careless March 16, 2017 at 3:13 am

Keep kids off the street? We’re talking about 3 year olds


103 asdf March 15, 2017 at 4:13 pm

Of course if we just called it daycare instead of education we could keep them off the streets a lot cheaper and it might even be more pleasant for all involved.


104 albatross March 16, 2017 at 9:14 am

Fine, but market it based on the actual benefits (free high-quality daycare, a civilizing influence on the kids from the absolute worst homes and families) rather than an intervention that will raise IQs, close the black/white performance gap, and make all our kids capable of being engineers and doctors and scientists and lawyers.


105 Art Deco March 15, 2017 at 1:01 pm

There’s a great paper written on the Brown backlash thesis by a historian whose name, sadly, is escaping me right now. Is it Klar? Michael Klar, maybe — Michael Klarman, thank you. Which you should read because, although he doesn’t take this tack, but as I read that paper, he just points out, the backlash is 10X what Brown is, distorts the politics of the South for two generations, etc., etc., etc.

Um, no. Brown was part and parcel of a process which ruined the practice of judicial review and wrecked constitutional law as an intellectual subdiscipline. The really ugly battles over school desegregation were in loci like Boston and Louisville. The South proper managed more congenially.


106 AlanG March 15, 2017 at 1:39 pm

“The South proper managed more congenially.”

Seriously? Private academies in the deep south states that simply re-segregated things. How about the great resistance in Tyler’s state where they simply closed all the public schools for several years.


107 Art Deco March 15, 2017 at 2:23 pm

In 1953, about 10.6% of all high school students in the United States were enrolled in private schools. In 1959, the share was 11.1%; In 1970, 9%; In 1980, 9.2%.

The federal government began in 1991 publishing state-level statistics on total private school enrollment. The five Southern states with elevated levels of private school enrollment were Delaware, Maryland, Kentucky, Mississippi, and Louisiana. Louisiana and Delaware were the only states where private school enrollment exceeded about 15% of the total enrollment in primary and secondary schools; Louisiana’s chock-a-block with Cajuns attending Catholic schools.

No clue why you think those enrolled in segregationist academies were ever a demographically consequential portion of the whole. (Or why you’d much care that Joe Blow using his own money sent his youngster to such a school).


108 KenB March 15, 2017 at 1:28 pm

I think that it would be really, really useful to ban graduates of elite colleges from ever disclosing that they went to an elite college.

Perhaps we could just enshrine into law the current practice, whereby such a graduate can’t get more granular than the city level.

“Hey, where did you go to college?”
“I was in New Haven”.


109 Thor March 16, 2017 at 1:03 am



110 albatross March 16, 2017 at 9:17 am

I smell a business opportunity for some diploma mill to set up shop in New Haven, Cambridge Mass, Palo Alto, etc.


111 Josh March 19, 2017 at 2:13 pm

How long would it take for the incorporating of a Palo Alto, California in Pakistan?

I have a rich Indian buddy from my Graduate school days. I think he could work out setting up an “institution” in Cambridge Mass, New Dheli


112 chip March 15, 2017 at 1:33 pm

“His answers are so fluid and narrative”

This is true. And it explains his appeal. But his answers are also glib and fragile, easily fractured when tested.

A good illustration is this Munk debate between Steven Pinker and Matt Ridley on one hand, and Gladwell and Alain de Botton on the other. Gladwell is clearly overrated. He is a compelling storyteller, much like our most popular politcians, but it doesn’t make what he says true.


113 improbable March 15, 2017 at 5:13 pm

Yup that debate is very good, and revealing. Gladwell & de Botton are not serious thinkers.

But you know, neither are lots of people it’s fun to have lunch with. They throw around some ideas, maybe you haven’t heard exactly that version before. You hear something about their backgrounds, how they see the same world in a different light, perhaps because of where they came from, what they think is normal. So I quite enjoyed this talk.


114 improbable March 15, 2017 at 5:15 pm

ps. Sadly the video seems to be paywalled now. If anyone has a link this would be a great place to post it!


115 Calvin Hobbes March 15, 2017 at 1:56 pm

James Heckman (google “The Heckman Equation”) is claiming that quality “early childhood education” has enormous benefits, supposedly with a 13% annual ROI for “disadvantaged” children.
I think he bases this on the Abecedarian Project. Some people think the data from that project is fishy, and even if it weren’t fishy it seems like a thin reed to support spending zillions of dollars.
A lot of the kids that Heckman thinks should be raised by the government have parents who are here illegally. Wouldn’t it be a whole lot cheaper to deport them than to pay for raising the kids?
And shouldn’t we stop letting people who can’t raise their kids properly immigrate to America?

It seems like economists ought to be seeing whether Heckman’s arguments are solid. Has anyone done that?


116 Todd Kreider March 15, 2017 at 4:18 pm

Interesting conversation but to correct two glaring errors: 1) Gladwell is clearly wrong about Heinz being the best ketchup and 2) Cowen says that “The notion that the leading figures in electronic music in the 70s would come from Jamaica and not a high tech country – that’s an extraoridary story.” But that story is incorrect. Kraftwerk are from Germany and Yellow Magic Orchestra (YMO) are from Japan, both hugely influencial pioneers in the 70s and are active today.


117 chip March 15, 2017 at 5:06 pm

Tyler, if you haven’t done this already, I suggest a conversation with Jordan Peterson, the Canadian psychology professor who had a run-in with the PC police at the University of Toronto.

There’s a recent discussion he had with Sam Harris here:

And please ask him why he retained his downmarket, ‘hoser’ Canadian accent with frequent use of the adjective ‘bloody’ when so many academics would have shed it to appear more intelligent.


118 improbable March 15, 2017 at 5:14 pm

Yes please do this, it would be fun, and I’m sure he’d be game.


119 Todd K March 15, 2017 at 11:51 pm

Cowen wouldn’t touch an intellect like Sam Harris with a ten foot pole. Harris talks about serious issues, while Cowen praises Peter Theil as the deep thinker of our generation. Cowen couldn’t keep up with Harris so they won’t meet.


120 middle aged vet March 16, 2017 at 1:10 am

I disagree


121 Todd K March 16, 2017 at 7:10 am

I don’t mean Cowen couldn’t keep up intellectually, obviously, just that Harris is pretty intense.

122 middle aged vet March 16, 2017 at 10:12 pm

Ok, but what you said was obvious was not obvious to me but I am far from an aficionado.

123 middle aged vet March 16, 2017 at 10:13 pm

That is different, I wouldn’t know one way or another, unless and until the interview takes place, I guess.

124 Bill March 15, 2017 at 7:37 pm

Malcolm Gladwell.

Overrated or underrated?

Overrated. He basically reads, digests, and rewrites sociology and psych research, repackages it, and feeds it to the masses.

Not original.

But, popular and a good writer.


125 Bill March 15, 2017 at 7:38 pm

As for the lottery to get into college. We already have that. It’s called the size of your parents bank account.


126 Wheelchair Fred March 15, 2017 at 9:18 pm

Wow, what a deep insight. I bet you learned that in college.


127 prior_test2 March 16, 2017 at 7:23 am

You’d be surprised how many people who never went to college can make the same observation.


128 Christine March 15, 2017 at 8:29 pm

BRAVO. That was wonderful.

Two observations:

– DAVID & GOLIATH was all about how good adversity can be for you. Yet Gladwell describes himself as having an entirely “frictionless” life!

– Gladwell’s final comments are on “maybe we shouldn’t try to change everything in a single generation”, maybe we reach too far, and the backlash isn’t worth it. I guess he hasn’t read THE COMPLACENT CLASS.


129 Ryan T March 15, 2017 at 8:49 pm

This pod was really fun. The opening observation was a good way to lead to a very interesting discussion. Was it purposefully done? If so, TC’s interview skills have improved.

This pod and the one previous (in which TC was the interviewee) both had great answers produced by the audience’s questions.

I continue to think about possible guests. I think I’ve already mentioned Chuck Klosterman and Neal Stephenson, two guests that perhaps come to mind now because I found their books in a used book store yesterday. I also found some Michael Lewis books, and I thought “wouldn’t he be a great guest for CWT.” And because I’m watching basketball — Gregg Popovich, either of the Van Gundy brothers, or Daryl Morey or Danny Ainge.


130 Ryan T March 15, 2017 at 9:43 pm

Another recommendation. Tom Waits. Just the MR post “what would you ask Tom Waits?” could justify the pod, regardless of how the conversation itself turned out.


131 Faze March 15, 2017 at 10:09 pm

“Mr. Waits, it has taken me a long time to uncover the fact that you are indeed an excellent song writer. To make this discovery, I had to force myself to listen to your hideous voice, and repress the natural urge to take a hammer to whatever record player, cassette player, CD or MP3 player was emitting it. Mr. Waits, my question to you is, why have you insisted to slathering your songs with human ear repellent in the form of your grating, putrid, annoying unmusical voice? Are you aware that you do not, like Bob Dylan,have a “good” bad voice? That you have a “bad” bad voice? Having to penetrate this voice to get at your songs has not — like the act of opening a pistachio — made them any more musically delicious.

“Unfortunately, now that I have established to my satisfaction that you are great songwriter, I can’t go back and enjoy your songs again or make them part of my life, because knowing that you are a great songwriter hasn’t made your voice any more listenable. Why, Mr. Waits, didn’t you, early on in your career, hook up with some pleasant, or at least acceptable voiced man or woman, or a band, and have them sing all your compositions? Would that have been so hard?”


132 Ryan T March 15, 2017 at 11:55 pm

“Just the MR post “what would you ask Tom Waits?” could justify the pod, regardless of how the conversation itself turned out.”

I rest my case.


133 Troll me March 16, 2017 at 12:06 am

I thought the assumption was generally that the first 6 years are most relevant.

This number is used to motivate easier access to child care, because otherwise many parents who must work to pay the bills will have their children in inferior quality child care, and their children would pay the price of it down the road.

Since a child care centre is easier to open than a university, supply-demand issues which may have the effect of additional funding leading to even larger cost/price increases, simply do not exist. At least, not on the time scales that are relevant for asking if the policy is overall a good idea or not.


134 John March 16, 2017 at 12:07 am

I’m ok with the college lottery idea… let’s just make sure we use something objective as the baseline, like SAT… or IQ.

I wonder what thoughtful Malcolm would think of that minor modification.


135 Troll me March 16, 2017 at 2:19 am

Somehow, Canada and Europe manage to produce very large volumes of high quality research outputs, and also university graduates, without enforcing state-wide or nation-wide university admissions criteria.

Maybe just leave it up to the universities, with the exception of ensuring protections protections relating to some handful of very basic principles that have been agreed upon for all?


136 Pearl Y March 16, 2017 at 5:12 am

This was great. I’ve read his books but haven’t heard Gladwell speak before – he is eminently listenable and just fun to be around. Most people that talk “in tangents” are exhausting to follow, but with Gladwell it is a joy.

I got a similar impression as I did from the books: Gladwell has an enormous passion for storytelling. He not always right (which is offputting to a reader), but he’s consistently putting new ideas out there. I think a lot of Gladwell critics miss that – they think he’s just a fun writer, but they don’t notice the originality of his analysis.


137 Li Zhi March 16, 2017 at 9:50 am

“Since everyone knows Malcolm…” I neither know him, nor have I, as far as I am aware, ever read any of his works. But, since everyone has 8 inch penises, beige skin, at least a Master’s, and at least a $200k/yr income, I won’t point out the fundamental metal defect involved with using “everyone” in making this obviously false assertion of fact. Everyone dies is a fact. Everyone pays taxes is a false statement. Actually, some of us know the difference.


138 Li Zhi March 16, 2017 at 9:51 am

mental, not metal.


139 Floccina March 16, 2017 at 9:54 am

I find that I agree with Gladwell more than I thought I would.

He sounds anti-forced integration (I could be wrong on that). A black attorney used to an office next to mine and he thought school integration was a mistake. As an example of why, he would say because each black high school had a black valedictorian and blacks were is certain academic clubs etc. and integration ended that. It sounded to me a bit like Gladwell would at least partly agree with that.


140 Christine March 16, 2017 at 6:18 pm

Also, Tyler asked an interesting question – to which, Malcolm answered not at all the same question; but anyway, he wondered if his very flexibility were a sort of dogma. I can’t say I entirely understand what he is trying to say; but it’s exactly Tyler’s flexibility, and consistent striving to put away any ax to grind, that keeps MR as my homepage.


141 shrikanthk March 16, 2017 at 9:06 pm

Now it’s Gladwell who is overrated.

Sickening to listen to a litany of mediocre thoughts. I see the same old denial of human nature, the same naive idealism, the penchant for constructing identities, the urge for Utopia, the contempt for self-centeredness, the glorification of the subaltern….

Sick of this.


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