What should I ask Ezra Klein?

I will be doing a Conversation with him, and he has a new book coming out Why We’re Polarized.  Normally I would read the book right away, but I’ll postpone that a bit closer in time to the Conversation itself.

So what should I ask him?  Just remember, this is the conversation with Ezra I want to have, not…


What did he learn from his conversation with Sam Harris? How might he have handled that conversation differently? Was the conversation actually productive? (Questions like this.)

Seconded. It would be interesting to hear his thoughts on how it went or how useful he thinks those types of conversations are.

Hard to believe Ezra has the ability to write an unbiased take of “Why We’re Polarized” after listening to that podcast episode. But still can’t wait to hear Tylers conversation with him.

Would be funny if he had an honest take in the book on the incentives of a publisher like Vox to amplify controversy and conflict for clicks.

Another Second, please ask about his thoughts on that conversation if he doesn't exclude the category upfront.

Interesting. Does TC allow interviewees to exclude topics?

Please listen to the Harris/Klein talk and then formulate questions regarding Klein’s views. Do they make sense?

+1 on this. Feels more productive than asking Klein his thinking on the exchange as a whole.

I second the second second, please ask about this

I'd ask the question this way. How much of his argumentation in that interview was to maintain his position (not get cancelled) in his circles vs what he actually believes?

Another Second. As a Brit who keenly listens to Ezra, Sam and Tyler I was hoping that the Ezra/Sam exchange would have at least enabled them to agree what it is they disagree about. It didn't. How does Ezra feel about having another exchange with Sam? Would he change the way he approached it?

Does he agree with Matt Yglesias' (since-deleted) characterization of Vox and its audience?


Why would an educated elite read a blog that 'Explains the news'?

Well Vox caters to a nerdy, Leftwing audience. Young, educated Leftwingers read it because it's part of their bubble. It's going to be "graphy" and push out articles they can link to on social media that support their world view.

What is the ratio in Vox of straight news reporting vs. advocacy? Or is there a difference?

Oh wow. That is a quote for the ages.

Which contemporary conservative thinkers does he pay midst attention to?

Ask him if he thinks you should try psychedelic drugs.

Seconded. (And/or the softer version: Should Tyler spend [more] time meditating?)


No microdosing.

How controversial do you want to be?

For a lot (perhaps both heat and light) take on the IDW lifecycle.

In your university schooling, what class helped you the most personally, and what class helped you there most professionally?

Does he see his role as representing the right thinking and powerful to the masses?

In 1979, Robert Pitofsky (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Pitofsky) warned: "massively concentrated economic power, or state intervention induced by that level of concentration, is incompatible with liberal, constitutional democracy.” How much of what divides us is the result of increasingly gigantic corporations using their economic power to buy votes and influence policy? How much is the result of increasingly gigantic media corporations using their power to sway public opinion? What is Vox doing to get this going the other way?

Is there a way to overcome most peoples' tendency to share only the most interesting / outrageous bits of media?

Bc fueled by slavery in coffee plantations in minas gerais?

There is no slavery in Minas Gerais. And Minas Gerais alone doesn't account for the fact the stock market is booming.

That's what the sock puppets want you to think. But can you trust them?

I think we can trust Brazil's official data, which is considered to be among the best in the world.

You're not one of those sock puppets are you?

No, I am not.

Why does he thinks placing immutable characteristics (race, gender, etc.) front and center in our politics in a combative way is a good idea, ephasizing our differences instead of a strategy that would tend to minimize these differences over time? More directly, why does he think politics that have an anti-white-male and anti-business vibe will be succesful, whether he believes in that or not?


But this won't be asked. Not with that precision.

"Why does he thinks placing immutable characteristics (race, gender, etc.) front and center in our politics in a combative way is a good idea, ephasizing our differences instead of a strategy that would tend to minimize these differences over time?"
Hahahaha. The far-right, chanelling their inner Governor Wallace, gets crazier and crazier. The point is not race or gender being immutable, it is the treatment some groups receive being very mutable.

Think of it as a cooperation game.

1. We act like you mistreat us on a backward looking basis, call you bad names, and you continue to be suspicious of us and do in fact mistreat us.
2. We in good faith assume that the mistreatmeant is a small problem, don't make it part of our identity, don't empower the actual mistreatment and it goes away.

If you had to hire a conservative or libertarian writer for your staff, who would it be?

Jane Coasten?

Jane Coasten is neither conservative nor a good writer. See, e.g., https://www.vox.com/2019/7/23/20697636/trump-race-gop-conservatism-racism

Excellent writer. Not conservative, but talks with a lot of right wingers, if that's disqualifying for you.

Why would someone concerned about polarization edit a publication that never presents a right-of-center viewpoint?


Or any alternative viewpoints, for that matter. From what I can tell Vox has a very consistent voice or perspective that is a mix of super woke and technocratic neo-liberal. It would appear that deviations from that perspective are not welcomed by the editors. In it's own small way, doesn't that contribute to polarization? (We can leave the smugness of the typical Voxist output for a future podcast)

This isn't actually true. Offhand I can find Nick Gillespie and David French. Could they present more? Sure.

I'd like Tyler to say to Ezra "I wanna put a pin on Irvine."

Ask him if he genuinely thinks Charles Murray’s research on IQ and its difference across different groups should not be looked at in designing public policies as he suggested during his podcast with Sam Harris

I'd like to see Cowen press the point further and ask Klein about his (and Yglesias') sneaky tactic of encouraging preemptive dismissal of Murray's ideas and data as presumptively unreliable on the basis of his being a "pernicious policy entrepreneur".

That is, Kling's "closing minds on one's own sides". I mean, how many public intellectuals *aren't* "policy entrepreneurs"? All it does is give his readers and listeners a kind of knee-jerk slogan to parrot as shorthand for, "right-thinking people needn't bother engage with or have counterarguments against this bad person's ideas."

Now, I've read and listened to a lot of Klein, and I may have missed it, but I've never seen him use the "policy entrepreneur" (i.e. 'liar') subtle epithet to describe any of them, even though they all do similar things and work at similar places and purposes as Murray.

So, ask him if he recognizes the double standard in this regard, that he isn't using this voxish term of art to raise the skeptical shields of his audience for any other public intellectuals, especially left-leaning ones.

Also, does he regret the Vox piece "Charles Murray is once again peddling junk science about race and IQ" as too polarizing?

+1, interesting

What does the current iteration of Journo-List look like and what is the plan for shaping coverage in the primary debates?

From the coverage so far I gather they’re backing Warren.

Less snarkily, he’s a vegan based on moral principle.

Is he going to feed his child meat / dairy products, even if that stunts growth etc?

@Skeptical - yeah, not feeding enough meat and dairy products to kids is a huge problem in america.

It might be for kids of vegan parents.

I genuinely want to understand this one...vegans of course take the moral high ground regarding killing animals. But what's wrong with just being a vegetarian (and not using animal leather)? No cows have to die to make milk.

They have serious moral qualms about the dairy industry.

It’s not just about the killing of animals, it’s the suffering.

I wasn't aware dairy cows were mistreated. Would a reasonable vegan be able to consume milk from farms certified that they treat their cows well? There are many.

Wikipedia says: Domestic cows can live to 20 years; however, those raised for dairy rarely live that long, as the average cow is removed from the dairy herd around age six and marketed for beef. In 2014, approximately 9.5% of the cattle slaughtered in the U.S. were culled dairy cows: cows that can no longer be seen as an economic asset to the dairy farm.

Presumably milk production tapers off as they age, and it's not like they're going to get a pension plan at the Happy Acres retirement pasture. It's just not economically viable. But if every dairy cow is a beef cow living on borrowed time, then there's no moral distinction.

Calves separated from mothers, whose milk is meant for you.

It actually may be worse. Check out the paper Why Milk Consumption is the Bigger Problem: Ethical Implications and Deaths per Calorie Created of Milk Compared to Meat Production by Karin Kolbe. "Interesting throughout"

Putting the SCJ rulings aside, does it make sense to him for the United States to permit extraordinarily different abortion laws in different States, and why or why not?

And is his answer the same, in the case of a liberal SC versus a conservative SC?

Why should we consider him an expert on polarization?

Because he is polarized but, like most people, thinks he isn't. "I read both sides." True, but you gush over even the poor arguments of the progreasive side and dismiss even the good arguments of the conservative side with a "I just don't think it's that important."

Hes not that bad. I think everyone commenting about his bias is confusing Vox with Ezra Klein. I listen to all his podcasts and with the exception of the Harris (and a couple others) hes reliably fair and open minded. Listen to some of the ones with conservatives (Patrick Deneen, David French, Andrew Sullivan, etc.)

I listen to his podcast because he had great guests who are allowed to talk at length. Haven't listened to Deneen but with French and Sullivan it was easy to bond over hating Trump. He only challenges ideas he disagrees with and really gushes over those he agrees with, leaving listeners who aren't as knowledgeable in the subject with the impression that all conservative ideas are controversial and there are no principled objections to progressive ideas. It's most glaringly obvious in the episodes on race and animal ethics but comes up in subtler ways all the time. He's way outside the mainstream on social issues but never explains why others are not.

What views does he hold that he is least confident about (i.e. most likely he will see as wrong in hindsight).

Do you still believe that most restaurant criticism is overwrought?

Is he at all embarrassed at his bizarre ignorance, that manifested during his interview with Bernie, of both Bernie's position on immigration (well-known even to me, who follows politics little, at that point) and of the Koch brothers and immigration policy? Or was that "Really?" with accompanying expression of blinking surprise feigned? And if so, is pretending stuff a useful skill for a 21st-century internet journalist?

I'll be interested to see if he pronounces your name right this time. I recall that was another thing that seemed to inordinately surprise him.

Yellowman or Hermeto Pascoal?

As a researcher with kids, I want to know about the post-kid Ezra Klein production function.

Q1: Were you good at math as a student?
Q2: Why did you pursue an education/career in journalism rather than a STEM path?
Q3: Is C.P. Snow's "Two Cultures" real?
Q4: Is activist journalism positive or negative?
Q5: Is Venture Capital funded journalism positive or negative?
Q6: Is publicly funded broadcasting (e.g. PBS, BBC) positive or negative?

I want to say that he's noted he was generally a poor student, but his father is some kind of science professor so presumably he inherited some of that.

For EK:

From his tweet (quoted by Yglesias):

“At Vox I think the implied audience is a graduate of or student at a selective colleges.”

With a BA in Polysci from UCLA, does he consider himself “college educated”?

Did he attend class often? Read much?

What portion his selective-college-graduate audience was similarly gut major steerage?

Does he talk to anyone one a regular basis who explains to him that VOX is tribal and dishonest. How does he agree and disagree with that assessment.

Does he ever worry, that when the main rational for implementing govt health care is based on a moral imperative, you might end up satisfying the moral imperative, at the expense of efficiently provisioning present and future healthcare for everyone.

Ask him how do we stop the polarization politically or financially profiteers from further dividing us, when they can reach out to millions on social media at a zero marginal cost?

The last time the US was this polarized it took the Great Depression to depolarize the system. Make most everyone feel economically vulnerable and suddenly both parties need to move to the middle to serve the majority of voters. Do we need another exogenous shock to depolarize America again? What kind of shock is needed or likely? Would the cure be worse than the disease?


It took World War II and its aftermath to depolarize the system. Partly anyway. Some towns in the deep South started flying the United States flag again for the first time since the Civil War. The GI Bill broadened college and university attendance. Soldiers saw the world and mixed with countrymen from all walks of life and different regions, and it broadened their horizons. The Cold War threat brought all democracies closer together. And above all, there was the miraculous quarter-century-long economic boom. Prosperity, like sunlight, is the best disinfectant.

Both WW2 and the Cold War certainly helped maintain a depolarized system for several decades. But if you look at the ideological distance between the two parties as measured by NOMINATE scores, the system depolarized sharply in the 1930s. Admittedly, depolarization started before the Great Depression, but this trend was rather modest. It took a prolonged economic shock and shared misery to bring the country together.

If you say so. But were the Roaring Twenties really a time of great polarization? Also, it seems intuitively more likely that hard times make people more ornery, less empathetic and broadminded, and more willing to entertain extremist views. That was certainly the case in Europe. It is not entirely a coincidence that the Great Depression was followed by World War II.

What is the biggest shortcoming or oversight or gap that you see in the study of US politics by social scientists? What are the political scientists missing or failing to address?

What makes his colleague David Roberts such a good writer on energy and climate issues?

Probably not a question Tyler should ask, but I *totally* agree with you about Roberts

Has lifting weights made you feel more right wing?

Is there an oversupply of a) news outlets/content? b) is there an oversupply of news commentary vs just news! What is the responsibility of outlets like Vox to combat disinformation?

I'm curious on his perspective on Brexit and on the Tory victory recently.

Hoping you will ask why Ezra did a podcast with the British writer John Higgs, and whether you think Higgs should be better known in the U.S.


given the divisions in the federal govt in the US, the growing tensions in the EU, the politics in China and India there is no realistic chance for significantly curbing climate change (Ezra's been doing a series on global warming) so how does he imagine that civil society will avoid short term disaster capitalism grabs of resources from the general public and in the longer run armed tribal conflicts within states?

Best cheese for a grilled cheese sandwich?

What toppings go in a hotdog?

What intellectual issues (not relational having to do with Sam) does he think he might have been wrong about in his podcast with Sam Harris?

This is important because I don't think many people who listened to that are able to come away from it respecting Ezra's intellectual integrity. Give him a chance to recover.

It's funny. I only read the transcript, I didn't listen to the podcast but unlike seemingly everyone in this comment section I thought Ezra was the honest, fairminded, and clearly right one in their debate.

Now, clearly many of you disagree. But then again, I tend to find the folks in the comments section here wrong about many things. And I'm sure you'd find me exhausting too. If nothing else, it's interesting the degree to which our priors influence our intellectual experience.

Has getting older and being criticized from the left changed your perspective on your time being young and attacking people from the left?

friday afternoon
12 days before chrismas
where can nancy pelosoi get a brain scan?

Ask him what he thinks of Haidt's "Coddling of the American Mind" and projects like Heterodox Academy and FIRE.

Ezra had Haidt on his podcast to discuss that book. It was pretty good.

What is the writing style or tone of Vox? It seems as cultivated as the tone of, for example, The Economist.

I find it very specific. Is this enforced via a style guide, or is this just the way 24 year old Yale humanities grads speak?

Does he consider the levels of condescension with which Vox presents their news product actually unpersuasive and unproductive? Especially for the target audience they're striving to reach?

How does Ezra consume academic research? What advice would he give a scholar who wants to disseminate their research beyond academic journals?

What are the appropriate limits of redistribution, collectivism, and the modern administrative state?

Please let him know that Active Measures, as described by KGB defector Yuri Bezmenov, *is* *literally* *the* *reason* we are polarized and ask him (just making an educated guess) why that perspective isn't included in his book. This is the single most important conversation we all should be having right away. Thank you

As his podcast is responsible for finally nudging me into veganism: what are his top 3 vegan entrees?

Changes to the media landscape seem like one part of the polarization story. Obviously Ezra is the co-founder and editor-at-large of a popular news site. Has Ezra's research/reflection on polarization had any influence on the editorial direction at Vox? Or his personal journalistic choices?

So many suggestions for the young whippersnapper, more than usual.

How about "Just curious, would you be more comfortable having the conversation I want to have*, or the one my commenters wanted me to have with you?"

He'll be like, you have a blog where people comment? Really?! That's so crazy!

I actually don't know much about him, so I'm going to forecast that you, an interviewer, will interview him, an interviewer, on the fascinating subject of the art of interviewing ...

Given the polarization of our society, and about half the population will be very unhappy no matter who wins in 2020, is there some sort of non-violent secession that is feasible or perhaps a restructuring of our federal system so that fewer people feel marginalized.

Whose permission does a scientist need to study race and IQ?

Vox has numerous articles advocating for an increase in the minimum wage. How many people does Vox currently employ who would otherwise only be eligible for minimum wage positions? What was the criteria these people had to meet in order to be hired?

What is the limiting principle on his progressive goals?

If, in a few decades, his goals were achieved, what would it mean to be an American?

What does he believe that he knows is not true.

If the treatment of nonhuman animals in factory farms is taken into account, is there all-things-considered moral *regress* rather than moral progress in richer countries.

He puts great store by the power of federal action to remedy problems, does he see having unitary nationwide policies in a country of 300+mm people as increasing polarity and what role does he envision for policy diversity among and within states to foster experimentation and dampen polarity.

How is the irvine of today different from the Irvine of hisschool days ? Are such transfornations inevitable with growth?

I listen to his EKS and CWT regularly, and I'm glad you're doing a second conversation with EK. Over or under: wonks, scholars, talking to either group, writing a book or article, tweet storms, charts and graphs, announcing priors, meta structures in conversation (e.g. I want to put a pin in that and come back to it), thinking in terms of policy, telecommuting (I think he works from home, or at least away from Vox hq). To what extent is an interview or a conversation well understood as mood management of one's self and of one's partner? I'd be happy to hear his thoughts on change--tipping point, gradualism, nudging, etc. Under what conditions is discourse productive rather than paralyzing? Are there any issues that are underreported or does the audience tend to get what it wants b/c it's a search away? Tangentially, what topics intrigue him that he can't easily write about? (I note, for example, that meditation and veganism show up far more in his podcast than in his writing.) JSF argues that we hold vegetarians to an unrealistic moral standard (we can tell fibs without being considered dishonest, for example); what explains this? Hope this helps.

How can you best balance the moral imperative to convince people that eating meat is bad with the desire to avoid appearing a superior moral scold?

Frame it as a climate change issue and find a photogenic scowling spokesgirl. Then they'll take their scolding and they'll like it.

Actually, Greta is in fact vegan, although she or her handlers choose to downplay that.

Paul Newman once claimed that the difference between him and Robert Redford was that acting came naturally to Redford and Newman really had to work at it. Ezra seems like a Newman, i.e. lacking the raw intellectual horsepower (cf. UC Irvine, bad grades) of the smarty-smarts, but has seemed to be able to become smart by just grinding away. Does he agree with this? Is he intimidated by guests who he perceives as having higher raw intelligence (G) than him?

Is he at all dismayed at what Vox has become? Yglesias and himself started out as two of the most open minded-center left liberals in the blogosphere. They could talk about any subject from a left or right angle and not get outraged.

They now run a website that has gone full “woke” Leninism. It’s almost unbearable to read any of Vox ancillary sites such as eater.com. It’s millennial woke scolds calling everything they don’t agree with racist, homophobic, or sexist.

Is the woke movement not a tremendous departure from the lefts intellectual roots?

Also why does everyone at Eater New York outside of Robert Sietsma suck so bad?

I would ask for Ezra’s thoughts on economic geography. It seems that other nations are polarized in the same way (cosmopolitans in the biggest, wealthiest cities versus nationalists in rural, small town, and more economically struggling cities). That is, the question isn’t why we are polarized, but rather why people have chosen identities that all line up politically, as opposed to choosing identities that lead them to feel like “cross-pressured” voters. That is, why don’t folks in NYC attend church like folks SLC? And on and on down the list of politically affiliated identities that could conceivably be held by anyone in any city or county.

If you could make journalists understand one subject better what would it be? Statistics? Economics? Physics? History? Other?

If I recall correctly, in a previous conversation you and Ezra discussed how travel is tiring. Has this changed for him since? Does he have any tips? Or generally about what travel he has been doing or has done…

Ask him if he finds a career of creating hyperlinks for those who want to seem like they’ve proven progressive nonsense correct, with the quality and depth of late night unfunny leftist comics, and little regard for the actual truth, as deeply fulfilling as it seems from the outside.

Ask him if he finds a career of creating hyperlinks for those who want to seem like they’ve proven progressive nonsense correct by just inserting them into misleading prose or referencing them in campaign speeches, that nobody will actually check, all with the quality and depth of late night unfunny leftist comics, and little regard for the actual truth, as deeply fulfilling as it seems from the outside.

What do you really think tho?

Having not read the book, this may very well be covered.... What's his analysis of the left's current 'name and shame' tactics and demands for ideological purity? Is it more or less effective at advancing progressive policies or progressive values than old-school consensus building? Are there moral implications beyond it's efficacy?

1. What should mainstream media do to win back all those who now favor heterodox media like Chapo Trap House and Breitbart?

2. What are the most important things you've learned about management and disagreement from running Vox?

Question for EK:

I've paged through the last few dozen Vox pieces that mention the Paris Climate Agreement.

None of them mentions the $100 billion per year commitment to the Green Climate Fund (Paris Agreement Article 9), for which the US will likely be expected to contribute a large portion.

That's of course a lot of money, and many Americans are understandingly suspicious of sending $10s of billions to an unaccountable, opaque, foreign bureaucracy. They resent Obama for making this commitment without seeking Senate approval.

Article 9 is a major reason many Americans oppose the Paris Agreement (maybe the only reason, since the rest of the Agreement is rather vague and doesn't require any commitments from anyone). But Vox readers may not even be aware of Article 9. A Vox reader may simply think Paris opponents are crazy science deniers.

Is Vox deliberately misleading it's readers about this? Or do they think it's not worth mentioning? Or is this some kind of oversight? Doesn't this approach to journalism - not even mentioning good faith concerns from the other side - exacerbate polarization?

Thank you

3. In 15 years what views do you think will be embraced by passionate Progressives that aren't embraced now?

4. What important questions cannot have a Vox-styled explainer?

Is there any particular reason why he hasn't interview Saez & Zucman about their new book?

Hi Tyler. I have tried to post without success a couple of times, not sure what I did wrong. But I would really love to hear you guys discuss disinformation -- after all, I think it has a lot to do with why we are polarized, so it seems a good topic. And you are very good with facts and evidence, so it could be a great conversation.

5. What roadblocks in California would need to be overcome to achieve the biggest Progressive policy wins at the state level? (Universal healthcare public option, debt-free public college education, full housing/shelter etc.)

I would like to hear some conversation on the general topic of the "public intellectual". I think it would be helpful to hear an academic and journalist/editor talk about what the concept means to them.

For example: What does it mean to be a public intellectual nowadays? Is the standard better or worse than it used to be? Are there too many or too few? Who gets to become one, and how? What advice does he, as a journalist and editor, have for academics who want to communicate their research and ideas to the public? What skills in communication and rhetoric do academics tend to lack? How does he decide who to platform -- is it based on public profile, access to major media markets, or what? Should academics be doing more public outreach beyond their scholarship and teaching (blogs, podcasts, etc)? How do you actually change the public conversation? To use Larry Summers' terms, is it better to be an insider or an outsider?

Why no coverage of California AB 5 since it became clear that all the freelance writers would be let go?

Good topic, I think it is better formulated as a larger question: What alterations, if any, could make California's AB 5 better public policy?

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