My Conversation with Ezra Klein

Here is the audio and transcript.  Yes we talked a great deal about Ezra’s new book on polarization, but much more too:

Tyler posed these questions to Ezra and more, including thoughts on Silicon Valley’s intellectual culture, his disagreement with Jonathan Haidt’s Moral Foundations Theory, the limits of telecommuting, how becoming a father made him less conservative, his post-kid production function, why Manhattan is overrated, the “cosmic embarrassment” of California’s governance, why he loved Marriage Story, the future of the BBC and PBS, what he learned in Pakistan, and more.

Here is one bit:

COWEN: We would agree that what is called affective negative polarization is way up — professing a dislike of the other side, not wanting your Republican kid to marry a Democratic wife, and so on. But in terms of actual policy polarization, what if someone says, “Well, that’s down,” and they say this: “Well, the main issue in foreign policy today is China.” That’s actually fairly bipartisan. Or if people don’t agree, they don’t disagree by party.

Domestic spending, Social Security, Medicare — no one wants to cut those. That’s actually consensus. The other main issue is how we deal with or regulate tech. America has its own system. It’s happened through the regulators. It’s not really that partisan. One may or may not like it, but again, disagreement about it doesn’t fall along normal party lines.

So the main foreign policy issue, the main substantive social issue — we’re less polarized. And then, domestic spending, it seems, we all mostly agree. Why is that wrong?

KLEIN: I’m not sure it is wrong. Two things I would say about it. One, the word main is doing a lot of work in that argument. The question is, how do you decide what are the main issues? I wouldn’t say domestic regulation of tech is a main issue, for instance. I think it’s important, but compared to things like immigration and healthcare, at least in the way people experience that and think about that — or if you ask them what are their main issues, domestic regulation of tech doesn’t crack the top 10.


COWEN: But again, at any point in time, if positions are shifting rapidly — as they are, say, on trade — if you took all of GDP, even healthcare — that’s what, maybe 18 percent of GDP? But a lot of the system, a lot of people in both parties agree on, even if they disagree on Obamacare. Obamacare is part of that 18 percent. Over what percent of GDP are we more polarized than we used to be, as compared to less polarized? What’s your estimate?

KLEIN: I like that question. Let me try to think about this. I don’t think I have a GDP answer for you, but let me try to give you more of what I think of as a mechanism.

I think a useful heuristic here — people don’t have nearly as strong views on policy qua policy as certainly people like you and I tend to assume they do. The way that Washington, DC, talks about politics is incredibly projection oriented. We talk about politics as if everybody is a political junkie with highly distinct ideologies.

Political scientists have done a lot of polling on this, going all the way back to the 1960s, and it seems something like 20 to 30 percent of the population has what we would think of as a coherent policy-oriented ideology, where things fit together, and they have everything lined up. Most people don’t hold policy positions all that strongly.

What happens is that they do hold — to the extent they’re involved in politics — identity strongly, political affiliations quite strongly. They know who is on their side and who isn’t.

The pattern that I see here, again and again, is that when things are out of the spotlight, when they are not being argued about, when they are not the thing that the parties are disagreeing about, they’re actually quite nonpolarized. You’ll sit there in rooms of experts. There’ll be a panel here, George Mason, whatever it might be, and everybody will have some good ideas about how you can make the system better for everyone.

Then what will happen is, the Eye of Sauron of the American political system will turn towards whatever the policy issue is. Maybe it’s Obamacare, maybe it’s climate change. Remember, climate change was not that polarized 15–20 years ago. John McCain had a big cap-and-trade plan in his 2008 platform —


COWEN: If you could engineer your own political temperament, would you change it from how it is? Mostly, we’re stuck with what we’ve got, I would say, but if you could press the button — more passionate, less passionate, something else? Goldilocks?

KLEIN: I think I like my political temperament. Probably for the era of politics we’re moving into, and for my job, it would almost be better to be of a more conflict-oriented temperament than I am. I think that we are moving into something that, at least in the short term, is rewarding or is going to reward those who really like getting in fights all the time, and I don’t like that.

I’m more consensus oriented. I like hearing people out. I probably have a little bit more of a moderate temperament in that way. But I wouldn’t really change that about myself. I think it’s a shame that so much of politics happens on Twitter now, but that’s the way it is. I wouldn’t change me to operate to that.

Recommended, and again here is Ezra’s new book on polarization.


Hard pass.

No kidding. Even the excerpts are numbing.

The polarized partisans won't even read this. Shocking, and very on the nose.

Bingo. But I don’t think of them as “partisans” in a fixed sense. Partisan-ness is a meme that will pass. It’s like a new unifying religion that gives certainty in an age of mass customization and disintegrating hierarchies. The problem is, being a partisan is exhausting. Being all amygdala all the time has you running around like chicken little, thinking the other side is setting the world on fire. The adrenaline and cortisol involved quite literally wear you out.

EK is the kind of public intellectual where, if you asked him his opinion on some public policy, I could probably tell you what his answer was before he could with a high degree of accuracy. He's certainly well-versed in contemporary, conventional, center left wisdom. If that's your bag, hey, go for it, but it isn't how I'd choose to allocate my semi-scarce podcast listening time.

"if you asked [them their] opinion on some public policy, I could probably tell you what [their] answer was before he could with a high degree of accuracy"

Same for Todd Gack and Bob from Ohio and mulp and all the other partisans here. And you won't even read the other side's stuff.

"you won't even read the other side's stuff."

I read plenty of left wing stuff.

Klein has nothing of value to add, none of the now aging Juice Box Mafia ever did.

If your time is so precious then why waste it writing a number of useless comments here?

Then you are missing out on some of the most scintillating Conversations provided over the Net for public appreciation.

I thought it was interesting.

Ezra didn’t have a great explanation for why policy polarization is dramatically lower than political polarization.

The obvious thing Tyler was getting at is the Hanson “politics is not about policy”

Also, Jonah Goldberg's "politics as entertainment".

Cowen and Klein are two very level-headed public intellectuals. I admire both of them. I will read the transcript. Here is a long excerpt from Klein's new book for those who want to know his thesis but don't want to read the entire book:

Klein is lucky this wasn't a debate. Tyler made him look like a goof, and Tyler was on his side.
"KLEIN: I don’t know if it’s gone down, but I agree that it is incoherent, and I’m not sure it’s gone up. I don’t think, in general, we are super polarized on foreign policy. But, again, I’m not sure it’s gone down."

I've just saved you from reading the whole thing. It's basically 'I don't know' - on a subject he just wrote a book about.

It looks to me like uncertainty and humbleness, not cluelessness, and my opinion of Klein after the interview has increased, not decreased.

Agree with you TMC, would have preferred an interview by an AI Lieutenant Commander Data challenging each non response. Every Obama devotee automatically indicates a mental failure. Data can ask
for list of all relevant data points during and following Obama presidency
and ask what was accomplished?
Too many of the media live in their own minds ... Klein is one.

I go back and forth on Ezra, so I'm inclined to agree with both of you, TMC and Richter. On one hand, reading the conversation I found him thoughtful and humble as I often do reading him. On the other hand, presumably based on the research of his new book, he recommends the elimination of the electoral college and statehood for DC and Puerto Rico. Humble indeed!

I guess I just expected more confidence and evidence commensurate with such advice. Of course I have yet to read his book, so maybe there is more to unpack there, however this talk doesn't give me much hope. Maybe I'm just a stodgy man, a rare breed according to Ezra, entirely too skeptical of such `radical` changes.

"identity trumps policy" = having a tribe saves you from the trouble of thinking.
Secondarily, comparing the American electorate to the Eye of Sauron is classic.

I like this one, +5 i.p.

Good interview. I agree with the point that polarization seems to be mostly about identity and policy is secondary. I’ve been amazed to see over the last few years several people I went to college with who were fairly hardcore Republicans leave the Republican Party over Trump and then change their views on all sorts of policy issues, including on issues like health care that had nothing to do with the reason they disliked Trump in the first place.

I also agree with becoming more liberal with age because you start to see more and more the ways in which the world is not a level playing field. I know the data suggests most people become more conservative with age, but my experience has just been the total opposite. Most people spend the first twenty years of their lives in schools surrounded by others who are generally quite similar in background and demographics (most schools are by neighborhood), and in magnet schools or college this is even more pronounced because everyone will be similar in IQ too. And most metrics of success whether it’s in sports or academics are relatively objective and transparent. This environment encourages a conservative outlook because differences in people’s outcomes are easily chalked up to choice and/or merit. With more life experience, I have a greater appreciation for the role that birth and luck play in one’s life outcomes and this has made me more egalitarian.

The third point I really liked in this interview was how social democracy does not help stop the far-right. I see people on the left argue this all the time and it is obviously not true looking at Europe—if anything, it’s the most neoliberal countries in Europe that have seen the fewest gains by the far-right.

The college vs no-college split on these issues is a modern "third rail" in American politics.

Which issues do you mean and what is the college/no-college split on them?

It's not just that "no-college" forms the right-populist base, it's the feedback loop, against college itself.

Who said "I love the poorly educated?"

A fuller quote:"We won with young. We won with old. We won with highly educated. We won with poorly educated. I love the poorly educated. We’re the smartest people, we’re the most loyal people"

"Who said "I love the poorly educated?""

The guy that wanted their vote. Because if you want their vote, you don't hate on them or make fun of them. If you do, then you probably aren't going to get their support.

Slow down.

Before that moment would any politician ever, ever, refer to his own voters as "poorly educated?"

For goodness sakes, even if in your dark heart you feel that way, there are euphemisms!

Trump says "I love the poorly educated?"

Hillary Clinton says: "basket of deplorables"

And amazingly enough, Trump won.

"even if in your dark heart"

This comment is what fundamentally separates us. I don't believe people who disagree with me are evil. You clearly do.

"Heading into the election, many believed Hillary Clinton would become the first Democratic nominee for president to win white voters with college and postgraduate degrees in over six decades. This prediction did not quite come true. Clinton lost white college graduates by four percentage points (45 percent–49 percent). Clinton even under-performed among white women with a college degree, winning only 51 percent of their vote. Overall, however, Clinton won voters with a college degree (52 percent) and Trump won voters without a college degree (52 percent). "

So the shift is partially in the demographic shift of college students. These grads vote more with their identity than with their education level.

If realizing that society wasn't as meritocratic as you thought it was in your youth made you become more liberal, it is because you were liberal to begin with. Meritocracy is already, in the grand scheme of things, a very liberal value. And America is certainly in almost universal agreement about that. No one is arguing here, that the humanity should be separated into slaves and masters over arbitrary or even random criteria, just for the sake of "diversity" in humanity (Nietzsche, for example, did argue for that).

Was intended to Zaua.

What conservatives argue is that humanity's separation into strata (let's dial it back from 'slaves and masters') is just, and results from effort and attitude, and not from mainly luck (who your parents are, where you were born).

Hot take: it’s a mix of both.

Prof Frank used to talk about this a lot. For the Econ nerds, his papers about it are interesting.

Who your parents were is not luck. It is the essence of your identity.

The (dis)functioning of the meritocracy is also a significant factor.

Nobody say "peace plan."


Also irrelevant to meritocracy?

"With more life experience, I have a greater appreciation for the role that birth and luck play in one’s life outcomes and this has made me more egalitarian."

With more life experience I have become more conservative because I see people generally get not just what they deserve, but what they want. Sure people may say they want more money, better jobs, more opportunities, or whatever, but what they really want is to party in high school and not study, show up late to work because they slept in, do just enough to get by rather than do a really good job even if the job is just cleaning floors or stocking shelves. If they actually wanted the other things, they would have worked harder.

I have seen people from deprived circumstances work two jobs and work night school to get a degree so then can move up. I have seen people from the most privileged backgrounds end up in dead-end careers living hand to mouth but with lots of free time, romantic liaisons, etc.. And many on both sides were happy because they were fulfilling the things important to them. And many on both sides complained non-stop about how unfair it all was, though I couldn't see how.

People get what they want within budget constraints, and people’s budget constraints are very different. Someone from a privileged background can slack off in a dead end career and still have a totally happy life with lots of free time, romantic liaisons, etc., while someone from a poor background cannot. Even if the person from the poor background can get to the same place economically as a privileged playboy by working two jobs and night school, that still does not seem very fair. And that’s only talking about Americans, I’ve seen people in third world countries working way harder than anyone I’ve seen in America for subsistence pay, and that’s only because they were born in a poor country not because they wanted to live like that.

"Someone from a privileged background can slack off in a dead end career and still have a totally happy life with lots of free time, romantic liaisons, etc., while someone from a poor background cannot."

Well, yeah, they can and they do. People who aspire to a traditional middle class lifestyle can't if they come from a poor background. You're confusing the two.

I’m not confusing the two. I’m saying I internalized more as an adult that some people can achieve a comfortable middle-class lifestyle just because they were born into it even if they live a life of hedonistic leisure, while others must work very hard and have skills such as high IQ and/or ability to delay gratification to achieve that same comfortable middle-class standard of living. Internalizing this fact as an adult has made me a bit more liberal compared to when I was younger and in school surrounded by people who were about equally privileged as I was and therefore had the mindset that outcomes reflected primarily individual choices and merit rather than preexisting privilege.

No, you are. I agree with you that a child of affluence can more easily live a middle class lifestyle, but that is different from a life of leisure.

Solid comment, +5 i.p.

So far this thread is a good one, let's keep it going.

"Even if the person from the poor background can get to the same place economically as a privileged playboy by working two jobs and night school, that still does not seem very fair."

The latter person represents a life better-lived and a person of greater character than the dissolute trust-funder. No way would he want to switch places. So what do you mean by unfair?

Seems there is more hatred of the rich than care for the poor in this example, a foible of the left that Orwell was fond of pointing out.

How do you know he wouldn’t want to switch places? I think most people would want to switch places. Hence why they play the lottery. I’d rather live the life of a dissolute trust funder than a poor person who had to make lots of sacrifices to get rich just so others could think I have better character.

I don’t hate the rich. I’m fairly rich myself. And lots of rich people are rich because they make plenty of great contributions to the world that others are willing to pay for—I don’t begrudge any wealth earned in that manner. I’m merely pointing out that the game is rigged in favor of people born rich. I’d like to change the game, not hate the players (except to the extent the players are actively using government power to rig the game).

Obvious, but not to some here. +10 i.p.

No, idiotic. Most people need to know the earned what they got. Everyone will accept free money, but happiness among the idle rich is often less than the productive middle class.

Thank you for immediately confirming my judgement. I'll give you 5 internet points for that.

The problem I see here is that a lot of adults are motivated very specifically by the fact that they want to provide a better life for their children. Not sure it's fair to cut them off at the knees by, say, taking their money and using it to make life better for someone else's kids in the interest of your priorities re: fairness. Lots of stuff about what family you're born into isn't fair. My cousin's an ***hole, for example. Could you work on fixing that as well?

We take only a little of their money...and if they have a whole lot of it, maybe we take a little more. Their kids will be fine.

The current top Federal tax rate is around 40%. Trying to define that as a "little of their money" is disingenuous.

You're smarter than that. Marginal rates. Deductions. Effective tax rates.

Well I'm smart enough to know that the effective tax rate on the top 1% is 30%. (top 20% is 23%).

Is 30% a "little of their money"?

Any of those 1%ers wanna trade down to the median to get a much lower tax rate? Didn't think so.

Taxation is not theft. It's only a matter of figuring out the right numbers.

No, your just dodging the point. You made the specious claim that "We take only a little of their money". It's clearly wrong and I pointed out how obviously wrong it is. So instead of just admitting you were wrong you try to move the goal posts around.

Is this anonymous? Because it's a standard tactic with him whenever he's caught out.

Ok it's not a little. But it's also not too much. And again, if those 1%ers don't like their tax rates they can always move down to better ones.

"Ok it's not a little. "

I'm glad we can agree.

"But it's also not too much."

+1, I'm ok with the 30% effective rate. I'd probably even be willing to cull out deductions to bring the effective rate close to the nominal rate. Granted, states, universities, church's etc would all be up in arms over the issue. But I'm not convinced that charity needs tax deductibility.

My effective tax rate is about 35%.

Effective, not marginal.

Not to mention that the problem of the abrasive Grimes relatives remains unsolved by all this redistributive talk.

How about...We take only a little of their money...and if they have a whole lot of it, maybe we take a little more.

We already do that. We already do quite a bit of that, actually. And the fact that people are shouting for More More More and not making arguments about deprivation or a safety net and more just about "fairness" makes me wonder if this isn't really about fairness at all and has rather more to do with envy, resentment, status-anxiety, etc. and other more unsavory motivations.

Yeah, "that guy has an easier path to a life of idleness" is not a compelling moral argument.

Do you think the radical redistributionists would stop at 50% or 60%? I don’t think so. “Fairness strikes me as just one maybe even subsidiary goal, on the path to their destination: socialism.

" others could think I have better character..."

That is not what I said or meant. JFC.

Of course you're fairly wealthy, poor people don't spend their time fretting about the dissolute rich, they have real problems.

Obviously luck plays a role in all kinds of life outcomes, the accident of place of birth being the most obvious. I think it's weird that your arc in life came so late to this realization.

A more typical arc, particularly if you live in a wealthy country, is to be seized by the fact that there are poor and homeless people out there amidst all the plenty. It's the most obvious impulse in the world to simply reallocate stuff to address such an issue, this was my reaction as a young person. It's only after decades of struggle in this vale of tears that you learn that addressing such issues is way more complex than the youthful me figured.

Poverty rate in the U.S. is about 2% (after tax and transfers of course). That's still a lot of people, but basically we are already doing the reallocation.


My experience has oddly been the exact opposite. In youth I hardly interacted with poor people, and so the popular idealized conception of poor people as mostly victims of circumstance, struggling to work 4 jobs to pay for grandma’s dialysis. In reality, it’s clearly behavior and choices. I think without exception every poor person I can recall meeting has either habitually made poor choices or been a recent immigrant who doesn’t speak English yet.

Now, maybe what determines who has the skills to be a surgeon and who only has those necessary to be a fast food employee is determined by birth and upbringing, but that’s irrelevant imo. It’s far more important that the former have the incentive to do something useful that the latter. That’s why it’s important they get paid so much more. A similar case can be regarding investment: even if wealth were distributed randomly, I’d still rather those who get it save and invest it than spend it, donate it to useless charities for signaling purposes, or have it spent on ineffectual government programs.

Where luck is most relevant, imo, is in determining who becomes super rich vs. who becomes merely well off; but don’t think being ‘merely well off’ is enough of an injustice to warrant redistribution to them.

If you are born very poor, or even just poor, your field of choices is very constrained. Luck is a big factor for all of us.

A lot of that qualifies as the most Jewish interpretation on a Quaker response I have ever heard. Faux-Quaker I'll dub it.

Yeah no. I've seen what he's written and it is most definitely not consensus-seeking. Faux-Quaker.

Pretty good, largely unsurprising.

But I found this question and its answer bad, in perhaps an interesting and central to narrative way:

The fact that California cannot figure out how to make it affordable to live in its major cities, or usable to get around as a state, not just inside the cities, where transportation in LA and San Francisco are really bad.

Let's start instead with a more fundamental question. Should we ask established cities with their citizens, laws, and private property rights to uproot their way of doing things, to create an arbitrary number of low-cost apartments or houses? Or to use eminent domain to take houses and build a freeway?

By what right?

And it's interesting to frame that question in terms of both ideology and temperament. Are the "progressives" and "conservatives" reversed on both? It looks like the progressives want "no change" and to "preserve resident's rights" while the conservative wants "big change" and for "the state" to break centuries of zoning and other agreements.

Maybe we need to relax on the old over-built and established cities, and just build more new ones. Maybe that is really the path with least coercion.

I mean, if you think you can do better than San Francisco or Santa Monica, do it. In your own back yard.

Any use in firing a neuron over the concept of land monopoly?

3% of US land is "urban." where people want to live. There are already massive numbers of cities, some of them even fairly large (300K+ metro areas) where you can live cheaply and have little traffic congestion.

No one moves there. They usually move away. Why? First: jobs, second: jobs, third: weather, fourth: lifestyle.

You don't need to build a new city, you just need to find a way to make people want to live in Jacksonville or San Antonio or Omaha or Bakersfield or....

While you are right about jobs, most Americans don't want to live in cities. NYC loses something like 50% of residents within a decade. Surveys show that more people live in major metropolitan cities than actually want to while the number of Americans who want to live in rural areas drastically exceeds the number who do. The numbers for smaller cities are likewise not so great; the vast majority of America wants to live in the burbs or the hinterland.

We don't need to find a way to get more people into cities; we need to find a way to get the good jobs out of the cities.

I never understand this fetishization of economics. Bumping GDP by making it harder to achieve things people actually want (e.g. living with low density, having 2-3 kids, and having social/economic security) just to increase "efficiency" seems highly suspect.

Add to that the fact that we are consuming social capital in the process … I cannot fathom why anyone looks at the cities where Americans move out on net every year and says, we need that but more so.

NYC loses that many? OK and yet the population keeps growing so obviously it gains more.

People do move to rural areas if they wish...when they retire. But the fact that not everyone does this shows they may not desire it as much as you say.

'surveys show' less than we can learn from actual public choice. Rural America is emptying out to the cities, no matter what the surveys say. 'Surveys' say we all want to live in rural areas, and have big families. But I bet surveys would say we all want to be rich and handsome and have sunny days most of the year and drive a hot car too. We all want stuff, but life is about choices, and the choices people actually make are to live in urban centers.

Yes jobs are a big driver, and if one can find a way to put better jobs in 2nd and 3rd tier cities that would probably be very helpful. Got any (reasonable, workable) ideas?

NYC is losing net population these days. As I said, the mega-cities need a perpetual inflow of new young workers as they are unwilling or unable to raise their own.

Even in the good years, New York has been losing net domestic migration for decades. Absent a steady supply of immigrants in dire relative straights who have few viable options for out-migration (e.g. due to visa issues, language issues) in its best year NYC would lose people. After all, how else do you think Little Italy stopped being Italian? Largely from all the Italians leaving when they had the wherewithal to get their families out.

And it is not retirement. It is family. For the past several decades we have seen a pattern that continues where the young migrate to major metropoli for jobs and then decamp either to the burbs or some place far less dense to raise a family. When Klein talks about all the Manhattan folks decamping to DC it is a real phenomena. The DC folks, in turn, have gone to other metros or have decamped to the Virginia burbs. Pretty uniformly people gravitate towards the jobs when they are young and the seek lower density when they have families. Retirement moves are driven in part by weather and taxes, but also to a large degree by grandchildren. You very rarely see anyone decamp to a major metro when they retire in the burbs.

Surveys give us some (however error prone) measure of desire. Revealed preferences give us desires contingent on restraints. So what are the restraints? Mostly jobs. The two income trap is known and pretty real. Likewise, we see the rate of relocation plummet when people stay longer with any given job. Lastly when we ask people why they move to NYC or other metros they pretty consistently cite jobs to exclusion of all else. When it comes to socioeconomic security, that desire will trump most all other concerns every time so people follow the jobs.

And funnily enough people managed to avoid living in the big city back when more people wanted to live their. After all the gains of being in a major metropolitan area have been declining for years in terms of amenities (home pools, Amazon, Netflix, ESPN), cuisine (everywhere has ethnic food now), and dating prospects (Tinder, OKCupid) not to mention that the cost of visiting continues to plummet (Air BnB, cheap flights, Uber).

I have seen absolutely no data that suggests that urban living is about anything other than jobs for something like 80% of urban residents. Do you have data to the contrary?

As far as enabling jobs elsewhere, well a start would be to stop favoring the corporations building out in overdeveloped areas. HQ2 should not be getting tax breaks for building out real estate in hot metro areas. Likewise, a lot of policies just so happen to raise costs far more for less dense areas. For instance, increased CAFE standards hit a lot harder in areas with low density than in places where the marginal cost of public transportation is low. We should not diminish the economic potential of less dense areas through the death of a thousand regulatory cuts; if something is vital enough to do, it is vital enough to pay for. Perhaps we might simply cost out policies and offset their economic impacts through the tax code. Or we could opt for something more socialist and provide direct payments for the raising of children (perhaps along the Nordic model). Certainly we should avoid anything that makes it a worse choice to live a one-income family life (e.g. cash payments to parents instead of universal pre-K).

If you want to go towards the aggressive end of the continuum, we might simply apply a penalty tax to any employer building out in overly dense areas.

I do not know the ins and outs, but our de facto policy for quite some time has been towards the cities. Perhaps we might try a few small steps recognizing that balance might be better.

People can already move to rural areas if they wanted. They don’t because the jobs, amenities, and social opportunities are better in big cities. What is a realistic way of moving these jobs, amenities, and social opportunities to rural areas? Rural areas might not have a big enough local market to support the kind of specialist jobs that provide the highest incomes and career satisfaction, don’t have the scale to support amenities that lots of people care about like a big restaurant scene, or the social opportunities that are very important because it sucks to be socially isolated anywhere, especially if you’re young and single.

Also, if you look at the medical profession (which does offer plenty of jobs in rural areas), doctors have to be paid much higher salaries to be willing to live in rural areas, and still there is a shortage of doctors in rural areas despite the higher salaries. This tells me that it isn’t all about economics, lots of doctors are willing to accept a lower standard of living economically to live in a city where they potentially get more interesting work and better amenities and social opportunities. So delivering economic opportunity to rural areas likely isn’t enough to stem people leaving those areas.

Only if they want to lose the jobs. Survey data suggests nobody moves for restaurants or frankly all that much for any other amenities. Social scenes, as measured by actual social connections, tend to be denser in rural areas. As far as markets, please, the vast majority of jobs are in areas with national or international markets.

As far as physicians, thanks but no. The trouble comes from the two-income trap. Around 40% of physicians and surgeons marry within the profession. The top hits outside the profession are nurses, post-secondary educators, and lawyers. Becoming a rural doc has trouble getting the spouse a job. Many of us face the choice of having half the couple have a great job, the other a poor fitting one or both having mediocre jobs. This gets a lot worse when you realize that the physician is often the mobile spouse so hospitals and practices in urban areas often can pay less to a physician who is moving to town regardless.

Worse, when we look at the pattern, these sorts of moves are completely counterintuitive. When was the difference in amenities highest? 2020 or 2000? Or 1980? Whatever benefits urban living has, a lot of them are now accessible through Amazon and they weren't before. That should say that the forces for urban migration should be massively less than we saw in any of the preceeding decades. Likewise, if this is all about amenities and social connections, should it not be the retired, who spend a higher proportion of their time consuming amenities, that flock to the cities? Should it not be unheard of for people to leave behind the city, all their social connections, and their favorite restaurants to head "back home" when they retire?

At the end of the day, the people moving into cities are the ones who report careers as being the single most important thing in their lives. The people moving out report that things like family, hobbies, and the like are relatively more important.

At the end of the day, we have reached an equilibrium where being securely upper middle class/lower upper class requires two incomes and where the two income dynamic helps anchor new jobs in the metro areas.

And not particularly "fixable". It's how our society has evolved. You think you know better? Hayek wept.

"Wherever communal action can mitigate disasters against which the individual can neither attempt to guard himself nor make the provision for the consequences, such communal action should undoubtedly be taken." -F.A. Hayek

Could be wrong, but from my vantage point opioids, suicide, and the rest look a lot like a "disaster" to me. What you can definitely be sure of is that Hayek would be all in favor of taxing the cities to provide a UBI that would allow people to remain in the countryside.

Regardless, I think you would not get Mr. Hayek's approval to have a central government issue diktat to "scale up" the megacities. Nor do I think he would have been all that supportive of the credential mill, bureaucracy, and other factors that government diktat has already gotten in on which just so happen to weight economic opportunity towards the cities.

UBI and better tax incentives? Ok sure, Sure

It's gonna take a lot to of government diktats to reverse the centuries old and global migration to the cities. Good luck with that.

The centuries old pattern is to have a growing population in the hinterlands and then have some of that population migrate to the city and die young with fewer children. None of the major cities in history had long term sustainable growth until maybe the 18th century. Countries that have historically had significant population shrinkage, like will happen in a generation or two if we all had Frisco levels of fertility, have had their cities diminish or die.

The decades old pattern is for people who have the money to move out of the dense urban core and into the burbs. The areas growing the fastest for decades have never been the urban blocks themselves, it has and continues to be low density areas that attract the bulk of migrants.

If you at look at housing prices, the most expensive dwellings are pretty much always those with an optimum tradeoff between density and commuting time. It takes an awful lot less weight on the scale to build more burbs so we are not cramming folks into giant apartments that the vast bulk of us move out whenever we can.

As is, we keep literally throwing money away trying to shoehorn more things into urban spaces where everything is expensive. NYC needs more subways and a better transfer station? That will be billions. Connect LA and Frisco via rail? Billions down the drain.

I have no illusions that the cities will not continue to be a population magnet nor that they will somehow cease to hold sway over a lot of policy, but I can see absolutely no reason to make policy to normalize and enlarge them, particularly at the cost of overturning local democratic governance.

Lifestyle and weather are bigger factors than jobs. Most large Rust Belt cities peaked in population in the 1950 census and started losing population after that to the Sunbelt and suburbs even though there were still plenty of traditional jobs in the Rust Belt in the 50s-70s. By 1980 when jobs started leaving the Rust Belt, Detroit, Cleveland, and Pittsburgh were already down to less than 2/3rds of their peak 1950 population.

There was no inherent advantage that California had to being a tech hub. Young high-skilled people moved there because they liked the weather and lifestyle and the jobs followed the people.

Aerospace chose good weather, but everything digital enjoyed a lot of Berkeley, Stanford, and aerospace electronics path dependency.

The founders of Fairchild don't look like surfers or mountain bikers.

Robert Noyce, arguably the most important of the Fairchildren, was from Grinnell, Iowa, and deliberately or not, his midwestern Dissenting Protestant values - in Tom Wolfe's memorable phrase, "sewn into the linings of his coat!" - was crucial in the founding and success of Intel, and in a substantial sense the founding and success of Silicon Valley as a whole.

I highly recommend Wolfe's profile of Noyce, originally in the Esquire 50th anniversary issue "50 Who Made a Difference", and reprinted in Wolfe's 2000 collection Hooking Up.


Ithica, Boston, Ann Arbor, and plenty of other places have tech hubs that have nothing to do with the weather. Maybe you can tell me what "lifestyle" all this has in common because I have no idea.

Personally I put a lot more stock in California's non-compete non-inforcement than anything about the social scene or weather. Likewise, I put a lot more stock in the naval buildup of WWII than in anything about the weather.

Certainly at a global level this is utterly false. Nobody moves to London for the climate, nor to Amsterdam, Berlin, or Stockholm. Yet they all ended up as tech hubs. Or take Russia. 30 years of economic freedom and top tech hubs include such lovely entrepots as Novosibirisk, Ufa, and Tomsk.

The reality is that tech had quite a few reasons to be in California and pretty much every major case is that the people who founded the tech companies came their following jobs (e.g. the majority of the Traitorous Eight moved there specifically to work with Schockley).

Incumbent rent-seekers demand government restrictions to preserve their rents.

News at 11.

Some interesting history of zoning in Los Angeles and the US here.

Interesting that it is only a 100 year old "pattern."

And that it actually began in LA.

Why is that interesting?

When you are using mobile to post comments, please do not link to the mobile version of sites, it is very frustrating.

White boomer who owns an asset demands local government restrict supply of asset to increase his rents. By redlining blacks out of his neighborhood.

The irony is this policy is even more white supremacist than anything the Trump regime has done. And even more morally disgusting.

This is what Neo-Nazism looks like. It’s a liberal keeping blacks out of his school district.

Remember, this is Nazism. The fundamental value of anonymous is to keep black kids out of his school district. To protect his house price. Ugh.

White liberals are overturning Brown v Board or Education and celebrating it. For all of us nonwhite folks, here’s the red flag.

Let's start instead with a more fundamental question. Should we ask established cities with their citizens, laws, and private property rights to uproot their way of doing things, to create an arbitrary number of low-cost apartments or houses? Or to use eminent domain to take houses and build a freeway?

I mean, if you think you can do better than San Francisco or Santa Monica, do it. In your own back yard.

San Francisco and Los Angeles are pleasant, economically successful cities. If you want a system of shared prosperity, opportunity, and social mobility for American citizens and immigrants, then I think you have to ensure that these cities can scale up and grow and accommodate new residents. Sooner or later, I think that has to include some mix of the affordable housing and freeway construction.

Scaling up LA or Frisco's social climate is the death knell of the country. The California economy requires a steady influx of young, perhaps naïve, people who come in after massive investments in their personal capital elsewhere who then work for some of their most productive years and then either leave or fail to reinvest in raising a future generation.

I would prefer not to have an economy built on eating the seed corn.

Well, I don't totally disagree, but regardless, if you're the type of person (like the OP) who thinks San Fran is a good socio-economic model for the rest of the country to follow, I don't see how an attitude of "sorry, we're all stocked up on skilled professionals and growing businesses in the bay area; everybody start moving to Salt Lake City instead from now on" fits into that world view.

Salt Lake City is an excellent choice though. High tech jobs and excellent recreation.

Sounds like dynamism to me, mobility and what not. Don't see how a region where the hungry and talented move to make their fortune before some of them retire elsewhere is 'eating the seed corn'. It's just a dynamic, capitalist economy where people have the freedom to choose where to work and live that suits them. If anything we read about how Americans move far less than they used to, and this is a bad thing not a good one.

Several trillion dollars of educational expenses have flowed into Frisco and LA. All of those resources came out of the sending regions. If everyone tries the model of importing educational capital paid for by somebody else, we suddenly have no senders and a totally nonviable model.

When people move to these places we get a small boost in productivity. It appears to be mostly a one-off. In exchange people who move there almost invariably have fewer children. Over a few generations, society has fewer usable resources thanks to fewer workers and less human capital.

And frankly the whole point of the YIMBY crowd is to eliminate that choice for people to live and work where suits them. In the past, you could find a jurisdiction that matched your desires and live as you liked. Now your local democratic institutions are expected to give way and the life you wanted and spent decades building can change into something different.

At the end of the day I am highly unconvinced that the moving is all that good. But then what would I know? I only see the people who literally die because they have no family in state. I only cut orders for massively expensive home healthcare because the kids live on the coasts and it is too expensive to move mom and dad there for their declining years.

Somewhere along the way we forget that GDP misses a lot of inputs and outputs. Increasing it just so we can move childcare from unpaid grandparents to paid au pairs is a net loss. The point of increasing GDP is to allow people to enjoy the things they say they want.

San Francisco, the City, is tiny. It has 46.89 square miles. The City of Los Angeles is much bigger, at 468.67 sq mi. But both serve as place names for their regions. Tiny Santa Monica (8.41 sq mi) for instance is within LA the County, but not LA the City. Still, we see a lot of Santa Monica zoning issues nationally reported.

Which is all to lead in to "which social climate are you even talking about?"

The regions hold lots.

I largely agree with you here. There is no right to a home in any particular location.

"Are the "progressives" and "conservatives" reversed on both? "
I don't think so. Seems to be a mix of both on either side of this issue.

You should build a wall

"Let's start instead with a more fundamental question. Should we ask established cities with their citizens, laws, and private property rights to uproot their way of doing things, to create an arbitrary number of low-cost apartments or houses? Or to use eminent domain to take houses and build a freeway?

By what right?"

Legal rights. Government gave monopolies so that insiders could extract windfall rents, and government can take them away. They are not promised to anybody. The state should step in and restrict local control over zoning and the like. I see zero argument why local government should have exclusive zoning power so that it can be captured by special interests.

Let's be clear: someone is going to have zoning authority, and those authorities will be subject to capture by rent-seekers and special interests. It's either going to be at the municipal, state, or federal level (the last is constitutionally dubious, given that zoning isn't an enumerated power of the federal government). No matter how much money I save, even enough to buy half the land in DC, there is no way the federal government will allow me to build a 70 story combo arms/hazardous chemicals factory right next to the Senate office building any more than the D.C. municipal government would.

He is smart enough to have turned a nice buck from selling his interest in the dumbest mainstream site on the internet.

"So the main foreign policy issue, the main substantive social issue — we’re less polarized."
Calling these the main issues borders on climate change denial.

Yeah, here’s a reality check: Almost no Americans see either technology or relations with China as the most important issue. Only about 10% of voters see any foreign policy issue as the most important, and the vast majority of these are naming things related to the Middle East and terrorism. We aren’t as polarized on these issues because most of the public doesn’t care about them. We’d benefit from more public concern and polarization about these issues as then the public would be less easily manipulated by the national security people.

The most important issue that people are concerned with is poor government, followed by immigration and healthcare, all of which are highly polarizing.

Polarization is just a manifestation of cognitive processes, whereby the large influx of information can only be managed through binary sorting-or “black and white thinking”-as our brains collect more data and synthesize ideas.

The other thing I would note is that in addition to more information we are also simply more divergent in an absolute sense. In 1950 not only we were not sorted into religious/traditionalist/laissez faire vs secular/feminist/democratic socialists but the each category of the latter was basically unheard of outside of exceedingly tiny enclaves. Catholics and Protestants might disagree about the meaning of "real presence in communion" or the deference due the pope ... but they all could agree on basic things that man was to do what was best before God as properly read from the Bible.

These days? The left pole of society has moved into hitherto unexplored territory. The amount of cognitive understanding to grasp one pole from the other is much higher than previous generations. Even the most liberal folks in 1960 would have an incredibly hard type wrapping their head around modern gender theory or the many novel taxation premises.

We have more information and more of it is distant from our well established frames of reference. Of course we will short cut ever more. It is not like humans became all that much better information processors in the last few decades.

“it seems something like 20 to 30 percent of the population has what we would think of as a coherent policy-oriented ideology”

Wow, there aren’t even 20-30% of the commenters here that have a coherent policy-oriented ideology. Me thinks Mr Klein’s math is off.

I’m not sure if “coherent policy-oriented ideology” is the right way to put it. I think the people he’s referring to are first-principle thinkers. People who, for whatever reason, do not just apply first principle thinking to their occupation (where it is often demanded) but also to politics. Viewed in that way, if a Democrat is wrong on investment taxes, it’s because they fundamentally misunderstand market incentives and liquidity, not because them damn libs wanna punish the successful. When a Republican is wrong on healthcare, it’s not because they’re all shills for the rich, they fundamentally misunderstand the healthcare sector - they view it with a market-based lens, whereas healthcare is a crony, opaque, Kafkaesque bizarro wealth transfer machine to doctors, surgeons, and healthcare executives that operates by a different set of rules. I sympathize with Republicans’ desire to maximize capitalism, because of their genuine and correct belief that capitalism is the greatest alleviator of poverty, but they see “capitalism under threat” everywhere like a hammer looking for a nail. From a first principle standpoint, we should seek to maximize widespread health and prosperity, and use empirically guided policies to do so.

LOL. I can't even. ROFL

Might as well be Joseph Beuys' How to Explain Pictures to a Dead Hare, aka two-person daisy chain .

How about—on the substance Americans are not divided?? So in Trump’s best state of West Virginia Obamacare is very popular. Trump just signed legislation to bail out a union pension fund to the tune of $10 billion. Climate change is a very dumb issue that most Americans don’t care about. The reason people cared about it from 2001-2008 was because we were in a quiet energy crisis and people wanted solutions and reviewable energy was seen as a potential solution.

The polarization is ironically a product of our golden age of information. So people desire confirmation bias and so they immerse themselves in an echo chamber which is made possible by the new technological developments of the last 25 years.

social media and the 15-minute news cycle are history's longest rope, and we are surrounded by those who spend every waking second hanging themselves

Quite frankly the polarization of politics has made me lose interest in it. So why spend time absorbing information and objectively analyzing it if no one really wants objective analysis?? Now that sports betting is being legalized I am going to waste my time getting back into watching the NBA so I can try my hand at sports betting.

> I think I like my political temperament. Probably for the era of politics we’re moving into, and for my job, it would almost be better to be of a more conflict-oriented temperament than I am. I think that we are moving into something that, at least in the short term, is rewarding or is going to reward those who really like getting in fights all the time, and I don’t like that.

If only everyone would agree with me, then the world would be such a nice place. Only people wanting fights come up with opinions that are different from mine.

Every time I read anything Ezra Klein writes I feel like I need a shower.

This is the guy who used his platform to go after someone who had the temerity to interview someone he disagrees with.

I found his self-description a bit off as well. He’s certainly says and writes confrontational, immoderate (dare I say, intemperate) things. Maybe he’s bothered that people see them that way and thinks his views should be seen as moderate, but that doesn’t make it so. Granted, he’s not the worst on this matter; he’s not as bad as Paul Krugman. But the way he describes himself, one would think he were someone like Andrew Sullivan.

Ya. That whole recording with Sam Harris really showed the Cathy Newman side of Klein, utterly insane.

Don’t forget, he took a position advocating eliminating due process for “sexual misconduct” which apparently runs the gamut from not hiring enough women software engineers to rape.

I believe an accurate paraphrase would be “better 99 innocent men sent to prison branded as sex offenders than one guilty man go free.” Which is just nutjob level craziness.

He also defended the Rolling Stone UVA and Duke “victims” and went full court SJW Godwin-press attacking anyone who dared to question the stories.

So I like the dude and all, but he is much too quick to slander and defame, and completely willing to throw away the concept of innocent until proven guilty on the altar of increases website traffic.

""Yes Means Yes" is a terrible law, and I completely support it" - Ezra Kline

"For that reason, the law is only worth the paper it's written on if some of the critics' fears come true. "

To paraphrase Ezra Kline, I support a terrible law because it will be terrible to people I don't like.

There is one use for people like Klein. He will tell you, full of confidence and condescension which way the wind is blowing at this moment in time. His comment about himself as peaceful and quite nice is interesting if you think about it in that way. The culture wars, antifa, accusations of racism and bigotry, the constant attempts at cancelling are not working for the Democrats, in fact are counter productive. So we are getting a hint on how they aim to do over the next year before the election.

It is a new day, all is sweetness and light!

An interview and a book on polarization, and no mention of Journolist?

Great point. The Journolist is a great mention because the 2008 primary between Hillary and Obama featured virtually no differences in substance between the two candidates...and yet the Democratic voters were very polarized. In fact the one major difference was the individual mandate which Obama opposed and Hillary supported. Yet that nominating process was very polarizing with Obama supporters frequently pushing #fakenews that the delegate count was sacrosanct and so the leader in delegates at the end of the state nominating contests was entitled to the nomination. Obama voters also consistently viewed any comments by Hillary in the worst possible light such as with the RFK comments. Eugene Robinson even won a Pulitzer writing columns that portrayed Hillary in a negative light based on twisting her comments to mean the most negative expression possible.

The event even featured an appeal to authority with a Dershowitzian authority figure in Nate Silver. Silver declared it was impossible for Hillary to ever get more delegates than Obama so the contest was over. Of course the rules clearly stated that the candidate had to reach the magic number of delegates which was only possible with superdelegates...but because the delegate leader at the end of the state contests was sacrosanct the superdelegates did not have the power to give the nomination to Hillary.

And just like Klein’s observation that substantive issues of one side that sit with the other side making people even angrier—that happened with the individual mandate! So the Daily Kos almost withheld its endorsement of Obamacare because it included the individual mandate!?! So does the notion of individual mandate still drive the progressive base crazy??

Other than healthcare, housing, and like 40% of GDP...

I hope that in writing a book about polarization - not an especially interesting topic on the face of it, nor in its previous umpteen book treatments, but perhaps he needed to get that first book out - he had time to learn something about the history of American thinking on immigration, so that he understands that Vox - his outlet, I think? - has staked out a position that by its very nature creates an opposite "pole" where the center used to be. He has seemed wholly unfamiliar with the topic in the past. Such an education would include a history of the environmental movement, and not the social justice version of it that has been cleverly deployed by both the GOP and "progressives", to undermine the goal of conservation.

According to the enviro nuts we will all be dead in 10 years, so why worry about history? I'd be more concerned with the coronavirus, Bud.

The elephant in the room is the welfare state: Why do we have so many poor--generational poor-- ignorant, homeless and violent people? What has 55 years of progressive socialist policies wrought? Why is there compassion for everyone but taxpayers? 25 million fatherless children. What is the real cost of the social welfare state? It's more than dollars and cents. Immigration is important because it impacts the taxpayer, the person who pays all the bills. We want controlled immigration; not gangster immigration. What is the real cost of the secular humanist state? Can we afford to have human institutions with no real human or moral values?

When you subsidize something, you tend to get more of it.

The questions and answers were fantastic. I wonder if this shows the power of podcasts as a form, that it helps to do podcasts (I note that EK is better here than in his last one, maybe b/c he has had more reps), or if it's just that the two of you know one another and have a deeper knowledge of each other. The temperament point was especially interesting to me. Each of your three podcasts that I've encountered has been great--maybe you two should do a buddy cop podcast. I hope Matt Yglesias will appear at some point.

I'm a political scientist and I can say that Klein is in a class of his own as far as journalists who accurately and earnestly summarizes and synthesizes polsci literature. Klein is great.

I agree! He's does a great job reporting and engaging with political science research.

Polarization is not in and of itself bad?  Well, neither is inflammation.  But chronic inflammation, which does not produce healing and increases the risk of harmful mutations, is clearly bad. The alternative to polarization is not suppression of disagreement, it's honest, respectful discourse aimed at maximizing the common good despite disagreements.   This conversation was boring from end to end which is not what I expected from these two. 

I subscribed to his podcast for a short while, hoping that I'd hear some interesting ideas and interviews from a perspective that is different from mine. Instead, every episode felt like it was just entertainment and self-assurance for his own tribe. His use of progressive buzzwords became too nauseating. My commute isn't long enough for Ezra Klein.

The interesting phenomenon is how political polarization promotes policy polarization, granting that the later is much less than the former. I have my own ideas, issue by issue, about who moved away from earlier positions in a more "polarized" position, but that too can be an aspect of polarization: "We are just common-sense centrists as always; THEY have become dangerous radicals with the worst motives."

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