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The brown pundits around here with a full brown pundit and also urbane cowboys, how to talk to Matt Iglesias of Dotcom and he has a new book, One Billion Americans with a pretty provocative title. And could you introduce yourself to the listeners and also for the Indian listeners, what is your cast? Take that however you want to. But that's a question we ask and talk about your book and the title and where they can find it. OK.
My name is Beth Iglesias and my co-founder, senior correspondent of Dotcom Host, a podcast called The Weeds. The book is called One Billion Americans. You can find it on all your favorite bookstores, Internet websites. It's got a website of its own, one billion Americans dot com. It's got a link to your audio book, options to an independent bookstore. You want an e-book? You want to book in the mail. I got it all there. So, yeah, I'm really excited to be here.
Yeah. So, I mean, a billion Americans. How literally should we take that?
You should take it somewhat literally. Obviously one billion is a round number and that is part of the pitch here. It is also approximately triple the existing population in the United States. So it is to an extent just the confluence of those two things, looking for kind of easy things to explain. But it's a it's a good number. And a lot of ways it puts the United States at the population density of France, roughly, which is a country a lot of Americans are familiar with and are comfortable with.
It also involves if we had Canada's level of population growth and sustained it until the end of the century, we would hit one billion in the year. Twenty one hundred.
So, you know, it's all those things.
The book is not a detailed argument about the precise math of one billion. If we got nine hundred million, if we got one point one billion, that would be fine. Broadly speaking, the idea here is that more aggressive measures at population growth would be beneficial and that there are obstacles in the way of that, but that they are relatively easy to overcome and we should go for it.
Well, so let me just jump in, too. There's a lot of objections, obviously, just with that that idea that people are present for the two things that I'm wondering about is the environmental. I mean, I'm wondering from a liberal perspective, like you've been talking to people on podcasts and the environmental impact. I know you address it in your book, but can you speak to that? And also, why should we want a billion Americans, which I mean, I think I I know from your book, but I want you to outline why we need a billion Americans.
You know, as to the environment, I mean, this as I understand it, is a right of center podcasts. So as I'm sure you guys are aware from that perspective, climate change is both a real thing and a concerning thing in some ways.
But it's not the full scale cataclysm that some people on the left paint it to be. And in particular, it's not so bad as to make it not worth trying to have a growing economy. Right.
And people in the developing world are aware of that. And that's relevant for the United States, too, right? There's nothing we can do that's going to like make Vietnam or India or Ethiopia, for that matter, say, well, we don't want to be a rich country. We're just going to accept poverty forever and not have any energy.
So fundamentally, if you want to solve the climate problem, if you're an American policymaker and you want to solve the climate problem, the biggest solutions that we can deliver are solutions that operate globally. And so that means deploying existing technology in a way that improves economies of scale, gets people better at manufacturing solar panels or whatever else. And by investing in innovation, essentially. Right. I mean, if there are better, cheaper, greener ways of doing things, those will be used around the world.
But simply trying to sort of shrink ourselves as a single national footprint doesn't contribute as much to the solution as I think a lot of progressive people think it might because they're not thinking about the problem in a holistic sense. Now, as for why one billion, you know, this all came to me as all good ideas do late at night after a few beers talking to people. And we're thinking about, you know, greatness, Trump and what's going on.
And when you look at international competition between the United States and China, why is it that a country whose had a per capita living standard that similar to like Mexico or Bulgaria to be generous, why are they big players on the international stage? Like, why is this a problem for the United States? And it's because it's such a big country. When you've got one point two billion people, you don't need to be that rich to have a huge aggregate footprint.
So then I start thinking, well, it's what can the United States match that and say, well, how would we do it? Well, we could do it with more immigrants. We could do it with more policies to support childbearing at home. And then you look at it like, are those good policies? Are they reasonable? And I think they are like, those are things that are worth doing on their own terms. Then what problems is as great?
Well, there's traffic jams, there's housing. There's other things that you have to address. But we can address these things. So it all comes down to like we should not accept relative decline. America has been the toughest the biggest dog on the international stage for our whole lifetimes, everyone who's around here. And it's worth fighting for that. And that means getting more people. It's very doable and in a lot of ways is going to be very beneficial to the people living here now.
Well, I'm pretty I'm pretty open to that personally, so I think one of the issues with the book that I had are not issues. There are some parts of the book that seem more aimed towards liberals and some parts that are seem more aimed towards just everybody or maybe even conservatives. And I think from a conservative perspective, this idea or just more nationalistic perspective, this idea that America should be number one is great. But, you know, a lot of people more on your end of the political spectrum now are not quite.
I think the word would be comfortable. It's not like they're against America, but they're uncomfortable with this idea that we should try to stay number one. And what has been the feedback from that domain like? Has anyone that outlined that explicitly?
You know, I mean, I have this is what's interesting. I think what's clear is that a lot of contemporary progressives are uncomfortable with the language and rhetoric of patriotism, you know what I mean?
They're not against it necessarily, but they find its aesthetics to be off-putting. They don't they don't want to see, like American flags on a book title, just like, you know, in America. Right. If you drive around, if you see a community where, like, tons of people have flags in their front yard, you just know in your heart that like the voting neighborhood.
And then you ask the liberals who don't have flags, like, what's up? Do you hate America? And they're like, no, America's great. Right.
But it's it's not part of the contemporary progressive aesthetic.
And so you do get pushback about that. But then when you ask people, right.
Like, well, are we going to be better off with a Chinese global hegemony? And I don't actually find a lot of people who think that now. I do expect when the book is out, somebody somewhere is going to do a trolley review about how the decline of the evil empire is all for the best. But I think it's it's marginal as an actual opinion. But there is a discomfort with the kind of aesthetics and atmospherics around it.
But I think that's a that's a political dead end. Right? I mean, if you look at a successful Democratic Party campaign, right, you look at Barack Obama, you look at Joe Biden, who I think is going to win.
And like they do all the patriotism shtick. They have the flags. They have the red, white and blue colors because like, I don't know, it's America. You do American politics by talking about America and your fundamental affection for America and your desire to bring out the best in America. And it's always been like that. I love Langston Hughes, his old poem about this, Let America Be America Again. And if you want to get to the left of him, like, that's fine.
But he's very left wing. Smart guy. Great poem. Check it out.
Hi, this is Omar. I'm like Razib. I haven't read the book. I will. But the other obvious question from the progressive side, I have a question about that, too, but I'll come to that later. I wanted to ask you the sort of the obvious right wing question would be one billion Americans would be great. But America is we are talking about America versus China because we believe in nation states and to some extent at least. And if we are going to believe in that, we also have to believe why is it different from China?
There is a history, there's a culture, there's a certain way of life. And that that culture and way of life is actually still dominated by it's white Anglo-Saxon Protestant roots and whatever. There's a long argument about this, you know more than I do about it. But how will you maintain that if you're going to import 700 million, presumably mostly non European? So this is not an open borders book. A lot of people ask me about that.
I agree with a lot of the economic analysis about immigration that Bryan Caplan has done in his his Open Borders book.
But, you know, where we differ is that I think he, you know, really wants to dissolve the American nation as a political community. And that's why he frames it as open borders. I want to strengthen the American nation as a political community. I think it's in keeping with George Washington's political ideas, Abraham Lincoln's political ideas.
And that to me means like, yes, more immigrants, but not indiscriminate immigration. I think we want to look to a skills kind of system like they have in Canada, Australia. I'm also not opposed to the idea that we want to have a special relationship with the other Anglophone countries or even with our NATO allies in terms of migration.
I'm also not talking about, you know, a one off sudden influx of six hundred million foreigners, but both an increase of the domestic birthrate and a marginal increase in the number of immigrants per every year.
You know, I think I would say to conservatives that they need to look at this in a less hysterical kind of way.
They should look at the fact that, for example, Donald Trump has a. He made inroads with black and Hispanic voters in the United States, most of them are going to still go for Democrats.
But during all this time when Democrats have gotten increasingly spun up about race and social justice topics, Trump has actually done better with the people that the Democrats think they're trying to appeal to.
And, you know, I think that's because the sort of baseline, kind of working class, common sense patriotism, faith and family stuff that Republicans are into actually has cross racial appeal and perhaps more across racial appeal than Republicans even give themselves credit for.
And if you just kind of own it, right, on some level, nobody is more patriotic than people who moved here from other countries and who know that, like, it is true that America has a lot of flaws, that a lot of the things progressives say about it are accurate, but that in the scheme of things like America is is a pretty great place. Right. And immigration underscores that American story, I think, better than anything else you can say.
Is there racism in America? Absolutely. Has that historically shaped our institutions? Absolutely. The fact is, like people like Kamala Harris father, like move here voluntarily from Jamaica and they do that for a reason like this is a country that that has a lot of good qualities going for. But that itself makes it you know, that's almost become like a Republican case right now. Why won't the Democrats, for example, sort of make that, you know, what are Democrats going to make?
I don't know.
You know, look, this is not I am a Democrat myself, and I have strong opinions on a lot of issues that are not discussed in this book.
You know, abortion, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.
But I think that this is an idea that should be able to capture, you know, some support from people on both sides of the aisle. It will also provoke opposition in different ways. But but that's what makes for an interesting book and interesting project like this is very different from Donald Trump's approach to governance. But I think that it is not that much at odds with at least many of the values that animate conservative people, but also many of the values that animate progressive people in America.
That, to me, is why it's interesting and I think should be fun to people. I think that this book is a more if you care about politics, if you're interested in policy, I think a lot of the current dialogue is honestly just depressing and frustrating. I wanted to write a book that is sort of a fun place to spend some of your mental time in thinking about these problems, thinking about these ideas, not just like culture war, ax grinding.
Let me ask.
So obviously, a lot of the focus in the book is going to be on the immigration side of things. But you also mentioned, you know, increased birth rates or things like that. What can be what, if anything, can really be done on that score we talk about there? Yeah.
So, I mean, what I come out for in the book, you know, as I say, we should give money like Universal Cash Allowance to parents. We should think harder about the provision of some school.
Right. We've all those of us who live in jurisdictions where they have closed the schools are now acutely aware that school is about education, but it's also about helping parents out. Hopefully, you know, the pandemic will end and kids will go back to school. But school starts at five years old. It turns off during the summer months. It ends at three 30 p.m. And I try not to get incredibly prescriptive about what we should be doing before five after three p.m. and during the summer months.
But we should be doing something right now. You could have a leftist kind of idea about, you know, like cradle to grave pre-K all year round summer schooling. You can have a much more rightest idea about just cash grants to parents or flexible vouchers. I think we probably need some experimentation around some of these ideas. We don't know exactly what's best for them. But what I think we do know is that, like, we should be doing something right if we accept that it's important for society to think of itself as an intergenerational compact that extends forward into time that we need to address the sort of Baumel cost disease impacts that are making it more and more expensive to raise children.
And we need to subsidize it on some different levels. I think we also need to look at some cultural and regulatory changes.
You know, I was struck by some studies I read that I think came out of Mercatus that we're just looking at the trend toward requiring lower student faculty so student teacher ratios in preschools and they've increased the cost a lot.
And it's possible that they've increased quality.
But nobody really bothered to check if that's true and jurisdictions have just been racing ahead with it, then there's just like simple cultural norm stuff like we spent too much time making parents like get like amped up about screen time and like, you know, are you eating the right vegetables and stuff like that and ought to accept, you know, that this stuff is just not as important to children's outcomes as people would like it to be.
There is a lot of randomness and a lot of genetic influence on kids.
And you can choose how you want.
Yeah, I know we can we can go into it into a rabbit hole on that.
But, you know, I. Well, let's talk about genetics to me.
Like the biggest crazy making example of this that I discussed briefly in the book is this kind of like breast feeding mania that has overtaken the establishment in the United States, which is 100 percent based on studies that show that basically higher income, better educated women both breastfeed their children more and longer and also their kids have better life outcomes.
And they're like any number of reasons why that could be true.
But obviously, children are closely related to their parents, genetically speaking. So anything you want to do about these parenting now? You have to come up with some way to try to study that, right, some kind of random assignment or twin studies or something like that, and just the work has not been done.
The closest thing to like a real randomized controlled trial about this is like some crazy scenario involving a Romanian orphanage. And it says that breastfeeding is bad. So I don't I don't know that that's true.
I don't wouldn't want to generalize from a Romanian orphanage study.
But the point is, just like if you want to talk about parenting and child and outcomes in a serious way, you have to create study designs that take this into account. And by and large, we don't and have just sort of piled on a greater kind of burden on parents and mothers in particular in a way that's stressful and unfair and totally ungrounded.
It's an important question and obviously it should be studied. But I think this is not very straightforward. People have tried in countries that have better social safety nets than the U.S. does. The total fertility rate is actually lower than the U.S. So the mystery of why people are having fewer kids is not very straightforward. I think less straightforward than people think. I agree with that.
I mean, you know, there's I mean, it looks like if you compare the U.S. to Europe, at least it looks to me that the dominant factor is just religiosity. Right. There's more religious people in the United States and therefore more kids than in Europe.
I also think people sometimes underrate the value of our appliances in the United States. Taking care of children involves a lot of like laundry and stuff like that in which it's much easier to do when the US and Europe notwithstanding their kind of social provision.
I go through some studies, though, that have been done that, you know, try to show, you know, ceteris paribus, all else being equal. What is the impact of providing more money to parents on birth rates? And, you know, it shows that it goes up right at the economic incentives matter, particularly up front. Money is fairly potent in these kind of things.
A lot of the countries that at least claim to have gone furthest in in prenatal exam like Hungary, in countries like Hungary are they're actually very focused on kind of like valorizing really unusually large families, like tax bonus to women who have more than four children.
And that's just not a very effective margin on which to operate versus just being a little more generous, pushes more people from one to two and more people from two to three.
But I agree. I mean, it's hard, right? I mean, human motivations are are complex. Yeah.
Yeah. So I was just going to ask a quick question, Matthew. So I guess my question to you would be it's a complex one. So we've talked about so far on immigration and schooling and kind of even the the infancy and kind of generally, you know, the class America.
How do you respond to, like Daniel Markowitz's book on the meritocracy trap and how that plays into your larger perspective on in your book? Who, you know, meritocracy, I feel like is is beyond beyond the scope here, although I do think it's an interesting subject.
I mean, I think that, like, I think that ideas about meritocracy lead people into a lot of conceptual and political dead ends, particularly in the United States.
I mean, I will say one strength of American society is that we perhaps like overvalue individual effort, which does help people at the margin by encouraging them to to sort of make efforts.
But, you know, I mean, if I would like to do a whole other book about meritocracy someday and people's difficulty with accepting the idea that they have been beneficiaries of good fortune and also the obsession with so often, if you want to say, OK, somebody deserves better, they deserve more material resources, they deserve a higher standard of living people than want to paint that as like, well, secretly, they're really awesome and they've been subverted and unfair, complicated ways.
And you shouldn't really need to make arguments like that. It's if we have the capacity to raise people's living standards and just like all be better off, we should do that in the spirit of generosity. And not everything has to be about sort of resentment and clawing back and getting over on other people.
But I don't I don't really think this book is that much about that kind of thing.
Well, so speaking of meritocracy, with mass immigration, lots of immigration of lots of different types, you know, you get a whole new class of people coming in with, like, high educational qualifications. Perhaps they want to be pundit's to they definitely want to be software engineers. You know, you make them be doctors in places like Chicago that are too cold for American doctors to really want to practice. And I mean, there's reasons that you have high skilled immigration coming to this country.
But do you wonder about the social destabilization induced by the fact that, you know, you know, about pediatricians working elite overproduction, but what about elite competition and then how the native people, native born Americans, are going to react to this sort of destabilization? I mean, I didn't really get much of a sense of that in your book, partly because you have like the proximal policies and you have the ultimate goals. But between the two, there's going to be a lot of happening.
And have you given much thought to that? Yeah.
So here's my my intellectual trajectory in this. Right. I mean, so the United States has had historically this kind of family based immigration system, at least until recently. We also had a lot of people just coming in illegally. And in particular, the illegal migration gave a very low skill profile to our immigrant mix, the family unification to an extent. It does that to some extent, I mean, it's complicated, but so people on the right would often say, oh, well, you know, we should switch to something more like the Canadian or Australian system, select for skilled migrants.
That would be more politically sustainable.
It would be better. I used to have a hot take that like that was wrong.
That actually something people liked about America was that immigrants would sort of come in and slot in to the lower rungs of the social ladder because it was a step up for the immigrants themselves. But then it lets native people have relative privilege vis a vis immigrants.
And you do see, like every politician in America will like talk about how fucking poor their great grandfather was when when he came as an immigrant. And I'm the same way. Right. I mean, you know, people start asking me about anything and I'll start talking about my immigrant ancestors and like the shit they did and how their kids ended up better. And then that's like a very American trajectory. But then I, I did look at like studies of public opinion in Europe, in Australia, in Canada.
It seems like there is more political support for skilled immigrants. So why not I mean, why not roll with it? Why not bring in more skilled people? You do have this prospect, though, that you could get a world where we have lots of immigrants slotting into elite levels and native born Americans become a sort of like like an underclass in their own country, which that doesn't sound very politically sustainable to me. So we might have to switch back again.
I try not to be.
I'm very dogmatic on the principle that immigration is good, that like in concrete material terms, it is of incredible benefit to the immigrants themselves and a moderate benefit to the receiving country as well. And therefore we should go for it.
And I think the correct read from a pro immigration standpoint is that like immigration is so good that we should be almost infinitely politically flexible about what it is the public wants or is willing to put up with. If people want, like open borders with Peru, fine if people want no immigrants from Peru whatsoever. But that's also fine. You know, I mean, we can argue at the margins about what makes the most sense. But like there's a case that immigrants who don't speak English are good for natives because it creates a situation in which English language fluency is itself a valuable labour market skill.
There's also a case that people just find it annoying when they go into stores or neighborhoods that their own country and people aren't speaking English. So maybe we should heavily select for English language skills.
Maybe we should ignore it like, I don't know, we should work it out.
And, you know, another thing I try to be realistic about is like I live in Washington, DC. I cover politics for a living. Nothing happens just because it's like here's a perfect blueprint, like they're political bargains. And my basic take about immigration is that almost any bargain that allows for more legal immigration to the United States would be worth making. Well, so let me ask you a quick question about immigration, and just honestly, I, I think I lean more to the restrictionist skills based side, but at this point, I have admitted to you like I think I told you.
But I mean, I've admitted this in public. I've told Alex at Cato Institute, I'm not going to say his last name, person names. I don't do it. But I've met him in real life. We're friends, so whatever. But I'm not I'm very I'm very pessimistic about the American elite that we have right now on the left and the right, to be frank. And so I'm much more open about just replacing it with something better because, I mean, I have really negative thing, which I'm not going to say on the podcast because I don't want Indians to be freaked out.
But so, you know, I do have that attitude. But I don't actually know if, like the Republicans or the Democrats have an immigration policy where they talk about what it's for right now. Because I hear from the Democrats, it's about, I don't know, some sort of human rights. There should be. I mean, I know they're not technically open borders, but they sure sound like it. And then the Republicans, it's obvious they're against it now.
But why are they against it? I mean, yes, I understand. Like, maybe they want to keep the country white. Maybe it's their germs, that sort of thing. But I feel like the immigration conversation that we have today in twenty twenty is a lot dumber than the one we had in the 20s. It's not just me.
I don't know that I feel like the one we had in the 20s was also pretty dumb.
I mean, I will be assisting a little bit different about the Democrats position on immigration, but I think it underscores that it is kind of dumb, right. Which is they're not for open borders because open borders would mean something that's problematic in some ways, but beneficial in some ways.
Democrats seem to me to support a position in which legal immigration to the United States remains very, very restricted.
But people who come here without authorization are treated very kindly and like not particularly deterred, right.
And that creates a negative selection because lax enforcement of immigration law doesn't help like a foreign doctor come here and practice medicine. Right. It doesn't help a skilled engineer come here and help design the next generation of micro reactors. Right. So you're still keeping out like the highest skilled immigrants. You're letting in extremely desperate people and then kind of maintaining them in somewhat desperate circumstances here in the United States.
And it's a it's a kind of you know, it's a weird meeting of the minds between the soft hearted aspects of liberal thinking and just kind of big business liking the idea of having a lot of bodies around who don't have real rights. And it's it's quite dumb.
And then Republicans who have developed, you know, a perception that Democrats view on immigration is not good and that they can exploit it as a sort of political issue.
Don't seem to me to, like, really have a view at all of what do they want from immigration? What are they trying to say about it? Do they understand anything about the relevant economics? You know, the implications for the long term future of America. They've gone like Donald Trump is not a deep thinker about public policy, but he kind of struck a nerve with some Midwestern voters. And now Republicans just seem to be trying to ride that.
But, you know, democracy is great, like people should vote. But mass opinion is not like a great guide to the details of public policy. And just letting your whole position be swung around by the prejudices of people who are arbitrarily, heavily weighted in the Electoral College is not a really great way to to think about issues. Can I ask the gotcha, gotcha question, please do get me OK, so your last book, The Rent Is Too Damn High, it's a great book, argued for increased density and more housing to try and bring housing prices down.
But if we do increase the population of the United States, that would presumably put upward pressure on housing prices.
And it also does not seem like, at least so far, America's leadership has taken your sage advice about increased density. So is it is it? How do those two things fit together? And does it make sense to try and radically increase housing demand without first dealing with the housing supply issue?
I mean, you know, I basically redo the whole argument of rent is too damn high in this book because I think it's important. And, you know, we have to address the housing supply issue. I am a little bit more optimistic.
We have seen some sort of meaningful reforms in the West Coast states, not in the East Coast. And I'm always hoping that the Texas state legislature will exercise its love of sticking it to Austin by forcibly up zoning there. I try to convince them maybe you guys can do a better job than me.
But yes, I mean, obviously you would need to address the housing issue here. Now, one of the things I talk about in the book is trying to sort of, you know, spread the wealth around a little bit, take advantage of the sort of underpopulated cities, the Midwest, et cetera, et cetera.
But I mean, there's no substitute for improving baseline housing policy in the United States.
I should note, the current government in the UK is moving forward with what I think is a very promising looking sort of big reform package there. And I'm hoping that it works so well that it makes a splash in American circles, particularly on the American right, to recognize that there's a good deregulatory idea here that could really help people.
Unfortunately, like some of Trump's recent tweets about suburban dream lifestyle and protecting housewives from apartment buildings seem to suggest him moving in the opposite direction. But this is an issue where the the elites like the policy people in both the Obama and Trump administrations have exactly the same correct opinion. So I'm hoping that someday we can we can force it through. We yeah, so let me, um, let me look at the housing issue, one thing that I thought of is half a billion people.
We're going to need some high rises like some Asian megacities. Yeah. And I almost I almost started thinking, like, OK, is is he saying to compete with China, we kind of need to look a bit more like China in our urban areas because we don't have those. I think they call them world cities. These like with a like they look futuristic to the American eye because we just haven't allowed that. Is that what you're thinking?
You know, I think there might be some of that it's worth saying. I mean, China has, I think, about five times the population density of the United States.
So even if we tripled our density, we would still be much more sparsely populated country than than China is.
I do think, though, that we should think about Asia in this sense. Right.
There's an American way of building that Americans are familiar with because we live here.
And to the extent that it gets criticized, it tends to be from liberals who live in the Northeast and like to go on vacation in Europe. And they kind of say, well, why can't all of America look more like Boston or even more so?
Why can't it look like Amsterdam? And the reason it can't look like Boston or Amsterdam is that those are old places.
They were just built a long time ago on a technological paradigm that doesn't exist today. And if you want to look at different ways of building modern cities, you know, you could look at Calgary or you could look at Singapore or Seoul or something like that.
Cities that have been built that are denser, they're more urbanised, but they're built with modern technology, in particular automobiles, and then transit systems that are complementary to automobiles rather than pre-exist them, you know, tall buildings, not little row houses, et cetera, et cetera. So I think there's a lot to be learned from there.
But also, America is not you know, you can you you can look at this book and say, oh, man, like this is a kind of outlandish idea. But we're still talking about a population density that is trivial compared to Taiwan or Korea or Japan or other developed Asian countries. So we wouldn't look like those countries, but we might incorporate a few places that look like them.
What was the hardest part of the book to write? I don't know, writing books is pretty easy.
And I think, you know, what was hardest to write is dealing with the climate change issues, both because they're conceptually complex.
I didn't really want to write a whole book about climate change and also because I just I think some of the sort of standard progressive thinking on that topic is mistaken. But I want to persuade people and not make them angry. So it's it's challenging to kind of thread that needle. It's easier to just be like, phew, these guys are wrong. But I don't think environmentalists are, like, completely wrong to say that we should be worried about this or we should be doing more about it.
But a lot of the sort of prevailing rhetoric I mean, I write about this like the world will literally end in 12 years thing and like that that stuff is not true.
So it's it's hard to kind of like, brush people gently in the right direction. You did the audio version, right? I did. Was that tough? Yes, I mean, it's you know, it's hard because I don't know, you know, what you guys do.
But, you know, I write stuff all the time and I sometimes do public speaking. And when I write to speak, I write differently from when I write to write.
I wasn't thinking about the audiobook when I wrote the book and then sitting there with some of these sentences in front of me, I'm like, oh my God. Like, I can't I can't say that.
I also learned that, like, I have no idea how to pronounce all kinds of words. I was saying consequently wrong halfway through the reading. Also, I cite people's names. I have no idea how to say anyone's names.
And it's become this I don't like nobody can pronounce my name correctly and I don't really mind, but it's become this kind of bugaboo that you you've got to get people's names right. So it took a long time to research all that and practice it. I'm not a not a professional reader, but, you know, I thought people might like to hear my voice and it was fun to do it.
So, I mean, is a lot different than doing a podcast then.
Sure. Because a podcast is talking, you know, I mean, spoken language is so different from written language, but an audio book is in this it's in this uncanny valley, you know, where you have to you can't speak with the cadence of natural spoken language. There's a certain repetitiveness, weird pauses and speaking. I mean, you listen to this and I'm rambling in an odd way, and that's podcast. That's my podcasts are great. You have a nice, freewheeling discussion.
An audio book is a written text, but I didn't write it to be read. It would be interesting to think about, you know, writing down a book length intended to be audio book thing where I would have short sentences, stuff like that, but still the formal properties of writing. But audio books stuff, it's it's harder than podcasting and it's harder than writing.
Well, so speaking of writing, let me ask you, I'm some kind of like a little bit as we're going to the end of this. I'm non one billion Americans questions. So I was curious to see and I got it through your Twitter feed, Professor Kate and to Nova. Oh yeah. I said. So you're listed with Andrew Sullivan, who just had a quite unflattering, I think, column Ben Smith was about in The New York Times.
David Brooks, we don't need to say anything about David Brooks. Matt Taibbi, who is I mean, that's an interesting character. And then Matt Iglesias, Steven Pinker, who was kind of like dismissed a lot of the time. And then now Ferguson again. I mean, what does it feel like to be on a list with those guys? Because they're kind of, you know, depending on which that you're in, they're kind of punch lines?
Well, I mean, he was a funny list, though, right?
Because it was so it's so ideologically wide ranging.
And so Tabe is way to my left, you know, Pinker and I, I guess are both sort of banal centrist liberals, although he seems to delight in annoying people.
I mean I delight in annoying a different group of people than Andrew and Ferguson are on the right.
And I actually thought the sheer diversity of people she wanted to like, never speak again.
But you guys were not diverse. I think that's the key well cared about is you were white, do well.
But I mean, what she cared about is that we are all people of a nonconformist spirit. Right. And there is increasing.
Demand, I wouldn't say demand, there are increasing expressions of people for writers to just be boring all the time, and I don't think that makes a lot of sense.
You just want to talk about Ferguson, because he is probably of the people who are there, the one I am least in political sympathy with. I've even had some knockdown, drag out arguments with them on the Internet. I think he's had some luck, really bad takes during the financial crisis, terrible takes about Obama. I really disagree with him a lot and don't care for his content. All that being said, his book about World War One, The Pity of war, like that's a great book.
People should read it.
And I think if you judge writers primarily by how annoyed me by their most annoying takes rather than how impressed am I by their most impressive work, you're going to wind up with a very impoverished intellectual life.
And I think if you take the best of Ferguson, the best of Sullivan, the best of Tabe and the best of Pinker, you'd have really great stuff. Like those are people who have good high points, no matter what you think of their low points, you know, and I would I would love for people to think that my best book is as good as Pinker's best book or Ferguson's best book.
Well, I mean, Solomon, let me ask you, like, why are you on Twitter all the time?
It's kind of an unpleasant fight and I'm on Twitter all the time. Do I like Twitter?
You're one of the Lakers, you're one of the lovers. I think, you know, I think a lot of people are unpleasant on Twitter all the time, which is unfortunate. And I'm constantly blocking people and muting people and wishing that Twitter had slightly more powerful tools to block more people.
But you also learn a lot on Twitter. You know, it's like I've gotten to know a lot of people have gotten introduced to a lot of interesting ideas. I built a lot of relationships with people. If I go to new cities, I can always find some people to hang out with thanks to Twitter.
And I don't like when people externalize the bad behavior of human beings and attribute it to Twitter. Right.
There are a lot of people using Twitter in a closed minded and dumb way, but that's that's on them.
That's not Twitter, right? I agree. I think that I have learned a lot from Twitter and continue to learn a lot. But obviously, it's an open democratic forum and democracy.
Right, exactly. Exactly. It's a you know, like your feed is as good as the people you choose to follow.
All right. That's a that's a fair point. That's a fair point.
But the problem is and I don't wanna get too inside baseball, but it's just like the stuff bleeds out, like you keep trying to prune and then sometimes, like some stupid blob of a controversy just kind of bleeds out and like so I mean that you signed the letter and that that Thomas Chatterton Williams, a friend of mine, he's been on this podcast too organized and able for like a week and a half. It was all about Thomas, Chatterton, Williams, and some of it was just like really bizarre stuff where it was like I think some woman was saying they should have had a black man.
Speak and they were talking about Thomas Chatterton, Williams is not black, and then it turned out there's like a special definition and I'm like, what is going on with this website? That it's just like, first of all, no one knows the letter in the real world. Second of all, like Thomas Chatterton, Williams is of that famous. But now he is like this. It's like it is just Twitter. It is crazy. On the other hand, and I was in academia until recently, a lot of the things that were crazy on Twitter or in social media or in academia now are part of our culture.
And so, I mean, that's a problem, isn't it?
Well, so I think there's two different things at work, right.
Like one is there are some ideas that one might think are bad ideas that have bubble out right from academia or onto Twitter, then into the real world.
And that can be problematic.
That's what I kind of thought about the the David Shaw type situation, which was some ideas that I had previously thought of as some weirdness on college campuses that I didn't really care about that much were now impacting sort of a real world institution like a Democratic Party polling and consulting company.
And I found that disturbing. But so the the other thing that happens on Twitter, though, right.
And this is what was going on with Chatterton Williams and continues to, I think, is that people develop these like little Twitter gangs. Right. And then the gangs have beefs with one another.
And so once you decide, OK, Chatterton, Williams, he isn't he's in the other gang. They start watching his tweets like a hawk. And then if you see anything ambiguously worded that you could then interpret as really dumb, you dunk on it. Right. And then the dunk, by its nature, the way the art with comment works is that you read the uncharitable framing of the tweet before you read the tweet itself. And then what you're supposed to do as a member of the gang is affirm that the uncharitable reading was correct.
And so then it cycles around. Right. And so it's like everybody's beating up on this one guy's thing and people do it. It goes in cycles, know everybody has their own kind of time in the barrel or their own internecine feuds.
You know, I heard somebody say like they needed a Twitter, Wikipedia so that you could understand who people are and what fights they're in because it's too it's too confusing.
And that kind of behavior, you know, I fall into it myself, but it's it's a real intellectual trap. Right. And it affects people with all different kinds of ideas. I don't think it's particular to any particular sect. Right.
But it's a no no. Trying to enforce conformity. Right. Is to say, look, if you step out, you're going to be you're going to be out of the gang. And, you know, we're just going to be really mean to you.
And, you know, it just reminds me of middle school, right?
It's like if you don't do the right thing, if people get mad at you, then suddenly they'll make fun of you for having the wrong sneakers. But there's no right sneakers. You can have anything you do. People can choose to make fun of you for because the human condition is inherently ridiculous. Right. Like, what are you going to do about it if people just want to be a jerk to you, they're going to find reasons to do it.
And a lot of people are pursuing that kind of juvenile behavior while convincing themselves that they're doing politics and they're just not.
So, yeah, we were talking about Twitter. I want to go back to the book then. So, you know, as I said, I read the book. I enjoyed it. It was provocative. I do have a question. Would you be OK with America having a lower GDP per capita if its aggregate was still bigger? Like, is that important? Because like I think we tend to think of quality over quantity is what makes America great.
On the other hand, you know, what about that idea?
Most of there's a compositional question and then there's a sort of like to like living standards. I don't think that a policy trajectory that led today's American population to have a lower standard of living would be I mean, you could make a philosophical case for it, but like, it's a non-starter politically and not a good idea.
You know, a separate question is right.
You look at sometimes.
So the United States, if the United States didn't let any refugees cut, our per capita GDP would go up. Right. And that's not because refugees presence is costly to me or to other native born Americans. It's because the refugees themselves are much poorer than the average American, because by design. Right. Refugees are hard luck cases. They have a lot of trouble. The point of letting them come here is that they will be much better off than they would be in a refugee camp abroad.
Right. So I think looking at those kind of compositional issues and getting obsessed with it is a mistake, right?
It's it's fine that a certain amount of the global poor are able to move here and, you know, sometimes quadruple or increase six, seven, eight fold their living standards and their standard of living.
You don't want to have so much of the global poor coming here that it, you know, somehow destroys the political system or something like that.
But, you know, to worry too much about about the composition is different from worrying about the actual direct impact on native born people.
Well, I mean, do you think one of the one of the questions that I have about your book is like assimilation and, you know, so I mean, I was born abroad and I think I've assimilated. OK, there's some house words that my wife can tell you I do not know that are quite strange.
But to all to all major appearances, I'm pretty American, but I feel like kids today, like our culture is not as much into assimilation as it was, say, in the late, late 20th century. Is this like do you think it's a misimpression for me or like I mean, like what is your attitude on that? Because economics is one thing in terms of integrating into the workforce. I think America can always do that. But there are countries like so for example, I have relatives in England and England is kind of weird where they're kind of OK with you creating your own almost enclave.
They can leave you alone. You know, they're British, they don't bug you. You know, America has not been like that traditionally, but I feel like it's going in that direction. Like, what do you think about that?
Well, so one difference is in the United States, in Europe with regard to assimilation is that, you know, I do think America has a stronger tradition and legacy of a civic nationalism. Right.
You know, people might say, oh, I'll put it this way. When somebody says so-and-so is not a real American or what real Americans know, blah, blah, blah, is they are normally like just making a political argument. Like that's just a way of saying, like, I don't like left wing people.
So, like, I might be not a real American, whereas like if a French Pearson says something like that, they are typically making an ethnic or racial argument that like the descendants of North Africans, particularly if they practice Islam, are like not authentically French.
And I think like Americans don't think along those lines. They believe that people who move here and, you know, speak English and, you know, learn the infield fly rule are Americans. And that's great. Right? That's a that's a sort of strength of our society here and something that we should encourage.
I think you also see quite high rates of intermarriage in the contemporary United States. So people sometimes have the impression that we've sort of fallen back on assimilationist ideals.
And you definitely hear less of the kind of rhetoric of like we've got to Americanize these people. But in some ways, I think you see you see more intermarriage. I think you were maybe writing about this in terms of Indian Americans today versus versus Jewish.
Yeah, 100 years ago, you know, which I think is is telling and important because like my grandmother would tell me, oh, you know, things have changed, like when I was a little girl.
I forget what it was, but it was like German Jews created some kind of like assimilation bootcamps because they found the Eastern European Jews like her to be embarrassing.
So they, like, took her somewhere. I don't know. It was a weird thing.
And she she expressed a kind of nostalgia for it that I think contemporary progressives would say that this was bad one way or another, though there were very I I forget what the word for it is and dogmas.
Yeah, I know better than me. Yes.
So, you know, in a practical sense, actually, not that much assimilation, even if they like learn to like act the part of Americans that generation of Jewish Americans was actually very much a society apart to the extent that, like she and my grandfather enjoyed a fair amount of economic success after World War Two, which then meant that they joined the Jewish Country Club on Long Island.
And in part, that was because Jews were not being allowed into the other country clubs.
But by the 1980s, that wasn't the case where they could have dissolved the Glenn had country club and gone and integrate, but instead they had their own and then eventually became an issue because I think it was like some Asian people wanted to get in on the Jewish Country Club because they actually didn't like the the WASP country club, which they perceived as more culturally distant from them than the Jewish one.
And I think they they let them in and sort of dissolved it ultimately.
So on some level, I think America has become more integrationist and sort of assimilationist. I don't think it would hurt to bring back. A little bit of the rhetoric, particularly if it would make conservative people feel better about immigration to just be like, no, like we're really saying, like, you got to learn English right in practice.
As far as I understand it, English acquisition is proceeding as rapidly as it ever has.
I mean, all kinds of foreign people learn English a it's a slightly weird hang up that some people have.
But, you know, if we want it to be a little bit more hardcore about it, yell at people who wave the Mexican flag at soccer games or something.
Obama did that in his book. Actually, that was kind of his sister. Soldier was was Mexican second generation Mexican Americans who waved Mexican flags.
You know, I think it's a little politically cynical, but also I don't have a problem with it.
I mean, it is important to say I mean, it's important in reality that, like, people come here to join America and that their kids be Americans.
I have, I think, more confidence that that's happening than some conservative people do. But if they want us to go a little bit further down that road to feel OK about it, I think that's a reasonable idea.
All right. So last question. So last question. In the United States relationship, do you have any takes on this? Like what's going on? Like, it seems like Hindu nationalist ism is going to be a thing.
And I get a lot of just like confused, confused comments.
I feel like especially from the left wing policy establishment on how to deal with this in terms of whether India is as bad as Nazi Germany. Just sometimes crazy things come out in the rhetoric. But in general, like, is there any consensus that you're seeing with, say, America and India having an alliance? Because obviously that's something that's on the radar.
Yeah, I don't know anything about Indian domestic politics.
I think the idea, you know, the U.S. and India became estranged for sort of bank shoddy Cold War reasons. And I think it obviously makes a lot of sense for the U.S. and India to be in closer geopolitical alignment.
And I know that there are some you know, they're both the most Indian Americans, I guess, are on the left.
Certainly a lot of left wing intellectuals are Indian American. But there's also a kind of movement in the Indian American community to sort of copy the AIPAC model and forge an alliance in that respect.
So I don't exactly know how that will shake out.
I guess definitely my advice would be that it's probably easier to have that kind of alliance if if Hindu nationalism is a little a little chillier than it is sometimes been.
It's it's not it's not that well received in the United States as a kind of ideology and worldview.
But, of course, you know, on another level. So, again, this is me not knowing anything about India.
When I hear critics of Modi, one thing that I think is that all countries have, at least as far as I'm aware, a political party that represents some kind of an alliance between business interests and the local socio cultural majority group.
And then like another party, that's the party on the left. And that's just politics to some level. Right.
And, you know, there was some moment in time we talked about Andrew Sullivan earlier, back when he was in his more left wing days. He was really into like calling George W. Bush a Christian ist, which is sort of true in the sense that, like, if you want to say they're Islamists in Muslim countries or Hindu nationalist in India, then like, yes, George W. Bush was a Christian ist in the United States. But that's just to say, like he was a right of center politician in a country where most people are Christian and that has a historical Christian legacy.
That's not me. I wouldn't vote for a party like that. I'm Jewish, atheistic. If I moved to India, I'm sure I would vote for their left wing party, too.
But it's just like it's normal politically to have a political party that reflects that kind of ethnic majoritarianism. I don't find that to be an attractive politics, but I also wouldn't it doesn't make sense to anathema Tizard either.
Yeah, that's what I was asking, because I feel like that's what the cultural trend is occurring on some parts of the left. All right, so we've taken a lot of your time. It was great having you on. I'm just going to just plug your book again. One billion Americans the case for thinking bigger. It's out in the United States in the middle of September. Like, do you know, like any international publications happening September 15th.
I think the ebooks should also be available internationally at that time. I don't know about I don't know about paper copies, hopefully. All right.
Well, it's great to have you, Matt, and good luck on the book. Thank you so much.
To the next week for brownness.