The Ezra Klein Show
Spela

Ross Douthat and I debate American decadence

The Ezra Klein Show

00:00

Ross Douthat and I debate American decadence

The Ezra Klein Show

Winner of the 2020 Webby and People's Voice awards for best interview podcast. Ezra Klein brings you far-reaching conversations about hard problems, big ideas, illuminating theories, and cutting-edge research. Want to know how Stacey Abrams feels about identity politics? How Hasan Minhaj is reinventing political comedy? The plans behind Elizabeth Warren’s plans? How Michael Lewis reads minds? This is the podcast for you. Produced by Vox and the Vox Media Podcast Network.

Podcast Player Enhancement

Have you been having issues playing a podcast on a your mobile device? This has been fixed. You can now start listening to a podcast with confidence and it will continue playing even after switching apps, or locking your phone.

The Ezra Klein Show

In his new book, The Decadent Society, New York Times columnist Ross Douthat diagnoses America’s core problems as decadence: “a situation in which repetition is more the norm than innovation; in which sclerosis afflicts public institution and private enterprises alike; in which intellectual life seems to go in circles; in which new developments in science, new exploratory projects, underdeliver compared with what people recently expected.” Douthat argues that there is a kind of ideological exhaustion, a spiritual malaise, at the center of the American project. We are a victim of our own successes, undone by our own achievements, and unable to break free from our oldest debates. But is he right? Ross and I cover a lot of ground in this conversation. We discuss why conservative Catholics talk so much more about sex than poverty, the dangers of the expansionary impulse, whether psychedelic culture is an antidote to decadence, the importance of utopian ambition, the moral foundations of effective altruism, the problem with contemporary science fiction, whether political liberalism is dependent on Christian metaphysics, why America can’t build, whether war is necessary for existential meaning, how the New York Times op-ed page has changed over the past decade, and much more. Book recommendations: From Dawn to Decadence by Jacques Barzun The Illusion of the End by Jean Baudrillard The End of History and the Last Man by Francis Fukuyama The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood The Children of Men by PD James Want to contact the show? Reach out at [email protected] Please consider making a contribution to Vox to support this show: bit.ly/givepodcasts Your support will help us keep having ambitious conversations about big ideas. New to the show? Want to check out Ezra’s favorite episodes? Check out the Ezra Klein Show beginner’s guide (http://bit.ly/EKSbeginhere) Credits: Producer/Editor - Jeff Geld Researcher - Roge Karma Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices

Published

Play Episode

Related episodes The Ezra Klein Show

The Ezra Klein Show

A serious conversation about UFOs
(NaN)
You may have been following — I hope you are following — the New York Times's recent UFO reporting. Videos that the Navy confirms are real show pilots seeing and marveling over craft they can't explain. And as former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid put it, those videos “only scratch the surface” of the Pentagon's UFO research. UFOs are one of those topics that it’s hard to take seriously because they’re covered in kitsch and conspiracy. But there are those who take them seriously, which means approaching...

en

The Ezra Klein Show

A former prosecutor's case for prison abolition
(NaN)
In 2017, Paul Butler published the book Chokehold: Policing Black Men. For Butler the chokehold is much more than a barbaric police tactic; it is also a powerful powerful metaphor for understanding how racial oppression functions in the US criminal justice system.  Butler describes a chokehold as “a process of coercing submission that is self-reinforcing. A chokehold justifies additional pressure on the body because a body does not come into compliance, but a body cannot come into compliance because of the...

en

The Ezra Klein Show

Why Ta-Nehisi Coates is hopeful
(NaN)
The first question I asked Ta-Nehisi Coates, in this episode, was broad: What does he see right now, as he looks out at the country? “I can't believe I'm gonna say this,” he replied, “but I see hope. I see progress right now.” Coates is the author of the National Book Award-winner Between the World and Me and The Water Dancer, among others. We discuss how this moment differs from 1968, the tension between “law” and “order,” the contested legacy of MLK, Trump's view of the presidency, police abolition, why ...

en

The Ezra Klein Show

Are humans fundamentally good? (with Rutger Bregman)
(NaN)
Dutch historian and De Correspondent writer Rutger Bregman got famous for the lashings he gave Tucker Carlson and the assembled plutocrats of Davos. But his work is far more utopian than polemical. The conversation we had on this show almost a year ago on his previous book Utopia for Realists is still one of my favorites. Bregman's new book, Humankind: A Hopeful History, is even more ambitious: it's an effort to establish that human beings, human nature, is kinder, friendlier, more decent, than we are give...

en

The Ezra Klein Show

From politician to priest
(NaN)
I first met Cyrus Habib at a conference a few years ago. You don't forget him. He's a Rhodes scholar. Iranian-America. As lieutenant governor of Washington state, he was the youngest Democrat elected to statewide office in the country. And he's blind. Then, a couple of weeks ago, I read a piece in the New York Times that I didn't expect: Habib, who had a clear shot to be the next governor of Washington, is leaving politics to become a Jesuit. He is going to take a vow of obedience, of poverty, of chastity....

en

The Ezra Klein Show

Robert Frank's radical idea
(NaN)
I’ve known Cornell economist Robert Frank for almost 15 years. And for as long as I’ve known him, Frank has been trying to convince his fellow economists of an idea that’s simple to state, but radical in its implications: social pressure is a fundamental economic force. We are not rational, individual economic agents; we are social animals trying to mimic, and best each other — oftentimes without even knowing it. The failure of the economics profession to see this is, in Frank's view, a crime against public...

en

The Ezra Klein Show

Why “essential” workers are treated as disposable
(NaN)
Grocery store clerks. Fast food cashiers. Hospice care workers. Bus drivers. Farm workers. Along with doctors and nurses, these are the people who are putting their own lives at risk to keep our society functioning day in and out amid the worst crisis of our lifetimes. We call them heroes, we label them “essential,” and we clap for their brave efforts -- even though none of them signed up for this monumental task, and many of them lack basic healthcare, paid sick leave, a living wage, cultural respect and d...

en

The Ezra Klein Show

"The world’s scariest economist” on coronavirus, innovation, and purpose
(NaN)
The Times of London called Mariana Mazzucato “the world’s scariest economist.” Quartz describes her as “on a mission to save capitalism from itself.” Wired says she has “a plan to fix capitalism,” and warns that “it’s time we all listened. ”Mazuccato is an economist at University College London and Founder and Director of UCL's Institute for Innovation and Public Purpose. She’s the author of The Entrepreneurial State and The Value of Everything — two books that, together, critique some of the most fundamen...

en

The Ezra Klein Show

A mind-bending conversation about quantum mechanics and parallel worlds
(NaN)
While you read these words, the universe is splitting into countless copies. New realities, all with a version of you, exactly like you are now, but journeying off into their own branch of the multiverse. Maybe. Sean Carroll is a theoretical physicist at CalTech, the host of the Mindscape podcast, and author of, among other books, Something Deeply Hidden, which blew my mind a bit. He is also a believer in, and defender of, the “many-worlds” interpretation of quantum mechanics, which has to be one of the fiv...

en

The Ezra Klein Show

Why the coronavirus is so deadly for black America
(NaN)
In Michigan, African Americans represent 14 percent of the population, 33 percent of infections, and 40 percent of deaths. In Mississippi they represent 38 percent of the population, 56 percent of infections, and 66 percent of deaths. In Georgia they represent 16 percent of the population, 31 percent of infections, and just over 50 percent of deaths. The list goes on and on: Across the board, African Americans are more likely to be infected by Covid-19 and far more likely to die from it. This doesn’t reflec...

en

The Ezra Klein Show

Jenny Odell on nature, art, and burnout in quarantine
(NaN)
One of my favorite episodes of this show was my conversation with Jenny Odell, just under a year ago. Odell, a visual artist, writer, and Stanford lecturer, had just released her book How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy and we had a fascinating conversation about the importance of maintenance work, the problem with ceaseless productivity, the forces vying for our attention, the comforts of nature, and so much more.  A lot has changed since then. Odell’s book became a sensation: it captured a ...

en

The Ezra Klein Show

An unusually honest conversation about wielding political power
(NaN)
Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) is the co-chair of the 95-member House Progressive Caucus. That means, in the aftermath of Sen. Bernie Sanders’s presidential campaign, she leads the most influential bloc of progressive power in the federal government. And one thing that separates Jayapal from other elected officials: She’s actually willing to talk about it. I know some of you skip over episodes with politicians because they’re interviews, not conversations. This one is a conversation, and it’s broadly about two...

en

The Ezra Klein Show

What should the media learn from coronavirus?
(NaN)
The coronavirus is “a nightmare scenario” for media, wrote New York Times columnist Charlie Warzel. “It is stealthy, resilient and confounding to experts. It moves far faster than scientists can study it. What seems to be true today may be wrong tomorrow.” Warzel is right. We’ve talked a lot in recent years about fake news. But combatting information we know is false is a straightforward problem compared to covering a story where we don’t know what’s true, and where yesterday’s expert consensus becomes tomo...

en

The Ezra Klein Show

Bill Gates’s vision for life beyond coronavirus
(NaN)
In 2015, I asked Bill Gates a simple question: What are you most afraid of?  He replied by telling me about the death chart of the 20th century. There’s the spike for World War I. The spike for World War II. But between them sat a spike as big as World War II. That, he said, was the Spanish Flu, which killed an estimated 65 million people. Gates’s greatest fear was a flu like that, ripping through our hyperglobalized world.  Gates saw this coming, and he tried to warn the world. But the virus came, and we w...

en

The Ezra Klein Show

An epic conversation with Madeline Miller
(NaN)
It’s been a while since I’ve been able to introduce a conversation on this show as fun. But this one was. I needed it. Maybe you do, too. Madeline Miller has written some of my favorite novels of the past few years. Her books — the Orange Prize-winning The Song of Achilles and the New York Times No. 1 bestseller Circe, soon to be an HBO series — are brilliant reimaginings of some of the most revered texts in the Western canon. Miller’s also a trained classicist, a Shakespeare director, a Latin teacher, and ...

en

The Ezra Klein Show

The loneliness pandemic/Betraying “essential workers”
(NaN)
We have something a bit different today. Two episodes from our extraordinary colleagues at Today, Explained, both of them close to my heart.  The first is an episode that I worked with them on, and appear in: The Loneliness Pandemic. It’s about the social consequences of social distancing, and the toll that isolation and loneliness takes on our health. It's about how the people most vulnerable to isolation are being told to quarantine, and what that will do to their lives. And it's about what the rest of us...

en

The Ezra Klein Show

Why Bernie Sanders lost and how progressives can still win
(NaN)
The Democratic presidential primary is over. Joe Biden is the presumptive nominee heading into the fall. And this week, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren endorsed their former competitor. On the left, the question is: What went wrong? How did Sanders lose to Biden? Why didn’t Warren catch fire? But too few of these postmortems have had sufficient data to build out their theories. And too many of them explain away strategic and tactical failures as media or establishment conspiracies. Sean McElwee has a di...

en

The Ezra Klein Show

Scott Gottlieb on how, and when, to end social distancing
(NaN)
When will social distancing end? When will life return to “normal”? And what will it take to get there?  Scott Gottlieb is a physician and public health expert who served as Donald Trump’s first FDA commissioner, where he was the rare Trump appointee to win plaudits from both the left and the right. Now he’s a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute where he’s emerged as a leading voice on the coronavirus response.  Gottlieb is one of the lead authors of a comprehensive roadmap for what it woul...

en

The Ezra Klein Show

Toby Ord on existential risk, Donald Trump, and thinking in probabilities
(NaN)
Oxford philosopher Toby Ord spent the early part of his career spearheading the effective altruism movement, founding Giving What We Can, and focusing his attention primarily on issue areas like global public health and extreme poverty. Ord’s new book The Precipice is about something entirely different: the biggest existential risks to the future of humanity. In it, he predicts that humanity has approximately a 1 in 6 chance of going completely extinct by the end of the 21st century. Wait! Stay with me! The...

en

The Ezra Klein Show

Elizabeth Warren has a plan for this, too
(NaN)
In January, Sen. Elizabeth Warren was the first presidential candidate to release a plan for combatting coronavirus. In March, she released a second plan. Days later, with the scale of economic damage increasing, she released a third. Warren’s proposals track the spread of the virus: from a problem happening elsewhere and demanding a surge in global health resources to a pandemic happening here, demanding not just a public health response, but an all-out effort to save the US economy. Warren’s penchant for ...

en

The Ezra Klein Show

What social solidarity demands of us in a pandemic
(NaN)
There is no doubt that social distancing is the best way to slow the spread of the coronavirus. But the efficacy of social distancing (or really any other public health measure) relies on something much deeper and harder to measure: social solidarity.  “Solidarity,” writes Eric Klinenberg, “motivates us to promote public health, not just our own personal security. It keeps us from hoarding medicine, toughing out a cold in the workplace or sending a sick child to school. It compels us to let a ship of strand...

en

The Ezra Klein Show

Coronavirus has pushed US-China relations to their worst point since Mao
(NaN)
The COVID-19 pandemic is a grim reminder that the worst really can happen. Tail risk is real risk. Political leaders fumble, miscalculate, and bluster into avoidable disaster. And even as we try to deal with this catastrophe, the seeds of another are sprouting. The US-China relationship will define geopolitics in the 21st century. If we collapse into rivalry, conflict, and politically opportunistic nationalism, the results could be hellish. And we are, right now, collapsing into rivalry, conflict, and polit...

en

The Ezra Klein Show

Is the cure worse than the disease?
(NaN)
"We cannot let the cure be worse than the problem itself!" That was President Donald Trump, this week, explaining why he was thinking about lifting coronavirus guidelines earlier than public-health experts recommended. The "cure," in this case, is social distancing, and the mass economic stoppage it forces. The problem, of course, is COVID-19, and the millions of deaths it could cause. This is a debate that needs to be taken seriously. Slowing coronavirus will impose real costs, and immense suffering, on s...

en

The Ezra Klein Show

An economic crisis like we’ve never seen
(NaN)
“What is happening,” writes Annie Lowrey, “is a shock to the American economy more sudden and severe than anyone alive has ever experienced.”   It’s also different from what anyone alive has ever experienced. For many of us, the Great Recession is the closest analogue — but it’s not analogous at all. There, the economy’s potential was unchanged, but financial markets were in crisis. Here, we are purposefully freezing economic activity in order to slow a public health crisis. Early data suggests the economic...

en

The Ezra Klein Show

"The virus is more patient than people are"
(NaN)
Ron Klain served as the chief of staff to vice presidents Al Gore and Joe Biden. In 2014, President Barack Obama tapped him to lead the administration’s response to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. He successfully oversaw a hellishly complex effort preparing domestically for an outbreak and surging health resources onto another continent to contain the disease.  But Klain is quick to say that the coronavirus is a harder challenge even than Ebola. The economy is in free fall. Entire cities have been told t...

en