Happy holidays! We’ll have a new episode next Wednesday, but today I wanted to re-share my favorite interview of 2020 with you all. I hope you enjoy it.

Many Americans view our space program skeptically, wondering why we should bother spending money on it when we have so many problems to fix on Earth. Ever since the space race with the Soviet Union ended, the US lost much of its interest in continuing to explore space. But what if the space race didn’t end in 1969? What if the Soviet Union got to the moon first, and so America continued to push its space program to compete with the Soviets? That is the premise of the show “For All Mankind” on Apple TV+. It is co-created and co-written by today’s guest: renowned science fiction screenwriter and television producer Ronald D. Moore.

There are many anti-Big Tech activists and politicians who want to heavily regulate or dismantle companies like Amazon, Google, Apple, and Facebook. They fear that these companies have become too big and too powerful, often even referring to these companies as ‘monopolies.’ But maybe this isn’t a fair characterization. Perhaps these Big Tech companies need to offer far more value to consumers than monopolies particularly do, because they are all in competition with each other. That is the argument put forward by today’s guest, Nicolas Petit.

Nicolas is a professor of competition law at both the European University Institute and the College of Europe in Burges. He is the author of the recently released book, Big Tech and the Digital Economy: The Moligopoly Scenario.

Health care policy is difficult, featuring intractable trade-offs that make it nearly impossible to satisfy everyone. Perhaps it’s no surprise, then, that one of our two political parties has increasingly flirted with the utopian proposal of Medicare for All, with little understanding of how to enact it or what the unintended consequences might be. And the other party seems determined to avoid the topic of health care reform, at least publicly. But the state of our health care system matters — it’s an increasingly large part of our economy, and it is the source of crucial innovations. So I’m delighted to discuss it with Amitabh Chandra.

Amitabh is the John H. Makin Visiting Scholar at AEI, where his work focuses on the economics of health care policy. In addition, he is a professor at both Harvard Business School and the director of health policy research at the Harvard Kennedy School, a member of the Congressional Budget Office’s Panel of Health Advisers, and a research associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research.

Should Americans look back nostalgically on the economy of the 1950s and 1960s? If so, what lessons should policymakers learn from this time period, and how can they be applied to boost economic opportunity today? On today’s episode, I’ll be discussing these questions and more with Jim Tankersley.

Jim is a tax and economics reporter for The New York Times, where he writes about the state of America’s middle class and the decline of economic opportunity across much of the US. Previously, Jim was the policy and politics editor at Vox and an economic policy correspondent for The Washington Post. He is the author of the recently released book, The Riches of This Land: The Untold, True Story of America’s Middle Class.

It seems like, not long ago, arguments against immigration focused almost entirely on illegal immigrants. And then it became, “Actually, we’re also concerned about low-skilled immigration.” And then that concern started applying to higher-skilled immigrants replacing American workers in more advanced positions. And now, it seems like some people just don’t want any immigrants — especially during this pandemic and maybe even after it’s over — because they’re stealing our secrets and taking college slots away from American students. But this perspective fails to recognize how much immigrants of all skill-levels contribute to America. I’ll be discussing these contributions — and the economics of immigration more broadly — with Michael Clemens.

Michael is a senior fellow and the director of migration, displacement, and humanitarian policy at the Center for Global Development, where he studies the economic effects of migration around the world. He is also a research fellow at the IZA Institute of Labor Economics.

So much of our policy debates rely on
predictions, projections, and probabilities. What will the results of the
upcoming election be? How will this policy affect economic growth? How big of a
threat is climate change in the long term? What do the epidemiological models
say about handling the COVID pandemic? It’s important to answer these questions
as best as we can, but we should also recognize that some uncertainty is
inevitable. We can’t quantify our way through difficult, ambiguous problems. At
least, that’s the argument made by today’s guest, Mervyn King.

Mervyn is a professor of both economics and law at New York University, and he is a former governor of the Bank of England. He is also the co-author, along with John Kay, of “Radical Uncertainty: Decision-Making beyond the Numbers.”

Contrary to what some critics say, capitalism can be good for the environment. For one, it creates the wealth necessary for new innovations like renewable energy. In addition to that, the digital age has allowed economies to begin decreasing waste by dematerializing the economy and by improving information-sharing among individuals and businesses. Today, I’m speaking with Nate Morris to discuss the implementation of that second process within the waste management industry.

Nate is the founder and CEO of Rubicon, a software company dedicated to modernizing the waste management business. Nate has been featured on Fortune Magazine’s 40 Under 40 list and has been recognized as a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum.

Increasingly, Americans believe that the middle class has been left behind — that wage growth has been disappointing, services such as health care and higher education have become more expensive, and community ties are weakening. In the past five years, this discontent has fueled the rise of populism in the US, and the pandemic has only intensified the struggles that many middle-class Americans face. What, then, should policymakers do help the middle class? Should the tax code provide greater relief? Should we provide more social insurance programs? And what, in return, should policymakers ask of the middle class. A recent online panel event explored these questions, presented here in podcast form.

Richard Reeves and Isabel Sawhill are both senior fellows in Economic Studies at the Brookings Institution and are the co-authors of the recently released “A New Contract with the Middle Class.” Reeves is also the author of “Dream Hoarders: How the American Upper Middle Class Is Leaving Everyone Else in the Dust, Why That Is a Problem, and What to Do About It,” and Sawhill is the author of several books, including “The Forgotten Americans: An Economic Agenda for a Divided Nation.” And Michael Strain is the Arthur F. Burns Scholar and director of economic policy studies at AEI. He is the author of “The American Dream Is Not Dead: (But Populism Could Kill It),” released in February of this year.

Many Americans view our space program skeptically, wondering why we should bother spending money on it when we have so many problems to fix on Earth. Ever since the space race with the Soviet Union ended, the US lost much of its interest in continuing to explore space. But what if the space race didn’t end in 1969? What if the Soviet Union got to the moon first, and so America continued to push its space program to compete with the Soviets? That is the premise of the show “For All Mankind” on Apple TV+. It is co-created and co-written by today’s guest: renowned science fiction screenwriter and television producer Ronald D. Moore

Ron has
worked on a wide variety of TV shows over the past few decades, including Star
Trek: The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, and Voyager. He is also the creator
of Outlander and, of course, he is the co-creator of 2004’s Battlestar
Galactica.

The dominant narrative about the US economy posits that income and wealth inequality have exploded, wages have gone nowhere in 30 or 40 years, and upward mobility has declined dramatically, leaving too many Americans mired in poverty. But are these claims accurate? What is the state of poverty and economic opportunity in the United States? I explore these questions in today’s episode with Scott Winship.

Scott is a resident scholar and the director of poverty studies at AEI, where he researches social mobility and the causes and effects of poverty. Previously, he served as the executive director of the Joint Economic Committee, where he spearheaded the Social Capital Project.

The Trump administration’s economic policy has been a mix of tax cuts, deregulation, trade wars, and proposals to restrict immigration. How much of this agenda is populist in nature, and how much of it is indistinguishable from establishment Republicanism? Casey Mulligan and Michael Strain explored this question in a recent AEI web event, which has been adapted into this extended episode of Political Economy.

Casey Mulligan is a professor of economics at the University of Chicago, and he served as chief economist for the Council of Economic Advisers in the Trump Administration from September 2018 to August 2019. He is also the author of the recently released book, You’re Hired! Untold Successes and Failures of a Populist President. Michael Strain is the John G. Searle Scholar and director of economic policy studies at AEI. He is the author of The American Dream Is Not Dead: (But Populism Could Kill It), released in February of this year.

In the last eight years, geneticists have figured out how to edit humanity’s genetic code by harnessing a natural phenomenon known as CRISPR. This innovation has the potential to let us cure horrible genetic diseases, and perhaps augment humanity even further. But this also raises the ethical question: How far should genome editing go, if it’s permitted at all? On today’s episode, I speak with Kevin Davies about the new practical capabilities and ethical questions of this new era of genome editing.

Kevin is the executive editor of The CRISPR Journal and the founding editor of Nature Genetics. He is also the author of several books, including “Editing Humanity: The CRISPR Revolution and the New Era of Genome Editing,” which will be out in the first week of October. Kevin, welcome to the podcast.

Should corporations be run for their shareholders or for a broader set of stakeholders, including customers, workers, and the broader community? Moreover, how incompatible are these two ends? Does shareholder capitalism result in self-serving short-termism or responsible corporate governance? And is stakeholder capitalism viable without a company’s managers being directly accountable to its owners? On today’s episode, I discuss these (and many more) questions with Sanjai Bhagat.

Sanjai is a professor of finance at the University of Colorado Boulder. He has previously taught at Princeton University and the University of Chicago, and he worked previously at the US Securities and Exchange Commission. He is also the co-author, along with R. Glenn Hubbard, of a recent AEI Economic Perspectives paper, “Should the modern corporation maximize shareholder value?

America has many problems to contend with over the next few decades, including consistently stagnant economic growth, the progression of climate change, and the rise of China as a rival power. Today’s guest, Matthew Yglesias, believes Americans can begin taking steps to tackle these problems by thinking bigger. Specifically, policymakers should expand immigration and enact more policies that support children and parents — all with the goal of rapidly growing America’s population to one billion people by 2100.

Matthew Yglesias is the co-founder of Vox.com, where he is currently a senior correspondent and the host of Vox’s “The Weeds” podcast. He is also the author of the newly released One Billion Americans: The Case for Thinking Bigger.

For the 200th episode of Political Economy, I spoke with economist R. Glenn Hubbard on a wide range of important economic questions. Among them: the state of the economy as the Great Pandemic continues, the lessons to be learned from the past 15 years’ worth of economic developments, and the difficulties and opportunities that the future of the US economy holds.

Glenn is a visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and a former chairman of the President’s Council of Economic Advisers for the Bush White House. He is also both dean emeritus and the Russell L. Carson Professor of Economics and Finance at Columbia Business School.

Ideally, America will come out of the COVID pandemic with a better understanding of how important innovation is. The more we support technological progress, the more prepared we’ll be for the next pandemic — or for other unexpected emergencies. However, it’s also possible that we’ll come out of this pandemic as a weaker, less dynamic country with a drawbridge-up mentality and less tolerance for technological change.

Today’s guest, Caleb Watney, is particularly concerned that COVID has placed America’s capacity for innovation under extreme stress. To this effect, he recently wrote an important article for The Atlantic: “America’s Innovation Engine Is Slowing.” Caleb is the director of innovation policy at PPI, where he focuses on how US policymakers can best promote innovation. He is also a former technology policy fellow at the R Street Institute.

Should federal support for research and development be expanded? If so, what form should this expansion take? Is it better to emphasize basic science or applied research? Should policymakers use some of this money to create more tech hubs across the country in order to expand economic opportunity? Today’s extended episode of Political Economy explores these questions and many more by presenting an online panel discussion conducted last month with Jonathan Gruber, Tony Mills, Margaret O’Mara, and Bret Swanson.

Jonathan Gruber is the Ford Professor of Economics at MIT and the co-author of “Jump-Starting America: How Breakthrough Science Can Revive Economic Growth and the American Dream.” Tony Mills is the director of the R Street Institute’s science policy program, which aims to equip policymakers with scientific expertise and to advance public policies that stimulate scientific innovation. Margaret O’Mara is the Howard & Frances Keller Endowed Professor of History at the University of Washington and the author of “The Code: Silicon Valley and the Remaking of America.” And Bret Swanson is a visiting fellow at AEI, where he focuses on the impact of technology on the US economy, telecommunications, and internet regulation.

Progress and innovation make society much better off in the long run, even though they can also be disruptive or alarming in the near term. So it’s important to study progress because we need to know how to promote more progress and reap its benefits faster, and we also need to explain why progress is important to those who are alarmed by it. On this episode, I discuss these questions, and much more, with Jason Crawford.

Jason is the author of the Roots of Progress blog, where he writes about the history of technology and industry and the philosophy of progress. He is also the creator of Progress Studies for Young Scholars, an online program for high schoolers about the history of technology, and he was formerly a software engineering manager and tech startup founder. Jason, welcome to the podcast.

Global poverty, hunger, and violence are declining. The world is becoming a better place, year by year. So why are so many people afraid of the future and nostalgic about the past rather than optimistic about what’s to come? I’m delighted to discuss that question today with Ronald Bailey.

Ronald is the science correspondent for Reason magazine and Reason.com. He’s the co-author — along with Marian Tupy — of the upcoming book, Ten Global Trends Every Smart Person Should Know: And Many Others You Will Find Interesting. He’s also the author of the 2015 book, The End of Doom: Environmental Renewal in the Twenty-first Century.

COVID-19 cases are surging in the US, even after a costly two-month lockdown. What does this resurgence mean for the economy, which is currently struggling to recover from a deep recession? How will schools operate this fall amid the uncertainty? And how far out are we from discovering, manufacturing, and distributing a vaccine? In this special episode of Political Economy, I explore these questions — and many more — in an online panel discussion conducted last week with Scott Gottlieb, Rick Hess, and Michael Strain.

Scott Gottlieb is a resident fellow at AEI, and he is also the former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration. Rick Hess is a resident scholar and the director of Education Policy Studies at AEI, and he is the author of several books, including Letters to a Young Education Reformer and Breakthrough Leadership in the Digital Age: Using Learning Science to Reboot Schooling. And Michael Strain is the John G. Searle Scholar and director of economic policy studies at AEI. He is also the author of The American Dream Is Not Dead: (But Populism Could Kill It).