The Ezra Klein Show

The Ezra Klein Show

United States

Ezra Klein gives you a chance to get inside the heads of the newsmakers and power players in politics and media. These are extended conversations with policymakers, writers, technologists, and business leaders about what they believe in and why. Look elsewhere for posturing confrontation and quick reactions to the day's news. Subscribe for the anti-soundbite.


Let's talk about Hillary Clinton's policy ideas, with Jonathan Cohn  

The overwhelming focus of this election has been Donald Trump — the things he does, says, tweets. But the next president is likely to be Hillary Clinton. And we've put a lot less effort into understanding her lengthy, detailed agenda for the country.

So I sat down with one of my favorite journalists, The Huffington Post’s Jonathan Cohn, who has been doing that work, to talk through what Clinton's platform actually says, and what it all adds up to. We also discussed:

-How the stereotype of her has gone from "radical liberal feminist" to "sell-out conservative Democrat," and what both miss
-How childcare, work-life balance issues, and parental leave define Clinton's platform
-How racial dynamics have changed since Clinton’s emergence as a national public figure in the 90s
-The people who surround Clinton and shape her policy platforms
-Jon’s evaluation of how Obamacare’s doing and what about it still needs work
-The way geography’s complicating the way Obamacare works by creating so many healthcare marketplaces
-Why Obamacare's specific struggles have made it so hard for Republicans to promote their own healthcare plans

All this and more. I hope you enjoy!

Francis Fukuyama on whether America's democracy is decaying  

Francis Fukuyama is a political scientist, a public intellectual, and progenitor of the famed "End of History" thesis. But his recent work is his most important yet. Over two volumes, he's been studying how societies become safe, pluralistic liberal democracies — and then how those advanced democracies descend, and decay, into chaos.

Sound familiar?

This is a scary conversation that comes at just the right time. We discussed:

-How American became a “vetocracy”
-Why the representative democracy we have has calcified
-Why the internet may be overwhelming our ability for government agencies to deal efficiently with public comment
-What he thinks is stoking Trump supporters in the way we talk about diversity and pluralism
-Why conversations about class are important
-What he thinks about different models of government around the world, especially Denmark’s
-How we overcompensate for what we’ve learned through past wars
-How polarization is disrupting the way the public views government agencies like the Fed and NOAA
-What he's learned from Samuel Huntington, from the Iraq War, and from the Black Lives Matter movement
-What an agenda to reverse America's political decay would look like


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Tyler Cowen interviews Ezra Klein about politics, media, and more  

A number of you have asked that we turn the tables and have someone interview me for the show. So when Tyler Cowen — economist at George Mason University, blogger at Marginal Revolution, and generalized genius — invited me on his podcast Conversations with Tyler, I said yes, and asked if we could post the discussion here, too. 

Tyler — whose podcast you should listen to — asks some of the hardest, strangest, most provocative questions of anyone I know, and so this was a lot of fun. Among the topics we discussed:

-What we do now that we will reflect on as kind of crazy or unethical in the next few decades
-How my video team at Vox has taught me to think about visual stories
-The value of making content that’s made to be re-discovered
-Why identity as a driver of virality is important to the current online media landscape
-The ethics of eating meat, and why I think those attitudes will change fast in the coming decades
-My thoughts on how CEOs work and how the job of being a CEO has become its own profession
-What I think I’m good at in leading Vox, and how I try to support my team in fostering the things they do
-The importance of to-do lists
-My biggest talent-spotting tip
-Why the government doing clunky, difficult things is sometimes good
-How you shouldn’t probably trust my taste in culture, like sports or music
-The role of shame in the media

All this and so much more on this week’s episode. I hope you all enjoy.

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The best conversation I’ve had about the election, with Molly Ball  

This election season has left pretty much everything I thought I knew about politics in doubt. Both parties nominated unpopular candidates, even when they had popular alternatives. One party's nominee isn't really running any ads, and has barely bothered to build a field operation. The same party's nominee says things on a regular basis that would've been — or would've been thought to be — disqualifying in any other year. 

So it's been weird.

One of the best chroniclers of that weirdness has been the Atlantic's Molly Ball. In the latest edition of the magazine, she has a fantastic piece looking at whether Trump's candidacy is proving that most of what's done by campaigns — the ads, the microtargeting, the message-crafting, etc — is just a waste of money. We talk about that, as well as:

-Whether there's actually a floor in American politics — if even Trump is remaining competitive, does that mean basically anyone can get 45 percent of the vote?
-How Hillary Clinton’s experience within the political system has come hurt her in some ways
-Whether we've been fooling ourselves by thinking elections are about policy rather than identity 
-The difference between Pat Buchanan in the 90s and Trump now
-Why some voters are rooting for Trump even if they’re not always screwed by the economy in the way you might think 
-How current demographic trends are bearing out the anxieties of older white men
-What might come after Trump for the GOP, and whether a candidate like him could be replicated in other races
-Why high-information voters, especially educated Republican women, are often still undecided
-What the liberalism of millennials coupled with the unpopularity of the major parties means for the future of politics in the US
-Why Hillary Clinton has so much trouble ginning up enthusiasm among her base
-What Molly's learned about human nature after doing a ton of reporting on this presidential campaign cycle

This really is the best conversation I’ve had with anyone about the election yet. Enjoy!

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HHS Secretary Sylvia Matthews Burwell on running Obamacare, Medicare, and Medicaid  

This week, I've turned over the mic to The Weeds' Sarah Kliff. She went to Capitol Hill to interview HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell about all things healthcare. They talked about how to pay doctors to provide better care, the current state of the Obamacare marketplaces, and what she's learned about management running the federal government's largest agency. I hope you enjoy this, and I'll be back next week!

Dr. Leana Wen on why the opposite of poverty is health  

There are a couple of ideas that drive how I see policy and politics. One of them is that most of what drives health outcomes has nothing to do with what happens in doctor's offices. Another is that we overestimate the importance of the president national politics and underestimate the important of city officials and local politics.

Dr. Leana Wen — and this episode — stands at the intersection of those two ideas.

Wen is the Baltimore City Health Commissioner — a job she got when she was only 31, after a stint as an ER doctor, and a background as a Rhodes Scholar and medical activist. Her work in Baltimore coincided with the aftermath of Freddy Gray's killing, a brutal opioid epidemic, and a renewed focus on urban health disparities (there are counties in Baltimore that have higher infant mortality than the West Bank).

In this conversation, we talk about all that and more. Here's some of the more:

-Why her family moved to Utah after leaving China after the Tiananmen Square protests
-Whether America's culture of sharing problems and working through pain is actually healthy
-How she learned to deal with a serious speech impediment (and how I did)
-What it was like growing up in Compton in the early 90s
-How Bill Clinton’s autobiography changed her life
-What motivated her to become a doctor
-How she squares her idea of herself as an activist with being a government official
-The unexpected process by which you get a job like Baltimore City Health Commissioner
-How the medical community’s understanding of pain has changed, and how that led to the opioid crisis
-The misunderstandings of outdated ideas that have made the opioid crisis so much worse
-Why she prescribed a drug to treat heroin overdoses to everyone — yes, everyone — in Baltimore
-Her thoughts on the paradox of Baltimore’s great health institutions and its huge health disparities
-What disturbs her about the patterns that lead up to infant mortality

I particularly want to call out Wen's discussion of the opioid crisis, and what needs to be done about it. It's one of the clearest and most impassioned tours through that epidemic I've heard, and it's worth listening to this conversation just for that.

Arlie Hochschild on how America feels to Trump supporters  

I’ve been reading sociologist Arlie Hochschild’s writing for about a decade now. Her immersive projects have revolutionized how we understand labor, gender equity, and work-life balance. But her latest book, Strangers In Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right, is something new: she spent five years among tea party supporters in Louisiana, trying to bridge the deepest divide in American politics. It was, she says, an effort to scale the "empathy wall," to create an understanding of how politics feels to people whose experiences felt alien to her. In this conversation, we discuss:

-How she approaches immersive sociology
-The kinds of questions she asks people in order to get them to open up about their political feelings
-What it takes to “turn off your alarm system” when you encounter oppositional ideas
-What she describes as the “deep story” that explains how conservative Americans, particularly older white men, feel increasingly looked down on
-Why she feels empathy on the part of people who disagree is an important part of creating dialogue
-Whether empathy and respect are in tension with each other
-Why many white men don't feel they're part of a privileged group
-What she thought of Clinton's comments that half of Trump's supporters are a "basket of deplorables"

And much more. This is a time when listening and empathy are in shorter supply than ever, at least in American politics. It's well worth listening to Hochschild's advice on how to bring both back. 

Stewart Butterfield on creating Slack, learning from games, and finding your online identity  

If you came by the Vox office, you would find it oddly quiet. That's not because we don't like each other, or because we're not social, or because we don't have anything to say. It's because almost all our communication happens silently, digitally, in Slack.

Slack is Stewart Butterfield's creation, and it's the fastest-growing piece on enterprise software in history. But here's the kicker: he didn't mean to create it, just like he didn't mean to create Flickr before it. In both cases, Butterfield was trying to create a new kind of game: immersive, endless, and focused on experiences rather than victories. 

The story of Butterfield's pivots from the game to Flickr and Slack have become Silicon Valley lore. But in this conversation, we go deep into the part that's always fascinated me: the game Butterfield wanted to create, the reasons he thinks gaming is so important, and the ways in which his philosophy background informs his current work. We also talk a lot about the nature of status, identity, and communication in online spaces, as Butterfield's company is now revolutionizing all three.

This is a deep, interesting, and unusual conversation — we went places I didn't expect, and I left thinking about topics I'd never really considered. Butterfield is as thoughtful as they come, and I hope you get as much out of this as I did. 

W. Kamau Bell on the lessons of parenthood, Twitter, and fame  

W. Kamau Bell is a comedian and a writer. But you probably know him from one of his podcasts(Denzel Washington Is The Greatest Actor Of All Time Period and Politically Re-Active) or his CNN show The United Shades of America.

In this conversation, Bell and I go wide. We begin with an inquiry into the nature of health food, transition into a discussion of how future historians will view our present (and, particularly, a discussion of which stories we're ignoring that they'll see as central), move into the lessons Bell has learned from parenthood and fame, dig into his decision to move to Northern California from New York, examine his path to comedy, talk through the opportunities presented by podcasting, and more. There's also a damn good Eddie Murphy story in here.

Here's how good this conversation is: I spoke with Bell just a few days after getting my wisdom teeth out, and I still had a great time. You will too.

Malcolm Gladwell on the danger of joining consensus opinions  

Malcolm Gladwell needs no introduction (though if you didn't know the famed author has launched a podcast, you should — it's called Revisionist History, and it's great.).

Gladwell's work has become so iconic, so known, that it's become easy to take it for granted. But Gladwell is perhaps the greatest contrarian journalist of his generation — he looks at things you've seen before, comes to conclusions that are often the opposite of the conventional wisdom, and then leaves you wondering how you could ever have missed what he saw. To see something new in something old is a talent, it's a process, and it's what we discuss, in a dozen different ways, in this episode. Among the topics we tackle:

-How Gladwell got started at the Washington Post after being fired from another job for waking up late
-Gladwell’s high school zine based on personal attacks and Bill Buckley
-How Canadians are disinclined to escalate conflicts
-The value and nature of boredom in childhood
-How people reflexively pile on to convenient narratives  
-How the economics of media might be influencing its current tone
-Why pickup trucks today are so much larger than they used to be
-His insights about the current identity of journalists as a culture
-Why podcasting is different from writing for the page/screen
-Why talking about numbers can be difficult in audio
-How the internet will one day seem like an experiment gone completely awry
-Why you shouldn’t have satellite radio in your car
-Whether more individualized education is a a good idea
-The importance of people who are above average though not exceptional

This is a fun conversation, but it's also a useful one. It's hard to look at something that is believed to be understood and realize it's been misunderstood. Hell, it's hard to look at something that is believed to be understood and take seriously the idea that it might have been misunderstood. This is Gladwell's great skill — it is the product of both a process and an outlook, and it's worth hearing how he does it.

Grant Gordon on studying the world's worst conflicts  

Grant Gordon is a political scientist and policymaker who specializes in humanitarian intervention. He’s a fellow at the Stanford Center on International Conflict and Negotiation, and has worked on humanitarian and development policy for the United Nations Department of Peacekeeping Operations, the UN Office of Humanitarian Coordination, the UN Refugee Agency, as well as the Rwandan Government, Open Society Justice Initiative and other organizations. 

All of that is a long way of saying he works on the some of the world's worst problems and conflicts, and tries to figure out which interventions will actually help. He’s embedded with the Congolese military to try to understand why soldiers attack citizens, he's used satellites to monitor and deter genocidal violence in Darfur, and he's studied the ways in which peacekeepers can win hearts and minds with local communities in Haiti. And over and over again, he's found that good intentions do not always make good policies. It's a valuable lesson — and Grant is a valuable voice — for anyone who thinks seriously about policymaking. 

Grant is also a good friend whose work has long fascinated me, and so it was great to get a chance to interrogate him on it for two hours. Among other things, we covered:

- How to read academic literature efficiently
- Grant’s path from being a kid in California to working in the Rwandan health ministry to hiding under cars in Congo
- What his whiteness and Jewish heritage means in his work on humanitarian policy
- How the politics around humanitarian intervention have changed since the 90s
- How and why he got an internship, as a college student, in the Rwandan health ministry by cold emailing Rwanda's health minister
- How randomized controlled trials do and don’t help humanitarian work
- Why it's actually difficult for a fragile society to build an army strong enough to protect its citizens but not so strong it overthrows the government
- How to care for yourself when you work in and out of conflict-torn places

And much more. Towards the end of the interview, Grant turns the tables and questions me for a bit, so keep an ear out for that.

Melissa Bell on starting Vox, managing media, and connecting newsrooms  

I first started working with Melissa Bell at the Washington Post. I was trying to launch a new product — Wonkblog — and I needed some design work done. Melissa wasn't a designer. She wasn't a coder. She didn't manage designers or coders. She was, rather, a blogger, like me. But somehow, no one would meet with me to talk Wonkblog unless Melissa was also in the room.

It was my first exposure to Melissa's unusual talent for finding and connecting the different parts of a modern newsroom. We went on to start Vox together, and it's no exaggeration to say Vox simply wouldn't exist without Melissa's vision, her managerial brilliance, or her unerring sense of where journalism is going. She's also one of my very favorite people — working with her has been one of the highlights of my career. 

Melissa was recently named publisher for all of Vox Media — so if you're wondering what's next in journalism, she's someone you'll want to listen to, because she'll be building it. In this conversation, we discuss:

-How Melissa started her journalism career in India
-Her experience working near the World Trade Center on 9/11
-What she learned from her time as a waitress, and how it was crucial to her development as a journalist
-Her pending case before the Indian Supreme Court
-How observing large institutions reveals how little information and control any one person really has
-How she thinks about “mapping out” organizations and creating informal networks within those organizations to get things done
-Why it’s hard to create new things in big organizations and how to create better systems for making those things
-How the distinctions between "old" and "new" media have largely collapsed
-What it was like starting Vox, and what we got wrong from the beginning
-How Vox's brand identity emerged, and why it proved more important than either of us expected

And much more. I work very closely with Melissa, and I learned a lot about her in this discussion. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Atul Gawande on surgery, writing, Obamacare, and indie music  

I've wanted to do this interview for a long, long time.

Atul Gawande is a surgeon at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. He's a professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management at the Harvard School of Public Health. He is executive director of Ariadne Labs, a joint center for health systems innovation, and chairman of Lifebox, a nonprofit organization making surgery safer globally. He's a New Yorker writer. He's the author of some of my favorite books, including Better: A Surgeon's Notes on Performance and The Checklist Manifesto. He's a MacArthur Genius. 

Atul Gawande makes me feel like a slow, boring, unproductive person. What makes it worse is that he's a helluva nice guy, too. And he knows more new music than I do. 

There haven't been many conversations on this podcast I've looked forward to more, or enjoyed as much. Among many other things, we talked about:

- How Atul makes time to do all of the writing, large-scale research, and surgery he does
- His time working in Congress and in the White House
- His writing process and how it’s evolved since his early days writing for Slate
- Why he hates writing and likes being edited (and why I am the exact opposite)
- His thoughts on ignorance, ineptitude, why we fail at things, and what hand washing has to do with it
- How effective Medicaid coverage is in improving health outcomes
- The ways we need to more effectively deliver existing knowledge and technology rather than always focusing on the next big discovery
- What he thinks we’ve learned so far from Obamacare
- How Rivers Cuomo from Weezer has applied lessons from Atul’s writing to his music
- His work with the Clintons, Jim Cooper, and Al Gore and thoughts on their private versus public personas
- How all the different parts of his life — the writing, the surgery, the policy work — come together into one single engine for actually making change
- What new albums he thinks everyone should listen to

And so much more. Talking to Atul was a real pleasure. I hope you enjoy it too.

Trevor Noah, host of The Daily Show  

This is a serious conversation with a very funny man.

Trevor Noah is the host of Comedy Central's the Daily Show. He's also a stand-up comic who grew up in apartheid South Africa, the son of a black mother and a white father. That was illegal in apartheid-era South Africa, so Noah grew up hiding his real parentage, only seeing his father in carefully controlled circumstances. Somehow, he managed to turn this into a very funny, very incisive stand-up act. 

Today, he occupies one of the commanding heights of American comedy, and when you talk to him, you can see why: he's funny, but he's also damn smart, with an outsider's perspective on America's very unique problems. In this conversation, we talk about:

- What it was like growing up biracial in apartheid South Africa
- Noah's experience watching South Africa’s post-apartheid truth and reconciliation commission, and what an American one might look like
- Noah's thoughts on the right to be forgotten on the internet
- How Donald Trump's superpower is his lack of shame
- The ways in which Obama’s presidency changed – and sometimes inflamed — the conversation about race over the last eight years
- What Obama does and doesn’t share with other Black celebrities in “transcending” race
- The parallels between experiencing catcalling and experiencing racism
- Noah's critique of both "objective" news sources, and biased ones
- Why Noah was taken aback by the response he got criticizing Bernie Sanders
- Noah's news diet, and why he doesn’t watch as much Fox News as you might think
- How Noah develops a joke, from start to finish

And much more. Enjoy!

Conservative intellectual Yuval Levin on how the Republican Party lost its way  

Yuval Levin has been called "the most influential conservative intellectual of the Obama era," and the moniker fits. As editor of National Affairs — in my opinion, the best policy journal going on the right — he's been at the head of the "reformicon" movement, and his work has had a heavy influence on top Republicans like Paul Ryan and Marco Rubio. If you had asked me a year ago to name the conservatives likely to set the agenda for the Republican Party in 2016 and beyond, Levin would've been atop my list. 

And then, of course, Donald Trump won the Republican nomination.

In this atmosphere, Levin's new book, Fractured America, reads like a warning. Written before "Make America Great Again" became the rallying cry of the Republican Party, it argues that both Democrats and Republicans were trapped inside a dangerous nostalgia, and tried to propose a way out. We talk about that way out in this podcast, as well as:

- How Levin defines the Republican Party, and how he thinks it’s changed with Trump
- Why Republicans misunderstand their own voters
- His distinction between the conservative movement and the Republican party
- Why he views Brexit and Trump’s rise as a kind of “counter-cosmopolitanism” 
- The role of nostalgia in our current politics
- Why a universal basic income is the most interesting idea on the left today
- How the free market undermines cultural traditionalism
- The way in which we have cultural/moral arguments under the guise of debates about how efficient/effective policies are
- What Levin learned working for Newt Gingrich and George W. Bush
- Why you’d have to be crazy to want to be president

If you want to understand the Republican Party today, you should listen to this interview. 

Hillary Clinton. Yes, that Hillary Clinton.  

My interview this week is with Hillary Clinton. You may have heard of her.

I won't bore you with Clinton's bio. Instead, I want to say a few words about what this interview is, as it's a bit different than the EK Show's normal fare (though I do ask her for book recommendations!).

I got about 40 minutes with Hillary Clinton. I wanted to use that time to try to answer a question I've had about Clinton for years: why is the candidate I see on the campaign trail so different from the person described to me by her staff, colleagues, friends, and even foes? I wanted, in other words, to try to see what Clinton is like when she's working her way through policy and governance issues. 

And so that's what we talk about. Among the topics we covered are:

- Extreme poverty, welfare reform, and the working poor
- Is it time for more deficit spending?
- Would more immigration be good for the economy?
- The difficulties of free college and universal health care
- What skills does a president need that campaigns don't test?
- What's on her bookshelf?
- Why America stopped trusting elites — and what elites should do about it

If you want more on this discussion, I also reported out a long piece on how Clinton governs — you can find it on

Patrick Brown on plant-meat that bleeds and the science of flavor  

Patrick Brown on plant-meat that bleeds and the science of flavor

Heather McGhee on what Democrats get wrong about racism  

Heather McGhee on what Democrats get wrong about racism

Jesse Eisenberg on Jewish humor, writing lessons, and interrogating strangers  

Jesse Eisenberg on Jewish humor, writing lessons, and interrogating strangers

Jessica Valenti on honesty, internet trolls, and modern feminism  

Jessica Valenti on honesty, internet trolls, and modern feminism

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