141: Jeremiah Johnson - Neoliberal
In this episode, we're joined by Jeremiah Johnson, the creator of the Neoliberal movement.
William Jarvis 0:05
Hey folks, welcome to narratives. narratives is a podcast exploring the ways in which the world is better than in the past, the ways it is worse in the past, where it's a better, more definite vision of the future. I'm your host, William Jarvis. And I want to thank you for taking the time out of your day to listen to this episode. I hope you enjoy it. You can find show notes, transcripts and videos at narratives podcast.com.
Will Jarvis 0:37
Jeremiah, how are you doing this evening?
Unknown Speaker 0:40
I'm doing really well. Well, thanks for having me on.
Will Jarvis 0:43
Absolutely. Thanks so much for taking the time to come on the show. Jeremiah Deepak giving us a brief bio and some of the big ideas you're interested in?
Unknown Speaker 0:51
Sure, so my name is Jeremiah Johnson. I founded the neoliberal project in 2017, or 2018, depending on how exact you want to be. The neoliberal project is a kind of center left globalist Think Tank organizing group at this point, we do social media, we have pretty large social media outreach through a lot of different channels on Twitter, and Reddit and live streams and podcasts and Instagram and all kinds of other stuff. We also have more than 80 chapters around the country in the world. I think at this point, it's hard to at this point, it's hard to remember how many chapters we have, because there's so many, I think, more than 60 in the United States and something like 20 internationally. And we advocate for what we call neoliberalism or new liberalism, which is kind of a globalist free trade is good immigration is good perspective on politics, we are capitalists who also support the welfare state. So I am very interested in politics, obviously, from this kind of market friendly center left perspective, I am also very interested in the dynamics of how you build a movement through social media, and how you appeal to the kind of the mass audience and how you make your case to the the arena of public discourse, so to speak. I'm also very interested in just other niche topics, like, you know, there's particular policy areas that I'll get down in a rabbit hole on whether that's permitting reform or zoning. I'm very interested in Effective Altruism, I'm kind of adjacent to that world. I've, I guess I kind of consider myself an effective altruist in that I've donated a kidney I've raised a third of a million dollars for against malaria Foundation. And I know a lot of people who who've run in the effective altruists circles. And so I there was a time when I was I've always kind of said, you know, I'm near the effective altruists world, but I'm not part of it. I think I'm increasingly becoming part of it now. But that's, that's just a quick background on me. Obviously, there's a lot more depth we can get into.
Will Jarvis 3:10
That's great. That's great. Well, Jeremiah, what I find super interesting about you, and I think perhaps is your superpower is you've been really effective at building this movement like this, this meme is like, become incredibly powerful over the last couple of years. What do you attribute your success to? You know, did you like? Did you have a plan when you got first started that this is like, Okay, I'm gonna get here. And this is how I'm gonna get there. And I've got this like, kind of robust plan, or does it just kind of emergent, like, you know, you start doing something. So it's getting some momentum, and it kind of feeds on itself, and you kind of kind of happen is into success? How intentional were you?
Unknown Speaker 3:45
Well, it wasn't very intentional at all. That's great. I would love to say that, you know, this is all all the success is due down to my personal brilliance. And, and it's only because I'm a genius that this has succeeded first. I don't think that's necessarily true. But I think the first thing is just that there was a market, there was a space for this idea that people wanted something like this in terms of the the new neoliberalism, I'll call it. And I should note, we've actually just changed our name. We've, we're now instead of being the neoliberal project, in most of the arenas that we're using now, we now call ourselves the Center for new liberalism. New liberal versus neoliberal is literally a one letter change. So do what that what you will, but I think the ideas were strong, and there was a space for this. And the story is really interesting, because it very much was not intentional. Where this started was on some social media spaces, particularly Reddit. Were in the 2016 election, everything became about politics and you know, you had Hillary versus Bernie was a big thing, almost even bigger than Hillary versus Trump in social media. faces because Hillary versus Trump was, you know, in the online world of Twitter and Reddit discourse just kind of considered to be obvious. Well, yeah, obviously Trump is a lunatic and crazy and awful. But Hillary versus Bernie was this bitter tribal war, you know, between groups of people that very much didn't like each other. And particularly in many spaces on the internet. If you were a fan of Hillary Clinton, rather than Bernie Sanders, you were accused of being a corporate bootlicker or a neoliberal shill of some kind. And a bunch of us who were fans of Hillary Clinton who thought Hillary Clinton was great and better than Bernie Sanders. We basically took that insult that was being hurled at us, you're a bunch of filthy neoliberals, and we just said, Okay, well, you know, if being kind of a Clintonite Democrat is being a neoliberal, then that's what we are fine. And we started a space called our neoliberal, the neoliberal subreddit. And initially, it was just kind of a joke like, Haha, here's a place where we can all make jokes about weird things that we like it was it was a very economics heavy crowd at the beginning. And so you'd see a lot of like central banker memes about how Ben Bernanke is God, Ben Bernanke with laser eyes kind of things. You know, Janet Yellen was the patron saint. And so there's just all this very, very nerdy stuff going on. And to our surprise, it grew really quickly, it had no intention at the beginning, other than to be a fun place where we would make like memes and like, like minded people could congregate. But it grew really, really quickly. And eventually, you know, some of us were like, wow, this is getting really big, really fast. Let's make a Twitter account. We made a Twitter account. And all of a sudden, that got really big really quickly, that started to get lots of followers and, and like, important, people started following it. And that was a very odd feeling, the first couple of times that happened. And then, of course, what every dude has to do when they get attention on the internet, we started a podcast. So it's the thing to do. And then the podcast started getting a lot of really cool guests. And it got a lot of attention. And eventually, we just realized we were so good at getting attention on the internet, which is a skill. I do think that myself and some of my co founders have, that we were kind of kick starting this movement without having intended to like, people were identifying with the things that we talked about to a very serious degree. And so we realized that we need to make this an actual organization. And that is how the neoliberal project came into being.
Will Jarvis 7:30
That's really cool. That's really cool. Oh, why do you think this this $20 bill on the sidewalk, hadn't been picked up before it? Was it kind of this intersection of neoliberal policies, and the internet really had not been done before? Do you think that's what it is? That was kind of like, the reason why you were able to get like so much momentum so fast?
Unknown Speaker 7:52
I think it was one of the first times that there was a clear contrast. So 2016 is the first time that socialism kind of became an acceptable option in the Democratic Party, gotcha. Socialism in American politics has been a slur for a very long time, right? It's only a word that you use to describe your enemies. And you know, it's just an attack, nobody would self admit to being socialist. And Bernie Sanders didn't change that in 2016, he was a Democratic socialist. And he, you know, had a very strong showing in the 2016 primary, even though he did lose by a significant amount, but I don't think anybody would have ever guessed that, like a socialist candidate would get 40% of the vote in a major party primary. And so because there was now this contrast, it opened up the space for someone else to say, Well, if you guys are that, then I'm this. And, you know, before that, nobody would have done this in like, 1996 because Bill Clinton being Bill Clinton, neoliberalism was kind of the the water that you are swimming in, right, our brand of neoliberalism is very much that kind of Bill Clinton, Tony Blair, kind of 90s Third Way vibe. We throw in a couple of different things in there with with obviously, kind of how pro immigration we are. But I think that's one of the keys is that the Democratic Party really finally split into an identifiable two wings, where, you know, there's been that tension for a long time between the more left leaning part of the party and the more centrist part. But we were able to jump into that space quickly and say, you know, there's an actual ideology opposing, like socialism in the Democratic Party. If you're not a socialist, you don't just have to be this wishy washy, centrist. It's like, well, I want 30% of what Bernie Sanders wants, because his ideas are good, but they just go too far. Nobody believes in that. Nobody everybody can tell that's kind of a fake, lame thing to do. You need an actual coherent set of principles. That's different from that. And I think that's what we provided.
Will Jarvis 9:53
That's great. That's great. Tell me if I'm wrong, but I feel like the neoliberal project at sambal is the core technocratic. The Democratic Party at some sets, Is that Is that a fair like, painting there?
Unknown Speaker 10:07
Yeah, I mean, I think we lean very technocratic at our core. I think a lot of this stems from where we began, if you want to get into the deep lore, the the original users of like this neoliberal subreddit, were from the bad economics subreddit, we are technically a splinter of that. Bad economics was a subreddit where a bunch of economics students and graduate students and PhDs would go to make fun of terrible economics they found on the internet. And so it's very, very wonky. It loves to get into the policy details and to take down stupid commenters who say stupid things about the economy. And we still have a lot of that in our DNA that were very policy focused, we view ourselves as very wonky, very evidence based that's it's kind of a considered a lame thing to say these days. But I do think it's true, we try to follow the evidence where it's where it leads. So I think of us as the technocratic wing of the Democratic Party, we want to make people's lives better, we try to implement the policies that do that, you know, and we're very driven by outcome rather than by ideology. In essence, we are ideological, we have ideological beliefs. But in a lot of ways we're willing to compromise between like, is that, should we use a state solution? Should this be a government program? Should we use a free market solution? Does the government need to get out of the way? Well, sometimes it's going to be one, sometimes it's going to be the other. Let's look at what the evidence says that, you know, the government is a tool, it can be used to do good things, or it can be used to beat you over the head, much, much like a hammer. So you've got to look at the particulars of the case. And I think that's our attitude.
Will Jarvis 11:48
That's great. That's great. I am curious, how do you think about the difference between, like, there's this tension in my mind between good policy and then like, politics is like vibes? You know what I mean, like very much, it seems like, a lot of politics is five. And you've, you've kind of hack the two a little bit, right? Like, you've been able to get some charismatic power behind, like good policy, which is really cool. But do you think that that scales up to the national level? Is it possible to get like really good policy that still has good vibes, you know, it will good vibes in the sense that something you can really sell at some level?
Unknown Speaker 12:22
I totally agree. There's an inherent conflict, I think sometimes between the policies that you want and the politics that you have to pay attention to. With that said, I think there are a few hacks that you can use. One of my theories is that and this is potentially similar to vibes. But I like to say that all politics is identity politics, interesting. Now, in America, identity politics has this connotation like this. If you're black, then you care about like Black Lives Matter and police brutality, because it's your black, that's what you care about. If you're a woman, you care about abortion and birth control, because you're a woman, right, and it's like, it's almost a little condescending to say identity politics, like it's dismissive in a way. But I tend to think all politics is based around identities. And, you know, there's the obvious cases that I just listed, but there's the things that you know, like, watch a Donald Trump rally in like white, rural America, and tell me that's not identity politics, what he's doing, they're appealing to a specific identity group, and telling them that they're important and that their issues matter. You know, a gun owner, you could say gun control is a specific policy. But being a gun owner is now an identity. In America, being a gun person is like a core identity for a lot of people and it informs how they vote. You can go down the list, you know, being a particular religion, being an urban person of color, being a white yuppie, in the finance industry. There's all these things are identities, and I think identities form, how we, how we approach politics, and even specifically ideological commitments that people have, you know, people think of ideology versus identity is two different things. But I think ideologies have become identities. And so you know, it's, it's why you see Magga as such a branded thing, you know, what is an identity have it has particular symbols that represent it, the Red Hat, you know, the waving the American flag, the pickup truck, all of these things are coded in American politics. And you know, you can think about the the Twitter socialists all of them have a red rose emoji in their bio and you know, again, they have kind of holy texts in the same way that like a religion would. They have their holy texts they have their Savior figure they have that the loved in group and the hated out group, they have the internal language and, and structure and jokes that only they get. Every bit of this ideology is formed as an identity in the same way that any ethnicity or religion would be. And I think it really informs how people approach politics. And so when we looked at how do we make weird technocratic neoliberalism? Cool? Our answer was we have to make it an identity. We don't need people to believe the specific things we believe, as much as we need people to identify as Neo liberals. And so that's why you have now globe emoji, Twitter, and you have the neoliberal subreddit where they've got all these in jokes flying around, and you've got our quasi religious figures, and you've got the outgroup that we love to dunk on. And you know, that people are inherently tribal. And they want a tribe to belong to, they want a tribe to war against, and you've got to give them that in the political arena, if you're going to have any success, this is kind of how movements are built. And I think that's one of the things that explains a lot of our success is that we kind of embraced this vision of like, let's make neoliberal an identity that people will identify as, and that will give us power that will give the movement actual staying power and, and produce actual change.
Will Jarvis 16:06
I love that I really like this and I love to contrast this with I'd love to with you know, this whole idea of like the Unity party or something like that, or like we're gonna like, you know, create this like third way, but there's not really an outgroup and Ryan dreamings forward party for a party, whatever the whatever is going on there. I just like seems to like gloss over politics of the political in a way, which just makes no sense.
Unknown Speaker 16:27
Andrew Yang is the most I want to point out I am the internet's like, number one Andrew Yang hater at this point. I was the first when Andrew Yang was running for president like 2015, maybe or maybe early 2016. Back when everybody was still writing the obligatory introductory Andrew Yang think they think of these Vox in the Atlantic in the New York Times. And you know, both right leaning things and left leaning things everybody was giving Andrew Yang, you know, this Whoa, what a crazy interesting thinker. He's, he's the guy to watch out for. And I was looking at his actual policies and saying, Andrew Yang is kind of dumb, like I was whispering it at first and saying, if you read his actual policies, he seems like he kind of might be dumb. And so I wrote about, I wrote about this way back in the day, and I just want credit for that. But at this point, you know, he's, he's a grifter. He failed in the Democratic primary as president. He failed in the New York City Mayor's race. And he basically decided, well, am I wrong for losing my elections? No, it's the Democratic party who's wrong? So I'm going to start my own. The forward party literally has no platform of any kind has no ideology, other than like, big two parties bad give Andrew Yang money, good. That's literally the sales, but you can go to their website, and like, what is the former party think about abortion? It's an important issue these days. Right? It's maybe the most important issue in American politics at the moment. They don't have a stance, their stances? Well, we need to change how we vote, and then we'll have like a Citizens Council. Right. You know, what, what, what should we do with the federal budget? How do we control inflation, which we do with immigrants? Should we legalize dreamers? What should we add more tariffs or be more fruit pro free trade, they literally have no policies, they just don't address it. What they do address is they say we need to change the voting system. And then after that, like kind of magically, magically, some things will happen and like good outcomes will fall out. And I don't know it's just nonsense. And there's no theory of change behind it other than anything that gets Andrew Yang. Attention is good. There's my Yang rant. I know it's not probably the the center of what's going on in this podcast, but
Will Jarvis 18:41
to the Yang staffers who listen, I'm very sorry for that. Yes, it is. It is interesting. I was talking to Marshall of the realignment recently, I interviewed him, he's a good friend of mine. And he made this great point that in politics, at some point, you do have to make a call, like you have to be pro abortion or anti abortion, you really can't be both. You can't be like wishy washy, and I think you guys have done a good job of like, okay, like, you do have to make these tough calls. At some point, you can't just be like, sweep all these things under the rug, we're just going to all be friendly, because at some level politics is, you know, there's gonna be some winner and loser in some of these debates.
Unknown Speaker 19:20
Yeah. Well, and to get back to your point about policy and politics and how they conflict. I think that mostly you just need to be smart about how you play certain things. One of the most intelligent people I've seen on this is a woman named Ashley all and Ashley all was the communications director and kind of the main strategist for the Kansas abortion referendum. So Kansas, obviously a very red state hasn't elected a Democrat to be like in Congress for a jillion years. I don't know he's probably one Democrat from Kansas because it's that sometimes it's how it goes. But no, just it's Very, very, very red state trumpet, Trump always wins it, Republicans always win it. And in this conservative state of thanks to some court ruling, it turned out that abortion was legal at the state level after Roe v. Wade was overturned. So immediately the Republicans in Kansas said, Okay, let's have an abortion referendum, let's put it directly to the voters should abortion be illegal or not. And again, you'd expect that this would go a landslide victory for for the, you know, ban abortion side for the pro life side. But they ran a very, very smart campaign in Kansas, trying to play up specific things that they thought would resonate with conservative voters. Because if you want to win in Kansas, you have to hit moderate and even some conservative voters, you can't win in Kansas appealing to liberal or progressive sensibilities, right. And what they did, which would never fly in New York, or California, was not bring out people to talk about a woman's right to abortion, or about how this is such a progressive cause that would, you know, help women and minorities and you know, LGBT people or whatever. What they did was they brought out a bunch of people to say, don't let the state government of Kansas get between you and your doctor. Yep, you know, don't let the government interfere with your medical decisions. They're private. It's a very conservative framing of the right to privacy, which kind of undergirds why a lot of liberals and progressives thinks that there should be a constitutional right to abortion, but you can make that from a conservative stance, don't let the government interfere with your right to a private conversation with you and your doctor, and they're getting in your medical care. And they would do things like bring out a white straight man, a Christian pastor to talk about why he thought abortion should be illegal, right. And again, this would never fly in New York, you could never do that in California. But you know, there's a way to actually make kind of a policy position that may go against the grain political now are you might piss off some of your allies in that people in New York, if you put like a white, straight Christian pastor, man, as like your lead spokeswoman for women's issue, there would be hell to pay. But politically, it can be very useful in some instances. So I think you know, the conflict exists. But if you're smart, you can actually kind of thread that needle and message things in a way that meet voters where they are, so to speak. Right, Jeremiah?
Will Jarvis 22:31
I'm curious, I really like that kind of approach. And it just it's been weird to me that it almost seems like a lot of people that are activists that wants to change things would be quite unwilling to take that kind of approach. At this point. Is that your sense? Well, because it seems like you know, a lot of them would be like, no, like, we're not gonna go with the conservative messaging. We're gonna go in there. We're gonna like, you know, it's like they'd rather like signal that we're part of, you know, this kind of center left coalition than actually like have abortion big legal in Kansas. is am I like off the mark there?
Unknown Speaker 23:05
Oh, no, you're totally on the mark. Did you see the kids who threw like tomato soup on like a famous water flowers or sunflowers? Yeah, yeah. So that's the current thing. It was the current thing, like two days ago, when we were recording this, you know, now, when this when, when this podcast releases, maybe it'll be like, old and ancient. But it's a great example of that, where, you know, there are those kids, you know, and their teens. So like, I don't know that I want to criticize them too much, because it's never dunking on teenagers is like the lowest form of like internet commentary. But it's worth looking at, because we can see very instructively like those kids are not doing anything to actually help climate change, which was their supposed cause they want to stop big oil. You know, they had shirts that were like, stop big oil. It's more like, you know, stop big oil on canvas is what they were really after. And there's, there's a lot of really constructive climate action being done. It is not going to be done by you know, throwing tomato soup on things. But there's almost this push and pull. Where, you know, the people who do very quiet, very effective stuff, don't get media attention. The people who do very loud stuff, do get media attention. You don't see the people who are quietly lobbying backbench Republicans to support a climate policy that they might have. Otherwise, you know, not, you know, to just allow it to pass, somebody's going to insert a provision into some defense spending bill that you know, it's like 10 million pages long and it's $100 trillion. And so those things always pass and you convince them to not fight this little provision that's going to one line is actually going to change like a whole industry and and lead to like great stuff in the climate. You never hear about that. What you do hear about is the kids throwing tomato soup because it's viral, right? And sometimes there's a trade off between Do you want to be viral and get attention or do you want to be a effective. And you know, we have entire systems, entire architectures of our society that are built around promoting things that go viral and allowing these things to happen. And so it's no surprise that things fall into that. And that there are some people who would rather be high attention activists, rather than people who actually get things done.
Will Jarvis 25:22
Makes sense. Makes sense. So the current media environment, it plays into a lot of these things now where you could just get more airtime.
Unknown Speaker 25:27
And I've been criticizing the left here, like you could do the same thing for the right like there's, there's people who do dumb stunts on the right, Charlie Kirk, or, you know, some of these nincompoops who are just like, would rather own the LIBS rather than get any kind of substantive conservative policy passed. So right, if you actually got a entire conservative agenda past, some of these people, like Charlie Kirk might actually just wither and die, because how are they going to own the lives in that case? Exactly. You know, their entire business model is finding some purple haired sophomore at like a liberal arts college to like, pretend that that's it pretend that's like the mainstream Democratic Party, but I don't know. Right, right. That's a whole there's bad faith people on both sides. There's idiot activists on both sides. I think. Absolutely. I hate to use the both sides phrase but like, obviously, it's true on some on some level Grifters everywhere
Will Jarvis 26:19
in their own place. Right. That's great. That's great. Well, Jeremiah, I'm curious, do you see the future of the Democratic Party as new liberalism as the neoliberal project? How do you think this develops over the kind of the next decade?
Unknown Speaker 26:35
I do think that it's the future of the Democratic Party. And I certainly hope it is. Because I don't think there's no future for the Democratic Party as a socialist party. It's just not ever going to happen in America. I think there's some danger that the Democratic Party can fall prey to a certain kind of error that we've seen in other countries. You look at like what happened with Jeremy Corbyn in the UK. You know, the, the Labour Party in the UK, had a ton of success with Tony Blair, Tony Blair is the only Labour Prime Minister to actually get elected in a popular election in like the last 50 years or something. It's just him and like, a bunch of conservatives. And they had a bunch of success. But Tony Blair was, you know, on his way out for a variety of reasons. And after some time, the UK went in a very different direction from that third way, kind of neoliberal Blair politics, they went for Jeremy Corbyn. And he was a out and out socialist, even in a way that Bernie Sanders is like, like Jeremy Corbyn says a seize the means nationalize, the industry is kind of like, we are going to be waving the red flag kind of socialist. And it just decimated the Labour Party for quite a long time they lost and lost and lost and lost over and over. And this is a country that is amenable to nationalizing things, in a lot of instances, they've got nationalized health care, their, you know, the train system off and on has been nationalized. And you know, it's a more left leaning country than us, but just that kind of politics was too far and over reaction, and it allowed the Conservative Party, the Tories in the UK, despite a series of kind of bumbling and ineffective and frankly, very weak bad candidates, they were just able to keep winning, because they were going up against Jeremy Corbyn over and over. And I think it led directly to the disaster of Brexit, which has been terrible for the UK. And you know, they're having negative growth over the last few years and things like that. And I think there's a similar error that we could make in America, it's one of our possible paths for the Democratic Party, is that they kind of go all in on Bernie Sanders ism, whether it's through the man himself or through one of his acolytes, that they decide socialism is the future of the Democratic Party, we're going to be a socialist party. I think that would be a disaster, electorally, for obvious reasons that America is just never going to do that. But there's a danger in it happening because we're very ideologically sorted. These days, we're geographically sorted, where Democrats live near other Democrats, you know, people in cities are progressive people in rural areas are conservative. And there's a lot of places where, you know, you can live in a particular place, and 90% of your neighbors will vote like you either red tribe or blue tribe. And you won't ever realize how fringe your views are. And this is particularly a problem for activists and journalists, you know, on the Democratic side, who all live in these hyper progressive bubbles in Brooklyn and San Francisco and things like that. And they don't realize how the rest of the country thinks and how you need to triangulate your messaging. In order to win in other parts of the country. If you actually want to hold power. It's far more important to, you know, to appease Montana voters than it is to appease whatever the latest sensibility is in Brooklyn. I think New liberals Islam is poised to do that, and is smart about that in a way that the left wing of the Democratic party cannot be. I also just think our policies are better. But I think we're better positioned politically, to kind of guard against, you know, the threats I see coming for the right. And look, I, I wish there was a better, right leaning party in America, right now the Republican Party is, in my view, very lost, and needs to do some serious soul searching and kind of purge itself of the stain of Trumpism. And that's just where I am politically, I would love for there to be like a more sane option. But at the moment, I think it's pretty important that we guard against what I see as threats to democracy. And that means that we have to actually be a fairly rational sane party on the left as well.
Will Jarvis 30:50
It makes sense, it makes sense. I'm curious, going off of that one of the core problems I saw, well, just let's just take Hillary Clinton, the United States, I think is a good example. Just for whatever reason, not very charismatic. I think like I think most people would agree with me on that. Please don't come get me. But I think like, and I think that was probably her core problem at the end of the day. How do you go about finding more charismatic politicians who also have like technocratic ability to be good managers and like, because it seems like these things are kind of like, don't usually go together at some level.
Unknown Speaker 31:26
I do think it matters, charisma matters. In a lot of senses, the guy you'd rather get a beer with, has won like 10 presidential elections in a row. And it's funny, because some of them are teetotallers, like, Donald Trump doesn't drink. George Bush when he was running for president didn't drink. But if you'd asked people would you rather get a drink with? Would you rather get a beer with George Bush or Al Gore? They'd probably say George Bush brocco, Obama would probably win that fight over both John McCain and Mitt Romney, Barack Obama was a cool guy. And so just kind of the cooler candidate in a sense, has won a bunch of presidential elections in a row. You know, Trump versus Biden is a is an interesting one. Because by that point, Trump's image had become so polarized, it's hard to ask that question. But but
Will Jarvis 32:10
even Joe Biden is like, fairly fairly charismatic, I think compared to Vice politicians.
Unknown Speaker 32:14
Yeah, I think Biden can be pretty charismatic. But I also think policy matters, you know, I don't think it's just a matter of you have to be charismatic, and then you can kind of do whatever you want. Because Bernie Sanders was also more charismatic than Hillary Clinton, he had a lot more energy, his campaign rallies were wild and Drew 80,000 100 people. And he still lost because he was a socialist, and even running in the Democratic Party in the left part of American politics, you can't win as a socialist. And, you know, in in a lot of ways, the Democratic primary and 2020 was a great example of how much policy matters as well, because Biden was not the most well funded candidate, he actually did pretty poorly during the primary in terms of raising money, all of the money was pouring into Bernie Sanders. And Biden wasn't even second, I don't think there was several others ahead of him. And what the distinguishing feature of the 2020 primary is, is that everybody raced to the left, even the suppose had moderate candidates like Beto or Pete budaj edge, or Amy Klobuchar, even the ones who are kind of carrying that moderate wing, not Bernie, not Elizabeth Warren, those moderates were still well, well, to the left of Obama, how Obama actually governed as president, they were saying, We've got to do way more progressive stuff than that they were going all in on like more spending more progressive stuff, more progressive social policy. Even Biden was to be fair, Biden positioned himself to the left of Obama by a little bit. But Biden was the single most moderate candidate in that discussion. And despite not having a lot of money, he basically ran away with the, you know, the whole thing after South Carolina, the whole thing turned into a laugh, and he won in a dominant fashion. And so, you know, to some degree, obviously, charisma matters, charisma can give you that extra marginal one to two percentage points or something super charismatic candidate versus not. But policy matters as well. And how you position yourself, are you positioning yourself as an extremist who's going to commit to a revolution? are you positioning yourself as a centrist who just wants to not rock the boat? You know, America is great, let's make a few little changes. But we're all good that, you know, that kind of thing matters as well.
Will Jarvis 34:36
Make sense? Like so subcombination to the end of the day that you have to get, you have to get some median voter theorem thing, you've got to get close enough. And then you also need to be charismatic, and that really helps the end of the day. Jeremiah, I'm curious, I want to shift a little bit now and talk about Effective Altruism, something I think we're both fond of. And I want to take an interesting track here. Because you have been quite successful. Well building up the neoliberal project this movement and ice a somewhat at a crossroads is getting a lot of press just last month, you know, Time Magazine, well McCaskill is on the front of it a lot, a lot of big big press hits happening. At the same time, you know, the my Gen Z friends, yeas, becoming cringe at some level, you know, people are afraid to associate with it. And I think it has the movement does have a lot of good ideas around effectiveness, effectiveness of charity, how do we prioritize doing good in the world and how we should you know, these mental frameworks for thinking about things I think are important. And a big shift from where things were, you know, in early 2002 1000s 2010s? How should EA position itself to remain like, quote unquote, cool and charismatic over the next kind of decade? What do you think? What are the failure modes here? And how can we avoid that?
Unknown Speaker 35:52
Yeah. First of all, I just want to say if you have friends who think like EA is cringe, then they are very much in the minority, because most of your friends and most people in this country would say, What the hell is this? Right, somebody's done a poll on this? And depending on how you how you ask the question, you know, it matters how you define, do, you know, air quotes, what what it is, but it's something like two to 6% of people can even recognize the phrase Effective Altruism and have heard of it, like, that's the percentage of people who have heard of Effective Altruism. So by any amount, it's less than 10%. I think the failure mode for Effective Altruism is that it fails to define itself in a coherent way, it fails to become an effective force that is unified, and that can present itself as an identity and the way that I think of identities, I'm going to go back to identity politics here. And if it fails to do that, then somebody else will define you on their terms. If you don't create an identity for yourself, someone else will do it for you. And it will not be flattering it will be to their advantage, your ideological opponents will, you know, make the case of here's what an effective altruist is. And here's why you should not be that. And I think this happens more often than people realize were like, one of the things I like to say is, you know, if you want to change the world, and Effective Altruism wants to change the world. It wants to change the face of human society and the future trajectory of our species. And it wants to do really grand world changing things. It has big ambitions, and I love it for that. But if you want to change the world, at some point, you will have to deal with culture and with politics, you can't change the world without addressing those two things. mass culture and mass public opinion will matter. At some point, if you are trying to change society, politics will matter. And if you just ignore the public opinion, and politics, eventually they will not ignore you, politics will come for you. One of the examples I like to use to kind of illustrate how this happens is the tech world. And obviously, the tech world and EA are kind of intertwined. In some ways. Sometimes it's the same people, a lot of tech people out in the bay area are effective altruists. And that's how EA raises a lot of its money from some of these tech billionaires. And tech for a long time had this attitude of, we don't have to care about politics, we don't have to care about what people think we're going to change the world. And we're just going to do it without asking it was this very, like permissionless innovation, move fast break things. And that was the ethos, we are post politics, we don't have to care about politics. And you know, to their credit, they did they change the world, they went and did it. But what they found out is after you change the world, politics is going to care about you, even if you don't care about politics. And for a long time, the tech world was really astoundingly bad at politics. They didn't know what was going on in DC. They didn't care to know, they didn't know how DC worked, what the real levers of power were. And what you're seeing now, a decade later, now that the world has changed, thanks to Google and Facebook and Apple and all these things. Now Congress is coming for them. The US Congress has bills supported by parts of both major parties that would break up these companies into little smithereens, Google would become 20 separate companies. And it's it's the most substantial antitrust legislation that has been proposed in generations maybe. And I don't think it will pass. But it might. And it's a consequence of tech feeling like they didn't have to care about public opinion. They didn't have to make public appeals. They didn't have to care about politics. And I think there's a failure mode, that EA could go down in the same way where they try to change the world and they even start to succeed. And then they get blasted out of nowhere by some cultural or political force, because they never bothered to interact with that or care about it, right?
Will Jarvis 39:58
No, I think this is the is super smart and going off your tech example. The thing mistake I think I've seen tech make is to primarily support, you know, finance plays both sides of the aisle, you know, they fund Democrats and Republicans, you know, it's 6040, some years, you know, one way or the other. Tech is primarily funded Democrats. And what that means is, is that you have Elizabeth Warren, being like, we need to break up big tech, and you have Clarence Thomas, saying, Hey, we should also break up big tech. It because, you know, Democrats, they know, you're not gonna fund Republicans. And so there's no like armistice there. And my worry for EA is that if it becomes a core, left wing institution only which it is primary left wing, just by demographics, there's this issue where, you know, you can see it now front page of National Review. These people care about the bugs, they don't care about you, your fellow Americans, you know what I mean? And this is like, it's very difficult to come back from that kind of thing.
Unknown Speaker 40:54
Yeah, and I mean, to some level, it's, it's unavoidable, because you can't, like in tech, just the workers just aren't there progressive. Right? Exactly. You know, the you can talk about the billionaires are one thing, but the actual workers at these companies are just super progressive, you can't stop them from being that way. I think the failure with tech is not that so much as it is just basic competency that they literally didn't know how things worked for a long, like, there's an organization I know of called Join Lincoln, which is literally just trying to interface tech people with DC people and like, DC people. Here's how technology works, because Washington has no idea how technology works. Most of the time, congressional offices are staggeringly internet on technical aspects of like science and how the internet works. And in the same way, tech people just had very, like, how do you pass a bill through Congress that, you know, nobody had Facebook could have told you a while back. So I think it's just a matter of competence and caring to some degree. Gotcha. And with EA, it's something I think about a lot that I think EA is pretty bad at politics, they're bad at doing politics, they feel like they should care, maybe a lot of people in our policy focused in EA, it's like one of the one of the hot new things is to go into policy rather than to go into like a specific charitable cause to like work in government or work for a think tank and try to advance policy causes. And I think that's a good idea. We need more of that. But yeah, he needs a theory of how to work in politics, or else all these people's time is just going to be wasted. An EA needs to be better at defining itself on its own terms in the public eye in the public arena, I think he is obviously done a lot of work thinking about EA cause areas and what is effective altruism, and how many angels can dance on the head of a pin kind of discussions where you get into these really weird, esoteric things. But they don't do any of this in the public eye. None of this is taking place in the public forum. They're not out there having the debates. They're very much insular having the debates within their community, and not addressing the public not caring what the public thinks. And like I said, to me, that's a mistake.
Will Jarvis 43:06
I'm curious. Jeremiah, oftentimes, there's, I get the sense that, you know, there are conversations that, you know, not every conversation should be public. You know, if we're trying to, like figure something out some policy thing that, you know, there's some things that are just best, like you and I, if we were trying to craft some legislation, we probably should not just be on the, you know, pages New York Times debating, oh, there are other things that we should definitely be talking about in public. How do you think about balancing that within the eh, because, you know, there's some things like, okay, when we're talking about effectiveness, we need to like calculate, you know, like some cost effectiveness of different interventions. And there's sometimes you need to have difficult conversations with that, which are not like super great to have in public, perhaps, I don't know, am I wrong about that? Or is there something where you just need to be able to have a good PR team have good, like, way to interface the world and make ideas palatable? While also like, you know, me doing things? I don't even know how to say this. But like, yeah,
Unknown Speaker 44:05
yeah. And I think I know what you're, I think I know what you're talking about. And my answer to this is that, you know, we can walk and chew gum at the same time, we can do two things, it is possible to do two separate things. And that that I think this is actually a cultural failure of EA, I don't think it's a policy failure. I think it's a failure of EAs. I think it's a failure of EAs culture and institutions. And the, the signals that the people at the top send, frankly, were the most important thing is how smart and brilliant and thoughtful we all are. And we really want to sniff our own farts about that. And like it's not polite to say to some extent, but like, look, you can have a PR strategy, you can promote EA as a good thing to the wider world while still having technocratic conversations within your tightly knit circles. The fact that you have a tightly knit circle does not preclude you from also doing the other thing like, how do you think every other organization works, you know, if I'm, if I'm the Republican Party, there's an amount of work that I do that's enormous that is behind the scenes, we're actually writing bills behind the scenes, we are, you know, writing the specific legislative texts that deal with code 6.1 dot 1.3, of the CDCs, charter to blah, blah, blah, like, there's an enormous amount of that, and all that takes place out of the public eye. But then you also have an entire messaging wing that's trying to just get people to vote for you. And the same thing with the Democratic Party and every, you know, and not just political organizations, but immigration groups. There's times when the immigration groups make big public appeals. Immigrants are good there. They make America strong, blah, blah, blah. There's also times when they're behind the scenes trying to get particular things fixed, or trying to, you know, argue with themselves, should we use this specific language or this specific language? Should we try to appeal to a conservative sensibility that immigrants are good for business? Should we try to appeal to a progressive sensibility that immigrants are a protected class that needs, you know, special protection in the same way that, you know, people of color or LGBT people, you know, you can use either one of those to promote immigrants? And those discussions definitely take place at pro immigration, think tanks? And, you know, my message is just it's not hard to do both. And it's a failure of EAA, that somehow they think it's almost very widely thought, well, we can't do both. Because if we do one, it precludes us from doing the other or like, the quality of our conversations will like, decline like it. That's a very weird one to me, because I think about like, I would love for EAA principles to filter through the water, even if you don't call it through Effective Altruism call it something else. But there's core principles like the idea that we should expand our scope of concern, our moral circle, right? That we should care about people who are not just ourselves or our immediate family or community, we should care about all people, whether that's people in Africa dying of malaria, whether that's people in the far future. That's an idea that I would love to filter through to the rest of society, whether we call it Effective Altruism or not. And the idea that if like, you get like Sandy in Des Moines, Iowa, who's like a soccer mom with two kids, and she works as a receptionist at the local company, and if you get her to be like donating a few more dollars to like Africa, rather than her local children's theatre, the idea that that's going to like impact, like the quality of the conversations that we have on the EAA forum. That's absurd to me, like, we're not trying to get Sandy onto the EAA forum until like will McCaskill what he has to care about. We're just trying to influence the way Sandy donates her dollars, because the Sandy's of America collectively donate about $500 billion every year. And like, why are we not going after that? There's a few organizations in EA that are still like trying to go after that like normal person. But for the most part EA doesn't most people in EA just don't seem to care about it. Is my impression.
Will Jarvis 48:02
Yeah, I think you're right. I think you're absolutely right. But it is like, there's a huge lever on just like you mentioned, like, you know, evangelicals, I think give us gifts, like something like $200 billion a year. And just moving 10% of that towards more effective charities could really have this huge impact. But we're kind of ignoring.
Unknown Speaker 48:21
Yeah, I mean, it's my favorite line to say, when I talk about EAS that regular people, just America as a whole is a very generous country. It gives half a trillion dollars every year, a lot of money. It's a lot of money, but 1% of that if we can shift to 1% of that, just regular people's money. That's like finding a new SAM Venkman fried, who would donate his entire net wealth every single year in perpetuity, a new San Venkman fried, and to me, that's a big deal. And like, I'm not I think a lot of the focus that we're EAA gets lost in itself sometimes is that it's a very hyper optimized place. It's very elite driven, and it's very hyper optimized. And rather than thinking about, well, how do we make the world better, they think about how we make the world best. And look, I think it's great that there are people having these like weird, esoteric conversation conversations about like, what is technically the best, most single hyper optimized thing that we could possibly do. But I think you lose focus on like, the idea that just there's a lot of money out there that is essentially wasted of that $500 billion. The number one thing that it goes to is religious organizations, your local church, or your local churches charity drive, number two is education. And 75% of that education money goes to four year universities, aka it's it's money donated to the Ivy League, it's a donation to Harvard who already has a $40 billion endowment, you know, that you'll name like a bench, you can give them $10 million. And that's probably what you get as a bench at Harvard. So, you know, I think I'm focusing so much on the hyper optimized cause of like, we're gonna, you know, only attack, we're gonna only recruit from Harvard and Stanford and MIT and Yale, and Cambridge and Oxford, and that's where we're gonna get our people. And you know, we're not just going to try to get convinced them to donate money, we're going to get just a couple of them. But we're going to convince them to donate their entire lives, their entire working lives to like these incredibly hyper optimized causes, where we're counting how many angels dance on the head of a pin, and we only need a couple of funders, we're going to get like two or three funders who provide 80% of all of EAs money is like two or three different billionaires. And it's just, it's this very insular, very elite driven thing that only focuses on a couple things at a time. And I just want to say, like, you can do a lot of good by just shifting the needle, a little bit of mass culture, mass culture is a really big thing. And it's hard to move the needle. But if you can move it even 1% you're actually having just an enormous gargantuan impact over the long run. Absolutely, as
Will Jarvis 51:06
Oh, well. What do you think? What do you think a successful effort to shift that kind of culture of looks like, is it? Yeah, yeah. Just like that mainstream culture, you know, should we be, you know, making a lot of tick tock videos, I mean, what's the best best approach?
Unknown Speaker 51:21
Successful in terms of like, what is the outcome? What is it look like at the end? Once I've succeeded? What strategy or what is your what
Will Jarvis 51:28
strategy should should you take at some level to shift like public opinion?
Unknown Speaker 51:32
So I don't think actually using the branding of Effective Altruism is necessarily the right way to go in terms of well, actually, you know, I'll I'll change that and say, I think because I have an identity driven theory of politics, I think you need to create a group of people. And this already exists to some extent, that identify themselves as effective altruists. And I think that's already happened. But I think it needs to happen in a lot more visible way. There are Effective Altruism, there are people who identify themselves as effective altruists. And if you ask them, they would say I am an effective altruists, like it's part of my core identity. But they're doing it in a in a non public way. Most of the time, they're like EA Twitter doesn't exist there. To a large extent, there's just there is no EA Twitter. There's not really an Effective Altruism subreddit, there's the forum, but that kind of like almost cannibalizes, anything that would go on a subreddit, I think. And so like in the grand social media spaces where America in the world fights its cultural battles, where we're having these discussions about politics and policy and culture and the future. EA is kind of missing from those places. And I think EA needs to be in those places, if it's going to succeed in the long term. So I would love to see a more active EA Twitter where effective altruists actually like put the light bulb emoji on their handle so that they're identifiable you can identify them at a glance the same way you can identify the globes or the red hats or the red roses, you know, as kind of tribal markers. So I think better social media game is part of it. I think better interaction with mainstream media is needed. I think will McCaskill is book was like one of the first good steps towards this that I've ever seen, where, you know, a lot of EA will do publicity, but it's like going on 80,000 hours, which that's inside the circle or insular? No, maybe you'll get crazy and go on Tyler Cowen's podcast. But again, that's that's friendly ground that's still basically inside the circle. Right. Will McCaskill was out going on Trevor Noah, you know, and I think that's fantastic. And, you know, he wasn't, and he, to his credit, I think he did a good job. He wasn't talking about the crazy stuff. He wasn't talking about killer API's or, you know, weird stuff to do with like shrimp welfare or whatever. And like, again, I don't want to, if you work on that stuff, I'm glad we have a lot of people working on very different areas. It's not what we should go forward to the public with, though. He just talked about like, people should donate more of their money to like really effective causes. You know, he donates a lot of his money. He's a cool story. His exist, personal example is great. He talked about very relatable things. And I think that like that appearance, will do more good for the movement than like 100 times going on Tyler Cowen's podcast. And I would love to see you know, more people when we have instances where we can like this going on Good Morning America and the view and like Joe Rogan's podcast and just like very, very mainstream kind of normies stuff, and really, not even saying that you don't have to go on Good Morning America and look out to the all the soccer moms out in, you know, and the oil workers in Texas and all these random people across the country. You don't have to go there and say, All of you should be effective altruists and do exactly what I say. But again, you want these kinds of core ideas, expand your moral circle of concern, do some degree of cost effectiveness, do some degree of just try it try something just a little bit. And like one of the things I do in my personal life is I'm not out here telling my parents, for instance, we're very charitable people that they need to donate all their money even to malaria nets. Even malaria nets is a little weird sometimes. But like, I just say, look, okay, so you care about education, you donate it to your local school, that's great. What about donating to the school in Nicaragua, where, you know, you could educate the, you know, 30 students for a year for like $100, or whatever, just think about how much good you could do for them. And like, kind of meet people where they are and just try to get them to be a little bit better? I think that kind of thing. That kind of public messaging could be enormously influential in the medium to long run.
Will Jarvis 55:46
Yeah. And I think it's a huge lever. And it's something you know, yeah. Should we think about a little bit more? I think it's quite a valuable exercise. Jeremiah, thanks so much for taking time to come on today. What's next for you? What are the next 10 years look like?
Unknown Speaker 56:03
You know, it's it's interesting, because I am still working at the neoliberal project, and still helping run the neoliberal project, I run the neoliberal podcast. So I am also a host of a podcast, and I love having these interesting conversations with all sorts of different people. I'm also kind of thinking about how I can help the Effective Altruism community, because my experience over the last few years has been kind of building a mass movement, doing kind of mass outreach and movement building. I've been thinking about how I might be able to help EAA and some of these things and, you know, some of the things I think, need, you know, better interaction with politics, better interaction on social media, better communication strategy to kind of the mass market. All these things are things I think I'm pretty well positioned to help with. So I would not be surprised if you know, in a year or two, you saw me doing some work in in that area as well. Great, great. Well,
Will Jarvis 57:04
we'll be looking out for it. Jeremiah, where can people find you? Where can they find the podcast?
Unknown Speaker 57:08
The podcast is the neoliberal podcast. You can find it anywhere you get podcasts at any of your fine purveyors of people's voices. You can follow us on Twitter at neoliberal except the OH is a zero. We've been trying to get the original one and we just can't. You can find our website is C in liberalism.org. That's the Center for new liberalism. So see in liberalism.org. And yeah,
Will Jarvis 57:37
that's great. Well, Jeremiah, thanks so much for coming on the show. I really appreciate it really enjoyed the conversation.
Unknown Speaker 57:41
Thanks for having me.
William Jarvis 57:46
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