Brian Gongol Show on WHO Radio - March 19, 2019 - Filling in for Jeff Angelo
Please note: These show notes may be in various stages of completion -- ranging from brainstormed notes through to well-polished monologues. Please excuse anything that may seem rough around the edges, as it may only be a first draft of a thought and not be fully representative of what was said on the air.
BUT FIRST: The opening essay
- Maybe 15 years ago, I read a book called "The Nine Nations of North America"
- The book was even older than that (it's from 1981), but many of the points remain
- One that made an impression on me was that even though we talk about "coastal elites" and think of places like New York as being the most cosmopolitan, the Midwest may actually be the most plugged-in, globally-attentive part of the country
- More direct effects from trade than elsewhere, so more global issues creep into ordinary conversation
- We're going to hit three scales in a big way today: Local, national, and international
- Local: Nolan Gray on housing and how to make it affordable
- National: Arthur C. Brooks on "Love Your Enemies"
- International: Kori Schake on "America vs. the West"
- Come along for the ride
Iowa news: Do we have a shortage of affordable housing?
Interview guest: Nolan Gray of Strong Towns
- A study just out (so new, it came out after I first reached out to Strong Towns) says the Des Moines area is short by almost 12,000 affordable housing units
- Our big downtown homeless shelter built a new facility about a decade ago, and it's already well over capacity in winter and looking for expansion options
- We have two of the fastest-growing suburbs in the country (Ankeny is 4th-fastest-growing among cities over 50,000; Waukee is smaller but is growing even faster)
- Median sales price for a single-family home here is $210,000
- Homeowners who look at their homes want to see rising values. What's in it for them to have more affordable housing?
- How big is the problem of affordable housing nationwide?
- These proposed approaches are "cost-free". Is that part of "market urbanism"? What's that all about anyway?
- What are the things people aren't thinking about when it comes to the future of city living? What's not yet on the radar, but should be?
- What's "Strong Towns" all about?
Brian Gongol: I brought you on the air here because you have a [new] article and it is being shared by an organization called Strong Towns -- and I want to get to the organization here in a minute. But the title of this article was "Eight Things Your Town Can Do to Add More Housing (Without Spending a Dime)".
I thought that was pretty interesting, because in context, there's a study just out -- so new it came out even after I had reached out to you folks -- that says the Des Moines area is short of affordable housing by some 12,000 units. A huge number of "missing" units, if you will, of affordable housing.
We've got a big downtown homeless shelter here that has a new facility [that] was built about a decade ago, and it's already well over its capacity sometimes in winter. They're looking for expansion options. We have some of the fastest-growing suburbs in the country. Ankeny is the fourth-fastest growing city among cities over 50,000 people in this country. Waukee may be smaller, but it's growing even faster. We have a lot of issues related to this housing and I am curious: What is this all about, this housing and affordable housing issue? What brings us to your mind? Why is this an important thing to talk about?
Nolan Gray: Well, it's a nationwide issue and it's really a good problem to have in many ways. Cities like Des Moines are really attractive for a lot of young families and young professionals, so this is driving a lot of demand for urban housing, as well as in suburbs.
Essentially at its heart, it's a supply problem. As cities get built out, it becomes harder to add new supply, especially within the existing zoning regulations which basically say where certain land uses can go and at what densities they can be built. So in a city like Des Moines, they might have a zoning ordinance that was adopted many decades ago, when the city was much smaller and the housing demand was much lower. But now the demand is bumping up against those rules and cities are facing a pretty severe housing shortage.
Brian Gongol: When I think about this, homeowners always look at their homes -- if they see them as an investment [that is] -- people look at their homes and want to see rising home values...unless they want to get hit by higher property taxes. But the trade-off is, ultimately, people think that it's a good thing for their housing values to rise. So what is in it for people who don't seem to think that they are directly affected by this to have a concern about affordable housing? Why is that important to everyone even if we're not in that particular market?
Nolan Gray: It's a great question, and it's something that especially in California people are experiencing. If you live in the Bay Area and you own a home, in many cases, you're sitting pretty -- your house has accumulated incredible amount of value. The flip side of that is, that makes it hard to sustain communities over the long term.
If young people can't graduate from high school or college and be able to buy a home or rent an apartment at the median income, they're going to be forced to move away -- potentially out to the countryside or to a whole of the region.
The same is true of retiring seniors. We have Boomers entering retirement age and many of these households are going to need to downsize significantly and many people are going to go on to fixed income. So, even if those people have a nest egg in their homes, when they sell they need to be able to move into a permanently affordable situation. And in many cases, that means we're going to need a lot of smaller homes or going to need a lot of smaller apartment buildings where, particularly, people who can't drive can walk to a grocery store or basic services or be able to take a bus to a hospital. And in many cases, the existing zoning and land-use regulations make that impossible.
Brian Gongol: So in this article that you've written -- and again, this is Nolan Gray and he's with an organization called Strong Towns -- you've got eight things that your town can do to add more housing without spending a dime. I'm attracted to the idea that we can solve or address some of these problems without spending any money. What do these answers look like? What are these things that communities can do to add more of this affordable housing without putting in a big city investment or something like that to make it happen?
Nolan Gray: I got interested in the issue because so many cities say "We don't have the money to build the housing ourselves. We don't have the money to subsidize it." But in reality, there are certain rules that cities could reform, or add some flexibility to, that would create a lot of new housing.
So for example, in the case of Des Moines, they might be able to adopt an accessory dwelling unit ordinance. And so essentially this says single-family homes can add in -- let's say -- their unused basement or their unused attic, or if they have a garage that they're not using, they can add an extra small apartment to that space and then lease it out. And this is popular for a number of reasons. Many people will build these accessory dwelling units. They're also called "granny flats", and they'll lease them out to aging parents or lease them out to young adult children or they'll just lease them out to raise additional income to cover the cost of the property taxes or maintaining a mortgage. Des Moines currently doesn't have an accessory dwelling ordinance that I'm aware of. So that's one factor.
Brian Gongol: When you're talking about these accessory dwelling units, is this like sticking a tiny house in the backyard or is it putting an apartment over the garage, or is it maybe any of the above, whatever happens to fit your lot size?
Nolan Gray: In many cases, it's people utilizing space that they just don't use. For many people, their garages just become storage space. In many cases in desirable areas, where there might be a lot of jobs or access to good schools, that space could be better used as a small apartment space for a young family.
Brian Gongol: You mention in your article that this is one of those things that might fit a place like Des Moines, for instance, that has a lot of build-out. There are a lot of houses here, and a lot of single-family homes, but we start to get some spread out right? There are everybody's on individual lots, so everything gets less dense that way.
Nolan Gray: Right. And another consideration with Des Moines is the issue of lot sizes. When Des Moines was built out, land values were actually pretty low. And now that there's more population demand for housing, there's more demand for smaller homes on more modest lots -- a traditional development pattern. Unfortunately, in many of Des Moines's residential districts, the minimum lot size is about 7,500 square feet and that can even go as high as 12,500. So in many cases those people might be saying, "I might want to tear down my old 1950s ranch home and build multiple smaller homes that would be affordable." But they can't do it under the current rules.
Brian Gongol: You're speaking to somebody who lives in one of those 1950s ranch homes, so I understand where you're coming from on that. But there are some other answers that you suggest as well, and I'm interested in some of these. One of the things that I don't see a ton of that I've wondered about maybe why we don't is you mentioned permitting duplexes and triplexes in single-family homes. How come we don't do that in a lot of places?
Nolan Gray: I think there's there's status-quo bias. I think there's a lot of resistance to changing land-use regulations, because people -- I think understandably, you know -- they move into a neighborhood and they like the way it is and they want to keep it the way it is.
Unfortunately, I think there are certain unseen costs there that get offloaded onto new people who want to move into the city. So this is something where I think policymakers have to look at the bigger picture. People who have children who they want to stay nearby or aging parents who they want to stay nearby; I think they need to realistically look and see, how much housing do we need to add? Are we going to be able to do that?
Brian Gongol: So there's a little bit of self-interest there -- keeping the family around might be one of the reasons to do some of these things. Very sensible. I've got a reaction here from a listener saying, "Are you telling everybody they have to live in smaller houses?" And the way I read it, you're saying something very different. You're just saying we need to find ways to permit people to build the housing that's appropriate to the area largely by getting rid of bad regulations. Am I hearing you right on this?
Nolan Gray: Yeah, that's correct. A lot of people misinterpret our message as "Oh, everybody should live in an apartment or everybody should demolish their home and build a townhouse." Really, what we're saying is that if it makes sense for you as a homeowner or as a business owner, you should be allowed to add additional housing to your property.
Another topic that we talk about when we're talking about low-cost ways to add housing is commercial strips. Retail is taking a hit with online retail and e-commerce. And in many cases, those old strip malls might be turned into small townhomes or small homes on smaller lots, and the rules actually prevent them from doing so. So this is not actually a case of the government forcing anybody to do anything. It's actually a case of the opposite: The government saying "We're going to let you do something. It's going to create this positive social benefit and you're going to be able to make some money off of it."
Brian Gongol: Is that what you mean when you call it "market urbanism"? Is that what this is all about, just saying "We have people living in cities. That's not turning around. That situation has not reversed course in a hundred years, so let's deal with it in market-friendly ways." Is that what you guys are talking about?
Nolan Gray: Yeah, absolutely. Look at how urban land is regulated, and I think many conservatives would be shocked at the degree to which the government tells people what they can and can't do with their property. The downstream effect is that housing is more expensive. Everybody has to drive.
Not everybody wants to live in a community where you can walk or go to a corner grocery store, but some people might want to. And so essentially, all we're saying is, if they're covering the cost of how they want to live, don't tell anybody that they can or can't develop their property in certain way.
Brian Gongol: So is that what this this movement behind Strong Towns is all about? What is the idea behind Strong Towns?
Nolan Gray: Strong Towns is an international movement, mostly focused on the US and Canada. It started in Minnesota nearby. It's focused on building fiscally-resilient, sustainable communities.
So what did that mean? In the 1950s, we built a lot of roads, we built a lot of sewer infrastructure. We dramatically expanded out our cities, and in many cases that development pattern doesn't pay for itself.
So the central motivating idea of Strong Towns is that cities need to take stock of their obligations in terms of infrastructure and encourage development patterns that can cover their own costs and are fiscally sustainable and responsible in the long term.
Brian Gongol: And that seems like that's an issue a lot of towns are grappling with it. When we think about the past development patterns versus the present here in Des Moines, we've got three large shopping malls that have each either already begun the process or are seriously considering the process of reimagining themselves, because that old style doesn't seem to work anymore. And we've just got the news now that Shopko is closing down all over the place. The retail basis for a lot of urban planning seems to have gone out the window and we're rethinking stuff there as well, aren't we?
Nolan Gray: Right. This is a huge issue for cities, because in many cases a lot of their property tax revenue was coming from retail. So they made a lot of money off of those strip malls and those old conventional indoor malls. And so as those are going under, cities need to look at their balance sheets and figure out how we're going to cover the costs that are baked-in to the infrastructure we built.
This is especially an issue in many smaller towns that are losing population because they don't have an influx of people to bail them out.
Brian Gongol: What are some of those things people aren't thinking about yet, when it comes to the future of city living, that you want to put on the radar screens?
Nolan Gray: Yeah, that's a really big question for the last minute.
Brian Gongol: Maybe 30 seconds. How about that?
Nolan Gray: I would say the number one issue is an aging population. Especially in places like Iowa, there's going to be a large population of seniors who are going to be downsizing. They're going to need smaller homes or townhomes or apartments, and they're going to need to be able to either walk to where they need to go or be able to take transit or catch a ride-share and that's going to require us to look at our development patterns and say "What's going to work in the future, and what's not going to work at the future?" And I would argue that the key thing here is to allow for development patterns that we currently prohibit.
Brian Gongol: Sounds really fascinating. Well if folks want to follow your work, I would encourage them to follow you on Twitter at @mnolangray. Would you suggest anywhere else people can find you too?
Brian Gongol: And they're all places that have thoughts about what we can do in market-friendly ways, which all in very many ways gets my attention and gets me listening. So I really appreciate your making some time to be here with us! Again, Nolan Gray at Strong Towns, CityLab, and Market Urbanism -- all places to find your work. Thanks so very much for your time here on WHO.
Spillover and follow-up from Nolan Gray
Segment 3: 9:30 am
Segments 4 and 5:
21st Century conservatism
Interview with Dr. Kori Schake
Deputy Director-General of the IISS (International Institute for Strategic Studies)
Author of "America vs. the West" (and previously "Safe Passage")
[Brian Gongol]: There is one person out there, I would say, who I follow on social media on a regular basis on Twitter, whom, if I see anything that is posted by this individual and I disagree with it for any reason, I've got to check my own work, because I'm pretty sure that that means I'm wrong about something. Her name is Dr. Kori Schake. She is Deputy Director-General at an organization called the International Institute for Strategic Studies -- the IISS, not ISIS, but IISS. Kori Schake, thanks for being here with us on WHO Radio!
[Kori Schake]: It is such a pleasure to be back with you, my friend.
[Brian Gongol]: We had Kori on last year, talking about her fantastic book "Safe Passage", which if you haven't read it, or if you didn't catch that interview, it's actually still available on WHORadio.com. That book was about the transition from British leadership of the world to American leadership of the world and how that happened -- somehow -- peacefully. It was a hand-toss of the baton that happened and nobody got hurt, really, along the way. I mean, some people did, but by and large it was a good transition. And this new book that you have out is shorter, and I would say, essential reading. It's called "America Versus the West". Can you tell us what this is all about?
[Kori Schake]: Oh, so gladly. At the time of that G7 meeting, where President Trump left early, wouldn't sign the communique, went on a Twitter tirade of abuse about Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and the German Chancellor released a pretty extraordinary picture on her Twitter feed showing President Trump kind of leaning back in a chair, arms crossed, looking petulant, and she herself leaning forward across the table assertively engaging him, and all of the rest of the G7 leaders kind of gathered around taking sides...was the first time it really hit me just how much damage President Trump is doing to an international order that the United States built out of the ashes of World War II and has been the main guarantor -- and also beneficiary -- of for the last 70 years. An international order where we set rules of behavior that create cooperation, that reward cooperation, that have settlement of disputes, that has us protecting the weak from the strong. Having the rules institutionalized in a few things, like NATO and the United Nations, so that strong states get their power validated by weaker states, and weaker states get a sense of security because there are rules that govern the behavior of the stronger powers. And it hit me for the first time at the G7 just how damaging President Trump's erratic behavior toward America's closest friends has been. And so what I tried to do in the book was look at [the case] if the United States isn't going to remain the rule-giver and enforcer of this order, is it possible that it can be sustained if we are backing away from it? And so I tried to look at several different potential configurations. And the one that gives the most promise is if the middle powers -- that is, America's closest friends and allies, the NATO allies, Japan, Australia, South Korea, potentially India -- who are also huge beneficiaries of the liberal international order...can those states, by cooperating, sustain the order or at least buy enough time that the United States has a chance to think about whether we're going to like the consequences of our current policy path?
[Brian Gongol]: And when you come through all these these questions, I guess, when I even mentioned that we were going to talk with you about this idea on the air, I was told "Well, but everybody else hates us!" And I suppose I'm not sure if I buy into that notion. Is that what this is all about? Getting other people to like us or love us or hate us? Or is this about setting up rules so that we can have a world that we're going to want to live in 20 years from now?
[Kori Schake]: You know, the great thing about the international order that the United States created in 1945 is that countries don't have to like us for the system to work. They just have to comply with the rules and everybody has an interest in complying with the rules. Even the Chinese have an interest in complying with the rules. The Russians, not so much. But the Chinese are so webbed into the benefits of trade, of cross-border investments, of predictability in the international order. You know, one of the questions we kick around here at the International Institute for [Strategic Studies] from time to time is which country, the United States or China, could sustain their economy longer if a military conflict should erupt between the two of them. It's not an easy question to answer. It's an important one analytically, but we actually didn't have to ask that question during the Cold War. We believed the Soviet Union's economy was so much more autarkic that they had an asymmetric advantage in conflict because they weren't reliant on ships crossing oceans and bringing supplies one to another for economies to be sustained over a year's time. And both we and the Chinese are, so it changes the dynamic. The other thing I would say though, Brian, is that one of the really interesting things about watching President Trump's policies and personal comportment put a lot of pressure on the existing system is realizing how much America's friends are trying not to aggravate the situation. You know, the NATO Secretary General has done a genuinely brilliant job of understanding the validity of President Trump's complaints about NATO allies not spending more, and coaching allies on how to respond constructively to the President's challenges. If you look at the way -- I do in the book -- look at the way different American allies are trying to navigate these difficult times, the different countries have different strategies.
[Brian Gongol]: We are talking right now with Dr. Kori Schake. She is with the International Institute for Strategic Studies. She has written a book called "America Versus the West: Can the liberal world order be preserved?" We're talking about this book which again, I strongly recommend. You can read it very quickly; it's like an hour, hour and a half. It's a shorter read, but essential reading, I would say. It won't kill you to read the whole thing, folks. We've gotten some responses here on the American Toppers and Accessories text line at 989-1040, and I think it's best encapsulated by what Stephen just texted in. He said, "All President Trump is asking is that other nations pay their fair share. We can't bankroll everyone, including the UN. Why does everyone else want to come to America?" So I turn it to you: When you say this, I would say in your book, you put it very well, saying that this wasn't a thing about being starry-eyed idealists. This is all because we learned lessons from World War II that we want America to have a certain place in the world. But how would you put it? How would you respond to that that contest from the other side?
[Kori Schake]: I like the answer that you just gave. I would separate out two elements of that listener's question. The first is about others doing their fair share and then the second about everybody wanting to come to America. On the first part, everybody doing their fair share, he's exactly right. America's allies don't do enough, and President Trump is right to raise the challenge that our allies aren't contributing as much to the common good as they ought to be contributing. There's another perspective to this, which is that it's an eternal problem for lesser states to hide behind and free ride off the strongest state in the order. It's always been a challenge getting America's allies to do their fair share. Dwight Eisenhower complained about it in 1951 and 1954 and 1956. The Mansfield Amendment of the 1970s, threatening the withdrawal of US troops from Europe unless European allies did more. And the question has gotten more pressing with time as Europe has gotten more and more prosperous. But the the other question is, how do we get allies to do it? And I don't think the answer is threatening to abandon them, because my experience with America's allies is that when we step back, our allies step back even further, and the countries that step forward are our adversaries. America's allies, prosperous as they are, strong as they are, vibrant as they are -- they're not us and they won't be major powers if we are not standing alongside them. It will just leave space for our adversaries. Again, that's the run-up to World War II. So we need to hold hands with our allies at drag them forward. And I don't object to President Trump trying to do that. I think he's exactly right. But I think the experience is that the path, the means he's taken in doing that, which is threatening to abandon our allies, or being nasty to our allies, challenging whether they love their children...I don't think it's productive policy for getting there.
[Brian Gongol]: Well, let's say, you know the metaphor I like for the world is, you know, some people think of America as the world's policeman. And I kind of object to that one, but I don't object to the one that says we are the world's sheriff. We are the most powerful authority, but we need deputies. We need a posse in order to get things done. And so, tell me what this world looks like if we decide to abandon the role of sheriff, let's say, and say, "You know, it's too expensive. It's too troubling. We're just going to pay attention to ourselves. We're going to turn inward. We're going to raise the borders. We're going to cut off trade. We're going to be our own thing." If we do that, does the world become a safer place or just China say, "Hey, there's a vacuum! We're moving in!", and we're going to hate what comes next?
[Kori Schake]: I definitely think we won't like what comes next. I think there are a couple of possibilities. One is that the world just gets more dangerous and chaotic but we don't care. So that will have economic consequences. We will probably be less prosperous. If we don't care about the rest of the world, then in the near term, we won't have to, because we have a wider margin for error than anyone else because we have great neighbors in Mexico and Canada and two oceans. But you know, the lesson of the 1930s is that if you don't police the commons, if you don't make the international order safe, what you are doing is allowing space for threats to gather because the international order isn't naturally peaceful and naturally prosperous: It's naturally predatory. And so what we did in the 1930s was not care about the order until the threats had grown so great that we had to do something about it, and we didn't have allies to help us other than Britain, for the most part. So the alliance-management strategy of the late 1940s forward has been "Let's play team sports", because even if allies don't do as much as we want, they will do more than they would otherwise, and the cooperation that we engender will keep the international order from becoming so dangerous a place that we have to respond in major ways -- in the way we did in fighting World War II. That we can -- as George Shultz, President Reagan's Secretary of State describes it -- we can tend the garden and keep weeds from growing. And that's what we do in cooperation with allies. We manage threats before they grow to dimensions that require the extremity of effort that World War II required of us, or that a risen China -- unhindered by the US and its allies -- sets rules that we are not going to want to comply with and might not be strong enough to counter.
[Brian Gongol]: And that, I suppose, is probably the most frightening place to leave it. But how about I steal one of your best lines from the book, which I think is -- and I quote -- "The arc of history only bends toward justice when people of goodwill grab onto it and wrench it in the direction of justice." I like that quote. I like the book. It's "America Versus the West: Can the liberal world order be preserved?" Not liberal in the left-wing sense, liberal in the sense of American-type values. But I know I have to let you go to go record your own podcast, Kori, so thank you so much for being here with us. Again. "America Versus the West", Dr. Kori Schake with the IISS. People can follow you online over on Twitter at where?
[Kori Schake]: @KoriSchake.
[Brian Gongol]: There we go. Thank you so much for your time today.
[Kori Schake]: And thank your listeners for caring about this subject!
[Brian Gongol]: We've got to make some decisions coming up here in the 2020 election cycle. We've got our job here in Iowa. So we've got to be thinking like we're the ones who make the decisions for the rest of the country, because kind of we do -- we kind of get first pass on these things. Again, thank you so much for your time.
Again, "America Versus the West". I understand that some people are objecting to the idea of American engagement and what we have to do as though it is expensive. I think her point, and I think I agree with it pretty strongly, is, yeah, it's costly for us to do things that look like leadership in the world, but it's a lot more costly if we don't do things that look like leadership in the world.
Segment 6: 10:20 am
Have a little empathy
[Brian Gongol]: Let's turn our attention now to Dr. Arthur Brooks. He is the president of the American Enterprise Institute -- that famed left wing think-tank, right? [laughter] Dr. Brooks, thanks so very much for being here with us on WHO. You have a book. It is called "Love Your Enemies". I downloaded it yesterday and, according to my Kindle, I'm already 25 percent of the way through it. That is how good and interesting and engaging this book is. Thank you for writing this.
[Arthur Brooks]: I appreciate it Brian. I wrote it for all of our listeners who are frustrated and sad about what's happening to our country. I'm a political conservative, but I have a lot of politically liberal friends. I have a lot of politically liberal family members and I'm tired of hearing that I have to turn my back on them -- and even hate them -- because of their political ideas. This a a book about how to bring America together and be happier and be more persuasive in our political ideas.
[Brian Gongol]: I want to touch on your idea here about the "culture of contempt" in a moment, but I think it starts with something that you actually have about a quarter of the way through. It's this question of the "dignity gap", and whether people feel dignified in America today. What is that all about?
[Arthur Brooks]: One of the things that we know is that people will actually turn to political polarization when they feel that their elites that lead them (typically in Washington, DC) simply don't have a sense of the dignity that comes from ordinary work -- the dignity that comes from treating people in their communities with respect. And that's what we see today. It's very common coming out of a financial crisis, like in 2008, because historically what happens in the ten years after a financial crisis is that all the economic gains go to the top 20% of the income distribution. So of course people are going to say "Somebody's got to be fighting for me". The result of that is that we tend to have politicians who say "Somebody's got your stuff, and I'm going to get it back", and you have certain people in the both right and left who do that. And that's kind of what we see today.
[Brian Gongol]: This is what you call the outrage-industrial complex, right?
[Arthur Brooks]: Yeah, and the outrage industrial complex is, basically, near as I can tell, about 7% of the population who are not really alarmed by how much by how much we've turned against each other. You know, Brian, it's incredible: One in six Americans has stopped talking to a family member or a close friend because of politics. And, you know, I don't think that we don't need to disagree less, we need to disagree better in this country. This book is a manual so that when people read it's not "I'm not going to go through problems", this is this a book of solutions -- if you want to be more persuasive in your political opinions, because nobody's ever been insulted into agreement. If you want to be a happier person and you want to be more successful in the way you deal with other people, read this book and then go forth and talk about your ideas, even if they're controversial.
[Brian Gongol]: This book is "Love Your Enemies: How decent people can save America from the culture of contempt", by Arthur Brooks. So when you say it's the culture of contempt, this is when we have given up on arguing with our friends and family members instead of saying, "Hey, it is worth it trying to persuade them", right?
[Arthur Brooks]: Yeah. That's right. Contempt is something that mixes anger with disgust. It's when you treat somebody as utterly worthless. That's how we see people in media and in politics treating each other all the time. They roll their eyes. They make sarcastic jokes. If you go on social media, people will tell you immediately (usually anonymously) that what you said is the stupidest thing that they have ever heard. That's contempt. Contempt is the main leading factor in divorce -- when people treat each other with contempt. It's almost like a physical attack, and that's what we're doing to each other as Americans. So what I suggest to readers is, when you're talking to somebody else, never show contempt, because that person will not be convinced. That person will become your enemy. If you want to persuade them and if you want to be a happier person, it shows you what to do when you disagree with somebody.
[Brian Gongol]: It's not just about actually having a better culture. It's about a personal investment. You say, we actually are healthier and happier -- and healthier because of being happier -- if we can learn to disagree better is what you're saying, right?
[Arthur Brooks]: Yeah, that's right. And again, I can't make somebody else disagree better with me, but I can choose my own reaction. So what I do is I go through the social science and the brain science literature that shows that when you're treated with contempt by another person what you should do in the following seconds. And if you do that, you can turn a conversation around. You'll have less frustration and less anger. You'll be less depressed and lonely, and most importantly, the other person will start to listen to you. You can change hearts and it's almost like magic, the stuff that I've actually learned while writing this book.
[Brian Gongol]: Now, you've written eleven books. Among them, you certainly have done a lot on politics and a lot of issues, but you say this one actually got its initiative from a message you'd gotten from somebody basically saying you were an idiot. And you tried to practice this different kind of response and that really changed your perspective on on these disagreements, didn't it?
[Arthur Brooks]: It did. I do a lot of speeches -- about 275 speeches a year -- and I was at a conservative rally in 2014 when everybody on the program except me was running for President. Who knows how I snuck in there, like the rat in the woodpile. And I was thinking to myself: "I don't have to go out there and fire anybody up and tell them that they're right and the other side is stupid". So I went on and said, "Look, we're in the persuasion business. If we want people to believe our points of view, we can't insult them. Nobody in history has ever been insulted into agreement". So I said, "Look, remember that your liberal friends and family members are not stupid and they're not evil. They're simply people who disagree with you and need to be persuaded". Not an applause line. The next lady said just after that, "I think they're stupid and evil", and she got the applause. I thought to myself, you know, here's the problem! I grew up in a liberal family. I'm a conservative, but I'm the black sheep. And that lady was talking about my mom! And I thought, we can't be talking about each other this way. It's not effective and it's making us stressed out and unhappy. 93% of Americans hate how divided we've becomes as a country. One in six of us has stopped talking to a family member. Let's fix it, and at the same time, be more persuasive and become happier as people.
[Brian Gongol]: See, I come from an Irish family where the tradition is we need to yell and scream at each other as much as humanly possible and then once we've done it, "Okay, that's over. Now we're gonna hug and everything's great again." And maybe that's what we need a little more of in America. Is that it?
[Arthur Brooks]: Yeah, I think so, you know, not every family is geared that way. But the thing is it's not just what happens around the Thanksgiving table. It's also social media. I have a large part of this book where I talk about how to behave and how to treat other people on social media and actually how to use social media such that it's actually helpful in your life and not actually making you lonely and sad -- which is going on in America today.
[Brian Gongol]: That's a pretty bad drug to get on, I think, if we're on that treadmill. So the book is "Love Your Enemies." You give us five different rules to follow -- simple rules to remember if we want to get the health benefits of trying to live these happier lives. What are some of these rules we can actually put into place?
[Arthur Brooks]: To begin with, we need to stand up to the voices of contempt that are actually making money and getting famous by firing us up. We need to actually start muting the voices that are telling us we need to show a middle finger to the people that we should be loving. That's not right. The second is we need to actually start looking for opportunities when people treat us with contempt to answer in a better way because that will be persuasive and will be a force for good and we'll be actually be happier. The third is to go into communities where you typically don't go to make new friends, to branch out, not to silo yourself off. That'll make you lonely and it will make you kind of intellectually weak if you don't hear the opposing point of view. The fourth is to disagree more. And the fifth is to unplug. People are listening to too much news. They're getting too stimulated, they're learning stuff they don't even need. And if you do the five things that I say at the very end of this book, my guarantee is that you'll be a happier, less stressed-out person, and you'll be more effective in the way you talk about your views.
[Brian Gongol]: And maybe if happiness alone isn't enough to incentivize you, you even say that if you find friends and you can deal with friends and treat them as friends, it's worth hundreds of thousands of dollars in equivalent of income.
[Arthur Brooks]: It's absolutely right. You know, when we lose a relationship with somebody over something as stupid as politics we're losing the equivalent of a whole salary. It's just amazing how much people are willing to do. They're willing to walk away because they just can't agree on something as silly as who's the President of United States, as opposed to saying "Look, I know we share a lot of the same moral principles, we just disagree on the political implications. So let's listen to each other and if we we still disagree, let's be like Brian's family: Let's hug and have a beer."
[Brian Gongol]: That sounds like a decent way we could all go again. The book is "Love Your Enemies: How decent people can save America from the culture of contempt", by Dr. Arthur C. Brooks. Thank you very much for sharing this with us. Hopefully we can leave people with a happier world. What do you think?
[Arthur Brooks]: I think so, you know, I really appreciate it. I appreciate all your listeners -- and let's save America!
[Brian Gongol]: I think we're on board. Dr. Arthur Brooks of the American Enterprise Institute. "Love Your Enemies": It's a great one. I'm already a quarter of the way through; I will be finishing this within the week. Thanks again for your time here on WHO.
[Arthur Brooks]: Thank you.
Segment 7: (14 min)
Totally Unnecessary Debate of the Day
The revealed preferences of our party guests were...surprising. pic.twitter.com/Tm7S6Bw9PM— Brian Gongol (@briangongol) March 18, 2019
Also: Raisin cookies are garbage.
Totally Unnecessary Debate of the Day™:— Brian Gongol Show (@briangongolshow) March 19, 2019
21st Century conservatism
I would join the "Not Cool, Dude. Not Cool." Party in a heartbeat.— Brian Gongol (@briangongol) March 16, 2019
Truly a message that resonates in our times. https://t.co/xhGkPacqyW
"Some rules of conduct, therefore, must be imposed, by law in the first place, and by opinion on many things which are not fit subjects for the operation of law." - John Stuart Mill
- Bring back shame
- You can't legislate morality into a person's soul
- Some things can be restrained by law -- and many of them should. Murder, reckless driving, contaminating food or medicine.
- Lots of people are so busy picking teams that they're failing to judge behavior
- It's hard to pick on your own "team" -- much harder than calling out the other side
- But at its heart, that's what's wrong with "whataboutism"
- It just doesn't matter to the measure of present-day behavior if your rivals/opponents did something wrong in the past
- That's why it's so depressing to watch norms begin to crumble
- When George HW Bush died, a lot of people saw that letter he left for Bill Clinton. It was humble, it was decent, and it was good way above and beyond politics. It transcended anything about ideology or party.
- We could use a lot more of that today
- President Trump's tweeting over the weekend deserves shame
- He attacked John McCain (posthumously)
- He went after a local union leader, personally
- He went after Fox News anchors by name
- It doesn't rise to the level of something that needs to be bounded by law, but it definitely needs to be shamed
- The moral of the story: We have to agree that some things are rules we agree upon that are transcendental of politics
- A President going on the attack against private citizens is one of them
Segment 8: (5 min)
Vice President Mike Pence will tour flooded parts of western Iowa and eastern Nebraska
- Flooding status update
- NWS river map
- NWS state overview
- Iowa DOT incidents map (with closures)
- Iowa Homeland Security and Emergency Management
- Most of Iowa has text-to-911 -- worth knowing if you're in a situation where for some reason, you encounter danger but cannot call
A few flood-related odd notes:
- Kudos to Hy-Vee for really stepping up to the plate. You've heard of the "Waffle House Index" for measuring a hurricane's severity, but the Midwest gets the Hy-Vee Index, or something like it. Convoys of trucks going into places that have become impossible to reach, carrying food and water. Good work.
- Offutt's runway is underwater. The runway was already scheduled for replacement, but not until December.
- Some talk of WWTPs being overtopped and raw sewage spilling into the river. Dilution is the solution to pollution. But this is why you stay out of floodwaters if you can.
- This event went extreme in a hurry. It's why I don't think you have to be a believer in climate change to accept that we don't know everything that can happen with the weather, and that we have to put preparedness first. We've neglected investments for a long time, and if events like this are going to happen (in 2019, and 2011, and 2008, and 1993...) then we take a really stupid risk if we don't plan on something worse happening in the future.
- You don't have to believe in climate change to believe that Mother Nature has an attitude problem, and dealing with the attitude problem uses the very same tools.
The moral of the story: We're tough and good about taking care of our own business, but let's not be too proud to tell the rest of the country just how serious this is
Unsorted and leftovers:
By the numbers
Clean up after yourself
Mind your business
Quote of the Week
The week in technology
Your role in cyberwar
Contrary to popular opinion
Hyperbole is going to kill us all
Curiosity, competence, and humility
Stop the deliberate ignorance
Tin Foil Hat Award
Yay Capitalism Prize
Capitalist solution of the week
One year ago
Five years ago
Ten years ago
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