Explore provocative ideas with the potential to radically improve the world. Vox’s Dylan Matthews tackles big questions about the most effective ways to save lives, fight global warming, and end world poverty to create a more perfect future. Produced by Vox and the Vox Media Podcast Network.
Land of the Giants is a new podcast from Recode and the Vox Media Podcast Network about the five major technology companies (Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix, and Google – or “FAANG”) that have reshaped our world. Each season focuses on one of the giants and explores the ways that it’s changed our lives – for better and for worse. The first season is about The Rise of Amazon and is hosted by Recode’s Jason Del Rey. Enjoy this special preview of the first episode, Why You’ll Never Quit Amazon Prime, and subscribe to Land of the Giants for free in your favorite podcast app to hear the rest of the episode and to get new episodes automatically.
Fifty years ago this summer, Apollo 11 landed on the moon. Now, NASA’s talking about going back.But is it worth it?We talk to lunar geologists about what we’ve already learned from the first Apollo missions, and what’s left to discover.Then, we take a trip, not through space, but through time—back to a scientific expedition in Greenland almost a century ago. The science done there might have seemed insignificant at the time, but has since proved an important first step towards our current understanding of global warming.Further reading:Brian's in-depth explainer on moon rocksJon Gertner's book about epic Greenland expeditions, The Ice At The End of The WorldFor more on ice coring, this National Geographic article is great, as is this 60 Minutes episode
Big philanthropists can threaten democracy. But so can small ones, like you and me. One big example? Parent-teacher associations. We examine how rich PTAs can hoard opportunity and deny resources to poor kids.Dana Goldstein on the Malibu-Santa Monica PTA warsThe harm done by parents who hoard donationsRob Reich on superrich PTAsA Center for American Progress report on PTA donations in rich schoolsThe case that the importance of private donations is overstated
When Mark Zuckerberg gave $100 million to Newark’s schools, he raised a big question: Who will decide where this money goes? The answer: Not the people of Newark. We examine why the people of Newark turned against a gift that Zuckerberg and Cory Booker wanted them to celebrate.Dylan Scott explains the Newark giftPatrick Wall at Chartbeat has done some fantastic reporting on the outcomes of the giftDale Russakoff’s history of the gift, and the New Yorker excerptThe Harvard evaluation, and a critique of itAnother evaluation finding the intervention worked
Most charity is focused on the near term. So what happens when you try to only give to charities that will help humans a long time from now — not just in 100 years, but in a million years? To find out, we talk to Jaan Tallinn, a founding engineer of Skype who is trying to force the world to take threats to the future, threats like AI, seriously.Tallinn explains his concern with AI at an effective altruism conferenceKelsey Piper explains the risks of unconstrained AIAI experts on when they expect AI to outpace human intelligenceTed Chiang’s critique of concern with AI safety
Billions of dollars are donated every year from the fortunes of people who’ve died but are using their wills to influence our world from beyond the grave. Some of these zombie donors left instructions that are racist, classist, or just silly. So how do we free ourselves from the grip of the undead?Ray’s book: Immortality and the Law: The Rising Power of the American DeadThe case against listening to the wishes of the dead“The Bittersweet Legacy of the Buck Trust”The Baconsfield Park case, explainedThe New York Times investigates orphan trusts
Diane Hendricks is the richest self-made woman in America, and she has used her fortune to remake the city of Beloit, Wisconsin. But she’s also used her riches to bankroll former Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, and to crush unions in the state. In this episode: How do we reconcile Beloiters’ love for her with her broader effects on the state?Bran Lichtenstein spends a fair amount of time with Diane Hendricks in his documentary As Goes JanesvilleAlexandra Stevenson’s profile of Diane HendricksHendricks’s donations in the 2018 electionsMary Bottari on the Bradley Foundation and public sector unionsWhen Hendricks joined Trump’s economic advisory council
In the 1950s and ’60s, Western foundations like Ford and Rockefeller pushed hard to control India's population by sterilizing its people. In 1975, India's government expanded that disturbing practice into a massive atrocity. How did this happen — and how can we prevent it from happening again?Gyan Prakash’s history of the emergencyMatthew Connelly’s history of population controlEmma Tarlo has a book of narratives from the EmergencySavina Balasubramanian explains the focus on sterilizing men in IndiaWhy sterilization continues in IndiaA Disney short film featuring Donald Duck advocating population controlThanks to the Sophia Smith Collection at Smith College for the audio of Joan Dunlop, taken from their Population and Reproductive Health Oral History Project.
John M. Olin isn’t a household name, but his foundation helped create the Federalist Society, turned federal judges against environmental protection and unions, and bankrolled conservative polemicists like Dinesh D’Souza. How did one small foundation do so much to advance conservatism?Jane Mayer’s history of the Olin FoundationMayer’s full book Dark MoneyJames Piereson remembers his time as president of the Olin FoundationJohn Miller’s sympathetic history of the Olin FoundationSteve Teles on the rise of the conservative legal movementAmanda Hollis-Brusky’s history of the Federalist SocietyAsh, Chen, and Naidu on the impact of the Manne seminarsThe time Tim Geithner called Dinesh D’Souza a dick
To put our new age of extreme inequality in perspective, we look back at Andrew Carnegie, who gave America a huge number of libraries so they’d forgive him for his brutal steel mills. We ask: Is the same thing happening in 2019?Richard White’s history of the Gilded Age, and a short review hitting the main pointsA 1911 book examining the conditions of Carnegie’s steel millsThe staggering death rates at Carnegie’s millsHamlin Garland’s visit to the Homestead Mill Carnegie’s “The Gospel of Wealth”How Carnegie got into funding libraries
What do you want to be when you grow up? Do you want to make a lot of money, or follow your bliss, even if it’s not lucrative? The group 80,000 Hours has a different suggestion: Think of your career as a chance to do a ton of good, and try to find the job that lets you help the most people you can. It’s a simple rule, but, as Julia Wise and Jeff Kaufman have found, it’s anything but simple in practice. ––– Further reading: 80,000 Hours’s career guide Jeff Kaufman’s blog, where he breaks down his and Julia Wise’s contributions Julia Wise’s blog, Giving Gladly Larissa MacFarquhar profiles Julia Wise in the Guardian More of Vox’s effective altruism coverage ––– Discover more podcasts from Vox here.
The black-footed ferret was thought extinct — until a Wyoming rancher rediscovered it, in 1981. Since then, conservation workers have been doggedly attempting to save the ferret, only to run into big problems like, oh, the literal bubonic plague. We’re still spending millions every year attempting, hope against hope, to save the ferrets. How much should we spend to save an endangered species — and is it ever time to give up? ––– Further reading: The Black-Footed Ferret Conservation Center in Wellington, Colorado Earl Gustkey, in 1985, explains the then-recent rediscovery of the black-footed ferret for the LA Times Morgan Heim explains the reintroduction process in Smithsonian magazine Revive & Restore’s project to save the black-footed ferret with CRISPR More of Vox’s effective altruism coverage ––– Discover more podcasts from Vox here.
Most fish die by slowly suffocating to death on the deck of a boat, struggling for air. That’s horrendously cruel, but it also makes for acidic, rubbery, smelly fish. There’s another way: ikejime, a Japanese method of fish slaughter where the fish is stabbed in the skull and dies instantly with a minimum of pain. That’s good for the animals — and, our guest Andrew Tsui argues, it makes for much tastier food. ––– Further reading: Cat Ferguson’s feature in Topic on Andrew Tsui and ikejime Ferris Jabr reviews the evidence that fish feel pain in Hakai Magazine Ikejime demonstrated by a chef at Go, a Japanese sushi restaurant in Beverly Hills More of Vox’s effective altruism coverage ––– Discover more podcasts from Vox here.
The most reliable, best-documented way to lift someone in a poor country out of poverty? Let them come to the US (or another rich country). That’s the argument of Fabio Rojas, a self-described advocate of open borders. That idea is often used as a punching bag by immigration opponents, but Rojas argues it could dramatically reduce poverty without costing Americans jobs. ––– Further reading: Fabio Rojas’s “simplified argument” for open borders Rojas’s three-part series on how to achieve open borders Michael Clemens explains the debate over the Mariel boatlift from Cuba, which has become super-important in immigration economics The National Immigration Forum summarizes the Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act of 2017, for which Leon Fresco is lobbying More of Vox’s effective altruism coverage ––– Discover more podcasts from Vox here.
When volcanoes erupt, they spray particles into the atmosphere that cool the planet for a bit. As we get closer and closer to truly catastrophic global warming, more and more scientists are wondering whether a similar approach, called solar geoengineering, could be necessary. If it works, solar geoengineering could buy us some time to cut emissions and get our act together. If it doesn’t, the climate could be irreparably disrupted. No pressure. ––– Further reading: Brad Plumer explains the basics of geoengineering at Vox Umair Irfan walks through a new study on the limits of geoengineering The Stratospheric Controlled Perturbation Experiment, led by Harvard professor Frank Keutsch, seeks to learn more about the likely effects of solar geoengineering without actually doing it Gernot Wagner and his colleague David Keith make the cautious case for taking solar geoengineering seriously in the Wall Street Journal More of Vox’s effective altruism coverage ––– Discover more podcasts from Vox here.
Lithium is a potent drug used to treat bipolar disorder, but it’s also the third element in the periodic table, and you can find tiny amounts in most drinking water. Scientists have discovered something remarkable: In areas where the tap water has more lithium, fewer people seem to die by suicide. That raises a big question: Should we put small amounts of lithium in the drinking water? Can we afford not to? ––– Further reading: Anna Fels’s op-ed “Should We All Take a Bit of Lithium?” in the New York Times Nassir Ghaemi and colleagues review the evidence on trace lithium and suicide, homicide, crime, and dementia A recent study casting doubt on the trace lithium/suicide prevention link Jesse Hicks explains the fluoride controversy for the Science History Institute Jesse Hicks explains trace lithium, for Vice More of Vox’s effective altruism coverage ––– Discover more podcasts from Vox here.
Karianne Jackson was working for the North Dakota prison system in 2015 when a trip to Norway changed her life. There, she saw a prison with no bars and no uniformed guards. Instead, prisoners lived in small cottages with common areas, private bedrooms, even kitchens with real cups, real dishes, and real knives. And she started thinking: What if I could make the US prison system a bit more like that? ––– Further reading: Jessica Benko in the New York Times on the "radical humaneness" of Norway's Halden Prison Dashka Slater in Mother Jones on Karianne Jackson's "Norway experiment" in North Dakota Vox’s German Lopez explains mass incarceration in the United States More of Vox’s effective altruism coverage ––– Discover more podcasts from Vox here.
In 2016, Dylan Matthews donated his kidney to a complete stranger. He didn’t think he was doing anything really extreme or remarkable. He was just trying to do the most good he could. Dylan was taking part in a movement called effective altruism, a community that tries to maximize the good you do. In our first episode, we’ll explore the idea of effective altruism, why making our charities more effective matters, and what giving a bodily organ looks like in practice. ––– Further reading: More on Dylan’s kidney donation Peter Singer’s case against the Make a Wish Foundation More of Vox’s effective altruism coverage ––– Discover more podcasts from Vox here.
Explore provocative ideas with the potential to radically improve the world. Vox’s Dylan Matthews tackles big questions about the most effective ways to save lives, fight global warming, and end world poverty. Dylan looks at ways that bills in Congress, actions in your everyday life, and everything in between can help bring about a more perfect future.