Future Perfect

By Vox

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 Apr 1, 2019

 Mar 6, 2019


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.

Episode Date
The money in the moon
Fifty years ago this summer, Apollo 11 landed on the moon. <br><br>Now, NASA’s talking about going back.<br><br>But is it worth it?<br><br>We talk to lunar geologists about what we’ve already learned from the first Apollo missions, and what’s left to discover.<br><br>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.<br><br><strong>Further reading:<br></strong><br>Brian's <a href="https://www.vox.com/the-highlight/2019/6/21/18677691/apollo-anniversary-moon-rock-lunar-sample-geology">in-depth explainer on moon rocks</a><br><br>Jon Gertner's book about epic Greenland expeditions, <a href="https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/239762/the-ice-at-the-end-of-the-world-by-jon-gertner/9780812996623/">The Ice At The End of The World</a><br><br>For more on ice coring, this <a href="https://news.nationalgeographic.com/2017/06/scientists-collect-ice-cores-from-glaciers-before-they-disappear-spd/">National Geographic article is great</a>, as is this <a href="https://www.cbsnews.com/news/greenland-60-minutes-climate-change/https://www.cbsnews.com/news/greenland-60-minutes-climate-change/">60 Minutes episode</a>
Jul 17, 2019
Your PTA vs. equality
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.<br><ul><li>Dana Goldstein on the <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/08/us/california-pta-fund-raising-inequality.html">Malibu-Santa Monica PTA wars</a></li><li>The <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/24/opinion/rich-parents-hurt-schools-economic-segregation.html">harm done by parents who hoard donations</a></li><li>Rob Reich on <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/05/opinion/not-very-giving.html">superrich PTAs</a></li><li>A Center for American Progress report on <a href="https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/education-k-12/reports/2017/04/08/428484/hidden-money/">PTA donations in rich schools</a></li><li>The case that <a href="https://www.educationnext.org/the-new-education-philanthropy/">the importance of private donations is overstated</a></li></ul>
Jul 10, 2019
Move fast and break schools
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.<ul><li><a href="https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2019/3/13/18223129/2020-presidential-candidates-policies-cory-booker-newark-schools-2020">Dylan Scott explains the Newark gift</a></li><li><a href="https://www.chalkbeat.org/author/patrick-wall/">Patrick Wall at Chartbeat </a>has done some fantastic reporting on the outcomes of the gift</li><li><a href="https://smile.amazon.com/Prize-Whos-Charge-Americas-Schools/dp/0547840055?sa-no-redirect=1">Dale Russakoff’s history of the gift</a>, and the <a href="https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2014/05/19/schooled">New Yorker excerpt</a></li><li>The <a href="https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0019793918774318">Harvard evaluation</a>, and a <a href="https://nepc.colorado.edu/sites/default/files/reviews/TTR%20Weber-Baker_2.pdf">critique of it</a></li><li>Another <a href="http://margrady.com/movingup/">evaluation finding the intervention worked</a></li></ul>
Jul 03, 2019
Who's afraid of killer robots?
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.<ul><li><a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xwsfGYHwpQc">Tallinn explains his concern with AI</a> at an effective altruism conference</li><li>Kelsey Piper <a href="https://www.vox.com/future-perfect/2018/12/21/18126576/ai-artificial-intelligence-machine-learning-safety-alignment">explains the risks of unconstrained AI</a></li><li>AI experts on <a href="https://arxiv.org/abs/1705.08807">when they expect AI to outpace human intelligence</a></li><li>Ted Chiang’s <a href="https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/tedchiang/the-real-danger-to-civilization-isnt-ai-its-runaway">critique of concern with AI safety</a></li></ul>
Jun 26, 2019
Donors from beyond the grave
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?<ul><li>Ray’s book: <a href="https://www.amazon.com/Immortality-Law-Rising-Power-American/dp/0300171404">Immortality and the Law: The Rising Power of the American Dead</a></li><li><a href="https://aeon.co/ideas/is-it-moral-to-respect-the-wishes-of-the-dead-above-the-living">The case against listening to the wishes of the dead</a></li><li><a href="https://marinpost.org/blog/2015/9/15/paradise-lost-the-bittersweet-legacy-of-the-buck-trust">“The Bittersweet Legacy of the Buck Trust”</a></li><li>The <a href="http://faculty.mercer.edu/davis_da/fys102/baconsfield.html">Baconsfield Park case, explained</a></li><li>The New York Times <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2007/09/29/us/28cnd-foundation.html">investigates orphan trusts</a></li></ul>
Jun 19, 2019
Sim City, Wisconsin
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?<ul><li>Bran Lichtenstein spends a fair amount of time with Diane Hendricks in his documentary <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GEGr3T7mvA0"><em>As Goes Janesville</em></a></li><li><a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/05/business/dealbook/beloit-wisconsin-revival-diane-hendricks.html">Alexandra Stevenson’s profile of Diane Hendricks</a></li><li><a href="https://www.wisdc.org/news/press-releases/126-press-release-2019/6274-diane-hendricks-tops-wisconsin-donors-in-federal-races">Hendricks’s donations in the 2018 elections</a></li><li><a href="http://inthesetimes.com/features/janus_supreme_court_unions_investigation.html">Mary Bottari on the Bradley Foundation and public sector unions</a></li><li>When <a href="https://assets.donaldjtrump.com/TRUMP_ECONOMIC_ADVISORY_COUNCIL_ADDITIONS_FINAL_round_two.pdf">Hendricks joined Trump’s economic advisory council</a></li></ul>
Jun 12, 2019
A foundation-funded atrocity
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?<ul><li><a href="https://smile.amazon.com/Emergency-Chronicles-Indira-Democracys-Turning/dp/0691186723?sa-no-redirect=1">Gyan Prakash’s history of the emergency</a></li><li><a href="https://smile.amazon.com/Fatal-Misconception-Struggle-Control-Population-ebook/dp/B002JCTPEO/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=fatal+misconception&amp;qid=1557870350&amp;s=books&amp;sr=1-1">Matthew Connelly’s history of population control</a></li><li>Emma Tarlo has a <a href="https://www.ucpress.edu/book/9780520231221/unsettling-memories">book of narratives from the Emergency</a></li><li><a href="https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0891243217743221">Savina Balasubramanian explains the focus on sterilizing men in India</a></li><li><a href="https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-29999883">Why sterilization continues in India</a></li><li>A<a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t2DkiceqmzU"> Disney short film featuring Donald Duck</a> advocating population control</li><li>Thanks to the<a href="https://libraries.smith.edu/special-collections/about/sophia-smith-collection-womens-history"> Sophia Smith Collection</a> at Smith College for the audio of Joan Dunlop, taken from their Population and Reproductive Health Oral History Project.<br><br></li></ul>
Jun 05, 2019
He bought the law
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?<ul><li><a href="http://www.smcm.edu/democracy/wp-content/uploads/sites/29/2015/07/how-right-wing-billionaires-infiltrated-higher-education.pdf">Jane Mayer’s history of the Olin Foundation</a></li><li><a href="https://smile.amazon.com/Dark-Money-History-Billionaires-Radical/dp/0307947904?sa-no-redirect=1">Mayer’s full book&nbsp;<em>Dark Money</em></a></li><li><a href="https://www.hudson.org/content/researchattachments/attachment/1190/piereson_commentary_article.pdf">James Piereson remembers his time as president of the Olin Foundation</a></li><li><a href="https://smile.amazon.com/Gift-Freedom-Foundation-Changed-America/dp/1594031177?sa-no-redirect=1">John Miller’s sympathetic history of the Olin Foundation</a></li><li>Steve Teles on <a href="https://smile.amazon.com/Rise-Conservative-Legal-Movement-International/dp/069114625X?sa-no-redirect=1">the rise of the conservative legal movement</a></li><li><a href="https://smile.amazon.com/Ideas-Consequences-Conservative-Counterrevolution-Development/dp/0199385521?sa-no-redirect=1">Amanda Hollis-Brusky’s history of the Federalist Society</a></li><li><a href="http://elliottash.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/ash-chen-naidu-2019-03-20.pdf">Ash, Chen, and Naidu on the impact of the Manne seminars</a></li><li>The time <a href="https://youtu.be/LRP2Vw9ix-s?t=1830">Tim Geithner called Dinesh D’Souza a dick</a></li></ul>
May 29, 2019
Gilded Rage
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?<ul><li><a href="https://smile.amazon.com/Republic-Which-Stands-Reconstruction-1865-1896/dp/0199735816?sa-no-redirect=1">Richard White’s history of the Gilded Age</a>, and <a href="https://www.thenation.com/article/the-long-gilded-age/">a short review hitting the main points</a></li><li>A 1911 book examining <a href="https://www.russellsage.org/steel-workers">the conditions of Carnegie’s steel mills</a></li><li>The <a href="http://www.newhistory.org/CH08.htm">staggering death rates at Carnegie’s mills</a></li><li><a href="https://ehistory.osu.edu/exhibitions/Steel/June1894-Garland_Homestead">Hamlin Garland’s visit to the Homestead Mill</a> &nbsp;</li><li>Carnegie’s “<a href="https://www.carnegie.org/about/our-history/gospelofwealth/">The Gospel of Wealth</a>”</li><li>How <a href="https://www.npr.org/2013/08/01/207272849/how-andrew-carnegie-turned-his-fortune-into-a-library-legacy">Carnegie got into funding libraries</a></li></ul>
May 22, 2019
Season 2: Philanthropy vs. Democracy
On the second season of Future Perfect: how philanthropy clashes with democracy. First episode drops Wednesday, May 22nd.<br><br><a href="https://pod.link/1438157174">Subscribe on your favorite podcast app!&nbsp;</a>
May 16, 2019
How to pick a career that counts
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.&nbsp;
Nov 28, 2018
How to save a species (if you really want to)
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 &amp; Restore’s project to save the black-footed ferret with CRISPR More of Vox’s effective altruism coverage ––– Discover more podcasts from Vox here.&nbsp;
Nov 21, 2018
How to be a better carnivore
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.&nbsp;
Nov 14, 2018
How to rethink America's borders
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.&nbsp;
Nov 07, 2018
How to cool the planet with a fake volcano
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.&nbsp;
Oct 31, 2018
How our drinking water could help prevent suicide
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.&nbsp;
Oct 24, 2018
How to make prisons more humane
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.&nbsp;
Oct 17, 2018
How to save a stranger's life
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.&nbsp;
Oct 15, 2018
Introducing Future Perfect
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.&nbsp;
Oct 12, 2018