In this episode, we’re joined by Alec Stapp to talk about his new think tank, The Institute for Progress. We talk about how policy actually gets made in Washington, how we can make better policy, and his goals for the institute. You can check out the institute at https://progress.institute/
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 that is worse in the past towards a better, more definite vision of the future. I’m your host, will 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. Well, Alec, how are you doing today? Good. How you doing? Well. Great. Thank you so much for taking the time to come on. I really appreciate it. Do you mind giving us a brief bio and some of the big things you’re interested in?
Alec Stapp 0:55
Yeah, happy to do that. So I work in public policy in Washington DC. been doing that for about five years now. I’ve worked at four different think tanks doing tech and innovation policy during that time. So I started out doing a master’s in economics at JMU. While I was there doing that master’s program, I was a research fellow at the Mercatus Center, which did a wide variety of projects. And then after that, I joined the niskanen Center as a technology policy fellow. And that’s, you know, spring of 2017 I got really interested in any trust was hot at the time. And that’s one of the biggest areas and technology. And so I started researching that, learning about it and working on it. And then after the scanning center, I worked at the International Center for Law economics, again, mostly like regulatory issues related to the FCC and the FTC. And then after that, I went to the progressive policy institute, where I was the Director of Technology Policy, again, mostly working on any trust and privacy issues. But the most exciting thing is I made a big career change or a big transition recently. My colleague Caleb Watney and I, he also worked with me at the progressive policy institute. We both quit our jobs in August of last year. And now this month, we are launching our own Think Tank. It’s called the Institute for progress. And really what want to do is be the policy home in Washington DC for the progress studies and Effective Altruism communities. What does that mean? So progress? It is it is kind of it is what it says on the tin. It started by Patrick Collison and Tyler Cowen. They want to accelerate scientific, technological and industrial progress, like how we just go faster in a wide variety of important domains. Why does it feel like we’ve slowed down since the 1970s in terms of the pace of progress, so we’ve been stagnating? And that might be changing now? And how can our policy think tank help along those dimensions? And the Effective Altruism part of that is really how you filter or select which policies to work on. So effective altruists like to think in terms of three factors, like what’s tractable if you were to work on it, because you make change what’s important, like it actually matters if you change the policy. And what’s neglected? What are people not working on? They should be. And so we kind of use that lens to filter what we work on. And our three main policy buckets out of the gate will be biosecurity, how do we make the next pandemic go better or not happen at all? Immigration with a particular focus on high skilled immigration? Can there’s more tractability there? And lastly, meta science, how do we apply the scientific method to how we fund science, more experimentation, diversification, focus on breakthrough research, etc. So those are our first three core areas, but we’re going to be broad and go into more in the future. But we’re that’s what we’re building. We’re hiring, growing, and we’re excited to get started on that.
William Jarvis 3:38
I love that. I really love that Alec, what was the kind of $20 bill you guys saw on the sidewalk in terms of policy in this intersection with progress studies and EA? I think a project progress stays. And he I think like West Coast, right. And we’re both East Coast and interested in these topics. But it does seem to be a very, like tech driven less like policy driven. Is that like a fair assessment? And what was that? You know, what was that opportunity you saw? You saw?
Alec Stapp 4:02
Yeah, it’s a great question. I think. One thing I like to say is that I think people who work in public policy underrate the importance of technology for achieving their public policy goals. And people who work in technology underrate the importance of public policy for achieving their technological goals. And you can kind of look at this, I think COVID is a great example if you want to get concrete example public works, right. So, you know, in COVID, public policy was like, How do we stop this pandemic? Vaccines are the best answer, right? And so vaccines are technology, how do we accelerate technology technology in that area? Well, Operation warp speed, you know, leveraging government purchasing power and creating a certain demand of like, if you create a vaccine that is effective against Coronavirus to certain degree, the US government will buy hundreds of millions of doses for you right to guarantee customer at a fixed rate to really give you market certainty and that demand and that accelerated the development investment and and in many years earlier, you know various government funding agencies like DARPA, had funded early research and mRNA vaccines had funded Maderna at various points in times, like there was federal research 20 earlier in the pipeline, but then at the very end, also the crucial part of like, who’s the purchaser of this final product, government played a pivotal role there. And then similarly, if you work in biotech and you want to, you know, accelerate investment and research and innovation in your area, working collaboratively with government, in terms of them being the earliest purchaser of the most risky technology can is really underrated by the private sector, because, you know, the private sector there can lean the industry and tech can lean libertarian sometimes and think like, government only gets in the way. Yeah, and definitely the way sometimes, but I think the underrate and the importance of things like government being the earliest purchaser of radical breakthrough technologies that aren’t cost effective for any private sector actor to purchase, and the government can help, you know, get on that decreasing, you know, economies of scale curve to where that you get it to the private market in the end.
William Jarvis 6:01
I love that. And it seems like Operation warp speed, it seems like, what’s your assessment? I feel like we did a pretty good job, especially considering like, how I, I would rate you know, US state capacity at this time, and maybe I’m, you know, just bananas about that. I don’t know, but But how would you rate operation warp speed? Just, uh, you know, objectively by itself?
Alec Stapp 6:21
Yeah, I think was a huge success. I think I’m predicting and we’ll be writing a paper on this shortly as well. The operational MC was so successful to become a meme in public policy, in the same in the same way that the Manhattan Project is a meme, right? In the same way that the Apollo missions are a meme. And DARPA, DARPA for x, you know, those a lot of people want to create a DARPA for their particular area. Yeah. In addition to the ones that exist already. And so I think it’s so successful that it will become a meme in itself. And really, like, most the average person was not predicting, you get a, you know, multiple 90% Plus effective vaccines in 2020. I mean, it’s really incredible before the end of the year, they’re able to do it. I think we can do it faster. And let me talk later today about like, all the ways we could have gone faster and done better. But in terms of expectations and consensus, some people were saying, like, we’d never get a vaccine. And that was used as justification for like, not doing lock downs, right? Because if everyone’s gonna get infected in the end, then like why lockdown at all, but extra out? Yeah, we’re good idea to lock down because the vaccines were coming. And they weren’t like so far in the future. And so I think, you know, that’s a successful government project. I’m excited people learn more about operators warp speed, why it was successful. And just a funny tidbit, I was reading an excerpt from a book about how vaccines were developed recently. And the main government leaders, when they were like developing how they would structure operation warp speed, actually just copied the Manhattan Project, really, in terms of having one person for the military be like the operations person, the general manager or whatever. And then having one person for the private sector, the scientific lead, because the guy they got was a former like biotech person, he had led like the most drugs through discovery, through the FDA process for his biotech firm. And so like he was like a legend in the industry. And he was scientifically that pairing of ops expertise and technical expertise is exact exactly how it did in Manhattan Project. And so
William Jarvis 8:14
was it open? Open Ira often?
Alec Stapp 8:16
Yeah, and then I love just like the means all the way down, because I think people are gonna be citing operators. In a sense, they’re also just citing the Manhattan projects. And that’s like, just funny how history works that way.
William Jarvis 8:28
I love that. It seems like an important aspect of Operation warp speed was this kind of almost, you know, we’re gonna create this new organization just solve this problem. It’s like, we’re not going to use exhibit like the existing institutions. We’re just going to spin up a new one. Is that a fair assessment of how it worked? I don’t know enough about Operation warp speed.
Alec Stapp 8:45
Yeah, yeah, I think and I’m still learning more about myself, because I think the research is the history and the research is being done as we speak. But from I do not another interesting factoid that is relevant to what you just said is I learned recently that from someone who’s inside government at the time, and was privy to some of these meetings, they one simple but like, apparently could be important, norm or practices that in most intergovernmental projects, when you get a meeting from people from different departments, you say like, Hi, I’m out stat from HHS. Hi, I’m Alex sap from you know, permanent Homeland Security or something, right? Like all these different like, agencies, you see, like I’m from this represent my department, but for operates warp speed. Everybody in the room said, Hi, I’m Alex Stapp, from Operation warp speed, like they adopted that as our identifier cool, like they were full time on that for the for the duration of the project that really allowed them to be like, we’re this elite, you know, agile unit that has a mission that we’re here to solve instead of just like a temporary intergovernmental thing that could be bogged down.
William Jarvis 9:45
That’s cool. That’s so cool. I’m glad we were able to do that. Where else can we apply this kind of model? You know, where we’d like creative spin up new organizations to kind of attack unique prompts, and is there something special about COVID that lent itself to you You know, that approach, like the kind of immediacy of the problem?
Alec Stapp 10:03
Yeah, unfortunately, our best historical examples for accelerating innovation like this are often in crises. It’s like war or pandemics to have the motivation to, to align incentives or to properly motivate people to go faster. But I’m not saying it’s impossible in other scenarios, and I think it certainly could happen. I think climate change is similarly like, catastrophic, if not existential threat to humanity. And so a lot of our elite class is already pretty focused on it. And so I think you could get some bought in to do you know, Operation warp speed type things for clean energy. And so under this operational pursuit for X framework, the biggest thing you need to do is to concretely define what what the outcome you’re looking for is, so you can reward someone with a government contract or a loan guarantee of some kind, once they’ve achieved that goal. And I think for clean energy, that’s certainly possible. So if you have, you know, just take one random example of geothermal energy, one of the things we’re trying to do geothermal is learn how to dig to drill much deeper than we have in the past oil and gas. Alright, you could create an operation warp speed for like drilling to a certain extreme depth, right. So we get more investment in different types of drill bits and materials technology for achieving that goal. And so that’s something that the private sector might not necessarily do if it’s not economical, or commercializable. And you can use government purchasing power to incentivize like, a radical challenge like that, in the same way that we did, like, you know, the grand challenge for autonomous vehicles, where they had races in the desert, out in California to determine like, who’s gonna be the next like breakthrough and driverless technology? You kind of like innovation prizes, advanced market commitments. I’m very bullish on these kind of demand side mechanisms from the government.
William Jarvis 11:51
I think they work really well. And I think it’s a really cool model that’s been pretty honored under explored, you know, politically, how would you describe yourself? I, you know, if you feel like, you know, just on first glance kind of left libertarian, is that like a fair like assessment?
Alec Stapp 12:05
Yeah, it’s probably kind of fair. I mean, I’ve never used identified as a libertarian myself. The last job I worked at the progressive policy institute, they’re known as like, moderate center left Democrats, I probably feel that way. Generally speaking. Our our think tank is for the record nonpartisan, we think we can work with people in either party who have good ideas. Right now, the Democrats have unify control government. So obviously, we find ourselves working more often with Democrats. But you know, a building I talk about later today more is the Endless Frontier act now known as the United States innovation Competition Act, you know, that was co sponsored by Todd Young, Republican in the Senate, along with Chuck Schumer. Right. And so there are still Republicans, especially in the Senate who want to get things done on science, tech innovation, and we love to work with them. So yeah, that’s how I’ve kind of view myself.
William Jarvis 12:54
The endless frontiers act. Can you talk about that frontier? Excuse me?
Alec Stapp 12:58
No worries. Yeah. So I mean, it’s one I think it’s just to talk about politically first for you to the substance sitting Yeah, it’s, it’s useful as a political example of what can get done still in Congress. I think people think of like, DC these days, it’s like gridlock. You can’t do anything. It’s mostly just a barrier to technology, too much regulation, etc. But bipartisan things are possible with a certain framing. And by staying under the radar, right, so maybe your audience is different, but the main mainstream audience would not have heard of the Endless Frontier Act or the United States innovation Competition Act, because it hasn’t gotten that much mainstream press. It’s not talked about on like, the nightly political talk shows, right. That’s not on the Carlson sound, Rachel Maddow. And so because of they will fire into the radar. It passed 6832 In the US Senate. And it was sold Eastside differently, right. It’s sold to Republicans as like, we’re in a race with China. This is a national security question. How does the United States stand on the frontier of science and technology? For the Democrats who is more sold as like, we need to trust the scientists, we need to fund the scientists, we need to fund universities. You guys love universities, right? And so to borrow a term that Sam Hammond at the niskanen center likes to use a lot. She was a trans partisan bill, where each side wanted to support the same thing for different reasons. It wasn’t just like, let’s compromise in the middle. It’s Let’s support the same bill for different reasons. And so you know, what is in the bill, a lot of money in funding for scientists and universities. So in total, the the Senate version, as we’re recording this, it’s still hasn’t gone through the conference process. We don’t have the final bill will look like but it’s at least the Senate version, included $250 billion to boost things like semiconductor production, scientific research, development of AI and space exploration. And all this is kind of built with a frame of like, how do we stay ahead of China, economically, technologically and militarily? And so, you know, we’ve been working behind the scenes and with our partners To add more experimentation and diversification to this bill, I think one of the good things it does currently is tries to spread the money throughout the country to institutions and regions that historically haven’t gotten a lot of science funding. The disproportionate amount goes to you know, all the Ivy League schools in the northeast, they have the best researchers and the best labs, they do deserve a lot of money. But breakthroughs often come from places you don’t expect, right. And it comes from like thinking differently, or a paradigm shift is a very Kuhnian idea, like, cite the Structure of Scientific Revolutions, right. And so we should be really spreading our money out regionally across the country looking for younger researchers, as well. There’s some some money for fellowships, and this bill, and I think it does a good job on that, that end, what we’re trying to push for, and again, has we’re recording this, in late November, more experimentation, more pilot programs, it’s really that that applying the scientific method to the funding of science itself, so the idea being like, for example, in New Zealand, they did a thing where for people for scientists applying to government grants for funding, if they cleared a certain threshold of quality for application, they were just thrown in the lottery. And then by lottery, we’re determined who gets the money, right? It says go through a much more detailed, bureaucratic, costly, time intensive process. So let’s just do a lottery. And by saving scientists time, you might actually get better results. And the results from that pilot program in New Zealand were that the quality of study did not go down at all, it was about the same quality before and after. But you save scientists lots of time, because it’s just a lottery for determining a certain portion of grants that got funded. And so I’d love to see us and in the US context, could we also do that to save scientists time on grant writing and managing grants. And I’d like to see some pilot programs in the US innovation and competition act as well. But yeah, the general themes are being diversification, experimentation, really focusing big bets on breakthrough research, trying to fund people rather than projects to trust like high potential individuals to work on the most important things, which is often tough to do in a government context. Because no one wants to like fund something that blows up or backfires, right? But nudging government to be a little more risks risk seeking, in funding the scientific process, I think, would be a good idea.
William Jarvis 17:20
I think that’s a great idea. You know, meadowside, you know, the meta science question science productivity over time since the 70s. You know, where do you come down on this? You know, do you think things have slowed down? Do you think they’re going about the same pace? You know, are we more effective? What do you think?
Alec Stapp 17:36
Yeah, I think we’ve definitely slowed down. Um, I probably actually leaned these days more towards it being a low hanging fruit problem, not necessarily just a bureaucratic. Yeah, it just gets harder, as you, you know, push the frontier out further and further, because the easiest wins in terms of scientific advancement have already taken place. And so, you know, I’ve been talking a lot with Leopold aschenbrenner, recently, who’s a young researcher, affiliated with at Oxford, as well as with the foresight Institute, I believe in the Bay Area. But anyway, he’s basically convinced me that, you know, the number of scientists and researchers we have working these problems matters the most, because for each dub, I believe the fact the number is that for each doubling of scientific, you know, advancement, however, you wanted to find that takes 8x, as many researchers as the previous doubling, right, and so, if you’re, if you’re way out by 8x, each time like that very, very quickly gets to extremely large numbers, the most important thing is just like throwing more scientists and researchers at at various problems. And so I’m getting into very deep abstract questions about like fertility rates and population growth. And how do you move more more smart people to frontier countries like the United States, which is why we can also talk about high skilled immigration lasers, that’s also looking at this problem. But yeah, for me, I think we are slowing down. But it’s mostly because it’s getting harder to make breakthroughs. And so therefore, we need to be more aggressive in our policy response, in particular, how we allocate human capital,
William Jarvis 19:09
human capital, high skilled immigration, you just actually did, how do we score right now in the US? Are we good, terrible, somewhere in between?
Alec Stapp 19:18
I would say good, but mostly through sheer inertia or momentum like we are, if anything, like shooting ourselves in the foot, but still winning the race, you know what I mean? Like, like, but we need to stop doing that. Because, you know, historically, post World War Two and during World War Two, with a lot of Jewish scientists that migrated United States, we were able to reach the frontier and be the scientists, the global scientific leader for the last seven years or so years. But we haven’t been proactive in trying to identify the highest potential people in the world, especially young people to come to the United States. You mostly just hope that by being The richest country in the world, they’ll want to come here. And that’s been true in the past. But, you know, we just had four years of Trump administration COVID, also limited international migration significantly, especially to our universities. And so there’s this disruption point. And if we don’t like actively try to restart those immigrant flows, they might not ever come back. And so we have to be really proactive in our policies here. And so just one example of the policy again, as we’re recording this, and the build back better build the reconciliation build, it’s currently late stages of negotiation in Congress. In the current version, there are some key provisions related to high skilled immigration that could be hugely beneficial to the United States. So one being that an ability to recapture green cards that have been lost before, so in most years, the government doesn’t actually give out all the green cards, Oh, wow. Right for that year, and then they’re just lost, like, you can’t just use them the next year. It’s crazy, right. And so the numbers since 1994, we’ve there have been 400,000, green cards that have been unused. We’ve done previous in in past decades, recaptures of green cards. So this is a normal process that once every couple decades, you just kind of like, you know, tally up all the green cards he didn’t use, and then reissued them or not reissue, but you know, actually use them for the first time. And so that would be a great provision that’s 400,000 more people with permanent residency, the ability to, you know, change employers, or just have more autonomy inside the United States. And the second key provision in the bill, which is the more important one is an uncapped, high opportunity for high skilled immigrants. So you’ll be exempted from the green card limit. If you’ve been Wait, if you’ve been in the US for more than two years, you’ve been waiting for your green card for more than two years. And you pay $5,000 for an employment based green card, or $2,500, for a family based green card. And so that allows you to kind of skip to the front of the line and exceed in particular, the per country limits on green cards are hugely constraining for immigrants from India or China, people immigrant from those countries often wait decades in United States for permanent residency status. And so these are the kind of people you know, high skilled immigrants that both Republicans and Democrats say they want in the country, and they’ll be paying a fee, you know, to use more resources at USCIS to process these these visas. And so I think it’s an absolute win win win, you know, for everybody, and hopefully, as a recorded, I hope it stays in the bill, and passes but as part of reconciliation,
William Jarvis 22:30
you know, immigration is this thing that it’s like these trigger issues, right. Do you and we were just talking about the the frontier AK act, excuse me, Endless Frontier, that frontier Lord Lee’s axe that kind of flew under the radar, right? Are there any ways that you can think about structuring like immigration bills and things like that, that that allow it to kind of avoid the, you know, you know, Carlson mad owl moment for, you know, any given thing that would be good for us? Yeah, that’s
Alec Stapp 23:03
definitely the right way to think about is how do you avoid that moment? To borrow a term from radically CEUs? It’s that how do you do secret Congress, eating out of the headlines, our philosophy at the Institute for progress, our new think tank that we’re launching, is that there’s kind of a sweet spot for attention. You can’t just say nothing, right? Because then it’d be like, What are y’all doing? Like, why am I even talking about right now, it’s like, you don’t want any attention for it. You talk about it somewhat, because need to raise the salience for staffers who are actually writing these bills, we’re trying to, like, you know, nudge their bosses, so that could be actual legislators, or people in the White House to actually care about this provision or keep it during negotiations seem to raise the salience enough so that they know it’s important, and it’s good policy, but not too much, again, where like the cable news shows take over and then just rabid partisanship. So on immigration, here’s how we think about immigration one, and the reconciliation bill, because it’s already purely partisan, right. Like, there’s no expectation that there will be any Republican votes they’re going to get, if it passes, if able to do it, it’ll get 50 votes in the Senate 51 Plus Kamala Harris, and it’ll be a narrow win in the house as well. And so we’re not as concerned about activating partisanship on this, we mostly want to do is, let Democrats know that this is a win, both for family based reunification, and for employment based. So if you care more about the economic aspects of this, it’s clearly a win, like we’ve already talked about the importance of getting the best human capital, United States to grow the economy and grow business and entrepreneurship in India having more scientists. But also, if you just more care about the families, family reunification, it also starts clearing the backlogs for families as well. And so it’s really a win win that the entire Democratic coalition, everybody who cares about immigration on the center left should be able to support these provisions in the bill in some messaging that talking about that we’re less I think less risk factors for this bill, then for something like the frontier act where you really do want to have a big bipartisan when you need to get 60 votes in the Senate. You have to have Republicans on board. And so then you really do want to just keep it lower profile and make sure you have the right message for each side. And then the last thing I’ll say on immigration is that our goal is we support immigration of all skill levels. But our long run goal is to maximize the long run sustainable rate of immigration. Right. So that is really a political economy question. It’s how do you maintain the American public’s support for immigration? Again, we just had four years of Trump where he was had Stephen Miller doing everything he could to ratchet down both legal and illegal immigration. And so we need to prevent backlashes like that. And so kind of our current opinion is that, that involves doing things like increasing funding for border security on the southern border, some externalization of of processing for immigrants and refugees, and then increasing the legal pathways, especially High School Pathways, because if you look at public polling, the vast majority of Americans 70% Plus support high skilled immigration. And then over time, you build trust, and you build and you increase those flows and people more accustomed high skilled immigration, and that you can get something like Canada or Australia, where they have higher rates of immigration, in terms of the foreign born population is much higher. They have a skills based point based system that the country feels more comfortable with, and it’s more of a controlled fashion. And that’s kind of our philosophy and immigration.
William Jarvis 26:23
I think it’s very good philosophy. I have a mechanic, this is like a mechanical question, I guess is how I describe this is not an outline. So I’m sorry, but I’m so curious. How does it you know, how does the kind of, you know, think tank to staffer to, you know, Senator, Congressman to wall, like, like, what does the actual process of that look like? You know what I mean?
Alec Stapp 26:48
Yeah, it’s a great question. It can happen a lot of different ways. So maybe I’ll just, let’s see, I’ll pick a couple. So start with one. This is kind of rare, but it’s huge. And it happens. All the things example, like, the Center for American Progress is probably the most establishment center left like democratic think tank in DC for at least the last few years, if not the last like decade. And when presidential candidates, you know, run for office, when they were running for president, they have to build a campaign platform. And so oftentimes, the people who join their campaign come from think tanks, like the Center for American Progress. And then when they’re like putting up a policy platform, they put out their own policy, white papers, oftentimes was just like, very lightly adapted from white papers that the think tank they worked at, put out, right. So that sneaks its way into the presidential campaign platform, then if your candidate wins, but now elected to office with promises to the public of like, we will do this thing on childcare, right? For childcare, so we’re gonna make childcare cheaper for the average American family, but also raise the wages of people who work in childcare. Right. That was that’s that’s the one I think you have in terms of a Center for American Progress policy proposal. And so like, the new president has committed to that publicly, they’re gonna work with our allies in Congress, if they have, you know, a democratically controlled Congress to deliver on that. And then it’s a lot of behind the scenes like horse trading. If you’re still to think tank level, you’re in the office trying to explain why. You know, childcare subsidies are more important than new spending on science, something there’s funding in science for the bill. And so it’s a lot of this, like behind the scenes negotiation. And an important thing in DC these days to understand for your listeners is that they’re only a few few bites at the apple each year in terms of legislation actually passes. Like, everything is kind of bundled, as we’re talking this like, mess of a reconciliation process. Like, why it’s a hodgepodge of like dozens of different policy priorities. It’s not just one, it’s because standalone bills don’t really pass anymore. Like it has to be part of this must pass legislation and what is must pass legislation. It’s like the the annual appropriations bill. It’s the defense Reauthorization Act, we obviously have to fund the military. So you try to like sneak your thing into one of these pieces of mass petulant must pass legislation. And so this year, obviously reconciliation, the Democrats view that almost as much as pass legislation, you know, that your best shot for getting your thing in, in made into law is to include it in reconciliation this year, at least. And so that’s a lot of what happens is like, it’s the horse trading and slipping things into mice pass legislation.
William Jarvis 29:29
Got is, are the staffers primarily the ones who actually end up writing the laws? Do they?
Alec Stapp 29:36
Yeah, so it’s primarily in terms of actual drafting. It’s the committee the key committees, seven, just individual House or Senate offices. It’s the key committees in the House or Senate that are collaborating often and so, leadership will obviously set priorities and say like, at a high level, what we’re trying to do here, but at the end of the day, the staff are the ones with the technical expertise to actually draft provisions And then when the details that’s when you can have more influence, right? Because you can act as this another term of art is like a legislative subsidy, these these staffers, they’re really underpaid under resourcing help. There’s two ways to do this, right? If you’re a bad actor in the system, a lobbyist for, I don’t know, oil and gas or something right, you can use that to your advantage to like, insert yourself into that process. But another term for lobbying is advocacy, right. And so I view myself as an advocate for what I think is like, the most important public policy getting more immigration, you know, preventing the next pandemic biosecurity and meta science, like how we do science better, I’m an advocate for those things. And so I equally want to provide my expertise to the underpaid under resourced congressional staffer who’s actually doing the drafting, right. And so you can be a help and an aide to them. And I think part of what people don’t understand about DC is like, the way you get things done more often is like to help them achieve their goals and show them how you’re aligned. Like, you very rarely can just like step into a new scenario and be like, I have this crazy new idea. That’s like totally different than what you guys are working on talking about. You have to like, be on the same page with them or being like, Hey, I know you already want to do this thing in terms of, you know, beating China staying ahead of China on science and technology. Well, I’m going to give you a tool to help make that happen. And if and if you’re you know, rowing in the same direction as that staffer, you’re much more likely to succeed and actually making a change.
William Jarvis 31:25
I can actually work that makes it makes a lot of sense. Macroeconomic policy. You know, what you guys think about that? And where should we be going? What should the Fed be doing? Etc?
Alec Stapp 31:36
Yeah, this is another key one. I think that’s really important. As we’re talking this is like the new state it was four days, President Biden will nominate his his next nominee, the Federal Reserve, to talk in DC, whether he’s going to re nominate Jerome Powell, who is the current chair of the Federal Reserve, or Lael Brainard, who was another governor on the Federal Reserve Board. And as a Democrat, and for your audience in Jerome Powell, is a Republican previously nominated for the first time by Trump. And so when this comes out, people will know what the result was. But the key background context on macroeconomic policy and monetary policy, in particular for this for this conversation is that inflation has been above target for a number of months now, the latest reading, As of recording was above 6%, annual CPI, inflation. And so the Federal Reserve’s target, its average target overtime is 2%. That’s that’s significantly believe 6% was the highest reading in 30 years. And so there’s a huge debate right now, which is like, should the Federal Reserve raise interest rates to kind of cool off the economy, right, raise the price of money, and to try to lower and fight inflation more effectively? Or would that preemptively slow down the recovery? Right? So we’re still a decent bit below the employment rate that was prevailing before the COVID crisis? And so would that choke off a labor market recovery if you were to raise interest rates prematurely. And so our view on this as a think tank is that, you know, post great recession, we had insufficient aggregate demand for a decade. That’s why we’re such a slow grinding recovery. Post COVID, with the Cares Act, you know, the American rescue plan, we had massive fiscal fiscal stimulus, massive, massive monetary policy support, in terms of loans to private companies, as well as obviously zero interest rate policy. And we’ve actually had a rapid recovery so far. And, you know, our belief is that that inflation is transitory, it’s mostly due to supply chain bottlenecks that hopefully by this recording will have, by the by when this is released, have eased a bit, and we believe they will, in 2022. And so prematurely, raising interest rates will probably do more harm than good. But people are, it’s fair for people to be concerned. Inflation, per se is not a good thing. 6% is definitely too high. But it’s about the trade offs between unemployment and inflation that people are talking about a lot. And that’s why the nomination process is so controversial. The camp’s feel very strongly about whether it should be, you know, another term of Jerome Powell or Lael Brainard, who would be seen as like, on Team Democrat in a way that some people think Jerome Powell isn’t but I would argue is incorrect.
William Jarvis 34:19
Do you think Jay Powell is pretty not like what’s your analysis is pretty nonpartisan, these feels kind of nonpartisan. To me, it’s tough to call these things. But
Alec Stapp 34:27
yeah, he’s definitely has more that feel. I’m just I’ll try to keep a brief history, but it’s like, he’s a Republican, but it’s kind of like he’s not definitely a Trump style Republican. And he’s definitely not an extreme conservative or anything or a heart in terms of monetary policy. You think of like hard money like gold standard type people are people just like, like higher interest rates and definitely, you know, if inflation ever exceeded 2%, they would freak out. He’s definitely not that salad of Republican, hence why he’s kept you know, low interest rates even as inflation has gone above target here. And yeah, he kind of just fell into the position where, during the Obama administration, Senate Republicans were blocking some of Obama’s Federal Reserve nominees. And so as a token of compromise, Obama paired a Republican and Democratic nominee together. And Jerome Powell was that Republican because he was viewed as very moderate and reasonable, right. And so then when Trump comes into office, he is has the choice of replacing Janet Yellen or nominating his own person. Of course, Trump is the kind of guy who’s like, I want my own man in that position. I’ll pick my own person. And then a lot of Republicans like the conservative mainstream Republicans are like we should pick, you know, a conservative monetary policy person, someone like John Taylor, for example. But Trump’s advisors and Trump himself as a real estate developer, he likes low interest rates. He’s like, it’s all it’s all intuitive for him. But he’s like, I know, when I was in real estate, the interests were low, I did better. And so like, I probably don’t want higher interest rates. I want somebody who likes looser, dovish monetary policy. And so I just looked around and you know, he’s being advised by Steve Minuchin. And Gary Cohn, like the New York finance guys. And they’re like, Yeah, we agree with you like a hard money. Chairman, the Federal Reserve, we’re like probably in your presidency, because we’ve maybe start a sparker recession. And so just looking around, they’re like, who’s a dovish Republican, with Federal Reserve experience? It’s Jerome Powell. And that’s how you got picked. And the final part of the story is that there was reporting that Trump said like, he picked Jerome Powell, because he looked like what a central bank had looks like on TV. He’s like this, like, gray haired, old white guy wears nice suits. Like that’s what Trump thinks is like, who looks good on TV. And in my opinion, we really lucked out. He’s been great so far, even with temporary above target inflation. And so as this news comes out, you’ll know but I hope, I hope it gets re nominated. Lael Brainard will also be excellent. But our position was that we, we’d love to see another term for Jerome Powell. That’s cool.
William Jarvis 36:59
Climate tech, climate change, you know, what do you guys think about their carbon taxes? You know, capturing carbon? What’s the what’s the best approach?
Alec Stapp 37:09
Yes, I think both Caleb Watney, my co founder for this new think tank, the Institute for progress? Well, the economics backgrounds, both the the master’s program at George Mason University. And so as good economists, of course, we know that the ideal solution is the carbon tax, right? Carbon pollution, climate change, these are negative externalities, that private firms don’t currently have to internalize enough to bear the costs of the pollution that they’re creating. So a great way to make them internalize that would be to charge them a carbon tax to measure how much carbon they’re releasing. But the problem is, we’re getting to the political economy as the DC policy people, carbon taxes poll, horrendously. If you ask any Americans, this is true, mostly worldwide, actually. But we’ll just talk in the American context. How much are you willing to pay per month in terms of like higher electricity bills are something to mitigate the effects of climate change? This has been done in multiple contexts, like the average number is like, even if you ask someone like $10 a month, it’s like 5050. If you ask someone like $20 a month, it’s like 6535, against like people just like, again, and again, a significant carbon tax, in effect would be much more than like 20. This is like not even in the ballpark of like, what the average consumer would have to bear in our carbon tax. And so the average American is just not willing to suffer direct material harms or costs to fight climate change. So that’s like, that’s the political reality you need to deal with. And in many cases, in the US and around the world, when, you know, the elites have successfully brokered a deal to impose a carbon tax, it’s been repealed, you know, by a populist candidate, Soon thereafter, so they’re not even they’re not politically durable when you are able to be successful. And so we’re skeptical or bearish on carbon taxes, as you know, the political solution to this problem, and much more optimistic about subsidies for clean tech, right, so you can get the problem and it’s the second best solution, but it’s a pretty good one. And so we’d love to see a lot more subsidies and you know, clearing out regulatory obstacles for things like nuclear, geothermal, carbon capture and storage in long duration batteries. And why those four areas because the key problem with switching from fossil fuels to clean energy, at least currently is that you need a firm baseload clean energy which we currently don’t have, right? That’s currently mostly done by coal and natural gas. And wind and solar are variable. They’re intermittent. So like, when the sun isn’t shining, or the wind isn’t blowing, you don’t get much solar or wind, right. And batteries are not currently economically efficient to store energy from solar and wind. And so one option, like I mentioned, is more investment in long duration batteries that are economical for baseload energy storage. Or we could just stick with things like prime not cool at all, but like natural gas for example. For baseload energy, and for certain kinds of like, heavy industry that are much harder to switch away from. And then you just capture the carbon that natural gas produces, and you store it. And there are various methods for doing that, that are not currently economical, but with more government purchases could become more economical over time. And then, of course, I think I’ve listened to a couple of your podcasts recently, like you’ve talked to me about at least geothermal, maybe nuclear well, and so your listeners have some good background on that. But nuclear and geothermal, clean baseload energy, you know, done right, can solve all of our our energy needs. So those four candidates for how do we get clean, firm, baseload energy, I think there are very exciting and we’re in worth investments in by the public sector,
William Jarvis 40:46
because it really good really good solutions. This is a left hand turn a little bit. But what is common knowledge among tech policy people that would be surprising just to lay people?
Alec Stapp 40:56
Yeah, I think this one, I don’t work on this area a ton. But it’s the one that I think about a lot, which is like, in the telecom space, a very common thing you see bipartisan support for in DC, which you don’t see any other issue is like closing the digital divide, like, how do we bring broadband to rural America, because it’s like, really hard to be against this, right? Like, who’s like, I don’t want to get high speed internet, people who live in rural areas, like everyone’s for that, obviously. But the thing that in my experience working in tech policy, is everybody who works in this area knows that the evidence is actually it’s as much if not more, a demand problem that a supply problem, meaning like the people who live in rural areas, don’t when they when they have access to internet don’t want to use it. Like they’ll tell you on surveys, like they have no interest in the internet as a thing. Like there’s like I live, like, partly, it’s like, why I chose to live way out here is because I don’t like things like the internet. Right? Right. Often, they’re much older. So the elderly population, just in general, obviously uses less technology. And so then the question becomes like, okay, so how important is this, most people still say it’s important, but your solution needs to change, right? If like, then it becomes much more about education, and outreach and like, showing people useful things to do with the internet, which is a much harder problem to solve, if you don’t have great evidence on like, which education programs work or like how you actually change these things, right. And then on the supply side, it’s also a really hard problem, because the solution in cities and suburbs is to like lay fiber, like late lay fiber optic cable, and you get really fast internet to a lot of people. But when houses are super stretched apart, like they are in rural America, it’s not economical at all to lay fiber. And so in the infrastructure bill that just passed, recently, there’s a lot of money for closing the digital divide. I’m worried a lot of it will be wasted. Because, again, it’s so expensive to connect each new house and I haven’t yet seen a credible plan to do so. And the last thing I’ll say is that it’s almost a shame, because I think we did it five years from now, satellite networks like Starlink, from SpaceX, I believe, could be able to work well enough, it would have been in the more like they’ve already like 30 available in some places. And I’ve seen test data showing that like they have pretty good download speeds. But for for DC policymakers to trust like handing a company like SpaceX, that’s creating Starlink like 10s or hundreds of billions of dollars in federal subsidies. They want a longer track record of life knowing this stuff work, right. And so it’s a shame that I think it’s just the timing was like this, I think we’re like, if it was five years from now, and there were 1000s of satellites up there doing these like satellite broadband networks, and they’ve really proven out, then the argument would be just like, yeah, that’s the only obvious solution for rural and urban America is just like, get, you know, the trend the device from SpaceX and just do it locally, and don’t lay fiber at all.
William Jarvis 43:47
Yeah, that makes a ton of sense. It would work very well. But it’s just not nobody wants to commit to it yet. Because it’s a you know, what if it goes back, right, yeah, that timing. Yeah, bad timing. You know, what emerging technologies are you most excited about? We’ve talked about a couple of them so far. But what else? Yeah, I
Alec Stapp 44:03
think just to expand a little bit on I’ve been, I’m new to the climate space. And I’m definitely not like a technical expert by any means. But I’m thinking about them from a policy perspective. So like, because geothermal and nuclear are two of the candidates that really fit this, like, what can we do for clean baseload energy, I’m thinking more a lot about like how we accelerate those technologies from a regulatory perspective. So for geothermal I’ve been thinking about for enhanced or advanced like next generation geothermal to justify investments in that technology, need to make sure that companies know that like they’ll be able to drill and not face too many regulatory hurdles. So one thing you have here is that shallow heat resources in United States, if you look at a map of like federally owned land in the United States, and a map with like shallow heat resources that would be amenable for geothermal drilling. It’s like the same map right? It’s the American West and a few pockets unlike the East Coast, it’s like mostly the American West. And so, currently, oil and gas companies have a NEPA exemption NEPA being the National Environmental Policy Act. It’s an exemption for drilling on federal land. And they also have an expedited permitting office where like, they just go and like get the permit really quickly. And so, we should just treat geothermal like oil and gas, right? It’s clean. So there’s like, an argument that it’s even more in the social interest to allow geothermal drilling on federal land. And it’s also like, there’s a great political economy story to tell here. One, how do we transition workers out of oil and gas? Well, if we can use their human capital and some of their fiscal capital, even in terms of machines and drilling techniques and tools, let’s move them into geothermal as an industry. And then the other part of this political economy story is that two prominent places in the United States with shallow heat resources are Utah and actually West Virginia. And I think we should like build out labs to do research there on geothermal and name them like the Senator Manchin lat, the Joe Manchin geothermal lab, and the Mitt Romney like geothermal lab and and there’s already one in West Virginia. So just throw that throw that thing away more money, and build one in Utah as well. Bs like there’s the job stories. Great. Obviously, the Clean Energy story is great. The in terms of the Senate map, and swing votes in the Senate. It’s excellent. So I’m optimistic on geothermal. And then really briefly on on nuclear, I think, a lesson I’ve learned looking at construction productivity over time, and cost trends and nuclear, as well is that we’re really bad at doing on site, like large scale construction. So whenever it’s like, has to be a one off thing, whether it’s like a single family home, or like, you know, a lightwater gen two nuclear power plant, you usually start from scratch every time. So doesn’t allow like standardization, automation, learning by doing all these loops that like, decrease cost over time, you want to unlock any of them. And that’s why we’ve seen nuke the cost to build a nuclear power plants actually increase. It’s been increasing, right? There’s a regulator, there’s a regular regulation story, obviously. But also just like, if you if it’s not a factory, you’re likely not going to get massive cost savings over time, like we’re seeing with solar been dropping exponentially. And so like, the question for me in nuclear is like, how do you move it into a factory, and that’s why I’m excited about like lightwater small module reactors. And that’s we just company just signed a contract a US company, to do the testing in Romania, I think, because again, like the Political Economy thing of like, people are nervous about nuclear in the US. So they’re doing their testing in Romania. But I’m optimistic that like, by do making small, modular and modular, you can, like, get this learning by doing and economies of scale thing going, and you can place them, you know, in more distributed fashion around the world. So, you know, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is bad in a lot of ways. I’m not saying it’s definitely going to happen. But if nuclear happens, it’s going to be in this small modular way, not by figuring out how to do massive on site construction of nuclear power plants, like we have historically, I like that ship is kind of sailed. And so I love nuclear as an idea, and optimistic, but it definitely needs like a paradigm shift. Like, we’re not just gonna, like restart what we were doing in the 60s and 70s.
William Jarvis 48:30
Do you? What solutions do you see towards, you know, moving people towards new nuclear just just from the optics perspective, right? And is it something that will just kind of correct itself as the people that were alive during Chernobyl and Three Mile Island, kind of, you know, die off for like a better term?
Alec Stapp 48:50
Yeah, no, there’s definitely a cohort or like generational effect. And it’s definitely true. I was very disappointed. I loved the Chernobyl miniseries on HBO a form of art, it was very well done. But then you read like the fact checks on it, and you’re like, definitely, there’s an element of fear mongering or just like, catastrophizing, about how bad Chernobyl was. And so I’m worried like that sort of hacked our generation a lot from people who weren’t alive when it happened. But in general, anyone who spends time on Twitter will realize that there’s a very strong like, pro nuclear community. And I think they’re actually making progress. I mean, it’s hard to like can attribute it causally to those people, but like, I think both online and offline. There’s a growing group of peat community, people who realize like, without nuclear, transitioning, making a clean energy transition is much harder, right? It’s much harder to just use renewables. And so in particular, we’re seeing countries in the in the European Union and elsewhere who have you know, these ambitious like, zero carbon goals by 2050. So they’re like running the numbers that are like oh shit, like, we’re never going to achieve this, if you don’t like have nuclear as part of the equation, I think that’s why you’re seeing France, you’re making plans to announce new nuclear power plants for the first time in decades, you’re seeing Japan restart its nuclear power plants. That turned off after Fukushima, you’re seeing the UK announcing investment from Rolls Royce and dozens of small modular reactors. And so you’re seeing this resurgence? Because people are in the numbers and be like, welcome, we will do this. And then you have a grassroots community also see this. And they’re like, meaning it into reality on Twitter and elsewhere. And again, I’m not sure how real it is. But it feels real to me. And in public polling I’ve seen recently that posted from the economist, and I think you did the poll been a dramatic increase in support. Republicans, a majority Republicans already supported nuclear in recent years. And then just in the last three years alone, there’s been a 20 point swing in Democratic support. So now a majority of Democrats also support nuclear. It’s not huge margins, it’s like, slightly above 50% in both parties, maybe up to 60%. But it’s more positive than it has been in the past. And I’m optimistic you could use some of that momentum in the future.
William Jarvis 51:14
It’s heading in the right direction then which is good. Just good. Yeah. Are you down for a round of overrated? Underrated? Let’s do it. Alright. overrated or underrated? GMU, econ.
Alec Stapp 51:24
Extremely underrated. I’m obviously biased, because I attended GMU econ, but I’ll try to do a good sales pitch for GMU econ. I am from Arizona. Originally, I went to the University of Arizona for undergrad, a good public university, but not an elite institution by any means, like how people in DC think of elite institutions. Um, I knew I wanted to work in econ, in some capacity was an undergrad I wanted initially to do the PhD. But I decided like, academia wasn’t for me, and I wanted more policy impact. So I did I did a startup out of college for four years, just like has something to do. But eventually I was like, you know, I need to go to DC I need to get into Yeah. And I had no personal or professional network. None of my friends, you know, worked in DC or worked in politics or policy, I had absolutely no entry point whatsoever. I also knew that if I did a master’s, I didn’t want to, I don’t want to go into debt for masters. I think for your audience. A Blakey recommendation don’t take on debt for a master’s. In most cases, there are rules without feel like that’s a hard rule. Yeah. And so when you do research, you realize like, oh, one of the only fully funded master’s programs United States is at George Mason. If you do the fellowship program, which I did, a lot of my colleagues in DC have done. And it wasn’t just the money. Also, it’s like, I’ve been reading economics blogs for years. And anyone who read the blogosphere in the late 2000s, early 2010 knows that a weirdly disproportionate number of the best blogs like objectively most people would say the best blogs were from GMU econ professors. It’s like not reading Harvard professors don’t reading Princeton professors or Yale professors. You’re reading mostly GME professors like Tyler Cowen, Alex Tabarrok, Robin Hanson, Brian Kaplan, Garrett Jones, like all these great econ people doing active blogging and stuff on Twitter. So I was like, I want to go to the place where they work and like Teach and, and it being fully funded was a nice bonus. And so. And lastly, I’ll say if you do the fellowship, you get to be a research assistant at the Mercatus Center as well. So if you want to do policy, you want to get to think tanks. You want to have a good network. You can go to GMU, and it has kind of a libertarian reputation. But like I said, I’ve never identified as libertarian, they’re open minded. I think you get a good education either way. And it’s a great entry point for people who don’t come from traditional elite networks like breaking a DC policy, and had a great experience there.
William Jarvis 53:45
What do you owe their kind of outsize? I guess impact to like you mentioned like the blogosphere. I remember, you know, when I was in college, Don Boudreau, Boudreau came down and met with was actually like, a community college meetup. And you know, he’s coming through and he just stopped and I was at UNC. But we all got to go meet him and stuff. It was super cool. How receptive they were just to everyone, which I don’t feel like it’s super common. I don’t know.
Alec Stapp 54:10
Yeah, I think they’re really they’re really receptive. I mean, I think probably two factors. One, the most important factor is like, it really is Tyler Cowen being like the shelling point. And an act not even just like a passive shelling point, but also an active recruiter of talent. And so he has amazing talent spotting ability to bring other faculty there, and to build up both GMU and the Mercatus Center. And he’s done that over decades. And so just like it’s, it’s this cumulative process that keeps building on itself. And so I think Tyler deserves majority of the credit for what the GMU Econ department has become. And then the second thing is like, it’s almost a weird thing like, like the internet disrupted not just like, private companies, but like also universities, right. So like, yeah, if you think of the internet as a disruptive technology, the incumbents who are winning under The pre internet paradigm have no incentive to like go on the internet, right? They’re already winning right under the previous rules of the game. So like, if you’re a econ professor at Harvard, Yale, Princeton, you name all the Ivy’s or whatever. Like, you don’t need the internet to get distribution. You don’t need the internet to get an audience. Like, you’re already getting published all the top journals. Do you feel like you’re winning the game? Like why spend your time on econ blogs? I think lower tier universities like GMU, like your presser there. It’s like this is an exciting technology that like allow me to like reach new audiences and like why not? Instead of like publishing in, you know, lower tier academic journals like publish the no one reads like publishing on the internet and grow your audience. And so I there was like an asymmetric opportunity there that GMU under Tyler Cowen’s leadership like uniquely took advantage of.
William Jarvis 55:47
That’s cool. I think that’s probably exactly what happened. GDPR, overrated or underrated?
Alec Stapp 55:54
Trinny overrated. When in fact, when I used to work more on privacy regulation GDPR was the bane of my existence, because it sounded like a good thing, like, you know, who’s everyone’s in favor of more privacy. And so therefore, people are in favor of like, Let’s protect our privacy with good regulation. I would also be in favor of that if it were effective, but GDPR had actually no substance is for those who don’t know, the audience. This is the EU’s comprehensive privacy and data protection regulation that’s passed a few years ago. And, you know, it’s, it’s fundamentally broken, because it still operates under this, like, notice and opt in model, where like, they think the solution is to just like spam the user with tons of require companies to spam. These are tons of information and get their consent to opt in to whatever privacy and data practices the companies engaged in. So this is why like the unilaterally broke the internet, in terms of like, Why does every website you go to constantly spammy with a cookie consent pop up, right, being like, you accept all cookies, like, that’s GDPR. And if you’ve ever traveled in Europe, recently, it’s even worse in the EU than it is in the US. Because obviously, every single company in the EU, and the EU has to do it. And only the big companies in the US comply with GDPR. But yeah, it’s it’s terrible. Like what is to I feel safer with my privacy more protective now that I’ve clicked, I accept cookies like No, not really, at all. And like, the law itself has been only sporadically enforced, as you can imagine. And in a way, it’s a moat for the biggest companies, because who can afford to comply with this, like complex law? It’s the Googles and Facebooks, because they have the team of lawyers and engineers to do so. And so I’ll just note that, like Facebook and Google are not opposed to GDPR. They are often in support of it and other privacy regulations. And so I think it’s just yeah, it’s, it’s misleading. And obviously, I support that’d be another podcast, like what ideal privacy regulations are? There’s, there’s a path forward on that, but it’s not GDPR.
William Jarvis 57:56
Got it? Got it. It does seem quite anti competitive at some level. Yeah. Got new insurance. Well, Alec, I’ve got one more big question for you. This just, you know, came up, you know, just talking to you. I talked to a lot of people about, you know, progress studies related things. What’s gone wrong since 1971? I think we’ve done like, 70 days so far. You know, I think you’re you’ve been the most optimistic person, which is really cool. Because you’re working directly with policy, you know, can you like just pitch me on optimism and like solving a lot of the problems we have today?
Alec Stapp 58:30
Well, first of all, under pitch you and then I’ll try to tell you, what I’ll say is like, Baby, it’s like an adaptive Slyke. So you’re me, you’re just getting a selection effect, right? We’re like, I have to be optimistic, right to like, pound the pavement every day in DC. And like, you often feel like you’re like, ramming your head against the wall, like over and over before you break through, right? So maybe that’s why I’ve had some moderate success in DC is like having that optimistic mindset of believing like better things are possible. And you can get wins and focusing on the positive, right? So like, yeah, so much this year in DC has gone terribly wrong. Like they finally passed the bipartisan infrastructure bills, I think on net was positive, but it had a lot of bad things in it, and a lot of good things and like, it was a whole mess to get it across the finish line. So that whole process, you could be negative and pessimistic and just like how is this legislative process is so broken? The final version was worse than the original version. So you could say like you got, you know, the the sausage making process of Congress like is like not working or something. But given the day, I think it’s on net a good bill shows Congress can still do things. And the reconciliation bill again, as of this recording, not yet passed, but especially if it includes those immigration provisions we discussed would be hugely beneficial to the United States economy in the long run, and but it’s been an absolute nightmare to follow. No one in the American public can follow. I can barely follow it. It’s my full time job to know like the ins and outs of the rules of reconciliation and what various democratic factions want out of The build back better bill. So it looks really bad from the outside. But the most important thing here is I’ll make the pitch using effective altruists lens, nice, which means just think in terms of expected value. Right. So the US government controls trillions of dollars in direct spending, the US government promulgates regulations that affect the entire economy. You know, I must say that the last time I checked the was hundreds, like roughly $20 trillion around there. And so what happens in DC matters immensely. And even if you’re not optimistic about like DC, doing good things, you can make them like, way less bad, like you being in the room, whether you work in a think tank, and you’re like, you know, me having meetings with policymakers, or especially if you are a staffer on Capitol Hill, or in the White House, or at a regulatory agency, like you being in the room to stop bad things from happening, it matters a ton. And then, you know, you have rare, but sometimes opportunities to do really good things as well. And so I think this is what I said earlier about policy, tech people underrating the importance of policy for technicals, and vice versa, tech people can’t ignore what happens in DC, like a lot of my friends who work in Silicon Valley think that they’re just like, routing around public policy and regulation. That’s what we saw with software, right? Like, yeah, the internet economy is huge. And it’s very lightly regulated compared to like, physical infrastructure and the economy of atoms relative to bits, right, the whole Peter Thiel thing. But we’ve kind of reached the limits of what you can do with just software. Or at least we’re seeing diminishing returns, I would say, maybe not the limits, but diminishing returns. And so we need innovation in the real world. And to get innovation in the real world. You need to get policy, right. And so that’s my pitch for people to like, engage and think about DC and not just brush it aside. And that’s why I’m excited to work on it every day. Wow. Like
William Jarvis 1:01:48
that is a super message. And I really appreciate you coming on. What have you had you back on? In a little bit? A few get things really going and talk about how things are going. But where can people find you? Where should we send them?
Alec Stapp 1:02:02
Yeah, so the domain for our website is probably still being determined as this recording. So just search the Institute for progress. You’ll find us on the internet. My Twitter handle just my name Alex Stapp, and my co founder Caleb Watney is also his Twitter handle just his name. We’re active on Twitter. It’s another thing we didn’t discuss too much here. But like we think that engaging on Twitter and like the public policy discourse is still underrated. People spend a lot of time there, but it’s still like, it’s where the conversation happens. So I hope your audience is at least following along what people are talking about on Twitter that actually matters for what policymakers end up doing. So yeah, well, we’ll see you on Twitter.
William Jarvis 1:02:40
All right. Thanks, Alec. Thank you. Thanks for listening. We’ll be back next week with a new episode of narratives.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai