103: Jordan Blashek – Defense, Political Polarization and Great Power Conflict

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Hosted by
Will Jarvis

Jordan Blashek is the author of the book Union: A democrat, a republican, and the search for common ground. Jordan is also an impact Investor, and Military Veteran, focused on strengthening the U.S. strategic advantage. He is the cofounder of America’s Frontier Fund https://americasfrontier.org/
In this episode, we talk America’s defense system, solving political polarization, and how we can win in a great power conflict with China. 


William Jarvis 0:05
Hey folks, welcome to narratives. narratives is a podcast exploring the ways in which the world is better than in the past, the ways it is worse in the past, where it’s a better, more definite vision of the future. I’m your host, William Jarvis. And I want to thank you for taking the time out of your day to listen to this episode. I hope you enjoy it. You can find show notes, transcripts and videos at narratives podcast.com.

Will Jarvis 0:38
Well, Jordan, how are you doing this morning?

Jordan Blashek 0:39
Doing very well. Really excited to chat with you today.

Will Jarvis 0:44
Absolutely. Well, thank you so much for taking the time to come on the show. Do you mind giving us a brief bio in some of the big ideas you’re interested in?

Jordan Blashek 0:51
Yeah, absolutely. So my very quick bio, I grew up in Los Angeles, nice Jewish kid, I kind of expected since childhood that I would go, you know, be a nice doctor. I went off to college, went to Princeton University. And when I graduated, I joined the United States Marine Corps did five years as an infantry officer, two tours overseas and started to get out around 2014. At that point, I had the GI Bill. So I figured I’d use it for everything it was worth. And I went to law school because I wanted to dive into kind of great ideas about the American economy, or constitution, and also went to business school thinking that I would have a career in the private sector and through a series of sort of serendipitous events, ended up connecting with Eric Schmidt, the former Google CEO, and went to go work for him for five years, helping him stand up his new philanthropic organization, Schmidt futures. So had an amazing experience there, got some real insight into some of the challenges we face on the technology side, and the national security side, and use that to launch what I’m now doing, which is creating this new fund called America’s frontier fund. It’s a nonprofit deep tech investment fund focused on ensuring the United States wins the next great power competition against China, which is focused on technology. And throughout that process, while I was doing that, I wrote a book with my best friend called union. It’s a road trip narrative, very similar to kind of Jack Kerouac on the road. And it explores why we are so polarized today, and what actually unites us, despite the default narrative that that we are so divided. So that’s my quick background, I think some of the big ideas that I’m really passionate about right now, which kind of play into both my book and my current work. The first is this question of, you know, in this next century, this next great power competition. You know, it’s very clear today that China invests for power in the US invest for profit, and how does that lead to very different outcomes for our economies? And what does it say for our long term strength as countries, and how that competition will play out, and I think the US has some amazing advantages, but it also puts us at some disadvantage relative to a country like China that can top down direct where it wants technology to develop. And then on the other side, I’ve always loved theories about us constitutional law, and what it is that that really unites us and binds us back to this founding moment, but also makes it a, you know, ongoing democratic experiment going forward, that we all have this amazing opportunity to participate in and shape going forward.

Will Jarvis 3:35
I love that I love that. I won’t get started. It’s so much I want to dig into but I want to get started with one of the first things you mentioned, you know, after you left Princeton, this elite institution, you went into the Marine Corps. And recently, I was listening to a general he’s talking about this, and he’s like, this doesn’t happen anymore. You know, I mean, like students, like from elite colleges very rarely go into the military. Like it’s the client. And it’s like, what’s your sense of of why that is? Is it just because the military is kind of a red tribe institution? So like, it’s kind of taboo to come out of this core, left wing institution, maybe get brainwashed a little bit? I don’t know. I don’t know what happens, but you know, like, something happens, and then suddenly, you never want to go work in the military?

Jordan Blashek 4:14
Yeah, it’s a great question. You know, I had a sort of unique experience. As I said, at the beginning, I always thought I was going to be a doctor, and I even applied to medical school. And I was going through college, and oh, five through nine, which was sort of the heart of the surge in Iraq. And there’s something interesting where you have this generation of leaders go overseas, do incredible things, and they all joined before 911 Or, you know, right after 911, right, and they came home, they wrote books about it, and they inspired the next set of us and so you know, growing up I read, you know, Nate fix one bullet away and ride barcard and Elliot Ackerman and these incredible leaders who I want it to be like them, I aspire to sit to their sort of integrity and heroes I’m encouraged, and I wasn’t unique there. So when I graduated college, I think there were 10 of us who joined the military from from my Princeton class, which was actually a fairly high number, you know, relative to the years before, whereas maybe one or two. And so I think there was this group, who are graduating around Oh, seven to 14, that were very inspired by that wave. And so in my officer, Candidate School Class of 40, infantry, 40, officers, I’d say 10 of the 40 were from very elite Ivy League schools, who all just were inspired, in some way or another. And they actually were fairly liberal. You know, my bunkmate at OCS, he’s now running for office as a Democratic candidate for you know, for for elected office. And, and so it was much more diverse than than I think people expect. And again, I there was that sort of amazing moment, we were all inspired by the group ahead of us to go serve. And I think that that’s still there today, you know, maybe the urgency has gone down a bit just given, you know, we aren’t in active wars anymore. And so, you know, when I sit back and say, Okay, what is happening? I think there are two facts that are really important. One is, we no longer have a draft, you know, we have an all volunteer army, or all volunteer military, it means we actually don’t need all that many people. And so the slice of America that goes into the military, it’s just very small period. And we don’t want that many people because it’s a highly specialized, highly elite, armed forces. So that’s the first fact. And I think the second fact is that shift to an all volunteer military happened, you know, at a moment when all these new sort of power law type career options emerged. And so, you know, in the 1980s, you had the rise of Wall Street. And, you know, in the 90s, you had the rise of the Internet. And so when you contrast the sort of the, you know, the more standard career of a military officers life with this, like, potential to create vast fortunes or power on the private side, you know, I think you’ve got this flood of, you know, top graduates heading into those careers and overlooking the military as an option. And, you know, I think that’s not unique to the military. I think it’s true across, you know, public service and a variety of other professions. But that That, to me, would account for most of it, I found the officer corps to be highly diverse. It might have even shipped, like slanted a little bit left, while the enlisted corps may be sort of slanted. Right. But that’s sort of my take on it.

Will Jarvis 7:33
That’s great. That’s great. Well, you mentioned something very interesting there. This, I think, is a great segue. You mentioned the rise of power law, careers, perhaps around knowledge, work, the internet, things like that, and driving, you know, people into kind of a narrow set of career options at the elite level, because, you know, you could go out you can make, like, huge amount of money and finance, or you can use technology to leverage that to make, you know, much larger sums of money than you traditionally could. There’s a great book coming apart that kind of describes kind of this this forking of, you know, class in America, especially among American whites, which happened right around the same time. How much do you think this rise of, you know, these kind of power law careers is fed into political polarization? And it used to be, there’s a great, this great anecdote, I’ve heard that, you know, Maytag, this great American company, based in Illinois. In the 60s, the CEO lived in the same town with like, a couple of doctors, couple of lawyers, the plumber, you know, and like, just some, some other guy was there, like, you know, just like everyday people, he would live in the same town with the factory. Now he lives in a big city, and he takes his private jet in. And this is like, just completely, it’s this completely different thing, right? It’s just like, much more, much more separated from each other. Do you think this rise, the rise of parallel careers, has contributed to political polarization in some sense?

Jordan Blashek 8:53
Yes, I certainly do. I think it’s one of multiple factors. But it’s an important one. And I think, over the last 2030 years, there was there was a dominant, liberal internationalist worldview that essentially said, you know, globalization is good. It’s good to be a citizen of the world. And we should kind of adopt that view. And, you know, it fit the moment for America, because we were the unit power, the unipolar power, and what was good for the world we thought was good for us, and vice versa. And I think, I think it’s turned out that that’s just not true. And I think it ended up benefiting, you know, the, the, the top echelon of American society, infinitely more and everybody else was actually fairly hurt by it. And I think you could point to a number of areas where that’s true, you know, the offshoring of American manufacturing and the loss of jobs, which is now in turn reducing innovation in a variety of areas. As you know, our manufacturing base for deep tech is now overseas. You know, loss of middle class income, that sort of enabled this vibrant social fabric that we once had with communities. You know, you can kind of go down the list but I think It’s, it’s a major factor, I think both globalization and technology operate on a power law. And so the convergence of those two forces over the last 30 years, created this super Maelstrom that that really did eviscerate social capital across the United States and have significant consequence. And I think one thing that’ll be interesting is, as globalization seems to be hitting a wall, and maybe even receding, and we’re coming to the end of this next, you know, the last wave of technology, kind of based on semiconductors and Moore’s law, whether whether we actually will see some, some reformation of American social capital, I think that, to me is one of the more interesting X factors over the next couple of decades.

Will Jarvis 10:41
I love that I love that. Jordan, you wrote a really excellent book that you mentioned on, you know, you’re taking this journey with your friends across the country in several different, like, spurts. It wasn’t wasn’t all at once. But I really love the book. And I’m curious, there’s a lot of reflections around political polarization. You know, you’re more conservative, he’s more he was more liberal, and how you could kind of come together throughout those kinds of differences. His writing the book and talking to all these, you know, people from all different walks of life, made you more optimistic or more pessimistic about the state of political polarization in the US?

Jordan Blashek 11:19
I think it did both. And I know that it’s, it’s not a satisfying answer. But, you know, on the one hand, our experience out on the road was that Americans are far less divided than, than it seems, you know, when you can sit down over a meal and break bread with someone, you find that you have all these values in common. And these are values that are shaped by our experience as Americans, I think that the, you know, the founding ideals all the way through to today kind of creates this implicit bond and shared civic religion among, among Americans that you just find over and over again, in town across America. And when you can get to that point of sitting down over a meal, you can you can find those those commonalities. And I think it’s also true on policy, I think we’re, we’re not as far apart on policy as it might seem. And so that gave me a lot of optimism that going forward, you know, we just heard over and over from Americans that they’re sick of being divided, they don’t want to be put into these camps anymore, and they want to transcend it. And so that’s on the one hand, and then on the other, it’s hard to look at what’s going on with social media, in our political system and not see that it is deliberately pushing us into those camps, and it’s doing everything it can to, to activate our outrage buttons, and constantly just trigger us into seeing the other side as the enemy, our politics thrives on it, our social media and media companies thrive on it. And that sort of systemic kind of clean cleavage is, is it’s very destructive. And you know, you could just see it over and over and over again, over the last five years, how these these issues were manufactured, they were designed to kind of push us into camps. And, you know, even when people know that that’s happening, they can’t help themselves from falling into it. I think, Chris, and I found that on the road over and over again, you know, we were writing a book about finding common ground, and we still found ourselves fighting on some of these issues, knowing what was happening to us. And so I think the the challenge for America is one, you know, how do we add a policy or social, societal and economic level kind of rejigger these things so that like, they aren’t, by default, dividing us? And then second, you know, how do we as individuals and family members and communities, learn what’s happening, you know, learn to understand our emotions and why something triggered us or not, and to be able to go a level up and say, Okay, I know, I know why I feel this way. But how can I continue to have a good conversation, a good relationship, you know, see the best in the other side and not fall prey to this? What I honestly view as sort of a marionette style manipulation?

Will Jarvis 13:54
Absolutely, absolutely. It does seem to be just kind of quite pernicious. I’m curious as you travel across the country, with Chris, what’s your sense of how healthy community is? There’s a great, this great scene in the book where he talks about, you know, you go to a gun range type Chris shooting for the first time, and they invite you by back for, you know, beers and brights afterwards, it seemed like in this really small town, I think it was in Arizona, there seemed to be some real sense of community that still existed, but Americans seem to get lonely, they’re lonely or every year. If you look at the percentage of people that has a best from when they would call their best friend, it’s been dropping for the last kind of 30 years. What’s your sense of how healthy community is in the US? Is it pretty healthy? Or is it pretty bad off right now?

Jordan Blashek 14:41
Unfortunately, my personal view is that it’s fairly bad off across most of the country. And I think community comes from two things. I think it comes from shared values, shared rituals, you know, a space in in the community that is viewed as somewhat sacred that you can put aside kind of the normal and grind of daily life and come together over something special or unique. You see that, for instance, in religions where you have Shabbat dinner in the Jewish community or, or church on Sunday, it’s a special space. And again, it doesn’t have to be religious, I think you can have it in the town square as well. So that sort of shared value shared rituals. And then on the other, I think it comes from common struggle. So what is something that we, we have to struggle over together, that builds resilience, and, again, stronger bonds. And it’s hard to identify where those are in American society today, I think there is a broad lack of meaning and purpose, that creates that sense of shared values, shared rituals, you know, in especially in big cities, it’s just very hard to find that. And as more and more Americans kind of flow to those bigger cities, I think you see that, that absence of of meaning, like where does someone find a sense of, of purpose? You know, I, it’s not to say it isn’t there. And I think for a lot of individuals, they do still find it. And so, you know, I think my broad generalization is not to say it doesn’t exist, but that, but that it is far less than it might have been in the past. And then on the other side, it’s, you know, we haven’t seen much shared struggle, I think there’s a lot of individuals struggle across the country, I think a lot of people are suffering. There’s the opioid addiction crisis that is just so dramatic. There’s the over incarceration challenge, there’s homelessness, and poverty, all these things are terrible, but it hasn’t create a sense of shared struggle, that we’re all in this together. And, you know, I think that that’s one of the things that Charles Murray talks about in coming apart. I think Robert Putnam talks a lot about it as well, in that lack of common struggle, you know, makes it so that we don’t feel like we have that much in common anymore. And while I believe, given my experience in the Marines, that when you put Americans to the test, they rise like no other people I’ve ever seen, you know, they have this incredible spirit that I think is unique to Americans, because of our values, because of the way our country understands itself. And you see it over and over again, overseas. But most Americans don’t get to experience that. And so I think that that lack of common struggle has made it so you know, we don’t find the same trust when when things go bad. You saw this with COVID. Unfortunately, that, you know, something that could have been a common struggle, ended up becoming an individual struggle for a lot of reasons. And and you didn’t have that sense of trust across the entire country. And, you know, even that is overdependent because it flows from our political polarization into, you know, what could have been this unifying moment. But that, to me is is sort of the defining feature of our social fabric today, that lack of meaning lack of common struggle has left us in a place of less community less trust.

Will Jarvis 17:43
That’s a great transition point. It seems to me like our last great unifying force was the Soviet Union, and you’re working on our next great again, what I say is our next great unifying kind of force to push against, which is a great power conflict with China. What do you think? You know, how does the scale look when you look at there seems to be this weird thing where a lot of people I’ve talked to they’re either like, Well, China has this crazy demographic problem, the the pyramids upside down, they’re not gonna be able to fund their liabilities. It’s not a serious threat, we have nothing to worry about. And then there’s people that say, they’re so far ahead of us, they’re so much smarter. There’s, there’s no way we can we can do anything about it. It seems to me like it’s probably more in the middle somewhere, like it’s probably gonna be closer than that. But But what is your sense of of the great power conflict with China? How do we stack up against each other? And perhaps what can we do to make America more competitive?

Jordan Blashek 18:37
It’s a great question. So I agree. We’re sort of at the early stages of this new, long term competition. And some people call it a Cold War. Some people call it a hot war. Some people call it a techno economic war. But we there’s no doubt we are now in a very fierce competition with with China. And I think when these sort of competitions, these bipolar competitions emerge, whether in politics or among nations, I think there’s a tendency for a lot of people to kind of either look at our strengths and their weaknesses and say, you know, of course, like our economy is so much better than theirs were more innovative, they have these demographic problems, you know, we don’t have to worry. Or you look at your own weaknesses and their strengths and say, Oh, my God, we can’t innovate. We’re so sclerotic, we, you know, they’re racing ahead, they’re pouring all this money into innovation. And, and neither of those are accurate. I think both countries have incredible strengths. And both have a lot of weaknesses. And what that means is that the future is contingent. We don’t know how it’s gonna go. But what does matter is what we do in that competition and how we, how we focus on our own system, and ensure that we have the right you know, the right tools, the right innovation, the right talent focused on hard problems. And so, you know, my view going into this is that it’s the United States that will either defeat itself or push itself into you know, another century of leadership of the global, you know, international order, whatever we want to call it. Because it’s up to us, you know, we have a lot of problems, we have incredible strengths. And we need to take this moment, recognizing that we actually do face a competitor for the first time, in 5060 years, we face a serious competitor, which can act as a foil to us, it reveals some of our weaknesses, or areas that that we’ve under invested in over the last few decades. And I think that’s, that’s really important. But it also requires a seriousness of addressing those problems. Otherwise, we will certainly wake up in 20 years, to a world that we are not the world’s best technology leader in China is and I think that it’s not to say there’s anything wrong with the Chinese people, I think the Chinese people are incredible. I do think the Chinese Communist Party is, is not the world I want, I don’t want a world dominated by them, they don’t have the values I care about. A world like that means more insecurity. It means, you know, countries like Russia, being given the green light to invade another country like Ukraine, it means less prosperity for the American people. It means US military that doesn’t have the best technology on the battlefield and puts us at significant risk. And so all those things are reasons why, you know, I believe the country needs to come together around this issue, and really take a serious eye towards how we need to drive forward innovation, and parts of our economy that just haven’t had it over the last few decades.

Will Jarvis 21:30
Definitely. Well, you know, Jordan, it fills me with some hope that you’re working on this problem, because it’s, it’s a bear of a problem. What does it look like? Making sure the US is competitive with China? You know, perhaps, on your front, what you’re working on with providing, you know, us with defensive capabilities, it seems quite disturbing to me, there’s just so many, I guess, kind of political economy problems with this, I think about the carrier’s, you know, you’ve got these massive high capital costs, kind of weapons systems that can be defeated with DF 21, you know, very cheap, like anti ship missiles in mass, like there’s things like, which I don’t think people are really thinking about very much. There’s a kind of a lack of automated systems, perhaps driven by like the pilot lobby in the Air Force. I don’t know what’s going on there. Maybe they just, you know, Top Gun probably did not help us at all great movie, but it probably didn’t help us on that front. But yeah, like, what are you working on? In particular, what big problems are you see on the defense side that need to be buffed up, that can’t be buffed up?

Jordan Blashek 22:30
Well, that was a great point. And I’ll start with your point, which is, the US has invested so much in these huge military platforms, you know, our aircraft carriers, or fighter jet programs. And it’s not to say those are wrong, I think it’s really important that we have those exquisite platforms that that dominate the battlefield. But if the 20th century was all about scale, you need you need carriers that have scale, you need aircraft carrier, aircrafts that can dominate the airspace, it was all about scale, the 21st century is all about, you know, small units, highly empowered with technology that can swarm. And, you know, as you said, our aircraft carriers can be taken out by either tons of Swift boats with explosives attached to them, that’s a low tech approach, or, you know, highly enabled drone technologies that can similarly swarm, and they’re low costs and cheap. And so we’ve cloud a ton of money and invested heavily in these programs that take decades to be completed. And yet, the fear is that by the time they’re fielded on the battlefield, the other side will have technology that can easily take them out. And so that heavy investment, you know, might be money being spent in areas that are not gonna have the highest ROI for us. And so as we looked at this problem, you know, there’s there’s been a variety of conditions over the last five years or so that have kind of came to the same conclusion that we’re falling behind in foundational technologies, things like microelectronics, or artificial intelligence, synthetic biology, these technology areas that are a bit upstream from the dual use application. So rather than focus on do we have the best aircraft carrier, we should be looking upstream, do we have the best AI because whoever has the best AI will make decisions faster on the battlefield, they’ll they’ll have a much higher competitive advantage in decision making, which then leads to all these downstream consequences. And same is true with microelectronics, whoever has the best chips has the best AI, they have the best weapon systems, they have the ability to shut off the world’s supply chains to those chips. And so it gives all these advantages. And if we look at why the US is falling behind in those areas, I think it essentially comes down to this political economy question, which is, you know, a lot of those areas do not fit the venture model. And yet we’ve really leaned on the venture model for innovation over the last 2030 years. So venture has a 10 year fund duration. It’s not a requirement. It’s It’s sort of a evolved custom and tenure fundraisings mean that it’s hard to invest in things that have long durations to maturity. So you know, a company that requires maybe 15 years to go from promising scientific idea to prototype to commercial scale takes longer. And so venture funds will overlook it, they just won’t, they won’t feel they won’t invest there, because it’s not quite ready. And, you know, if if we had a well functioning political economy, we might have easier to access government funding, better grant programs that could take higher risk. And we do have variety of, of government programs. But I think universally, it’s recognized that those, those are just not that effective. And while there’s lots of great people working on fixing them, they’re just not meeting that challenge today. So in between, you know, DARPA, which funds 20 year kind of breakthrough science r&d, and then the venture capital community, there is this gap in funding, and that that’s what our organization is trying to solve is to figure out how we can get patient capital capital that is willing to take a longer timeline, to see returns, it’s not going to say we don’t want returns, we need at the end of the day, we need bigger returns, because the only way to know that something is truly a great technology and truly successful. It’s an imperfect measure, but it is profit, you know, it is the fact that it’s achieved commercial scale, that it is so valuable, and creates so much value for the economy, that it generates substantial profits, but we think that it needs a longer time horizon. So that’s the challenge we’re trying to solve. I think there’s a related challenge, which is new, these things just require upfront capital, you know, to build a new microelectronic startup, it requires probably $30 million expensive to first prototype, whereas, you know, for a SaaS company, you could get to 30 million in current recurring revenue before you even you know, have to like really invest in hardware. So. So that’s, that’s the innovation challenge we face. And, you know, the reason it matters relative to China, is that the Chinese government can top down direct their sovereign funds, their state funds, to invest heavily into those areas. And they can even tell them not to invest in social media companies and software companies. So that talent, and capital all shifts into this other area. And so at a moment, when the US is under investing, the Chinese might be over investing in those areas. And that creates real long term risk for the United States. That means that on the Chinese side, they’re getting the benefit of all these learning cycles, you know, in the same way that Silicon Valley developed over decades, as generations of entrepreneurs, kind of tackled startups, some failed, some succeeded, but they just kept learning and growing and innovating, the Chinese are gonna be able to do that in these deep tech areas. In the US, we’re moving too slow. So that’s the challenge we’re trying to solve.

Will Jarvis 27:50
Just move faster. It’s really fascinating. You mentioned that time horizon, kind of $20 bill you found on the sidewalk, because it’s very similar to a previous guests we had on the show, Adam marble stones, FRS focus research organizations, it’s very much in the same vein of recognizing that there are certain, I guess, funding sizes and timescale returns that are not served because of kind of poor incentives. Just in in kind of the ether. That makes sense.

Jordan Blashek 28:18
Yeah, that’s exactly right. And if I had to distill the challenge, it’s that we need a new way to finance innovation. I think for 7080 years, we had this incredible system that was developed, I think you could give most credit to Van der Bush, Vannevar. Bush, in the Endless Frontier. And, you know, this amazing symbiosis between universities, federal government contracting, and the entrepreneurial ecosystem led to the sort of innovation model we have. And yet things are different today. I think that model isn’t quite working as well as I once once did. And so we need to innovate on how we finance, innovation, I think and out of marble stone is tackling that with the SRO concept, which I think is brilliant. And we we got to collaborate with him when I was at Schmidt futures. And there are other people in the ecosystem trying similar models. And I think what we’re doing with America’s frontier fund is just one more of those models to try to innovate on how we finance innovation. And our model is a bit more commercial focus than Adams, Adam is looking at how you can use new structures, like a nonprofit, but organized like a startup to achieve a breakthrough in basic research. And I think what we’re looking at is how you can use a nonprofit to raise patient capital, that can take a longer time horizon, to invest in the things that come out of basic research. So you know, to ensure that whatever breakthroughs happen, can still get to commercial scale. That’s, that’s where I sort of put those but I find it to be a very exciting time as people are thinking very creatively about, you know, how do we use the tools we have to accelerate or, you know, rethink how we do innovation?

Will Jarvis 29:55
That’s great. That’s great. All right. Are there any areas you see that the US has kind of of dragging behind it in terms of innovation, or just like, I guess, pure kind of onshore infrastructure. You know, one thing I always go back to is my brother, he used to work in his machine tooling machine shop. And you know, he’s working on Chaffe for the F 16. But it’s like the one shop in the United States, it’s like down the road for me in this like little podunk town. And there’s, like, you know, three guys, like, there’s probably two people that know how to do it, and they’re like, teaching my brother, like, wow, like, if these people had a heart attack, you know, we would really be in trouble as a country, you know, that’s how close it is. So is it like, are there like pure, like, on the ground tooling problems we have? Is it like more on like, the front tier, like, I guess, hard tech, like, technical developments? Or is it like all of these things all at once?

Jordan Blashek 30:46
I think I think it’s all of these things all at once. And I think in, in some way, we’ve had the luxury over the last 40 years of just sort of saying like, well, the American innovation base is the best in the world. And, like, you know, talent will naturally just flow to the areas of highest opportunity and value. And I just don’t think that’s actually quite true. And you know, I’m a conservative, I believe in free market, I think it is the best engine for wealth creation and poverty alleviation in the world. But it doesn’t always clear, you know, the market doesn’t always clear. And I think what we’ve found is both that there are inefficiencies in the US economy, that means you end up with situations where it’s like, we only have one person who does this machining process. And the entire defense, industrial base is like dependent on this like one node. And if that node goes down, we actually face severe supply chain risk. So I think you have that problem. And then, you know, on the on the other side, you have market distortion, you have a Chinese economy that is willing to flood or subsidize its own sector with capital, so that it out performs ours. And so it means we have certain deserts, you know, we don’t do low end chip manufacturing in the US, because it’s so much cheaper overseas, and that creates long term challenges for the economy. And so, you know, I think you have these inefficiencies that have emerged, as we think about going forward, what do we need to do to solve this? at a policy level? I, I think there are two things that that are important, I think one is we can’t dominate all value chains across the world, you know, if we said we want to, we want to dominate the semiconductor value chain from start to finish. So from, you know, designing the chips all the way through advanced fabric, fabrication, it’s never going to happen, it’s a global value chain, it’s, you know, multiple trillions of dollars, and we just can’t do it all it would, it would take more money than than we have. And so we have to be very targeted and strategic about what we want to dominate. And as the US government looks to pass the chips Act and the bipartisan innovation bills, they should be thinking very seriously about where in the value chain, is it truly critical for us to dominate and have strategic notes. So I think that’s first is for the first time in a long time, being very thoughtful about where we develop technology. And I think the second is having a better understanding at a granular level of those supply chains. So you know, the US government is the biggest buyer in the world of technology. And yet they don’t know what the, you know, the couple levels down supply chain is. So one of my colleagues was on the Defense Science Board. And what she found was that, you know, you couldn’t tell where that one machine is, is just based on the existing information the US government has, but we, we should know that. And, you know, I’m sure the Chinese actually know it. But we should know it, because it would help that market clearer, more effectively, you know, you know, having such brittle supply chains, having dependencies on the small mom and pop shops, for our most advanced equipment, is it’s not an effective strategy. And so having better information, more data on where those brittle supply chains are, can help us revitalize those supply chains create more resiliency, and it can help talent and capital move towards areas of opportunity, that at the moment, they’re not because they just have they have no visibility there.

Will Jarvis 34:13
That’s great. That’s great. That this next question, it kind of flows through all of your work. So I’m really curious to get your take on it. You know, it’s a big kind of left, right. I guess, conflict point around defense spending. The thing I say about defense spending is that the problem is, you know, we spend a lot of my own offense in this country. But if we decrease the amount we spend, it’s not like you can, there’s a lot of special interests, and it’s very difficult to dislodge these, it’d be nice to just like hand wave that away, but they are there and they’re very motivated to keep their kind of special interests like the big you know, defense contractors, etc. And so if you decrease defense spending, you get at you get less innovation, and you can’t just like reallocate that very easily. So should we just be more biased towards like increasing defense? It’s funding, even though we already spent a lot because you can take that new money and reallocated to places where if it’s already committed, it’s very difficult to kind of dislodge that.

Jordan Blashek 35:09
That’s a great question. I think the defense spending debate is I think it’s really focused in the wrong place. So the vast majority of defense budget goes to things that I would argue are just not that relevant anymore. You know, a third of the defense budget alone is spent on on education, health care, and social services for the military. It’s not that that’s bad is that that’s obviously needed when you have, you know, a standing volunteer, volunteer army, military. So it’s very important to do that. But you know, when most people think like, oh, the defense budgets so big, I don’t think they account for for that fact, then there’s all this money going into legacy systems, you know, the vast majority of the budget goes to legacy systems. And as we were just talking about, I think that money would be much better spent on advanced r&d and trying to get the best upstream technology. And so, you know, I think the defense budget debate always kind of comes down to like, Democrats want it lower, and Republicans want it higher. And really, we shouldn’t be saying, like, where should this money be going? You know, we want the US to have the best technology, we want to have the most capable military, what is the best way to achieve that. And it’s, it’s not necessarily a bigger budget, but it’s probably a budget where the priorities are different. And if you could spend, you know, hundreds of billions of dollars more a year on advanced r&d for artificial intelligence, or commercialization of semiconductor disruptive technologies, you know, we would be in a much better place as a country than we are today. And on the on the on the left side, I think often the desire is, well, let’s reduce the defense budget, so we can increase, you know, various domestic spending programs. And, you know, I just disagree with that. Because at the end of the day, the thing that will lift up more Americans create more jobs create more wealth, collective wealth, our breakthroughs in advanced technology, you know, I I very much agree with the Endless Frontier and Vannevar. Bush that, that the greatest way we can lift all boats is through that innovation. And we should be putting more money there, not less. And as you’ve seen, federal spending towards r&d has just gone down dramatically over the last half century, and continues to do so maybe it ticked up a little bit the last few years, but it should be four or five times as much as as it is today. And some of that could come from the defense budget, and I think it would actually meet the purpose of having the most capable military and the strongest strategic position for the United States.

Will Jarvis 37:42
That’s great. Well, you mentioned the research budget. And I’m curious, it as best we can tell, it seems like the average scientist is probably 2% as effective as, as one was in 1950, probably due to all kinds of different factors. I’m curious, do you think it is gotten harder to find new innovations? Have we picked up all the low hanging fruit now it’s just just much more difficult to get up the tree to you know, find that next Apple? Or is it like kind of a psychological thing where maybe we’re not trying as hard or the money’s not going to the right place? It’s just going to the older scientist or something like that. And, and they’re all just politicians who are gonna get in money, and the weird people all got kicked out on the street or something like that, like, what do you think’s going on

Jordan Blashek 38:24
there? It’s one of those. I think it’s an overdetermined problem. I think it’s it’s kind of all the above, I do think, you know, there is some of that, like, fishing out problem that we have kind of gotten a lot of the low hanging fruit and the next breakthroughs or, you know, maybe a little harder. I think it’s that, you know, if you go back 6070 years, the average university president was in his 40s. Today, it’s they’re in their 70s. You know, I think it’s true across departments. And maybe it leads to a more risk averse profession. I think the way grant money is given out probably also has some effect there. It’s harder to be a non consensus thinker today in the academy. So I think it’s all the above. I’m not an expert in this area. So I don’t, I don’t really have any, any smart view on it.

Will Jarvis 39:10
Gotcha, gotcha. I want to do some, some final questions around, you know, the Constitution and how we think about the Constitution. The Constitution is not just a living document, it’s kind of the set of norms we have around it, and it can evolve and change. You’ve got a legal background, you’ve written a book on political polarization. You know, how should we theorize about how the Constitution actually works? You know, like, in the Supreme Court, did they just they sit together in a quorum, and they kind of like interpret this and, and hand down verdicts to the rest of us. You know, how impartial are they? Do you think they do a fairly good job? A poor job? something in between? Yeah. Like, generally, what do you think about kind of the state of the Constitution at this point?

Jordan Blashek 39:52
Yeah, well, it’s such a relevant question, given what’s happening with Roe v. Wade. And, you know, I think sadly, the Supreme Court where it is, was sort of the last holdout of a hyper politicized America. And, and now today, it’s sort of, you know, over 20 years is sort of now fallen prey to the same hyperpolarized polarization forces. And, you know, the reason I love the Constitution, so much and constitutional philosophy is, it’s just so rich, and so many brilliant thinkers have spent their lives diving into it and coming up with incredible theories over the last two and a half centuries. And it pulls from the best of various philosophical traditions and religious traditions. And, you know, there’s some Talmud elements to it, it’s just a fascinating area of study. And the, the theory I liked the best was one of my professors, Jack Balkan, what he called Living a rich originalism. And what he would argue is that the constitutional moment was a really important moment, you know, the whole, of course, the Constitution was written by the framers, and they, you know, they wrote rules in there, they wrote principles in there. But what really mattered was not who wrote it, but who ratified it. And the moment the Constitution was ratified, every state had the opportunity to essentially have their own process. And nearly all the states kind of expanded the electorate beyond anything that had ever happened in the history of humanity, so that more people than ever could, could vote in the Constitution. And of course, it was imperfect at the time, and, you know, for all the reasons everybody knows today that women can vote and African Americans can vote, but it was it was this. For the time it happened, it was the most democratic moment in history. And with that ratification, the important thing was, what did everyone think the Constitution meant? You know, what did it mean to have a right to bear arms? What did it mean to have equality under the law? And while there are certain hard rules in the Constitution, like, you know, you can’t be president until you’re over 35. That’s not open to interpretation. It’s not like well, 35, then is 65 today, so like, you have to be 65. It’s just a hard rule. But there are other things that are principles. And those principles are both timeless and ever changing, you know, quality under under the law is timeless. But our understanding of it evolves, and what matters is that every generation of Americans wrestles with what that means, what does it mean, for us today, to have a quality under the law when you know, everybody with a cell phone can can film you doing stuff? And so like just due process, matter, when you could sort of be crucified in the public square over social media, and not get your day in court? So like, how do we understand that. And so I think what I find beautiful is this idea that every generation gets to kind of renew that founding moment, because we all debate what it means, over these principles, and ones that, you know, everybody knows, due process, equality, under the law, equal opportunity, these are things that every generation gets to wrestle with, and in doing so take part in that constitutional experiment in process, which I think is beautiful. I think that the challenge today is that, you know, civic education is not that great anymore, I think very few people kind of understand the constitutional structures and, and what it means for them to engage over it. And so the one upside of these complications over things like Roe v, Wade, or others, is it gives us the opportunity to talk about this and to to kind of wrestle as a nation with, you know, our constitutional process and, and how it should be evolving, given dramatic changes to, to the nature of society over the last 250 years. But that’s the theory I love the most, I think it’s beautiful, it ties into this idea of covenant, that, you know, we’re all bound together, and the project makes us something more than we were before, you know, it’s not just an IOU, it’s a we and how that forms is, is through that process of, of engagement. So that that’s my favorite theory. We wrote about it a bit in the book. So, you know, I’d actually love to hear hear your thoughts on that. And, you know, given the number of people you’ve talked to, and what you read in the book, like, how do you see what’s going on with constitution and how it applies to us today?

Will Jarvis 44:08
You know, I really, I really love that theory. I think it’s, um, I yeah, I think it’s great. But the one challenge I see is, it’s just this this problem. It’s like, kind of like the Norway problem. It’s like America was much smaller than and it’s like, kind of easier to get consensus when you just have less people to go talk to right. And there’s less nodes in the network that you have to kind of bring people together. It’s challenged to scale this up, and I think we’ve done like, all things considered a pretty decent job, but I do I do really like that. That theory. And yeah, I think it makes makes a lot of sense. It’s really cool.

Jordan Blashek 44:42
Well, so to your point, I think one of the there’s another law professor at UT, Sanford Levinson, who, who argues that for most of our history, we’ve kind of we’ve iterated on those principles. So you know, what does equality under the law mean? And we we haven’t really iterated on structures and so Maybe given changes to our society, it’s time to innovate on the structure a little bit like does, you know, does the you know, the electoral college makes sense? Does the, you know, to person Senate proportional house makes sense? And can can we innovate on some of that to create a better functioning? System? And, you know, there are structures in the Constitution that allow you to innovate. So it’s, it’s a good point you raise, I think, I think it’s, it’s worth a lot of deep thought about how we account for the size and scale that we’re at now relative to past area, and how social media, I think, turns local issues into national issues in a way that that’s new, and it creates difficulties.

Will Jarvis 45:40
Yes, yes, absolutely. Well, but one final question for Jordan, you know, long term, do you think we will see kind of political polarization kind of recede? Or does it just kind of get crazier and crazier? And if you just say, receding, you know, what does that path kind of look like? Do you think is it like, culminating around some kind of great power conflict with China? Is it something else

Jordan Blashek 46:03
I sort of ascribe to the cycles of American history theories, where I think we tend to arrive at at some consensus, some dominant sort of approach that that leads to, you know, 3040 years of, of, you know, shared understanding and stability, which then begins to, you know, unravel a bit and as the world changes, the economy changes, we then start to like, drive apart, and then you know, something happens that, that creates a new consensus. So if you look at like, you know, leading up to World War Two, you had a very hyper polarized country, very different views on how to respond. And then coming out of it, you tend, you had a very sort of aligned nation for 30, you know, maybe 20 years or so, similarly, a lot of social tumult in the 60s and 70s. And then, you know, with the Reagan era, you you had sort of a shared view that, that big government should come to an end, and we should have lower taxes, less regulation, pro business environment, and you got the sort of next wave and, you know, even Bill Clinton kind of accepted that, that sort of dominant view and, and govern that way. And so I think you have those cycles, and I think we’re in one of them right now, I think it’s gonna stay fairly tumultuous for the next five to 10 years as we wrestle with this new environment, and what ideas can actually transcend it? And I do think at some point, we will have a new consensus in the country that will inaugurate you know, hopefully, 20 years of just great prosperity and growth and collective purpose for the country. That’s, that’s my hope. Again, I said at the beginning that I think all of this is contingent. So it really depends on on what we do.

Will Jarvis 47:52
Really well, but Well, Jordan, thank you so much for coming on the show. Where can people find the book? And where can people find your work?

Jordan Blashek 47:59
Oh, thank you. So union, the book is, it’s on Amazon. My author’s name is Chris Hall. He’s amazing writer from Berkeley, and my best friend, so I hope people check it out. It’s a fun, quick, easy read. And they can learn more about America’s frontier fund at America’s frontier.org and see what we’re up to. It’s, it’s it’s an usual fund as a nonprofit, but we think it has the potential to really help galvanize more investment and more more innovation in deep tech. So we’re really excited about our new mission there.

Will Jarvis 48:34
That’s awesome. Well, thank you, Jordan. And just for the audience, I really love the blog, so I encourage you to check it out.

William Jarvis 48:39
Thanks. Thanks for listening. We’ll be back next week with a new episode of narratives. Special thanks to Donovan Dorrance, our audio editor. You can check out Donovan’s work and music at Donovan dorrance.com

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