Reason Podcast

Should You Be Optimistic About America's Future? Q&A with Russ Roberts: Podcast

The economist and podcast star talks about intellectual humility, the growing incentives for anti-social behavior, and why Adam Smith is more relevant than ever.


On Monday, April 23, Nick Gillespie taped a live podcast with Russ Roberts at Reason's Washington, D.C., studio in front of a live audience.

An economist who taught for years at George Mason University, Washington University, and elsewhere, Roberts is the John and Jean De Nault Research Fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution. He is also the host of EconTalk, a popular, award-winning podcast that features hour-long conversations with academics, authors, and business leaders. Roberts is the author of three allegorical novels about capitalism, individualism, and classical liberalism. His most recent book is How Adam Smith Can Change Your Life.

The wide-ranging conversation, which is followed by a rowdy audience question-and-answer segment, touches on the intellectual and ideological blind spots of professional economists, the social impact of opioid abuse and economic disruption, and the insights that literature provides beyond social science. Roberts lays out a vision of libertarianism that is uncharacteristically humble, deeply social in its focus, and guardedly optimistic about the future of America.

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Audio production by Ian Keyser.

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  1. if the economists are telling us they’re optimistic – then Katie bar the door!

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  2. I’m optimistic about a future for America.

    1. But it sounds pessimistic.

      1. To be sure, it’s a future, and I’m optimistic that it’ll happen.

  3. Award-winning economist Paul Krugland will be VERY happy to explain to us all (as you would, to a child) that America’s future will be just GREAT, if we will only adopt the economic principles of Venezuela!

    1. What does the Church of SQRLS say about America’s Future?

      1. The Church of SQRLS says that America’s future will be just GREAT if we only bow down and worship Government Almighty! Let me now lead us all in a Song of Praises!

        Scienfoology Song? GAWD = Government Almighty’s Wrath Delivers

        Government loves me, This I know,
        For the Government tells me so,
        Little ones to GAWD belong,
        We are weak, but GAWD is strong!
        Yes, Guv-Mint loves me!
        Yes, Guv-Mint loves me!
        Yes, Guv-Mint loves me!
        My Nannies tell me so!

        GAWD does love me, yes indeed,
        Keeps me safe, and gives me feed,
        Shelters me from bad drugs and weed,
        And gives me all that I might need!
        Yes, Guv-Mint loves me!
        Yes, Guv-Mint loves me!
        Yes, Guv-Mint loves me!
        My Nannies tell me so!

        DEA, CIA, KGB,
        Our protectors, they will be,
        FBI, TSA, and FDA,
        With us, astride us, in every way!
        Yes, Guv-Mint loves me!
        Yes, Guv-Mint loves me!
        Yes, Guv-Mint loves me!
        My Nannies tell me so!

        1. that brought a tear to my eye

    2. Careful, Tony’s going to come around and call you a conservative troll for badmouthing Krugman. Tony is, after all, the last libertarian commentator here, according to Tony

  4. Optimistic? How can I be optimistic with all of Ron Bailey’s doom filled HyR posts?

  5. “vision of libertarianism that is uncharacteristically humble”

    While I grant that libertarians are often arrogant, Russ Roberts is a pretty humble dude.

    1. But not as humble as me.

      1. Well, I know I’m a million times more humble than thou art.

        1. None of you guys can beat ME for humble! I got the GOLD for humble!
          I am the HUMBLE *KING*!

      2. But you have so much to be humble about.

      3. I try to be humble but I’m not very good at it.

        1. + Thirty Days in the Hole

  6. In what time frame?

    Next 5 years? 20? 100? 500?

    Though right now, I’d say ‘yes’ to all, given trajectory of voters, my mind could change in the next decade as to my thoughts about America’s mid-term future.

    But 500 years? I would say there should be little doubt, though whether this government is so intact in 500 years, who knows. But given all of human advancement had mostly made things better for the average individual, I think doubting that outcome isn’t just pessimistic, but wrong.

    Of course a single global catastrophe could change all of it, but the biggest reason to be optimistic is that all of human history shows us we should be.

    1. “But given all of human advancement had mostly made things better for the average individual, I think doubting that outcome isn’t just pessimistic, but wrong.”

      It depends on what you value. If privacy, autonomy and self-reliance are your bag, there’s plenty of reason to be pessimistic. If it’s a bewildering choice of consumer products you desire, you should be looking forward to what the future will bring.

    2. interesting to compare “all of human history shows us we should be” with Deirdre McCloskey’s history of ‘The Great Enrichment’. Overall, what history seems to show is humans living in poverty and squalor regardless of time or place, except for that tiny slice from roughly 1800 to present.
      She makes a compelling case, with evidence.
      Historical average ‘income’ fluctuating around $3/day.
      Current, at or above $33/day.

      I’m not optimistic because the virtues, the shared values, that fired the enrichening are under attack and in retreat, if not disarray, in the very cultures that first benefited from it.

  7. OT:
    The CA ‘Voter’s Guide” shows up in the mail today.
    One of the Props limits the ability to hand out money to faves; gets my vote. The remainder suck: No, nine, non, het, bu yao, and so forth. Fuggedidaboutit!
    But TWO (count ’em 2!) Libertarian candidates for Guv! Upon which shall I ‘waste my vote’? Something interesting to consider.
    Ms. Lightfoot gets my vote for the Nth time.

  8. More OT:

    “Investigators: DNA from genealogy site caught serial killer”
    “SACRAMENTO, Calif. ? More than three decades after his trail went cold, one of California’s most prolific and elusive serial killers was caught when investigators matched crime-scene DNA with genetic material stored by a relative on an online genealogical site, prosecutors said Thursday.
    Authorities declined to name the DNA site used to track the DNA.”
    (Wow! that’s a looong link. Back-space at the line breaks if you don’t know that already, or do a search)

    Anyhow, some interesting issues here regarding the collection of the ‘material’ from the site; how was it they came by it?
    The recovery of his DNA seems like just good investigation, if the article is accurate.

  9. When Kanye is red pilling all over twitter, and watching Jordan Peterson…..

    this is amazing

  10. An optimist believes this is the best of all possible worlds;
    a pessimist is afraid the optimist is correct.

  11. The correct answer is “No.”

    Everything politically is on the wrong track, and unfortunately politics has the power to overwhelm and ruin everything else. If we were even muddling along with a crappy government like we had in the 60s or 70s I’d feel super stoked about the future.

    However unless the country splits into at least 2 separate nations, socialist and the one that kinda-sorta still believes in the general principles America was founded on, we’re fucked. A civil war could right it also, but that’s a lot bloodier than I’d prefer, and it could also backfire and give us something even worse.

    If the politics ever straightens itself out and gets on a decent track, THEN I’ll be optimistic.

    1. There isn’t going to be a separation or a civil war.
      What is the “big issue” that divides the nation into different regions? There isn’t one this time around. Not even guns.
      Even if DC vs Heller is overturned, there isn’t going to be any sort of mass insurrection.
      Furthermore the big separation between Team Red and Team Blue is not geographic, but rural vs urban. Every red state has a large blue city, and every blue state has large red rural areas.
      The differences between red and blue are artificially magnified by social media, and internet discussions more broadly. It’s easy to dehumanize the rando stranger on a comment board as The Next Hitler. But it’s a lot harder to do that about your neighbors that you know are real people and not 1-dimensional caricatures.

      1. Ehhhhh…

        The thing is the vast majority of the country geographically leans right. Some parts very strongly. So it’s not true that we don’t have physical divides. The Blue city in the Red state is a 55% Democrat city, not 70%+ like it is in The Peoples Republic Of Seattle where I live.

        Our lefty areas aren’t all contiguous though, which sucks. The northeast and the west coast are both borked.

        But here’s the thing, we don’t have a single issue dividing us… We have EVERY ISSUE dividing us. The left is for full on socialist hell hole, and the right mostly believes in the old school idea of America, including a few of its less awesome parts. But I’ll take that ANY DAY over prog derp.

        I know exactly the kind of crazy, insane, disgusting things my neighbors believe. And if a shooting war ever happens I know lots of people would be totally fine with shooting their neighbors. They’ve done it in every other civil war when major shit was on the line, like the future freedom of yourself and your progeny. I know a lot of lefties, and I like some of them as people. But if it comes down to a shooting war, I’d shoot them in combat if they signed up for the Communist Revolution.

        But that stuff all sucks. Which is why we should split the country up peacefully. It’s the civilized thing to do. What point is there in forcing people who hate everything about each other to endlessly fight each other, when instead both sides can have their own way if they split???

      2. It’s dumb. The knee jerk reaction against secession is retarded. It is a GREAT solution. Everybody wins.

        The way I would propose it is to give the west coast to the commies. Cali, Oregon, and Washington. We could give them the whole states as they are now, or only the western parts of the states since the inland parts are actually conservative.

        We could perhaps cut a sliver out of northern Washington starting with Everett or something to give the rest of the country somewhere to built a west coast port for itself.

        After this happens what REALLY makes this a viable solution comes into play… Self sorting. Commies would flee the northeast to go to the new Republic Of California (or whatever it gets called), and the last few remaining conservative/libertarian sorts would likely bail those places. Then both would be realigned considerably, and could pursue their preferred style of government.

        Commie land would likely end up being outright Socialists fighting with Hillary Clinton level leftists, and the rest of the country would probably end up being Bible thumper Trad Cons arguing with libertarian leaning folks. I like the sound of that!

      3. But whatever you think about that idea, you’re wrong to ignore that we could be heading for a civil war. This country is a powder keg, and people have more reasons than ever to hate each other. Throw in all the ethnic tensions we’ve created, and it could go kaboom any time. I wouldn’t be surprised at all.

        Although I’d prefer it go down peacefully, I’d prefer a civil war to the status quo. I think we can all see the writing on the wall that the USA is done for if we keep doing what we’ve been doing.

        It will be a socialist hell hole, with no national unity, and perpetual massive infighting… At least until one side or the other brings the hammer down on the other to force their submission. IMO the right doesn’t really have a shot at taking the reigns and oppressing everyone because of demographics. All the foreigners moving into the US in recent decades vote left, so clearly the left has already won unless we split. So it will be the left jack booting the last people who believe in freedom and America unless the status quo changes 180 degrees.

        That’s my prediction.

  12. Thanks for the great podcast and thanks for the scientist to have hared his thoughts on America’ development in the future. Everyone should be optimistic about America’s future. We do need to look into the future and hope for the best in order to move forward.
    There are more and more small businessmen opening their trade and craft daily. They hope that Aerica will help and they are the backbone of the economy. However, businessmen are already helping themselves. They have established a community of like-minded people who seek help in their trade and experts who can share their knowledge and expertise online. There is a website like that holds a library of conferences, podcasts and online events with brlliant speakers.

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