Volcanoes are erupting in The Philippines, but on-fire Australia received some welcome rain. The Iran war cries have been called off and The Donald’s military powers are about to be hamstrung by the Senate. Meanwhile, his impeachment trial is starting, and we’re all on Twitter for a front-row seat.
S3. EPISODE 8
Democracy on the Ballot, Climate Change, and Salary Transparency
Featuring Zachary Karabell & Emma Varvaloucas
Will the COP27 conference strengthen action against global warming? Is democracy really on the ballot? And as crime remains a concern for many Americans, what’s really going on? Join Zachary Karabell and Emma Varvaloucas as they examine what’s happening today.
Prefer to read? Check out the Audio Transcript
Zachary Karabell (ZK): What could go right? I’m Zachary Karabell, the founder of The Progress Network, and I’m joined as always by Emma Varvaloucas, the executive director of The Progress Network. And we are on season three of What Could Go Right?, and today, we’re gonna do a little bit different than what we do normally and not have a guest. It will just be absolutely stimulating, amusing, provocative, and thought-provoking repartee between Emma and myself about the news of the day. And one of the points of this show, and one of the points, in fact, The Progress Network is to draw attention to that which is not usually attended to, namely things that are going on in the world that are going better than we think, that counter the narrative of dystopian despair, and that force us, by paying attention to them, to focus on the way that the future that we are creating may be closer to the future of our hopes than the future of our fears with the everlasting caveat that it is all of our responsibilities to do what we can to create that future. So, on that note, we are talking about this on the eve of the midterm elections in the United States. It is almost certainly the case that all of you will be listening to this after the midterm elections in the United States. And there are very few things that agitate people more these days in the United States or in many parts of the world than which party is going to control what. So take this in that spirit that you’ll be reacting to something that we are currently anticipating. But no matter what happens on the November 8th elections, it is utterly certain that a large portion of people will be distraught and a significant portion of people will be energized. On that completely nonpartisan note,-
Emma Varvaloucas (EV): [Laughs]
EV: Let’s start with something that, you know, if you’re gonna talk to someone who is very much so in the climate space, they will tell you that this is a huge midterm election issue. But if you talk to a lot of everyday on the ground voters, they will tell you that it’s really not, and that’s climate. So before we get into a little bit more about the midterms specifically, I thought we could talk a little bit about COP27.
ZK: “What’s COP27?”, he says.
EV: I was just gonna ask you what’s COP27 [laughs].
ZK: Oh, right, I’m supposed to answer what COP27 is.
EV: This is your field.
ZK: Okay, COP27, the global conclave meeting in Sharm el-Sheikh at the tip of the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt this week that is yet another ongoing set of multinationals and governments and non-profits trying to come up with agreed upon climate goals and a common narrative of what’s happening and what we should do about it. So the last one was in Edinburgh, Marrakesh before that, and then in Scandinavia before that. So these are a series of these that are setting goals for climate emissions and what to do about not hitting the upper band of temperature climate change by 2050 or 2100. And as we know, all of the resolutions, while setting a framework, essentially haven’t been put into place for the most part, and certainly not put into place collectively to this point in time.
EV: Right. Because all of the agreements that have been agreed upon at all of the COPs are non-binding, right? So that’s a huge difference, let’s say, between all the agreements that countries have come to when it comes to climate change and something like the Montreal Agreement that was directed around closing the hole in the ozone, which has worked really well, but all of those agreements were binding. So we point to the ozone hole a lot as an example of something that has really worked well environmentally. So I just wanted to point that out. I don’t think that that’s particularly the reason, you know, people know that these agreements are non-binding and that’s why no one seems to care about COP27, but it seems to be very much so the case. If you look at Google search data right now, there’s a huge spike around COP26, which was the last one in Edinburgh. Nobody seems to be searching around COP27. I’m not sure exactly why. My theory of this is that people are really tuckered out from the “We’re all going to die in short order” messaging around climate. I think that something that a lot of people don’t realize is that we’ve made an incredible amount of progress around climate in the last five years. We have successfully averted the really apocalyptic worst-case scenarios of global warming, y7ou know, when we’re talking about 7 to 9 degrees Celsius of warming. And now scientists are predicting between, let’s say, 2 and 3 degrees Celsius of warming. Now, it’s much better to be closer to 2 than to 3. The Paris Agreement said that we would like to keep it under 2, 1.5 being ideal, but I think people just first of all don’t realize that that has happened, A, and they also seem to look at this issue as like completely unsolvable and that all of this global meeting with countries with COPs is just for fluff and it’s not really doing anything.
ZK: And there’s a real question of whether or not rhetoric such as that articulated by UN Secretary Guterres when he opened COP the other day, his line was, “Humanity has a choice, cooperate or perish.” He said that humanity is on the road to climate hell. You know, we’ve heard a lot of this. Obviously, Greta Thunberg came to real prominence with a passionate plea at COP to stop dithering around and have the nations of the world do something. And I know we’re sounding awfully negative given that, you know, this general gist of what I said is awfully positive. I think the reason for that is, as you say, there is actually a lot of change in a productive way about emissions, particularly in Europe, particularly in the United States, in Sub-Saharan Africa, going to kind of greenfield energy, through solar where there’s no embedded coal or heavy carbon grid. You know, there’s a lot going on in the world that’s actually quite creative and dramatic in a way that is changing the arc of emissions. And then you have these conclaves where it seems like the groove is to continue to ratchet up the hysteria and the anxiety. And as you said, rather than leading year by year and conclave by conclave to more urgency, it’s leading kind of year by year and conclave to more public irrelevance, right? We’re just not, we’re not tuning in. And the more shrill the rhetoric gets, it’s almost like there’s an inverse relationship. And it’s not like they couldn’t be saying, hey, look at what we’ve accomplished. And it feels like there’s too much of a, if you acknowledge what’s been accomplished, you violate the urgency of what’s still has to be done. And I think you and I, and what we’re trying to talk about here, that’s just wrong, wrong in the sense of you can actually celebrate or acknowledge progress that’s been made without losing the urgency of progress that still needs to be made.
EV: Right, because it just doesn’t feel like an issue that can be addressed. And if you don’t feel like the issue’s gonna be addressed, why [laughs]– of course you’re gonna, you know, tune out from it. And of course, there’s the long-term implications that this is a long-term problem and not a short-term problem, and that most people are gonna be paying attention to short-term problems and not long-term ones. But I would love to see climate, just in general, reframed as a message of creating a future for all of us that’s so much cooler and better than the one we have now.
ZK: Emphasis on cooler.
EV: Cooler, really cooler. I mean, I’m [laughs] –
EV: I know that that sounds really flip when it comes to climate, which is a really serious issue and lives are at stake, but, you know, I saw this article in Vox that was, you know, about this guy who had retrofitted his home for solar energy and you know, he is basically gonna pay back his investment in two years, you know, for the solar panels, he has more energy that he could possibly use, and he’s selling his energy back to the grid because he has so much energy. Like, that for an individual person sort of literally selling back the energy is cool. You know, that’s sort of what I mean by cool. If we could be living in this reality where all of a sudden energy is abundant and we’re not having, you know, complete national anxiety around the price of gas because we’ve solved the, you know, energy abundance issue. So I would love to see that whole thing reframed.
ZK: And there’s new technologies in terms of hydrogen and the use of hydrogen. And yes, creating hydrogen power is also bizarrely energy intensive, so there’s the question of how do you even do that without raising emissions, but there’s a lot going on that is, you know, creative and dynamic. We’ve talked to Ted Nordhaus and The Breakthrough Institute about next-generation nuclear technologies, particularly pebble bed and other stuff that none of this may necessarily come to fruition, but there’s a lot out there in terms of the innovation around actual energy supply and energy utilization. So we could talk on and on, but I think part of the point we’re negative about COP because it’s so negative in a way that seems to preclude galvanizing, constructive energy as opposed to, yeah, maybe 20 years ago or 15 years ago, that wasn’t the case in the same way, but this is a collective challenge that is, in fact, in many ways, being met, maybe not sufficiently. The one thing I will say that COP is gonna be good about is drawing attention to this continual issue that’s been in play for the past few decades but gets more and more intense with each passing year, which is the so-called developing world, the Brazils and the Indias and other countries saying, hey, wait a minute, you don’t get to set targets for us to preclude our emergence into a solidly middle-class economy for all of our citizens when you expended a massive amount– you being the United States, you being Europe, you being the developed world, when you expended our global carbon budget. And if you want us to do things differently, you have to fund that, which is complicated, of course. I mean, getting any of our own populaces to fund the energy efficiency of other countries is a tough sell in the best of circumstances. But it remains a sort of, hey, wait a minute, you know, you don’t get to cap our growth just because we’re trying to cap carbon.
EV: Yeah. And along this “things are actually happening” shtick that we have here, that is also happening now, right? There’s some deals that have gone through for South Africa. There are ones that are in the pipeline for Indonesia, for Vietnam, for Senegal, with India. All of these either have been announced or are in the pipeline and are slated for 2023 or beyond. So, like you said, like there’s energy around this now, and like money is starting to flow.
ZK: That’s your second double entendre of the past 15 minutes.
ZK: Cool and there’s energy.
ZK: Energy and cool. Cooling energy.
EV: It’s just a natural talent I have, what can I say? [Laughs]
Audio Clip: 197, that’s the number of signatory to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.
They are choking all planets.
This is code red.
Nature cannot pay the price any longer.
Each of them has their own concerns and interests, which makes reaching any consensus a huge challenge.
EV: All right, next. So we started with a reference to the midterms here. And in terms of messaging again, and the midterms, this is a theme that we’ve talked about in a couple of other episodes, there’s very much so this theme of democracy is on the ballot, or democracy was on the ballot. And if you’re listening to this post-midterm, maybe you’re feeling like democracy was on the ballot and lost. I don’t know. We don’t know the outcome. We don’t know your, you know, particular political persuasions. But I wanted to start with addressing that, like this thought that democracy is under threat. It’s 74% of Democrats, 72% of Republicans, 71% of independents, that’s from a New York Times poll, believe that democracy is currently under threat. So it’s an astonishingly bipartisan agreement on this. But what do you think? Are we really in a democracy spiral here?
ZK: So the irony, and this is one of these cases where the word irony actually applies, is the percentage of Americans voting in both presidential and midterm elections, and while, again, we’re doing this beforehand, it is clear just from early voting in 2022 that the midterm turnout rate will be extraordinarily high relative to what it was for much of the 20th and into the early 21st century. I mean, remember, midterm elections used to get, if you were lucky, 40% of the electorate, and in multiple times between the ’90s and the aughts and the 2010s, it didn’t even reach 40%, meaning 40% of the eligible voters didn’t even vote in midterms. And barely 50% were voting in presidential elections through the ’90s and the aughts. And then in 2016, 2020, and I assume 2024, presidential elections were now above 60 plus percent of the electorate voting, it’s into the mid-50s for midterms. And that’s true across the board. You know, it used to be like, oh, young people are apathetic. They’re not voting. Young people’s voting participation in 2018, 2020, 2022 started going up dramatically. Hispanics used to– you know, there’s a huge portion, 50, 60 million Hispanics in the United States, I’m not sure if that’s exactly the right number, but it’s larger than most people think. You know, those voting totals used to be below 40% or in the low 40s. Now it’s above 50%. So across the board, people are voting, They may be voting because 70% of everybody seems to believe democracy is in peril, so they may be voting from the urgency of the belief that their vote counts to make sure democracy is preserved. And while it’s certainly true that the Republicans who think democracy is in peril are gonna feel democracy is even more imperiled where and when the Democrats win, and Democrats are gonna feel that democracy is imperiled when and where Republicans win. And independents, of course, will split in whatever way. Democracy is not a I get what I want and my view wins. I mean, everybody wants that, but it’s a puerile, ultimately unrealistic view in a multiethnic, multi-state, large democracy like the United States or like India or like Brazil. And, you know, personally, I think that this ferment and this fervor and this turnout, and yes, some of the agitation and some of the, I suppose, hysteria kind of comes with, but that’s real democracy in action. You know, I used to really lament the apathy. I think apathy is much more the death of democracy than fervor. And even if fervor is excessive and sometimes blind, in this case, you want energy and you want passion. And by all evidence, right now, American democracy is in an incredibly fulsome and vibrant moment.
EV: Yeah. Jonah Goldberg made this argument on Monday the 7th, which is the day that we’re recording this in his newsletter for The Dispatch. And he made the point of Americans, by and large, really love democracy. Like whether you’re Republican or a Democrat or an independent, and you think that various things are threatening democracy, like maybe that’s why they’re turning out, because we have to protect democracy. That’s how much we love it. And that does make you feel like, okay, just despite all of the myths that are going around around voter fraud, voter suppression, corruption, misinformation, polarization, it’s Trump, it’s Biden, this is the issue, that is the issue, we’re polarized, Tucker Carlson, MSNBC, whatever your thing is, that in the end, Americans really care about the country. They really care, like you said, about participating in democracy right now, about protecting it. And I think we should look at that and look at each other and at least maybe use that as a basis to trust each other. You know, that, like you said, even if our side wins or loses, that is not what democracy is about. It’s, as Goldberg said, it’s a hedge against tyranny, it’s a way to settle differences without resorting to violence, and that’s good enough. And I really liked that.
ZK: I mean, that’s great. I’m not holding my breath for a sudden outbreak of trust-
ZK: -as a thing. And, on that note, by the way, there is a kind of a common narrative. Robert Putnam, really esteemed political scientist at Harvard, wrote about what he thought was the change in American culture over the decades called the Bowling Alone, that, you know, the United States used to be a more trust-based society and now it’s a highly distrustful one in institutions, in each other. And I think actually that could be rose-tinted about the past, like trust was often felt in retrospect or looked at wistfully when it’s gone and we think there was more trust than there was in the past. And yes, there was a period of time in the 1950s where people trusted in government, they trusted in the media, and they trusted in the Supreme Court in a way, statistically, if you look at what Pew, which does a lot of these polls about trust, or Gallup, yeah, trust as a measurable thing of people saying I do trust or I don’t is way, way down from what it was. But, you know, again, there was a rough and tumble quality to American democracy. And I keep mentioning places like Brazil and India ’cause they’re rougher and tumbler. There was a massive election in Brazil a couple weeks ago. Lula narrowly edges out Bolsonaro in the second round after a referendum. Bolsonaro, contrary to fears, doesn’t exactly concede, but nor does he call in the military to invalidate the election, and there’s a peaceful transition of power in a really, really divisive environment, like, like massively divisive, with a little more violence than in the United States. So I totally agree with Goldberg. I loved your riff on, you know, all these things and the kitchen sink that people get hysterical about, and yet here we are. Here we are talking about it, here we are arguing about it. And yes, there are gonna be people who respond to this when they’re listening to it, which will be after the elections, when emotions are very raw and find what we’ve just said naive, blithefully indifferent to the urgency of the existential crisis facing us, you know, that all this is great words until the jackboots come and knock down the door and haul you away for saying the wrong thing. But you know, until that happens, it hasn’t. It’s just a fear, and there’s really no evidence that it’s about to happen. So for now, we live in a incredibly roiling, angry, jostly moment in time, but people are showing up-
ZK: -and they’re trying to have their voices heard. And there’s gonna be a lot of people who feel that their voices are not being heard. And there’s a lot of areas of what I think are, you know, massive problems that are gonna have to be dealt with, whether it’s, if you make abortion illegal, what are you gonna do with the women who bear the cost of that? Are you just gonna throw them aside and not care? And clearly, there are a bunch of states right now that have exactly that attitude, and I don’t think that will be sustainable in a democracy. Maybe that’s naive, but I just think you’re gonna find that the more people will participate and the more they demand that their issues be addressed and their needs be met, the more completely and different elected officials are gonna find themselves in a really difficult situation.
EV: That’s the whole point of the democracy, right? Things get settled over the long term in terms of what people want, and it’s messy and it’s gross and maybe doesn’t happen as quickly as people would like, but it gets settled over time in terms of, you know, representing the people. That is the point. Anyway, I’m repeating myself at this point. Let’s go to another midterm issue, which is definitely one that’s on the top of voters’ concerns, which is crime.
Audio Clip: In 2021, the number of murders rose 4.3%, which isn’t ideal, but is actually a big improvement over the year before when murders rose 29.4% from 2019 to 2020. That, by the way, is the largest single-year increase since 1960. But what about other crimes like other violent crimes? The rate of robberies declined by 9%, which the FBI contributed to a drop in overall violent crime, despite increases in the rates of murder and rape. And what about non-violent crimes or property crimes? Well, property crimes are also down, thanks to drops in burglary and theft. Only one kind of property crime, motor vehicle theft, actually went up. And virtually all drug-related crime did increase, though including cocaine, opiates, and stimulants, which saw about 18% of a jump on its own, as you can see right there. The only exception was cannabis offenses, which went down more than 4%. So now, an important disclaimer, this data is just an estimation of the national crime outlook due to issues collecting information from law enforcement agencies. Last year, the FBI had about half of all departments provide data thanks to a new reporting system that some states have not implemented yet. So it’s really– it’s a snapshot, but definitely not a complete picture.
EV: You know, we’ve talked a lot on this podcast about the crime rates, although they have spiked in certain areas around the pandemic in an unusual way, that overall crime has been, you know, down over the last 20, 30 years.
EV: Dramatically down. But it is certainly something that’s on people’s minds. And I wanted to call attention to another story that we highlighted in the newsletter last week around some success in the US’s criminal justice system, not around crime, but around racial disparities in the criminal justice system because I thought this was an astonishing amount of success that was not– I really didn’t see almost at any coverage of this at all. So this is taking numbers from a nonpartisan think tank called the Council on Criminal Justice. And what it looks at is the racial gap between inmates, black inmates versus white inmates in relation to the larger population and also the arrest rates. So what they found is that the black/white disparity gaps on a whole lot of different factors have narrowed and in some places disappeared, which if you are certainly a progressive activist, I would think you would be really excited about this. I mean, this is exactly what you wanna see happening. So right now, we have, in 2020, black adults being in prison at 4.9 times the rate of white adults. That’s down from 8.2 times the amount in 2000. And in this framework you want to have, that’d be, one, that means that they’re being imprisoned at the same rate. The arrest rates fell. The arrest rates for non-fatal violent crimes was completely eliminated. The disparity in prison admissions between black and white people have dropped from 7.2 times more likely to 3.2 times. So you get the picture. This stuff has been caught in half or disappeared.
ZK: And just so we’re clear, this is not because a lot more people of other ethnicities have been arrested. I mean,-
EV: Yes [laughs].
ZK: -’cause you could also narrow the gap by just like arresting a lot more white people-
ZK: -or Hispanic people or Asian people. And then you’d have a massive prison population, but you would’ve at least eliminated the racial disparity gap. That probably would not be the way you wanna eliminate the racial disparity gap.
EV: Yes. Yes. So we’ll say also that incarceration rates are down generally across the board in the US, which is another good point. There was one particular rate in the study where white people were arrested a little bit more and that did help close the disparity gap. But [laughs] overall, it was the good news that you’re pointing out and not the weird news that we’re arresting more white people. Overall, it was not that.
ZK: And I think anyone can find– whenever we talk about these stories, right, we do post these on The Progress Network page and a lot of them are in the newsletter, not necessarily all of them, but a lot of this, just for those who– if you want to delve more deeply into this and find some of the sources. Now, to be fair, the people who are harping on crime as both an electoral issue and a serious urban issue, ’cause this is usually urban, although not entirely, point to lower incarceration rates or bail reform, non-cash bail as a cause of the spike in crime and say, well, yeah, if you arrest fewer criminals, they’re gonna commit more crimes and therefore, we should arrest more people. The problem with some of that– and look, there definitely have been issues in New York and elsewhere about the way bail reform has been done. You know, again, it went from one extreme of you could lose your job and end up pleading guilty to an offense simply to get out of the criminal justice system and then be saddled with a felony on your record and then not be able to get a job. But some of the way in which bail reform went, particularly in New York State and elsewhere, was to remove any capacity for judges to have any discretion over either keeping someone in jail until trial. So there could be a lot of reform to bail reform, but a lot of these trends were in place before both bail reform and a lot of the accelerant– you’d be hard pressed to deny that the shutdowns of the pandemic and then the weird opening up completely correlates to the reversal of this 30-year downward trending crime. And it’s as if people forgot that, you know, like it was a very weird– March of 2020 until early 2021 was bizarre in most cities, even in Miami. And the opening up has been odd and inconsistent and incoherent and recovery has been very uneven city by city. So I think the onus of those who believe that crime rates are going up because incarceration rates are going down, and it’s kind of like I told you so and we need to get tough on crime, are kind of missing that these trends were in place until the pandemic, you know, and there was something about the shutdowns and the opening up that frayed the social fabric just enough for rates to go up. And, again, it’s true no matter where you are, particularly in the United States. It’s true in Miami and like, I’ve shown people Miami-Dade crime statistics as a way of saying, you know, actually, you think things are great in Miami and terrible in New York, for instance, right? Or terrible in San Francisco and fine in Houston or Phoenix. All of these are showing very similar trends by their own crime stats.
EV: Yeah, I mean, so Pew came out with new research around violent crime in the last few days, specifically because of the midterms, and their research said that most violent crime around the US was down except for murders. Murder’s just that weird one that like really spiked during the pandemic. And just to be clear, like you’re saying, the data around lessening incarceration rates started before then, right? If you look at it year by year, it doesn’t track with the, when we started to incarcerate fewer people, all of a sudden the murder rate spiked. That’s what we talked about with Jennifer Doleac where things are still getting settled. But yeah, the pandemic was a weird period and we should probably take a breath before we come to any, you know, strong conclusions around that. I think in a totally ideal world, you have a system where people are being incarcerated at the rates that they’re offending, people trust that the police are going to protect them, and that once you’re entered into the criminal justice system, there’s a fair outcome. And I think that you really can’t argue that we’ve been on the fair outcome side of that for a really long time. You know, and I’m taking race out of this, like we just incarcerate in crazy numbers of people.
ZK: Although we really incarcerated crazy numbers of African American males-
ZK: -relative to population in a way that just– you know, anybody non-American looking at that with any degree of dispassionate neutrality would say, look, there’s something–
ZK: There’s something wrong here.
ZK: You know, you’re messing up. You Americans, you as a culture are messing up here if this is what’s going on in terms of racial disparities. And the fact that that’s beginning to close I think reflects a lot of passionate people saying very loudly, very clearly, and in a very databased way, you know, unless you buy into racial stereotypes, there is no way to justify these disparities. And if you buy into racial stereotypes, there’s no way to justify these racial disparities because you shouldn’t buy into racial stereotypes. So like on no spectrum was this an okay thing, and it’s at least high time that that gap begins to close and we– look, we can deal with the fact that America is a violent society compared to most societies, has been, is, you know, hopefully won’t be, but both in the past and the present, America’s a violent society. Guns are certainly part of it. Guns have always been a part of it. But, you know, it’s a violent place. It’s not as violent as some parts of Latin America, but compared to most of the world, it is.
EV: Yeah. And especially considering its wealth, right? That’s what gets brought up a lot. So one more stop on the criminal justice route with our northern neighbors, with Canada, before we move on from criminal justice, this was interesting that Quebec Superior Court has ruled that random police stop– so, just to clarify, not the cops pulling something over ’cause they see something’s wrong with the vehicle or they’re speeding or they’re doing something wrong, but a random police stop is racist and unconstitutional and they can’t do it anymore. And right now, the government is considering whether or not they’re going to appeal it. We’ll see if this spreads across Canada or not, but it was certainly an interesting thing that happened that I don’t think a lot of people know about outside of Canada [laughs].
ZK: Yeah. And Canada’s been kind of a fascinating laboratory for a lot of reforms, some of which America has started to adopt. You know, Canada as well is a multiethnic geographically large democracy. It has 35 million people as opposed to 330 in the United States, or a billion and a half in India, or, you know, close to 300 million in Brazil. But it’s still a large multiethnic democracy that is finding ways to manage that differently in ways that we could learn from.
EV: Yep. So we’re gonna keep an eye on that. We’ll see what happens.
Audio Clip: People looking for jobs in the city will be able to see what they pay before applying. The new salary transparency law requires most employers to list a minimum and maximum salary range on all job postings. And it also applies to hourly wages. Now this law does impact businesses with four or more employees, and it will benefit roughly 4 million private sector workers. Employers will get a 30-day warning to correct any violations before facing fines.
EV: So let’s put the midterms aside. Hopefully, that was helpful for some people. I wanna take a quick look at New York City, where you are. The law just went into effect that jobs have to post the salary when they– sorry, companies have to post the salary when they post a job. I know there are a few other states that do this. Colorado is among them. There are some private companies that are doing this. Amex is among them, for example. But because I used to live in New York, you know, any kind of job postings that I personally get tend to be New York-based. And so I just started to see them come through in the last few days. And can I just say I adore this, I love this. I can’t believe we were living without this for so long prior to this law.
ZK: Now, I think salary transparency is a great thing. It removes suspicion that the person sitting next to you, you know, negotiated a better deal. It removes question marks about what is the gender disparity. It removes racial disparity question marks. It’s just a good thing, period. And it, without changing the economics of a lot of these jobs, the way minimum wage laws do, changes some of the balance of power between, you know, workers and employers without unionization, without a lot of the other things that are more complicated, time-consuming, potentially problematic.
EV: Yeah. I mean, God, how useful just to– you see that they’re hiring for the same role that you have and you can say, hey, I know exactly what you’re offering for this role. If you’re someone searching for a job, you can look and see if something’s worth your time or not before going through a whole interview process and then finding out that, you know, the job’s not gonna cover your expenses or whatever it may be. And I will just say, I took a quiz today to try to guess various salaries in New York City and I got one out of nine correct. So-
EV: -there’s something to be said also just about public education about what people are paid because that shocked me that I was so far off.
ZK: So, wait, was there a tool you can do this on now? You can like go on to guessthesalary.com or something?
EV: It was a New York Times quiz. They just chose nine professions, not at random. It seemed to sort of try to cover a vast range of jobs. So one of them was a minimum wage job, one of them was a, you know, a fish slicer, a cutter, one of them was an art director at the Whitney, one was a baseball player, one was something at Goldman Sachs. So they were trying to, you know, do a full picture of different jobs in New York City. And it was multiple choice. And even with multiple choice, I only got one correct. It was pathetic.
ZK: Were you high or low more?
EV: I was mostly low except for the Whitney Museum one that I guessed much higher. And it turns out this person, which I’m sure the job requires a master’s degree, was being paid $60,000 per year, which I thought was–
EV: I mean, in New York, that does not do much for you [laughs].
ZK: And one of the ballot initiatives on the New York ballot, we’ll see how it passes, is to try to come up with a citywide true cost of living, although the methodology of that is, I think, really, really wrong right now. The desire to come up with one is good. We’re gonna just strip out all government payments and anything non-monetary to try to say, here’s your salary, here’s your cost of living without recognizing that– it’s like saying what’s the headline price of a university education and not factoring at all student aid or loans or-
ZK: -grants, but at least it’ll– it’s an awareness that we need to get to a better gauge of how expensive or not, you know, living somewhere is. And yes, living on $60,000 a year in New York– there’s a great site online where you can type in between US states, you know, if you are an X in Mobile, Alabama, what’s the equivalent of Y in San Francisco? I mean, they’re not necessarily that accurate, but they’re really fun-
ZK: -to kind of do directionally.
EV: That does sound fun.
ZK: I mean, it’s like, you know, $60,000 in Mobile is like, you know, $130,000 in Manhattan, which is why companies–you know, there was a whole pandemic thing where companies were being asked to adjust salaries based on the remote work location. So saying, look, if you live in New York City and you’re earning $100,000 at Google, you know, just, I mean, that’s a made up number, that’s a lot less money for that person than if you’re living in, you know, again, Mobile or even Austin, Texas, that your salary should adjust based on cost of living.
EV: Which is a complicated argument because at the end of the day, yes, you are paying for the area that someone is living in, in part, but you’re also just paying for the skills and the demand of that person, right? I mean the hard truth for Google, I guess, is if you’re paying for an engineer at Google, they certainly can find another place where they can work remotely and that will want them, so tough for companies, I guess, but that’s another one where I think the cat’s out of the bag with the pandemic that if you’re in a white collar office job, wanting to have flexibility and working remotely is just part of the game now. It’s not gonna regress too much the other way. So–
ZK: Is that your way of saying you’re gonna stay in Athens?
EV: [Laughs] Now, this is getting personal [laughs].
EV: Well, yeah, [laughs]. I wasn’t planning on coming back soon, so. So one last piece of news. I think that generally, over the last two years, a lot of the very, very good news that we’ve had to celebrate at The Progress Network is vaccine-oriented, a lot of it has been mRNA-technology-oriented. This one is not the latter, but it is the former. We have RSV vaccines on their way. Certainly, if you have kids, you’re very familiar with RSV. It’s not something that was on my mind until my friends started having kids fairly recently. There are no preventative measures right now for RSV at all. Pfizer just announced their efficacy for their new RSV vaccine. There are, I believe, two or three others in phase 3 trials and two more on the way, so we’re gonna have probably at least five effective RSV vaccines in one to two years. And they think that can cut, you know, deaths and entry rates into hospitals by like a third, which is huge. It’s mostly babies who are dying, small children, so this is a win. And the science around what they had to solve to get to these effective vaccines is super interesting. Essentially, they couldn’t get a clear picture of the virus until after it had already entered the cells and began to attack, and then a scientist in 2013 figured out how to capture it before it entered the cells, and then they were able to get the vaccine. So, for me, it’s just an interesting thing if you’re not in science, what’s preventing this stuff from happening [laughs] and what got figured out so that we have them now.
ZK: I mean, absolutely. Again, if you could replay how global news coverage went in 2020 around COVID where there were endless stories in the United States and Europe and elsewhere of the death and suffering, which is all quite real. But you would also been well served by spending a lot of time covering both the development of, the production of, the testing of the mRNA and also the adenovirus vaccines that end up being rolled out in early 2021 much more quickly than anyone had ever expected, much more quickly than had ever been done, the way in which that challenged our assumptions about what it even means, what the right process is for developing a vaccine. You could’ve gone into labs, you could’ve talked more to doctors, you could’ve had a collective education about the nature of drug development, what’s regulatory, what’s scientific, what’s monetary, you know, these are all different kinds of constraints and/or enablers, but that would’ve been kind of wonky news, right? That would’ve been a bit in the weeds. It wouldn’t have been as dramatic, it wouldn’t have been as telegenic, but it would’ve been a lot more vital to our understanding collectively of how we met a challenge and that we actually did in this sense, I mean, look, none of us know whether or not vaccines are gonna have really unintended consequences in 20 years, but that was true of any vaccines we took. That was true of polio vaccines when those were on, it was true of smallpox. You know, there could absolutely be unintended consequences, but for the moment, there was a lot there that was incredible, eye-opening, astonishing celebratory, and we should’ve celebrated it.
EV: Yeah. And actually, they did do a study that compared the US news coverage to other countries’ news coverage around the world with the pandemic, and ours was extra negative. In case you’re wondering, we are an outlier about that as well [laughs].
ZK: I’ll have my news with an extra dose of negative, please.
EV: [Laughs] But as Matt Yglesias, who’s a Progress Network member, recently pointed out, part of the reason why that happens is because news companies are reacting to the wants of the market, which is a fancy way of saying y’all are clicking on this stuff in more numbers and are clicking on the positive stuff in fewer numbers, so you are also creating this landscape of news.
EV: So I have one little piece of more personal news than we usually cover, but I thought it was such a sweet story, and I think might sort of inspire people going in or out of the midterm elections. Independent India’s first voter just died. So this man was the first person who voted in India in 1952. He just passed away at 105. He says that he has never missed an election in all of those years. And, you know, he was living in rural India and mailing in his ballot. So if he can vote, everyone else can vote too. I mean, what an inspiration. So I just wanted to mention that.
ZK: If he can vote for 70 years, we can all vote for election day.
EV: Yeah. And he was voting into, you know, the healthy age of 104, 105, so.
ZK: May we all.
EV: [Laughs] May we all be inspired by his period of democracy. That’s all.
ZK: So that is our discursive roundup of some of the news that got some attention and our way of looking at how it might’ve gotten different attention. We will return with the guests to talk about the midterm elections and some of the consequences as well as the news of next week. And we want to thank you all for listening. We wanna thank you all for supporting The Progress Network, paying attention to what we do. Please share the word, spread the word, share the links, sign up for the newsletter, What Could Go Right? if you haven’t already, and Emma and I will look forward to talking with you next week.
EV: Thanks, Zachary. What Could Go Right? is produced by Andrew Steven. Our editor is Jordan Aaron. Executive produced by Jeff Umbro and The Podglomerate. To find out more about What Could Go Right?, The Progress Network, or to sign up for the What Could Go Right? newsletter, visit theprogressnetwork.org.
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