Rockefeller Center at Dartmouth: “Abundance Without Attachment” by Arthur Brooks

(audience chattering) – Good afternoon. Thanks so much for coming
my name’s Doug Irwin. I’m a professor in the
economics department and co-director of the
Political Economy Project and behalf of the Rockefeller
Center and the PEP it’s a great pleasure to welcome you to this afternoon’s event. So I’m teaching a class
this quarter called The Future of Capitalism – Gov 68 along with professor Charlie Wheelan and professor Russ Muirhead and we took our students last
night here in Rockefeller to see a movie streaming on Netflix which I highly recommend
called the “The Pursuit” and our speaker today is the star and the organizer of this documentary which I highly recommend
that you watch on Netflix. It’s very interesting,
inspiring, thought provoking, everything you want
from a good documentary. So in our class and in the movie, there are a number of economic themes, a number of public policy themes, poverty and how to do we reduce it. Joblessness and how do we deal with it. Our current condition both
political and economic. But our speaker today
and in this documentary goes much deeper than that. It’s not just about those themes, it’s about how do we
achieve our aspirations? How do we build a society that enables the flourishing
of the human being? I can think of no one who has thought more
deeply about this topic and who has spoken more
eloquently than Arthur Brooks who we are very fortunate
to have here today with us. He’s currently professor
of public leadership at the Harvard Kennedy
School of Government, and the Arthur C. Patterson Faculty Fellow at the Harvard Business School. Before joining the Harvard faculty, he served for 10 years as president of the American
Enterprise Institute, a center-right public policy
think tank in Washington, DC. He is author of 11 books most recently the national
bestsellers “Love Your Enemies” published in 2019. “The Conservative Heart”
published in 2015, and the “The Road to
Freedom” published in 2012. He’s a columnist for the Washington Post and is the host of The
Arthur Brooks Show, a podcast and of course the subject of
the documentary “The Pursuit” just released a few weeks ago. Before all that, he served
as a professor of business and government at Syracuse University, where he taught economics
and social entrepreneurship and before that he was an
accomplished French horn player. So please join me in
welcoming Arthur Brooks. (audience clapping) – Thanks Doug, and thanks to all of you, what a delight it is to
be back here at Dartmouth. Last time I was here it was
zero degrees and snowing hard and that made for hard
times for the audience. And so I get to see some of you perhaps that were intending to
come see me last January. If not, it’s great to see
you under all circumstances. I loved guest lecturing the
class on capitalism today, how many of you were in
the classroom capitalism? All right, two thirds of you, I won’t tell the same jokes, I hope. I want to talk about the subject that’s on a lot of people’s lips, which is whether capitalism is good. But I want to talk about
it in a different way than probably any of you
have thought about it. Now capitalism today is really wrapped up in the political debates of our time. As matter of fact, most people don’t understand capitalism removed from Democrat-Republican
debates today. When I was in Washington until recently running the American Enterprise Institute, and there’s a story that goes around it’s a joke that’s kind
of popular in Washington about these two Republican senators that are walking down the
street after taking some votes, and they’re just talking,
shooting the breeze and they walk in front of the
Democratic National Committee, and for those guys, the heart of darkness, and they look at the window and there’s a big sign in the window. And the sign says,
“Become a democrat today, “earn one $1,000.” And they look at each other like, “Do you think they’re serious about that?” I said I don’t know. And he says, I tell you what, go in and pretend you
want to become a Democrat. I’ll wait here let’s see what happens. And his buddy is like, “Yeah, okay, you know
what, I’m going to do it.” So he’s waiting outside
and his friend goes in and doesn’t come out. Five, 10 minutes, 15 minutes past, he goes and sits on a park bench and an hour and a half later, his friend finally comes out. So he comes running up to him, he says, “So what happened?” And he says, “I joined.” And he says, “What are you talking about?” And he says, “Yeah, I’m a Democrat now. “They were very convincing. “Economic policy, social
policy, foreign policy, “the whole deal, I’m a Democrat, “left-wing Democrat.” And his friend is like jaws on the floor and he says, “Did they give
you the thousand dollars?” and his friend says, “Is that
all you people think about?” (audience laughs) Well my friends, I want to make the case
today that capitalism shouldn’t be about politics. And if I do my job, I’m going to take it beyond
politics in your mind, I’mna sort out what I think
is the biggest problem that we have in our
thinking about politics and I’mna give you a couple of ideas that are going to help
you to be happier, okay? It’s a big task but let’s see. Now, when I hear a lot of complaints about the free enterprise
system American today, the biggest one that I hear
is basically sort of a truism, something that we all know, capitalism is great for rich people the problem is it’s bad for poor people. That’s what I hear constantly. Good for rich people, bad for poor people. Here’s the case I’m going to make. Capitalism is actually
great for poor people, and dangerous for all the rest of us. So what do we need to do? I’mna tell you what I think we need to do, I’mna tell you what I’m doing so that it’s not dangerous for me, and I’mna recommend it so it’s not dangerous for you. So we can get the best out of the system without getting the worst from the system. That’s the job. Okay, so let’s start
with claim number two, capitalism is bad for poor people. Now, I always thought that. I thought that like a lot of people do. And part of the reason is because I don’t have any
background in economics, or at least I didn’t, until relatively recently, Doug in his really gracious introduction pointed out that I was
a French horn player. That’s actually my first career. When I was 19, I dropped out of college, dropped out, you know
kicked out splitting hairs. And I went on the road doing
what I always wanted to do which is to be a professional
French horn player. That’s what I dreamed of doing
since I was nine years old. I wanted to be the greatest
French horn player in the world. This is such a great country, right? It’s like, a kid can
have that dream is weird. But I did and I made my living and it was it was phenomenal. I have to tell you, I played music that I
loved night after night but one of the things, one of the ancillary
benefits was a lot of travel. And as I traveled around the United States and around the world, I saw things that opened my eyes, opened my eyes to poverty
that I had never seen before. Now at the time, and this is one of the
things I was explaining in my remarks to the class today. This is in the 1980s, for example, and before this by the
way, since the 1970s, Americans have become
more and more conscious to the grinding poverty and it’s the real
deprivation around the world, in ways that past generations
just simply hadn’t seen it. When I was a kid, I remember the first time
that I saw real poverty, with my own eyes. And for like a lot of
people in the audience that are my age, you had the same experience. It was a picture in the
National Geographic magazine. In the early 1970s, there was a famine in
East Africa and Ethiopia and people by the hundreds were dying of starvation every day. And the National
Geographic had an endeavor to try to expose this to the world so that people could actually see that in our world where we’re so rich, there were people who
were dying of starvation. So you’d see pictures month after month, you remember this kid
with flies on his face, and an extended belly and the mission or the objective was clear to tell us, we’re not doing enough and we don’t know what to do. It was a real feeling of desperation when you saw that picture. And it also was kind of set in our minds, everybody my age, that Africa is a continent
that’s largely poor and there’s nothing we can do about it. It’s sort of lost. A lot of people my age have kind of that intuition all the time. Now, there’s lots and
lots and lots of new data, saying that’s wrong, thank God. But that’s kind of how
a lot of people grew up. It also had this idea
that set in our minds that there’s some people who are rich, and some people who are poor and there’s a ton of land between us and we don’t know how to
get from here to there. Okay, so I grew up. I was as a musician traveling around, seeing places like India that seemed really hopeless as well. And sometimes I would wonder, what happened to that kid in the picture? Not that kid specifically, what happened to the
poorest people in the world as I grew up? I grew up under working class conditions but he didn’t, he’d met a bad end and the world must have been
getting worse from there. Most Americans think that the world has gotten worse in terms of poverty, and in terms of deprivation. 66% of Americans think the world has gotten poorer since 1970. And the poorest of the world
have gotten poorer since 1970. That’s completely wrong. In my late 20s, I went back to college, I went back to college by correspondence, I got my degree by distance learning a month before my 30th birthday. And the great thing about that was about not actually
having any classrooms and not having any professors is I didn’t have any preconceived notions of anything at all. The world was kind of tabula rasa for me, when I was kind of trying to teach myself and I was looking just at the world, sort of a new and I
was studying economics, I was becoming an economics
major in my late 20s. And I noticed something, I debunked a belief that I had had, which is that the world was getting worse. This was really eye opening for me. I discovered, I felt like I
was the only one in the world who had discovered this, which of course is wrong. But when you’re alone at your dining room table just studying you think that every
discovery is a new discovery. And I learned that the
world isn’t getting worse, that the world had gotten better since I saw the picture
of that starving child, since I visited India and saw beggars and lepers on the street, the world had gotten better, had gotten a lot better
as a matter of fact. I learned that 80% of the world’s worst
starvation level poverty had been eradicated
since I was a child, 80%. Now again, 66% of Americans
think the world’s getting worse and the truth is it’s by
this measure 80% better, what am I measuring by the way for those of you who are keeping track? I’m talking about people living on $1 a day or less, obviously adjusted for inflation. The percentage of the world
living on $1 a day or less has declined by 80%. The World Bank does these calculations, they also look at higher levels. So if you will get $1
and a half or $2 a day is down by 66% and it goes up. The story is consistent that the world is getting
better, dramatically better. I mean, when it comes to
dying of preventable diseases and dying of starvation. I didn’t know that. Now, this is super exciting
for me when I’m in my late 20s. I decided I want to
dedicate my life to this. I want to tell everybody this, but the first thing I have to do is I have to find out why, what did it? ‘Cause if I can’t find out what did it, I can’t replicate it. What are we talking about? 80%, 20%, 66%, forget it. Let me tell you about the lives. Two billion people have been pulled out of starvation level
poverty since I was a kid. Two billion of my brothers and sisters are not poor, not dying who would have been if it were the same
economic conditions as 1970. I got to know the answer. So I went in search of the answer. This was my vision quest
as a college student. Later when I finished my bachelor’s degree I actually quit music and went to study this stuff so I could find the answer to this and I could talk about it. This was really, really what I wanted to dedicate my life to. And here’s what I found. And again, I had no
political background in this. I was not any kind of an activist, I was not voting for a particular party. I come from a background, politically, I come from a super progressive family in Seattle, Washington. Just to give you an idea how I grew up but I was not political
in my own point of view. So I was open two different ideas. And I found the answer that
what pulled two billion of my sisters and brothers out of poverty since I was a kid, I found it was really
five forces that did that. And it was the globalization of ideas. Globalization gets such
a bad rap these days. The globalization of ideas for the best ideas
spread around the world. It was free trade, largely after 1980. Free trade where poor countries were able to specialize and
sell their goods and services to richer countries and
became markets as well. It was the spread of the rule
of law and property rights to countries that had never had it. This was a time when I
saw a picture of a kid starving in Africa, he saw a picture of you. And people all over the world said, “I want that freedom
and I want that stuff.” And they grabbed it. And that meant that they
were going to throw off the chains of their poverty and
tyranny as a result as well. And they said, “I want property
rights and the rule of law.” Which we take for granted
in countries like this, and also in other
countries around the world but people can’t in other places. So as those four forces and one other, which is the culture of entrepreneurship, the idea of saying it’s a good
thing to try something new, it’s a good thing to
strike out on your own it’s an adventure, that your life is an
enterprise and use it as such. This was a gift that actually came largely from the society to the rest of the world. And those five forces together, were largely responsible for the declines in
starvation level poverty around the world. Now, I wasn’t kidding myself. That’s the only thing that matters and it’s not like it
doesn’t come with costs. We know in point of fact that
the free enterprise system can come with costs and
you need other stuff, you need regulation, and you need government and you need lots of
systems and structures that can put boundaries
and rules around this. And sometimes it doesn’t work very well. But on balance, this is amazing. If you are your brother’s keeper, which I want you to be with me ’cause we got one world and there’s still too
many people in poverty, and I want to get the next two
billion people out of poverty, I know you do too, then you got to go with what works. Forget your politics,
forget your ideology. Please join me and be a
warrior for these ideas. ‘Cause we need you and they
need you, quite frankly. That’s the second part of the claim. Capitalism is good for the
rich and bad for the poor. claim number two, bad
for the poor, busted. It’s not. It’s literally the best thing that’s ever happened
in global development. Not perfect, but the best single thing that’s ever come down the pike. Okay, let’s go to the
first part of the claim. Capitalism is great for poor people. Now, I mean great for rich
people, getting confused here. That’s Klein Norwin,
capitalism is good for, let’s just say us, okay? Is that true? I always kind of took
that one for granted too, I took that one for granted even after I was working in this realm of poverty alleviation. But then, I would talk on
a lot of college campuses about three cheers for
the way that we can design the free enterprise
system and make it better, and lift more people out of poverty and find ways to share it more, let’s do that, right? But then students would come up. This is starting about five years ago, students would come up and they
would say, “Yeah, I get it. “I want to be a warrior. “I want to be a warrior for this. “I want to be worried for the poor. “But what about me?” I said what are you talking about? best thing that ever happened to you. And he says, “No, no, no. “I don’t want to be part
of this materialism. “I don’t want to be part of greed.” Look, I’m at this elite college and I feel like it’s all work, work, work and get a job and earn, earn, earn, and where’s my soul in all this? Where’s the purpose in all this? Where’s the meaning in all this? Sound familiar? Look, we all suffer from this, right? We’re in a highly prosperous
work-oriented society. If it doesn’t cross your mind that maybe these aren’t the right goals, you’re probably not paying close attention and I bet you all are. I started hearing this again and again, I think it’s kind of a rat race. I think this capitalism thing
is kind of a rat race for me. And at first, I was like, why
you little ingrate, right? But then I started hearing
it from my own kids. And then I got to tell you I read a study that
really rocked my world. I try not to fall prey
to confirmation bias, confirmation bias is you think something and then you only find evidence that shows that you’re right, and you block out all the
evidence to the contrary. Look, I’m a social scientist so I work really hard to
not fall prey to this. I really want the truth. And if I’m wrong, I want
to know first, not last. So I’m always looking at studies and I’m particularly interested in studies that appear to contradict
my point of view, I want to see the data good and this falls into that category, right? So I’m this proponent of capitalism like pompoms the whole deal. And I read this study
from three psychologists in University of Rochester, what they were doing is that
they were giving a survey and is about 2009, to graduating seniors the
University of Rochester, big, big group is about 275. And they were asking ’em, this is an ingenious construction
of the of the research is about happiness, it
was happiness study. That think of your life in five years, think of yourself in five years, imagine that you’re happy, okay? I’m not going to tell you what that means. You have to decide what that means. What are you doing? Now if you think about
it, it’s brilliant, right? Because you don’t have to
tell people what happiness is people define it for themselves and they tell you what
they’re actually doing, which gives you a concept
of what their best life is, it defines their happiness goals. Okay, they broke up almost
into exactly the 50% groups. 50% had what the researchers
called exogenous goals, what was exogenous? Money, ambition, success,
fame, power, right? Professional success as
traditionally understood. The second 50%, which is mostly
men and women by the way, more men had exogenous goals, more women had endogenous goals. Now, remember that word, I’mna use endogenous goals
and few more times here. But endogenous goals are
about love and relationships. And so the first group would say, “I want to be more
successful than my peers, “I want to make more money to my peers, “I want to to make management, “I want to get a really great job.” And the second group said, “I want to have close friendships, “I want to be close to my family.” All of ’em said, “I want to fall in love, “I want to get married.” And they had all this relationship, this love stuff, half-and-half. These were their goals, half-and-half It was all spontaneous, right? Okay, here’s where the research
gets really interesting. They followed up mostly to find out if people actually hit their goals. If people were actually going to do what they were supposed to do to get happy as they saw happiness. They wanted to know if you said, to be happy I have to do this but then they go do that, right? Research finding number one, people did follow their goals and they hit their goals. Everybody hit their goals. This is news for you. You’re going to hit your goals. But here’s the bad news, if you have the wrong goals, you’re going to have a worse life, ’cause that was finding number two that they weren’t quite expecting. It turns out the ones
who had exogenous goals, money, power and fame, unhappiness, depression,
anxiety, anger, high level, even physical maladies like stomach aches and headaches. The ones who had endogenous goals about love and relationships, they were happier, they were less depressed, they were less anxious, they had better physical health. So finding number one, you’re going to hit your
goals, congratulations! Number two, you better
have the right goals. Actually, there’s number three. I don’t know how to talk
about capitalism anymore. I don’t know. Look, I know when to talk
about it for poor people, I just don’t how to talk about it for you. I don’t know if it’s
the best system for you. I don’t know if I can stand
up here in good conscience and say the capitalist system is what you need so that
you can live good lives. And I’m in the business
of love and happiness, that’s literally my research beat. So what do I do? (laughs) How do I talk about it? I was kind of in a tailspin
over this as matter of fact, I stopped talking about
the whole capitalism thing. I got to work this out. Philosophically, I was
looking as much data as I could possibly find. Now at the time, I was
traveling a lot to India. I’ve done a lot of research
in India on various topics any of you who’ve read my books you know that there’s always
a lot of India in my books, it’s the most interesting place if you’re interested in capitalism because every time you go it’s better and it’s a better country
every time you go, it’s phenomenal. It’s interesting and the people are great. I love it there. And I was on my way to India with a scholar from my institution, the American Enterprise Institute, who is our India scholar. He goes with me a lot. His name is Sarana Ndumbe. And I said, I have this thing on my mind and I was describing it
him, he’s my colleague, I said, I even don’t know
how to talk about capitalism. I feel like I kind of hit a brick wall. I think it might make us less happy and I don’t know what to do because I’m not going
to be part of something that makes us less happy. I don’t know how to sort this out. And he said, “Oh I got the
perfect guy for you to talk to.” I said, “You got a guy?” He said, “Yeah, I got a guy. “He can sort this out.” And I said, “What’s his name?” He says, “When we get to
India, you’ll meet him.” I said, “What’s his name?” He said, “His name is Swami Gyan Muni.” I said, “You’re putting me out, right?” I mean, I have questions about capitalism and you’re going to send me to your Swami? a guy named Swami or whose title, He said, “Yeah, trust me, he’s the best.” All right, so we get to Delhi and the first or second day, we go out to this temple. It’s a very famous temple
on the outskirts of Delhi, it’s enormous called
the Akshardham temple. It was a sect of very strict Hinduism that was founded by a
man named Swaminarayan in the 17th century. And in this particular temple, it’s so beautiful, it was cut out of pure limestone by 10,000, stone cutting artisans working full time for seven years. It’s a wonder of the modern world. And so I went there to meet this Swami to ask him about capitalism. It’s like this crazy thing
that I’m doing, right? But I’m desperate at this point. So I get there and it’s a hot day in May,
the hottest month in Delhi. I’m standing out in this
courtyard waiting for Swami. And I’m thinking I’m
rehearsing in my mind, how am I going to explain my problem and I see him coming toward me, and he’s like orange robes and shaved head and he’s looking like a Swami and he sees me ’cause I kind of stand out. And he gets about and I’m thinking, “Am I going to be able to have
the nuance in this explanation?” This is pretty
philosophically heavy stuff. And so I’m practicing what
I’m going to say, right? And he gets about three. And I’m saying, will he have the familiarity
with the vernacular here? I mean, I know his English
is going to be fine but still, he gets like
three meters from me, right? And he looks at me and
he goes, “How you doing?” I’m like, “Where are you from?” And he says, “Texas.” (audience laughs) So this is getting really weird, right? So I’ve come to India to talk to a Swami about capitalism
interestingly he’s from Texas. And so first thing I said, “You got to tell me your story. “This has got to be good.” And so he tells me the story and I’mna share it with you because it’s germane to this adventure that I’m telling you about. Swami Gyan Muni was born in Houston. His parents were immigrant
petroleum engineers who had come to the United States to give a better life to their children, particularly during the
period of the worst vestiges of Indira Gandhi socialism. So they went there just
have a better life. And they raised their kids in Houston and they had these extremely demanding exogenous goals for their kids. They’re like, “We gave up everything. “You’re going to work and you’ll earn “and you’re going to be successful.” And he totally delivered. He said he graduated from high school when he was 16 years old, valedictorian. He got a full scholarship
in the University of Texas, went there as an engineer, graduated in three years and then went to get his MBA, which he finished in quick succession and then took a job at McKinsey. I mean, this is like
every dad’s dream, right? And he said that it was unbelievable. I mean, he was on the fast track, he was working 100 hours a week. He said there were a lot of sacrifices. He didn’t have time for a girlfriend, he barely had time to hang
out with friends and family, but boy, was he making a lot of money. He said his second year, he was making more money than his dad and he said his dad was very proud. But, these sacrifices,
they kind of add up, right? He said on his 26th birthday he’d been at this for about five years. He woke up on his birthday
and he said, “Is this it?” Work, work, work, earn, earn, earn, is this it for the rest of my life? What about my purpose? Sound familiar? There’s the exogenous goals, they lead to these problems, don’t they? He had hugely exogenous goals and he got to this place where he was totally
unsatisfied with his life. This is what I’m worried about for you. This is what sent me into this
research in the first place. So Swami Gyan Muni, he was a very observant, very religious Hindu. And he decided that he
was going to dedicate the next six months of
his life to discernment, to discern his purpose. He was going to pray every
day to discern his purpose and he did. And the end of six months,
he came to an answer. He sold everything he
had, he quit his job. and he moved to India, joined a seminary and six months later, he came out a penniless
renunciant Hindu monk and that’s where I met him. So now I know this is a setup. Like my friend from AEI set me up, because I’m talking to this guy who I mean, look, this guy has had
said goodbye to capitalism, and I’m there to ask him
if capitalism is good. (audience laughs) I feel like I’m getting punked here. but I ask him anyway. And I know what I’m going to
say, “Swami, is capitalism good?” And he’s going to say,
“No, it’s a man-made prison “do what I did, quit.” I know what’s going to happen, right? But I asked Swami, “Is capitalism good?” And he says, “No, it’s great.” It’s the best thing that’s
ever happened to this country. The people in my country
are not starving today, because of capitalism. People in your country, they trash it all the time. They don’t understand. People are not dying because
of capitalism, full stop. Better than I could have said it. And I said, “But look at you. “You gave me it all up “because it was a man-made prison, right?” He said, “Isn’t money bad?” This whole time by the
way he’s calling me dude. He says, “Dude, you’re not getting it. “The problem isn’t money. “The problem is attachment to money.” There’s a word in Sanskrit, Upadana. Upadana, it’s a complicated word. It’s a complicated concept in one word and it means the sticky cravings
for unsatisfying things, a beautiful word, right? Upadana, right? And he says, “Upadana. “That’s the problem with
with attachment to money “it’s an Upadana.” That’s what he said. And it reminded me by the way of an idea that I have always
known but have forgotten, which is the most frequently
misquoted scripture in the Christian Bible, which is the first letter
of St. Paul to Timothy sixth chapter, the 10th verse, here’s how it misquoted, “Money
is the root of all evil.” You’ve heard it, right? That’s wrong. Those of you who’ve seen my movie know it ’cause I talk about it in the movie. The real scripture is
that the love of money is the root of all evil. That’s the same thing that
Swami was talking about. Upadana is about the love of money, is the attachment to the physical stuff. You need to be free of that. You don’t need to be free of money, you need to be free of
attachment to money. He went on and I said,
I think I’m getting it and he says, “You know, look if you want
a Mercedes, buy a Mercedes, “but don’t fall in love
with your Mercedes.” Because then you become a prisoner of it. He said, “It is dangerous to be rich “but it’s dangerous “because we fall in love, “we become idolatrous “with the object of these riches.” I was thinking about that and boy, it sure rings true, doesn’t it? Why is it that we forget that, Why do we forget to say the letters to Timothy? Why do we forget that it’s attachment? Why do we forget that
attachment brings misery? And I think I know why, I
think it’s a conspiracy. I think there’s a conspiracy. And you watch TV or watch the movies, you hear one strong salient narrative coming through all the time. You know what it is? Love things, use people. That’s what it says, right? People are there for your consumption, for your satisfaction, for your ambition. What do you love? you love my product, you love your money, you love all the stuff that you can buy and people are nothing more
than a tool at your disposal. You know in your heart
that’s exactly wrong, you need to transpose
the verbs and the nouns that’s the formula to a happy life is use things, love people,
full stop that’s it. Use all the things that you want, never love them. Love the people, never use them. But we get it wrong. We get it upside down because
of its commercial motives, and we become captive to
those motives, don’t we? So I went back and came
back the United States, just loaded for bear. ‘Cause I’d figured it out. I’d figured it out. I said, the problem. I remember the first time I was on a college campus afterward, a guy did me a whole soliloquy about the beauties of capitalism for pulling people out of poverty. And I said, “And I know
it’s dangerous for you. “It’s dangerous for you why? “Not because of capitalism, “but because of attachment
to material things.” Don’t do that, And a kid goes, “How?” And I said, “I don’t know.” (audience laughing) Back to the drawing board. That’s when the real research began. And I want to give you, and I’ve written a lot about this, I can tell you as much
about this as you want but what I really want to do is I want to give you something
that you can gnaw on tonight, I want to give you what I think
are the two best strategies for not falling prey to
attachment to material things. The two things that you can do to live a happier life starting today without trying to trash and
throw out the whole system that’s pulling so many
people out of misery around the world. ‘Cause you know what? You are responsible for making sure that the system exists for other people. But you can still do that without becoming crazy and
miserable in your own right. Two things. Lesson number one, ’cause again, what is this? The speech is called
“Abundance Without Attachment.” Lesson number one, for
“Abundance Without Attachment.” I want you to get into your head, a vision, a picture, of the thing to which
your most attached, right? You all have it. Something that you’re really attached to, something in the material world, okay, you got it in your head? Give it away. See, charity, giving, is the act of rebellion
against attachment. It’s you declaring your independence from the tyranny of attachment. That’s why giving is so radical and so radically transforming
for people’s souls. I found this out through my own research when I was still a professor at Syracuse, my main area of research was
the economics of philanthropy. I did a lot of work and a lot of it was really
kind of conventional stuff, GDP goes up by a certain amount, how much does charity go up? That kind of stuff, tax rates, I’m an economist after all, but I found this weird thing
over the course of my research that I could never explain. I found that when people
gave more money away, they got richer. Now, and by the way I found evidence that was causal, based on the way that I was
running my statistical models, I found evidence of causality, the more you give, the
more money you earn. This is crazy, this doesn’t make sense. There’s no economist out there
says you want to get rich? Give all your money away. That’s not a an investment strategy that anybody would recommend. It’s a good thing, it
might get you to heaven but that’s not how you
retire in a secure state. (audience laughing) Okay, so but I kept finding
it over and over again, I found it for the whole country, as the country became more philanthropic, I found evidence that there was at least compelling to
me, causal inference, that it would lead to higher levels of GDP that were least attributable in part, to this level of philanthropy and certainly the level of the individual. So I was at an impasse in my research, my theory said that shouldn’t be true and my data kept saying it is true. What do you do? I did what social scientists always do, I threw away my data. I clung to my theory, (audience laughing) looking for new data that are
going to support my theory, couldn’t find it, couldn’t find
it. It’s really on my mind. I was having a lunch with a friend who was a psychologist who did work in the area of charitable giving, and I said I haven’t probably my data. Is what academics are
always talking about. I was talking to Danny
behind this floor today about data, all right? Data, we love data. He said, “What’s the
problem with your data?” The psychologist said, and I said, “I keep finding that “the more money you give to charity, “the richer you get.” What am I doing wrong with…
and I told him about my data, and said what do you
think I’m doing wrong? And he said, “What are you talking about? “we’ve known that for 30 years.” (audience laughs) and he says but we don’t talk
about that boring question about making more money when you give more money away. We talk about the interesting question, which is why, which is that when you
give more money away, you become more effective
and happier as a person. So no kidding, of course, you make more money. But what’s really interesting is the extent to which when
you volunteer and you give, you become a happier person, that’s the most interesting
research finding and the light bulb went off, ding! It turns out, of course, give more, get richer, get happier, I have data that show that
the more you give to charity, the better looking you get. (audience laughs) I promise it’s true. There’s this study for these guys in the University of Liverpool, where they’ll bring
couples into the laboratory and some have just gotten together and some have been married for 50 years. And the way that the thing works is that there is a guy in one building, and he’ll say to the man, he’ll say, “You’re going
to walk down there with her “down this path to another building “and have a researcher “that’s going to interview
you for a few minutes.” And he gives him a pocket
full of change, coins. And he says you get to
keep the money, simple and he’s like fine. So they go walking two by two by two, and it turns out between
the buildings on the path there is a little alleyway and a homeless man comes
wandering out of the alleyway and he panhandles the husband, and then you know what’s going on. He’s a confederate of the researchers, the homeless guy is actually
part of the experiment, and the husband or boyfriend
has to make a choice, am I going to give up money
to the homeless guy or not? And how much, okay? They get to the next building and the other guy in the white
lab coat is waiting for him. And he says to the husband, “How much money did
give the homeless man?” And then when he finds
out he writes it down and turns to the wife and says, “How attractive do you
find him right now?” They’re forming a correlation
between your generosity and how much she likes you. It turns out the more you give,
the more handsome you get. News you can use. This is a very practical
seminar here today. (audience laughs) This is the lesson. This is the core lesson. Are you ready to rebel? Are you ready to rebel
against the materialism that will hold you hostage? Then think about the thing
to wish your most attached. Give it away. You will change your life. Lesson number two for
abundance without attachment. Invest in endogenous things. Exogenous, money, power, fame. Endogenous. Exogenous, money, power, fame. Endogenous, love and relationships. Take your material wealth, don’t invest in the material things, invest in love and relationships. How? I have a colleague at
Harvard Business School, his name is Mike Norton he does a lot of work on this, but you’ve experienced
this in your life as well. I’ve been married for 28 years, happily married for 28 years, and I’mna tell you the
secret to my happy marriage. Although you are not
married but take note. Those of you who are married
and unhappily married, you might want to take note. So my wife Esther and I, 27 years ago, we were just about ready to celebrate our first wedding anniversary, okay? And we were having this big
fight, this big argument, ironically, about how to celebrate our first wedding anniversary. (audience laughs) And we were poor. I mean, we were living in South Florida. We had just emigrated the
United States from Spain. She was working a minimum wage job, I was studying by correspondence school and stuff I talked about before and man, we had just like
nothing in the checking account. We figured we could borrow,
or steal, or something, just enough money for one of two things, one of two things, not both. Enough for we could go to
the beach for the weekend or we could buy a couch and we didn’t have a couch. So we had to figure out which
one of these things to choose to celebrate our first
wedding anniversary, right? And okay, now I’m very practical person. I wanted the couch. My wife, she’s from Barcelona, she’s all about the beach. So we were having a big argument, beach, couch, beach, couch. Finally we compromised
and went to the beach. (audience laughing) And that’s why I’ve been married 28 years. That’s not my point. So here’s the weird thing. Five years ago or so, we
were remembering that. And we did get a couch. That was like three couches ago. I don’t remember where that first couch. I don’t remember anything
about that couch. Just take take a nap on it, or it was a blue. I don’t know. But I remember everything
about that weekend ’cause we were in love and we still are, it was my heart was in that week and my heart wasn’t in that couch. Here’s the point. We have a tendency to think that exogenous things are permanent and that endogenous
experiences are evanescent. That is exactly the opposite of the truth. The truth is that the experiences with people
you love are permanent. That’s the way you get permanent things. All the other stuff is just
here today gone tomorrow. The most effective credit card commercial in the history of that industry, is this MasterCard commercial, you’ve all seen it. They’ve redone it every
couple of years for decades, it’s been on the air for 40 years and has the same formula
again and again and again. It’ll be a guy and a kid and they’re getting into a car and he starts going through a list. It’ll say, beach ball $3, gas for the car, $36, two nights at the hotel, $250. The weekend alone in the
beach with my son, priceless. It’s just an ad guys but there’s something about it. The reason it’s effective is because it speaks
a truth to your heart. That is the truth about
endogenous experiences and their permanence. And you crave them, right? Look, we don’t care about
the two nights in the hotel, we don’t care about the beach ball, we don’t care about the gas, we care about the relationship
with the people that we love. I have 10 studies that show this. They’re boring. The only one that really matters is the experience that each
of us has in our own life. I have three kids, Esther and I have three kids. They’re 21, 19 and 16. And our 19 year old is
just about to turn 20, he’s a farmer. And he didn’t go to college he’s a farmer in Alabama. Very proud of him because
he’s living his best life and doing it in his own way. And when Carlos, his name is Carlos, when he was nine years old, he came to me and he said, “Dad, I’ve been thinking about Christmas.” And I’m like, I’m on guard
at this point, right? ’cause there’s nothing good that can come from this, I figure. And I said, “Yeah.” and he said, “I don’t
want anything this year. “I just want to go
fishing alone with you.” But in Florida, right? And I’m thinking, this is going to cost me
19 times as much as a bike. Father of the year, right? And so I’m like, “Yeah
let’s do that, Carlos.” And we did it. And we’ve done it every
year since he was nine. I’m not a hunting, fishing guy. I don’t know how this says like the gun I don’t know how the gun
work. I don’t know (mumbles) you put the worm on. I don’t know. I mean, I grew up in Seattle we don’t do that, right? But I’ll do anything to
spend time with Carlos, I love spending time with Carlos. And I can tell you every place we’ve gone and everything we’ve shot and caught since he was nine years old. It’s amazing. It’s changed my life. And Carlos says dad when you’re old, (audience laughing) I’mna take you. And I know he is. My friends, this kills tyranny. If you’re held hostage by your attachment to
these exogenous things, declare your independence with love. You don’t have to give up on capitalism. You can’t give up on capitalism ’cause there are people
around the world who need it, they need you. But you deserve in your
own life to be happy and this is the way to do it. So here’s my offer to you my friends, you often hear something
that’s completely wrong, that capitalism is good for rich people and bad for poor people. I hope I’ve convinced
you to your satisfaction, that’s wrong, that it’s
bad for poor people and I hope I’ve convinced
you to your satisfaction it’s dangerous for you, but there is something
that you can do about it. And in so doing, you will make your life better, and you will make the world better because there will be
more love in this world and that’s ultimately what we all want. So this is a new day for
this debate, isn’t it? Forget the Democrats and Republicans, forget the conservatives and the liberals, let’s talk about us as
brothers and sisters. Let’s talk about capitalism the way we really need to talk about it as a device to lift people up. And it’s something that can’t hurt us because we care about what matters most. If we do this, it’s a
new day in this debate. And if we take every other point of the debates of the day in this fashion, which is to say to serve
others and to bring more love, it’s a new day in politics. And maybe it starts right
here at Dartmouth College. If so, my only words to you are. God bless you and thank you. (audience clapping) (audience clapping drowns out speaker) – [Moderator] Now is
the time for questions, we have two roving mics. Just
raise your hand and the mic– – They got roving mics. Well, we’re coming to you, right here. Yes, sir. – Hello. I’m a freshman at the college. I just wanted to know in your analysis of benefits
of the capitalist system, if you consider the environmental problems associated with it, in particular, how fossil fuels in the sense of component
of the modern system are affecting the environment. I mean, just something to consider, like, at the same time
that China’s economy grew and massive numbers of people
were pulled out of poverty, the health problems
associated with air pollution and water pollution skyrocketed. So also the free market
in India and China, the economy growth has decreased
a significant percentage. – Yeah, for sure. So one of the things that
I said, thank you for that. So one of the things that I said is that it’s naive of us to say that just because it has
these incredible benefits to pull people out of poverty, which by the way for me, outweigh everything else it is then naive to say
that there’s nothing bad, there’s nothing bad going on. But we can walk and chew gum my friends. The idea that we can’t solve this problem and the only solution is
to get rid of capitalism, what that’ll do is it will consign millions of
people to starvation and death, we have a responsibility to try to solve both of these
problems at the same time and I’m convinced that we can. Now to begin with, there’s no evidence that capitalism per se is behind the environmental problems. The worst environmental problems that I’ve literally ever
seen are in the Soviet Union. I mean, the most horrific
environmental problems were in the Soviet Union during their process of development, in their industrial development. So this is kind of a human
problem and a values problem, we need to take this on, on its face. Now, it’s really hard
to go to China and India and say he, “We develop this way, “and we’re living a pretty good life, “you don’t get to develop
this way anymore.” However, we do have a responsibility to try to find technological solutions that can change their growth path such that they can have the development without the starvation, and at the same time actually
develop with sufficient energy and sufficient energy supplies. That should be actually our goal. And if we can’t dedicate ourselves to that we’re still dithering over whether capitalism is good per se, what we’re really saying is, what’s more important? The environment or the lives
of billions of our brothers and sisters in need? And I don’t want to have that argument. I don’t think we need to have it and I don’t want to be part of it. Thank you, that’s a wonderful question. Thanks. We got another one right over on. – Hi, my name is Molana I’m an intern at Fair. So in regards to your first solution, which is charity, how do you formulate that
like as a government, if I’m a government officer and I’m thinking what should I do? Like what is an example. Thank you. – So a lot of people will
think of charitable giving as kind of equivalent to, or at least a substitute
with what the government does in terms of the provision
of goods and services. And just in terms of how
you get stuff provided, that can be true but that’s not what I’m talking about. There’s no evidence that
taxation and redistribution has any material benefits on happiness or welfare of individuals, it’s important to do ’cause
you got to provide services but we should think of these
things as distinct phenomena. When I’m talking about
charity, it’s weird, because the whole point that I was making is not about how charity is good for the beneficiaries of charity. My point is, it’s good for the givers. It’s actually better
for the givers, maybe. I’m also happy that it’s
good for the beneficiaries if we do it right, and it should be actually complimentary to what we do with the
distribution business services through public sector means. – I have a question
specifically about taxation, I feel like in other
countries other than the U.S. there is a positive attribute associated with taxation that I would imagine follows suit in the same way that charity
giving in the U.S. does and I think there’s like, probably a difference existent in the U.S. and the rest of the world, that I’m wondering if
you could speak to that– – Yeah, it’s funny. So philanthropy and charity, there’s a lot of comparative
international studies that show how people see
charity and philanthropy in different places around the world, and it’s seen very differently
in different places. And it’s also true that taxation is seen very differently
in different places and part of it is different
national histories, and different national traditions of both taxpaying and the role
of government and charity. So the United States is kind of unique. In so far as it were by far the most charitable culture in the world. I mean, there are a couple of countries, some people will say that in certain ways, Israel is a really
charitable country as well but it’s a small country
and hard to compare. There’s no major industrialized country on the scale the United States that comes even close
to how much Americans give and volunteer per capita, there’s actually big country that volunteers as much or
more than the united states and that’s the Philippines, of all places. So and part of that is just ’cause there’s a tradition in America of people giving charitably, there’s a more troubled relationship with government going back a long time. However, there’s a very
interesting point to make that there’s two other
kinds of regimes out there, we often think of the Nordic regimes just probably what you have
in your head is like Denmark, and Sweden and Iceland, and places where people
are pretty untroubled by paying extremely high tax rates. – [Audience Member] Meanwhile
even in South America and– – Well, in South America they have huge rates of tax evasion and tax avoidance, huge rates. And so you go to a place like Venezuela, or Colombia, or Argentina, if you talk to people in Argentina, if you’re paying your taxes, you’re cheating your family. There’s a culture of tax evasion in a place like Argentina, a culture of cheating the government. Here’s the interesting thing, people evade their taxes in America but nobody wants their friends to know they’re evading their taxes. That’s a really good thing as far as I’m concern. It’s amazing. It’s like if I’m not paying
my taxes, I’m committing fraud I’m not going to brag
about it to my friends ’cause I want my friends
to think I’m a cheater. That’s good. It’d be better if nobody
evaded their taxes too in the first place. So South America is kind
of mixed in this funny way, their places like Russia, where you’re absolutely
considered to be an idiot for actually paying your taxes because everybody knows
that the government is going to misappropriate the funds to do things that you don’t like with it. So around the world, what we’re trying to do is we’re trying to find
a good relationship and a lot of trust. One of the really troubling things in the United States right now, is that the trust is falling so fast for institutions in the public sector, there’s literally, since 1975, only one government institution where trust has been rising consistently, let me know what it is? It’s the military. Military is the only one. Every other part of government, house, senate, permanent
bureaucracy, agencies they’ve been going down and down and down. We have to turn that around, we got to change that because what we’re going to
get in one generation or two, is you’re going to be
saddled with an economy where people are very
comfortable evading their taxes ’cause that’s kind of the next step and that’s a really big problem. Now, there’s a couple of studies that show in the Nordic countries, that people do get enough satisfaction from their charitable giving that it can be comparable, I mean, to their tax paying, that it can be comparable
to charitable giving but we’re not there yet
in the United States and in most of the world. That’s a whole book
that you asked me about that’d be a great senior thesis, you should write that senior thesis it may be phenomenal. I would love to be on
the outside committee. – [Audience Member] Hi,
so I’m just wondering– – I don’t know if it’s
on but I can’t hear you. – Okay, so you have talked a lot about or you said earlier when you were in the
government class today, you don’t really care what happens to the people that are
well off that have money, you really care about helping
those are the poorest. And so in the movie that we saw, we saw how good capitalism was for India and how it really brought
up a significant number. Not in India, but in the world, two billion people out of
the worst kind of poverty. So why do you think the rhetoric especially in the United States, about capitalism is not
about the good it does, but about the bad and how
it really is disadvantageous for the poorest people when it’s very possible to show that it actually helps
support people the most? Why is that the discussion? Why are people not championing capitalism? The same people that are
championing rights for the poorest? – Yep, right. Exactly right. I have cracked my head
over that for a long time and I think I know the answer to it. It’s sort of a slightly
multi part answer to it. But to begin with, people who are champions of
capitalism are incompetent at communicating the most important thing, it’s the weirdest thing. It’s as if you had this treasure and you couldn’t talk about the most important thing about it, you’re talking about the
least important thing. I talk to people who are really
proponents of capitalism, and they talk about this kind of weird desiccated rhetoric of the culture of freedom. I’m free to do what I want and I can become a billionaire if I set my mind to it. Okay, okay but that’s point number one. Point number two is that most people actually don’t know these
truths about capitalism because they’re really far away. What’s going on in India and Africa is so far away from what’s
happening United States, and what’s happening in
United States is that we see, particularly in the wake
of a financial crisis, we see, as is always the case
after a financial crisis, that until about two years ago, a year and a half ago or so, all of the benefits of economic growth went to the top 20% of
the income distribution. That’s always happened
after a financial crisis. I wish I could solve it. I don’t know any economists
who know how to solve this but the result of that is inevitably after a financial crisis, you get a lot of populist rhetoric on both the right and the left who say, “The rich people got your stuff, “and I’mna to get it back.” They’re using capitalism,
capitalism is bad. So you get this double whammy of not actually seeing or understanding the benefit of our brothers
and sisters in other places, and seeing a lot of sort
of blooming inequality that’s happening particularly
for the bottom three quintiles of the income distribution
in United States today. What do I need? I need people who are basically not people trying to find a point on it, warriors for the poor
on the progressive left, who are willing to fight for
capitalism around the world and globalization and free
trade and an open society. That’s what we actually need, because that’s the best thing that can actually happen
to people around the world, while at the same time trying to redress stuff
like climate issues which we absolutely can. Thank you for that. Let’s see, you’re deciding. I don’t have a mic, so you go ahead, yeah. – My question was, so how does the history
of Jim Crow and slavery affect how we view capitalism
in an American context? ‘Cause to me it seems like the reason why people are
venturing towards socialism is because people have had 250 plus year head start in America. – Yeah, so the truth is that obviously opportunity has not been
equally shared in this country. And it’s interesting, I talk an awful lot about
how competition works, competition in labor markets, competition in regular markets, and the biggest problem that we have is not that competition is bad, is that people try to
shut down competition. People shut it down all the time. We talk about crony capitalism, people have special deals
wired into the government. That’s not capitalism, that’s a completely different thing. It’s a totally wired system. And in labor markets
and in social situations where we discriminate
against certain people because of religion, or race, or gender, that’s shutting down competition. The problem that we’ve had all these years is we have not offered
equal opportunity to people. And so the key idea is what can we do more as aggressively and as
creatively as possible, to push as much opportunity
to everybody in America to basically say, “Look, we have denied the
sense of equal dignity, “radically equal dignity to people.” Competition is supposed to let people actually work to get cooperatively
within a set of rules, and actually earn according their merits. You won’t let ’em! ‘Cause of discrimination, no matter how hard they
work, you don’t let ’em that’s the essence of racism, isn’t it? That’s what we want to be. I think that in going forward, the best tool that we have for equal opportunity and anti-racism is actually more and
more creative approaches to pushing the benefits of
the free enterprise system and opportunity to every
corner of our society today. And that’s what I need the best thinking from the new generation on. It’s great question. I appreciate that a lot. Join us. I’m in your hands. Yeah, yes sir. – Thank you. I’d be interested in your ideas on reconciling the myth of
perpetual economic growth on a finite planet. – [Arthur] So the myth
of economic growth and? – Perpetual economic growth
on this finite planet. – Oh, yeah. – [Audience Member] Especially in light of major ecosystems being in collapse, the start of the next great extinction. – So one of the problems that
we’ve had a tendency to… it’s almost an inevitable problem when you’re in systems
that are poorly understood is that you have non-sustainable resources that were acting as if they were infinite and almost every economic
system has done that. And what you find is that you can in, not only economic systems, but in biological systems as well, when they get into an equilibrium you find the rate of growth that’s compatible with sustainability and that requires the technique to actually find sustainable resources, and the rate of growth
that’s compatible with that and that’s what we’re struggling
to find in this country. In this world, and point of fact, you can have perpetual
growth that’s above zero but we don’t know what it is and we don’t actually
have the technology yet, we’re not actually demonstrating that we’re even looking
for the technology yet, that will make sure that we’re doing it in a sustainable way. You don’t run out of
everything all the time because we don’t have a zero sum world. But to have a positive some world, you have to have a sense of sustainability and that actually requires mastery and the the social consciousness to want to seek it in the first place, and the truth is we’re not there yet and we should dedicate
ourselves to finding it. – Certainly, I agree with that but just it looks as though
the oceans are in trouble. We need the resources of the oceans, we need the resources of the Earth. It seemed as though
there’s very little talk about what many people would say, an overpopulation problem. If we expect everyone on the planet to elevate to some standard of living. Some studies would say that we may have two to
three times more people on the planet, to sustain a culture at a
European standard of living. – So there’s still a lot of talk about the sustainability of population and I reject those studies completely, I think that we have not even come close to finding the number
of people in the world that we can support with our resources and with our food supplies. We have a massive problem
in food distribution, we have a massive problem in understanding how to
get people what they want but we can solve that problem, we find that there are countries that are in a process of
underdevelopment today and backwards development today, they tend to have zero or
negative population growth. So people ultimately are
the ultimate resource, but you have to be smart about how you actually
sustain natural resources along with your human population. So look, this is a big
debate that’s still going on, I just happened to be on
one side of the debate and I think that we can
have growing populations, and we can have sustainability, we can have capitalism that’s actually more conscious
of these particular needs and I think that actually
we will get there. I’m an optimist, I think
we’re going to get there. – [Audience Member] Can we do it with so much human and natural resources being used on fluff commodities? Commodities that have no real purpose. – Yeah can we actually– – [Audience Member] I
argue all the time that… I say all the time that
there was a time when developments came about for
products and entrepreneurship, to raise some level of societal need. Not in that the product had
an intrinsic value of its own. Not a freakin’ pet rock. – Well, pet rocks are actually sustainable – [Audience Member] We were wasting human and natural resources on a lot of commodities which have no purpose
other than making money. – Yeah, well, people actually gain utility from what they say in the consumer society and the big point of my talk today was not to do that. The big point of my
talk today was actually how we can have a cultural
revolution against that and that’s actually what
you ultimately need. You don’t get that through rationing, you don’t get that through
command and control, you don’t get that
through government action, you get that because
people change their values and that’s what we need. All right. Yes, sir. – So early in your lecture, in the class you kind of joke about how your family, your dad is a professors. And like how you grew up, you kind of have a negative
view of capitalism. There’s something I wonder in America is like why so many, let’s say college professor, or intellectuals in the
social science department, is so against capitalism? – Yeah, that’s going to be a fun one. (audience laughs) I mean there’s been a
lot written about that about a lot written about
how attitudes tend to vary with respect to different professions. And what you what you
typically find in academia, is what I love about academia is that people experiment
with unusual ideologies in academia because you can. And a lot of progress happens because when people think differently, and you need an ecosystem where people can think differently. The result is that
academia draws in people that have that thinking
in a Bohemian kind of way. and that means a little bit different than the typical way that people who go into center professions
are going to think. So one of the things
I love about academia, one of the things I value, I mean, I’m a third generation academic, and my oldest son wants to be
a fourth generation academic. It’s fun to be around people
who think weird things. It’s just is I mean, it’s more fun than people who think non-weird things and to be quite honest about it. And one of those tends to coalesce. It hasn’t always been the case, but certainly is right now. They tend to be on more of the
sort of the progressive part of the political spectrum. As for me, that’s no price at all. I just want the most interesting people and you know what? Maybe I’m wrong and maybe they’re right. That’s okay too. I’m here to learn. – Hi, thank you for coming to speak today. One of my questions is a
great product of capitalism is obviously technological
development and advancements, and a common fear that
we start to hear about is that with these massive
advancements in technology and artificial intelligence, jobs, especially low skilled jobs may start to be replaced in these first world
highly developed countries like the United States. Is this a danger of capitalism? – So we hear this a lot,
I get this question a lot, you all get this question a lot too, it’s that our economic
system today is rewarding really fast innovation, technological innovation growth and the result of that is that we’re finding new
ways to save on human capital, and that we’re more interested
in finding everything from quicker machine learning and what people could put
into production processes, through AI, through driverless cars and it’s going to replace a lot of people, it’s going to obviate a lot of people. Now to begin with, getting rid of capitalism or turning back the tide
through public policy is probably not going to work because innovation always
wins out in the end one way or the other. If it doesn’t happen here, it happens someplace else and then through competition, we wind up having to
adopt these technologies. But that said, I’m more sanguine than
a lot of other people. I’m more optimistic. And the reason is because
the people who are projecting massive job losses going forward, they’re looking only at
the way jobs look today. So it’s all the jobs
exactly the job categories and say, okay, what could
do that exact job category? But that’s not the way jobs work. Every job is somewhere between
10 and 50 discrete tasks. Everybody’s job is lots
and lots and lots of stuff. And every couple of generations, the economy disaggregates
everybody’s tasks, puts them in a box, puts
everybody’s tasks in a box, and it reformulate jobs, right? Now, that’s a hard thing, right? People have to retrain for
jobs that don’t currently exist but it’s always happened. For the longest time. I mean, the Industrial Revolution was opposed by what we call Luddites, that was actually named
for a guy named Ned Ludd, Ned Ludd had a merry
band of guys with clubs that would go into factories
and bust ’em up, right? because what was effectively happening is that people’s jobs
were being disaggregated. It’s not like nobody had jobs, they had different kinds of jobs. People don’t actually like that. I think that going forward, certain jobs will actually disappear, certain tasks will disappear but new jobs will reform. That’s always been the case and I’m actually seeing early indication and that’s the case
that jobs are coming up in different places, we need to find better
ways to retrain people, that’s going to be the challenge as opposed to finding bread and circuses to occupy them. Thank you. It’s good question. – [Moderator] So you get
time for two more questions. – Yes. – Thank you for coming to
class and for the documentary. In class today, you mentioned
briefly depths of despair but then we did not have
time to drill down on that. And it’s an important phenomenon, doesn’t get that much attention and it’s appearing at a time
of bounteous production. Could you talk more about what you think is going on there and what might be the
productive path forward? – Yeah, so depths of despair is a term of art coined
by professor Angus Deaton and his wife professor
Ann Case at Princeton. They do demography and they were doing work on
looking at life expectancy and they find that as a general rule, it’s an incredible story that
people in every generation are living longer with better
lives and better health, and the world’s getting better, et cetera, et cetera. And they found that since 1999 until 2015, there was the first time that
one demographic turned around, which was white people 45 to 54, were starting to die at
earlier and earlier ages. So they drilled into it, what’s going on? And it’s the first time they’ve ever seen somebody go backwards, they’re just they’re just demographers they’re just kind of describing this. They’re finding this largely
coming from three sources, there was a 49% increase
in alcohol poisoning, a 76% increase in suicide and a 323% increase in
drug overdose deaths. This is people that look
like me and are my age. It’s incredible. When you think about it, there’s nobody’s ever
seen anything like this and so they started
asking what’s going on. There’s a disproportion in the early days disproportionately being driven by men, now it’s pretty much neck
and neck men and women in this particular demographic cohort and a large part of it
has to do with the fact that we have big societal changes, particularly in rural America, where jobs have gone away and there’s a complicated
story that comes into it. So the deindustrialization of rural areas in the United States some years ago, actually led to a massive increase in permanent disability claims. For those of you who don’t know, the federal government pays disability to people who can’t work. So what happened is, as soon as there was deindustrialization in areas where basically no
more jobs, in particular areas, doctors moved in who specialized in making a prescription
of disability claims and they were doing it massively. It went from about two million people on permanent disability to about 12 million today. Okay, after this happened, there’s an interesting phenomenon that pain doesn’t predict disability, disability and unemployment predict pain. The same doctors became pain doctors and started to prescribe OxyContin and Percocet and Percodan, and all of the opiates that we hear about that are kind of we all
know about at this point, they were unknown, except that the pain clinics were passing out pain pills to the people who are now idle and on disability and they started a major drug crisis. By the time the crackdown came around, the pills actually had
become illegal in most places and were on the black
market got so expensive, that there was a massive
in rushing of heroin largely across the Mexican border, that was much cheaper and
in a way more effective because it was being cut by a Chinese opiate drug called fentanyl. Fentanyl is about 40 times
more powerful than heroin. There’s a variant called
carfentanil produced in China, that’s 2000 times as deadly as heroin. When it’s being cut into heroin, users can’t tell the difference and it’s heroin cut with fentanyl that’s creating overdose deaths. Okay, nobody is taking heroin for fun. I mean, look, even if it’s fun, people are doing it
because there’s despair, because there’s idleness because there’s an inability
to actually find something because we have a complete
lack of imagination in this country about how we should have set up public
policy in the first place. We have public education systems that are totally unavailable
to retrain people, we have no sense of how we
should be able to move people from communities that lack opportunities to communities that have opportunity, and we have a welfare
system that locks people into rural communities so they can’t even move across state lines without losing their benefits. This is the perfect storm for people to be in
these cases of despair. So this demographic phenomenon of simply people dying of
these three things led to this. I mean, you start digging
into it, it’s like gets worse and the story gets worse, and the story gets worse and worse and that’s where we are today. So all this despair that you hear going on that’s the kind of the fast version of how that whole thing unfolded. You can see that it’s a
complicated thing to unravel. Thank you for that. You get the last question here. All right. – Hi.
– Hi. – So I took the liberty
to make some connections between what you talked about in class today and documentary, and it seems to me that
you would favor the idea that the government plays
an essential positive role or should play an essential positive role in providing people
with a sense of dignity and I was just wondering if that’s true, and if that’s true, could you specify the reasons
for holding that view? – Yeah, so despair. It’s a perfect question. Despair is the opposite of dignity. Dignity is be worthy of respect. A sense of your dignity is understanding that you are worthy of respect. Every single person in this room believes in the radical
equality of human dignity. You’ve said you believe that everybody is intrinsically equal in how
much they deserve respect. That’s what you’re saying, right? And I believe it, you believe
it, we all believe it, the problem is we don’t
act like we believe it. The opposite of dignity is despair. So if you don’t like depths of despair, you need to work for dignity. How do you get it? As a psychological matter, the sense of your own dignity
comes from one specific thing, which is feeling that
you are needed, right? Nothing else will do it. If you feel that you’re unneeded, you will lack a sense of dignity and this leads to despair. This is the reason that unemployment was the beginning of the
whole catalytic nightmare, this whole chain of events
came from unemployment. Unemployment is to say, I don’t need you, you’re not needed, right? Okay, so what do we need to do? We need serious, not just policies, but we need an economy that
makes people necessary. Now, my view of all this is to begin with in terms of public policy, if you want more dignity, you don’t need a department of dignity. I don’t recommend a
Bureau of Public dignity. I mean, it’s probably not
going to go well, right? Because you get somebody
deciding what that is. Dignity comes from… Well, I think the best
thing that government can do is to get out of the way and to a very large extent, how? We have a tendency to act as
if poor people are not assets, that we don’t need ’em. We treat poor people in this country like liabilities to manage. It’s a huge moral error
when you think about it. I mean, this is new, this wasn’t the case
several generations ago, where poor people worked
and rich people worked. Now I understand the we
want more public assistance, but in setting up our
public assistance programs we would make it impossible
for poor people to work, we’re saying you’re a liability to manage, want to know why? ‘Cause we don’t need you. That’s saying you don’t
have equal dignity. That’s a big problem. We need to redesign. It’s going to be very
expensive and very hard to do but we know how to do it with our public policies
regarding the poor. we need to set up systems where people are not actually
fragmenting their families because to be needed also means
to be needed by your family, where we don’t break up communities, except insofar as that people
are moving for opportunity. So the new communities can actually form. We need a case in where
people need to be needed, and if we actually have a set of policies, here’s what I’m saying, judge policies with this question, do they make people more
needed or less needed? If they make people less
needed, they’re bad policies. If they make people more needed, maybe they’re good policies. And that’s not the standard
by which we design nor judge our government policies today. Go ahead. – [Audience Member] Perfect response. (mumbles) The Soviet Union is an
example for communist triumph where everybody had jobs. Everybody was needed in the economy. What’s your take on that? – Well, one of the great things is that everybody worked (laughs). Actually, I mean, not
everything in the Soviet Union was terrible all the time. It’s not a place where I wanted to live and the way that they did
that actually by the way, was by making unemployment illegal. Ain’t that weird? So in Soviet Union it was
illegal to be unemployed. And then, of course, the government became the
employer of last resort and the result of that it was
it was kind of predictable, you’d have six guys standing around watching one guy dig a ditch over there, simply because that’s
what the public policy. That was it uncreative way to do it. My guess is, if the government were your employer of last resort and your job was to watch
a guy digging a ditch, it wasn’t going to help you very much in your sense of being needed. That said, it’s probably is still better than hanging around
drinking vodka at home. So I think we can do better
in both cases than that. And on that, my friends, I deeply appreciate this
invitation to this great college and I would love to be helpful to you going forward in anyway. Good luck and thank you. (audience clapping)

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