Join Roger Ream ’76 in this week’s Liberty + Leadership Podcast as he speaks with Katherine Mangu-Ward, Novak ’05, editor in chief of Reason, the leading libertarian magazine. Roger and Katherine discuss her contrarian view on not voting in elections, the rise of ChatGPT and the “robot Katherine Mangu-Ward.” They also discuss the state of capitalism and libertarianism as a brand, highlighting key points from her TED Talk on “What Capitalism Gets Right.”
Katherine Mangu-Ward is the editor in chief of Reason, the magazine of “free minds and free markets.” She previously worked at The Weekly Standard and The New York Times, and her writings have appeared in The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post, among other publications. Katherine frequently commentates on radio and television, including Fox, MSNBC, C-SPAN and HBO’s Real Time with Bill Maher. Katherine received a Robert Novak Journalism Fellowship in 2005 and was the 2021 winner of TFAS’s Kenneth Y. Tomlinson Award for Outstanding Journalism. She is a graduate of Yale University, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in philosophy and political science and was editor in chief of the Yale Free Press.
The transcript below is lightly edited for clarity.
Roger Ream [00:00:00] Hello and welcome. I’m Roger Ream and this is the Liberty and Leadership Podcast, a conversation with TFAS alumni, supporters, faculty and friends who are making a real impact in public policy, business, philanthropy, law and journalism. Today on Liberty and Leadership, I’m joined by Katherine Mangu-Ward, editor in chief of Reason Magazine. Katherine was awarded a Robert Novak Fellowship in 2005 and was the 2021 winner of our Kenneth Y. Tomlinson Award for Outstanding Journalism. We’re going to discuss Katherine’s work at Reason, the lessons she’s learned as a Novak Fellow and her views on AI, voting and capitalism. Katherine, thanks for joining me today. I’m looking forward to our conversation.
Katherine Mangu-Ward [00:00:52] It is a delight to be here, Roger.
Roger Ream [00:00:54] Now, you edit the leading libertarian magazine, Reason, and your slogan is “Free Minds and Free Markets.” I’d like to talk about that, but before we get into that, tell me a little bit about your path into journalism. What led to you deciding you wanted to pursue a career as a journalist?
Katherine Mangu-Ward [00:01:11] You know, I think I was the last person to know that it was obvious that I should pursue a career in journalism. I was lucky enough to be involved when I was an undergraduate with the Yale Free Press, which was an alternative paper on Yale’s campus, funded by the Collegiate Network. I just thought that was a good time. You know, it didn’t really occur to me that this was a viable career path. I had internships at the U.S. News and World Report with John Leo and an internship at Reason, but still, it just seemed like fun, and then there was a point where I got to graduation and said, “What should I do with my life?” At the time I was a recovering objectivist, and so I had this idea that I should like, go make widgets in the world because that was what was important and moral to do.
Roger Ream [00:02:05] Or build a railroad.
Katherine Mangu-Ward [00:02:07] Exactly. Then I landed a job at The Weekly Standard and realized that maybe this journalism thing could work out after all, and it went from there.
Roger Ream [00:02:19] Yeah, well, it’s a great story. As the representative of an organization that puts a lot of students in internships to see someone who went from intern to editor in chief in that short period of time is wonderful.
Katherine Mangu-Ward [00:02:30] I mean, I don’t know if it’s a short period of time. It’s 23 years now since I was an intern at Reason.
Roger Ream [00:02:36] Yes, but that’s an accelerated path. Early in your career – I don’t know if you were at Reason yet when you got the Novak Fellowship, you were at Reason, weren’t you?
Katherine Mangu-Ward [00:02:49] No, the Novak Fellowship was an important bridge for me because I had left The Weekly Standard and I had taken a job working for John Tierney on the op-ed page of The New York Times. I think my designation there was clerk, it was not a writing role. I was really struggling with balancing a fun job as a researcher, an assistant for a columnist that I really admired with the desire to be sure that I was still producing under my own byline. The Novak Fellowship really came in clutch to kind of keep me on track and focused on that. I did go to Reason shortly after that.
Roger Ream [00:03:30] Well, you had John Leo in your career, you had John Tierney.
Katherine Mangu-Ward [00:03:35] All the good Johns.
Roger Ream [00:03:38] Now your Novak project. I love the title of it: “How 25 Environmentalists Set Out to Save the Planet and Wound up Making Everyone’s Lives Just a Little Bit Worse.” You completed that project, I take it?
Katherine Mangu-Ward [00:03:50] I am not sure that in the end I found the full 25, but I did really enjoy the project, partially because I think so often it’s the case that the villain in libertarian stories is just the faceless bureaucracy. You know, the government at large. So, I was looking to find the actual characters responsible, and of course there were some recurring characters in this project, including Ralph Nader and some folks outside of government, but it was a good opportunity to hone my reporting chops, which had previously been more focused on stuff that was of concern to The Weekly Standard.
Roger Ream [00:04:32] Which is really one of the main purposes of the Novak Fellowship, is to try to encourage young people to do reporting for those stories rather than just want to offer their opinion of the world’s top issues. Tell us something we didn’t know before or find some information that could be valuable.
Katherine Mangu-Ward [00:04:51] Well, I was lucky enough just last week to help select the new batch.
Roger Ream [00:04:56] Thank you for serving as our judge this year. We had a great applicant pool, and while we have not yet released the names of who’s been selected —
Katherine Mangu-Ward [00:05:08] I like it. You’re like, “Katherine, don’t give it away.”
Roger Ream [00:05:10] By the time this airs, it’ll probably be announced, but I think we’re still trying to track down everyone to let the winners know they won, and the ones who didn’t get it this year to know they should reapply next year, but what was that experience like? You brought in a dozen or so people to talk about their projects.
Katherine Mangu-Ward [00:05:25] It’s great. It was really encouraging. Honestly. I mean, I think I do a lot of hiring in my role as editor in chief of Reason, and it can be tough to find young people who combine the two quite rare traits of being thoughtful on the ideological side about priorities and policy and political philosophy and find people with real journalism chops. You can often kind of find one or the other, but getting the overlap in that Venn diagram is tricky, and it was delightful to talk to so many people who did fit in that overlap.
Roger Ream [00:06:04] Well, good, good. I’m looking forward to seeing the projects that they produce. Reason has been a great supplier of Novak Fellows. I think we’ve had five or six: Robby Soave, Stephanie Slade, Peter Suderman, you. I maybe missed- Billy Binion now, so great that you must encourage people to apply for it, I guess.
Katherine Mangu-Ward [00:06:28] Yeah, I just think it’s a good way to help people focus at a moment in their career when having a beat is important. I think sometimes young journalists get this advice too soon, like you must specialize, you have to know one thing and you have to be deeply knowledgeable about that one thing. That isn’t the only path to success, but there is a point in your journalism career where you do want to be known, if not as the expert, at least as the guy who’s covering the thing, the person to talk to, the person the experts want access to. I think that that’s really what the Novak Fellowship has helped a lot of folks at Reason do.
Roger Ream [00:07:02] I know we’ve had a few others who’ve said they turned their projects into their careers. Tim Carney being one who’s done a lot throughout his career on his project of dealing with crony corporatism.
Katherine Mangu-Ward [00:07:14] We’ve certainly published him many times on that topic as well.
Roger Ream [00:07:18] Thank you so much for being a judge. Some people listening to this may not know a lot about libertarian ideas or libertarianism or about Reason Magazine. Reason covers certainly a wide range of subjects. It’s always been on the cutting edge when it comes to both technologies, even science fiction, and the latest cutting-edge topics, as well as covering the more traditional issues that libertarians care about, the size of government and things like that. You’ve done some interesting pieces yourself that would be worth a conversation today. I’ll take one right off the bat that you’ve written about, and that is voting. You wrote a very interesting piece about whether someone should vote or not in elections. You brought in all these studies that have been done by people, academics and others, about whether a vote ever matters, to what extent it will matter to you, the voter. I’ve always kind of looked at voting and you tackled this as kind of like being at a football game and deciding not to clap. Your clap is not going to add to the decibel level overall, but it gives you satisfaction. You even tackled the idea that you vote in order because you get fun out of it. What kinds of reactions did you get to your piece?
Katherine Mangu-Ward [00:08:40] So, I would say arguing that most people shouldn’t vote most of the time is a great way to derail a dinner party. It’s really something that people feel strongly about almost in like a pre-rational way. I should say this is not a core libertarian tenant, right? There are plenty of libertarians, in fact, who think voting and especially voting third party is an important thing to do. This is, however, core to my worldview, which is to say I think many of the critiques of voting that you see on bumper stickers or hear people kind of casually say are more pointed and wiser than they know. So, when you hear this joke: “Don’t vote, it only encourages this,” that kind of thing. I think that’s spot on. I mean we do not live in a country where voting is mandatory, and there are plenty of occasions when I look at all of the candidates in a race and say, none of the above, I just don’t want to give my positive endorsement on the personal and moral level to any of these characters, and luckily, nothing I do matters, particularly in national elections. Now, I say in the piece, if you know for sure that you’re going to be the deciding vote in an election, feel free to vote. That’s fine.
Roger Ream [00:10:01] The research you showed found a handful of elections in the last hundred some years.
Katherine Mangu-Ward [00:10:08] A vanishingly small number, and almost all of those you could quibble with, right? So, there are cases where, when an election is that close, it will often go to a runoff. It’ll be subject to a court challenge. So, even in those cases, you can’t necessarily argue that one person voting a certain way would have tipped the outcome. And I think it’s important to keep that in mind. I will say I have many Reason colleagues who share your view, who basically say, “I vote as an act of cheering for the team, as an act of civic solidarity,” and of course, I think participating in politics is important. I’m a political journalist. It would be stupid for me to think otherwise, but I think the act of voting is overrated and sometimes people do it in lieu of more meaningful engagement.
Roger Ream [00:10:51] Well, I thought your piece was very thorough. You covered almost all the arguments. Another hot topic right now is ChatGPT. I remember a piece you wrote, maybe it was a few years ago, about robots, and I think the subhead or the pull line from it was that robots were taking away your job in life as a wife and a mother of children, and they’re doing all the work.
Katherine Mangu-Ward [00:11:20] I’m happy for them to do that. Sounds great. I was delighted to hand over vacuuming to a Roomba and never think about it again.
Roger Ream [00:11:27] Well, are you ready to turn over the editing and writing of Reason to ChatGPT?
Katherine Mangu-Ward [00:11:31] Absolutely, yes. No, I mean, I think at this point obviously ChatGPT is still a fledgling technology in many ways, and many people have documented this crucial problem that still exists, which is that ChatGPT seems to be too obliging to certain requests, and it will cheerfully give you untruths in a compelling, believable way – that it’s not actually strictly bound by things that are accurate. Accuracy is a key pillar of journalism, and so until we can sort that out, I think we still have a really important role for humans doing journalism. I also think that there are a lot of things to be gained from AI in the day-to-day business of journalism, including, for instance, we have built a robot Katherine Mangu-Ward, who can read articles, and she sounds like me.
Roger Ream [00:12:29] Oh, is that right?
Katherine Mangu-Ward [00:12:30] In fact, I could be her right now. You don’t even know.
Roger Ream [00:12:34] So, you can listen to the Reason articles online.
Katherine Mangu-Ward [00:12:36] Exactly. So, we’ll be rolling that out soon, and that’s an example of a real gain in efficiency. I’m not going to sit there and read all these articles, but if robot me wants to read them, great.
Roger Ream [00:12:46] Probably mispronounces a few things here and there.
Katherine Mangu-Ward [00:12:48] A couple things, but honestly, I mispronounce a few things too.
Roger Ream [00:12:51] No, that’s true. I sometimes listen to The Wall Street Journal in the morning when I’m coming to work through their Audible app, and I always wonder why they can’t fix the mispronunciation. Like today there was a story in the Journal about the FISA Court and they kept calling the FISA Court. She just couldn’t get it right, the robot lady.
Katherine Mangu-Ward [00:13:19] They’re going to get better and better, though, and I think there are a whole bunch of other examples, including automated transcription. You know, it used to be that you’d have to have an army of interns to type out these interviews. Now, you can do it very cheaply, very quickly. Video correction, a bunch of other things.
Roger Ream [00:13:35] Now, in preparing for this conversation today, I did go back and listen to your TEDx Talk, a wonderful TED talk, which I highly recommend to everyone to go to TEDx Talk and listen to Katherine’s short speech, 11 or 12 minutes on capitalism. Then you also did a debate with John Mackey on your side, formerly the CEO and the founder of Whole Foods, debating the topic of “Is Capitalism a Blessing?” I must tell you in that debate, which I also recommend to anyone wanting especially to have young people listen to it, your opponents who defended socialism never smiled, never laughed.
Katherine Mangu-Ward [00:14:23] They were dour, and strictly speaking, they won that debate. I’m not sure what they were so grumpy about.
Roger Ream [00:14:26] You had most of the audience on your side.
Katherine Mangu-Ward [00:14:30] But yes, we debated some actual socialists, and I think that’s one thing that’s great about IQ Squared, who sponsored that debate. They’ve rebranded, they’re now called Open to Debate, and they really do try to get people who have genuine, deep disagreements instead of just kind of casual point scoring and “gotchas,” and it was a fun conversation because I do think a lot is at stake in that question in defending capitalism in a moment when it’s so unpopular.
Roger Ream [00:15:01] Well, this is a simplistic question, and I don’t mean it in that way, but why is it that people in polls seem to not like capitalism, especially young people?
Katherine Mangu-Ward [00:15:12] I wish I knew the deep answer to that question. I think there are a bunch of possibilities. One is when you ask people if they like capitalism, what they hear is something like, do you like your job and your house, or your job and the prices at the grocery store, or something like that. They pay you to go to work for a reason – a lot of people don’t like their jobs. I think people kind of associate the system of capitalism with these negative things. Whereas I would say: “no, you should associate capitalism with almost everything that is good in your life, including the physical, commercial abundance that we exist in, but also a lot of the personal freedoms that we have.” Freedom of speech is great as a legal principle, but it’s really facilitated by all the cheap mass media and personalized communication technologies that exist thanks to capitalism. I think there’s a question of, “Are you vaguely discontented with the present system that people are responding to when they say they don’t like capitalism?” Of course, if you ask more detailed questions like: are you planning to move to Venezuela? It’s amazing how no one wants to do that, right? If you say: well, would you like to see more restrictions on trade or much higher taxation, or would you like the government to provide X, Y and Z? People tend to quite quickly shift their position. I am worried about the brand of capitalism, but I do think that you can overstate how important those polls are in terms of our future economic system in this country.
Roger Ream [00:17:01] Well, that raises the question of whether we should abandon that word capitalism, because some of the polls, if they say free enterprise or maybe economic freedom, it’ll fare much better. I hate to give it up, and even though it was coined, I guess, by Karl Marx, I think it’s hard to give up labels. Then you get to the word socialism, and that reminds me of Russ Roberts, the economist who runs Econ Talk. He was speaking to our students, and he, I think, just offhandedly once said he was talking about how capitalism is very bottom up and socialism is very top down. In fact, we should reverse the names because what we call capitalism is a very social system of people cooperating voluntarily. Capital is the head dictating things down, but of course, you can’t switch labels that easily.
Katherine Mangu-Ward [00:17:55] Yeah, I’m not sure that the socialists would agree to this trade.
Roger Ream [00:17:58] I admire that you decided just to say the blessings of capitalism and give your TEDx Talk on why I love or why I like capitalism.
Katherine Mangu-Ward [00:18:06] Yeah, I do think it’s important to redeem that word rather than abandon it and move on. I think this is also true of the word libertarianism, which certainly has its branding problems. There isn’t really anything that is broadly understood to refer to that collection of ideas. I think it would be wrong to abandon the word because it would be perceived in many cases correctly as abandoning some of the underlying principles that are important. Of course, you know, the capital and capitalism might be had, or it might be literally an accumulation of capita, of investment capital, say. I also think most of the alternatives aren’t very good. I mean, I love, love, love the work of Deirdre McCloskey, for example, but she suggests that we use the term “exchange tested mutual betterment” or something. That’s right. That’s true. That’s a better description. I don’t know that it’s going to catch on.
Roger Ream [00:19:07] Well, in your Intelligence Squared debate, you talked about the double thank you moment when you buy a cup of coffee, and you say thank you and the person selling you the coffee says thank you. How do you capture that? I’m not sure Deirdre’s got it with that expression.
Katherine Mangu-Ward [00:19:25] But certainly her work captures the magic of that moment and the virtues that have to be present in a society to make that moment possible, right? You don’t get a double thank you when it’s clear to everyone which side really holds the power in the relationship, it must be a condition of genuine equality in the market, which I think modern Americans often enjoy.
Roger Ream [00:19:48] And we run into problems with the labels, liberal and conservative and classical liberal. I read in Reason, white liberal is now a term that’s being used to disparage, I guess, libertarians. Let’s talk about the word libertarian, or not the word, but the philosophy. A few years back there was talk of the libertarian moment. To hear some conservatives, new right conservatives today speak, they seem to think libertarians have been running the show for too long and it’s time to change, but what is the state of ideas of liberty or liberty-loving ideas? Is Reason finding new audiences for them? Are young people coming to your website to read it?
Katherine Mangu-Ward [00:20:35] So I think COVID was a really interesting moment for libertarianism as a brand or as a kind of cluster of ideas, because there were a lot of people who previously might have identified in other ways who the lesson was brought home very personally and very directly how much control government has over their lives, and they went looking around like: who’s objecting to this? I think there was a group of people who found elements of libertarianism, particularly school choice, resistance to the public health establishment, a bunch of other things like that in this COVID moment. I think if you want to be optimistic, you could say: I don’t think we’ve fully seen how that is going to play out in our politics yet. I mean, I think in some ways the candidacy of Ron DeSantis reflects an interest in and public approval for how he ran things in Florida in comparison to some of the rest of country during COVID.
Katherine Mangu-Ward [00:21:38] Now, I do not think Ron DeSantis is a libertarian, to be very clear, but I do think that kind of stance is appealing to people. It is not the libertarian moment. You know, as my colleague Stephanie Slade, former Novak Fellow, has written very, very eloquently, there has been a convergence on both the left and the right in which they are abandoning liberal principles in the classical liberal sense of pluralism and toleration and limited intervention by the state, and instead pursuing a kind of winner takes all: if you seize power, you get to set the rules type agenda, and that is about as far from libertarianism as you can get.
Roger Ream [00:22:22] Yeah, the idea that if we’ll seize power, we’ll use government to advance our agenda.
Katherine Mangu-Ward [00:22:25] We’re going to use it for good. We promise. For good. Yeah, sure. But what happens when the other guys take over?
Roger Ream [00:22:31] In the Intelligence Squared debate, you took on the role of giving the moral case for capitalism. Some people might reject libertarianism for feeling it’s more libertinism, that the moral arguments aren’t there or lacks the attention to the idea of virtues to be pursued as a free person. Do you think we need to be more effective at making the moral case for people being free if we help to maintain a free society in this country?
Katherine Mangu-Ward [00:23:11] So, I do think that the moral case is so crucial to the case for libertarianism, both from the very, very basic point of view that virtue not freely chosen isn’t virtue. That’s, I think at the simplest level, if you want a virtuous society, liberty is a precondition. There’s simply no negotiating around that. If you force people to do a good thing, they didn’t do a good thing. They were just scared. So, I think that’s the first layer. I also think that for people of many political stripes, including many people on the left, those who value consent can see that moral value in capitalism, right? If a transaction is not one that is mutually agreeable, you don’t enter it. At least that’s the theory. So, I think if that’s one of your guiding moral principles, capitalism has something to offer you there. I do think I am ultimately somewhere a little more on the libertine end of the spectrum than you are, Roger, and I think that does bring a lot of people to libertarianism. So, there’s this tricky balance, which is, we want to say as a movement and as a magazine: hey, do you want to do something that society isn’t so sure you should be allowed to do? Let’s really interrogate whether that’s anybody else’s business and especially whether that’s the state’s business. So, I think that, you know, historically, a lot of the causes that have brought people to libertarianism, such as ending the draft, gay marriage, ending the war on drugs – these are all things that can and should be cast as limits on state power, but they are also opportunities to live in the way you want to live. So, if that’s libertinism, then I guess sign me up.
Roger Ream [00:25:10] I commented to you recently that, not in the same words, but the Constitution, I think, has like 18 or 19 functions that it gives to the Congress in Article one, section eight, and it’s gone way beyond those functions, of course, but even in those limited functions that it was given in the Constitution, it does very poorly, perhaps because it’s gone so far beyond them, but we might all agree that it’s important to have a limited government that provides a justice system and policing at some level, national defense, let’s say, at the federal level, policing preferably at the local level. But it seems that you can’t limit it. I mean, that’s our history has been – not entirely, you cited some areas where we’ve seen expansion of liberties. Obviously, the ending of slavery, the legalization of gay marriage, more rights for women, legitimate rights that they were denied, like the right to vote. But at the same time, government just keeps growing all the time. What gives someone confidence that you can limit government in a way that you even want to have a government? And not be an anarchist, which I’m sure you have readers who are anarchists.
Katherine Mangu-Ward [00:26:29] I think that anarchists belong in the libertarian coalition for this very reason, that it really is quite hard once you get down to it, to articulate what is the principle that makes any state power moral, but not this state, not that one, not the one I don’t like.
Roger Ream [00:26:49] Or even if you find it, how do you keep it limited?
Katherine Mangu-Ward [00:26:51] And how do you constrain it unless you abolish it? I think there are, of course, arguments also that even if you abolish state power, anarchist systems have a habit of collapsing back into state systems. We are very, very clearly in a trend where we are nationalizing all manner of political concerns. We are not in a revolutionary period. We are making drag queen story hour in San Francisco the business of the president of the United States, and that trend is not going to abate. So, we are very much in a political moment where any kind of respect for what Congress can and cannot do or what the executive should or should not do, I unfortunately just don’t see that centered in our political conversation at all. That’s one thing Reason tries to do is just day after day, year after year, remind people: hey, did you know to declare war, Congress should probably be in on that one? We try.
Roger Ream [00:27:58] I give credit to James Madison for probably doing the best you could do in drafting a constitution of limited government by setting up this system of checks and balances where you hopefully have three branches that were checking each other, you’d have local and state government trying to check the federal government. It worked reasonably well for a few centuries.
Katherine Mangu-Ward [00:28:20] I think it’s still working reasonably well. I struggle with how optimistic or pessimistic to be. I do think in comparison to almost any other nation that we would look to as a potential model, we’re still doing pretty well. I think it can be easy to give into despair and that we shouldn’t, because, at the very least, even though government is growing at an inappropriate rate, the market is growing faster still. Like the world outside of government is getting bigger and weirder and more interesting and enabling more exciting innovation, despite the effort of the government. As long as that balance remains in place, we’re going to be okay. I do think that balance is under threat, and that’s why I think what TFAS does and what Reason does is so important, because it is kind of reminding people that we should put guardrails.
Roger Ream [00:29:19] I mean, it is probably the best time ever to be alive, given everything we have available to us. At the flick of a switch, we have our electricity, we have Tylenol when we have a headache, we have so many great achievements, and life expectancy is long, and there’s probably no other better place to be living than the United States.
Katherine Mangu-Ward [00:29:42] We hardly ever have to go to the post office anymore.
Roger Ream [00:29:45] That’s true.
Katherine Mangu-Ward [00:29:46] What more could we ask?
Roger Ream [00:29:48] Except I’m a big fan of the post office because I serve on the Postal Service Stamp Committee.
Katherine Mangu-Ward [00:29:52] I know. They still have very nice stamps, but we don’t have to go wait in line.
Roger Ream [00:29:56] I don’t know if people are using them, but post offices have improved their service because there’s competition. UPS has UPS stores everywhere.
Katherine Mangu-Ward [00:30:05] I think that’s right actually. Hopefully we’ll see the same thing in the education sector and a bunch of other places.
Roger Ream [00:30:11] We’ve seen a lot there. Are we at a tipping point when it comes to things like school choice?
Katherine Mangu-Ward [00:30:16] I think we are. I think that is a place where incremental policy change has kind of reached an inflection point. You know, people have been talking about charter schools and vouchers and school choice for decades, and it has been a tough battle because it’s hard to compete with free. Of course, public schools aren’t free, but they’re perceived as free. I think that the combination of COVID and, just in general, the extremely low quality of public education in this country and increasing awareness of that, plus some very clever policy innovators who have worked to push education savings accounts, money follows the child, that kind of thing, that have just slightly created a different slate of incentives for people who want to try something different for their kids.
Roger Ream [00:31:12] Well, there seems to be a boom as well in creation of private schools around the country of all kinds. Yeah, it’s encouraging. I recall when I was in arguments in the distant past where people couldn’t imagine education being provided other than by a public school.
Katherine Mangu-Ward [00:31:33] Right, and it’s crazy, right? Because people have always had school choice, both in the form of moving to the neighborhood where you want to get your kid into the good school and private schools, which have always been a part of the American education economy. You know, there’s this astonishing pattern that the members of Congress, governors, members of state legislatures, so many of them send their children to private schools. And you have to say: why should you have this opportunity, and your constituents who have fewer connections and fewer resources don’t? I just think it’s a very clear argument. You know, it really puts people on notice for hypocrisy. It can be trans-partisan and it’s making headway.
Roger Ream [00:32:18] I used to argue that we value education almost as highly as we value religion in this country, and at least 30 years ago there are churches on every corner, and there’ll be schools everywhere for anyone who wants to go. Just like fast-food restaurants everywhere.
Katherine Mangu-Ward [00:32:38] Due to incredibly complicated zoning requirements, the only place you can put a private school is in a church because they have a zoning exemption. This is a great example of how, to my mind, so many kinds of libertarian hobby horses or pet issues wind up connecting to each other. If we didn’t have such ridiculously overcomplicated land use policies and traffic regulations, it would be easier to open schools. That’s one of the major barriers, especially in cities, to opening a school. So it all kind of comes together. You know, you must give people choice in so many areas of their lives for them to really be innovative.
Roger Ream [00:33:17] Well, that’s a very much unseen problem that people don’t recognize the impact of government policies on what exists today. They attribute it to the market. If something’s not being provided, if they can’t get something, they don’t understand that land use policy it’s a great idea, the cost of housing, the impact of government on the cost of a right.
Katherine Mangu-Ward [00:33:39] Student loans are another example where people somehow perceive this to be a market phenomenon when it’s very clearly a government phenomenon. I think, as you say, there’s the seen in the unseen. I used to always wonder, why isn’t everyone a libertarian? Because everyone’s a libertarian about their own thing, right? So, you get a ticket because you haven’t mowed your grass. Suddenly you’re like: well, that law is unjust. You know, you get patted down by the TSA in a particularly aggressive way and you’re like: hey, why does the TSA even exist? When people come in direct contact with the state, they so often have this ‘aha’ moment. Why is this thing being done by government and so badly? But they don’t globalize that. They don’t extrapolate it to: oh, maybe this is true everywhere, maybe this is true always. I think part of our job is to communicate that this phenomenon is everywhere and always when it comes to bureaucratic and security and other procedures.
Roger Ream [00:34:51] Perhaps. I mean, I’m thinking of all the times people unfortunately might say: oh, I deserve that. I deserve that ticket. I should have cut my lawn earlier.
Katherine Mangu-Ward [00:35:02] Maybe. I think people usually don’t say that about the lawn. They usually say it about serious crime, for instance. I think there’s broad-based agreement that if somebody robs your house, they should go to jail. I think libertarians mostly would say: yeah, we agree on that one, but then what about all these other crimes that we don’t agree on? Maybe we should step back from those.
Roger Ream [00:35:25] To talk more about Reason, and it’s more than a magazine – you have a website that puts excellent things up. Talk a little bit about the Reason website as a resource.
Katherine Mangu-Ward [00:35:40] So, we’re about 55 years old now, and for many years we were just a print magazine, monthly print magazine, and we still are, but Reason was quite early to the internet. If you go look in the Wayback Machine, you can see these, I won’t say that they were the pinnacle of graphic design, but they were there. We also were very early to online video, and so we have a huge video project. Reason TV is our YouTube channel. It started out with support from Drew Carey of “The Price is Right” fame, who did a series with us to kick that off. We are also increasingly just looking for ways to be where people are. So, that’s Instagram. It’s TikTok, Facebook, of course. Part of the reason that we are on so many platforms and that we look to be so many places is because we’re a mission driven, 501(c)3. So our goal isn’t exclusively driving subscriptions or getting the maximum number of clicks. It’s reaching people with our ideas, and sometimes that means you’ve got to do them in a bunch of different forms and see what sticks. So Reason.com is the core of our production, the vast majority of what we produce goes there, but increasingly you can see those headlines and snippets and video clips and all kinds of other things in many other places.
Roger Ream [00:37:14] The Reason Roundtable, is that new?
Katherine Mangu-Ward [00:37:18] We’ve been doing that for a while now. But podcasting, of course, along with newsletters, is this additional category that’s really been booming lately. Substack is the home for many of those, we do not use Substack, but the reason that those are attractive is partially because it’s much, much harder to throttle those two forms, right? So, Facebook can decide and has decided that it doesn’t want to carry your content and there’s nothing you can do about it, really. There are private companies, they should be allowed to do what they want. I think one answer that we collectively got with the Twitter files and with some of Reason reporting on Facebook as well is that there is more government interference in that market than you might guess, pressure from the CDC and others to restrict information. But podcasts are available. This podcast, I’m sure, on many, many platforms, and there isn’t a single arbiter of who gets to consume what podcast, and the same is true of newsletter. So we have the Reason Roundtable, we have the recent interview, we’ve hosted the Soho Forum debates on our podcast feed and many, many other things that we are just always experimenting with because we recognize that that’s a direct line to our consumers.
Roger Ream [00:38:40] Does Reason Foundation do more beyond that with policy work?
Katherine Mangu-Ward [00:38:44] So, the Reason Magazine is published by the Reason Foundation, and it’s based in L.A, and there’s a whole other arm that does mostly state-based, although increasingly at the national level as well, as you say, policy research. They, for instance, do a lot of work on public sector pensions, on marijuana legalization at the state level and many, many other issues. Transportation policy is a big one because there are places where libertarians have made inroads in being genuinely influential in public policy, and Reason’s goal is to kind of provide expertise and counsel and research to friendly and helpful legislators who might want to try and make a difference in their state.
Roger Ream [00:39:30] I’ve known Bob Poole for many years, former editor, and he’s always done great work on transportation issues.
Katherine Mangu-Ward [00:39:40] He’s still our director of transportation, all these years later.
Roger Ream [00:39:43] He’s had ideas for decades that slowly get adopted by government to help move traffic faster or whatever. It’s amazing how sometimes it takes so long. I think he first proposed the simple idea that, I don’t know, they have at least in Chicago, I don’t know why they don’t have more places do reversible commuter lanes in cities where traffic generally flows one way in the morning, one way in the evening. Why not have lanes that are reversible?
Katherine Mangu-Ward [00:40:08] This is a great example of what happens when you deprive people, decisionmakers, of price signals. If there were prices anywhere in the system and now there are with toll lanes, you would immediately get the feedback: hey, the lanes going east at rush hour in the morning aren’t valuable, we need more lanes going west and vice versa, and that’s a solvable problem which nobody had the right incentives to solve until Bob figured out how to bring some pricing into it.
Roger Ream [00:40:34] Yeah, because the cost was born by commuters sitting in their cars.
Katherine Mangu-Ward [00:40:38] Who cares about those guys?
Roger Ream [00:40:40] Well, in your TED Talk, you use the phrase that capitalism is an emergent system, and I think you’re touching on that now, that it’s not a design system, that prices convey information. Say something about this idea of emergent systems.
Katherine Mangu-Ward [00:40:56] Yeah, I really think that’s a central idea, like a really important idea that people undervalue because they do, again, identify capitalism often with employment. So, they think: well, under capitalism I have a boss and that boss is mean to me. Of course, everyone has a boss in every system. It’s a question of what the balance of power is between you and your boss. So, when we talk about emergent systems, what we’re talking about is, are systems where if someone has a good idea and they can figure out how to convince other people that it’s a good idea, that idea really has a chance to grow and thrive, and that is quite different than a system where you have to convince just one guy who’s in charge or a very small handful of guys who are in charge that your idea is good. Those guys aren’t going to really know which ideas are good, and even if they happen to get it right, the implementation is probably going to get screwed up and then it’ll just be funded more and more into the rest of eternity. It’s just such a crucial difference between capitalism and top-down systems, and you know, this is the idea of the gale of creative destruction, right? You know that capitalism is working when companies fail. I think sometimes people see a big company collapse and they say: oh, it’s late-stage capitalism, we’re doomed. No, that’s exactly right. We want to see that.
Roger Ream [00:42:21] You related the statistic that I’ve followed at times in the past. I learned from a great free market economist, Ben Rogge, who gave this great speech many times. I’ve sat in it on Monopoly, and he used statistic that you used in your TED Talk about the fact that I think 90% of the Fortune 500 companies from 1955 when they put out the first list of Fortune 500 don’t exist today. They’ve either gone out of business, they merged into other companies, and I tell my conservative friends who are worried about Facebook and Google. I put money on the fact that 10 years from now, a shadow of what they are today, or maybe it’s going to be 20 years.
Katherine Mangu-Ward [00:43:04] I think you’re probably safe to bet 10.
Roger Ream [00:43:06] We can’t imagine it today, Google not being, you know, the dominant force of search engines and things, but new technology comes along, and you said Facebook is shrinking already.
Katherine Mangu-Ward [00:43:19] Right. It’s an odd kind of ahistorical view because, of course, we all know that the companies, the brands that once dominated our lives, we maybe haven’t thought about them in a while, maybe they don’t exist anymore, and that’s true in so many areas. Right? It’s true in terms of your car, your transportation, it’s true in terms of the media that you consume. It’s true in terms of the housewares and gadgets that you buy. There’s just a lot of churns in a capitalist economy, or at least a somewhat free market economy like our own, and that’s what’s inevitable. None of these companies are going to be around forever. You know, death is inevitable, and then God.
Roger Ream [00:44:03] I know we’re getting up on our time limit here, but say something about weirdos, the role of weirdos.
Katherine Mangu-Ward [00:44:10] I gave the TEDx Talk, and it had a kind of theme in it about how the people who power some of this innovation and this very important failure tend to be weird. They’re weird people. Of course, I had Elon Musk in mind, Steve Jobs, some others. Musk was at the TEDx Talk. This was right when he was buying Twitter. So, I will say I am and sort of remain a Musk fan. I do wish he would maybe focus on rockets and electric cars and not so much on social media, but I think that is true that people who have unusual ideas that are perceived as dangerous in other systems, they get beaten down, they get shut down, they sometimes get killed or imprisoned, which we see in China all the time. Not just businesspeople, but artists and writers and creative people. I think there are many people who would say: well, I want to make space in society for people who are different. That’s a real important tenant on the left that we want to be welcoming and open to people who in some way differ from the mainstream. I just think capitalism is the way to do that. To say: we’re going to rely on government to beneficently make space for people who challenge the status quo, like we’ve seen how that goes, and that is not generally how governments roll.
Roger Ream [00:45:49] So, it raises the question of why creative people so often are not supporters of capitalism or libertarian ideas. Maybe they are supporters of libertarian ideas, even if they don’t use that label. Like you said, they want freedom for themselves. Milton Friedman pointed this out: businessmen want freedom for everyone else, but they want protection for themselves, and artists are the opposite, or the academics.
Katherine Mangu-Ward [00:46:17] That’s exactly right. I think at least part of that answer is that we don’t do a good job of educating people about economics in this country, and that’s one thing that TFAS does that I think is really important. Just some very, very basic economic literacy would go a long way, I think, toward giving people a grounding for why a capitalist system is going to be more hospitable to artists or is going to be a place where people with unusual ideas can flourish.
Roger Ream [00:46:46] Well, say something before we close to young people who might be listening, that you could encourage them to think about a career in journalism, because it looks like journalism has been changing so much, and will the jobs be there? What is the job of a journalist today? What would you say to encourage young people to consider that career?
Katherine Mangu-Ward [00:47:06] I guess, you know, thinking back to where we started in this conversation, I had this idea as a young person that wanting to be a journalist was functionally the same thing as wanting to be a star in the NBA or a rocket scientist or something that was just open to people who were so anomalously successful and talented that I couldn’t even think about it. It was a product of luck and talent beyond my reach. That’s not true. Journalism, in many ways, it’s a profession just like any other that rewards certain virtues, including being thorough and thoughtful, including being conscientious, including making promises and then keeping them, and if you feel like you have those attributes and you were thinking about applying them, say, to being a lawyer or a consultant, you know, journalism is a lot more fun. It also might be a rewarding career in a way that that some of these other more conventional professions aren’t. I will say the other advice I used to always give young journalists was that ramen noodles are better if you put an egg in them. Journalism continues to not pay well. So, I do think that you should put that on the label, but it’s rewarding in so many other ways, and I think if you see yourself as a person who cares about ideas or you just like talking to interesting people, journalism is a good gig.
Roger Ream [00:48:40] Well, you got back to what you started when you said you were at Yale, and it was fun. You got that fun in there again?
Katherine Mangu-Ward [00:48:48] It’s a fun job.
Roger Ream [00:48:49] I imagine there were moments, even working for an alternative paper at Yale – were there moments where it was not as fun, because the pressure of the environment there that might have been hostile to what you were doing?
Katherine Mangu-Ward [00:49:01] I think even when you’re in the minority or even when you’re in a crunch time, that really can be fun. I think you see that spirit in a negative way in the trollism, cynicism of our politics, the idea of picking fights just for the sake of infuriating the other side. I think there is a kind of joy in the good fight and maybe making people a little bit angry, but also opening their minds to different and new ideas. Certainly, my experience as a collegiate journalist and as the editor of Reason is that sometimes you’re just like, I’m going to put pickleball on the cover, which is our next issue, and use it to make a point about government subsidy and regulation because it’s okay to have fun with it.
Roger Ream [00:49:47] I’ll have to read that. I’m not into pickleball.
Katherine Mangu-Ward [00:49:50] You will be after you read this article.
Roger Ream [00:49:52] There are courts behind my house that are occupied 24/7 now with people playing pickleball. So, is it a libertarian sport or un-libertarian sport to play?
Katherine Mangu-Ward [00:49:59] Well, you know, our argument is that the minute that it became popular the government both wanted to ban it and subsidize it. This is the nature of politics in 2023. Pickleball is no exception.
Roger Ream [00:50:13] Well, this has been great. Thank you. It was a little roundabout. I take the blame for that. I was taking us in some circles there, but I think we covered a lot, and it was very enjoyable. Thank you. My guest, Katherine Mangu-Ward, past Novak Fellow and a recipient of our 2021 Kenneth Y. Tomlinson Award, which we have subsequently renamed – though it could have been called that when we gave it to you – It’s the Kenneth Y. Tomlinson Award for Courage in Journalism, and you are certainly courageous in what you do. Last year we gave it to Jimmy Lai, who, of course, is sitting in a jail cell in Hong Kong, and we’ll be giving it this year to Benjamin Hall, who at great sacrifice lost a limb and suffered a lot of personal injuries covering the war in Ukraine, as a good journalist does. That’ll be November 14th. Thank you, Katherine. Pleasure to be with you today. Thank you for listening to the Liberty and Leadership Podcast. Please don’t forget to subscribe, download like or share the show on Apple, Spotify or YouTube, or wherever you listen to your podcasts. If you like this episode, I ask you to rate and review it, and if you have a comment or question for the show, please drop us an email at podcast@TFAS.org. The Liberty and Leadership Podcast is produced at kglobal studios in Washington, D.C. I’m your host, Roger Ream, and until next time, show courage in things large and small.
About the Podcast
TFAS has reached more than 46,000 students and professionals through academic programs, fellowships and seminars. Representing more than 140 countries, TFAS alumni are courageous leaders throughout the world forging careers in politics, government, public policy, business, philanthropy, law and the media.
Join TFAS President Roger Ream ’76 as he reconnects with these outstanding alumni to share experiences, swap career stories, and find out what makes their leadership journey unique. With prominent congressmen, judges and journalists among the mix, each episode is sure to excite your interest in what makes TFAS special.
If you have a comment or question for the show, please email podcast@TFAS.org.
View future episodes and subscribe at TFAS.org/podcast.