Micah Saul: This project is built on a hypoth­e­sis. There are moments in his­to­ry when the sta­tus quo fails. Political sys­tems prove insuf­fi­cient, reli­gious ideas unsat­is­fac­to­ry, social struc­tures intol­er­a­ble. These are moments of crisis. 

Aengus Anderson: During some of these moments, great minds have entered into con­ver­sa­tion and torn apart inher­it­ed ideas, dethron­ing truths, com­bin­ing old thoughts, and cre­at­ing new ideas. They’ve shaped the norms of future generations.

Saul: Every era has its issues, but do ours war­rant The Conversation? If they do, is it happening?

Anderson: We’ll be explor­ing these sorts of ques­tions through con­ver­sa­tions with a cross-section of American thinkers, peo­ple who are cri­tiquing some aspect of nor­mal­i­ty and offer­ing an alter­na­tive vision of the future. People who might be hav­ing The Conversation.

Saul: Like a real con­ver­sa­tion, this project is going to be sub­jec­tive. It will fre­quent­ly change direc­tions, con­nect unex­pect­ed ideas, and wan­der between the tan­gi­ble and the abstract. It will leave us with far more ques­tions than answers because after all, nobody has a monop­oly on dream­ing about the future.

Anderson: I’m Aengus Anderson.

Saul: And I’m Micah Saul. And you’re lis­ten­ing to The Conversation.

Micah Saul: Well howdy, sir. It’s just you and I tonight.

Aengus Anderson: It is. Neil’s off duty, you’re on duty. Hand the baton, change the shift. Something like that.

Saul: So today, Oliver Porter.

Anderson: We’re tak­ing a big change in direc­tions, you know. The last con­ver­sa­tion with Puck was set on this big nation­al, glob­al, strate­gic stage. And now we are going down to the micro lev­el. We’re going down to Sandy Springs, Georgia, where Oliver Porter is the man who helped Sandy Springs incor­po­rate, and in the process of incor­po­rat­ing become large­ly privately-run.

Saul: Right. This is a sort of new idea in city gov­ern­ment. It’s the public-private part­ner­ship.

Anderson: It’s inter­est­ing because it’s one of the things that’s new and yet it’s an exten­sion of an ide­ol­o­gy that is old, right. You know, in this project we talk a lot about the free mar­ket. That’s a dom­i­nant strain in our thought. It’s one of our biggest mod­els for devel­op­ment. It’s one of the nor­mals, I think, that we cri­tique a lot. 

And yet what’s inter­est­ing is of course when that idea, applied to the mar­ket, gets extend­ed into oth­er places; when you pri­va­tize gov­ern­ment func­tions. And lat­er in this project we’re actu­al­ly going to have a con­ver­sa­tion with Walter Block, an econ­o­mist down at Loyola New Orleans. And he’s going to take it to its most log­i­cal extreme, where you real­ly talk about pri­va­ti­za­tion and what that means for the indi­vid­ual. But here we’re going to look at it in the urban con­text. So Oliver’s going to take us through that. And since Sandy Springs has been incor­po­rat­ed he’s worked on a lot of oth­er incor­po­ra­tion efforts in cities in Georgia but also in oth­er states, and inter­na­tion­al­ly as well in Japan.

Saul: Right. He’s writ­ten a cou­ple books, one about the cre­ation of Sandy Springs, and anoth­er more gen­er­al one called Public/Private Partnerships for Local Governments. He came to this from the cor­po­rate world. He was an exec­u­tive at AT&T.

Anderson: And he just lived in Sandy Springs and so he kind of fell into this and has undert— I mean, he’s kind of the guy you talk to when you want to talk to peo­ple about this new trend in urban man­age­ment. So, let’s talk to him.

Oliver Porter: It had been an almost thirty-year strug­gle to move to city­hood. The leg­is­la­ture con­trols that in Georgia. And the dri­ver for it was prin­ci­pal­ly to be able to be in con­trol of our future. And that exem­pli­fies itself in the area of zon­ing, plan­ning, zon­ing, per­mit­ting and those sorts of things. The sit­u­a­tion was that the coun­ty seemed to us to be basi­cal­ly approv­ing any­thing; busi­ness, build­ings, what­ev­er it want­ed here as long as it gen­er­at­ed rev­enue. Which they in turn then could take and spend in oth­er part[s] of the coun­ty. So you could almost feel this whoosh­ing sound as mon­ey left town. 

But that was­n’t the real dri­ver. I think peo­ple would have con­tin­ued to pay the tax­es and been sat­is­fied if we had got­ten rea­son­able ser­vice and if we felt there was some local con­trol over the future of the community.

Anderson: Now, when I think of oth­er peo­ple who’ve faced sort of local con­trol issues, they may have incor­po­rat­ed in a tra­di­tion­al way. Why did Sandy Springs choose to incor­po­rate and explore a total­ly new option?

Porter: It was a mat­ter of neces­si­ty, to some degree, and a mat­ter of phi­los­o­phy to oth­er degrees. In the bill that we final­ly got through the leg­is­la­ture, all it did was pro­vide a ref­er­en­dum for the peo­ple to vote. But it pro­vid­ed for a very short time­frame for estab­lish­ing the city, and it gave no help in the area— There was no fund­ing, no staffing, and most impor­tant­ly no author­i­ty. And by that I mean we could not hire a per­son, buy or lease a sys­tem or any equip­ment and cer­tain­ly no build­ings, do any­thing until the moment the city was incor­po­rat­ed. And at that moment it had to be a fully-operational city. And it was going to be the fifth-largest city in the state at birth. It was not an insignif­i­cant town. We had focused all those years so hard on fight­ing the leg­is­la­tion, no one had real­ly put togeth­er a method for imple­ment­ing the city, and I did agree to take on that respon­si­bil­i­ty with not a lot of time to do it. 

It became obvi­ous to me that with the prob­lem of no author­i­ty, we just could not form a tra­di­tion­al city. And I began to fran­ti­cal­ly search for alter­na­tives. And I sup­pose it’s my cor­po­rate back­ground in part gave me a lot of con­fi­dence in the capa­bil­i­ties of pri­vate indus­try. So I began to look at the idea of well, could a pri­vate com­pa­ny or com­pa­nies do this for us? Became con­vinced that they could. And drew up fair­ly mas­sive RFP to go out to seek bids for com­pa­nies to do this job.

So that was on June 29th, and we had a city December 1st. We had to select a com­pa­ny, then we had to find and nego­ti­ate an actu­al con­tract. The beau­ty of it is on December 1st, at one minute after mid­night, our coun­cil met—brand new coun­cil met for the first time, and we had a fully-operational city.

Structurally the only change between this and a tra­di­tion­al city is in one of three areas. A tra­di­tion­al city in this coun­try is set up with a group of elect­ed offi­cials, a pro­fes­sion­al class, a city man­ag­er, and then the work­er bees. The only dif­fer­ence in our mod­el— Elected offi­cials are still there, they set the pol­i­cy, con­trol every­thing. People orig­i­nal­ly were wor­ried oh, a com­pa­ny’s going to run the city— [crosstalk]

Anderson: Right, it will be anti-democratic.

Porter: No, they have noth­ing to do with pol­i­cy, noth­ing to do with set­ting the bud­get. It’s still just like it was. So, you just removed one lev­el and said no, that’s no longer the work­er bees, that’s the com­pa­ny; it’s the only difference. 

Anderson: What’s bet­ter about this type of city?

Porter: Well, I think you look at cities from two prin­ci­pal mea­sure­ments of suc­cess. One is effi­cien­cy, and the sec­ond is respon­sive­ness. Is it respon­sive to the needs of the peo­ple? Bringing it clos­er to them has made it far more respon­sive. From an effi­cien­cy stand­point, the city was formed with­out increas­ing tax­es one dime. All around us dur­ing these eco­nom­ic times we’ve seen cities, coun­ties, go into trou­ble. Many oth­er cities are actu­al­ly bank­rupt except for sub­si­dies they receive from state or fed­er­al. If they had to stand on their own they’d be bank­rupt. During that time, we’ve not increased tax­es, we have cre­at­ed a reserve of about $25 mil­lion, we have increased our cap­i­tal spend­ing, all with­out one cent of debt. We have zero long-term lia­bil­i­ties. And that’s what’s sink­ing cities now, the lia­bil­i­ties for pen­sions, for oth­er ben­e­fits, for debt they have incurred. And they can’t bear the load of the inter­est on those. It’s sink­ing them and we have zero long-term lia­bil­i­ties and I hope nev­er will have any long-term liabilities. 

Anderson: What’s the dif­fer­ence in terms of the long-term lia­bil­i­ties? Is that some­thing that because these oth­er cities are much old­er, is that some­thing that will hap­pen to Sandy Springs as well or is there a major struc­tur­al difference?

Porter: There’s a major dif­fer­ence. Your pen­sions and lia­bil­i­ties build up because you have employ­ees. We don’t have employ­ees, except in pub­lic safety—police and fire. But the pre­dom­i­nant num­ber of employ­ees are not employ­ees of the city but employ­ees of the com­pa­ny. And so the city will nev­er have a lia­bil­i­ty for them, for their pen­sions. So it is inher­ent­ly a more debt-free sys­tem than what is cur­rent­ly, I won’t use the word enjoyed” but applied in most tra­di­tion­al cities.

Anderson: So think­ing about sort of from the com­pa­ny’s per­spec­tive, did they then get to a point where they could go bank­rupt because the debt is mov­ing from the city as car­ri­er to the com­pa­ny as carrier?

Porter: Sure, but they’ve been smart enough from way back to have moved away from defined ben­e­fit plans towards defined con­tri­bu­tion plans. So they’re able to han­dle their future lia­bil­i­ties in the same way. If the peo­ple have not con­tributed enough to them and they have not earned enough, they just don’t get as large a pen­sion. In a defined ben­e­fit plan, you’ve already promised them the ben­e­fits no mat­ter what sort of earn­ings you have on your assets in the pen­sion plan. And the pub­lic does­n’t even notice because you know, it’s not report­ed as a true debt. And there’s no way it’s going to right—the ship’s not going to right itself.

Anderson: I hear a lot of con­ver­sa­tion about effi­cien­cy, and typ­i­cal­ly pub­lic sec­tor things are viewed as ineffi­cient. Is it some­thing in the nature of those structures—

Porter: Yes.

Anderson: —or is it just that they’re real­ly badly-managed? 

Porter: Both, but yes there is some­thing in the nature of it. One, there’s lit­tle incen­tive to cut costs. When a typ­i­cal bud­get is drawn in the pub­lic sec­tor, it’s drawn on a depart­men­tal basis, and each depart­ment starts build­ing what it thinks it needs to meet the demands. Well, the demands are always greater than can be met. No one’s sat­is­fied with this cur­rent lev­el of ser­vice, you always want more. So the depart­ment head, what does he need to do? Get myself more resources. And nobody is say­ing, Wait a minute, what can the city afford?” until it gets to the very top and then it’s a mat­ter of try­ing to squeeze these things out and then maybe say well every­body’s got­ta give up 10%, which is a hor­ri­bly inef­fi­cient way to man­age some­thing. You need be man­ag­ing on the mer­its of the needs.

So that’s the struc­ture that we have got­ten our­selves into in the pub­lic sec­tor, it’s these depart­men­tal bud­get­ings. That is torn down com­plete­ly by these public/private partnerships. 

There is the whole issue of employ­ee per­for­mance in the pub­lic sec­tor. Because gen­er­al­ly their jobs are so struc­tured that doing bet­ter does­n’t nec­es­sar­i­ly get you a raise, it does­n’t get you a pro­mo­tion, it does­n’t even get you a pat on the back. On the oth­er hand, since there’s no car­rot there’s also no stick. There’s very lit­tle that can be done to an unpro­duc­tive employ­ee. They’re sort of there for life, in many cas­es. You know, it’s impor­tant be able to say, You know, if you don’t do the job you’re not here.” Well that’s what hap­pens in the pri­vate sector.

Anderson: I guess I just don’t under­stand why we could­n’t make a pub­lic insti­tu­tion work like that, where it could­n’t fire peo­ple more aggres­sive­ly. Or it could­n’t restruc­ture… Setting aside all the cul­tur­al bag­gage, that we have a hard time even imag­in­ing a pub­lic sec­tor that works like that.

Porter: As you get into larg­er and larg­er enti­ties, there is a creep­ing lev­el of inef­fi­cien­cy often there. But, there is a con­trol­ling ele­ment in the pri­vate sec­tor that is not there in the pub­lic sec­tor, and that is prof­it. Ultimately, that inef­fi­cien­cy has to be stopped in the pri­vate sec­tor. If you don’t make mon­ey, even­tu­al­ly you’re not in busi­ness. That does not exist in the pub­lic sec­tor. There’s no cap on this thing of give us more, give us more, give us more resources. There’s not the same incen­tive to dri­ve down cost. The prof­it motive is what basi­cal­ly free enter­prise and our cap­i­tal­ism is based upon. It is the con­trol­ling ele­ment that has made our coun­try grow. 

Anderson: It makes me think like, you know part of the prof­it thing is that you can go bank­rupt. And it makes me won­der for tra­di­tion­al cities, do we need to have a few of them col­lapse, go bank­rupt, fail, with the pub­lic mod­el? And then they could almost rethink the pub­lic mod­el? You know, in a way to have a pub­lic bankruptcy?

Porter: A cri­sis does cause peo­ple to look at alter­na­tives. So yeah, the answer to your ques­tion’s I think you’re right that it has to get bad in a sense before it can get bet­ter. But it is so ingrained and so uni­ver­sal, this pub­lic mod­el, that it is going to be hard to shake it. The city pop­u­lace, they don’t rec­og­nize in Sandy Springs on a day-to-day basis that they’re being served by pri­vate indus­try. They’re the city employ­ees to them. And it’s just so much bet­ter. I mean, we used to see— If we had a pot­hole in the coun­ty you could­n’t get it fixed. Now what you have is two guys come out, they have a truck with a mag­net­ic sign that says Sandy Springs— They don’t work for Sandy Springs, they work for a company.

Tomorrow those same two guys, that same truck, may be sit­ting in an adja­cent city with their signs on them, doing the same job. And the third day they might be in a pri­vate park­ing lot some­where fix­ing a pot­hole. You get max­i­mum uti­liza­tion of peo­ple, max­i­mum uti­liza­tion of equip­ment. Sandy Springs owns no equip­ment. We don’t have to main­tain it, we don’t have any costs asso­ci­at­ed with it. In terms of effi­cien­cy, there’s just no com­par­i­son. The inno­va­tion that’s come with it, the cost-sharing that’s come with it, the moti­vat­ed peo­ple that have come with it. All of that adds up to let­ting the com­pa­ny cut our costs and still make a very nice prof­it on its own.

Anderson: When you’re talk­ing about these cities that are shar­ing ser­vices, what’s the point at which it ceas­es to be effi­cient? Or does it actu­al­ly make sense to sort of scale this mod­el up, like if you could blan­ket Georgia and say this is one gigan­tic resource-sharing region of pri­va­tized cities, would it make sense to make it huge? Or would it make sense to break it down even small­er and say, actu­al­ly this is some­thing where each per­son in the com­mu­ni­ty should be con­tract­ing inde­pen­dent­ly? Like, which way do you get more effi­cien­cy from, going up or going down?

Porter: Up to a point it’s going up, but then that changes. As you increase in size from very small to where you might say medi­um you get a low­er cost per capi­ta. You do reach a point, though, where that turns up again. There’s been some good stud­ies that show that going from zero—obviously, that’s not a good-sized city. Moving larg­er and larg­er, your cost per capi­ta goes down, down, down. And then in the about a hun­dred to a hun­dred and fifty thou­sand range it sort of flat­tens out and starts up again. And that’s where your bureau­cra­cy and your com­plex­i­ty and all of that starts com­ing into the picture. 

But, for every per­son you add to it, you lose just that much more local con­trol. So even if you could be more effi­cient on an ever-increasing scale, you should not be, because you’re mov­ing too far away from the peo­ple. The con­cept should be bring gov­ern­ment as close to the peo­ple as pos­si­ble, con­sis­tent with efficiency.

Anderson: There’s a very Greek notion of like the ide­al size for the demo­c­ra­t­ic polis there, right?

Porter: Exactly. And I think there’s some­thing to that. As you get too large, you just lose that con­tact with the indi­vid­ual, and the indi­vid­u­al’s lib­er­ties, the indi­vid­u­al’s abil­i­ty to con­trol their own des­tiny goes away as you do that. 

Anderson: One of the big ten­sions that sort of comes up in con­ver­sa­tion after con­ver­sa­tion is sort of, in the prob­lem of gov­ern­ment how do we bal­ance the indi­vid­ual ver­sus the col­lec­tive. Like if you think strict­ly in terms of the indi­vid­ual you go well, why have cities at all? And then there are peo­ple who say well, the prag­mat­ic response to that is, Are you kid­ding? We’re social ani­mals. We func­tion best in groups.” And oth­er peo­ple say, Well, but once you focus on that too much you lose the indi­vid­ual in these bureaucracies.” 

Porter: Yeah, and I think that’s what I’m say­ing. You know, a small group can’t have a police force. It can’t have an ade­quate fire. It can’t sup­ply its own water or build its own roads. 

Anderson: Mm hm. And when we were talk­ing about effi­cien­cy, we were talk­ing about an effi­cien­cy with­in our finan­cial sys­tem. There are a lot of dif­fer­ent ways to mea­sure that. Finance is one, but I’m think­ing of a woman I spoke to at The Happiness Initiative in Seattle. And she has a whole series of met­rics for mea­sur­ing the hap­pi­ness of a com­mu­ni­ty. And there’s a finan­cial effi­cien­cy that’s built into that, but there are a whole vari­ety of oth­er things like open space, free time… She’d say a more effi­cient com­mu­ni­ty takes these oth­er things into account which a strict dol­lars and cents point of view might not.

Porter: I would not dis­agree at all because remem­ber I said the two mea­sures are effi­cien­cy and respon­sive­ness. To me what she’s say­ing about those hap­pi­ness ele­ments are being respon­sive to the com­mu­ni­ty’s needs. That you absolute­ly have to weigh that in. If you had to pick one that is the greater of the two, its respon­sive­ness. Because gov­ern­ment giv­ing to the peo­ple what they need and want is the start­ing point and then you try to make that as effi­cient as you can. You don’t start by mak­ing it as low-cost as you can and then see­ing what you can do.

So I would agree with her. I think maybe we term it dif­fer­ent­ly but I agree [with] that. Measurement, that’s a soft mea­sure­ment, though, on respon­sive­ness. Efficiency is a much more hard mea­sure­ment, our finite measurement.

Anderson: When I think about waste—because we’ve just been talk­ing about effi­cien­cy. And so in these oth­er sys­tems where we’ve got all this waste, it seems like we’ve talked about pen­sions, bureau­crat­ic non­sense, drag, stuff like that. I’m try­ing to stack about waste in my mind up against kind of the waste of con­sid­er­ing like, a com­pa­ny’s in it for prof­it, right, so they still have to have a cer­tain amount for them. So as far as the tax­pay­er’s con­cerned, that’s waste. So you’re com­par­ing pub­lic waste in these ways ver­sus pri­vate waste, hop­ing that the pri­vate waste is small­er. I’m kind of curi­ous about where that waste actu­al­ly goes. This is a project where I talk to a lot of peo­ple about very big sys­tems. So for all of the peo­ple who would’ve had pen­sion mon­ey, would that have cycled back into the com­mu­ni­ty and in a way like, will we sort of see the short-term effi­cien­cy of a city like Sandy Springs in the long-term maybe hav­ing a retired class that can’t spend as much mon­ey with­in the community?

Porter: I sup­pose that that’s pos­si­ble, but you’re com­par­ing apples and oranges. In the first case you’re talk­ing about hav­ing peo­ple have spend­ing mon­ey in retire­ment that is com­ing out of the com­mu­ni­ty’s tax­es. Alright, that’s not new mon­ey. You haven’t put any more mon­ey into the com­mu­ni­ty, you’ve tak­en it from one pock­et and put it in another.

In this oth­er case, you’re talk­ing about not hav­ing more tax­es but still hav­ing pen­sion mon­ey, and maybe it’s less but it’s still a plus. So I don’t think the two things are com­pa­ra­ble. The same thing is hap­pen­ing to us on the fed­er­al lev­el, but when we tax to be able to spend more, we aren’t cre­at­ing any­thing. We’re just shift­ing it and then the gov­ern­men­t’s tak­ing a per­cent out of it as it goes by. So I don’t think that’s an apples to apples com­par­i­son. I think that if we can keep the cost and there­by the tax­es low­er, the com­mu­ni­ty has more mon­ey to spend, peri­od. And if some of that also even flows back through pen­sion, that’s just—that’s gravy. But to start with, the com­mu­ni­ty has more resources because it is taxed less.

Anderson: If there was any big theme to this series that I’ve seen it’s that a lot of peo­ple work­ing in a lot of dif­fer­ent areas dis­con­nect­ed from each oth­er are inter­est­ed in a move to the local. Our con­ver­sa­tion fits right into that frame­work. Why is local bet­ter? What do we gain by hav­ing more direct rep­re­sen­ta­tion or small­er, more rep­re­sen­ta­tive systems?

Porter: Well once again, I hate to be redun­dant but it goes back to being respon­sive. How can some­one who rep­re­sents a mil­lion peo­ple be respon­sive to indi­vid­ual needs?

Anderson: It seems like there’s a real opti­mism embed­ded in there that peo­ple can make the best choic­es for themselves.

Porter: They may not be the best choic­es but they’re what they think they want. And isn’t life real­ly about that? It’s not nec­es­sar­i­ly what’s best for you. I mean, right now I’m on a ter­ri­ble med­ical diet. What I want and what is best for me are two entire­ly dif­fer­ent things, I can tell you that every time a pass a McDonald’s. 

But who’s to decide what’s best for me? I have to ulti­mate­ly take that respon­si­bil­i­ty. What is your trade­off between liv­ing long and liv­ing well? There are some of us who might say I’d rather live well than live long. We need sys­tems that allow peo­ple to make indi­vid­ual choic­es, or col­lec­tive choic­es in small­er groups. To make crit­i­cal deci­sions about their future, about whether they want to live well or live long, to use it as an exam­ple, and not try to cook­ie cut­ter every­body in our society.

Certainly giv­ing peo­ple some guid­ance as opposed to laws, you might say, about what is good for them is fine. And to me that’s the per­fect sys­tem, is where you cre­ate a fac­tu­al knowl­edge base for as many peo­ple as pos­si­ble and then they are able to make those deci­sions for them­selves. And where that deci­sion does over­lap and impinge upon some­one else’s life is where it gets sticky and where you have to have elect­ed gov­ern­ment to help man­age the dif­fer­ent needs of two dif­fer­ent peo­ple or two dif­fer­ent groups, to bring them to some kind of com­pro­mise. That’s what gov­ern­ment essen­tial­ly ought to be, I guess, is an arbiter between one set of choic­es and anoth­er. And we do it on a demo­c­ra­t­ic process say­ing the major­i­ty wins in that. There’s some great philo­soph­i­cal argu­ments against that, too. But right now I don’t know a bet­ter sys­tem. But there are a lot of peo­ple who real­ly have come to think that gov­ern­ment is the answer for every­thing and that we should real­ly basi­cal­ly look to it to be our provider and our decider. And I just can’t come to that as a con­clu­sion that that leads to a bet­ter way of life for us.

Anderson: You know, obvi­ous­ly I’ve talked to a lot of peo­ple on both sides of that line in this project. For peo­ple who see it…maybe not as a provider but, I’ve talked to peo­ple who see it as maybe it should have a floor. There’s a con­ver­sa­tion I’m edit­ing right which I’ll prob­a­bly post lat­er this week with a guy named Chuck Collins. He’s the great-grandson of Oscar Mayer. And he’s been real­ly active in sort of…basically a group of multi-millionaires and bil­lion­aires who advo­cate for high­er tax­es and to keep estate taxes. 

He used the metaphor of soil. That they had good soil pre­pared for them and that they may have worked extreme­ly hard to grow things in that soil, but they’re basi­cal­ly pay­ing back for the soil itself. Whereas if they’d been born in maybe Guatemala that might not have been the soil to start Oscar Mayer or some­thing like that. So for him there sort of a role for gov­ern­ment to pro­vide a floor that peo­ple can’t fall through. So he’s not inter­est­ed in a sys­tem of any kind of per­fect equal­i­ty, but he’s inter­est­ed in rais­ing the floor a lit­tle bit so that the peo­ple who do the worst in soci­ety don’t die, you know. And for him that’s a moral argu­ment, ulti­mate­ly, and that’s also ara­tional. What do you think of argu­ments like that? Does that have any place in our polit­i­cal conversation?

Porter: It obvi­ous­ly has a place in it cause it’s there. The con­cept of the safe­ty net, floor, what­ev­er you want to call it is a huge one. Where one runs into real­ly prac­ti­cal con­sid­er­a­tions with regard to that is, as you raise that floor do you leave the lev­el of neces­si­ty and move into the lev­el of okay you’re just going to make it bet­ter off. And when you do that do you dri­ve away the incen­tive to do it on your own?

We now have forty mil­lion peo­ple on food stamps. Huge abuse in it, every­one knows that. And yet it’s per­form­ing a vital func­tion for those who real­ly need it. We have peo­ple who are on unem­ploy­ment. One can make a very ratio­nal argu­ment that that is a dis­in­cen­tive to find a job, par­tic­u­lar­ly the way the pro­grams are run some­times. So there is a trade­off between that human­i­tar­i­an floor and cre­at­ing a soci­ety in which the gov­ern­ment is the provider. Which means that what you’re get­ting is com­ing from some­one else. The gov­ern­ment does­n’t make it. People who real­ly need­ed it are some­times suf­fer­ing, and peo­ple who are just wast­ing it are out there galore, and we can’t dis­tin­guish because the pro­gram has such magnitude.

I think there is a strong debate to be held about whether we’re mov­ing in the right direc­tion with that, and I’m more con­cerned about that than I am pro­vid­ing the safe­ty net at this point. I think we’re doing a pret­ty good job of— Anyone who’s trav­eled in oth­er coun­tries and seen what they call pover­ty and what we call pover­ty, are two total­ly dif­fer­ent crea­tures. We don’t know what pover­ty is, almost, com­pared to going into Africa or areas of Asia. This coun­try’s nev­er been about say­ing every­one must be equal in their sta­tus of earn­ings, but it has been about try­ing to give every­one the oppor­tu­ni­ty to grow in that way.

Anderson: You know, a lot of peo­ple talk about the social lot­tery and the nat­ur­al lot­tery. Where you’re born with­in a soci­ety, and then the gifts that you were born with. But how do you make it lev­el, espe­cial­ly because it often involves really—what we were talk­ing ear­li­er about, soft issues. Places where I could try to go do some­thing and some­one else from a very dif­fer­ent back­ground could go try to do the same thing, and there are these invis­i­ble struc­tur­al things that make it pos­si­ble for me and not for them. 

Porter: It is my opin­ion that you can­not lev­el the play­ing field for every­one. There are peo­ple who are born into cer­tain capa­bil­i­ties that oth­ers don’t have. We should­n’t penal­ize them for it, but we should­n’t nec­es­sar­i­ly reward them. Let them get out and use them. There are peo­ple who are born into social sit­u­a­tions that are bet­ter than others. 

I don’t suf­fer from the guilt of the rich that feel like we’ve got to go do it, because I came from a very hum­ble begin­ning, mate­ri­al­ly. I had a won­der­ful fam­i­ly. And then you can say well, you won the social lot­tery there. You had a lov­ing fam­i­ly, that is huge. Absolutely huge. But we did­n’t have any mon­ey. I mean, we had out­door plumb­ing and a small, tiny lit­tle house. Lived in a single-room apart­ment in my great aun­t’s house till I was four. So what I’ve man­aged to achieve in life I can feel very good about hav­ing earned. I don’t think oth­er than say a lov­ing fam­i­ly that I won the social lot­tery at all. So I am aware that in this coun­try you can by hard work and some native abil­i­ties, you can do well.

Anderson: Well we’re also speak­ing as white guys, right?

Porter: Yeah. Yeah. Sure, absolute­ly. And so that’s a part of the social lot­tery that we won. One can go back in time on that and say well Africa, appar­ent­ly from every study, began before Europe. So the white guy’s must’ve done some­thing right to sort of pass them by. So you know, what all that is all about is well beyond my scope to talk about. But there are peo­ple who’ve had advan­tages who’ve made a rot­ten mess of their lives. I can cite num­bers of those. So it isn’t that you are guar­an­teed just because you have an advan­tage to do well because of it. You still have to put your­self out there. 

To me, com­ing back to this whole idea of sat­is­fac­tion, we all draw our sat­is­fac­tion from what we our­selves have been able to do with our lives. And if some­body, some gov­ern­ment or some­one else is just giv­ing to me, I’m not going to be a hap­py per­son. I think we deprive a large part of our pop­u­la­tion from being as hap­py as they can be by think­ing we know what’s best for them and hand­ing it to them. And by the way at the same time tak­ing that away from some­one else.

Anderson: So there’s almost a greater moral good to self-fulfillment than there is to a sort of charity?

Porter: Certainly if you are starv­ing your imper­a­tive is get me food.” Go beyond the starv­ing lev­el and talk about what makes life worth liv­ing. If sat­is­fac­tion is a good word for that, then I think there is a strong moral imper­a­tive that says we need to give peo­ple the right to satisfaction.

Anderson: This project is built on the idea of there are these his­tor­i­cal moments of con­ver­sa­tion, and it’s typ­i­cal­ly when an exist­ing sys­tem, be that social or eco­nom­ic or reli­gious or what­ev­er isn’t answer­ing ques­tions any­more. Do you think we’re at a point now… One, where we need that? And two, where it’s even pos­si­ble because of our sort of lin­guis­tic fragmentation?

Porter: I think that it would be a kind of a neat thing to have a con­sti­tu­tion­al Congress called. And I don’t think it would be the lin­guis­tic dif­fer­ences that would be the more over­ween­ing prob­lem. It would be again that basic philo­soph­i­cal prob­lem about what is the role of government. 

Anderson: Do you think that’s kind of the cen­tral ques­tion of our time?

Porter: I do. I do. It’s…this ques­tion that America has to answer to con­tin­ue to grow. And it is deeply, deeply divid­ed, we as a coun­try are on that issue. 

Anderson: Are you opti­mistic that we’ll be able to have a con­ver­sa­tion about it?

Porter: No. I think I have crossed the point where I believe that we have now cre­at­ed a major­i­ty of peo­ple who are look­ing to gov­ern­ment for sup­port. That it does­n’t make sense for them to change until the whole sys­tem blows up. Maybe at that point we do have a new begin­ning. But I think we’re going to have to come to cris—financial cri­sis, basically—before we get a change of direction.

People all the way back to Greece have pre­dict­ed that— In dif­fer­ent words, but have said that when a major­i­ty of the peo­ple are being able to vote them­selves more from the minor­i­ty of peo­ple, you have end­ed democ­ra­cy. It’s hard to see how you reverse a sit­u­a­tion like that. 

Anderson: And I guess, you know, cir­cling way back to when I was ask­ing what if we choose the McDonald’s when we need the health food, when we were talk­ing about what actu­al­ly is a bet­ter choice. If the oth­er choic­es col­lapse or don’t, maybe we can said don’t” is the bet­ter choice?

Porter: Well, I think at that point we final­ly have a com­mon ground for dis­cus­sion. But at this point you don’t have peo­ple believ­ing col­lapse is possible. 

Anderson: What if the major­i­ty of peo­ple want some­thing that ulti­mate­ly destroys itself. 

Porter: Yeah. That’s… And I think we’re near­ing that sit­u­a­tion. And that’s ter­ri­bly dis­cour­ag­ing to say, but I think it’s true.

Anderson: I don’t know. I feel like I hear a sim­i­lar nar­ra­tive arc from peo­ple who feel that we are too indi­vid­u­al­is­tic. But it’s always the sto­ry of like, the oth­er side’s not lis­ten­ing, the oth­er side’s basi­cal­ly won the bat­tle, we’re going down­hill, noth­ing’s going to get bet­ter until a cri­sis. And some peo­ple say well you know, you can still have a con­ver­sa­tion. But oth­ers don’t. So it’s inter­est­ing for me that I hear kind of, you know, the same story.

Porter: Yeah. And that is inter­est­ing that you would. You know, human nature being what it is prob­a­bly not all that big a sur­prise. The dif­fer­ence in my case is, just a few years ago I would not have been near­ly so pes­simistic, I guess, about the future.

Anderson: Really?

Porter: I thought we still had a chance to turn back. So there’s been a dra­mat­ic change in my view of both this coun­try and the world. And I have come to the con­clu­sion that there’s not much that I as an indi­vid­ual, or indi­vid­u­als can do about some­thing as large as our nation­al gov­ern­ment, our fed­er­al gov­ern­ment. Or even the state lev­el. And that’s why I’ve focused my ener­gies into the local gov­ern­ment, because I believe it’s pos­si­ble to have an effect there. I guess I’m look­ing for a trickle-up effect.

Anderson: You know, I think that’s… That real­ly feels like a lot of the peo­ple I’ve spo­ken to who would prob­a­bly be on the far oth­er end of the polit­i­cal spec­trum, in the same way that it does make me won­der if you go around to the same point again, you know.

Porter: Probably so.

Anderson: Maybe that’s the com­mon denom­i­na­tor that I’m see­ing here, it’s that a lot of peo­ple feel that things are so big and so com­pli­cat­ed, the indi­vid­ual does­n’t mat­ter much. And I won­der if that isn’t part of the cri­sis of the world we live in now. It’s a size thing. 

Porter: Yeah, and the growth of the pow­ers that we have allowed to take place in the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment have made that sit­u­a­tion far more dif­fi­cult. Everywhere you turn you’re now faced with an expand­ing role of the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment in your life.

Anderson: Is that also con­nect­ed to the con­cen­tra­tion of cap­i­tal. The point where the gov­ern­ment becomes enor­mous and reg­u­la­to­ry but is also being pres­sured to be that way by giant com­pa­nies? I mean, they’re pur­su­ing their own self-interests—

Porter: True.

Anderson: —in a way that could hurt small business. 

Porter: All com­pa­nies want to be rid of com­pe­ti­tion. You want com­pe­ti­tion out, you want bar­ri­ers to com­pe­ti­tion thrown up. You don’t want any restric­tions placed on you. That’s the name of the game. It’s nat­ur­al. But I can’t see where com­pa­nies are able to dri­ve the types of reg­u­la­tions that we are see­ing put in place. They tend to be dri­ven more by a per­ceive social need. Because most of the com­pa­nies come to the point where oops, I have over­reached if I make this be reg­u­lat­ed any fur­ther. Because it’s going to get me too, now.

Anderson: Okay, so larg­er cor­po­ra­tions in terms of chang­ing laws aren’t the problem.

Porter: I don’t think they are. Obviously they try to be. In most cas­es I think large com­pa­nies intend to coun­ter­bal­ance each oth­er and their polit­i­cal impact. One of ridicu­lous things is most large com­pa­nies give a lot of mon­ey to both par­ties. In a sense they off­set them­selves, their own influence—

Anderson: Or do they just win.

Porter: Yeah, they don’t just win. They’ve been tend­ing to just lose recent­ly. I don’t think that their impact is near­ly as much as the press would have us believe. I have seen large com­pa­ny lob­by­ing from the inside and I think it’s prob­a­bly a lot less effec­tive than peo­ple think it is. So no, I don’t think it dri­ves out of that. I think it’s dri­ving out of a nat­ur­al ten­den­cy of polit­i­cal fig­ures to play to the major­i­ty. And I think we’re see­ing a shift­ing majority. 

My fam­i­ly’s always laughed at me when I have said that on the whole the world is get­ting bet­ter. And they say, And you say all these things you don’t like or that both­er you.” And I say yeah I do, and those are true, but on the whole. And again I’m look­ing at peo­ples who have absolute pover­ty. And no hope for the future. Forty, fifty years ago we did­n’t even know they were there. We did­n’t even know they were there; we now know they’re there, we may not be doing a lot about it. But we are. They are able for instance through cell phones, TV, com­put­ers, all kinds of things, they’re able to learn there’s more out in the world, and just the very fact that things exist bet­ter is pulling them up over time. Are we get­ting bet­ter as a coun­try? I don’t think so. But that’s not the world. 

Anderson: So there’s some kind of hope there, I guess? There’s this hope that we as a species are march­ing for­ward despite this appar­ent decline in America?

Saul: Apparently. Apparently that’s his big vision.

Anderson: That’s a real dif­fer­ence between him and Mark in our last con­ver­sa­tion. You know, Mark giv­ing us the sense of bat­tle but also of rise, of new hope. And Oliver seems to feel that over the past cou­ple of years we’ve tak­en a pret­ty dark turn and that the hope now is elsewhere. 

Saul: You know, I think key to where that turn is, like how we are in decline comes down to one of the big questions…certainly in this con­ver­sa­tion and in the project as a whole, and that’s the role of gov­ern­ment. What is gov­ern­ment for?

Anderson: Right.

Saul: And sort of the big ten­sion in this con­ver­sa­tion is cen­tral­ized ver­sus local­ized con­trol. Or even more fun­da­men­tal­ly that ten­sion between the indi­vid­ual and the col­lec­tive again.

Anderson: Right. It feels like a lot of the begin­ning part of our con­ver­sa­tion, you know, as we talk about Sandy Springs and gov­ern­ment, that’s the cen­tral local. As we moved through the con­ver­sa­tion we’d get clos­er to phi­los­o­phy. Then it becomes a real individual/collective, what are the respon­si­bil­i­ties, what are the roles of government…

Saul: Right.

Anderson: I think there are a lot of ques­tions of fair­ness that we’re going to want to get into here. 

Saul: Mm hm.

Anderson: Let’s get into some of those things and talk about the way Oliver thinks about what gov­ern­ment should do. He gives us two things that he’s real­ly inter­est­ed in. The first is mak­ing gov­ern­ment more rep­re­sen­ta­tive to peo­ple. He wants it to be more respon­sive. And sub­sidiary to that would be mak­ing it more efficient. 

And some­thing I real­ly liked here was that he says effi­cien­cy should not be the dri­ver there. You know, we should­n’t go what can we do in terms of effi­cien­cy and then decide what do we want to do. We should real­ly have a con­ver­sa­tion about what do we want to do? Where are we going? And then fig­ure out how to best exe­cute that.

Saul: Yeah. I real­ly like that. I also just liked his focus on rep­re­sen­ta­tive­ness and local­ness. I mean, that whole idea that he men­tions of the trickle-up the­o­ry. Like, fix the local first.

Anderson: Yeah.

Saul: That real­ly real­ly appealed to me. My own per­son­al biases.

Anderson: Mm hm. And I mean, that’s some­thing that I think we’ve talked before about. If there’s any major title move­ment under­neath all of the peo­ple in this project, it’s a dri­ve towards the local.

Anderson: the same time, though, by the end of the con­ver­sa­tion we’re talk­ing about rep­re­sen­ta­tive­ness in a very dif­fer­ent light. Because as we men­tioned ear­li­er he’s con­cerned about where we’re going, specif­i­cal­ly we” being America. 

Saul: This comes back to the con­ver­sa­tion we’ve had, only once or twice before, of democ­ra­cy eat­ing itself.

Anderson: Yeah. 

Saul: It’s very easy to tout the won­ders of rep­re­sen­ta­tive democ­ra­cy, as long as it’s going your way.

Anderson: So can we square these things? On one hand, push­ing towards greater rep­re­sen­ta­tion, on the oth­er hand per­haps see­ing the fruits of rep­re­sen­ta­tive gov­er­nance yield­ing a result he does­n’t agree with. How do we con­nect one to the oth­er? You know, what’s the jour­ney that takes us from point A to point B. Or are they fun­da­men­tal­ly contradictory?

Saul: I think we can con­nect them. I think the way to start is to talk about one side first and just see where we get. There is some­thing going on here. 

Anderson: Well let’s take the jour­ney, then. Let’s start with where he begins us, with pub­lic and pri­vate insti­tu­tions and the ques­tion of how they deal with the role of gov­ern­ment. He seems to feel that pub­lic insti­tu­tions are uncom­pet­i­tive. There’s no dri­ve to do any­thing bet­ter. They’re not very account­able, except to the elec­torate. And that many things that a pub­lic insti­tu­tion can do can be done bet­ter by pri­vate insti­tu­tions which have both the prof­it motive but also the account­abil­i­ty of true bankruptcy. 

Saul: Why is the pub­lic sec­tor inher­ent­ly dis­in­cen­tivized? Or is it inher­ent­ly dis­in­cen­tivized? Can you imag­ine a pub­lic sec­tor that you can include incen­tives, be those prof­it incen­tives, or risks of fail­ure incen­tives, or you know, more along the lines of Laura Musikanski and The Happiness Initiative more sort of happiness-related incen­tives? You pushed him a lit­tle bit on this and he did­n’t real­ly have much of a response.

Anderson: And is account­abil­i­ty to an elec­torate… Is that enough account­abil­i­ty? Because that does seem like in a way get­ting vot­ed out is akin to get­ting fired by your board, right. There is an account­abil­i­ty. It may be that that account­abil­i­ty could become greater if per­haps his oth­er aims to encour­age rep­re­sen­ta­tive­ness were achieved.

Saul: Yeah, absolutely. 

Anderson: Yeah, if we go from there we can back up a lit­tle bit and we can get into the real phi­los­o­phy ques­tion beneath this, which is a ques­tion of human nature, I think. It seems to be that a lot of how you inter­pret human nature’s going to deter­mine how you inter­pret this public/private ques­tion. And if you think that peo­ple need incen­tives, like finan­cial ones, and if you think that with­out those peo­ple are basi­cal­ly going to be inef­fi­cient and lazy, that’s a human nature assess­ment, right?

Saul: Yeah, oh absolute­ly. If that is your view of human nature, then the way we cur­rent­ly view the dif­fer­ence between pri­vate and pub­lic becomes obvi­ous, right.

Anderson: Right.

Saul: Because clear­ly you need that car­rot— You need the car­rot and stick if human nature does­n’t reward peo­ple just based on, you know, the joy of work.

Anderson: And on the flip side of that I would think that if you assumed that peo­ple did things for rea­sons of say, ethics or moral­i­ty or virtue, or pride? That maybe you could have a sys­tem that did not reward or did not encour­age that same lev­el of com­pe­ti­tion that was still functioning. 

I like it. There’s kind of a deep opti­mism pes­simism about what we are, right. If you’re the opti­mist you might think that like, maybe we haven’t got­ten there yet but we could have more moral, bet­ter peo­ple doing the job for the right rea­sons because they believe in it and they take pride in their work, ver­sus per­haps the more pes­simistic approach just say­ing that real­ly we need to just know that peo­ple respond to fear and greed. And if we want to struc­ture good gov­ern­ment we take that into account front and center.

Saul: I think we know where Oliver stands on that one. 

Anderson: Yeah, and I think it would actu­al­ly be inter­est­ing to kind of go through the project again and look at it through that lens and go who, leans more towards the human­i­ty as fear and greed,” who leans more towards the human­i­ty as on a scale of virtue/vice but train­able?” So we’re mov­ing for­ward from a point of human­i­ty is fear and greed-driven.

Saul: Then you know, some of the lat­er parts of the con­ver­sa­tion make a lot more sense in that light. If human­i­ty is dri­ven by fear and greed, then his issues with the wel­fare sys­tem, or the safe­ty net sys­tem, becomes

Anderson: Oh, it seems quite self-evident. Because if—yeah, if we’re fear and greed-driven then real­ly what you want to do is you want to cre­ate a sys­tem which is pret­ty hands-off but guar­an­tees that no one’s going to rig it. And that with­in that fair­ness, peo­ple can work as hard or as lit­tle as they want. And if you work min­i­mal­ly you don’t do well. There’s that deep sense of per­son­al respon­si­bil­i­ty and fair­ness… There’s almost a math­e­mat­i­cal qual­i­ty to it, right?

Saul: Yeah. Interesting. Yeah.

Anderson: Like, the amount you put in yields x amount of return, and it’s kind of assumed— Like, it’s very decon­tex­tu­al­ized, I think. As a his­to­ry per­son that was some­thing that I was think­ing about. That it does­n’t real­ly take his­to­ry into account. He acknowl­edges that well no, it’s not fair. The play­ing field­’s not level. 

But I think where we need to break that apart is, social­ly and bio­log­i­cal­ly and cul­tur­al­ly. Like there are lots of dif­fer­ent types of fair­ness and lev­el­ness, right. So it seems like Oliver will total­ly say that yeah, we’re not all cre­at­ed bio­log­i­cal­ly the same. We don’t all come from the same social back­grounds. He cites his own exam­ple, com­ing from a real­ly poor back­ground and end­ing up doing remark­ably well. So while things are not equal there, Oliver does assert that things are equal in terms of our abil­i­ty to bet­ter our­selves, right. Sort of like the sys­tem of com­pe­ti­tion has giv­ing every­one a fair shot, and is nev­er going to be perfect.

Saul: But that did­n’t— That ignores a lot of things, right? And you sort of…jokingly brought it up and he kind of ran with it in an inter­est­ing way. But you said well you know, we’re say­ing this and we’re two white guys.

Anderson: Yeah. He says look, his­tor­i­cal­ly there have been a lot of changes, essen­tial­ly. And I think what he’s try­ing to get to is every­one’s been king of the hill at some point. Specifically, though, he cites that like, Europe (and white peo­ple pre­sum­ably) have out­com­pet­ed every­one else. Which is sort of a racial, social, Darwinian thing. I mean, I know that he’s try­ing to say that like look, the peo­ple in con­trol have changed through­out his­to­ry and there’s no sense in feel­ing guilty about the point that we’re in now where we have an advan­tage. At some point oth­er peo­ple will have an advan­tage, maybe if they com­pete more effectively.

Saul: Right.

Anderson: Now the ques­tion there is, is that a cul­tur­al thing? Is that a racial thing? It’s cer­tain­ly a tele­o­log­i­cal thing. We’re look­ing at the present moment that we inhab­it, where it’s pret­ty advan­ta­geous to be a white guy. Right? And he’s say­ing that the rea­son we are here now is because white peo­ple have out­com­pet­ed oth­er peo­ple, his­tor­i­cal­ly. I have real trou­ble with that. Actually… I don’t buy it. I just don’t buy it. And uh—

Saul: Yeah.

Anderson: That’s some­thing that I would actu­al­ly like to talk to him more about. Because I’m not sure if he sees that as a cul­tur­al thing…or if it’s just racist. 

Saul: It came across to me as racist.

Anderson: But again I don’t know if that’s how he meant it.

Saul: Even set­ting that aside, regard­less of why whites are more priv­i­leged now, is the fact that they weren’t at one point or that some­body else was more priv­i­leged at a dif­fer­ent point… Is that good jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for not try­ing to…level the play­ing field? 

Anderson: And I think this is one of these things— I’m going back to Mark Mykleby’s con­ver­sa­tion where he’s talk­ing about break­ing apart truths and assump­tions. And it feels like here we’re look­ing at the past through the assump­tion of peo­ple are in a com­pet­i­tive envi­ron­ment, always. And it’s fear and greed-driven, always. And if you look at the past that way, you see a nar­ra­tive of groups claw­ing on top of each oth­er and beat­ing each oth­er down. If you view it through that light of com­pe­ti­tion I think you’ll feel that that’s some­thing we can nev­er escape from. 

Saul: But if you view it through some oth­er lens, the sto­ry looks dif­fer­ent, right?

Anderson: Right. And I guess that oth­er lens would be at dif­fer­ent points in his­to­ry we’ve been bet­ter or worse in terms of qual­i­ty of life. There’s noth­ing inevitable and noth­ing cycli­cal about it. You know, some civ­i­liza­tions got it right, some got it wrong. But if you look at it that way, then you would look at our civ­i­liza­tion now and you might be more inclined to say…we’re more plas­tic. We’re not locked in this inevitable competition. 

Saul: Right. And can we look to the past, look at what was done well, look what was done poor­ly, learn from the past and maybe, maybe make our sys­tem a lit­tle more fair?

Anderson: So going back to your orig­i­nal point, I don’t think— I mean for me at least, right. I don’t think we can jus­ti­fy inequity now by say­ing oh there’s been inequity in the past. I think that sells our­selves short as actors. And maybe that’s naïve of me. But God knows this is a naïve project, right.

Saul: Yeah, no. Exactly. That’s part of what makes it— Well, it’s part of what makes us able to actu­al­ly do it.

Anderson: Well, and I think it’s a pre­req­ui­site. Because if you did­n’t believe to some extent that peo­ple weren’t a lit­tle bit plas­tic, that we could­n’t actu­al­ly change, then there’d be no point in hav­ing this con­ver­sa­tion at all. 

Saul: If that’s tru­ly human nature we would nev­er get past Torcello’s chair-throwing stage. 

Anderson: We get a lit­tle bit of that vibe from Oliver as well, when we talk about con­ver­sa­tion. And he’s not real­ly opti­mistic that we’ll be able to have a con­ver­sa­tion about the American future with­in America because we’re so polar­ized. And because it feels like the tak­ers have basi­cal­ly outcompeted.

Saul: So this brings us back to some­thing we were talk­ing about at the begin­ning of this out­ro, that we should kind of end on. And it comes in this con­text of democ­ra­cy is mak­ing the wrong deci­sions. They’re mak­ing the deci­sions that are going to col­lapse the sys­tem. It’s real­ly inter­est­ing that it’s the same lan­guage used by both the left and the right. And it’s always the oth­er side that’s win­ning. What do you make of that?

Anderson: I want to go back to Mark Mykleby be again and go our assump­tions are our truths.” For every­one, in every part of the spec­trum. And I think this project is pret­ty well beyond a left/right bina­ry in any way. I mean, we’ve got so many peo­ple who are all over the place. And yet it’s a declen­sion nar­ra­tive, right? And it’s one that we like. I think. I mean, there’s kind of a fas­ci­na­tion with it. But I mean, I’ve talked about this before, and this is what I wrote in my op-ed in Boing Boing about like, maybe we have so many declen­sion nar­ra­tives across the spec­trum because there’s some­thing to it. 

So let’s just leave those as points of con­tem­pla­tion. This was an amaz­ing con­ver­sa­tion that took us a long way from ques­tions of how do you make Sandy Springs, Georgia work, to these enor­mous ques­tions of fair­ness, the role of gov­ern­ment, race, his­tor­i­cal tra­jec­to­ries. There’s a lot I enjoyed about this, and I’m real­ly glad we’ve got this one in the project. 

Saul: Yeah, me too.

Anderson: That was all Oliver Porter, record­ed in his home in Sandy Springs, Georgia, November 26th2012.

Micah Saul: And you are of course lis­ten­ing to The Conversation. Find us on the web at find​the​con​ver​sa​tion​.com.

Neil Prendergast: You can fol­low us on Twitter at @aengusanderson.

Saul: I’m Micah Saul.

Prendergast: I’m Neil Prendergast.

Anderson: And I’m Aengus Anderson. Thanks for listening. 

Further Reference

This inter­view at the Conversation web site, with project notes, com­ments, and tax­o­nom­ic orga­ni­za­tion spe­cif­ic to The Conversation.