Uncommon Knowledge
An Economist Looks at 90: Tom Sowell on Charter Schools and Their Enemies

An Economist Looks at 90: Tom Sowell on Charter Schools and Their Enemies

July 2, 2020

The day before this show was recorded, Dr. Thomas Sowell began his 10th decade of life. Remarkably on one hand and yet completely expected on the other, he remains as engaged, analytical, and thoughtful as ever. In this interview (one of roughly a dozen or so we’ve conducted with Dr. Sowell over the years), we delve into his new book Charter Schools and Their Enemies a sobering look at the academic success of charter schools in New York City, and the fierce battles waged by teachers unions and progressive politicians to curtail them. Dr. Sowell’s conclusion is equally thought provoking: If the opponents of charter schools succeed, the biggest losers will be poor minority children for whom a quality education is the best chance for a better life.

Recorded on July 1, 2020

The Case against Revolution with Ayaan Hirsi Ali

The Case against Revolution with Ayaan Hirsi Ali

June 30, 2020

As the United States and the world embark on fraught conversations about race, history, law enforcement, and the underpinnings of our very civilization, Ayaan Hirsi Ali joins Peter Robinson for an enlightening conversation. A refugee from Africa, Hirsi Ali fled to Europe to escape an arranged marriage, becoming an activist, (now former) member of the Dutch Parliament, and now a research fellow at the Hoover Institution. With a different set of life experiences and perspective from American-born Blacks, Hirsi Ali discusses how, as a Somalian, she views America as the best place on earth for minorities to grow up and achieve their potential. While acknowledging the hardships and miseries that American Blacks have endured and that racism still exists in many quarters of American society, Hirsi Ali emphatically believes that America is more than capable of solving racial inequalities, provided it preserves the institutions that ultimately ended slavery and empowered the protest movements of the 1960s that birthed the Civil Rights Movement. As she wrote in a recent column for the Wall Street Journal, an opinion she reiterates on this show, “There will be no resolution of America’s . . . problems if free thought and free speech are no longer upheld as sacrosanct. . . . Without them, honest deliberation, mutual learning, and the American ethic of problem-solving are dead.”

Recorded on June 25, 2020

The Doctor Is In: Scott Atlas and the Efficacy of Lockdowns, Social Distancing, and Closings

The Doctor Is In: Scott Atlas and the Efficacy of Lockdowns, Social Distancing, and Closings

June 23, 2020

Recorded on June 18, 2020

Dr. Scott Atlas is the Robert Wesson Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution, an accomplished physician, and a scholar of public health. For several weeks, Dr. Atlas has been making the case in print and in other media that we as a society have overreacted in imposing draconian restrictions on movement, gatherings, schools, sports, and other activities. He is not a COVID-19 denier—he believes the virus is a real threat and should be managed as such. But, as Dr. Atlas argues, there are some age groups and activities that are subject to very low risk. The one-size-fits-all approach we are currently using is overly authoritarian, inefficient, and not based in science. Dr. Atlas’s prescription includes more protection for people in nursing homes, two weeks of strict self-isolation for those with mild symptoms, and most importantly, the opening of all K–12 schools. The latter recommendation is vital for restarting and maintaining the economy so that parents are not housebound trying to work and educate their children. Dr. Atlas is also adamant that an economic shutdown, and all of the attendant issues that go along with it, is a terrible solution—the cure is worse than the disease. Finally, Dr. Atlas reveals some steps he’s taken in his own life to try to get things back to normal.

Jimmy Lai: The Last, Best Hope for Saving Democracy in Hong Kong

Jimmy Lai: The Last, Best Hope for Saving Democracy in Hong Kong

June 9, 2020

Recorded on June 8, 2020

When Hong Kong democracy advocate Jimmy Lai last appeared on Uncommon Knowledge in October of 2019, the situation in Hong Kong was dire but still hopeful. Now, eight months later, the situation has gone from bad to worse, and since that interview, Lai has been arrested twice. In this conversation, Lai explains the widening crackdown the Chinese Communist Party is imposing on Hong Kong, including his interpretation of the recently proposed national security law, which Lai believes will give China the ability to control all aspects of Hong Kong’s freedoms and culture and destroy the city’s financial and media businesses. Lai also makes a plea to the United States and the rest of the world: help Hong Kong by sanctioning China, because in the wake of COVID-19, the country is at its most vulnerable moment in the last 40 years. Says Lai, “If we surrender, we will lose [our] freedom, we will lose the rule of law—we will lose everything.” Whether the world will hear Lai and the rest of the Hong Kong protestors and take action on their behalf remains to be seen. Finally, we ask Lai why he continues the fight for democracy even against seemingly unsurmountable odds. A visibly emotional Lai responds: “Now is not the time for safety, now is the time for sacrifice. . . . I can’t leave; I will fight until the last day.”

Mitch Daniels: Plain Talk from the President of Purdue

Mitch Daniels: Plain Talk from the President of Purdue

June 4, 2020

Mitch Daniels is the former governor of Indiana (2005–13), former director of the Office of Management and Budget (2001–03), and current president of Purdue University (since 2013). In this wide-ranging conversation with Peter Robinson, Daniels discusses his insistence on keeping Purdue’s tuition below $10,000 and how he does it, his vision for Purdue that includes a mix of online and onsite education, and his efforts to hire an ideologically diverse faculty and recruit students from various backgrounds and ethnicities. He also shares his thoughts on the recent civil unrest, protests, and looting across the United States, and his plans on how to open Purdue and keep it open this fall amid the continuing COVID-19 crisis.

Ross Douthat’s Decadent Society

Ross Douthat’s Decadent Society

June 2, 2020

Recorded on May 28, 2020

In his new book, The Decadent Society, New York Times columnist Ross Douthat presents a theory: “Western society stopped advancing in the second half of the 20th century, and the combination of wealth and technological proficiency with economic stagnation, political stalemates, cultural exhaustion, and demographic decline creates a strange kind of ‘sustainable decadence,’ a civilizational languor that could endure for longer than we think.” Against this backdrop, Peter Robinson and Douthat discuss movies, TV shows, the iPhone, SpaceX, and the 747, with some detours into the COVID-19 crisis and our current political situation.

How Innovation Works, with Matt Ridley

How Innovation Works, with Matt Ridley

May 18, 2020

Recorded on May 6, 2020

A true Renaissance man, Matt Ridley is a British journalist, a member of the House of Lords, a businessman, and the author of many publications, including The Rational Optimist, his very influential book about the innate human tendency to trade goods and services, which he argues is the source of all human prosperity. Ridley’s new book, How Innovation Works, chronicles the history of innovation and argues that we need to change the way we think about innovation, to see it as an incremental, bottom-up, fortuitous process that happens to society as a direct result of the human habit of exchange, rather than as an orderly, top-down process developing according to a plan. Ridley also discusses the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on the world’s economies, the real story of Thomas Edison and why he was one of the greatest innovators in human history, why China may not be the threat it appears to be (at least not technologically), and some predictions as to what the world may look like in 2050

Dr. Jay Bhattacharya: His new MLB COVID-19 Study and the Dilemma of the Lockdown

Dr. Jay Bhattacharya: His new MLB COVID-19 Study and the Dilemma of the Lockdown

May 11, 2020

Recorded on May 8, 2020

Dr. Jay Bhattacharaya from Stanford Medicine makes his third appearance on Uncommon Knowledge in eight weeks, this time to discuss a new COVID-19 survey of Major League Baseball employees he co-authored. The survey tested more than 5,600 employees across all 26 Major League Baseball clubs across the country. The results are yet another data set showing how COVID-19 spreads across geographical and economic lines. Dr. Bhattacharya also discusses the very real health risks associated with a prolonged lockdown and answers some of the questions raised by his last survey of Santa Clara County

 

The Importance of Institutions, with Yuval Levin

The Importance of Institutions, with Yuval Levin

May 8, 2020

Recorded February 25, 2020

Yuval Levin is director of Social, Cultural, and Constitutional Studies at the American Enterprise Institute and the author of A Time to Build: From Family and Community to Congress and the Campus, How Recommitting to Our Institutions Can Revive the America Dream. The book and this conversation lay out the importance of institutions—from the military to churches, from families to schools—as these institutions provide the forms and structures we need to be free. Levin also explains why political correctness is rampant in the culture, why America’s elites have created a closed-off aristocracy in order to transmit privilege generationally, and why it is vitally important that we as a society recommit to rebuilding and maintaining the institutions that provided the foundation for American society for 200 years. Programming note: this interview was recorded before the COVID-19 crisis reached the United States, so it is not mentioned.

What’s So Funny about Corona, Politics, the Media, and the Culture? A Conversation with Andrew Ferguson and P. J. O’Rourke

What’s So Funny about Corona, Politics, the Media, and the Culture? A Conversation with Andrew Ferguson and P. J. O’Rourke

May 1, 2020

Recorded on April 28, 2020

In this special plague-time episode of Uncommon Knowledge with Peter Robinson, two of the nation’s most brilliant and accomplished humorists have a good time—and say some serious things. P. J. O’Rourke and Andrew Ferguson on COVID-19, their wasted youth, Trump versus Biden, the state of journalism, and why they’d both bet on the United States over China any old day.