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Success Story Podcast

Kurt Andersen – Writer & Best-Selling Author | How to Make America New Again

By November 9, 2022January 18th, 2023No Comments

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About The Guest

Kurt Andersen is the author of the New York Times bestsellers “Evil Geniuses” and “Fantasyland”, as well as the bestselling novels “You Can’t Spell America Without Me”, “True Believers”, “Heyday”, “Turn of the Century”, and the podcast “Nixon at War”. He co-founded “Spy” magazine and co-created and hosted “Studio 360”, a Peabody Award-winning public radio show about art and pop culture that aired until 2020. He’s also a journalist — former New Yorker columnist and staff writer, Time critic and columnist, New York editor-in-chief and columnist — and has written as well for television, film, and the stage.

Talking Points

  • 00:00 — Intro
  • 01:59 — Kurt Andersen’s origin story
  • 13:38 — Thoughts on
  • 23:42 — Kurt Andersen’s take on how America was founded
  • 33:58 — What did Kurt Andersen mean by “make America new again” in one of his books?
  • 39:48 — How America could achieve a better system?
  • 41:27 — Kurt Andersen talking about his book?
  • 42:42 – The biggest challenge Kurt Andersen has ever faced in his life
  • 43:59 — What would be one thing Kurt Andersen would tell his 20-year-old self?
  • 44:39 — The most impactful person in Kurt Andersen’s life
  • 46:15 — Kurt Andersen’s book or podcast recommendations
  • 49:51 — What does success mean to Kurt Andersen?
  • 50:52 — How can people connect with Kurt Andersen?

Show Links

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Machine Generated Transcript


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Kurt Andersen, Scott D Clary



Okay, you’re never going to look at the internet the same way again. Join me Roger ups and my co hosts or shall I say co goat Raiders Pro Bowl defensive and Max prize for blue wires brand new theories react. We’ll be joined by your favorite athletes, celebrities and influencers as we invite you along to watch the most outrageous and hilarious sports videos from deep within the internet. From sidesplitting fails to jaw dropping unexpected plays reax will show you a side of sports you have never seen before. So catch reacts on YouTube and that is react AR EA X X. Don’t miss it.


Scott D Clary  00:37

Welcome to success story, the most useful podcast in the world. I’m your host Scott D Clary. The success story podcast is brought to you by the HubSpot Podcast Network, the audio destination for business professionals. The HubSpot Podcast Network has other amazing podcasts like no straight path hosted by Ashley Menzies Baba toon day. Now by shedding light on the stories behind the shiny resumes, social media highlights and job titles. No straight path aims to humanize success from the millennial perspective featuring guests from all walks of life. No straight path aims to inspire conversations around the nuanced perspectives of success. Now some of these topics at home you’re gonna love this show. Success is all about maximizing happiness. An interview with Esther ag bhaji about finding your voice success is communal with your vorne doc Aswad. Now if these topics are interesting to you, make sure to check out no straight path wherever you listen to your podcast. today. My guest is Kurt Anderson. Now Kurt is the author of The New York Times bestsellers, evil geniuses and fantasyland as well as the best selling novels you can’t spell America without me. True Believers hate a turn of the century and the podcast and Nixon at war. he co founded spy magazine and CO created and hosted studio 360 a Peabody Award winning public radio show about art and pop culture that aired until 2020. He’s also a journalist, former New Yorker columnist and staff writer, time critic and columnist, New York editor in chief and columnist and has written for television, film and stage. Now we spoke about several entrepreneurial ventures he took on over his life, including and studio 360. Why we need to make America new again, his argument that over the past several decades, America’s political economy has been hijacked by capital supremacist, who preached and enacted a return to a pre New Deal order and the systems we need to deploy to fix America.


Kurt Andersen  02:37

Yeah, no, I’m happy to and actually, when people speak to me, they often know Oh, you’re the RadioShack guy. Oh, you’re the guy who wrote these books? Oh, you’re the guy who did spy magazine. And yes, those Enmore I, you know, like, lots of my friends started out as a writer, and then and then in 19, back in the late 80s, started spy magazine, which was kind of slightly insane. But as it turned out, successful entrepreneurial effort to start this magazine when back when magazines didn’t have the internet to compete with. And it was a satirical magazine. It was it was nonfiction. It was journalists, it was journalism, but often Savage, to always fun and funny journalism. We did that made a big enemy out of among other people, Donald Trump back when he was just a, you know, bomb in New York. And so did that and then went on to write books and do other things and movies and plays and so forth, but also was along the way, starting companies like this, which was a online and print magazine publication that covered the media industries back at the turn of the century back in 99 2000 2001. Did an email newsletter called very short list that was then sold as it happened to Jared Kushner and the observer company in the 2000s. So yeah, I have I am a writer that’s what my passport says. And that’s the main thing I have always been but I have also along the way, both in print and then in digital land, started companies sold them sometimes and and got them other times and wrote him down to the end other times.


Scott D Clary  04:33

So you know, there’s there’s quite a few writers that don’t start companies. So walk me through, you know, you started off as a writer, you You’ve obviously done a lot of things. And I also want to dovetail this into what gives you inspiration as to what to work on next. I’m sure that habit and that mindset has carried you through your career. So pick up pick one of the many things that you’ve worked on, what prompted you to go into building Make something that was yourself and not just writing.


Kurt Andersen  05:03

Yeah, I mean spy was the first and of the things that I’ve done maybe maybe the most influential of the businesses I’ve started it we, my partner and I the time, great and Carter. And then my third partner was the business guy, Tom Phillips with spy and actually my fourth partner for that matter, my wife and Kramer, who was the marketing and sales person. But we had this we had loved we’d grown up loving magazines, right. I mean, whether it was Esquire in the 60s or National Lampoon when it came out, or there were there were these fan magazines that we just loved getting and defined, our son helped define our sensibilities Mad Magazine when we were little kids. And, and we were both working at Time Magazine together as as guys in our 20s and thought, like, man, we don’t have a favorite magazine anymore. Why is that? You know, magazines are doing great. And by God, you know, 80s and 90s. Were in some ways, a golden age. But but we didn’t have a favorite. And we didn’t. And we had been in journalism and magazine journalism in New York, just long enough to hear all kinds of great stories that never got reported, right, that there was no Internet, there was no things got not buried and covered up exactly, but effectively buried and covered up because they were because the New York Times, for instance, was kind of a monopoly, hegemonic, you know, and and so there were all these stories that didn’t get reported, there was all this fun way of of an satirical way of reporting things. And looking at the world that wasn’t being done in journalism. It was being done, you know, on on the Letterman Show, which we forget, I think was was a really a kind of game changer in terms of sensibility back in the 80s, when that was getting going. So we said, let’s let’s, we just started talking about like, what would this magazine be even before we were serious about starting it, then we said, wow, we’ve got an idea here. Let’s start let’s get somebody knows about business with us. Some people know about business and start raising money. And the timing was great, as it turned out, because there was no internet yet, right? I mean, literally, when we started spy magazine, the internet had not been invented. So so we had, once we had this idea for a thing, this, this magazine, The motto of wish, the slogan of which was smart, fun, funny, fearless. That would be mostly nonfiction, looking at the world, a monthly based and about New York originally, and then the whole of America. Within a couple of years, we had this idea of a thing that wasn’t being done that we wanted for ourselves. And really, that’s the key of anything I’ve ever done is have I want to write a book, I want to start a company, I want to do a thing I want to serve myself, really, it’s something I want I you know, I realized fairly early on that, yeah, you can be in a business where you’re second guessing about like, what would that kind of person want? What would this kind of person want? But you’re second guessing people about what people who aren’t you would want as opposed to? What would I make a dog food you want to eat that you’re the dog for? Right? And so that was that was really what spy was about. And it was, it was risky in all kinds of ways. And I didn’t particularly think of myself as a risk taking person I kind of played by the book, more or less, other than, you know, being an adolescent. But until then, in terms of working and so, so, but But it seemed, it seemed possible at the time, partly, I think also, because we it was the early part of the long boom, where we had, we knew people who were getting making lots and lots of money on Wall Street in the late 80s. And, and they had money to spare to throw into this crazy enterprise that we had in mind. And we were able to raise money that way. And it took off and it was successful. And and we were breaking even within three years, which is kind of amazing for standalone publication. Yeah.


Scott D Clary  09:13

I’ve had experience building a business before that was your first I had not


Kurt Andersen  09:17

great, great and had started a little magazine in Canada, but a very different kind. And so he at least had he had been an editor and had done that but no, we you know, as people say about things and it’s so true of us in that case, we were too stupid to know how, what a long shot it was, you know,


Scott D Clary  09:34

and then after that, you are you’re obviously a serial content creator. Goes you went into studio 360 decided to start an award winning public radio show. Just just just decided to start one but it ended up going well.


Kurt Andersen  09:50

Well, and before that, I had a moment or three or less a little less than three year moment in between spy and that Where were you In writing a novel, after my big job, by the way I was hired for because we’ve done such a good job for spy. The people who had recently bought New York magazine made me editor of that then fired me two and a half years after hiring me because their whole thing was that they wanted to be edgier, they wanted to be have edge be edgier, which was the sort of the word of the day. And I guess I gave it too much edge for them. And some of their their the the owner, Henry Kravis, his pals on Wall Street, and was got booted from that, which, you know, it was a thing my mother always said and said at the time, well, you know, Kurt, when doors closed, other doors open. And I thought Yeah, sure, right, Mom, thanks. But in fact, I decided, Okay, I’ve always wanted to write a novel, I’m, you know, in my late 30s, it’s kind of now or never, I felt and so I, you know, started writing a novel, and it had, you know, some severance and some time and, and actually getting booted from that job, I think probably turned me into a book writer in a way that I might not have ever had, the timing may never have been right. If I just kept doing that and kept editing magazines and been a magazine editor, as magazines began to die, I might have I might have taken that path, rather than being becoming more really of a, you know, essentially an independent creator, you know, which is mostly what I’ve been now. Yes. You mentioned the radio show, which came along, after I’d written my first novel, right after I’d written my first novel. And, and again, that was just came out of the blue. I mean, I never aspired to do that. And, and, but the people who ran public radio decided, you know, maybe you can do this, we have this idea for a show. And, and so we did, and it worked. And it was, yeah, so it was, I mean, I changed lanes was one of the many lane changes I made along the way. And it worked out. I had, and again, it was a matter of taking risks, and not crazy risks, but risks that that I had, I had I had done it once. Right, with spine. Hey, that worked out. Okay. So it gave me the whatever. Courage belief that yeah, it can work out, you know, to do that. I mean, there are all kinds of things in projects apart from being fired from a job that I’ve done along the way that, you know, didn’t work out. So it’s not as though Hey, everything he does turns to gold.


Scott D Clary  12:40

Things that you talk about, because they’re the ones that actually well make some ones that actually did well. Yeah, exact. Exactly.


Kurt Andersen  12:45

Or had some kind of influence or whatever. Yes.


Scott D Clary  12:50

So after after Studio 360. Obviously, that was a large portion of your life. You did that for 20 years. Yeah, it’s a long time to be building up a radio show.


Kurt Andersen  13:03

Well, yeah, it was, although it’s interesting. I mean, it was by that time, especially after the one time when I really worked, you know, for somebody and got fired. I didn’t like say to myself exactly, like, you will never have one boss again. But I kinda did. And I always even though I was doing the radio show was also was writing books, and doing other projects and writing screenplays and so forth. So, so it was it was yes, it was an important gig. But it was kind of like an important gig rather than my defining one job. You know, I really, you know, these days, obviously, all kinds of people, you know, have good, it’s, it’s a gig economy, and people have a portfolio of jobs and occupations and clients and everything. Well, I stumbled my way into doing that, you know, back in back in 2000, when I said, Okay, I’m going to be a book author. And I’m going to have this radio show. But I’m also going to start help start this little media operation here, work on this play over here. So yeah, it was it was, you know, it was it’s like having, whatever how many legs a stool needs three or four, you know?


Scott D Clary  14:15

And then as after after studio 360, just because I think is still functioning and around at what point was that?


Kurt Andersen  14:25

That was a 1999, my friend Michael Hirshhorn, who had been my number two, when I ran New York Magazine, and I had this idea after sort of after I kind of referred to a thing like it in in this novel I’d written called turn of the century set in the near future. We said, he said, Well, let’s actually do that this let’s do this online. Thing that covers the media and entertainment business, which wasn’t really being done that well. I mean, there were the trade publications like Hollywood reporter and variety and things in print world but but it was didn’t really this, this, this exploding new internet, media space and spaces wasn’t really being covered in the way that we thought it could be and should be with with, you know, journalistic aggressiveness and entertaining sensibility and in this daily way, so anyway, that’s what that was. And we started it. And it was, we thought, it’s funny now, but in 1999, sort of, at what turned out to be the end of the, boom, right, we thought, Wow, this internet, we’re missing it, we’re missing it. What Let’s start our own band before it’s too late to start a band kind of thing. And so we had this idea, and, and at this hot, hot moment of 9899, it was, you know, way too easy to raise money for such a thing. And, and we raised a lot of money and hired an amazing staff, and for a couple of years, you know, made a great had a great early internet publication, you know, before I mean, again, it was before broadband report, broadband was barely there. It was before there was any advertising online. So it was it was nuts. I mean, it was, I mean, the charitable fair way to describe it was ahead of its time, but it was it was indeed really good, you know, for its brief life.


Scott D Clary  16:20

Well, it had a brief life and not but it is still around. So obviously, it wasn’t the victim of many other companies that raised money in So you had something under the hood, which was, which was already good, because I noticed enough companies that probably didn’t and still raise a lot of money. So after this, you finish. Okay, so I didn’t realize that was sort of that was you were finished with By the time you know,


Kurt Andersen  16:44

2001 I think 2001 Yeah, we sold it to prime media. This company called prime media, which, ironically, was the company that had on New York Magazine and fired me. But yeah, so yeah, I was done with inside in 2001. And then and then and fully engaged in the radio show, which started started in 2000. And this whole time you’re


Scott D Clary  17:08

writing You’re out? You’re always gonna I’m still Yeah,


Kurt Andersen  17:10

I am. Indeed. Yeah. Yeah. Still writing books. And


Scott D Clary  17:15

no, I was gonna say the one thing that I thought was so impressive about the the the works that you produce, it just seems like you have such an intimate understanding of the topic. And the only reason why I said, now you’re a career writer. So it may seem, it may seem like, well, of course, that’s what he does for a living. But I mean, the amount of people that write books just about their domain, they’ve lived their whole life. They’ve written a book about their domain, and that’s the one thing they publish. So as you’re an experienced, you know, obviously, award winning author, what’s your process for deciding you said before, you want to you want to learn about something, you want to talk about something? That’s what you do. But how do you really get into the weeds on something? Well,


Kurt Andersen  17:55

I mean, novels are one thing and that’s in terms of I’d written you know, I’m Josh Landon.



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Kurt Andersen  18:46

Small little nonfiction book right after the crash for instance, about called reset that was about what I thought how we how we might use the opportunity of the 2008 2009 crash and recession as an opportunity to reset. But most of that was writing novels and those you know, in my case, I just I get an idea for a character or a scene or a time or and and just begin thinking about it for a long time and letting it simmer and grow into something. nonfiction books. These last two I’ve written. You know, Fantasyland and Evil Geniuses kind of start the same way but but they I won’t say they necessarily come to life quicker, but they’re more focused, right. I mean, we you know, you have this idea with fantasyland as opposed to characters or scenes or meal use or times or what images or the way fiction germinates, so fanzine, it was like, Wow, this country has become a lot less cool committed to empirical reality in my lifetime. Why is that? You know, and so,


Scott D Clary  19:56

investigate that and go


Kurt Andersen  19:58

investigate that. How’d that happen at first And I’d written a novel set in the 60s 1960s. At the time, I thought, I think it’s something to do with that, and how anything goes and find your own truth and all that stuff that grew out of the 60s and 70s. That has something to do with it. But then I realized, wait, no, this is this is a deeper, longer history. I mean, I was really not, didn’t start it as a history book. And it became a history book, because I realized, there’s a lot about America, and Americans and the American idea going all the way back hundreds of years, that, that when it got out of control in a certain way, as in my telling, in the last 50 years, it became it led to the post truth, post fact, fake news of all the world that we are now find ourselves in that it got us here. And again, I started, I started thinking about that book, in the tooth early 2010, started writing in 2014, turn it in, manuscript in before Donald Trump was even nominated for president. So as it turned out, I was, you know, I, I’m very grateful to my publisher said, when I told her about this book that I might do next, she said, now maybe do that. Now that sounds timely. And thank God she did, because it came out just in time for to help, you know, explain how we got to the land of Trump, the fantasy land of Trump. So then Evil Geniuses came along, really, people responded to that book. And I realized as I was finishing it, and as I was growing up in the world talking about it, that it that my my theory of how we went wrong, I mean, one of the fantasyland subtitle is how America went haywire. The evil genius and subtitle is the unmaking of America. And I realized, I told you kind of half of a story that I had to tell which is wow, we are we have an iffy relationship to the truth. And that allows for all kinds of problems if it gets out of control of people. Not believing in climate change, for instance, or, or not believing in vaccines or whatever, the not believing true things or believing false things you’re talking about. But I realized there’s another half of that of how this was, how the how we got so unfair in this country, how we got so unequal how prosperity began going only to the very wealthy people like me, not that I’m very wealthy, but I’m in the top 20% of people have done okay, in the last 50 years. And so I realized beyond this kind of exploration of the irrational in America, that there was this very, very rational thing that had has been done and changed the system in the last 40 or 50 years. And so I wanted to figure out, like, what had that happened, and that was, you know, involved, Evil Geniuses involves more of a, you know, how did I miss this? How was I not paying enough attention, as it was happening in the 80s and 90s? You know, kind of, and just explaining to so I understand what happened, right? How, how the all the, the ideas of how the system should be fair for everyone, and all boats should rise and the Duke New Deal idea how that was just wiped away. And we ended up where we’ve ended up trying to figure it out, you know, and trying to figure out how it happened. And then trying to, you know, write it in a in a lucid enough way that, you know, normal people could understand it and be persuaded, and, and that I’m not an economist, or haven’t studied economics since I was in college. But you know, so that the economists of the world and the political economists of the world wouldn’t think I was an idiot. And so I spent a couple of years researching it, and you’re, you’re so right, and here I am. So, so I feel like okay, my nonfiction work here is done I and they really work is kind of two volumes of if you think America has kind of gone off the rails in the last while. Here’s my one explanation, and there are kind of a two volume history in that sense.


Scott D Clary  24:16

I just want to take a second and thank the sponsor of today’s episode HubSpot. Now, while you’re listening to this podcast, you’re probably doing something else to mastering the art of working out shaving, like no one’s watching, we get it when you’re having conversation with your customers. The same is probably true for them. There I am in their teams mentally planning date nights. So growing conversations beyond that moment can be challenging. HubSpot helps you go beyond the moment by connecting you and your teams. So you can access the exact same data and see the full customer picture, what motivates them what their expectations are, and how you can blow them out of the water with powerful tools that connect marketing sales ops and service hub spots powerful CRM platform powers you and your teams to transform customer moments into Excel. For ordinary customer experiences, learn how HubSpot can help your business grow And you break it down you. So that’s something that. So I appreciate that. Because I think that everybody that looks at the current state of America and wonders, you know, how did we get here? But you, you know, you break it down, you know, you mentioned, how did? How did I not see this? And I was actually watching a few interviews to just research for this show. And, you know, how did I not see this, I was living through it. And I’m sure you have a couple thoughts on that. But also, the book goes way back. So you even speak about the founding ideology of America, and how that’s potentially lead to what caused the opinions that would have prompted people to almost have a knee jerk reaction, you know, in in the 70s. I think that you know, when I was reading through your speaking about understanding the mindset of the people, the CEOs, the executives in the 60s 70s, and what’s led them to potentially do some of the things that you you speak about in the book. So first, I just want to tee it up. So I think that what you had mentioned, there was a little clip about America being founded based on the ideas of newness and innovation. And I think I just wanted you to speak about that. And what that what that’s all about.


Kurt Andersen  26:19

Sure. Well, again, I did sort of, it’s not quite as much of the long view as fantasyland. But I do go back, as you say, to the beginnings and how the idea of America even before it was the United States was all about the new and you know, this was the New World, let’s include Canada, and I hear that Canadian accent in your voice. That’s why I take you into the whole North American idea. But so no, but it was it was it was about a new world, let’s go to this new place and figure out new ways to live and new ways to do things, and then new ways to manufacture things, new ways to create a government in new ways. It was always about the new for, you know, for, for better and worse, but mostly for better, really, and for hundreds of years. And so. And certainly in the in the 19th and 20th century, America became the font of newness, and people wanted to go there to create new lives create new selves create, to, to not be tied to the old ways in the old world. And again, that was mostly mostly good, in my view. And then somewhere along the line, I mean, and certainly provoked by by what happened in the 1960s. This, the 1960s, as I describe it, and evil geniuses was this kind of moment of just overwhelming newness all at once. I mean, whether it was the space age and the Apollo program, and, and all of that, like, you know, top down newness, and then there was the counterculture and hippies, and the new age and all that and, and, and civil rights and urban uprisings. And, man, I mean, it’s hard to, you know, I was just a little kid at the time, but, but it was a decade of just raging newness to the Mac’s that have not naturally discombobulated a lot of people. And so there was an, to some degree, a natural organic reaction after that in the early 70s. To like, hold your horses, let’s just calm down a little bit, let’s stop with the constant constant, new, new, new, new, new, new new, kind of the shock of the new. And so and you mentioned the CEOs and billionaires, or I guess at that point, not even probably 100 millionaires, there weren’t many billionaires at the time. But anyway, that moneyed class and CEOs thought felt in like 1969 1970 as as environmental regulation came in, and just this, this anti business sense took hold. A lot of them were afraid that you know, they were going to be washed away by by some kind of socialist revolution, which in retrospect, is kind of nuts and hysterical of them but somewhat understandable that they felt like oh my god, we’re just going to be our time is unless we fight back somehow our time is over. And so they did this they got together a bunch of them, including Charles Koch, most famously but but others and and the Business Roundtable, this new thing that that was this sort of new kind of organization of CEOs of the largest companies getting together to lobby and and they really they created a new kind of you know, Libertaire economically libertarian Ultra Pro capitalist right, with think tanks and its own media platforms and and on and on and on, and and lobbyists and, and so forth. And and used this like this exhaustion this post 60s exhaustion of oh, let’s go back to the way it used to be okay, let’s go back to the way it used to be. And very brilliantly and cleverly with Ronald Reagan as a frontman sold this idea of yeah, let’s take America back to the way it was, you know, they didn’t say back to the way it was before civil rights before women’s rights but that was part of it. That was the unsaid


Scott D Clary  30:30

recurring theme that we see. Yes thing again and again. Exactly.


Kurt Andersen  30:35

So but it was, but this idea of, oh, let’s go back to good old small town America, when government wasn’t in everybody’s faces and government was competent, and all those things, was a very successful political sell. And so the characters, the stars of evil geniuses are these very rational, rich guys who, not only within a few years, kept them saw that they weren’t being washed away, that the free enterprise system wasn’t being dismantled. And they very quickly, sort of, you know, did when they were no longer in existential Jeopardy, but they, they, at a certain point in the late 70s, decided, well, let’s keep going. Let’s see how far we can go. And really transform the system to really, you know, roll back the the old New Deal paradigm of, you know, the rich pay high taxes, and we have aggressive antitrust and all the rest. And, and they and they just kept on going and before too long, there was no Democratic Party, that sort of positing an alternative to that. So every everybody agreed, right? I mean, they’re, they’re Democrats and Republicans didn’t really, by the 90s, certainly, by the age of Bill Clinton, didn’t really disagree about economics or social policy very much, you know, the only things they disagreed about were the cultural things of an end. And, and therefore, the system and all of its premises about what was fair and unfair, and what how much inequality we could, we could we could stand or countenance was was changed in a generation.


Scott D Clary  32:22

And this is this is, this is a really a death by 1000 cuts, because I’m sure if you, if you go back, you can trace back, you know, specific specific action items and various you know, government programs and whatnot that will actually have this this compound, almost butterfly effect to things that we’re experiencing today. And the like you said, like the the all the all the things that we question, how did we get like this, this has not been monumental, major policy decisions. These are just small things that have added up over time.


Kurt Andersen  32:54

Totally, totally. Right. And that’s, and that is, again, to my whatever, credit, or at least, why we didn’t see it so much, because so much of it were, as you say, these death by 1000 cuts these tiny little things that didn’t seem like such big deals. Yes, Ronald Reagan was elected. And, and, and we and the Congress reduced income taxes by half the rates, that was a big thing. But that that was one part of all these small things that who, who, unless you were a kind of specialist in regulation, or tax codes, you just didn’t pay much attention to like the change the SEC change in the early 1980s that allowed companies to buy their own stock shares. That That hadn’t happened, right, since since the New Deal, since we set up the modern system of of regulating equities and securities and finance. Suddenly, no, no, go ahead, buy your own stock. And that just was this just profound transformation. Where now you know, and for the last generation, most big companies spend most of their earnings on buying their own stock, which always struck me as like, Hey, how did this happen? This didn’t used to happen, did it? This didn’t seem kosher. And then I went back and look at the history of this, this little change of an SEC Rule that nobody paid, didn’t make big, big headlines,


Scott D Clary  34:20

just massive change.


Kurt Andersen  34:22

And it’s a massive change. Or, or another example, like that is, is well, they didn’t lower the minimum wage, they just stopped raising the minimum wage and let inflation do the business of lowering it. Right. So So back in the day in the 50s, and 60s and 70s. You know, the minimum wage was the equivalent of 1012, almost $15 Because Congress kept raising it. Then they stopped it went down to basically seven bucks and where it stayed for 40 years. On and on and on. There’s there are as there’s dozens, scores, hundreds of of changes that either were invisible because they were done by stealth, like not raising the minimum wage or like, what’s this 401k? is what I don’t know, whatever. That just nobody noticed, you know, and but in the aggregate, they changed the system in a relatively few years


Scott D Clary  35:19

now. So you go into into a lot of details, examples, and you broke the book down, I guess into, I guess it’s five, five different parts. I don’t know if that’s correct or not. This is just from my research. If that, if that’s accurate, let me know. But so you go through these four parts that is really just like the history leading up to modern day. And then the fifth part I thought was interesting. Make America new again. So this is the result of the past 40 years, and speak to me about what that what that means. Exactly.



I’m Chris Long, the host of American prodigies becoming great. Join me each week, as I take you inside some of the most fascinating NFL stories, new episodes every Thursday, listen in wherever you get your podcasts presented by win bet.


Kurt Andersen  36:10

Well, you know, I’m in lots of our politics in our divisions today, our arguments over what was bad or good about the past, right. And there are aspects of the past. We can’t bring back to want to bring back, you know, white supremacy, women can’t do anything but stay at home, I could go on, you know, gay people can’t admit they’re gay. But there are certain parts of there’s a certain part of the past, which is to say, our political economic past when things were fair, and we had this, you know, during the 40s, and 50s, and 60s and 70s, this, this national consensus about what was fair, and what was what wasn’t fair, and how big corporate power should be, and on and on. And on, that there’s, there’s a lot there to look at now. Which isn’t to say, you know, it’s a very different world with a very different economy. And, and most especially the digital revolution has changed things. But we can we did it better, you know, it was fairer. All boats, most boats, many boats did tend to rise together until around 1980. So, so, so but here we are, in this new digital world where where well paying jobs have been destroyed by both globalization and technology, and now digital technology. And, and doesn’t look to most of the experts that I’ve read, like they’re going to be replaced by new good, better jobs, the way they were in the early 20th century. They were the way they were in the early 19th century. And yes, there were there was disturbances caused and pain caused by all those industrial revolutions. But eventually, people have to farm and went to factories, eventually people have factories and went to office jobs. It seems like there’s a good possibility, I think probability that it’s different this time. So you have the chance for this new digital world and and this new AI world to keep eliminating jobs and making the production of things and services more and more and more efficient. But how are people going to live? You know, how are people going to have dignity, how how we are at this crossroads, where we have to figure out how the future is going to be a decent one for most people. And I think I really do think it’s a crossroads, which to say, there is the opportunity for amazing plenty, you know, for solving, as John Maynard Keynes said 100 years ago, the economic problem, which is to say, there’s now enough for everybody, right? I do this, this, this sort of thought experiment in the course of the book saying, talking about America to not saying let’s divide up all wealth and income equally, that’s never going to happen, probably shouldn’t ever happen. But let’s just illustrate as an illustration, if you define up all of the wealth, and all of the income in the United States, equally by household, everybody is upper middle class. Everybody has upper middle class, the, the the each person, each household gets $100,000 of wealth, and and each household has an income of 130 $140,000. Sounds good, right? Again, I’m not saying we should do that. But it is a starting point to say how wealthy we are, and how dysfunctional and unfairly all of that wealth and income is now share. So I do think that, you know, we’re at a place where we have to rejigger our system to make it a more fair one, as you know, not unlike other countries, like say the Scandinavian countries like say Canada even Before we get to this place where it becomes this, you know, dystopian digital feudalism, which is where we’re headed if we don’t pretty radically change the system, I think


Scott D Clary  40:14

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Kurt Andersen  41:53

Well, we’ll see. I mean, there’s a lot of problems. And it’s not an easy slog. But one of the things by looking at this history of how how the paradigm was shifted, and how the system was transformed fairly quickly over the generation from, let’s say, 1978 to 1998. Right? That like, wow, let’s do what they did. But for our side, right? I mean, it’s possible. It’s, it’s a heavy slog, and it’s a long term. process if it’s to happen, but but, and again, I’m serious when I say, Look what they did and learn things, keep your eye on the prize, right? And keep at it, and keep at it and keep at it and don’t let yourself get too diverted by things that aren’t really going to make lives much better. And in my view, stick to the economics, which the Evil Geniuses did, you know, so yeah, I don’t think I’m still you know, 50.1% hopeful, I still I’m not, I’m not without hope that we can get there. And, you know, the last, the politics and economics for the last nine months that actually given me some, you know, sent me that all the way to 51 52%. Hopeful,


Scott D Clary  43:08

pretty optimistic. I’m very good. I always like to ask a couple of rapid fire career questions, just to bring some some insights to you. Was there anything else that you wanted to bring up any points in the book that we didn’t touch on that were major relevant points? I know that we really broke a lot of it down?


Kurt Andersen  43:25

Well, no, I mean, it’s I think, in terms of an introduction, I mean, part of it, as I say, for people who don’t feel like they’re particularly left on economics. You know, I wasn’t either I was always a kind of capital D democratic centrist, until I until I really stopped and said, like, yeah, that’s easy for me to say, I’ve done fine, right. Let’s really look at what happened and how this happened. And so I think it’s for being a sort of political economic history. It’s, it’s pretty fair and balanced there. I said, So, but yeah, I mean, I think if this, if this subject interests you at all, I think, you know, it should,


Scott D Clary  44:09

I think it should introduce more people to be honest,


Kurt Andersen  44:11

you can, you can learn a lot because I learned a lot. And really, I’m just, I’m just, I’ve just recapitulated my three years of learning in this book.


Scott D Clary  44:20

Very good. Okay, some, some rapid fire insights out of you go as long or as short as you’d like for these. What was the biggest challenge that you’ve had in your career? And how did you overcome it?


Kurt Andersen  44:32

Well, I guess I mean, the one that felt like a big challenge, because it was so sort of spectacular was getting fired from this job. Because it was in the newspapers, and you know, it was like being shot over the cannon that you didn’t know you were in until it was until you totally lit the fuse. So but but in fact, I mean, because it was so dramatic, spectacular and I Quick, it wasn’t ultimately that hard, even though it felt it was it was shocking and disorienting and a bummer. So I guess that was the single biggest if we’re, if it’s if it’s a lightning round, that’s, that’s, that’s the biggest,


Scott D Clary  45:14

that’s a good No, it’s good. It’s I didn’t feel damaged


Kurt Andersen  45:17

by it or like, I didn’t go into a year long depression, I just, you know, got back on the horse.


Scott D Clary  45:24

Yeah, I just like to bring that out. Because, you know, people that are younger in their career, I think everybody who’s achieved any level of success has been fired in, in one way or another. But you know, sometimes, for people that are younger, it feels like it’s it is the end of the world. What would be one thing that you would tell your 20 year old self?


Kurt Andersen  45:43

Ah, I would say. And I knew it by the time I was 25, or 28. But basically, learn patience. You know, I would say the, as a young person, I certainly would didn’t didn’t have enough patience. And maybe that’s the nature of being young. And by the time I was 30, I kind of had developed some patients, so it was okay, but, but just, you know, calm down, you know, stay on the right track, you’ll get there, you’ll get what you need. Don’t be so anxious.


Scott D Clary  46:20

What would who would be one person, excuse me, that had a major impact on your life. It can be family, it can be somebody in your professional circle, and what did they teach you?


Kurt Andersen  46:32

Well, I was really lucky. In terms of my family, my parents were like, excellent, excellent. Parents and back back in the day when, when the phrase helicopter parents didn’t exist, and, and my parents were certainly not helicopter parents they gave me, you know, I knew I was cared about, but I had a very long leash. But I wouldn’t say the person who the single person who was most was it was just a great person to have in my life was my first boss, who was this guy called Jean shallot, who was big, famous guy at the time. He was on the Today Show every day, when that was a big deal. And he was the culture guy and then movie reviewer and, and he just hired me out of college, to write for him and research for him to hang around with him. He was a great boss, he was he was just the model of a generous, great boss. He was certainly so he was very generous to me and got me this book deal for this book I published when I was 26 years old, were incredibly generously and was just his model of kindness and decency and mentorship. To the degree I you know, I might have been okay on those scores, in all the jobs and when I’ve employed people and help people, but but he’s certainly, as a first boss, proving to me that this is what a boss can be, was, was an incredibly important influence.


Scott D Clary  47:56

What would be one source that you’d recommend could be a book podcast? Obviously, none of your own, that you recommend people? I


Kurt Andersen  48:03

got nothing for it? Well, let’s see. What do I listen to? I mean, right now, I mean, in terms of, are we talking about living life better, just


Scott D Clary  48:19

interested? Your your, your interpretation?


Kurt Andersen  48:21

I think I mean, my friend, and it’s not just because he’s my friend, but John Heilemann has a podcast we’ve been doing for now a year, I guess called hell and high water, which is just an exemplary example exemplary podcast, he really, he really does it well and right, and uses and they’re, they tend to be an hour long, but but he used they don’t ever feel like they drag he really, he doesn’t really beautifully and, and, and, I think understands the difference between interview and conversation, which is to say, these are more like conversations. It’s, it’s, it’s really excellent. And, and, you know, and, you know, podcasts, as you know, by doing this, it’s a wonderful time to be, it’s wonderful to be in a medium as it’s still finding its own form and shape, where there’s not absolute rules of this is the way it’s got to be or that’s the way it’s got to be when it’s still, you know, whatever, we’re in the early 1020 years of this form. And, and, and I find it very exciting when, you know, things like Jon’s Do it, do it, you know, his own way and it’s, it’s great. So it’s a, I just find it I find a great because also because it’s weekly and I find both as a as a creator and as a consumer, I find daily these days, you know, when when we’re so diluted by content and information and and all that. I find I find that Though weekly frequency kind of more my my cup of tea.


Scott D Clary  50:08

One thing that you mentioned that I thought was that really resonated with me and it just just reminded me when you said, you know, the medium hasn’t been defined yet is that you create content that you would consume yourself where you investigate ideas, or you build businesses, or you write books. And I think that that’s probably one of the one things that anybody who’s creating content, that’s something they should take away. And that’s, that’s why I built this podcast. That’s why I hope whoever is creating content or listening to this and being inspired, create something that they want to create because, you know, this, like, if you don’t, if you don’t love it, if you don’t live it, if it’s not something that’s for you, you’re trying to build it for something like someone else, it’s very, it’s a it’s a tough, tough hill to climb if if it’s something that’s like really core to who you are.


Kurt Andersen  50:51

So I don’t really know it’s no fun for the creators but but again, and it’s, it can be called authenticity, but it’s a form of that it’s like wow, you are really interested in this you are really curious about this, you really wanted to talk to this person that comes across and I think yeah, that’s that’s if I have a if I have if I have advice for people whether or not they’re creating media, whatever they’re doing, like you better you better like this and you better be doing it for it, you better be a customer of whatever it is you’re selling or you know, maybe you won’t fail but the likelihood of failure or failure is higher and in any case you’re not going to have fun doing it


Scott D Clary  51:29

yeah yeah, very good. What does success mean to you


Kurt Andersen  51:35

being being feeling as though you’ve given it your best shot whatever it is and and and feeling like you had been kind of along the way and and grateful as it comes to an end I might my brother who my older brother who recently died always said that his if you had a religion it was gratitude and and I always like yeah, that’s kind of right. But as he got older as I get older, I thought like that Yes. That’s it if you want to end up if you want to end up feeling feeling as though you haven’t done you haven’t committed too many unforced errors and and that you’re grateful for the people who have helped you in for and for life itself. So that’s what I’m saying.


Scott D Clary  52:32

And most importantly, how do people connect with you website social where did they get the book all of that?


Kurt Andersen  52:38

They will they get the book wherever they buy books, and there’s a paperback edition of Evil Geniuses being published in August so they can they can wait for that and get get a beautiful new paperback with some updates, but evil geniuses, Twitter is where as the social place I am most active. I’m at k b Anderson. Sen. I’ve got a nice website. That is Kurt and then get a hold of me through that or see what I’m up to


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