Debating Progressive Public Policy with Glenn Loury and Briahna Joy Gray

On this episode, Trending Globally was thrilled to welcome a special guest host: Glenn Loury, professor of economics at the Watson Institute. In addition to being a celebrated economist, Loury is also one of America’s most insightful and incisive thinkers on race and public policy. 

His guest on this episode, Briahna Joy Gray, is a progressive writer and commentator, and former National Press Secretary for the Bernie Sanders 2020 presidential campaign. Glenn and Briahna discussed some of the Left’s most prized policy ambitions, including student debt relief, Medicare-for-all, and increasing taxes on America’s wealthiest citizens. 

Neither Glenn nor Briahna’s political views fall neatly into America’s two main political parties, so while they don’t see eye to eye on most of the issues, the resulting conversation strays from typical partisan talking points. Instead, you’ll hear two independent thinkers respectfully debating America’s biggest policy problems, sometimes taking positions that cut across the partisan grain. Hopefully it will help you see some of America’s most long-standing political dilemmas in a new light. 

Briahna is the host of the podcast ‘Bad Faith,’ and Glenn is the host of his own podcast, ‘The Glenn Show.’ Their conversation was edited down for this episode of Trending Globally, but you’ll be able to hear the full, unedited version on each of those podcasts soon. You can find them wherever you listen to podcasts. 

Find more conversations like this on Glenn Loury’s Substack. 


DAN RICHARDS: From the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs at Brown University, this is Trending Globally. I'm Dan Richards. On this episode, something a little different from what we normally do. Glenn Loury, Professor of Economics at the Watson Institute, sat in as our guest host and had a conversation about American politics that will leave you seeing long-standing policy debates in a new light.

For those of you who aren't familiar with Glenn Loury, in addition to being a celebrated economist, he's also one of America's most insightful and incisive thinkers on race and public policy. He's been described as a conservative, but as he puts it in this conversation--

GLENN LOURY: I'm not saying I'm a person of the right. I mean, I'm conservative for a Black guy, OK.


I'm an economist by profession. I'm heterodox.

DAN RICHARDS: The other voice you heard there is his guest on this episode, Briahna Joy Gray. Briahna is a progressive writer and commentator and former national press secretary for the Bernie Sanders Twenty-Twenty presidential campaign. On this episode, Glenn and Briahna debate some of the left's most prized policy ambitions, including student debt relief, Medicare for all, and increasing taxes on America's wealthiest citizens.

Neither Glenn nor Briahna's political views fall neatly into America's two main parties. So while they don't see eye to eye on most of the issues they discuss, you won't be hearing many of the typical partisan talking points. Instead, you'll hear two independent thinkers respectfully debating America's biggest policy problems. Hopefully, you'll find it as refreshing as we did.

A note before we start. Briahna is the host of the podcast Bad Faith, and Glenn is the host of his own podcast, The Glenn Show. This conversation was edited down for Trending Globally, but you'll be able to hear the full, unedited version on each of those podcasts soon. We'll put links to them in the show notes. They started with a few points they actually agree on. Here's Glenn.

GLENN LOURY: I'm happy to welcome Briahna Joy Gray. Briahna is hostess of the Bad Faith podcast, which my wife loves. And I do too, actually, although I don't love it as much as my wife does. Is a graduate of Harvard Law School, as former national press secretary for the Bernard Sanders campaign, and is a woman of the left. I think I could say that without embarrassing her.

Absolutely. So welcome, welcome. I almost want to say welcome back, except you had me as a guest on your podcast and I reposted it at The Glenn Show, I don't know, six months, eight, nine months ago, something like that.


GLENN LOURY: Less than a year ago, and it got a lot of traffic. I'll bet the comments that you received are different from the comments that I received.

BRIANHA GRAY: How so? What do you think I received?

GLENN LOURY: Well, I bet your comments were, how dare you. Why were you talking to that guy? I mean, you know, he's beneath contempt. He's a conservative.

BRIANHA GRAY: No, that's not my audience. I think that there are a lot of liberals like that, but there's a pretty significant cultural distinction between liberals and the left. And because the left are so so erased from the public sphere, a lot of folks don't even really realize what we're all about.

So the left, I think, is very much aligned with a lot of folks who identify as politically independent or perhaps conservative, that are concerned with a lot of issues about censorship, because it's often left-wing sites that are censored first in the first culling. So there's a lot of alignment there, because any quote unquote "fringe" ideology are going to be the first ones hit.

GLENN LOURY: OK. Now I like this idea of Briahna and I are talking because we have our political differences, but we also have a common commitment to the value of discourse and to the integrity of journalism. I think we do.

BRIANHA GRAY: I think so. That feels right.

GLENN LOURY: So the left and the right-- and I'm not saying I'm a person of the right. I'm heterodox. I mean, I'm conservative for a Black guy, OK. I mean, I'm an economist by profession, so that's going to make me a little bit kind of neoliberal on certain stuff, prices and open markets and things of this kind. But I don't know. I don't like the idea of me being a man of the right. I mean, that kind of rubs me the wrong way. But in any case, we're talking, and I think that's the thing, you know.

BRIANHA GRAY: Do you think you're conservative for-- do you think that Black people aren't conservative? I was mooting this earlier today, because a man on the plane with me was wearing a sweatshirt, a Black guy, that said "Black Capitalist." and I was sharing. I took a quick snap, and I was sharing it with some of my friends on a text thread. And some of the non-Black people on the thread were confused by it, and I'm like, what is the deal with the shirt.

I was like, no, this is a common strain, a common way of thinking among Black people who are like very invested in the system and are very proud of kind of land accumulation, property accumulation, you know, playing the game as it is, and not feeling like you have to reform anything to succeed.

GLENN LOURY: I think it's complicated. You're making me remember my uncle Mooney. Now, I grew up in the '50s and '60s in Chicago. So Uncle Mooney grew up in the '30s and the '40s in Chicago. By the time I met him, he was in his 40s. He was a hustler.

And I don't mean illegal. I mean a guy that made money as every way he could find out to make money, buying and selling stuff. He kept a shop, a barbershop, and kept three or four barbers in there. And he would probably sell a little stuff out the back door that might have fallen off somebody's truck somewhere or something like that.

It might have a little grass in there if somebody was-- but uncle Mooney used to say, I tell what you, call me when they start integrating the money. He was about integrating the money. And he was a small business, store-keeping, hard-working guy.

And you say believe in the system. Well, I don't know if he believed in the system. I mean, he was a deep admirer of Malcolm X. He liked the straight-back, defiant, independent, self-reliant, manly, if I may say so-- he did-- stance.

He wasn't asking for anything except, get out of my way while I take care of my own business, protect my family, build my life, et cetera. So yeah, that was Uncle Mooney. And I think that's I think that's pretty commonplace in African-American history and culture.

BRIANHA GRAY: I was reflecting on how popular Ben Carson was before he ran for president, among Black people--

GLENN LOURY: In that story.

BRIANHA GRAY: --generally speaking. Yeah.

GLENN LOURY: What do you call it? Healing hands or gifted hands?

BRIANHA GRAY: Yeah, gifted hands. Yeah. And how there's a certain among-- I think about my other kind of Black-- the Black middle class families that I grew up with. There were only so many Black families when I was a little kid in North Carolina.

And many of them grew up to be doctors. Many of them grew up to be doctors who really admired Ben Carson until his politics became more explicitly foregrounded. And there was this feeling of even if you don't like the system, and a pride in having navigated it so successfully and achieved despite the odds, and therefore an almost tacit investment in it that says, well, if I was able to do it, other people will able to do it, which is, frankly, a rather-- and I mean that's not judgmentally, but just as an observation-- conservative kind of ideology.

And even the people individually aren't conservative, even if they vote Democrat, even if they express shared views with someone like me and a lot of metrics, when I start talking about the kinds of policies that would substantially reform the system that they've succeeded in, those are some of the biggest fights I've had as a leftist, is other Black bourgeois people, my former classmates, people who have mortgages, people who have paid off their student debt.

Those are the biggest fights, and I think it is because-- even they would hate to admit it, and they would say they love Malcolm, and they would see themselves as revolutionaries by like doing the DEI work at their law firms or whatever-- they have succeeded in the status quo, and they're afraid of what comes next, which is, I think, an understandable, relatable feeling. I don't know what comes next. I've also succeeded under the status quo.

GLENN LOURY: Yeah. Maybe it doesn't rub me the wrong way quite as much as it does you because I don't have a revolutionary manifesto behind me that I want to recruit these folks to. What I see, frankly-- and I'm just talking about the general cadre of people who are doing this-- is it's a great country. It's an open country. There's a lot of possibility in life, and people are grasping at the opportunity, and they're making the best of it for themselves and their children. And what's wrong with that?

BRIANHA GRAY: I grew up overseas, and I think consequently have a little bit of a different attitude toward America than some of my peers on the left, and broadly so. I agree. I think America is a great country. I think there's a lot of opportunities here.

There's a reason why a lot of people do want to immigrate here. It's the wealthiest country in the world. Bernie likes to say in the history of the world. I'm not quite sure how he gets those numbers, but, hey, let's go with it.

It's also true that the people who founded this country came here on a mission to improve upon their own status quo. And I like to think that one of the best things about America is the idea that we can continue to be more perfect. It's the--

GLENN LOURY: That was Obama.

BRIANHA GRAY: That was Obama's lift. And I think it's a useful formulation because I do think sometimes people on the left and people on the right, they get into the struggle bus where people on the left feel line people on the right saying America is good, America is great, America is appealing to all these people, is a denial of the things that could be improved on, and is a kind of way of shifting responsibility away from addressing that.

Yeah, but couldn't we be better? And yeah, 68,000 people die every year from a lack of health insurance. This doesn't happen in other similarly developed countries. The average student debt burden of 44 million Americans is $30,000. Is there a better way to figure out how to rig the system, design the system to have better outcomes? And I would like us to be in the space sometimes more of agreeing that, of course, we can improve instead of having kind of like a chest thumping match about who thinks America is good or bad, you know?

GLENN LOURY: OK. I can agree with that. I mean, and I think we can improve. And I think some of the battle-- and that's what we're talking about here-- where both Black intellectuals and journalists addressing ourselves to public affairs issues from relatively different perspectives. I'm more to the right than Brianha, everybody.

BRIANHA GRAY: [CHUCKLES] You're trying to pre-emptively distance yourself from me.

GLENN LOURY: But we can agree that it's a great country with great opportunity, and we can also agree that it's not a perfect country. It's a country that could be improved. And then it gets down the cases.

And then we're talking about whether it taxes, how do you regulate corporations, what do you do about climate mitigation? What is the inequality problem and how do you address it? How do you fix the schools if the schools need fixing?

What do you do about crime and maintenance of order in the cities and things of that kind? How much funding for education? At what level and how? How do you hold teachers accountable if you're going to hold them accountable, et cetera?

BRIANHA GRAY: Is there one of those that you would prefer to start with first, get into first?

GLENN LOURY: I mean, we can get to a laundry list. But I wanted to talk more generally about left and right because you made a point that I thought was really interesting, which is that people at the-- little bit off of the main beat-- sometimes have a trouble getting their voices heard and worry about getting marginalized. For example, the Democratic party did your man dirt. They really did dog him out. I mean--

BRIANHA GRAY: Correct. But it's still going. Have you heard about this latest with Senator Nina Turner in Ohio's 11th district race?

GLENN LOURY: Well, if I didn't know who Anita Turner was, my wife would divorce me.


GLENN LOURY: I mean, Nina Turner. Nina Turner. If I did not know who she was, my wife would divorce me. She's had her eye on her for years. But tell us about her.

BRIANHA GRAY: Yeah, Democratic party is no friend to the left. So, as you mentioned, they were roundly unfair to Bernie Sanders both in Twenty-Sixteen and Twenty-Twenty. But Senator Turner, who was one of Bernie Sanders four campaign co-chairs, ran last year to replace Marcia Fudge's seat in the district that's basically Cleveland, Ohio. Marcia Fudge joined the Obama administration and left a mid-term vacancy.

In that race, Senator Turner-- we call her Senator Turner because she was a state senator some years back. She has a long history in the district, very well-liked in the district. Was a professor at Cuyahoga Community College, a graduate of that college. Has a real personal hard knock story that a lot of people relate to-- she was ahead of the polls.

Everything was going along swimmingly when her opponent, which seems to have been just kind of picked from the ether by the Democratic party-- you're hard pressed to find her speaking anywhere on the internet saying anything, believing anything has no real identity before any of this-- gets a huge influx of money that catches her up to Nina Turner who had been leading and fundraising up until that point from a variety of groups that historically donate to Republican candidates. No progressive allies here. And in the final stretch gets endorsements from all the favorite, favorite Democrats.

There are people like Jim Clyburn and Hillary Clinton. And she narrowly squeaks out a victory over Nina Turner. Now, Nina Turner is running again because it was a special election. Now, there's the real election this year. It's coming up, I think, on May 3. The congressional progressive caucus, led by Pramila Jayapal who was for Bernie Sanders, all of the squad members and the CPC for Bernie Sanders, Bernie Sanders surrogates all of that. Ro Khanna was another co-chair CPC.

They just endorsed Chantel Brown, Nina Turner's opponent over Nina Turner. Now, Chantel Brown wasn't even a member of the CPC until they grandfathered her in like a month ago just to validate now, it seems in retrospect, the choice for them doing so. Chantel Brown didn't believe in a $15 minimum wage, Medicare for all, any of this stuff last year.

GLENN LOURY: OK, she's an electable Democrat.

BRIANHA GRAY: Well, anybody in Cleveland is electable. It's a blue city. It's a blue district. That's not the issue. They can't claim electability.

GLENN LOURY: What accounts for the antipathy to Nina Turner's candidacy--

BRIANHA GRAY: She's a progressive.

GLENN LOURY: --in the mainstream Democratic Party?

BRIANHA GRAY: She's a progressive. And she's--

GLENN LOURY: Well, why are they against progressives?

BRIANHA GRAY: Well, she's outspoken against the failures of the Democratic party. She's outspoken against the failures of Joe Biden, because she's advocating sincerely for the interests of working people, not ideologically working people. So the reason why I feel such ideological kinship to so many people across the spectrum is because they're-- my first and foremost sense of identity is with those people who have identified that there is a one-party system that's rooted in neoliberalism and maintaining a corporatized status quo that makes life very, very difficult for the majority of people living in this country.

We live in the richest country in the world, and 40% of Americans could not respond to a $400 emergency. Really think about what that means. A $400 emergency. People couldn't come up with 400 bucks. 40% of the country, that was a stat from before the pandemic. God knows what it is now.

And we have the longest period in American history without raising the minimum wage that hasn't been raised since Bush. And we're fighting over what exactly? You turn on the CNN or Tucker Carlson, they're all talking about the same dumb stuff, distracting us from these substantive issues that should be uniting us all, you know?

GLENN LOURY: OK, I mean, in a way, you're not answering my question. I want to know why is it that the party, the Democratic Party, which is the relative left party and the mainstream American politics, is against these progressive ideas? They're not for the $15 minimum wage. Or are they afraid they're going to lose some close elections if they don't hew to the center?

BRIANHA GRAY: This because Joe Biden took more money--

GLENN LOURY: It's money.

BRIANHA GRAY: --from billionaires and corporate donors than anybody else in the huge Democratic primary field to, what, 26 candidates or whatever it was.


BRIANHA GRAY: And money talks. And I think normal people get that. Normal people don't think that people are giving away money for free. There's no free lunch. And Joe Biden admitted in this kind of fabulous clip of him saying, well, of course, if you give me $20,000 and you call me, I'm going to pick up your call first before other people's. And I appreciate the honesty.

GLENN LOURY: OK, so what would be wrong with this-- OK, so, like, applying game theory to the political scene, how can you win? So probably about the median voter theorem. In political science, there's this idea that the parties tend to move into the center because if I'm on the left and you're on the right; or, better, I'm on the right and you're on the left. If I move in your direction, I'll get half of the people in between the two of us, and that'll expand my thing. And you want to move toward me to catch that marginal person. And we end up in the middle.

And the money kind of ends up in the middle too because they're trying to buy both sides. They're trying to influence the people who are going to be the decision makers that swings back and forth, the committee chairs, and the this and the that.

And if you're on the fringe of that and you want to change it, just decrying the fact that most of the political weight is in the center because water runs downhill, because the center is the place where you get the most votes. The center is how you win close elections. Decrying that sounds almost like a grandstanding move. I mean, the insiders are going to say, OK, help me get control of the majority in Congress. Tell me how I'm going do that?

BRIANHA GRAY: I would agree with you if either party were aiming for the majority of voters were the bulk of voters are, but that is not the case. There is this Twenty-Fourteen Princeton study, which gets cited a lot, for the proposition that there is absolutely no connection, like, mill, none, zero, zip-- no connection between me, desires of the electorate, and what gets enacted in Congress.

If you see a graph of what the preferences are and what the bulk of people want here and there in other words, there's no relationship between that and what legislation actually gets passed. And that is because to win elections, to get the number of voters who need to turn out, it's not about convincing and persuading anybody anymore. It's about how much you can spend on these races and how much you can protect incumbents, which is why the Democratic party is so old, which is not a problem if you're actually representing the interests of your constituents.

GLENN LOURY: OK. So do you think Bernie could have won if he had been nominated in Twenty-Sixteen?


GLENN LOURY: --or in Twenty-Twenty?

BRIANHA GRAY: Polls in Twenty-Sixteen showed that he was the most electable against Donald Trump. Hillary Clinton had an unprecedented level of unfavorables in the race. Hillary Clinton-- they all knew this and said it was more important to elect Hillary Clinton than to actually beat Donald Trump, who they claimed was this existential threat, yada, yada, yada.

Moreover, Hillary Clinton-- the Podesta leak demonstrated to us in the emails-- intentionally elevated Donald Trump as a Pied Piper candidate because she in all of her hubris believed that he was the best, easiest person for her to beat. So this entire thing is a creation of the Democratic party. The entire Trump phenomenon was a creation of the Democratic party.

GLENN LOURY: So let me see if I'm following you. The genuine left socialist agenda could be endorsed by the American electorate if only the Democrats would get the F out of the way.

BRIANHA GRAY: Yeah, look, obviously there are probably some issues that don't poll as well as others. But the issues that the left is running on in foregrounding, Medicare for all, 88% of Democrats, 49% of Republican support. That's a clear majority of the electorate.

A $15 minimum wage over-- I don't remember the number offhand, but overwhelming majorities as evidenced by the fact that Republicans in Florida love it. There might be some arguments about what that wage point should be. But in Florida, a 15 path. So I'm very confident about how popular 15 is throughout the rest of the country. These are easy peasy issues to run on.

GLENN LOURY: Well, if you tell people that you're going to give them free stuff, they say, sure, I'd like that stuff. I mean--

BRIANHA GRAY: Yes. Because they need it. [CHUCKLES]

GLENN LOURY: But it's not free. Nothing is free.

BRIANHA GRAY: No, you tax the rich for it.

GLENN LOURY: No, you tax the middle class for it. I mean, you can tax the rich 100%--


GLENN LOURY: --and you're not going to have enough to pay for Medicare for All.

BRIANHA GRAY: The two corporate parties tend to tax the middle class for things because they're the rich and they don't want to tax the rich. Why do we have these conversations in a country-- why should it be unpopular to have a wealth tax on the top like 1% of 1% of Americans?

That should be a no-brainer. If we live in a real democracy, and you have millionaires and billionaires-- I think billionaires increased their wealth by 30% in the context of the depressionary event we just went through-- they increased their wealth by 30%. And we can't get a basic wealth tax.

Elon Musk saying casually, let's been $40 billion to buy Twitter on a lark, and that doesn't even put a dent in his earnings. He's increased his earnings by, I think, more than $40 billion in the context of the pandemic.

GLENN LOURY: He's not entitled to become rich. I mean, people are in business. They're doing various things. Their investments pay off and so forth. And so they're not robbing people. They're not stealing it. Capitalism is theft. That's a kind of passe.

BRIANHA GRAY: Yes. I don't think it's passe--

GLENN LOURY: No, I'm persuaded of that.

BRIANHA GRAY: --I think it's--

GLENN LOURY: In fact, I think that's the idea that'll leave us all in poverty at the end of the day. There won't be any reason for anybody to do anything. As soon as they stick their head up above ground, it'll get chopped off by the levelers.

BRIANHA GRAY: So you said his investments are doing well. What if I never have enough money to have an investment, and he, just like Donald Trump and a lot of other folks, got their small million investment from their parents and made it into a lot more money than that, for sure? But I don't know about, but I didn't get a million-- there's no million dollar investment coming my way.

GLENN LOURY: No, life is not fair. I agree. I agree. Some people are born with nothing, and they have a tough row to hoe. Some people get a head start. I agree.

BRIANHA GRAY: So his parents, who got their money by living in an apartheid system and exploiting, literally exploiting-- I mean, that's South African, man. I'm not making that up.


BRIANHA GRAY: It's not ancient history. It's like the '80s. Why, that's earned.

GLENN LOURY: And you want to confiscate as wealth because his parents were South Africans?

BRIANHA GRAY: No, I don't want to confiscate as well. For one, I think that there's an amount of money-- I think I'm not going to waste any tears. There's no literally zero impact on Elon Musk's ability to do anything or buy anything in the entire world that comes from me taxing him at a higher tax.

GLENN LOURY: It's his money.

BRIANHA GRAY: Are you against taxes altogether?


BRIANHA GRAY: Are you against taxes altogether?

GLENN LOURY: Oh, no, no. No, I'm not.

BRIANHA GRAY: OK, so we believe in the principle that the state should be able to take some of everybody's money in order to make the state is well run--

GLENN LOURY: Yeah, that's right--

BRIANHA GRAY: --and social services--

GLENN LOURY: --but not when you're talking about millionaires and billionaires. We're singling out people who have been extraordinarily successful--


GLENN LOURY: --and we're socializing their property, in effect. They go out, they buy the company. The company goes up in value 10 times because they were lucky or they were shrewd or both. Now they're sitting on a pile of money and we decide, oh, you're rich. You've got so much, let's-- because there are people in the world who don't have enough to eat.

And I'm saying that idea, when it gets embedded into government until the power of law and into the instruments of, in effect, confiscation, will kill the golden goose that's making us all prosperous by drawing up the incentives of people to go out and do things and--

BRIANHA GRAY: I have two questions.


BRIANHA GRAY: If I make $50,000 a year and I pay 30% in taxes--


BRIANHA GRAY: --should Elon Musk, who makes $200 billion a year-- I'm sorry, I don't actually the number, but I think it's something around there-- $2 billion-- should he also have to pay the 30% in taxes?

GLENN LOURY: I'm going to have to say not necessarily because we you're talking about labor, income is taxed differently from--

BRIANHA GRAY: Well, let's just pretend--

GLENN LOURY: --capital income is taxed and so forth.

BRIANHA GRAY: --let's just pretend it's the same. Let's just pretend he earns a salary of $200 billion a year, just for the simplicity of this. If I earn $50,000 a year, we all understand that, out of that, I have to have food, shelter, pay for child care, baby, pay for education. All of those kinds of things come out of that pot, and there's like a basic standard of living. My Maslow's hierarchy of needs had to be met within that sum.

I would put to you that there's a certain amount of money over which I think Elon Musk's hierarchy of needs are more than enough taken care of. And I don't know what number you would put it at. Maybe it's that a billion, maybe it's at $10 billion, maybe it's at $40 billion.

GLENN LOURY: You just decided how much he should be happy with.

BRIANHA GRAY: No, I didn't. I said whatever number you would put it at. But I would put to you that most human being--

GLENN LOURY: And if I have more than what you decide that I need, or what anybody decides that I need, then the state should be able to come in and take it.

BRIANHA GRAY: No, the state should be able to tax you, just like it does now. The state has already decided that. People who make, what is it, less than 20-- there's a number under which people don't get taxed. I'm not reinventing the wheel. This is already true.

GLENN LOURY: Yeah, I mean, most taxes are paid by a relative few taxpayers.

BRIANHA GRAY: Well, because most people can barely afford a $400 emergency. It's not because they're slackers. It's because they're poor.

GLENN LOURY: OK, let me agree with you that we could tax the rich more, and that it would be a fair--

BRIANHA GRAY: Most Americans do, including most Republicans.

GLENN LOURY: --and then it would be a fair system. I'm just playing devil's advocate here a little bit. But, OK, what would you do about the American welfare state? You say Medicare for All.


GLENN LOURY: So you're going to take away my private insurance.

BRIANHA GRAY: If you want to buy private insurance, that's your right. If you want to go to another country and get some specialty thing, or if you want something that's not covered by Medicare, like a cosmetic procedure, you can buy that as well.

GLENN LOURY: You're going to socialize one sixth of the American economy.

BRIANHA GRAY: Yes. Much like every other industrialized country in the world has done, because right now, we are paying twice as much, almost twice as much, for our health care costs for some of the most substandard health care in the industrialized world.

GLENN LOURY: OK, help me understand how Medicare for All would make our health care system a better system.

BRIANHA GRAY: Yeah. So, as we mentioned before, Medicare is already the most popular social program in the United States.

GLENN LOURY: This is for the seniors.

BRIANHA GRAY: So seniors right now, if you're over 65, you get health care. Right now, we don't have a health care system, we have a health insurance system. And I think it's really important to internalize the difference.

Right now, we all pay insurance premiums, depending on what you got, hundreds of a month. If you have a family, thousands-- it's a lot of money-- so that if we get sick, we still pay more because we have deductibles we have to hit. So you have to spend a certain amount of money.

My old plan, I had to hit $7,000 before any of my needs would be covered. And then I also have to pay co-pays-- so a percentage of the medicines that I'm actually being prescribed. And some of those co-pays are extremely expensive, including for life-saving, life-sustaining drugs like insulin, which has been really foregrounded in the context of this whole debate about the ethics of health care, because just in Canada, as Bernie likes to say, 70 miles to my north, I can get insulin for one tenth of the price that it's sold in America.

And that is because we have a for-profit health care system where all of that money we're all funneling in and not even getting anything out-- we still have to pay when we get hurt-- is going to insurance providers whose only job is to hire a bunch of lawyers and come up with ways not to have to pay us when we actually get sick. So when you or your loved one, God forbid, gets cancer or some other horribly expensive illness, instead of being concerned with their care and their bedside and getting their affairs in order, you're on the phone with insurance companies at the worst moments in your life trying to argue with them about life-sustaining care.

GLENN LOURY: Yeah, I know.

BRIANHA GRAY: 50% of people who get cancer go bankrupt--

GLENN LOURY: Go bank-- yeah, I was going to say.

BRIANHA GRAY: --that's the stat. Sorry, 50% of people who are in a family where someone gets cancer goes bankrupt. That's unconscionable. I think that's morally unconscionable. What? So that Aetna can make money?

GLENN LOURY: Why don't we have this already done if it's so great?

BRIANHA GRAY: That's an excellent question.

GLENN LOURY: [LAUGHS] I'm so glad I asked.

BRIANHA GRAY: That's such an important question. So there is a really great article-- I think actually Van Newkirk, who used to be at The Atlantic. But he wrote this great article about-- there was a lot of background with the how hospitals got integrated and the system got set up in the New Deal era.

But the bottom line is it's the physicians who have always lobbied against it. It's the American Medical Association that has always lobbied against it because of their own personal financial interests. I mean, you work in an institution, an elite institution. There's a certain degree of gatekeeping that happens in these institutions to keep them elite, private, and well-funded.

So for instance, a lot of the argument against making public colleges and universities free is that it would really hurt private institutions. I don't know that I'd go and spend $40,000-- that's what it was back then-- at a year at Harvard if there are quality public schools that are actually free.

GLENN LOURY: What a minute, I'm losing the train of thought here. I asked you why is it that we don't have a Medicare for All because that it's such a great thing?

BRIANHA GRAY: Yeah. So it's the people who benefit from the privatization of the current system have always lobbied against it. That includes--

GLENN LOURY: Oh, I see, physicians and--

BRIANHA GRAY: --some medical professionals. And that also includes, most importantly, the pharmaceutical industry who profits enormously off of it.

GLENN LOURY: OK, and you were arguing by analogy--

BRIANHA GRAY: Yeah, sorry.

GLENN LOURY: --with respect to education in California. OK, what about if you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor? If you like your plan, you can keep your plan? By the way, I like my plan. My plan is Blue Cross Blue Shield here at Brown University.

BRIANHA GRAY: Oh, that sounds lovely.

GLENN LOURY: It is lovely.

BRIANHA GRAY: It's what I had on the campaign, but I don't have it anymore. I have some horrible, crappy plan that I had to buy for myself as a--

GLENN LOURY: But I like my plan. OK, I'm not talking about your plan. I'm talking about my plan, and you're taking my plan away from me.

BRIANHA GRAY: Are you going to pay for me to have Blue Cross Blue Shield?

GLENN LOURY: Well, it's not my problem.

BRIANHA GRAY: OK. Well, see, that's the issue.


GLENN LOURY: I'm just kidding.

BRIANHA GRAY: That's the issue, you know?

GLENN LOURY: I don't really mean that. I'm pulling your leg.

BRIANHA GRAY: But that's the thing, I'm sitting here before you. Look, I could pay, and I will be moving to a better plan soon. But the reality is I chose a plan-- especially, I started a podcast just a year and a half ago. I didn't know how well it was going to do.

I had to find something new. I bought the cheapest plan that has no reproductive health care. It has no mental health care. It's not a good plan. Do you know what I mean? And those are the kind of decisions people are making.

GLENN LOURY: OK, I should be willing to give up my plan in order to create a world in which everybody can have a decent plan.

BRIANHA GRAY: A better plan than you even have.

GLENN LOURY: You think the new plan with Medicare for All will be better than my Blue Cross Blue Shield?

BRIANHA GRAY: Yeah. Have you ever been between jobs? Have you ever had a concerns about lapses and--

GLENN LOURY: You're embarrassing me. Not since I was 17 years old.

BRIANHA GRAY: Well, that's the thing, professor. The average American, I think, has 12 jobs over the course of a lifetime. And these are people who have kids and families who are concerned that a lapse in coverage will mean that if their kid gets sick in the interim-- preexisting conditions, all of that used to be-- it was a disaster.

And if we're talking about freedom and wanting people to be entrepreneurs and all of the stuff so many conservatives I think are invested in, not wrongly, one of the biggest impediments to starting a business is having to pay insurance for your employees. You wouldn't have to do that anymore. It's being afraid to leave your current job because you're just staying there for the insurance benefits. You wouldn't have to do that anymore.

All these employers who are trying to their employees' hours, and having all these shenanigans and terrible hours that are putting the employee through hell because they don't want them to hit 40 hours a week and then be obliged to pay their insurance, all of that gamesmanship goes out of the window because everybody has health insurance. No, everyone doesn't have health insurance, everyone has health care--

GLENN LOURY: Everyone has health care

BRIANHA GRAY: --which is better.

GLENN LOURY: OK, so this would be better for everybody. It vested interest or blocking it from happening. And the politics of centrism and money is standing in the way of people like Nina Turner getting themselves into Congress and making this happen.


GLENN LOURY: OK, so we talked about taxes and we didn't agree. We talked about health care. And I don't know.

BRIANHA GRAY: I think we kind of agree.

GLENN LOURY: I'm listening.


GLENN LOURY: Let's talk about free college.


GLENN LOURY: Let's talk about canceling college debt. I'm against that, too.


GLENN LOURY: People who incurred an obligation, just like anybody else, they got a benefit for that obligation, which is the human capital of going to college, going to professional school, and whatever. It is boosting their earnings throughout their lifetime.

If I take a mortgage to buy a house, I pay off the mortgage. It's not a reasonable expectation that someone would come along and relieve me of that obligation. Likewise, here, I think, on the whole, I mean, if a person has been defrauded, if a person has been taken advantage of-- but if a person has gotten a boost in life by incurring that debt, I think they should be held to that promise.

And I moreover think that the people who actually are going to get the biggest benefit from being relieved of that promise are people who are already doing relatively better than the median taxpayer. And it's the taxpayer who's going to end up footing the bill. So it's not like there's no free lunch is the thing I want to say.

We can relieve them of their financial obligation, but by socializing it in effect. But someone at the end of the day is going to have to pay that, and that person is probably not going to be is that person is driving a truck, that's waiting tables, is a midwife somewhere, or something like that.

BRIANHA GRAY: All right, let's start at the top.

GLENN LOURY: Besides, if I might just say, and--


GLENN LOURY: --I'll give you more ammunition to rebut.


GLENN LOURY: It's a cynical move to appeal to a certain demographic in order to try to construct the majority. I mean, of course, it's going to poll well. Go out and ask people, do you want to repay your debts or don't you? They're going to say, no, I don't want to pay my debts.

BRIANHA GRAY: What demographic is that?

GLENN LOURY: That's young people. College people who have debts.

BRIANHA GRAY: So I don't know about, but my mom has student debt. And my aunt has student debt.

GLENN LOURY: I had it until I was in my 40s.

BRIANHA GRAY: OK, Obama didn't pay his off until he became a senator and his books started to sell.

GLENN LOURY: OK. Well, we're going to--

BRIANHA GRAY: And the fastest growing population with student debt is seniors. And I forget the number, I'm sorry, I'm out on the campaign anymore with these stats on hand. But an enormous number of social security checks each year are garnished to pay people student loan debt.

GLENN LOURY: And people didn't willingly incur this debt on behalf of--

BRIANHA GRAY: So that was your first point, so let's start there. You remember the '80s. You remember the '90s.

GLENN LOURY: I was there, [LAUGHS] sadly.


GLENN LOURY: You weren't, I was.

BRIANHA GRAY: Not the most cognizant or savvy, but I was there.


BRIANHA GRAY: And at the time, there was a lot of talk about why some people weren't making it, why Black people weren't making it, the wealth gap, all of these kinds of things, right? There was crime. We had Tough on Crime Bill trying to address this failure of the social welfare state everyone was very concerned about.

What was the narrative, the predominant narrative, that I remember growing up? It was that you got to get an education. If you're failing, you've got to get an education.

I don't know, it was drilled into my head like nothing I can think of by comparison. You got to go get an education. If you are failing in this world, it's because you didn't go to college. And all I knew in my life was I better get to college.

I remember applying to schools. Obviously, I was a pretty good student. But I remember getting my first acceptance letter from a school that was not-- it's a great school, but it's not that prestigious, and almost falling to my knees in tears because I thought, oh, thank God, I'm saved from the horrible fate of not going to college and being a big loser like the world told me I was going to be if I didn't go.

And the narrative was-- when it's worth it to take out this debt-- it's so worth it to take out this debt, in fact, that the federal government says we're going to back this debt because we know it's a good guarantee. We're going to federally back this debt so any 18-year-old can take out $150,000 loan, which they would never be allowed to do in any other capacity because the federal government said you should absolutely do this.

GLENN LOURY: Wasn't it a benefit to people--

BRIANHA GRAY: No, because we have--

GLENN LOURY: --guaranteeing that loan?

BRIANHA GRAY: What we have discovered is that the stuff that you said about it incurring a benefit, that it boosts your employment prospects and all of that, is not true for a huge percentage of debtors, a huge percentage of debt. It might be true if you go to Brown and have a certain major, but it's not true of a huge percentage of debtors, especially in this economy and especially in the post-Two Thousand Eight economy.

But I want to go back to this question, this issue that you brought up, it also being like an asset like a mortgage. If I had bought a house with the $180,000 I took out for law school--

GLENN LOURY: You'd have the house.

BRIANHA GRAY: --I have an asset. And if I fell in hard times, my asset would have appreciated because real estate--

GLENN LOURY: Your degree is not an asset?

BRIANHA GRAY: It is. Mine is. Again, it's not about me. My degree is worth a lot. But something like 30% of all student debt is held by people who have associate's degrees that are from for-profit colleges where people were sold these horrible commercials about how you're going to have a better life, then your income is going to go up and all of this stuff, and especially people in our community.

I don't know what your family dynamics are like, but I have so many relatives who glow with pride. And I feel so terrible when they tell me about how, oh, I just got my masters. Oh, I got my associate's degree. Oh, I got my this and I got my that, because they've been told that they're a loser in society because they didn't get those degrees.

And they've taken tens of thousands of dollars out to get these degrees. And lo and behold, they were lied to. They were induced by some combination. The federal government and these individual schools--

GLENN LOURY: College is like a pyramid scheme or it's a fraudulent--

BRIANHA GRAY: Lots of them are.

GLENN LOURY: --bad bet and--

BRIANHA GRAY: Lots of them are.

GLENN LOURY: --people were induced into it by federal subsidies and so.

BRIANHA GRAY: Yes. There are jobs out there that pay $30,000 a year that expect you to have a master's degree. That's insane. And moreover, the cost of colleges are as high as they are today because colleges know they can set a sticker price. And because the government is issuing federal debt, they will get paid back. The college is going to get made whole, right? They're good.

GLENN LOURY: Well, that's a good point.

BRIANHA GRAY: And the government holds the money. So that inflates the price of college.

GLENN LOURY: But that's the reason against subsidizing these loans in the first place.

BRIANHA GRAY: Yes. Instead of subsidizing the loans, the colleges should just be federally funded for free.

GLENN LOURY: So you think way too much money has gone into colleges over the last 30 or 40 years.


GLENN LOURY: That the higher education sector is bloated and inflated.

BRIANHA GRAY: Yes. We should have just had the government spending that money on making free public institutions for people to go to like they used to back in the day. One other point about the federally backed nature of it-- oh, who pays for it? That's a really important point. People say this all the time, that it's some working-class person who's going to have to pay for it.


BRIANHA GRAY: For one, I want to make really clear, if you are affluent, you did not take out loans. The interest rate for loans, unlike mortgages, because there's a lot of lobbying because rich people buy houses to keep mortgage rates low, the interest rates for student debt around the time I was graduating from college and law school was 8%. My loans are at 8% average. One's 8.5%. One's 7.5%.

GLENN LOURY: That's high.

BRIANHA GRAY: It is high. You know what that means for someone like me? And again, I'm not the test case, I'm just speaking from personal experience.

My first year paying my loans at a law school, my $180,000 worth of debt, I paid $18,000 in interest and $5,000 in principal. Now, I was very lucky to have a job where I could burn $18,000.

But I'm not affluent. And my affluent peers, by the way, who went to Harvard Law School, they get to pay $180,000 for the same degree that I have, and I'm going to have to pay $250,000 for that degree.

GLENN LOURY: I'm not saying that the student who is in debt, or the former student who is indebted, is better off than the one who is not indebted. I'm saying the student who is indebted is better off than the average taxpayer who is a high school graduate.

BRIANHA GRAY: So that is partially true, but partially isn't. So I would say there are a lot of different kinds of debt that I personally would prioritize canceling if I were president of the United States.

GLENN LOURY: Before college debt.

BRIANHA GRAY: Yeah, absolutely. I would probably start with medical debt, which is only what's higher now. But before the pandemic, it was $81 billion. And I sat there and I watched a bunch of leftist like Elizabeth Warren vote for Donald Trump to increase his military budget by $81 billion.

And all I could think to myself was, oh, my God, for the amount of money they're about to spend giving contracts to Raytheon, we could have canceled all medical debt in this country. These are policy choices that people are making every single day.

GLENN LOURY: OK, we've been talking about domestic policy, and you've been getting the better of me, Brianha, I must say. She is a passionate defender of the progressive domestic vision. I want to talk about foreign policy right quick.

Where is the left? And correct me if I'm wrong, I haven't heard enough of it. I've heard Chris Hedges. I've heard Matt Taibbi. And I don't know if you call him left or not. I've heard Glenn Greenwald-- I think he's left-- warning us about the stampede to war that I see going on, which will, of course boost, Raytheon's revenues substantially because they are going to provide munitions.

The stampede to war that I see, the drumbeat, the everybody get on the side of let's go to war, when we're talking about a nuclear power, et cetera. Now, I feel a little bit bashful even saying this because we all know that if you have anything to say that is contrary to the no-fly zone, send all the armaments, et cetera, UN-- and I just have the feeling that a lot of people are keeping quiet about this and are afraid to stick their heads up out of the foxhole because they don't want to be called traitors, and they don't want to get maligned and slandered in the public sphere.

BRIANHA GRAY: Yeah, I think that's true. I think that's true, and it's unfortunate. Another area where I think the left and the kind of Tucker Carlson right really actually align-- what's interesting about Fox is that you can get two different views on that on Fox.

You can turn on Fox and you can get Tucker Carlson saying war is bad, let's not intervene. And you can get Sean Hannity saying we absolutely have this moral right to go and help Ukrainians and we'll do whatever it takes and all that, which I think makes it a more dynamic network, to be honest.

But yeah, one of the things that the left and the right-- that sector of the right have in common, is not interventionism. And a question I've been asking repeatedly on my show of a number of guests, who do not all agree with me-- people were very frustrated with the stance of Bernie's foreign policy advisor, for instance, when he came on my show because they felt like he was too unwilling to reflect on the foreign policy decisions made by the West, the United States, and NATO in terms of pursuing NATO expansion when they had agreed previously not to do so.

And then also ignored Putin's repeated warnings that they were inching and inching closer to a required conflict because there was a line in the sand, and acknowledging that history. And that's not to say anyone is justified in an invasion or justified in any kind of killing. I am against interventionism.

When we do it, I'm against interventionism when Putin does it, an invasion when Putin does it. But to not want to look at all of the historical context of what led us there and pretend that this is just the rabid, crazy actions of a lone wolf also means that we're not going to be in the right mindset to resolve a conflict.

And a question that I've been asking folks is, are you going to take a beat and like think about whether or not America should continue to play the role of the world's policeman? If you think someone should do something, what is the next step of deciding that it's America who should be doing it? If we're worried about lives lost, then let's look at the starving children in Yemen or whatever atrocity you want to pick out of a hat and say, if we want to spend money keeping people alive, why this and not that?

And it comes becomes very clear very quickly that this isn't about humanitarian intervention. This is fundamentally about protecting what is perceived to be our national interest in a political response. And at very least, we should be talking about it clearly in those terms instead of pretending that it's about women and children and atrocities and all of those kinds of things.

And to the extent that I have a political critique that I want to be carried out in potentially electoral terms, I want people to vote a certain way based on how our president is behaving in the moment and what he should be doing ethically. Well, then I want to critique America. My critique of Putin doesn't do anything.

And so a lot of leftists are being accused of being Putin's puppet. But yeah, it's a toxic time. It's getting less toxic, I think, though, as time passes and people are more comfortable speaking out.




GLENN LOURY: Well, this has been an hour, a scintillating hour of correction and rebuke


GLENN LOURY: --from my reactionary politics, and I've learned from it. I've been with Brianha Joy Gray. It's been a pleasure.

BRIANHA GRAY: It really has been.

GLENN LOURY: We'll have another conversation sometime soon. How about that?

BRIANHA GRAY: I'm looking forward to it.

GLENN LOURY: OK, thank you, Brianha.

BRIANHA GRAY: Thank you, professor.


DAN RICHARDS: This episode of Trending Globally was produced by me, Dan Richards, and Kate Dario. Our theme music is by Henry Bloomfield. Additional music by the Blue Dot Sessions.

If you liked this conversation, we recommend you check out Glenn and Brianha's podcasts as well. Again, Brianha's is called Bad Faith. And Glenn's is, aptly titled, The Glenn Show. You can find both wherever you listen to podcasts.

And while you're at it, please leave us a rating and review on Apple Podcast, Spotify, or wherever you find podcasts. It really helps others to find us. We'll be back in two weeks with another episode of Trending Globally. Thanks.


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Trending Globally: Politics and Policy
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Dan Richards

Host and Senior Producer, Trending Globally