Saturday, March 26, 2011

I'll be Interviewing the Amazing Richard Posner on My Radio Show

I'm excited that tomorrow, Sunday, Mar 27, from 11 am to noon, Pacific time, I will have the privilege of interviewing one of the most fascinating people on the planet: Richard Posner, pictured right.

I encourage you to listen. In the San Francisco Bay Area, you can hear it on 91.7 FM (NPR-San Francisco.), or worldwide on The show will be archived for a week on the NPR website and permanently on my site,

To give you a bit of info on Posner and what we'll be covering in the interview, here are my planned introduction and questions.

INTRO: One of the things I most enjoying doing on this show is having wide-reaching conversations with our leading public intellectuals. Today, it's Richard Posner. The New York Times called him one of our most respected judges. The Biographical Dictionary of Federal Judges called him, "the world’s most distinguished legal scholar." He's on the US Court of Appeal where he served for seven years at its chief judge. He has often been considered for the US Supreme Court. After finishing first in his class at Harvard Law School and clerking for Supreme Court Justice William Brennan, he worked under Solicitor General, Thurgood Marshall. But Posner is far more than a preeminent jurist. He's written literally scores of books and countless articles on topics ranging from sex to aging, public policy to whether we spend too much on preventive medicine, and especially on economics. The respected economist Walter Block, who also has appeared on this show, described Judge Posner as "possibly the only human being on the entire planet who's had a reasonable chance of being appointed to the Supreme Court AND winning the Nobel Prize in economics. BOTH!" Tony Kronzon, former dean of my daughter's alma mater, Yale Law School, said that Posner was "one of the most rational human beings he's ever met." Richard Posner, welcome to Work with Marty Nemko.

What do you think is the main reason or two you haven't been nominated for the Supreme Court?

After reading a sampling of your writings, I concocted a one-liner that seems to encapsulate one of your core views: If we really care to make a difference, everything must be subjected to a cost-benefit analysis. How core is that to the way you think about things?

Many of us, as we're getting older, are thinking about what charity would offer the best societal benefit per dollar donated. Do you have any thoughts on that question?

In your book, How Judges Think, you write that judges, even Supreme Court judges, are likely to abandon cost-benefit analysis in favor of emotion-based biases, for example, based on their race, gender, sexual orientation or political persuasion. Some time ago, you wrote that the tendency toward bias can't be reduced much, so the best solution is to have ideologically diverse judges, journalists, etc. Do you still believe that?

You criticize society as too-often reacting emotionally rather than with a cost-benefit analysis as it decides how much effort and resources to devote to preventing or preparing for disasters: from terrorism to nuclear disasters, global warming to privacy rights to testing for prostate cancer. You're dismissing the collective wisdom of the world as essentially irrational? (I may follow up by asking about some of those listed above.)

How would you rate the media's coverage of those issues?

Core to your jurisprudential philosophy is that judges rely too much on precedent and not enough on pragmatics. Some would call that heretical. Make the case.

Your most recent book, published last year, is The Crisis of Capitalist Democracy. In it, you candidly wrote that you felt the nine recommendations you made in the section "Reform You Can Believe In" weren't that likely to help the US to lift itself out of what you've described as, not a recession but a depression. Have you come up with any better ideas since?

Labeling anyone is dangerous, and labeling you is particularly dangerous--your positions can't be placed in one camp. But is it fair to say that you've generally moved from being libertarian-leaning to Keynesian-leaning? FOLLOW-UP: If so, what was key to your conversion experience?

I see American wages continuing to decline to closer to the world average, perhaps to $10 an hour because of automation, offshoring, our open borders, ever greater costs of employing people (paid leave has just been okayed Wisconsin's Court of Appeals) and demographic changes in the U.S. versus say China or India, Do you agree that U.S. wages will dramatically decline?

You believe that microfinance, which today has acquired almost magic-pill status, is overrated. First, would you explain what microfinance is and then why you believe it's unlikely to be a magic pill for reducing poverty?

You're best known for your writings on anti-trust. What's your core position on anti-trust laws?

Many people lament the closing of small locally owned stores, for example, independent book stores and conversely, the rise of big box stores, and of, for example, Amazon. Activists urge people to not support local non-corporate stores. There's a mantra: "Buy locally." You don't think much of that. Why?

On your blog, you recently argued that the high demand to gain admission into college is evidence that it's still worth the money and time to attend college. But I would argue that it's not an informed decision: the media, govt, colleges, school counselors, etc conduct a massive ongoing disinformation campaign to convince people it is. It may well be that we send too many to college: too many weak students because they'll drop out or not learn enough to be able to compete for the smaller number of white-collar jobs and would gain more for the time and money by doing an apprenticeship, for example,, too many average students--because as Paul Krugman recently pointed out, there will be fewer jobs for them, and too many top students--because they're autodidactic and thus more likely to learn more of value for the time and money in the real world. Your reaction?

We continue to teach pretty much as we did in Ancient Greece. For example, we've not moved to having our college courses taught online, interactive video, by the world's most transformational instructors so that every student, for every course, at every institution from Harvard to Oklahoma Baptist Junior College, would have a world-class instructor rather than the usual assortment, an assortment overweighted by professors better at arcane research than at transforming undergraduates. Your thoughts on that?

If you were entering college now, would you do anything differently: in terms of what you'd major in, do extracurricularly, whatever?

A year ago, on your blog, you laid out a number of arguments for why the institution of marriage is dying. What's your current thinking on that?

You've argued that it's hard to justify marijuana being illegal while alcohol is legal. Is it clear that the answer is to legalize marijuana or, might, net, it be wiser to take another shot at prohibiting alcohol?

Most Americans viscerally recoil at the notion of allowing, let alone the government funding, research toward allowing prospective parents to have gene therapy to ensure their children have high intelligence. Your view on that?

You're exceptionally prolific. Work-life balance advocates would doubtless criticize you. How would you respond? FOLLOW-UP: How does your wife feel about how much you work?

Any non-obvious career advice you have for young people?

What would you most like to be remembered for?

1 comment:

Annie said...

Great, looking forward to this! I read along with the Becker Posner blog but haven't heard either speak. Will tune in shortly, from Toronto.


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