Amit Varma of The Seen and Unseen Podcast welcomes EconTalk host and podcast Innovator Russ Roberts, who has recorded over 700 episodes featuring a wide variety of guests since 2006. Varma, an avid listener of EconTalk, graciously acknowledges Roberts’ influence on his thinking and for his model of the craft of conversation. This wide ranging episode explores many topics related to the current state of discourse in our society and why civility in conversation is necessary for the future of our free and responsible society. Enjoy this cross-continent conversation between two expert practitioners of this art!

We love when Russ gets a chance to be the guest, and we don’t want to let an opportunity for further conversation to pass… We hope you’ll consider the prompts below, either here in the Comments or offline with others. As always, we love to hear from you!

1- Roberts opens with a provocative example of the quantity vs. quality trade-off using Gary Becker’s example explaining why higher income couples have fewer children. How is this an example of rationality (maximizing behavior), and why does Roberts consider this use of an economic model as an academic limitation to understanding human behavior? 


2- How does Varma suggest that changes in our family and social circles as well as use of social media platforms has enabled and leveraged “posturing”? How does virtual discourse seem to challenge the idea that the “chief part of human happiness arises from the consciousness of being beloved” that Adam Smith presented in Theory of Moral Sentiments (I.ii.5 ). 


3- Suppose we choose one contentious topic to exercise a thought experiment using Roberts’ raised points:

  1. Analyze your personal tendency toward tribalism
  2. Consider how your current social circles reinforce your attitudes 
  3. Identify your blindspots 
  4. Examine what is being left out of how you’re thinking about the topic
  5. Ask how your list of facts that built your case might be limited 
  6. Determine what bias your own lens causes
  7. Review facts used by the opposition to consider their validity 

Is this exercise valuable?  Could or should it be encouraged or shared? Why or why not?


4- How might the “Economics of the chilling effect”, this tendency toward “cancel culture” threaten knowledge acquisition? How might it impact college campuses including academic research?


5- Can you recall having transformative conversations in your life? Were they identifiable by a significant triggering of new thinking similar to the one Roberts’ reveals in this conversation – about teaching the art of conversation?  


6- Varma closes the conversation with a powerful two-part question that Russ Roberts answers. “In this year of 2020 that gives us anything but 2020 vision, how are you looking forward to 2030? What gives you despair and what gives you hope?”   How would you answer?