Standing at the Intersection of Technology and Democracy with Bradley Tusk

September 9, 2020
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Standing at the Intersection of Technology and Democracy with Bradley Tusk

A 37-minute conversation between Bradley Tusk and Chris McCoy on a Biden presidency, remote work, philantropy, and more.

Host: Chris McCoy
Transcript

Chris McCoy (00:03):

Welcome to the Data4America podcast. This is Chris McCoy, the co-creator of this special project with friends from around the country, across the aisle. First episode of this rebooted conversation is with Bradley Tusk. One of my favorite thinkers at the intersection of technology, policy and the understanding of democracy. Let's go in. Bradley.

Chris McCoy (00:35):

It's great to have you on the first episode of the new Data4America podcast. Thank you for joining.

Bradley Tusk (00:41):

Yeah, thanks for having me back on. It was cool to be on the last Data4America podcast, and now excited to be the first guest on the new one.

Chris McCoy (00:48):

So as we look at 2020, we have apocalyptic skies in San Francisco outside my window. We have an election coming. We have disinformation. Sadly, real discord amongst democracy. What's your meta view on where America is compared to four years ago?

Bradley Tusk (01:10):

Well, I read a great line in The Times last week that said, that 2020 has been like 1918, 1929, 1968, and soon to be 2000 all in one. 1918 being the Spanish flu, 1929 being the stock market crash and the great depression. 1968 being the year of the most racial unrest in American history, at least pre-Civil War or post Civil War. And then 2000, not knowing who won the presidential election for quite a while. So it's been a hell of a year.

Bradley Tusk (01:43):

Look, I think that we're both better and worse, right? So I think as a nation, we are worse off, right? I think the presidency has been denigrated into the ground. I am not a Trump fan. I think positions on issues like guns and immigration are shameful. I think every time that we go another day or a month or a year without really forceful action on climate change just means that our ability to solve this thing becomes that much more limited. The polarization, dysfunction of Washington in general is higher than it's ever been.

Bradley Tusk (02:17):

So on one hand, if you're looking at it from a purely United States perspective, I would say we're worse off. However, human nature is to always complain and bemoan whatever moment you're in. But overall, I still subscribe to that Steven Pinker view that the world's in the best shape it's ever been too, right? We have lower infant mortality, higher life expectancy, far fewer people living in poverty, far higher literacy rates. Overall, for the seven and a half billion people who live on the earth. If you were just to put a wellbeing score on each of them, we're at the highest number in history by far. But at the same time, I think because we're so interconnected on social media and [inaudible 00:03:03] media, everything that goes wrong, you feel it really personally, right?

Bradley Tusk (03:07):

All you had to say was, you woke up to red skies and I knew you were talking about wildfires, right? I'm 3,000 miles away. I don't know if even 10, 15 years ago I would have caught the reference necessarily, right? But now you know everything that's going on everywhere. And if it bleeds, it leads. So the more negative news is, the easier it is to get people to tune in. And so as a result, things are probably in some ways better than ever in the world and feel worse than ever.

Chris McCoy (03:36):

So going into 2020, there's a lot that's happened that we just couldn't have predicted in our wildest imaginations. What surprised you the most of the last four years with regards to what you thought a Trump presidency was going to look like?

Bradley Tusk (03:53):

I mean, I don't think I went into it with a lot of enthusiasm, so I guess maybe I wasn't all that surprised. But there were areas that I thought maybe we'll see a little more progress on than we have, right? I think that the tax cut that he did in 2017, wasn't particularly helpful for the economy or to really spur jobs or innovation or growth. I think generally speaking as someone who invests in tech companies, I want a president that really cares about things like the R&D tax credit, like bringing in as many immigrants on H-1B visas as possible. Really funding R&D and innovation at universities and really funding science. And those are things that I would have liked to see as a venture capitalist, and haven't really seen it in the last four years. So looking back from 2020 to 2016, obviously a lot happened with the Trump administration, some good, some bad, some crazy that we couldn't have predicted. What are your biggest surprises looking back four years from what actually happened?

Bradley Tusk (05:45):

Yeah. I didn't go in with a ton of high expectations for this president. So I don't know that I am disappointed by all that much. Hey, the one thing I was hoping is someone who posited himself as a pro business anti-regulation Republican, is that he would be good for technology and innovation and haven't really seen that. I think we've gone the wrong way in immigration. In my view, we want as many talented engineers and people coming to this country as possible. Clearly this president feels very differently. I would want to see the R&D tax credits expanded as much as possible. I'd like to see a lot more money put into innovation and science generally at our universities. And that hasn't really been the profile of what we've seen. So, at least in the one area where I thought maybe things could get better, they haven't really.

Chris McCoy (06:35):

Got it. Now, if we get in a Biden administration, what do you project the next four years look like with regards to those same topics?

Bradley Tusk (06:45):

Not good. It partly really depends, Biden administration or what happens in the Senate, right? If the Senate flips to the Democratic side, then I think you're going to see a lot of legislation from the left make its way through Congress. And I don't think Biden's going to veto anything that this Congress sends him. I think he's going to want them to pass what he wants and he's going to sign what they want. And he'll have a lot of hostility attack from the Elizabeth Warren's and AOCs of the world. And so while there are antitrust prosecutions against Google and Amazon and Apple and Facebook, or whether it's limitations on sharing economy or facial recognition or drone delivery or so many other technologies. I think on a Federal level, we may be in for a tough time.

Bradley Tusk (07:37):

On the flip side for whatever it's worth, most tech regulation actually happens at the municipal and state level, and not at the Federal level. And because cities and states are just getting their budgets wiped out because of COVID, they desperately need money. And that's actually a good position for startups to be in. So like for example, I'm an investor in FanDuel. If there was ever a year to pass mobile sports betting, this is the year, right? Because whatever political issues and concerns people might have had before [inaudible 00:08:07] in comparison to the massive budget deficits they're facing now.

Bradley Tusk (08:10):

And so in some ways, or like I'm only invested in Bird. Scooter permits, when times are good, you can spend a lot of time fighting about whether it should be on the street or the sidewalk. When you have mass unemployment, a global pandemic and violence and shootings are way up all over the country, fighting over scooter permits feels stupid. So my sense is that assuming Biden and the Senate flips, the climate towards tech on the Federal level will be more hostile and the climate towards tech on the state and local level will be less hostile.

Chris McCoy (08:46):

Interesting. I haven't thought about that. Now you've had a storied career in working at the intersection of tech and policy. Led the Uber versus New York City campaign, won that and took that to, I believe DC and Boston. You took that to a number of other companies. And so you've seen it in the macro level, seen it at the micro level. We're now in this generation of we're off to space and we're looking at the next frontier. With regards to where the future is headed, who in your gut is better off for America, Trump or Biden and why?

Bradley Tusk (09:28):

Yeah, I mean, for me Biden. And look, I'm actually an independent. I'm not a Democrat. Early in my career I worked for some Democratic politicians, but also ran my Bloomberg's campaign for Mayor when he was running the Republican. I believe both parties are wildly corrupt and I'm against both of them. But Biden I think for a few reasons. One is I think we're better off when we're at least trying to be one country working towards goals. And I think Trump's entire political strategy is about being divisive. And by the way, as a political strategist-

Bradley Tusk (05:45):

Yeah. I didn't go in with a ton of high expectations for this president. So I don't know that I am disappointed by all that much. Hey, the one thing I was hoping is someone who posited himself as a pro business anti-regulation Republican, is that he would be good for technology and innovation and haven't really seen that. I think we've gone the wrong way in immigration. In my view, we want as many talented engineers and people coming to this country as possible. Clearly this president feels very differently. I would want to see the R&D tax credits expanded as much as possible. I'd like to see a lot more money put into innovation and science generally at our universities. And that hasn't really been the profile of what we've seen. So, at least in the one area where I thought maybe things could get better, they haven't really.

Chris McCoy (06:35):

Got it. Now, if we get in a Biden administration, what do you project the next four years look like with regards to those same topics?

Bradley Tusk (06:45):

Not good. It partly really depends, Biden administration or what happens in the Senate, right? If the Senate flips to the Democratic side, then I think you're going to see a lot of legislation from the left make its way through Congress. And I don't think Biden's going to veto anything that this Congress sends him. I think he's going to want them to pass what he wants and he's going to sign what they want. And he'll have a lot of hostility attack from the Elizabeth Warren's and AOCs of the world. And so while there are antitrust prosecutions against Google and Amazon and Apple and Facebook, or whether it's limitations on sharing economy or facial recognition or drone delivery or so many other technologies. I think on a Federal level, we may be in for a tough time.

Bradley Tusk (07:37):

On the flip side for whatever it's worth, most tech regulation actually happens at the municipal and state level, and not at the Federal level. And because cities and states are just getting their budgets wiped out because of COVID, they desperately need money. And that's actually a good position for startups to be in. So like for example, I'm an investor in FanDuel. If there was ever a year to pass mobile sports betting, this is the year, right? Because whatever political issues and concerns people might have had before [inaudible 00:08:07] in comparison to the massive budget deficits they're facing now.

Bradley Tusk (08:10):

And so in some ways, or like I'm only invested in Bird. Scooter permits, when times are good, you can spend a lot of time fighting about whether it should be on the street or the sidewalk. When you have mass unemployment, a global pandemic and violence and shootings are way up all over the country, fighting over scooter permits feels stupid. So my sense is that assuming Biden and the Senate flips, the climate towards tech on the Federal level will be more hostile and the climate towards tech on the state and local level will be less hostile.

Chris McCoy (08:46):

Interesting. I haven't thought about that. Now you've had a storied career in working at the intersection of tech and policy. Led the Uber versus New York City campaign, won that and took that to, I believe DC and Boston. You took that to a number of other companies. And so you've seen it in the macro level, seen it at the micro level. We're now in this generation of we're off to space and we're looking at the next frontier. With regards to where the future is headed, who in your gut is better off for America, Trump or Biden and why?

Bradley Tusk (09:28):

Yeah, I mean, for me Biden. And look, I'm actually an independent. I'm not a Democrat. Early in my career I worked for some Democratic politicians, but also ran my Bloomberg's campaign for Mayor when he was running the Republican. I believe both parties are wildly corrupt and I'm against both of them. But Biden I think for a few reasons. One is I think we're better off when we're at least trying to be one country working towards goals. And I think Trump's entire political strategy is about being divisive. And by the way, as a political strategist-

Bradley Tusk (10:02):

... being divisive. And by the way, as a political strategist, I don't think he's wrong. I think that demagogues have used that strategy effectively throughout history and if he does get reelected this year I think it's going to be because he was able to really raise enough fear about crime in cities and things like that, that people stick with him. But what's good for an election is not necessarily good for society or good for government. And, look, I don't think Biden's going to set the world on fire. I don't think he ever has. But do I think that he's generally competent and will appoint generally competent people and try to change the tone in this country a little bit, I do. So, look, I would've supported pretty much any candidate over Trump. It would have been not happily doing so if it was someone like Sanders. To me, Mike Bloomberg would have far and away been the best candidate for President. But winning a Democratic primary wasn't really feasible and he took a shot. That became pretty clear. But yeah, to me, there's not much of a question for Biden.

Chris McCoy (11:02):

Now, looking internationally, we've moved from Russia is enemy number one now to China, and China is a complex issue with regards to the currency or intellectual property and potential genocides. What do the next four years look like between United States and China given that they're so interdependent and effectively need each other in order for their currencies to stay stable?

Bradley Tusk (11:31):

Yeah, I mean, that's the trick, because, on one hand, we are competitors and China clearly sees the world in a Rawlsian way of if you're ahead, I'm behind, and vice versa and Trump sees the world that way too, so that would put us in conflict. But at the same time, the global economy is so interdependent we need each other. So I think it'll be a lot of like what it's been, which is working together on some level simply because neither leadership, whether it's Xi or Trump or Biden here in the U.S. benefit from a really bad economy. And at the same time, sabotage, subterfuge, a Cold War, even if it's more of a technical Cold War than a military Cold War.

Chris McCoy (12:22):

Yeah. Now, going back to technology regulation, if you could wave a magic wand and make something happen, given all your experience with Uber and FanDuel and a variety of other campaigns, what would you do and why, and why is it better than effectively what we've been doing for the last 20 years?

Bradley Tusk (12:44):

Yeah. So I could answer the question one of two ways. One would be, is there a particular tech regulation that I would just take care of? And, to me, it would be at the federal level paving the way for autonomous vehicles. The challenge here is that driving is weird that the car itself, it's regulated by the USDOT and it's on the federal level, and the way you drive is regulated at this municipal and sometimes state level. And so in order for autonomous cars and trucks to really happen, you're going to need multiple levels of government to act simultaneously. And, in reality, the best thing would if the federal government just said, "Look, we're going to preempt states and cities. These are the rules of the road. These are the rules for safety that cars and trucks have to meet and this is an important development for society, for our economy, for public health and we're going to move it forward."

Bradley Tusk (13:41):

So if I could pick one thing that they could just do, that that's what I would pick. But, more broadly, I still think that government typically just doesn't feel all that invested in the success of technology and innovation. Sometimes it's hostile to it because tech is disrupting entrenched interests who are campaign donors. Sometimes they sit silently by a wonder what's going on. But the advantage this country has is that we can come up with ideas and make them happen in a way that no society ever has before in history. And that's the thing we're really good at. And it would seem to me if you're government, that you want to lean into that. So when I worked in the Bloomberg administration in New York, because Mike is a technology entrepreneur, he worked really hard to try to build a technology sector here in the city, and did a good job doing it.

Bradley Tusk (14:32):

But then his successor Bill de Blasio has spent the last seven years trying to tear it back down. And I get that you may score some cheap political points with the left or the right, depending on where you are, but ultimately, this is our greatest strength and we should be heavily investing in it, not somewhere between hostile and confused.

Chris McCoy (14:53):

Yeah, it's a real golden goose. You've seen it in New York. You've seen San Francisco as well take a similar approach. Companies like Striper moving out of the city. Taxes won't be going back into the city. Tensions are rising and a lot of the growth in this country is in technology. You would expect and hope that our leaders at the local level embrace that, but instead they've pandered to older economies, more or less.

Bradley Tusk (15:20):

Yeah. Think about where you are in San Francisco. Even worse, right, in terms of anti-tech policy?

Chris McCoy (15:28):

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Bradley Tusk (15:28):

So, yeah, it's just backwards thinking. But, look, this gets back to a problem that you and I have talked about before, which is the way that we conduct elections right now is almost designed to make us fail. Because of gerrymandering, 99% of U.S. elections are determined in the primary, and typical turnout in the primary, especially in state and local elections, is between 10% and 15%. So, in a place like San Francisco, that 10% to 15% that votes are the people who are there before the tech boom and they don't like the fact that their neighborhoods are getting more expensive. And they're the ones that vote so the board of supervisors reflects their interests, which tend to be hostile to tech.

Bradley Tusk (16:09):

There's a huge tech community in San Francisco, but they don't bother to show up and vote, especially in local elections, and as a result, their voice isn't heard and their opinion doesn't matter. And so, fundamentally, for as long as we are electing the vast majority of people in this country with 10% to 15% of the vote, typically from the far left or the far right, we are definitionally saying, "We don't want to get things done because what we need there is the middle 70% and they don't vote, so they don't matter."

Chris McCoy (16:39):

Now, what are you hopeful for in the context of the United States' progress and also progress in your hometown, New York?

Bradley Tusk (16:49):

Look, for New York, the there's a down case and an up case. So the down case is, I think I read in the Times today that 10% of the office space in New York City is currently occupied. Even if that number only gets back up to 70%, we're in big trouble, right?

Chris McCoy (17:05):

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Bradley Tusk (17:05):

Because so much of our economy depends on financial services and industries like marketing and advertising and media. And if 20%, 30% of all those jobs decide that working remote suits them fine, this direct jobs lost plus all the indirect jobs lost is just devastating for the economy. The tax base shrinks. The need for city services goes up and you start to get into a self fulfilling downward spiral like you saw cities like Detroit or Baltimore or Newark.

Chris McCoy (17:33):

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Bradley Tusk (17:34):

And cities are not inherently safe and well run and clean or inherently dirty or dangerous or declining. They're as good or bad as leadership. So I guess the only good news is we've had such awful leadership in Bill de Blasio for the last seven years whoever the next mayor is almost definitionally has to be an improvement. But the city is going to be in really rough shape and I think our ability to get out of this both short term and longterm is going to depend on the quality of the next mayor, which gets back to the point I made earlier, which is, if turnout in the primary is 10% to 15%, and in 2017, only 400,000 people voted in their primaries, 8.6 million people in this city, we're going to get a really bad mayor again, just like we have with Bill de Blasio And we're not going to recover.

Chris McCoy (18:22):

Interesting. Well, one thing I've always had a great amount of respect for you is you've been an operator, you've been an entrepreneur, you've invested your own hard earned capital into crazy bets, but you've also been a great giver of things to your community. And I know you've led the mobile voting initiatives. You're doing a lot of things with the education in the city. Would love to learn more about why you're doing what you're doing and how that maps to your view of the world.

Bradley Tusk (18:52):

Yeah, sure. So, look, I'm a first generation American. I didn't grow up with a lot of money. We weren't poor, but I wasn't loaded. And then I worked in government and politics the first 15 years of my career, so I didn't make very much money. And then all of a sudden I went into tech and did well pretty quickly. And I quite frankly have more money than I need. Not that other people couldn't spend the money that I have very quickly on stuff and not that we live like hermits and monks, but my family and I live perfectly well and nice and when I want something, whether it's tickets to the Mets game or a Tesla or whatever, I go get it. But, overall, there's more money than there are needs on my end personally. And so rather than just saving it all up and giving it away to my kids and probably screwing them up as a result, I'd rather take issues that I care about and really try to impact them in the here and now.

Bradley Tusk (19:48):

And so whether it's mobile voting, where we are funding elections all over the country where people are going to be able to vote on their phones over either blockchain or the cloud. We're now in 15 jurisdictions across six different states. Or we recently announced the $10 million-

Bradley Tusk (20:03):

... six different states. Or we recently announced the $10 million grant to build a new mobile voting technology that we think can address a lot of the concerns that our critics have raised. Or the work we do around hunger, where we've passed a legislation in 11 different States so far, that mandates what's called Breakfast After the Bell, which makes sure that every kid gets free school breakfast if they need it, but [inaudible 00:20:25] kids as a result of this 11 bills, now get it. There are things you can do to have really tangible impact on the world. And yeah, the world feels like a shitty place and yeah, a lot's going to go around no matter what you do, but you can also do a lot. And that's, to me, the fulfillment you get out of that.

Bradley Tusk (20:46):

I know it sounds hollow and the like, "Oh, it makes me... The fulfillment and the satisfaction is enough for me," but the end of the day, how you feel about yourself as a person, pretty much determines your happiness. And you can have everything, it'd be a shit and you're still a shit and you know it. And so for me, it's a question of, do I have a lot or an excessive amount? I already have a lot. And so using the rest of the money and with my time and relationships and everything political capital, to focus on things like mobile voting or hunger or even here in New York right now, is we're heading to this terrible period. My friend Howard Wolfson and I created something called the Gotham Book Prize.

Bradley Tusk (21:32):

It's a small thing, but every year, we're going to give $50,000 for the best books out in New York city. And the reason we're doing that is, that if you live in New York, you live in the physical realm, the streets, the subways, the schools, the parks. That's your reality. But for the rest of the world, New York exists in a conceptual realm. There's no one in the world that doesn't know New York, but they know it through books and TV shows and movies and songs. And for as long as that mystique exists in media, there will always be smart, talented people who want to come to our city. And not unlike our discussion earlier around government doubling down on [TAC 00:22:11] or increasing H-1B visas, we instead... Shit, I lost my... Sorry. It was coming and I lost my train of thought there.

Chris McCoy (22:23):

You were talking about the book club.

Bradley Tusk (22:25):

Yeah. Yeah, yeah. So New York can cream the best talent from all over the world because so much of the city, 40% is foreign-born, 70% weren't born in New York city at all and if the smartest, most ambitious, hardest working people are always coming here, we're going to do pretty well. And so to me, maintaining that mystique is really, really important. And not that a $50,000 prize is going to necessarily change anyone's writing schedules, but it just shows that there are New Yorkers who really care about this stuff. And so we announced it a couple of weeks ago and we'll give out the first award for 2020 early next year.

Chris McCoy (23:05):

Yeah. And well, I think these bounties on creative work are incredibly inspirational, specifically younger folks. I have a cousin in law, goes to school in Portland State from Denver and she's been doing street art, being commissioned by local businesses to do these beautiful, very colorful cultural designs. And Nike just hired her to do a conference room and she's probably 22 or 21-

Bradley Tusk (23:29):

That's awesome.

Chris McCoy (23:29):

Her career is going to be transformed by getting paid for her creativity. And so I can only imagine what the folks who get selected for this, what it could do.

Bradley Tusk (23:46):

Yeah, I hope so. And we appointed a jury of prominent New Yorkers and prominent authors, ten of them in total, to vote on this, so it wasn't just me and Howard being like, "Hey, I liked this book. Let's give them the money," and so we'll see what they come up with and I'll have one vote just like the jurors each have a vote. But yeah, I think it can. And look, my hope is maybe other people take up the mantle and we have a similar prize for movies or TV or music. So there's a lot of stuff you can do-

Chris McCoy (24:20):

[crosstalk 00:24:20] It could be a decentralized South by.

Bradley Tusk (24:21):

Yeah, exactly. Or even, I've been toying with the notion of, okay, in this economy, what would it take if I wanted to open up a bookstore and an event space in lower Manhattan? Maybe it's pretty expensive, but maybe now rents are really cheap and I think if you were to do something proactive and say, "I want to invest in this city. I want to create retail at a time when a million jobs will disappear," that's a really good thing to do. So I'm trying to figure out whether or not, if it's affordable, but the goal is, I love the city. I spend a lot of my time working in and around government and politics. And to the point we were discussing earlier, I keep trying to make money. I keep making more money. I make money from my LPs. That makes more money for me. So, and I'm grateful for all of that, but at this point, I can use the vast majority for other stuff. And quite frankly, that increases my fulfillment and satisfaction, and that increases my net happiness.

Chris McCoy (25:19):

Yeah, I know. It's a really great framework to think about when you have a personal surplus and leaving the world better off than when you got here, is a very worthy endeavor. Back to American policy, can you walk me through your framework on how you're looking at AB5?

Bradley Tusk (25:43):

Yeah. Yeah.

Chris McCoy (25:44):

[crosstalk 00:25:44] there and that's a hot topic that I've gotten into multiples of Twitter fights over. Curious how you see it and why you think you [inaudible 00:25:53] shine well, historically.

Bradley Tusk (25:55):

Yeah. So stop me when this gets boring because I have a lot thoughts about it. So first of all, I haven't seen any polling on Prop 22, so I don't know what's going to happen. Obviously, I hope it passes, but I don't know. 2020, I think pre-COVID, was assumed to be a year that was going to see replications of AB5 all across the country. And because of COVID, that didn't happen. So in some ways, the sharing economy dodged one bullet. Of course, they took multiple bullets to the head in other ways with that. But I do think that 2021, this issue comes back around. And so it partly depends on what happens with Prop 22. If it passes, I think that makes labor a little more conciliatory towards reaching agreements on things like portable benefit plans.

Bradley Tusk (26:45):

If it fails, then they're going to go hardcore in every big blue state, New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Illinois, and just try to reclassify all sharing economy workers as employees. So there's a lot at stake here. The good news is, I do see a world starting to emerge where portable benefits concept is gaining political traction in some of the states I just mentioned. And in that situation, I think you get the best of both worlds because the contractors retain the flexibility, set their own schedules and control their own lives, but they still can get healthcare and pension benefits, disability and stuff like that. And the companies can choose to give that without risking their status as independent contractor, companies and not W2s.

Bradley Tusk (27:39):

So that would be a really good compromise I'd love to see happen and what we're walking towards that in a couple of different places. I do have a view that's been out there a little bit, that's a little counterintuitive, specific to ride sharing, which is, I believe that Uber actually should have embraced worker classification and used that to drive Lyft out of business. And here's how it would work. When you're an independent contractor, you can drive for as many platforms as you want. Pretty much every driver does both because why wouldn't they? It'd be irrational not to, but if you're an employee, you can tell your employees, "Hey, you can't work for my competitor," and then all of a sudden, they have to choose.

Bradley Tusk (28:18):

And because Uber has significantly greater market share, as a result, the more and more drivers are going to pick them, which means there'll be fewer drivers on Lyft platform, wait times go up. As wait times go up, customers drop off. They start switching over to Uber instead. Drivers see less opportunity on the platform, they switch over. And then ultimately, like our point earlier about declining tax revenues and increasing needs in cities like New York, Lyft has lost so many drivers, the wait time is so high, and so many customers switched over, that eventually they go out of business. And the reason why this is necessary, it's not that I want to see Lyft go out of business, but the economics of ride sharing just don't really work.

Bradley Tusk (28:58):

When you have these two companies competing with each other, neither of them are making money and it's not clear that either of them ever will around ride sharing. Whereas, if you just had one predominant company, obviously you can reach out the terms in a way that works a lot better. So I'm not sure that it's for the good of society, but if it were the old days at Uber, where somebody like Travis Kalanick we're still in charge, that would be the ruthlessly counterintuitive play he would do. And against that now, Uber is more or less conventional, thinking of companies in the country, and they just don't do anything outside the box.

Chris McCoy (29:33):

Now it's clear that the economics are positive in food delivery. And so Travis' company Cloud Kitchens has the ability to almost be like a Jobsian come back into the Uber atmosphere, if he-

Bradley Tusk (29:45):

Yeah. Yeah.

Chris McCoy (29:48):

[crosstalk 00:29:48] on that side of the-

Bradley Tusk (29:49):

Yeah. I've spent some time talking to Travis about all that. I haven't talked to him recently at all. Look, he is making the bat that number one, people don't really want to-

Bradley Tusk (30:03):

People don't really want to cook, but number two, they also don't necessarily want to pay all the prices at restaurants, and kind of deal with some asshole that comes with it. And that restaurants are feeling like they can't really make ends meet in serving physical customers, because all of the extra labor costs and materials costs and everything else is just too much to have any kind of profit margin. So if you narrowed it down to a world where people are just ordering online, getting the dishes and having them delivered to them, the margins for restaurants should go up significantly, and cook consumers get what they want. Now I love going to restaurants, and I miss going to restaurants. So I'm not sure I necessarily love this vision that I just laid out, but I think it's the bet that Travis is making. And I think in a world of COVID where restaurants existing in their traditional form is harder than ever. It looks kind of like the first time around he saw the future again.

Chris McCoy (31:05):

he's kind of the John Rockefeller of that space, and consistently sees around a couple of different corners, and makes the right bet at the right time, and he'll continue to do that until he hangs it up.

Bradley Tusk (31:27):

Yeah. By the way, as much as I'm sure he wanted to continue running, I know they want to continue running Uber, in some ways is the best place for him personally is to be creating new things, starting new companies, disrupting new norms and things like that. That's where he really has the most value as an innovator in society. And so I'm happy to see him enroll at this. And my hope is that he does it a few more times in different things too.

Chris McCoy (31:52):

Yeah, I'm right there with you. Okay. So final question for you is we want to grow this podcast and get interesting thinkers across the aisle that have an understanding of technology, of policy, appreciation for democracy. Is there anyone that you'd recommend that we reach out to?

Bradley Tusk (32:12):

Yeah. I mean, the question a little bit really is who do the listeners want to hear? So there's an endless array of political pundits, who are always happy to have the air time. For me personally, if it feels like it's just an audio version of CNN, or I'm just going to see whatever it is, I'm not interested. I don't need to hear idiots scream at each other. So I think what you want are people who are really thoughtful on my podcast. I love having reporters on because I feel like they know a lot, they learn a lot, and what they report is really just a fraction of what they see, and what they learn.

Bradley Tusk (32:53):

And so if you get them on the other side of the mic, and start asking them questions about their work, you hear really a [inaudible 00:33:03] and you learn a lot. And so if it were me, and like I said, not just theoretically, I do this with my podcast, look at the pundits and columnists and journalists that you respect, and invite them on, because I find, they almost always say yes, it's not that hard to get them. And I think they really add a lot.

Chris McCoy (33:25):

Thank you. I appreciate that. Yeah. I'll send an email to Tucker Carlson.

Bradley Tusk (33:30):

He may be a little tougher, but I think especially print reporters.

Chris McCoy (33:39):

I'm a big fan of some of the more esoteric thinkers in international policy right now, a guy that I'm following closely is Jacob Helberg, I believe is his last name. He was ex-Googler. He's writing a book that's getting published by one of the big companies on kind of the relationship with China. I think his take on it is refreshingly open, and quite dragged and kind of a wake up call for folks across the aisle to understand how to kind of understand China. And he's a younger guy as well. So I'm going to reach out to him.

Bradley Tusk (34:13):

Yeah. I'll check him out too, I haven't heard of him before, but yeah. Technology makes it so easy. I've interviewed people all over the world and it's not hard. You might have a weird time zone issue, but that's about it. So yeah, I think that totally makes sense. And I think in a way, podcast listeners are able to access mainstream people anywhere. So whether it's sort of a mega podcast, or news. So I think if you can bring them interesting perspectives of people who they probably haven't heard of, but have something to say, to me that's always the best way to go.

Chris McCoy (34:49):

Mm-hmm (affirmative). Any final thoughts as we talked about kind of the future of the American democratic experience?

Bradley Tusk (34:58):

Yeah. I mean, look, I'm going to end on a very negative note which may not be how you want to end this episode, but I really worry that if we don't fundamentally fix our politics, if we don't fundamentally put ourselves in a position where the views of the mainstream can become the actual policies that we pass, and that we can actually get consensus and get things done and issues like healthcare, education, or jobs or climate, immigration, or guns, there comes a point where we don't necessarily remain as one country. This is a country that kind of pioneered both divorce and bankruptcy for a reason, which is if things aren't working out, make a change. And it's easy to see we got to a point where if half the country says, "I hate what the other half stands for and I don't want to be with them." And the other half says the same thing, and everyone can agree that nothing is getting done, when Moses came down with the tablets, it didn't say the United States of America will consist of 50 States. It could be anything.

Bradley Tusk (36:06):

It could be three countries, it could be 20 countries. And I would hate to see that. Because I think we've done some incredible things in this country, but if we keep going down this path, and I think this November, it's going to feel as awful as any time it's felt in a long time. I think that's where we're headed. So that's where I'm trying to head off with mobile voting. Because I think if we can get turn out from say 10, 15% primaries to 50, 60, 70%, then that empowers the mainstream and changes the political incentives for politicians that if you changed the inputs you'll change the policy outputs. But from a long-term perspective of thinking about democracy in America, I really worry that if left unimpeded, we're heading down a path where it just will no longer make sense to maintain things the way they are. And maybe that'll be for the best, but if you said to me today, "Do you want to try to preserve the American experiment or not?" My answer is yes.

Chris McCoy (37:03):

Wonderful. Well, Bradley, I always learn a lot from you, and enjoy when I get a chance to ask you questions. So I appreciate this, and I'll probably follow up on email with some questions.

Bradley Tusk (37:15):

Cool. I love talking to you Chris, so I was happy to do it.

Chris McCoy (37:18):

But best of luck on all of the things you're working on.

Bradley Tusk (37:21):

Thanks man, you too.

Chris McCoy (37:21):

And yeah. Thanks for your time. I appreciate it Bradley. Have a good day.

Bradley Tusk (37:23):

Absolutely. See you, man. I'll talk to you later. Bye.

Chris McCoy (37:29):

Well, that was an enlightening conversation with Bradley. If you enjoyed it as much as I did, please share this with your friends on the Twitter, on the Telegram, on the Facebook. And if there are others who you think should join the show that we can talk about the future of technology, policy, and democracy, tell us at dataforamerica.org. In the meantime, onwards.

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