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DUBNER: After your third yacht, I mean, what are you going to buy? 

DUCKWORTH: A fourth yacht.

*      *      *

DUCKWORTH: I’m Angela Duckworth.

DUBNER: I’m Stephen Dubner.

DUCKWORTH + DUBNER: And you’re listening to No Stupid Questions.

Today on the show: Angela asks former Google C.E.O. Eric Schmidt about his quest to find the Einstein of the 21st century.

SCHMIDT: How can that possibly be something we shouldn’t be pursuing? 

Also: Are billionaire philanthropists doing more harm than good? 

DUCKWORTH: I’m not going to go tutor anyone today because didn’t I hear that Eric Schmidt is giving away his money to education? 

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Angela DUCKWORTH: All right. So, let’s get started. Eric, I’m so happy to be in conversation with you today. Listeners, of course, may know you as the former C.E.O. of Google. How would you like listeners today in 2020 to identify you, to know you? 

 Eric SCHMIDT: Well, I think of myself as a computer scientist who was lucky enough to eventually run a number of companies. And now I’m trying to apply the principles that I’ve always believed in to solve some societal problems. It’s far better to take the spoils of success and use them to advance the next generation than anything else I can imagine. Because I did not understand, and now I understand very well, that I was standing on the shoulder of giants and that the vast majority of my success was due to luck and not skill.  

DUCKWORTH: The work I know best is the work that I happen to be involved in, and that is Schmidt Rise. I’d love you to actually begin by just explaining what is Schmidt Rise and how did it come about? 

SCHMIDT: I decided after a while that the most important thing was talent. Talent is distributed uniformly. The color of your skin and your sex and so forth are not determinants of that. And we want to make sure that we can find, using a stereotype, “the female and minority Einsteins.” We know that they exist. Why do we have such white male prejudice in the sciences? Let’s see if we get that fixed. 

Then, I thought that the most important aspect of science is, in fact, the scientist, and in particular, the scientists that are the very exceptional leaders. And I’ve been blessed by meeting them and working with them over 40 or 50 years now. They’re somewhat different from everyone else. And in that difference, in that exceptionalism, we find the things that change the world. Whether it’s the transistor, or health care, or cures to cancer, cures to Covid, those sorts of things. 

DUCKWORTH: So, the idea that you would be able to do a global search and find emerging, bright minds, science and technology outliers. And ultimately, you want to identify 100 teenagers who are brilliant, in your view, and who will be scholarship recipients. You’ll provide them all kinds of resources so that they can be more productive and serve their communities. Is that the gist?  

SCHMIDT: So, that’s how we started. And it turns out that the universe of successful characteristics appears to break out fairly early. It appears that at age 15 or so, you can begin to identify these exceptional people. And that furthermore, the current systems tend to reward a very specific kind of intelligence. We know it collectively as the SAT problem. You know, you’re brilliant at doing SAT’s, and you’re not particularly good at anything else. 

And so, through your research and others’, what we came to was sort of a list, which was: brilliance, integrity, empathy, and perseverance. We concluded that you needed all four, not just one, to really get to the pinnacle. The ability to find the talent that I’m describing at 16 has never been very good. There are networks in the United States and in Europe, for example, that are targeted to gifted people and so forth, but, as we know, the vast majority of people are not in the United States and in Europe, they’re all over. 

The hidden human capital problem is a very, very big one. Just think of the number of people hidden in Indonesia, a country almost the size of the United States. There are many, many reasons why that capital is hidden. Some of it’s cultural, some of it’s economic. And of course, they all have mobile phones now. So we have an ability to reach these people. And then the question was: How do we test for it? And that’s where it gets really interesting.  

DUCKWORTH: I have been involved in this endeavor, in part, because I thought this is the biggest ship leaving the harbor on developing young people. And I didn’t build the ship. I’m not the captain of the ship, but either I’m on board, and I get a little bit of say in where the ship goes, or not. So I joined up. But, I think it’s my role to not agree with everything that’s happening, or how it’s happening. 

But, I’ll tell you, if I had a billion dollars, which I’ll never have, I don’t know that I would allocate it to a search. What if you just create resources where young people can learn goal-setting and planning, find mentors, etc., and then you just let them select themselves? 

SCHMIDT: I would argue that the outcome you’re describing occurs as a byproduct of our methodology. Because part of the design of Rise is to have each of the cohorts be participating in the process of development while they’re also competing. And for listeners, the application is called Hello World, and it’s available on all the usual app stores. It’s a series of— Think of them as games. They’re supposed to be engaging. They’re supposed to be interesting. The real prize is the journey. 

But the important point is it begins an onramp. And you have prizes at that level, which are modest. The simplest way to think about it is that there is a series of video challenges. And there are computer programs that evaluate all of this. Because you just can’t screen a million people. And then there’s a point at which we say, “Okay, let’s try to get the humans involved.”

DUCKWORTH: What about the argument that “talent will out?” That you’re wasting your money, because the counterfactual is that these hundred brilliant young minds are going to make it anyway? 

SCHMIDT: There’s no data to support your thesis one way or the other. They may or may not. But there’s a lot of evidence that people get stunted, that women are discriminated against in all sorts of societies in all sorts of terrible ways. They’re held back from education, for example. So that’s half the population right there. There is a great deal of prejudice against minorities. That prejudice has to affect these people. So there are many, many reasons why you want to find people who have exceptional talent and you want to get them in a good mainstream. 

One of the things that’s also interesting — there are people whose processors, in the form of their brain, just seem to go faster. They write faster. They think faster. They think a step ahead. It’s probably the case that the exceptional talent that we’re looking for are pretty much good at everything they do. And they specialize in one thing, because they find that of special interest. This is a debatable point. But all of the people I’ve dealt with who have been exceptionally successful in our society, everything happens faster. Their feelings are stronger. Their drive is stronger. A lot more happens in their day.  

DUCKWORTH: So, when you say that these minds work faster, everything is processed quicker, which, of course, was one of the earliest theories of intelligence — that the whole darn machine was working at a different clock speed. I want to tell you a story. So, when I define the word talent, my definition is the rate of change in your skill per unit effort. So, what is a really talented person? They put in one unit of effort, one hour of soccer practice. They improve enormously. 

What is it to be low-talent in soccer? Well, you put in the same hour of practice with the same effort. You don’t improve nearly as much. I was at a conference and Dick Nisbett, the great social psychologist at University of Michigan, was on the same bus going to the hotel. And I sat next to him, and I excitedly told him that really what intelligence was was this rate, and that it could explain everything. And there was a long pause. And then finally he said slowly, “I don’t know. Speed doesn’t seem to describe me.” 

Now, this led to a conversation about whether it was a red herring to look at quick-wittedness or being just fast. And I do think there’s something missing there. You know, Charles Darwin didn’t think he was a particularly quick mind, and he certainly didn’t think he was very witty. I have a quickness to my mind, and a certain agility, but I see other people who are more profound thinkers than I am, and I think Dick Nisbett is one of them. What are your reactions? If you were sitting on the bus next to Dick and to me, what would you have said? 

 SCHMIDT: Any measure you suggest is going to be limited. It does not fully cover the breadth of human exceptionalism. There are clearly people who don’t speak very quickly and who think brilliantly. Any system that you build has to capture the differences of that. Quick-wittedness is one that is relatively easily measured. But we don’t really know. I would say it differently. You’ve had, I don’t know, thousands of students? 

DUCKWORTH: Yeah. 

SCHMIDT: There must be 10 that you can identify. And you can say, “They were really better. And I can’t quite say why, but I knew when I met them that they were going to be the ones of consequence.” And we’re trying to capture that 10. And it’s not just I.Q. It’s not just speed. It’s not just grit. It’s some combination that makes them exceptional people. So here’s my gift, is trying to identify this in a systematic way.

One of the questions that I actually have for you, has to do with— Here is your constraint. You have to do things on the phone because that’s your mechanism for reaching these people. We need to give people something to do that proves that they are exceptional. How do we test for some other things? Compassion. Empathy. How do we get to the “softer stuff.” The hard stuff, I think we know how to test for. How should we do that? 

DUCKWORTH: If you want to know: is somebody a giver? Are they empathic? Are they kind? You can’t do it in a computer-on-one interaction. You actually have to see the person interact in groups. There’s research, by the way, by folks like David Deming at Harvard and Duncan Watts at Wharton, showing that it’s actually possible to begin to quantify who is somebody who improves the quality of everybody else’s performance. And one of the problems, for all the things that you want to do, is measurement. 

Most measures are extraordinarily noisy. You know, you just happen to be on a team where it was doomed to dysfunctionality, no matter what you did. You’ve got to go on another team and mix it up again. And by the time you’re on 10 or 12 teams, maybe, we can see if there’s a pattern of everybody else on your team, whoever they were, randomly selected, doing better, because you were there. 

SCHMIDT: The team dynamics that you’re describing are really, really interesting. And I agree with you on the noisiness. What I do believe, and since we will be doing this for many, many years, we will get increasingly good feedback on our selection process. And I can tell you that we did this when I was at Google. We would have employees who were interviewers score the applicants. And these scores were then adjusted in a mathematical way based on the performance of the employee a year later. And you close the feedback loop. 

DUCKWORTH: Which almost nobody does, by the way, as you know. It’s ridiculous.  

SCHMIDT: And one of the things that we discovered, by the way, is that our interviewers were completely misreading women. It was anti-correlated. 

DUCKWORTH: You under-predicted their performance. 

SCHMIDT: Completely wrong. Literally, we would have rejected them. This caused a huge stir. This was 15 years ago. And we completely changed the way women were interviewed because there was clearly apparent bias. So, I would expect that the same thing will occur in the system that I’m describing, that whatever we think the predictors are, and whatever we think the biases are, we will find very, very, strange bias based on looking at subsequent performance.  

DUCKWORTH: And that, because it’s transparent, you’ll be able to root it out. What does success look like? But also, how does failure look in this endeavor?  

SCHMIDT: Well, you’ll get a series of metrics along the way. So, let’s assume for purposes of argument, you identify your first group of 100 at the age of 16, and not a single university in the United States wants to admit them at age 18. Well, that’s pretty harsh feedback. 

If every one of them is admitted to the very top universities and people are fighting over them, then that’s a pretty good initial predictor. And that’s early feedback. And that’s stuff that we can actually then track back. You can then look at graduation rates. You can look at postgraduate work. You can look at awards. So, there are systems of merit. 

DUCKWORTH: Michael Sandel wrote an op-ed in The New York Times. And I’d just like to read you a few of the last lines, because it actually challenges what you were just saying about the ideal of meritocracy is a good thing. And you would want a system that rewards that. 

So, he writes, “If the rhetoric of rising, and the reign of technocratic merit have led us astray, how might we recast the terms of moral and political aspiration? We should focus less on arming people for a meritocratic race and more on making life better for those who lack a diploma but who would make important contributions to our society through the work they do, the families they raise and the communities they serve.” 

And then I’ll just skip a bit, “It also requires reconsidering the meaning of success and questioning our meritocratic hubris.” What are your reactions when you hear those lines?  

SCHMIDT: He’s doing what a Harvard professor often does, which is creating a false straw man in order to make his point. The duty of society is to do both. It’s not a false choice. There’s no reason why America has to have such terrible inequality, at the same time cannot have such exceptional achievements in science and technology, and drugs, and so forth and so on. 

How can that possibly be something we shouldn’t be pursuing? I just strongly disagree with that. And underlying his argument is an anti-elitism argument. The fact of the matter is that there have always been elites, and hopefully the elites are pointed in the right direction, that they’re trying to make the world a better place.  

DUCKWORTH: I think this idea that the straw man is often this either/or dichotomy, where either you have individual agency and individuals matter or structures matter and societally-created affordances matter, I agree with you is really actually both/and, right? But I think it’s pervasive that people think if you’re talking about finding a few young people to make a difference in the world, then you must actually not care about structural change. 

 SCHMIDT: Partly, this is the current culture which has this negativity of criticism. And there’s a presumption that you’re always up to something wrong. So, let’s start with the premise that the vast majority of people are trying to get through life as best they can and that people work better in teams. So, the important point is that we can have both individual achievement but also teams that work together — that the team dynamics and the team excellence are just as important as the development of individuals. 

Everything in our mythology is that you have a brilliant decider. The president, the scientist, the founder of the company. Who built Apple? Steve Jobs. There were a thousand people who worked for him whose names you don’t know, who built the iPhone. So, the fact of the matter is that even brilliant people have to surround themselves with other people. And there’s no question that high-functioning teams beat high-functioning individuals, on average. It’s true in stock picking. It’s true in companies. It’s true in invention. We all know that Edison invented many things. People forget that he had a huge lab. 

DUCKWORTH: Why is leadership not on your list? 

SCHMIDT: Because leadership develops, I think, in a different path. I would defer to you as to whether we can test for leadership skills at 15. My guess is we probably can’t. Leadership is developed over time, with some life experiences, would be my guess. But a component of leadership is persistence, goal-setting. 

And again, you can quibble with my list and we can substitute other words for them. The important point about my list was that we’re not looking just for raw I.Q. as it’s currently measured. We don’t think raw I.Q. is a sufficient predictor of what we’re looking for.  

DUCKWORTH: I think it’s very rare to have somebody who is as talented as a Michael Jordan, who is willing to work as hard as a Michael Jordan. In fact, these seem to be substitute goods. And I’ve long pondered why is it, actually, that the most talented person on the field doesn’t work the hardest? 

Because in some ways, the rational thing is like, look, if you’re getting a lot of return on investment in your effort, if that’s what talent is, shouldn’t you stay longer? But I think, actually, people are satisficing, they’re reaching some threshold, could be a high threshold, but once they reach that threshold, they pull back in their effort. What are your intuitions about what’s going on there and why it’s so rare?  

SCHMIDT: I’ll give you a counter example: the Olympics. So, the fact of the matter is that because the Olympics is episodic and it’s a relatively rare event, people work incredibly hard for the Olympics in which they’re competing. The level of motivation that is required is superhuman. At the end of the day, they have great gifts, but their ability to be at that level of focus, that continuously is really extraordinary.  

DUCKWORTH: Well, I will tell you that looking for people who are not satisficers when it comes to their achievement, who are never going to be much higher than a six or seven in terms of how satisfied they are with their work, is not on your list explicitly, but I think there’s a there there. Eric, if people who are listening to this conversation want to learn more about what you’re up to, where should they go?  

SCHMIDT: Well, we had the idea of doing a podcast. What a surprise.  

DUCKWORTH: Good idea. 

SCHMIDT: And we called it Reimagine. And the idea is to talk about the world post-Covid, and in particular, what are we going to do differently now that we’ve managed to get ourselves into this mess. We’ve had quite a few interesting guests. Scott Gottlieb, Sully Sullenberger, experts on development economics and these sorts of things. There’s a website, reimaginepod.com, but you know how to find podcasts. 

DUCKWORTH: If they found this podcast, they can certainly find yours. 

Still to come on No Stupid Questions: Stephen and Angela wonder whether it’s dangerous that our planet has come to rely on the charity of billionaires like Eric Schmidt. 

DUBNER: The worst thing about being a billionaire who works really hard to think about the best way to use your money is that you have people like me challenging the very notion.

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Stephen J. DUBNER: So, Angela, we just heard you speaking with Eric Schmidt about trying to identify and promote talent from populations where it often goes totally ignored. I would like to ask you a broader question about the mission of Eric Schmidt and maybe a large handful of other people like him who are doing interesting and aggressive philanthropy. 

DUCKWORTH: Billionaire philanthropy. Is that what you’re curious about? 

 DUBNER: Yeah. And he’s got real ideas about what are the problems and, maybe even, what are the solutions. I think you can be a billionaire philanthropist and do a more passive version of philanthropy. And let me just say, far be it from me, or anyone, to cast aspersions on the idea of billionaires giving away their money. Although, you know, after your third yacht, I mean, what are you going to buy?  

DUCKWORTH: A fourth yacht. 

DUBNER: Here’s my question: I do wonder if our societal reliance on billionaire philanthropy to “fix” education, and environmental problems, and so many other things, I do wonder if it’s problematic. I wonder if there’s a moral hazard where millions and millions, maybe billions of individuals, can abdicate some responsibility. And also, it excuses our governments from doing what they’re supposed to be doing in the first place. So, to boil this rant into a question: Is Eric Schmidt an evil person? 

DUCKWORTH: So, is Eric Schmidt, specifically, by giving away his personal fortune, is he doing more harm than good, inadvertently?  

DUBNER: Yeah. Again, I don’t mean to under-appreciate the actuality of what he and other people like him are trying to do. But it does create a situation where a handful of people who happen to be lucky enough to have all the balls line up, and they hit the triple, quadruple, gazillion jackpot — is it a good idea for them to have so much leverage in deciding how to tackle social problems, public policy and so on? 

 

DUCKWORTH: So, I think we should argue both sides, and then maybe we can come to some decision on this. As you know, income inequality has increased. We have this skewed distribution where there are super, super wealthy people relative to the rest of us in ways that just didn’t happen in human civilization. 

DUBNER: There are those who argue that the Gilded Age, robber-baron era may have been pretty close. But your point is taken. In recent decades, in most places, in most economies, inequality is generally— 

DUCKWORTH: Increasing. 

DUBNER: Yes.

DUCKWORTH: The personal wealth of some of these individuals is larger than most, if not all, American universities. It’s not a small thing to say that these people are giving away their personal wealth, because the numbers are so big. So then when you look over at that side of the distribution and go, “Hey, these people want to give to education. They want to give to public health. They want to fund research.” On the plus side, giving away what they have has got to be a good thing, all things being equal.  

DUBNER: You could also argue on the plus side, if you are independently, extremely, extremely, extremely wealthy, then you are responding to your own set of incentives and cues, and you’re theoretically not under pressure from any special interest group, etc. 

DUCKWORTH: We’re still on the plus side, right? This is the plus side? 

DUBNER: Well, it’s the same argument that Mike Bloomberg made, or people around him made, when he wanted to become mayor of New York City, which is if he’s a billionaire, then he does not have to make any compromises with any police union, teachers’ union. 

DUCKWORTH: He wouldn’t be beholden to any special interest group. 

DUBNER: Right. 

DUCKWORTH: It’s easy to argue that on the negative side, too. But I guess you could argue that there’s some benefit there. I think there’s also some maybe even unspoken argument that if they generated all this wealth in their own lifetimes, they have to have good decision-making skills. They could be smart. 

DUBNER: Well, it was interesting the degree to which Eric Schmidt pointed out that being born the right person, in the right place in time, which is all luck, is a huge part of success. 

DUCKWORTH: Fair. And just because you ran Google or you ran Microsoft doesn’t mean, necessarily, that you’re going to be good at solving world problems through philanthropy. I think what makes this question interesting is the possibility that the negative side of the ledger could be bigger.

So, on the negative side, there is a distortion of power. Why should these people be able to make essentially public policy decisions just because they happen to build a great internet company? I actually read this book, Winners Take All, which was a critique of this billionaire philanthropy. And one of the arguments was that elites in their maybe well-intentioned efforts to change the world essentially only preserve their status in positions of power because they’re making all the decisions. 

DUBNER: Or even if you don’t want to have such nefarious suspicions, you could say that a certain kind of elite will have an understanding of the world that may not be very universal. So you may come up with solutions that you think are optimal that a lot of people may disagree with. I think it’s Anand Giridharadas who wrote Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World, is the book you’re talking about. 

There’s a similar-ish book by Robert Reich, who is a Stanford political scientist, called Just Giving: Why Philanthropy is Failing Democracy and How We Can Do Better. We interviewed Reich for a Freakonomics Radio episode called “Thinking Is Expensive. Who’s Supposed to Pay for It.” And we were exploring, in particular, the use of philanthropy to influence intellectual institutions: universities and think tanks and so on. 

DUCKWORTH: And I guess the critique is that it just perpetuates inequality because essentially this is just yet another way for the powerful to keep making the decisions. Is that the gist? 

DUBNER: I’m not sure if that necessarily perpetuates inequality, but the way Reich talks about it is that you convert private assets into public influence. 

DUCKWORTH: So it subverts, in a way, the democratic process. 

DUBNER: Right. You could argue that it works against what we think of as representative democracy.

DUCKWORTH: I do think that some would argue that it’s colonial. That you’ll never get out under the shadow of the person who has power, even if they’re benevolent. It’s just that I can’t figure out how to get to that more democratic, populist ideal. I really can’t. 

When I read that book, I kept getting distracted by the question of: consider the alternative. Do you want the billionaires not to give away money to education and health? I guess you could just say that there should be a taxation system such that we don’t have that kind of wealth. But that’s a totally different and not likely possibility in the short term.  

DUBNER: I did just see some preliminary research. I won’t get into it because it’s not ready for primetime yet, but it’s by someone who works in this realm and is very, very good. And his research shows that we think of America as an incredibly charitable country, easily the most philanthropic country in the history of the universe. Never before has any group of people, on average, given away such a large share of their overall wealth or G.D.P. 

And you can say there are perhaps moral reasons, there are perhaps reputational reasons, and there are incentives. There’s a tax structure that encourages it, and then there are incentives like putting your name on a building and things like that. But he did an analysis of a sort that had never been done before, to look at the difference between the very rich and the very, very, very, very, very, very rich, and then the rich, and then the non-rich, and found that if you subtract the very, very, very, very, very, very rich, then we’re not really that charitable.

DUCKWORTH: Oh, really? So it’s being driven by a very small number of very, very, very, very rich and very, very, very, very philanthropic individuals. You could also say they could give it to the government instead of having a foundation. But there’s a lot of good reason to think that the innovation and the creativity is going to come from organizations outside of the government, what’s often called the “third sector,” the nonprofit sector. So, I don’t really think philanthropists giving all their money just to the government directly is a great alternative.  

DUBNER: I think we should point out that, look, you work for an institution that is really dependent on this kind of giving. And it’s a wonderful lubricant to a system that we really enjoy. But my question is: What is the countervailing force that that may create? 

Especially of, as I said, absolving individuals or institutions, like universities, but particularly government, from doing a better job of what they should be doing, rather than relying on billionaire charity to come in and fix problems that the development of better systems would prevent? And I realize that it’s large and complicated, and that, in fact, many of these philanthropists are addressing building better systems. So, I don’t mean to be un-generous to that. 

DUCKWORTH: I guess my concern is less about moral hazard and more about just sub-optimality — maybe there are better versus worse ways of giving away those billions. They’re legitimately different concerns. I don’t think there are a lot of people who think, “No, I’m not going to go tutor anyone today because didn’t I hear that Eric Schmidt is giving away his money to education?” I don’t really see that happening.  

DUBNER: Anybody who’s thinking about going to tutor someone is not in the population that I would be most concerned about. I think this is probably close to fictional, but let me just give it a specific example. So one thing that the Gates Foundation, for instance, but a lot of other donors, and a lot of other foundations do is focus on disease. 

DUCKWORTH: Especially globally. 

DUBNER: Because disease is often fatal, and disease is something that requires a lot of resources and a lot of coordination. All of this sounds like something that governments should typically do. But governments have gotten less and less involved in this. And then, if a big player like the Gates Foundation comes in and says, “Oh boy, malaria. Man, that is low-hanging fruit. If we could learn to either zap all the mosquitoes who are causing the trouble or just get rid of all the female mosquitoes, or better nets, etc., that would save lots and lots of lives. Isn’t that great?”

So then, if you are a government susceptible to a lot of malaria, what does that make you do? Does that make you back off? Maybe. Maybe not. What if you’re thinking about something like a global pandemic? If you know there are foundations out there that are trying to coordinate response and research to things like a pandemic, does that mean that you take your foot off the gas, and you don’t use your C.D.C. and H.H.S. to pursue those goals, which used to be front of mind? That’s what I’m talking about.  

DUCKWORTH: The idea that, inadvertently, this philanthropy could be like the GPS system in our phone, which has—

DUBNER: Forget out to use a map—

DUCKWORTH: We can’t navigate anywhere anymore because that skill’s atrophied. So that’s the crowd out, or moral hazard, that you’re worried about. 

DUBNER: Yes. 

DUCKWORTH: I don’t know that there’s any evidence that that’s true. It’s certainly theoretically possible. The argument is often made that there’s so much more innovation and flexibility outside of the bureaucracy of governments. Some of the things that Bill Gates‘s very, very clever scientists are going to do might have been better than if just the U.S. government, or any other government, were in charge.

Here’s my intuition: that if you run a company like Microsoft or Google, you have learned how to learn. You have learned how to hire people who are smarter than you. You have learned to create a feedback cycle, how to measure your outcomes and your process. So, I don’t want to be all Pollyanna about all this. And I think there are some legitimate criticisms and warnings about this whole endeavor. 

But I like that we have a big nonprofit sector and that these outliers are not only giving their money away, but they’re so actively involved. I can’t think of a counterfactual, but I’d be welcome to hear other people’s that’s dramatically superior to that.  

DUBNER: And the worst thing about being a billionaire who works really hard to think about the best way to use your money is that you have people like me challenging the very notion, when it’s plainly the right-minded thing to do. So, to those billionaires listening, I do want to apologize for the letter of the argument, but I hope you’ll appreciate that the spirit of the argument is well-founded.  

DUCKWORTH: Well, if there is looking a gift horse in the mouth, then my guess is that it’s not the first time that these very wealthy and powerful people have been criticized. And I’m guessing that they’ll be just fine.  

DUBNER: Additionally, for the record, postscript. Eric Schmidt, I don’t really think you’re evil. 

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No Stupid Questions is part of the Freakonomics Radio Network, which also includes Freakonomics Radio and People I (Mostly) Admire. This episode was produced by me, Rebecca Lee Douglas. And now here is a fact-check of today’s conversations.

Eric Schmidt says that Rise has the ability to reach young people all over the world because, “They all have mobile phones now.” This is clearly an exaggeration. According to a 2019 publication from The Pew Research Center on Internet & Technology, a median of 76 percent of people surveyed across 18 advanced economies have smartphones, and a median of 45 percent of people in emerging countries. Ownership is the lowest in India, where only 24 percent report having a smartphone. What’s more, Pew only shares data for adult phone owners. Common sense suggests that the numbers would be lower for the teenage demographic that Rise is attempting to reach. 

Later, Angela asserts that the personal wealth of the most influential philanthropists is greater than the endowment of most, if not all, American universities. According to his Forbes profile, Eric Schmidt’s net worth is $14.6 billion, which is certainly greater than the average university endowment of $1.4 billion, but comparable to most Ivy League Schools. In fact, Schmidt’s net worth is roughly equivalent to the endowment of Angela’s employer, the University of Pennsylvania. However, the endowment of Angela’s alma mater, Harvard University, which is the largest in the country at nearly $41 billion dollar, pales in comparison to the $115 billion dollar net worth of mega-philanthropist Bill Gates. That’s it for the fact-check.

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No Stupid Questions is produced by Freakonomics Radio and Stitcher; our staff includes Alison Craiglow, Greg Rippin, James Foster and Corinne Wallace. Thanks also to our intern Emma Tyrell for her help with this episode. Our theme song is “And She Was” by Talking Heads — special thanks to David Byrne and Warner Chappell Music. If you’d like to listen to the show ad-free, subscribe to Stitcher Premium. You can also follow us on Twitter at NSQ_Show and on Facebook @NSQShow.  If you have a question for a future episode, please share it with nsq@freakonomics.com. And if you heard Stephen or Angela discuss a study, a book or an expert that you’d like to learn more about, you can check out Freakonomics.com/NSQ, where we link to all of the major references that you heard about here today. Thanks for listening! 

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DUBNER: Look, I’ve never had $10 billion. I’ve never had three billion. I’ve never had one billion. 

DUCKWORTH: I was gonna say, let’s keep going with this. Yeah. 

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