David Frum

Staff Writer

The Atlantic

February 17, 2022

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Ep 352: David Frum - Staff Writer, The Atlantic
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Bret Kugelmass
We are here today with David Krum, who is a staff writer at The Atlantic and author of 10 books, the latest, "Trumpocalypse: Restoring American Democracy" - David, thank you and welcome to the podcast.

David Frum
Thank you so much.

Bret Kugelmass
Super excited to chat with you. I've been reading your writings and I personally have been trying to become a better writer, so at some point in today's conversation, I'm gonna have to ask you how you've become so articulate and such a good style writer. But we'll get to that. Before that, I'd just love to learn about you as a person. Who are you? Where are you from?

David Frum
I was born in Toronto, Canada. And my- almost all of my family is Canadian. They were, before that, immigrants from Eastern Europe. On my father's side, they left Eastern Europe just in the nick of time. The great majority of my father's family was murdered by the Nazis during World War II. My mother's family arrived earlier. I was educated in the United States. I went to law school in the United States. I've been working- I served in the George W. Bush administration in 2001-2002.

Bret Kugelmass
Speech writing?

David Frum
That's correct. And I have been working at the Atlantic since 2014.

Bret Kugelmass
Yeah, pretty amazing. I have a great deal of respect for speech writers, just because I know how hard it is. But tell me, what originally got you into journalism? What drove your attention?

David Frum
I grew up in the 1970s and I was, as a teenager, very caught up in the fears and emotions of that era. And I began looking for answers to problems like inflation to problems like the Soviet threat. I think my own family's disaster had made me very alert to the importance of freedom in the world. And not just freedom as an abstract, but to make sure that freedom is backed and defended. Because on its own, freedom will be just a victim of other people's power. So I became involved with the conservative movement that was touching so many young people at that time and it quickly became apparent that what I could contribute- I was not an organizer. I was not a- I was a writer. That's what I could contribute. I could contribute words. So I began. I turned to journalism not to be a journalist, but to express certain beliefs about the values of the world and began writing and writing and writing. I went through - I will spare you all the details, I'm not sure how interesting they are - but I went through a lot of- I worked through just about every conservative institution there was between 1982 and about 2010. So that's what drew me into journalism. What drew me into government was the opportunity to see things from the inside, to understand at a deeper level how these institutions I wrote about, how they really worked. It was an incredibly valuable experience. Then what happened - and maybe this is also worth saying here - is the world changed and a lot of the issues that I caught up with and the Cold War ended, the problems in the 1970s were resolved in one way or another. I wrote a whole book about it called "How We Got Here," a history of that period and its problems. And then I began to find that the values I had were increasingly at odds with the politics I espouse. I found myself beginning, after I left the government in the early 2000s, but especially since the world financial crisis of 2008-2009, moving in a way farther and farther away from organized conservatism.

Bret Kugelmass
Yeah, I've seen that in some of- even just in the titles of your articles. You kind of pick up on that. But before you got there, before you like where this well-respected writer who kind of like people looked to and you really knew what you're talking about, was there a moment that would- I'd love for you to describe that moment before you even had the self-confidence. Like when you knew this was your thing. Was it-

David Frum
-No, I don't think- I often joke to young people who are aspiring journalists, you can't just decide to be a journalist. You have to fail at a lot of other things first. I stumbled around a lot. I went to law school. And I remember at the end of Thanksgiving break of year one, semester one saying to the person- we had assigned seats in those days and saying to the person, my seatmate on the right or left, I forget now, Well, I'll see you on Monday. And he said, No, you won't. This sucks, I'm leaving. And I never had the moral courage to do that, so I finished the course and I realized pretty quickly I did not want to be a lawyer. So I stumbled around a lot. In a way I'm still sort of stumbling around. I do lots of other things. I should mention along the way, I mean, between 2012 and 2016, I had a business career. I've just stumbled around a lot of different things. Journalists tend to be seekers. It's not something that you wake up and say, That's what I'm going to do. At least with most of the journalists I know, that's not how it happened.

Bret Kugelmass
And how much of your time is that seeking versus the actual writing part? Is now the writing is so easy for you comes out and most time is spent like thinking or investigating? What's the balance between those?

David Frum
Everyone has their own method, so I can't recommend this. The way I work is, I do not begin writing unless I know at least the first sentence and the last sentence of the article. I know where I'm starting, I know where I'm going, and I have a rough idea of what I need to cover. And at this point I no longer really separate the research from the writing process as cleanly as I once would have done. But I think- I mean, I write in my head, and when I'm at the keyboard, I'm transcribing as much as I am writing. I find that a lot of the difficulties that people have is they're actually- they're doing the thinking part at the keyboard and they're then being frustrated when the thinking is not complete. And then they blame themselves and they get impatient and then they try to write ahead of the thought. That's just a formula for misery.

Bret Kugelmass
And the topics that you write on, I've noticed the consistency theme of politics. Have you gone in other directions?

David Frum
Yeah. I've written- I just finished a huge article about - which is not yet published - but about the issue of returning art to Africa that was taken by colonial powers. I spent a lot of time in Nigeria this year. I write a lot about- I have an amateur interest in history. Actually, this is a book I'm reading right now, which I strongly recommend. It's Kyle Harper's history of the interaction of pathogens and human history. He wrote a great book about the intersection of pathogens and fall of Rome. It is very topical. And I'm very interested in the history of art. I'm very interested in economic issues. I write a lot about defending free trade, which is something where, as much as the parties disagree, as much as Trump and Biden have disagreed on so many issues of fundamental value, to my mind, very unfortunately, the one thing that has been most consistent from one administration to the other is American opinions moving away from the vision of a world that trades in peace and freedom. I write a lot about that, both directly and indirectly.

Bret Kugelmass
Do you find yourself like as an independent thinker, kind of often writing against the prevailing trends or some- is it just depending on the topic, sometimes you're aligned with the majority consensus, sometimes you're against?

David Frum
Well, if you're validating majority trends then who needs you, right?

Bret Kugelmass
Good point.

David Frum
Dogs are wonderful. Do you need me to tell you that? I don't think so. And there are a lot of subjects- and one of the things that is, I think, especially true in this age of social media, is I like to distinguish from issues that are highly important and issues that are highly salient. An example of that, here's a good example of this. I mean, so people in Texas had just come through this horrifying winter of misery and cold and suffering and loss of life, because of the problems of the Texas power system. How many journalists spend time writing about electrical grids? Very few. How many spend time writing about gender and bathrooms?

Bret Kugelmass
A lot.

David Frum
A lot. I don't want to say that any issue is unimportant. But I just- one of the things I noticed as a journalist is when you notice everybody's crowding the gunnels on one side of the boat, that that's a good sign that maybe you could do something more useful if you go to the other gunnel and talk about the electrical power grid or the issues that people are not talking about. Not the issues that get them excited, but the issues that they really need to know more about. And one of the values of a magazine like The Atlantic is we are- because we're a little off the news, we can step back a little bit and say, Here are some things you need to be thinking about, aside from the excitement of the moment.

Bret Kugelmass
Which is why I love the Atlantic, by the way.

David Frum
Thank you.

Bret Kugelmass
And I was just gonna- you jumped to my next question. Does that mean that you can only find so many publications that you can work with having that theory of what's important to write about? Because others don't think the same way you do.

David Frum
Yeah. Well, I mean, social media has- there's a lot of good about it. I mean, I can't imagine- what I find, with the social media I consume is it's a fantastic resource inbound if you use it directly. I mean, there's just- they way I- how do I know who to- if something happens and I want to know more about it, the way I start is by - I notice and I follow a lot of journalists and academics - something happens. The Texas power grid, just use that example. And I then look at who are they reading? And then you start reading all the people that they're reading. And then you say, Okay, the people that they read, who do they read? And pretty soon you have, with a little bit of judgment - because I don't advocate that people carelessly do their own research and find themselves in the grip of cranks and cooks - but with a filter of good judgment, you can pretty soon find yourself on your way to some very, very extra people. And then you have to use that other indispensable tool of the journalists, the telephone, and you call them, because the world is full of people are brimming with knowledge who are eager to share it. The generosity of knowledgeable people is one of the most important resources that every journalist has. And I think a lot of people have this model that what journalists do is we're always trying to entrap liars to get their secrets out of them. And yeah, sometimes that happens. Most of the time what you're doing is saying, Here's something that people really need to know about. And there are a number of- there's a range of people who have really useful things to contribute and they are just so ready to help. All you have to do is talk to them. Read their stuff first, don't call them without reading, because then- otherwise you don't know what to ask. It's not respectful of their time. But do your reading first and then get them to help you think through things and then test your ideas on them.

Bret Kugelmass
So that's like- I mean, I love that you said that, but oftentimes I mean- so I've interacted with the media here and there, because like- so first off, the process that you were just describing, that picking up the phone and calling people, that's exactly what this podcast is. Podcasts, in general, have been a great tool for that, because it's kind of like a low burden way to get an expert on. So we've been doing this now for years, four years. Interviewed over 350 experts and put together some of our own thesis about what's happening. And by the way, the article that we're about to get to that you wrote about is just so dead on, which is why I was just so excited to talk to you. But every now and then a journalist will call me to be like, Hey, what do you know about nuclear? And I don't think they've ever written up my thesis on nuclear, even though I've collected 300 subject matter expert conversations that are like an hour long. So you are still a rare breed of people who will actually take the time to listen and synthesize.

David Frum
Well, a lot of that is the credit of the Atlantic that they give us more time. And a lot of is just my own approach. And there are other approaches. But one of the things- I mean, I often will tell people when I'm interviewing - I'm working on an article right now that is also about energy issues, but slightly removed from the nuclear issue - and I'm talking extra people and what I always say to them is, I'm not here- I'll tell you, If you say anything I want to quote, I will show it to you and you can revise it, because I'm not here to embarrass you. I want to know what you know and I want to be enlightened by you. It's absolutely true that I could make- a certain kind of journalist can make a certain kind of Under Secretary of Energy's life a living hell for a week. But if that Under Secretary makes a mistake, what's the point of that? What's the point of that? All you've done is done harm to some person who's trying to do the job the best they can. And for what? And you haven't- you usually haven't left the public any wiser about anything they really need to know.

Bret Kugelmass
Let's talk about your interest in energy and then how you found your way to the nuclear topic itself?

David Frum
Well, I've been interested in the nuclear topic for a long time, partly by happenstance of when I was a college student in the late 70s, Three Mile Island happened. And I was at that time rooming with someone whose father was an important executive at one of the major energy companies. My roommate was in full-scale rebellion against his family, so he became active in all kinds of protest movements - and I probably shouldn't say this, but it's the truth and I shouldn't be ashamed of that- he had a very great magnetism for attracting the attention of women. So it always seemed to be a good idea to be wherever he wanted to go, it always seemed to be a good idea. And I lacked this talent. So to follow him, and just stand nearby and see what- you know, if lightning struck. He went to a lot of these anti-nuclear protests, so I went to a lot of them. I didn't have any- as I said, I was there for other kinds of reasons. I didn't have any special interest. But I began realizing that it was pretty obvious that none of the people who are at these things really knew what they're talking about. The slogan of the time - now, this is slightly before the carbon era - but one of my favorite slogans was "Split wood, not atoms" and I remember thinking, I mean, one of my bedrock career convictions is free trade, a world united in prosperity and peace, economic development, the tremendous importance of raising living standards, especially-

Bret Kugelmass
I'm so glad you said that prosperity word, because to me, when I look back at what the environmentalist movement was, it was almost an anti-humanist, anti-prosperity movement.

David Frum
Exactly. So if you want all that split wood, really? And I knew enough history to know, you know what happens when - I didn't know at that time much about carbon - but you know what happens when you burn wood inside a confined space? The people get tuberculosis. That's what happens when you burn wood inside a confined space.

Bret Kugelmass
And by the way, it's still happening to like a billion people around the world today.

David Frum
So I sort of found this. This was obviously a bad- I didn't meet any girls either. The whole thing, it was just a complete, just a complete failure. So I bracketed this, but then in the early 1990s I was working at the Wall Street Journal on the editorial page. This is at the time the first interest in the carbon issue was emerging. Margaret Thatcher gave her speech to the United Nations in 1987 or '88. I guess she spoke first to the Royal Society in '87 then at the UN in '88, that's the first. And by 1992 the first Bush administration is beginning- is pondering action on this. I got quite interested in this subject. The Journal was very anti the real process, but it just came out that there's something here. This carbon stuff, this does seem to be an issue. And maybe it can easily be exaggerated, you do quickly pick up when you deal with this that there are people who see decarbonisation as a new justification for the thing they really want to do, which is stop material progress.

Bret Kugelmass
Yep. Yep. Couldn't agree more.

David Frum
But it's not that- unlike the anti-nuclear people, it became clear that the carbon people did know what they were talking about. While I'm no kind of scientific expert, I got drawn enough to say this is something that is worth more and more attention. Through the 90s, I followed the issue more closely - I wouldn't say very closely, but more closely - and then I got involved with the- when I joined the Bush administration in 2001, I became friendly with two people who were carbon activists inside the 2000 Bush campaign. George W. Bush, people forget this now, had delivered a speech at some point during the campaign of 2000 which he committed to regulate carbon dioxide as a pollutant, but he wanted to do it in a more market friendly way than Al Gore did. Then there was a big battle when the administration formed as to whether or not this promise would be honored or not. These two people, Gary Edson and John Bridgeland, were the leading advocates for honoring the pledge. I ended up working with them, helping them to draft a lot of their materials and going to the meetings that they were conducting. I really became convinced. Okay, this is real, it's a problem. Al Gore may have overstated- it's not the imminent end of the world, but it's a big deal. And at that point sort of coalesced in my mind, and the only way you're going to make progress on it without plunging- without arresting the world's progress was by finding non-carbon energy sources and there's one obvious answer to what that would be. Since then I've gotten more and more interested in the nuclear issue.

Bret Kugelmass
Wow. That's pretty amazing. And then, so okay. I've been moving throughout the nuclear industry now for the last- I only got involved four years ago, once again, from a clean energy, future prosperity mindset is how I stumbled also to nuclear. And then since then, I've been very involved in the community. The story that you tell in your article, your recent article in The Atlantic about Germany's decision, this is a story that people talk about, like at cocktail events or conferences or whatever, so I've heard these elements before, but I've never seen anyone articulate it outside of the nuclear industry. Where did you get the spark of the idea to articulate it this way? Who did you talk to? How did it come together? And what time period was this?

David Frum
I've covered German politics. I don't speak the language, but I spent time there. And I've been involved with a lot of the things that the Merkel government has done, for good and for ill. I want to stress they've done a lot of good things. But I just ended up speaking to a lot of people who told me stories about the thought process. One of the advantages, again, of the Atlantic is, if I worked at The Washington Post or the New York Times, I would have to go back through those now dozen years of conversation and find someone who's willing to be recorded saying it. And then ideally, I would use that person's name. If not, I would play the recording to my editor and I'll get the editor's agreement about how that person was to be identified to conceal the person's identity. What I'm allowed to do is just say- it's just my editor. I've been working with the same person for a long time. We've gone through many files together on many different stories, so my editors know that I know people who are familiar with the way Angela Merkel makes decisions. And without making overbroad claims, I don't know exactly, but what happened there was the- the two biggest decisions of her career, both the nuclear issue and the refugee issue in 2015, are both made in the same way. They're both made with very little consultation and very rapidly and both very much driven by immediate political needs, without a lot of thought to how is this going to work out in the long term. With the refugee issue of 2015, actually that was an issue where a lot of the costs arrived early. The difficulties of integrating this population, problems of order and crime, but the damage it did to other governments in Europe. It was her decision in 2015 that- the Orbán government in Hungary had been in trouble before then. Poland had had liberal governments. They were defeated in the first election after- she makes a decision that summer 2015 and in October 2015, the far right takes over in Poland and has governed Poland ever since. It was a stimulus to far right governments in the rest of Europe. It had a part in electing Donald Trump here. That said, over the long term, slowly that population is being effectively absorbed. They are helping to replenish the creativity and dynamism of Germany. Famously, the whole world owes the first of the effective anti-COVID vaccines to a company owned by two children of Turkish immigrants to Germany. They were not only the owners, but the researchers. We owe that not only to Germany, but to these children of Turkish immigrants to Germany. Thank you. But nuclear was the opposite. Nuclear was one where she got the political bump immediately. She had been- Merkel inherited from her predecessor, Gerhard Schröder, a very tough but necessary set of economic reforms to get Germany hiring. It had been- there were many barriers to job creation and Schröder bit the bullet and fought them and then as his reward immediately lost the next election. But the reforms remained in place and Merkel got the benefit of them, so she was quite popular during her first half dozen years as Chancellor. Then comes to the euro crisis, then the need to bail out the economies in southern Europe. That's quite unpopular and her numbers go down. She always had good numbers. The nadir of her approval is 2010-2011. When the Japanese nuclear accident happens, knowing how unpopular nuclear energy was with mainstream German opinion, this was an easy way to put a point on the board. And it worked. I mean, her numbers went back up again. It worked, at least, from that- politically, it worked.

Bret Kugelmass
That's the story that I've heard before, that she used it as a political tool, because her numbers weren't doing too good. I guess what I don't understand is - and you mentioned in your article, too, you called it out - she's a physicist. It's like- and this is, people pull their - especially the physicists in the nuclear industry - pull their hair out over this contradiction in terms. There's a scientist as a leader of a country and yet she makes this what everyone in nuclear thinks is the biggest bonehead decision ever. How did she not do it in a way that was a little bit more reversible, where she got that benefit in the short term, but didn't have to actually commit long term.

David Frum
Because Germany is governed by coalitions and she found herself dependent, especially as her government aged, on the coalition support of people who had conscientious opposition to nuclear power. This takes us more into German politics then we need to go, but the-

Bret Kugelmass
I'm interested, please.

David Frum
Okay, so the two historic German parties are the Christian Democrats and the Social Democrats. But both of them have been bleeding support, especially among younger people.

Bret Kugelmass
Because they're more center-ish?

David Frum
They're just old fashioned. They are- the thing that makes you a Christian Democrat was you were someone who went to Catholic- you were a Catholic who went to church a lot and you were influenced by the political teaching of the Catholic Church. The thing that made you a Social Democrat was you grew up in this labor… and belong to the Institute of the Social- there were Social Democratic birdwatching clubs. There were Social Democratic choirs. There were Social Democratic insurance funds. You grew up in labor. That was your home. And you had the- you could tell almost by the way someone dressed when there wore a certain kind of cap if they were Social Democrat or not. If you wore a cap, you were a Social Democratic. If you wore a hat, you are probably a Christian Democrat. This is all in post-World War II Germany. But the Social Democrats are one of the oldest continuing parties in Europe. All of this is obviously out of style. So what has been happening is that the parties have been bleeding support, and the people- the children and grandchildren of people who were Christian Democrats have tended to gravitate to the Greens. The Greens are ideologically a left party, but they are culturally a party of the educated and affluent. And so while the Christian Democrats and the Greens differ on many issues, they are people who are home one with another. So it's- the coalitions have begun to work and the Greens had the strong view against nuclear power. They have another strong view - and we're paying the price for this one in foreign policy - which was they were so offended by America's fracking that they resisted the importation of liquefied natural gas from the United States. It didn't help that Donald Trump was pushing so hard for it with an eye to his reelection.

Bret Kugelmass
That makes them reliant on the pipeline gas?

David Frum
And that makes them reliant on pipeline gas from Russia. And that's the other choice they have been making since 2010 is that- one of the things you might have said is well, you want it to be a clean energy transition. You want to get to the renewables, especially wind, the renewable that's going to work best in Germany. You can't do it overnight, so you need a program where you'll be using more and more wind. You'll be using, one hopes- phase out coal as fast as possible, as the British have done. You’re a manufacturing country, so you'll need some electricity. And on your way to the transitions for the energy sources of the future, you want to have natural gas that doesn't come from Russia. So that's gonna mean- there other places you can get liquid natural gas than United States. You can get it from Norway. You can get it from Qatar. You can get it from Nigeria. In fact, if you have liquid natural gas ports, you have a lot of options about who your suppliers are, which, for a country that depends on trade, it's good to have that choice. Don't rely on the piped Russian gas and don't rely on coal.

Bret Kugelmass
It almost seems like between these two decisions, they've almost given up sovereignty in a certain way. By giving up their ability to independently produce energy through nuclear power and the energy security that comes with it, and now relying on this pipeline, as opposed to- I think what your point is, when you go liquefied, you're exposing yourself to a free market of many different places. You've got options, whereas the pipeline, it's coming from one place.

David Frum
Right, right. Yeah, that's really been a bad story. The other thing she could have done is- you know, the question about whether nuclear energy is going to be an energy of the future, I think that's a matter that is going to be decided by Mr. Market. The issue there is, I mean, the upfront costs are very, very big. They are recouped over a long period of time. And although we live in an era of historically low interest rates and that kind of investment makes sense, there is a market decision about whether this- whether nuclear makes sense to build in the 2020s. But the issue - and I want to separate out this - the issue of do you build nuclear in the 2020s, especially if you're a developed country whose energy use isn't going up very much- I mean, it makes sense that China, which is still two-thirds burning coal and India, which is almost three-quarters burning coal, I don't see a future for them without new nuclear power. But I can see why mature economies might say, I mean, it is an enormous check that you have to write at the beginning. Maybe this doesn't make sense. But that means you need more gas to get you from here to there and I think everybody agrees the future is we are going to be relying on the renewables. More wind, more solar. Good. Fusion if it ever comes along, terrific. But how do you get from here to there in a way that sustains and how do you do it? And what is your advice to India and China? And that's part of the story that I think doesn't get enough attention. India is literally, it's 70, more than 70% of its power comes from coal.

Bret Kugelmass
I think people tend to- well, once again, this comes back to an earlier part of our conversation where we're really questioning the motives of people from the environmentalists or the climate activists. They're able to overlook certain facts like, Hey, we all live on one planet and carbon from anywhere is gonna have an effect. You can't design your policies just at the local level. You've got to be thinking more broadly about the total global picture.

David Frum
One of the reasons I like politicians as a class of person - they need the movement people - but politicians are people who are professional trade-off artists. And we need them. We need them to say- when someone says that- the environmentalist who goes through why everything is bad- and everything, you know what? Everything is flawed, nothing is perfect. You need them to say, Okay, so are you recommending, are you recommending that Africa stay poor forever?

Bret Kugelmass
The other huge inconsistency in their arguments. You're absolutely right to call that out. Yeah.

David Frum
And just like- and the answer is they don't think about it. What they really think is, Well, material things are detract from happiness. And I have no- we've all been watching Succession. We can see there comes a point where, yeah, it probably would be better to have 1/100th as much money as the members of the Royal family do. And then you probably would be- if they- if 99% of their money had never been given to them, they would all be happy. But if 100% of their money and they were living in a hut without running water, exposed to infectious disease, losing seven out of nine children, they wouldn't be happy.

Bret Kugelmass
Yeah. I know. Most people don't realize even if the developed world reduced its consumption down to the minimum amount that anyone would think possible, but you were able to bring up the poorest people to that same level - that minimum standard that we consider a good life - that the emissions would be out of control, even with our current approach. We need to actually think about- there are really two problems to solve. It's not just reduction. It's you create clean energy, but also create it in an abundance. That has to be part of it.

David Frum
There's one more thing - I wrote about this in the last book - is it may be, depending on the way the transition happens, if China and India continue to emit over the next 15 years at their current pace, it will be a catastrophe. We may need a program to get carbon back out of the air.

Bret Kugelmass
Oh, I think we're already at that point.

David Frum
And if we're going to do that, we need a massive power source that doesn't burn carbon itself to suck the carbon out - I talk about that in the last book - and that's going to have to be nuclear power. Because it's the only kind that produces so much energy on such a scale without any carbon that can help you with the process of carbon removal, which is, as I understand it from, again, just from what I talked to you on the phone is technically possible, but very expensive and depends on electricity on a scale that it's hard to imagine coming from any anywhere else.

Bret Kugelmass
So true. Though, one thing you said that I take a little bit of issue with, kind of coming back to your last comment you made is the expense of nuclear. I think people take it for granted that nuclear has to be expensive. And I'm not about to go down the route of advanced technologies. I'm actually not a big supporter of that. But if you just look at historical data about- actually, it was in the 60s. If you inflation adjust all the costs and everything, nuclear was the cheapest energy source to produce. And that didn't- and that's not because the plants weren't safe or anything like that. It has a lot to do with other things such as market incentives. How Western construction companies profit these days. A lot of forces like that that are not inherent to nuclear technology. And I feel like that conversation gets totally overlooked. We do have a way to create almost unlimited amounts of power at prices that are cheaper than anyone has ever seen before.

David Frum
But it is still, even if you could think of ways to make the upfront check smaller, it's still a big upfront check.

Bret Kugelmass
Still a big upfront check. But just to give you a for instance, a gigawatt-scale nuclear plant today, the sticker price is let's say $5 billion dollars, right? But in today's money, if you go back to the 1968 price, $700 million for that same gigawatt. Yeah, $700 million is still a lot, but after you do that a few times and the investor starts seeing the payback, boy, there's a lot of capital out there that can be dumped into this. Anyway, that was my soapbox.

David Frum
Okay, that's interesting. That's something I need to know more about.

Bret Kugelmass
Well, yeah, I'd love to continue a conversation with you just to kind of pick your brain off of a combination of your knowledge about both politics and economics and energy to see what we can come up with. But one other thing I wanted to ask you about, just since we're on the topic of European politics - which I'm still trying to get my head around more - is I understand how that coalition approach drove Germany's own decisions on what to do with nuclear. What's the forcing function for why Germany is trying to influence nuclear decisions, especially with EU green taxonomy for all of Europe. Where does that come?

David Frum
That comes from, again, domestic politics in Germany. And, of course, the Green Party is more powerful than ever. I think one of the ways to understand what's going on here is to look at the difference in history between the countries that are more nuclear open - France and Sweden, in the first place, also Britain - and those that are more nuclear negative, led by the German speaking countries. And maybe the France Germany contract- the French was sold so strong in nuclear power and it remains popular because- it was an adjunct of the French commitment to national sovereignty and military power. France wanted to be a nuclear power. Unlike Britain, it had no help from the United States. The Manhattan Project was a three-way project involving Canadian, British, and American resources. The British commitment, especially, was so large that they knew how to make an atomic weapon. And then it was just a question of do they want to spend the resources to do it. And they decided they wanted to. But the French had been locked out of that process when France was occupied during the war. And so, after the De Gaulle insisted that as an aspect of French sovereignty and greatness, they would re-dedicate themselves. And they didn't get a bomb until the late 60s. It took them almost as long as it took Communist China. But nuclear power has always been associated France with the idea of French independence, whereas nuclear power- Germany, which was on the receiving end of so much destruction in the last days of World War II and for which anything military, such a traumatic thought that it's part of their- and through most of the Cold War, they were aware that if there were a great power war, it will be fought on their territory with them as the casualties, that as part of the repudiation of all this- I think that's one of the reasons why the anti-nuclear movement got such a grip on them in a way that it didn't get a grip on other people. And Sweden is an interesting contrast here, because Sweden, of course, is a country that has, until very recently, had a very robust self-defense capability. They stayed neutral through two world wars. And that took a certain amount of porcupine like spikey-ness that it would be costly to try to tamper with us. That meant they're not a nuclear power, but they have a lot of military capabilities and nuclear then became interesting to them as part of being a- of paying the price of neutrality, which was sovereignty.

Bret Kugelmass
Wow. Okay, you've got clearly a huge cultural knowledge bank to pull from this historical. That's pretty amazing. We only have a few minutes left, so I just want to make sure to give the floor to you to kind of either reiterate any themes from the article that you really want the audience to take away or just kind of- and also, I want you to look forward into the future and maybe give the world some advice on where to go,

David Frum
I think the main thing I would want to say is to- I think environmentalists need to take more seriously how much cleaner you get when you become richer. I think a lot of environmentalists carry in mind a vision of a world that was pre-industrial that didn't have the smell of factory smoke in the air. But if you were in the pre-industrial world, there was feces everywhere, human and animal. Any place where there was human habitation was foul. And it was choked with wood smoke and wood smoke is incredibly dangerous. The beauty of the natural world that you see when you step into a park, that is a creation. Yes, you could have it maybe if there were no human beings at all or hunter gatherers. But even there, the hunter gatherers, everywhere they left, they would leave a trail of filth behind them, but they just had a lot of everywhere to go to. But when you walk- the beauty and cleanliness of your environment, that is the product of tremendous wealth and development. If you want to restore Africa to being the kind of game park that it once was, you need to make the Africans richer. That's how you get to and- there's no going backward ever in history. There's only going forward, so we're going to need new development, which means new energy sources. We're not going to be able to keep our standard of living for ourselves alone. The rest of the world won't put up with that. The most powerful insight of the ecological mindset is we're all in this together. There's no throwing anything away, because there is no away in which to throw the thing. Everything is here. And everything comes with a trade-off and nuclear unquestionably has trade-offs, but so does everything else. And the current live alternatives to nuclear, the trade-offs depends are the coal with all of its horrific cost to the environment, or natural gas pipelines that put one country at the mercy of another or else making the investment to do liquefied natural gas. But even gas, although less polluting than coal, remains a carbon source, too. If you want to get to a post-carbon world, you have to accept some other kinds of trade-offs and nuclear is going to be a candidate.

Bret Kugelmass
David Frum, everybody.

David Frum
Thank you.

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