A retrospective atop the latest edition of Vox's Future Perfect newsletter, by Dylan Matthews:
Today marks the first anniversary of the launch of Future Perfect as a section of Vox, as a podcast, and as a newsletter. Thank you for reading and/or listening to us and for sticking around as we go into year two!
For the anniversary, I went back and reread our founding mission statement published exactly one year ago. We were trying to answer a question that my longtime editor Ezra Klein and I had gone back and forth on for a while: What would we write about if our only instruction was to write about the most important stuff in the world, particularly the most important stuff that isn’t already widely covered?
Future Perfect was our answer to that question. We have a wide mandate, but I think we’ve fulfilled the mission and then some. Simply put, we’ve published plenty of stories that wouldn’t have gotten the same kind of attention if Future Perfect hadn’t given them a space to thrive.
I’m thinking here about some of our writing on global development that was totally outside the news cycle: Kelsey Piper on the shuttering of the No Lean Season charity, Stephanie Wykstra on microfinance, me on ending pesticide suicides.
There were also explorations of rationality itself from Sean Illing and Liv Boeree; Sigal Samuel’s attempts to get to the heart of altruism as a mental phenomenon and to probe its limits; Kelsey’s and Sigal’s coverage of AI in a way that puts ethics first rather than treating it as an afterthought; and the team’s work on existential risks facing humanity.
It’s possible that some of those pieces would have been written absent Future Perfect, but I don’t think it’s likely. We consciously founded Future Perfect to be a refuge from the daily news cycle and a place to focus on longer-term concerns. I’m incredibly proud we’ve been able to carve out a space for this kind of coverage at Vox.
But we also figured out ways to make ourselves relevant to the news as it happens. Kelsey and Sigal have relentlessly covered the rise of vegan meat alternatives like the Impossible and Beyond burgers, which is one of the best ways to tie animal issues to the news cycle. I continued writing about antipoverty policy in the US, which is highly neglected and has seen huge developments in the 2020 primary and in Trump administration rulemaking.
So those are the big things I think we’ve gotten right. What have we gotten wrong? It’s a serious question that deserves a serious answer.
Speaking for myself, I wish that I, personally, had written more about animal welfare in the past year. There aren’t a lot of newsy updates with animal welfare; there’s just the steady slaughter of billions of animals every year. Sigal and Kelsey’s coverage of vegan meat has been tremendously useful in tying animal suffering to the news. But there are probably other angles, and I want to work harder at finding them. There’s a limit on how much a team our size can do, but I want to grow where we can and push against those limitations.
I also wish I spent more time learning about domestic politics in China and India. This isn’t explicitly my purview, but both Xi Jinping and Narendra Modi are developing forms of nationalism that deeply trouble me for the same reasons that Donald Trump’s brand of nationalism troubles me. Xi and Modi are both cracking down on Muslim minorities, as Sigal has ably reported, moves that make even Trump’s heinous bigotry against Muslims feel mild by comparison.
I don’t understand those situations as well as I should. Nor do I understand China and India’s domestic economic situations as well as I should, even though they’re crucially important for the future of poverty alleviation. I want to spend more time thinking about that.
Lastly, I want to end with a question. What is Future Perfect doing that you’re happiest about, as a reader? What are we not doing that we should be doing? What are we doing that we shouldn’t be doing?
Please reply to this and let us know. The future isn’t going to get perfect all by itself.
(Hyperlinks are sorta funky due to how Vox tracks metrics for its newsletter. I don't know how to quickly fix them, so I'm leaving them as-is for now.)