EconTalk is an award-winning weekly talk show about economics in daily life. Featured guests include renowned economics professors, Nobel Prize winners, and exciting speakers on all kinds of topical matters related to economic thought. Host Russ Roberts, of the Library of Economics and Liberty and the Hoover Institution, draws you in with lively guests and creative repartee. Topics include health care, business cycles, economic growth, free trade, education, finance, politics, sports, book reviews, and the curiosities of everyday decision-making. Look for related readings and the complete archive of previous shows at EconTalk.org, where you can also comment on the podcasts and ask questions.
Here's the Latest Episode from EconTalk:
Author Martin Gurri, Visiting Fellow at George Mason University's Mercatus Center, talks about his book The Revolt of the Public with EconTalk host Russ Roberts. Gurri argues that a digital tsunami--the increase in information that the web provides--has destabilized authority and many institutions. He talks about the amorphous nature of recent populist protest movements around the world and where we might be headed politically and culturally.
Author and teacher Robert Pondiscio of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute talks about his book How the Other Half Learns with EconTalk host Russ Roberts. Pondiscio shares his experience of being embedded in a Success Academy Charter School in New York City for a year--lessons about teaching, education policy, and student achievement.
In this bonus episode of EconTalk, economist and Nobel Laureate Paul Romer discusses the coronavirus pandemic with EconTalk host Russ Roberts. Romer argues that the status quo of shutdown and fear of infection is unsustainable. Returning to normal requires an inexpensive, quick, and relatively painless test. Such tests are now available. The challenge is in relaxing certain regulations and then creating a supply chain of production and availability. Romer then explains how such a test could ease a return to something like normalcy for many sectors of the economy. The conversation concludes with a discussion of the dynamics of the labor market in the current situation.
Economist and author Branko Milanovic of the Graduate Center, CUNY, talks about his book, Capitalism, Alone, with EconTalk host Russ Roberts. They discuss inequality, the challenge of corruption in the Chinese system, and Milanovic's claim that in American capitalism, the texture of daily life is increasingly affected by the sharing economy and other opportunities.
Philosopher and author L.A. Paul talks about her book Transformative Experience with EconTalk host Russ Roberts. Paul explores the uncertainties that surround the transformative experiences that we choose and that happen to us without choosing. How should we think about the morality and personal impact of these kinds of experiences, especially when some decisions are very hard or impossible to reverse? Examples include becoming a vampire, having children, religion, and other life experiences and choices.
Physicist and author Alan Lightman talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the origins of the universe, meaning, transcendence, and the relationship between science and religion.
Oncologist, author, and podcaster Vinay Prasad talks about his book Malignant with EconTalk host Russ Roberts. Prasad lays out the conflicts of interest and scientific challenges that make drugs that fight cancer so disappointing at times. The conversation looks at how policy changes might improve the incentives facing doctors, pharmaceutical companies, and patients.
Economist Ed Leamer of UCLA talks about manufacturing, effort, and inequality with EconTalk host Russ Roberts. The conversation draws on recent empirical work of Leamer's on how measured inequality is affected by the work effort of Americans at different levels of education. The conversation ends with a discussion of how education can be transformed when it is more personal and allows the student to explore and discover under the guidance of a teacher.
Economist and author Arnold Kling talks about the revised edition of his book The Three Languages of Politics in front of a live audience at the Cato Institute, recorded in September of 2019. Kling talks about the changed political landscape in the United States and around the world and how his ideas have changed since the book was first published in 2013.
Jenny Schuetz of the Brookings Institution talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about zoning, boarding houses, real estate development, and the housing market.
Author and oncologist Azra Raza talks about her book The First Cell with EconTalk host Russ Roberts. Raza argues that we have made little progress in fighting cancer over the last 50 years. The tools available to oncologists haven't changed much--the bulk of the progress that has been made has been through earlier and earlier detection rather than more effective or compassionate treatment options. Raza wants to see a different approach from the current strategy of marginal improvements on narrowly defined problems at the cellular level. Instead, she suggests an alternative approach that might better take account of the complexity of human beings and the way that cancer morphs and spreads differently across people and even within individuals. The conversation includes the challenges of dealing with dying patients, the importance of listening, and the bittersweet nature of our mortality.
Economist and infovore Tyler Cowen of George Mason University talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the political, social, and economic aspects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Author and conservationist Isabella Tree talks about her book Wilding with EconTalk host Russ Roberts. Tree and her husband decided to turn their 3500 acre farm, the Knepp Castle Estate, into something wilder, a place for wild ponies, wild pigs, wild oxen, and an ever-wider variety of birds and bugs. The conversation covers the re-wilding phenomenon, the complexity of natural systems, and the nature of emergent order.
Economist and author Richard Davies talks about his book Extreme Economies with EconTalk host Russ Roberts. The conversation explores economic life in extreme situations. Examples discussed are the Angola State Penitentiary in Louisiana, two Syrian refugee camps in Jordan, the rain forest in the Darien Gap in Panama, and Kinshasa, the largest city in the Democratic Republic of Congo. This is an economic and journalistic tour de force as Davies shares insights from his encounters with people around the world struggling to trade and prosper in extreme environments.
Author and political scientist Yuval Levin of the American Enterprise Institute talks about his book A Time to Build with EconTalk host Russ Roberts. Levin argues that institutions in America are less trustworthy than they have been in the past. The cause, in Levin's view, is that the participants in these institutions no longer see the institution they are part of as something that molds them and has norms to which the participants conform. Instead, participants view the institution as a platform to gain attention and notoriety. This in turn means that institutions are increasingly unable to perform their primary function as they once did. The conversation concludes with some ideas for how individuals might change how they see their roles within institutions and life as a way of working together in common purpose.
Economist, author, and investor Richard Robb talks about his book Willful with EconTalk host Russ Roberts. Robb is interested in what motivates and explains the choices we make. He explores alternatives to the optimizing model of economics including what he calls "for-itself" behavior--behavior that isn't purposive. Topics discussed in this wide-ranging conversation include the nature of work, decision-making under uncertainty, the Joseph story in the Book of Genesis, Nietzsche, the Financial Crisis of 2008, altruism, and how green beans are sold.
Philosopher and author Peter Singer of Princeton University talks about his book, The Life You Can Save with EconTalk host Russ Roberts. Singer argues that those of us in the developed world with a high standard of living can and should give/forgo some luxuries and donate instead to reduce poverty and suffering in poor countries. This is a wide-ranging conversation on the potential we have to make the world a better place and the practical challenges of having an impact.
Physician and author Marty Makary of Johns Hopkins University talks about his book The Price We Pay with EconTalk host Russ Roberts. Makary highlights some of the stranger aspects of our current health care system including the encouragement of unnecessary or even harmful procedures and the predatory behavior of some hospitals who sue patients and garnish their wages to recover fees that are secret until after the procedure is completed. Makary favors requiring hospitals to make their prices transparent. He also discusses a number of ways that employers and patients are trying to avoid the worst aspects of the current system.
Economist, author, and Nobel Laureate Robert Shiller of Yale University discusses his book Narrative Economics with EconTalk host Russ Roberts. Shiller proposes a novel idea--that the narratives that people believe and use to understand the world affect their economic behavior and in turn affect the macroeconomy. Shiller argues that taking these psychological effects into account is a new frontier of economic research and he gives a number of examples of how we might think about these phenomena.
Economist and author Daniel Klein of George Mason University talks about the ethics of working and the potential for our working lives to make the world a better place. This is a wide-ranging conversation that includes discussion of Adam Smith, what jobs we should work on, what charities we should donate to, how we can make ourselves more virtuous, the movies Se7en and Sabrina, and ultimately what Adam Smith calls "the becoming use of our own."
Author and professor Janine Barchas of the University of Texas talks about her book, The Lost Books of Jane Austen, with EconTalk host Russ Roberts. The conversation explores Austen's enduring reputation, how the cheap reprints of her work allowed that reputation to thrive, the links between Shakespeare and Austen, how Austen has thrived despite the old-fashioned nature of her content, Colin Firth's shirt, and the virtue of studying literature.
Journalist and author Adam Minter talks about his book Secondhand with EconTalk host Russ Roberts. Minter explores the strange and fascinating world of secondhand stuff--the downsizing that the elderly do when they move to smaller quarters, the unseen side of Goodwill Industries, and the global market for rags.
Computer Scientist and author Melanie Mitchell of Portland State University and the Santa Fe Institute talks about her book Artificial Intelligence with EconTalk host Russ Roberts. Mitchell explains where we are today in the world of artificial intelligence (AI) and where we might be going. Despite the hype and excitement surrounding AI, Mitchell argues that much of what is called "learning" and "intelligence" when done by machines is not analogous to human capabilities. The capabilities of machines are highly limited to explicit, narrow tasks with little transfer to similar but different challenges. Along the way, Mitchell explains some of the techniques used in AI and how progress has been made in many areas.
Economist and author Kimberly Clausing of Reed College talks about her book Open with EconTalk host Russ Roberts. Clausing, a self-described progressive, argues that the United States should continue to embrace free trade but she argues for other interventions to soften the impact of trade on workers and communities.
Journalist and author Joe Posnanski talks about his book, The Life and Afterlife of Harry Houdini, with EconTalk host Russ Roberts. Posnanski explores the enduring fame of Houdini who remains an iconic cultural figure almost a century after his death. Topics discussed include the nature of celebrity, the nature of ambition, parenting, magic, and the use of public relations to create and sustain reputation and celebrity.
Journalist and author Binyamin Appelbaum of the New York Times talks about his book, The Economists' Hour, with EconTalk host Russ Roberts. Appelbaum blames the triumph of free-market ideology for the rise in inequality and the decline in growth rates over the last half-century. The result is a lively, civil conversation about the economic events over that time period and the role of economists in changing economic policy.
Political Scientist and author Terry Moe of Stanford University talks about his book, The Politics of Institutional Reform with EconTalk host Russ Roberts. Moe explores the politics and effectiveness of educational reform in the New Orleans public school system in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Moe finds that policy-makers turned to charter schools for pragmatic reasons and students enjoyed dramatic improvements in educational outcomes as a result. Moe uses this experience to draw lessons about political reforms generally and the power of vested interests to preserve the status quo in the absence of catastrophic events like Katrina.
Psychologist and author Gerd Gigerenzer of the Max Planck Institute for Human Development talks about his book Gut Feelings with EconTalk host Russ Roberts. Gigerenzer argues for the power of simple heuristics--rules of thumb--over more complex models when making real-world decisions. He argues that many results in behavioral economics that appear irrational can be understood as sensible ways of coping with complexity.
Sociologist Susan Mayer of the University of Chicago talks about her book What Money Can't Buy with EconTalk host Russ Roberts. Mayer reports on her research which found that giving poor parents money had little measured effect on improving the lives of their children. She emphasizes the importance of accurately understanding the challenges facing children in poverty if the goal is to actually help them. She concludes that there is no simple way to help the most vulnerable children and that strategies to help them must recognize this reality. The conversation ends with a discussion of the potential role of education and parenting practices to help children in poor families.
Entrepreneur and Anesthesiologist Keith Smith of the Surgery Center of Oklahoma talks with host Russ Roberts about what it's like to run a surgery center that posts prices on the internet and that does not take insurance. Along the way, he discusses the distortions in the market for health care and how a real market for health care might function if government took a smaller role.
Author and Advertising Executive Rory Sutherland of Ogilvy talks about his book Alchemy with EconTalk host Russ Roberts. Sutherland makes the case for the magic (yes, magic!) of advertising and branding in helping markets work well. This is a wide-ranging conversation on consumer choice, public policy, travel, real estate, and corporate decision-making using insights from behavioral economics and decades of experience in the world of advertising.
Writer and management consultant Venkatesh Rao talks about Waldenponding with EconTalk host Russ Roberts. Rao coined the term Waldenponding to describe various levels of retreating from technology akin to how Thoreau extolled the virtues of retreating from social contact and leading a quieter life at Walden Pond. Rao argues that the value of Waldenponding is overrated and that extreme Waldenponding is even somewhat immoral. Rao sees online intellectual life as a form of supercomputer, an intellectual ecosystem that produces new knowledge and intellectual discourse. He encourages all of us to contribute to that intellectual ecosystem even when it can mean losing credit for some of our ideas and potentially some of our uniqueness.
Psychologist Michele Gelfand talks about her book, Rule Makers, Rule Breakers, with EconTalk host Russ Roberts. Gelfand distinguishes between loose cultures and tight cultures--the degree to which culture and regulation restrict behavior or leave it alone. Gelfand explores the causes of why some cultures are tighter than others and the challenges societies face when culture is too tight or too loose. She also applies these ideas of cultural tightness and looseness to corporate mergers and family life.
Economist Susan Houseman of the Upjohn Institute for Employment Research talks about the manufacturing sector with EconTalk host Russ Roberts. Houseman argues that the data surrounding both manufacturing output and employment have been misunderstood and misinterpreted. In particular, she argues that conclusions about the growth of manufacturing are driven overwhelmingly by computer production while the rest of manufacturing has been stagnant. She also argues that productivity has a small role in reducing manufacturing employment. Trade has been the main cause of employment reductions. These claims go against the standard narratives most economists have been telling for the last 20 years.
Andrew McAfee of MIT's Sloan School of Management talks about his book, More from Less, with EconTalk host Russ Roberts. McAfee argues that technology is helping developed nations use fewer resources in producing higher levels of economic output. The improvement is not just a reduction in energy per dollar of GDP but less energy in total as economic growth progresses. This "dematerialization" portends a future that was unimaginable to the economists and pundits of the past. McAfee discusses the potential for dealing with climate change in a dematerialized world, the non-material aspects of economic progress, and the political repercussions of the current distribution of economic progress.
Ryan Holiday talks about his latest book, Stillness Is the Key, with EconTalk host Russ Roberts. Holiday explores how stillness--the cultivation of serenity and focus--can affect how we live and how we perceive life. Topics discussed include the performance artist Marina Abramovic, Winnie the Pooh, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and Michael Jordan's Hall of Fame induction speech. Holiday also explains how he keeps track of information and how his system makes it easier for him to write his books.
Physicist Sabine Hossenfelder talks about her book Lost in Math with EconTalk host Russ Roberts. Hossenfelder argues that the latest theories in physics have failed to find empirical confirmation. Particles that were predicted to be discovered by the mathematics have failed to show up. Whether or not there is a multiverse has no observable consequences. Hossenfelder argues that physicists have become overly enamored with the elegance and aesthetics of their theories and that using beauty to evaluate a model is unscientific. The conversation includes a discussion of similar challenges in economics.
Dani Rodrik of Harvard University talks about neoliberalism with EconTalk host Russ Roberts. Rodrik argues that a dogmatic embrace of markets has increased inequality and limited who benefits from economic growth. He argues for a more interventionist approach to the economy with the goal of better-paying jobs and more widely shared prosperity.
George Will talks about his new book, The Conservative Sensibility, with EconTalk host Russ Roberts. Will argues for a conservative vision that embraces the dynamic nature of life. Topics discussed include the current political landscape, the American founding, James Madison's vision of government vs. Woodrow Wilson's, Friedrich Hayek, and of course, a little baseball.
Economist and author Daron Acemoglu of MIT discusses with EconTalk host Russ Roberts the challenge of shared prosperity and the policies that could bring about a more inclusive economy. Acemoglu argues for the importance of good jobs over redistribution and makes the case for the policies that could lead to jobs and opportunities across skill levels.
Can a great leader or manager be humble in public? Or is exuding confidence, even when it may not be merited, a key part of leadership? In this episode of EconTalk, host Russ Roberts talks with David Deppner, CEO of Psyberware, about an email David sent Russ wondering how Russ might reconcile his passion for humility and honesty with the demands put upon leaders to inspire followers with confidence in their vision.
Historian Andrew Roberts talks about the life of Winston Churchill and the art of biography with EconTalk host Russ Roberts. How did Churchill deal with the mistakes he inevitably made in a long career? Was he prescient or just the right man in the right place at the right time? Was he an alcoholic? Did he suffer from depression? Drawing on his recent biography of Churchill, Andrew Roberts answers these and other questions in this wide-ranging conversation that includes a discussion of the mechanics of writing a 1000 page book on a man who has had over 1000 biographies written about him already.
Author and economist Tyler Cowen of George Mason University talks about his book, Big Business, with EconTalk host Russ Roberts. Cowen argues that big corporations in America are underrated and under-appreciated. He even defends the financial sector while adding some caveats along the way. This is a lively and contrarian look at a timely issue.
Arthur Diamond of the University of Nebraska at Omaha talks about his book, Openness to Creative Destruction, with EconTalk host Russ Roberts. Diamond sings the sometimes forgotten virtues of innovation and entrepreneurship and argues that they should be taught more prominently as a central part of economics.
Software Engineer Andy Matuschak talks about his essay "Why Books Don't Work" with EconTalk host Russ Roberts. Matuschak argues that most books rely on transmissionism, the idea that an author can share an idea in print and the reader will absorb it. And yet after reading a non-fiction book, most readers will struggle to remember any of the ideas in the book. Matuschak argues for a different approach to transmitting ideas via the web including different ways that authors or teachers can test for understanding that will increase the chances of retention and mastery of complex ideas.
Shoshana Zuboff of Harvard University talks about her book Surveillance Capitalism with EconTalk host Russ Roberts. Zuboff argues that the monetization of search engines and social networks by Google, Facebook, and other large tech firms threatens privacy and democracy.
Photographer, author, and former Wall St. trader Chris Arnade talks about his book, Dignity, with EconTalk host Russ Roberts. Arnade quit his Wall Street trading job and criss-crossed America photographing and getting to know the addicted and homeless who struggle to find work and struggle to survive. The conversation centers on what Arnade learned about Americans and about himself.
Author and journalist Michael Brendan Dougherty talks about his book My Father Left Me Ireland with EconTalk host Russ Roberts. Dougherty talks about the role of cultural and national roots in our lives and the challenges of cultural freedom in America. What makes us feel part of something? Do you feel American or just someone who happens to live within its borders? When are people willing to die for their country or a cause? These are some of the questions Dougherty grapples with in his book and in this conversation.
Economist and author Arthur Brooks talks about his book Love Your Enemies with EconTalk host Russ Roberts. Brooks argues that contempt is destroying our political conversations and it's not good for us at the personal level either. Brooks makes the case for humility and tolerance. Along the way he discusses parenting, his past as professional musician, and the challenges of leading a think tank.
Physician and author Adam Cifu of the University of Chicago talks about being a medical conservative with EconTalk host Russ Roberts. Cifu encourages doctors to appreciate the complexity of medical care and the reality that many medical techniques advocated by experts are not always beneficial or cost-effective. The conversation explores the challenges of finding reliable evidence to support medical interventions and the inherent uncertainty surrounding outcomes.
Cardiologist and author Eric Topol talks about his book Deep Medicine with EconTalk host Russ Roberts. Topol argues that doctors spend too little face-to-face time with patients, and the use of artificial intelligence and machine learning is a chance to emphasize the human side of medicine and to expand the power of human connection in healing. Topol surveys the current landscape of the application of technology to health care showing where its promise has been overstated and where it is having the most impact. The conversation includes a discussion of the placebo effect and the importance of the human touch in medicine.
Anja Shortland of King's College London talks about her book Kidnap with EconTalk host Russ Roberts. Kidnapping is relatively common in parts of the world where government authority is weak. Shortland explores this strange, frightening, but surprisingly orderly world. She shows how the interaction between kidnappers, victims, and insurance companies creates a somewhat predictable set of prices for ransom and creates a relatively high chance of the safe return of those who are kidnapped.
Bjorn Lomborg, President of the Copenhagen Consensus Center, talks about the costs and benefits of attacking climate change with EconTalk host Russ Roberts. Lomborg argues that we should always be aware of tradeoffs and effectiveness when assessing policies to reduce global warming. He advocates for realistic solutions that consider the potential to improve human life in other ways. He is skeptical of the potential to move away from fossil fuels and argues that geo-engineering and adaptation may be the most effective ways to cope with climate change.
Urbanist and author Alain Bertaud of NYU talks about his book Order Without Design with EconTalk host Russ Roberts. Bertaud explores the role of zoning and planning alongside the emergent factors that affect the growth of cities. He emphasizes the importance of cities as places for people to work and looks at how preferences and choices shape cities. Bertaud also reflects upon the differing perspectives of urban planners and economists.
Journalist and author David Epstein talks about his book Range with EconTalk host Russ Roberts. Epstein explores the costs of specialization and the value of breadth in helping to create mastery in our careers and in life. What are the best backgrounds for solving problems? Can mastery be achieved without specialization at a young age? What experiences and knowledge best prepare people to cope with unexpected situations? This is a wide-ranging conversation that includes discussion of chess, the Challenger tragedy, sports, farming in obscure Soviet provinces after the revolution, the Flynn effect and why firefighters sometimes fail to outrun forest fires.
Author, economist, and theologian Mary Hirschfeld of Villanova University talks about her book, Aquinas and the Market, with EconTalk host Russ Roberts. Hirschfeld looks at the nature of our economic activity as buyers and sellers and whether our pursuit of economic growth and material well-being comes at a cost. She encourages a skeptical stance about the ability of more stuff to produce true happiness and/or satisfaction. The conversation includes a critique of economic theory and the aspect of human satisfaction outside the domain of economists.
Neurologist and author Robert Burton talks about his book, On Being Certain, with EconTalk host Russ Roberts. Burton explores our need for certainty and the challenge of being skeptical about what our brain tells us must be true. Where does what Burton calls "the feeling of knowing" come from? Why can memory lead us astray? Burton claims that our reaction to events emerges from competition among different parts of the brain operating below our level of awareness. The conversation includes a discussion of the experience of transcendence and the different ways humans come to that experience.
Poverty activist, social entrepreneur and author, Mauricio Miller, talks about his book The Alternative with EconTalk host Russ Roberts. Miller, a MacArthur genius grant recipient, argues that we have made poverty tolerable when we should be trying to make it more escapable. This is possible, he argues, if we invest in the poor and encourage them to leverage their skills and social networks. Miller emphasizes the importance of self-determination and self-respect as keys to helping the poor improve their own lives.
Economist and author Emily Oster of Brown University talks about her book Cribsheet with EconTalk host Russ Roberts. Oster explores what the data and evidence can tell us about parenting in areas such as breastfeeding, sleep habits, discipline, vaccination, and food allergies. Oster often finds that commonly held views on some of these topics are not well supported by the evidence while on others, the evidence appears decisive. Oster thoughtfully explores the challenges of using empirical work and balances our sometimes ignorance with common sense.
Nobel Laureate Paul Romer of New York University talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the nature of growth, the role of cities in the economy, and the state of economics. Romer also reflects on his time at the World Bank and why he left his position there as Chief Economist.
Historian and author Jill Lepore talks about nationalism, populism, and the state of America with EconTalk host Russ Roberts. Lepore argues that we need a new Americanism, a common story we share and tell ourselves. Along the way, topics in the conversation include populism, the rise of globalization, and the challenge of knowing what is true and what is false in the internet era.
Law professor and author Robin Feldman of UC Hastings College of the Law talks about her book Drugs, Money, and Secret Handshakes with EconTalk host Russ Roberts. Feldman argues that the legal and regulatory environment for drug companies encourages those companies to seek drugs that extend their monopoly through the patent system often with insufficient benefit for consumers. The prices for those drugs are then protected from new competition. She also argues that the pharmacy benefit management system allows drug companies to exploit consumers. The conversation concludes with a discussion of what can be done to improve the situation.
Philosopher and author Jacob Stegenga of the University of Cambridge talks about his book Medical Nihilism with EconTalk host Russ Roberts. Stegenga argues that many medical treatments either fail to achieve their intended goals or achieve those goals with many negative side effects. Stegenga argues that the approval process for pharmaceuticals, for example, exaggerates benefits and underestimates costs. He criticizes the FDA approval process for approving too many drugs that are not sufficiently helpful relative to their side effects. Stegenga argues for a more realistic understanding of what medical practice can and cannot achieve.
Economist and author Daniel Hamermesh of Barnard College and the Institute for the Study of Labor talks about his latest book, Spending Time, with EconTalk host Russ Roberts. Hamermesh explores how we treat time relative to money, how much we work and how that has changed over time, and the ways economists look at time, work, and leisure.
Obstetrician gynecologist Amy Tuteur and author of Push Back, talks about the book with EconTalk host Russ Roberts. Tuteur argues that natural parenting--the encouragement to women to give birth without epidurals or caesarians and to breastfeed--is bad for women's health and has little or no benefit for their children.
Futurist and author Amy Webb talks about her book, The Big Nine, with EconTalk host Russ Roberts. Webb observes that artificial intelligence is currently evolving in a handful of companies in the United States and China. She worries that innovation in the United States may lead to social changes that we may not ultimately like; in China, innovation may end up serving the geopolitical goals of the Chinese government with some uncomfortable foreign policy implications. Webb's book is a reminder that artificial intelligence does not evolve in a vacuum--research and progress takes place in an institutional context. This is a wide-ranging conversation about the implications and possible futures of a world where artificial intelligence is increasingly part of our lives.
Jacob Vigdor of the University of Washington talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the impact of Seattle's minimum wage increases in recent years. Vigdor along with others from the Evans School of Public Policy and Governance have tried to measure the change in employment, hours worked, and wages for low-skilled workers in Seattle. He summarizes those results here arguing that while some workers earned higher wages, some or all of the gains were offset by reductions in hours worked and a reduction in the rate of job creation especially for low-skilled workers.
Michael Munger of Duke University talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about whether real capitalism is unstable and leads inevitably to crony capitalism. They also discuss ways to prevent the descent into cronyism and speculate on their own blind spots.
Catherine Semcer of the Property and Environment Research Center (PERC) talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the role of incentives in preserving wildlife in Africa. The conversation discusses how allowing limited hunting of big game such as elephants and using revenue from hunting licenses to reward local communities for habitat stewardship has improved both habitat and wildlife populations while reducing poaching. Semcer draws on her experience as former Chief Operating Officer of Humanitarian Operations Protecting Elephants and also discusses recent efforts to re-locate lions in Mozambique.
Historian Jessica Riskin of Stanford University talks about her book The Restless Clock with EconTalk host Russ Roberts. What is the difference between human beings and machines? How has science thought about this distinction? When do we have agency and when are we constrained? Riskin discusses these issues and the implications for how we think about ourselves and the growth of artificial intelligence.
Author and psychotherapist Gary Greenberg talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the placebo effect. Is it real? How does the placebo effect influence drug testing? If it's real, what is the underlying mechanism of why it works and how might it be harnessed to improve health care? The conversation concludes with a discussion of how knowledge of the placebo effect has influenced Greenberg's psychotherapy practice.
Patrick Collison, co-founder and CEO of Stripe, talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the pace of innovation. Collison argues that despite enormous increases in the numbers of scientists and researchers, the pace of progress in scientific and technological understanding does not seem to be increasing accordingly. The conversation looks at the challenge of measuring innovation and whether the pace of innovation should be a matter of concern and if so, what might be done about it.
Economist Jennifer Doleac of Texas A&M University talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about her research on crime, police, and the unexpected consequences of the criminal justice system. Topics discussed include legislation banning asking job applicants if they've been in prison, body cameras for police, the use of DNA databases, the use of Naloxone to prevent death from opioid overdose, and the challenges of being an economist who thinks about crime using the economist's toolkit.
Historian and author Stephen Kotkin of Princeton University and Stanford University's Hoover Institution talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the historical significance of the life and work of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of Solzhenitsyn's birth.
Economist Ed Dolan of the Niskanen Center talks about employer-based health insurance with EconTalk host Russ Roberts. Dolan discusses how unusual it is relative to other countries that so many Americans get their health insurance through their employer and the implications of that phenomenon for the structure of the health insurance market. Dolan explores the drawbacks of this structure and makes the case for what he calls Universal Catastrophic Coverage.
Journalist and author Sebastian Junger talks about his book Tribe with EconTalk host Russ Roberts. Junger explores the human need to be needed and the challenges facing many individuals in modern society who struggle to connect with others. His studies of communal connection include soldiers in a small combat unit and American Indian society in the nineteenth century.
Economist and author Mariana Mazzucato talks about her book The Value of Everything with EconTalk host Russ Roberts. Mazzucato argues that economists have mismeasured value and have failed to appreciate the role of government as innovator. She argues for a more active role for government in the innovation process and for government to share in revenue proportional to its role in the creation of new technology.
Science journalist and author John Horgan talks about his book, Mind-Body Problems, with EconTalk host Russ Roberts. Horgan interviewed an array of scientists, philosophers, and others who have worked on consciousness, free-will, and what it means to be human. Horgan argues that no single solution to the problems in these areas is likely to be established by science and that our perspective on these questions is inevitably colored by our personal experiences rather than by scientific evidence. Horgan concludes by making the case for personal and intellectual freedom and the need to embrace subjective interpretations of mind-body issues in ways that bring meaning to our lives.
Peter Berkowitz of Stanford University's Hoover Institution talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the origins of liberalism and the importance of John Locke. Berkowitz defends the liberal project of individual rights and liberty and argues that critics of Locke mischaracterize his thought. The conversation closes with an evaluation of the Enlightenment.
Maeve Cohen, Co-director of Rethinking Economics, talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about her organization and its efforts to change economics education. Cohen, who co-founded the Post-Crash Economics Society, argues for a more human-centered approach to economics that would be less confident in its policy prescriptions and more honest about the significance of its underlying assumptions.
Anat Admati of Stanford's Graduate School of Business talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the financial crisis of 2008, the lessons she has learned, and how it has changed her view of economics, finance, and her career.
Journalist and author A. J. Jacobs talks about his book, Thanks a Thousand, with EconTalk host Russ Roberts. Jacobs thanked a thousand different people who contributed to his morning cup of coffee. In this conversation, Jacobs talks about the power of gratitude and different ways we can express gratitude in everyday life. He and Roberts also explore the unintended web of cooperation that underlies almost every product we encounter in a modern economy.
Science writer Julia Belluz of Vox.com talks to EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the state of epidemiology, nutrition, and the relationship between obesity and metabolism.
Author and Physicist Alan Lightman talks about his book Searching for Stars on an Island in Maine with EconTalk host Russ Roberts. This is a wide-ranging conversation on religion, science, transcendence, consciousness, impermanence, and whether matter is all that matters.
Economist and author Michael Munger of Duke University talks about his book, Tomorrow 3.0, with EconTalk host Russ Roberts. Munger analyzes the rise of companies like Uber and AirBnB as an example of how technology lowers transactions costs. Users and providers can find each other more easily through their smartphones, increasing opportunity. Munger expects these costs to fall elsewhere and predicts an expansion of the sharing economy to a wide array of items in our daily lives.
Economist and author Ran Abramitzky of Stanford University talks about his book, The Mystery of the Kibbutz, with EconTalk host Russ Roberts. Abramitzky traces the evolution of the kibbutz movement in Israel and how the kibbutz structure changed to cope with the modernization and development of the Israeli economy. The conversation includes a discussion of how the history of the kibbutz might help us to understand the appeal and challenges of the socialism and freedom.
Russian Literature Professor Kevin McKenna of the University of Vermont talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the characters, plot, and themes of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's masterpiece, In the First Circle. This is the second episode of the EconTalk book club discussing the book. The first episode--a discussion of Solzhenitsyn's life and times--is available on EconTalk.
Philosopher and author John Gray talks about his latest book, Seven Types of Atheism, with EconTalk host Russ Roberts. Gray argues that progress is an illusion and that most atheisms inherit, unknowingly, a religious belief in progress that is not justified. While Gray concedes that technological know-how and scientific knowledge improve over time, he argues that morality and political systems are cyclical and that there is no reason to be optimistic about the future.
Neil Monnery, author of Architect of Prosperity, talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about his book--a biography of John Cowperthwaite, the man often credited with the economic success of Hong Kong. Monnery describes the policies that Cowperthwaite championed and the role they played in the evolution of Hong Kong's economy. How much those policies mattered is the focus of the conversation. Other topics include the relationship between Hong Kong and China and the irony of the challenges Hong Kong faced from U.S. and British protectionism.
Bloomberg Opinion columnist and economist Noah Smith talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about corporate control, wages, and monopoly power. Smith discusses the costs and benefits of co-determination--the idea of putting workers on corporate boards. The conversation then moves to a lively discussion of wages and monopoly power and how the American worker has been doing in recent years.
Rodney Brooks, emeritus professor of robotics at MIT, talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the future of robots and artificial intelligence. Brooks argues that we both under-appreciate and over-appreciate the impact of innovation. He applies this insight to the current state of driverless cars and other changes people are expecting to change our daily lives in radical ways. He also suggests that the challenges of developing truly intelligent robots and technologies will take much longer than people expect, giving human beings time to adapt to the effects. Plus a cameo from Isaac Newton.
Yale University psychologist Paul Bloom talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about cruelty--what motivates cruelty, the cruelty of small acts that accumulate into something monstrous, and the question of whether the abuse of a robot is a form of cruelty.
Russian Literature Professor Kevin McKenna of the University of Vermont talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the life and times of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. This is the opening episode of the EconTalk Book Club for Solzhenitsyn's masterpiece In the First Circle: The First Uncensored Edition. A subsequent episode to air in the next few weeks discusses the book itself.
Yoram Hazony discusses his book, The Virtue of Nationalism, with EconTalk host Russ Roberts. Hazony argues that nationalism, for all its flaws, is a better system than a global system of governance. He argues that while the competition between nationalist states can lead to violence, the opportunity for each nation to pursue its own policies creates the benefits that trial-and-error innovation create in the marketplace. He also points out the dangers of global government systems and argues that U.S. military dominance and various international institutions such as European Union and the International Criminal Court have been growing in power.
Psychologist Charlan Nemeth of the University of California, Berkeley and author of In Defense of Troublemakers talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the ideas in the book--the power of groupthink, the power of conviction, and the opportunity for an authentic, persistent dissenter to have an impact on a group's decision. The conversation concludes with a discussion of the challenges of doing careful research in modern times.
Political scientist Lilliana Mason of the University Maryland and author of Uncivil Agreement talks about the book with EconTalk host Russ Roberts. Mason argues that political partisanship has become stronger in America in recent years because it aligns with other forms of community and identity. People are associating primarily with people who share their political views in their other social activities outside of politics. As a result, they encounter fewer people from the other side. The intensity of partisanship can even overcome ideology as partisans change their policy positions in their eagerness to be on the winning side. The conversation closes with a discussion of what might be done to improve political discourse in America.
Physician David Meltzer of the University of Chicago talks about the power of the doctor-patient relationship with EconTalk host Russ Roberts. Meltzer, who also has a Ph.D. in economics, discusses a controlled experiment he has been running to measure the importance of maintaining the continuity of doctor-patient relationships. Meltzer argues that the increasing use of hospitalists--specialists who take over a patient from the patient's regular doctor once the patient is hospitalized--has raised costs and hurt patients. The initial results from his study show that patients who stay with their doctors have fewer subsequent hospitalizations and have better mental health. The conversation closes with a discussion of the challenges facing the current medical system to adopt cost-saving or life-improving technology or techniques.
Historian Frank Dikotter of the University of Hong Kong and author of Mao's Great Famine talks about the book with EconTalk host Russ Roberts. Dikotter chronicles the strategies Mao and Chinese leadership implemented to increase grain and steel production in the late 1950s leading to a collapse in agricultural output and the deaths of millions by starvation.
Alberto Alesina of Harvard University talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about how people in the US and five European countries perceive the population and characteristics of legal immigrants. Reporting on research with Armando Miano and Stefanie Stantcheva, Alesina finds that individuals systematically overestimate the number of immigrants while underestimating their standard of living. His research also finds that support for welfare payments to the poor is related to the perception people have of the size of the immigrant population and their economic status. The conversation concludes with a discussion of why people's perceptions are so inaccurate and the implications of perception for public policy.
Teppo Felin of the University of Oxford talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about perception, cognition, and rationality. Felin argues that some of the standard experimental critiques of human rationality assume an omniscience that misleads us in thinking about social science and human capability. The conversation includes a discussion of the implications of different understandings of rationality for economics, entrepreneurship, and innovation.
EconTalk host Russ Roberts does a monologue on how political discourse seems to have deteriorated in recent years and the growth in outrage, tribalism, and intolerance for those with different views from one's own. Roberts suggests that part of the problem is the revolution of the market for information caused by the internet that allows people to customize what they see to fit their own political narratives and worldview. In short, the market for news works to make us feel good rather than to help us to discover the truth. The monologue closes with some suggestions for how we might improve the way we consume information and interact with those we disagree with.
Political Scientist and author Patrick Deneen of the University of Notre Dame talks about his book Why Liberalism Failed with EconTalk host Russ Roberts. By liberalism, Deneen means the modern enterprise--the push for self-actualization free of the constraints of tradition, family, and religion that typifies modern culture. He argues that both the left and the right have empowered the state and reduced liberty. He argues for a smaller, more local, more artisanal economy and a return to the virtues of self-control and self-mastery.
Economist and author Arnold Kling talks about the economic impact of culture and morality with EconTalk host Russ Roberts. Drawing on a recent essay on the importance of social interactions, Kling explores the role of culture and norms and their broad impact on economic life. At the end of the conversation, Roberts discusses the implications of human sociality for the way economics is taught and the way economists think about public policy.
Journalist and author Michael Pollan talks about his book, How to Change Your Mind, with EconTalk host Russ Roberts. Pollan chronicles the history of the use of psychedelic drugs, particularly LSD and psilocybin, to treat addiction, depression and anxiety. He discusses his own experiences with the drugs as well. Much of the conversation focuses on what we might learn from psychedelic drugs about their apparent spiritual dimension, the nature of consciousness, and the nature of the mind.
Richard Reinsch, editor of Law and Liberty and the host of the podcast Liberty Law Talk, talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the Enlightenment. Topics discussed include the search for meaning, the stability of liberalism, the rise of populism, and Solzhenitsyn's indictment of Western values from his Harvard Commencement Address of 1978.
Journalist and author Moises Velasquez-Manoff talks about the role of dirt in fighting climate change with EconTalk host Russ Roberts. Velasquez-Manoff explains how changes in farming can allow dirt and plants to absorb carbon and potentially reduce climate change. At the end of the conversation he discusses the state of the science on hygiene, parasites, and auto-immune disorders that he discussed in his previous appearance on EconTalk in 2014.
Historian and author Janet Golden talks about her book, Babies Made Us Modern, with EconTalk host Russ Roberts. Golden chronicles the transformation of parenting in first half of the 20th century. It's a fascinating story of how our knowledge of infant health and behavior grew dramatically but remains imperfect. At the same time, government, business, and private organizations responded to that imperfect knowledge.
Psychiatrist and author Iain McGilchrist talks about his book, The Master and His Emissary, with EconTalk host Russ Roberts. McGilchrist argues we have misunderstand the purpose and effect of the divided brain. The left side is focused, concrete, and confident while the right side is about integration of ourselves with the complexity of the world around us. McGilchrist uses this distinction to analyze the history of western civilization. This is a wide-ranging conversation that includes discussions of poetry, philosophy, and economics.
Economist Glen Weyl of Microsoft Research New England and Visiting Senior Research Scholar at Yale University talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about his book (co-authored with Eric Posner) Radical Markets. Weyl urges a radical transformation of land and housing markets using a new federal real estate tax based on self-assessment. Owners would be required to sell their houses at the self-assessed price. Weyl argues this would eliminate the market power home owners have in the re-sale market and the revenue tax would could be used to reduce inequality. In the last part of the conversation, Weyl proposes an overhaul of U.S. immigration policy by having residents sponsor immigrants for a fee.
Peter Boettke of George Mason University talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the proper role of the state in the economy. This is a wide-ranging conversation on political economy. Topics include Adam Smith's view of the state, the tension between the state as enabler of real vs. crony capitalism, the potential for the poor to flourish in a market economy, and the challenges of democracy.
How did the CEO of a real estate development company become chairman of an airline? How can a competent manager learn to trust his subordinates? Joel Peterson, chairman of the Board at JetBlue Airways and author of The 10 Laws of Trust, talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about his career at Trammell Crow and JetBlue and how the concept of trust, outlined in his book, has helped his career. He closes the conversation with a discussion of how he overcame his personal weaknesses that would have handicapped his career--or as he puts it, how he "rewrote his operating system."
Author Ryan Holiday discusses his book, Conspiracy, with EconTalk host Russ Roberts. This is a crazy episode about a crazy book about a crazy set of events--the Hulk Hogan lawsuit against the website Gawker, a lawsuit that was secretly funded by Peter Thiel. Holiday explains how this happened and the lessons for all of us related to conspiracies, patience, strategy, and revenge. Along the way, Holiday discusses his techniques for reading and lessons for how to grab someone's attention when looking for a job or opportunity.
Jonah Goldberg of National Review talks about his latest book, Suicide of the West, with EconTalk host Russ Roberts. Goldberg argues that both capitalism and democracy are at risk in the current contentious political environment. He argues that we take for granted what he calls "the miracle"--the transformation of the standard of living in the democracies with market economies. Goldberg argues that unless we actively work to preserve our political and economic systems, the forces of populism, nationalism, and tribalism will work steadily to destroy them.
Historian and author Jerry Muller of Catholic University talks about his latest book, The Tyranny of Metrics, with EconTalk host Russ Roberts. Muller argues that public policy and management are overly focused on measurable outcomes as a measure of success. This leads to organizations and agencies over-focusing on metrics rather than their broader mission. The conversation includes applications to education, crime, and health care.
Can a life-saving drug be too expensive? What explains the high price of cancer drugs? Dr. Vincent Rajkumar of the Mayo Clinic talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the high price of cancer drugs--drugs that can cost an American with cancer $300,000 per year and require multiple years of treatment. Rajkumar explains how little a role market forces play in setting prices and what might be done to improve the situation.
Does rush-hour traffic drive you crazy? Is a congestion tax on car travel a good idea? Michael Munger of Duke University talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the economics of traffic and congestion taxes. It takes a while to get there (how appropriate!) but they eventually agree that a tax on congestion while reducing travel time is harmful to many drivers and may be best thought of as any tax placed on a particular good--a way to raise government revenue from the pockets of the consumers of that good.
Why are fewer men working over the last few decades? Is a universal basic income a good policy for coping with the loss of employment? Economist Edward Glaeser of Harvard University talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about what Glaeser calls the war on work--the policy changes that have reduced employment among prime-aged men. Glaeser does not see the universal basic income as a viable solution to the decrease in work especially if technology ends up reducing employment opportunities more dramatically in the future. The conversation also includes a discussion of the role of cities and the reduction in geographic mobility in the United States.
Economists often oppose the expansion of licensing in America in recent years because it makes it harder for people with low skills to get access to opportunity. Sociologist Beth Redbird of Northwestern University talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about a different perspective. Redbird finds that licensing expands opportunity for women and minorities and has little impact on wages. She argues that licensing helps historically disadvantaged groups discover ways into various careers they otherwise would have trouble accessing. The discussion closes with a discussion of Redbird's work on the economic situation of Native Americans.
Economist, blogger, and author Arnold Kling talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the state of economics in the 21st century. Kling argues that economics would be more useful if it took account of intangibles like culture, incorporated the role of financial intermediation in the economy, and modeled some of the the subtleties of the labor market--how wages are set and the role of team production.
Nassim Nicholas Taleb, author of Skin in the Game, talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the ideas in the book. This is the third episode of EconTalk with Taleb related to the general topic of skin in the game and how it affects decision-making and policy in an uncertain world. This episode focuses on rationality, religion, and the challenge of thinking about probability and risk correctly in a dynamic world.
Philosopher Elizabeth Anderson of the University of Michigan and author of Private Government talks about her book with EconTalk host Russ Roberts. Anderson argues that employers have excessive power over employees that we would never accept from government authority. Topics discussed include the role of competition in potentially mitigating employer control, whether some worker rights should be inviolate, potential measures for empowering employees, and the costs and benefits over time of a relatively unregulated labor market.
Jordan Peterson, author of 12 Rules for Life, talks about the book with EconTalk host Russ Roberts. Topics covered include parenting, conversation, the role of literature in everyday life, and the relationship between sacrificial rites and trade.
Bryan Caplan of George Mason University and the author of The Case Against Education talks about the book with EconTalk host Russ Roberts. Caplan argues that very little learning takes place in formal education and that very little of the return to college comes from skills or knowledge that is acquired in the classroom. Schooling, he concludes, as it is currently conducted is mostly a waste of time and money. Caplan bring a great deal of evidence to support his dramatic claim and much of the conversation focuses on the challenge of measuring and observing what students actually learn.
Helen Pluckrose and James Lindsay talk with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about their essay on the enemies of modernity. Pluckrose and Lindsay argue that modernity--by which they mean democracy, reason, and individual liberty--is under attack from pre-modern and post-modern ideological enemies. They discuss why modernity is under attack and encourage people on the political left and right to support modernity.
Marian Goodell, CEO of the Burning Man Project, talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about Burning Man, the 8-day art and music festival in the Nevada Desert. Goodell explains how Burning Man has evolved over the years, the principles and rules that govern the experience today, and plans for expanding the Burning Man experience around the world.
John Ioannidis of Stanford University talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about his research on the reliability of published research findings. They discuss Ioannidis's recent study on bias in economics research, meta-analysis, the challenge of small sample analysis, and the reliability of statistical significance as a measure of success in empirical research.
Baseball stats guru and author Bill James talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the challenges of understanding complexity in baseball and elsewhere. James reflects on the lessons he has learned as a long-time student of data and the role it plays in understanding the underlying reality that exists between different variables in sports and outside of sports. The conversation closes with a discussion of our understanding of social processes and the connection to public policy and the ideologies we hold.
Dick Carpenter of the Institute for Justice and author of Bottleneckers talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about his book--a look at how occupational licensing and other regulations protect existing job holders from competition.
Ecologist Kelly Weinersmith and cartoonist Zach Weinersmith--creator of Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal--talk with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about their new book, Soonish--a look at cutting-edge and not-quite cutting edge technologies. The Weinersmiths speculate about everything from asteroid mining to robotic house construction to the nasal cycle and how the human body and medicine might be transformed in the future. They discuss the likelihood of some really crazy stuff coming along and changing our lives as well as the possible downsides of innovation.
Matt Stoller of the Open Market Institute talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the growing influence of Google, Facebook, and Amazon on commercial and political life. Stoller argues that these large firms have too much power over our options as consumers and creators as well as having a large impact on our access to information.
Brink Lindsey of the Niskanen Center and Steven Teles of the Niskanen Center and Johns Hopkins University talk with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about their book, The Captured Economy. Lindsey and Teles argue that inequality has been worsened by special interests who steer policy to benefit themselves. They also argue that the influence of the politically powerful has lowered the overall growth of the American economy.
John Cogan of Stanford University's Hoover Institution talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about Cogan's book, The High Cost of Good Intentions, a history of U.S. entitlement policy. Cogan traces the evolution of government pensions beginning with Revolutionary War vets to the birth and evolution of the Social Security program. Surprises along the way include President Franklin Roosevelt as fiscal conservative and the hard-to-believe but true fact that there is still one person receiving monthly checks from the Civil War veterans pension program. The conversation concludes with Cogan's concerns over the growing costs of financing social security payments to baby boomers.
Historian Rachel Laudan talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about food waste. Laudan argues that there are tradeoffs in preventing food waste--in reduced time for example, or a reduction in food security, and that these tradeoffs need to be measured carefully when considering policy or giving advice to individuals or organizations. She also discusses the role of food taboos and moralizing about food. Along the way, Laudan defends the virtue of individual choice and freedom in deciding what to eat.
Simeon Djankov, creator of the World Bank's Doing Business Report, and Matt Warner, Chief Operating Officer of Atlas Network talk with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the role regulation plays in economic development and the challenges of measuring regulatory barriers to new business creation.
Financial Times columnist and author Tim Harford talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about Harford's latest book, Fifty Inventions That Shaped the Modern Economy. Highlights include how elevators are an important form of mass transit, why washing machines didn't save quite as much time as you'd think, and the glorious illuminating aspects of light throughout history.
Why does tipping persist? Despite the efforts of some restaurants to stop tipping, it remains a healthy institution and has recently spread to Uber. Political scientist Anthony Gill of the University of Washington talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about why tipping persists and what it achieves despite there being no formal way of enforcing this norm.
How did the friendship between David Hume and Adam Smith influence their ideas? Why do their ideas still matter today? Political Scientist Dennis Rasmussen of Tufts University and author of The Infidel and the Professor talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about his book--the intellectual and personal connections between two of the greatest thinkers of all time, David Hume and Adam Smith.
Michael Munger of Duke University talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about permissionless innovation. Munger argues that the ability to innovate without permission is the most important concept of political economy. Munger defends this claim and explores the metaphor of emergent order as a dance, a metaphor coming from the German poet Schiller.
Jennifer Burns of Stanford University and the Hoover Institution talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about her biography of Ayn Rand, Goddess of the Market. They discuss Rand's philosophy, her influence, her relationship with the conservative movement, and the intersection of her personal life with her philosophical principles.
Author and journalist Megan McArdle of Bloomberg View talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about how the internet has allowed a new kind of shaming via social media and how episodes of bad behavior live on because Google's memory is very, very good. McArdle discusses the implications this new reality has on how we behave at work and how people protect and maintain their reputations in a world where nothing is forgotten and seemingly little is forgiven.
Author Tim O'Reilly, founder of O'Reilly Media and long-time observer and commenter on the internet and technology, talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about his new book, WTF? What's the Future and Why It's Up to Us. O'Reilly surveys the evolution of the internet, the key companies that have prospered from it, and how the products of those companies have changed our lives. He then turns to the future and explains why he is an optimist and what can be done to make that optimism accurate.
Robert Wright, author of Why Buddhism Is True, talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the psychotherapeutic insights of Buddhism and the benefits of meditation and mindfulness. Wright argues our evolutionary past has endowed us with a mind that can be ill-suited to the stress of the present. He argues that meditation and the non-religious aspects of Buddhism can reduce suffering and are consistent with recent psychological research.
Author and professor Philip Auerswald of George Mason University talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the rise of populism in the United States and throughout the world. Auerswald argues that the rise of cities and the productivity of urban life has created a divergence in experience and rewards between urban and rural areas around the world. Auerswald ties these changes to changes in voting patterns and speculates about the sources of the increasing productivity of metropolitan areas.
Gabriel Zucman of the University of California, Berkeley talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about his research on inequality and the distribution of income in the United States over the last 35 years. Zucman finds that there has been no change in income for the bottom half of the income distribution over this time period with large gains going to the top 1%. The conversation explores the robustness of this result to various assumptions and possible explanations for the findings.
Law professor Gillian Hadfield of the University of Southern California and author of Rules for a Flat World talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the ideas in her book for regulating the digital future. Hadfield suggests the competitive provision of regulation with government oversight as a way to improve the flexibility and effectiveness of regulation in the dynamic digital world we are living in.
Is private charity always a good thing? Do large foundations have too much power? Political Scientist Rob Reich of Stanford University talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the power and effectiveness of foundations--large collections of wealth typically created and funded by a wealthy donor. Is such a plutocratic institution consistent with democracy? Reich discusses the history of foundations in the United States and the costs and benefits of foundation expenditures in the present.
Benedict Evans of Andreessen Horowitz talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about two important trends for the future of personal travel--the increasing number of electric cars and a world of autonomous vehicles. Evans talks about how these two trends are likely to continue and the implications for the economy, urban design, and how we live.
How did bad come to mean good? Why is Shakespeare so hard to understand? Is there anything good about "like" and "you know?" Author and professor John McWhorter of Columbia University talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the unplanned ways that English speakers create English, an example of emergent order. Topics discussed include how words get short (but not too short), the demand for vividness in language, and why Shakespeare is so hard to understand.
Nassim Nicholas Taleb talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the manuscript version of his forthcoming book, Skin in the Game. Topics discussed include the role of skin in the game in labor markets, the power of minorities, the Lindy effect, Taleb's blind spots and regrets, and the politics of globalization.
Tyler Cowen of George Mason University and the co-host of the blog Marginal Revolution talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about Stubborn Attachments, his book-length treatment of how to think about public policy. Cowen argues that economic growth--properly defined--is the moral key to maintaining civilization and promoting human well-being. Along the way, the conversation also deals with inequality, environmental issues, and education.
Alex Guarnaschelli, Food Channel star and chef at Butter in midtown Manhattan, talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about what it's like to run a restaurant, the challenges of a career in cooking, her favorite dishes, her least favorite dishes, and what she cooked to beat Bobby Flay.
Sally Satel, psychiatrist and resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the challenges of increasing the supply of donated organs for transplantation and ways that public policy might increase the supply. Satel, who has received two kidney donations, suggests a federal tax credit as a way to increase the supply of organs while saving the federal government money. She also discusses the ethical issues surrounding various forms of compensation for organ donors.
Tamar Haspel, who writes "Unearthed," a column on food and agriculture at the Washington Post, talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about a wide variety of issues related to the cost of food and how it's produced. Topics discussed include why technology helps make some foods inexpensive, how animals are treated, the health of the honey bee, and whether eggs from your backyard taste any better than eggs at the grocery.
Martha Nussbaum, professor of philosophy at the University of Chicago talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about Alexander Hamilton. Nussbaum talks about the tension between acquiring power and living a life of virtue. The topics discussed include Hamilton's relationship with Aaron Burr, Burr's complicated historical legacy, and the role of the humanities in our lives.
Chris Blattman of the University of Chicago talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about whether it's better to give poor Africans cash or chickens and the role of experiments in helping us figure out the answer. Along the way he discusses the importance of growth vs. smaller interventions and the state of development economics.
Robin Feldman of the University of California Hastings College of Law and author of Drug Wars talks about her book with EconTalk host Russ Roberts. Feldman explores the various ways that pharmaceutical companies try to reduce competition from generic drugs. The conversation includes a discussion of the Hatch-Waxman Act and the sometimes crazy world of patent protection.
Author and historian Thomas Ricks talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about his book, Churchill and Orwell. Ricks makes the case that the odd couple of Winston Churchill and George Orwell played and play an important role in preserving individual liberty. Ricks reviews the contributions of these two giants whose lives overlapped and whose legacy remains vibrant.
Why is it that people in large cities like Paris or New York City people sleep peacefully, unworried about whether there will be enough bread or other necessities available for purchase the next morning? No one is in charge--no bread czar. No flour czar. And yet it seems to work remarkably well. Don Boudreaux of George Mason University and Michael Munger of Duke University join EconTalk host Russ Roberts to discuss emergent order and markets. The conversation includes a reading of Roberts's poem, "It's a Wonderful Loaf."
Historian Christy Ford Chapin of University of Maryland Baltimore County and Johns Hopkins and author of Ensuring America's Health talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about her book--a history of how America's health care system came to be dominated by insurance companies or government agencies paying doctors per procedure. Chapin explains how this system emerged from efforts by the American Medical Association to stop various reform efforts over the decades. Chapin argues that different models might have emerged that would lead to a more effective health care system.
What is the state of liberty in America? Is liberty increasing or decreasing? Should we be optimistic or pessimistic about the future? This week EconTalk features David Boaz, P.J. O'Rourke, and George Will discussing these questions and more with EconTalk host Russ Roberts in front of a live audience at the Cato Institute.
How should we think about growth and poverty? How important is the goal of reducing the proportion of the world's population living on less than a dollar a day? Does poverty persist because people lack skills or because they live in economic systems where skills are not rewarded? What is the role of experimental methods in understanding what reduces poverty? Author and economist Lant Pritchett of Harvard University talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about these questions and more in a wide-ranging discussion of how best to help the world's poorest people.
Author and legal scholar Cass Sunstein of Harvard University talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about his latest book, #Republic. Sunstein argues that the internet has encouraged people to frequent informational echo chambers where their views are reinforced and rarely challenged. In addition, there is a loss of public space where people might have to encounter dissonant ideas or causes they might wish to champion. Sunstein considers this a threat to democracy and discusses a variety of ways the situation might improve.
Author and economist Tyler Cowen of George Mason University talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about his book, The Complacent Class. Cowen argues that the United States has become complacent and the result is a loss of dynamism in the economy and in American life, generally. Cowen provides a rich mix of data, speculation, and creativity in support of his claims.
Jennifer Pahlka, founder of Code for America, talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the organization she started. Code for America works with private sector tech people to bring technology to the provision of government services. Pahlka discusses some of the success Code for America has had with improving government and the challenges of citizenship and technology in the 21st century.
Elizabeth Pape, founder of the women's clothing company Elizabeth Suzann, talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about starting and running her company--a manufacturer and seller of high-end women's clothing in Nashville, Tennessee. The conversation chronicles the ups and downs of her entrepreneurial story, the recent evolution of the women's clothing market, and the challenge of competition from lower quality, lower-priced products.
Journalist and author Rana Foroohar of the Financial Times talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about her book, Makers and Takers. Foroohar argues that finance has become an increasingly powerful part of the U.S. economy and has handicapped the growth and effectiveness of manufacturing and the rest of the economy.
Podcaster and writer Erica Sandberg talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about homelessness in San Francisco. Sandberg talks about what the city can do about homelessness and her experience with Downtown Streets Team, which gives homeless people in the Bay Area the chance to work in exchange for gift cards that let them buy food and other basics.
Are Americans overtaxed? How does the average American feel about the tax system and tax reform? Vanessa Williamson of the Brookings Institution talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about her book, Read My Lips. Williamson shares the results of her survey of American attitudes toward taxation and government spending. People misperceive much about who pays what and the structure of the tax system, particularly the payroll tax. But some of what appears to be errors--about foreign aid and government waste for example, come from the average person's definition of these terms being different from the narrow meaning.
Why does the Manhattan skyline look like it does with incredible skyscrapers south of City Hall then almost no tall buildings until midtown? Jason Barr of Rutgers University-Newark and author of Building the Skyline talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the evolution of Manhattan as a place to live and work, and the mix of individual choices and government policy that created the skyline of Manhattan.
Statistician, blogger, and author Andrew Gelman of Columbia University talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the challenges facing psychologists and economists when using small samples. On the surface, finding statistically significant results in a small sample would seem to be extremely impressive and would make one even more confident that a larger sample would find even stronger evidence. Yet, larger samples often fail to lead to replication. Gelman discusses how this phenomenon is rooted in the incentives built into human nature and the publication process. The conversation closes with a general discussion of the nature of empirical work in the social sciences.
Is capitalism part of the poverty problem facing the world or part of the solution? Are human beings doing a good job preserving the earth for future generations? To improve the world, should we improve capitalism or ourselves? Robert Whaples of Wake Forest University talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about "Laudato Si'," Pope Francis's encyclical on capitalism, poverty, and environmental issues.
What is the future of the European economy? What are the challenges facing Europe? What are the implications of Brexit for the United Kingdom and the rest of the Europe? Nicholas Crafts of the University of Warwick, Luis Garicano of the London School of Economics, and Luigi Zingales of the University of Chicago's Booth School of Business talk with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about these questions and more in front of a live audience at Stanford University's Hoover Institution.
Psychologist Paul Bloom of Yale University talks about his book Against Empathy with EconTalk host Russ Roberts. Bloom argues that empathy--the ability to feel the emotions of others--is a bad guide to charitable giving and public policy. Bloom argues that reason combined with compassion is a better and more effective guide to making the world a better place.
When fighting the war on drugs, governments typically devote enormous resources trying to reduce the supply. But is this effective? Journalist and author Tom Wainwright of the Economist and author of Narconomics talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the ways that the drug cartels respond to government attempts to reduce the availability of drugs. Like any business trying to maintain profitability, cartels look for ways to cut costs and maintain or grow revenue. Wainwright uses extensive on-the-ground interviews and reporting to understand the behavior of the cartels and argues that reducing demand would be a much more effective strategy for reducing drug use.
Writer, reporter, and film producer Jim Epstein talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about mining Bitcoins in Venezuela as a way to import food. Venezuela is a tragicomic example of how policy can lead to strange and presumably unexpected outcomes. Epstein also discusses how Bitcoin is being used elsewhere in Latin America and the potential for the blockchain technology to lower the costs of owning and transferring property.
Sugar appears to have no nutritional value. But is it more than just empty calories? Is it actually bad for us? Author and journalist Gary Taubes talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about his latest book, The Case Against Sugar. Taubes argues that there is substantial circumstantial evidence suggesting that sugar is the underlying cause of a host of modern health problems including diabetes, heart disease, and obesity. Taubes concedes the evidence is not iron-clad or definitive and reflects along the way on the intellectual and personal challenges of holding a strong view in the face of significant skepticism.
George Borjas of Harvard University and author of We Wanted Workers talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about immigration and the challenges of measuring the impact of increased immigration on American workers and consumers. The discussion also looks at the cultural impact of immigration and what immigration in the past can tell us about immigration today.
How did heroin spread beyond big cities in America? What's the connection between heroin and America's opioid problem? Sam Quinones, author of Dreamland, talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the explosion in heroin use and how one small Mexican town changed how heroin was produced and sold in America. That in turn became entangled with the growth in the use of pain-killers as recreational drugs. Drawing on the investigative reporting that culminated in his book, Quinones lays out the recent history and economics of the growth in heroin and pain-killer usage and the lost lives along the way.
Michael Munger of Duke University talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the virtues and negatives of a basic guaranteed income--giving every American adult an annual amount of money to guarantee a subsistence level of well-being. How would such a plan work? How would it interact with current anti-poverty programs? How would it affect recipients and taxpayers? Munger attacks these issues and more in a lively conversation with Roberts.
Economist Robert Hall of Stanford University talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the current state of the U.S. economy and what we know and don't know about the recovery from the Great Recession. Much of the conversation focuses on the choices facing the Federal Reserve and the policy instruments the Fed has available. The conversation includes a discussion of Hall's experience as chair of the National Bureau of Economic Research Committee on Business Cycle Dating.
Economist and author Mark Warshawsky of George Mason Univerity's Mercatus Center talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about his work on the role health care benefits play in measuring inequality. Using data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Warshawsky shows that because health care benefits are a larger share of compensation for lower-paid than higher-paid workers, measures of inequality and even measures of economic progress can be misleading or distorted. The conversation covers a wide range of topics related to how the labor market treats workers and the role of benefits in setting overall compensation.
If you were a poor person in a poor country, would you prefer steady work in a factory or to be your own boss, buying and selling in the local market? Economist Chris Blattman of the University of Chicago talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about experimental evidence on how poor people choose in the labor market and the consequences for their income, health, and satisfaction.
Terry Anderson of PERC talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about economic life for Native Americans. Anderson discusses economic life before the arrival of Europeans and how current policy affects Native Americans living on reservations today.
There is a fascinating and depressing positive correlation between the reputation of an American president and the number of people dying in wars while that president is in office. Political scientist Bruce Bueno de Mesquita of NYU and co-author of The Spoils of War talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about how presidents go to war. Bueno de Mesquita argues that the decision of how and when to go to war is made in self-interested ways rather than in consideration of what is best for the nation. The discussion includes a revisionist perspective on the presidencies of George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and others as Bueno de Mesquita tries to make the case that the reputations of these men are over-inflated.
Were the first professional economists racists? Thomas Leonard of Princeton University and author of Illiberal Reformers talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about his book--a portrait of the progressive movement and its early advocates at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th. The economists of that time were eager to champion the power of the state and its ability to regulate capitalism successfully. Leonard exposes the racist origins of these ideas and the role eugenics played in the early days of professional economics. Woodrow Wilson takes a beating as well.
Doug Lemov of Uncommon School and co-author of Reading Reconsidered talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about reading. Lemov makes the case for the educational importance of critical reading of challenging books and texts. Along the way, he gives listeners some ideas of how to read themselves and gives parents some ideas for how to educate their children.
Erik Hurst of the University of Chicago talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the state of the labor market in the United States. Hurst notes dramatic changes in employment rates for men and speculates about the causes. Two factors discussed in detail are declines in the manufacturing sector and the rise of high-end video games as a form of leisure.
Tim Harford, journalist and author, talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about his latest book, Messy. Harford argues that we have a weakness for order and neat solutions causing us to miss opportunities to find happiness or success with messier, more disorderly processes and solutions. Hartford looks at a wide range of examples from business and personal life making the case that tidiness is overrated and that messy should get more love.
David Gelernter, professor of computer science at Yale University and author of The Tides of Mind, talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about consciousness and how our minds evolve through the course of the day and as we grow up. Other topics discussed include creativity, artificial intelligence, and the singularity.
Judith Donath, author of The Social Machine, talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the ideas in her book--an examination of signaling, online identity, and online community. Donath argues that design elements in technology play a key role in our interactions with one another. The conversation closes with a discussion of data collection by corporations and the government.
Casey Mulligan of the University of Chicago talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about life in Cuba. Mulligan, who recently returned from a trip to Cuba, discusses the economy, the standard of living and some of the peculiarities of communist control.
Chris Arnade, former Wall Street trader turned photographer and social chronicler, talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about what he learned from the front lines of the financial industry in the 1990s and 2000s when everything slowly and then very quickly began to fall apart. He also discusses his transition into observer and photographer of drug addicts, the poor, and the forgotten parts of America.
Nobel Laureate in Economics Angus Deaton of Princeton University talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the economics of trade and aid. Deaton wonders if economists should re-think the widely-held view that redistribution from rich nations to poor nations makes the world a better place. The conversation focuses on the challenges facing poor Americans including the rising mortality rate for white Americans ages 45-54.
Cathy O'Neil, data scientist and author of Weapons of Math Destruction talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the ideas in her book. O'Neil argues that the commercial application of big data often harms individuals in unknown ways. She argues that the poor are particularly vulnerable to exploitation. Examples discussed include prison sentencing, college rankings, evaluations of teachers, and targeted advertising. O'Neil argues for more transparency and ethical standards when using data.
How are those in favor of bigger government and those who want smaller government like a couple stuck in a bad marriage? Economist John Cochrane of Stanford University's Hoover Institution talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about how to take a different approach to the standard policy arguments. Cochrane wants to get away from the stale big government/small government arguments which he likens to a couple who have gotten stuck in a rut making the same ineffective arguments over and over. Cochrane argues for a fresh approach to economic policy including applications to growth, taxes and financial regulation.
What does an x-ray of Hitler's skull have in common with a jar of Ronald Reagan's jelly beans? They are both part of the Hoover Institution archives. Eric Wakin, Director of the Library and Archives of the Hoover Institution at Stanford University talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about what it's like to be an archivist and the importance of archival materials for research, culture, and memory.
Can machine learning improve the use of data and evidence for understanding economics and public policy? Susan Athey of Stanford University talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about how machine learning can be used in conjunction with traditional econometric techniques to measure the impact of say, the minimum wage or the effectiveness of a new drug. The last part of the conversation looks at the experimental techniques being used by firms like Google and Amazon.
Are there many Americans today who wish the President of the United States had more power relative to the other branches of Congress? Terry Moe is one of them. In this week's EconTalk episode, Moe--a professor of political science at Stanford University and a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution--talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about his new book (co-authored with William Howell), Relic. Moe wants to give the President the power to propose legislation that Congress would have to approve or reject free of amendments. Moe argues this would improve legislation and reduce the cronyism and special interest influence on Congress.
Leo Katz, professor of law at the University of Pennsylvania, talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about his book, Why the Law Is So Perverse. Katz argues that certain seemingly inexplicable features of the law are the result of conflicts between multiple objectives that the law or the courts must trade off against each other. Katz also argues that structure of the law and how it is enforced are analogous to certain inevitable ambiguities of collective choice and voting theory.
Michael Munger of Duke University talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about how attitudes in the American South toward slavery evolved over time and what we can learn from that evolution about the role culture plays in our lives.
Chuck Klosterman, author of But What If We're Wrong, talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the possibility that things we hold to be undeniably true may turn out to be totally false in the future. This wide-ranging conversation covers music and literary reputations, fundamentals of science, and issues of self-deception and illusion.
Adam D'Angelo, CEO of the question and answer website, Quora, talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the history, evolution, and challenges of Quora. Along the way they discuss the aggregation of knowledge and the power of experiments for improving the day-to-day performance of the site.
Fifty years ago, many of the best players in the National Football League took jobs in the off-season to augment the salaries they earned playing football. Matthew Futterman of the Wall Street Journal and author of Players talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about how much football and so many aspects of sports--from tennis to golf to apparel to broadcasting to Olympics--has become incredibly more lucrative. Futterman shares the insights from his book and how all that money has changed sports, the athletes who compete, and the fans who watch.
How important is grit relative to talent? Can grit be taught? Angela Duckworth of the University of Pennsylvania and author of Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance talks with with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the nature of success in work, play and life. How much does grit matter? Is grit malleable or something we're born with? Duckworth discusses her research on these questions and how to think about what it means for a child and an adult to thrive.
How does our attitude toward ourselves affect our success or failure in the world of business or in friendship? Ryan Holiday, author of Ego Is the Enemy, talks with Econtalk host Russ Roberts about the role of ego in business, our personal lives, and world history.
Technology and innovation usually mean higher quality and lower prices. Is health care different? Jonathan Skinner of Dartmouth College talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about how technology and innovation affect the cost and efficacy of health care. The conversation concludes with a discussion of the rise in mortality among middle-age white males--a surprising reversal of trend--that has been linked to use of opioid painkillers.
Yuval Levin, author and editor of National Affairs, talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the ideas in his latest book, The Fractured Republic. Levin argues that both major political parties suffer from a misplaced nostalgia--a yearning for a time when things were better even though the policies that created those good times are no longer as relevant to today. Levin argues for a strengthening of the intermediate institutions--institutions between the individual and the government such as religious communities and other non-profits as a way toward a better life for Americans.
How should we feel about cruise lines that offer special amenities for top-paying travelers, or first-class sections of airplanes? Do such consumption inequalities harm the social fabric or is there more to the story? Richard Epstein of New York University and the Hoover Institution talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about these issues arguing that these kinds of unequal treatment provide benefits beyond those who receive the top-of-the-line option. The conversation then moves on to a general discussion of inequality, taxation, and redistribution.
Futurist, author, and visionary Kevin Kelly talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about his latest book, The Inevitable, Kelly's look at what the future might be like and the role of the human experience in a world increasingly filled with information, artificial intelligence, virtual reality, and the connecting of the planet's population.
You might think your tweets on Twitter belong to you. But in 2010, the Library of Congress acquired the entire archive of Twitter. Why would such a majestic library acquire such seemingly ephemeral material? Historian Abby Smith Rumsey, author of When We Are No More, talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about this decision of the Library of Congress and the general challenge of how to cope with a world when so much of what we write and read is digital. Subjects discussed include what we can learn from the past, the power of collective memory, what is worth saving, and how we might archive our electronic lives so that we and those who come after us can find what we might be looking for.
Jason Zweig of the Wall Street Journal and author of The Devil's Financial Dictionary talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about finance, financial journalism and Zweig's new book. Zweig discusses rationality and the investor's challenge of self-restraint, the repetitive nature of financial journalism, and the financial crisis of 2008.
Was the Financial Crisis of 2008 caused by a crisis in the housing market? Or did the Federal Reserve turn a garden-variety recession into the Great Recession? David Beckworth of Western Kentucky University talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the Fed's response to the recession that began in December of 2007 and worsened in 2008. Beckworth argues that the Fed failed to respond adequately to the drop in nominal GDP by keeping interest rates too high for too long. Beckworth describes what he thinks the Fed should have done and the lessons we should learn going forward to reduce the severity of future downturns.
Are workers being left behind when the economy grows? Is technology making the human workforce obsolete? James Bessen, author of Learning by Doing, talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the role of learning on the job in the past and in the present. Bessen argues that during times of technological innovation, it often takes years before workers see higher wages from productivity increases. Bessen stresses the importance of the standardization of education on the job as workers adapt to new technology.
Should the United States allow its citizens to buy oil from countries run by bad men? Is this a case where morality trumps the usual case for free trade? Leif Wenar, professor of philosophy at King's College, London and author of Blood Oil, talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the morality of buying resources from countries that use the resulting revenue to oppress their citizens. Based on the ideas in his book, Wenar argues that in many cases, importing oil is equivalent to buying stolen goods where the low prices cannot justify the purchase. The conversation discusses the possible outcomes from banning foreign oil from tyrannical regimes along with the resource curse and the case for fair trade.
What is machine learning? How is it transforming our lives and workplaces? What might the future hold? Pedro Domingos of the University of Washington and author of The Master Algorithm talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the present and future of machine learning. Domingos stresses the iterative and ever-improving nature of machine learning. He is fundamentally an optimist about the potential of machine learning with ever-larger amounts of data to transform the human experience.
Arnold Kling, economist and author, speaks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about his latest book, Specialization and Trade: A Reintroduction to Economics. Kling argues that macroeconomics ignores the challenges of buyers and sellers working together in the real world of specialization and trade. Instead, most macroeconomic theories struggle to incorporate the differences across workers and products. Kling points the listener toward a different perspective on macroeconomics and the business cycle that focuses on those differences. Kling also lays out related insights on political economy as well as his take on G.A. Cohen's parable of the camping trip.
Alberto Alesina of Harvard University talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about his research on fiscal policy and austerity. Alesina's research shows that spending cuts to reduce budget deficits are less harmful than tax increases. Alesina discusses the intuition behind this empirical finding and discusses other issues such as Greece's financial situation.
Gary Belsky, co-author of On the Origins of Sports and former editor-in-chief of ESPN the Magazine, talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the origins of sports--how various sports evolved and emerged into their current incarnations. Along the way he discusses the popularity of American football, the written (and unwritten) rules of sports, and the focus on replay and fairness in modern sports.
Is your success in life your own doing? Robert Frank of Cornell University talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about his latest book, Success and Luck. Frank argues that we underestimate the role that luck plays in our success and makes the case for a progressive consumption tax as a way to improve even the welfare of the wealthy.
Will our brains ever be uploaded into a computer? Will we live forever? Richard Jones, physicist at the University of Sheffield and author of Against Transhumanism, talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about transhumanism--the effort to radically transform human existence via technology. Jones argues that the grandest visions of the potential of technology--uploading of brains and the ability to rearrange matter via nanotechnology are much more limited and unlikely than proponents of these technologies suggest. The conversation closes with the role of government in innovation and developing technology.
How bad is pink slime? Are free-range chickens happier? Can robots cook? Jayson Lusk of Oklahoma State University and the author of Unnaturally Delicious talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about these questions and more from his new book. Lusk explores the wide-ranging application of technology to farming, cooking, protein production, and more.
Why would anyone want to hire a middleman, like a wedding planner, especially if you have time to take care of the planning yourself? Marina Krakovsky, author of The Middleman Economy talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about middlemen in the modern economy. Despite predictions that the internet would destroy the need for middlemen, Krakovsky argues they're more valuable than ever though their roles have changed. Krakovsky looks at the different roles middlemen play today and how their value added can justify their existence.
David Autor of MIT talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the fundamentals of trade and his research on the impact on workers and communities from trade with China. Autor's research finds large and persistent effects on manufacturing jobs and communities where those jobs once were. Autor and Roberts discuss whether these results capture the full impact of increased trade with China and what the policy response might be that could help workers hurt by trade.
Will Davies of Goldsmith's, University of London and author of The Limits of Neoliberalism talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the ideas in his book. Davies argues that the free-market vision of economists like Milton Friedman and Friedrich Hayek has de-romanticized politics and ensconced competition at the heart of our economy and culture. Davies argues for the value of a completely different perspective and pushes for a reduction in the influence and status of economists as policymakers and influencers. Along the way he gives his perspective on the role of economists in the financial crisis and in antitrust policy.
Alison Wolf author of The XX Factor, talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the changing roles of women in the family and the workplace. Wolf argues that highly educated women are increasingly similar to highly educated men in their lifestyles and choices while becoming very different from less educated women. Wolf traces the origins of these changes and the interaction between economic and cultural factors affecting men, women, the family, and the workplace.
Matt Ridley talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about his latest book, The Evolution of Everything. Ridley applies the lens of emergent order to a wide variety of phenomena including culture, morality, religion, commerce, innovation, and consciousness.
Why do so many medical practices that begin with such promise and confidence turn out to be either ineffective at best or harmful at worst? Adam Cifu of the University of Chicago's School of Medicine and co-author (with Vinayak Prasad) of Ending Medical Reversal explores this question with EconTalk host Russ Roberts. Cifu shows that medical reversal--the discovery that prescribed medical practices are ineffective or harmful--is distressingly common. He contrasts the different types of evidence that support or discourage various medical practices and discusses the cultural challenges doctors face in turning away from techniques they have used for many years.
Adam Ozimek of Moody's Analytics and blogger at Forbes talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about why economists change their minds or don't. Ozimek argues that economists make erratic but steady progress using econometrics and other forms of evidence to understand the impact of public policies such as the minimum wage or government stimulus. Roberts pushes back and discusses the role of ideology, the complexity of where our views come from and the potential for confirmation bias.
Timothy Taylor, blogger at the Conversable Economist and editor of the Journal of Economic Perspectives talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the role of government and business in taking care of workers and creating economic growth. Taylor discusses the paradox that the political process seems to expect firms to take care of workers and government to create growth. The conversation then turns to a wide array of related issues including how Wal-Mart treats its workers. The conversation closes with a discussion of Taylor's role as founding editor of the Journal of Economic Perspectives.
Nobel Laureate James Heckman of the University of Chicago talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the state of econometrics and the challenges of measurement in assessing economic theories and public policy. Heckman gives us his take on natural experiments, selection bias, randomized control trials and the reliability of sophisticated statistical analysis. The conversation closes with Heckman reminiscing about his intellectual influences throughout his career.
How many pairs of sneakers do you own? Josh Luber of Campless and StockX talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the world of sneakerheads--people passionate for collecting and trading sneakers. Each week people line up to buy classic sneaker models Nike re-releases. Luber has collected millions of transactions from Ebay on these sneakers and others and has analyzed the return to investing in various sneaker models. The conversation includes a discussion of how Nike has helped to create this market and Luber's work creating a stock market for sneakers and other goods.
When does the pursuit of safety lead us into danger? Greg Ip, of the Wall Street Journal and author of Foolproof talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the ideas in his book--the way we publicly and privately try to cope with risk and danger and how those choices can create unintended consequences. While much of the conversation focuses on the financial crisis of 2008, there are also discussions of football injuries, damage from natural disasters such as hurricanes, car accidents, and Herbert Hoover. Along the way, Herman Melville's insights into the mesmerizing nature of water make an appearance.
How can you learn to think like an economist? One way is to think about what might be called dinner table economics--puzzles or patterns that arise in everyday life that would be good to understand. Robert Frank of Cornell University and author of The Economic Naturalist talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about a number of these puzzles including why grooms typically rent tuxedos but the bride usually buys her gown, why bicycles can be more expensive to rent than cars, the effects of the price of corn on the price of pork, and why scammers who invoke Nigeria keep using the same old story.
Noah Smith of Stony Brook University and writer at Bloomberg View talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about whether economics is a science in some sense of that word. How reliable are experiments in economics? What about the statistical analysis that underlies much of the empirical work in modern economics? Additional topics include the reliability of the empirical analysis of the minimum wage, the state of macroeconomics, and the role of prejudice or prior beliefs in the interpretation of data and evidence.
Can you predict the future? Or at least gauge the probability of political or economic events in the near future? Philip Tetlock of the University of Pennsylvania and author of Superforecasting talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about his work on assessing probabilities with teams of thoughtful amateurs. Tetlock finds that teams of amateurs trained in gathering information and thinking about it systematically outperformed experts in assigning probabilities of various events in a competition organized by IARPA, research agency under the Director of National Intelligence. In this conversation, Tetlock discusses the meaning, reliability, and usefulness of trying to assign probabilities to one-time events.
Did Ben Bernanke and the Fed save the U.S. economy from disaster in 2008 or did the Fed make things worse? Why did the Fed reward banks that kept reserves rather than releasing funds into the economy? George Selgin of the Cato Institute tries to answer these questions and more in this conversation with EconTalk host Russ Roberts. Selgin argues that the Fed made critical mistakes both before and after the collapse of Lehman Brothers by lending to insolvent banks as well as by paying interest on reserves held at the Fed by member banks.
If you have 250 million tons of food to give away every year to local food banks how should you do it? Canice Prendergast of the University of Chicago's Booth School of Business talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about how he and a team of economists created an artificial currency and a daily auction for the national food bank Feeding America so that local food banks could bid on the types of food that were the most valuable to them. Prendergast explains the results of the new system and the cultural and practical challenges of bringing prices, even artificial ones, to a world accustomed to giving things away.
Are we on the verge of driverless cars and other forms of autonomous robots and artificial intelligence? David Mindell of MIT and the author of Our Robots, Ourselves talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the robotic revolution. Mindell argues that much of the optimism for autonomous robots ignores decades of experience with semi-autonomous robots in deep-sea operation, space, air, and the military. In all of these areas, the role of human supervision remains at a high level with little full autonomy. Mindell traces some of the history of the human interaction with robots and artificial intelligence and speculates on what the future might hold.
Michael Munger of Duke University makes his 29th appearance on the 500th episode of EconTalk alongside EconTalk host Russ Roberts. He talks about his personal intellectual journey, his interest in public choice, and Unicorn economics. Other topics include the origins of EconTalk, Roberts's intellectual roots, and the EconTalk theme music. The conversation closes with a brief reprise of a few highlights from past Munger appearances on EconTalk.
Brian Nosek of the University of Virginia and the Center for Open Science talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the Reproducibility Project--an effort to reproduce the findings of 100 articles in three top psychology journals. Nosek talks about the findings and the implications for academic publishing and the reliability of published results.
Should women get routine mammograms? Should men get regular PSA exams? Robert Aronowitz of the University of Pennsylvania and the author of Risky Medicine talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the increasing focus on risk reduction rather than health itself as a goal. Aronowitz discusses the social and political forces that push us toward more preventive testing even when those tests have not been shown to be effective. Aronowitz's perspective is a provocative look at the opportunity cost of risk-reduction.
Michael Matheson Miller of the Acton Institute and the Director of the documentary Poverty, Inc., talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about his award-winning documentary on the barriers facing the poor around the world. Topics discussed include the incentives facing poverty-fighting NGOs and their staff, the importance of secure and well-defined property rights, and the costs and benefits of agricultural aid.
Cesar Hidalgo of MIT and the author of Why Information Grows talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the growth of knowledge and know-how in the modern economy. Hidalgo emphasizes the importance of networks among innovators and creators and the role of trust in sustaining those networks.
Yuval Harari of Hebrew University and author of Sapiens talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the history of humanity. Topics discussed include the move from hunting and gathering to agriculture, the role of fiction in sustaining imagination, the nature of money, the impact of empires and the synergies between empires and science.
Pete Boettke of George Mason University talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the political and economic lessons he has learned as program director of research in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. In this wide-ranging conversation, Boettke discusses the role of civil society, the barriers to recovery that have hampered New Orleans and what worked well as people and institutions responded to tragedy and devastation.
Tim O'Reilly of O'Reilly Media talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about his career in technology and media and the challenges facing low-wage workers as technology advances. Topics include the early days of the Internet, the efficacy of regulation to protect workers, and the poetry of Elizabeth Bishop.
When Lewis and Clark crossed through Montana, they encountered an extraordinary cornucopia of wildlife. Most of that ecosystem and the animals that once thrived there are gone. But a non-profit wants to bring it all back. Pete Geddes, Managing Director of the American Prairie Reserve talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about creating the Serengeti of the Americas--a 3.3 million acre prairie that would allow bison, pronghorn antelope, prairie dogs and their friends to inhabit a Wildlife Reserve in Montana, the size of Connecticut. Geddes discusses the goals of the American Prairie Reserve and how they're using a for-profit company, Wild Sky Beef, to gather support and help from local ranchers for the project.
There is only one country in the world where a person can sell a kidney to another citizen who buys it. That country is Iran. Tina Rosenberg of The New York Times talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the Iranian kidney market--how it works, its strengths and weaknesses, and whether its lessons apply to the United States or elsewhere.
Ever wonder what goes on behind the scenes at a Broadway show? This week's EconTalk lifts the curtain on the magical world of Broadway: Mitch Weiss, co-author of The Business of Broadway, talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about his book and what it's like to manage the production of a blockbuster musical in New York City. Topics discussed include the eight-performance-per-week grind, the how and why of creating a Broadway set, the challenges of wardrobes (domestic and international) and the pluses and minuses of unions which are a central part of the Broadway workplace.
How much care do you take when you make a donation to a charity? What careers make the biggest difference when it comes to helping others? William MacAskill of Oxford University and the author of Doing Good Better talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the book and the idea of effective altruism. MacAskill urges donors to spend their money more effectively and argues that the impact on human well-being can be immense. MacAskill wants donors to rely on scientific assessments of effectiveness. Roberts pushes back on the reliability of such assessments. Other topics include sweatshops, choosing a career to have the biggest impact on others, and the interaction between private philanthropy and political action.
Are human beings naturally cooperative or selfish? Can people thrive without government law? Paul Robinson of the University of Pennsylvania and author of Pirates, Prisoners and Lepers talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts the ideas in his book. Robinson argues that without government sanctions or legislation, there is an evolutionary drive to cooperate even in life-and-death situations. In such situations private punishment and norms play a crucial role in sustaining cooperative solutions. The last part of the conversation deals with the criminal justice system and how attitudes toward the system affect society-wide cooperation and crime.
Thousands of bears in New Jersey. Humpback whales near New York City. Acres devoted to farming stable or declining even as food production soars. Jesse Ausubel of the Rockefeller University talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the return of nature. Ausubel shows how technology has reduced many of the dimensions of the human footprint even as population rises and why this trend is likely to continue into the future. The conversation concludes with Ausubel's cautious optimism about the impact of climate change.
Rachel Laudan, visiting scholar at the University of Texas and author of Cuisine and Empire, talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the history of food. Topics covered include the importance of grain, the spread of various styles of cooking, why French cooking has elite status, and the reach of McDonald's. The conversation concludes with a discussion of the appeal of local food and other recent food passions.
Summer Brennan, author of The Oyster War, talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about her book and the fight between the Drakes Bay Oyster Company and the federal government over farming oysters in the Point Reyes National Seashore. Along the way they discuss the economics of oyster farming, the nature of wilderness, and the challenge of land use in national parks and seashores.
Seafood is highly perishable and supply is often uncertain. Roger Berkowitz, CEO of Legal Sea Foods talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the challenges of running 34 seafood restaurants up and down the east coast. Berkowitz draws on his 22 year tenure as CEO and discusses how his business works day-to-day and the question of sustainability.
How important are basic skills for economic success and growth? Eric Hanushek of Stanford University's Hoover Institution talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the importance of basic education in math and literacy and their relationship to economic growth. Hanushek argues that excellence in educating people in basic skills leads to economic growth, especially in poorer countries where years of education may be a poor proxy for learning. He argues that the U.N.'s Millennium Development Goals should emphasize outputs rather than inputs--performance on skill-based exams rather than years of education.
Wences Casares, bitcoin evangelist and founder and CEO of Xapo, talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about how bitcoin works, the genius of bitcoin's creator, and how Xapo is structured to create security for bitcoin banking.
Lee Ohanian, Arnold Kling, and John Cochrane talk with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the future of freedom, democracy, and prosperity. Recorded in front of a live audience at Stanford University's Hoover Institution as part of a conference on Magna Carta, the three guests give their perspective on the future of the American economy and the interaction between politics and economics. Each guest makes a brief presentation at the start followed by a moderated conversation.
Nobel Laureate Alvin Roth of Stanford University talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about his work on matching markets. Examples include marriage, matching kidney donors to kidney recipients, and students to schools in cities that allow choice in their public school systems. Roth also discusses repugnance--the unease some people have with allowing buying and selling of some goods and what it's like to watch a kidney transplant knowing your research has helped make the surgery possible.
Science writer and author Matt Ridley discusses climate change with EconTalk host Russ Roberts. Based on his reading of the scientific evidence, Ridley describes himself as a "lukewarmer." While Ridley agrees that humans have made the climate warmer, he argues that the impact is small or positive over some temperature ranges and regions. He rejects the catastrophic scenarios that some say are sufficiently likely to justify dramatic policy responses, and he reflects on the challenges of staking out an unpopular position on a contentious policy issue.
Morten Jerven of Simon Frasier University talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about his new book, Africa: Why Economists Get It Wrong. Jerven, who will be joining Noragric at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences this fall, argues that economists have misread the economic history of Africa, ignoring successful episodes of economic growth while trying to explain a perpetual malaise that does not exist. Jerven is critical of many of the attempts to explain growth using econometric techniques and suggests that a richer approach is necessary that is aware of the particular circumstances facing poor countries.
What's it like to hang out with Brad Pitt, Christian Bale, Ryan Gosling, and Steve Carell for two months? Adam Davidson, who writes for the New York Times Sunday Magazine, was the technical advisor to the upcoming movie, The Big Short. Besides rubbing shoulders with celebrities, he noticed what he calls the Hollywood model where highly talented workers come together temporarily in project-based employment. Davidson discusses the costs and benefits of this approach and its potential emergence as a more common phenomenon throughout the economy.
Nathaniel Popper of the New York Times and the author of Digital Gold talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about Bitcoin. Can Bitcoin make it? What went wrong with Mt. Gox? Why did Ross Ulbricht, the creator of Silk Road, just get sentenced to life in prison? Why are venture capital firms pouring millions of dollars into companies promising easier ways to use Bitcoin? Popper discusses these questions along with the technical side of Bitcoin to help listeners understand why so many investors are excited about the potential of Bitcoin.
Is climate change the ultimate Black Swan? Martin Weitzman of Harvard University and co-author of Climate Shock talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the risks of climate change. Weitzman argues that climate change is a fat-tailed phenomenon--there is a non-trivial risk of a catastrophe. Though Weitzman concedes that our knowledge of the climate is quite incomplete, he suggests that it is prudent to take serious measures, including possibly geo-engineering, to reduce the accumulation of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
Bent Flyvbjerg of Oxford University speaks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the political economy of megaprojects--massive investments of a billion dollars or more in infrastructure or technology. Flyvbjerg argues that such projects consistently end up costing more with smaller benefits than projected and almost always end up with costs that exceed the benefits. Flyvbjerg explores the reasons for the poor predictions and poor performance of giant investment projects and what might be done to improve their effectiveness.
Did an 800-year old piece of parchment really change the world? Nicholas Vincent of the University of East Anglia talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the Magna Carta, the founding document of English law and liberty. The Magna Carta was repudiated just ten weeks after King John issued it. Yet, its impact is still with us today. In this conversation, Vincent explains what led to the Magna Carta and how its influence remains with us today in England and elsewhere.
We're in the middle of a healthcare revolution but it's about more than marvelous life-saving and life-enhancing apps on our smartphone. Eric Topol of the Scripps Translational Science Institute and author of The Patient Will See You Now argues that the digital revolution will give us more control of our health information and data. More powerful patients will transform the doctor-patient interaction. Topol talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about his new book giving us a glimpse of the changes coming to medicine from the digital revolution.
Michael O'Hare of the University of California, Berkeley talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the management of art museums. O'Hare suggests a number of changes that would allow museums to be more effective and to justify their non-profit status--lower admission prices, selling part of their substantial unseen inventory to other museums, and broadening the activities of the museum to include educational exhibits on the creation of art and the commercial side of art. He encourages trustees of museums to see their job more as tough-minded advisors and less as financiers of museum budgets.
Leonard Wong of the Strategic Studies Institute at the U.S. Army War College talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about honesty in the military. Based on a recent co-authored paper, Wong argues that the paperwork and training burden on U.S. military officers requires dishonesty--it is simply impossible to comply with all the requirements. This creates a tension for an institution that prides itself on honesty, trust, and integrity. The conversation closes with suggestions for how the military might reform the compliance and requirement process.
Scott Sumner, of Bentley University talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about interest rates. Sumner suggests that professional economists sometimes confuse cause and effect with respect to prices and quantities. Low interest rates need not encourage investment for example, if interest rates are low because of a decrease in demand. Sumner also talk about possible explanations for the historically low real rates of interest in today's economy along with other aspects of monetary policy, interest rates, and investment.
Phil Rosenzweig, professor of strategy and international business at IMD in Switzerland and author of the book Left Brain, Right Stuff: How Leaders Make Winning Decisions talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about his book. The focus of the conversation is on the lessons from behavioral economics--when do those lessons inform and when do they mislead when applied to real-world business decisions. Topics discussed include overconfidence, transparency, the winner's curse, evaluating leaders, and the role of experimental findings in thinking about decision-making.
Vernon Smith and James Otteson talk with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about Adam Smith in front of a live audience at Ball State University. Topics discussed include Smith's view of human nature, the relevance of Smith for philosophy and economics today, and the connection between Smith's two books, The Theory of Moral Sentiments and The Wealth of Nations.
David Skarbek of King's College London and author of The Social Order of the Underworld: How Prison Gangs Govern The American Penal System talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the written and unwritten rules in America's prisons for the most violent and dangerous criminals. Skarbek explains how and why prison gangs emerged in the last half of the 20th century, their influence both inside and outside of prisons, and how their governance structure is maintained.
Campbell Harvey of Duke University talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about his research evaluating various investment and trading strategies and the challenge of measuring their effectiveness. Topics discussed include skill vs. luck, self-deception, the measures of statistical significance, skewness in investment returns, and the potential of big data.
Paul Romer of New York University talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about reforming cities to allow growth and human flourishing. Topics discussed include charter cities, the role of population density in city life, driverless cars, and various ways to help the poorest people in the world.
Lawrence H. White of George Mason University talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the possibility of a monetary constitution. Based on a new book, Renewing the Search for a Monetary Constitution, White explores different constitutional constraints that might be put on the government's role in money and monetary policy. Topics discussed include cryptocurrencies, the gold standard, the Taylor Rule, the performance of the Fed, free banking, and private currency.
David Zetland of Leiden University College in the Netherlands and author of Living with Water Scarcity talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the challenges of water management. Issues covered include the sustainability of water supplies, the affordability of water for the poor, the incentives water companies face, and the management of water systems in the poorest countries. Also discussed are the diamond and water paradox, campaigns to reduce water usage, and the role of prices in managing a water system.
Michael Munger of Duke University talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about his latest book (co-authored with Kevin Munger), Choosing in Groups. Munger lays out the challenges of group decision-making and the challenges of agreeing on constitutions or voting rules for group decision-making. The conversation highlights some of the challenges of majority rule and uses the Lewis and Clark expedition as an example.
Benn Steil of the Council on Foreign Relations and author of The Battle of Bretton Woods: John Maynard Keynes, Harry Dexter White, and the Making of a New World Order talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about Bretton Woods, the conference that resulted in the IMF, the World Bank, and the post-war international monetary system. Topics discussed include America and Britain's conflicting interests during and after World War II, the relative instability of the post-war system, and the personalities and egos of the individuals at Bretton Woods, including John Maynard Keynes and Harry Dexter White.
Daniel Sumner of the University of California talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about agricultural subsidies in the United States, the winners and losers from those subsidies, and how the structure of subsidies has changed from the New Deal to the present. Sumner also explains how American policies have affected foreign farmers.
Luigi Zingales of the University of Chicago talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts on whether the financial sector is good for society and about the gap between how banks and bankers are perceived by the public vs. finance professors. Zingales discusses the costs and benefits of financial innovation, compares the finance sector to the health sector, and suggests how business education should talk about finance to create better behavior.
Alex Tabarrok of George Mason University talks to EconTalk host Russ Roberts about a recent paper Tabarrok co-authored with Shruti Rajagopalan on Gurgaon, a city in India that until recently had little or no municipal government. The two discuss the successes and failures of this private city, the tendency to romanticize the outcomes of market and government action, and the potential for private cities to meet growing demand for urban living in India and China.
Nassim Nicholas Taleb, author of Antifragile, Black Swan, and Fooled by Randomness, talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about a recent co-authored paper on the risks of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and the use of the Precautionary Principle. Taleb contrasts harm with ruin and explains how the differences imply different rules of behavior when dealing with the risk of each. Taleb argues that when considering the riskiness of GMOs, the right understanding of statistics is more valuable than expertise in biology or genetics. The central issue that pervades the conversation is how to cope with a small non-negligible risk of catastrophe.
Greg Page, former CEO of Cargill, the largest privately-held company in America, talks to EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the global food supply and the challenges of running a company with employees and activity all over the world. Page talks about the role of prices in global food markets in signaling information and prompting changes in response to those signals. Other topics include government's role in agriculture, the locavore movement and genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
Joshua Greene, of Harvard University and author of Moral Tribes: Emotion, Reason, and the Gap Between Us and Them, talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about morality and the challenges we face when our morality conflicts with that of others. Topics discussed include the difference between what Greene calls automatic thinking and manual thinking, the moral dilemma known as "the trolley problem," and the difficulties of identifying and solving problems in a society that has a plurality of values. Greene defends utilitarianism as a way of adjudicating moral differences.
James Tooley, Professor of Education at Newcastle University, talks to EconTalk host Russ Roberts about low-cost for-profit private schools in the slums and rural areas of poor countries. Tooley shows how surprisingly widespread private schools are for the poor and how effective they are relative to public schools where teacher attendance and performance can be very disappointing. The conversation closes with whether public schooling should remain the ideal in poor countries.
Joshua Angrist of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology talks to EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the craft of econometrics--how to use economic thinking and statistical methods to make sense of data and uncover causation. Angrist argues that improvements in research design along with various econometric techniques have improved the credibility of measurement in a complex world. Roberts pushes back and the conversation concludes with a discussion of how to assess the reliability of findings in controversial public policy areas.
Gary Marcus of New York University talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the future of artificial intelligence (AI). While Marcus is concerned about how advances in AI might hurt human flourishing, he argues that truly transformative smart machines are still a long way away and that to date, the exponential improvements in technology have been in hardware, not software. Marcus proposes ways to raise standards in programming to reduce mistakes that would have catastrophic effects if advanced AI does come to fruition. The two also discuss "big data's" emphasis on correlations, and how that leaves much to be desired.
James Otteson of Wake Forest University talks to EconTalk host Russ Roberts about his new book, The End of Socialism. Otteson argues that socialism (including what he calls the "socialist inclination") is morally and practically inferior to capitalism. Otteson contrasts socialism and capitalism through the views of G. A. Cohen and Adam Smith. Otteson emphasizes the importance of moral agency and respect for the individual in his defense of capitalism. The conversation also includes a discussion of the deep appeal of the tenets of socialism such as equality and the impulse for top-down planning.
Nick Bostrom of the University of Oxford talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about his book, Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies. Bostrom argues that when machines exist which dwarf human intelligence they will threaten human existence unless steps are taken now to reduce the risk. The conversation covers the likelihood of the worst scenarios, strategies that might be used to reduce the risk and the implications for labor markets, and human flourishing in a world of superintelligent machines.
Emily Oster of the University of Chicago talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about why U.S. infant mortality is twice that in Finland and high relative to the rest of the world, given high income levels in the United States. The conversation explores the roles of measurement and definition along with culture to understand the causes of infant mortality in the United States and how it might be improved.
Nobel Laureate Vernon L. Smith of Chapman University talks to EconTalk host Russ Roberts about how Adam Smith's book, The Theory of Moral Sentiments has enriched his understanding of human behavior. He contrasts Adam Smith's vision in Sentiments with the traditional neoclassical models of choice and applies Smith's insights to explain unexpected experimental results from the laboratory.
Becky Liddicoat Yamarik, Hospice Palliative Care Physician, talks to EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the joys and challenges of providing care for terminally ill patients. The two discuss the services palliative care provides, how patients make choices about quality of life and when to stop receiving treatment, conflicts of interest between patients and families, and patients' preparedness to make these decisions.
Daron Acemoglu, the Elizabeth and James Killian Professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about his new paper co-authored with James Robinson, "The Rise and Fall of General Laws of Capitalism," a critique of Thomas Piketty, Karl Marx, and other thinkers who have tried to explain patterns of data as inevitable "laws" without regard to institutions. Acemoglu and Roberts also discuss labor unions, labor markets, and inequality.
Robert Solow, Professor Emeritus at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Nobel Laureate, talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about his hugely influential theory of growth and inspiration to create a model that better reflected the stable long-term growth of an economy. Solow contends that capital accumulation cannot explain a significant portion of the economic growth we see. He makes a critical distinction between innovation and technology, and then discusses his views on Milton Friedman and John M. Keynes.
Luigi Zingales of the University of Chicago's Booth School of Business talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about Zingales's essay, "Preventing Economists' Capture." Zingales argues that just as regulators become swayed by the implicit incentives of dealing with industry executives, so too with economists who study business: supporting business interests can be financially and professionally rewarding. Zingales outlines the different ways that economists benefit from supporting business interests and ways that economists might work to prevent that influence or at least be aware of it.
EconTalk host Russ Roberts is interviewed by long-time EconTalk guest Michael Munger about Russ's new book, How Adam Smith Can Change Your Life: An Unexpected Guide to Human Nature and Happiness. Topics discussed include how economists view human motivation and consumer behavior, the role of conscience and self-interest in acts of kindness, and the costs and benefits of judging others. The conversation closes with a discussion of how Smith can help us understand villains in movies.
David Autor of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the future of work and the role that automation and smart machines might play in the workforce. Autor stresses the importance of Michael Polanyi's insight that many of the things we know and understand cannot be easily written down or communicated. Those kinds of tacit knowledge will be difficult for smart machines to access and use. In addition, Autor argues that fundamentally, the gains from machine productivity will accrue to humans. The conversation closes with a discussion of the distributional implications of a world with a vastly larger role for smart machines.
Martha Nussbaum of the University of Chicago and author of Creating Capabilities talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about an alternative to GDP for measuring economic performance at the national level. She is a proponent of the capabilities approach that emphasizes how easily individuals can acquire skills and use them, as well as the capability to live long and enjoy life. Nussbaum argues that government policy should focus on creating capabilities rather than allowing them to emerge through individual choices and civil society.
Thomas Piketty of the Paris School of Economics and author of Capital in the Twenty-First Century talks to Econtalk host Russ Roberts about the book. The conversation covers some of the key empirical findings of the book along with a discussion of their significance.
Elizabeth Green, author of the new book Building a Better Teacher: How Teaching Works (and How to Teach it to Anyone), talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the art of teaching and the history of various reforms, mostly failed, trying to improve teaching in America. Specific topics include the theoretical focus of undergraduate education programs and various techniques being used in charter schools and elsewhere to improve teaching performance.
Paul Pfleiderer, C.O.G. Miller Distinguished Professor of Finance at the Graduate School of Business at Stanford University, talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about his recent paper critiquing what Pfleiderer calls "Chameleon Models," economic models that are thought to explain the real world with little analysis of the accuracy of their assumptions. Also discussed are Akerlof's market for lemons model, Friedman's idea that assumptions do not have to be reasonable as long as the model predicts what happens in the real world, and the dangers of leaping from a model's results to making policy recommendations.
Nathan Blecharczyk, co-founder and chief technology officer of Airbnb, talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about Airbnb, one of the earliest companies to use technology to allow individuals to share underused resources, and in the case of Airbnb, housing. Blecharczyk and Roberts discuss how a design conference and the Democratic National Convention got Airbnb started, how the company aligns incentives to overcome the trust problem of house-sharing, and the rise of technology and online social networks to make a new business model possible. Along the way, Blecharczyk gives his take on the role of luck vs. skill in entrepreneurial success and how Airbnb plans to expand its product offerings in the future.
Daphne Koller of Coursera talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about online educational website Coursera and the future of education both online and via bricks-and-mortar. Koller, co-founder of Coursera with Andrew Ng, explains how Coursera partners with universities, how they try to create community and interaction, and the likely impact of widespread digital education on universities and those who want to learn. The conversation includes a discussion of why Koller left a chaired position in computer science at Stanford University to run a for-profit start-up in a crowded field.
Terry Anderson, Distinguished Fellow at the Property and Environment Research Center (PERC) and Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution, talks to EconTalk host Russ Roberts about free-market environmentalism, the dynamics of the Yellowstone ecosystem, and how property rights can protect natural resources.
Barry Weingast, professor of political science at Stanford University and senior fellow at Stanford's Hoover Institution, talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the nature of law. Weingast takes issue with some of the standard views of law, and proposes a better way to understand law. The two discuss the fundamental principles of law, how it can emerge in a decentralized way to resolve disputes over property and other commercial and social interactions. Examples include Iceland, Ancient Greece, and California during the gold rush. Also considered are how laws coordinate expectations and the way that social pressure can be used to enforce law in a decentralized fashion.
Reid Hoffman, co-founder of professional networking site LinkedIn, and Ben Casnocha, former Chief-of-Staff of LinkedIn, talk to EconTalk host Russ Roberts about LinkedIn and their book The Alliance. Hoffman and Casnocha discuss the founding and vision of LinkedIn along with their ideas in The Alliance on how to improve employee/employer relations when turnover is high and loyalty on each side is low.
Sam Altman, president of startup accelerating firm Y Combinator, talks to EconTalk host Russ Roberts about Y Combinator's innovative strategy for discovering, funding, and coaching groundbreaking startups, what the company looks for in a potential startup, and Silicon Valley's attitude toward entrenched firms. The two also discuss Altman's thoughts on sectors of the economy that are ripe for innovation and how new firms are revolutionizing operations in these industries.
Chris Blattman of Columbia University talks to EconTalk host Russ Roberts about a radical approach to fighting poverty in desperately poor countries: giving cash to aid recipients and allowing them to spend it as they please. Blattman shares his research and cautious optimism about giving cash and discusses how infusions of cash affect growth, educational outcomes, and political behavior (including violence). The conversation concludes with a discussion of the limits of aid and the some of the moral issues facing aid activists and researchers.
D.G. Myers, literary critic and cancer patient, talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the lessons he has learned from receiving a cancer diagnosis six years ago. Myers emphasizes the importance of dealing with cancer honestly and using it as a way to focus attention on what matters in life. The conversation illuminates the essence of opportunity cost and the importance of allocating our time, perhaps our scarcest resource, wisely. The last part of the conversation discusses a number of literary issues including the role of English literature and creative writing in American universities.
Mike Munger of Duke University talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the sharing economy--companies like Uber, AirBnB, FlightApp, and DogVacay that let people share their houses, cars, or other assets with strangers in exchange for money. These companies dramatically increase the use of resources that would otherwise be idle and disrupt existing services such as hotels and taxis. Topics discussed include the regulatory response to these companies, the politics of that response, and the significance of these new products. The conversation closes with the potential impact of Uber combining with driverless cars to change the automobile industry and cities.
Lars Peter Hansen of the University of Chicago and Nobel Laureate in economics, talks to EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the power and limits of economic models and quantitative methods. Hanson defends the value of models while recognizing their limitations. The two also discuss quantifying systemic financial risk, how our understanding of financial markets has changed, the nature of risk, and areas of economics that Hanson believes are ripe for further research.
Gregory Zuckerman of the Wall Street Journal and author of The Frackers: The Outrageous Inside Story of the New Billionaire Wildcatters, talks to EconTalk host Russ Roberts about his new book, the rise of hydraulic fracturing (fracking), how this technology developed, and the vibrant personalities that pioneered the energy revolution. Topics discussed along the way include the history and future of fracking, environmental concerns about the process, and how the story of fracking is the classic tale of the successes and failures of determined risk-takers. The role of market forces in driving that success and failure runs through the entire conversation.
William Easterly of New York University and author of The Tyranny of Experts: Economists, Dictators, and the Forgotten Rights of the Poor talks to EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the ideas in his book. Easterly argues that poverty endures in many poor countries because of a lack of economic and political freedom for its poorest members. He argues that the aid process and the role experts play in that process reinforces the oppression of the poor. Other topics discussed include data-oriented solutions, autocracy vs. democracy, and Easterly's perspective on development from Bill Gates and recent EconTalk guest Jeffery Sachs.
Edward Lazear of Stanford University talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about Gary Becker's innovative contributions to economics. The conversation opens with personal reminiscences by Lazear and Roberts. They then discuss Becker's application of economic principles to social phenomena such as discrimination, crime, education and the family along with Becker's overall approach to economic theory and measurement.
Andrew McAfee, Megan McArdle, and Lee Ohanian talk with EconTalk host Russ Roberts on the future of work. Recorded before a live audience at the 33rd Santa Barbara Economic Summit, the conversation begins with each participant making a brief set of remarks on the topic. Topics discussed include the traits that might be rewards in a world of smart machines, reforming the educational system to prepare people for the changing economy, reforming immigration, and policies that might help the labor market work more effectively.
Yuval Levin, author of The Great Debate: Edmund Burke, Thomas Paine, and the Birth of Right and Left, talks to EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the ideas of Burke and Paine and their influence on the evolution of political philosophy. Levin outlines the differing approaches of the two thinkers to liberty, authority, and how reform and change should take place. Other topics discussed include Hayek's view of tradition, Cartesian rationalism, the moral high ground in politics, and how the "right and left" division of American politics finds its roots in the debates of these thinkers from the 1700s.
Marc Andreessen, venture capitalist and co-creator of the early web browser Mosaic, talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about how success in venture capital is more about winners that you missed and not losers that you backed. Other topics discussed include the rise of the developing world and the smartphone revolution, why Bitcoin is paving the way for innovative uses of the internet, an optimistic view of the future of journalism, changes in the healthcare system, and the future of education around the world.
Charles Marohn, President of Strong Towns, talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts urban development and what makes a strong town. The two discuss how the post-World War II approach to town and city planning has led to debt problems and wasteful infrastructure investments, and how changes as small as the width of roads make cities more vibrant. Other topics discussed include central Detroit today as a model of city growth, the incentive problems associated with how state and federal infrastructure funds are distributed, and Marohn's efforts to change civil engineers' perspective on growth.
Gavin Andresen, Chief Scientist of the Bitcoin Foundation, talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about where Bitcoin has been and where it might be headed in the future. Topics discussed include competing cryptocurrencies such as Dogecoin, the role of the Bitcoin Foundation, the challenges Bitcoin faces going forward, and the mystery of Satoshi Nakamoto.
Diane Coyle, author of GDP: A Brief but Affectionate History, talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the history of GDP, its uses, and its abuses. Topics discussed include the origins of GDP in the developed countries, the challenges of measuring the service sector, the challenges of dealing with innovation and product diversity, whether GDP should be supplemented with other measures of human well-being, and the challenges of dealing with internet-based goods that produce a great deal of satisfaction but make a much smaller impact on measured economic activity.
Megan McArdle of Bloomberg View and author of The Up Side of Down talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about her book. McArdle argues that failure is a crucial part of success in personal life and in the large economy. Topics covered include the psychology of failure, unemployment, and bankruptcy and parole.
Steven Teles of Johns Hopkins talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about kludgeocracy, a term Teles coined in a National Affairs article to describe what Teles sees as the complex and unproductive state of political governance in the United States, particularly at the federal level. Teles argues that various rules and procedures in the Senate and the House allow politicians to slow down legislation in return for favors. Teles argues that both liberals and conservatives have an incentive to favor more transparency and a more streamlined governing process that would get things done.
Bryan Caplan of George Mason University and blogger at EconLog talks to EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the value of a college education. Caplan argues that the extra amount that college graduates earn relative to high school graduates is misleading as a guide for attending college--it ignores the fact that a sizable number of students don't graduate and never earn that extra money. Caplan argues that the monetary benefits of a college education have a large signaling component rather than representing the value of the knowledge that's learned. Caplan closes by arguing that the subsidies to education should be reduced rather than increased.
John Cochrane of the University of Chicago talks to EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the experience of teaching a massive open online course (MOOC)--a class delivered over the internet available to anyone around the world. Cochrane contrasts the mechanics of preparing the class, his perception of the advantages and disadvantages of a MOOC relative to a standard in-person classroom, and the potential for MOOCs to disrupt traditional education.
John Christy of the University of Alabama in Huntsville and Kerry Emanuel of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology talk with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about climate change. Topics discussed include what we know and don't know about global warming, trends in extreme weather such as hurricanes, rising sea level, the likely change in temperature in the next hundred years. Both scientists also give their perspective on what policies might be put in place to reduce risk from climate change. This episode was recorded before a live audience at the College of Business Administration at the University of Alabama in Huntsville.
Jeffrey Sachs of Columbia University and the Millennium Villages Project talks with EconTalk host about poverty in Africa and the efforts of the Millennium Villages Project to fight hunger, disease, and illiteracy. The project tries to achieve the Millennium Development Goals in a set of poor African villages using an integrated strategy fighting hunger, poverty, and disease. In this lively conversation, Sachs argues that this approach has achieved great success so far and responds to criticisms from development economists and Nina Munk in her recent EconTalk interview.
Richard Epstein, of New York University and Stanford University's Hoover Institution, talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the differences between classical liberalism and hard-line libertarianism. What is the proper role of the state? Topics discussed include the Constitution, prudent regulation, contract enforcement, intellectual property, and the Supreme Court case, Lochner vs. NY.
Moises Velasquez-Manoff, author of An Epidemic of Absence, talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about his book--a discussion of why allergies and autoimmune diseases have been on the rise in the developed world for the last half-century. Velasquez-Manoff explores a recent hypothesis in the epidemiological literature theorizing the increase is a response to the overly hygienic environment in rich countries and the absence of various microbes and parasites. Velasquez-Manoff also considers whether reintroducing parasites into our bodies can have therapeutic effects, a possibility currently under examination through FDA trials. The conversation continues a theme of EconTalk--the challenge of understanding causation in a complex world.
Robert Frank of Cornell University talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the implications of Ronald Coase's views on externalities. Drawing on his book, The Darwin Economy, Frank explores the implications of Coase's perspective for assessing public policy challenges where one person's actions affect others. Examples discussed include pollution, cigarette smoking and related issues.
Charles Calomiris of Columbia University and Stephen Haber of Stanford University, co-authors of Fragile by Design: The Political Origins of Banking Crises and Scarce Credit, talk with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about their book. The conversation focuses on how politics and economics interact to give some countries such as Canada a remarkably stable financial system while others such as the United States have a much less stable system. The two authors discuss the political forces that explain the persistence of seemingly bad financial regulation. The conversation includes a discussion of the financial crisis of 2008.
Paul Sabin of Yale University and author of The Bet talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about his book. Sabin uses the bet between Paul Ehrlich and Julian Simon--a bet over whether natural resources are getting scarcer as population grows--as a lens for examining the evolution of the environmental movement and its status today. Sabin considers the successes and failures of the movement and the challenges of having nuanced public policy discussions on issues where both sides have passionate opinions.
Erik Brynjolfsson of MIT and co-author of The Second Machine Age talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the ideas in the book, co-authored with Andrew McAfee. He argues we are entering a new age of economic activity dominated by smart machines and computers. Neither dystopian or utopian, Brynjolfsson sees this new age as one of possibility and challenge. He is optimistic that with the right choices and policy responses, the future will have much to celebrate.
Nina Munk, journalist and author of The Idealist: Jeffrey Sachs and the Quest to End Poverty, talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about her book. Munk spent six years following Jeffrey Sachs and the evolution of the Millennium Villages Project--an attempt to jumpstart a set of African villages in hopes of discovering a new template for development. Munk details the great optimism at the beginning of the project and the discouraging results after six years of high levels of aid. Sach's story is one of the great lessons in unintended consequences and the complexity of the development process.
Jonathan Haidt of New York University and author of The Righteous Mind talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about his book, the nature of human nature, and how our brain affects our morality and politics. Haidt argues that reason often serves our emotions rather than the mind being in charge. We can be less interested in the truth and more interested in finding facts and stories that fit preconceived narratives and ideology. We are genetically predisposed to work with each other rather than being purely self-interested and our genes influence our morality and ideology as well. Haidt tries to understand why people come to different visions of morality and politics and how we might understand each other despite those differences.
Laurence Kotlikoff of Boston University talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the fiscal health of the federal government of the United States. Kotlikoff argues that the U.S. government is essentially bankrupt because future taxes will fall hundreds of trillions of dollars short of expected expenditures. Kotlikoff argues this problem can be solved by redesigning our tax code, but without changes such as this, large reductions in spending or large increases in tax rates will be necessary.
Anthony Gill of the University of Washington and host of the podcast Research on Religion talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the economics of religion. The conversation focuses on the relationship between religion and the State--how does religion respond to a State-sanctioned monopoly? Why do some governments allow religious liberty while others deny it? The conversation concludes with a discussion of how property rights interact with religious freedom.
Richard Fisher, President of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the problems with "too big to fail"--the policy idea that certain financial institutions are too large to face the bankruptcy or failure and need to be rescued or bailed-out. Fisher argues that "too big to fail" remains a serious problem despite claims that recent financial regulation has eliminated it. Fisher discusses various ways to deal with too-big-to-fail, including his own preferred policy. The last part of the conversation deals with quantitative easing and monetary policy during the crisis.
Judith Curry of the Georgia Institute of Technology and blogger at Climate Etc. talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about climate change. Curry argues that climate change is a "wicked problem" with a great deal of uncertainty surrounding the expected damage as well as the political and technical challenges of dealing with the phenomenon. She emphasizes the complexity of the climate and how much of the basic science remains incomplete. The conversation closes with a discussion of how concerned citizens can improve their understanding of climate change and climate change policy.
Wally Thurman of North Carolina State University and PERC talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the world of bees, beekeepers, and the market for pollination. Thurman describes how farmers hire beekeepers to pollinate their crops and how that market keeps improving crop yields and producing honey. Thurman then discusses how beekeepers have responded to Colony Collapse Disorder--a not fully understood phenomenon where colonies disband, dramatically reducing the number of bees. The discussion closes with the history of bee pollination as an example of a reciprocal externality and how Coase's insight helps understand how the pollination market works.
Doug Lemov of Uncommon Schools and author of Teach Like a Champion talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about teaching and education. Drawing on his experience working in charter schools with children in poverty, Lemov discusses what makes a great teacher and a great school. Lemov argues that practice and technique can transform teaching and education. The conversation concludes with a discussion of how EconTalk might be made more valuable to its listeners.
Lant Pritchett of Harvard University and author of The Rebirth of Education talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the ideas in the book. Pritchett argues that increases in years of schooling for students in poor countries do not translate into gains in education, learning, or achievement. This tragic situation is due to corruption and poor incentives in the top-down educational systems around the world. School reforms that imitate successful systems fail to take into account the organic nature of successful school systems that cause various external attributes to be effective. The conversation concludes with a discussion of school systems in rich countries and possible lessons for reform that might apply there.
Joel Mokyr of Northwestern University talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the future of the American economy. Mokyr rejects the claims that the we are entering an area of stagnation or permanently lower economic growth. He argues that measured growth understates the impact on human welfare. Many of the most important discoveries are new products that are often poorly measured and not reflected in measures such as gross domestic product or income. The conversation closes with a discussion of the downsides of technology and why Mokyr remains optimistic about the future.
Angus Deaton of Princeton University and author of the Great Escape talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the book--the vast improvements in health and standard of living in recent times. Deaton surveys the improvements in life expectancy and income both in the developed and undeveloped world. Inequality of both health and wealth are discussed as well. The conversation closes with a discussion of foreign aid and what rich nations can do for the poor.
Edmund Phelps of Columbia University, Nobel Laureate in economics, and author of Mass Flourishing talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the ideas in the book. Phelps argues that human flourishing requires challenges, struggles, and success and goes beyond material prosperity. He argues that in recent decades, policy has discouraged innovation and mass flourishing resulting in a slow-down in growth rates. Phelps emphasizes the non-material benefits of economic growth and the importance of small innovations over big inventions as key to that growth.
John Ralston Saul, author and head of PEN International, speaks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about his book, Voltaire's Bastards, and the role of reason in the modern world. Saul argues that the illegitimate offspring of the champions of reason have led to serious problems in the modern world. Reason, while powerful and useful, says Saul, should not be put on a pedestal above other values including morality and common-sense. Saul argues that the worship of reason has corrupted public policy and education while empowering technocrats and the elites in dangerous and unhealthy ways.
Don Boudreaux of George Mason University and Cafe Hayek talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the intellectual legacy of Ronald Coase. The conversation centers on Coase's four most important academic articles. Most of the discussion is on two of those articles, "The Nature of the Firm," which continues to influence how economists think of firms and transaction costs, and "The Problem of Social Cost," Coase's pathbreaking work on externalities.
Guillermo Calvo of Columbia University and the National Bureau of Economic Research talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the nature of macroeconomic crises and what we have learned or should have learned in the aftermath of the most recent one. Based loosely on his recent paper, "Puzzling Over the Anatomy of Crises," Calvo discusses a wide array of issues related to macroeconomics and the role of financial instability in economy-wide crises. Topics include the role of money, the problem of short-term lending in the financial sector, the black-box approach of modern macroeconomic theory and the forgotten economists we might want to reconsider.
Cliff Winston of the Brookings Institution talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about his recent article in the Journal of Economic Literature on the U.S. transportation system. Winston argues that the while the United States has a very good transportation system overall, it is extremely expensive and poorly organized. What is needed, Winston argues, is not more money, but to spend the money already allocated more wisely. He discusses the evolution of the U.S. transportation system, government's role in transportation, dramatic innovations that might transform aviation and driving, and the potential for privatizing airports and roads.
Emily Oster of the University of Chicago and author of Expecting Better talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about her book on pregnancy and the challenges of decision-making under uncertainty. Oster argues that many of the standard behavioral prescriptions for pregnant women are not supported by the medical literature. The conversation centers around the general issue of interpreting medical evidence in a complex world using pregnancy advice as an application. Alcohol, caffeine, cats, gardening and deli-meats and their effect on pregnant women are some of the examples that come up. The conversation closes with a discussion of Oster's work on hepatitis-B and the male-female birth ratio.
Tyler Cowen of George Mason University and blogger at Marginal Revolution talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about his latest book, Average is Over. Cowen takes a provocative look at how the growing power of artificial intelligence embodied in machines and technologies might change labor markets and the standard of living. He tries to predict which people and which skills will be complementary to smart machines and which people and which skills will struggle.
David Epstein, writer for ProPublica and author of The Sports Gene, talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the book. Epstein discusses a number of the ideas in the book including what we have learned about the nature vs. nurture debate, the role of practice in achieving mastery, why a small part of Kenya produces so many champion marathoners, why major league all-stars can't hit a fast-pitch softball, the strange nature of body types in the NBA and why Michael Phelps's body gives him an advantage.
David Laidler of the University of Western Ontario talks about money and monetary policy with EconTalk host Russ Roberts. Laidler sketches the monetarist approach to the Great Depression and the Great Recession. He defends the Federal Reserve's performance in the recent crisis against the critics. He argues that the Fed's monetary policies have not been unconventional nor impotent as some critics have suggested. The conversation closes with a discussion of the state of macroeconomics and monetary economics.
Nassim Taleb of NYU-Poly talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about his recent paper (with Constantine Sandis) on the morality and effectiveness of "skin in the game." When decision makers have skin in the game--when they share in the costs and benefits of their decisions that might affect others--they are more likely to make prudent decisions than in cases where decision-makers can impose costs on others. Taleb sees skin in the game as not just a useful policy concept but a moral imperative. The conversation closes with some observations on the power of expected value for evaluating predictions along with Taleb's thoughts on economists who rarely have skin in the game when they make forecasts or take policy positions.
On April 10, 2013, Liberty Fund and Butler University sponsored a symposium, "Capitalism, Government, and the Good Society." The evening began with solo presentations by the three participants--Michael Munger of Duke University, Robert Skidelsky of the University of Warwick, and Richard Epstein of New York University. (Travel complications forced the fourth invited participant, James Galbraith of the University of Texas, to cancel.) Each speaker gave his own interpretation of the appropriate role for government in the economy and in our lives. This was followed by a lively conversation on the topic moderated by Russ Roberts of Stanford University, host of the weekly podcast, EconTalk. A video of the event along with other materials is available at http://www.econtalk.org/archives/2013/09/capitalism_gove.html .
Mike Munger of Duke University talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about why milk is in the back of the grocery store. Michael Pollan and others argue that milk is in the back so that customers, who often buy milk, will be forced to walk through the entire story and be encouraged by the trek to buy other items. Munger and Roberts argue that competition encourages stores to serve customers and that alternative explanations explain where milk is found in the store. The conversation also discusses restaurant pricing, government "nudging" and related issues of grocery economics.
Eric Hanushek of Stanford University's Hoover Institution talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about his new book, Endangering Prosperity (co-authored with Paul Peterson and Ludger Woessmann). Hanushek argues that America's educational system is mediocre relative to other school systems around the world and that the failure of the U.S. system to do a better job has a significant negative impact on the American standard of living. Hanushek points to improving teacher quality as one way to improve education.
Jagdish Bhagwati of Columbia University talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the economy of India based on his book with Arvind Panagariya, Why Growth Matters. Bhagwati argues that the economic reforms of 1991 ushered in a new era of growth for India that has reduced poverty and improved the overall standard of living in India. While supportive of social spending on the poor, Bhagwati argues that growth should precede higher levels of spending, providing the tax revenue for expanded spending.
Barry Weingast, the Ward C. Krebs Family Professor of Political Science at Stanford University and a Senior Fellow at Stanford's Hoover Institution talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the role of violence and the threat of violence in maintaining destructive economic policies that reduce growth and development. Weingast argues that the threat of violence encourages leaders to create monopolies and other unproductive policies to pay off special interests that would otherwise threaten a coup or revolution. Weingast shows there is a surprising amount of violent regime change in modern times and discusses how this discourages growth-enhancing economic policies. The conversation closes with an analysis of similar ideas in Book III of Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations.
Robert Pindyck of MIT talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the challenges of global warming for policy makers. Pindyck argues that while there is little doubt about the existence of human-caused global warming via carbon emissions, there is a great deal of doubt about the size of the effects on temperature and the size of the economic impact of warmer climate. This leads to a dilemma for policy-makers over how to proceed. Pindyck suggests that a tax or some form of carbon emission reduction is a good idea as a precautionary measure, despite the uncertainty.
Amrita Narlikar of the University of Cambridge talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about fair trade and policy issues related to trade. Narlikar argues--based on a recent article with Dan Kim--that the Fair Trade movement hurts workers outside of the fair trade umbrella and does little for those it is trying to help. She advocates free trade, particularly the elimination of agricultural subsidies in the developed world and the best way to help workers in poor nations. Drawing on a recent article with Jagdish Bhagwati, she criticizes the international response to recent deaths in Bangladesh factories. In the last part of the conversation, she defends the World Trade Organization.
Michael Lind of the New American Foundation talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about two recent articles by Lind at Salon.com. In the first article, Lind argues that libertarians are wrong about how to organize a society because they embrace a philosophy that has never been tried. In the second article, Lind argues that the ideas taught in economics principles classes lead to bad public policy. Roberts challenges Lind and along the way they manage to find some areas of agreement.
Michael Clemens of the Center for Global Development talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the effects of aid and migration on world poverty. Clemens argues that the effects of aid are positive but small. But emigration has the potential to have a transformative effect on migrants from poor countries who emigrate to richer ones. The discussion concludes with the impact of migrants on the host country.
Morris Fiorina, the Wendt Family Professor of Political Science and Hoover Institution Senior Fellow at Stanford University, talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the state of the American electorate and recent election results. Fiorina argues that while the Republican and Democratic parties are more extreme than they were in the past, there has been only modest change in the character of the American electorate. Fiorina discusses these differences in light of recent election results which show an inability of either party to sustain control of the Presidency or the Congress.
Michael Munger of Duke University talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the role of formal rules and informal rules in sports. Many sports restrain violence and retaliation through formal rules while in others, protective equipment is used to reduce injury. In all sports, codes of conduct emerge to deal with violence and unobserved violations of formal rules. Munger explores the interaction of these forces across different sports and how they relate to insights of Coase and Hayek.
Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers, of the University of Michigan talk with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about their work on the relationship between income and happiness. They argue that there is a positive relationship over time and across countries between income and self-reported measures of happiness. The second part of the conversation looks at the recent controversy surrounding work by Reinhart and Rogoff on the relationship between debt and growth. Stevenson and Wolfers give their take on the controversy and the lessons for economists and policy-makers. This conversation was recorded shortly before Betsey Stevenson was nominated to the President's Council of Economic Advisers.
Dan Pallotta, Chief Humanity Officer of Advertising for Humanity and author of Uncharitable talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the ideas in his book. Pallotta argues that charities are deeply handicapped by their culture and how we view them. The use of overhead as a measure of effectiveness makes it difficult for charities to attract the best talent, advertise, and invest for the future. Pallotta advocates a new culture for non-profits that takes the best aspects of the for-profit sector to enhance the mission and effectiveness of charities.
Bruce Schneier, author and security guru, talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about power and the internet. Schneier argues that the internet enhances the power of the powerless but it also enhances the power of the powerful. He argues that we should be worried about both corporate and government uses of the internet to enhance their power. Recorded before news of the PRISM system and the use of Verizon's customer information by the NSA (National Security Agency), Schneier presciently worries about government surveillance that we are not aware of and explains how governments--democratic and totalitarian--can use the internet to oppress their citizens. The conversation closes with a discussion of terrorism and the costs of the current system for reducing the probability of a terrorist attack.
Arnold Kling, author of The Three Languages of Politics, talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the ideas in the book. Kling argues that Progressives, Conservatives, and Libertarians each have their own language and way of looking at the world that often doesn't overlap. This makes it easier for each group to demonize the others. The result is ideological intolerance and incivility. By understanding the language and mindset of others, Kling suggests we can do a better job discussing our policy disagreements and understand why each group seems to feel both misunderstand and morally superior to the other two.
Jim Manzi, founder and chair of Applied Predictive Technologies, senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, and author of Uncontrolled, talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the Oregon Medicaid study and the challenges of interpreting experimental results. Manzi notes a number of interesting aspects of the study results that have generally been unnoticed--the relatively high proportion of people in the Oregon study who turned down the chance to receive Medicaid benefits, and the increase (though insignificant) in smoking by those who received Medicaid benefits under the experiment. Along the way, Manzi discusses general issues of statistical significance, and how we might learn more about the effects of Medicaid in the future.
Richard Epstein of New York University and Stanford University's Hoover Institution talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the U.S. Constitution. Topics covered in this wide-ranging conversation include how the interpretation of the Constitution has changed over time, the relationship between state and federal power, judicial activism, the increasing importance of administrative agencies' regulatory power, and political influences on the Supreme Court.
Austin Frakt of Boston University and blogger at The Incidental Economist talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about Medicaid and the recent results released from the Oregon Medicaid study, a randomized experiment that looked at individuals with and without access to Medicaid. Recent released results from that study found no significant impact of Medicaid access on basic health measures such as blood pressure and cholesterol levels, but did find reduced financial stress and better mental health. Frakt gives his interpretation of those results and the implications for the Affordable Care Act. The conversation closes with a discussion of the reliability of empirical work in general and how it might or might not affect our positions on social and economic policy.
William Bernstein talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about his latest book, Masters of the Word. Bernstein traces the history of language, writing, and communication and its impact on freedom. The discussion begins with the evolution of language and the written word and continues up through radio and the internet. A particular focus of the conversation is how tyrants use information technology to oppress their people but at the same time, technology can be used to liberate people from oppression.
James Galbraith of the University of Texas and author of Inequality and Instability talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about inequality. Galbraith argues that much of the mainstream analysis of inequality in the economics literature is flawed. Galbraith looks at a variety of different measures and ways of analyzing income data. In the podcast he focuses on how much of measured inequality is due to changes in specific counties or industries. Other topics discussed include the state of economics in the aftermath of the Great Recession and the importance of the government safety net and other social legislation.
Edward Glaeser of Harvard University and author of The Triumph of Cities talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about American cities. The conversation begins with a discussion of the history of Detroit over the last century and its current plight. What might be done to improve Detroit's situation? Why are other cities experiencing similar challenges to those facing Detroit? Why are some cities thriving and growing? What policies might help ailing cities and what policies have helped those cities that succeed? The conversation concludes with a discussion of why cities have such potential for growth.
Jeffrey Sachs of Columbia University and author of The Price of Civilization talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the state of the American economy. Sachs sees the current malaise as a chronic problem rather than a short-term challenge caused by the business cycle. He lists a whole host of issues he thinks policymakers need to deal with including the environment, inequality, and infrastructure. He disagrees with the Keynesian prescriptions for stimulating the economy and believes that the federal government budget deficits are a serious problem. The conversation closes with a discussion of the state of economics.
Anat Admati of Stanford University talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about her new book (co-authored with Martin Hellwig), The Bankers' New Clothes. Admati argues that the best way to reduce the fragility of the banking system is to increase capital requirements--that is, require banks to finance their activities with a greater proportion of equity rather than debt. She explains how debt magnifies returns and losses while making each bank more fragile. Despite claims to the contrary, she argues that the costs of reducing debt are relatively small for society as a whole while the benefits are substantial.
Eric Topol of the Scripps Research Institute and the author of The Creative Destruction of Medicine talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the ideas in his book. Topics discussed include "evidence-based" medicine, the influence of the pharmaceutical industry, how medicine is currently conducted for the "average" patient, the potential of genomics to improve health care and the power of technology, generally, to transform medicine.
Scott Sumner of Bentley University and blogger at The Money Illusion talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the basics of money, monetary policy, and the Fed. After a discussion of some of the basics of the money supply, Sumner explains why he thinks monetary policy in the United States during and since the crisis has been inadequate. Sumner stresses the importance of the Fed setting expectations and he argues for the dominance of monetary policy over fiscal policy.
Angus Burgin of Johns Hopkins University and the author of The Great Persuasion talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the idea in his book--the return of free market economics in the aftermath of the Great Depression. Burgin describes the reaction to Hayek's Road to Serfdom, the creation of the Mont Pelerin Society, and the increasing influence of Milton Friedman on public policy.
Doc Searls, author of The Intention Economy and head of Project VRM at Harvard University's Berkman Center talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the how the relationship between buyers and sellers might evolve as the internet evolves. Searls imagines a world where buyers would advertise their intentions and desires and sellers would respond with offers. Other topics discussed include Google and Apple's business strategies and the role of the cable and telephone companies in providing access to the internet.
Leigh Steinberg, legendary sports agent, talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about his career as a sports agent. He discusses the challenges of building a clientele, how sports agents spend their time, strategies for building a brand as an athlete, and safety issues currently affecting the National Football League.
Yanis Varoufakis of the University of Athens, the University of Texas, and former economist-in-residence at Valve Software talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the unusual structure of the workplace at Valve. Valve, a software company that creates online video games, has no hierarchy or bosses. Teams of software designers join spontaneously to create and ship video games without any top-down supervision. Varoufakis discusses the economics of this Hayekian workplace and how it actually functions alongside Steam--an open gaming platform created by Valve. The conversation concludes with a discussion of the economic crisis in Europe.
Glenn Reynolds of the University of Tennessee and blogger at Instapundit talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the political malaise in America, whether it could lead to a Constitutional Convention, and what might emerge were such an event to occur. Reynolds also gives his thoughts on the suggestion advanced in a recent episode of EconTalk that we should ignore the Constitution. The conversation concludes with Reynolds's views on the decentralizing power of technology and Reynolds's music career.
Cathy O'Neil, data scientist and blogger at mathbabe.org, talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about her journey from Wall Street to Occupy Wall Street. She talks about her experiences on Wall Street that ultimately led her to join the Occupy Wall Street movement. Along the way, the conversation includes a look at the reliability of financial modeling, the role financial models played in the crisis, and the potential for shame to limit dishonest behavior in the financial sector and elsewhere.
Louis Michael Seidman of Georgetown University talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the United States Constitution. Seidman argues that the we should ignore the Constitution in designing public policy, relying instead on the merits of policy regardless of their constitutionality. Seidman defends his position by citing examples in the past where constitutionality has been ignored and says it would be better to recognize our disdain for the Constitution in a transparent way. In this lively conversation, Roberts pushes back against these ideas, citing the limits of reason and the dangers of using popular sentiment to determine policy.
Peter Boettke of George Mason University talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about his book, Living Economics. Boettke argues for embracing the tradition of Smith and Hayek in both teaching and research, arguing that economics took a wrong turn when it began to look more like a branch of applied mathematics. He sees spontaneous order as the central principle for understanding and teaching economics. The conversation also includes a brief homage to James Buchanan who passed away shortly before this interview was recorded.
Kevin Kelly talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about measuring productivity in the internet age and recent claims that the U.S. economy has entered a prolonged period of stagnation. Then the conversation turns to the potential of robots to change the quality of our daily lives.
Esther Dyson talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the market for attention and how technology has changed, how much we pay attention to others, and vice versa. Along the way Dyson reminisces about Steve Jobs, the nature of the start-up and venture capital world, and the future of space travel.
Morten Jerven of Simon Fraser University, author of Poor Numbers, talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the quality of data coming out of Africa on income, growth, and population. Jerven argues that the inconsistency of the numbers and methodology both across countries and within a country across time, makes many empirical studies of African progress meaningless. The conversation closes with a discussion of what might be done to improve data collection in poor countries.
Becky Pettit of the University of Washington and author of Invisible Men talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the growth of the prison population in the United States in recent decades. Pettit describes the magnitude of the increase particularly among demographic groups. She then discusses the implications of this increase for interpreting social statistics. Because the prison population isn't included in the main government surveys used by social scientists, data drawn from those surveys can be misleading as to what is actually happening among demographic groups, particularly the African-American population.
Lisa Turner of Laughing Stock Farm talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about life as a small organic farmer. She describes her working day, the challenges of farming, the role of the U.S. Department of Agriculture in her life and what some job applicants who want to work on her farm need to understand about business.
Don Boudreaux of George Mason University talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the work of F. A. Hayek, particularly his writings on philosophy and political economy. Boudreaux provides an audio annotated bibliography of Hayek's most important books and essays and gives suggestions on where to start and how to proceed through Hayek's works if you are a beginner.
Chris Anderson, author of Makers: The New Industrial Revolution, talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about his new book--the story of how technology is transforming the manufacturing business. Anderson argues that the plummeting prices of 3D printers and other tabletop design and manufacturing tools allows for individuals to enter manufacturing and for manufacturing to become customized in a way that was unimaginable until recently. Anderson explores how social networking interacts with this technology to create a new world of crowd-sourced design and production.
Casey Mulligan of the University of Chicago and the author of The Redistribution Recession, talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the ideas in the book. Mulligan argues that increases in the benefits available to unemployed workers explains the depth of the Great Recession that began in 2007 and the slowness of the recovery particularly in the labor market. Mulligan argues that other macroeconomic explanations ignore the microeconomic incentives facing workers and employers.
Marcia Angell of Harvard Medical School and the author of The Truth About the Drug Companies talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the impact of pharmaceutical companies on academic research, clinical trials and the political process. Angell argues that the large pharmaceutical companies produce little or no innovation and use their political power to exploit consumers and taxpayers.
John Cochrane of the University of Chicago and Stanford University's Hoover Institution talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about how existing regulations distort the market for health care. Cochrane argues that many of the problems in the health care market would go away if these distortions were removed. In this conversation, he explores how the market for health care might work in the United States without those distortions. He also addresses some of the common arguments against a more choice-oriented less top-down approach.
Mike Munger of Duke University talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the gas shortage following Hurricane Sandy and John Locke's view of the just price. Drawing on a short, obscure essay of Locke's titled "Venditio," Munger explores Locke's views on markets, prices, and morality.
Joshua Rauh, Professor of Finance at Stanford University's Graduate School of Business and a senior fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution, talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the unfunded liabilities from state employee pensions. The publicly stated shortfall in revenue relative to promised pensions is about $1 trillion. Rauh estimates the number to be over $4 trillion. Rauh explains why that number is more realistic, how the problem grew in recent years, and how the fiscal situation might be fixed moving forward. He also discusses some of the political and legal choices that we are likely to face going forward as states face strained budgets from promises made in the past to retired workers.
Steve Hanke of Johns Hopkins and the Cato Institute talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about hyperinflation and the U.S. fiscal situation. Hanke argues that despite the seemingly aggressive policies of the Federal Reserve over the last four years, there is currently little or no risk of serious inflation in the United States. His argument is that broad measures of the money supply lag well below their trend level. While high-powered reserves have indeed expanded dramatically, they have not increased sufficiently to offset reductions in bank money, in part because of requirements imposed by Basel III. So, the overall money supply, broadly defined, has fallen. Hanke does argue that the current fiscal path of the United States poses a serious threat to economic stability. The conversation closes with a discussion of hyperinflation in Iran--its causes and what might eventually happen as a result.
Jonathan Rodden, political science professor at Stanford and a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution speaks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the geography of voting. The main focus is on the tendency of urban voters around the world to vote for candidates on the left relative to suburban and rural voters. Rodden argues that this pattern is related to the geography of work and housing going back to the industrial revolution. He also discusses the implications of various voting systems such as winner-take-all vs. proportional representation, the electoral college and how political systems and voter preferences can produce unexpected outcomes.
Arnold Kling, economist and teacher, talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about recent technological innovations in education and Kling's forecast for their impact on learning and how they might affect traditional education. Examples include the recent explosion of online lessons and classes, new teaching styles that exploit those offerings, and the nature of learning in various kinds of classrooms and student-teacher interactions.
Garett Jones of George Mason University talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the ideas of Irving Fisher on debt and deflation. In a book, Booms and Depressions and in a 1933 Econometrica article, Fisher argued that debt-fueled investment booms lead to liquidation of assets at unexpectedly low prices followed by a contraction in the money supply which leads to deflation and a contraction in the real side of the economy--a recession or a depression. Jones then discusses the relevance of Fisher's theory for the current state of the economy in the aftermath of the financial crisis.
Robert Skidelsky, noted biographer of John Maynard Keynes and author (with his son Edward) of the recently published How Much is Enough, talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about materialism, growth, insatiability, and the good life. Skidelsky argues that we work too hard and too long. He argues that the good life has more leisure than we currently consume and that public policy should be structured to discourage work in wealthy countries where work can still be uninspiring. Skidelsky criticizes the discipline of economics and economists for contributing to an obsession with growth to the detriment of what he says are more meaningful and life-enhancing policy goals.
Robert Frank of Cornell University and EconTalk host Russ Roberts debate the merits of a large increase of infrastructure spending. In the summer of 2012, Frank and Roberts were interviewed by Alex Blumberg of NPR's Planet Money. That interview was trimmed to ten minutes for a Planet Money podcast. This is the entire conversation. Frank argues that a trillion increase in infrastructure spending, where the projects are decided by a bipartisan commission, would put people back to work and repair a near-failing system at a time when it is cheap to repair it and cheap to fund those repairs. Roberts disagrees with virtually every piece of Frank's argument. This lively conversation covers fundamental disagreements over fiscal policy, the proper role for government, and the political process.
Paul Tough, author of How Children Succeed, talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about why children succeed and fail in school and beyond school. He argues that conscientiousness--a mixture of self-control and determination--can be a more important measure of academic and professional success than cognitive ability. He also discusses innovative techniques that schools, individuals, and non-profits are using to inspire young people in distressed neighborhoods. The conversation closes with the implications for public policy in fighting poverty.
Brian Nosek of the University of Virginia talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about how incentives in academic life create a tension between truth-seeking and professional advancement. Nosek argues that these incentives create a subconscious bias toward making research decisions in favor of novel results that may not be true, particularly in empirical and experimental work in the social sciences. In the second half of the conversation, Nosek details some practical innovations occurring in the field of psychology, to replicate established results and to publicize unpublished results that are not sufficiently exciting to merit publication but that nevertheless advance understanding and knowledge. These include the Open Science Framework and PsychFileDrawer.
Neil Barofsky, author of Bailout and the former Special Inspector General for the TARP program, talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about his book and the government bailouts by the Bush and Obama Administrations. Barofsky recounts what he learned about how Washington works and the incentives facing politicians and bureaucrats. His book and this interview are a workshop in public choice economics. Along the way he unravels some of the acronyms of the last few years including TARP, TALF, and HAMP. The conversation concludes with lessons learned by Barofsky and what might be done in the future to prevent the corruption and ineffectiveness of past bailouts.
Roger Noll of Stanford University talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the economics of sports. Noll discusses the economic effects of stadium subsidies, the labor market for athletes, the business side of college sports, competitive balance in sports leagues, safety in sports, performance-enhancing drugs, and how the role of sports in the lives of children has changed.
Lee Ohanian of UCLA talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the recession, the recovery, and the state of labor market. Ohanian describes the unusual aspects of this recession and recovery in the United States as shown by the labor market and the unusual performance of hours worked, productivity, and wages. He also discusses the behavior of business investment and speculates as to why this recession and the recovery has been so different in the United States. The conversation closes with a discussion of the role of the foreclosure process in encouraging unemployment.
Tammy Frisby of Stanford University's Hoover Institution talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the likelihood of U.S. tax reform in the near future. Frisby reviews the changes in tax policy over the last 30 years focusing on the changes of the 1980s, looking at both the economics and politics of past changes. The conversation then turns to the present and the possible changes that might be coming as the Bush tax cuts expire on January 1, 2013.
Josiah Ober of Stanford University talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the economy of ancient Greece, particularly Athens. Ober notes that the standard view of ancient Greece is that it was very poor. Drawing on various kinds of evidence, Ober argues that Greece was actually quite successful, and that the average citizen of ancient Athens lived quite well by ancient standards. He suggests two possible explanations for Greece's economic success--an openness of the political process that reduced transaction costs and encouraged human capital investment or innovation and cross-fertilization across Greek states. The conversation also explores the nature of evidence for understanding antiquity and the prospect for future discoveries pertaining to ancient Greece.
Scott Atlas, Senior Fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution and author of In Excellent Health, talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the U.S. health care system. Atlas argues that the U.S. health care system is top-notch relative to other countries and that data that show otherwise rely on including factors unrelated to health care or on spurious definitions. For example, life expectancy in the United States is unexceptional. When you take out suicides and fatal car accidents, factors that Atlas argues are unrelated to the health care system, the United States has the longest life expectancy in the world. A similar change occurs when measuring infant mortality--foreign data do not include as many at-risk births as in the United States and the measure of a birth is not comparable. In a number of other areas including cancer survival rates, access to hip replacement surgery and waiting times to see a physician, Atlas argues that the United States is also at or near the top. The discussion concludes with a discussion of access to health care for the poor and the failure of Medicaid.
David Brady, Professor of Political Science and the Graduate School of Business at Stanford University and a senior fellow at Stanford's Hoover Institution talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the November elections in the United States. Brady argues that while the economy favors the challenger, Mitt Romney, current polling data gives a slight edge to President Obama in both the popular vote and the electoral college. The data all suggest that House will stay Republican and the Senate will either go slightly Republican or be tied. Brady also discusses why this may change over the next few months, the importance of the independent vote, and Romney's strategy in choosing a running mate.
Gary Taubes, author of Why We Get Fat, talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about why we get fat and the nature of evidence in a complex system. The current mainstream view is that we get fat because we eat too much and don't exercise enough. Taubes challenges this seemingly uncontroversial argument with a number of empirical observations, arguing instead that excessive carbohydrate consumption causes obesity. In this conversation he explains how your body reacts to carbohydrates and explains why the mainstream argument of "calories in/calories out" is inadequate for explaining obesity. He also discusses the history of the idea of carbohydrates' importance tracing it back to German and Austrian nutritionists whose work was ignored after WWII. Roberts ties the discussion to other emergent, complex phenomena such as the economy. The conversation closes with a discussion of the risks of confirmation bias and cherry-picking data to suit one's pet hypotheses.
Nobel Laureate Joseph Stiglitz of Columbia University talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the ideas in his recent book, The Price of Inequality. Stiglitz argues that the American economy is dysfunctional, benefitting only those at the very top while the bulk of the workforce sees little or no gain in their standard of living over recent decades. Stiglitz blames this result on deregulation and the political power of the financial sector and others at the top. He wants an increase in regulation and the role of government in the economy and a more transparent Federal Reserve Bank that he blames for coddling the financial sector. The conversation also includes a discussion of the Keynesian multiplier.
Luigi Zingales of the University of Chicago and author of A Capitalism for the People talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the ideas in his book. Zingales argues that the financial sector has used its political power to enhance the size of the sector and the compensations executives receive. This is symptomatic of a larger problem where special interests steer resources and favors based on their political influence. Zingales argues for a capitalism for the people rather than a capitalism for cronies or the politically powerful. The conversation concludes with a plea by Zingales to his fellow economists to speak out against behavior that is legal but immoral--lobbying Congress for special treatment that exploits others to benefit one's own industry, for example.
Enrico Moretti of the University of California, Berkeley and the author of the New Geography of Jobs talks to EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the ideas in his book. Moretti traces how the economic success of cities and the workers who live there depends on the education of those workers. Moretti argues that there are spillover effects from educated workers--increased in jobs and wages in the city. He uses changes in the fortunes of Seattle and Albuquerque over the last three decades as an example of how small changes can affect the path of economic development and suggests a strong role for serendipity in determining which cities become hubs for high-tech innovation. The conversation concludes with Moretti making the case for increasing investments in education and research and development.
Jim Manzi, author of Uncontrolled, talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the reliability of science and the ideas in his book. Manzi argues that unlike science, which can produce useful results using controlled experiments, social science typically involves complex systems where system-wide experiments are rare and statistical tools are limited in their ability to isolate causal relations. Because of the complexity of social environments, even narrow experiments are unlikely to have the wide application that can be found in the laws uncovered by experiments in the physical sciences. Manzi advocates a trial-and-error approach using randomized field trials to verify the usefulness of many policy proposals. And he argues for humility and lowered expectations when it comes to understanding causal effects in social settings related to public policy.
Jonah Lehrer, staff writer for The New Yorker and author of Imagine: How Creativity Works, talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the science of creativity. They discuss focusing vs. ignoring as a way to solve problems, the potential for computer-based creativity, how W. H. Auden used drugs to improve his poetry, Bob Dylan, Steve Jobs, and the creative power of mindless relaxation. The conversation closes with a discussion of what policies might increase creativity.
Ed Yong, science writer and blogger at "Not Exactly Rocket Science" at Discover Magazine, talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the challenges of science and science journalism. Yong was recently entangled in a controversy over the failure of researchers to replicate a highly-cited and influential psychology study. He discusses the issues behind the failed replication and the problem of replication in general in other fields, arguing that replication is under-appreciated and little rewarded. After a discussion of the incentives facing scientists, the conversation turns to the challenges facing science journalists when work that is peer-reviewed may still not be reliable.
Lawrence H. White of George Mason University and author of The Clash of Economic Ideas talks to EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the economists and their ideas of the past one hundred years. They discuss Keynes and Hayek, monetary policy and the Great Depression, Germany after the Second World War, the economy of India, and the future of monetary policy.
Nobel Laureate Ronald Coase of the University of Chicago talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about his career, the current state of economics, and the Chinese economy. Coase, born in 1910, reflects on his youth, his two great papers, "The Nature of the Firm" and "The Problem of Social Cost". At the end of conversation he discusses his new book on China, How China Became Capitalist (co-authored with Ning Wang), and the future of the Chinese and world economies.
David Owen, author of The First National Bank of Dad, talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about how to educate our children about money and finance. Owen explains how he created his own savings accounts for his kids that gave them an incentive to save and other ways to teach them about postponing gratification, investing, keeping money in perspective and other life lessons. The conversation closes with a discussion of the value of reading to your kids.
David Schmidtz of the University of Arizona talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the work of John Rawls and Robert Nozick. The conversation covers the basic ideas of Rawls and Nozick on inequality and justice and the appropriate role of the state in taxation and property rights.
John Taylor of Stanford University's Hoover Institution talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about his new book, First Principles: Five Keys to Restoring America's Prosperity. Taylor argues that when economic policy adhere to the right basic principles such as keeping rules rather than using discretion, then the economy thrives. Ignoring these principles, Taylor argues, leads to bad economic outcomes such as recessions, inflation, or high unemployment. Taylor illustrates these ideas with a whirlwind tour of the last half century of American economic policy and history. The focus is on monetary and fiscal policy but Taylor also discusses health care reform and other policy areas. The conversation closes with a look at the likelihood that economic policy will change dramatically after 2012.
Tyler Cowen of George Mason U. and author of An Economist Gets Lunch, talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about food, the economics of food, and his new book. In this wide-ranging conversation, Cowen explains why American food was once a wasteland, the environmental impacts of plastic and buying local, why to stay away from fancy restaurants in the central city, and why he spent a month shopping only at an Asian supermarket while living in Northern Virginia.
David Autor of MIT talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program. SSDI has grown dramatically in recent years and now costs about $200 billion a year. Autor explains how the program works, why the growth has been so dramatic, and the consequences for the stability of the program in the future. This is an illuminated look at the interaction between politics and economics and reveals an activity of government that is relatively ignored today but will not be able to be ignored in the future.
Richard Burkhauser of Cornell University talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the state of the middle class. Drawing on recently published papers, Burkhauser shows that changes in the standard of living of the middle class and other parts of the income distribution are extremely sensitive to various assumptions about how income is defined as well as whether you look at tax units or households. He shows that under one set of assumptions, there has been no change in median income, but under a different and equally reasonable set of assumptions, median income has grown 36%. Burkhauser explains how different assumptions can lead to such different results and argues that the assumptions that lead to the larger growth figure are more appropriate for capturing what has happened over the last 40 years than those that suggest stagnation.
Eugene White of Rutgers University talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the regulation of banks and financial crises. White argues that most regulation tries to limit the choices of banks to restrain them from making choices that create instability or fragility. A better approach, White argues, is to change the incentives facing bankers so that they would be encouraged to make prudent choices without the need for top-down monitoring. He shows how in the 19th century various regulations and market results encouraged stability and prudence while some regulations made the system more fragile. White discusses the lessons for the current crisis and what might be done to improve the current state of regulation.
Don Boudreaux of George Mason University talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the nature of public debt. One view is that there is no burden of the public debt as long as the purchasers of U.S. debt are fellow Americans. In that case, the argument goes, we owe it to ourselves. Drawing on the work of James Buchanan, particularly his book Public Principles of Public Debt: A Defense and Restatement, Boudreaux argues that there is a burden of the debt and it is borne by future taxpayers. Boudreaux argues that all public expenditures have a cost--the different financing mechanisms simply determine who bears the burden of that cost. Boudreaux discusses the political attractiveness of debt finance because the taxes lie in the future and those who will pay for them may not be clearly identified. The conversation closes with a discussion of the role of expectations in both politics and economics of debt finance.
Daron Acemoglu of MIT and author (with James Robinson) of Why Nations Fail talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the ideas in his book: why some nations fail and others succeed, why some nations grow over time and sustain that growth, while others grow and then stagnate. Acemoglu draws on an exceptionally rich set of examples over space and time to argue that differences in institutions--political governance and the inclusiveness of the political and economic system--explain the differences in economics success across nations and over time. Acemoglu also discusses how institutions evolve and the critical role institutional change plays in economic success or failure. Along the way, he explains why previous explanations for national economic success are inadequate. The conversation closes with a discussion of the implications of the arguments for foreign aid and attempts by the wealthy nations to help nations that are poor.
Emanuel Derman of Columbia University and author of Models. Behaving. Badly talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about theories and models, and the elusive nature of truth in the sciences and social sciences. Derman, a former physicist and Goldman Sachs quant, contrasts the search for truth in the sciences with the search for truth in finance and economics. He critiques attempts to make finance more scientific and applies those insights to the financial crisis. The conversation closes with a discussion of career advice for those aspiring to work in quantitative finance.
Charles Calomiris of Columbia University talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about corporate debt, capital requirements, and financial regulation. This is an in-depth conversation about how debt works on a firm's balance sheet and the risks that debt vs. equity pose for the survival of the firm. Calomiris applies these insights to financial regulation--how it works in practice and the firm's choices in responding to various interventions including bailouts and capital requirements. The conversation closes with a discussion of some of the government interventions in the financial crisis.
David Weinberger of Harvard University's Berkman Center for Internet & Society and author of Too Big to Know, talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the ideas in the book--how knowledge and data and our understanding of the world around us are being changed by the internet. Weinberger discusses knowledge and how it is attained have changed over time, particularly with the advent of the internet. He argues the internet has dispersed the power of authority and expertise. And he discusses whether the internet is making us smarter or stupider, and the costs and benefits of being able to tailor information to one's own interests and biases.
Adam Davidson of NPR's Planet Money talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about manufacturing. Based on an article Davidson wrote for The Atlantic, the conversation looks at the past, present, and future of manufacturing. Davidson visited an after-market auto parts factory in Greenville, South Carolina and talked with employees there as well as with executives at corporate headquarters. What is the future of factory work in America? Why are some manufacturing jobs in America while others are in China or elsewhere? The conversation looks at these questions as well as how well or poorly the U.S. education system prepares students for the world of work.
David Owen of the New Yorker and author of The Conundrum talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the ideas in his book. Owen argues that innovation and energy innovation have increased energy use rather than reduced it and similarly, other seemingly green changes do little to help the reduce humanity's carbon footprint or are actually counter-productive. Only large reductions in consumption are likely to matter and that prescription is unappealing to most people. Owen points out that New York City, ironically perhaps, is one of the greenest places to live because of the efficiencies of density. The conversation concludes with a discussion of how to best approach global warming given these seeming realities.
William Black of University of Missouri-Kansas City and author of The Best Way to Rob a Bank Is to Own One, talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about financial fraud, starting with the Savings and Loan debacle up through the current financial crisis. Black explains how bank executives can use fraudulent loans to inflate the size of their bank in order to justify large compensation packages. He argues that "liar loans" were a major part of the crisis and that policy changes made it easy to generate such loans without criminal repercussions.
Eugene Fama of the University of Chicago talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the evolution of finance, the efficient market hypothesis, the current crisis, the economics of stimulus, and the role of empirical work in finance and economics.
David Rose of the University of Missouri, St. Louis and the author of The Moral Foundation of Economic Behavior talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the book and the role morality plays in prosperity. Rose argues that morality plays a crucial role in prosperity and economic development. Knowing that the people you trade with have a principled aversion to exploiting opportunities for cheating in dealing with others allows economic actors to trust one another. That in turn allows for the widespread specialization and interaction through markets with strangers that creates prosperity. In this conversation, Rose explores the nature of the principles that work best to engender trust. The conversation closes with a discussion of the current trend in morality in America and the implications for trust and prosperity.
Nassim Taleb, author of Fooled By Randomness and The Black Swan, talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about antifragility, the concept behind Taleb's next book, a work in progress. Taleb talks about how we can cope with our ignorance and uncertainty in a complex world. Topics covered include health, finance, political systems, the Fed, your career, Seneca, shame, heroism, and a few more.
Dean Baker of the Center for Economic Policy and Research talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the financial crisis. Baker sees the crisis as part of a broader set of phenomena--rising inequality and declining unionization. Baker is highly critical on both economic and political grounds of the policy attempts to stimulate the economy as well as the governance structure of the Federal Reserve. The conversation closes with a discussion of potential innovations to lower the budgetary cost of health care.
Scott Sumner of Bentley University and the blog The Money Illusion talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the state of monetary policy, the actions of the Federal Reserve over the past two years and the state of the economy. Sumner argues that monetary policy has been too tight and helped create the crisis. He disputes the relevance of the so-called liquidity trap and argues that aggressive monetary policy is both possible and desirable. The conversation closes with a discussion of what we have learned and failed to learn during the crisis.
Alex Tabarrok of George Mason University talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about his new book, Launching the Innovation Renaissance. Tabarrok argues that innovation in the United States is being held back by patent law, the legal system, and immigration policies. He then suggests how these might be improved to create a better climate for innovation that would lead to higher productivity and a higher standard of living.
Dan Klein of George Mason University talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the ideas in Klein's new book, Knowledge and Coordination. Klein argues that allegory is a powerful way to think about outcomes of emergent order. He goes deeply into the concept of the invisible hand and creates a novel way to evaluate processes that not under any one's control. Klein then suggests novel ways of evaluating economic outcomes outside of the traditional metrics and techniques. Along the way, Klein emphasizes the role of uncertainty and imperfection in the entrepreneurial process.
Mike Munger of Duke University talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about profit. What is profit's role in allocating resources? How should we feel about the people who earn profits or who take them in ways that may not be earned? How easy is it to discover profitable opportunities? Munger examines these questions through a series of stories, real and fictional, to illuminate the sometimes puzzling nature of profit.
Tyler Cowen of George Mason University talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the European crisis. Cowen argues that Greece is likely to default either in fact or in spirit but that the key question is which nations might follow--whether Italy and Spain can find a road to economic health and honoring past debts. Cowen gives his best guess as to what is likely to happen to the euro and the European Union and the implications for the rest of the world. He explores some less likely scenarios as well. He is pessimistic about Greece and the short-run prospects for preserving the status quo, but he is optimistic in the long-run about the European Union though it may have a different structure down the road.
Simon Johnson of MIT and the author (with James Kwak) of 13 Bankers talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the origins of the financial crisis and how the next one might be prevented. Invoking the work of George Stigler, Johnson argues that the financial sector has captured the regulatory process and the result is that regulation and government intervention have been steered more by the interests of the financial sector than to the benefit of the general public. Johnson argues for capping the size of banks in order to reduce the danger of systemic risk and the too-big-to-fail excuse for bailing out banks. Johnson also discusses the role of the Fed in subsidizing risk-taking and leverage in the financial sector.
Gary Taubes, author of Good Calories, Bad Calories, talks to EconTalk host Russ Roberts about what we know about the relationship between diet and disease. Taubes argues that for decades, doctors, the medical establishment, and government agencies encouraged Americans to reduce fat in their diet and increase carbohydrates in order to reduce heart disease. Taubes argues that the evidence for the connection between fat in the diet and heart disease was weak yet the consensus in favor of low-fat diets remained strong. Casual evidence (such as low heart disease rates among populations with little fat in their diet) ignores the possibilities that other factors such as low sugar consumption may explain the relationship. Underlying the conversation is a theme that causation can be difficult to establish in complex systems such as the human body and the economy.
Roy Baumeister of Florida State University and the author of Is There Anything Good About Men talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the differences between men and women in cultural and economic areas. Baumeister argues that men aren't superior to women nor are women superior to men. Rather there are some things men are better at while women excel at a different set of tasks and that these tradeoffs are a product of evolution and cultural pressure. He argues that evolutionary pressure has created different distributions of talent for men and women in a wide variety of areas. He argues that other differences in outcomes are not due to innate ability differences but rather come from different tastes or preferences.
Steven Kaplan of the University of Chicago talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the richest Americans and income inequality. Drawing on work with Joshua Rauh, Kaplan talks about the composition of the richest 1% and 1/10 of 1%--what proportions come from the financial sector, CEOs from non-financial corporations, athletes, lawyers and so on. Then he discusses how the incomes of these different groups have changed over time. Kaplan argues that these groups have increased their incomes by similar proportions, suggesting that a failure of corporate governance is not the explanation of rising CEO pay. The discussion closes with a discussion of the financial crisis and the compensation in the financial sector.
Ryan Avent of the Economist and author of The Gated City talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about The Gated City and how cities have restricted access to land and housing. Avent argues that restricted access has raised housing prices artificially on both the east and west coast of the United States, reducing urban populations and restricting access to labor markets. He argues that this in turn has artificially depressed growth in the United States by keeping workers from their most productive opportunities. The conversation closes with a discussion of possible policy changes that might make cities more accessible to development and growth.
Valerie Ramey of the University of California, San Diego talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the effect of government spending on output and employment. Ramey's own work exploits the exogenous nature of wartime spending. She finds a multiplier between .8 and 1.2. (A multiplier of 1 means that GDP goes up by the amount of spending--there is neither stimulus nor crowding out.) She also discusses a survey looking at a wide range of estimates by others and finds that the estimates range from .5 to 2.0. Along the way, she discusses the effects of taxes as well. The conversation concludes with a discussion of the imprecision of multiplier estimates and the contributions of recent Nobel Laureates Thomas Sargent and Christopher Sims.
Nicholas Wapshott, author of Keynes Hayek: The Clash That Defined Modern Economics, talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about John Maynard Keynes and Friedrich A. Hayek--their ideas, their disagreements, their friendship and how the two men influenced economists and public policy during their lifetimes and beyond.
Frank Rose, author of The Art of Immersion and correspondent for Wired Magazine, talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about how the web has changed the art of storytelling and the interactions between the web, advertising, games, movies, and television. Rose argues that when a new medium is introduced, whether it is the book, movies, or the web, there is always a period of exploration as to how storytelling, the author, and the audience will interact. While there have always been readers, viewers, and listeners who immerse themselves in good stories, the web allows this immersion to expand dramatically, partly because the audience can share reactions and insights with each other as well as becoming part of the creation of the story in ways that past media have not allowed. Rose chronicles these developments with specific examples and speculates on where storytelling on the web might be headed. The conversation closes with a brief discussion of the passing of Steve Jobs.
Bruce Meyer of the University of Chicago talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the middle class, poverty, and inequality. Many economists and pundits argue that the middle class has made little or no economic progress over the last 30 years, that poverty rates are stagnant or rising, and that inequality has increased dramatically. Meyer, drawing on his research over the last ten years, argues that these conclusions are either false or misleading. He argues that standard measures of economic progress and inequality are based on faulty inflation data or a misplaced focus on pre-tax income instead of post-tax income or consumption.
Alex Rosenberg of Duke University talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the scientific nature of economics. Rosenberg, a philosopher of science talks about whether economics is a science. He surveys the changes in economics over the last 25 years--the rise of experimental economics and behavioral economics--and argues that economics has become more scientific and that economists have become more aware of flaws in economic theory. But he also argues that economics is unable to make precise predictions about the effects of various changes in policy and behavior. The conversation closes with a discussion of the role the philosophy of science can play in the evolution of economics.
Garett Jones of George Mason University talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the workers who were hired with money from the 2009 American Recovery and Re-investment Act--the stimulus package. Jones (with co-author Daniel Rothschild) recently completed two studies based on surveys and interviews with firms who received stimulus funds and workers who work at those firms. They found that 42% of workers hired had been unemployed. The remainder came from other jobs or from outside the labor force such as retirement or school. Is 42% a big number or a small number? Jones argues it is small and defends his conclusion. The conversation also includes a discussion of the labor market generally and why the stimulus spending may not have been effective.
Robert Frank of Cornell University and author of The Darwin Economy talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about competition, government and the relevance of Darwin for economics. In a lively and spirited discussion, Frank argues that because people care about their relative standing with their neighbors, standard conclusions about the virtues of competition are misleading. He argues that competition is often wasteful and he suggests directions for tax policy and other forms of government intervention to take these effects into accounts.
Clifford Winston of the Brookings Institution talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the market for lawyers and the role of lawyers in the political process. Drawing on a new co-authored book, First Thing We Do, Let's Deregulate All the Lawyers, Winston argues that restrictions on the supply of lawyers and increases in demand via government regulation artificially boost lawyers' salaries. Deregulation of the supply (by eliminating licensing) would lower price and encourage innovation.
Eric Hanushek of Stanford University's Hoover Institution talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the importance of teacher quality in education. Hanushek argues that the standard measures of quality--experience and advanced degrees--are uncorrelated with student performance. But some teachers consistently cover dramatically more material and teach more than others, even within a school. Hanushek presents evidence that the impact of these differences on lifetime earnings for students can be quite large. The conversation closes with a discussion of school finance and the growth of administrators within school systems.
Brendan O'Donohoe of Frito-Lay talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about how potato chips and other salty snacks get made, distributed, and marketed. The interview follows an hour-long tour of a local supermarket where O'Donohoe showed Roberts some of the ways that chips and snacks get displayed and marketed in a modern supermarket. The conversation is a window into a world that few of us experience or are even aware of--how modern producers and retailers make sure the shelves are stocked and their products get noticed.
David Brady of Stanford University talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the lessons of the election of 2010 and what we might expect from the elections of 2012. Brady draws on political history as well as survey results from work with colleagues Doug Rivers and Morris Fiorina to speculate about the elections of 2012. Along the way he discusses the power of the independent vote, how ObamaCare affected the election of 2010, and the prospects for the Republican nominee in 2012. Taped a few days before the deal on the debt was reached, Brady gives his thoughts on the politics of the negotiations. The conversation concludes with a discussion of whether Obama will have a primary challenger.
Debra Satz, Professor of Philosophy at Stanford University, talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about her book, Why Some Things Should Not Be For Sale: The Moral Limits of the Market. Satz argues that some markets are noxious and should not be allowed to operate freely. Topics discussed include organ sales, price spikes after natural disasters, the economic concept of efficiency and utilitarianism. The conversation includes a discussion of the possible limits of political intervention and whether it would be good to allow voters to sell their votes.
Anat Admati of Stanford University talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about ways to make the financial system more stable. In particular, Admati explores the implications of higher capital requirements. She argues that current policies subsidize leverage--high levels of debt relative to equity--and that current levels of leverage increase the vulnerability of the system to swings in asset prices. She then gives her response to criticisms of higher equity levels. The conversation concludes with a discussion of the role of academic economists and finance professors as advocates for various policies.
Keith Hennessey of Stanford University's Hoover Institution talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the debt ceiling and the budget process. Hennessey, who worked for Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott on budget issues in the late 1990s, explains the politics of the debt ceiling and the budget process. Using his past experience as a staffer, Hennessey gives those of us on the outside a window into what is actually going on in the hallways, who has power, and how information flows up and down in the chain of constituents, members, party leaders. The conversation closes with Hennessey's best guess of which outcomes of the current negotiations are most likely and why.
John Taylor of Stanford University talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the state of the economy and the prospects for recovery. Taylor argues that the design of the fiscal stimulus was ineffective and monetary policy, so-called quantitative easing, has also failed to improve matters. He argues for a return to fiscal, monetary, and regulatory normalcy as the best hope for economic improvement. The conversation concludes with a discussion of the impact of the current crisis on economics education.
Abhijit Banerjee of MIT talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about Banerjee's book (co-authored with Esther Duflo), Poor Economics. The conversation begins with how randomized control trials (a particular kind of social experiment) have been used to measure the effectiveness of various types of aid to the poor. Banerjee goes on to discuss hunger, health, and education--the challenges in each area and what we have learned about what works and what does not. The conversation closes with a discussion of the role of the labor market in the private sector.
David Skeel of the University of Pennsylvania Law School talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about bankruptcy and the government bailout of the auto industry. Skeel argues that the bailout damaged the rule of law by not allowing a bankruptcy procedure to take its course. Skeel speculates on how bankruptcy for GM and Chrysler might have proceeded. He also argues that the costs to the taxpayer of the bailout have been underestimated. The conversation concludes with a general discussion of the effects of bankruptcy.
James Otteson of Yeshiva University talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about Adam Smith. The conversation begins with a brief sketch of David Hume and his influence on Smith and then turns to the so-called Adam Smith problem--the author of The Wealth of Nations appears to have a different take on human nature than the author of The Theory of Moral Sentiments. Smith worked on both books throughout his life, yet their perspectives seem so different. Otteson argues that the books focus on social behavior and the institutions that sustain that behavior--market transactions in The Wealth of Nations and moral behavior in The Theory of Moral Sentiments. Both books use the idea of emergent order to explain the evolution of both kinds of social behavior and social institutions. The conversation concludes with a discussion of what Smith got right and wrong.
Mike Munger of Duke University talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the psychology, sociology, and economics of buying and selling. Why are different transactions that seemingly make both parties better off frowned on and often made illegal? In theory, all voluntary transactions should make both parties better off. But Munger argues that some transactions are more voluntary than others. Munger lists the attributes of a truly voluntary transaction, what he calls a euvoluntary transaction and argues that when transactions are not euvoluntary, they may be outlawed or seen as immoral. Related issues that are discussed include price gouging after a natural disaster, blackmail, sales of human organs, and the employment of low-wage workers.
Todd Buchholz, author of Rush: Why You Need and Love the Rat Race, talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the ideas in the book. Buchholz argues that competition and striving for excellence is part of our evolutionary inheritance. He criticizes attempts to remake human beings into gentle creatures who long to return to an Eden-like serenity. He argues that it is action, creativity, and planning for the future that makes us happy. The discussion includes the implications of our interest in the future for theater and story-telling.
Barry Eichengreen of University of California, Berkeley and author of Exorbitant Privilege talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the history and importance of the dollar as the dominant international currency. Eichengreen explains the advantages to the United States of the dollar's dominance, the historical circumstances that led to its dominance, and the likelihood that the dollar might be supplanted by a competitor. Along the way they discuss China's currency policy, the state of U.S. monetary policy, the causes of the crisis, the risk of inflation in the United States, and the future of the Federal Reserve.
William Easterly of New York University talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the oft-heard claim that poor countries led by autocrats grow faster than poor countries that are democratic. Drawing on a recent paper, "Benevolent Autocrats," Easterly argues that while some autocracies do indeed grow very quickly, a much greater number do not. Yet, the idea that the messiness of democracy is inferior to a dictatorship remains seductive. Easterly gives a number of arguments for the perennial appeal of autocracy as a growth strategy. The conversation closes with a discussion of the limitations of our knowledge about growth and where that leaves policymakers.
Tim Harford, author and journalist, talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about Adapt, Harford's book on the virtues of failure and the trial and error process. Harford argues that success is more likely when there is experimentation and trial and error followed by adapting, rather than following a top-down, ex ante plan driven by expertise. The conversation looks at the what war can teach us about information, knowledge, and planning, the challenge of admitting mistakes, and the implications of trial and error for our daily lives.
William Byers of Canada's Concordia University and author of The Blind Spot talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the nature of knowledge, science and mathematics. Byers argues that there is an inherent uncertainty about science and our knowledge that is frequently ignored. Byers contrasts a science of wonder with a science of certainty. He suggests that our knowledge of the physical world will always be incomplete because of the imperfection of models and human modes of thought relative to the complexity of the physical world. The conversation also looks at the implications of these ideas for teaching science and social science.
Bryan Caplan of George Mason University and EconLog talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the ideas in Caplan's new book, Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids. Caplan argues that parents spend too much time trying to influence how their kids will turn out as adults. Using research on twins and adopted children, Caplan argues that nature dominates nurture and that parents have little lasting influence on many aspects of their children's lives. He concludes that parents should spend less time and energy trying to influence their children. If parenting takes less time, then have more kids, says Caplan. The conversation concludes with a discussion of whether a larger population is bad for the planet.
John Papola of Emergent Order talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about their collaboration creating rap videos based on the ideas of John Maynard Keynes and F. A. Hayek. Their first was "Fear the Boom and Bust" which was released January 25, 2010. This past week they released "Fight of the Century." The latest video discusses the overarching differences between the philosophies of Keynes and Hayek and their views on whether government spending promotes recovery from an economic downturn and whether it leads to prosperity. In this conversation, Papola and Roberts discuss some of the underlying ideas in the video--whether the military spending of World War II ended the Great Depression, the debate between Malthus and Say and their influence on Keynes and Hayek, and the fundamental differences between Keynes and Hayek in how economic prosperity is created.
Ariel Rubinstein of Tel Aviv University and New York University talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the state of game theory and behavioral economics, two of the most influential areas of economics in recent years. Drawing on his Afterword for the 60th anniversary edition of Von Neumann and Morgenstern's Theory of Games and Economic Behavior, Rubinstein argues that game theory's successes have been quite limited. Rubinstein, himself a game theorist, argues that game theory is unable to yield testable predictions or solutions to public policy problems. He argues that game theorists have a natural incentive to exaggerate its usefulness. In the area of behavioral economics, Rubinstein argues that the experimental results (which often draw on game theory) are too often done in ways that are not rigorous. The conversation concludes with a plea for honesty about what economics can and cannot do.
Mike Munger of Duke University talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about microfinance. Munger argues that cultural forces make it difficult for some families to save, and the main value of microfinance is to allow a higher level of savings. Families are willing to save via microfinance even though returns can be negative. Munger argues that this counterintuitive result is possible when other means of savings are unavailable. Munger also discusses microfinance that is used for entrepreneurship and the potential role for microfinance in development.
Dani Rodrik of Harvard University talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about trade, the labor market, and trade policy. Drawing on a recent paper with Margaret McMillan on trade and productivity, Rodrik argues that countries have very differing abilities to respond to increases in productivity that allow production to expand using fewer workers in a particular sector. When workers are displaced by productivity increases, what is their next best alternative? Rodrik discusses how this varies across countries and policies that might improve matters. He argues that poor countries should subsidize new products as a way of overcoming uncertainty and externalities from new ventures.
Gavin Andresen, Principal of the BitCoin Virtual Currency Project, talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about BitCoin, an innovative attempt to create a decentralized electronic currency. Andresen explains the origins of BitCoin, how new currency gets created, how you can acquire BitCoins and the prospects for BitCoin's future. Can it compete with government-sanctioned money? How can users trust it? What threatens BitCoin and how might it thrive?
Vincent Reinhart of the American Enterprise Institute talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the government interventions and non-interventions into financial markets in 2008. Conventional wisdom holds that the failure to intervene in the collapse of Lehman Brothers precipitated the crisis. Reinhart argues that the key event occurred months earlier when the government engineered a shotgun marriage of Bear Stearns to JP Morgan Chase by guaranteeing billion of Bear's assets and sending a signal to creditors that risky lending might come without a cost. Reinhart argues that there is a wider menu of choices available to policy makers than simply rescue or no rescue, and that it is important to take action before the crisis comes to a head.
Diane Coyle, author of The Economics of Enough, talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the future and the ideas in her book. Coyle argues that the financial crisis, the entitlement crisis, and climate change all reflect a failure to deal with the future appropriately. The conversation ranges across a wide range of issues including debt, the financial sector, and the demographic challenges of an aging population that is promised generous retirement and health benefits. Coyle argues for better measurement of the government budget and suggests ways that the political process might be made more effective.
Robert Townsend of MIT and the Consortium on Financial Systems and Poverty talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about development and the role of financial institutions in growth. Drawing on his research, particularly his surveys of households in Thailand, Townsend argues that both informal networks and arrangements and formal financial institutions play important roles in dealing with risk. Along the way, he discusses the role of microfinance in poor countries and the potential for better financial arrangements to lead to higher growth and the accumulation of wealth.
Freeman Dyson of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about science, his career, and the future. Dyson argues for the importance of what he calls heresy--challenging the scientific dogmas of the day. Dyson argues that our knowledge of climate science is incomplete and that too many scientists treat it as if it were totally understood. He reflects on his childhood and earlier work, particularly in the area of space travel. And he says that biology is the science today with the most exciting developments.
Author and syndicated columnist George Will talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the state of the country, the nature of politics, and at the end, a little about baseball. The conversation begins with Will discussing his career and how someone with a Ph.D. from Princeton got involved in politics and then writing. Will then discusses the current political environment and how little some things have changed in politics. Other topics include the future of journalism and Will's predictions for how the Chicago Cubs will fare this season (4th place).
Daron Acemoglu of MIT talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the role income inequality may have played in creating the financial crisis. Raghuram Rajan in his book, Fault Lines, argues that growing income inequality in the last part of the 20th century created a political demand for redistribution and various policy changes. This in turn created the push for higher home ownership rates and led to the distortions of the housing market that in turn led to excessive risk-taking in the financial market. Acemoglu suggests a simpler story where the financial sector through its political influence distorted the rules of the game, benefiting executives in the industry, which in turn led to outsized rewards and ultimate instability in the financial industry. The conversation discusses ways of distinguishing between these two arguments and what might be done to change the incentives of politicians.
Tyler Cowen of George Mason University and author of the e-book The Great Stagnation talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the ideas in the book. Cowen argues that in the last four decades, the growth in prosperity for the average family has slowed dramatically in the United States relative to earlier decades and time periods. Cowen argues that this is the result of a natural slowing in innovation and that we expect too much growth relative to what is possible. Cowen expects improvements in the rate of growth in the future when new areas of research yield high returns. The conversation includes a discussion of the implications of Cowen's thesis for politics and public policy.
Arnold Kling of EconLog talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about a new paradigm for thinking about macroeconomics and the labor market. Kling calls it PSST--patterns of sustainable specialization and trade. Kling rejects the Keynesian approach that emphasizes shortfalls in aggregate demand arguing that the aggregate demand approach masks the underlying complexity of the recalculations that periodically take place in a dynamic economy. Instead, Kling invokes the mutual exploration between entrepreneurs and workers for profitable opportunities that pay well using the workers' skills. This exploration takes time, involves trial and error, and can have false starts because businesses sometimes fail or employees are difficult to find or match with employment opportunities. Kling applies these ideas to the current crisis to explain why labor market recovery is so sluggish and what might policies might improve matters.
Investigative journalist Brian Deer talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about Deer's seven years of reporting and legal issues surrounding the 1998 article in The Lancet claiming that the MMR vaccine causes autism and bowel problems. Deer's dogged pursuit of the truth led to the discovery that the 1998 article was fraudulent and that the lead author had hidden payments he received from lawyers to finance the original study. In this podcast, Deer describes how he uncovered the truth and the legal consequences that followed. The conversation closes with a discussion of the elusiveness of truth in science and medicine.
Don Boudreaux of George Mason University talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts on some of the common misunderstandings people have about prices, money, inflation and deflation. They discuss what is harmful about inflation and deflation, the importance of expectations and the implications for interest rates and financial institutions.
Steve Fazzari of Washington University in St. Louis talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the economics of Keynesian stimulus. They discuss the stimulus package passed in February 2009 and whether it improved the economy and created jobs. How should claims about its impact be evaluated? What can we know as economists about causal relationships in a complex world? The conversation includes a discussion of the underlying logic of Keynesian stimulus and the effect of the financial crisis on economic research and teaching.
Bruce Caldwell of Duke University and the General Editor of the Collected Works of F. A. Hayek, talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about Hayek, his life, his ideas, his books, and articles. The conversation covers Hayek's intellectual encounters with Keynes, Hayek's role in the socialist calculation debate, Hayek's key ideas, and a discussion of which of Hayek's works are most accessible.
Robin Hanson of GMU talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the idea of a technological singularity--a sudden, large increase in the rate of growth due to technological change. Hanson argues that it is plausible that a change in technology could lead to world output doubling every two weeks rather than every 15 years, as it does currently. Hanson suggests a likely route to such a change is to port the human brain into a computer-based emulation. Such a breakthrough in artificial intelligence would lead to an extraordinary increase in productivity creating enormous wealth and radically changing the returns to capital and labor. The conversation looks at the feasibility of the process and the intuition behind the conclusions. Hanson argues for the virtues of such a world.
Pete Boettke of George Mason University talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the life, work, and legacy of Ludwig von Mises. Boettke outlines Mises's most important contributions to economics--business cycle theory, the socialism/calculation debate, and the application of economics to a wide range of behavior beyond the financial. Boettke discusses how Mises fits into the Austrian tradition and how he influenced scholars who came after him. The conversation closes with a discussion of Mises's most important works and suggests which books and articles are most accessible to a beginner who wants to explore Mises's ideas.
Joe Nocera, New York Times columnist and co-author with Bethany McLean of All the Devils Are Here, talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the origins of the financial crisis. Drawing on his book, Nocera identifies many people he considers devils for contributing to the crisis and a few angels who tried but failed to stop it. The discussion covers the history and development of securitization and the peculiar incentives created by securitization and the relative lack of regulation of the securitization process. The conversation also includes a discussion of whether past bailouts contributed to the crisis.
Wafaya Abdallah of Oasis Hair Salon in Rockville, Maryland talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the challenges and rewards of running a small business. Abdallah discusses her career path from would-be lawyer to owning her own salon with many employees and a management style that is different from the traditional one in her business. She discusses the economics of hair-cutting, how she motivates her employees to be part of the team, the openness of the salon's financial situation, the educational training she offers, and the ways she works with employees to motivate and inspire. You'll also learn how much her scissors cost.
George Selgin, of the University of Georgia, talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about whether the creation of the Federal Reserve in 1913 has been a boon or a bust for the U.S. economy. Drawing on a recent paper by William Lastrapes and Lawrence White recently released by the Cato Institute, "Has the Fed Been a Failure?" Selgin argues that the Fed has done poorly at two missions often deemed to justify a central bank: lender of last resort and smoother of the business cycle. Selgin makes the case that avoiding bank runs and bank panics does not require a central bank and that contrary to received wisdom, it is hard to argue that the Fed has smoothed the business cycle. Additional topics discussed include whether the Fed has the information to do its jobs well, the role of the Fed in moral hazard, and the potential for the gold standard to outperform the Fed.
Kevin Kelly, author of What Technology Wants, talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about technology and the ideas in the book. Kelly argues that technology is best understood as an emergent system subject to the natural forces underpinning all emergent systems. He argues that any technology creates benefits and costs but that the benefits typically outweigh the costs (perhaps by a small amount) leading to human progress. This is a wide-ranging conversation that includes discussion of the Unabomber, the Amish, the survival of human knowledge, and the seeming inevitability of the advancement of knowledge. The conversation closes with a discussion of the potential for technology to make an enormous leap in self-organization.
Nicholas Phillipson, author of Adam Smith: An Enlightened Life, talks to EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the life of Adam Smith. Drawing on his recent biography of Smith, Phillipson discusses his intellectual roots, his intellectual journey, and what we know of his influences and achievements. Phillipson argues that Smith was shy, ambitious and very well-liked. He highlights the influence of Francis Hutcheson and David Hume on Smith's thinking. Phillipson gives his take on how the ideas of The Theory of Moral Sentiments mesh with The Wealth of Nations and argues that the Theory of Moral Sentiments was a response to Mandeville and Rousseau.
Robert Frank of Cornell University talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about inequality. Is there a role for public policy in mitigating income inequality? Is such intervention justified or effective? The conversation delves into both the philosophical and empirical evidence behind differing answers to these questions. Ultimately, Frank argues for a steeply rising tax rate on consumption that would reduce disparities in consumption. This is a lively back-and-forth about a very timely topic.
Don Boudreaux of George Mason University talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about Chinese exchange rate policy and the claim that China keeps the value of its currency artificially low in order to boost exports to the United States and reduce U.S. exports. Boudreaux argues that regardless of whether China is manipulating its currency, inexpensive Chinese imports are generally good for the United States. He also points out that manufacturing output in the United States has been thriving despite claims that the United States is being "hollowed out." The conversation also includes a discussion of whether Chinese holdings of U.S. Treasuries threaten the United States.
John Quiggin of Crooked Timber and the author of Zombie Economics talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about ideas in economics that should stay dead and buried. Quiggin argues that many economic theories such as the Great Moderation, the efficient markets hypothesis and others have been discredited by recent events and should be relegated to the graveyard. Roberts challenges some of Quiggin's claims and wonders whether proposed alternatives might do even worse than the policies Quiggin is criticizing. Much of the conversation focuses on the role of government in the financial sector and how that might be improved going forward.
Thomas Hazlett of George Mason University talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the growing rivalry between Apple and Google. It is commonly argued that Apple with its closed platform and tight control from the top via Steve Jobs is making the same mistake it made in its earlier competition with Microsoft. Google on the other hand is lauded for its open platform and leveraging of a large number of suppliers for its Android phone, for example. Hazlett, drawing on his recent article in the Financial Times, argues that these arguments fail to recognize the different competitive advantages of Apple and Google and the implications of those advantages for the companies' respective strategies. The conversation concludes with a discussion of the move to application-based web browsing such as Facebook, Twitter, and the implications for Google.
Matt Ridley, author of The Rational Optimist, talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about why he is optimistic about the future and how trade and specialization explain the evolution of human development over the millennia. Ridley argues that life is getting better for most of the people on earth and that the underlying cause is trade and specialization. He discusses the differences between Smith's and Ricardo's insights into trade and growth and why despite what seems to be strong evidence, people are frequently pessimistic about the future. Ridley also addresses environmental issues.
Douglas Irwin of Dartmouth College talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the role the gold standard played in the Great Depression. Irwin argues that France systematically accumulated large amounts of gold in the late 1920s and 1930s, imposing massive deflation on the rest of the world. Drawing on a recent paper of his, Irwin argues that France's role in worldwide deflation was greater than that of the United States and played a significant role in the economic contraction that followed.
Bryan Caplan of George Mason University and EconLog blogger talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about immigration. Caplan takes on the common arguments against open borders and argues that they are either exaggerated or can be overcome while still allowing more immigration than is currently allowed in the United States.
Gary Greenberg, psychologist and author of The Noble Lie and Manufacturing Depression, talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the nature of addiction, depression and mental illness. Drawing on ideas in the two books, Greenberg argues that there are strong monetary incentives to define various problems as illnesses that psychiatrists "cure" with drugs. Greenberg argues that this distorts science and has strong impacts, good and bad, on how we view ourselves and the challenges of life. The conversation looks at the scientific basis for addiction and the role brain chemistry in depression. The conversation closes with a discussion of Greenberg's correspondence with the Unabomber.
Richard Epstein of New York University and Stanford University's Hoover Institution talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the current state of the economy, particularly the regulatory climate. Epstein argues the current level of regulation is producing unusually high costs. He digs more deeply into the pharmaceutical industry and discusses various regulations and alternative ways to encourage drug safety and innovation.
Author Alain de Botton talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about his latest book, The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work. How has the nature of work changed with the increase in specialization? Why is the search for meaningful work a modern phenomenon? Has the change in the workplace changed parenting? Why does technology become invisible? These are some of the questions discussed by de Botton in a wide-ranging discussion of the modern workplace and the modern worker.
Arnold Kling of EconLog and author of Unchecked and Unbalanced, talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the book and the relationship between knowledge and power. In a modern economy, specialization has increased and knowledge is increasingly dispersed. But political power has become more concentrated and fails to exploit the potential for decentralization. Kling discusses these trends and the potential for decentralization of power under different policies.
Daniel Pink, author of Drive, talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about drive, motivation, compensation, and incentives. Pink discusses the implications of using monetary rewards as compensation in business and in education. Much of the conversation focuses on the research underlying the book, Drive, research from behavioral psychology that challenges traditional claims by economists on the power of monetary and other types of incentive. The last part of the conversation turns toward education and the role of incentives in motivating or demotivating students.
Mike Munger of Duke University talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about private and public rent-seeking. When firms compete for either private profit opportunities or government contracts, there are inevitably firms or people who spend resources but end up earning little or nothing. What are the differences, if any between these two forms of competition? How do they related to competitions that award prizes for discovering new technologies? The conversation begins with a discussion of a recent trip Munger took to Chile where he observed the current state of the Chilean bus system, a topic he has discussed in the past.
David Kennedy of Stanford University and the author of Freedom from Fear talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the Great Depression and its political and economic relevance. Kennedy talks about the economic policies of Hoover and Roosevelt, and how the historical narrative was shaped and evolved over the decades. The conversation concludes with Kennedy's thoughts on the nature and value of history.
Robert Laughlin of Stanford University and the 1998 co-recipient of the Nobel Prize in Physics talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about energy use and the future of the earth's climate. Drawing on his forthcoming book on energy, Laughlin predicts that we will continue to use cars and planes and electricity long after coal and petroleum are exhausted and speculates as to how that might play out in the future. The conversation concludes with discussions of other concerns of Laughlin's--the outlawing via legislation and taboo of certain forms of knowledge, and the practice of reductionism rather than emergence in the physical sciences.
David Brady of Stanford University talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the state of the electorate and what current and past political science have to say about the upcoming midterm elections. Drawing on his own survey work and that of others, Brady uses current opinion polls to predict a range of likely outcomes in the House and Senate in November. He then discusses the role of recent health care legislation in the upcoming election as well as Obama's approval ratings. The conversation concludes with Brady's assessment of how Congress might deal with the demographic challenge facing entitlement programs.
Robert Service of Stanford University's Hoover Institution and the University of Oxford talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the life and death of Leon Trotsky. Based on Service's biography of Trotsky, the conversation covers Trotsky's influence on the Russian Revolution, his influence on policy alongside Lenin, his expulsion from Soviet Union in 1928 and his murder in 1940 by Stalin's order.
John Taylor of Stanford University talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the state of the economy. Is the economy recovering? What policies have helped and hurt? Taylor gives his views on both monetary and fiscal policy including the stimulus package passed last year, and current Fed policy. The conversation closes with a discussion of the global economy, particularly Poland and its recent success in avoiding recession.
Paul Gregory of the University of Houston and a Research Fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about Nikolai Bukharin's power struggle with Stalin and Bukharin's romance with Anna Larina, who was 26 years younger than Bukharin. Based on Gregory's book, Politics, Murder, and Love in Stalin's Kremlin, the conversation explores the career and personal life of Bukharin and how his career and personal life intersected. Bukharin was one of the key founders of the Bolshevik Revolution that led to the creation of the Soviet Union. In the late 1920s, he disagreed with Stalin's policy of collectivization. Stalin ruthlessly pursued him, eventually had him arrested, tried and convicted in the one of the infamous Show Trials, and executed. Anna, his wife, is then sentenced to the Gulag and later exiled. The power and poignancy of the story lies in Bukharin's refusal to believe that his old friend Stalin is out to kill him. Gregory also discusses Bukharin's economic policies and whether Stalin or someone like him was inevitable.
Arnold Kling of EconLog talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the weird world of banking. Why do mortgages look the way they do? What do banks contribute to economic activity? How does regulation and legislation change the structure of what banks do? What would banks look like and the housing market look like if government were less involved? Kling discusses these questions and more including the hidden subsidies built into the current structure of the mortgage market. The conversation is an imaginative exercise in the microeconomics of finance and credit.
Bryan Caplan of George Mason University and blogger at EconLog talks to EconTalk host Russ Roberts about two books: Eugene Richter's Pictures of the Socialistic Future and F. A. Hayek's The Road to Serfdom. Both books warn against the dangers of socialism. Pictures of a Socialistic Future, published in 1891 is a dystopian novel imagining what life would be like after a socialist revolution. The Road to Serfdom, published in 1944, explores the links between economic freedom and political freedom and the inherent similarities between communism and fascism. Both books look at the German roots of centralized planning and the nature of the people who rise to power when the State is powerful. The conversation includes discussion of the these topics as well as the rule of law and the amount of state control of the economy in Nazi Germany.
Scott Sumner of Bentley University and the blog, The Money Illusion, talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the last 30 years of economic policy and macroeconomic success and failure. Sumner argues that there was a neoliberalism revolution beginning in the 1980s around the world, an era of deregulation, privatization and falling marginal tax rates. Sumner argues that the states that liberalized the most had the most successful economic results. Roberts argues that it is difficult to assess the independent effect of various policy changes and points to many areas--in the United States at least--where government involvement increased in important parts of the economy, and Sumner responds. Sumner also talks about the importance of culture in economic performance.
Johanna Blakley of the University of Southern California talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the fashion industry and the role of intellectual property. In the fashion industry there is limited protection for innovative designs and as a result, copying is rampant. Despite the ease of copying, innovation is quite strong in the industry and there is a great deal of competition. Topics discussed include the role of the street in generating new designs, the role of fashion in our lives, and whether the host of EconTalk has any hope of being fashionable. The conversation concludes with a discussion of the Grand Intervention, an urban park design competition, and the potential of Second Life for studying social trends.
Daniel Okent, author of Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition, talks about the book with EconTalk host Russ Roberts. They discuss how the 18th Amendment banning the manufacture, sale, and transport of intoxicating beverages came to pass in 1920, what life was like while it was in force, and how the Amendment came to be repealed in 1934. Okrent discusses how Prohibition became entangled with the suffrage movement, the establishment of the income tax, and anti-immigration sentiment. They also discuss the political economy of prohibition, enforcement, and repeal--the quintessential example of bootleggers and baptists.
Louis Menand of Harvard University talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the state of psychiatry. Drawing on a recent article of his in the New Yorker, Menand talks about the state of knowledge in psychiatry and the scientific basis for making conclusions about mental illness and various therapies. Menand argues that the research record shows little difference between the effectiveness of psychopharmacology and talk therapies of various kinds in fighting depression. Neither is particularly successful in any one case. Other topics that are discussed include the parallels between economics and psychiatry in assessing causation, the diminished role of Freudianism in modern psychiatry, and the range of issues involved in using medication to avoid pain and hardship.
Gary Belsky, Editor-in-Chief at ESPN The Magazine, talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about his career path in journalism and the day-to-day life of editing a major American magazine. Belsky discusses some of the lessons of his early career as a business journalist. The discussion then turns to the magazine, its creativity and the perks and challenges of editing the magazine, managing the staff, and chatting up Serena Williams. The conversation closes with a discussion of Belsky's theory of trivia and some of his favorite trivia questions.
Russ Roberts, host of EconTalk, discusses his paper, "Gambling with Other People's Money: How Perverted Incentives Created the Financial Crisis." Roberts reflects on the past eighteen months of podcasts on the crisis, and then turns to his own take, a narrative that emphasizes the role of government rescues of creditors and the incentives this created for imprudent lending. He also discusses U.S. housing policy, particularly the Government Sponsored Enterprises (GSEs), Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and how the government's implicit guarantee of lenders to the GSE's interacted with housing policy to increase housing prices. This in turn, Roberts argues, helped create the subprime market, created mainly by private investors. The episode closes with some of Roberts's doubts about his narrative.
Ed Leamer of UCLA talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the state of econometrics. He discusses his 1983 article, "Let's Take the 'Con' Out of Econometrics" and the recent interest in natural experiments as a way to improve empirical work. He also discusses the problems with the "fishing expedition" approach to empirical work. The conversation closes with Leamer's views on macroeconomics, housing, and the business cycle and how they have been received by the profession.
Nassim Taleb, author of The Black Swan and Fooled by Randomness, talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about his latest thoughts on robustness, fragility, debt, insurance, uncertainty, exercise, moral hazard, knowledge, and the challenges of fame and fortune.
Paul Romer of Stanford University talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about charter cities, Romer's idea for helping the poorest of the poor around the world. Romer envisions a city where the rules about property and safety and contract and so on are rules that allow individuals to flourish in an urban setting in contrast to the cities they live in now where so many aspects of economic and personal life are dysfunctional. Charter cities would be havens for the world's poor and could be created on uninhabited land in either rich or poor countries. This concept raises many difficult practical questions--some of them are discussed here along with how Romer came to be interested in creating the concept and how he hopes to bring it to reality.
Mike Munger of Duke University talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the world of profit, money, love, gifts, and incentives. What motivates people, self-interest or altruism? Both obviously. But how do these forces interact with each other? Does relying on one always provide a stronger incentive than the other? Do charities, for-profit businesses or government agencies do a better job providing a good or service? Munger and Roberts have a wide-ranging discussion across these issues including a section where they discuss whether Christmas gift-giving and gift-giving in general is inefficient.
Diane Ravitch of NYU talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the ideas in her new book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education. Ravitch argues that the two most popular education reform movements, accountability and choice, have had unintended consequences that have done great harm to the current generation of students. She argues that the accountability and testing provisions in legislation like No Child Left Behind and similar reforms have actually corrupted the testing process, taken time away from subjects other than math and reading, and failed even to boost success in math and reading. She argues that the empirical record has provided little evidence that school choice as it has been implemented has boosted achievement. The discussion closes with a discussion of what reforms might indeed make a difference.
Yochai Benkler of Harvard University talks to EconTalk host Russ Roberts about net neutrality, access to the internet, and innovation. Benkler argues in favor of net neutrality and government support of broadband access. He is skeptical of the virtues of new technology (such as the iPad) fearing that they will lead to less innovation. The conversation closes with a discussion of commons-based peer production--open source software and Wikipedia.
Arthur De Vany, of the University of California, Irvine, and creator of Evolutionary Fitness, talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about performance-enhancing drugs in baseball and Evolutionary Fitness, De Vany's ideas about diet and fitness. In the first part of the conversation, De Vany argues that there is little physiological or statistical evidence that steroid use increases home run totals in baseball. The second part of the conversation turns to De Vany's theories of diet and exercise. De Vany argues that our diet and exercise regime should take account of our evolutionary origins, an earlier time when we ate no grains and our exercise was a mix of intense activity punctuated by much milder activity. He argues that jogging is unhealthy and that we would live longer and feel better if we followed a different exercise routine than most Americans do today.
Steve Meyer, music industry veteran and publisher of the Disc and Dat Newsletter, talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the evolution of the music industry and the impact of the digital revolution. After discussing his background and experience in marketing at Capitol Records and elsewhere, Meyer argues for the virtues and potential of the internet in enhancing the music industry. He points out that the internet allows numerous artists to make money through their music and particularly enhances revenue from live performances. He describes the challenges facing record companies as a failure of imagination and suggests that the full potential of the internet as a distribution channel has yet to be fully exploited.
Don Boudreaux of George Mason University talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about public choice: the application of economics to the political process. Boudreaux argues that political competition is a blunt instrument that works less effectively than economic competition. One reason for this bluntness is the voting process itself--where intensity does not matter, only whether a voter prefers one candidate to the other. A second reason is that political outcomes tend to be one-size-fits-all, which often leads to dissatisfaction. Boudreaux defends the morality of not voting, while Roberts, who does vote from time to time, concedes that one's vote is almost always irrelevant in determining the outcome.
Katherine Newman, Professor of Sociology at Princeton University, talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about Newman's case studies of fast-food workers in Harlem. Newman discusses the evolution of their careers and fortunes over time along with their dreams and successes and failures. The conversation concludes with lessons for public policy in aiding low-wage workers.
Barry Ritholtz, author of Bailout Nation: How Greed and Easy Money Corrupted Wall Street and Shook the World Economy, talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the history of bailouts in recent times, beginning with Lockheed and Chrysler in the 1970s and continuing through the current financial crisis. In addition to the government role in aiding ailing companies, Ritholtz also looks at the role of the Fed in discouraging prudence through its efforts to keep asset prices and the stock market at high levels. The conversation closes with a discussion of what Ritholtz has learned from the crisis.
Garett Jones of George Mason University talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the art of communicating economics via puzzles and short provocative insights. They discuss Jones's Twitter strategy of posting quotes and short puzzles to provoke thinking. Jones, drawing on his experience as a Senate staffer, discusses the interaction between politics and economics in the area of tax cuts and earmarks. For example, are earmarks good or bad? Jones gives an unconventional analysis. He also discusses the economics of the new workplace and why that might mean a different path for productivity over the business cycle than in the past.
Nobel Laureate Edmund Phelps of Columbia University talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the market for labor, unemployment, and the evolution of macroeconomics over the past century. The conversation begins with a discussion of Phelps's early contributions to the understanding of unemployment and the importance of imperfect information. Phelps put his contribution into the context of the evolution of macroeconomics showing how his models were related to those of Keynes, the Austrian School, and rational expectations. The conversation then turns to the issue of whether macroeconomics is making progress, particularly in understanding business cycles. The discussion concludes with the satisfactions of work and the role of creativity and dynamism.
Russ Roberts, host of EconTalk, does a monologue this week on the economics of trade and specialization. Economists have focused on David Ricardo's idea of comparative advantage as the source of specialization and wealth creation from trade. Drawing on Adam Smith and the work of James Buchanan, Yong Yoon, and Paul Romer, Roberts argues that we've neglected the role of the size of the market in creating incentives for specialization and wealth creation via trade. Simply put, the more people we trade with, the greater the opportunity to specialize and innovate, even when people are identical. The Ricardian insight masks the power of market size in driving innovation and the transformation of our standard of living over the last few centuries in the developed world.
Larry White of George Mason University talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about Hayek's ideas on the business cycle and money. White lays out Hayek's view of business cycles and the role of monetary policy in creating a boom and bust cycle. The conversation also explores the historical context of Hayek's work on business cycle theory--the onset of the Great Depression and the intellectual battle with Keynes and his work. In the second half of the podcast, White turns to alternative ways to provide money, in particular, the possibility of private currency and free banking explored by Hayek late in his career. White then describes his own research on free banking and in particular, the more than a century-long experience Scotland had with free banking. The podcast concludes with the economics rap "Fear the Boom and Bust," recently created by John Papola and Russ Roberts. The song itself can be downloaded at EconStories.tv where viewers can also watch the video, read the lyrics, and find related resources on the web for Keynes and Hayek.
Nobel Laureate Michael Spence of Stanford University's Hoover Institution and the Commission on Growth and Development talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the determinants of economic growth. Spence discusses the findings of the Commission's recent report and how it compares to earlier attempts to uncover the sources of growth and the lack of growth such as the Washington Consensus. Spence makes the case for government provision of infrastructure including education and the problems of corruption and governance. The conversation closes with a look at Spence's career and the lessons of that experience.
Mike Munger of Duke University talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about many things. Listeners sent in questions for Mike and Russ to talk about and they chose ten of the most interesting questions with the idea of talking about each for six minutes. The topics are the scarcity of clean water, asset bubbles, the role of Fannie and Freddie in the financial crisis, can a business pass a tax on to its customers (or maybe even its workers), compassionate food, the study of economics, how to choose a college, the nature of cooperation in a modern economy, the humanity of non-profits, and the American Dream.
Michael Belongia of the University of Mississippi and former economist at the St. Louis Federal Reserve talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the inner workings, politics, and economics of the Federal Reserve. Belongia talks about the role that power and politics play in Federal Reserve decision-making and how various Fed chairs used their power to suppress dissent within the Fed that was critical of Fed policy. He argues that the Fed faces an unresolvable dilemma when asked to achieve the multiple goals of full employment and price stability using only the federal funds rate as a policy lever. The discussion concludes with Belongia's indictment of the monetary data that the Fed produces.
Thomas Rustici of George Mason University and author of Lessons from the Great Depression talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the impact of the Smoot-Hawley Act on the economy. The standard view is that the decrease in trade that followed Smoot-Hawley was not big enough to be a significant contributor to the Great Depression. Rustici argues that this Keynesian approach that looks at aggregate spending misses a crucial mechanism for understanding the impact of Smoot-Hawley. Rustici focuses on the impact of Smoot Hawley on bank closings and the money supply. Smoot-Hawley launched an international trade war that reduced world trade dramatically. This had large concentrated regional effects in the United States and around the world in areas that depended on trade. Those were the areas where the first banks collapsed, contracting the money supply via the fractional reserve banking system. Rustici argues that the Keynesian indictment of the price system ignores the policy failures that destroyed the institutions that make the price system work.
Clifford Winston of the Brookings Institution talks about the ideas in his book, Market Failure vs. Government Failure, with EconTalk host Russ Roberts. Winston summarizes a large literature on antitrust, safety regulation and environmental regulation. He finds that government regulation often fails to meet its objectives. While markets are imperfect, so is government. Winston argues that idealized theories of government intervention based on textbook theories of market failure are not the way regulation turns out in practice. He argues that special interest politics explains much of the disappointing outcomes of government regulation.
James Hamilton of the University of California, San Diego, and blogger at EconBrowser talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the rising levels of the national debt and the growing Federal budget deficit. What is the possibility of an actual default, or an implicit default where the government prints money to meet its obligations and causes inflation? What might signal an impending default? And what is the long-range forecast for the U.S. government's obligations? Later in the conversation, the subject turns to oil prices, an area of Hamilton's research. Hamilton explores the causes of the increasing price of oil over the last decade and the implications for the economy.
Arnold Kling of EconLog and the author (with Nick Schulz) of From Poverty to Prosperity: Intangible Assets, Hidden Liabilities and the Lasting Triumph over Scarcity talks about the book with EconTalk host Russ Roberts. Kling discusses how modern economists think about growth in both developed and undeveloped countries and contrasts those ideas with earlier views in economics. The focus of the modern understanding is on ideas and the ability of ideas to improve technology, leading to prosperity. Unlike physical capital, ideas can be enjoyed by many people at once, explaining why past models that ignored ideas and focused on physical capital failed to account for the observed magnitude of economic development. Kling also discusses the success of China and India.
Megan McArdle, who writes the blog Asymmetrical Information at The Atlantic, talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about debt and the challenge of self-restraint. She discusses her recent Atlantic article on her experience at a Dave Ramsey personal finance seminar, how it affected her life, and the psychology of self-restraint. The conversation concludes with a discussion of debt and savings during the Great Depression and the current national debt of the United States.
Peter Boettke of George Mason University and author of Challenging Institutional Analysis and Development: The Bloomington School (co-authored with Paul Dragos Aligica), talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the Bloomington School--the political economy of Elinor Ostrom (2009 Nobel Laureate in Economics), Vincent Ostrom, and their students and colleagues at Indiana University. The discussion begins with the empirical approach of Elinor Ostrom and others who have studied the myriad of ways that actual communities have avoided the tragedy of commons. Boettke emphasizes the distinction between privatization vs. informal norms and cultural rules that prevent overuse. The conversation also looks at urban development and the benefits and costs of multiple municipalities vs. a single, large city. Throughout, Boettke embeds the conversation in the Ostroms' interest in how the citizenry can be self-governing and the challenges of implementing local knowledge.
Carmen Reinhart of the University of Maryland talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the ideas in her book This Time is Different: Eight Centuries of Financial Folly (co-authored with Kenneth Rogoff). They discuss the role of capital inflows in financial crises, the challenges of learning the right lessons, and what is generally true about financial crises over time and place. Reinhart applies these observations to the current crisis, discusses the possibility of the U.S. defaulting on its sovereign debt, and discusses the possibility of financial reforms that might make a difference.
Richard Posner, federal judge and prolific author, discusses the financial crisis with EconTalk host Russ Roberts. Posner (despite the title of his recent book on the crisis, A Failure of Capitalism) places most of the blame for the crisis on the Federal Reserve, inattentive regulators and the subsidization of risk. He also criticizes economists for complacency in the face of impending disaster. A recent convert of sorts to Keynesianism, Posner confesses some disillusion with the implementation of the stimulus plan and the expanding role of the Federal government.
Scott Sumner of Bentley University and the blog The Money Illusion talks with host Russ Roberts about monetary policy and the state of the economy. Sumner argues that tight money in late 2008 precipitated the recession. He argues that the standard measures of monetary policy--growth in reserves or the Federal Funds rate--are misleading. Sumner suggests focusing instead on nominal GDP. He argues that the failure of the Fed to counter the drop in nominal GDP in late 2008 intensified the recession and points to the growth in unemployment. Along the way he discusses the Taylor Rule and other monetary prescriptions.
Michael Heller of Columbia Law School and author of The Gridlock Economy talks to EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the book and the idea that fragmented ownership is a barrier to innovation. Heller makes an analogy between the tragedy of the commons and what he calls the tragedy of the anticommons--the problem of bundling together numerous individual claims to a resource. Examples discussed include drug innovation when the innovator wants to use technologies of multiple patent holders, new music or visual media where the creator wants to use multiple copyrighted works, and allocation of spectrum rights and its role in wireless innovation.
Charles Calomiris of Columbia Business School talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the financial crisis. Calomiris argues that it is important to put the crisis in historical perspective in the context of other bank crises. He argues that bank crises differ widely across time and place--some times and some places are placid, others are prone to regular crises. Calomiris argues that frequent episodes of failure are tied to government guarantees such as various forms of deposit insurance or similar incentives for risk-taking. Looking at the current crisis, Calomiris indicts "too big to fail," the government's reliance on ratings agencies as a measure of risk, and poor corporate governance as the key causes.
Mike Munger of Duke University talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the limits of prices and markets, especially in the area of health. They talk about vaccines, organ transplants, the ethics of triage and what role price should play in allocating. The discussion concludes with a discussion of how markets respond to price controls, particularly minimum wages.
Daniel Willingham of the University of Virginia and author of the book Why Don't Students Like School? talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about how the brain works and the implications for teaching, learning, and educational policy. Topics discussed include why we remember some things but not others (and what we can do about it), the central role of memory in problem solving and abstract reasoning, the current state of math education in America, and what makes a good teacher.
Gary Stern, former President of the Minneapolis Federal Reserve Bank, talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about Stern's book, Too Big To Fail (co-authored with Ron Feldman), a prescient warning of the moral hazard created when government rescues creditors of financial institutions from the consequences of bankruptcy. Stern traces the origins of "too big to fail" to the rescue of Continental Illinois in 1984 and then follows more recent rescues including those of the current crisis. The conversation explores the incentive effects of such rescues on the decision-making by executives in large financial institutions. The discussion concludes with Stern's ideas for alternative ways to deal with large, troubled financial institutions.
William Cohan, author of House of Cards: A Tale of Hubris and Wretched Excess on Wall Steet, talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the life and death of Bear Stearns. The discussion starts with how Bear Stearns and other Wall Street firms made money and how they financed their operations. The conversation then turns to the collapse of Bear Stearns's hedge funds in the summer of 2007 and how that collapse and the firm's investments in subprime mortgages led to the death of the firm in March of 2008. Cohan explains the role of borrowed money in the financial crisis and Bear Stearns in particular. The conversation concludes with the incentives facing Wall Street executives and the price they paid or didn't pay for the gambles they made with other people's money.
Paul Buchheit, developer of Gmail and founder of FriendFeed, talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the evolution of the Gmail project, how innovation works and doesn't work in a large corporation, how Google has changed as it has grown, and corporate culture generally. The conversation then turns to social networking and what might be coming next. The discussion concludes with Buchheit's observations on Silicon Valley and the power of failure.
John Nye of George Mason University talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the Great Depression, the evolution of the State, and attitudes people have toward free markets. Nye argues that support for modern capitalism is fragile because people have trouble trusting the market process which is based on anonymous exchange with strangers. So when a crisis comes, it leads to demands for a larger role for top-down decision making. Nye sees the Great Depression as part of a larger public disillusionment beginning in World War I.
Tyler Cowen of George Mason University and author of Create Your Own Economy talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the ideas in his recent book. The conversation ranges across a wide array of topics related to information, the arts, and the culture of the internet. Topics include how autistics perceive information and what non-autistics can learn from them, what Buddhism might teach us about our digital lives, the pace of change in the use of technology, Nozick's experience machine and the relative importance of authenticity and what the Alchian and Allen theorem has to do with the internet and culture.
Michael Munger of Duke University talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about cultural norms--the subtle signals we send to each other in our daily interactions. Mike, having returned from a four-month stint as a visiting professor in Germany, talks about the challenges of being an American in a different culture with very different expectations on how people will interact. Our speech patterns, how we wait in line, how we treat each other at the grocery, the interaction between a teacher and a student, how we drive, how we tip for services rendered, even how we listen to music all emerge from our culture and are often different in different countries. The listener will learn what Ted Williams and Joe Dimaggio have to do with the Book of Judges along with the relative merits of Williams and Dimaggio performances in 1941.
David Brady of Stanford University talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about American public opinion on changing the health care system. Brady discusses the impact of taxation on public opinion toward health care reform--if the poll includes a measure of the likely increase in taxes necessary to pay for expanding coverage, support for expanding coverage drops dramatically compared to generic polls that ignore costs. He also discusses the role of the party system and partisanship for the health care issue and more generally, how partisanship has changed over time. The conversation concludes with Brady's views on how much science there is in political science.
Christopher Hitchens talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about George Orwell. Drawing on his book Why Orwell Matters, Hitchens talks about Orwell's opposition to imperialism, fascism, and Stalinism, his moral courage, and his devotion to language. Along the way, Hitchens makes the case for why Orwell matters.
Eric Hanushek of Stanford University's Hoover Institution talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the current state of education and education policy. Hanushek summarizes the impact of No Child Left Behind and the current state of the charter school movement. Along the way, he and Roberts discuss the role of testing as a way of measuring achievement. The conversation concludes with a discussion of school finance, the role of the court system, and suggestions for improving finance to create better incentives.
Paul Graham, essayist, programmer and partner in the y-combinator talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about start-ups, innovation, and creativity. Graham draws on his experience as entrepreneur and investor to discuss the current state of the start-up world and how that world has changed due to improved technology that makes it easier to start a software company. Graham talks about his unusual venture firm, the y-combinator, and how he and his partners work with start-ups to get them ready for more advanced funding. Along the way, Graham discusses why hackers are like painters and how to survive high school.
Peter Blair Henry of Stanford University talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about economic development. Henry compares and contrasts the policy and growth experience of Barbados and Jamaica. Both became independent of England in the 1960s, so both inherited similar institutions. But each pursued different policies with very different results. Henry discusses the implications of this near-natural experiment for growth generally and the importance of macroeconomic policy for achieving prosperity. The conversation closes with a discussion of Henry's research on stock market reactions as a measure of policy's effectiveness.
John Taylor of Stanford University talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the fundamental causes of the financial crisis of 2008. Taylor argues that the housing bubble of the early 2000s was caused by excessively loose monetary policy, in particular, a sustained period of excessively low interest rates pursued by the Federal Reserve. Other topics covered include rules vs. discretion in monetary policy and the risks of inflation in the coming months. The conversation concludes with a discussion of the impact of the current crisis on future monetary policy and the field of macroeconomics.
Justin Fox, author of The Myth of the Rational Market, talks about the ideas in his book with EconTalk host Russ Roberts. Fox traces the history of the application of math and economics to finance, particularly to the question of how markets and prices process information, the so-called efficient markets hypothesis in its various forms. The conversation includes discussions of systemic risk, the current financial crisis and the lessons for policy reform.
Paul Collier of Oxford University talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the ideas in his new book, Wars, Guns, and Votes, a study of democracy and violence. Collier lays out the incentives facing a dictator who is considering the seductive appeal of holding an election. He defends his empirical work that forms the basis for many of the policy ideas in the book. Collier then makes the case for international military intervention to support democracies in poor countries.
Novelist Mark Helprin talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about copyright and the ideas in his book, Digital Barbarism. Helprin argues for an extension rather than a reduction in the length of time that authors have control over their work. He also argues that technology is often not attuned to human needs and physical constraints, claiming that tranquility is elusive in modern times. He sees the movement against copyright and intellectual property generally as part of an educational and social trend toward collective rather than individual work.
Michael Munger, of Duke University, talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about franchising, particularly car dealerships. Munger highlights how the dealers used state regulations to protect their profits and how bankruptcy appears to be unraveling that strategy. The main themes of the conversation are the incentives in the franchising relationship and the evolution of the auto industry in the United States over the last forty years.
Charles Platt, author and journalist, talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts what it was like to apply for a job at Wal-Mart, get one, and work there. He discusses the hiring process, the training process, and the degree of autonomy Wal-Mart employees have to change prices. The conversation concludes with a discussion of attitudes toward Wal-Mart.
Riccardo Rebonato of the Royal Bank of Scotland and author of Plight of the Fortune Tellers talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the challenges of measuring risk and making decisions and creating regulation in the face of risk and uncertainty. Rebonato's book, written before the crisis, argues that risk managers often overestimate the reliability of the measures they use to assess risk. In this conversation, Rebonato applies these ideas to the crisis and to the challenges of designing effective regulation.
Richard Epstein of the University of Chicago and Stanford University's Hoover Institution talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the rule of law. Epstein lays out a minimalist definition and a more expansive definition when considering the protection that individuals might have when facing the power of the state or the sovereign. Applications include "takings" and the current government interventions in the auto industry and the financial sector.
This is the sixth and concluding podcast in the EconTalk Book Club discussion of The Theory of Moral Sentiments by Adam Smith. In this episode, Dan Klein of George Mason University and EconTalk host Russ Roberts discuss Parts VI and VII of the book. They close by putting the book in context.
Peter Leeson of George Mason University and author of The Invisible Hook talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the economics of 18th century pirates and what we can learn from their behavior. Leeson argues that pirates pioneered a number of important voluntary institutions such as constitutions as a way to increase the profitability of their enterprises. He shows how pirates used democracy and a separation of powers between the captain and the quartermaster to limit the potential for predation or abuse on the part of the captain. He explains the role of the Jolly Roger in limiting damages from conflict with victims. The conversation closes with a discussion of the lessons for modern management.
Michele Boldrin of Washington University in St. Louis talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about intellectual property and Boldrin's book, co-written with David Levine, Against Intellectual Monopoly. Boldrin argues that copyright and patent are used by the politically powerful to maintain monopoly profits. He argues that the incentive effects that have been used to justify copyright and patents are exaggerated--few examples from history suggest that the temporary and not-so-temporary monopoly power from copyright and patents were necessary to induce innovation. Boldrin reviews some of that evidence and talks about the nature of competition.
This is the fifth podcast in the EconTalk Book Club discussion of The Theory of Moral Sentiments by Adam Smith. In this episode, Dan Klein of George Mason University and EconTalk host Russ Roberts finish discussing Part III, and discuss Parts IV and V of the book.
Alan Wolfe, Professor of Political Science at Boston College and author of The Future of Liberalism, talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about liberalism. Wolfe argues that the essence of liberalism is giving as many people as possible control over their own lives. Wolfe traces the evolution of liberalism through Western civilization. He rejects the distinction between modern liberalism and classical liberalism seeing Adam Smith as a liberal but not F. A. Hayek. The conversation closes with a discussion of the role of competition in encouraging religiosity in the United States.
Ed Leamer, of UCLA and author of Macroeconomic Patterns and Stories, talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about how we should use patterns in macroeconomic data and stories about those patterns to improve our understanding of the economy. Leamer argues that economics is not a science, but rather a way of thinking, and that economic models are neither true nor false, but either useful or not useful. He discusses various patterns in the recessions and recoveries in the United States since 1950. The conversation closes with a discussion of the reliability of econometric analysis.
This is the fourth podcast in the EconTalk Book Club discussion of The Theory of Moral Sentiments by Adam Smith. In this episode, Dan Klein of George Mason University and EconTalk host Russ Roberts discuss Part III of the book.
Ricardo Reis of Columbia University talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about Keynesian economics in the classroom and in research. Reis argues that Keynesian models are a useful framework for helping undergraduates understand macroeconomic ideas of general equilibrium. More generally, Reis argues, Keynesian ideas remain influential in macroeconomic research, particularly among Neo-Keynesians. Reis discusses the lessons the economics profession and the world have learned from the Great Depression and suggests that those lessons have helped us manage the current crisis. The conversation closes with a discussion of whether economics is a science.
This is the third podcast in the EconTalk Book Club discussion of The Theory of Moral Sentiments by Adam Smith. In this episode, Dan Klein of George Mason University and EconTalk host Russ Roberts discuss Part II of the book.
EconTalk host Russ Roberts talks with reporter Robert Pollie about the basics of wealth and growth. What happens when the stock market goes down or the price of housing? When wealth goes down, where does the wealth go? How do these changes affect our wealth? What is the relationship between wealth and inflation? Roberts explains the economic fundamentals of these changes. At the end of the conversation, Roberts discusses the implications of the current economic crisis for assessing the state of economics as a discipline.
This is the second podcast in the EconTalk Book Club discussion of The Theory of Moral Sentiments by Adam Smith. In this episode, Dan Klein of George Mason University and EconTalk host Russ Roberts discuss Part I of the book.
Don Boudreaux, of George Mason University, talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the microfoundations of macroeconomics and the Austrian theory of business cycles. Boudreaux draws on Erik Lindahl's distinction between microeconomics and macroeconomics, emphasizing the difference between individual choices and the coordination of economic activity. Other topics include the Austrian view of capital and investment, the Austrian view of monetary policy, the issue of aggregation, and the intellectual successes of the Keynesians.
Dan Klein, of George Mason University, talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about Adam Smith's lesser-known masterpiece, The Theory of Moral Sentiments. Klein highlights key passages and concepts of the book including its relation to The Wealth of Nations, Smith's willingness to accept "vague, loose, and indeterminate" rules rather than precise ones, Smith's criteria for assessing what is moral and what is not, and Smith's conception of justice. This podcast is part of the EconTalk Book Club on The Theory of Moral Sentiments. It will be followed by four bonus podcasts in the coming weeks going through the book systematically. Interested listeners who wish to do the reading in advance can find the schedule along with more background on the book on the EconTalk book club page, accessible from the EconTalk home page.
Brink Lindsey, of the Cato Institute and author of The Age of Abundance: How Prosperity Transformed America's Politics and Culture, talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the interaction between culture and politics and prosperity. Lindsey outlines the nature of prosperity in America in the 20th century, then focuses on the last half of the century when cultural change was perhaps as dramatic as economic change. The conversation concludes with a discussion of Lindsey's essay, "Paul Krugman's Nostalgianomics," a look at the longing for a return of the economic policy of the 1950's. Lindsey argues that the policies that led to a more egalitarian distribution of income in the 1950s had other much less attractive characteristics.
Nassim Taleb talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the financial crisis, how we misunderstand rare events, the fragility of the banking system, the moral hazard of government bailouts, the unprecedented nature of really, really bad events, the contribution of human psychology to misinterpreting probability and the dangers of hubris. The conversation closes with a discussion of religion and probability.
Dan Klein, of George Mason University, talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts on truth in economics, bias, and groupthink in academic life. Along the way they discuss the Food and Drug Administration (and the drug approval process), the culture of academic life and the roles of empirical evidence and prediction markets in adjudicating academic disagreement. The conversation closes with a discussion of Econ Journal Watch--the watchdog journal Klein founded and edits--and an invitation to listeners to join a discussion of The Theory of Moral Sentiments by Adam Smith.
Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia, talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the birth and growth of Wikipedia. He talks about the role of Hayek's insights into the design of Wikipedia, how Wikipedia deals with controversy, the reliability of Wikipedia relative to traditional reference sources and the future possibilities for projects that rely on voluntary contributions of time and creativity.
Todd Zywicki, of George Mason University Law School, talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the evolving world of consumer debt and how institutions and public policy have influenced consumer access to debt and credit. Zywicki defends consumer credit as a crucial benefit to consumers and that innovation has made credit cheaper and more effective. He also talks about how misleading it can be to look at only one piece or another of credit picture. The conversation concludes with a discussion of the evolution of bankruptcy law in the United States.
Allan Meltzer, of Carnegie Mellon University, talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the current state of monetary policy and the potential for inflation. Meltzer explains why inflation hasn't happened yet, despite massive increases in reserves created by Fed policy. Then he explains why inflation is coming and why it will be politically difficult for the Fed to stop it. Meltzer also analyzes the Japanese experience in recent years and talks about why so many investment banks overreached and destroyed themselves.
Amar Bhide, of Columbia University and author of The Venturesome Economy, talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the role of entrepreneurship and innovation in a global economy. Bhide argues that the worries about outsourcing and America's alleged declining leadership in technology are misplaced. He argues that the source of prosperity is not technology per se but the application of technology to actual products that improve our lives and that the American venture system and labor market are very effective at the application of technology. The end of the conversation turns to the role of uncertainty in both venture capital and entrepreneurship but also to the role of financial institutions and financial innovation.
Daron Acemoglu, of MIT, talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the financial crisis and the lessons that need to be learned from the crisis. He argues that economists overestimated the stability of self-interest and ignored the institutional context of financial decision-making. He makes the case for new regulation and worries that political decisions will neglect the importance of growth.
John Cochrane, of the University of Chicago, talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the financial crisis. He talks about the origins of the crisis, why the Troubled Assets Relief Program (TARP) was flawed from the beginning, why mark-to-market accounting isn't the cause of the problem, argues for letting banks fail, and makes the case against the large increases in government spending.
EconTalk host Russ Roberts talks about the role of empirical evidence and bias in economics and why economists disagree. Roberts talks about how his interviews with various economists at EconTalk have forced him to reassess the role of empirical evidence in various debates in economics and economic policy. Roberts is joined by Robin Hanson of George Mason University for counterpoint and therapeutic advice for those uneasy about the scientific or non-scientific nature of economics.
Eric Raymond, author of The Cathedral and the Bazaar, talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the ideas in the book--why open source software development has been so successful, the culture of open source, under what conditions open source is likely to thrive and not to thrive, and the Hayekian nature of the open source process. The conversation closes with a discussion of net neutrality.
Steve Fazzari, of Washington University in St. Louis, talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about Keynesian economics. Fazzari talks about the paradox of thrift, makes the case for a government stimulus plan, and weighs the empirical evidence for a Keynesian worldview.
Peter Boettke, of George Mason University, talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the Austrian perspective on business cycles, monetary policy and the current state of the economy.
George Srour, founder of Building Tomorrow, a non-profit that builds schools in Uganda, talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about his experience starting, funding, and running an organization that tries to change the world one school at a time. Srour discusses how he tries to make sure that his organization accomplishes more than bricks and mortar and the rewards and challenges of a start-up non-profit.
Robert Higgs, of the Independent Institute, talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the Great Depression, the New Deal, and the effect of World War II on the American economy. Using survey results, financial data, and the pattern of investment in the 1930s, Higgs argues that New Deal policies created a climate of uncertainty that prolonged the Great Depression. Using consumption data, he argues that prosperity did not return during wartime, but rather after the war when government intervention in the economy subsided.
Steven Lipstein, President and CEO of BJC HealthCare--a $3 billion hospital system in St. Louis, Missouri--talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the economics of hospitals. They discuss pricing, the advantages and disadvantages of specialization in modern medical care, and culture and governance of non-profit hospitals vs. for-profit hospitals. At the end they talk about the positives and negatives of a national health board patterned after the Federal Reserve.
Eric Rauchway of the University of California at Davis and the author of The Great Depression and the New Deal: A Very Short Introduction, talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the 1920s and the lead-up to the Great Depression, Hoover's policies, and the New Deal. They discuss which policies remained after the recovery and what we might learn today from the policies of the past.
Thomas Hazlett of George Mason University talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about a number of key issues in telecommunications and telecommunication policy including net neutrality, FCC policy, and the state of antitrust. Hazlett argues for an emergent, Hayekian approach to policy toward the internet rather than trying to design it from the top down and for an increased use of exchangeable property rights in allocating spectrum.
George Selgin of West Virginia University talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about free banking, where government treats banks as no different from other firms in the economy. Rather than rely on government guarantees to protect depositors (coupled with regulation), banks would compete with each other in offering security and return on deposits. Selgin draws on historical episodes of free banking, particularly in Scotland, to show that such a world need not be unduly hazardous or filled with bank runs. He also talks about Gresham's Law and an episode in British history when banks successfully issued their own currency.
Arnold Kling of EconLog talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the role of credit default swaps and counterparty risks in the current financial mess. The conversation opens with the logistics of credit default swaps and counterparty risks and moves on to their role in the financial collapse. The conversation closes with a discussion of the political economy of pending financial regulation.
Richard Epstein of the University of Chicago talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the relationship between happiness and wealth, the effects of inequality on happiness, and the economics of envy and altruism. He also applies the theory of evolution to explain some of the findings of the happiness literature.
Mike Munger of Duke University talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the often-vilified middleman--someone who buys cheap, sells dear and does nothing to improve the product. Munger explains the economic function of arbitrage using a classic article about how prices emerged in a POW camp during World War II. Munger then applies the analysis to the financial crisis.
Clay Shirky, author of Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations, talks about the economics of organizations with EconTalk host Russ Roberts. The conversation centers on Shirky's book. Topics include Coase on the theory of the firm, the power of sharing information on the internet, the economics of altruism, and the creation of Wikipedia.
Patri Friedman, Executive Director of the Seasteading Institute, talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about seasteading, the creation of autonomous ocean communities as an alternative to existing political and cultural forms. Topics discussed include the political and economic viability of seasteading, risks of piracy, the aesthetics of living on the ocean, and the potential impact of seasteading on conventional governments.
William Bernstein, author of A Splendid Exchange, talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about inequality. Bernstein is worried about it; Roberts is not. Bernstein argues that inequality is damaging to the health of low-status people and hurts the health of the economy. Roberts challenges Bernstein's empirical evidence. It's a lively conversation on the economics of status, productivity and the progressivity of taxes.
Arnold Kling of EconLog talks with host Russ Roberts about the economics of the housing market with a focus on the role of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. The conversation closes with a postscript on the current financial crisis.
Karol Boudreaux, Senior Research Fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about wildlife management in Africa. Their conversation focuses on community-based wildlife management in Namibia, a policy to give communities the incentives to protect wildlife and avoid the tragedy of the commons.
Robert Shiller of Yale University talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the current housing mess and related financial market problems. Shiller argues that the decade-long run up in housing prices was a bubble where speculative fervor outweighed any economic fundamentals. He also discusses the genesis of the Case-Shiller housing price index and his idea for how it might be used to reduce risk in the mortgage market. Note: This podcast was recorded on September 5, 2008, days before Secretary of the Treasury Paulson put Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac into conservatorship.
Joseph Ellis, of Mt. Holyoke College and author of American Creation, talks about the triumphs and tragedies of the founding of the United States. His goal in the book and in this podcast is to tell a story for grownups rather than for children, where the Founders are neither saints nor evil white, patriarchal slave-holding demons. It is a nuanced story of triumph--a military victory over a seemingly unbeatable vastly more experienced army, the creation of the first geographically large republic, a nation without a state religion, a nation that creates a party system with a loyal opposition, a Constitution with the virtues of ambiguous sovereignty, and tragedy--the failure to resolve the slavery issue, and the tragic conflict with the Native Americans. Some of these outcomes were intended by the Founders, others emerged unintended.
Jonathan Rauch, of the Brookings Institution and the Atlantic Monthly, talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the evolution of the Chevy Volt, GM's planned electric car. Due to the transparency of GM's effort, Rauch was able to spend a great deal of time on site at GM writing a piece for the Atlantic Monthly on GM's plans and hopes. Rauch discusses the huge risks, GM's past failures, and GM's hopes that the Volt might change the company's culture. The conversation closes with a discussion of competitors and the implications for energy policy.
Russ Roberts, host of EconTalk and author of the economics novel, The Price of Everything, talks with guest host Arnold Kling about the ideas in The Price of Everything: price gouging, the role of prices in the aftermath of natural disaster, spontaneous order, and the hidden harmony of the economic cosmos. Along the way, Roberts talks about novels vs. textbooks and other traditional treatments of economic reasoning.
John Taylor of Stanford University talks about the Taylor Rule, his description of what the Fed ought to do and what it sometimes actually does, to keep inflation in check and the economy on a steady path. He argues that when the Fed has deviated from the Rule in recent years, the economy has performed poorly. Taylor also assesses the chances for a monetary or financial disaster and the Fed's recent expanded role in intervening in financial markets.
Bruce Bueno de Mesquita of Stanford University's Hoover Institution and New York University talks to EconTalk host Russ Roberts about threats to U.S. security, particularly Iran. Bueno de Mesquita argues that Iran is of little danger to the United States. He then looks at what Iran has to gain and to lose by appearing to build a nuclear weapons program and actually using a nuclear weapon. He then goes on to examine the nature of other threats to the United States. The closing topic of the conversation is the peculiar incentives facing U.S. Presidents as their terms expire.
Robert Barro of Harvard University and Stanford University's Hoover Institution talks about disasters--significant national and international catastrophes such as the Great Depression, war, and the flu epidemic in the early part of the 20th century. What do we know about these disasters? What is the likelihood of a catastrophic financial crisis in the United States? How serious is the current economic situation in the United States? The conversation also includes discussions of economic stimulus, tax policy, and the recent worldwide rise in commodity prices.
Hal Varian, Google's Chief Economist and University of California at Berkeley professor, talks with Russ Roberts about Google, the role of technology in our everyday lives, the unintended paths of innovation, and the value of economics.
Doug Rivers of Stanford University and YouGov.com talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the world of political polling. Rivers explains why publicly provided margins of error overstate the reliability of most polls and why it's getting harder and harder to do telephone polls. Rivers argues that internet panels are able to create a more representative sample. Along the way he discusses automated telephone polls, the Bradley effect, and convention bounce, and the use of exit polls in calling states in Presidential elections.
Eric Hanushek of Stanford University's Hoover Institution talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the strange evolution of school finance in the last four decades. In particular, the courts have played an important role in recent years in mandating expenditure increases for public school systems. Hanushek talks about why this has come about and the lack of effect these expenditures have had in affecting student achievement.
Michael Munger of Duke University talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about Munger's recent trip to Chile and the changes Chile has made to Santiago's bus system. What was once a private decentralized system with differing levels of quality and price has been transformed into a system of uniform quality designed from the top down. How has the new system fared? Not particularly well according to Munger. Commuting times are up and the President of Chile has apologized to the Chilean people for the failures of the new system. Munger talks about why such changes take place and why they persist even when they seem inferior to the original system that was replaced.
Arnold Kling of EconLog talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the death of his father and the lessons to be learned for how hospitals treat patients and our health care system treats hospitals.
Richard McKenzie of the University California, Irvine and the author of Why Popcorn Costs So Much at the Movies and Other Pricing Puzzles, talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about a wide range of pricing puzzles. They discuss why Southern California experiences frequent water crises, why price falls after Christmas, why popcorn seems so expensive at the movies, and the economics of price discrimination.
Don Boudreaux of George Mason University talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the recent surge in energy prices. They talk about why prices have risen, the implications for America's standard of living and the implications for public policy.
Steve Cole, the Sales Manager at Ourisman Honda of Laurel in Laurel, Maryland talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the strange world of new car pricing. They talk about dealer markup, the role of information and the internet in bringing prices down, why haggling persists, how sales people are compensated, and the gray areas of buyer and seller integrity.
Gene Epstein, Barron's economics editor, talks to EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the virtues of the gold standard relative to fiat money. Epstein argues that privately issued money, backed by gold, would lead to an economy with much greater price stability and fewer and milder recessions.
Robin Hanson of George Mason University talks about the phenomenon of signalling--the ways people spend resources to convey information about ourselves to others. It begins with Hanson revisiting his theory from an earlier podcast that we spend too much on medicine because we need to signal our concern for friends and family. The conversation then moves onto apply Hanson's model of signalling to other areas of human behavior. This is a wide-ranging discussion covering not just medicine, but real estate transactions, the wooing of a spouse, the role of education in the job market, parenting, the economics of self-deception, and Robin's argument that we spend too much time on admirable activities.
Allan Meltzer of Carnegie Mellon University talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about what the Fed really does and the political pressures facing the Chair of the Fed. He describes and analyzes some fascinating episodes in U.S. monetary history, discusses the advantages and disadvantages of the gold standard and ends the conversation with some insights into recent Fed moves to intervene with investment banks. This is a wonderful introduction to the political economy of the money supply and central banks.
Chris Anderson talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about his next book project based on the idea that many delightful things in the world are increasingly free--internet-based email with infinite storage, on-line encyclopedias and even podcasts, to name just a few. Why is this trend happening? Is it restricted to the internet? Is there really any such thing as a free lunch? Is free a penny cheaper than a penny or a lot cheaper than that? The conversation also covers whether economics has anything to say about free.
John Nye of George Mason University talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about his book, War, Wine, and Taxes. The conversation covers the history of Britain and France's trade policy, why the British drink beer and why Ricardo's example of Britain trading wool for Portuguese wine is bizarre. Nye turns the traditional story on its head--he argues that France was more of a free trader than Britain and that the repeal of the Corn Laws was not the dividing line between Britain's protectionist past and free trade future. At the end of the discussion, Nye emphasizes the importance of domestic free trade for economic growth.
William Bernstein talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the history of trade. Drawing on the insights from his recent book, A Splendid Exchange: How Trade Shaped the World, Bernstein talks about the magic of spices, how trade in sugar explain why Jews ended up in Manhattan, the real political economy of the Boston Tea Party and the demise of the Corn Laws in England. The discussion closes with the political economy of trade today and the interaction between trade and income inequality.
EconTalk host Russ Roberts talks about the claim that for capitalism to succeed there have to be people at the bottom to do the unpleasant tasks and that the rich thrive because of the suffering of those at the bottom. He critiques the idea that capitalism is a zero sum game where to get ahead, someone has to fall back. He also looks at the evolution of the least pleasant jobs over time and how technology interacts with rising productivity to make the least pleasant jobs more pleasant.