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. Topics include health care, business cycles, economic growth, f…
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Who is the greatest economist of all time? In Tyler Cowen's eclectic view, you need both breadth and depth, macro and micro. You can't have been too wrong--and you need to be mostly right. You have to have had a lasting impact, and done both theory and empirical work. If you meet all these criteria, you may just be history's greatest economist. Listen as Cowen talks about his new and freely accessible book GOAT with EconTalk's Russ Roberts. Along the way to crowning a winner, Cowen offers original insights into what shaped the theories and worldviews of the greatest economists of all time. Cowen and Roberts also talk about the evolution of economics from a field concerned mainly with ideas to one that mostly grapples with empirical challenges.
What's different about companies that accomplish amazing things? Perhaps surprisingly, says Andrew McAfee of MIT, it has nothing to do with being agile or with better technology. Instead, they've developed what he calls "geek" cultures, which emphasize intense cooperation, rapid learning curves, and a lack of hierarchy. Listen as McAfee talks about his book The Geek Way with EconTalk's Russ Roberts and how focusing on company norms, as opposed to organizational charts and structure, is a key to realizing big ambitions. They also discuss the role that data and evidence play in geek companies' decision-making and why the willingness to embrace failure is a winning strategy.
Who was Milton Friedman? Jennifer Burns of Stanford University finds in her biography of Friedman that the answer to that question is more complicated than she thought. Listen as she and EconTalk's Russ Roberts discuss how the now-forgotten Henry Simons shaped Friedman's thought, the degree to which Friedman had a deep understanding and belief in the role of prices in a modern economy, and the influence of key women on Friedman's intellectual life. Finally, they explore whether or not Friedman's insights continue to affect public policy and the discipline of economics.
Loss of taste for most foods, vision problems, loss of muscle mass and bone density. In light of these and the many unpleasant our outright dangerous effects of space travel on human physiology, science writer and cartoonist Zach Weinersmith wonders: When it comes to the dream of space expansion, what exactly do we hope to gain? Listen as he and EconTalk's Russ Roberts discuss his new book (co-authored with Kelly Weinersmith) A City on Mars, which offers a hard-nosed yet humorous look at the sobering and lesser-discussed challenges involved in building space settlements. Topics include the particular problems posed by the moon and Mars's atmospheres; the potential difficulty of reproducing in zero gravity; and the dangerous tendency to overlook a key factor in whether space settlement is a good idea: the fact that people are people, wherever they may be.
Slot machines, social media, and potato chips: we humans seem to find a lot of things hard to consume in moderation. Why does "enough" seem so much harder to say than "more?" Listen as Michael Easter discusses these questions and his book, The Scarcity Brain, with EconTalk's Russ Roberts. Easter shares ways that our awareness of how our brain works can help us reclaim balance--in our diets, our money, our emotions, and how we spend our time.
Your mother's socio-economic status at the time of your birth. Whether your ancestors raised crops or led camels through the desert. The smell of the room you're in when you're making a decision--all of these things, says neuroscientist Robert Sapolsky, combine to affect your behavior, as well as everything in between. And if you're wondering where free will fits in, Sapolsky says, it doesn't: If we're all the sum of our biology and environments over which we had no control, it makes no sense to hold us accountable for anything that we do. In a conversation that's equal parts fascinating and frightening, Sapolsky and EconTalk's Russ Roberts discuss the science and philosophy behind determinism. They explore what this argument, taken to its logical conclusion, means for our social and legal systems, and the challenge of how to live if free will is an illusion.
When Alexandra Hudson arrived in Washington, DC, she discovered that outward behavior is not always a reflection of a person's character. Her disillusionment led to an in-depth exploration of the historical concept and practice of civility, along with a newfound appreciation for not only empathy, but also debate and disagreement in a healthy society. Listen as she and EconTalk's Russ Roberts discuss her book The Soul of Civility, a call for less superficial politeness and more genuine respect for and consideration toward others in the social, cultural, and political spheres. They also discuss the power of social norms and how they can promote human flourishing.
How much do we remember of what we learn in school or from conversation? Psychologist Adam Mastroianni says: from little to nothing much. What do our brains retain? Mastroianni argues that often it's a mix of emotions, meanings, and values that end up shaping who we are, what Mastroianni calls "vibes." Listen as he and EconTalk's Russ Roberts discuss the role of vibes in knowledge acquisition and the implications for how we teach, learn, and speak to those around us.
When then-hedge fund manager Elie Hassenfeld began his philanthropic journey in 2006, he knew that he wanted to get the most charitable bang for his buck. He quickly realized, however, that detailed data on charitable impact simply didn't exist. So he and Holden Karnovsky founded GiveWell, an organization inspired by effective altruism that identifies the charities that save or improve lives the most for every dollar given. Listen as Hassenfeld, GiveWell's CEO, explains to EconTalk's Russ Roberts how GiveWell determines the small number of charities they recommend to achieve optimal impact. They also discuss the dangers of an over-reliance on data and the case for bucketing our philanthropy to allow for local or personal giving.
We spend too much of our health care focus on lifespan and not enough on healthspan--the quality of our life as we get older. So argues Dr. Peter Attia, author of Outlive: The Science and Art of Longevity. Attia speaks with EconTalk's Russ Roberts about what kills us, what slows us down as we age, and the weapons we have to allow us to live better and longer.
In the original version of a now classic thought experiment, five people are about to be killed by a runaway trolley. Would you divert the trolley knowing that your choice will kill a single innocent bystander? Listen as Michael Munger of Duke University argues that Adam Smith gave an answer to this challenge a few hundred years before it was proposed by the philosopher Philippa Foot and brought vividly to life in the miniseries, The Good Place. Along the way, Munger and EconTalk's Russ Roberts discuss effective altruism, the moral claims of Peter Singer, what the trolley problem really tells us, if anything, and how our moral choices differ according to context.
Do marathons kill people who aren't in the race? Does when you're born make you more likely to get the flu? And what's the difference between a good doctor and a bad one? These are some of the questions Anupam Bapu Jena of Harvard University and EconTalk host Russ Roberts take up as they discuss Jena's book, Random Acts of Medicine.
Can economics and better measurement help us understand racial disparities and suggest how to reduce or eliminate them? Economist Roland Fryer of Harvard University believes deeply in the power of data to help us understand how the world works and how we might change it. Listen as he tells EconTalk's Russ Roberts of his devotion to this mission, what he learned from his grandmother, and what colleges can do if they really want to increase minority enrollment.
Early detection of cancer seems like a very good idea. But it's a lot more complicated than it seems. Oncologist and epidemiologist Vinay Prasad of the University of California, San Francisco talks to EconTalk's Russ Roberts about why many tests to detect cancer do little or nothing to extend lifespan.
Historian and author Walter Russell Mead of Bard College and the Hudson Institute talks with EconTalk's Russ Roberts about how innovation and religion can help us make sense of the current state of the world.
Psychologist and writer Adam Mastroianni says our minds are like the keep of a castle protecting our deepest held values and beliefs from even the most skilled attacks. The only problem with this design for self-preservation is that it also can keep out wisdom that might be both useful and true. Mastroianni's summary of the problem is "you can't reach the brain through the ears." Listen as Mastroianni talks with EconTalk's Russ Roberts about the implication of this view of mind for teaching, learning, and our daily interactions with the people around us.
The future of AI keeps Zvi Mowshowitz up at night. He also wonders why so many smart people seem to think that AI is more likely to save humanity than destroy it. Listen as Mowshowitz talks with EconTalk's Russ Roberts about the current state of AI, the pace of AI's development, and where--unless we take serious action--the technology is likely to end up (and that end is not pretty). They also discuss Mowshowitz's theory that the shallowness of the AI extinction-risk discourse results from the assumption that you have to be either pro-technological progress or against it.
Economist and author Daron Acemoglu of MIT discusses his book Power and Progress with EconTalk host Russ Roberts. Acemoglu argues that the productivity and prosperity that results from innovation is not always shared widely across the population. He makes the case for the importance of regulating new technologies to ensure that the benefits of innovation are distributed equitably.
Neuroscientist and author Erik Hoel talks about his book, The World Behind the World, with EconTalk's Russ Roberts. Is it possible to reconcile the seemingly subjective inner world of human experience with the seemingly objective outer world of observation, measurement, and science? Despite the promise of neuroscience, Hoel argues that this reconciliation is surprisingly difficult. Join Hoel and Roberts for a wide-ranging exploration of what it means to be human and the limits of science in helping us understand who we are.
Marc Andreessen thinks AI will make everything better--if only we get out of the way. He argues that in every aspect of human activity, our ability to understand, synthesize, and generate knowledge results in better outcomes. Listen as the entrepreneur and venture capitalist speaks with EconTalk's Russ Roberts about AI's potential to improve the world and why those who fear that AI will destroy humanity are wildly over-reacting.
James Rebanks's family has raised sheep in the same small English village for at least four centuries. There are records of people with his same last name going back a few hundred more. Even his sheep are rooted in place: their DNA is from Viking times. It's enough to make anyone feel insignificant--and according to Rebanks, that's a wonderful thing. Listen as the author of The Shepherd's Life speaks with EconTalk's Russ Roberts about the deep pleasures and humbling privilege of being a sheep farmer.
In the early 1900s, the philosopher Henry Adams expressed concern about the rapid rate of social change ushered in by new technologies, from the railways to the telegraph and ultimately airplanes. If we transpose Adams's concerns onto the power of artificial intelligence--a power whose rate of acceleration would have exceeded his wildest dreams--you might feel a bit uneasy. Listen as philosopher Jacob Howland of UATX speaks with EconTalk's Russ Roberts about why too much leisure is at best a mixed blessing, and how technology can lead to intellectual atrophy. They also speak about the role of AI in education and its implications for that most human of traits: curiosity. Finally, they discuss Howland's biggest concern when it comes to outsourcing our tasks, and our thinking, to machines: that we'll ultimately end up surrendering our own liberty.
Civilization and the pleasantness of everyday life depend on unwritten rules. Early in the 20th century, an English mathematician and government official, Lord Moulton, described complying with these rules as "obedience to the unenforceable"--the area of personal choice that falls between illegal acts and complete freedom. Listen as economist Michael Munger talks with EconTalk's Russ Roberts about the power and challenge of the unenforceable.
Called "a poem in clockwork," the self-winding Breguet watch made for Marie Antionette was meant to be the most beautiful example of mechanical art in the world. Yet when she was imprisoned in the Tour du Temple, she wanted only a simple watch that would mark the passing of the hours until her meeting with the guillotine. Listen as Rebecca Struthers, the watchmaker, antiquarian horologist, and author of the Hands of Time talks with EconTalk's Russ Roberts about how our need to keep time has shaped watchmaking history, and how, in turn, the development of watches has shaped human culture and society. Other topics include the precise and painstaking craft of bespoke watchmaking and the challenge of restoring watches from another time.
After nearly 12 years as general manager for the L.A. Rams, Les Snead has learned the power of humility when it comes to making big decisions--who to draft, who to hire as head coach, and how to create a shared vision for his team. Listen as he and EconTalk's Russ Roberts discuss what it's like to manage a professional football team along with the intense pressures that come with the territory. An episode for every fan who has played Monday-morning quarterback, and all of us who wonder how those who play for high stakes survive and thrive.
Author and consultant Luca Dellanna talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the importance of avoiding ruin when facing risk. Along the way Dellanna makes understandable the arcane concept of ergodicity and shows the importance of avoiding ruin in every day life.
When there's no vaccine on the market, people will look for other ways to be safe, including school closures and the handwashing of groceries. Listen as economist Casey Mulligan of the University Chicago talks with EconTalk's Russ Roberts about the costs of delaying a vaccine, the hidden costs of FDA regulation, and what we learned and failed to learn about the Covid pandemic.
Economist Tyler Cowen of George Mason University talks with EconTalk's Russ Roberts about the benefits and dangers of artificial intelligence. Cowen argues that the worriers--those who think that artificial intelligence will destroy mankind--need to make a more convincing case for their concerns. He also believes that the worriers are too willing to reduce freedom and empower the state in the name of reducing a risk that is far from certain. Along the way, Cowen and Roberts discuss how AI might change various parts of the economy and the job market.
Eliezer Yudkowsky insists that once artificial intelligence becomes smarter than people, everyone on earth will die. Listen as Yudkowsky speaks with EconTalk's Russ Roberts on why we should be very, very afraid, and why we're not prepared or able to manage the terrifiying risks of artificial intelligence.
While operating on a 16-year-old girl who suffered from severe seizures, neurosurgeon Itzhak Fried stumbled on the region of the brain that makes us laugh. To neuroscientist Patrick House, Fried's ability to produce laughter surgically raises deep and disconcerting questions about how the brain works. Join Fried, House, and EconTalk's Russ Roberts for a live broadcast from Jerusalem's Shalem College that is a sequel of sorts to House's earlier appearance on EconTalk. House and Fried discuss the mystery of consciousness and try to square the biological bases for emotions with the circle of our humanity.
Is the perfect really the enemy of the good? Or is it the other way around? In 2008, Duke University economist Michael Munger ran for governor and proposed increasing school choice through vouchers for the state's poorest counties. But some lovers of liberty argued that it's better to fight for eliminating public schools instead of trying to improve them. Munger realized his fellow free-marketers come in two flavors: directionalists--who take our political realities as given and try to move outcomes closer to the ideal--and destinationists--who want no compromises with what they see as the perfect outcome. Listen as Munger talks to EconTalk's Russ Roberts about two different strategies for achieving political goals. Along the way, they discuss rent control, the minimum wage, and why free-market policies are so rare.
When he was a child, poet Dana Gioia's mother would come home from a long day of work and recite poems while she cleaned. It was a way, he realized later, for her to express the feelings she didn't want to describe directly, and to vent her sorrows without burdening her son. This, he believes, is what makes poetry so compelling: It's the secret language of emotions, a bit of magic that gets us through the day. Listen as Gioia speaks with EconTalk's Russ Roberts about poems, mortality, and loved ones who died too young. Gioia also explains the fundamental role of allusions in poems, and how--if they're really good--they have the power to summon the dead.
As Israel turns 75, has it fulfilled the promise of its founders? Daniel Gordis of Shalem College talks about his book, Impossible Takes Longer, with EconTalk's Russ Roberts looking at the successes and failures of Israel. Topics discussed include the history of Zionism, the plight of the Palestinians, the Jewishness of the Jewish state, and the current debate in Israel over judicial reform.
They operate according to rules we can never fully understand. They can be unreliable, uncontrollable, and misaligned with human values. They're fast becoming as intelligent as humans--and they're exclusively in the hands of profit-seeking tech companies. "They," of course, are the latest versions of AI, which herald, according to neuroscientist and writer Erik Hoel, a species-level threat to humanity. Listen as he tells EconTalk's Russ Roberts why we need to treat AI as an existential threat.
Photographer, author, and visionary Kevin Kelly talks about his book Excellent Advice for Living with EconTalk's Russ Roberts. His advice includes how to have a deep conversation, why it's better to control time than money--and whether, in the end, we should give advice in the first place. Other topics of discussion include the right object of our aspirations, the reason for optimism when it comes to technology, and why Kelly is not worried about AI.
When physician Walter Freeman died in 1972, he still believed that lobotomies were the best treatment for mental illness. A pioneer in the method, he was a deeply confident and charismatic man who eagerly spread the technique in America, long after the rise of alternative treatments that were less destructive. Listen as journalist Megan McArdle and EconTalk's Russ Roberts discuss what McArdle calls the "Oedipus Trap": mistakes that no one can live with, even if they were innocently made, and how admitting such mistakes to ourselves is nearly impossible.
Tolkien read it as a tale about mortality. The poet David Whyte said it was a metaphor for the psychological demons deep in our minds. And that, insists the cartoonist and writer Zach Weinersmith, is precisely Beowulf's appeal: Its richness opens the door to endless interpretation. Listen as the author of Bea Wolf, a graphic novel for children based on the Old English poem, speaks with EconTalk's Russ Roberts about poetry in general, Beowulf in particular, whether we should require students to memorize poems, and the value of stories for children even without a moral lesson.
Since at least Adam Smith, the common wisdom has been that the transition from hunter-gathering to farming allowed the creation of the State. Farming, so went the theory, led to agricultural surplus, and that surplus is the prerequisite for taxation and a State. But economist Omer Moav of Reichman University argues that it wasn't farming but the farming of a particular kind of crop (but not others) that led to hierarchy and the State. Moav explains to EconTalk host Russ Roberts storability is the key dimension that allows for taxation and a State. The conversation includes a discussion of why it's important to understand the past and the challenges of confirming or refuting theories about history.
Do psychologists know anything? Psychologist Paul Bloom says yes--but not the things that you might think. Bloom discusses his book Psych with EconTalk's Russ Roberts and what the field of psychology can teach us about human intelligence, consciousness, and unhelpful instincts. They also discuss just how far psychology is from a true understanding of the human mind, and why, according to Bloom, that might not be such a bad thing.
When psychiatrist Marco Ramos of Yale University prescribes antidepressants to patients in distress and they ask him how they work, Ramos admits: We don't really know. And too often, they don't work at all. Despite decades of brain research and billions of dollars spent, psychiatry has made little progress in understanding mental illness. Listen as Ramos explains to EconTalk's Russ Roberts how the myth of the biological basis for mental illness began, why it stubbornly persists, and why honesty about what we know and don't know is the best policy.
Psychologist Adam Mastroianni says peer review has failed. Papers with major errors make it through the process. The ones without errors often fail to replicate. One approach to improve the process is better incentives. But Mastroianni argues that peer review isn't fixable. It's a failed experiment. Listen as he makes the case to EconTalk host Russ Roberts for a new approach to science and academic research.