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EconTalk on Smash Notes

EconTalk podcast.

March 03, 2020

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, free trade, education, finance, politics, sports, book reviews, parenting, and the curiosities of everyday decision-making. Russ Roberts, of the Library of Economics and Liberty (econlib.org) and the Hoover Institution, draws you in with lively guests and creative repartee. 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.



Episodes with Smash Notes

Waze and Google Maps tell us the best way to get to where we're going. But no app or algorithm can tell us whether we should head there in the first place. To economist Russ Roberts, the reason is simple: Humans are dynamic and aspirational beings. When it comes to making life's big decisions, from what to study to whom to marry or whether to have a child, it's not always us doing the deciding, he argues, but rather the people we want to be. Join the host of EconTalk, the president of Shalem College, and the author of the new book Wild Problems: A Guide to the Decisions that Define Us, as he speaks with friend and EconTalk favorite Michael Munger about why the traditional economic models for decision making can lead us astray--and why life should be less about solving problems than embracing possibilities.

IBM's super-computer Watson was a runaway success on Jeopardy! But it wasn't nearly as good at diagnosing cancer. This came as no surprise to Max Planck Institute psychologist Gerd Gigerenzer, who argues that when it comes to life-and-death decisions, we'll always need real, not artificial, brains. Listen as the author of How to Stay Smart in a Smart World tells EconTalk host Russ Roberts why computers aren't nearly as smart as we think. But, Gigerenzer says, human beings need to get smarter in order to avoid being manipulated by people who use AI for their own ends.

Economist John List of the University of Chicago talks about his book, The Voltage Effect, with EconTalk host Russ Roberts. He discusses what determines scalability and argues that the only good ideas that count are those that scale. Along the way, he draws on his experiences as chief economist of Uber and Lyft to peer inside the black box of ride sharing.

When it comes to the COVID-19 vaccination, is the risk of myocarditis greater than the benefit to a healthy male teen? Is natural immunity really better than vaccination--and were we right to mask the kids? Dr. Vinay Prasad of the University of California San Francisco talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about what we learned and didn't learn from COVID so far and how we should handle a pandemic going forward.

A language, a flag, a national anthem and shared history—like a heart that has to pump harder to support a heavier body, the bigger a nation gets, the harder to curate an identity. Nassim Nicholas Taleb talks about scale and governance with EconTalk host Russ Roberts. Taleb sings the virtues of smaller relative to larger and decentralized as much as possible relative to centralized. Along the way, he provides a framework for Russia's war against Ukraine and explains why the United States has thrived despite its size and scope.

Immigration to the United States, say Ran Abramitzky and Leah Boustan, is more novel than short story: It takes decades for new immigrants to catch up economically. But their kids on average thrive economically and have higher rates of upward mobility than American-born kids. Abramitzky and Boustan talk about their book Streets of Gold with EconTalk host Russ Roberts. Using an extraordinary data set of millions of Americans, Boustan and Abramitzky find that today's immigrants and their children are surprisingly similar to yesterday's.

How much of life can be solved by algorithms, and how much just can't be solved? Listen as A.J. Jacobs, author of The Puzzler, talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the lessons he learned from solving every kind of puzzle imaginable, including the biggest stumper of all: what it really means to be a human being.

How do books change our lives? Educator and author Roosevelt Montás of Columbia University talks about his book Rescuing Socrates with EconTalk host Russ Roberts. Drawing on his own educational and life journey, Montás shows how great books don't just teach us stuff--they get inside us and make us who we are.

Former Google ads boss Sridhar Ramaswamy says that we live in a world that seems to give out free content when we use a search engine. But that world comes with a hidden cost--search results that distort what we find and serve advertisers rather than searchers. Ramaswamy talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about how Google works and why he started a new search engine, Neeva, with a different business model.

In October 1973, an unhappy Leonard Cohen was listening to the radio on his Greek island home when he heard that Israel was at war. He headed to Tel Aviv, exchanging a personal and creative crisis for a national one. Absent a plan and even a guitar, Cohen wound up serenading Israeli soldiers at the front. Journalist Matti Friedman talks about his book Who by Fire with EconTalk host Russ Roberts and explains how a songwriter and a nation were transformed in the crucible of war.

Why are some people incurious? Is curiosity a teachable thing? And why, if all knowledge can be googled, is curiosity now the domain of a small elite? Listen as Ian Leslie, author of Curious, talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts why curiosity is a critical virtue, why it's now in dangerous decline, and why, when it comes to what sustains long-term fascination, mysteries beat puzzles every time.

Mainstream economics, says author Diane Coyle, keeps treating people like cogs: self-interested, rational agents. But in the digital economy, we're less sophisticated consumer and more monster under the influece of social media. Listen as the economist and former UK Treasury advisor tells EconTalk host Russ Roberts how, for economics to remain relevant, it needs both more diverse methodologies and more engagement with the broader issues of the day.