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EconTalk Archives, 2009 on Smash Notes

EconTalk Archives, 2009 podcast.

January 21, 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 George Mason U., 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

Today, Y Combinator is a household name in Silicon Valley. It is not only the most successful startup incubator, but also a hybrid venture firm that redefined the rules of the game. It's funded companies like Dropbox, Stripe, Weebly, Airbnb, Cruise and Doordash, Coinbase and Flexport, Weblow, Docker, Plangird, Zapier, Twitch and thousands more. Whatever you do in life, you are most likely using at least one Y Combinator backed company every day. How is it possible that a firm that did not even exist 15 years ago is now responsible for countless runaway success? To answer this question, lets take a look into the past.

Paul Graham, the founder of Y Combinator, is a philosopher, mathematician, programmer and an investor. By now, there is no question that Y Combinator is a success and Paul Graham a genius, but back in 2009 it was not at all clear. Today, we take a look into history, into this wonderful interview Paul Graham did with @Econtalker about his vision and early successes. Most startups that grow massive had never planned it this way, interestingly enough, same applies to Y Combinator.

Updated on September 02

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.

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.