Wealth & Poverty

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The Lucky Country

7 hours ago

It seems like every decade or so, in pretty much every part of the world, there's a recession — like it's just part of the bargain. The economy grows as we get better at making stuff, people spend and companies expand. But at some point the growth slows down, unemployment rises. People don't spend as much money because they're starting to pay down their debt. And there's a downturn.

Not in Australia. The Australians haven't seen a recession in 27 years. Today on The Indicator, we find out what makes them so different.

Episode 876: Patent Deception

Nov 14, 2018

World Patent Marketing's pitch to inventors was simple: Pay us lots of money, and we'll take care of the complicated patent office details. Hundreds of tinkerers and would-be visionaries took this deal.

After all, the patent system is complicated. Marketing is tricky. It can be hard to find factories. But, for new inventors, it's hard to tell a legitimate service from a scam. It was especially hard to tell with World Patent Marketing, which boasted an advisory board that included Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker.

The price of oil had climbed aggressively from the summer of 2017 through the end of last month — but then it started falling. And falling. And falling. The price of Brent crude fell from $86 to about $66 yesterday, an astonishing decline of 23 percent.

What changed? We look at four potential reasons: U.S. output, exemptions to the sanctions on Iran, decelerating global economic growth, and the strengthening U.S. dollar.

New York City recently produced a report on the gender price differential in some consumer goods. The so-called Pink Tax. It turns out, women pay more than men for certain goods, like clothes and home health products and personal care products. The study found that women pay as much as 13 percent more for some categories of products.

There have been four global recessions in roughly the last four decades.

And getting out of the last global recession, right after the financial crisis of 2008, was especially tough. That was such a deep and painful recession, that jump starting the economy again required policies that had not been tried before — in countries across the world, not just in the U.S. But a lot of those policies were politically unpopular, and still are. And it's not clear they can be used again.

Lately, we've been nerding out about cattle. Specifically, about this one particular set of facts. Every year, the United States exports 500 million tons of beef to Mexico. But every year, the United States imports 500 million tons of beef from Mexico.

We heard this, and thought: How is that possible? Why are we trotting all these cows back and forth across the border? We sent a reporter to the border to find out. The answers to those questions explain a lot about how trade works.

40 years ago, the 401(k) was plucked from deep within the tax code and brought into the world. Today, it's the most common retirement plan in the country with millions of people contributing trillions of dollars. But it's not without its critics. Today on the show, The Indicator and Planet Money come together to celebrate the mighty 401(k).

All Aboard The Bankmobile!

Nov 8, 2018

The Bank of Bird-In-Hand — based in Bird-In-Hand, Pennsylvania — had a problem: a lot of its customers were Amish and couldn't make it to the bank in their horse-drawn buggies. So they decided to bring the bank to them.

Today on the show, we take a ride on the bankmobile, and see how the bank-on-wheels model is changing the way people access financial services far beyond Amish country.

Episode 874: Hot Dog Hail Mary

Nov 7, 2018

Overpriced stadium food is standard at big-time sporting events. If you get hungry, expect to fork over $7 for a hot dog. It's annoying. It's also simple economics: Inside a stadium, there's no competition bringing prices down, so prices stay high. Sports fans are trapped in a captive market.

That's usually the end of the story. But the Atlanta Falcons are trying something different. They've lowered prices. It could change the way stadium economics works.

Today on the show: We send two reporters down to Mercedes-Benz Stadium to eat their way through a radical experiment.

How long do you spend on hold? What kind of discounts do you get? These things could be determined by something called a Customer Lifetime Value score. This score is being used by companies across the economy and the results of those scores can be powerful.

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We love our listeners, and we especially love getting your questions. So today on the show, we answer a few of them — about luxury real estate markets, money and wealth, and our favorite ways to learn about economics and markets.

And as promised on the show, we reference these three articles:

-- Visual Capitalist

-- The Credit Suisse Wealth report

Taxes have been around for thousands of years. Governments want your money! But the relationship between taxes and representative government is particularly interesting. Today, The Indicator talks with financial historian William N. Goetzmann about the relationship between democracy and taxes.

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Episode 873: The Seattle Experiment

Nov 2, 2018

It's no secret how elections work: A winning campaign costs a lot of money, so candidates court people who have the money to spend. Say, business interests. Then, when a politician takes office, their powerful donors have more influence than the average citizen. It's not a great system.

So Seattleites decided to tear it all up and try something radical: Fighting big money by flooding elections with even more money. The experiment... did not necessarily go as planned.

Friday's jobs report tells the story of a healthy labor market — fast jobs growth, fast wage growth, low unemployment.

But we've been fascinated by stories of what else, besides raising wages and salaries, companies have been doing to bid for workers in an increasingly tightening

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Updated at 8:56 a.m. ET

Employers added 250,000 jobs in October, more than analysts expected, as the jobless rate remained at 3.7 percent, a nearly 50-year low, the Labor Department said Friday.

The report also showed that the pace of wage growth picked up last month. Average earnings climbed to $27.30 an hour — 3.1 percent above a year earlier.

The 12-month wage increase was the largest since 2009 and topped September's 2.8 percent gain.

Bianca Beryl is a 9-year-old South Florida listener that came to us with a few interesting questions on Ecuador's currency:

Why did Ecuador change from the sucre to the dollar? Does it affect the money supply in the U.S.? How did they get the dollars there? And why aren't other countries using the U.S. dollar?

We spoke with economist Sebastián Edwards to answer Bianca's questions.

Note: If you have any questions you would like to share with us, email us at indicator@npr.org.

The movie business is terrifying--most movies lose money. One genre where that does not hold true: horror movies. Today on the show, we look at why horror movies are more likely to make money than any other kind of movies. Part of the reason: fear itself.

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Hey everybody. This is Shane, the Planet Money intern. So, um, something odd is happening around here. I haven't seen the rest of the Planet Money team in a while. They went into this haunted house, chasing after a story, and they haven't come back. It's weird.

We did get a mysterious email with some recordings attached. And I think what I'm supposed to do is just publish them. Right? I don't know. I'm just Shane the Planet Money intern. But, um, yeah. Here's the show.

The Best Day For Payday

Oct 30, 2018

Most Americans get paid biweekly, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. One of our listeners wanted to know why. Is it better than getting paid weekly, monthly or any other day? So we called history professor Nelson Lichtenstein from the University of California at Santa Barbara to find out the story behind the pay cycle.

Judgment Bonds

Oct 29, 2018

Municipalities — that's towns, cities, states and even universities — have been in the news a lot this year, thanks to a number of high-profile court cases and some big settlements. Like the ruling against Michigan State University, where the court said the college has to pay large sums of money to women and girls abused by doctor Larry Nassar. Or the ruling against the City of Dallas, which has to pay large sums to police and firefighters.

China is trying a bold experiment. The government wants to make it easier for people to trust each other. They are creating something known as a social credit score.

This would be a nationwide system, similar to an American credit score, but that stretches deep into all kinds of areas of public and private life. It involves tracking, monitoring and sometimes shaming people who break rules and default on debts.

Today on The Indicator, the hedonic treadmill. This is the idea that when something really great happens to us, like winning the lottery, we might be really happy at first. But eventually we just get used to our new life — and we go back to our baseline level of happiness. Researchers in Sweden have concluded that that does happen, but it's only part of the story.

Last week, we got the latest federal deficit numbers for the past fiscal year. And largely because of the big corporate and income tax cuts at the end of 2017, something unusual is happening in the relationship between the economy and the deficit. Cardiff talks with Jared Bernstein about this anomaly.

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Companies estimate that in just six years, humans will be working the same number of hours as machines and algorithms. That means robots will be taking over human jobs in all sorts of sectors, including clerical and legal and other white collar professions. This will usher in a period of great pain and anxiety for humanity, as jobs are lost and people have to retrain to gain new skills in a new reality. But it's not all doom and gloom. Robots will create jobs, too.

Just like Siri and Alexa trying to host a podcast:

Warehouses are expected to hire 450 thousand people this year and next year — an even faster pace of growth than the rest of the labor market. These jobs share some elements with the manufacturing jobs of the past. You can get a job in a warehouse without a college degree, and the pay is better than service jobs that also don't require higher education.

On the other hand, warehouses also hire a lot of temp workers — and the temporary nature of their jobs means the pay is inconsistent, while also making it harder for workers to protest their working conditions.

A version of this episode originally ran in January 2016.

Tonight's Mega Millions jackpot is the largest in history at $1.6 billion. And we've got lottery fever again.

Today on the show, the story of the first known lottery. It goes back to Queen Elizabeth in 1567, involves poems, gold plates, and petty criminals. It didn't go well. And we have the story of lottery legend Stefan Mandel. He created a system to take the luck out of the lottery and won jackpot after jackpot. He tells us how he pulled it off. (Think bank heist but legal.)

Unlike most investors, short sellers make money when the value of a company falls. And they don't have a great reputation. They're often regarded as the vultures or hyenas of the financial world, preying on weak companies, and sometimes spreading negative rumors to bring a company down.

But quite often, short sellers perform a necessary task. They have a financial incentive to expose weakness and uncover the truth about a company's status. And when they do so, honestly and transparently, the market benefits.

Every hero has a nemesis. Tom had Jerry. Batman had the Joker. Politicians are no different. Basically every candidate who has ever run for office targets the same enemy: Regulations. Red tape. Rules churned out by the federal bureaucracy that touch on everything from carbon emissions to goat farms to vending machines.

Tears For Sears

Oct 19, 2018

Sears changed the way Americans buy consumer goods, its dominance of the retail landscape lasting for nearly a century. But the competencies needed to thrive in retail changed a few decades ago, and Sears failed to adapt — losing more and more ground to its rivals Walmart and Amazon. Earlier this week, the company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Even if a version of the company does emerge from bankruptcy proceedings, the company will likely be a shell of its former self.

Beating Bollywood

Oct 18, 2018

India's population is 1.3 billion. So it only makes sense that American streaming giants Amazon and Netflix would want to get into the market. After all, that big number represents a lot of potential customers to binge watch your content. The move seems simple, right? Both companies have already figured out successful, international strategies. But so far, success in India has proved elusive. Sally Herships identifies three key strategies that may help.

The first step - understanding the market.

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