Wealth & Poverty

Ways to Connect

Star Spangled Indicator

Jul 3, 2018

There's a joke in China, that the first people in the world to know that Donald Trump would win the presidency were the flag makers. The reason? People were ordering a lot more Trump flags than Clinton flags.

Flags can be a symbol of national pride, a patriotic rallying cry, but they can also tell us a lot about free trade and the global economy. Today on the show, we speak with the owner of a Chinese factory that makes American flags.

Inflation has climbed above the Federal Reserve's target of 2 percent. According to the Personal Consumption Expenditures price index, the Fed's preferred inflation measure, prices climbed by 2.3 percent in the year through the end of May.

Every time we air an episode, we get a bunch of tweets and emails from our listeners. And then time passes, and... new stuff happens.

Today on the show, we revisit some of our favorite episodes and bring you updates.

The banking industry's stress tests were put in place after the financial crisis. They're basically hypothetical disaster scenarios designed to test the strength of the financial system

This year's test was arguably one of the toughest ever, and not every bank passed. But recent regulatory changes mean that for many banks, the stress tests could be getting a lot less stressful.

The price of oil continued climbing throughout this year, catching forecasters and consumers by surprise. What happened, and what might make it move in the second half of the year?

We talk to John Kemp, senior analyst at Reuters, about the peculiar dynamics of the oil market, the events that have pushed the price up this year, and the potential impact of ongoing geopolitical events like the Iran sanctions and the choices of OPEC.

This is the first episode in a series of mid-year updates about our favorite economic indicators.

Tommy Noonan is a bit of a gym rat. Back when he was in college, one of his weightlifting friends complained about an energy powder he bought online. The product made him sick, and Tommy saw an opportunity. He built a website where bodybuilders could review the stuff they were putting into their bodies.

But as the website became more prominent, Tommy realized there was a big problem: Weirdly positive reviews. Tommy suspected they were being written by supplement companies themselves.

Adam Smith and John Maynard Keynes are two of the most famous and foundational economists of all time. They also both have birthdays in June. To celebrate these important birthdays, the Indicator takes a look at whose ideas are more relevant today. Cardiff and Stacey pick sides and duke it out.

Music: "Broncos & Bravados"

Sallie Krawcheck, formerly a senior Wall Street executive at Sanford Bernstein, Citigroup and Bank of America, recently founded Ellevest, an investing platform for women. We invited her to play a game of overrated/underrated and weigh in on everything from the gender pay gap to South Carolina barbecue to the scourge of the standing desk.

The Beautiful Indicator

Jun 25, 2018

Everyone's caught up in World Cup fever, and Team Indicator is not immune. Today on the show: Cardiff, Stacey, and the gang sneak out of the office and set up shop in an Irish pub to explore the many ways in which the world's largest sporting event neatly explains the modern economy.

Music by Drop Electric. Find us: Twitter/ Facebook.

If you pay MoviePass 10 dollars a month, you can go to the movies every day. That's a dream for movie buffs, and it's attracted a lot of subscribers. But it also means the company is losing millions of dollars every month.

But this business model — lose lots of money up front and find a way to be profitable later — is becoming more common these days. But is it really sustainable? Today on the show, how MoviePass CEO Mitch Lowe is trying to come up with an answer.

Note: This episode originally ran in 2016.

The teen summer job is a vaunted tradition...one that is fading. Today's teenagers just aren't working at nearly the same rates as older generations did. Today we explore why, even with really low unemployment, the teen job market isn't picking up more. Some of it is because teens don't want to work, but some of it is also because employers don't want to employ them.

Music: "Black Surf Duel"

ICYMI, President Trump has started a trade war with China. It's on. He says he wants to stop China from stealing ideas and technology from the United States. As proof, he likes to talk about a huge report put together by the U.S. Trade Representative's office. Which he asked for.

The report includes a list of U.S. trade associations and companies that are upset about all this. So we called up a bunch of them. Just about everyone said they wouldn't talk. But there was one: A Virginia businessman willing to tell us his story.

The Plight Of The Living Dead

Jun 20, 2018

For the U.S. government, keeping track of who's alive and who's not is important. There are after all a lot of benefits associated with being alive — Medicare, Social Security benefits, voting. But the system for confirming who's actually dead is far from foolproof.

The Venezuelan economy has collapsed. Years of economic mismanagement and a deepening political crisis have led to a recession that has almost no parallel in recent memory.

But explaining just how bad things have gotten is also really hard because the normal economic indicators that we use to measure a country's economy have started to sound so so unfathomable — 25,000% inflation, for example — that it feels impossible to get our heads around them.

The trading relationship between the U.S. and China has been tense lately, defined by escalating tariff threats and bellicose rhetoric on both sides. The problem with tariffs though, is that they they often come with unintended consequences.

But if the U.S. wants to address China's questionable trade practices and counteract the negative effects of free trade, what is the government to do?Economist Jared Bernstein walks us through some of the alternative options for dealing with trade challenges.

The nation just got an update on the gig economy — a major survey of independent, informal, and temporary work just got updated for the first time in almost 13 years. On today's Indicator, we look at how this kind of alternative work arrangement has changed the economy in the last decade or so... and how it hasn't.

California is generating a ton of solar power--some days, more than people can use. It could power the whole state soon, except for one problem: There's no way to hold on to all that energy at night.

Some of the country's biggest energy companies are trying to figure out how to store the power. They're buying giant lithium batteries, and imagining ways to tap the batteries in electric cars. But there's another option.

Today on the show, we visit the world's largest battery, built out of a mountain and a lake.

The New York Stock Exchange got its start more than 200 years ago, with an agreement, signed by 24 men under a buttonwood tree on Wall Street.

Up to that point trading was a chaotic operation, conducted on street corners and in coffee houses, with basically no rules. So when America's young government declined to write its own regulations, a group of traders took it upon themselves to enter into a gentlemen's agreement that would lay the groundwork for the Wall Street we know today.

A few years ago, Don McPherson was wearing a pair of tinted glasses on a frisbee field. Don had designed them to protect the eyes of surgeons. Then his friend borrowed them, and saw something he'd never seen before. The color orange.

Don's friend was colorblind. And that moment led Don to figure out something that had stumped the medical world for centuries: How to help the colorblind see the rainbow.

Today on the show: Accidental inventions. Also, Planet Money's Kenny Malone discovers fuchsia.

One way to think of President Trump's trade policy as a sort of soap opera. There are multiple plotlines, there's high drama, and plot twists abound. And on top of all that, you can walk away for a while, come back, and still know the general thrust of the plot — in this case, the thrust being that President Trump has a penchant for blowing up trade agreements (or at least, saying that he will). Today, we catch you up on the latest dramatic developments and answer a big, looming question: are we in a trade war?

Updated at 2:21 p.m. ET

The Federal Reserve increased a key interest rate again Wednesday, which will trigger higher rates on credit cards, home equity lines and other kinds of borrowing.

CBO vs. POTUS

Jun 12, 2018

The Congressional Budget Office has a long history of disputes with the White House, including the current administration. It has withstood them all.

On this episode of The Indicator, we speak with Alice Rivlin, the first-ever director of the CBO. She explains the origins of the CBO, why it matters, and why the complaints about it from the Trump administration are different from those of the past.

A 4-year-old kid is given a marshmallow and a choice: either eat the marshmallow in front of her, or wait a few minutes (after the adults leave the room) and be rewarded with a second marshmallow. If the child can successfully wait, she can expect a bright future — or at least a brighter future on average than if she had not waited.

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