Wealth & Poverty

Ways to Connect

Every August, thousands of people converge on The World's Longest Yard Sale. It spans from Alabama to Michigan. We decided to drive the whole thing, to see 690 miles of microeconomics at work.

We follow a yard sale fanatic on her quest to find the perfect bed frame, and learn her strategies for getting the best deals. We buy some records from a man who decides he wants to buy them back. And we pick up some 70s amber goblets, a baseball bat, an ugly cat cookie jar... you get the idea.

With all the sound and fury that emanates from the various parts of our nation's capital, it's not always easy to pin down President Trump's economic policy — or if he even has one.

Greg Ip, chief economics commentator at the Wall Street Journal, has written a piece identifying a few patterns that suggest an economic philosophy, whether it was deliberate or not, that sets the president apart from his predecessors. Like the extent to which he helps his favorite industries, how focused he is on China, and how often he cites national security as a motive for his policy decisions.

We wanted to buy a digital creature called a Cryptokitty. Not as easy as it sounds. You can't use regular money. You have to use a digital currency called Ethereum. That requires making a long journey into the heart of the uncertain, speculative world of cryptocurrency, and the blockchain.

The IndiCATurrrr purchased two CryptoKitties and bred them!

Cryptokitties have gripped the nation. Well, some of the nation. Cryptokitties are digital cartoon cats that you can buy and sell using a cryptocurrency known as Ethereum. There's a real and active market for them, and they rise and fall in value, just like stocks or bonds. One cryptokitty recently sold for $140,000. And the company that creates these non-fungible felines recently landed a $12 million cash injection from venture capitalists.

Note: Today's episode originally aired in 2015.

One day it's profitable to recycle a bottle. The next day, some number in the global economy changes and that bottle suddenly becomes trash. A drop in oil prices, for example, can make it way harder to recycle plastic.

No one knows for sure how many Americans have been convicted of a crime. But the number is in the millions, making the formerly incarcerated a significant portion of the population. Once these men and women have served their time, they find their troubles aren't over. It's exceptionally hard for former convicts to get a job, which is bad news for those individuals, for society and for the economy.

Tim Harford is the author of 'Fifty Inventions that Shaped the Modern Economy." We play overrated/underrated with Tim. We ask him about inventions like the light bulb and the iPhone as well as messy desks and everyone's favorite summer invention: the air conditioner.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

All companies start out as private enterprises. That means there are only a handful of shareholders in the firm, and sometimes just one. But at some point, the company's owners might decide to 'go public', and put their shares up for sale on a public exchange for anyone to buy.

Every morning, we open our inboxes and find... your questions. Dozens of questions. Like, where does the money from a tariff go? What would happen to the economy if literally no one was unemployed? And why do RV dealerships have so many RV's?

Today on the show, we dig through all those questions and answer some our favorites. We do the math to figure out the cost of having life vests on airplanes, and try to determine whether they are worth it. We learn about a uncommon way of paying for an apartment in South Korea.

For you, dear listeners, we even touch a tariff.

Campbell Harvey is a finance professor at Duke University. Back in the mid-1980s, when he was working on his PhD thesis, scholars were scrutinizing different markets for evidence that they could predict economic growth.

When demand for a commodity is high and supply is low, providers usually just raise the price. That pushes demand down. But when that commodity is water - an essential for human life - those pricing rules don't apply. Or do they?

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

Walls, doors, privacy--if you work a desk job in America you probably do not have have these luxuries anymore.

This is the age of the open office, of half-cubicles and clustered desks, of huge rooms of long communal tables with white-collar workers shoulder-to-shoulder, sometimes wearing $350 noise-cancelling headphones to block out the clatter. Then over to the side, maybe there's an airy lounge space with sofas and a comfy chair or two. Maybe there's even a ping pong table on the way to the bathroom.

SWIFT, or the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication, is a financial messaging system for banks. It's a little company, based in Belgium, but for years it has weilded outsize influence on global finance. Now SWIFT's influence has extended to international diplomacy, and the little Belgian firm has landed smack dab in the middle of a bitter transatlantic dispute that could affect the way America conducts foreign policy.

The Trump Administration has been throwing out old trade agreements and putting new tariffs in place. But at the same time, other countries have been re-negotiating their agreements, too, going around the US to hammer out free trade deals. The European Union has been particularly successful, pushing a trade agenda that the US has been resisting for decades. And there's one corner of the economy where things have been particularly explosive: cheese.

Venezuela's currency, the bolivar, is like an unwrapped chocolate bar these days. The minute it touches your hand it starts to melt. To disappear. So Venezuelans have been trying to trade their money for anything at all: Toilet paper, bags of sugar, and, if they can manage it, U.S. dollars.

Five labor market indicators, one minute each. They are:

1) This year, the average number of jobs added to the economy each month has been 215,000, an increase on last year's average of 182,000.

2) The share of adults between the ages of 25 and 54 with a job is now 79.5 percent.

3) The manufacturing sector has added 327,000 jobs in the past year, which represents a faster pace of job creation than the overall economy — a reversal of the trend from a few years ago.

4) The unemployment rate for high school graduates with no college experience has fallen to 4%.

Updated at 9:08 a.m. ET

The economy continued to add jobs at a steady pace last month, and the unemployment rate remained low. Analysts have been looking for signs that wage growth might pick up, but it held steady, too.

Payrolls grew by a lower-than-expected 157,000 in July, and the unemployment rate edged down to 3.9 percent, as projected, the Labor Department said Friday.

In recent decades, income inequality in the United States has been climbing. Scholars and pundits argue about what causes the trend and how problematic it is, but they largely agree that it has happened.

But has the rise in income inequality between rich and poor also been accompanied by a widening cultural distance between the two groups? A new working paper from Marianne Bertrand and Emir Kamenica investigates the question. And its approach to answering it is amost as interesting as what it found. On today's show, we discuss it with Emir.

Tariffs have been dominating the economic news this summer. President Donald Trump has announced new import taxes on goods coming from China, Europe, Mexico and Canada. But what happens then? Today on the show, Stacey and Cardiff go into the belly of the beast: in Newark, New Jersey.

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

When you order stuff online, it may cost less to have it shipped across the world than across the street.

Take the Mighty Mug. It's a travel mug that's almost impossible to knock over, invented by a guy in New Jersey named Jayme Smaldone. A few months ago, Jayme realized he could order a knockoff Mighty Mug from China and get it shipped for less than it would cost him to ship his mug to a neighbor.

The Federal Reserve on Wednesday held off on raising its key interest rate, which plays a role in loans to consumers and businesses.

The Fed is sticking to the script it has been forecasting to financial markets, but it's expected to raise rates twice more this year — on top of the increases it implemented in March and June.

The pace of wage growth is one of the best indicators of economic health. But wage growth can be measured using a number of different methods. Each method has strengths and weaknesses, and each method tells a slightly different story about how the economy, and the labor market, is doing.

We speak with economist Ernie Tedeschi, who suggests three different measures of wage growth that we should all be tracking. In chart form, they are:

1. Average Hourly Earnings for all private sector workers:

No question, Russia is a formidable force in the global political arena. But its economy is smaller than the economy of Texas. Russia's economy was growing like crazy between 1999 and 2008. But it's about the same size now as it was at the end of the Great Recession. Today on the show, we look at what's been holding back Russia's economy.

GDP, OMG!

Jul 27, 2018

The gross domestic product is a measure of all the goods and services an economy produces. For the second quarter of this year, the U.S. economy grew at a stellar rate of 4.1%. Today on the show, we take a deep dive into everybody's favorite economic indicator: How is it measured? Why is it so high? Will it continue?

It's hard to build new housing in cities like San Francisco. There's restrictive zoning that keeps developers from building too high. Plus, neighborhood councils get to object to specific projects they don't like.

These restrictions are a big part of why rents have gotten... too high. So a group of renters is pushing for a simple solution: Let developers build.

Only problem is, almost everybody hates it. In working class neighborhoods, people worry new development means gentrification. In richer areas, homeowners don't want high-rises blocking their million-dollar views.

Mark Twain was a literary giant — but a horrible investor. John Maynard Keynes was one of history's greatest economists, but his genius for economics was less helpful to his own investment choices than his mental flexibility. Warren Buffett's investment track record is almost without equal, but he once made a $6 billion mistake.

On today's show, we speak with Michael Batnick, author of Big Mistakes: The Best Investors and Their Worst Investments, about the mistakes made by these famous investors and the lessons we should all learn from those mistakes.

President Trump is eager to tout a fast-growing economy, boosted by the tax cuts he pushed through Congress. That makes Friday morning's report on gross domestic product a highly anticipated news event.

Did GDP growth top 4 percent in the second quarter — more than double the first-quarter pace — as many economists project?

Forecasts are all over the board, with estimates even among Federal Reserve economists diverging widely.

The events of 10 years ago show why these forecasts are so important.

Adam Smith, the father of economics, had a problem. He believed in the wisdom of markets--that the free market would always settle on the best price for something. That price would be an expression of how valuable that item was. The problem: diamonds are more expensive than water and water is more valuable to us than diamonds.

We talked to Linda Yueh about the paradox and Smith.

Poop is big business in Dakar, Senegal. That's because a lot of the homes have septic tanks, which need to be cleaned out regularly. The best way to clean your tank is by hiring a proper truck, which arrives with a vacuum.

The problem is that for years, the guys who drove the poop trucks operated as a cartel, and they squashed competition and kept prices high. So a lot of people turned to a cheaper alternative: Men who clear out septic tanks by hand, with shovels and buckets, and basically bury the poop in the street. It's terrible work and bad for the environment.

Last week, President Trump told CNBC that he doesn't like the Federal Reserve's policy of gradually raising interest rates. In particular, he laments that rising interest rates will lead to a stronger dollar, potentially exacerbating the U.S. trade deficit.

The dollar has strengthened this year, but if President Trump wants to assign blame for the stronger dollar, then he should save most of it for his own agenda.

Josh Barro of Business Insider joins us to discuss.

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