Wealth & Poverty

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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.

Especially as the midterm elections approach, there's an unavoidable stream of news about politics in crisis: words like "polarization" and "tribalism" paint a portrait of voters retreating intransigently to their respective corners (or, more accurately, social media bubbles).

A new poll gives a clearer picture of what that "tribalism" looks like: Americans differ not just on their ideology or political team, but on the issues they view as problems.

Pew presented registered voters with 18 issues, asking those voters how big of a problem each issue is.

This episode originally ran in April 2013.

What causes what? The human brain is programmed to answer this question constantly, and using a very basic method. This is how we survive. What made that noise? A bear made that noise. What caused my hand to hurt? Fire caused my hand to hurt.

But sometimes, we use these simple tools to solve complex problems. And so we get things wrong. I wore my lucky hat to the game. My team won. Therefore, my lucky hat caused my team to win.

Canada just became the largest country to legalize marijuana so far.

Back in January, on The Indicator, Planet Money's Jacob Goldstein spoke with James Tebrake, the director general of Statistics Canada. Now that marijuana is legal, the domestic market for it needs to be included in the national statistics, like GDP. James is the person responsible for measuring that market.

But it's not easy measuring the size of a market that's existed in the shadows until now. So we play Jacob's conversation with James, who walks us through the process in fascinating detail.

The share of all Americans who live in poverty is 13.9 percent. That's according to the Supplemental Poverty Report from the Census Bureau. Poverty is usually measured by the official poverty report, which measures how much money people make without taking into account taxes and benefits.

Tyler Cowen is an economist and, along with Alex Tabarrok, proprietor of the blog Marginal Revolution. He joins us periodically on The Indicator to play a game that he created, Overrated/Underrated. Today he talks to Cardiff about the Nobel Prize, Trump trade policy, the yield curve, and ... weirdness in conversations?

Tyler also has a new book coming out called Stubborn Attachments, and we save a couple of questions for him about that as well.

As the student loan ombudsman for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Seth Frotman watched as the Department of Education became one of the biggest banks in the country. It has lent out more than a trillion dollars to student borrowers. The problem is, the Department of Education wasn't really built to be a bank.

Companies know that when they screw up big time they need to issue an immediate and comprehensive apology. But what about the smaller stuff? If a company gets your order wrong or sends you a faulty product, what should they do? That's the topic of a new paper on the economics of apologies. A group of economists partnered with the ride-sharing app Uber to try and figure out the most effective way for a company to apologize to a wronged customer.

China's Brave New World

Oct 11, 2018

China's social credit score is a lot like a credit score in the U.S., but with a twist. In China, your ability to participate fully in the economy is dependent not just on your borrowing history, but also your behavior. How you act at work, what you buy in the store and whether you obey traffic laws can all factor into your score.

The Chinese government is currently piloting this program in several cities. Today on the Indicator, we look at life in one of the pilot cities and see what life might look like in China if this system is adopted nationwide.

Life On China's Blacklist

Oct 10, 2018

In America, default and bankruptcy is almost a rite of passage for people in business. It's certainly nothing to be ashamed of. In China, however, failure to pay your debts is a cardinal sin. Offenders are banished to a blacklist. If you're on the blacklist, you can't buy a plane ticket or stay in many hotels. And your face may be plastered on billboards throughout the city, naming you as untrustworthy. Today on the Indicator, we talk with a coal broker who has been on the list for more than two years.

Who can you trust? How can you tell whether someone who borrows money from you will pay it back? In the U.S., we have a credit score to help make these calls. But in China, no such system exists.

So the government came up with its own equivalent: it will score peoples' trustworthiness using not just court and bank records, but also data from the online shopping companies. Today on the Indicator: China's social credit system and what it might mean for citizens.

The Iron Lotus

Oct 8, 2018

Today on The Indicator, we answer your questions. Well, one of them anyway. Listener Sam Spear wrote to us to ask us about the mysterious financial contortions performed by a company called Helios and Matheson, which owns a company called Moviepass. Specifically, Helios and Matheson performed a reverse stock split, after which they diluted their stock an extraordinary amount. Sam asked us to explain what happened, and why, and whether what Helios and Matheson was even legal.

This episode is a rerun. It originally ran in 2014. We're playing it again because Bill Nordhaus shared the 2018 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Science today! We based this episode on one of his papers.

The jobs news this week continues to be good: at 3.7 percent, the jobless rate is the lowest it's been since late 1969. But the number doesn't tell the whole story about the state of employment in America today.

Today on the Indicator, we steal from our econ pals to look at the jobs numbers through a few separate lenses. We look at the average number of jobs created over the last six months, which industries are hiring the fastest — and which are shedding jobs the fastest. Plus we look at the unemployment rates for certain demographics.

Episode 868: Moneyland

Oct 5, 2018

Economics often looks at the world the way we look at a map. It sees a bunch of separate countries, each making its own decisions and rules about how to run itself. Money is earned and taxed in sovereign states, each having its own borders and laws.

But Oliver Bullough says it doesn't make sense to look at the world that way. He's a British journalist and he has written a new book: Moneyland. That's what he calls a hidden economy where shell companies and offshore accounts shelter wealth from taxation and scrutiny.

Updated at 10:21 a.m. ET

The U.S. jobless rate dropped to 3.7 percent in September — the lowest since 1969, though the economy added a lower-than-expected 134,000 jobs, the Bureau of Labor Statistics said. The jobless rate fell from August's 3.9 percent.

Average earnings rose 8 cents, to $27.24 per hour last month. But wage growth slowed, with average hourly earnings up 2.8 percent from a year earlier, compared with a 2.9 percent increase in August.

The economy has now added jobs for nearly eight straight years.

Team Indicator shares its reactions to the new NAFTA, now known as the USMCA. The deal probably does not represent a huge change to the way these countries trade with each other, but it could have intriguing consequences for America's approach to trade with China.

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

Episode 680: Anatomy Of A Scam

Oct 3, 2018

Note: This episode originally ran in January 2016.

The ads are on telephone poles across America: "Work from home. Make thousands of dollars a week. Call this number!" And all over the internet, now, too. Today on the show, we find out what happens when you decide, yeah, that sounds pretty good. It's the story of a scam that will not die. We have secret documents laying out how it all works. And recordings of actual phone calls.

For almost a century, General Electric was a powerhouse of the American economy, a byword for progress, innovation, and excellence.

GE did everything, from light bulbs to jet engines to medical devices to banking. And it was that last little venture that turned out to be a bridge too far. GE got into the business just ahead of the financial crisis, and once the dust from that debacle had settled, GE found itself more than a little dinged up. A decade later, the company still hasn't recovered. Today on The Indicator, we find out what brought GE to its knees.

Financial bubbles arise because people start taking more and more risks that they don't really understand.

But these bubbles are also fascinating for another reason: they tend to reflect the particular characteristics — the psychological and societal characteristics — of the times in which they inflated.

Today on the show, we speak with Joe Weisenthal of Bloomberg about the bubbles of the past decade, how they differ from earlier bubbles, and what they tell us about the times we're living through.

D.C.'s Billion-Dollar Lawsuit

Oct 1, 2018

Back in the 1970s, black residents made up more than 70% of Washington, D.C.'s population. Since then, that share has fallen to less than half. There are many reasons for this demographic shift, but Ari Theresa, an attorney, says one big one is the city's implementation of an unofficial policy aimed at attracting workers in tech, science education, the arts, media and design — the so-called creative class.

Today on the show, we have a special report. We've learned that as many as 13,000 immigrants, most of them Chinese, may be at risk of being deported. They were all granted asylum years ago.

Now, the government is scrutinizing their cases. It goes back to an investigation called Operation Fiction Writer, which was announced in 2012. Dozens of people were rounded up for helping immigrants lie on their asylum applications.

NPR White House correspondent Scott Horsley asked us to solve a mystery for him: He's been reporting on corn prices, which have been falling lately, but when he went to get a snack from the vending machine in the press corps break room in the White House, he discovered the price of a bag of Fritos had risen 20% (a quarter!) Today on the Indicator, the case of the pricey Frito! A tale of transportation costs, tariff penalties, and our deep love of salty snacks.

Archival tape from Suspense

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