Wealth & Poverty

Ways to Connect

The mortgage interest deduction is popular, even among people who don't claim it. It is widely believed to encourage and subsidize homeownership by allowing people to deduct the interest they pay on their mortgages. But economists tell a different story. They've been pointing out the problems with it for years, seemingly to no avail.

The lion's share of people who work in finance are men. That has been changing a little in recent years, but not in the bond market. In fact, the number of women managing bond portfolios has been falling over the last few years. But the women who do choose the bond market do very well — even better than their male colleagues. Today we talk to Marilyn Cohen, owner of Envision Capital Management, and 30 year veteran of the bond market. She talks about what the bond market is like, what it takes to succeed and why she thinks women aren't picking it.

The commencement speech is a proud tradition. Or at least it's a tradition.

And since no college invited Stacey and Cardiff to give a commencement speech, they're taking to the podcast to offer their own brand of evidence-based wisdom for new college grads.

Links:

Highest Educational Levels Reached by Adults in the U.S. Since 1940

Time Bandits

May 18, 2018

Time theft happens when companies get employees to work hours for which they are not paid. A new study from the University of Oregon says it's happening more and more and workers are losing billions of dollars in wages every year.

This often happens through mandated breaks that workers can't actually take or through timekeeping software that rounds to the nearest quarter hour.

Music: "Shifty Looking Characters"

Twenty three years ago, the United States and just about every country in the world decided that they were going to create a common set of rules about trade. Rule one: If anyone broke these rules, everyone would immediately report to a lake in Switzerland—home of the World Trade Organization.

Today on the show, we ask the big questions: Should the WTO be able to veto a decision made by the elected representatives of the American people? Does it have enough power to stop a trade war? And the biggest question of all... Is mint even a flavor?

The proposed expansion of work requirements for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — commonly referred to as food stamps — has been controversial.

Class actions have been around for centuries. But the modern version was created in the 1960s — in part by a young lawyer working on a manual typewriter in the back seat of a car. At the time, class actions were seen as a way to advance the civil rights movement.

Today, thousands of class actions are filed every year. Some of them are still about civil rights. But they're also about things questions like: Is there enough pepper in this tin of pepper?

On today's show, we find out how we got here, and ask whether this is a good way to do things.

All Bets Are On

May 16, 2018

This week, the Supreme Court paved the way for states to legalize sports gambling, which has been illegal almost everywhere but Nevada since 1992. States expect to make billions in new revenues.

Opponents of the decision worry that gambling will bring back the scandals of an earlier era, when athletes betting on the outcomes of their own games would deliberately try to lose. Are they right?

Interest rates had been falling for most of the past three decades – but two years ago, they started climbing. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note recently climbed above 3%, up from less 1.5% just a couple of years ago.

Among the reasons that rising rates matter is that they have numerous effects on the housing market. Some of these effects are obvious. As interest rates climb, so will mortgage rates, making houses relatively less affordable. Refinancing also becomes less attractive.

About three years ago, the Chinese government introduced an economic plan, Made in China 2025. The goal was for China to elevate itself from a middle-income country to a high-income country, upgrading its domestic companies so that they can compete with the most technologically advanced companies in the world. This meant reducing China's reliance on importing certain high-tech goods from abroad, including from the United States.

In the 1940s, if you were flying from New York City to London or Paris you would find yourself making a pit stop for fuel on the western coast of Ireland. The Shannon airport at the time wasn't much to look at, but the passengers arriving there were movie stars and celebrities, basically the super rich. And the people of Shannon realized pretty quickly that they needed to upgrade the local amenities for their wealthy clientele. They hired a man named Brendan O'Regan to make it happen.

The wine scoring system was popularized by Robert Parker in the 70s. It has numerous critics. But whatever the system's merits, the scores themselves do make a big difference for a winery business. Today, we explore the weird world of wine ratings and test the system for ourselves.

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

Failing College

May 10, 2018

Colleges have a problem: fewer people are applying every year. Universities are competing like crazy for any edge they can get. Some are offering more financial aid, others are building tiger habitats. But the economic impact of fewer universities could be large.

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

Arty Schronce was the director of Georgia's Poultry Marketing News. As part of his job, he'd call up chicken companies and ask them how much they were charging for chicken. He'd publish the numbers in something called The Georgia Dock.

A couple of years ago, things started to get weird. Today on the show, we follow the story of how some shadowy Wall Street investors became convinced that chicken companies were conspiring to charge Americans too much for their chicken. They try to expose the sham and Arty Schronce gets caught in the middle.

How many possible shows could the Indicator do? How many indicators will there be? How many almost-indicators will never see the light of day? The answer to all of these questions is: infinity

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

When Republicans in Congress passed a big corporate tax cut in December, they hoped it would incentivize companies to invest more money in equipment, new buildings, research, and software.

This kind of investment would help workers be more productive, making it possible for them to receive bigger raises. Critics of the tax cut responded that companies would just give the money they saved to their shareholders, by buying back their own shares.

A few decades ago, nobody paid much attention to LIBOR. The London Interbank Offered Rate was just an interest rate for loans between banks. It was set by a group of low-level bankers in the bowels of major financial institutions, according to David Enrich, author of The Spider Network. Then banks started using the LIBOR rates to set interest rates for other loans, like mortgages and student loans. A huge scandal ensued, but replacing the infamous rate has proven to be difficult.

California is the largest U.S. state economy, and it's also one of the largest economies in the world. It's home to tons of agricultural production and to the country's biggest ports.

The U.S. economy is improving steadily. The unemployment rate continues to fall. Usually, when companies expand their workforces and start hiring, the supply of workers dries up and wages start to climb faster.

But that's not happening right now. Wages are rising at a measly 2.6 percent. That's barely higher than inflation.

Elise Gould, a senior economist at the Economic Policy Institute, says the way we classify workers misses a key part of the potential workforce. And there's a lot more slack in the labor market than you'd think just by looking at the unemployment rate.

Updated at 10 a.m. ET

The U.S. economy had a net gain of 164,000 jobs last month. Unemployment — which had stood at 4.1 percent since October 2017 — fell to 3.9 percent, according to Friday's report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The last time the U.S. jobless percentage sat below 4 percent was in 2000, when unemployment stayed at 3.9 percent for the final four months of the year.

Baby Bubbles

May 3, 2018

It's been more than a decade since a bursting housing bubble triggered the 2008 financial crisis. And, once again, the housing market is booming. Home prices are rising way faster than inflation. And that's got a lot of people worried about another bubble.

We talked to a developer in one of the hottest markets in the country about what he's seeing on the home front. And we asked an economist at the Urban Institute whether he thinks we're on the verge of another housing bust.

The Apple That Changed The World

May 3, 2018

The mid-20th century was a bad time to be an apple lover. The produce section of supermarkets only had a few apples, and one stood tall above the rest: mealy, and tough-skinned, it was the Red Delicious.

The popularity of fondue wasn't an accident. It was planned by a cartel of Swiss cheese makers, which ruled the Swiss economy for 80 years.

On today's show: we cut into the Swiss cheese. It's a story about what happens when well-meaning folks decide the rules of economics don't apply to them. And got the world to eat gobs of melted fat. Also, we meet a man known as the 'Cheese Rebel.'

Aging Up

May 2, 2018

There's this perception that successful entrepreneurs are invariably youthful, full of ideas and energy, and unburdened by responsibilities that come with middle age. Pair that with the idea that as we get older we decline cognitively, and it makes sense that we think of entrepreneurship as a young person's deal, right?

Ben Jones at the Kellogg School of Management doesn't agree.

Healthcare is a giant part of the economy, and a huge drain on the public purse. More than a quarter of federal government spending goes to healthcare, which makes it a very political issue.

President Trump has stated his intention to create a more consumer friendly healthcare system... more market-based. Part of that is increasing price transparency for prescription drugs and medical procedures.

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