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EconTalk Archives, 2014
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EconTalk Archives, 2014

Author: EconTalk: Russ Roberts, Library of Economics and Liberty

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EconTalk is an award-winning weekly talk show about economics in daily life. Featured guests include renowned economics professors, Nobel Prize winners, and exciting speakers on all kinds of topical matters related to economic thought. Topics include health care, business cycles, economic growth, free trade, education, finance, politics, sports, book reviews, parenting, and the curiosities of everyday decision-making. Russ Roberts, of the Library of Economics and Liberty (econlib.org) and George Mason U., draws you in with lively guests and creative repartee. Look for related readings and the complete archive of previous shows at EconTalk.org, where you can also comment on the podcasts and ask questions.
52 Episodes
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James Tooley, Professor of Education at Newcastle University, talks to EconTalk host Russ Roberts about low-cost for-profit private schools in the slums and rural areas of poor countries. Tooley shows how surprisingly widespread private schools are for the poor and how effective they are relative to public schools where teacher attendance and performance can be very disappointing. The conversation closes with whether public schooling should remain the ideal in poor countries.
Joshua Angrist of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology talks to EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the craft of econometrics--how to use economic thinking and statistical methods to make sense of data and uncover causation. Angrist argues that improvements in research design along with various econometric techniques have improved the credibility of measurement in a complex world. Roberts pushes back and the conversation concludes with a discussion of how to assess the reliability of findings in controversial public policy areas.
Gary Marcus of New York University talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the future of artificial intelligence (AI). While Marcus is concerned about how advances in AI might hurt human flourishing, he argues that truly transformative smart machines are still a long way away and that to date, the exponential improvements in technology have been in hardware, not software. Marcus proposes ways to raise standards in programming to reduce mistakes that would have catastrophic effects if advanced AI does come to fruition. The two also discuss "big data's" emphasis on correlations, and how that leaves much to be desired.
James Otteson of Wake Forest University talks to EconTalk host Russ Roberts about his new book, The End of Socialism. Otteson argues that socialism (including what he calls the "socialist inclination") is morally and practically inferior to capitalism. Otteson contrasts socialism and capitalism through the views of G. A. Cohen and Adam Smith. Otteson emphasizes the importance of moral agency and respect for the individual in his defense of capitalism. The conversation also includes a discussion of the deep appeal of the tenets of socialism such as equality and the impulse for top-down planning.
Nick Bostrom of the University of Oxford talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about his book, Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies. Bostrom argues that when machines exist which dwarf human intelligence they will threaten human existence unless steps are taken now to reduce the risk. The conversation covers the likelihood of the worst scenarios, strategies that might be used to reduce the risk and the implications for labor markets, and human flourishing in a world of superintelligent machines.
Emily Oster of the University of Chicago talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about why U.S. infant mortality is twice that in Finland and high relative to the rest of the world, given high income levels in the United States. The conversation explores the roles of measurement and definition along with culture to understand the causes of infant mortality in the United States and how it might be improved.
Nobel Laureate Vernon L. Smith of Chapman University talks to EconTalk host Russ Roberts about how Adam Smith's book, The Theory of Moral Sentiments has enriched his understanding of human behavior. He contrasts Adam Smith's vision in Sentiments with the traditional neoclassical models of choice and applies Smith's insights to explain unexpected experimental results from the laboratory.
Becky Liddicoat Yamarik, Hospice Palliative Care Physician, talks to EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the joys and challenges of providing care for terminally ill patients. The two discuss the services palliative care provides, how patients make choices about quality of life and when to stop receiving treatment, conflicts of interest between patients and families, and patients' preparedness to make these decisions.
Daron Acemoglu, the Elizabeth and James Killian Professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about his new paper co-authored with James Robinson, "The Rise and Fall of General Laws of Capitalism," a critique of Thomas Piketty, Karl Marx, and other thinkers who have tried to explain patterns of data as inevitable "laws" without regard to institutions. Acemoglu and Roberts also discuss labor unions, labor markets, and inequality.
Robert Solow, Professor Emeritus at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Nobel Laureate, talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about his hugely influential theory of growth and inspiration to create a model that better reflected the stable long-term growth of an economy. Solow contends that capital accumulation cannot explain a significant portion of the economic growth we see. He makes a critical distinction between innovation and technology, and then discusses his views on Milton Friedman and John M. Keynes.
Luigi Zingales of the University of Chicago's Booth School of Business talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about Zingales's essay, "Preventing Economists' Capture." Zingales argues that just as regulators become swayed by the implicit incentives of dealing with industry executives, so too with economists who study business: supporting business interests can be financially and professionally rewarding. Zingales outlines the different ways that economists benefit from supporting business interests and ways that economists might work to prevent that influence or at least be aware of it.
EconTalk host Russ Roberts is interviewed by long-time EconTalk guest Michael Munger about Russ's new book, How Adam Smith Can Change Your Life: An Unexpected Guide to Human Nature and Happiness. Topics discussed include how economists view human motivation and consumer behavior, the role of conscience and self-interest in acts of kindness, and the costs and benefits of judging others. The conversation closes with a discussion of how Smith can help us understand villains in movies.
David Autor of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the future of work and the role that automation and smart machines might play in the workforce. Autor stresses the importance of Michael Polanyi's insight that many of the things we know and understand cannot be easily written down or communicated. Those kinds of tacit knowledge will be difficult for smart machines to access and use. In addition, Autor argues that fundamentally, the gains from machine productivity will accrue to humans. The conversation closes with a discussion of the distributional implications of a world with a vastly larger role for smart machines.
Martha Nussbaum of the University of Chicago and author of Creating Capabilities talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about an alternative to GDP for measuring economic performance at the national level. She is a proponent of the capabilities approach that emphasizes how easily individuals can acquire skills and use them, as well as the capability to live long and enjoy life. Nussbaum argues that government policy should focus on creating capabilities rather than allowing them to emerge through individual choices and civil society.
Thomas Piketty of the Paris School of Economics and author of Capital in the Twenty-First Century talks to Econtalk host Russ Roberts about the book. The conversation covers some of the key empirical findings of the book along with a discussion of their significance.
Elizabeth Green, author of the new book Building a Better Teacher: How Teaching Works (and How to Teach it to Anyone), talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the art of teaching and the history of various reforms, mostly failed, trying to improve teaching in America. Specific topics include the theoretical focus of undergraduate education programs and various techniques being used in charter schools and elsewhere to improve teaching performance.
Paul Pfleiderer, C.O.G. Miller Distinguished Professor of Finance at the Graduate School of Business at Stanford University, talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about his recent paper critiquing what Pfleiderer calls "Chameleon Models," economic models that are thought to explain the real world with little analysis of the accuracy of their assumptions. Also discussed are Akerlof's market for lemons model, Friedman's idea that assumptions do not have to be reasonable as long as the model predicts what happens in the real world, and the dangers of leaping from a model's results to making policy recommendations.
Nathan Blecharczyk, co-founder and chief technology officer of Airbnb, talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about Airbnb, one of the earliest companies to use technology to allow individuals to share underused resources, and in the case of Airbnb, housing. Blecharczyk and Roberts discuss how a design conference and the Democratic National Convention got Airbnb started, how the company aligns incentives to overcome the trust problem of house-sharing, and the rise of technology and online social networks to make a new business model possible. Along the way, Blecharczyk gives his take on the role of luck vs. skill in entrepreneurial success and how Airbnb plans to expand its product offerings in the future.
Daphne Koller of Coursera talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about online educational website Coursera and the future of education both online and via bricks-and-mortar. Koller, co-founder of Coursera with Andrew Ng, explains how Coursera partners with universities, how they try to create community and interaction, and the likely impact of widespread digital education on universities and those who want to learn. The conversation includes a discussion of why Koller left a chaired position in computer science at Stanford University to run a for-profit start-up in a crowded field.
Terry Anderson, Distinguished Fellow at the Property and Environment Research Center (PERC) and Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution, talks to EconTalk host Russ Roberts about free-market environmentalism, the dynamics of the Yellowstone ecosystem, and how property rights can protect natural resources.
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