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Stacey Vanek Smith

Stacey Vanek Smith is the co-host of NPR's The Indicator from Planet Money. She's also a correspondent for Planet Money, where she covers business and economics. In this role, Smith has followed economic stories down the muddy back roads of Oklahoma to buy 100 barrels of oil; flew to Pune, India, to track down the man who pitched the country's dramatic currency devaluation to the prime minister; and spoke with a North Korean woman who made a small fortune smuggling artificial sweetener in from China.

Prior to coming to NPR, Smith worked for Marketplace, where she was a correspondent and fill-in host. While there, Smith was part of a collaboration with The New York Times, where she explored the relationship between money and marriage. She was also part of Marketplace's live shows, where she produced a series of pieces on getting her data mined.

Smith is a native of Idaho and grew up working on her parents' cattle ranch. She is a graduate of Princeton University, where she earned a bachelor's degree in comparative literature and creative writing. She also holds a master's in broadcast journalism from Columbia University.

The Port of Long Beach is one of the biggest ports in the country. It and its neighbor, the Port of Los Angeles, handle 390 billion dollars worth of goods every year.

And business has boomed as the economy has improved. U.S. consumers bought more stuff; ships started getting bigger to meet demand; the Port of Long Beach invested billions.

Seventy percent of the ships that dock at the port come from China. So talk of a trade war has everybody's attention down on the docks.

The New Bond Villain

Apr 20, 2018

The 10-year Treasury note is used as a benchmark for all sorts of other loans, like mortgages. It's also used as a kind of forecast for the economy.

And right now, pundits and money managers are fretting about the yield on the 10-year. It's been hanging out just below three percent for a while, and people are worried that if it goes to three percent or higher it could hurt the economy.

But our guest today, Marilyn Cohen of bond investment manager Envision Capital, says those concerns are way overblown.

The U.S. loses as much as $600 billion a year through intellectual property theft: Semiconductors, self-driving cars, sunglasses, and software.

China is the biggest culprit. It has planted moles in U.S. companies and hacked into computer systems to steal secrets. Boeing, Apple, Dupont, Ford have all gone after China for intellectual property theft.

President Trump wants to punish China by throwing up tariffs, but economist Ken Rogoff says we'd do better to turn the other cheek. It may not be a satisfying strategy, he says, but it's a lot more profitable in the long run.

More than a hundred million taxpayers will get a refund from the Treasury this year, and the average refund is about three thousand dollars. Of tax filers who do get a refund, it's the biggest cash infusion of the year for forty percent of them.

That sounds cool, but it means the average American taxpayer has effectively lent the government three grand until the refund hit their bank account — interest free.

Meanwhile, many of those taxpayers are either paying high interest rates on debt of their own or putting off the healthcare they need.

The Loan Ranger

Apr 16, 2018

It's widely accepted that you cannot get rid of student loans in bankruptcy. They follow you around forever, like the Terminator. But it turns out they can be beat. Some of them, anyway.

Austin Smith is a bankruptcy litigator who discovered, while he was in law school, that the bankruptcy code has been misinterpreted for decades.

He says as much as 50 billion dollars of outstanding student loans could be discharged in bankruptcy after all.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg was in Congress this week. Redfin CEO Glenn Kelman was watching.

He heard the senators' questions and wondered how many of our congressional representatives have any kind of computer background.

The answer? Not that many. Right around three percent. And, Kellman says, that's a problem for all of us.

The tax cuts, a government that almost shuts down before passing a big spending bill, a tanking stock market, the risk of trade wars (not to mention real wars), and even bad weather — it's been exhausting to keep up with the news flow these past few months.

But worry not. The Indicator goes back to its roots for this episode and presents you with three economic indicators that we think don't get enough attention — indicators that let you filter out the daily clatter and understand the trends that really matter.

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

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

The U.S. economy is not in a cyclical downturn right now. In fact, it is growing. So you might think that the deficit would be shrinking every year.

But no. The Congressional Budget Office says the deficit will be going up for the next 10 years. It will reach a trillion dollars by 2020.

Jared Bernstein joined us to talk about whether that's a bad thing.

There are essentially three reasons why women make, on average, 20 percent less than men in the U.S.

They are job choice, child care, and negotiation.

Francine Blau, an economist at Cornell, has done deep research into the gender pay gap, and joined us to dig into those reasons.

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

China and the U.S. played tit-for-tat with tariffs this week. President Trump opened by proposing $50 billion worth of tariffs on Chinese products. China responded with a proposal to slap tariffs worth $50 billion on U.S. goods.

A lot of American companies have expressed worry about what this will mean for their business. And of course, for jobs.

Mark Muro, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, looked into which parts of the workforce might be negatively affected by these tariffs.

Max Roser and Hannah Ritchie — part of the team behind Our World In Data — specialize in looking at how the world has changed over the very long run; as in centuries and millennia.

Over the course of their research they tend to come across some non-intuitive statistics that tell strange and sometimes wonderful stories about our world. So we called them up and asked them about a few of their favorite bits of data.

Musical collaborations between artists who normally do their own thing have been around for a long time. Back in the 80s collaborations were rare enough that when one did become a hit, it was a big deal.

The trend began gathering pace in the 1990s, and hasn't stopped. Today, about 35 percent of the Billboard Hot 100 songs are now collaborations, up from just 5 percent in 1990.

There are a number of reasons for this, but the biggest might be the rising popularity of hip hop.

Back in 1907, America's financial system was pretty unsophisticated. There was no central bank, barely any kind of regulatory framework, and no backstop in case of a crash.

Meanwhile, the economy was growing fast, with people borrowing and investing at a dizzying rate. And when people lost confidence in a kind of unregulated lending institution called a trust, panic spread through the economy.

China is imposing tariffs on about 3 billion dollars worth of U.S. exports. That's roughly the value of the steel and aluminum exports from China that President Trump taxed last month.

On today's show, we look at the list of goods from the U.S. that China is going to start taxing and we talk to a hog farmer who estimates his pigs have already lost 10 percent of their value.

One of the most puzzling trends of the last few decades has been the unrelenting rise in the number of people who fell out of the labor force because they were disabled.

The number of these disabled Americans went up for so long that the trend seemed like it might be permanent.

Today on the show, the story of a quietly dramatic turnaround in the U.S. economy. And what we can learn from it.

Healthcare spending represents a huge chunk of the American economy; more than in other places. And it's not because Americans are hypochondriacs.

Dr. Ashish Jha, physician and professor of global health at Harvard, discusses why we spend so much money on medical care and some ways we might be able to spend less.

The Baker Hughes Rig Count is a tally of all the rigs that are drilling for oil in the US.

It comes out every Friday, and it's often used as a gauge of the American oil business.

But technological advances in the industry could end up making the Baker Hughes index less relevant.

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

Too Small To Fail

Mar 22, 2018

Independent bookstores got crushed by big box stores in the 90s, and hammered by Amazon in the aughts.

But since then, they've reinvented themselves.

Now independent bookstores are back, often as the mainstays of new retail developments.

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

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

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

President Trump recently had a disagreement with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Trump says the U.S. has a trade deficit with Canada, Trudeau says it's a trade surplus.

Today on the show we explain how it's possible for both men to be right and wrong at the same time. It turns out that sometimes statistics is more art than science.

Links:

After the Revolutionary War, one of the first acts of the brand new Congress was to tax goods imported from foreign countries. Since then the debate over tariffs hasn't changed much, but the U.S. economy definitely has.

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

The way most companies first sell their shares to the public is tried and true; hire an investment bank, do a roadshow, agree to a lockup period, etc etc.

But Spotify is doing none of those things. In fact it's not doing an initial public offering at all: it's doing a direct public offering instead.

It's an unusual move. but if it works, it could change the way a big part of Wall Street business is done.

Links:
How ans IPO gets done, step by step (CNBC)

Ten years ago, the investment bank Bear Stearns collapsed, and the government stepped in to broker a bailout.

William D. Cohan thinks that was a mistake. He wrote about Bear in his book, House of Cards.

He talked to us about what happened then and what's changed since.

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

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

President Trump recently slapped tariffs on steel and aluminium imports from certain countries, but not because those countries don't play fair on trade.

Instead, the Trump administration cited national security concerns. The move has got him what he wants, but it puzzled America's trading partners. If they retaliate with the same tactic, the damage to the global trading system — and to the rules that underpin the system — could be huge.

Links:

Japan has more government debt (outstanding as a percentage of GDP) that Greece did at the height of its financial crisis. To the casual observer, Japan looks as overloaded as a Vegas buffet. And yet the country is somehow able to keep on borrowing at the same low, low rate. Why?

Also, what British (Indian) car does James Bond drive (but only once)?

Your questions, answered.

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Most products in this world are vulnerable to creative destruction: as new products are developed, they make old ones obsolete.

But there are some exceptions to this rule. There are products that persist, resisting change while economic evolution continues on without them.

Like the graphing calculator.

75.2 percent. That is the prime age female labor force participation rate, the share of all adult women between the ages of 25 and 54 who are working or looking for work.

In the 70s, 80s, and 90s, the number of women participating in the workforce went up and up and up.But, in 2000, that momentum waned.

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

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