Wealth & Poverty

Ways to Connect

Episode 818: The Problem Of The Root

Jan 17, 2018

Ginseng is a little ginger-like root that grows in the mountains of Appalachia. It has been used for thousands of years, mostly in China, as a remedy for everything from fatigue to cancer. It is poached from state forests, and it is farmed in secret locations. People have been killed over it.

But not all ginseng is created equal. There's cultivated ginseng and wild ginseng. And the wild stuff is where the money is. It can cost a thousand dollars a pound, or more.

Everybody needs oil. Saudi Arabia has a lot of oil. So the country has had an endless supply of money.

Then, things started changing. The U.S. started producing more oil, which means Saudi Arabia can't control world oil prices like they used to. Also, it's become clear that the world isn't going to run on oil forever.

Now, a young crown prince is trying to figure out how to save his country before the money runs out. Part of the plan: A Greek, new-age keyboardist.

The bridge to nowhere. The teapot museum. People loved to point out how congressional earmarks led to wasteful government spending. Then, in 2011, Congress dramatically restricted earmarks.

Now, Congress is considering bringing them back.

Earmarks are easy to mock. But on today's show, Jonathan Rauch of Brookings and The Atlantic argues that earmarks make democracy work better.

Cody Wilson makes gun-making machines. Depending whom you ask, he's either one of the most dangerous people in the world, or a hero of the first amendment.

Cody's never sold a gun. He's never killed anyone. And, to his knowledge, none of the guns he's made have ever killed anyone. So, how did Cody Wilson end up on the frontline of the debate over gun control? He ended up there, not by selling guns, but by creating ways for anyone to make their own gun.

Cody's game-changing tool? 3D printers.

There's a warning sign for the economy with an amazing track record: The last five times it flashed, the U.S. economy went into recession within about a year.

This economic crystal ball takes the views of people and institutions from from all around the world and boils them down into a single, simple signal.

That signal is called the yield curve. It's not flashing now, at least not yet, but it might be close enough to make you nervous.

In 2013, Jackson Palmer started paying close attention to cryptocurrencies — bitcoin, and everything that came after. Things seemed a little bubbly.

Also big back in 2013: Doge, an Internet meme that featured an adorable dog and strange syntax.

Jackson sent off a random tweet about "Dogecoin" — just a throwaway joke. But one thing led to another, and Dogecoin became a real thing. Jackson tried to keep Dogecoin light and fun — it was for learning about cryptocurrency, and giving money to charity.

Then things turned dark.

Note: This episode originally ran in 2013.

Back in 2013, we made a T-Shirt. And as you might remember, we made that T-Shirt with money raised on Kickstarter.

The War On Coal

Jan 10, 2018

Last September, Energy Secretary Rick Perry put a plan in front of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. The plan was supposed to make our energy supply "resilient." But it was also a way to help subsidize coal.

The commission has five members. Four of them, including the chairman, were appointed by President Trump. This week, the commission unanimously rejected the Perry plan.

On today's indicator, we look at what the commission's decision tells us about energy markets in America, and about the future of coal.

This morning, the federal government released the JOLTS report. (The name is an acronym for Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey.)

The has a bunch of useful data points about the jobs market. But, more than that, it implies a really dynamic, exciting way of looking at the job market.

Among its insights: Workers are getting more power relative to employers. Also, quitting is awesome.

Bonus: Our guest, Nick Bunker, tells the JOLTS story in graphs.

Updated Jan. 30

The job market is strong right now, with a 4.1 percent unemployment rate, and President Trump knows it.

In his State of the Union address, he said he is "proud" that "African-American unemployment stands at the lowest rate ever recorded. And Hispanic-American unemployment has also reached the lowest levels in history."

Earier this month, he also bragged about the latest jobs report, focusing in on minorities in particular.

Pages