Wealth & Poverty

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Economic inequality is complicated and emotional. Conservatives have one set of solutions. Liberals have another. Some groups don't think inequality is such a bad thing. Conversations about it often turn into partisan fights.

But today on the show, we follow two thinkers—from opposite sides of the political spectrum—who have joined forces to find out what's causing inequality. They are Brink Lindsey and Steven M. Teles, and they are the authors of a new book called The Captured Economy: How the Powerful Enrich Themselves, Slow Down Growth, and Increase Inequality.

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.

Updated at 10:40 a.m. ET

The U.S. added a hefty 313,000 jobs in February — the biggest increase in 1 1/2 years — while wages rose more modestly than the previous month. Meanwhile, the unemployment rate held steady at 4.1 percent, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported Friday.

The Labor Department also reported strong upward revisions for both December and January. January's figure was revised to 239,000 from 200,000 previously and December was pegged at 175,000, up from 160,000.

Americans are expected to spend $3.6 trillion on physical goods this year. Amazon and WalMart are competing fiercely to see which of them can get a bigger slice of that pie.

Even with the rise of the Internet, almost all retail sales in America still occur in physical stores, so WalMart's massive network of big box outlets gives it an edge.

But Amazon has a secret weapon: Prime.

Note: Today's show originally ran in January of 2016.

A few years back, a famous psychologist published a series of studies that found people could predict the future — not all the time, but more often than if they were guessing by chance alone.

The paper left psychologists with two options.

"Either we have to conclude that ESP is true," says Brian Nosek, a psychologist at the University of Virginia, "or we have to change our beliefs about the right ways to do science."

In one of our favorite recurring segments, we ask our guest to tell us about something they read that changed the way they think about the world.

Cobalt used to be a byproduct of copper mining, used in everyday, boring stuff like tires and magnets.

But that all changed when someone discovered its ability to stabilize the lithium in batteries for electronics like cell phones.

Now it's become one of the most important and sought after metals on the periodic table. Which has implications for big tech firms like Apple.

The quality of American cars got a lot better after the financial crisis. They got lighter, more efficient and more reliable. And the car business boomed.

But now they're getting too expensive. Sticker prices for the SUVs and trucks that Americans love are high enough that manufacturers don't have to sell as many vehicles to make money.

But that's not going to last.

Listeners have questions. Google has answers. Sometimes, though, listeners have questions that Google can't answer. Like: Why is the lighting in hotel rooms so weird? How can a cooked and spiced rotisserie chicken be cheaper than an uncooked chicken? What is a Giffen Good, and why does demand for it go up when its price goes up? And why does it say on a coupon that it's worth 1/100th of a cent?

If you have a question you want us to answer, email us at planetmoney@npr.org. Or better yet, tell us a great story about economics that answered a question you had.

Like all oil well owners, Jason Bruns watches the oil market closely. When crude hits a certain price, he'll either switch a pump on - if prices are rising - or turn it off, if they're not.

Right now oil prices are at a bit of a sweet spot for small producers like Jason. Pumpjacks all over the country are being switched on. Consumers may not like rising oil prices much, but they're a sign the economy is doing better.

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