Wealth & Poverty

Ways to Connect

Since the late 1990s, inflation — or average prices — has increased by 55.6 percent. But while things like televisions and smartphones have gotten much cheaper in that time, certain other things have gotten much more expensive.

So while some people may be able to afford the latest gadget, certain other things remain out of reach. Today on the show we look at what that tells us about the true cost of living in America in the 21st century.

Stacey Vanek Smith and Cardiff Garcia host the Planet Money spin-off, The Indicator. Each day, they take a number or term in the news, and tell you what it means and why it matters.

Today on Planet Money, we are bringing you three indicators, three numbers that tell us something about the world. We'll tell you what the US really sells to the world, how the conservative tax plan is maybe just what a liberal economist had always hoped for, and how craft beer blew up the hops business.

The Trump Administration is making major changes to trade policy, and that is affecting all kinds of U.S. companies.

Usually we hear about these issues as they relate to big industries like steel and aluminum, or in markets for solar panels or washing machines. Today we look at another industry caught up in the debate over global trade: the rubber band business.

Most people are used to prices that don't change. You go into a store to buy some Quaker Oats, and they're going to cost the same for you as they will for whoever tries to buy them next.

But for a long time, that's not how it worked at all.

In the 1960s, there was a new fad in Germany: cheap, frozen American chicken. German families couldn't get enough of the stuff — it was great for the German consumer, but not so great for the German chicken farmer. So the farmers went to the government, and, lo, a trade war was born.

There's a new Fed chair in town. Jerome - call him Jay - Powell is a former investment banker who has worked in both the Treasury and the Fed.

He has already indicated that when it comes to the philosophy of monetary policy, he tracks pretty closely with his predecessor, Janet Yellen.

But as Karl Smith, Director of Economic Research at the Niskanen Center, discussed with us, Powell has got an entirely different challenge ahead.

Updated at 5:38 p.m. ET

The Federal Reserve remains on track to continue increasing interest rates gradually to keep the economy functioning smoothly, Jerome Powell told Congress on Tuesday in his first testimony as Fed chairman.

With a nod to the new tax-cutting law, Powell noted that "fiscal policy is becoming more stimulative" and he predicted inflation would rise this year and stabilize around the Fed's 2 percent target.

"My personal outlook for the economy has strengthened since December," Powell told the House Financial Services Committee.

Fixing A Forest For Puerto Rico's Recovery

Feb 27, 2018
Bert Johnson / GPB

Luigi Ramirez lets a yellow rope slip through his hands slowly at first. When his fingers open, 200 hundred pounds of concrete sail through the lush tropical canopy. Before Hurricane Maria, he sent tourists whizzing across ravines like this one in Puerto Rico’s El Yunque National Forest. But that business closed.

“Because that company depends on the trees, and all the trees are damaged in the majority of the forest,” Ramirez says.

Now, he’s running a zip line to deliver construction materials.

Today we debut a new segment on the Indicator: the two-minute explainer. Cardiff and Stacey take up the challenge of explaining what's behind an economic event or data point in 120 seconds or less.

On this show: what is productivity, how is it measured, and why is it such an important indicator?

And, why did KFC have to close almost all of its stores in the UK last week?

A bottle of fancy vodka, like Grey Goose, costs about $35. A bottle of the cheap stuff can be under $10. That's a wide range, but, by definition, vodka is colorless, odorless, and tasteless. So, could there really be a difference between vodkas? Or is the difference all in the marketing?

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