For the 100th episode of the Political Economy podcast, James Pethokoukis sat down with Michael Strain and Stan Veuger during the Ricochet – AEI Podcast Summit in Washington, DC.

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Economist and education expert Eric Hanushek has found that a nation’s education level determines a significant chunk of its economic growth. And in a forthcoming paper, his research suggests that if US teacher quality rose to match the level of the world’s best perfoming school systems, such as Finland and South Korea, US economic growth could rise by as much as 0.8 percentage points per year. And yet all our indicators suggest American education continues to lag behind. So what is wrong with our education system, and what can be done about it? Hanushek joins me to discuss this and a lot more.

Eric Hanushek is a visiting scholar at AEI and a Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution, where his research focuses on education policy and its impact on economic growth.

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Jason Furman was one of President Obama’s top economists, from the start of his campaign through the end of his presidency, and served as chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers from 2013 through 2017. He joined me on the podcast to discuss his time in the White House, how he views the recession and subsequent recovery, and his forecast for economic growth going forward. We also cover America’s productivity challenge, the pros and cons of the Big Tech firms, and a host of other questions from Twitter in a rapid-fire finale.

Now out of government, Jason Furman is currently a professor at the Harvard Kennedy School and a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics.

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“Small business is the basis of American prosperity.” “Small businesses are overwhelmingly responsible for job creation and innovation.” “Small business owners are the basis for democracy in America.” All these statements are wrong, argues Robert Atkinson, president of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation. It’s Big Business that’s responsible for today’s gains in income, productivity, and jobs—and policymakers and voters need to recognize these facts. He joins the podcast to discuss this argument from his new book, “Big is Beautiful: Debunking the Myth of Small Business,” co-authored with Michael Lind.

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On this special episode of Political Economy, we structured the podcast around one theme: “Questions you always wanted to ask an economist, but were too afraid to ask.” After soliciting questions from friends, family, and Twitter, we posed them to AEI economist Stan Veuger.

Dr. Veuger is a resident scholar at AEI, where his research is in political economy and public finance. He is also the editor of AEI Economic Perspectives.

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In a recent column for Bloomberg View, Michael Strain concedes “Big Tech” may be monopolistic, but argues that is no reason to break them up. Despite the wide variety of sins Google, Apple, Amazon, and Facebook stand accused of — promulgating fake news, stifling innovative competitors, and crushing mom-and-pop shops, to name a few — by the standards of consumer welfare, Big Tech is one of the best things to happen to the American economy in decades. He joins the podcast to discuss this argument and the future of the economy more broadly.

 

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Earlier this year, Amazon announced it was teaming up with JPMorgan and Berkshire Hathaway to change how health care is provided to their 1 million plus employees. Stressing their venture would be “free from profit-making incentives and constraints,” but providing few other details, we now wait to see if Jeff Bezos, Jamie Dimon, and Warren Buffett can transform the industry. To analyze the announcement, and discuss the state of US health care more broadly, I’m joined by AEI economist and health care wonk Ben Ippolito.

Benedic Ippolito is a research fellow in economic policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, where his research is in public finance and health economics. His recent work has focused on the behavior of health care providers, price regulation, and health care financing.

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The American education system is a waste of both time and money—at least according to Bryan Caplan, author of the new book, The Case Against Education. Rather than actually impart useful skills, education’s benefits stem mainly from “signaling,” implying that as a nation we could drastically reduce years of schooling and be no worse off. It’s an explosive thesis challenging the conventional wisdom of labor economists, but is it right?

Bryan Caplan is a professor of economics at George Mason University, a regular blogger at EconLog, and author of the books Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids, and The Myth of the Rational Voter.

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Americans pride themselves on being exceptional. And one of the qualities that makes this nation exceptional is its proclivity to innovate. But from whence does America’s unique capacity for producing inventors arise? To discuss this question, I’m joined by Kevin Baker, author of America the Ingenious: How a Nation of Dreamers, Immigrants, and Tinkerers Changed the World.

Kevin Baker is a renowned historical fiction novelist, a frequent contributor to various newspapers and magazines, and a 2017 recipient of the Guggenheim Fellowship.

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Welfare, entitlements, safety net—these terms are often used interchangeably, but they have different connotations and stigmas attached to them, and people often use them to describe different things. To help us navigate this complex web of federal programs, I’m joined by AEI fellow Angela Rachidi.

Before joining AEI, Dr. Rachidi served as a deputy commissioner in New York City’s Department of Social Services, and spent nearly a decade researching benefit programs for low-income individuals. In this episode we cover the state of the safety net today, lessons learned from her time in New York, why we don’t just copy the Scandinavian system, the arguments for and against a guaranteed income or jobs program, and much more

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2017 saw a meteroic rise in the value of cryptocurrencies — followed by a disappointing start to 2018. Here to explain the mechanisms and purpose behind these new cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and Ethereum, as well as commonly-used but little-understood words like blockchain, is Jerry Brito.

Jerry Brito is the executive director of Coin Center, a research and advocacy organization that focuses on the public policy implications of cryptocurrencies. He was also a senior research fellow at the Mercatus Center and an adjunct professor of law at George Mason University, and he is the co-author of the book Bitcoin: A Primer for Policymakers.

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Americans are no longer moving. And that’s a problem for the economy, adversely affecting everything from productivity growth, to income inequality, to monetary policy. At least, that’s the argument of law professor David Schleicher, author of the recent Yale Law Journal article, “Stuck! The Law and Economics of Residential Stagnation,” an insightful study of how state and local governments are hindering labor market mobility, why that’s a problem, and what can be done about it.

Professor Schleicher is an expert in election law, land use, local government law, and urban development, among other fields, and he writes frequently for both academic journals and more popular outlets such as The Atlantic and Slate.

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Have poverty levels and inequality in the US soared in the past quarter century, or are we just looking at them through the wrong lens? Economist Bruce Meyer joins the podcast to discuss his research on income inequality, the earned income tax credit, and the best methods for reducing poverty.

Bruce D. Meyer is a visiting scholar here at AEI, a professor at the University of Chicago’s Harris School of Public Policy, and a fellow at the National Bureau of Economic Research.

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The Wall Street Journal has described Hal Varian as the Adam Smith of Googlenomics. As the tech giant’s chief economist, he revolutionized Google’s business strategy, and is known now as perhaps the most prominent skeptic of America’s official, sluggish productivity numbers. He joined the podcast to discuss the tech industry, the future of the economy, and much more.

In addition to serving as Google’s chief economist, Hal Varian is a professor emeritus at the University of Berkeley and a fellow at the Guggenheim Foundation, the Econometric Society, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He’s also the author of two economics textbooks, and the co-author of the bestselling business strategy book, Information Rules: A Strategic Guide to the Network Economy.

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Over the last few decades, the American economy has seen stagnating growth and increasing inequality. Brink Lindsey and Steve Teles think they have a partial explanation: The economy has been captured by the rich and well-connected. In this episode, we discuss their new book, The Captured Economy: How the Powerful Enrich Themselves, Slow Down Growth, and Increase Inequality. We cover a lot of policy ground: Occupational licensing and zoning restrictions, financial regulations and subsidies and patent reform, and federalism and public choice. We close by discussing how their reforms can be put into practice when none are being loudly or broadly championed by either the left of right.

Brink Lindsey is the libertarian-leaning Vice President of the Niskanen Center and former Vice President for research at the Cato Institute. Steve Teles ia a liberal-leaning professor of political science at Johns Hopkins University and a Senior Fellow at the Niskanen Center.

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The world is on its way to ending traffic, and that’s in part thanks to the pioneering work of transportation researcher and thought leader David Levinson. In this episode, we discuss how autonomous vehicles and other breakthrough tech will affect the future of transportation, and how infrastructure policy can keep up with the coming changes. We also discuss whether America has reached peak car ownership, if human driving will be eventually banned, and if we are culturally ready for a driverless future.

David Levinson teaches at the School of Civil Engineering at the University of Sydney, he’s an honorary affiliate of the Institute of Transport and Logistics Studies, and he serves as an adjunct faculty at the University of Minnesota.

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In the new book, “WTF: What’s the Future, and Why It’s Up to Us,” founder and CEO of O’Reilly Media Tim O’Reilly argues Silicon Valley and the innovation it’s fostering can be either a fount of amazement or a source of dismay. The direction technology leads our society is ultimately up to us, the policymakers and the public they represent. He joined the podcast to discuss how Americans should respond to the coming changes, and whether our government is up to the task.

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“Start-up” has become a buzzword in the 21st century, but according to a new book, start up culture has been endemic to American culture since the days of the Mayflower and the Virginia Company. In Americana: A 400 Year History Of American Capitalism, author Bhu Srinivasan contends it was this spirit of innovation and ambition that drove American economic growth and helped make the US into the superpower it is now. He joined the podcast to discuss his book and what history’s lessons can teach policymakers today.

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Technological innovation is already transforming the economy, and this change will accelerate in the future. To discuss what these changes mean for business and society at large, I’m joined by MIT’s Andrew McAfee.

Andrew McAfee is a principal research scientist at MIT, where he studies how technology is changing business, the economy, and society. He is also the co-author of several books, including: Race Against the Machine and The Second Machine Age, and his most recent one: Machine, Platform, Crowd: Harnessing Our Digital Future.

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As the next generation of robots arrive in the workplace, will they enable workers or replace them? According to MIT’s Daron Acemoglu, one of the most frequently cited economists in the world, this distinction is the difference between technology that raises workers’ wages versus tech that merely reduces overall employment and wage growth.

Daron Acemoglu is a professor of economics at MIT, a frequent contributor to Foreign Policy Magazine, and co-author of Why Nations Fail. He joins me today to discuss his research and what technological innovation means for the future of work.

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