Intro to econ classes usually teach students to understand the economy as the combination of labor, capital, and land. But it might be more fruitful to think of the key players as atoms, energy, and information. So says Cesar Hidalgo, an MIT professor, statistical physicist by training, and author of “Why Information Grows: The Evolution of Order, from Atoms to Economies.

In this episode, we discuss the book the Financial Times calls “the future of growth theory,” and discuss everything from economic development to America’s big tech firms to Friedrich Hayek.

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In April 2016, when dinosaurs roamed the earth and Donald Trump was still just one among several contenders for the GOP nomination, I talked with AEI trade expert Claude Barfield about trade deficits, the WTO, US-China relations, and more. Two years later, our conversation may be even more relevant now than it was then.

Claude Barfield is a resident scholar in international trade policy, science, and technology at the American Enterprise Institute. Before coming to AEI, he was on the faculties of Yale and the University of Munich, and worked at the National Journal; in the Department of Housing and Urban Development; the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee; and as a consultant to the office of the US Trade Representative.

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The United States is in the grip of a housing affordability crisis, especially in its high-productivity cities like San Francisco, Seattle, and New York. In addition to harming individuals, this is also having a deleterious effect on the country’s economic growth. But what is behind this problem, and what can be done to remedy it? Lynn Fisher joins the podcast to discuss.

Dr. Fisher recently joined AEI as a resident scholar and co-director of the Center on Housing Markets and Finance. Before this she served on the faculty at Washington State University and the University of North Carolina, and was director of the Housing Affordability Initiative at MIT.

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This episode’s guest advocates abolishing private property as we know it and ditching one person democracy, one vote democracy. And he does this in the name of saving capitalism and a just, democratic society.

His name is Glen Weyl, co-author with Eric Posner of the new book “Radical Markets,” and he joins me to discuss his main arguments and convince me such radical steps are necessary at a time of steady economic growth and falling unemployment. Agree or not, it’s a fascinating discussion.

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With the United States and China trading threats of escalating tariffs, the world waits to see whether these barbs become a full-fledged trade war between the two largest economies. The Trump administration claims its actions are necessary to deter China from continuing its predatory trade behavior — an objective today’s guest, Derek Scissors, agrees is a worthwhile pursuit — but he doubts whether the means Trump has chosen can achieve this end.

Over the course of our conversation we discuss the likely impact of Trump’s promised tariffs, the different ways China cheats the global trading system, whether the US should have allowed China to join the WTO in the first place, and much more. Derek Scissors is a resident scholar here at AEI, the chief economist of the China Beige Book, the author of the China Global Investment Tracker, and an all-around expert on US-China relations.

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Machine learning is something new under the sun: a technology that builds itself. Right now we have limited algorithms with limited potential, but, if it exists, the Master Algorithm could derive all knowledge in the world from data. Inventing it would be one of the greatest advances in the history of science, speeding up the progress of knowledge across the board and changing the world in ways we can barely begin to imagine.

So says Pedro Domingos, professor of computer science at the University of Washington and author of the book “The Master Algorithm: How the Quest for the Ultimate Learning Machine Will Remake Our World.” He joined the podcast to discuss his book and the possible utopian and dystopian futures of AI.

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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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