Why has the American political scene seemed to be so irrational in the past several years? Economist and author Bryan Caplan says it all comes down to social desirability bias, the observation that people prefer what sounds good to what’s true. In this episode, Bryan returns to Political Economy to explain why free markets are so unpopular, what people really mean when they complain about Big Tech and privacy, and much more.

Bryan is a best-selling author and Professor of Economics at George Mason University. His latest books are Labor Econ Versus the World and How Evil Are Politicians?, the first two volumes of an eight-volume collection of his best essays.

Poverty was the norm for most of human history. Then, starting in Britain in the 18th century, economic growth took off. So what happened? Economists have theories about the origins of the Industrial Revolution, from geography to culture to institutions. In a new book, Mark Koyama and Jared Rubin assemble the literature to give readers a big-picture view of how the world went from poverty to widespread prosperity.

Mark is an Associate Professor of Economics at George Mason University, and Jared is a Professor of Economics at Chapman University. They are the authors of How the World Became Rich: The Historical Origins of Economic Growth.

When you think of the future of clean energy, wind and solar might be the first things that come to mind. But when the wind doesn’t blow and the sun doesn’t shine, the need for alternative sources of power becomes apparent. From advanced geothermal to nuclear fusion, up-and-coming advancements may deliver a future of abundant, clean energy. One of the most ambitious ideas is space-based solar: orbiting solar panels that can beam energy to the Earth from space. Is this a viable energy solution … or a sci-fi pipe dream? To find out more, I’m joined by Ali Hajimiri.

Ali is the Bren Professor of Electrical Engineering and Medical Engineering at the California Institute of Technology, as well as Co-Director of the Space-Based Solar Power Project at Caltech.

When the topic of productivity growth comes up, a common retort is that productivity and pay have delinked, meaning all the gains of productivity growth go to the top while workers’ wages remain stagnant. So how well do productivity gains translate into higher wages? It’s an important question with implications for public policies designed to boost productivity growth. Today, I’m joined by Anna Stansbury, whose work on productivity and pay offers some answers.

Anna is an Assistant Professor in Work and Organization Studies at MIT Sloan and a Nonresident Senior Fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics. She and Larry Summers authored “Productivity and Pay: Is the Link Broken?” and “The Declining Worker Power Hypothesis.”

The Federal Reserve recently announced a 75-basis-point rate hike — the largest since 1994 — in an attempt to curb inflation. The Fed’s aim is to thread the needle by cooling the economy just enough to rein in rising prices without inducing a recession. But will the Fed succeed, or is a recession on the horizon? And if an economic downturn is coming, how severe will it be? To answer those questions and get a sense of where the US economy is heading, I’ve brought my AEI colleague Michael Strain back on Political Economy.

Mike is the director of Economic Policy Studies and the Arthur F. Burns Scholar in Political Economy at the American Enterprise Institute. He’s also the author of the 2020 book, The American Dream Is Not Dead: (But Populism Could Kill It).

Moore’s law, which states that the number of transistors on a microchip doubles every two years, has fueled rapid computing gains since the mid-20th century. But will this law last forever? Today’s guest, Neil Thompson, thinks its end is near. I’ve invited Neil on the podcast to explain why Moore’s Law may be coming to an end and what that means for productivity growth and continued innovation.

Neil is an innovation scholar in MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, a research scientist at the MIT Initiative on the Digital Economy, and an associate member of the Broad Institute.

When America endeavors to tackle an ambitious project, we speak in terms of moonshots or a “Manhattan Project for X.” The assumption is that vast government resources, directed toward some objective, can yield results on the scale of the Moon landing or the atom bomb. But federal research funding is more complicated than throwing dollars at our problems. And with Congress poised to inject American science policy with an adrenaline shot of funding, I’ve brought Tony Mills back on Political Economy to discuss the bills working their way through the House and Senate.

Tony is a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, where he studies the federal government’s role in scientific research and innovation, as well as how to integrate scientific expertise into our governing institutions.

From job interviews to college admissions, identifying and allocating talent plays a big role in the modern economy. But what is talent? And how well can we pick it out from a quick conversation or a glance at a resume? Returning to Political Economy to answer those questions is Tyler Cowen.

Tyler holds the Holbert L. Harris chair in economics at George Mason University. He’s a columnist at Bloomberg Opinion and co-writes the popular economics blog, Marginal Revolution. A prolific author, his previous books include Stubborn AttachmentsThe Complacent ClassAverage is Over, and The New York Times bestseller The Great Stagnation. Tyler’s new book, co-written with Daniel Gross is Talent: How to Identify Energizers, Creatives, and Winners Around the World.

In the field of economic history, the causes and consequences of the Industrial Revolution loom large. Competing theories point to the role of institutions, scientific achievements, and bourgeois ideas. Setting aside the origins of industrialization, another open question concerns the mechanisms by which modern economic growth emerged. To delve into that question, I’ve brought on W. Walker Hanlon, whose work suggests the engineering profession played a key role.

Walker is an associate professor in the department of economics at Northwestern University. Among his thought-provoking works in economic history is a recent working paper, “The Rise of the Engineer: Inventing the Professional Inventor During the Industrial Revolution.”

America’s kids have been greatly affected by the pandemic, from canceled sports seasons to constant academic disruption. And at the same time, parents are caught up in bitter disputes over masking and critical race theory in schools. To get a better sense of the education challenges we face coming out of the pandemic, as well as the reforms that will help us meet those challenges, I’ve brought on Rick Hess.

Rick is my colleague at the American Enterprise Institute, where he is a senior fellow and director of Education Policy Studies. Among Rick’s recent work on K-12 and higher education issues is “Education after the Pandemic,” written for the winter 2022 issue of National Affairs.

Before Elon Musk was the world’s wealthiest man, founder of a rocket company, and owner of Twitter, he was best known as one of the founders of PayPal. Other PayPal alumni went on to found companies like YouTube, Yelp, and LinkedIn. And the “don” of the PayPal Mafia, Peter Thiel, is now known for his political activism and contributions to Republican campaigns. So what can we learn about Musk and Thiel—and about Silicon Valley—from the early history of PayPal? To find out, I’m joined by Jimmy Soni.

Jimmy is an award-winning author of three books. His first two, co-authored with Rob Goodman, are Rome’s Last Citizen, a biography of Cato the Younger, and A Mind at Play, a biography of Claude Shannon. His latest is The Founders: The Story of PayPal and the Entrepreneurs Who Shaped Silicon Valley, released earlier this year.

Last year, Facebook rebranded itself as Meta, signaling its shift from traditional social media to a big bet on the so-called metaverse. This network of 3D, online spaces is accessed through virtual reality headsets like Meta’s Oculus and promises to revolutionize internet communications. But is there substance behind the hype, or is the metaverse just a fad? And if virtual reality worlds are here to stay, what do policymakers need to know about them? To answer those questions, I’ve brought Mark Jamison back on the podcast.

Mark is the director of the Public Utility Research Center at the University of Florida’s Warrington College of Business and a nonresident senior fellow here at the American Enterprise Institute. Over the past several months, Mark has been writing about the metaverse and the challenges it faces.

In the early 19th century, English textile workers calling themselves “Luddites” destroyed machinery in an effort to save their jobs from automation. And two centuries later, those who resist technological change are still called Luddites. In the 2020 book The Fabric of Civilization, Virginia Postrel tells the history of textiles, including the Luddite movement. And in her 1998 book, The Future and Its Enemies, she describes the “stasist” view behind Luddism, as well as its natural antipode, dynamism. To discuss how this framework can help us understand the current moment, I’ve brought Virginia on the podcast.

Virginia is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist and visiting fellow at the Smith Institute for Political Economy and Philosophy at Chapman University. She is the author of The Future and Its Enemies, The Substance of Style, and The Power of Glamour. Her latest is The Fabric of Civilization: How Textiles Made the World.

When economists set out to measure economic growth and progress over time, one challenge is accounting for striking differences in the quality of goods. Computers, cell phones, and cars on the market today are not easily comparable to those available in 1990. But over the centuries, remarkably little has changed about the common construction nail. For that reason, today’s guest explores American economic history through the story of nails. Studying nail production and costs over the past three centuries, Dan Sichel joins this episode of “Political Economy” to explain what we can learn from the humble nail.

Dan is a professor of economics at Wellesley College in Massachusetts and the author of “The Price of Nails since 1695: A Window into Economic Change.”

Since the early days of the digital revolution, the San Francisco Bay area has played a key role from the rise of the microchip to today’s software giants like Facebook and Google. But why has the tech sector remained so geographically concentrated for so long ⁠— and is that something government needs to fix? To answer that question and delve into the recent changes in the geography of the tech sector during the pandemic, I’ve brought on Mark Muro.

Mark is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, a think tank in Washington, DC, and the policy director of Brookings Metro. He and Yang You recently authored “Superstars, rising stars, and the rest: Pandemic trends and shifts in the geography of tech.”

Tech optimists promise that true artificial intelligence is just around the corner . . . and have been for half a century. So should we be skeptical of all the excitement surrounding so-called “deep learning” AI — or are we on the cusp of a revolution in artificial intelligence that will penetrate every aspect of modern life? And if the AI revolution really is coming, should we fear mass unemployment or even worse dystopian scenarios from the pages of science fiction? To get a sense of the current landscape of AI research, I’m joined by Melanie Mitchell.

Melanie is the Davis Professor at the Santa Fe Institute, a non-profit research center for complex systems science. She is the author of six books, her latest being “Artificial Intelligence: A Guide for Thinking Humans,” released in 2019. In 2021, Melanie authored “Why AI is Harder Than We Think,” which describes the fallacies that underlie overly optimistic AI predictions.

Most highly ambitious business ventures fail, but the ones that succeed can make billionaires of their early investors. Just look at the most valuable companies in the world today, many of which began as tech startups just a few decades ago. Venture capital firms, by providing early-stage financing for startups, have been conspicuous players in the rise of Silicon Valley since the beginning. But are top VC firms just lucky gamblers, or do they provide a real service to the companies they back? To find out more, I’m joined by Sebastian Mallaby.

Sebastian is the Paul A. Volcker Senior Fellow for International Economics at the Council on Foreign Relations and author of “The Power Law: Venture Capital and the Making of the New Future.”

The conventional narrative of American space exploration traces government efforts during the Cold War, with today’s private efforts regarded as a recent phenomena riding on the coattails of NASA’s achievements. But today’s guest argues that private funding for space exploration goes back more than a century before Apollo. To get a better context for what’s happening in space today, I’ve brought on Alex MacDonald.

Alex is the Chief Economist at NASA and author of “The Long Space Age: The Economic Origins of Space Exploration from Colonial America to the Cold War.”

Over the past half century, globalization and automation have pushed America’s GDP higher and higher, but the gains haven’t been distributed equally. Economic disruption has left behind manufacturing communities in the rust belt, leading some politicians on the right to question open, free market economics. We should build walls — physical and metaphorical — to protect American jobs, they say. But today I’m joined by Glenn Hubbard, who prefers economic bridges to opportunity over walls.

Glenn is a nonresident senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. He is also Dean Emeritus of Columbia Business School and author of “The Wall and the Bridge: Fear and Opportunity in Disruption’s Wake,” released earlier this year.

When you think of startup companies advancing the state of technology, software is probably the first thing that comes to mind. But scientific breakthroughs are still coming in the world of atoms, and that’s what venture capital firm Prime Movers Lab invests in. To give us a sense of their vision for the future, the VC firm put together a “Breakthrough Science Roadmap” to describe what a life of abundance in 2050 might be like. In this episode of “Political Economy” I’m joined by Ramez Naam and Christie Iacomini from Prime Movers Lab to discuss that uplifting vision of tomorrow and how startups are working to realize it.

Ramez is a computer scientist and Chief Futurist at Prime Movers Lab, while Christie is an aerospace engineer and Vice President of Engineering.