#100 The Myth of Main Street, Louis Hyman

Our guest is Louis Hyman, author of the provocative New York Times editorial, "The Myth of Main Street." Louis is a Cornell University History Professor and the Director of the Institute for Workplace Studies. 

Nostalgia for the economy's "good old days" has great appeal for many Americans. For the right, past decades bring back memories of Ronald Reagan, traditional cultural values and U.S. dominance in global affairs. For the left, post-war America was a time of stronger unions and less income inequality.

But "Make America Great Again" and other appeals to nostalgia come at a high price.  Going back to a past with trade barriers, price controls and lower productivity would damage the living standards of many households they're designed to protect.

Louis tells us: "Main Street is a touchstone for how we like to imagine the real America. There's always this anxiety about what America is, and Main Street is how we imagine ourselves."  The challenge is to balance a need for higher wages, autonomy and local pride with efficiency.

Small-town and rural America have been left behind in the digital economy, which is centered in a few big cities. But it doesn't have to stay this way.

Solutions:

  • By gaining access to sales and freelance platforms, people in rural communities can sell products and find jobs anywhere in the world. 
  • Upwork, Thumbtack and other sites are online marketplaces that match freelance workers and small businesses with demand for their services. 
  • Local governments can help by expanding the crucial work done by libraries to educate and connect workers to the changing online marketplace.
  • The Digital Countryside Initiative at Cornell's Institute for Workplace Studies in Ithaca is working with corporations and labor groups to connect rural New Yorkers with the digital economy. Greater access to high-speed internet connections is one step. But the online "gig economy" is unfamiliar to many skilled workers.

#8 Fix It Shorts. Immigrants: Great for the Economy!

When did the arguments for free trade and the benefits of immigration go out of fashion?

Why is the case for scaling back the power of the financial industry under attack by the Trump administration?

Richard and Jim spoke to three experts for this episode of “Fix It Shorts.” 

Rana Foroohar, explains why the power of Wall Street distorts the economy. “The key lessons of the crisis of 2008 still remain unlearned,” she says. “Our financial system is just as vulnerable as ever.” Rana is the author of "Makers and Takers: The Rise of Finance and the Fall of American Business," She is also the Associated Editor and the Global Business Columnist for the Financial Times.

"One of the prizes, one of the treasures of democracy is freedom of thought, freedom of action, freedom of movement," says Peter Coy, Economics Editor of Bloomberg Businessweek. He argues that immigration, especially legal immigration of skilled workers, is a plus for the economy.

Economist Ruchir Sharma, author of the book “The Rise and Fall of Nations - Forces of Change in the Post-Crisis World,” tells us that expanding the workforce is a vital part of growth. Reducing immigration, he says, would slam the brakes on the economy.
 

#84 Smart Solutions for The New Year

Fresh thinking for the New Year: In 2016 we were exposed to a dazzling range of smart, practical ideas from our podcast guests - from climate change and money matters, healthcare reform, to making room for strangers in our lives.  

 

In this show we start with Rebecca Jarvis, Chief Business, Economics and Technology Correspondent for ABC News. One of her smart money resolutions for the New Year is to be skeptical. Watch out for the know-it-alls and outright charlatans of investing, who pretend to understand how to beat the market. Rebecca also urges borrowers to be aware of the full costs of personal debt.

 

The need to be wary of simplistic slogans and fixes is at the heart of global economist Ruchir Sharma's book, "The Rise and Fall of Nations.” His solution? Look beyond the headlines to long-term trends. Slower growths in the workforce and immigration rates have a big impact on prosperity and growth.  

In the excerpt from our show on nuclear power, Michael Shellenberger, author of An Ecomodernist Manifesto, challenges the views of many environmentalists. He says nuclear is a crucial source of energy that "produces zero air and water pollution." 

"At the end of the day everybody is biased," says John Gable, who joined us to explain the thinking behind AllSides.com.  This news website comes with a left/ center/ right column - showing readers how major events are interpreted by liberal, conservative and centrist media. John urges us to confront our own biases and filter bubbles as we separate truth from fake news.

One forecast for 2017: due to the squabbling in Washington DC, over the role of federal government more solutions will be local. We spoke with obstetrician-gynecologist Rose Gowen, a City Commissioner in Brownsville, Texas. She told us how she was able to reduce high obesity rates using grants, a farmers market and bike trails and other local initiatives. 

Pulitzer-prize winning author, and New York Times journalist, Charles Duhigg talks about how we can improve our bad habits and become smarter, faster, and better. In this clip, we discuss to-do lists, mental models and making the most of our time - in life and in business. 

#81 Rana Foroohar: Wall Street's Giant Threat to the Economy

More than eight years after the financial meltdown, we still have a lot to learn, says our guest, CNN global economic analyst Rana Foroohar.  

"The rise of finance has actually kind of eaten the rest of the economy," Rana tells this in this "Fix It" episode. "Finance controls the rest of industry.  Finance has become the tail that wags the dog." At the same time, the financial industry remains at risk for another hugely destructive collapse.

In her book, "Makers and Takers: The Rise of Finance and the Fall of American Business", Rana says only 15% of all the money in financial markets ends up in the real economy in the form of loans to help grow business.  The rest is traded and shuffled around the financial system. 

"Finance is there to serve business. We need to simplify it," Rana says.  That means deciding "what kinds of activities in our economy we want to incentivize and then creating the rules around finance to help capital flow to those areas."

Solutions:

  • Reform the tax code that “treats one-year investment gains the same way it treats longer-term investments, and induces financial institutions to push overconsumption and speculation, rather than healthy lending to small businesses and job creators.” End the system's bias favoring debt over equity.
  • Reduce the U.S. corporate tax rate - and abolish complex loopholes. Encourage multinational corporate to return cash kept overseas, reinvesting it in U.S. enterprises. 
  • End offshore banking, which allows corporations and wealthy individuals to avoid paying tax.
  • Discourage stock buybacks. Boost incentives for large corporations to fund research and innovation.
  • Reform banking laws. Impose new safety limits on the amount of money banks must have in cash. 
  • Impose a financial transaction tax: forcing banks to pay a small fee for each trade in bonds, stocks, and derivatives.
  • Limit leverage: impose safety controls that require banks to hold a larger percentage of holdings in cash.
  • Simplify and overhaul the enormously complex Dodd-Frank law, which penalizes community and regional banks.  Pass a new form of Glass-Steagall Act - the 1933 law that separated commercial banking from investing and trading. 
  • Take a page from airline safety.  Set up a financial version of the independent National Transportation Safety Board to investigate bank failures and other threats to the financial system.
  • End "cognitive capture" or group think. When debating financial reform, listen to the views of all stakeholders: large and small banks, consumers, manufacturing businesses and academics that study the impact of finance on other sectors of the economy.