#139 When Will Wall Street Crash? Diana Henriques

The U.S. stock market has soared about 40% since the Trump election. But is it over-valued and ready for a meltdown?

Shortly before the worst one-day crash in history in November 1987, the market had been charging ahead, with a 40% rise that year. The economy was on a roll, just like today.

What would happen if giant investment funds bailed out of stocks at the same time? Would there be another financial crisis, even worse than the events in 2008?

"We are more vulnerable to a radical readjustment," says our guest, New York Times journalist, Diana Henriques, author of the widely praised  "A First Class Catastrophe: The Road to Black Monday, the Worst Day in Wall Street History." She is also the author of “The Wizard of Lies: Bernie Madoff and the Death of Trust,” a New York Times bestseller

"It is important for us always to remember that markets go up and they go down, says Diana. "What we need to worry about is do they fall apart when they fall."

"Even professional money managers today are alarmed at the fragility of market structures on which they rely."

In this episode, we look at potential solutions, including streamlined financial regulations, guaranteeing that authorities have a 360 degree view of where financial brushfires are erupting, and scrapping the highly fragmented system that we have today. We also take a second look to the findings of the Brady Commission, the post-mortem report after the "catastrophe" in 1987.

Hear more about the financial system and its flaws from our previous guests:  Roger Lowenstein on why we need The Federal Reserve; Rana Foroohar, of The Financial Times, on Wall Street's giant threat to the economy; ABC News Chief Business, Technology and Economics Correspondent, Rebecca Jarvis, on fixing everyday money mistakes.

Web Extra: How can you tell if a mutual fund is a good investment and or well regulated?

#138 50/50 Nation? No! Morris Fiorina

From the recent government shutdown to strict partisan votes on taxes and healthcare, official Washington lurches from one fight to the next, with no end in sight.

But the American public is not as polarized as the pundits say.

While elected Republicans and Democrats appeal to their base, and are more divided than ever, the electorate has not changed dramatically in recent years. According to Pew Research and other pollsters, moderate independents outnumber either liberal Democrats or conservative Republicans.  

Stanford University political scientist Morris Fiorina confronts the widespread assumption that voters are neatly split into rival camps, and argues that neither party can hold a majority for more than a few years. His new book is "Unstable Majorities: Polarization, Party Sorting and Political Stalemate.

We discuss solutions, including open primaries, weekend voting, easier voter registration and independent redistricting-- all designed to encourage citizen involvement in the political system.

#137 The Dangers Of Utopia: Michael Shermer

By overwhelming majorities, human beings have faith in the afterlife. While fewer Americans believe in God, as many as 80% still believe in life after death. Surprisingly, this includes one-in-three agnostics and atheists. According to the Roper Center for Public Opinion the numbers have stayed stable in recent decades.

Does this human refusal to accept that all we have is the here-and-now lead to a dangerous belief in religious fantasies and utopia? Do we chase after myths while ignoring practical steps we could take now to improve life for ourselves and others?

Our guest, Michael Shermer, is the publisher of Skeptic Magazine and the author of the new book "Heavens on Earth: The Scientific Search for the Afterlife, Immortality, and Utopia." Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson calls him "a beacon of reason in an ocean of irrationality."

Michael walks us through efforts by "techno-optimists" to extend life hundreds of years into the future, from cryonic suspension-- efforts to freeze our brains with all of their neural connects and memories in tact--  to transhumanists, who want to transform us into super-humans.

He is profoundly skeptical of these well-funded efforts, saying that all we have is the present. "Make today count," Michael tells us. "Make every relationship you have count. Make your interactions with community, strangers and society count in just a tiny little bit."

#133 Facebook and YouTube Threats: Zeynep Tufekci

Billions of people use Facebook and YouTube. But do social media platforms threaten our privacy and our freedom?  The problem goes well beyond hate messages and other forms of inappropriate content, or fake news and "dark posts"— targeted ads not visible to the public.

"The crucial problem here is we have no protections about the data that's collected," says our guest, Professor Zeynep Tufekci. "We have no protections about how that data is used and we have a business model where we are the product and not the customer."

Zeynep is the author of the critically-acclaimed book, "Twitter and Tear Gas: The Power and Fragility of Networked Protest." At the University of North Carolina, she teaches a class: "Big Data, Algorithms and Society."

"They have all our data...They control all the gatekeeping," Zeynep says of Facebook and other internet giants. "The threat that I fear is that we're building the infrastructure for a sort of soft authoritarianism."  

Much of the information these companies have collected on us is "sold to the highest bidders whatever they may be peddling.

The ability of tech firms to spy on us, while nudging and seducing users into different forms of behavior, is constantly changing. "The past five years have been mind-blowing. We are growing a form of machine intelligence," says Zeynep. Unlike the past "this one is learning itself and we don't understanding how it's doing what it's doing." 

"How Do We Fix It?" is a solutions podcast. This episode examines potential remedies, including the need for greater corporate transparency, sunsetting data, government regulation and voluntary actions by Facebook and other big tech firms. Those of us who use social media sites should inform ourselves about how they work. This show is a good place to start.

#132 The Truth About Robots: Peter Cappelli

Once again the alarm bells are ringing. A new study by the McKinsey Global Institutes estimates that within 12 years, up to 800 million of today's workers may be replaced by robots or some other form of automation.

Other recent research reports on the impact of technology are even more disturbing. A survey by PriceWaterhouseCoopers, the professional services company, claims 38% of U.S. jobs are at high risk of being replaced by robots and artificial intelligence over the next 15 years.

But what if many experts are wrong? 

Peter Cappelli, Director for Human Resources at the Wharton School is our guest in this episode. His research is both contrarian and eye-opening. Peter has been named one of the most influential thinkers of the decade by HR Magazine, and is the author of "Why Good People Can't Get Jobs." 

In this episode, we discuss the paradox of the tax code, which gives incentives to companies to spend money on new technology INSTEAD of re-training workers. Peter also gives constructive insights into business culture and why it needs to change. 

#130 A Fresh Look at Freedom: Russell Shorto

We discuss the American Revolution through six different pairs of eyes with acclaimed historian and journalist, Russell Shorto, author of the new book, "Revolution Song."

This episode examines the meaning of freedom in a fresh new light and has special resonance during the week of Thanksgiving. 

As he did with "The Island at the Center of the World," which looked at the Dutch impact on Manhattan and the founding of the nation, this book examines American values, drawing deeply on diaries, letters and autobiographies to flesh out six important lives. They include an African-American man who freed himself and his family from slavery, a Seneca tribal warrior who became a wise and respected political leader, and George Washington himself. 

When he began working on "Revolution Song" six years ago, "I thought I was doing history," Russell tells us. "I thought these things were long ago settled. I didn't think I would be living in a time when freedom of the press, freedom of religion and freedom of speech would be even debatable or under attack."

"The intertwined stories of "Revolution Song" give a sense of how far-reaching a phenomenon the War of Independence was," wrote a book reviewer recently in the New York Times
Russell Shorto makes the case that the Revolution is still being fought today and its ideals are worth defending. 
 

#128 Solutions for America's Opioid Epidemic: Sam Quinones

America’s opioid epidemic is an addiction crisis like no other the country has ever faced. Deaths outnumber car crash fatalities.

Since 1999, 200,000 people have died from overdoses related to Oxycontin and other prescription painkillers.

The scourge is the result of a terrible double whammy: The relentless marketing of pain pills and the ruthless efficiency of drug pushers from one small Mexican town, who deliver heroin like takeout pizza.

Our guest, Sam Quinones, author of the highly praised book "Dreamland: The True Tale of America's Opiate Epidemic," is our guide to this complex tragedy. We look at the roots of the epidemic and possible solutions. 

From innovative treatment programs in Kentucky jails to drug courts in Buffalo, New York that offer help for addicts, but also demand accountability, there are ways to reduce the immense pain, suffering and damage.

"This issue allows us to come together as Americans," says Sam.  "Every addict cannot go it alone. They need to be surrounded by services and people who can offer help."

"We've destroyed community in this country in a million different ways and heroin is what you get when you do that."

#126 Using Data To Predict the Future: Rebecca Costa

Can data be used to prevent mass shootings, dramatically reduce opioid addiction and tell elderly people that they about to fall? Our guest, Rebecca Costa, says it can.

In this episode we look at why predictive analytics may be the most profound technological change in the past 15 years-- even more important than smartphones.

In her new book, “On The Verge,” and on this podcast, Rebecca says we now have the power to predict the future, adapting in advance to changing conditions.  She also tells us about the ideas raised on the popular radio show, “The Costa Report” and in her bestselling book, “The Watchman’s Rattle.”

Predictive analytics depend on the ability to collect massive amounts of data, using algorithms to analyze seemingly random bits of information. We explore why all this is coming together now. One example being used by doctors today is predictive healthcare.

Rebecca says that foresight and “fore action”will help human beings “assume our rightful place as aspiring Masters of the Universe.”

#125 The Harvey Weinstein Sex Scandal: What Next? Anne Thompson

The public downfall of film boss, Harvey Weinstein raises deep questions about the culture of Hollywood and its longstanding tolerance of sexual misbehavior by powerful men.

Rumors about Weinstein's outrageous behavior had been an open secret in Hollywood for years. But Weinstein, a king of independent film, was able to cow the media, and had the power to break the careers of any women who dared go public with complaints.

All that changed recently when a New York Times investigation uncovered dozens of allegations that Weinstein had engaged in rampant sexual harassment. A deeply reported article in The New Yorker included additional accounts of coercive behavior and sexual assaults on the part of the studio chief.

Anne Thompson, Editor-at-Large for the movie-news site, Indiewire, is our guest. Anne is a veteran entertainment journalist who has worked for the Hollywood Reporter, Variety, and Entertainment Weekly. She's the author of the book, "The $11 Billion Year: From Sundance to The Oscars."

This episode looks at why so many women spoke out now and outlines ways that the entertainment business—and other industries—can become less tolerant of abuse. We look at the explosive growth of the #metoo movement on social media and examine tools victims can use to fight back. Thompson argues that it is possible to change Hollywood's abusive culture and that the Weinstein scandal provides an opportunity for change.

#124 Russia's Threat to U.S. Democracy: Amy Knight

How should the U.S. and other Western nations deal with Vladimir Putin and well-documented threats to democracy from the Russian government? What are the most effective ways to push back against hacking and other attacks?

Ever since Vladimir Putin came to power, his critics have turned up dead on a regular basis. According to our guest, Amy Knight, this is no coincidence. In her book "Orders to Kill" and during this episode of "How Do We Fix It?", she exposes a campaign of political murder during Putin's reign that includes terrorist attacks such as the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013.

Called "the West's foremost scholar of the KGB” by The New York Times, Amy Knight traces Putin's journey from the Federal Security Service (FSB) in the late 1990's to his rise to absolute power in the Kremlin. 

In this episode, we also explore President Trump's defense of Putin and his denial that the Russian leader has murdered opponents. 

Amy Knight explains how human rights groups in the west and Putin's brave and outspoken critics in Russia could weaken the Kremlin.

Web Extra: Listen to Amy Knight explained why she was interviewed by the KBG when she was a young college student.

#121 Why We Need Stories and Myths: Stephen Greenblatt

Love him or loathe him, Donald Trump told a more compelling story about himself than his opponents. The 2016 election was, for his critics, a jarring reminder of the limits of limiting political rhetoric to detailed policies and programs.

In this episode of "How Do We Fix It?", we explore the power of myths and legends: Why they are essential in making sense of life.

Harvard Humanities professor Stephen Greenblatt - author of "The Rise and Fall of Adam and Eve" is our guest. 

Using the origin story in the Bible, we discuss the enormous power of foundation stories to explain human fears, desires and morality.  At their best the myths and legends we share with each other can bring our communities together in loyalty, love and solidarity. But at their worst they can lead us to believe in dangerous fantasies, setting off one group of people against "the other."

 

 

 

 

 

Click on the link to our Web Extra to learn more about 17th century French philosopher Pierre Bayle and how the way people understood the Adam and Eve story fundamentally changed 500 years ago during the Renaissance.