#113 America's Male Unemployment Crisis: Ed Glaeser

Here's a paradox. While the U.S. unemployment rate is near a 16-year low, the percentage of all American adults in the workforce remains stuck at well below pre-recession levels.

Men are much more likely than women to drop out of work. In the 1960's 95% of adult men between 25 and 54 were employed. Today, after 7 years of an improving job market, only 80% are in the workforce.

People who don't look for a job are not counted in the official unemployment statistics compiled by the Labor Department. 

Harvard University Professor Edward Glaeser says "there's a war on work." Taxation, housing, regulatory and social policies aimed at improving the lives of low income Americans, he says, often remove incentives for people to get a job. We based our episode on the findings and solutions suggested in Ed's article for City Journal-- "The War on Work and How to End It."

#13 Fix It Shorts: Why Fixing Health Care Is So Hard

"It's back to square one" says the Wall Street Journal after the collapse of Republican proposals to repeal and replace The Affordable Care Act. President Trump says his plan is to "let Obamacare fail."

This episode looks at how any reform of America's healthcare system - whether by Republicans or Democrats - is so difficult. Whether it's controlling costs, rationing care or extending coverage to all, there are no easy answers. Today, the future of healthcare is uncertain and coverage for many millions of people hangs in the balance.

Our guest, Megan McArdle, a columnist at Bloomberg View explains why The Affordable Care Act is flawed and that many consumers have misconceptions about the true costs of health insurance. 

"What people are doing is they're gaming the system," she says about those who have moved in and out of healthcare marketplaces. When an illness or medical emergency strikes, many people without employer-based health coverage are "signing up for a few months, using a ton of services and then dropping it again."

Jim and Richard debate the future of healthcare from different perspectives. While Jim argues for a more free-market approach, Richard says the only way that a system of universal coverage can work is if everyone has to sign up for coverage, however unpopular that may be. "The penalties for not having insurance should be greater than they were under the Obama Administration," he says.

Megan McArdle is the author of "The Upside of Down: Why Failing Well Is The Key To Success."

#12 Fix It Shorts: The Case for Going Outdoors

Going outdoors and taking on new challenges makes you healthier, happier and smarter. Spending time in nature away from cities and suburbs can also bring spiritual and emotional benefits.

Co-host Jim Meigs tells us why he's a big outdoor guy, who loves to hike, bike and head for the hills.

In this episode we look at ways to add adventure to your life and embrace the excitement of leaving your comfort zone. 

Kio Stark, author of "When Strangers Meet: How People You Don't Know Can Transform You," explains why meeting people you don't know can have genuine emotional benefits. Even brief chance encounters, she says, can make a difference to how you view the world. 

We also discuss cycling in cities with Nicole Gelinas of The Manhattan Institute. She tells us about ways to improve urban safety for bikers, pedestrians and motorists.

#11 Fix It Shorts: Is Summer Fun Under Assault? Lenore Skenazy

Lenore Skenazy of Free Range Kids makes the case for carefree summer activities and unstructured playtime---arguing against those who put safety fears ahead of a child's need to explore, be curious and grow

"If You're a Kid, the Experts Want You to Have a Fun-Free Summer" is the title of a recent article by Lenore.

Summer is a time to "dig in the sand, gulp from the hose, play at the park, and leap with joy," writes Lenore. "Unless you're a kid-- in which case, find yourself a comfy sofa in a dark, quiet room and settle in."

Parents are bombarded with safety messages from the American Academy of Pediatrics, Parenting Magazine and other well-intentioned sites, which give urgent warnings about the hazards of summer. Their advice, says Lenore, is "don't have fun, it's too dangerous."

Find out why being safety obsessed comes at a heavy price. Worried parents risk robbing their children of curiosity about the world and pride in their own achievements.

#109 Secrets of Your Stuff: Mover, Finn Murphy

Are you too attached to your stuff? Do you have a big move coming up?

Long-haul trucker, Finn Murphy has covered more than a million miles of packing, loading and hauling people's material possessions all across the country. In this episode he shares his insights into the moving business, truckers, his many customers and how American households have changed in recent years.

Finn is the author of "The Long Haul: A Trucker's Tales of Life on the Road," a wise, vivid and charming account of his years in the business. His book gives a penetrating look into the lives of big-rig drivers and the people they move.

More than 35 million Americans move house every year.  Finn has intelligent advice on how to avoid moving scams, the best way to pick a mover, and when finding a new place to live might not bad a smart move. 
 

#108 Big Data & STEM, Overrated? Scott Hartley

In our age of big data Liberal Arts smarts are undervalued. Our guest, Scott Hartley, argues that the most valuable jobs skills in the future will belong to people who can think creatively, using emotional intelligence and adaptability.

Scott is a venture capitalist and author of "The Fuzzy and the Techie: Why the Liberal Arts Will Rule the Digital World." At Stanford University, where he studied political science, fuzzies majored in the humanities or social sciences. Techies took computer science or STEM courses. Many in the business world still believe that it's the techies who drive innovation.

In his contrarian book (we love contrarians!) Scott reveals the counterintuitive reality today: it's actually the fuzzies - not the techies - who are playing key roles developing the most successful new business ideas. Corporate leaders, educators and thinkers are starting to realize that to tackle some of the world's biggest technological challenges, we need people who understand human emotions and behavior.
 
We unpack Scott’s argument, looking at examples of innovative fuzzy thinking, from Steve Jobs to Mark Zuckerberg and beyond. Our solutions look at new ideas for business, universities, government and parents.

#107 How Trust Can Save Journalism: Aron Pilhofer

Journalism is in crisis. Our trust in the news media has fallen to an all-time low. One recent poll found that two thirds of Americans believe mainstream news organizations often publish fake news.

The business model at many newspapers, magazines, radio stations and websites is failing.  Declining revenues have forced layoffs and other cutbacks at news organizations across the country.


Professor Aron Pilhofer of Temple University, one of the world's most respected experts in digital innovation for journalists, is our guest.  Before joining Temple, Aron was Executive Editor of Digital journalism at the Guardian in London and was a former senior executive at the New York Times.

"It's impossible to overemphasize what a vast change there is now in the way people get their information," Aron tells us. For his young students at Temple, the news "finds them" through their feeds at Facebook, Twitter and other social sites. The news is not handed down from high. Instead, it's part of a conversation. 
Aron says regaining readers' trust is essential to the future of journalism. Covering "what now" of news - solutions - is one answer. Greater transparency in how stories are covered and a much deeper commitment to diversity in newsrooms are among the fixes we discuss.

#106 Defusing The Prison Population Bomb: John Pfaff

Today, about 2.2 million Americans are behind bars. "The incarceration rate is about five times the rate of 1970 and our crime rate is the same as in 1970." 

Our guest, John Pfaff of Fordham University is both a law professor and an economist. Author of "Locked In: The True Causes of Mass Incarceration—and How to Achieve Real Reform," he says state and local policies matter far more than changes in the federal system.

At about 700 inmates per 100,000 residents , the U.S. incarceration rate is five times higher than most western nations. Only North Korea and Iran have locked up a larger share of their population.
 
Growing bi-partisan support for criminal justice reform may bring changes. But Attorney General Jeff Sessions is going in the opposite direction.  He's ordered federal prosecutors to pursue the strictest charges and sentences in criminal cases-- reversing Obama Administration policies.
 
The standard explanation for America's inmate population explosion is "three strikes and you're out" sentencing and other aspects of the federal government's war on drugs.
 
John Pfaff says that argument is far too simplistic. In this episode, we look at the key role played by state and local prosecutors. John argues that one key reform would be to focus on charging policies-- reigning in the almost unchecked power of many district attorneys.

#105 Road To Disaster: VW Emissions Scandal Jack Ewing

It isn't just the crime. It's also the cover-up. Volkswagen's multi-year conspiracy to evade pollution rules may be the biggest scandal in auto industry history.

The world's second largest car manufacturer misled regulators, consumers, and motorists.

Our guest is New York Times Germany correspondent, Jack Ewing, author of "Faster, Higher, Farther: The Volkswagen Scandal." The book tells the remarkable story of a very dysfunctional company and how the scandal unfolded.  

In 2008, Volkswagen started telling the world about its energy-efficient diesel cars that were fun to drive and got fantastic mileage. They were advertised as a great alternative to the Toyota Prius and other hybrid cars.

But the cars' green credentials were based on a lie. VW had installed software in the engines—"defeat devices"—designed to trick regulators and perform much better in emissions tests than on the road. Starting in 2014, thanks to research by university students in West Virginia, the ugly truth started coming out.

As always, we look at solutions. The likelihood of future scandals could be reduced with:

  • More corporate transparency and oversight from an independent board of directors and shareholders.
  • Greater emphasis on corporate ethics from top executives.
  • More emphasis on emissions tests in real life conditions—not just in the lab
  • Keep government regulators as insulated as possible from industry, interest group and political pressure.

#104 Are Credit Cards Evil? Beverly Harzog

Are credit cards evil?  Do you need to restructure debt or were refused a loan?  If so, this episode is for you.

If you're a parent looking for smart money advice to pass onto young adults as they enter the workforce, our podcast has a checklist of do's and don'ts.

Respected credit card expert and consumer advocate Beverly Harzog is our guest. Beverly hasn't just talked the talk about maxing out on debt, she's walked the walk. In her best-selling book, “Confessions of a Credit Junkie,"she tells her personal comeback story.

Three out offour Americans say they're struggling to pay off loans. U.S. credit card debt is above $1 trillion and rising - now at its highest level since the 2008 financial crash. 

The average credit card debt per household is nearly $10,000. Because most cards come with very high interest rates, this is one of the worst ways to borrow money. 

Beverly explains why.

She also explains the importance of compound interest, the difference between good and bad debt, plus examples of when it makes sense to use a credit card. 

Need more honest advice about debt? Visit  The National Foundation for Credit Counseling is the nation’s largest and longest-serving nonprofit financial counseling organization.

Find more information, advice and articles at www.beverlyharzog.com

#103 Neil deGrasse Tyson: Science Deniers & Wonders of the Universe Pt. 2

Tyson talks about the possibility of intelligent life on other planets, tackles science deniers on the right and left, and explains why we should invest more in pure science. Tyson also discusses his new book, "Astrophysics for People in a Hurry.”

"What's curious to me is you have the liberal community claiming the (moral) high road ...against the science deniers of the right with regard to global warming and evolution in the classrooms... as though they are somehow untainted by non-scientific thinking,” Tyson tells us. "There is a whole portfolio of science denying that also happens in the liberal left."

Investments in pure science led to many remarkable breakthroughs in medicine, technology and physics - often decades after the research began. Following the discovery of quantum physics in the 1920's, "it would take forty to fifty years before we would see the rise of information technology," says Tyson. "There is no information technology without an understanding of quantum physics."

Tyson also discusses his sense of awe and wonder about the secrets of the cosmos.

“You can’t be a scientist and have discomfort with not knowing,” he tells us. “When there is a frontier that’s unexplored, where there are stupefying depths of ignorance, it excites you. It gets you out of bed in the morning and running to the lab.”
— Neil deGrasse Tyson

#102 Neil deGrasse Tyson: Space, The Universe and The Case for Science, Part.1

Neil deGrasse Tyson, America’s most prominent spokesman for science and Director of New York City’s Hayden Planetarium, talks about the benefits of a cosmic perspective, the case for manned space flight and much more in this first part of our wide-ranging conversation. We also discussed Tyson's new book, "Astrophysics for People in a Hurry."

Richard and Jim met Tyson at his offices at The American Museum of Natural History.

While insisting he is not an advocate for manned space flight, Tyson says "history tells us" space exploration "is one of the most potent forces to operate on the scientific ambitions of a citizenry." At the height of the Apollo program in the 1960's, "you didn't need special programs to get people interested in science," Tyson explains. "There were weekly headlines about our journeys into space and you knew you needed the best of the best to breech the frontier of space."

#10 Fix It Shorts: What We Learned in Our First 100 episodes

For Jim and Richard "How Do We Fix It?" has been a great big learning experience.

From how to switch careers to the search for meaning and the importance of speaking to strangers, our guests have proposed many smart, practical solutions. And they've also challenged conventional wisdom.

Our podcast invites listeners to get into their discomfort zone as a way of being more receptive to change.  

Jim starts this show revealing what he learned from David McRaney, host of "You Are Not So Smart," - a podcast about psychology.  David told us about our deep attachment to confirmation bias - where most of us try to confirm our views, rather than challenging ourselves with an opposing hypothesis.  

As someone who admits he knows little about science, Richard says he has learned about the scientific method from several guests, including Ainissa Ramirez and Michael Shermer. In the lab, scientists routinely test and try to disprove a theory before they embrace it as fact.

Some Fix It episodes were ahead of the curve. John Gable, Joan Blades, Geoff Colon and other guests raised the alarm about filter bubbles and online information silos well before Mark Zuckerberg and other Silicon Valley executives voiced their concerns.

Last year, Megan McArdle, a columnist at Bloomberg View, spoke to us about the tangled problems of fixing Obamacare months before President Trump and House Republicans realized how hard it be to "repeal and replace" without a massive fight. 

We also heard from Steve Hilton, former personal advisor to British Prime Minister David Cameron.  He made the pro-European case for Brexit in a surprising and enlightened way.

Richard tells Jim: "I've learned a lot from you," declaring himself to be a "thorough convert" to Jim's conviction that we romanticize the past and catastrophize the present. Richard has also come over to Jim's view that the challenge to free speech on college campuses is a much more serious problem than many believe.

Now on to the next 100 shows.
 

#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.

#99 How Our Minds Heal Our Bodies: Jo Marchant

Have you ever felt a surge of adrenaline after almost getting into an accident? Salivated at the sight of a sour lemon?  Felt turned on by your partner’s voice?  If so, says scientific journalist Jo Marchant, you’ve experienced how the workings of the mind can affect your body.

In this episode we look at the mind's potential to ease pain, reduce anxiety and even cut the risk of infection, heart disease and other serious medical ailments. Jo discusses how the latest findings in mind-body research: How hypnotherapy, mindfulness techniques, Virtual Reality and social connections can play important roles in healing and prevention.

More than one in three Americans have turned to alternative medicine.  But do homeopathy, acupuncture and other therapies actually work? What does science say about the use of placebos in medicine?

"I believe very strongly in an evidence- based approach that we have to investigate things in a scientific way," Jo tells us in this episode.  "On the other hand I also started to feel that science has a bit of blind spot when it comes to the role of the mind in health."

Jo Marchant discusses the findings of her New York Times best-selling book "Cure: A Journey Into The Science of Mind Over Body.

Check out the New York Times book review.

#98 You're More Powerful Than You Think: Eric Liu

If you're disillusioned, depressed or downright furious at the state of politics today, this episode is for you.

Eric Liu, founder and CEO of Citizen University, says that you're more powerful than you think. We discuss the stories, strategies and ideas raised in his timely new book, "You're More Powerful Than You Think: A Citizen’s Guide to Making Change Happen"

The key to fighting back successfully is to have a strategy and know how to read and write power,” but most people have no understanding of power and how to use it.  

Political illiteracy is one reason we feel so powerless. “I think the reality of American life, right now, is that so many people have neither the motivation nor the ability to read or write power,” Eric tells us. “They lapse into this “House of Cards” or dark conspiratorial vision that all politics are like "Scandal,” and out of that are born people like Donald Trump as President.” 

The truth is that ordinary people are able to accomplish extraordinary things.  We learn about Communities Creating Opportunity, a Kansas City-based campaign against predatory payday lending and the Coalition of Immokalee Workers - a surprisingly powerful movement for farmworker justice.  

For decades, poor and often illiterate migrant workers picked tomatoes in rural Florida, "laboring essentially under conditions of indentured servitude." Instead of an hourly wage, growers paid them pennies per bucket of what they picked, says Eric. The Immokalee farmworkers successfully demanded higher wages and better labor conditions. "In 2001, they organized the first-ever farmworker boycott of a fast-food company, against Taco Bell," writes Eric in his book.  Four years later, Taco Bell's parent company agreed to raise wages and reform its power chain.  

Eric's solutions:

  • Learn how power is organized. His book has nine strategies for changing the game. 
  • Vote. In his book, Eric Liu writes that voter turnout (in general) is rarely above 60 percent (at best).
  • Exercise your "we muscle.”Join a club or group and learn how to work with others on game-changing ways to improve the odds for a cause or a hobby that you care about.
  • Keep it local. Eric argues that too much attention is given to power politics in Washington D.C. Often the best way to bring about change is in the neighborhood or city where you live.
  • Schools and colleges should improve civics education, giving students a much clearer understanding of grassroots democracy. 

Learn more about citizenship and civic power from these online Citizen University videos.

Read a review of Eric Liu's new book, "You're More Powerful Than You Think," by New York Times journalist David Bornstein, co-founder of Solutions Journalism Network. David is one of our "Fix It" show guests, listen to Episode 47.
 

#9 Fix It Shorts Productivity: Charles Duhigg's Top 4 Tips

This episode highlights four key productivity fixes from New York Times Pulitzer Prize winner Charles Duhigg. His most recent book is "Smarter, Faster, Better: The Secrets of Being Productive in Life and In Business." Charles is also the author of "The Power of Habit."

Using cutting-edge science, reporting and real-life stories, Charles explains why being productive isn't just about daily habits, routines and lists.

"Keeping your eye on that thing that matters most to you is the secret to success," Charles tells us. "We need a mental model: a story we tell ourselves about how we expect our day to unfold."

Solutions:  Top 4 productivity tips:

  1. See emails as suggestions, not as obligations.  Be proactive rather than reactive with email.  You don't have to respond to all of them or get to a zero in-box. 
  2. To-do lists should be much more than random reminders.  Put your top priority or today or this week at the top of your list. 
  3. Use mental modeling to be productive. Turn a chore into a choice. Think about your goals and priorities a little more deeply than simply making a list.
  4. The most important thing is the most important thing. Don’t lose site of your higher goal while doing the daily stuff of life.

Charles’s website has short entertaining videos on the science of habit, find them at  http://charlesduhigg.com

A longer version of this show can be found here.

"FixIt Shorts" promises solutions journalism in 15 minutes or less.

#96 Robots Are Not Coming For Your Job, Part 2: Peter Cappelli

How can we save good jobs?

In part one (episode #95), we spoke with Peter Cappelli of the Wharton School, about the impact of robots and automation on our workforce.  Here in part 2 Peter talks solutions and explains why some of the alarm over the impact on employment is out-of-touch with reality.

Technology is changing how we work, and too many companies are investing much more on technology than in people. Peter says that retraining employees is one solution. 

AT&T agrees. For many years the company has been a major player in new technology,  but as automation changed its workplace many AT&T employees no longer had the skills to run the company’s infrastructure. The solution? Complain about the skills gap?  No. AT&T decided to retrain its 100,000 employees. For the first time AT&T made Fortune’s list of the 100 Best Companies to Work For.

Peter says a good job is really more about “how people are managed, whether you give them control over what they're doing and whether you take care of them."

Credit: Typorama

Credit: Typorama

Some of the most important factors driving productivity are better management. In the 1980's General Motors, invested 7.7 billion dollars  to automate their production system. But the strategy proved to be a costly failure. Toyota, which used a lean management system, was far more successful, proving that sometimes the best investment is in training people.

Government can also help.  The current tax code and accounting principles stack the deck against investments in human capital. Retraining employees counts as a liability on a corporate balance sheet, while investing in equipment counts as an asset. The Federal Government has also spent billions of dollars to develop robots, and technology, that displace workers.

In a recent Washington Post article, Peter wrote: “Changing the tax code and accounting principles to un-stack the deck against investments in employees is far easier and more likely to succeed than any of the other policies under debate.”

#95 Robots Are Not Coming For Your Job, Part 1: Peter Cappelli

Here's one less thing to worry about: robots are not going to take your job.

Despite the dire predictions of analysts, workplace experts and the government, the impact of robotics and automation on employment may be hugely overstated.

Professor Peter Cappelli, the Director of the Center for Human Resources at the Wharton School is our guest. He has written for The Atlantic, The New Yorker Magazine, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and Forbes Magazine. Peter was recently named one of the “Most Influential Thinkers of the Decade,” by HR Magazine. In this episode Peter explains why we should challenge conventional wisdom about the impact of automation. 

"The biggest change in technology has not been automation but the ability to do work at a distance via the Internet," Peter tells us. Even in manufacturing, "there has been just about the same productivity improvement as in the rest of the economy."

 

From driverless trucks to pilotless planes, "there are some things that are technologically possible that we just don't want to happen."

 

While disruptive, many innovations eventually lead to a larger demand for workers. One example: there are more bank tellers today than there were before ATMs were invented.

#94 A Vital Fix for the Media: David Bornstein

The news media is under fierce attack from President Trump; White House Strategist, Steve Bannon; and many other critics.While many claims against the press are overblown, now is a good time to look at arguments for constructive change. 
 

We decided to re-air our interview with New York Times journalist David Bornstein, co-founder of SolutionsJournalismNetwork.org

David says that solutions journalism focuses on what works now as potential solutions. Using the best available evidence, solutions journalism delves deep into the how-to’s of problem solving, often structuring stories as puzzles or mysteries that investigate problems. 

One recent example: Initiatives that show  success in reducing the dropout rate in public schools. Reporters looked at how these programs work. What are successful school systems doing differently that result in better outcomes?