Cardiff Garcia

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The Last Straw

Jul 16, 2018

There's a global movement right now to get rid of the plastic straw. Scotland, Vancouver and Taiwan have all put bans in place. So have companies like IKEA, Alaska Airlines and Starbucks. The idea is to start reducing the amount of plastic waste in our oceans. Straws are far from the biggest source of plastic pollution, but it's a start, right? Well... maybe. New research shows that the straw ban could really help the global plastic problem, or could really backfire.

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There's a warning sign for the economy with an amazing track record: The last five times it flashed, the U.S. economy went into recession within about a year.

This economic crystal ball takes the views of people and institutions from from all around the world and boils them down into a single, simple signal.

That signal is called the yield curve. It's not flashing now, at least not yet, but it might be close enough to make you nervous.

In 2013, Jackson Palmer started paying close attention to cryptocurrencies — bitcoin, and everything that came after. Things seemed a little bubbly.

Also big back in 2013: Doge, an Internet meme that featured an adorable dog and strange syntax.

Jackson sent off a random tweet about "Dogecoin" — just a throwaway joke. But one thing led to another, and Dogecoin became a real thing. Jackson tried to keep Dogecoin light and fun — it was for learning about cryptocurrency, and giving money to charity.

Then things turned dark.

Income inequality is rising. Over the past few decades, the rich have seen huge gains, while incomes for the middle class and the poor have largely stagnated.

Lots of people have ideas for how to get middle-class incomes growing again. On today's show: Branko Milanovic, one of the most insightful economists we know on this subject, says a lot of those ideas won't be that helpful in the 21st-century economy. He has some surprising ideas about what will.

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Today's Planet Money indicator is 4.55 percent. The Federal Reserve said just this afternoon that the American economy is at full employment when the unemployment rate is 4.55 percent.

The Fed updates this estimate every few months. And for years, it's been getting the number wrong.

Today on the show, what is full employment, why is it so hard to pin down, and most importantly, are we there yet?

One of the things we do at the Indicator is steal stuff we like from other podcasts. Today, we're stealing from Tyler Cowen. He's an economist and public intellectual who has his own podcast (of course).

It's an interview show, and in the middle of every episode Tyler does this thing we love: He goes through a list of subjects and asks the guest to say whether each subject is overrated or underrated, and to explain why.

Where's My Raise?

Dec 8, 2017

The big monthly jobs report came out today. The good news? Lots of people have jobs. The bad news? Raises are hard to come by.

Today's Indicator is 2.5 percent. That's how much average hourly earnings grew over the past year. After you take inflation into account, that's pretty weak --much less than you'd expect given how low the unemployment rate is. Employers are are having to compete for increasingly scarce workers, so why aren't they offering more money? On today's show: Three theories for why wages are rising so slowly.

When Republicans launched their tax push this fall, they said, here's the plan: We are going to lower taxes for people and companies. And part of the way we're going to pay for that is by getting rid of loopholes and special deductions and lots of little perks hiding in the tax code.

Today on the show: What happened to that plan, and what it says about the way our tax code works.