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Cardiff Garcia

People are starving in Venezuela. There isn't enough food. What little food that is available is becoming increasingly expensive due to hyperinflation. The result is a humanitarian crisis.

But it wasn't always that way. In the past two decades, Venezuela's leaders have turned a country that was one rich in agriculture into an economy focused almost entirely on the production of oil. And when the price of oil tanked, so did Venezuelans' ability to access food.

Today on The Indicator, how this came to be.

This week's news stories about corruption and cheating in the college admissions process is an eye-opening lesson in how much people value getting their children into certain schools.

Lori Loughlin, who played Aunt Becky on the TV sitcom Full House, paid $500,000 to get her two daughters into the University of Southern California. That seemed like a lot to us... and raised the question: is a slot at a top-tier university worth that kind of money?

Saying 'I Do' To Lab-Grown Diamonds

Mar 14, 2019

The global market for diamond jewelry is worth $80 billion dollars a year. Money is pouring into the industry, but why - when demand for diamonds isn't as sparkly as it once was?

There's a new player in the space that might change the market in the near future. It's a different kind of diamond – one grown in a lab. But man-made rocks come with some big marketing problems. Traditionally, luxury products are about scarcity – not accessibility. And, unlike other consumers, high end shoppers can be attracted to high prices.

Attention is a scarce resource. So are concentration and mental energy. But how do our brains decide which stimuli will attract these scarce resources? Enter cognitive economics. A new field in economics that borrows from neuroscience and psychology. Mathematician-turned-cognitive economist Leigh Caldwell joins to explain how it works.

Dollar stores — they sell everything from holiday decorations to groceries to Skittles-scented candles. The business proposition: a grab bag of items for a dollar (or around a dollar). These stores thrived during the financial crisis, but their success in the post-Recession era has been a mixed bag.

Dollar General and Family Dollar (now owned by Dollar Tree), two of the dollar store titans, have been at the center of this. These companies each took a bet: whether they could grow their businesses by keeping everything priced at $1, or by leaving the dollar behind.

Gender segregation is the idea that jobs in some occupations are overwhelmingly done by men, while jobs in other occupations are overwhelmingly done by women. Today on The Indicator, our friend Martha Gimbel from the Indeed Hiring Lab tells us why that's a big deal for women, men, and the economy as a whole.

Some of the studies, articles, and research used for this episode:

From academic journals, think tanks, and other research groups:

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

5 Misconceptions About The Chinese Economy

Mar 4, 2019

China's economy is changing fast and it's tough to keep up. We look at five common misconceptions about the world's second largest economy, with the help of China expert Nicholas R. Lardy from the Peterson Institute for International Economics. Understanding how China's economy has shifted since the financial crisis and why it's slowing down may help shed light on what's going on in the current trade negotiations between China and the U.S..

"Neoliberalism." At its root, it's the belief when national and international institutions support free trade — of goods, ideas, and capital — it'll lead to prosperity. This ideology started in the 1930s, but hit its stride in the 1970s.

Lately, "neoliberalism" has become a loaded term. Some say neoliberalism has made the world more free and interconnected. Others argue neoliberalism has done a lot of damage, like exacerbating inequality.

Today on the show, we ask: what does "neoliberalism" really mean?

The periodic requirement for Congress to vote on raising the debt ceiling has become a reliable piece of political theater. The vote usually follows the passage of a budget by the Congress, and a hike in the debt ceiling rarely gets a green light without some drama.

It's a little like a person who orders up a five course dinner and drinks and then threatens not to pay when the bill arrives. But, this political theater invariably ends the same way: Congress raises the debt ceiling. Treasury pays the bills. Everyone moves on.

The CEO of the streaming service Netflix recently told the company's shareholders something surprising: that Netflix faces more competition from Fortnite, the online video game, than from HBO, the television channel. So are movies, TV shows and streaming videos really in competition with video games? And if so, who's winning?

Millions of Americans have used payday loans. These are small, short-term loans known for charging staggering interest rates — sometimes in the 300 to 400% range.

In 1921, Sadie Alexander became the first African-American to earn a Ph.D. in economics. A few years later, she went to law school and became a celebrated civil rights attorney. But she never abandoned her focus on economic issues. In speech after speech, she argued that full employment — when everyone who wants a job can get one — was absolutely necessary to achieve racial equality. Today on The Indicator, Episode 1 in our multipart series about overlooked economists from the past.

One of our listeners wrote in to ask why Americans are addicted to tipping and just can't seem to quit. This is a subject near and dear to our hearts: doesn't it seem like we're tipping everywhere these days? It's a also a great behavioral economics question. Tipping is one of those conventions that defies both common sense (why do we tip for some services and not others?) - and the rules of economics (why do most people prefer restaurants that don't include fixed service charges in their prices?).

President Trump wants $8 billion to build a wall on the southern border of the U.S. Congress refused to give it to him. So he declared a national emergency, in the hope that he can use his extraordinary powers to secure funding from other parts of the government.

We love that our listeners send us email, and we read every one. We'd like to answer every letter, but we have to pick and choose. Today we answer three of the questions we've been asked by listeners lately: the first on discrimination against older workers; the second on the way that working hours are measured, and the third on whether there are enough workers in America to do all the jobs that are being created. Thanks to all of you for your questions and comments. Please do keep 'em coming!

On February 11, 1937, General Motors and the United Auto Workers union signed a landmark agreement. A union contract. The relationship with U.S. automakers and the labor movement ushered in a period of tremendous worker prosperity and union strength that lasted decades. Today, though, unions are a shadow of their former selves and are sometimes even vilified for dragging down companies and hamstringing workers. What happened? How did unions lose their mojo?

Between 1870 and 1940 — a time period that included the Second Industrial Revolution and the outbreak of Jim Crow laws — only 726 patents were filed by African-Americans. Economist Lisa Cook calculated that number would have much higher, were it not for racial discrimination and violence against African-Americans.

India's finance minister included a radical proposal in his 2019 budget: Give India's poorest farmers a guaranteed income of 6000 rupees a year (about $84). The move is probably largely political: the Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi, and his party have elections coming up and they need rural votes. Still, the payout would significantly increase the income of more than 100 million of India's very poorest families, so a lot of people say the handouts would be a good thing. Today on The Indicator, we look at the pros and cons of payouts.

One of the main jobs of the Federal Reserve is to keep inflation rising at about 2 percent a year (yes, a little inflation is a good thing...but that's another story). When the economy is strong, as it is right now, the Fed keeps a close eye on inflation, and it uses interest rates to keep things in line. By raising interest rates the Fed makes it more expensive to borrow, which should keep spending low and keep prices down. And vice versa.

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