The Economic Lessons Of A Free Solo Climb

In 2017, American rock climber Alex Honnold ascended Yosemite National Park’s vertical rock formation, El Capitan, in under four hours. Honnold’s extraordinary journey to the top was captured in the documentary Free Solo, named after the method of climbing without ropes or equipment which Honnold used.
While audiences largely reacted to the movie with nail-biting, dizzying fascination, economist John Cochrane thought to himself, “Why wasn’t this done 150 years ago?” On today’s show, the three economic lessons that prompted his question, and the surprising links between rock climbing and economics.

 

Maybe we should celebrate communities that give rise to accomplishments.

What is the Net Worth of the Bottom 50% ?

The President’s remarks at the recent State of the Union aroused my curiosity:

Since my election, the net worth of the bottom half of wage earners has increased by 47 percent — three times faster than the increase for the top 1 percent.

Questions:

This prompted the following questions:

  1. So, what is the average net worth of the bottom 50% of Americans?
  2. How has the average net worth of the bottom 50% changed over time, adjusted for inflation, starting around 1970?
  3. For extra bonus points, can you compare that to data on the top 1%?

Follow-up:

This sounds like it would make a good story for  The Indicator from Planet Money.

Episode 453: What Causes What?

What causes what? The human brain is programmed to answer this question constantly, and using a very basic method. This is how we survive. What made that noise? A bear made that noise. What caused my hand to hurt? Fire caused my hand to hurt.

But sometimes, we use these simple tools to solve complex problems. And so we get things wrong. I wore my lucky hat to the game. My team won. Therefore, my lucky hat caused my team to win.

On today’s show we dive deep into correlation and causation with Charles Wheelan, author of the book, Naked Statistics: Stripping the Dread from the Data.

The most important metric in analyzing a schools is value added. Many private and charter schools start with more affluent and motivated students.

Planet Money: Blacklisted in China

China is trying a bold experiment. The government wants to make it easier for people to trust each other. They are creating something known as a social credit score.

This would be a nationwide system, similar to an American credit score, but that stretches deep into all kinds of areas of public and private life. It involves tracking, monitoring and sometimes shaming people who break rules and default on debts.

Planet Money: The Seattle Experiment

It’s no secret how elections work: A winning campaign costs a lot of money, so candidates court people who have the money to spend. Say, business interests. Then, when a politician takes office, their powerful donors have more influence than the average citizen. It’s not a great system.

So Seattleites decided to tear it all up and try something radical: Fighting big money by flooding elections with even more money. The experiment… did not necessarily go as planned.

This episode is a collaboration with Vox’s The Impact podcast.

Planet Money: Why Did The Cow Cross The Border?

Lately, we’ve been nerding out about cattle. Specifically, about this one particular set of facts. Every year, the United States exports 500 million tons of beef to Mexico. But every year, the United States imports 500 million tons of beef from Mexico.

We heard this, and thought: How is that possible? Why are we trotting all these cows back and forth across the border? We sent a reporter to the border to find out. The answers to those questions explain a lot about how trade works.