A podcast featuring interviews with economists whose work appears in journals published by the American Economic Association.
Ep. 41: Divergences in life expectancy across US states
21:17With advances in modern medicine, US life expectancy steadily improved over the second half of the 20th century. But that progress masked a growing gap in mortality between poorer and richer states that started in the 1980s. The exact reasons for this divergence are still unknown, but a paper in the Journal of Economic Perspectives helps rule out some possibilities and provides guidance about where to look next. Authors Benjamin K. Couillard, Christopher L. Foote, Kavish Gandhi, Ellen Meara, and Jonathan Skinner say that two types of explanations stand out. On the one hand, previous research has found numerous ways that state institutions and policies have affected health outcomes. And on the other hand, there are reasons to believe that behavior and culture also contribute to mortality differences. Disentangling these two strands may be a significant challenge for future research, according to the authors.Meara, who is Professor of Health Economics and Policy at Harvard, and Foote, who is Senior Economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, recently spoke with Tyler Smith about rising geographic disparities in US mortality.The edited highlights of that conversation are below, and the full interview can be heard using the podcast player. [Note: The views expressed herein are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the Federal Reserve System or the Boston Fed.]
Ep. 40: The recovery of Southern wealth after the Civil War
25:47The American Civil War and emancipation ended chattel slavery, and as a result, substantially reduced the fortunes of slaveholding households in the years immediately following the war. In a paper in the American Economic Review, authors Philipp Ager, Leah Boustan, and Katherine Eriksson find that many White former slave-owning households rebuilt much of their lost wealth in just one generation, and within two generations, most had recovered entirely. According to the authors, this rapid recovery was made possible by non-material advantages, such as social networks and political connections, which persisted in spite of the large loss of wealth. The research challenges common narratives around the South’s recovery from the Civil War by documenting the persistence of much of the wealth created from chattel slavery. Boustan recently spoke with Chris Fleisher about how she and her coauthors approached their research and what their findings say about wealth and inequality.
Ep. 39: Deterring crime with DNA databases
20:26DNA databases have become essential for solving crimes with few to no leads. But their benefits extend beyond finding suspects. They provide a powerful tool for preventing crimes from happening in the first place, according to a paper in the American Economic Journal: Applied Economics. Authors Anne Sofie Tegner Anker, Jennifer L. Doleac, and Rasmus Landersø found that the expansion of DNA databases in Denmark led to a sharp reduction in recidivism. While some citizens worry about potential abuse of this surveillance tool, the effectiveness of registering offenders in DNA databases stands out compared to traditional policing measures. Professor Doleac recently spoke with Tyler Smith about how DNA registration deters crime and how policymakers should weigh the tradeoff between privacy and effective policing measures.
Ep. 38: Growth by proximity
23:44Austin was a laid-back college town in the 1980s when a student at the University of Texas named Michael Dell began selling computers from his dorm room. At the time, Texas’s capital city was perhaps known more for high hats than high-tech. But the company Dell started would become the world’s largest PC maker and attracted a slew of talent that turned Austin into a technology hub. Enrico Moretti has studied how these “agglomeration economies” develop and the ways they drive growth. In a paper in the American Economic Review, he says that inventors produce more patented research when surrounded by other top talent in their field. He also says that tech clusters will continue to thrive after the pandemic, despite speculation that they will be less relevant in a world of more remote work. Moretti spoke with Chris Fleisher about agglomeration and what the case study of Kodak in Rochester, New York, can tell us about how clusters affect innovation.
Ep. 37: Going from gasoline to electric
21:33Countries around the world are contemplating aggressive plans to curb CO₂ emissions in the coming decades. Many see the electrification of the transportation sector as the first step, but in a paper in the American Economic Journal: Economic Policy, economist Stephen P. Holland warns against using simple bans on the sale of gasoline vehicles to achieve that goal. Holland and coauthors Erin T. Mansur and Andrew J. Yates analyzed a range of policies to encourage the transition from gas powered vehicles to electric vehicles and found that governments may have little control over when that switch happens. Their work shows how policymakers can incentivize manufacturers to ramp down production of gas cars while avoiding too much damage to the overall economy. Professor Holland recently spoke with Tyler Smith about the dangers of banning gasoline vehicles and how best to transition to electric cars.
Ep. 36: Demagoguery on the airwaves
22:55Right-wing radio has served as a megaphone for populist outrage in America. Talk-show hosts like Alex Jones and the late Rush Limbaugh have railed against cultural elites, promoted baseless claims of election fraud, stoked a backlash against immigrants, and questioned the effectiveness of masks and vaccinations amid the Covid-19 pandemic. How and to what extent do these charismatic radio personalities influence public opinion? In the American Economic Review, author Tianyi Wang goes back to the 1930s to help answer this question by examining the impact of the religious firebrand Father Charles Coughlin. Known as the “Father of Hate Radio,” Father Coughlin had a devoted following of tens of millions of listeners across the United States, who tuned in to hear him thunder against the evils of Communism, Wall Street bankers, and America’s involvement in World War II. Wang found that Coughlin’s program resonated profoundly with listeners, persuading more than a quarter of them to vote against Franklin Delano Roosevelt in the 1936 presidential election. Wang spoke with Chris Fleisher about Coughlin’s history as a populist media figure during the Great Depression, his influence over US public opinion, and the insights for today’s fragmented media. *Theme music in the podcast is from Podington Bear and the Father Charles Coughlin clip is from OldTimeRadioDownloads.com.
Ep. 35: Work and childcare during the pandemic
22:30COVID-19 has reshaped work in numerous ways. Many fortunate white-collar Americans spent the last year working from home. Others in service-oriented jobs lost work or spent their workdays behind masks and plexiglass. These pandemic-related changes have been especially hard on women, according to a paper in the Journal of Economic Perspectives. Economists Stefania Albanesi and Jiyeon Kim found that unlike in previous business cycles, employment losses during this recession have been larger for women than for men. They argue that gender differences in occupations and in childcare responsibilities are the main drivers. The authors’ findings highlight the impact that childcare policies may have on the career prospects of women, as well as on the overall economy. Professor Albanesi recently spoke with Tyler Smith about why the COVID-19 recession poses unique challenges and what policymakers can do to help. *Theme music by Podington Bear
Ep. 34: The politics of tax evasion
19:43Tax evasion costs the United States hundreds of billions of dollars every year. But for some Americans, hiding income from the government is about more than keeping every possible penny they earned for themselves. It’s also a form of political protest. In a paper in the American Economic Journal: Economic Policy, authors Julie Berry Cullen, Nicholas Turner, and Ebonya Washington investigate whether attitudes toward government cause Americans to evade paying personal income taxes. They found that when a new president entered office, taxpayers in counties on the opposite side of the political aisle appeared less willing to share their earnings with the government. Conversely, those who were politically aligned with the new president were more trusting of how their taxes would be spent. Cullen and Washington spoke with Chris Fleisher about the challenges of researching tax evasion, the importance of public trust in government, and the implications of their findings in a hyperpolarized time.
Ep. 33: Military handoffs
21:19For a military intervention to end successfully, foreign forces have to hand off security to domestic forces. But historically, these transitions have rarely gone well. In a paper in the American Economic Review, political scientist Austin L. Wright examined the impact of NATO troop withdrawals from Afghanistan on insurgent violence and local perceptions of security conditions. He and coauthors Thiemo Fetzer, Pedro C. L. Souza, and Oliver Vanden Eynde found that the Taliban held back from attacking coalition forces during the initial stages of the drawdown to disguise their true strength, ramping up violence once security was left completely to Afghan forces. Their insights shed light on why the late stages of the current withdrawal have been worse than expected. Professor Wright recently spoke with Tyler Smith about NATO’s withdrawal from Afghanistan and what the US can do to improve security transitions in the future.
Bonus: The case for paying college athletes
23:12**Editor's note: This is a rebroadcast of an interview from 2019. College sports have become big business, and everybody’s making money except the players. The National Collegiate Athletic Association prohibits “student athletes” from receiving a cut of the millions of dollars in revenue that schools collect from games and product licensing. Instead, players get scholarships, the value of which pales in comparison to what they might earn on the open market. But that may be changing. Repeated court challenges and bribing scandals involving star athletes have cast a pall on the two most popular sports of men’s basketball and football. The introduction of legalized gambling this year has intensified the pressure to pay players what they are worth, lest they fall prey to the influence of betters hoping to sway the outcome of a game. Allen Sanderson and John Siegfried have been arguing for years that the system needs to change. In 2015, they published a paper in the Journal of Economic Perspectives that made the case for opening college sports to the free market. Sanderson and Siegfried spoke with the AEA about why they think college athletes should be paid, the potential consequences of doing so, and how the landscape could change over the coming decade.