Stacey Vanek Smith

Stacey Vanek Smith is the co-host of NPR's The Indicator from Planet Money. She's also a correspondent for Planet Money, where she covers business and economics. In this role, Smith has followed economic stories down the muddy back roads of Oklahoma to buy 100 barrels of oil; flew to Pune, India, to track down the man who pitched the country's dramatic currency devaluation to the prime minister; and spoke with a North Korean woman who made a small fortune smuggling artificial sweetener in from China.

Prior to coming to NPR, Smith worked for Marketplace, where she was a correspondent and fill-in host. While there, Smith was part of a collaboration with The New York Times, where she explored the relationship between money and marriage. She was also part of Marketplace's live shows, where she produced a series of pieces on getting her data mined.

Smith is a native of Idaho and grew up working on her parents' cattle ranch. She is a graduate of Princeton University, where she earned a bachelor's degree in comparative literature and creative writing. She also holds a master's in broadcast journalism from Columbia University.

Rent!

2 hours ago

Ever since the end of the financial crisis, rents have been rising all across America. A recent report from Zillow put the median monthly accommodation rental payment in the U.S. at $1440.

The good news is, that it is the same as last year. After years of rising, rents are finally leveling off. Susan Wachter of the Wharton school talks with Stacey and Cardiff about what that means for renters and for the entire U.S. economy.

There are now more job openings than unemployed people. The number of small-business owners that have job openings that they cannot fill is rising. The share of workers quitting their jobs each month is the highest in seventeen years. And of people who went from not having a job to getting a job in the past year, more than seven in ten were not even looking for a job the month before they got one — also a record high.

And that is good news for everyone involved.

1) The number of job openings has surpassed the number of unemployed people:

They were, once upon a time, a fixture in circus tents and at birthday parties, but today demand for clowns is down. Fewer people are interested in becoming clowns. Membership in the biggest clown associations has fallen.

Part of the problem is with the image of clowns projected in movies, cartoons, and books: instead of being fun, they're weird, or creepy, or downright menacing.

Faced with that kind of portrayal, clowns are looking for ways to counter this decades-long narrative. Stacey and Cardiff speak to one of them.

Ten years ago, Financial Times reporter John Auther was so worried about the possible contagion from the collapse of Lehman Brothers that he went down to his bank to shift some of his cash to another bank, ensuring that more of it was insured by the government.

What he saw freaked him out even further. The bank was full of Wall Street professionals — the very people who knew firsthand just how bad the financial crisis really was — all standing in line to do what he wanted to do: move their own personal money to accounts protected by deposit insurance.

Newsflash! People lie when they're dating online. It's the downside of the anonymity offered by the Internet. In today's show, we cut through the web of falsehoods, to determine what kind of fibs people tell, and how often they tell them.

Music by Drop Electric. Find us: Twitter/ Facebook.

Until recently, it was a misdemeanor in Alabama for a certified professional midwife to deliver a baby. That changed last year, and there are now 12 certified professional midwives in the state. Pregnant women now have more options when it comes to birth, and because vaginal births cost less than surgical options like a Caesarean section, that change could lead to some serious cost savings.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Why Aren't We More Productive?

Sep 6, 2018

Advances in technology have driven eye-popping advances in productivity over the last hundred years. As machines have replaced artisans, individual humans have gone from making a single item every so often to producing hundreds of lamps or chocolate bars or T-shirts every hour.

Back in 1907, America's financial system was pretty unsophisticated. There was no central bank, barely any kind of regulatory framework, and no backstop in case of a crash.

Meanwhile, the economy was growing fast, with people borrowing and investing at a dizzying rate. And when people lost confidence in a kind of unregulated lending institution called a trust, panic spread through the economy.

Most products in this world are vulnerable to creative destruction: as new products are developed, they make old ones obsolete.

But there are some exceptions to this rule. There are products that persist, resisting change while economic evolution continues on without them.

Like the graphing calculator.

Sun Tzu's book on battlefield strategy, "The Art of War", has been required reading for the thoughtful military officer for more than 2,500 years. Today, though, among, the books biggest fans are American business people, many of whom regard it as an essential guide to business strategy. It's no accident that Donald J Trump himself echoed the book's title in his own work, The Art of the Deal.

Beyond GDP

Aug 23, 2018

Gross domestic product, or GDP, has been a wonderful indicator — the indicator, really, for knowing how the economy is doing at any given moment.

But it was invented during an earlier time, back when the economy was simpler and the goods it produced were less varied. As Diane Coyle argues in her book, the economy has evolved and GDP may no longer be enough for understanding its many dimensions.

Diane tells Cardiff why we should appreciate what GDP has done for us, but she also suggests some alternative measures of the economy.

Beach reads are usually the territory of thrillers and light fiction and romance novels. But we, at The Indicator, think economics books should have a place in the pantheon. So in honor of the last stretch of summer, we have selected some economic beach reads! Books that will teach you something about economics and also pair well with a pina colada.

Note: Today's episode originally aired in 2015.

One day it's profitable to recycle a bottle. The next day, some number in the global economy changes and that bottle suddenly becomes trash. A drop in oil prices, for example, can make it way harder to recycle plastic.

No one knows for sure how many Americans have been convicted of a crime. But the number is in the millions, making the formerly incarcerated a significant portion of the population. Once these men and women have served their time, they find their troubles aren't over. It's exceptionally hard for former convicts to get a job, which is bad news for those individuals, for society and for the economy.

Tim Harford is the author of 'Fifty Inventions that Shaped the Modern Economy." We play overrated/underrated with Tim. We ask him about inventions like the light bulb and the iPhone as well as messy desks and everyone's favorite summer invention: the air conditioner.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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Campbell Harvey is a finance professor at Duke University. Back in the mid-1980s, when he was working on his PhD thesis, scholars were scrutinizing different markets for evidence that they could predict economic growth.

When demand for a commodity is high and supply is low, providers usually just raise the price. That pushes demand down. But when that commodity is water - an essential for human life - those pricing rules don't apply. Or do they?

Music by Drop Electric. Find us: Twitter/ Facebook.

Five labor market indicators, one minute each. They are:

1) This year, the average number of jobs added to the economy each month has been 215,000, an increase on last year's average of 182,000.

2) The share of adults between the ages of 25 and 54 with a job is now 79.5 percent.

3) The manufacturing sector has added 327,000 jobs in the past year, which represents a faster pace of job creation than the overall economy — a reversal of the trend from a few years ago.

4) The unemployment rate for high school graduates with no college experience has fallen to 4%.

In recent decades, income inequality in the United States has been climbing. Scholars and pundits argue about what causes the trend and how problematic it is, but they largely agree that it has happened.

But has the rise in income inequality between rich and poor also been accompanied by a widening cultural distance between the two groups? A new working paper from Marianne Bertrand and Emir Kamenica investigates the question. And its approach to answering it is amost as interesting as what it found. On today's show, we discuss it with Emir.

Tariffs have been dominating the economic news this summer. President Donald Trump has announced new import taxes on goods coming from China, Europe, Mexico and Canada. But what happens then? Today on the show, Stacey and Cardiff go into the belly of the beast: in Newark, New Jersey.

Music by Drop Electric. Find us: Twitter/ Facebook.

The pace of wage growth is one of the best indicators of economic health. But wage growth can be measured using a number of different methods. Each method has strengths and weaknesses, and each method tells a slightly different story about how the economy, and the labor market, is doing.

We speak with economist Ernie Tedeschi, who suggests three different measures of wage growth that we should all be tracking. In chart form, they are:

1. Average Hourly Earnings for all private sector workers:

No question, Russia is a formidable force in the global political arena. But its economy is smaller than the economy of Texas. Russia's economy was growing like crazy between 1999 and 2008. But it's about the same size now as it was at the end of the Great Recession. Today on the show, we look at what's been holding back Russia's economy.

GDP, OMG!

Jul 27, 2018

The gross domestic product is a measure of all the goods and services an economy produces. For the second quarter of this year, the U.S. economy grew at a stellar rate of 4.1%. Today on the show, we take a deep dive into everybody's favorite economic indicator: How is it measured? Why is it so high? Will it continue?

Mark Twain was a literary giant — but a horrible investor. John Maynard Keynes was one of history's greatest economists, but his genius for economics was less helpful to his own investment choices than his mental flexibility. Warren Buffett's investment track record is almost without equal, but he once made a $6 billion mistake.

On today's show, we speak with Michael Batnick, author of Big Mistakes: The Best Investors and Their Worst Investments, about the mistakes made by these famous investors and the lessons we should all learn from those mistakes.

Adam Smith, the father of economics, had a problem. He believed in the wisdom of markets--that the free market would always settle on the best price for something. That price would be an expression of how valuable that item was. The problem: diamonds are more expensive than water and water is more valuable to us than diamonds.

We talked to Linda Yueh about the paradox and Smith.

Last week, President Trump told CNBC that he doesn't like the Federal Reserve's policy of gradually raising interest rates. In particular, he laments that rising interest rates will lead to a stronger dollar, potentially exacerbating the U.S. trade deficit.

The dollar has strengthened this year, but if President Trump wants to assign blame for the stronger dollar, then he should save most of it for his own agenda.

Josh Barro of Business Insider joins us to discuss.

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The Market For Air

Jul 20, 2018

Jake Dell is the 5th generation owner of Katz's Delicatessen — America's oldest Jewish deli. A few years ago Jake had a problem. The neighborhood was changing, his overhead and his property taxes were skyrocketing, and he started to wonder, can a family-owned deli survive in one of the world's most expensive cities?

And then he realized he had something he could sell, something worth more than sandwiches and coleslaw, something that had been right under his nose the whole time... or rather right above his head.

The U.S. economy is doing pretty well. Jobs continue opening, unemployment is low, and growth appears robust.

But that's no reason to be complacent. Today on the show, Stacey and Cardiff present three indicators that make them feel a bit queasy.

None of these indicators guarantees that an economic slowdown is on the way, but they could be doing a little better — and all of them will make you sound smarter around the water cooler.

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