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.

Life On China's Blacklist

18 hours ago

In America, default and bankruptcy is almost a rite of passage for people in business. It's certainly nothing to be ashamed of. In China, however, failure to pay your debts is a cardinal sin. Offenders are banished to a blacklist. If you're on the blacklist, you can't buy a plane ticket or stay in many hotels. And your face may be plastered on billboards throughout the city, naming you as untrustworthy. Today on the Indicator, we talk with a coal broker who has been on the list for more than two years.

Who can you trust? How can you tell whether someone who borrows money from you will pay it back? In the U.S., we have a credit score to help make these calls. But in China, no such system exists.

So the government came up with its own equivalent: it will score peoples' trustworthiness using not just court and bank records, but also data from the online shopping companies. Today on the Indicator: China's social credit system and what it might mean for citizens.

The Iron Lotus

Oct 8, 2018

Today on The Indicator, we answer your questions. Well, one of them anyway. Listener Sam Spear wrote to us to ask us about the mysterious financial contortions performed by a company called Helios and Matheson, which owns a company called Moviepass. Specifically, Helios and Matheson performed a reverse stock split, after which they diluted their stock an extraordinary amount. Sam asked us to explain what happened, and why, and whether what Helios and Matheson was even legal.

The jobs news this week continues to be good: at 3.7 percent, the jobless rate is the lowest it's been since late 1969. But the number doesn't tell the whole story about the state of employment in America today.

Today on the Indicator, we steal from our econ pals to look at the jobs numbers through a few separate lenses. We look at the average number of jobs created over the last six months, which industries are hiring the fastest — and which are shedding jobs the fastest. Plus we look at the unemployment rates for certain demographics.

Team Indicator shares its reactions to the new NAFTA, now known as the USMCA. The deal probably does not represent a huge change to the way these countries trade with each other, but it could have intriguing consequences for America's approach to trade with China.

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

For almost a century, General Electric was a powerhouse of the American economy, a byword for progress, innovation, and excellence.

GE did everything, from light bulbs to jet engines to medical devices to banking. And it was that last little venture that turned out to be a bridge too far. GE got into the business just ahead of the financial crisis, and once the dust from that debacle had settled, GE found itself more than a little dinged up. A decade later, the company still hasn't recovered. Today on The Indicator, we find out what brought GE to its knees.

NPR White House correspondent Scott Horsley asked us to solve a mystery for him: He's been reporting on corn prices, which have been falling lately, but when he went to get a snack from the vending machine in the press corps break room in the White House, he discovered the price of a bag of Fritos had risen 20% (a quarter!) Today on the Indicator, the case of the pricey Frito! A tale of transportation costs, tariff penalties, and our deep love of salty snacks.

Archival tape from Suspense

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

One of the toughest parts of living in a big city is finding an affordable place to live. That might be getting a bit easier. Here's Stacey Vanek Smith and Cardiff Garcia from NPR's economics podcast The Indicator.

Companies buy back their stock from shareholders when they have excess cash lying around, and they want to hand some of it over to the owners. And they've been doing it a lot more recently: companies are on track to spend more than a trillion dollars on buybacks this year. Today on the Indicator, dueling opinions on buybacks. One economist says they're a way to get cash to companies that need it; another argues they're a brake on the economy.

Music: "Break Me"

This week, back in 1933, a team of American Geologists from Standard Oil Company in California arrived on the shore of a small, sparsely populated Middle Eastern country called Saudi Arabia. Today on the Indicator: what the team of geologists found and how it changed the economy of a country and the global economy for better ... and for worse.

Archival Footage: "Desert Venture"

Rent!

Sep 21, 2018

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 cesarean section, that change could lead to some serious cost savings.

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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/.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

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%.

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