Jacob Goldstein

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If you've ever signed up for anything online, you've probably taken a CAPTCHA test. Maybe you deciphered some scrambled letters and numbers. Maybe you clicked on a bunch of pictures of stop signs. Or maybe you just clicked a box that said "I am not a robot."

These tests are one of the annoyances we put up with to do stuff on the Internet. But the story of CAPTCHA is shockingly interesting. It includes the rise of artificial intelligence, the quest to digitize millions of old books and newspapers, and a shady underworld of human beings paid to solve thousands of CAPTCHAs a day.

This episode originally ran in 2015.

About one hundred years ago, a scientist and statistician named Francis Galston came upon an opportunity to test how well regular people were at answering a question. He was at a fair where lots of people were guessing the weight of an ox, so he decided to take the average of all their guesses and compare it to the correct answer.

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For some students, there's a new way to pay for college. It's not alone. It's not a grant or a scholarship. As Jacob Goldstein from our Planet Money podcast reports, it's a bit like students are selling stock in themselves.

A Warning: This episode contains audio from a disturbing scene of a pipeline explosion.

Mexico's national oil company, Petróleos MexicanosPemexis one of the largest oil companies in the world, and its gas is really expensive. Working for the minimum wage, it takes a day to earn enough to buy a gallon of gas.

This is the third episode in our series on antitrust law in America. Our first episode told the story of Ida Tarbell and how her reporting on John D. Rockefeller and Standard Oil changed antitrust law in the early 1900s.

This is the second episode in our series on the history of competition, big business and antitrust law in America. Quick recap:

A little more than a hundred years ago, the Supreme Court broke up the Standard Oil company. It was a turning point in the balance of power between enormous companies and the free market. We told that story in the first episode of the series.

In 2014, we brought two people together to make a bet over the future of bitcoin.

Ben Horowitz, a venture capitalist whose firm had already invested millions of dollars in cryptocurrency companies, thought bitcoin would change the way people bought stuff online. Felix Salmon, a financial journalist, took the other side. He thought bitcoin's rising price would make people unlikely to use it to buy stuff.

Note: This episode originally ran in 2016.

In 2006, Warren Buffett bet a million dollars that over ten years, his investment in the most brainless, boring fund would do better than the investment of some of the smartest hedge fund managers in the world.

What do silver dollars, Venmo, and Brexit have in common? They're all on the minds of our listeners.

Today on the show, we take listener questions, and hunt for answers. We try to figure out how Venmo makes money, how the tax system really works, why truckers are buying helicopters in England, and more.

This show originally ran in 2014.

A penny is a strange thing. It is money, but it's just about worthless. It's near impossible to buy something with just one penny. (Trust us. We tried.) And yet, the penny doesn't seem to be going anywhere.

This episode originally ran in April 2013.

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.

Canada just became the largest country to legalize marijuana so far.

Back in January, on The Indicator, Planet Money's Jacob Goldstein spoke with James Tebrake, the director general of Statistics Canada. Now that marijuana is legal, the domestic market for it needs to be included in the national statistics, like GDP. James is the person responsible for measuring that market.

But it's not easy measuring the size of a market that's existed in the shadows until now. So we play Jacob's conversation with James, who walks us through the process in fascinating detail.

This episode is a rerun. It originally ran in 2014. We're playing it again because Bill Nordhaus shared the 2018 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Science today! We based this episode on one of his papers.

Note: This episode contains explicit language.

In that photo up there, the man on the right is handing an envelope of cash to the man on the left, in exchange for secret information. It is a photo of insider trading as it happens. Today on the show: the man on the left explains everything — what he did, how he did it, and why. Though he's still struggling with that last one.

Also, when someone trades on insider information, they probably are going to make a lot of money. But who loses that money? We try to solve that brain teaser.

Note: This episode originally ran in 2014.

Certain things are just hard to improve. The classic example: the mousetrap. And for a while, the pallet was the mousetrap of good transportation.

In its way, the pallet is perfect. It's cheap and easy to make. It keeps things a few inches off the floor and works with a forklift. If you get cold, you can burn them. Amazing.

Today on the show: Yes, you can build a better pallet.

It's Janet Yellen's last week running the Federal Reserve.

On today's show, we focus on a single speech Yellen gave last year.

In the speech, Yellen lays out one of the most baffling mysteries in the American economy right now.

Also, the speech reveals a certain boldness that Yellen brought to the job. Superficially, it looks like one more speech about monetary policy. But look a little deeper and you see Yellen is asking some radical questions.

Weed GDP

Jan 30, 2018

When the Canadian government said it would legalize recreational marijuana in the summer of 2018, some people thought: I am going to have an amazing party. Others worried about what to tell their kids.

James Tebrake had a different thought: "We have one chance to collect as much information as possible about a very interesting and important issue."

That issue: What happens to a country's economy when a popular drug goes from being illegal to being legal?

This morning, the federal government released the JOLTS report. (The name is an acronym for Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey.)

The has a bunch of useful data points about the jobs market. But, more than that, it implies a really dynamic, exciting way of looking at the job market.

Among its insights: Workers are getting more power relative to employers. Also, quitting is awesome.

Bonus: Our guest, Nick Bunker, tells the JOLTS story in graphs.

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In two new studies, Harvard economist Raj Chetty and his colleagues found that where poor kids grow up has a huge effect on how much money they earn as adults.

In one study, families living in public housing were randomly selected to be eligible for housing vouchers that required them to move to low poverty neighborhoods. Kids whose families received the vouchers grew up to earn significantly more than those whose families remained in public housing.

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