economics

Podcast Picks of 2017

Listening to people discuss their ideas and opinions is something I truly enjoy. Podcasts are great for this and make it easy to hear the most current stories from North America to the Middle East, from Europe to Australia. All from the comfort of your smart phone or computer.

Last year, I made a list of twelve podcasts (A Podcaster’s Dozen). These were some of my long favorites and some that were great new finds.

Since it’s nearly the end of 2017, I though I’d make a new list. So, here’s another dozen podcasts that I’ve listened to this year. My hope is that you’ll give them a try in 2018.

Plenty to Explore

Below are six podcasts I’ve listened to for many years, which cover a range of topics, from architecture and medicine to philosophy and history. Each one has hundreds of episodes going back many years, so you’ll have a hard time running out of things to learn about.

  • Memory Palace, with Nate DiMeo
    • With a superb radio voice, Nate brings to life stories of all kinds–from the true to the re-imagined. Stories focus on historical characters, from the infamous, like the Donner party and P. T. Barnum, to the unknown people we should remember–and who, thanks to Nate, are.
  • World Dispatch, from the Outline
  • 99% Invisible, with Roman Mars
    • Nearly 300 discussions about “all the thought that goes into the things we don’t think about”. 99pi has explored the vastness of design, from architecture and cities (La Sagrada Família) to history and objects (stethoscope) to visuals and technology (emojis). Always read the plaque!
  • This Is Hell!, with Chuck Mertz
    • With a mission to manufacture dissent, Chuck talks to journalists, authors and activists working to make this world a slightly less hellish place. In-depth conversations about the forces that drive politics, like the logic of misogyny, force us to question our world.
  • White Coat Black Art, with Dr. Brian Goldman
    • I’ve listened to this medical podcast for many years and, as a medical layman, find that it reveals an unknown world with a welcoming host. Dr. Goldman explores issues that often go beyond the hospital and, like the anti-vaccination movement, concern public health.
  • The Minefield, with Waleed Aly and Scott Stephens
    •  Who bears responsibility for vast inequality? Can nationalism be redeemed? Why does sport matter so much to us? These are the type of difficult political, economic and social questions we must address. Luckily, The Minefield provides reasoned and logical arguments using philosophy to do just that.

Some to Start

Although the podcasts below might have fewer episodes than those above, they have just as much heart. They also show what’s possibility with podcasts, as they are rich in story-telling and cover issues outside the mainstream.

  • In The Thick, with Maria Hinojosa and Julio Ricardo Varela
    • A new political podcast where journalists of color discuss what’s missing from mainstream news. Recent conversations cover Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria, celebrating Indigenous Peoples Day instead of Columbus Day, and the anti-Semitic roots of white nationalism.
  • Revisionist History, with Malcolm Gladwell
    • Stories from far and wide. The first season opened with the story of an English painting, but soon expanded into the idea of “moral licensing” and how this plays out in politics and throughout society. The second season featured an investigation into the unique addition of rich people: golf.
  • People Fixing the World, from the BBC World Service
    • Part of BBC World Hacks, this optimistic podcast features brilliant solutions to the world’s problems. Reports investigate whether existing innovations can scale, like reducing waste or improving transport, and how to create a better world, like providing an address for every square on Earth.
  • Embedded, with Kelly McEvers
    • Embedded takes a story from the news and goes deep. In recent episodes, NPR reporters mined the records of Donald Trump and some of his closest advisors. They’ve also examined police shootings caught on video and powerful prescription opioids.
  • The Anthill, from the Conversation
    • A monthly conversation that unearths stories from academia. The 20 past episodes of this series have explored our current understanding of a range of fields: time, competition, technology, belief, waste, memory, music, history, pain, and myths. Look forward to hearing about what’s discovered next.
  • Rough Translation, with Gregory Warner
    • While exposing how aid workers change the reality around sexual violence in the Congo or how fake news from Russia helped spark a real war in Ukraine, this new podcast features hard-hitting journalists revealing why understanding cultural differences is so important.

I hope you give try listening to some of these podcasts. Please let me know what you think and if you have any to recommend.

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Equal Pay for Equal Work

Four decade ago, the women of Iceland decided to call for a “day off”. On 24 October 1975, 90 percent of women in Iceland, in both urban and rural communities, did not go to their paid jobs or do housework or childcare at home. They refused to work to raise awareness that women at the time earned over 40% less than men. “As a result, many industries shut down for the day,” writes libcom.org:

Newspapers were not printed since the vast majority of typesetters were women and there was no telephone service. Many schools were either closed or partially closed as the majority of teachers were women.

Flights were cancelled as flight attendants did not come to work and bank branches had to be staffed by executives as tellers took the day off.

Fish factories were also closed, with many nurseries and shops also shut or at reduced capacity.

That sunny day would become an annual tradition in Iceland known as “Women’s Day Off”. The rally in Reykjavik’s Downtown Square gathered 25,000 women and was the largest of more than 20 to take place throughout the country. It was a moment that changed the way women were seen in the country and helped put Iceland at the forefront of the fight for equality.

Five years later, during the summer of 1980, the people of Iceland elected Vigdis Finnbogadottir, a divorced single mother, to be their president. Vigdis was Europe’s first female president and the first woman in the world to be democratically elected as a head of state. Vigdis went on to hold the position for 16 years – years that set Iceland on course to become known as “the world’s most feminist country”. Vigdis insists she would never have been president had it not been for the 1975 protest. “What happened that day was the first step for women’s emancipation in Iceland,” she says. “It completely paralysed the country and opened the eyes of many men.” By uniting women from all social and political backgrounds, the day of action in 1975 was able to bring the issues of unpaid care work and wage inequality to national (and ultimately international) attention. The movement carried on the tradition British suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst foresaw decades earlier: “We have to free half of the human race, the women, so that they can help to free the other half.”

At the turn of the 20th century, Pankhurst and other suffragettes, during what is now referred to as the “first wave” of feminism, pushed governments around the world to allow women the right to vote, starting with New Zealand in 1893. Women in Australia got the vote in 1902, followed by Finland in 1906. Iceland was next, in 1915. The 1910s also saw Norway (1913), Soviet Russia (1917), Canada, Germany, Austria, Poland (all 1918), and Czechoslovakia (1919) do the same. Suffrage in US and Hungary came in 1920. The UK saw full voting rights for women later in 1928, following limited suffrage from 1918. Switzerland was one of the last countries in the world to allow women to vote, taking until 1971 to do so! These fights for political equality were followed by a second wave of grievances, ones opening the door to economics.

The two movements in Iceland – the “Day Off” and the election of Vigdis – illustrated the interconnection of economic and political inequalities women face within a patriarchal system. In 1975 there were just three sitting female Icelandic MPs, or just 5 percent of the parliament, compared with between 16 and 23 percent in the other Nordic countries. Globally, women continue to be underrepresented in politics. Without also gaining equal political representation for women, it will be difficult to achieve equal pay for equal work.

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Gender pay gap across Europe: causes and effects

In 1976, a year after the strike, Iceland formed the Gender Equality Council and passed the Gender Equality Act, which outlawed gender discrimination in workplaces and schools. Today Iceland has the highest level of women’s participation in the labour market, with heavily subsidised childcare and three months’ paid parental leave to each parent.

Despite these improvements and being the best country in the world for gender equality – the country has topped the U.N.’s Global Gender Gap Report for the sixth year in a row – women in Iceland still earn on average 14 to 18 per cent less than their male colleagues. Currently, there’s no country in the entire world where a woman earns as much as a man for doing the same job. This is know as the “gender pay gap”. According to unions and women’s organisations, this means in every eight hour day Icelandic women are essentially working without pay from 2:38 pm. So, to mark the 41st anniversary of the original “Women’s Day Off,” thousands of female employees across Iceland walked out of workplaces at 2.38 pm on Monday to protest against earning less than men.

In 2005, women left work at 2:08 pm.

In eleven years, less than three minutes has been gained annually towards eliminating the gender pay gap. If progress continues at the same rate, it will take 52 years to eliminate the disparity between men and women’s earnings in Iceland entirely.

The fight for gender equality in 1970’s Iceland is reminiscent of battles in other countries, such as the UK. In 1968, five women led a strike of sewing machinists at Ford Motor Company Limited’s Dagenham plant in London, which employed tens of thousands of workers. (The film Made in Dagenham chronicles the strike.) Ford was making billions in profits while the women in its plant were struggling to pay their bills.

The 187 women made car seat covers and as stock ran out the strike eventually resulted in a halt to all car production. The women walked out when they were informed that they were graded as “less skilled” and that they would be paid 15 percent less than the full rate received by men, both of which were common practices for companies at the time. The strike soon spread and, with the help of the Secretary of State for Employment and Productivity, ultimately resulted in the passing of the Equal Pay Act 1970, which did, for the first time, aim to prohibit inequality of treatment between men and women in terms of pay and conditions of employment in the UK.

The striking female machinists from the Ford Dagenham plant who fought for equal pay in 1968.

The striking female machinists from the Ford Dagenham plant who fought for equal pay in 1968.

Research shows that the gender pay gap is not the same among all women. It cuts differently across racial lines. A woman in the US typically earns 6 to 39 percent less than a white man; but a woman of colour earns less than her white counterpart.

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The gender pay gap is worse for women of colour.

The older you are, the bigger the gap. A 2014 survey by the Chartered Management Institute and XpertHR on the gender pay gap last week found that female managers earn less than their male counterparts, with the gap increasing with age. At 23 percent, the management gender pay gap is wider than the 19.7 percent in the workforce as a whole.

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The gender pay gap varies across age.

The gender pay gap also varies widely from country to country, the World Economic Forum reports. A woman earned only 48 percent of a man’s salary in Italy and 47 percent in Israel.

Burundi, where four out of five people live below the poverty line, is the top country in women’s pay. Women in the tiny African country earn 83 percent of salaries of the men in the same jobs.

In the so-called “developed world” women’s wages come closest to men’s in Norway and Singapore, but even there it’s still at 80%.

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The gender pay gap by country.

Why does the gender pay gap exist?

After fighting for the right to vote and to be legally protected from discrimination by employers, women are told that the gender pay gap doesn’t exist. So, to answer that question, it’s necessary to first dispel some of the common myths, according to the European Commission.

Myth #1: More women work part-time, so they should earn less.

Working fewer hours a week means you should take home less pay per month, NOT less pay per hour.

Myth #2: Women earn less because they choose lower earning jobs.

Women tend to earn less per hour than men for the same job whether it is a highly-skilled profession like a doctor or nurse or a lower-skilled job such as a salesperson. The gender pay gap exists across our economy, and in all sectors and occupations.

Myth #3: Men are better educated, so should earn more.

Today, 60% of university graduates in the EU are women.

Women’s equality movements in Iceland and elsewhere, combined with ongoing research, continue to remind us of these facts. Despite major gains in achieving higher education, girls and women have equal access to education in only 25 of the 142 countries. Discrimination from birth through schooling prevents women from achieving their economic liberation. Even worse, Algeria and Iran have the lowest female participation in the labor force with less than one in five women working outside their home.

Men still dominate the worlds of business and politics – Jamaica, Colombia, Lesotho and Fiji are the only four countries with more female legislators, senior officials and managers. Men continue to make up the majority of those in the highest paid and most senior roles – for example, there are just five female Chief Executives in the FTSE 100. Male-dominated companies and legislatures have repeatedly shown their unwillingness to address gender discrimination unless they are pushed by movements seeking change.

New laws need to be passed to overcome remaining barriers to women. More countries should consider passing legislation to ensure paid maternity leave for mothers and should include equal levels of paternity leave for fathers. Until men take an equal share of care work (of children, of the aged, of their spouses), women will continue to face an unfair job market.

Women in business, like Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, are trying to provide their own solution: corporate feminism. In the book Lean Out, Dawn Foster unpicks how the purportedly feminist message of Sandberg neatly exempts patriarchy, capitalism and business from any responsibility for changing the position of women in contemporary culture. Foster and others point out that corporate feminists want women to work within the sexist system of business without changing its fundamental problems. Gloria Steinem provides a simpler examination: “If you say, I’m for equal pay, that’s a reform. But if you say, I’m a feminist, that’s a transformation of society.”

Another book that questions the current state of affairs is Who Cooked Adam Smith’s Dinner? by Katrine Marçal. In her book, Marçal shows that even today, the unpaid work of mothering, caring, cleaning and cooking is not part of our economic models. All over the world, there are economists who believe that if women are paid less, then that’s because their labour is worth less. Until political economies value all women at all levels of society, there will never be an “economic woman” like the “economic man” that has existed for millennia.

Rich People Don’t Create Jobs

So, if rich people do not create the jobs, what does?

A healthy economic ecosystem — one in which most participants (especially the middle class) have plenty of money to spend.

Over the last couple of years, a rich investor and entrepreneur named Nick Hanauer has annoyed all manner of other rich investors and entrepreneurs by explaining this in detail. Hanauer was the founder of online advertising company aQuantive, which Microsoft bought for $6.4 billion.

What creates a company’s jobs, Hanauer explains, is a healthy economic ecosystem surrounding the company, which starts with the company’s customers.

The company’s customers buy the company’s products. This, in turn, channels money to the company and allows the company to hire employees to produce, sell, and service those products. If the company’s customers and potential customers go broke, the demand for the company’s products will collapse. And the company’s jobs will disappear, regardless of what the entrepreneurs or investors do.

Now, again, entrepreneurs are an important part of the company-creation process. And so are investors, who risk capital in the hope of earning returns. But, ultimately, whether a new company continues growing and creates self-sustaining jobs is a function of the company’s customers’ ability and willingness to pay for the company’s products, not the entrepreneur or the investor capital. Suggesting that “rich entrepreneurs and investors” create the jobs, therefore, Hanauer observes, is like suggesting that squirrels create evolution.

Or, to put it even more simply, it’s like saying that a seed creates a tree. The seed does not create the tree. The seed starts the tree. But what actually grows and sustains the tree is the combination of the DNA in the seed and the soil, sunshine, water, atmosphere, nutrients, and other factors that nurture it. Plant a seed in an inhospitable environment, like a desert or on Mars, and the seed won’t create anything. It will die.

I found this explanation by Henry Blodget of Business Insider helpful in clarifying the limits of supply-side economics. His simple analogy on seeds is perfect in addressing the myth that “Rich people create the jobs.”

We, the people, are the true creators of jobs. Not the companies, entrepreneurs and rich investors who keep trying to sell themselves as saviors of unemployment.

ed-ao139_stevem_g_20110825162903For decades, neo-conservative politicians and economists have pushed the idea of ‘trickle-down economics’ as a reason to cut taxes for the wealthy and remove government regulations. However, the opposite appears true. A Washington Post article shows recent trends that lower taxes correlate with lower growth. Understanding this is important because companies and the wealthy lobby governments to create tax laws that disproportionately help themselves, while placing much of the burden from revenue generation to low-income workers.

Revenue from income and corporate taxes helps fund the schools that educate a workforce. It provides for health care so that workers can get back to work. And it provides welfare, like unemployment benefits, for when the short-term employment that entrepreneurs and new businesses actually create disappears. A functional society filled with well-paid employment opportunities actually creates its own self-sustaining jobs.

Data from the Economic Policy Institute shows the result of tailoring taxes under the belief that “Rich people create the jobs”. In the United States, from 1917 to 1981, the top 10 percent captured (only!) 31 percent of the growth in incomes. Following the presidency of Ronald Reagan, they have taken all of it.

The 1980s free-market/smaller-government system of ‘Reaganomics’ (also used by Margaret Thatcher in the U.K.) has left a legacy of declining incomes for nine out of ten workers over the past two decades. In addition to a lack of job creation, policies like tax cuts for the rich don’t increase incomes for workers either.

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