EconTalk: Conversations for the Curious is an award-winning weekly podcast hosted by Russ Roberts of Shalem College in Jerusalem and Stanford's Hoover Institution. The eclectic guest list includes authors, doctors, psychologists, historians, philosophers, economists, and more. Learn how the health care system really works, the serenity that comes from humility, the challenge of interpreting data, how potato chips are made, what it's like to run an upscale Manhattan restaurant, what caused the 2008 financial crisis, the nature of consciousness, and more. EconTalk has been taking the Monday out of Mondays since 2006. All 800+ episodes are available in the archive. Go to EconTalk.org for transcripts, related resources, and comments.
Photographer, author, and visionary Kevin Kelly talks about his book Excellent Advice for Living with EconTalk's Russ Roberts. His advice includes how to have a deep conversation, why it's better to control time than money--and whether, in the end, we should give advice in the first place. Other topics of discussion include the right object of our aspirations, the reason for optimism when it comes to technology, and why Kelly is not worried about AI.
When physician Walter Freeman died in 1972, he still believed that lobotomies were the best treatment for mental illness. A pioneer in the method, he was a deeply confident and charismatic man who eagerly spread the technique in America, long after the rise of alternative treatments that were less destructive. Listen as journalist Megan McArdle and EconTalk's Russ Roberts discuss what McArdle calls the "Oedipus Trap": mistakes that no one can live with, even if they were innocently made, and how admitting such mistakes to ourselves is nearly impossible. They also discuss the complexity of the credo, "follow the science."
Tolkien read it as a tale about mortality. The poet David Whyte said it was a metaphor for the psychological demons deep in our minds. And that, insists the cartoonist and writer Zach Weinersmith, is precisely Beowulf's appeal: Its richness opens the door to endless interpretation. Listen as the author of Bea Wolf, a graphic novel for children based on the Old English poem, speaks with EconTalk's Russ Roberts about poetry in general, Beowulf in particular, whether we should require students to memorize poems, and the value of stories for children even without a moral lesson.
Since at least Adam Smith, the common wisdom has been that the transition from hunter-gathering to farming allowed the creation of the State. Farming, so went the theory, led to agricultural surplus, and that surplus is the prerequisite for taxation and a State. But economist Omer Moav of the University of Warwick and Reichman University argues that it wasn't farming but the farming of a particular kind of crop (but not others) that led to hierarchy and the State. Moav explains to EconTalk host Russ Roberts storability is the key dimension that allows for taxation and a State. The conversation includes a discussion of why it's important to understand the past and the challenges of confirming or refuting theories about history.
Do psychologists know anything? Psychologist Paul Bloom says yes--but not the things that you might think. Bloom discusses his book Psych with EconTalk's Russ Roberts and what the field of psychology can teach us about human intelligence, consciousness, and unhelpful instincts. They also discuss just how far psychology is from a true understanding of the human mind, and why, according to Bloom, that might not be such a bad thing.
When psychiatrist Marco Ramos of Yale University prescribes antidepressants to patients in distress and they ask him how they work, Ramos admits: We don't really know. And too often, they don't work at all. Despite decades of brain research and billions of dollars spent, psychiatry has made little progress in understanding mental illness. Listen as Ramos explains to EconTalk's Russ Roberts how the myth of the biological basis for mental illness began, why it stubbornly persists, and why honesty about what we know and don't know is the best policy.
Psychologist Adam Mastroianni says peer review has failed. Papers with major errors make it through the process. The ones without errors often fail to replicate. One approach to improve the process is better incentives. But Mastroianni argues that peer review isn't fixable. It's a failed experiment. Listen as he makes the case to EconTalk host Russ Roberts for a new approach to science and academic research.
According to neuroscientist and philosopher Sam Harris, rationality is the key to safeguarding everything we cherish, and its only true enemy is dogmatic inflexibility. Harris speaks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the views that have made Harris famous, teasing out the often mind-blowing subtleties of his religious and cultural critiques. They discuss what Harris has learned as a podcaster and author, and how ecstasy launched his spiritual journey. Finally, they move on to the power of meditation, exploring the way it can lead to self-transcendence and real connection with others.
Oncologist and epidemiologist Vinay Prasad argues that too many very expensive drugs get approved by the FDA that have very limited impact on the lives of patients. Prasad explains the incentives that distort the current system. The general problem, he explains to EconTalk host Russ Roberts, is the death of duty--too many players in the health care landscape and elsewhere stay quiet or do the wrong thing in order to serve themselves.
Dwayne Betts was a 16-year-old in solitary confinement when a fellow inmate slid a book of poetry under his cell door. What happened next is an astounding story of transformation: from desperation to the discovery of beauty, even behind bars. Listen as the lawyer, prison reform advocate, and award-winning poet explains to EconTalk host Russ Roberts why he's on a mission to bring books--and beauty--into prisons. They also discuss Betts's latest book, Redaction, a collaboration with the artist Titus Kaphar.
Should the British Museum return the Elgin Marbles, taken from the Parthenon in Athens about 200 years ago? What should be the purpose of museums, education or social justice? Listen as Tiffany Jenkins, author of Keeping Their Marbles, discusses these questions and more with EconTalk host Russ Roberts.
When OpenAI launched its conversational chatbot this past November, author Ian Leslie was struck by the humanness of the computer's dialogue. Then he realized that he had it exactly backward: In an age that favors the formulaic and generic to the ambiguous, complex, and unexpected, it's no wonder that computers can sound eerily lifelike. Leslie tells EconTalk host Russ Roberts that we should worry less about the lifelike nature of AI and worry more that human beings are being more robotic and predictable. Leslie bolsters his argument with evidence from music and movies. The conversation includes a discussion of the role of education in wearing down the mind's rougher, but more interesting and more authentic, edges as well as how we might strive to be more human in the age of AI.
Having completed several degrees in environmental science, Hannah Ritchie nearly left the field out of helplessness and frustration, worried she would never make a real difference. Today, she's a passionate advocate for changing climate messaging, replacing what she believes are paralyzing--and often false--claims with empowering arguments that people can embrace. Listen as the head of research at Our World in Data talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about food emissions, low-carbon technologies, and what the data shows about what matters (and what matters much less) when it comes to climate change.
Economic historian Judge Glock talks to EconTalk host Russ Roberts about zoning and the housing market. Glock argues the impact on zoning on housing affordability is small and that we should learn to love property taxes as long as they're administered properly. The conversation includes a discussion of the environmental impact of urban sprawl--Glock argues sprawl has certain environmental benefits.
Economist and author Arnold Kling talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the recent drama in the tech world--Elon Musk's acquisition of Twitter, the collapse of FTX, and the appearance of ChatGPT. Underlying topics discussed include the potential for price discrimination to make social media profitable, whether you could tell Jeff Bezos from Sam Bankman-Fried early on, and the role of human beings in the world of artificial intelligence.
In our highly polarized times, everyone seems obsessed with the truth: what is it, who has it, and which side's got it all wrong. What we don't seem to care about, says journalist Monica Guzman, is the truth behind perspectives other than our own. Listen as Guzman and host Russ Roberts discuss Guzman's book I Never Thought of It That Way, a call to get interested in the people behind the positions, and the experiences, hopes, and fears that lead to their beliefs. Guzman and Roberts also discuss the role of great questions in sparking meaningful conversations, and how we can not only get along with, but even learn from, those with whom we ardently disagree.
How does the mind work? What makes us sad? What makes us laugh? Despite advances in neuroscience, the answers to these questions remain elusive. Neuroscientist Patrick House talks about these mysteries and about his book Nineteen Ways of Looking at Consciousness with EconTalk host Russ Roberts. House's insights illuminate not just what we know and don't know about our minds--he also helps us understand what it means to be human.
Annie Duke is angry that quitting gets such a bad rap. Instead of our relentless focus on grit and "going for it," the former professional poker player, decision strategist, and author of Quit wants us to recognize the costs associated with sticking to a losing outcome. Listen as she explains to EconTalk host Russ Roberts how society's conflation of grit with character has made quitting unnecessarily hard, and why our desire for certainty harms our decision-making ability. Additional topics include the flawed mental accounting that makes us confuse wins for losses, what we can learn from ants, and the tragic story of how the refusal to quit cost 16 lives one terrible night at the top of Mt. Everest.
When the 20-year-old overachiever Johnathan Bi's first startup crashed and burned, he headed to a Zen retreat in the Catskills to "debug himself." He discovered René Girard and his mimetic theory--the idea that imitation is a key and often unconscious driver of human behavior. Listen as entrepreneur and philosopher Bi shares with EconTalk host Russ Roberts what he learned from Girard and Girard's insights into how we meet our primal need for money, fame, and power. The conversation includes the contrasts between economics and Girard's perspective.
Suppose all of humanity was infected by a virus that left us all infertile--no one will come along after us. How would you react to such a world? Agnes Callard of the University of Chicago says she would be filled with despair. But why does this seem worse than our own inevitable deaths? Callard speaks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the meaning of life, and what exactly about the end of humanity is so demoralizing. The conversation concludes with a discussion of whether humanity is making progress.