Droughts, Olympics, and Wilt Chamberlain


Can water shortages like those in California be left in the hands of the market? Is it beneficial to host the Olympics? Where does the name Upset Patterns come from? We reach inside our mailbag and answer listener-submitted questions in this special episode covering three mini-topics.




Our concept of money is so engrained in our day-to-day life that it's hard to imagine money in any other form. Unlike fiat paper currency, Bitcoin is a virtual currency that instead of being printed by a central bank like the Federal Reserve exists only on an electronic ledger of transactions. Its proponents point to its ease of exchange and independence from the manipulation of governments. Opponents find it unstable and unlikely to realistically compete with existing currencies. We talk to William Luther, Assistant Professor of economics at Kenyon College, to figure out how Bitcoin works, what its strengths and weaknesses are, and what its future looks like.


Aparkalypse Now


We have become accustomed to free or cheap parking in American cities. Rather than letting prices coordinate how to use scarce land, governments set seemingly arbitrary mandates dictating how much space businesses and residences must devote to parking. This causes cities to become largely car-dependent, creates sprawl, and indirectly raises prices for businesses and residents. What are the costs of this inefficient use of land? Is it possible to live with a "right" price for parking and not have cities turn into chaos?


The Economics of Festivus


In a season 9 episode of Seinfeld, George's father Frank resurrects a holiday from George's childhood called Festivus. Among other traditions, Festivus refuses to participate in the commercialization common in other gift-giving holidays this time of year. Although gift-giving generates important revenue to retailers, value can be lost from the imperfect information a gift giver has about its recipient. Could we all learn something from Festivus? Is it really "the thought that counts?" Find out how an economist might find Frank Costanza's sentiment beneficial to society.


Obamacare and the Invincibles


The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), or Obamacare as it's usually known, is the biggest overhaul of the American healthcare system in nearly fifty years. Its potential success or failure is uniquely in the hands of the so-called "Invincibles" - young, healthy individuals that would otherwise not purchase health insurance for various reasons. We discuss the main provisions of the law and their intentions, what effects are speculative and which are more certain, and the different ways a 24 year-old will be affected. Get past the politics and figure out what's really going on with Obamacare.


The Economics of Johnny Manziel


Johnny Manziel was recently accused of signing autographs for monetary compensation. For someone who brings in millions of dollars to Texas A&M, athletic brands, and television stations, it seems odd that he can't sign even an autograph for money. The restrictions on compensating college athletes tends to be supported by the intention of keeping the players students first and athletes second. In a multi-billion dollar industry it appears somewhat unfair that the actual players are the only ones not getting paid wages. But how would ending restrictions on wages and endorsements affect the sports, universities, other athletic programs, and professional leagues?


The Tax to Save the World


The political atmosphere surrounding climate change is often excruciating to bear; scientists keep offering dire warnings but politicians can't seem to agree on what to do, if anything. Governments can try tactics like capping total emissions, investing in alternative fuels, or mandating specific fuel efficiencies. But none of these has seemed to work thus far. Economic theory suggests we can shift the behaviors of consumers and firms to account for the negative effects of carbon by making its use more expensive. Would this "carbon tax" be any more politically feasible than the other alternatives? Will it be too much of a burden? Can we trust the government to implement it? Find out the dirt on carbon taxes and how it stacks up against other efforts to battle climate change.


Corn Subsidies: Powerful Special Interests or Worthwhile Support?


Subsidies to corn have two intentions: support American farmers from volatility and foreign competition, and promote the use of corn ethanol as an alternative fuel. But research shows that the supposed gains from subsidizing corn don't add up; there is little evidence that farmers couldn't sustain themselves without the subsidies, and corn ethanol does very little for the environment and energy independence even under the most promising estimates. If this is the case, why do we keep putting billions of taxpayer dollars into these programs? Lend us your ears and see what's really going on behind the scenes of corn subsidies in America.


Internships: Valuable Experiences or Perpetuators of Inequality?


Internships can be a valuable stepping stone for an individual looking to get their foot in the door or try out a certain professional environment. Companies can use internships as a trial period to see the goodness of fit for a potential future employee. That many internships are low-paid or unpaid means access is restricted to those who are able to work for low wages. With surprising and loosely enforced laws about what constitutes an "intern," do we need to rethink internships before they simply become another way to disenfranchise lower-income students?


Prostitution: Policy Options for Reform


Prostitution is illegal in the United States and most countries around the world but this hasn't caused the market for sex to disappear. Instead, like in any black market, criminalization drives the industry underground where contracts can't be enforced and the parties involved have few means to ensure their safety. Perhaps the primary concern should be making sure the workers and customers are protected. In that case, what can we learn about the experiences of different developed countries to see what the ideal policies are for America?


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