Category Archives: Planet Money

The Problem with California

I love California. I have lived here for four years now and love the fact that I can wear flip flops in January. However, I will admit California has its problems. Let me be clear, this clip is not talking about California but, having started a business in this state, it isn’t that far off.

This is a huge problem when it comes to growing an economy. When my wife and I started our business it felt like playing Russian Roulette.  Which form was going to take so long to fill out that we wouldn’t be able to open? What regulation were we going to miss that would close us down just after we opened? It was a nightmare. Proof that California has taken things too far is the fact that many businesses have decided to leave the state in recent years to  open in places like Texas.

If you listen to the full episode from Planet Money you will hear about something called the Doing Business survey by the World Bank. This is basically a list of all the countries in the world based on how hard it is to do business. The good news is that the U.S. is number seven. The bad news is the story doesn’t end there.

The survey also breaks down information into several different categories.  When it comes to the ability to start a business, the U.S. is number 46, dealing with construction permits, 41 and when it comes to getting electricity we are 61st. What numbers pull us back towards the top? When it comes to getting credit we are the second best in the entire world and we are number four at resolving insolvency. So basically we are really good at giving you money and then letting you walk away when you lose it.

Those are actually really good qualities. It goes right along with the whole “fail early, fail often” mantra of today’s entrepreneurs.  The problem appears to be how hard it is to use that money.

Now I absolutely do not agree with President Reagan who said, “government is the problem.” Government regulation is very important, however, it needs to be smart, well run regulation. We have created a world where all of the onus is on the individual or the business to figure out whatever byzantine rules the government comes up with. The government needs to take some of the responsibility for asking the question, how does one actually apply these rules in the real world, before they pass a law.

These things have real world consequences. Not just in how fast an economy grows, but in individual lives. The podcast ends with the dramatic story of the Arab Spring, which was started by a merchant in Tunisia who was so fed up with the police interfering with his business that he set himself on fire. We are no where near that in the United States, but we are absolutely at the point where a lot of potential entrepreneurs will just throw up their hands and say, this isn’t worth the trouble.


Changing Campaign Finance is Tough

During the 2014 election cycle, Lawrence Lessig tried to change the shape of American politics. Or at least he tried to start a change. With his PAC, the Mayday PAC, Lessig raised over $10 million and spent it to influence eight elections around the country. This was meant to be a test election to see if the PAC could get people who were supportive of campaign finance reform elected. Here is a little bit of what happened.

Continue reading Changing Campaign Finance is Tough

Why gyms don’t want you to workout

Because I move around a lot, I have used many different gyms. Golds Gym, the YMCA, Lifetime Fitness, I have been to them all. Several years ago I started to feel something in the back of my mind. It seemed to me if you really wanted to workout, most gyms were not designed for you. Despite being marketed as a place to workout, they often made it hard to actually complete that workout. It seems like I was right.

Continue reading Why gyms don’t want you to workout

Italy Divided

History is obviously important in making the world the way it is today, but sometimes it is easy to forget the strange ways in which that history can affect our everyday lives.

This episode of Planet Money explores the differences between the economy of northern Italy and that of southern Italy. In traditional Planet Money fashion they look at just one company and their efforts to combat high absentee rates of their employees.

In instances where an entire culture seems to act a certain way, such as southern Italians often calling in sick to work, it is easy to say that is just the way it is and that it has always been that way. But that isn’t the case. A hundred or even five hundred years isn’t forever. Often if you are willing to look back into history you can find reasonable explanations for most cultural norms. If those norms are positive, great, you now have information to help you spread those norms to other places. If the norms are negative, you are now armed with information to effectively change individual actions by targeting what are most likely subconscious decisions.

You can find more information on the episode here or subscribe on iTunes.

Why Gold?

For this post I am again reaching way back into the archives because this episode is really Planet Money at its best, at least if you are a really big nerd like me.

This podcasts also represents one of the most important mental exercises one can embark on, asking why. It turns out there is a very good reason why gold was the basic building block of global finance for centuries and why it continues to hold such a high value. However, that is not always the case. Some of the institutions we take for granted today exist simply because of an accident. My next post is going to be about the rise of the Pop Up add. The fact that the internet is largely free and paid for almost exclusively through ad revenue wasn’t a forgone conclusion. More on that tomorrow.

For now, you can go into the Planet Money archives to download this podcast and discover exactly why gold is gold or get new shows from their website or iTunes.

Falling Oil Prices Bad?

This episode of Planet Money really gets to the heart of why I love this particular podcast. If you turn on CNBC, how likely are you to hear about someone who produces 20 or so barrels of oil a day.

In all of the talk about oil prices going up and down and how that affects the pockets of the consumer, I often forget that there are a lot of families who depend on the price of oil staying high. This is a good example of the give and take in the economy and that things aren’t always as simple as cheaper is better.

You can find more episodes at their website or on iTunes.