Stacey Vanek Smith

Stacey Vanek Smith is the co-host of NPR's The Indicator from Planet Money. She's also a correspondent for Planet Money, where she covers business and economics. In this role, Smith has followed economic stories down the muddy back roads of Oklahoma to buy 100 barrels of oil; flew to Pune, India, to track down the man who pitched the country's dramatic currency devaluation to the prime minister; and spoke with a North Korean woman who made a small fortune smuggling artificial sweetener in from China.

Prior to coming to NPR, Smith worked for Marketplace, where she was a correspondent and fill-in host. While there, Smith was part of a collaboration with The New York Times, where she explored the relationship between money and marriage. She was also part of Marketplace's live shows, where she produced a series of pieces on getting her data mined.

Smith is a native of Idaho and grew up working on her parents' cattle ranch. She is a graduate of Princeton University, where she earned a bachelor's degree in comparative literature and creative writing. She also holds a master's in broadcast journalism from Columbia University.

We Hear You

Jul 13, 2018

The Indicator comes out every day, and every day we tackle a different topic: Venezuela, interest rates, plastic straws. And every day, we are lucky enough to get letters from you. Today on the show: We hear you! We respond to some comments, answer a few listener questions and ponder one of life's great mysteries: How, exactly, do you pronounce Hyundai?

Your bank has its own bank account — with the Federal Reserve. That account pays interest of nearly two percent and offers instantaneous payment clearning.

We, on the other hand, get much less than two percent on our own bank accounts, and clearing a check or money transfer can take days. The problems are worse for the large unbanked population in the United States, which faces burdensome costs and inconveniences because they lack access to basic banking services.

The yield curve has a sterling record as a recession predictor. Since 1970, every time the yield curve has inverted — in other words, every time long-term interest rates have fallen below short-term interest rates — the economy has slipped into recession within about a year.

We first checked in on the yield curve in January, after a period of notable flattening. In the time since, it's continued to flatten even more. It has not yet inverted, though it keeps inching closer.

Star Spangled Indicator

Jul 3, 2018

There's a joke in China, that the first people in the world to know that Donald Trump would win the presidency were the flag makers. The reason? People were ordering a lot more Trump flags than Clinton flags.

Flags can be a symbol of national pride, a patriotic rallying cry, but they can also tell us a lot about free trade and the global economy. Today on the show, we speak with the owner of a Chinese factory that makes American flags.

Inflation has climbed above the Federal Reserve's target of 2 percent. According to the Personal Consumption Expenditures price index, the Fed's preferred inflation measure, prices climbed by 2.3 percent in the year through the end of May.

The banking industry's stress tests were put in place after the financial crisis. They're basically hypothetical disaster scenarios designed to test the strength of the financial system

This year's test was arguably one of the toughest ever, and not every bank passed. But recent regulatory changes mean that for many banks, the stress tests could be getting a lot less stressful.

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Sallie Krawcheck, formerly a senior Wall Street executive at Sanford Bernstein, Citigroup and Bank of America, recently founded Ellevest, an investing platform for women. We invited her to play a game of overrated/underrated and weigh in on everything from the gender pay gap to South Carolina barbecue to the scourge of the standing desk.

Note: This episode originally ran in 2016.

The Plight Of The Living Dead

Jun 20, 2018

For the U.S. government, keeping track of who's alive and who's not is important. There are after all a lot of benefits associated with being alive — Medicare, Social Security benefits, voting. But the system for confirming who's actually dead is far from foolproof.

The Venezuelan economy has collapsed. Years of economic mismanagement and a deepening political crisis have led to a recession that has almost no parallel in recent memory.

But explaining just how bad things have gotten is also really hard because the normal economic indicators that we use to measure a country's economy have started to sound so so unfathomable — 25,000% inflation, for example — that it feels impossible to get our heads around them.

The trading relationship between the U.S. and China has been tense lately, defined by escalating tariff threats and bellicose rhetoric on both sides. The problem with tariffs though, is that they they often come with unintended consequences.

But if the U.S. wants to address China's questionable trade practices and counteract the negative effects of free trade, what is the government to do?Economist Jared Bernstein walks us through some of the alternative options for dealing with trade challenges.

A 4-year-old kid is given a marshmallow and a choice: either eat the marshmallow in front of her, or wait a few minutes (after the adults leave the room) and be rewarded with a second marshmallow. If the child can successfully wait, she can expect a bright future — or at least a brighter future on average than if she had not waited.

We're in the middle of a dinosaur boom. Commercial diggers are combing the hills of the high plains, hoping to find fossils and strike it rich.

But what happens when you put a price tag on a scientific relic that could spark new discoveries about early life on earth? The market has the answer.

Today on the show: science faces off with business, and the T-Rex that started it all.

This year, Social Security will not make enough money to cover its expenses--it will have to dip into its savings. That savings is slated to run out by 2034. As baby boomers retire, the Social Security equation is changing. Today on the show, we look at possible fixes.

Music by Drop Electric. Find us: Twitter/ Facebook.

The U.S. economy has been humming along for the last few years, but its momentum can mask the financial fragility of millions of Americans adults. A survey by the Federal Reserve reveals just how precarious situation is for a surprising number of people — and how vulnerable they are to the regular ups and downs of the economic cycle.

Vaccines are expensive to develop and it can take decades to get them to market. This means promising vaccines often sit in laboratory freezers during major epidemics. That is what happened during the 2014 Ebola outbreak, which killed more than 11,000 people. Today on the show, how that grim equation may be changing.

Every month, the Labor Department gives us the latest read on how many jobs the economy is creating. That figure has huge influence — it can move stock markets and interest rates — and it can also be way, way off. Today, we talk to an economist who used to help put out the monthly jobs report. She explains how to read that number, which indicator might be better to look at...and why some people might need to calm down about jobs day.

When economist Tim Harford was planning a trip to China, he realized he would not be able to access a lot of the online services he has come to rely on: no email, no maps, no internet search. He started to wonder what the value was for these services and he came across a study that look at just that: It put a dollar amount on how much these services are worth to us.

Link:

Using Massive Online Choice Experiments to Measure Changes in Well-being

Money For Moms

May 30, 2018

A fascinating and ambitious new experiment has just launched after six years of careful design by economists, neuroscientists, and other scholars. For the first time, researchers will be investigating the causal effects of lower incomes on the brain development of babies and toddlers.

Dodd Frank was a post-financial crisis bill that put a lot of regulations in place for banks and lending practices. Today, we look at what last week's Dodd Frank rollback does (or undoes) and what that will mean for the financial sector and the economy as a whole.

Music by Drop Electric. Find us: Twitter/ Facebook.

The quarterly earnings calls of public companies, when the management speaks to financial analysts, are rarely noteworthy events.

By convention and regulatory requirement, the managers try not to say anything new that might rattle the company's share prices. Meanwhile, analysts representing financial institutions often lead their questions with obsequious comments.

The financial activities of Michael Cohen — Donald Trump's personal lawyer — caught the eye of the Financial Crimes Enforcement Agency, FinCEN. Then, it was reported that some of the files on Cohen had disappeared. Today on the show, we look at FinCEN, what it does, how it does it, and what the Cohen news could mean for financial regulation going forward.

The mortgage interest deduction is popular, even among people who don't claim it. It is widely believed to encourage and subsidize homeownership by allowing people to deduct the interest they pay on their mortgages. But economists tell a different story. They've been pointing out the problems with it for years, seemingly to no avail.

The lion's share of people who work in finance are men. That has been changing a little in recent years, but not in the bond market. In fact, the number of women managing bond portfolios has been falling over the last few years. But the women who do choose the bond market do very well — even better than their male colleagues. Today we talk to Marilyn Cohen, owner of Envision Capital Management, and 30 year veteran of the bond market. She talks about what the bond market is like, what it takes to succeed and why she thinks women aren't picking it.

The commencement speech is a proud tradition. Or at least it's a tradition.

And since no college invited Stacey and Cardiff to give a commencement speech, they're taking to the podcast to offer their own brand of evidence-based wisdom for new college grads.

Links:

Highest Educational Levels Reached by Adults in the U.S. Since 1940

Time Bandits

May 18, 2018

Time theft happens when companies get employees to work hours for which they are not paid. A new study from the University of Oregon says it's happening more and more and workers are losing billions of dollars in wages every year.

This often happens through mandated breaks that workers can't actually take or through timekeeping software that rounds to the nearest quarter hour.

Music: "Shifty Looking Characters"

The proposed expansion of work requirements for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — commonly referred to as food stamps — has been controversial.

All Bets Are On

May 16, 2018

This week, the Supreme Court paved the way for states to legalize sports gambling, which has been illegal almost everywhere but Nevada since 1992. States expect to make billions in new revenues.

Opponents of the decision worry that gambling will bring back the scandals of an earlier era, when athletes betting on the outcomes of their own games would deliberately try to lose. Are they right?

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