Confused About Economics? Listen to This Handy — and Yes, Fun — Podcast
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because money matters aren't straightforward.
By Dan Peleschuk
It all started — as most great ideas seem to — practically by accident.
During a visit to the University of Chicago, where economist Kate Waldock was interviewing for a job, prominent faculty member Luigi Zingales struck up a conversation at an after-hours social with a request: Surprise us with something interesting about yourself. If she weren’t a finance professor, Waldock answered, she’d probably be hosting a podcast. “At the time, I was listening to podcasts constantly,” she said.
She didn’t get the job (though it’s unclear if that revelation was to blame). But Waldock wound up with something arguably just as intriguing: An invitation from Zingales several months later to co-host a podcast about what works, and what doesn’t, in American capitalism.
Fast forward a couple of years, and Capitalisn’t has developed into an engaging, informative and eminently digestible show featuring, according to its website, “the sort of irreverent banter you’d hear between economists at a bar, if economists were capable of sarcasm.”
Twice each month, Waldock and Zingales debate for half an hour with intelligence and poise. They cover issues as diverse as Milton Friedman’s “shareholder primacy” theory — which holds that corporations should prioritize shareholders over stakeholders — and the pros and cons of initial public offerings. The casual nature of the entire affair is reflected through Waldock’s jovial demeanor and Zingales’ somehow quintessentially professorial disposition (here, his thick Italian accent helps).
Oh, and they’re both wicked smart.
Although the pair launched Capitalisn’t two years ago, it’s only getting increasingly relevant. That’s because they’re wading ever deeper into lightning rod issues, such as the “morality or immorality” of a wealth tax, during a time when pro- and anti-business sentiments appear more entrenched than ever.
Their conversational and down-to-earth approach is what makes Capitalisn’t so pleasant to tune into.
“A lot of this is what’s animating some of the tensions that exist today, that underlie a lot of our politics,” says Waldock, now an assistant professor of finance at Georgetown University. “And we think there are ways we can inform that debate to make it smarter, or to give people more ammo to support both sides.”
Other recent topics? The economics of major cash in politics, sparked by the entrance of billionaires Mike Bloomberg and Tom Steyer in the U.S. presidential contest, and Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s crusade against private equity.
Their conversational and down-to-earth approach is what makes Capitalisn’t so pleasant to tune into. But that’s not to say the show — which is sponsored by the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business, where Zingales teaches — is for everyone. Waldock says it tends to attract listeners with at least an established interest in economics. And while fundamentally reshaping the show isn’t in the cards, since Waldock says they believe they’re already balancing accessibility with smart analysis, the duo is planning to boost their promotional efforts.
They’re tight-lipped when it comes to the size of their listenership. But Apple podcasts help shed at least some light: Of the 243 ratings, the vast majority are five-star approvals. “It’s like listening to two of your smartest and coolest friends,” one reviewer wrote in October, “which is the best you can say about a podcast.”
That’s probably the best possible compliment one could give Waldock, who believes economists just don’t let loose enough.
“When they sit around, they just talk about fundamental economic issues and don’t have much fun,” she says. “So that’s a little bit of what we’re trying to achieve.”
- Dan Peleschuk, OZY Author Contact Dan Peleschuk