The New Bazaar
The hopeful, undetermined future of remote work
This episode is all about remote wok. (Or as it is also sometimes known, telework, or telecommuting, or just working from home.)
The trend towards remote work has accelerated a lot during the Covid pandemic, as is clear in the data. What we don’t yet know is how much of the trend will last. And if it does last, what kind of economic and societal consequences will it have? What might be its effects on things like how we design our homes, and even our neighborhoods? What will happen to the downtowns of big cities, if their offices stay empty? What will it mean for how people get evaluated and promoted at work.
Today’s guest is economist Adam Ozimek, the chief economist of the Economic Innovation Group. Adam has done some of the most detailed and original analysis on remote work in recent years—not just chronicling the trend right now, but also looking at how it might conceivably change our lives in the long run.
The economics of innovation01:11:21Within economics, there's a semi-famous quote from the economist Paul Krugman: “Productivity isn't everything, but in the long run, it's almost everything.” Krugman’s point is that ultimately, how much productivity climbs each year—roughly speaking, how much more efficient an economy’s workers become at producing goods and services—is also what determines how much our living standards also rise from year to year. And so in the long run, there really is almost nothing that matters more. Unfortunately, since about the early 1970s productivity has climbed much more slowly than in the earlier postwar decades. We have been stuck in a period that economists have labeled The Great Stagnation. And a big reason why is that the pace of innovation—the kind of scientific and technological innovation that leads to fast productivity growth—has also been slow. But now, there’s now a lot of people—including Cardiff!—who are optimistic that maybe the Great Stagnation is ending. That we’ll get back to the faster productivity growth of the past. Among other reasons why: The economy in the last few years has become more dynamic. There’s been a boom in the number of startups that entrepreneurs launch every month. There has been quite a bit of experimentation in the workplace for how to get things done, most obviously the rise of remote work. Incredible new technologies like mRNA vaccines have emerged. These also include things like GPT-4 and other language learning models, suggesting that artificial intelligence could soon have a noticeable effect on the economy. And finally, an intellectual shift, partly brought on by higher inflation, has compelled many people (including policymakers) all across the ideological spectrum to really emphasize the importance of expanding the economy’s capacity for growth, and to figure how best to do that. Which policies and institutional designs can best lead to new technologies and innovations? How do we reform public institutions like the National Institutes of Health, with its $47 billion budget, to fund the kind of science research and development that leads to transformative new technologies? What have we learned about the way science is actually done now?In other words, how do we get right the economics of innovation? That effort is where today’s two guests come in. Heidi Williams is an economist and the director of science policy at the Institute for Progress, a think tank. Caleb Watney is the co-founder and co-CEO of the Institute for Progress. They discussed with Cardiff not only the Great Stagnation, but also recent industrial policies passed by the US government, like the Chips and Science Act (which is aimed at developing a domestic semiconductor industry) and the Inflation Reduction Act (which will spend money to develop new clean technologies, among other things). And they discussed new ideas for how the country’s existing scientific institutions—its commercial labs, universities, and public bodies—should approach the process of scientific discovery.Related links: Heidi's page and work at the Institute for ProgressCaleb's page and work at the Institute for Progress
Inside Facebook's biggest acquisition52:52We're sharing a special episode of a podcast we think you might like. It's called The Closer and it's hosted by executive producer of The New Bazaar, Aimee Keane. In each episode, Aimee speaks to dealmakers and insiders about landmark financial deals that have changed our lives in some way.In this episode, Aimee speaks to an executive at the center of Whatsapp’s $19 billion sale to Facebook, Neeraj Arora. He explains how the deal finally came together, the dispiriting conflict that roiled the companies after the deal closed, and how the deal affected the way he thinks about our privacy online. Search for The Closer on your podcast app of choice or go to TheCloser.fm.
How to save democratic capitalism59:15The combination of a markets-based capitalist economy and a liberal democracy with almost-universal suffrage is very young, having existed for barely more than a century. But what we’ve learned in that short time is that there has never been a more successful political and societal arrangement. None of the tyrannies and the plutocracies that have been the default for nearly all of human history has ever been nearly as good at raising people’s living standards, and at giving people the individual freedoms to choose how they live their lives. But that marriage between capitalism and democracy has always been a fragile one. And in the last decade or two, that system has been under threat from within the very liberal democracies where it exists, especially in the US and across parts of Europe. What happened?The guest for this episode is Martin Wolf, the chief economics commentator of the Financial Times and author of a new book called The Crisis of Democratic Capitalism. As Martin writes:The health of our societies depends on sustaining a delicate balance between the economic and the political, the individual and the collective, the national and the global. But that balance is broken. Our economy has destabilized our politics and vice versa… A big part of the reason for this is that the economy is not delivering the security and widely shared prosperity expected by large parts of our societies. One symptom of this disappointment is a widespread loss of confidence in elites. Another is rising populism and authoritarianism. Another is the rise of identity politics of both left and right. Yet another is loss of trust in the notion of truth. Once this last happens, the possibility of informed and rational debate among citizens, the very foundation of democracy, has evaporated.Martin discusses these themes with Cardiff, what should be done to confront this crisis of democratic capitalism, what a "New New Deal" can look like, the threat (and opportunity) of China as a global superpower, and how Martin's own personal history influenced his values and thinking.Related links: The Crisis of Democratic Capitalism Martin's columns at the Financial Times
Macro Musings with David Beckworth55:06This is a special episode from the podcast Macro Musings, hosted by economist David Beckworth. David interviews Cardiff along with Heather Long of the Washington Post and Ryan Avent of The Economist about their reflections on the last three years. What they got wrong, what they got right, what shocked them, and what the lessons of these extraordinary, tumultuous times herald for the future.
Artificial intelligence and the economy of the future01:07:10Joining Cardiff for this episode is Avi Goldfarb, Rotman Chair In Artificial Intelligence and Healthcare At The Rotman School Of Management, University Of Toronto, and the co-author (with his fellow economists Ajay Agrawal and Joshua Gans) of an excellent new book, "Power and Prediction: The Disruptive Economics of Artificial Intelligence".In their chat, Avi and Cardiff discuss:Why AI is best understood as a "prediction technology"Examples of AI already in useWhich parts of the economy could be transformed by AI, and howHistorical analogies to previous eras of widespread technological disruptionHow AI will change the way people and companies make decisionsWhy this change will shift institutions away from blunt rules and towards individual discretionIn the labor market, who will gain and who will lose from the adoption of AIWhat the use of AI might teach us about what it means to be humanAnd all throughout the chat, they look at the fundamental question of whether artificial intelligence is about to make the economy—and the world—a whole lot weirder. And if so, just how far along that path to weirdness are we already?Related links: "Prediction and Power", by Ajay Agrawal, Joshua Gans, and Avi Goldfarb"The impact of AI on the future of workforces", The White House CEA and the European Commission“Before the Flood”, by Sam Hammond"The golden age of AI-generated art is here", by Tom Faber"Historical analogies for large language models", by Dynomight Internet Website
160 years of the racial wealth gap01:03:36This is a special, between-the-seasons episode of the New Bazaar.Right now, the white-to-black wealth ratio in the United States is roughly 6 to 1. Which means that when you add up all the wealth that someone can own—their cash, the value of their house, their investments in the stock market, and so on—the average White American has six times the wealth of the average Black American. That figure alone should be disturbing enough. But making it even worse is that this wealth ratio of 6 to 1 is about the same as it was back in the 1950s, seven decades ago. Some of the reasons for this long-term persistence of a big racial wealth gap are probably familiar to anyone who knows even just a little about American history. Not just the history of slavery, but also what came next: Jim Crow and segregation, the numerous racist laws and policies that were passed, and the history of racial violence—all of which made it impossible for Black Americans to accumulate as much wealth, and to get the same return on their wealth, as White Americans. Maybe less understood is another cause. If you consider the immediate aftermath of emancipation and the Civil War as a starting point, Black Americans simply began with much less wealth from which to build more wealth—and that initial difference has continued to have a big lingering effect even a century and a half later. These are just some of the conclusions in a new working paper from today’s guest, Ellora Derenoncourt, and from her co-authors Chi Hyun Kim, Moritz Kuhn, Moritz Schularick. Ellora is an economist at Princeton University, where she is also founder of the Program for Research on Inequality. On this episode of New Bazaar, Cardiff speaks with Ellora about this fascinating paper and about some of her other related work. Related links: Wealth of Two Nations: The U.S. Racial Wealth Gap, 1860-2020Can You Move to Opportunity? Evidence from the Great MigrationMinimum wages and racial inequality
50. What do we think?01:06:10This is the 50th (!) episode of The New Bazaar, and the Season 1 Finale. Cardiff and Aimee are planning to launch Season 2 later in the fall, and even before then will be airing a few surprise bonus episodes in September and October. Cardiff shares a bit more about future plans at the end of today's episode. The final Season 1 guest is Stefanie Stantcheva. Stefanie is an economist at Harvard, where she also leads the Social Economics Lab, which uses large and carefully designed online surveys to better understand what the public thinks about a range of economic policies and topics. On this episode, Stefanie shares some of the lab’s most recent work on what people think about four specific issues: 1) open trade between countries, 2) inequality, and where people rank by income within their country or economic sector, 3) racial economic disparities, and 4) climate change. Stefanie also tells us how people are divided on some of these issues, for example by partisanship or by class; how they form their views; what they get right and wrong, and why; and how occasionally some people even change their minds when presented with new information. An illuminating, fun, and hopeful chat. Related links:Social Economics Lab homepage Stefanie Stantcheva homepage
49. The moral consequences of economic growth, revisited01:04:54Benjamin Friedman is an economist and the author of The Moral Consequences of Economic Growth (2005) and Religion and the Rise of Capitalism (2021). He joins Cardiff to revisit the ideas in Moral Consequences, one of Cardiff’s favorite economics books, which argues that sustained economic growth not only leads to higher living standards but also can make a society more virtuous. They also talk about all that’s happened in the time since the book was published, the events that confirm or complicate its arguments, and the relationship between economic growth and issues like inequality, social mobility, and the environment.Finally, Ben shares with Cardiff the main themes in Religion and the Rise of Capitalism—and why our thinking about the economy remains influenced by religious schisms that date all the way back to the 16th and 17th centuries. Related links: The Moral Consequences of Economic GrowthReligion and the Rise of Capitalism
48. Upending Wall Street01:03:43Dakin Campbell is the chief finance correspondent at Insider and, full disclosure, Cardiff's close friend. He joins Cardiff on the show to discuss his new book, “Going Public: How Silicon Valley Rebels Loosened Wall Street’s Grip on the IPO and Sparked a Revolution”.When a company is relatively young… let’s say it’s a startup, and it is privately owned… the owners are usually some combination of the company’s founders, and venture capitalists who bet on the company, and maybe early employees who get paid in shares of the company as opposed to just getting a salary. And at some point, a private company like this can decide to go public. In other words, to list on the stock market so that you and I and anybody can buy and sell its stock. And so that the company itself can raise money to fund itself, and to give those founders and employees with early shares a place to sell them and cash in. When a private company wants to raise new money and give its existing shareholders a place to sell their shares, it can hire investment banks to start the process of going public and listing on a stock exchange. That process, of course, is the IPO, or initial public offering. Dakin’s book is about how a lot of private companies through the years have not loved the way that process works. These companies have often been skeptical that the IPO process works as well for them as for the investment banks that they themselves hire. And yet, the traditional IPO model also did not change meaningfully for decades, at least not for the biggest and most prominent companies trying to go public. There were occasional one-off attempts to challenge the model, as when Google went public via auction in 2004. But it wasn’t until just about four years ago that a company, Spotify, not only tried a different model but also kicked off a new trend—one that’s still early, but which seems like it’s here to stay. And as you’ll hear in the chat, Dakin’s book is also about why getting this process right matters not just for the companies that want to go public and for Wall Street, but also for people who want a chance to participate financially in the economy.Related links: "Going Public" book pageDakin Campbell stories at Insider