If we could reboot the planet and create new systems and institutions from scratch, would they be any better than what we’ve blundered our way into through trial and error? This is the first of a series of episodes that we’ll release over several months. Today we start with — what else? — economics. You’ll hear from Nobel laureate Angus Deaton, the poverty-fighting superhero Jeff Sachs; and many others.
A famous economics essay features a pencil (yes, a pencil) arguing that “not a single person on the face of this earth knows how to make me.” Is the pencil just bragging? In any case, what can the pencil teach us about our global interdependence -- and the proper role of government in the economy?
In last week's podcast, Stephen Dubner talked with Clay Shirky about how the Internet works without a lot of oversight or regulation. This week, we talk about how the whole world works in that same way. The episode is called “What Do Skating Rinks, Ultimate Frisbee, and the World Have in Common?" (You can subscribe to the podcast at iTunes, get the RSS feed, or listen via the media player above. You can also read the transcript; it includes credits for the music you’ll hear in the episode.)
So what do all these things have in common? Self-policing. We start at the roller rink. There aren't many rules, no referees, and yet things work. Just think about it: people careening around in circles, on a slick surface, with wheels on their feet -- this should be total chaos. And yet for the most part it's quite orderly. “Rinkonomics” is what Dan Kleincalls it. He says the skating rink is “a window on spontaneous order.” Klein is a professor of economics at George Mason University; he has a long-standing interest in proto-economist Adam Smith, who famously described the invisible hand that guides so much human behavior.