A while back, we tried out a new idea on a special edition of Freakonomics Radio — a game show we called Tell Me Something I Don’t Know. You might remember it. It was so much fun that we decided to launch a whole new podcast series. It’s been in the works for a while and it’s finally here! A preview . . .
The U.S. tax code is almost universally seen as onerous and overly complicated. There is always talk in Washington about serious reform — Michigan Reps. Dave Camp (R.) and Sander Levin (D.) are currently working on it — but, Washington being Washington, we probably shouldn’t hold our breath.
So in this podcast we decided to take a look at the tax code we’re stuck with for now and see if there are some improvements, however marginal, that are worth thinking about. We start by discussing the “tax gap,” the huge portion of taxes that simply go uncollected for a variety of reasons. We once wrote about a clever man who helped close the gap a bit. In this episode, former White House economist AustanGoolsbee tells us why the government doesn’t try too hard to collect tax on all the cash that sloshes around the economy.
You’ll also hear from Dan Ariely, who has an idea for turning the act of paying taxes into a somewhat more satisfying civic duty.
We’re working on a new Freakonomics Radio podcast about financial illiteracy, a topic we’ve visited a fewtimes on this blog. Two guests you’ll hear from in the episode have held the same title: chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisors.
First up is current chairman Alan Krueger, whom I asked what would improve if Americans were more financially literate:
KRUEGER: I think first and foremost, we’d probably have greater savings. People are often in a situation where they have to live paycheck to paycheck. That’s something I think we need as a country to work to improve. Most importantly I think we can improve income growth for the broad middle class. But many people who seem to have the wherewithal to save for the future find it difficult to save.
Our latest Freakonomics Radio on Marketplace podcast is called “It’s Not the President, Stupid.” (You can download/subscribe at iTunes, get the RSS feed, listen via the media player above, or read the transcript below.) The gist: it’s time to admit that the U.S. economy doesn’t have a commander-in-chief.
In this Marketplace segment, you’ll hear from Austan Goolsbee, the University of Chicago economist who has served President Obama as both campaign adviser and chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers:
GOOLSBEE:I think the world vests too much power, certainly in the president, probably in Washington in general for its influence on the economy, because most all of the economy has nothing to do with the government.
President Barack Obama nominated a new chair of the White House Council of Economic Advisors on Monday: Princeton labor economist Alan B. Krueger will replace outgoing chair Austan Goolsbee. Krueger, 50, is known as a strict “empiricist” with a broad range of economic knowledge, having researched topics as diverse as subjective well-being to the relationship between the minimum wage and employment.
His 2007 book, What Makes a Terrorist, explores the economic roots of modern-day terrorism. Which Levitt has blogged about here on several occasions. Krueger was also presented Freakonomicswith an award in 2006 at the National Council on Economic Education.
Krueger’s biggest asset in the job will likely be his expertise as a labor economist, as the Obama administration is desperate to reduce unemployment heading into the 2012 election.
Want to know a bit more about Austan Gooslbee, the newly appointed chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers? Straight from the horse’s mouth, here’s a Q&A we ran with him in July 2009. There are a lot of interesting answers, including several that are perhaps more interesting now than they were then.
Two weeks ago, we solicited your questions for White House economist Austan Goolsbee. You will find his answers below. Among the highlights: no, the Obama administration is not socialist; and no, Goolsbee will not be trapped into telling you whether he’d buy an American car. Thanks for the good questions and thanks especially to Goolsbee for the interesting answers.
Economist Austan Goolsbee has a $44 billion idea called the “Simple Return”: Around two-thirds of taxpayers take only the standard deduction and do not itemize. Frequently, all of their income is solely from wages from one employer and interest income from one bank. For almost all of these people, the IRS already receives information about each of their sources of . . .
In today’s Washington Post, George Will profiles Austan Goolsbee, a colleague of Levitt’s at the University of Chicago and an economic adviser to Barack Obama. (You can see what we’ve written in the past about Goolsbee here.) Will’s piece contains Goolsbee’s interesting take on imports from China and elsewhere, with facts that I am sure most Americans don’t know: As . . .
The John Bates Clark Medal is given every two years to the American economist under the age of 40 who is deemed most influential. Congratulations to Susan Athey, a Harvard professor, who won the award today! She is the first woman to win the award. I got to know Susan and her husband Guido Imbens very well four years ago . . .
University of Chicago economists have a reputation for being outspoken, libertarian, and conservative. My good friend and Chicago colleague Austan Goolsbee, who has been advising Barack Obama on economic policy since his Senate campaign, is only the first of these. There is an article about economists advising presidential candidates that features Goolsbee in today’s New York Times. My guess is . . .
Whenever I get change for a dollar, I ask the cashier to keep the pennies. They aren’t worth my time, or hers, or yours. Sometimes the cashier refuses for bookkeeping purposes, in which case I politely accept the pennies and then throw them in the nearest trash can. (Is this illegal? Maybe so, but then so is throwing pennies into . . .