Economics Detective Radio
About This Show
Economics Detective Radio is a podcast about markets, ideas, institutions, and all things related to the field of economics. Episodes consist of long-form interviews, and are generally released on Fridays. Topics include economic theory, economic history, the history of thought, money, banking, finance, macroeconomics, public choice, Austrian economics, business cycles, health care, education, international trade, and anything else of interest to economists, students, and serious amateurs interested in the science of human action. For additional content and links related to each episode, visit economicsdetective.com.
Most Recent Episode
Urban Development, the Growth Ponzi Scheme, and Strong Towns with Chuck Marohn
3 days ago
Today's guest on Economics Detective Radio is Chuck Marohn, founder and president of Strong Towns. Strong Towns is a non-profit that seeks to reform America from the ground up, starting with its towns and cities. It aims to promote healthy local economies by improving local governance. The Growth Ponzi Scheme Chuck began recognizing the problems in America's towns and cities when he was working as a civil engineer. He recounts a story of working in a little city in central Minnesota in the late 1990s. The city had a 300-foot pipe that had cracked, allowing ground water to leak in and overflow their treatment facility. Chuck proposed a $300,000 solution to fix the pipe. However, this was a tiny town with an annual budget of $85,000. So Chuck went to higher levels of government (the federal government, the USDA, etc.) to find someone to fund the project. They all said, "This feels like maintenance. We don't have money for maintenance, so you need to pay for this yourself." Since the feds would only fund expansion projects, Chuck devised a plan: He would propose the largest expansion project he could, then repair the pipe as part of the expansion. This wasn't so much deviousness on his part as it was standard practice in his profession. He designed a couple miles of new pipe, doubled their treatment facility, and as part of that he included repairs for the old pipe. This new project cost $2.6 million. Everyone was happy about this project. The grant agencies were happy. The legislators issued glowing press releases and held a big ribbon cutting. Chuck got a big bonus from his company. The city was ecstatic. The only lingering problem was that this tiny city that couldn't afford to maintain 300 feet of pipe would now be left with a few miles more pipe and a larger treatment facility. This is an example of one part of what Chuck calls the Growth Ponzi Scheme. This is when cities and towns expand in ways they can't maintain without further expansion. There's a political reason why things like this happen. Building new infrastructure is very politically appealing. You can build a new highway and name it after a prominent politician, you can have a big ribbon-cutting ceremony, and you can get all sorts of good press for the project. Maintenance is less sexy; you c
Rated 5 out of
Great interviews about economics. The informal style of conversations with interesting people makes for a fun listen. I especially like the episode on vampire and zombie economics, and the more recent one on experimental economics and norms.
Date published: 2015-03-04