Brian Gongol Show on WHO Radio - June 28, 2015

Brian Gongol

The Brian Gongol Show can be heard on WHO Radio in Des Moines, Iowa on 1040 AM or streaming online at The show airs from 2:00 pm to 4:00 pm Central Time on Saturday afternoons. Podcasts of show highlights are also available.

Please note: These show notes may be in various stages of completion -- ranging from brainstormed notes through to well-polished monologues. Please excuse anything that may seem rough around the edges, as it may only be a first draft of a thought and not be fully representative of what was said on the air.

Rising living standards

GDP (particularly GDP growth per capita) is the best proxy measure for our ability to purchase a rising standard of living

It's not the only thing that matters; better entertainment, lower crime, broader education all contribute to a rising standard of living, but don't really show up on GDP measurements

A safer car is a meaningful improvement in the standard of living, but it may cost more, use less gas, and last longer -- these don't fit cleanly inside a rising GDP measure

But for the most part, good things cost money, and the more money we have to purchase those things, the better

Difference between a 1% GDP growth rate and 2% is enormous -- it's doubling. Difference between 2% and 4% is even more important, since the former results in a doubling of living standards in about 36 years, while the latter results in doublings every 18 years.

Other things matter beyond GDP, but it's hard to measure those things well and we have to be careful what we pick to measure -- what gets measured gets managed

This week

Business and Finance First-quarter GDP growth estimate revised up, but it's still negative
From a +0.2% estimate to -0.7% and now to -0.2%. These aren't trivial swings in estimation.

Threats and Hazards 5,000 child refugees from North Africa have gone missing in Europe
This is an enormous human disaster -- these are children, and some of the will undoubtedly become victims of exploitation

Threats and Hazards The problem of baseline error
The New York Times notes: "Since Sept. 11, 2001, nearly twice as many people have been killed by white supremacists, antigovernment fanatics and other non-Muslim extremists than by radical Muslims". It is depressing and it is sad. And it's important to public policy that we recognize the baseline error that creeps into our thinking on the subject. "Lone-wolf" extremism of the type described fades in the public's attention because it has become familiar. It's not common, really, but it's been around for a long time -- since at least the 1960s, when white male killers murdered President Kennedy, Martin Luther King, and 15 people on the University of Texas campus. It is sad but true that we have established a baseline expectation for those kinds of killers in our collective attention. Consequently, when a new type of killer emerges (like the kinds who attacked America on 9/11), they get a disproportionate share of attention because they are new and novel. Our baseline expectation for those killings starts at zero, so we pay attention when something causes the number to rise above zero. This baseline error has serious consequences for public policy-making; we shouldn't address problems in proportion to how novel they are, but in proportion to their consequences and what we can do to prevent them.

Business and Finance Retailers drop the Confederate flag
In many ways, the retail-level decision-making is actually much more important culturally than anything done at the legal level. If and Walmart decide that something is too toxic to sell, then they're literally putting their money at risk in making the decision.

Business and Finance Durable goods orders have dropped in three of the last four months
That paints a highly worrying picture of the economy

The United States of America Ben Bernanke agrees: Kick Jackson off the twenty
Leave Alexander Hamilton in his place on the $10 bill

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