Best business/economics podcast award

I am pleased that my Conversations with Tyler chat with Jeffrey Sachs won this award from Quartz, here is their description:

Smart economist Tyler Cowen interviews smart economist Jeffrey Sachs in the new and infrequently released series Conversations with Tyler. The conversation is wide-ranging—they discuss China, anthropologists, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and more—but centers around Sachs’ belief that well-intentioned humans can solve even the most difficult problems. Sachs offers:”So I pulled an all-nighter, and I wrote a plan for transforming Poland from a communist, central-planned economy to a market economy.” Arguably, this is the best single podcast episode to listen to if you want to be smarter about economics.

The transcript, audio and video versions are here, the entire series of chats is here; next up is Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

For the pointer I thank Russ Roberts, who won an award for Excellence in Podcasting Overall, which of course he well deserves.

Addendum: You can help other people discover the podcast by rating it on iTunes and leaving a review.

 As always, you can subscribe to the podcast via iTunes, Stitcher, or your favorite podcast app.


Kareem! Cannot wait to listen to this one. Great get. This series of interviews is fantastic.

Can you ask where he places Lebron James among the all time greats? Kareem would have some great insight into this having played with Magic, a very similar player to Lebron.

Also, does he watch any other sports? Does he keep up with developments in basketball analytics?

Who's getting the award: the questioner or the answerer.

Will there be a Conversations with Tyrone edition?

Holy crap, that's funny!

I am a bit skeptical of a source that rates interviews with Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama highly. You got yourself two world-class dissembllers there.

Right? Why can't Democrat politicians be honest and forthright like Republican one?



Riveting interviews with Obama and Clinton because Republicans.

I have to admit I went into that podcast expecting to dislike it, since Sachs' personality can be very off-putting, but I was pleasantly surprised and found it to be a great conversation. Very well done podcast.

The Sachs podcast is definitely great. I didn't expect him to pick a fight w/ Krugman and he has plenty of great stories.

"...infrequently released..."


Tyler has a strong facility for intellectual discussion in real time. Not all intellectuals can do what he does. It's too bad (for us) he's not using this advantage he has and releasing podcasts more frequently.

Great podcast. Congratulations to both participants.

Just out of curiosity, did Tyler or Jeffrey share a scan of the plan produced during that night somewhere? It would be interesting to read - both for the general public and historians.

Happy New Year Everyone!

'”So I pulled an all-nighter, and I wrote a plan for transforming Poland from a communist, central-planned economy to a market economy.”'

This would explain a lot...

Congratulations on the award!

Congrats, Tyler.

Regarding Sachs and Poland, despite all the bragging, this was not one of his greatest moments. He may have pulled an all nighter, but what was done there was more Balcerowicz than Sachs. He wanted some things that were unwise, and he later realized it and says little about it now. I remember seeing him at the ASSA/AEA meetings in Jan. 93 I think it was right after a Polish election in which the new rulers (somewhat related to the latest new bunch) got in largely on protecting pensions and other parts of the social safety net. I remember whining to this AEA audience about how "ungrateful" the Poles were and how clearly unwise they were to elect these populist numbskulls who wanted to protect their clearly overly large pensions, and so on. As it turned out, preserving the social safety net was a crucial part of why Poland and a few of its neighboring Visegrad countries did so well with their transitions, and the part of the Washington Consensus that recommended this dismantling of social safety nets was one of the first parts of it to be dismanted and disavowed when it became clear that doing so undermined social order and democracy. To his credit, Sachs came to realize this pretty soon after this embarrassing episode I just recounted.

One can disagree with him on various matters, but he is thoughtful, straightforward, and means well.

Upon rereading this I realize it is not quite fully clear. It was Jeff Sachs who made this ridiculous performance back in 93 or thereabouts complaining that the Poles were "ungrateful." He really said it, and I knew he was wrong and out to lunch at the time, which he later realized, and now this is all forgotten. He can have a conversation with Tyler bragging about staying up all night when in fact he was a peripheral player. I discussed what was going to happen in Poland with Leszek Balcerowicz on the Union Terrace at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the summer of 1988 when he was a big zero, but it was his plan that made the Polish transition,not Jeff's.

Let me clarify this a bit more.

In fact there was a lot of ovelap between the Balcerowicz and Sachs positions and policy views. It can be viewed that what Sachs came up largely reinforced what Balcerowicz had already come up and was proposing and would carry out as Finance Minister in the first post-Communist government. Indeed, while I dumped on Sachs for his criticizing the Poles for electing politicians who would not cut back social safety nets, this was a policy issue on which Balcerowicz and Sachs were largely in agreement. Balcerowicz had been in the government tossed out by those with whom Sachs was unhappy, although Balcerowicz was probably less keen on these cuts than those in Washington.

However, there was one area where they differed, and it was important. This was the matter of the rate of privatization of state-owned enterprises. Sachs like most in Washington supported rapidly carrying out privatization, a policy he would support in Russia also, where this was followed. Despite all the rhetoric about "shock therapy" in Poland, this was not what happened regarding privatization. That term applied reasonably to macro policy, but Poland adopted a gradualistic approach to privatization, which worked out much better than what one saw in Russia and the Czech Repubic, where many rapidly privatized companies ended up in the hands of managers who then engaged in corrupt and damaging asset stripping, leading to hefty Swiss bank accounts for some of thee folks, but wrecked companies left behind.

This did not happen in Poland where privatization has now been largely completed. Curiously a major motive for this slowness was also Polish nationalism, with a fear of foreigners taking over Polish companies, especially Germans and Russians, both of whom had unfortunate histories with Poland in earlier years of the 20th century, to put it mildly.

BTW, if it looks like I am really down on Sachs, I am not. I like the guy, and I really do think he is well-intentioned, even if he has made some mistakes over the years. But who has not?

I'm not sure if this is mere hindsight or good sense speaking, but the decision to slowly privatize rather than do so quickly seems rather astute.

I would argue that the CSR's Klaus was not "wrong" about rapid privatization being good for the economy, BUT he left the implementation to wannabee crooks. Coupon (voucher) privatization DID give Czechs & Slovaks "ownership" -- which the vast majority converted to cash at the first opportunity. Further, the rules of distributing shares in rounds of fluctuating "prices" was terribly flawed. Those who tried to buy a popular company in the first round all got -- nothing, as it went into the next round at a higher price (fewer shares per voucher; all started at 3 shares per 1 voucher based on total shares = book value). Those who got unpopular companies got their 3 shares per voucher, but in the next round the price went down, perhaps to 6 shares per coupon.

The change in rules I proposed (to Min. of Finance Klaus) was to make it such that when the price went down, those who had ordered early, got more shares, so there was no penalty for early ordering. The two main assistants to Klaus (Trzka? and another guy, who later headed the Prague stock exchange and then went to jail) deliberately WANTED the insiders to be able to get large quantities of good shares cheaply. They opposed any changes in the vague rules (there was no set number of rounds; later it was fixed at 5).

Yes, inside managers "tunneled" money out of companies, along with the Investment Funds which became owners -- huge huge Agent problems. But the real key problem was that normal folks at or below the "median" income, would rather have certain cash rather uncertain valued shares; or even certain valued shares, when the desire for cash to buy a car or a flat is a real option. Converting into pensions might well have been better from the start.

"well-intentioned humans" are not as important as a system of peaceful agreement and peaceful disagreement; because peaceful disagreement reduces the harm of those with whom one disagrees when they can't use force. Sachs is a bit too willing to accept gov't force, but mostly he's very good.

Yay, Econtalk also won!

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