What should I ask Russ Roberts?

I will be doing a Conversations with Tyler with Russ, the master podcaster himself, but of course also a prolific author in multiple fields.  So what should I ask him?  Here is Russ on Wikipedia, here is Russ’s home page.


I would like to know how much editing Roberts does on each episode of Econtalk. The episodes are very well structured and tight, which suggests that they’re heavily edited - but I can’t hear the joins! Perhaps he just plans the discussions meticulously in advance so that they don’t require much editing?

The Danish Prime Minister recently suggested implementing a minimum wage, which Denmark has not officially had, in order to curb social dumping by pricing cheap labor out of the market- in other words, immigrants. This type of justification for constituting or raising the minimum wage has been used before in history, but most American politicians sell floor increases as a way to raise the wages of lower income people. What is going on here, in your opinion? Are we just that unsure about its effects? Is there strategic deception at play on behalf of economists who are advising the politicians who support it? The Card and Krueger study WAS good, but I thought that there were some more variables to consider. What gives? Help me out.

Would like to hear Russ and Tyler discuss/debate the use of empiricism in economics, and I guess the usefulness of empiricism as a "methodological stance" more generally?

Why don't very smart people, like former Energy Secretary Chu, understand economics?

Who better to discuss the value of empiricism then two faculty who do not do research in economics and haven’t for decades?

He mentions from time to time that his average listener is rather younger than I would have guessed (mid 20's-early 30's). Have his choices of guests over the years changed as a result of that? Have his goals and values as an economist and public thinker changed (or clashed) as a result of guests that he's had on his show?

Not surprising as I imagine alot of students listen to his podcast. Think tank libertarianism and those affiliated with it are like Young Smart Male Whisperers.

What does he think the future of the State of Israel will be like? Is there any hope for peace between Jews and Arabs in the Middle East?

So, this appears as a quote of his from wikipedia - 'It's very hard to argue in logical terms that spending money unwisely is the way to get wealthy.'

Would Steve Jobs be the right person to have a fictional conversation concerning how that observation just might not always apply, at least when one has either a vision, or a reality distortion field?

Why hasn't Russ had Mark Blyth as a guest? Author of "Austerity, the History of a Dangerous idea" Blyth is a distinctively entertaining, eloquent and erudite political economist who provides great insight. https://fivebooks.com/best-books/how-worlds-political-economy-works-mark-blyth/

A Plato vs. Aristotle moment.

Russ Roberts is incredibly talented at subtly opening your mind to ideas you previously discounted. How does he move our personal Overton Window like that?

The most informative, and scary, podcast he has done lately was with Amy Webb. What does he consider his best podcast? Not most popular - everyone will click on clickbait Jordan Peterson - but the one guest who most opened his mind.

I found Russ Roberts at first unlistenable, since he had so many "hems and haws" and he constantly interrupted people he was interviewing (a common trait btw, even master host Alex Trabek was accused of this). Over the years RR has gotten better. So my question is, did Russ do anything practical to improve his speaking? Like this guy: Demosthenes used to study in an underground room he constructed himself. He also used to talk with pebbles in his mouth and recited verses while running. To strengthen his voice, he spoke on the seashore over the roar of the waves.

How does he prepare for an interview? What's the general process? What was his process for a recent guest? How does his preparation vary from guest to guest? The quality is consistently high, how?

What activities does he do on the Sabbath itself? How has keeping the Sabbath shaped his views/actions?

How does he keep conversations so civil and productive, on divisive topics? How much does he attribute that to his personality?

Russ interviews people from a wide variety of backgrounds. What positions of his have changed the most as a result of interviewing people who disagree with him. Related, has he become more or less of a libertarian since podcasting?

'You should ask Russ Roberts how much money he got'

Why? If the recent court documents involving the GMU Foundation are any guide, Prof. Cowen knows how much money Roberts received, and the terms attached.

And Prof. Cowen is far too attuned to the need to keep the dating market on an even keel than reveal such information publicly.

Is he making more videos like 'The Paradox of Household Income'?

Why is he religious?
What are areligious people missing?
Under what circumstance should someone be religious?

Did Moses part the Red Sea?
Under what circumstance is it acceptable for someone to impose a religious ritual on another (e.g. a parent arranging circumcision of a baby boy)?
Is it moral to have children and, if so, what's the right number of children to have?
What career advice did he give to his children?

He discussed this a fair amount in his econtalk with John Gray (spelling might be off on his name...)

Hi Gary. The next video in the Numbers Game series should be out on May 7th.

Subscribe to the PolicyEd YouTube channel here to get updates: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCFKrfZXPHx5URnspnfM8lpQ/

Does he ever regret having invited someone to his podcast?

Good question. I’ve often wondered this myself

How has moving from GMU to Stanford changed him? How much does his GMU influence change Stanford?

What are his thoughts on the economics of suicide and incentivizing its prevention? This might get dark, but is there an economic solution?

Also, I'm a public library director. What are his thoughts about public libraries and their place in American society ?

Ask him how and why is style has changed over the years. (In my view for the better). Can't wait for this interview.

What book by Hayek influenced him the most.

Roberts seems to work hard to acknowledge and overcome his own biases when interviewing people or analyzing conclusions. Why is this important and, if it is, how do we encourage that same attitude in both academia and the broader media-consuming public?

I would love to hear about his faith and whether it informs his economics.

Maybe this is too obvious of a question for Tyler's preference for the obscure, but I would be curious to hear how Russ reconciles Adam Smith's seemingly contradictory views of human beings - on the one hand in the Theory of Moral Sentiments, Smith argues that humans are implicitly endowed with a sense of morality, and sympathy for others, that impacts how we interact with other people, but in Wealth of Nations, he argues for the idea that individuals make decisions on the basis of self-interest without any regard for the moral implications of their actions. Does he see any contradiction here? Is Smith simply talking about different spheres of human activity? Or is there a more complicated interaction going on here with our decision making process?

Excellent choice.

How does it feel like to be the Carl Sagan of economics?

How does he really feel about Paul Krugman?

Roberts is greatly inspired by the social philosophy of Moral Sentiments, a work which advances an approach to social science that in recent decades, though marginalized, is carried on by the rhetorical (McCloskey), interpretative (Lachmannian Austrians, J. Searle, V. Ostrom), and "humanomics" (B. Wilson, V. Smith) turns in economics. I wonder how he sees the prospects for this type of research agenda, which attempts to integrate notions of subjective interpretations as well as the intersubjectivity of meaning (i.e. "shared meanings") into institutional and economic analysis? Is it worthwhile and if yes, which are some of the issues he'd most want to look at through such an analytical lens? What are the main challenges?

Ask him about his influences as a rapper.

Why does Russ discount climate science? I often hear him admit that we should avoid existential risk, but he never seems particularly worried about climate change. Where do you two differ on these two points?

Is the climate an existential risk? Suppose someday a person in Edmonton will have the air conditioning expenses of a person in Dallas today. There will be migrants moving to higher ground in poor countries and levees built in richer countries.

Not saying there will be no benefits in some areas - there certainly will be. But do these benefits outweigh the costs to the millions to billions who lose value on coastlines and in areas that won’t be habitable? The migrant crisis in Syria has been incredibly disruptive and that is not on the order of millions. We obviously can’t 100% predict the impact that will occur, but shouldn’t we at least be rather concerned?

I have been wanting to hear more of his thoughts on climate change, especially more recently post-Paris Accord.

* How should we approach the risk associated with estimates of damages induced by climate change? The uncertainty band that we will either be OK or face catastrophic conditions is quite large. How should economists consider and analyse this risk?

* The conversation around climate change policies is largely focused on mitigation. Most of the mainstream analyses (including the one produced by my organisation) suggest that investing in low-carbon technologies in the energy system are more than offset by gains elsewhere. One common approach is to run an optimization model out in to the future. Is this an appropriate approach? Does he think the costs outweigh the gains, and why?

* Should developed economies (mostly in the northern hemisphere) that have industrialized through fossil fuel consumption transfer wealth to low and middle income economies (mostly in the southern hemisphere)?

How does he prevent lack of hubris and acceptance of uncertainty with regard to complex systems from slipping into an overly hopeless outlook that is counterproductive?

+1. I admire Russ's epistemic modesty but taken to extremes it becomes solipsism.

^^^ Feel free to delete this comment, which was a response to a now-deleted comment.

What’re both your thoughts on behavioral economics? Do you buy that psychology should be relevant to update economic models?

Given Russ' love of baseball, respect for Bill James (Econtalk guest), and a general skepticism of sorts regarding the abuse econometric analysis, I bet he'd have some interesting takes on talent search in baseball and the Sabermetrics revolution. This would be particularly interesting (and hitting close to home!) because he is a lifetime Red Sox fan, and they are among the most ardent of teams in their attachment to Sabermetrics... Bill James now works for them as a Senior Advisor for Baseball Operations.

I wonder how we squares his skepticism of the over-usage of data with the recent Red Sox success, and if he's done a Bayesian update of sorts in reference to this enterprise.

- Two or three people he would like to interview but hasn't yer
- What kind of people he tries to interview but can't get in his program
- How much of his own preferences are expressed by the choices of who they interview in the program?

I enjoy his interviews. But I would ask him why is it necessary to introduce some libertarian spin any chance he gets in every interview?

Well, at least with Prof. Cowen, some libertarian spin would be refreshing at this point.

Most libertarians, probably more so for professional economists, would say libertarianism (methodological individualism + epistemic humility) is both very valuable in terms of enhancing human well-being and underrated by the general public. Authoritative, top-down solutions to problems are intuitive but, according to libertarians, often wrong. Countering those intuitions has a huge upside in long-term human flourishing at a small cost of annoying a few people in the short term. Seems like an obvious path to take to me.

Very interested to learn the Russ Roberts production function. How does he prepare for an interview? Also, what is the selection process for his interviews? How does he decide what topics to discuss?
I'm also interested to know his personal favorite interviews. Which have made the biggest impact on his thinking and why?
Finally, how has his thinking changed regarding economics? My impression from the podcasts is that Prof. Roberts seems less confident that economics can accurately explain the human enterprise.

Would be very interested to hear his answers to all of these questions as well

Administrative Law

What level of concern/fear does Dr. Roberts have for what could be a decrease in dynamism and growth in the U.S economy?

In a twist on the Rawlsian thought experiment, would he rather be reincarnated as a Christian or a Muslim, if he had to choose. And which denomination :)

Milton Friedman is brought back from the dead for one more Econtalk episode. What new questions would Russ ask him today? The spirit of this comment is not getting MF to react to developments since his passing, but what has changed about Russ's perspective on Milton's ideas since that time.

Which econtalk guest has forced him to change his mind about an idea the most?

To what extent does he believe in climate change? What should governments do about climate change? What should corporations do about it? What should individuals do about it?

Who is his favorite left leaning economist?

How can economics as a profession do better to think about human happiness and satisfaction?

What's his all time favorite econtalk episode?

What is the annual budget of Econtalk? How many full time equivalents does it employ? How many listeners does it reach? Who provides the money to keep it going?

Did he meet Kerensky?

And if he did, does he know who Kerensky, in turn had met?

Also, does he know that Ayn Rand was ... let's say ...
nah, don't ask him about that.

Which largest changes of heart he has had over the coming year as result of an econtalk conversation?

Moving to Stanford, how does he see the culture different there, and specifically the political culture that he meets in his live conversations?

He does he want to improve himself and the econtalk podcast?

That's great news. Have been listening to Russ for even longer than I've been reading MR.
I've always loved the way Russ loves novels, revelling in PG Wodehouse, for example. I'd love to hear his thoughts on the moral significance of the novel, the novel as economic model (didn't you write a paper on this, Tyler?), as a mode of moral or intellectual instruction, etc.

As an economist, how does he assess the homeless crisis in San Francisco and other West Coast urban areas? Causes, mitigation strategies, likely end state?

Nassim taleb - underrated or overrated. Similar for other repeat guests.

Rss had had a number of complexity theorists on his show. I'd be interested in how he thinks complexity theory should inform economics, and why it hasn't been taken very seriously by other economists.

Harking back to the Cowen/Douthat exchange on best arguments for the existence of God, what would Russ' contribution be (he identifies as observing the Jewish Sabbath).

Ask why he is unimpressed by Mises but also says he has not read Mises.

Is there an EconTalk succession plan in place for when Russ retires? Mike Munger is nearly as old as Russ, so the obvious choice is probably out of the running. (Half joking question)

I nominate Bob Murphy. Obviously some ideological differences between them, but Murphy is also very fair-minded and adept at "steel-manning" positions he doesn't agree with.

Loved his two rap videos, does he have plans to create anymore? They seemed like excellent introductions to economic concepts and they appealed to a large audience. (almost 7m views, and 4m views, for economics!).

The Abe cabinet of Japan - overrated or underrated?

Or “Abenomics - overrated or underrated?”

Ask him if he really doesn't understand why macroeconomists use decimal points.

If he could interview one dead person, who would it be. What about one fictional person?

When’s he coming back to Montana to fish and see wolves?

Ask him why he hasn't be able to get an interview with Amartya Sen. It is a striking gap in EconTalk's ambition to be the foremost economics podcast of record.

When is violence necessary?

What podcast is he most proud of, and which podcast does he groan when he hears or thinks about?

Has he tried acid yet?

I've listened to every episode and really enjoy the show. One reason I really like the show is that Russ "pushes back" on certain ideas without being combative or dismissive. He also plays devils advocate very convincingly when he has a guest he agrees with.

One thing I really like about his interviews is that he tends to learn things from previous conversations and admits when he changes his mind or new ideas or evidence colors his opinion.

I would ask him about how his views have generally changed as a result of the things he has learned and then maybe ask for a few specific examples of views that have changed and what changed those views.

His ability to honestly and humbly admit what we know and what we can't know is rare. But what would you expect from a Hayek fan who quotes the 'curious task' so frequently.

I have listened to every episode of Econtalk. I have noticed a clear change in Russ' beliefs - he's gone from being a staunch "free marketer" to a free marketer with detectable anti-business leanings. I would like to know if he is aware of a change and his thoughts surrounding that observation.

Does he think he mistreated Sacks and will there be a followup on the millennium villages project with him

What unconventional parenting choices with positive results has Russ and his wife made?

Roberts likes to call out how inequality metrics don't take into account that the people in the distribution now are not the same ones that were in the distribution 40-50 years ago. Totally valid point, and it's a mark against the people talking up inequality that they don't make this clear. Having said that, does he actually believe that inequality is not currently a major social problem, and if so why?

I'd appreciate, a candid discussion about areas you may disagree on. Not a debate - an exchange or views.

What was Adam Smith's biggest mistake, and why did he make it?

The evolution of his political beliefs. How did he become a libertarian? To what extent is he a libertarian for consequentialist reasons?

What's the origin story for his and Mike Munger's relationship?

Any good stories about working with Gary Becker?

Id love to know his thoughts on why the most popular econtalk podcasts are rarely from economists or even about economics (more sociology, psychology and history). But 13 years of podcasts, on nearly every topics I can imagine, minimum wage, social security, pensions, financial crisis, foreign aid, health care, parenting and yet none (0) focused on the economics or political economy of defense spending

Is there *any* evidence that could possibly convince him that wealth inequality is a greater problem today than it was, say, 50 years ago? He seems convinced that no matter how one represents the data, it can't possibly be showing that inequality has grown; or, that even if it has, since the least well off are better than in the past, it's not worth worrying about.

+1 Dr Roberts belief that this is not a thing, because models arent perfect is curious.

In his 13 years of economics podcasting, on what issue has he most changed his views? Alternatively: which guest (and the preparation therefore) came closest to fundamentally changing his views?

Does Russ believe libertarianism is dead or dying, measured by public polling? Or was it never very popular to begin with? Based on polls of beliefs there are very few people who are socially liberal and economically conservative. Since the financial crisis most governments have been moving toward either populist right or left parties. Both envision a larger role for the state and have either illiberal views towards trade and immigration or the free market in general.

What podcasts does Russ listen to?

Has Russ ever chosen not to air an episode for reasons other than audio/technical?

Same question you asked Chris Blattman: What does the University of Chicago do right that’s especially important?

Russ mentioned in his episode this week with Paul Romer that Faulkner was one of his favorite authors. I would love to hear Russ's thoughts on Faulkner; why he likes him; favorite & least favorite works, etc.

Over the years of listening to econtalk, I've noticed Russ becoming increasingly pessimistic about the virtue of free markets and the quantitative aspects of economics in general.

I think it would be very interesting to hear Russ and Tyler discuss this change of heart.

How would Russ define the overall trend in his changes of opinion over the last five years?

Comments for this post are closed