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On Russia, “don’t assume a rational actor”

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Vladimir Putin at a press conference.

Russia's President Vladimir Putin attends a press conference with his Belarus counterpart, following their talks at the Kremlin in Moscow on February 18, 2022. - (Photo by SERGEI GUNEYEV/Sputnik/AFP via Getty Images) Sergei Guneyev/Sputnik/AFP via Getty Images

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Things are pretty hollow on this Hollowed-Out Shell Thursday. After weeks of posturing, Russian forces invaded Ukraine on Wednesday night. We can’t predict what’s going to happen next, but we can guess on the probable economic ripples. We’ll end with a surprisingly divisive Make Me Smile.

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Here’s everything we talked about today:

Make Me Smart February 24, 2022 transcript

Note: Marketplace podcasts are meant to be heard, with emphasis, tone and audio elements a transcript can’t capture. Transcripts are generated using a combination of automated software and human transcribers, and may contain errors. Please check the corresponding audio before quoting it.

Kai Ryssdal: Alright, what are we waiting for? Hello, who’s in charge? Good. Good. You should totally just stay there until you run out of money. Hey everybody, I’m Kai Ryssdal. Welcome back to Make Me Smart making today make sense is what we do on this podcast. Really glad you decided to listen today.

Marielle Segarra: Yeah, I’m Marielle Segarra and today is Hollowed Out Shell Thursday. So we are going to share some news stories and some make me smiles and then we’ll be on our way. How are you Kai?

Kai Ryssdal: You know, I, I well so look, let’s be honest, I’m not as good as you for reasons that we’ll get into in a moment. Because I’m not sitting on a beach. But look, today was today was – oh God, I feel stupid saying this. But it was really hard. Because, look, there’s a land war happening in Europe for the first time in 80-something years. And it’s just, it’s a big, big deal. It’s a big deal. Globally, it’s a big deal. In news, which is, you know, our chosen occupation. And then it’s, it’s one of those stories, and I don’t expect anybody to, you know, feel bad for me. But on days like this, it’s always tricky hosting Marketplace, because it’s the global story, right? It is the global story, and people are dying, and there’s a war going on. And yet, you have to figure out what our slice of it is. And there’s, there’s, you know, this is a global economic story, right? Because the global economy is going to slow down, interest rates, globally, are going to go up, we’re gonna have stagflation, things are gonna get more expensive. I mean, all of that stuff, right? That’s gonna happen, but you can’t really just like, come right out and say that because people are dying. And so it’s a little trying for me on days like this. And and I don’t mean to make it all about me. But. But that’s kind of where my headspace is that, you know, for the first time in a long time, I spent most of last night sitting there watching cable news saying holy crap, “this is actually happening” as did I’m sure a lot of people. But then. But then reality check. And I guess we’re getting into the conversation of the news part of this podcast, I suppose. But so I went to physical therapy this morning. Because I had knee surgery.

Marielle Segarra: For your knee, right?

Kai Ryssdal: For my knee. And it’s doing very well. And I’m progressing very nicely. Thank you very much. But but as I laid down on the table, and and she started, you know, warming me up and stuff. She said, “So what’s going on today?” And I was like, Oh, my God, there’s a war in Europe going on today. That’s all I can think about.” But clearly, I’m in this stupid news bubble, where all I can do is consume news, and everybody else totally legitimately, is going about their daily lives. Because as far as the American people are concerned, they’ll be really concerned in about three weeks when you know, gas is, you know, nationally, $4 a gallon. But right now, it’s just this thing’s happening on the far side of the world. And if you know Americans, you know that things that are happening on the other side of the world don’t often break through, and I get that. I totally get that. Yeah, there’s a lot going on in this country. Life is busy people are trying to get by but holy cow. Anyway. So that was my day. I don’t know. What about yours?

Marielle Segarra: Whew. Well, first of all, I don’t know if you can hear this. But like, basically, in the middle of when you were talking, someone loudly started playing music outside. I think it’s mostly it was not going to come in, but it’s like, you know, Spanish language music, pretty catchy, but hoping it doesn’t end up in the recording.

Kai Ryssdal: Oh, well, first of all, we can’t hear the thing. But but the explanation is you’ve been vacationing in  Puerto Rico, now you’re working in Puerto Rico, and yeah, things happen.

Marielle Segarra: Yeah, I’m in Cabo Rojo, which is a beautiful part of Puerto Rico. It’s in the southwest. And I was thinking about this today too, because it is beautiful here. And I’m like, personally, I was like, how am I gonna answer this question? Because personally, I’m doing okay today, you know, like, I went to the beach, I sat with some fish, like, I’ve been hanging out with family. I’ve been like, yeah, doing some things that are really meaningful and fulfilling. And at the same time, I’m paying really close attention to what’s happening in the news. And it’s, you can’t just tune it out like this kind of suffering is really hard to stomach and I think we all have gone through some level during this pandemic when our place wasn’t having a wave but somewhere else in the world was having a wave where you’re almost like, you almost have to keep that balance between trying to stay informed and then trying to protect your mental health. And take the bits of joy that you can that you can find. So yeah, I don’t know, it’ll sound insensitive maybe to say like I had an okay day. But then also, I didn’t because this was on my mind and all day.

Kai Ryssdal: No, look, I totally think it does not sound insensitive. I think it’s absolutely real. And we talked about that Molly and I did a lot in the beginning of the pandemic, when this podcast first went daily, we talked a lot about the mental stress, right? And how you had to find time to unwind. And I think we can all now appreciate the importance of carving out, you know, whether it’s time to, you know, go down to the beach and let the let the sand slip through your toes or whatever. You know, I think that’s hugely important. And we all recognize it now, way more than we did in the before times, right. In the before times, Americans especially, we’re all about keeping their head down and doing their jobs. And now we’ve all come to realize, you know, life’s too damn short. And I think that’s real, for sure.

Marielle Segarra: Yeah. Yeah, for sure. Well, you want to talk about Russia, and Ukraine?

Kai Ryssdal: Let’s talk about Russia. Let’s talk about Russia. So here’s what I want to say about Russia. This is what I want to talk about in the news and then I’ll and then I’ll get off my little hobbyhorse. Russia is not a huge trading partner in the United States, something like $30 billion dollars, I mean, something like minuscule. Russia is not even in the top 10 biggest global economies. Russia is not a key player in most of the global economy, except for energy and oil and gas. But they have thermonuclear weapons. And they have a guy who is not necessarily stable in charge of them. And that, I think, is why this whole thing is so for me, deeply, deeply consuming. Because we don’t know, you know, one of the best pieces of advice I ever got, I got two great pieces of advice from my best friend ever. His name is Jonathan. One was, you can never give advice with the expectation that it’s going to be taken. So there’s that and that’s totally true. But the second piece of advice he gave me was, “Look, you can’t ever assume the rational actor.” And as we’ve seen now, with Vladimir Putin, he’s doing some things that are kind of irrational, because this war that he started is going to hurt his people desperately right? The Russian stock market is down, the ruble is down. The huge companies that generate most of that national income are going to get sanctioned. But he’s doing it anyway. For I’m sure what seemed to him rational reasons, but not to anybody else. And, and I just think we all need to keep that in mind that this is, it’s slow now over there. As we tape this at 3:40 on a sunny Thursday afternoon in Los Angeles, it’s the middle of the night over in Kiev, and I’m sure there’s some stuff going on. But you know, it’s not done yet. We’re not done. And I think the the ramifications of the end of 75 years of collective security and the benefits of it, the deterring effects of it, we’re gonna be feeling that for a while. Sorry. So I guess I’m more hollowed out than I thought. Sorry. Nevermind.

Marielle Segarra: That’s fair. I mean, thinking about that question of the rational actor and, you know, mutually assured destruction, that that was –

Kai Ryssdal: Right. Right, remember that?

Marielle Segarra: That that would be a deterrent. Right. It almost feels like not to get too deep into game theory, but it feels like a, like a game of chicken. Right? It’s like, and it reminds me of this article I read today in Bloomberg about it was actually an opinion piece about how the US could potentially and other countries could potentially stop Russia in its tracks if it took really, really severe steps and really, really severe sanctions that the Russian government wasn’t expecting. And, and the writer was talking about it like shock and awe, like shock and awe, economic approach. And they talked specifically about Saudi Arabia and Russia a couple years ago, where basically they they set oil prices cooperatively, but Saudi Arabia and Russia disagreed what they should do in response to the pandemics. So the Saudis, they just drove down price, they shot themselves in the foot, they drove down prices completely to mess with Russia until Russia came back to the negotiating table. And it was like who can hold out for long enough on the economic pain. So if the US were to do something, you know, really extreme in in terms of economic sanctions and or export controls and cut off imports from Russia down to zero, for instance, that would, that would hurt us a lot. And it would hurt other countries if they did that. But it could be something that Russia just isn’t expecting and hasn’t priced in.

Kai Ryssdal: Yeah. Yeah. And the question is, and Biden said this the other day, right sanctions on Russia are going to be felt here at home, rising gas prices for one. And the question is, are the American people willing to deal with that? And I don’t know the answer yet. Couldn’t tell ya. Could not telly ou.

Marielle Segarra: So I think there is one other thing that I was like surprised by is, we have talked about on Marketplace, we’ve talked about some of the direct impacts, like Russia’s a big exporter of natural gas and wheat, for instance. But an impact on the global financial system, potentially. But there are even things like I saw another piece in Bloomberg today about the price of coffee and cocoa dropping today, because because of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, it’s expected that there will be global economic impacts that will make people less likely to go out because if there’s a recession, you’re less likely to like go to a restaurant where most coffee is sold, or travel and apparently, a lot of candy or most candy is sold at the airport. So those are things that –

Kai Ryssdal:  Really?

Marielle Segarra:  – you know, those aren’t crops that yeah, that’s what that’s what Bloomberg said. Wow. I have not fact checked that bit. But I was like, Huh, I could see that. That and like at the cash register at supermarkets, right.

Kai Ryssdal: Yeah, for sure.

Marielle Segarra: But, yeah, it’s like, even those are not crops that come from Russia. They’re not something you would expect, but that’s a price drop, you know, in response to this other thing happening, you know, on the other side of the world. Yeah, it’s just wild. The knock on effects are endless.

Kai Ryssdal: Yep, for sure. For sure. And well, look, that’s – I’ll get off my my, like, geopolitical thing here. Right. But that’s the thing about war. You can’t predict what’s going to happen. Nobody knows what’s gonna happen. Putin doesn’t know what’s gonna happen. Zelenskyy doesn’t know what happened. Biden doesn’t know what’s gonna happen. Nobody knows what’s gonna happen. So, that’s why they play the game. I suppose. If I could make my sporting metaphors anyway. Anyway, Jayk, hit it, would you? Let’s get something happier in here. Ah, sorry taking a big slurp of  coffee. Alright, I’m just gonna come out right up top and say I have no Make Me Smiles today. I just didn’t have it in me, as one might have gotten from my stream of consciousness blathering earlier in the podcast.

Marielle Segarra: It’s all on me. Okay, well, I have some visual aids here. So you know how you’re, on Instagram, there is a section where it it suggests stuff to you. And it’s based on an algorithm based on whatever you click on. So I guess at some point, I liked or clicked on some hairless cats and Instagram.  Did you did you open them?

Kai Ryssdal: Oh God! They’re just so no, I know. And I’m glad I didn’t because hairless cats freak me out.

Marielle Segarra: Yeah, just open one of them. There’s like, seven here. But um –

Kai Ryssdal: Oh, God! Sorry. Sorry. Sorry. Sorry. We’re gonna put ’em on the show. By the way, Marque or Marissa is gonna put them on the show page.

Marielle Segarra: Okay. Yeah, I send these I started getting really into them and because they really filled me with joy. Like there’s one – they’re always sitting with legs apart and big bellies out.

Kai Ryssdal: Why?

Marielle Segarra: I just they’re so creepy. I love them so much. And I start started sending them to my friends and family and my mom at one point literally cursed me out on DMs and she was like “if you send me one more effing alien looking hairless cat, I’m gonna disown you.”

Kai Ryssdal: I was gonna say, she’s gonna write you out of the will, for sure.

Marielle Segarra: Yeah no, these are amazing. Sometimes they look like little wrinkled brains with ears.

Kai Ryssdal:  They’re horrible. It’s terrible. Yeah, do not click. Do not click you cannot unsee that do not click. Alright. We’re going.

Marielle Segarra: Did that make you smile?

Kai Ryssdal: Hairless cats is our ticket out of here we are – yeah it kind of did actually. Oh my God. All right, we’re done. We’re done. hairless cats and all. Kimberly’s back tomorrow Economics on Tap live streaming on YouTube as well. Just the second one low these many months 3:30 out here on the West Coast. 6:30 on the East Coast. YouTube channel is Marketplace APM check it out. Join us. We read comments a lot, Kimberly and I do.

Marielle Segarra:  Yeah keep sending those to us your comments and your questions in email or voice memo form to makemesmart@marketplace.org Or you can leave us a message at 508-UB-SMART.

Kai Ryssdal: Perfect. Perfect. Oh yeah. hairless cats do not click. Make Me Smart is produced by Marissa Cabrera. Marque Greene helps out too. Jayk Cherry was in charge today down in the studios in DTLA.

Marielle Segarra: Bridget Bodnar is the senior producer and the director of On Demand is Donna Tam. Kai How would you feel about me just like sending you hairless cats every day now?

Kai Ryssdal: Do not do that I don’t understand what … they are so gross.

Marielle Segarra: Are you gonna block me on Instagram?

Kai Ryssdal:  Well I will if you send me the pictures. Jesus.

Marielle Segarra: Fair enough.

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