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Temperatures in Texas are tumbling this week, and occasional host Andy Uhler is getting flashbacks from last year’s deep freeze. We’ll talk about what Texas has and hasn’t done to prevent another disaster. Plus, we’re feeling a little hollowed out after we learned what some college students think the average American earns. To lighten the mood, we jump on the Worldle bandwagon!
Here is everything we talked about today:
- “The Texas Electric Grid Failure Was a Warm-up” from TexasMonthly
- “Cold Sends Texas Natural Gas Supplies Plunging for Second Time This Month” from Bloomberg
- “A professor said her students think Americans make six figures on average. That’s a long way off.” from The Washington Post
- “Building a Better America—One Wealth Quintile at a Time” from the Association for Psychological Science
- “The Misperception of Racial Economic Inequality” also from The Association for Phycological Science
- “Absurdle is like Wordle but it fights back” from PC Gamer
- “M&M characters redesigned for a “more dynamic, progressive world,” Mars announces” from CBS News
Don’t forget, our newsletter drops every Friday. Sign up at Marketplace.org/newsletters.
Make Me Smart January 20, 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.
Meghan McCarty Carino: Get ready, crack your knuckles. It’s time.
Andy Uhler: Crack your knuckles.
Meghan McCarty Carino: I can’t crack my knuckles. I cannot crack my knuckles.
Andy Uhler: You mean like you can’t do it or you won’t do it?
Meghan McCarty Carino: I mean, maybe if someone else did it, but if I tried I wouldn’t be able to. I am Meghan McCarty Carino the non-knuckle cracking Meghan McCarty Carino, welcome back to Make Me Smart. Where we make today make sense, all from the comfort of my very special pantry, which is full of pancake mix. And tomato sauce.
Andy Uhler: I’m Andy Uhler. It’s so good to be here with you, Meghan again. Thank you so much, everybody else for joining us on this Hollowed Out Shell Thursday. We’re going to do what usually happens on a Thursday, we’ll start with a news fix. We’ll do a little make me smile. But before we get to that, how is your shell feeling today Meghan. Everything going good?
Meghan McCarty Carino: You know, honestly, my shell is in pretty good shape. It’s not as hollow as it usually is. How’s your shell?
Andy Uhler: My shell’s okay, I was just telling you. And this will get to where we I think need to go. We had a cold front move in. I’m in Austin, Texas. And we had a cold front move in last night. So the dogs are a little more upset about things. And they’re kind of looking, you know, like when they go to the door and they look at you and they’re like, “I don’t think outside dude,” you’re like, “nah you should probably go outside.” So we are you know, we’re sort of in the middle of this, for those of us in Texas too these cold temperatures are bringing back some bad memories of last year. In February, we had that Big Freeze, right? I actually ended up living with my cousin Pat for four days, I think. Because we didn’t have any power at my house. And so my partner and I and the dogs all went over to Pat’s house because he had power. And he’s actually only a few blocks from my house, but they ended up being on a different grid or, you know, a different sort of part of the grid. And so it’s I mean, honestly, you know, more than 200 people died, it was terrible. Because we had so many rolling blackouts because the power here in Texas couldn’t stay on.
Meghan McCarty Carino: And the heat is is electric for most folks, right?
Andy Uhler: So what happens is a lot of times, especially like, like at my house, for instance, we have natural gas, and we have gas hookups. But everybody’s thermostat is hooked up to the electricity, right. And so my thermostat didn’t know to turn itself on, and then to activate the gas to be turned on. And so it is sort of one of those things. I’ve been thinking about this. There was a wonderful article in Texas Monthly, which is a great magazine, check it out if you can, Russell Gold put together to this really, really nice article sort of chronicling exactly what happened during the freeze, and then also sort of pointed to what needed to happen during the legislative session and whether it did. And unfortunately, it sounds like not everything that needed to happen, in fact happen. There was a lot of talk about how that’s not going to happen again. We’re not going to have rollouts, the governor, Governor Abbott came out and said, “Look, we fixed the grid, everything is fine.” The problem is that’s probably not the case, or we hope that it’s the case. But we didn’t really put in the sort of safeguards that we needed to make sure that it is. There were a few bills passed. There were some sort of – it was kind of like penalties if you didn’t weatherize because that was the big issue in February, right is that a lot of our power plants had to shut down because they froze. A lot of the natural gas that produces the electricity here in Texas froze. And so that was one of the things that we talked about a bunch this legislative session right after the freeze happened. There was a lot of talk about, we need to weatherize. What’s really frustrating for folks in Texas was that 10 years ago, we literally had the same thing happen. And we talked about doing the exact same thing FERC actually told us to do that said, hey, you need to weatherize your power grid, or this is going to happen again. And then it did. So Russell has this wonderful sort of chronology of what happened. At the end of the article it sort of says they talked about a lot and they did some things in the legislature but you probably aren’t in as good of shape as you think. You know, of course I’m sitting here texting my buddies and texting my cousins and texting everybody: “Hey, do you have a generator? Did, you know, did you go out and get one as a result of last February?” Because honestly that’s what people are thinking about right now. I mean, the thing about it too, Megan is is one of those I think about this all the time because of the reporting that I’m doing. And this is not just Texas. I mean, we have so much grid infrastructure that’s so old. Right? This is a national issue. I mean, you guys have blackouts you have in California.
Meghan McCarty Carino: Yeah.
Andy Uhler: We were talking about this over the summer, right?
Meghan McCarty Carino: Yeah. Yeah, I know. Tony Wagner, you know, our digital producer, he seems like he always gets the worst of it. He’s always has a blackout when we have these crazy heat waves. I don’t know what grid he’s on. But luckily, mine doesn’t seem to be as bad. But I mean, yeah, always during the moment when you least need it. When you’re having these crazy heat waves. People are dying, there’s fires, you know, starting up everywhere, and then the power goes out, all over, all over the state. Or, you know, when there, we have the high winds and things like that, the power went out through, I think, like millions of households in Southern California on Thanksgiving, because there were Santa Ana winds going on. So they had the power company had to shut down the power because yeah, the infrastructure is in bad shape.
Andy Uhler: It’s in bad shape. And it’s, it’s one of the things that we really do. It’s kind of like water, right? You take it for granted, when it’s not there, then that’s when you start freaking out about it. That’s when you start thinking about it. With electricity. It’s the exact same thing when all of our houses didn’t have any electricity, then it was like, Okay, we need to get something done. And the legislature certainly talked about it, because a lot of people here in Texas, were talking about it, but I don’t think they actually did what needed to be done. I hope – I’m crossing my fingers –I hope that it’s not as cold as it was in February. But that’s not a solution. You can’t just cross your fingers, right?
Meghan McCarty Carino: Yeah. Yikes.
Andy Uhler: What are you thinking about?
Meghan McCarty Carino: So I was on Twitter a lot today. And there –
Andy Uhler: Fair enough.
Meghan McCarty Carino: There was a…
Andy Uhler: That seems like a dangerous proposition. But I’ll leave you to it.
Meghan McCarty Carino: I know. I know. Both of my items are from the Twitter discourse today. So, hang on. But no, so there was this professor at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. You know, we talk to them all the time, one of the best business schools in the country, and the great, um, she tweeted about something that she asked her students and it went totally viral she, Nina Strohminger. She is a professor of legal studies and business ethics at the Wharton School. And she said, “I asked students what they thought the average American worker makes per year. And 25% of them thought it was over six figures. One of them thought it was $800,000.” That cannot be real. Nobody thinks that.
Andy Uhler: The average American worker?
Meghan McCarty Carino: The average American worker, she said, “Really not sure what to make of this, the real number is 45,000.” I mean 800,000?
Andy Uhler: The internet, I imagine had some opinion on this right?
Meghan McCarty Carino: It did the internet had so many opinions about it. One of the one of the oft-cited memes was the the mom from Arrested Development, when she’s like –
Andy Uhler: Lucille.
Meghan McCarty Carino: Yeah, Lucille, when she’s talking about the price of bananas, and she’s like, “What could they cost $10? A banana?” like, just being so totally out of touch. But really, I think you know what, Professor Strohminger wasn’t trying to sort of dunk gun dunk on her students. She asked them this question, because there is a lot of evidence that pretty much everyone carries a lot of cognitive bias when it comes to sort of what they think about the, you know, the earnings of other people. So there are, she tweeted, you know, links to some other studies that showed just how little individuals, you know, just how bad people are at sort of understanding how much other people make both at the high and the low end. So she tweeted a link to a study, you know, actually an international study, but people in the United States did the worst at it. Where they underestimated how big the gap was between kind of how big the income inequality was. And then when they were asked to sort of say what they think the ideal would be, you know, what the ideal ratio would be and compare that to what they thought it was just, absolute gross underestimation of what the actual income inequality was. Multiple studies on that, and one of the most insidious and one of the sort of biggest places where people really, really underestimate this kind of inequality is when it comes to the racial wealth gap. There spent a lot of study of how people perceive how much progress has been made in the racial wealth gap. And honestly, since the 60s, almost no progress has been made on the racial wealth gap. But, you know, respondents will say they think that it’s 80% less that what it actually is.
Andy Uhler: That’s just not happening, right?
Meghan McCarty Carino: Right. Yeah, that I think, in 2020, there was a story in the Washington Post that in 2020, the racial wealth gap was what it was in 1968, which is incredible. So you know, the wealth owned by whites average, on average, compared to the wealth owned by Black families on average, that that disparity was the same since 1968. I think it had gone up and down a bit in between, but that it’s now basically like, the 1960s again. And, you know, like, these kinds of – this is important to us, as a society to have an accurate sort of understanding of, you know, what the difference is between – this has come up a lot, obviously, you know, over the last years, as we’ve talked about, like minimum wage and the wages that low income workers are making, and whether they’re too much, and they’re hurting the economy, you know, compared to say, what CEOs are making that people really have no concept, that I think in 2020, the ratio of like, CEO to minimum wage was 351:1. You know, these sort of inform how we how we think about policy and how we think about, you know, the types of benefits and policies that are needed to sort of have a more fair society, and people really have no idea what they’re looking at.
Andy Uhler: And it doesn’t feel like you tell me, I wanted to ask you the question about, it’s not folks aren’t empathetic, it’s not people not sort of understanding or feeling for somebody else’s situation. It really is just a lack of understanding about what what people are either up against or sort of what they’re making. And that I guess, being in an echo chamber, I mean, this is this is part of a bigger, bigger discussion. Right?
Meghan McCarty Carino: Totally. I think that’s really the takeaway is that, you know, I mean, there have been studies that when people are presented with the minimum wage, say, as an hourly rate versus a yearly rate, they have totally different, you know, ideas about what it should be don’t understand, like, you know, 7.25 an hour is $15,000 a year. Things like that, you know, they’re just that it’s not, it’s not that there’s a deficit. I mean, maybe in some cases, but it’s not that there’s an intentional deficit of, of compassion, or empathy or understanding. But it’s just really hard for, you know, people cognitively, to conceive seemingly, of how different the situation can be for people at different levels of the income spectrum, and especially if you’ve sort of grown up in one strata of of that income spectrum to really conceive of how different it is. Yeah.
Andy Uhler: It’s incredible. Alright, um, that’s kind of I mean, I think this sort of lesson here, right, is try to put yourself in a situation where you can understand. I mean, that’s what’s so wonderful at our jobs, right, is that we get to call people and we get to ask people about what they’re up against what their situation is. And so asking those questions and putting yourself in those situations where you really do have a better understanding about other people. I mean, it’s a good thing.
Meghan McCarty Carino: That is the best part of our job. And I think that leads us into the next part of the show.
Andy Uhler: Alright you go ahead.
Meghan McCarty Carino: Okay, so my make me smile for today is not so much of a heartwarming story, but one that just made me crack up a lot. So I told you, I’ve been on Twitter all day. There’s been there’s been a lot of discussion. I don’t know if you’ve really given much thought in your life, Andy, to the personalities of the different colors of M&M’s, but thinking about it a lot today.
Andy Uhler: Fair enough. In the Twitterverse that’s where you go for right?
Meghan McCarty Carino: The Twitterverse is afire with Mars candies, new conception of the M&M personality. So you know, like the M&M’s that are in the commercials and what have you. They have distinctive personalities, which I personally have never paid that close of attention to and they’re redesigning them to you know, sort of update them for the current world and the current vibes and things. Of course, you know, so there’s been there’s been some backlash against some of the new concepts, but probably the, probably the one that’s getting the most attention is the infamous green M&M. I don’t want to get far into that. The green M&M. But basically, they’re really changing up the green M&M’s kind of image. So according to CBS News, the most notable changes include the green M&M’s redesign which will exchange the white-heeled gogo boots, she was given in 1997 for, quote, “cool, laid back sneakers” to reflect her effortless confidence. The green M&M will also be better represented to reflect confidence and empowerment as a strong female and known for much more than her boots. I mean, I guess like any day when you can desexualize candy, it’s a good day for our culture.
Andy Uhler: Well, that’s what I was gonna say is that I mean, it’s a it’s a good step. I guess I mean, it you know, you’re right. This sort of the different places you can go when you’re talking about the green M&M.
Meghan McCarty Carino: Right, we don’t need to go there.
Andy Uhler: But it does speak to the idea of, you know, what, we need to update these things. I think that’s good.
Meghan McCarty Carino: I think my favorite update was to the orange M&M, who I was unaware, the orange M&M has traditionally had an anxious personality. So I relate. But the orange M&M will quote, “embrace his true self worries and all.” But the orange M&M’s, shoelaces will now be tied to represent his cautious nature. There’s a lot of attention to the footwear of the M&M’s. Someone gave a lot of thought to the footwear of the M&M’s.
Andy Uhler: Right, how these M&M’s are getting around is a really important aspect of this.
Meghan McCarty Carino: Yeah, yeah. But I’m glad that you know, there’s there’s a, you know, positive representation of anxiety among the M&M’s and I’ll just leave it there.
Andy Uhler: Hey, do you, do you Wordle?
Meghan McCarty Carino: Okay, I have resisted the Wordle thing. Like, I refuse to let it penetrate my consciousness. I don’t know thing about it.
Andy Uhler: You’re spending, you’re spending time on Twitter talking to people about M&M’s
Meghan McCarty Carino: I’ve muted Wordle references. Wouldn’t know.
Andy Uhler: Okay, so a buddy of mine. It was so funny. Cuz it was it was the most innocuous text, right? It was like, Hey, do you it’s me, and another buddy of mine. We’re in a, like a three guy text group. And I was like, Hey, do you guys like word games? So that’s how it started. Right? So we have you know, we share our – I don’t share it on social media. I don’t I don’t really sort of do that. But we share our Wordle…
Meghan McCarty Carino: Good.
Andy Uhler: Yeah, it’s just between me and these other, these, these other couple of guys. And so my buddy Dave sent me this, because we also talk a lot about sports, we talk a lot about gambling. That’s basically what this text group is. Our major subjects are things like that. And so he sent me this link, that apparently, there is now a new version of Wordle that was adapted and developed called of Absurdle. So Absurdle apparently, changes its mind. So what happens in Wordle, I’ll break this down for you, right? For those of you haven’t played. When you get letters, right, and you get them in the right spot, the letter is going to be green, when you get a letter right, but it’s not in the right spot, it’s going to be yellow. And there are five letters in each of these words. And you sort of work it out, right? So you see that oh, the “O” in the second slot is green. So I need an O. I need a word with “O” is the second letter, things like that. So what happens with Absurdle and it makes so much sense that my buddy sent me this. Apparently, the words can change their mind after your guesses in this new version of the game. So depending on what you guess, if you get a letter right, then that letter is going to stay but all those other letters are sort of up for changing so there are moving parts in the different five letters that can happen so it’s for me, it’s like this delightfully vindictive word game, right. It’s like you thought you had it man. But this word is is actually going to change after your guess. For me. I mean, I don’t know. I think it’s great.
Meghan McCarty Carino: It’s a lot of sassy word games.
Andy Uhler: I know. I know. Sassy word games. I mean, I’m all about it. I think, you know, that sort of innocuous text about “Hey, do you like word games” it’s like, man, if somebody sent me a text that said “hey, do you like word games but the words going to change a bunch?” I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know if I would buy it. But now of course that I saw the link I’m like, of course I’m in.
Meghan McCarty Carino: You’re all in.
Andy Uhler: Alright, on that note. That is it for us today. I’ll be back tomorrow with Kimberly Adams for an Economics on Tap. And in case you missed it, we’re taking a little break from the YouTube live stream for a month or so. But we’re going to still be doing this podcast, drinks and playing Half Empty, Half Full.
Meghan McCarty Carino: And there’s also a newsletter if you find you need even more Make Me Smart in your life. It comes out Friday super early, sign up at marketplace.org/newsletters and please keep sending us your your questions and your comments you can send them to email@example.com Or leave us a voice message at 508-UB-SMART.
Andy Uhler: I just keep thinking of five different letters and like different things that are gonna change in the letter.
Meghan McCarty Carino: Do you dream about them?
Andy Uhler: No, I really don’t you know what’s funny is that I spent the entire day sort of thinking about the Wordle because I was on a deadline today, so I couldn’t do it immediately.
Meghan McCarty Carino: Nice distraction. Make Me Smart is produced by Marissa Cabrera with help from Marque Green. Today’s episode was engineered by Charlton Thorp.
Andy Uhler: Bridget Bodnar is the senior producer and the director of on demand is D.T. Donna Tam. You’re off the hook for tomorrow.
Meghan McCarty Carino: Yeah, I was gonna make a shrub if I had the opportunity to share a drink and saving my shrub for such an opportunity.
Andy Uhler: For next time?
Meghan McCarty Carino: Yep.
Andy Uhler: Sure.
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