The economy’s growing, but the pandemic’s still here
Jan 27, 2022
Episode 588

The economy’s growing, but the pandemic’s still here

Get ready for a shell check.

Apple announced it had a great quarter, and GDP grew last year, too. But these numbers don’t tell the whole story. Gross domestic product has its limitations, and Kai talks about what he looks for when he wants to know how our economy is doing. Plus, our shells are feeling a little hollow following a grim reminder of the pandemic’s impact heading into year three. So to end the show, we’ve got a Make Me Smile that will hopefully make you dance!

Here’s everything we talked about on the show today:

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Make Me Smart January 28, 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: I said I was technically no, but now I am. Hey, everybody I’m Kai Ryssdal. Welcome back to making smart making today make sense is what we do most of the time on this podcast.

Marielle Segarra: Mm hmm. And I’m Marielle Segarra. Thank you for joining us on this Hollowed Out Shell Thursday, we’re gonna do a little news fix and then Make Me sSmile. But before we do any of that, how’s your shell Kai?

Kai Ryssdal: You know, I’m actually okay. Which which my first news item as Bridget Bodnar, the senior producer, this podcast nudged me about right before we started recording. My first news item is a little bit of a downer, but there’s a broader context to it, which is why I picked this news item, but honestly, I’m kind of okay. I’m kind of okay. So, you know, we’ll see what happens by the end of the pod, but I’m alright. You?

Marielle Segarra: That’s good. Yeah, I’m okay. I mean, we were just talking before the show roll about the bomb cyclone headed to New York.

Kai Ryssdal: Yes, yes.

Marielle Segarra: Having just gotten back from LA like, I’m pretty bummed about this. But it just changes your life completely. If you can’t go outside. You know?

Kai Ryssdal: Totally. It is it is. You know, I watched the dogs this afternoon. It’s 72 degrees, everything’s fine. Everything good.

Marielle Segarra: Of course, things are good for you. Yeah.

Kai Ryssdal: But it get really cold at night, it gets down to like 43 degrees. So when I walk the dogs in the morning, I have to put on two sweatshirts. Alright, I’ll stop. I’ll stop. I’ll stop. Okay, so we’ll do a little news. And then we’ll do a Make Me Smile. My Make Me Smile, by the way is not is not a smile, smile. It’s more of a “huh!” That’s kind a wild thing. But anyway,  we’ll do that when we get there. A couple of news items. Number one, and this has been on on local news around here all day. A 15-month old, a 15-month old in Los Angeles County has died of the Coronavirus, the youngest Los Angeles County resident to die of this disease since the pandemic started. And look, I don’t want to get people down on this particular story. Right. It’s a huge tragedy. But that’s not why I mentioned it. I mentioned it because we’re still in a pandemic. We’re still in a pandemic, for crying out loud. And yes, I know, we’re moving toward endemic-ness of this thing. And yes, I know, if you’re vaxxed and boosted, things are really not so bad. But holy cow, there’s a huge slice of the population out there, including zero to fives, and elderlies  who are really, really vulnerable. And we just we have to remember that. And that’s, that’s what I wanted to just bring out is that  caution is still warranted. And I’m sorry there’s one more thing I want to say about this caution is still warranted. But I highly recommend to everybody. David Leonhardt on The Daily podcast from the New York Times with that host whose name I shall not mention. But David is among the smartest people I know. And he had a great episode yesterday, talking about risk, perceived risk versus our actions. And I highly recommend it to people, we’ll put it on the show page. It’s really good, half an hour of your time. I cannot recommend highly enough. Anyway. So yes, we’re in a pandemic. And yes, we got to look out for each other. That was my point on that. That was my point. You know?

Marielle Segarra: I mean, a couple things on this, like, yeah, I think that people have this impression that kids just aren’t really affected by COVID. And yes, they are less likely to get sick from it for sure. But that’s the kind of news that just knocks the wind out of you when you hear it. It’s it’s awful.

Kai Ryssdal: 15 months old. It’s unbelievable.

Marielle Segarra: Yeah. I was also going to ask that the podcast, The Daily episode, did David talk about like, how? I’m not sure if it was him or not who was talking about how your political leaning can affect how your COVID

Kai Ryssdal: Yep, yeah, yep. Yep.

Marielle Segarra: Yeah. Like liberals take it too seriously. And people who are conservative don’t take it seriously enough, often despite their age and the relative risk?

Kai Ryssdal: Yeah. Yeah, it’s really good. And David is super smart. And he was a math major, I think in college, like applied mathematics. So he became this great economist journalist. Now he’s doing a bunch of data analysis for the times, it’s really, really interesting, can’t recommend it highly enough. Okay, moving on, got to give a nod to gross domestic product growth, which was super, super high on an annualized basis in the fourth quarter 6.9%, the highest since Ronald Reagan was in the White House, yada, yada, blah, blah, blah, 5.7% for the year 2021, the economy grew, which is great, even in the face of all the headwinds with Omicron and inflation and all that jazz. It’s not going to keep up. But I think everybody needs to know that this economy fundamentally, even with inflation, and even with consumers not feeling necessarily great about it all the time. The economy is pretty strong at the headline level, at the headline level, right? We’re all paying more for gas. We’re all better more for food. I totally understand that. And let’s now get into the Fed and inflation. But the nuts and bolts, the economic fundamentals, as politicians like to say, are pretty strong. And I just I think it’s worth pointing that out, you know?

Marielle Segarra: Can I ask you, when you look at you, when you look at economic indicators, like because there are a bunch you could look at to try to figure out how healthy the economy is, where does GDP rank for you?

Kai Ryssdal: Oh, you know, that’s so funny. Early in my career, let me tell you kids, when I was newer, and when I was newer at marketplace, I was like, oh my god GDP that’s like, that’s the biggest indicator we can possibly follow. But in the year since, really, that has that has attenuated quite a bit. And GDP is handy, but it’s not the be all and end all I look at things like jobs, and job openings, and also wages. And here’s why I discount GDP just a little bit. Number one, countries can put into their gross domestic products calculation, anything they want. We did a series of live road shows about – god, eight years ago now. And Paddy Hirsch, used to be an editor and Marketplace and has since gone to I think he’s like The Indicator on Planet Money, whatever, as is all the rest of Marketplace who was left here, by the way, but that’s a whole different thing. That’s a whole different podcast. He did a great story for us on stage, talking about exactly that. Countries can put into gross domestic productanything they want. So like the Netherlands, prostitution, right. Cuz it’s a key part of their economy. If you’ve been to Amsterdam, you know about it, like so. It’s not as, as a grade A, top of the charts indicator, as you might think. That’s my sense.

Marielle Segarra: Yeah. Oh, that’s interesting. So it’s not like, directly comparable country to country. Yeah, interesting. Okay.

Kai Ryssdal: Yeah. So there’s that. Okay, last super quick item, I just want to point out that Apple who, which is, was for a brief shining moment, a $3 trillion company in this economy a number of weeks ago, reported earnings. They have $206 billion in cash, $206 billion in cash sitting in a bank account. And I just want to point that out. It’s important for people to understand the degree to which corporate America is really doing just fine. Thank you very much.

Marielle Segarra: That cash pile has been growing and growing for years, right?

Kai Ryssdal: Yeah, yeah. Yeah, it’s actually so the 206 billion is a little smaller than it was in the before times. But still, it’s just it’s almost a quarter trillion dollars. Come on man!

Marielle Segarra: Yeah, I wonder what they’re gonna do with it?

Kai Ryssdal: I don’t know. I don’t know.

Marielle Segarra: Hmm. Okay. Well, I have one big news item. And this is basically I’m going to take on kind of a beast of a news story here. The Russia-Ukraine conflict, which is – we’ve been talking about. Basically, Europe, as you mentioned, the other day, especially Germany relies on natural gas from Russia. And if the conflict escalates between Russia and the West, and especially if the US and European allies put, you know, embargoes on Russia, the fear is that Russia might cut off exports of natural gas, Russia says it’s not going to do that. But Europe is now you know, worried about that. So the US has been trying to secure alternative sources of natural gas for European countries, from other places, but those other places have agreements, basically, with Asia and other countries. So it’s really hard to reroute any of this. And right now, the US is sending some tankers to the EU of natural gas, but it’s not anywhere close to what they would need to cover. Yeah. So I think that’s interesting. And the fact that it could affect the measures that European countries are willing to take against Russia. It just reminded me that wars are often fought over resources and money. And even if that’s not the initial spark for a conflict, it can be a huge factor in whether a country takes sides or in how it responds to another country’s aggressions.

Kai Ryssdal: Oh, yeah. Yeah, it’s just –

Marielle Segarra: Like at the – it’s under, laying underneath even wars that we talk about. This isn’t a war yet. If it’s ever going to become that but economics is the layer underneath all conflicts, I think.

Kai Ryssdal: Yep. Totally agree. I could not have said it better myself. Could not have said it better myself. Totally agree.

Marielle Segarra: All right. Well, I’m glad that I got that right. I was like, this isn’t my normal area of expertise. This is more you but …

Kai Ryssdal: What I love is that the other day you were pointing out how our interests are completely different and then I got into the rundown today and I’m like, “Oh, look what you’re doing there, I understand this.”

Marielle Segarra: A little bit. Yeah, I studied IR in college. So flex my muscles there. Okay.

Kai Ryssdal: Totally cool. All right. Well, Carlos hit it will ya? Alright, so I am a space geek, as I think everybody knows, I’ve confessed that many a time. We’ve talked about James Webb Space Telescope. Interesting little tidbit that I saw this is technically yesterday, but I wasn’t on the pod yesterday. I just think it’s so interesting that a SpaceX rocket, one of its upper stages of a Falcon 9 that was launched seven years ago, is going to crash into the moon on March 4, at approximately 7:25 am Eastern time. I mean, orbital dynamics is cray cray. I just think it’s kind of wild that this Falcon 9 rocket that’s been up there just bippin’ around for seven years, is finally going to hit the moon. Okay.

Marielle Segarra: Not on purpose, right?

Kai Ryssdal: No, not on purpose. II’s been an irregular orbit. It’s been in an irregular orbit for seven years. And Kimberly Adams, the other space geek at Marketplace now that Molly’s gone, and I were slacking about this the other day, and I was like, how does this even happen? And she said, “Well, I think it’s pretty easy to get into an irregular orbit. Things go crazy. And then seven years later, you hit the moon eventually.” And I’m like, okay fine.

Marielle Segarra: Yeah. Okay, so this is really outside of my realm. So question, what is the rocket doing up there anyway? What is it doing?

Kai Ryssdal: Well, I’m sure it launched, my guess would be I don’t know this, but my guess would be it launched the cargo capsule up to the International Space Station. And for whatever reason this was before they were reusing or what have you. And it wound up in this irregular orbit around the Earth, right. So it was going low at one point and then the, you know, the apogee and perigee were hitting extremes. And then finally it got completely out of whack and got captured, I imagin by the moon’s gravitational force, and now it’s been pulled in.

Marielle Segarra: Cool. Well, maybe before our next show, I will try to brush up on orbital dynamics and then frame one as a news fix. Um, kkay. Well, mine is actually just a song. So like, I think last time, we did a Hollowed Out Shell Thursday, I told you how, like, sometimes, one of the tools in my toolbox is like naming things I’m grateful for if I’m hollowed out. And another one is just like putting on a song and dancing around in my apartment. And

Kai Ryssdal: Wow, alright.

Marielle Segarra: I do it like, actually pretty frequently. So this one I was listening to today is Jon Batiste “Freedom.” And have you heard it? It’s so good.

Kai Ryssdal: Yes I have.

Marielle Segarra: I don’t know if you’ve seen the music video, but it’s like, he’s in this pink shiny suit, and some other like really great outfits, and the marching band is behind them. They’re in New Orleans. And the minute you put it on, it’s just like, lifts your mood. And I was a little bit of like, when I started dancing to it today. I wasn’t really feeling in a good mood. I was just going through the motions like you’re moving your body but you’re not like I’m not happy. But he’s just has such style. And the song is so great that like as it goes on. It really did make me smile. So hopefully other people will get that too.

Kai Ryssdal: That’s super cool. We will of course put it on the show page. That’s awesome. That’s great. That’s a great one. Great, great, great. All right, we’re gonna go out on that note. See what I did there, note. Kimberly Adams and Justin Ho are back tomorrow for Economics on Tap, which is a Friday. We are still, by the way, not doing the YouTube live stream. We got some things going on. But I imagine they’re going to do beverages and our favorite game Half Full Half Empty. If you’ve got cocktail suggestions. Kimberly is your woman for that she’s always up because she’s got a closet full of half used weird liquors. So her up there.

Marielle Segarra: And consider please in the meantime, signing up for the Make Me Smart newsletter. It will make you smart on a whole bunch of topics every week, you can sign up at and also keep sending us your questions and comments to Or leave us a voice message at maybe you know by now 508-UB-SMART.

Kai Ryssdal:  Make Me Smart is produced by Marissa Cabrera with help from Marque Green. Today’s episode was engineered, as you heard by Juan Carlos Torrado.

Marielle Segarra: Bridget Bodnar is the senior producer and the Director of On Demand is Donna Tam.

Kai Ryssdal: Donna, Donna, Donna.

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The team

Marissa Cabrera Producer
Bridget Bodnar Senior producer
Tony Wagner Digital Producer
Marque Greene Associate Producer