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The snowball effect of high interest rates on the national debt
Feb 8, 2024
Episode 1094

The snowball effect of high interest rates on the national debt

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Plus, the cost of Super Bowl airtime.

The Congressional Budget Office projects that the national deficit will grow by a trillion dollars in the next 10 years. Soaring interest payments on the national debt are one reason why. We’ll explain why that’s a problem for the United States’ fiscal future. And, was the Senate’s high-profile hearing with a spread of Big Tech CEOs all for show? Plus, Disney’s new one-stop-shop sports streaming venture and what Sweethearts’ clever rebrand says about today’s dismal dating culture.

Here’s everything we talked about today:

Join us tomorrow for Economics on Tap! The YouTube livestream starts at 3:30 p.m. Pacific time, 6:30 p.m. Eastern. We’ll have news, drinks, a game and more.

Make Me Smart February 8, 2024 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 

Hey everybody, I’m Kai Ryssdal. Welcome back to Make Me Smart, where we make today make sense.

Kimberly Adams 

I’m Kimberly Adams. Thank you everyone for joining us on this Thursday, February the eighth. I’m chuckling because if I had read the script, I would have called myself Kai Ryssdal. But I am not Kai Ryssdal. I’m Kimberly.

Kai Ryssdal 

You are, indeed, Kimberly Adams. It is Thursday. It’s the audio day. Listen back to some parts of some of the big stories of the week, and we will discuss briefly. So, let’s get the first one.

Phillip Swagel

“So the projections we released today, the deficit grows from $1.6 trillion in 2024 to $2.6 trillion in 2034. Measured in relation to the economic output, deficits during that period are about 50% larger than their historical average over the past 50 years.”

Kai Ryssdal 

That is the head of the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. His name is Phil Swagel. They came out yesterday, I guess Wednesday, with their budget and economic outlook for the next 10 years. It’s super interesting. There’s a lot in there. The thing that Swagel is talking about, obviously, the debt and deficit. The problem with the debt and deficit is, what’s called debt service, right? We borrow bajillions of dollars, and with interest rates where they are, think about the tenure that I talked about on the show every day, right? It’s like 4% ish right now, as opposed to half a percent about two, three years ago. Not only are you paying more for your mortgages and your car loans, but the government is paying more to borrow money to fund all the things that the government does. And that’s a challenge and a problem with a debt of $34 trillion, and a deficit that is getting bigger every single year.

Kimberly Adams 

Two things. I was so struck by how cheerful he was delivering that message. So, it was a little disorienting. He’s just like, “and we’re going to be so much more debt.” And I am sure it’s just because you know, somebody who’s spent a lot of time crunching the numbers, it’s nerve racking to be in front of that many people and so. But anyway. But, you know, we say it’s a problem. We talk about it like it’s a problem. But every time we have these discussions about the debt and the cost to service the debt and things like that, someone will inevitably say on whichever social media platform, “Yes, but Americans who own government bonds, or Americans who are invested in retirement accounts or own government bonds are the ones getting that money. They’re the ones getting the interest that the government is paying, therefore, it’s funneled back into the economy. And so, it’s not actually that bad.” What do you think of that?

Kai Ryssdal 

I think to some degree, that’s certainly true. I would also remind all those who say that, that something like $1.3 trillion dollars’ worth of American debt is owned by the government of Japan. Something like $800 billion worth is owned by the government of China. So, while there is some degree of return to American taxpayers, in addition to the services they get for borrowing that money, like roads and bridges and all of those things, not small parts of it, go to foreign nations, and also, by the way, corporate America.

Kimberly Adams 

That too. Okay. Thank you. Onto the next, if you remember last week’s senate hearing with those big tech CEOs there. This is a clip from Senator Amy Klobuchar, who was speaking about that hearing and other similar hearings with Marketplace Tech host Lily Jamali, and Lily was asking why these hearings are actually important, especially when we don’t often see outcomes or results from them. Here’s what Klobuchar had to say.

Amy Klobuchar

“They have stopped every single measure from going through. So if there’s a crack in the armor, and a few of the companies support one bill, that actually helps me to get it done if I get them on the record, because then that puts pressure on the other companies. Actually, the fact that we have arrived on a grouping of bills on kids’ that we believe together will work that makes a difference.”

Kimberly Adams 

In last week’s hearing, the CEO of Discord said he’d support the SHIELD Act, which is an online child safety bill that Klobuchar co-sponsored. Klobuchar also said that that kind of support can go a long way when it comes to getting other members of Congress to push a bill forward. She also talked about how states are starting to pass online child safety laws, which puts pressure on the federal government to follow suit. But one point in that interview, which I encourage folks to go back and listen to, that I thought was interesting, was that Klobuchar was saying getting these tech CEOs on the record in a congressional hearing can often provide fodder for other agencies to take action. So, if the Department of Justice wants to do something to, you know, put some pressure on these tech companies, they can go to what they said in congressional testimony on the record, you know, to use that as evidence. And it’s sort of like, you know, discovery in a trial in some ways, which I thought was pretty interesting.

Kai Ryssdal 

So, I was listening to Tech this morning, live as it were, as I do every morning at 4:47. I’m sitting there with my cup of coffee, and I damn near spit it out all over myself when Klobuchar said, “Oh, yes, we’d love to, but the companies are against it, and they have stopped every single one.” Oh no, Senator Klobuchar. If only I was an elected representative of one of the 50 states of this union, and I had some freaking power. Come on, man. You cannot possibly blame the companies for not doing anything legislatively. I understand lobbying. I understand all of that. But leadership, I’m sorry. I’m going to rant, and I don’t mean to. Leadership means making hard decisions. And if Mark Zuckerberg says, “On the one hand, yes, please regulate us,” which he does. But in closed doors, any of them say, “Oh no, we can’t have this.” Stop. Just freakin stop.

Kimberly Adams 

Well, I don’t understand. What else do you think Klobuchar specifically should be doing?

Kai Ryssdal 

Well, look, let’s write a bill. Let’s rally the public. Let’s actually have hearings of substance instead of show, which is what this hearing was, right? There was a whole lot of theatrics, and Lily did actually make that point. And let’s move a bill and do the lobbying and do the actual hard legislative work. I understand that there are many members of Congress, specifically in the Republican Party, but also some in the Democratic Party, who are not interested in visiting this issue or many other issues. But that doesn’t mean you can’t try. But you can’t go out there and say, “Oh no, they stopped us at every turn.”

Kimberly Adams 

I don’t know. I think I’m inclined to believe some of it. Because I talked to Klobuchar about almost this exact issue several years ago, when I was hosting Tech. And I went to her office, and she had written legislation. She’d put it on the floor. She was working on gaining allies and raising public attention to it, but there were other priorities. And, you know, not to say that she’s a saint or anything like that. But you know, there are many other members of Congress. And even in this interview with Lily, she was saying that there are other priorities she knows that the Senate is going to look at first, namely, potentially trying to get whatever it remains of this border supplemental through the budget or appropriations, I should say, that needs to get dealt with in the next month or so. And then, maybe a version of this can get through. And I guess, I feel like we are in a situation where you can as an individual member, want and hope as much as you want and write your legislation, but it’s particularly in such a divided Congress with such narrow majorities. You have limited power, even if you are a powerful member within Congress, which she is, but what else can be done in this current environment? And I don’t know that there’s a whole lot more to do, but maybe I’ve gotten too deep in Washington.

Kai Ryssdal 

Look, I think current environment is the operative phrase and what you just said, and I grant your major points. Just tendentially, and I don’t want to drag this out too long, because we got things to do. Does it not amaze you that Congress cannot seemingly do two things at once? It’s like we can only deal with the border thing. And then we can only deal with XYZ and then we can only deal with PDQ. You know what I mean?

Kimberly Adams 

Can’t versus won’t?

Kai Ryssdal

Well, yeah.

Kimberly Adams

They won’t.

Kai Ryssdal

Which becomes a convenient crutch.

Kimberly Adams

And I wish it amazed me, but I’ve started to move over to your dark side of cynicism in that regard. So.

Kai Ryssdal 

Well earned. Well earned, cynicism. Alright, let’s go. Next one.

Bob Iger

“We’ve watched for years the decline of the basically, the linear bundle on cable and satellite, and we’ve been preparing for a world where that business is not as strong as it used to be. Launching Disney Plus as an example, that the investments we’ve made in content. The Fox acquisition, the acquisition, what that did in terms of our ownership of Hulu. All of these things are prepared for us to pivot as well as the world changes as the world is disrupted. And by the way, I’d rather be a disrupter than to be disrupted.”

Kai Ryssdal 

Bob Iger, the past and present CEO of The Walt Disney Corporation talking about this new deal that broke this week where Disney, Warner Brothers, and Fox are going to come up with a new joint streaming platform. They’re each going to own a third of it. The hope of course, to make that platform the sort of one-stop-shop for live sports, which is one of the things that really actually draws new subscribers and viewers. Super, super interesting to see if this is going to work. I saw a price tag on this thing of $50 a month. That is, you know, based on sources but holy cannoli. I’m not paying 50 bucks a month just to watch freakin football. You kidding me? Anyway.

Kimberly Adams 

That was what I thought was most interesting about it, was that they made this big announcement without saying how much it was. It’s almost as if they’re sort of testing the waters to see how people react to different suggestions of prices before they land it because that’s safer than having to backtrack from mispricing it on the front end, which I thought was rather clever.

Kai Ryssdal 

I saw this morning; I think it was in the Wall Street Journal that even the sports leagues themselves didn’t know this was coming until the announcements dropped. So clearly, there’s more negotiating that’s going to have to happen on rights and all that jazz.

Kimberly Adams 

Later in that same interview, they also dropped the news about Disney buying a stake in Epic Games. Which I thought was in many ways even more interesting, because just the power of gaming, and that platform as a revenue generator moving forward, I think cannot be undersold, which is why our friends over at Marketplace Morning Report have been spending a lot of time covering that as well. So super fascinating. Okay, let’s hear the next one.

Dara Khosrowshahi

“I’m not going to comment on the cost because it would alarm me too much, but we have some great stars in there. We’ve got David Schwimmer and Jennifer Aniston coming together, and then I’m a huge soccer fan, so we’ve got the Beckhams as stars as well.

Kai Ryssdal

Oh, for crying out loud.

Kimberly Adams 

I love, “I’m a huge soccer fan, so we have the Beckhams,” even though only half of that couple play soccer but whatevs. Anyway, that was CEO of Uber Dara Khosrowshahi. I always struggle with that. On CNBC, talking about the cost of running Super Bowl commercials, and he was talking about the cost of airtime during around the big game, and that it was actually greater than the cost of producing the commercials, which was also very high of estimates that CNN is reporting for a 30-second ad ranges from $6.5 million to $7 million, just for those 30-second ads. And on a side note here, Uber actually posted an annual profit for the very first time since becoming a public company in 2019. Uber is so interesting to me, because early in the years of Uber, I heard all these narratives about Uber was only paying drivers to cover themselves until they could do, you know, autonomous vehicles. And that was the way that the service was actually going to make money. But that got pushed further and further out. And now, Uber now has struggled to turn a profit and has not been able to and it has all these litigation around it and legal challenges for how it treats its drivers and things like that, but nevertheless has somehow been able to turn a profit which I think is fascinating.

Kai Ryssdal 

$7 million for 30 seconds. That’s crazy cakes, people. Crazy cakes. All right let’s go. Last one. Quickie.

Sweethearts

At Sweethearts, we’ve always thought of these misprinted candies as rejects. Turns out, they were just ahead of their time. Introducing Sweethearts Situationships. The perfect Valentine’s gift for 2024. We packaged only our blurriest, vaguest, most indecipherable candies to be perfect for your undefined relationships.

Kai Ryssdal 

What could possibly go wrong? Sorry, sorry. Sorry.

Kimberly Adams 

The way I cracked up when I saw this because I saw it on, I don’t know Instagram, TikTok, something and someone was, you know, referencing it. And I’m like, this has to be an AI deep fake. No way. And it is not. It is a real thing where Sweethearts has found a way to take candies that they may have had to throw away in the past and put them in a box. And they have sold out multiple times at this point. Every time they do a new drop they sell out. And I think it is just so on brand for where we are in dating culture in 2024. All the people in situationships. Also, it’s just hilarious. And what a clever bit of, you know, I’m imagining their ESG report at the end of the year when they can talk about how they reduced their waste by doing this quite frankly amazing marketing campaign to use what would have formerly been thrown away. It’s a very funny ad. It’s a very funny concept. I was entertained, and it made me chuckle.

Kai Ryssdal 

Undefined relationships. I will say and let me just speak for all the old married people out there, it must be brutal dating today. Brutal. Brutal.

Kimberly Adams 

Oh, it’s unspeakable, Kai.

Kai Ryssdal 

Yeah, all right. We’re going to go. You could tell us about your relationship status if you want. You could also tell us what Super Bowl ads you may or may not be watching, or what do you think about Disney Plus or anything you hear on this podcast today or in the past or what you might like to hear in the future, makemesmart@marketplace.org, 508-U-B-Smart.

Kimberly Adams 

Yes, that is it for today. Join us tomorrow for Economics on Tap. The YouTube livestream starts at 6:30 Eastern, 3:30 Pacific. Hope to see you there.

Kai Ryssdal 

Oh man, I just, I can’t. I was bad at dating when I was actually dating. Make Me Smart is produced by Courtney Bergsieker. Audio engineering today by Drew Jostad Ellen Rolfes writes our newsletter. Thalia Menchaca is our intern.

Kimberly Adams 

Marissa Cabrera is our senior producer. Bridget Bodnar is the director of podcasts, and Francesca Levy is the Executive Director of Digital. Yeah, it’s a different world than it was.

Kai Ryssdal

Yeah, hard pass. Hard freakin pass.

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