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October 15, 2012

Chartcast series The Numbers Game by Roberts

The Numbers Game with Russ Roberts -- The Economic Recovery (Part 2)
The Numbers Game with Russ Roberts -- The Economic Recovery (Part 2)
Personal savings as a percentage of disposable income
Image credit: John Taylor
Personal savings as a percentage of disposable income. (Source BEA NIPA Table 2 Line 36.)
S&P/Case-Shiller Home Prices Indices
Image credit: John Taylor
S&P/Case-Shiller Home Prices Indices

The challenge facing economists broadcasting podcasts is how to keep their audience’s attention and to get the audience to focus on details as they throw around numbers and describe long run trends in the economy. Hoover Institution research fellow Russell Roberts has developed an innovative approach to this challenge by creating chartcasts.

A combination of charts, tables, graphics, cartoons, brief written descriptions, and the spoken word, chartcasts are part of the menu of outreach vehicles Roberts is using to simplify complex economic concepts and analyses. The first two installments to the Numbers Game (the series Roberts distributes on the Hoover Institution YouTube Channel) feature John B. Taylor, the George P. Shultz Senior Fellow in Economics at Hoover and the Mary and Robert Raymond Professor of Economics at Stanford.

In the second episode, released on October 15, Taylor and Roberts discuss possible explanations for the sluggish recovery. By historical standards, the current recovery from the recession that began in 2007 has been disappointing. Is it the ongoing slump in construction employment, the effect of housing prices on saving and spending decisions by households, or the after effects of the financial crisis? Taylor rejects this reasoning and argues instead that the sluggish recovery can be explained by poor economic policy decisions made by the Bush and the Obama administrations.

The current release builds on the first episode, which also addresses the recalcitrant economic recovery. Taylor explains that GDP has not returned to trend, that the percent of the population that is working is flat rather than rising, and that growth rates are below their usual levels after such a deep slump.

Both award-winning teachers—Taylor at Stanford and Roberts at George Mason University—they are quick to embrace new techniques, such as chartcasts, that will make economics more easily understandable and accessible. Short, each no longer than thirteen minutes, the chartcasts take the viewers though a whirlwind of historical facts and economic issues, among them, recession statistics, economic indices, and government regulations. The visual aids complement and enhance the verbal back-and-forth between Taylor and Roberts and create an online learning experience that lures the viewer to the subject in a way that podcasts cannot.

Roberts has written three novels that integrate economic principles into their storylines; he writes an influential economics blog Café Hayek; and he engages a wide range of personalities on his weekly podcast EconTalk. In another innovative approach, Roberts produced two rap videos on John Maynard Keynes and Nobel laureate economist Friedrich von Hayek that have had more than six million views on YouTube. Click here to see the Keynes and Hayek video “Fear the Boom and Bust.” Click here to watch “Fight of the Century: Keynes and Hayek Round Two.” Click here to view Hoover fellow Russell Roberts discussing his new online project, The Numbers Game,” with Reason TV’s Nick Gillespie.

Taylor chairs the Hoover Institution Working Group on Economic Policy and is director of Stanford’s Introductory Economics Center. He has much government experience, most recently from 2001 to 2005, when he served as undersecretary of the Treasury for international affairs where he was responsible for currency markets, international development, oversight of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, and for coordinating policy with the G-7 and G-20. At Stanford he was awarded the George P. Shultz Distinguished Public Service Award as well as the Hoagland Prize and the Rhodes Prize for excellence in undergraduate teaching.