Shaping The Economic Future: 4 Big Ideas

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Guest host Linda Wertheimer recaps the favorite "big ideas" of four high-profile economists, who raise questions about predicting crises, solving them and scanning brains for decision-making functions.


Over the last month, WEEKEND EDITION has been talking to top economists about jobs, growth, debt and taxes. But we also ask them a broader question: What is the one big idea in economics that's really caught your attention lately?

NOURIEL ROUBINI: Ideally, I would like the economists to become boring again.

WERTHEIMER: Imagine wishing for boredom. Nouriel Roubini, Dr. Doom as he's known, told us that economists need to come up with new ways to predict market crashes, because the financial world is just too exciting these days.

Russ Roberts was also more worried about the next big disaster than the next big thing. He says one thing he has learned from this crisis, no more bailouts.

RUSS ROBERTS: It's been justified on economics grounds. I think those grounds are weak. It's not good for democracy to bail out large banks and to insulate them from risk. That's their job, taking risk.

WERTHEIMER: We also talked with Christina Romer, who helped engineer bailouts when she was an economic adviser to President Obama. Romer was most interested in using economics to help the poor.

CHRISTINA ROMER: The area of economics that I have been finding the most exciting in the last few years is development economics; trying to figure out how to help countries grow faster, how to help them raise standards of living as rapidly as possible.

WERTHEIMER: Greg Mankiw, who served as chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers under President George W. Bush, offered a new idea about how economists gather information. He's interested in studying the brain itself, how that might help explain why we buy certain things and not others, or how we choose investments.

GREG MANKIW: I think it's really very exciting just to see some other social sciences and even natural sciences influence economic research. And some people are now doing work using brain scans as people are making economic decisions.

WERTHEIMER: From the top, we've heard from Nouriel Roubini, Russ Roberts, Christina Romer and Greg Mankiw going last, telling us what's next in economics.


WERTHEIMER: You're listening to NPR News.

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