Peter Sagal On The Economy

Peter Sagal, host of NPR's Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me visits Talk of the Nation guest host Alison Stewart to take a humorous look at how to understand the economy.

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ALISON STEWART, host:

A few months ago, I was a panelist on NPR's quiz show WAIT WAIT…DON'T TELL ME!, and a funny thing happened.

(Soundbite of WAIT WAIT…DON'T TELL ME!)

CARL KASELL: So with 14 points, Alison Stewart is…

STEWART: It's my first time.

(Soundbite of cheering)

STEWART: The first time I've won.

Yeah, that's right. I won. Now, I didn't get Carl Kasell on my home answering machine, so I think that means WAIT WAIT still owes me a prize. So instead of me being on their show this week, I'm going to have WAIT WAIT…DON'T TELL ME! host Peter Sagal on my show. Well, this isn't really my show. I know that. Just for today it is, anyway.

Peter Sagal, host of WAIT WAIT…DON'T TELL ME!, welcome to TALK OF THE NATION.

PETER SAGAL: Oh, what a pleasure to be here. It's like you saved my life in a traditional society, and now you're responsible for me and I follow you around.

STEWART: Well, Peter, you're always the one asking me questions. So now that I have you here in my radio clutches…

SAGAL: Ah.

STEWART: …I'm going to turn the tables and ask you a few questions. Are you ready?

SAGAL: That noise, by the way, was the expressing of pleasure of being in your clutches. That was not alarm.

(Soundbite of laughter)

STEWART: Whose fault is the economy, anyway?

SAGAL: Yours.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SAGAL: The reason that our economy is in shambles is because people are listening to you on TALK OF THE NATION rather than doing productive work.

STEWART: That can't be true. There's got to be somebody else's face they can put on their dart board except for me.

SAGAL: Well, it is true, and I think this is absolutely unappreciated, that we need a scapegoat. People are saying, oh, they're just scapegoating X or Y or Z, but those scapegoats are good. I think that this is the change that we needed.

For the last eight years or so, we were governed through fear. Now, we're being governed through rage, and I think that's good. I think I'm looking forward - the next emotion, perhaps, will be governed through adolescent moping, and Congress won't come out of its bedroom because it's mad. That would be fine.

But now it's rage, and as everybody knows rage needs scapegoats. People don't remember this, but the origin of the term scapegoat is, back in biblical days, they used to actually have a goat - the scapegoat was an actual goat - and they would somehow - this is the ancient Hebrew tradition of which I am an inheritor, so I can speak upon this with authority - they used to pin, somehow in some symbolic way, the sins of the people on to the goat and send it out into the wilderness.

So what we're doing now, of course, this week - it will be somebody else next week - we're taking the AIG executives and doing the same thing to them. I think wilderness, in this case, is the less desirable parts of Long Island.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SAGAL: So they're banished from the Hamptons and sent to, say, Jericho, you know, which is biblical, so that it would work.

STEWART: Now, you said an AIG executive - AIG doesn't want to be known as AIG anymore. They want to be known as AIU Holdings. They actually went to the building and took down the AIG sign as if no one would notice…

SAGAL: Yes, it's true. They're trying to be something less hated and loathed. I believe they're changing their name to O.J. Simpson.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SAGAL: Because he has some sympathizers, I'm told.

STEWART: Right.

SAGAL: People are like, oh, you're not so bad. You know, I think that's - they can only look up.

STEWART: Other companies have tried this, didn't Philip Morris changed its name to something that sounds like altruistic or…

SAGAL: Yes - no, Altria.

STEWART: Altria.

SAGAL: In fact, it's impossible to tell now whether you're talking about a major multinational corporation or a star system from the Star Wars universe, you know? Is it Altria or Alderaan? It's hard to say. Which of you is part of your 401(k)? It could be either, and either could be blown up by the Death Star at any moment.

STEWART: The other thing that's been difficult about understanding this economic crisis…

SAGAL: Yes.

STEWART: …has been the language and the players and all the terminology. Can you help us wade through this?

SAGAL: I was thinking about that, and it is true. I mean, in fact, as has been explained to us, I think that sometimes the language of the financial crisis is intentionally dense. But the funny thing is they underestimate the power of the American people, particularly American males - and I'll be sexist here for a second - to master the most arcane trivia in language as long as it's about sports.

So what I think we need to do in order to make this, to sort of activate that great genius of the American - again - primarily male mind is to figure out a way to create statistics for financiers, so we could have fantasy financier leagues. And if you do that, all of a sudden, this stuff would become easy. You'd have guys in bars arguing about things like, you know, average loss during nine-hour workday, most overpriced art purchase per quarter. And as long as you can argue about it in bars, there's nothing that the American mind won't master.

STEWART: Peter Sagal, you won. Or I should say, we won by having you on TALK OF THE NATION.

SAGAL: Our show doesn't give anything to our winners, do you?

(Soundbite of laughter)

STEWART: I've hear rumors of a T-shirt.

SAGAL: Hey.

STEWART: I'll investigate.

SAGAL: Shoot it out of a cannon.

STEWART: I'll bring to Chicago next time I'm on a show - hint, hint.

SAGAL: Excellent. Thanks.

STEWART: Peter Sagal, host of WAIT WAIT…DON'T TELL ME!, thanks a lot.

SAGAL: Thank you, Alison.

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