CARDIFF GARCIA, HOST:
Congratulations to you, the class of 2018, from us and all the other generations that came before you. You know, the generations responsible for melting ice glaciers, antibiotic-resistant bacteria and rising income inequality.
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STACEY VANEK SMITH, HOST:
That's right. The people who came before you wrecked the place, and now you have to listen to our soaring commencement speeches telling you how to fix it.
GARCIA: You're welcome, by the way. Yeah.
VANEK SMITH: (Laughter) Sorry.
GARCIA: Commencement speeches are of course an old and a proud tradition. Some pseudo-celebrity meanders his or her way through a cliche-riddled monologue, drops that Teddy Roosevelt quote about being in the arena...
VANEK SMITH: That is a great quote.
GARCIA: It's all right.
VANEK SMITH: It's a great quote.
GARCIA: ...(Laughter) And then tries to hold the attention of an audience that's impatient and, if we're being honest, probably a little hungover.
VANEK SMITH: Probably?
VANEK SMITH: That will absolutely not happen here on THE INDICATOR, where every day we tell you a short story about the economy. I am Stacey Vanek Smith.
GARCIA: And I'm Cardiff Garcia. And sadly, no college actually invited Stacey and me to give a commencement speech.
VANEK SMITH: Just an indication of how - of the bleak state of the world right now (laughter).
GARCIA: But we do have a podcast. And one thing a podcast is good for is giving an unsolicited commencement speech.
VANEK SMITH: True.
GARCIA: A speech that includes only surprising and counterintuitive advice based on economic and other indicators. That is coming up.
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VANEK SMITH: As we look out over the sea of indebted faces, Cardiff and I each have a couple pieces of advice, pearls of wisdom for this year's graduates.
GARCIA: Without which you will never survive the obstacle course that is the adult world.
VANEK SMITH: Right. It's a crazy world out there. It's - you're like a baby turtle. Your chances of survival - very slim. Very slim. You should take this advice. My first advice is this - simply to be appreciative of where you are. So if you've been in college for the last four years, it may feel like everybody's in college, that most people go to college.
But that's not true. Still only one third of American adults older than 24 have a college degree. And this might seem really surprising, but it is true. Not only that but having a college degree is still a really valuable thing in spite of what you might hear.
How much more money you make because of your college degree is really substantial. Americans in their prime working years with an undergraduate degree make 68 percent more on average than people who only have high school diplomas. So obviously, that doesn't mean that you can't make money without a college degree. I mean, there are - you know, the Zuckerbergs of the world seem to be doing OK without them.
VANEK SMITH: But it does mean that college graduates are in a really privileged position right now because most people do not have a college degree.
GARCIA: The second bit of advice - how much money you make actually does matter quite a bit for how satisfied you'll be with your life. It is certainly not - I know. I know. It's not what you heard as a kid. And it is...
VANEK SMITH: Scrooge Garcia.
GARCIA: It is certainly not the only thing that matters. But it does have at least one big effect that you should know about. And this effect was discovered in a big study by the psychologist Danny Kahneman and the economist Angus Deaton - two of my favorite scholars, by the way.
VANEK SMITH: Scrooges all.
GARCIA: Yes. And what they found was that the absence of money makes other bad things in life harder to deal with, harder to process emotionally. So things like bad health or loneliness or getting divorced - money won't necessarily solve these problems, but not having money makes their effects on your life much worse.
VANEK SMITH: So sell your soul, kids. Is this what you're saying?
GARCIA: Don't sell your soul.
VANEK SMITH: I mean...
GARCIA: You don't have to - I'm just...
VANEK SMITH: Just make sure you get a good price?
GARCIA: Just something to keep in mind. Yeah.
VANEK SMITH: Life advice from Cardiff Garcia, ladies and gentlemen. OK. So third piece of advice - don't worry about looking stupid or feeling embarrassed. There's plenty of evidence from psychological studies that people just are judging you way less harshly than you think. But also, even when they are judging you, thinking independently will help you avoid the dreaded groupthink, which means you will also avoid things like falling under the spell of fake experts. And it also might help you spot a new trend while other people are still rolling their eyes.
So there's this story of Michael Burry, who was profiled in the book "The Big Short," which was then made into a movie. And Burry was this genius hedge fund manager who discovered all the ways that the housing market was connected to the financial sector. He was a very eccentric guy. And he predicted that the real estate bubble would burst.
And you can hear in this clip from "The Big Short" movie that nobody believed him, not even the people who had invested money in his hedge fund.
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE BIG SHORT")
CHRISTIAN BALE: (As Michael Burry) Average take home pay is flat, but home prices are soaring. That means the homes are debt, not assets.
WAYNE PERE: (As Martin Blaine) So Mike Burry of San Jose, a guy who gets his hair cut at Supercuts and doesn't wear shoes, knows more than Alan Greenspan and Hank Paulson?
BALE: (As Michael Burry) Dr. Mike Burry - yes, he does.
VANEK SMITH: Burry held firm, and his predictions for how devastating the crash would be turned out to be right.
GARCIA: Fourth and last - when picking a job, do not underestimate the importance of either your commute or the kind of office space you'll be working in. Too many people ignore these things. But actually, the average American spends about 50 minutes commuting per day. And by now we have tons of research showing that people with longer commutes spend less time exercising, less time sleeping. They're less happy, and they're more likely to be overweight and have high blood pressure.
VANEK SMITH: Hey, I commute an hour and a half every day.
GARCIA: It's not everybody.
VANEK SMITH: What? I like my commute. I get a lot done on my commute.
GARCIA: And as for your office space, beware the open-plan office if you can. But I got to say, they are everywhere. So if you have to work in one, at least try to find a place where you can escape to concentrate.
VANEK SMITH: Or noise-canceling headphones.
GARCIA: Yeah, those help a little bit.
VANEK SMITH: Yeah.
GARCIA: Because we also know that open-plan offices make people less productive. They make you like your colleagues less. They make you less happy at your job. They make you more likely to get sick at your job. And they even make you more paranoid.
VANEK SMITH: More paranoid of what?
GARCIA: Your conversations are more paranoid. Like, you're worried...
VANEK SMITH: Oh.
GARCIA: ...That somebody's listening all the time.
VANEK SMITH: Because they are.
GARCIA: Because they can. Right.
VANEK SMITH: I can tell you so much stuff about the people who sit in the cubicles around me.
GARCIA: That's right. And that's it, by the way. That is our advice for the young grad, all of it steeped in economics and social science research.
VANEK SMITH: Wait. Wait, Cardiff. I have one final piece of advice.
GARCIA: OK. Yeah, I should say that Stacey has this bonus advice that she did not share with me because she thinks I might disagree with her. Now I'm dying to find out...
VANEK SMITH: You'll hate it probably.
GARCIA: I'm dying to find out what it is.
VANEK SMITH: My final piece of advice is this - never believe the data.
GARCIA: Never believe the data.
VANEK SMITH: Never believe the data.
GARCIA: Throw out everything you heard before.
VANEK SMITH: Well, here's my backup for this - the presidential election.
VANEK SMITH: There was all this data collected about people from all over the country. The smartest minds in predictive data - nobody saw this coming. And that is because data tells you a story, but it does not tell you the whole story. And you have to be very careful. I feel like data and bible quotes are - can be used to justify literally anything. And in my - whatever - 15 years of economics reporting, I have seen all the data justify things on both sides of every fence. And so my final advice is just be careful of the data you believe.
GARCIA: I love it, actually.
VANEK SMITH: Don't believe it - oh, you do? Oh, thank - well, I...
GARCIA: I do. And I think the correlate to that...
VANEK SMITH: You're a data person, and I thought...
GARCIA: I am a data person. But the correlate to that is just to be open-minded, you know?
VANEK SMITH: Yeah, be open-minded.
GARCIA: Be open to other stories that data might tell you. And I, too, have a bit of bonus advice...
VANEK SMITH: Oh, yes.
GARCIA: ...That I did not share with you before.
VANEK SMITH: OK. Excellent. Let's hear it.
GARCIA: It's actually kind of related to yours...
VANEK SMITH: OK.
GARCIA: ...Because this is harder to back up with data. But it seems that especially for college grads and white-collar work that the world of work has become more stimulating, more interesting, more personality-based and therefore more easy to really dive deeply into. And I think this is on the one hand great, something to be embraced, something we should all love and appreciate...
VANEK SMITH: Our work is more fulfilling.
GARCIA: ...About the modern world. On the other hand, I think we should also keep in mind that too much of even a good thing can become a bad thing.
VANEK SMITH: Don't be a workaholic?
VANEK SMITH: Yeah.
GARCIA: So it's great if you love your work, but also make time for other things. Make time for your friends and for your family and for having a drink in the afternoon and for going to ballgames and for falling in and out of love and seeing, you know, old pals and old, you know, acquaintances. So, yeah, I think that's really important.
VANEK SMITH: That's lovely advice.
VANEK SMITH: I like that.
GARCIA: Take it from someone who didn't always follow it (laughter).
VANEK SMITH: Well, yeah, ditto. Ditto.
GARCIA: Maybe the best advice is based on regret. Anyways, we hope you loved our commencement speech. And if you want to check us, you can go to npr.org/money to see all of the social science research that we used in coming up with this advice. You'll find links...
VANEK SMITH: And ignore it all. Ignore it all.
GARCIA: ...And other things there.
VANEK SMITH: (Laughter).
GARCIA: Possibly feel free to ignore it all - yes, indeed.
(SOUNDBITE OF ADAM SAUNDERS AND MARK STEPHEN COUSINS' "LAND OF HOPE AND GLORY (BREAKBEAT REMIX)")
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