Dentists Resist Spending Bill, Players Ditch Agents, China's Blackouts : Planet Money : The Indicator from Planet Money Indicators of the Week! Dentists resist the Biden administration's spending plan. China is rationing electricity. And Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson negotiates his own contract, agent-free.

No Dental, No Power, No Agents: Indicators Of The Week

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SYLVIE DOUGLIS, BYLINE: NPR.

(SOUNDBITE OF DROP ELECTRIC SONG, "WAKING UP TO THE FIRE")

SALLY HERSHIPS, HOST:

This is THE INDICATOR FROM PLANET MONEY. I'm Sally Herships in for Stacey Vanek Smith. And it's Wednesday, you guys - midweek. Adrian Ma, Darian Woods, are you guys psyched?

DARIAN WOODS, HOST:

What?

HERSHIPS: Just kidding.

WOODS: (Laughter).

HERSHIPS: It's Friday and time for indicators of the week, so we have so much news to talk about. Today we are talking NFL, power outages in China and what everybody is talking about this week, which is...

WOODS: Britney Spears.

ADRIAN MA, HOST:

Britney Spears.

HERSHIPS: No.

MA: Jinx.

HERSHIPS: (Laughter) The Biden administration's $3.5 trillion social spending bill. Next week, Britney is coming on.

WOODS: I hope.

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HERSHIPS: As of publication time, there's been no movement on either of the infrastructure bills. Moderate and progressive Democrats are split. They can't join forces to decide on the cost or the content of the larger of the two bills - the 3.5 trillion so-called human infrastructure bill.

MA: Yeah, but there has been lots of movement from lobbyists opposed to parts of this second bill in recent weeks. But I'm going to zero in on one particular organization, which leads me to my indicator of the week, which is 162,000 dentists. That is the number of members that is claimed by the American Dental Association, and it sort of caught my eye because according to the Wall Street Journal, they are one of the most powerful professional health lobbies in D.C. And according to this website that tracks lobbying spending called opensecrets.org, the ADA spent about $2.4 million last year in lobbying.

WOODS: OK, so that's where my dental fees go.

HERSHIPS: All that floss is pricey.

MA: That is a lot of dentists, right? And their whole mission as part of the current lobbying bonanza right now is they are really pushing against this proposal that is in the current bill that has to do with expanding Medicare. So you know Medicare. It's the health insurance program for older folks and people with disabilities. And what this proposal would do is expand it so it includes dental coverage, and the American Dental Association has actually been lobbying against this.

HERSHIPS: That sounds super counterintuitive.

MA: Yeah. I mean, you would think that dentists want more patients. They want more people to get dental care. But, you know, like, dentists are known for being one of the top-earning occupations in the country, so here's basically what the ADA's opposition comes down to. It comes down to time and money. First of all, they say, like, you know, being part of Medicare, this reimbursement system, is going to take too much time. They're going to have to do all this bureaucratic paperwork. And so separately, they have their own idea of how to give seniors access to dental care, which is to provide a separate program just for low-income people who are within 300% of the federal poverty level. So, like, just to give you an idea for a single individual, that would be around $38,000 a year.

WOODS: Overall, I mean, it is kind of interesting how our teeth are separated from - I don't know - our toes and our hearts. Like, why is dental care so separate from health care and the insurance system?

MA: Yeah. And, you know, like, this is not just a U.S. thing. I mean, even in some countries that guarantee all citizens health care, you know, like Canada and the U.K., they don't actually offer free dental care for everyone. So it isn't just the U.S.

WOODS: All right, so now for something completely different - my indicator of the week is about something that could disrupt the production of cars, of electronics, maybe even fake Christmas trees. It's - wait for it - yet another supply chain bottleneck that has emerged.

HERSHIPS: Another one.

WOODS: And just when we were saying at least it can't get worse, it gets worse. So we've got a huge shortage of electricity in China right now. This week, much of China is under electricity restrictions, and some places are even having big outages. That means homes, traffic lights, factories have had to go dark, which is terrible for the people living there. And for manufacturers, it couldn't have happened at a worse time. Like, around now is when companies would typically have ramped up production for the holiday season, so this electricity shock in China could be pretty disruptive for children everywhere come December.

HERSHIPS: Order your dreidels early.

WOODS: Yeah, that is the moral of this segment. So the big reason why there is such a problem is a coal shortage. Fifty-six percent of China's electricity comes from coal, and that's my indicator of the week- 56%. So this coal shortage in China, it's caused by a constellation of reasons. There was a coal mining accident a month ago that temporarily shut down that mine, and it also closed down a bunch of other mines in China for safety checks. There was this anti-corruption sweep that implicated a bunch of coal companies. It's not as easy in China as it used to be to just open up a new coal mine. There's now more environmental and safety regulations to go through. And a lot of these factors leading to widespread power cuts are the result of Chinese government policies, but I really don't think they wanted such an acute electricity shortage right now.

MA: I mean, this might be a little bit selfish. But, like, how might this affect the flow of, you know, like, Christmas presents and stuff like that to the U.S.?

WOODS: So I don't want to alarm anybody, but what I can say is that if you've been naughty and you get a lump of coal and no presents, hold onto that lump of coal. It could be very valuable.

MA: (Laughter).

HERSHIPS: Talking about value, my indicator of the week is 3%. That is the cut that agents for NFL players tend to get when they help them sign these massive deals. And the reason we're talking about it now is because the sports world is abuzz talking about Lamar Jackson. In case you are not a sports ball fan, he is the quarterback for the Baltimore Ravens, and he's negotiating this potentially enormous contract but on his own without an agent.

MA: Yeah, and he might be the highest profile athlete to ever try this.

HERSHIPS: Yeah, some players have done this before. There was Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner, DeAndre Hopkins. But Lamar Jackson is expecting to maybe get one of the biggest NFL contracts in history, like 400- or $450 million over the length of the contract - so much money it makes my brain explode. So you guys do the math. At 3%, the agent's fee would be...

WOODS: All right, bring out my calculator. Three percent - that takes you to 12 to 13 million.

HERSHIPS: Yeah, and that is not chump change, so I had some questions for Victor Matheson, who is a sports economist at the College of the Holy Cross. So what about the agents? How do we feel about their 3%?

VICTOR MATHESON: So this has been an issue actually for the last decade or two is, are agents actually making their money?

HERSHIPS: Yeah, it's not like Lamar Jackson couldn't just have a lawyer look at the contract before it's done. So then what's the pro-agent argument?

MATHESON: So I think the pro-agent argument has always been that in fields like entertainment and fields like sports, that these athletes and these movie stars, they don't know anything, right? They're just pretty faces or they're just out there - you know, shut up and play, right? And so they don't know anything about this, and they would be taken advantage of by owners if they don't have someone looking out for their best interests. But, of course, one of those people who could be taking advantage of athletes is, of course, the agents themselves.

HERSHIPS: But on the flip side, you know, an agent's job is not just about negotiating with a sports team because as we know, endorsements can also be huge for athletes.

MA: Right, like shoes and Wheaties and sports drinks.

HERSHIPS: Yeah, totally. So an agent might take 10- to 20% of endorsement earnings because the idea there is that the agent is supposedly, like, out there hustling and finding these deals for their athlete rather than just negotiating with the team - the deals that are going to happen anyway. And also, to be fair, if you're an athlete, get ready for my pun. You may know your own field, but you may not know other fields.

MATHESON: Because you have a really good idea of what you're worth to a team, you may not have nearly the same sort of idea of what you're worth to Coca-Cola or to United Airlines. And maybe that's the place where agents can say, OK, negotiate your own contract, but I'm here to help you sell yourself to advertisers in a way that you may not be able to do on your own.

HERSHIPS: So the implications of this could be huge. If an athlete like Lamar Jackson, this huge star, were to negotiate on his own, it could be a precedent-setter because more athletes could say, Lamar seemed to do pretty well. Why shouldn't I try to do the same thing? And also, it's not like this guy doesn't know what he's worth. I mean, he knows his own stats.

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HERSHIPS: This episode of THE INDICATOR was produced by Julia Ritchey with help from James Willetts. It was fact-checked by Michael He. Kate Concannon edits the show, and THE INDICATOR is a production of NPR.

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