The american dream, racketeering and the year's top finance terms : The Indicator from Planet Money In 2021, the most popular term on Investopedia was "capital gains tax." In 2022, it was "poison pill." These top terms help capture the economic zeitgeist of their year. So... what was it in 2023?

Today, Investopedia's editor-in-chief — and a poet — help us make sense of what the website's top ten terms of the year tell us about our collective economic psyche.

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What can we learn from the year's most popular econ terms?

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SYLVIE DOUGLIS, BYLINE: NPR.

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

ADRIAN MA, HOST:

This is THE INDICATOR FROM PLANET MONEY. I'm Adrian Ma.

WAILIN WONG, HOST:

And I'm Wailin Wong. Adrian, did you learn any new economic terms in the last year or so?

MA: Oh, yeah. So many. Like, I think one of my favorites was hedonic adjustment. It's this term for how economists account for improvements in the quality of stuff over time. I thought that was pretty cool.

WONG: That's a fun one. And we did a story about mortgage lock-in. That's when people stay in their current homes because they don't want to give up their low mortgage rates. Another word to casually sprinkle at your next dinner party.

MA: Yeah, I guess depending on the kind of dinner parties that you attend. As you can tell, we love beefing up on our econ vocab around here, which makes us kindred spirits, you could say with Caleb Silver. Caleb is editor-in-chief of Investopedia, a site that you have maybe visited before.

CALEB SILVER: We have about 14,000 definitions on our site.

WONG: You've looked at all the words, I assume. Which one's your favorite?

SILVER: I love compounding because compounding is the magic in investing.

WONG: And over at Investopedia headquarters right now is one of their most thrilling annual events, the unveiling of their top 10 terms of the year. These are the words and phrases on the Investopedia website that drew the most reader interest in 2023.

MA: That is right, and we have got a copy of this list of delicious econ word nerdery, and there are some surprises on it. Today on the show - what Investopedia's top 10 terms for 2023 tell us about the state of our collective economic psyche as we close out the year.

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MA: The editor of Investopedia, Caleb Silver, loves looking at the data on what people are searching for and reading about on his website. And Caleb says he can see in the data spikes of interest with certain terms when there's a big news event or seasonal patterns when things are happening like students going back to school.

SILVER: Sometimes you can tell when sort of Econ 101 is happening on college campuses because you get a lot of the econ terms that you would see in an Econ 101 syllabus popping up in late August, September, October. But then you get towards...

WONG: Really? Like supply and demand or, like, what are we talking about?

SILVER: Supply and demand. Porter's five forces. You know, you see all these big econ terms that you know are in that textbook and are being taught.

MA: And what they'll do at the end of every year is that they'll look at which 10 terms spiked the most outside of their seven-day moving average. So which ones got unusual amounts of interest? And these are terms that, for Caleb, really capture the economic zeitgeist in that year.

SILVER: The No. 1 term - and this was a little bit of a surprise, but this was a really deep term - is the American dream.

MA: Ooh, I feel like that is a heavy revelation.

WONG: Yeah. No, it's a really weighty term.

MA: I mean, Caleb says that he has never seen American dream in the top hundred terms in previous years. But for some reason, in 2023 it shot all the way to the No. 1 spot.

WONG: I was surprised that American dream is even a term on Investopedia because, to me, it's much more of a literary term than a financial term or an economic term.

SILVER: Yeah, it is not a classic financial term. It is a metaphysical term that is packed with meaning.

MA: But here is how Investopedia currently defines this term. Quote, "the American dream is the belief that anyone, regardless of where they were born or what class they were born into, can attain their own version of success in a society in which upward mobility is possible for everyone."

WONG: The Investopedia article says the term was coined by the historian James Truslow Adams in a 1931 book. The article also points out that home ownership is considered one of the hallmarks of the American dream.

MA: All this is why Caleb - you know, when he sees American dreams suddenly appearing in the top 10 list, to him, it is a sign of something dark.

SILVER: How many times have we seen commercials about the American dream and what you should have? And I think this was a year, 2023, when a lot of people came to terms with the fact that that's not real anymore or it's not real for them. And I think that has a lot to do with this big spike we had in mortgage rates, right? And people were realizing, for the first time, they may never, ever be able to buy that house.

WONG: Former President Donald Trump has spent years decrying the death of the American dream, and it's hard to separate Investopedia's top 10 lists from the current political climate. No. 6, for example, is debt ceiling.

SILVER: It's kind of sad that it keeps popping up, but it keeps popping up. It'll probably be with us every year because our politicians can never come to terms on spending.

WONG: Caleb says there is this undercurrent of anxiety that runs through the list. Like, No. 2 is bank failures, you know? RIP Silicon Valley Bank and others that collapsed earlier this year.

MA: No. 3 is artificial intelligence, another big news topic that, for a lot of people, might stir up worries about the future and job security.

WONG: And even for the more straightforward finance terms in the middle of the pack - like, I'm seeing certificate of deposit, Treasury bill, inverted yield curve - Caleb says these speak to the volatile year we've had in the financial markets.

MA: And then noticeably absent from the top 10 list this year is anything to do with cryptocurrency or bitcoin. Caleb says those kinds of words appeared in previous years but dropped off in 2023.

WONG: If we take this list as a barometer of what the everyday investor is thinking about, these terms are really back to basics. We've now gone from extreme to extreme - if you're looking at what bitcoin is, and then the following year you're like, what's a Treasury bill?

SILVER: Banking is supposed to be boring. Bonds are supposed to be boring. They have not been boring this year. You feel like a lot of people playing defense with what they were searching for. When you're talking about things like bank failure, they're trying to protect their money. When you're talking about CDs, they're protecting their money and trying to grow it in the bank.

MA: Yeah. You know, this list evokes a lot of feelings, you know? It's like peering into the worried brain of the American economy at this moment in time.

WONG: And like we said, American dream is not really a financial term. It's a literary term. So we wanted to call up someone with more of a literary brain than a coldly rational economist. In other words, we wanted to talk to a poet.

TIANA CLARK: I am Tiana Clark, and I am a poet and essayist, and I'm also writer-in-residence at Smith College.

WONG: We asked Tiana to give her impressions of the Investopedia list.

CLARK: Honestly, looking at the list, the first emotion that came to me was that people are afraid.

MA: Yeah. For Tiana, the term American dream brings to mind this famous Langston Hughes poem titled "Harlem." And it opens with a question.

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: What happens to a dream deferred? Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun?

CLARK: ...Like a raisin in the sun or fester like a sore? You know, it's where we get the Lorraine Hansberry play.

WONG: That's the Lorraine Hansberry play "A Raisin In The Sun." It's about a Black family's aspirations of owning a home and improving their economic circumstances. And Tiana says today's younger generations are also grappling with this question that Langston Hughes posed. What happens to a dream deferred?

CLARK: I think money is very emotional. The younger generations are rethinking if they want to get married, they even want to have a home. If homeownership seems so impossible - and, honestly, it seems still a little bit impossible for me. I still don't own a home. I still rent. I'm in Boston. The rent is bananas.

MA: I used to live in Boston, and I can confirm. We have covered on the show how negative feelings about the housing market have soured consumer sentiment this year, even though many other economic indicators are pretty good. There's a lot of contrasting feelings in the economy, which, for Tiana, means there is also room for hope amid the anxiety.

CLARK: When I looked at this list, it just - it looked to me that the people in - and I'm guessing they're mostly Americans - it looks like they're trying to educate themselves to maybe translate that fear into something, into actionable steps, into a way to make them feel more capable and more possible.

WONG: But if all else fails and people still feel like they can't get financial security in our current economy, there's always No. 10 on this year's Investopedia list.

MA: What's that?

WONG: Racketeering.

MA: Yes. The scammers never go out of style in America. You could say they have a lot of rizz. That is the...

WONG: My gosh, Adrian.

MA: You know, that's the Oxford University Press word of the year I think. Did I use that right? Rizz.

WONG: Well, you said it very convincingly. I actually have no idea. I'm too old for this. I'm going to stick to talking about Treasury bills.

MA: If you ever need to know the latest lingo, you just come to me. I will rizz it to you.

WONG: (Laughter).

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WONG: This episode was produced by Cooper Katz McKim, with engineering by Josephine Nyounai and Maggie Luthar. It was fact-checked by Sierra Juarez. Kate Concannon edits the show, and THE INDICATOR is a production of NPR.

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