Not My Job: We Quiz Economist Austan Goolsbee On Home Economics

21 hours ago
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PETER SAGAL, HOST:

There's been a lot of talk about trade wars this year. Like the rest of you, whenever we hear the word tariff, we just smile politely and secretly swallow the cyanide pill hidden under our false tooth.

(LAUGHTER)

BILL KURTIS: But economist Austan Goolsbee has the power to make tariffs thrilling, as he did back in March.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

AUSTAN GOOLSBEE: Thank you.

(APPLAUSE)

SAGAL: So you were the chief of the Council of Economic Advisers for President Obama until about 2011. Is that right?

GOOLSBEE: Yeah, that's right.

SAGAL: And since we now know there isn't one anymore for President Trump, what can you tell us about what is not any longer being done?

(LAUGHTER)

GOOLSBEE: Well, they - you know, I have a friend who was on the Council of Economic Advisers a long time ago. And when I took the job, he said the job of the Council of Economic Advisers, like a good gardener, is 10 percent planting seeds and 90 percent pulling weeds.

SAGAL: Right.

GOOLSBEE: And so the fear, always, as the economists leave - nobody likes them. Nobody wants to talk to them. But they prevent some of the dumbest things from happening. And so the fear would be more dumb things could get through.

SAGAL: Right. And so given that the job of the chief of the Council of Economic Advisers is to keep dumb things from happening, how do you think Gary Cohn did?

GOOLSBEE: Well...

(LAUGHTER)

GOOLSBEE: The fact that it seems that the president announced a policy at the end of a press conference, and his own staff did not know that he was going to announce it, suggests that maybe Mr. Cohn was not having the impact that he wanted to have.

SAGAL: Right.

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Although, I'm told sometimes that the way to get the president to do something is to tell him not to do it. So maybe he should've tried the reverse psychology.

GOOLSBEE: Maybe so.

SAGAL: What you'd have to do is you say, you know what Obama would do? Put tariffs on aluminum.

(LAUGHTER)

GOOLSBEE: That is...

(APPLAUSE)

GOOLSBEE: That is brilliant.

SAGAL: I know economics is difficult and sometimes abstruse and even a little dull, but can you explain to us...

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: ...Are these tariffs a good idea?

GOOLSBEE: I'll tell you why they're a terrible idea, which they are.

(LAUGHTER)

GOOLSBEE: But to do that, I will give you a small story about my Aunt Trina (ph), who lived in a house with my Uncle Bob (ph) in Lubbock, Texas. There was a disagreement in the family what it was that my Aunt Trina cooked...

SAGAL: Yeah.

GOOLSBEE: ...But it ended up stuffed down the sink, where it clogged the drain.

SAGAL: OK.

GOOLSBEE: And my Uncle Bob went to the store and got a product, which has since been banned, which was called the bomb. And the bomb was a combination of a plunger and a firearm.

SAGAL: OK.

GOOLSBEE: And it...

(LAUGHTER)

GOOLSBEE: It had a cartridge in it.

SAGAL: It's Texas.

GOOLSBEE: And you stuck it...

SAGAL: Everything is a combination with a firearm.

GOOLSBEE: You stuck it into the drain...

SAGAL: OK.

GOOLSBEE: ...And you fired it in, (mimicking explosion). And it would blow the clog out.

SAGAL: So this is like an explosive device with a projectile.

GOOLSBEE: It's got a CO2 projectile. And you put the pressure in there, and you blow it out.

SAGAL: Yeah.

GOOLSBEE: And it said on the outside, use only one charge.

SAGAL: OK.

GOOLSBEE: OK. But my Uncle Bob is not the type to use only one charge...

SAGAL: Oh, no.

GOOLSBEE: ...If more than one is available. So he fired the entire thing into the drain.

SAGAL: I just want you to know...

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: ...This is the most interested in economics I have ever been...

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: ...Right now.

GOOLSBEE: I'm going to bring it back.

SAGAL: All right.

(APPLAUSE)

GOOLSBEE: I'm going to bring it back.

SAGAL: This is great.

GOOLSBEE: He cleared out the clog of the drain.

SAGAL: Yes.

GOOLSBEE: The lasagna - whatever it was. And they lived in a - what in Chicago we would call a converted. It was a house. It had a wall down the middle. There were two identical apartments. And the drains did not just go straight down. They connected in a little Y.

SAGAL: Right.

GOOLSBEE: So every time he blew the bomb...

(LAUGHTER)

GOOLSBEE: ...Into the drain, it didn't go down the drain to the sewage. It just blew it to the neighbor.

(LAUGHTER)

GOOLSBEE: And so the next morning, that person comes over (mimicking doorbell), says, Bob, was there some kind of terrible plumbing catastrophe that happened?

(LAUGHTER)

GOOLSBEE: And they go - he said, I'd like to show you my apartment. And all over the ceiling...

(LAUGHTER)

GOOLSBEE: ...Over the kitchen is my Aunt Trina's lasagna blown out there.

(LAUGHTER)

GOOLSBEE: And that is exactly what's wrong with tariffs - is...

(LAUGHTER)

GOOLSBEE: ...You can blow it.

(CHEERING)

GOOLSBEE: You can blow the lasagna out of the steel drain. But when you blow it out of the steel drain, right onto the auto industry, Boeing and all the other (mimicking explosion), it's all over...

(LAUGHTER)

GOOLSBEE: ...The ceiling. And that's what's wrong with this. It ends up destroying thousands more manufacturing jobs than you're saving in the one where you're doing it.

SAGAL: I - that is so great. And I have this deep conviction that if only you had been there to explain it to Donald Trump...

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: ...Just that way, he would've understood.

GOOLSBEE: Yeah.

SAGAL: So anyway, that was great. That was great. Now, do bitcoin...

(LAUGHTER)

GOOLSBEE: Oh, God.

(APPLAUSE)

SAGAL: ...Because I honestly have no idea what that is either. Well, Austan Goolsbee, it is a pleasure to see you back here again. We've asked you, though, this time to play a game we're calling...

KURTIS: Serve from the left, clear from the right.

SAGAL: Since you study actual economics, we're going to ask you about home economics...

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: ...For which, tragically, there is no Nobel Prize. There should be. Get two questions right, you'll win a prize for one of our listeners and a homemade, hand-woven potholder for yourself.

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Bill, who is Austan Goolsbee playing for?

KURTIS: Michael Roy of San Diego, Calif.

SAGAL: OK. Here's your first question. According to the 1954 home ec textbook "Experiences In Homemaking," what must you always do when preparing a meal? A, wash your eggs before using them; B, make sure your husband is served the cut of meat closest to the loin...

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: ...Or C, arrange the accompanying vegetables in the shape of a smile?

(LAUGHTER)

GOOLSBEE: Oh, man. Wait. So A was wash your eggs.

SAGAL: Yes.

GOOLSBEE: Now, there's a...

SAGAL: Before you crack them.

GOOLSBEE: There's a huge controversy about refrigerating - whether you should refrigerate your eggs.

SAGAL: Yeah.

GOOLSBEE: And you're supposed to refrigerate eggs in the United States because they've been washed, and there's some protective something around an egg in nature that...

SAGAL: You really are an economist.

(LAUGHTER)

GOOLSBEE: So I'm going to guess the eggs.

SAGAL: You're right. It's the eggs.

(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)

GOOLSBEE: Oh, all right. Nice. Nice.

(APPLAUSE)

SAGAL: Eggs, you know - have you ever seen where an egg comes from? They're filthy, so you need to wash them before you use them. All right. Next question. Home ec classes at Cornell University were pretty different before 1969. Before that, the college regularly did what? A, give actual babies to the students to use as, quote, "practice children"...

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: ...B, they taught everyone that serving family style from one big platter was communist...

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: ...Or C, they made students spend five minutes in a 275-degree room so they could, quote, "feel what a pot roast "felt"?

(LAUGHTER)

GOOLSBEE: A 270 - wait. But all three of those sound crazy, right?

(LAUGHTER)

GOOLSBEE: Isn't the Cornell Hospital not in Ithaca, N.Y.? So maybe it couldn't be.

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: When you were working at the White House, did President Obama ever shout at you, for God's sake, Austan, just say something?

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Well, I don't know, Mr. President. I mean, there are so many factors that could feed into this decision.

GOOLSBEE: OK. I'm going to guess the babies.

SAGAL: You're right. It was the babies...

GOOLSBEE: Oh.

SAGAL: ...The whole time.

GOOLSBEE: Oh.

(APPLAUSE)

SAGAL: (Unintelligible) say, don't worry, if you mess it up, it's a rental. All right.

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Last question. Home economics classes, we've discovered, were somewhat widespread, and they have produced some notable alumni, including which of these? A, Martha Stewart, who received Barnard College's first ever grade AA in a special home economics major; B, Michael Jordan, well-known around these parts, who took home economics in high school in case he didn't make enough money to go out to eat when he grew up; C, Ozzy Osbourne, who created a recipe in his home ec class for bat a la king?

GOOLSBEE: I'm going to have to go with his Airness (ph) himself.

SAGAL: You're going to go with Michael Jordan?

GOOLSBEE: Yeah.

SAGAL: Yes, it was Michael Jordan.

(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)

SAGAL: Yeah.

(APPLAUSE)

SAGAL: Michael Jordan, greatest basketball player of all time. He apparently - he said to an interviewer once that he took home ec to learn to cook because he worried his ears were so big, he'd never find a wife.

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Aw. Bill, how did Austan Goolsbee do on our quiz?

KURTIS: He did great. And I'm always impressed when somebody gets 3 out of 3.

SAGAL: Well done, Sir.

(APPLAUSE)

SAGAL: Austan Goolsbee was, of course, a former senior economic adviser to President Obama. He's now at the University of Chicago. Austan Goolsbee, thank you so much for coming back to WAIT WAIT... DON'T TELL ME.

GOOLSBEE: Thank you.

(APPLAUSE)

SAGAL: It's great to see you. Austan Goolsbee, everybody.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.