Make Me Smart

Each weekday, Marketplace’s Kai Ryssdal and Kimberly Adams make today make sense. Along with our supersmart listeners, we break down happenings in tech, the economy and culture. Every Tuesday we bring on a guest to dive deeper into one important topic. Because none of us is as smart as all of us.

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Last Episode : September 22, 2023 9:15pm

Last Scanned : 1.2 hours ago


Episodes currently hosted on IPFS.

Corruption is a bipartisan problem
Confirmed 2
Across the political spectrum, corruption seems to be the big news of the day. Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez was indicted today for taking hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes. Meanwhile, ProPublica reported that Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas secretly attended Koch Network donor events that could be in violation of federal law. (And, let’s not forget the former president’s indictments.) We’ll discuss the role of the press and the Department of Justice in trying these cases. Then, we’ll play Half-Full/Half-Empty and debate whether shorts on the Senate floor should be the new norm. Here’s everything we talked about: “Clarence Thomas Secretly Participated in Koch Network Donor Events” from ProPublica “FBI found gold bars in Menendez’s house, money stuffed in jackets, prosecutors say” from The Hill “New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez says he won’t resign” from NBC News “Time to brush up on the Food and Forage Act of 1861, everybody” from Washington Monthly “UAW will widen strike against GM and Stellantis but not Ford” from The Washington Post “UAW official says union creating “chaos” for automakers, leaked messages show” from Axios “The IRS Is Going to Know if You Sold Taylor Swift ‘Eras’ Tickets” from The Wall Street Journal “How do companies decide what to name AI tools?” from Marketplace “Spanglish branding is reaching Latino consumers” from Marketplace “How the orange egg yolk trend was hatched” from Marketplace “The Senate is relaxing its dress code. It’s caused a predictable backlash” from Vox If you’re fan of the show, grab some merch, including half-priced hoodies this weekend! Donate $8 a month and get a cozy “Make Me Smart” hoodie just in time for fall!
Expires in 41 hours
Published Friday
What a shock to the economy could mean right now
Confirmed 4
We are nine days away from another government shutdown if Congress can’t reach a spending deal. We’ll hear from Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen on what a shutdown could do to our current economy. Plus, the facial recognition story that creeped out Kai. And, did you remember? We’re celebrating one of Earth, Wind & Fire’s greatest hits. Here’s everything we talked about: “‘Absolutely no reason’ for a government shutdown, says Treasury secretary” from MSNBC “Barrymore apologizes to unions for resuming show” from YouTube “Clearview AI could change privacy as we know it” from Marketplace “Earth, Wind & Fire – September” from YouTube Join us tomorrow for Economics on Tap! The YouTube livestream starts at 3:30 p.m. Pacific time, 6:30 p.m. Eastern. We’ll have news, drinks, a game and more.
Expires in 13 hours
Published Thursday
AI and its role in elections
A new chatbot that uses artificial intelligence to mimic the leading candidates in the 2024 presidential race is fresh on the scene. Users can query a candidate’s avatar or conjure up a one-on-one debate. We’ll get into the potential impact of AI on future U.S. elections and what some politically engaged citizens are doing about it. Plus, we’ll explain why the wait for your morning latte at Starbucks might be getting out of hand. And Operation Santa is open for business. Here’s everything we talked about today: “Conspiracy Theorists Go Viral With Claim Sen. John Fetterman Actually Body Double” from Forbes “John Fetterman would be particularly hard to body-double” from The Washington Post “Prepare yourself. A Donald Trump chatbot is about to be unleashed.” from Politico “Artificial Intelligence in Campaign Ads” from the Federal Register “Write to Santa Today!” from the USPS “Why Starbucks (SBUX) Is Desperate to Reduce Your Coffee Wait Time” from Bloomberg Got a question for the hosts? Leave us a voicemail at 508-U-B-SMART or email us at
Published Wednesday
What’s happening in Congress is not normal
Congress has a job to do. But lately, some of the work on the Hill seems to have come to a standstill. There’s been drama over the debt ceiling, a Republican senator is holding up key military promotions, and now a government shutdown is looming. We’ll tackle the question of who is really to blame for all the governmental dysfunction and unpack the challenges of framing these issues in the media. Here’s everything we talked about: “Marines issue stand-down order amid search for missing F-35” from The Hill “Congress is in crisis. There’s no clear escape” from Politico “With democracy on the ballot, the mainstream press must change its ways” from The Guardian Got a question for the hosts? Send them our way. We’re at 508-UB-SMART or email
Published Monday
The quest for a perfect smile
Celebrities are starting to have eerily similar smiles — flawlessly straight and pearly white teeth. But what’s the cost behind those perfect smiles? We’ll talk about yet another unrealistic beauty standard and the rise of the cosmetic dentistry industry. And the Roman Empire might be a thing of the past, but it seems that many men are still fascinated by it. We’ll get into some reasons why the ancient world power is engrained in our minds. Then, we’ll play a round of Half Full/Half Empty to settle some fashion debates. Here’s everything we talked about: Watch: Marketplace’s video series “Burning Questions” from “How We Survive” Listen: Marketplace’s new series “Burning Questions” from “How We Survive” “Celebrity teeth look the same thanks to veneers, and TikTok has thoughts” from The Washington Post “Why don’t you fix your teeth?” from Marketplace “Many men think about Roman Empire frequently, TikTok trend shows. Why?” The Washington Post “Where did all the G-rated blockbusters go?” from Marketplace “Why Birkenstock’s IPO filing is encouraging for investors” from Marketplace “Coke’s latest mystery flavor is AI-generated” from CNN “This common decongestant ingredient is no better than a placebo” from Marketplace “Why did the Instant Pot go out of style?” from Marketplace If you’re a fan of our livestreams, we think you’ll enjoy Marketplace’s new video series,  “Burning Questions,” from the team behind “How We Survive.” If you’ve been curious about solutions to the climate crisis, give it a watch!
Published 09/15
What happened to stakeholder capitalism?
In the before times, some of America’s top corporations pledged to rebalance their priorities and serve all stakeholders instead of just shareholders. Today, workers still aren’t feeling the love. We’ll get into the disconnect between employees and CEOs and explain how that’s playing out in recent labor disputes. Plus, why patrons at a Milwaukee bar are feeling that Jets win extra-hard. Here’s everything we talked about: “Detroit automakers and auto workers remain far from a deal as end-of-day strike deadline approaches” from AP News “UAW tees up select strikes if no deal by deadline” from Politico “Nearly 200 CEOs say shareholder value is no longer a main objective” from CNBC Sen. Mitt Romney announces he won’t be running for office in 2024 from X Gurner Group founder Tim Gurner talking to the Financial Review from X “CEO Tim Gurner calls for more unemployment, give employers more leverage” from The Washington Post Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez responds to Tim Gurner from X “Property developer Tim Gurner, man behind avocado toast meme, calls for up to 50 per cent rise in unemployment” from The West Australian Milwaukee bar’s promotion takes a turn after the Jets win from X Join us tomorrow for Economics on Tap! The YouTube livestream starts at 3:30 p.m. Pacific time, 6:30 p.m. Eastern. We’ll have news, drinks, a game and more.
Published 09/14
Air conditioning and political dysfunction
What does air conditioning have to do with political dysfunction in Washington? Apparently, more than you’d imagine. We’ll get into the history behind AC in the halls of Congress and how that’s affected the way lawmakers do their jobs. Then, what drove Sen. Mitt Romney to call it quits? Plus, staging a career comeback isn’t easy. Naomi Osaka and Simone Biles are showing us how it’s done. Here’s everything we talked about today: “What Mitt Romney Saw in the Senate” from The Atlantic “Wall Street Bet Big on Used-Car Loans for Years. Now a Crisis May Be Looming.” from ProPublica “‘We Put in Air Conditionin’, Stayed Year-Round, and Ruined America’” from Politico “Naomi Osaka and Simone Biles are modeling how to stage a career comeback” from Quartz “It Only Tuesday” from The Onion Got a question for the hosts? Leave us a voicemail at 508-U-B-SMART or email us at
Published 09/13
What you need to know about ranked choice voting
This year alone, lawmakers in more than two dozen states have introduced or passed legislation in favor of ranked choice voting systems, where voters rank candidates in order of preference on their ballot. Advocates sing the praises of ranked-choice elections, claiming it could be an antidote to the United States’ extreme political polarization. Others say switching to a new voting system would be too complicated for voters. On the show today, Maresa Strano, deputy director of political reform at New America, unpacks ranked choice voting: what it does well, where it falls short, and what our voting systems have to do with the broader economy. Then, a new strategy for wiping out medical debt is catching the attention of some local governments. And we’ll get into why mixed signals about the U.S. economy are complicating things for the Biden campaign. Later, a listener shares how they learned the difficulty of farm work firsthand. Plus, this week’s answer to the Make Me Smart Question comes from sci-fi writer Andy Weir, author of “The Martian.” Here’s everything we talked about today: “How Ranked-Choice Voting Works” from The New York Times “What We Know About Ranked-Choice Voting” from New America “The Hottest Political Reform of the Moment Gains Ground” from Politico “RCV is Neither Panacea nor Catastrophe for Minority Representation” from New America “Oregon becomes the latest state to put ranked choice voting on the ballot” from NBC News “U.S. Incomes Fall for Third Straight Year” from The Wall Street Journal “A new way to tackle medical debt gains traction.” from The Washington Post We want to hear your answer to the Make Me Smart question. You can reach us at or leave us a voicemail at 508-U-B-SMART.
Published 09/12
Retail theft and capitalism today
There’s been a lot of reporting lately about a rise in retail theft and a growing shoplifting problem. But a closer look at those claims and the relevant data seems to suggest something else is going on. We also revisit the attack on the World Trade Center and consider how American unity and perceptions have changed in the past 22 years. We end with some smiles about Mother Nature and a significant discovery that could be a big deal for the clean energy economy. “Is retail theft really rising?” from Marketplace “Today, Explained: Blame Capitalism: Souring on the system” from Apple Podcasts “September 11, 2001 — The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” from Comedy Central “Spain federation president Rubiales resigns amid kiss fallout” from ESPN “Ancient Supervolcano in US May Hide Largest Lithium Deposit Ever Found” from Science Alert “In a 1st, scientists grow human kidneys inside developing pig embryos” from Live Science “How We Survive” from Marketplace ICYMI: To mark our 1,000th episode, we’re giving away a free Make Me Smart bingo card to every newsletter subscriber. Sign up at
Published 09/11
Our 1,000th episode!
We’re in the quadruple digits, y’all, and we’re celebrating! But first we’ll dive into the news with an exciting development on Mars — how NASA’s Perseverance space rover is generating oxygen on the Red Planet. And a new climate change report card shows that we’ve averted the worst-case scenarios, but there’s still a long way to go. Plus, we’re marking this special episode with a new game of Would You Rather featuring a special (and beloved) guest! Here’s everything we talked about: “Perseverance Mars rover wraps up MOXIE oxygen-making experiment” from Space “FAA Orders SpaceX to Take Dozens of Steps Before Future Starship Flights” from The Wall Street Journal “Africa proposes global carbon taxes to fight climate change” from BBC News “U.N. Report Card Shows World Is Far From Meeting Climate Goals” from The New York Times Thank you to those who tuned in to the livestream. If you missed it, you can find it here. Let us know if you’ve got questions about the economy, business or technology. Leave us a voicemail at 508-U-B-SMART or email us at
Published 09/08
How farmworkers were left behind
We’re back from Labor Day weekend and talking about a group of laborers that’s in short supply these days: farmworkers. The people who pick the food we eat are considered the backbone of the agricultural industry. So why are they treated differently than other workers and often go without the same labor protections like overtime and the right to unionize? On the show today, Mary Hoopes, associate law professor at the Pepperdine Caruso School of Law, explains why agricultural workers were left out of the New Deal’s labor protections, what’s changed since then and the exploitative nature of temporary visa programs used to fill ongoing farm labor shortages. Where do Big Ag and American consumers fit in all of this? And will the massive 2023 Farm Bill help? Then, we’ll get into how a drop-off in funding for many federal aid programs could impact low-income families. And projections from Bloomberg Economics show that China will probably not surpass the U.S. as the world’s largest economy by 2030, as many economists had predicted. If not 2030, when? Later, a listener tells us about why it’s difficult to avoid single-use plastics in the health care industry. And evolutionary biologist Jonathan Losos was wrong about why cats meow. Here’s everything we talked about today: “Regulating Marginalized Labor” from the Hastings Law Journal “The Food and Farm Bill Can Do a Lot for Workers” from the Union of Concerned Scientists “Can the United Farm Workers of California Rise Again?” from The New York Times “As these farmworkers’ children seek a different future, farms look for workers abroad” from NPR “Farm Workers Exposed to Climate Change Effects Are Demanding Protections” from PBS The incredible American retreat on government aid from The Washington Post “A D.C. grocery store is removing Tide, Colgate and Advil to deter theft” from The Washington Post “China Slowdown Means It May Never Overtake US Economy, Forecast Shows” from Bloomberg “Opinion | Single-use plastics are everywhere in health care. That must change.” from The Washington Post We want to hear your answer to the Make Me Smart question. You can reach us at or leave us a voicemail at 508-U-B-SMART.
Published 09/05
The jumbled world of college sports
It’s college football season, and if you’re having a hard time keeping up with all the changes, you’re not alone. This week, the Atlantic Coast Conference decided to go bicoastal by adding schools really far from, well, the Atlantic Coast. We’ll explain what this is all about (spoiler: money). Plus, why a new Biden administration proposal to increase staffing at nursing homes could make a big difference. Then we’ll play a game of Half Full/Half Empty and discuss why finding love might be coming with a bigger price tag. Here’s everything we talked about: “Nursing Homes Must Boost Staffing Under First-Ever National Standards” from The Wall Street Journal “ACC adds Stanford, Cal, SMU as new members beginning 2024-25” from ESPN “Return to office means the return of the business meal” from Marketplace “Beyoncé and Taylor Swift fans turn to fast fashion for concert attire” from Marketplace “Dating apps flirt with premium subscriptions” from Marketplace “The U.S. is no longer world’s leading exporter of corn” from Marketplace “Here’s when Labor Day weekend travel is expected to hit its peak” from AP News Next Friday is our 1,000th episode! We want to hear about your favorite moments, episodes or guests in Make Me Smart history. Call us at 508-U-B-SMART or email
Published 09/01