Blog Archives

Innovative Tax Collection Techniques

In “celebration” of Tax Day last week, NPR‘s Planet Money podcast did a story about innovative tax collection techniques that are employed internationally.  

Here is a description of the story, titled “The Tough, The Sweet And The Nosy,” from the NPR website: 

Millions of tax cheats never get caught. And the IRS seems powerless to stop them.

This isn’t just a problem in the U.S. American taxpayers are Dudley Do-Rights compared to people in some other countries. On today’s show, we head to some of the cheating-est places on earth to bring you tales from some of the roughest, toughest tax collectors around. These guys have tricks, tax collector mind-games, that they play to get people to do the right thing.

Leave a comment

April 23, 2014 · 10:12 am

Marijuana Legalization and Public Health

This year saw a strange overlap of holidays.  Easter corresponded with the pot smoker celebration of 420.  Perhaps even more significant is the fact that this is the first 420 where marijuana can be purchased legally (in Colorado and Washington state).  The Diane Rehm Show recently discussed marijuana legalization and its public health effects. 

Here is a description for the segment from the show’s website: 

Across the country, public attitudes towards legalizing marijuana have shifted and state legislatures are responding. No state has gone as far as Washington State or Colorado—where marijuana sales are legal—but many are moving to decriminalize the drug or make it available for medical use. And cash strapped states considering legalization are closely watching Colorado where the governor recently predicted a tax windfall. But while politicians are more eager to get on board, public health officials continue to raise alarm bells about the safety of lighting up. Guest host Susan Page and her guests discuss the business and changing politics of marijuana.


Leave a comment

April 22, 2014 · 8:22 pm

Barilla Pasta and the Italian Economy

Bar none, one of the best podcasts around is NPR’s Planet Money podcast.  If nothing else, it provides good small talk/networking fodder as it provides intersects interesting stories with economic concepts.  This story (from 2012),  which I mentioned to a friend this weekend, is a prime example. It discusses the story of two Barilla pasta factories and the productivity of the Italian workforce.  

Here is a description from the NPR website: 

A decade ago, the Barilla pasta factory in Foggia, Italy, had a big problem with people skipping work. The absentee rate was around 10 percent.

People called in sick all the time, typically on Mondays, or on days when there was a big soccer game.

Foggia is in southern Italy. Barilla’s big factory in northern Italy had a much lower absentee rate. This is not surprising; there’s a huge economic gap between southern and northern Italy. It’s like two different countries.

Barilla execs told Nicola Calandrea, the manager of the Foggia plant, that they would close the factory unless he brought the absenteeism rate down.

Calandrea decided that to save the factory, he had to change the culture. On today’s show, we visit the factory and hear how Calandrea made it work.

For More: How A Pasta Factory Got People To Show Up For Work.

Leave a comment

April 21, 2014 · 2:25 pm

Pedophile Support Group

This weekend, the popular This American Life podcast aired an episode entitled “Tarred and Feathered.”  It featured stories of public shame.  Particularly interesting was a story titled “Help Wanted,” which discusses a young man’s struggle with pedophilia and child pornography.  

Here is a description of the story:

 There’s one group of people that is universally tarred and feathered in the United States and most of the world. We never hear from them, because they can’t identify themselves without putting their livelihoods and reputations at risk. That group is pedophiles. It turns out lots of them desperately want help, but because it’s so hard to talk about their situation it’s almost impossible for them to find it. Reporter Luke Malone spent a year and a half talking to people in this situation, and he has this story about one of them. More of Luke Malone’s reporting on this topic will appear next month on (27 minutes)

Leave a comment

April 15, 2014 · 2:45 pm

Fareed Zakaria on Flight 370 and Conspiracy Theories

Recently, Fareed Zakaria began his show with a commentary on Flight 370 and the human tendency to subscribe to conspiracy theories.  What I find so interesting (and so true) about “Fareed’s Take” discussion of psychology.  He describes Hanlon’s Law which he describes as the maxim: “never attribute to malice what can be better explained by incompetence.”  This is a principle that too many lawyers and policy makers fail to appreciate. 


Here is how the segment began: 

For those of you tired of the coverage of Malaysian Airlines Flight 370, I want you to try an experiment.

When you’re with a group of friends – whose eyes might roll over when you even bring up the issue – ask them what they think happened to the plane. Very quickly you will find yourselves in the midst of a lively discussion – with many, different, competing theories, each plausible, each with holes.

The plane was hijacked, someone will say. But then why were there no demands? It was an accident, someone else will say. But then why were there no distress signals? This mystery of what actually happened is at the heart of the fascination with this story. And the mystery has now morphed into an ever increasing number of conspiracy theories about what actually happened that fateful day last month when the aircraft disappeared.

There are YouTube clips suggesting that aliens are involved, blog posts accusing the Iranians of hijacking the plane, and many who believe that the passengers and crew are still alive, perhaps on an island somewhere – like in the television show “Lost”.

I was thinking about some of these theories the other day as I was looking at a new book by Harvard law professor and former Obama official, Cass Sunstein. It’s titled, Conspiracy Theories – and Other Dangerous Ideas. The lead essay in the book explains why conspiracy theories spread – and Flight 370 is a perfect example of his logic. Sunstein treats conspiracy theories seriously, by which I mean he doesn’t assume that people are crazy to believe them. . . .

Leave a comment

April 14, 2014 · 7:44 am

Why the Internet is Faster in the UK

Last Friday, the Planet Money podcast did a story about how American communications law has lead to the United States to have fewer internet service providers and slower internet connections than the United Kingdom.  

Here is a description of the podcast from the NPR website: 

People love to complain about their internet service, but the thing that seems to make people the craziest is they can’t switch. No matter how slow. No matter how bad the customer service. There isn’t much choice. But, this isn’t true for people in lots of other countries. In Europe, in parts of Asia, there is a real choice of who brings your internet to you.

Today on the show: Why do Americans have so few options when buying internet service? Where’s my internet jetpack?

Leave a comment

April 7, 2014 · 10:32 pm

Sunday Funday: Daily Show on SCOTUS and Campaign Finance

Earlier this week, the Supreme Court of the United States handed down McCutcheon v. FECstriking down campaign finance law which limited aggregate federal campaign contributions. The Daily Show‘s Jon Stewart lampooned the decisions and the majority Justices’ alleged political naivete.

Here is a description of the opening clip:

A historic Supreme Court ruling on campaign finance offers a resounding victory for the rich that pales only in comparison to the gains Citizens United made for corporations.

Here is a description of a clip with “Senior Legal Analyst” Aasif Mandvi:

Senior Legal Analyst Aasif Mandvi explains how political representation in America is relative to net worth.

Leave a comment

April 6, 2014 · 7:52 pm