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All posts by Dan Whalen (LinkedIn, Github)


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Median vs Mean (Posted 6/9/2014)
You probably have already learned how to calculate a median and a mean.  But did you ever learn why we have these two different types of "averages"?  Do you feel confident you know when to use the median, and when to use the mean?

Contemporary economists you should know: Larry Summers (Posted 6/2/2014)
By the time he was 50, Larry Summers had already been the big boss of the US Dept of the Treasury, the World Bank, AND Harvard University.  Probably one of the most powerful, influential people alive today - and an economist to boot!

The economics of a honeycomb (Posted 5/27/2014)
How a tiny insect manages to solve a fairly sophisticated bit of calculus.

Contemporary economists you should know: Austan Goolsbee (Posted 5/19/2014)
You might not recognize the name, but Austan Goolsbee has been one of the most influential economists of the decade - namely because of his long standing, close association with Barak Obama.

Are Welfare debates unresolvable? (5/6/14)
Why are the arguments surrounding public assistance spending so intractable?  Research from the psychologist Jonathan Haidt suggests the problem may be rooted deeper in our psyches than previously suspected.

"Welfare" myths (4/29/13)
Is "Welfare" a progressive field-leveler, or an unfair redistribution of American wealth?  I'd argue that the answer must be 'neither' - because "Welfare" doesn't really even exist.

The "Made In" Problem (4/21/14)
What does it mean to say an item was "Made In America"?  Can anything ever really be "Made In" any one place?  Check out this excellent, excellent 8-part radio documentary series from Planet Money that illustrates the problems with identifying where in the world an item is made.

Economics podcasts: my recommendations (Posted 5/11/2014)
Podcasts are a great way of keeping yourself informed of the world you live in.  They're free, they're quick, and they're convenient.  Here are four accessible, fun, and very informative econ podcasts that I listen to religiously.  I'd love for you to check them out!

"Pop Econ," The Federal Reserve, and inflation (Posted 4/14/13)
True or false: "whenever the Fed prints money, inflation is a guarantee"?

US Homicide Rates (Posted 4/7/14) 
You probably have some 'gut feelings' about safety in specific US cities.  Put them to the test!  Are your assumptions actuate, or does your gut need some recalibration?
"Highest" Grossing Films (12/8/13)
Did you know Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest is the 10th highest grossing film of all time!?  Impressive, yes?  No, actually.  Between inflation, population growth, and the growth of the film industry, being a "top grossing film of all" time isn't much of an achievement.

Video - How The Economic Machine Works (by Ray Dalio)  (Posted 11/25/13)
A 30 minute animated explanation of the mechanics of an economy.  The emphasis is on banking, finance, credit, etc., not so much on policy or economic theory.  A good, practical crash course!

Great new webseries - "Healthcare Triage" (Posted 11/11/13)
The Vlogbrothers have launched a really great new educational webseries called "Healthcare Triage."  Its all about health insurance, public health, and Obamacare.  Its a pretty useful resource, and seeing a lot of you will be buying insurance this year, you'll really want to check it out.  The more you understand about insurance, the better you'll be able to evaluate you're options, the smarter shopper you'll be! 

Shopping for insurance online - a quick guide (10/28/13) 
Here's a quick introduction to actually shopping around on the new healthcare exchange websites.  Take a second to get yourself oriented to what it is that you're looking for/at - a lot of you will be required to buy from these sites in the upcoming months! 

Healthcare exchanges (onlne marketplaces) (10/13/13)
This month saw the rollout of a major component of Obamacare - the healthcare exchanges, aka 'the online marketplaces.'  What are they, and what do they do, and why do we need them? 

Why Are American Health Care Costs So High? (video by John Green) (9/27/13)
When I was doing my degree, I took a semester long elective in "Healthcare Economics."  Watch Vlogbrother John Green hit all the major points I remember from that 13 week 8 minutes. 

How to adjust an amount for inflation (Posted 9/13/13) 
You know prices today are not the exact same animal as the prices of yesterday.  Here's how to adjust a past amount for inflation into today's dollars, so you can compare two amounts on a fair footing.

Obamacare's 'Individual Mandate': Part 2 - What's the economic rationale? (Posted 8/23/13)
Now that you understand what the new laws are, what's the rationale behind them?  How are they a solution to our healthcare problems? 
Do you have your insurance yet?  The deadline is approaching, and you are responsible for your own compliance.  What is the Individual Mandate, and what does it require of you?  ("Part 2," a discussion of the economic rationale behind the mandate to follow 8/23). 

Upstate NY Public School Spending (Posted 7/26/13)
Did you go to public school in New York State?  Find out what your school spent on your education - and what it spent on itself...

Liquidity (Posted 7/12/13) 
"Liquid assists," "liquidation sale," or "liquidity injection" - familiar terms?   Liquidity may seem like like a technical, arcane bit of economic jargon.  However, it is at the core of the entire function and focus of our financial industry.  You can't understand banking and finance if you don't understand liquidity!

Military Spending (Posted 6/27/13)
The of all the nations of the world, the United States spends the most on its military, right?  Sorta.  It all depends on how you measure the spending!

A right to "income"? What do you think?  (Posted 6/14/13)
Economystified reader Robert L. sent me this video, describing a petition going around the EU to make a certain level of income a "right."  What do you think, are you entitled to a particular amount of spending money? 

Richard Thaler and "Nudging" (Posted 5/22/13) 
You can't make people do what you want them to do.  But you can give them a nudge in the right direction.  Economist Richard Thaler thinks govts can use this concept to improve public life in significant ways. 

Numeracy (Posted 5/10/2013)
Literacy is the ability to understand letters and words.  Numeracy is the ability to understand numbers and relationships in the same way.  Why does numeracy matter?  Here's what I think... 

What happened in Cyprus? (Posted 4/26/13) 
Aaron B. asks about the financial crisis in Cyprus.  Don't let the only lesson to the world of the crisis be that the demonym of "Cyprus" is "Cypriot."  This is actually a pretty dramatic story, and a great case study of today's intricate worldwide economy. 

Bitcoin (Post 4/11/13)
Who is this hip new currency on the block?  Is it really a "currency" at all?  John W. asks "What is Bitcoin, and how does it work?"  I hope this post provides you some context, and can help you understand Bitcoin a bit better. 

The scale of Social Security & Medicare (Posted 3/22/13)
The Federal government's two largest expenses are huge in comparison to all their other ones.  Find out by how much. 

The Sequester (Posted 3/8/2013)
Economystifed Kate W. asks about the Sequester.  The Sequester is like a dramatic movie time bomb countdown - only its unclear if anyone's gonna diffuse it. 

Raising the minimum wage (Posted 2/22/2013)
In his recent state of the union address, Obama called for an increase in the minimum wage.  Here's some of the popular arguments for and against the move. 

The Fed's S&P lawsuit (Posted 2/8/2013)
The US govt recently announced its intents to sue the rating agency Standard and Poor's for their alleged role in the housing bubble.  What, exactly, is S&P being accused of? 

Take an econ class for free online (Posted 1/25/2013)
No joke. offers free online classes on a variety of topics - including economics! 

Why does my paycheck look small today? (Posted 1/11/13)
Many of you might be looking at your paychecks today and noticing they're a bit smaller than what you're used to.  Find out why.  (Today's topic is a reader request coming from Jory O.

Three Major Historical Economists (Posted 12/27/2012)
Nearly all of modern government economic policy has its origins in the ideas of three men - John Keynes, Friedrich Hayek and Karl Marx.  Watch a 3 part BBC series about their lives and their theories. 

Earnings Gap Between Sexes (Posted 12/13/2012)
There is a gap between the average earnings of men and women in the US.  We know that much.  But we know surprisingly little else. 

The Fiscal Cliff (Posted 10/25/12)
Reader Tim C. asks about "the Fiscal Cliff" - a looming economic crisis that's unfortunately of our own doing. 

Asymmetric Information (Posted 11/8/12)
From health insurance, to used car lots, to the box office, asymmetric information can distort all kinds of economic behaviors. 

Obama and Romney's proposed tax plans (Posted 10/25/12)
A compare and contrast of the current presidential candidates' proposed tax plans. 

Public transportation: always going uphill? (Posted 10/11/12)
Even where public transportation fares are low, Americans still love to drive!  Why aren't more of us getting on the bus? 

"The 47%" (Posted 9/28/12)
Presidential candidate Mitt Romney came under fire for a comment he made about "the 47% of people who pay no income tax."  Who and what is he talking about? 

TED Talk - Eleni Gabre-Madhin (Posted 9/14/12)
Some incredibly valuable ideas regarding market failure and the tricky business of economic development are presented in this great TED Talk from the economist Eleni Gabre-Madhin.  I really recommend it! 

Gold Prices (Posted 8/24/12)
Tim C. asks if the gold market looks like its in a bubble.  We'll talk about the tricky art of gold valuation. 

Economic Profit vs Accounting Profit (Posted 8/10/12)
The difference between the two and some real world applications of the concept (along with a few words on opportunity costs for good measure). 

Misinformed by Infographic (Posted 7/27/12)
I call muster on a particular infographic I've seen floating around on facebook.  While appreciate what it's trying to do, it's only half right. 

Stock Markets and IPOs (Posted 7/13/12)
What is a stock, who can I buy 'em from, and why do people buy 'em? 

Irrationality in economics  (Posted 6/22/12)
Economystified reader Sarah S. asks "How do you explain or account for irrationality and/or irrational forces in markets and/or in economics writ large?" 

If Paychecks Could Talk  (Posted 6/8/12)
A short cartoon from the National Priorities Project explaining the information that appears on your paystub. Video was passed along to me by Economystified reader Andrew T. 

One percent of what? (part 2)  (Posted 5/24/12)
My opinion of the "99%" slogan...and some relevant numbers. 

One percent of what? (part 1)  (Posted 5/11/12)
A fuzzy rallying cry? 

Keynes vs Hayek  (Posted 4/27/12)
One of economics finest rivalries. 

Inflation (part 2)  (Posted 4/12/12)
Details on effects of inflation. 

Inflation (part 1)  (Posted 3/22/12)
What is inflation and how does it happen? 

Is it WORTH it?  (Posted 3/8/12)
You get what you pay for and there's no free lunch! 

The 2013 prelim Federal Budget  (Posted 2/23/12)
The president has put in his two cents on next year's federal spending  plan.  Here's what he said. 

Clarifying Krugman  (Posted 2/10/12)
Economist Paul Krugman's recently made a really great point in his personal blog recently about the national debt.  I wish he had fleshed it out a bit I'm going to do it for him.

A little perspective...  (Posted 1/26/12)
How does the recent recession compare to American recessions of the past? 

GDP  (Posted 1/12/12)
What it is and how its calculated. 

2012 US Federal Budget (part 2) (Posted 12/22/11)
Stepping through the Federal government's current spending plan, category by category. 

2012 US Federal Budget (part 1) (Posted 12/8/11)
Overview of the Federal government's current spending plan. 

Capital Gains Taxes  (Posted 11/24/11)
How income from investments are taxed. 

Hans Rosling  (Posted 11/10/11)
He makes data (specifically public health data) fun, interesting, and best of all...usable. 

Income Taxes  (Posted 10/27/11)
Every April, you pay your income tax bill.  Find out how your bill is calculated. 

Corporate Taxes  (Posted 10/13/11)
Corporations pay taxes on profits, but how much they pay is varies a lot. 

Austerity Plans  (Posted 9/23/11)
Economystified reader Jay S. asks "How do you feel about austerity measures?" 

The Income Gap  (Posted 9/8/11)
Economystified reader Mike F. asks about America's "income and how it happened."  Well, the gap is definitely growing.  But the "how and by how much" is a tricky question.  It all depends on how you measure it. 

How are 'prices' determined?  (Posted 8/25/11)
How much does an item "cost"? much are you willing to pay? 

Debt Ceiling and Downgrade  (Posted 8/11/11)
Even the Federal government has a credit limit.  And its set by...the Federal government. 

Very Big Numbers  (Posted 7/20/11)
Economists talking in trillions, billions, millions - tough numbers to conceptualize.  Here's a trick to wrap your head around them. 

Supply Side / Demand Side Rivalry  (Posted 7/7/11)
How should we stimulate an economy?  By helping producers, or helping consumers? 

Take the Economystified Challenge!!  (Posted 6/23/11)
Whats the connection between the economic and political power of nations?  Play a game and find out! 

Utility  (Posted 6/9/11)
Economists aren't worried about your "happiness" or your "satisfaction."  Its your "utility" they want to maximize!  So what does that mean? 

Economics comes in all shapes and sizes... (Posted 5/26/11)
Some of the many subcategories of economics - its a pretty diverse bunch! 

The National Debt  (Posted 5/13/11)
When a country's highest government overspends, the nation itself becomes responsible for the debt.  Economystified readers Kate W. and Chris B. ask how do governments manage to do this. 

The IMF and World Bank  (Posted 4/21/11)
Economystified reader Evan T. asks “The IMF and other international banks: How they do what they do, and what effect it has.” 

Marginality  (Posted 4/8/11)
It doesn't always really matter where you are or where you've been.  What you're about to do next is where it gets interesting. 

Is "The Recession" over?  (Posted 3/24/11)
The economy can still be weak, without technically being in a "recession." 

Cost vs Price  (Posted 3/10/11)
Price is just the money you give up to get something.  The "cost" of that purchase involves so much more. 

The heck is "economics" anyway?  (Posted 12/17/10)
Economics - its not just about money.  Its about how human beings allocate their limited resources.  

A welcome for the Economystified out there  (Posted 12/14/10)
Intro to this blog and what I hope to accomplish with it.

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