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The Tuesday Podcast: Lighthouses, Autopsies And The Federal Budget

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What should the government pay for?

On today's Planet Money, we pose that question to Charlie Wheelan, author of the book Naked Economics, and recent Congressional candidate (he lost; here's his underwater ad).

He gives us the econ 101 answer: The government should definitely pay for something if it's a public good, which Charlie defines as ...

something that we all need that will make our lives better, but the market will not and cannot provide

The textbook example is a lighthouse. Why should any given sea captain pay for a lighthouse? As Wheelan says, if somebody refuses to pay, we can't say, "Close your eyes when you sail past this rocky point."

Other examples of public goods include national defense and autopsies. Everyone benefits from the medical knowledge autopsies provide, but it's not really in any individual's interest to pay for an autopsy.

Somehow, this fact leads us to call 1-800-AUTOPSY.


Today's Planet Money indicator is 8 percent. That's the decline in the value of the dollar since late August, when Fed officials started talking about the latest round of quantitative easing.

The falling dollar is playing a role in the global currency war -- the effort by countries around the world to boost exports by lowering the value of their currencies.

For more, here's a sample of our coverage of QE and the currency war:

  • Why Obama Will Get An Earful About The Fed's $600 Billion Plan
  • The Fed's $600 Billion Statement, Translated Into Plain English
  • China May Regret Pushing For The G-20
  • Quantitative Easing, Explained
  • Did China's Central Bank Steal Your Job?
  • Subscribe to the podcast. Music: Jenny And Johnny's "Scissor Runner." Find us: Twitter/Facebook/Flickr.

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