The Pie, a collaborative podcast created by WBEZ, Chicago’s NPR affiliate, and the Becker Friedman Institute (BFI) at the University of Chicago, first aired in December 2020. Named for a common economics term relating the amount of wealth in a given nation to its “economic pie,” the biweekly podcast aims to harness the University’s great collective expertise of economic thought.
Its first episodes have aimed to be both informative and entertaining, presenting quantitative analysis and economic theory in a way that is accessible to non-experts. BFI Director Michael Greenstone told The Maroon that the podcast was motivated by the belief that UChicago’s study of economics can be a force for good in the world.
“You’ve got this incredible group of economists on our campus…. Basically, maybe not every single one, but 90 percent of them wake up every single day and think that they’re doing something that has value for society,” he said.
However, Greenstone acknowledges that economic research and principles can be inaccessible to people outside their field.
“In order to communicate with each other, we’ve developed these languages that are basically impenetrable for the outside world. And they’re really efficient for communicating with each other, but they’re just terrible for communicating with the outside world,” he said.
The WBEZ and BFI’s first attempt at decoding economist jargon was Pandemic Economics, a limited series podcast released between April and November of last year that focused on the economic problems caused by COVID-19. Its success convinced WBEZ and BFI that further collaboration would be feasible, leading to the creation of The Pie.
Tackling everything from student debt to the ongoing COVID-19 vaccine rollout, The Pie plans to feature dozens of University of Chicago faculty from across departments. Executive Producer for WBEZ podcasts and Sound Opinions Brendan Banaszak’s favorite episode of The Pie so far—“Shots on Goal: How to Jumpstart the Economy”—features former Member of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve Randall Kroszner and former Chair of the Council of Economic Advisors Austan Goolsbee. Both guests, who are now professors at the Booth School of Business, engaged in a frank and lively discussion about what tools the Federal Reserve might deploy to reverse the pandemic-driven recession. All this was greatly helped by WBEZ’s efforts to produce the series, which was demonstrated by the team put together to head it.
The Pie is produced by Ellen Horne, an award-winning executive producer for Radiolab for 12 years. The show is cohosted by Tess Vigeland, an award-winning anchor on NPR’s Marketplace and All Things Considered, and Eduardo Porter, a New York Times economics reporter.
Having WBEZ as a collaborator on the project was integral to its success. “Having a professional team to make sure that we have a podcast that sounds good, that is, you know, really clean and well-communicated, was another big piece of why this partnership felt attractive to them [WBEZ],” said Karen Anderson, senior director of policy, communications, and external affairs for the BFI.
Ultimately, Greenstone sees increasing the accessibility of economic ideas as integral to the BFI’s future.
“What we’re trying to do at BFI, besides facilitate the development of more of these ideas, is to basically translate that into language that people can relate to, and so that it has a fighting chance to be influential in the broader world,” Greenstone said.