Three great podcasts for your earballs

Sonnie Bailey

21 June 2019

I love podcasts. I wrote about podcasts in 2014, and recommended various podcasts that I enjoyed at the time. (The article is a fascinating time capsule. If I were to make another list, I’d add a lot of podcasts and probably remove a few. But the list still holds up.)

In this article, I’m going to recommend three limited-run podcast series that align pretty closely with the the things I write about on this blog.

But before I mention them, here are a few tips for listening to podcasts:

  • Download a dedicated podcasting app. Don’t use the default app that came with your phone. I use Pocket Casts, and paying for it was one of the best purchases I’ve ever made. (I’ve recommended it to friends and they’ve said the same thing.) Overcast is also excellent.
  • Decent podcasting apps let you choose settings to improve your listening experience. Make the most of these settings. For example, Pocket Casts allows me to “Volume Boost” so voices are easier to hear; “Trim Silence” so conversations don’t have prolonged gaps (this feature has apparently saved me 9 days); and you can adjust speed. Trust me on this: you don’t need to listen to podcasts at “normal” speed. You probably won’t notice the difference between 1 and 1.1 speed – although you’ll get through a one hour podcast six minutes faster. I personally listen to most podcasts at 1.8 speed.
  • Bluetooth headsets are awesome and allow you to listen to podcasts while doing chores and going about your everyday life. (I’ve got about four different headsets that I use regularly, depending on context: running headphones, noise cancelling headphones, a small in-ear earpiece. This winter, I’ll also probably buy a beanie with bluetooth headphones built in! #lifegoals)

Anyway! Here are three great podcasts that I highly recommend:

Against the Rules by Michael Lewis (eight episodes)

If you haven’t read anything by Michael Lewis, then you’re missing out. He’s the author of The Big ShortMoneyball, and The Blind Side. Not to mention other great books that haven’t (yet) been turned into movies, like The Undoing Project and The Fifth Risk. He’s the sort of writer who can make anything interesting.

This series is about referees, and fairness. Lewis talks about referees of various flavours, including sports referees, financial regulators, and judges.

This series points to a tension in modern life: referees in many domains are getting better, but at the same time are becoming more maligned and less trusted.

Underlying the series is a recurring theme which is close to my heart: that conflicts of interest corrupt outcomes.

Lewis observes that the only referees who are consistently celebrated by the people they referee are those who are paid by those same people – like ratings agencies and executive remuneration consultants. It’s probably no coincidence that these referees aren’t especially effective – if you actually care about fairness and society-at-large.

Lewis also observes that it takes a special type of person to be a good referee – and beyond that, it takes a special type of person to want to be a referee in the first place. Three cheers for good referees!

Ponzi Supernova (five episodes) 

Bernie Madoff was the man behind the largest Ponzi scheme in history.

(That we know, of at least. Who knows what Ponzi schemes are currently in operation. And don’t get me started on MLM schemes…)

Over the course of five episodes, which includes in-prison interviews with Madoff himself, you get a rich understanding of the hows and whys of Madoff’s scheme, and its fallout.

The striking thing I took from this series is that Madoff didn’t operate alone, despite the impression you might get from the mainstream media.

Sure, there were a few people people who were knowingly complicit in one way or another.

But there were a lot of people who created the environment for Madoff’s Ponzi scheme to happen in the first place, and then get as big as it did.

There were many people who created the incentives for this to happen. Many of these same people were complicit – in the sense that they willingly turned blind eyes to conduct that should have raised obvious red flags.

Just think: a well-resourced and effective regulator of financial markets might have stopped this scheme. A well-resourced and effective regulator of financial markets could stop future schemes of this nature in the future. I’m just sayin’.

The End of the World (10 episodes)

One of the recurring themes of this blog is the value of planning – within the context of an uncertain future.

I’m allergic to people who think they can predict the future. But I love it when people entertain different possible futures – including ways the world can get better and worse.

This series talks about existential risks – or extreme worst-case scenarios – in an interesting and non-depressing way. Josh Clark talks about:

  • natural risks (gamma ray bursts, supernovae, runaway climate change);
  • artificial intelligence;
  • biotechnology (including the risks associated with research taking place all over the world; I found this new and terrifying); and
  • physics experiments (I found this provocative)

These specific risks are couched in discussions relating to the Fermi Paradox, the Great Filter, and the Simulation Argument.

I’ve recommended this series to quite a few people and everyone has told me they’ve enjoyed it.

Enjoy! And by all means, let me know if you recommend any podcasts – to add to my list of 324 subscribed podcasts and 535 downloaded episodes in my queue…

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