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5.15.14: Figuring Out GDP, Alternative Labor Unions, and Did Neanderthal Parents Love Their Kids?

Ervins Strauhmanis via Flickr Creative Commons

It gets bandied about countless times by economists, politicians, and newscasters, but what exactly is GDP? Today on Word of Mouth, the surprisingly fascinating process of measuring Gross Domestic Product, and what this live or die by economic indicator overlooks. Plus, prehistoric humans are commonly depicted as grunting, club-wielding brutes. Now, evidence that Neanderthal parents didn’t just rear children, but loved and cherished them. All that and more on today's show.

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What is GDP?

Among the vague morass of financial products, few economic statistics appear as static and reliable as GDP. and yet, what is GDP? Like many people, I could tell you what it stands for – “Gross Domestic Product” – what does –and doesn’t – it measure ? How reliable is it? For a statistic used in virtually every economic conversation, it appears that the true meaning of GDP is anything but clear.  Our guest is economist Diane Coyle – author of “GDP: A Brief But Affectionate History”.

What is GDP?

Martha Vineyard's Tattoo Artist

Once seen as a trademark of sailors and rebellious teenagers, a 2012 Harris Poll found that one in five U.S. adults has a tattoo.  The annual revenue of the tattoo industry is now north of 2.3 billion dollars. Good gig, if you can get it. Angel Quinonez first became interested in tattoos growing up next to a motorcycle club. He got inked for the first time at 17, started tattooing when he was in college, and is now, proprietor of his own tattoo shop on Martha’s Vineyard. Whitney Jones shares his story.

Tattoo Artist

Alternative Labor Unions

A hearing held by the house education and workforce committee last week became a Congressional grilling of NCAA and division one school leaders over not sufficiently addressing grievances among student athletes. The hearing was triggered by the federal ruling that tentatively allowed scholarship football players at Northwestern University to unionize. The Boston Globe’s Leon Nayfakh observed how differently a union of collegiate athletes would look from the blue-collar factory workers who’ve traditionally been the face of American labor. He found that among plummeting private sector union membership, a number of disparate groups are experimenting with worker advocacy, and replacing unions as we know them. his article, “Not Your Grandpa’s Labor Union” appeared in the Boston Globe Ideas Section. 

Alt-Labor Unions

Neanderthal Parents

Traditionally, Neanderthals have been seen as hulking, grunting, club-wielding brutes, simply put, as cavemen. But that image is far from reality, and fails to capture the sophistication of Paleolithic societies. Archeologists have long known that Neanderthals used fire, made tools, and created cave paintings, but a new paper by University of York Archeologist Penny Spikins takes our understanding of prehistoric societies a step further. “The Cradle of Thought: Growth, Learning, Play and Attachment in Neanderthal Children” explores childhood in the Paleolithic period, and finds that Neanderthal parents didn’t just rear children, but were actually quite loving and compassionate.

Neanderthal Children

The Cowbird

Not all creatures raise their young with as much tenderness as the Neanderthals. Take the cowbird. As parents, the species can be described with  one word: deadbeat. Chester Wrangler of “bird note” brings us more.


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