Daniel Lacalle – TALKS WITH PETRI
Daniel Lacalle talks about bubbles and central bank traps, practical tips for individuals, why we are not learning from history and what’s the role of human ingenuity.
Daniel Lacalle, PhD, economist and fund manager, is the author of the bestselling books Life in the Financial Markets (Wiley, 2015), The Energy World Is Flat (Wiley, 2015) and Escape from the Central Bank Trap (Business Expert Press, 2017). He is a professor of Global Economy at IE Business School in Madrid.
Ranked as one of the top twenty most influential economists in the world in 2016 and 2017 by Richtopia, he holds the CIIA financial analyst title, with a post-graduate degree in higher business studies and a master’s degree in economic investigation. He is a member of the advisory board of the Rafael del Pino Foundation and Commissioner of the Community of Madrid in London.
Lacalle is a regular collaborator with CNBC, Bloomberg TV, BBC, Hedgeye, Seeking Alpha, Business Insider, Mises Institute, and The Epoch Times as well as an occasional consultant for The World Economic Forum, Focus Economics, The Financial Times, The Wall Street Journal, and other major news publications around the world.
(NOTE: The text may contain errors, misconceptions and even comical unintended contexts. Please use it only as a reference to the actual audio conversation from where it has been transcribed.)
Petri: Hello Daniel, what do you think of this year so far?
Daniel: This year obviously is an evident shock for almost everyone. It’s been starting as a year of complacency. The year in which everybody was talking about synchronised growth and a massive recovery. There were positive messages then we got COVID-19 and we’re dealing with the aftermath of the virus and the challenges that it brings.
It’s going to be an interesting few years for now.
Petri: You’ve been writing a lot of books and there was a recent one which came out. How has that been? Has Corona put a bit of challenge to the release?
Daniel: I have the luxury of having a very loyal reader base. I have not suffered from the coronavirus in terms of sales or in terms of the decision to publish a book. The book came out when it was supposed to come out and was obviously not written with the COVID-19 crisis in mind, but it touches upon a lot of the things that we hear these days as magic solutions to address the pandemic: world government intervention, massive money printing, huge transfers of wealth, et cetera. The book is doing, I’m glad, very well because it talks about all of the things that so many people are talking about right now and it discusses the middle lane.
Petri: Can you explain a bit what the book is about and how can it help people who are coping with the situation at the moment?
Daniel: This book is called Freedom or Equality because in the last few years we have had a constant and demagogue type of incessant type of propaganda telling us that all of the problems of humanity were problems of inequality. And it’s called Freedom or Equality to show that the interventionist measures that are being sold constantly in the media and in some outlets as what we should do are actually very dangerous propositions.
This book touches upon the fallacy of the theories of Thomas Piketty about the magic increase of wealth. It touches upon the idea that more intervention from governments is the solution to the challenges that we live with right now. And it’s a book about solutions.
It’s always, as all of my books, a book that gives feasible and logical solutions to the challenges that we have right now without falling into the trap of interventionism and socialism.
Petri: If those are not the answers to the situation at hand, what should we do? What is the better way?
Daniel: It’s a great question. The idea of what should we do tends to include in the question what should governments do. And in many cases, the idea that governments have to do something about the issues that they have been completely unable to manage or to prevent is dangerous in itself.
What should we do? We basically are doing as households and as companies a lot of the things that need to be done. There is the growth in innovation, the growth in technology, precisely what it’s allowing us right now to have this conversation, the prudent saving. The management of the crisis has been absolutely, I would say, admirable from the side of companies and from the side of households. Businesses have adapted to the situation in a way in which governments have not. The idea is precisely that it’s not up to governments to do something precisely because they don’t suffer the consequences of doing it wrong, which is what they have done.
The idea is that if governments, that are supposed to have the best information about the health care and about the health environment and are connected with the WHO etc. have been completely incompetent. Not just that addressing the risk of the pandemic, but managing the pandemic, we should not give them more power. We should give them less power.
Petri: Has this actually been something which has been already going on for decades? We just now see it in our face because things are quite compressed and happening so quickly, or is this something new?
Daniel: No situation is completely new and no situation is completely the same as before. This crisis has absolutely nothing to do with the 2008 crisis yet it has similar patterns. We are living the 2009 style of the previous crisis, which is the idea that governments have massively spent. The idea that governments have to and central banks have to increase liquidity and inject massive amounts of money into the economy in order to address slow down or a crisis.
That was similar, but on the other side, there are numerous things that are completely different. This is the first time ever in which we have a crisis because of the government decision to unilaterally shut down the entire economy. This is a monster experiment that has had and will have huge long-term implications.
The idea that governments are the solution to a problem that they have created…it’s governments that have completely misguidedly decided to completely shut down the economy thinking that it was only going to be like a vacation, something that only a bureaucrat would think. It has created very important ramifications.
Those ramifications will last for quite a long time and companies on the other hand and businesses are adapting in a way that is absolutely amazing. Admirable. Think about this when the government shut down the economy we have found ourselves in is that there has been absolutely no disruption to supplies.
This is absolutely fantastic. And shows how amazing capitalism is. How well capitalism adapts to situations that should not have occurred to start with. That should not have been caught in between health and the economy. The governments that have managed the pandemic in the best way have actually done and taken all of the measures to preserve the business fabric at its maximum level, e.g. South-Korea, Taiwan, Singapore etc.
Petri: You’ve also been talking quite a bit about central banks and monetary policies. What is the central bank trap?
Daniel: The central bank trap is that central banks ignore the risks that they generate in creating massive bubbles in financial assets by injecting huge amounts of liquidity lowering rates all the time. And then when those bubbles burst they become the enables of the next bubble. They become trapped by their own policies.
If they normalise monetary policy, then bubbles start to burst and then they create a financial crisis. We need to constantly be injecting liquidity and lowering rates in order to preserve bubbles that they have created with their policy.
Petri: When was the first bubble and how long has this been going on?
Daniel: What do you mean by the first bubble?
Petri: You stated that central banks are inflating and putting a bit bigger bubble after the previous one. What’s the first in the chain?
Daniel: We’ve had a few out. We all know the tech bubble, we all know the housing bubble, we know different sub, not global bubbles, in different economies. Iceland lived its massive real estate bubbles as well. Usually, bubbles tend to happen in assets or in financial assets in which we as investors or as citizens believe that there is no risk.
There was only one way in which you can Increase to extraordinary levels, your exposure to a risky asset. And that is if you believe that there is no risk. Who gives you the idea that there is no risk? The central bank by lowering the rates and increasing liquidity.
Petri: Why are they doing this? Basically, they just have only one play card in the deck. They are just doing the same thing with the different names and bit different methods, but it’s always printing more money.
Daniel: Obviously, you do it because it’s what they do. It’s monetary policy. Monetary policy tends to be created to benefit governments. And the only way in which you benefit governments is by increasing the money supply by lowering rates. Governments are the most indebted and the most exposed to the money creation.
The first recipients of money are governments. Central banks defend the position with governments relative to the position of savers and real wages.
Central banks are not doing that because they don’t know it. They do it because they believe that the collateral damages created by monetary policy, like for example, elevated valuations in the stock market or in bond markets, are acceptable collateral damages of a greater good, which is that governments finance themselves at very low rates. And, the sovereign debt remains very expensive in price. That means very low in terms of yield.
Central banks are basically just creating a framework that massively benefits governments. They hope that by aiding governments and by aiding the financial markets and by the effect called the wealth effect, you believe that you are richer because your house might be worth more. That kind of thing.
They believe that that incentivises consumption, incentivises confidence in the economy and confidence in further investment. They’re wrong.
Petri: They’re using short-term measures to create an illusion of growth?
Daniel: Not an illusion of growth. There is growth. The question is what type of growth there is. We have seen in the last decade how we get out of crisis much smaller and with a much higher level of debt by increasing liquidity and lowering interest rates. You don’t disincentivise debt. You incentivise people to take more debt.
Petri: But it’s also the inflation. Inflation is not really properly taken into account and this is another way of you paying by higher prices growth and capital gains.
Daniel: Inflation is taxation without legislation, Milton Friedman used to say it. And inflation obviously exists. What central banks and governments tend to tell us all of the time is that there is no problem with their policy because there is no inflation. Where does that come from? That comes from a headline on the CPI, consumer price index, that massively dilutes the real effect of inflation in people’s salaries and in people’s purchasing power of their salaries.
It’s no surprise that we see rising protests all over the world against the increase in the cost of living while at the same time central banks and governments tell us that there is no inflation.
Petri: We’ve been hopping from a pebble or bubble to another one. I was actually just starting to wonder that in the eighties there was also the stock market. And then in the early nineties, the Japanese market was the first one to go into stagnation and it’s still there today. How many bubbles are there still to go? What’s the end game?
Daniel: The bubbles can last for a very long time and they can repeat themselves. It doesn’t mean that there’s one bubble, it bursts, and it doesn’t happen again. The tech bubble burst and the real estate bubble burst. And we’re back in a real estate bubble in many markets. The idea that bubbles burst and then you move on to something different and that is a finite number of them is simply incorrect.
Petri: There must be some limit to the printing of money? You just cannot endlessly print more money. That’s what history is telling us. There’s an end for governments to do that.
Daniel: There’s only one way in which that ends is with the conscious decision of citizens to stop utilising the currency because they don’t trust it anymore. That can take a very long time. The policy of governments, and central banks, is reckless but calculated if that makes any sense. In the sense that, for example, you in your country, me in my country, we seem to be willing to accept a 2% inflation every year. 2% inflation every year is a lot. But there’s almost a quid pro quo that governments are willing to steal a little bit from your pocket because we collectively perceive that there is some worth to it. When does it stop? It stops when that quid pro quo stops working.
Petri: And the other thing which has happened the Swiss central bank was pretty much the last one holding the fort and when they joined the band would be the other central banks and now everybody’s just printing money and there’s nothing, no anchors left.
It also means that everybody needs to be in synch more or less. You cannot stop printing money because your currency will appreciate too much against the other ones. Are we speeding up at the pace of the pretty much the fastest one to print money? Or are there some changes expected to happen in this decade? It certainly feels like that in the last decades, things have been accelerating and bubbles are quicker and more drastic.
Daniel: Financial crises are more frequent, but they’re less severe. That is what tends to happen. The other thing that happens is that when everybody starts to play a currency war, which is basically what we’re talking about. We’re talking about banks, central banks and governments that don’t want their currency to strengthen.
And the reason why they don’t want their currencies to strengthen is not because it has any benefits on the economy. A strong currency is a signal of a strong economy.
Petri: Think Germany, at least still a few years back.
Daniel: Yeah, it is. The reason why governments don’t want that is because the only one out of the different economic agents that benefits from a weaker currency is the government that prints it. It has the monopoly of printing money and is the first recipient of that money.
Petri: The other thing that has been happening quite a while already as well is that central banks are buying private assets. What do you think of that?
Daniel: It comes as part of what I’m called the nationalisation of the economy. The reason why central banks are buying private assets is because they are gradually becoming the key deciders where the economic system goes. When the Central Bank of Japan or the European Central Bank buys bonds from companies and equities of companies, they’re actually taking gradually steps to nationalise through the back door those companies.
Obviously, you might say, well, that is not true because they continue to have a majority of private shareholders, which is true. However, if you look at the dependents on central bank policy that also dictates their strategy. When the central bank buys your bond and your equity what it is literally doing is almost transferring a private asset into the realm of public ownership and by public ownership I mean government-controlled ownership from “the people.”
Petri: How do you see that in the markets? Are they already significant players? Are they active players in the markets? are obviously been talking about geopolitics. China and the US, there’s a lot of tension in different parts of the world and between different trading blocs. This probably is one of the weapons in the arsenal and it’s going to be used as well. What’s going to happen in the next few years?
Daniel: What we’ll see is an acceleration of it. Financial repression is always followed by more financial repression. No one has ever said in government or in the central bank, Oh, we have too much spending. And therefore we need us to reduce spending, reduce that and take the foot off the pedal. No, there was always an incentive to increase exposure.
What we will see in the next few years is the path that Japan dictated a few years ago, the path of stagnation.
Petri: What’s the future of Japan? The population is going down. Can you get away from that situation, the monetary situations, the economic situations, the overall situation in Japan?
Daniel: They can, they can. They will not. There is no political party in Japan that has the slightest minimal policy geared towards reducing government expenditure and reducing deficits and reducing the dependence on the central bank. None. The future is more. The future is not less.
And it will happen. You and I are talking about Japan with debt-to-GDP of about 230% that is going to go to almost 300%. We will see that. We definitely will. But the key point is what you have been saying all the time, which is how long can this last?
It can last for a pretty long time. That doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have negative consequences. The fact that it lasts tends to be viewed by the interventionist commentators as proof that it doesn’t matter. And the deficits can go anywhere that they want and debt is not a problem. And the governments can issue all of the debt that they want. That is false.
There are important negative consequences. You just mentioned Japan. The first problem in Japan is a problem of stagnation, low consumption. Citizens in Japan are not stupid. They know that the purchasing power or the currency is going to be debased by central bank policy.
They know that real wages are going to be worth less. So consumption is eroded. Investment is eroded. Debt goes up in basically zombifying the economy. It can last for a while and it does have very potent negative consequences.
Petri: What is your advice for regular people? You are living in Japan or you’re living in a place where these things are happening, what should you do?
Daniel: The first thing you should do is to avoid the trap. Because the entire central bank and government led consensus is trying to tell you is don’t save, spend a lot, enter into a lot of debt. It doesn’t matter. Take over risk. The number one recommendation is don’t do it. Okay. Be prudent. Be prudent because it is not true that you can take all of that amount of risk and at the end of the day, the central bank or the government is going to bail you out because that doesn’t happen.
The second recommendation is to invest in assets that are bulletproof in a bull and in a bear market. When you invest in assets, invest in things that you know. Not in things that they tell you. Things that you know are bulletproof in a bear and in a bull market. For example, gold, or like the companies that are generating the highest levels of free cash flow. Not the ones that are considered blue chips. The third recommendation is to be sceptical because what you’re going to hear all the time is that this time is different and this time is never different.
Petri: Are there some regions or countries or places that are better than others? If that’s an option that could move other places. Can you recommend some economies or good places to be?
Daniel: I’m sure there are. There are economies that are prudent, that don’t have a lot of debt, that don’t have risk attached to their system. We have some in the Eurozone, in the European Union, we have them all over the world. Ultimately, the issue with monetary policy and with risk is that it’s not a game of who wins. It’s a game of who loses trust.
That’s why despite the aggressive actions of the Federal Reserve, the dollar tends to continue to be strong and a world reserve currency. The reason being that The Federal Reserve is the only central bank in the world that pays attention to the real demand of dollars when increasing or decreasing the money supply. That is not the case in others.
Petri: But is it also true that others are more or less following the US that’s what’s been happening like the last a hundred years?
Daniel: I wouldn’t agree with that. I think that it tends to be perceived that other central banks are copying the Federal Reserve, but they’re not. Think about, for example, the European Central Bank. The ECB has implemented negative rates. The Federal Reserve has not.
The European Central Bank has increased its balance sheet way above the Federal Reserve. The Federal Reserve balance sheet is about 32% and the European Central Bank’s is about 53% of GDP of the Eurozone. The European Central Bank has implemented a number of measures of asset purchases that the Federal Reserve has not.
So I disagree. I don’t think that everybody’s copying the Fed. I think that in broad terms the Fed and everybody else is doing, as you said before, precisely what has happened all the time since the days in which an emperor in Rome decided that it was a good idea to put a little bit of metal in the gold and silver coins in order to pay higher salaries to the soldiers and kill the economy with it.
The printing money is something that has been going on for forever. And it does end badly. We find it very difficult to understand when will it end. And that is the problem.
Petri: Is there something we can learn from the history? as a generation now have had the unfortunate opportunity of realising that stuff can happen really quickly. Last week we were doing something and next week you’re not flying at all, maybe for years.
And when we’re looking back in history, people were preparing for their summer holidays and then the World War started a few weeks later. And it was just like business as usual till it was not. What can we learn from the previous money printing and previous monetary regimes?
Daniel: I think that young people should stop asking from governments entitlements that cannot be paid. This is the first thing. When we are small, we learn rather quickly that Father Christmas, Santa Claus depends on how you call him or how you call it in different countries, doesn’t exist that it’s your parents.
When we reach a certain age in the economy, then we start believing in Santa Claus again. We believe in Santa Claus, the government. We have eliminated the idea of God and the idea of magic fairy tale things like Santa Claus or Tooth Fairy and substituted it with the government. The government can do everything, and all the time for me with no consequence.
What young people should do and they’re not doing to start with, when I talk to my students, when I see how young people are reacting these days, they’re not saying thank you very much. I don’t want something that you know you cannot give me. They’re saying yes, please. I want more of that.
And therefore governments are always going to have a perverse incentive to destroy the purchasing power of the currency and to increase imbalances because to a certain extent people are demanding it. When you go to the United States and you hear young people that should be better informed than people like myself.
I’m 52 years old or going to be 53. Young people that have all of the information out there. And they should be able to understand perfectly the risks and the realities of what history has shown is a disastrous policy. What are they doing? Those people are out there marching saying that the federal government should print trillions of dollars to give Medicare for all.
It’s very disheartening and very disappointing to see that the younger generations that actually should be the ones saying you’re not going to fool me with the old tricks are saying: Yes, please. Fool me with the old tricks. And some.
Petri: Just the other week, I was talking with Per Bylund and we were exactly talking about this point and he was saying that you cannot really blame the general public for the ignorance in these matters, because they’re not really interested in economics. But it’s also the people who should be in the know who unfortunately are having the tendencies that they don’t know any better.
One of the ways he was saying that what we should do, and he was saying, and I was saying as well, that we need probably an educational revolution. We were going with economics, for example, the last hundred years in the wrong direction. And we are now just reaping what we have been sowing all those years.
Daniel: I come back to the point. It is not a lack of education. It’s an excess of ideological education that young people, in particular, are absorbing like it was Christmas. Young people with all of the information…any of our listeners today that are younger than I am have every possibility of knowing exactly what is going on and they decide collectively or individually not to learn from history. They prefer to believe in magic. That is a conscious decision and it’s not because of lack of information or lack of education is because of personal decision.
You were saying before that you cannot be blamed for what is going on because you’re not interested or you don’t know about it. Well, you can actually. You can’t blame people for it because the most disadvantaged person in the world today has a device like the one that I’m holding right now in my hand, and it’s constantly accessing information that is completely irrelevant yet does not want to learn about things that matter to them. You go today to any citizen of the world and through Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, you name it, it doesn’t matter what type of social media, they know everything about what they want to know.
Everything. You’re a fan of a particular singer. You’re a fan of a particular actor or an actress, you know everything to the slightest, the most boring detail yet you consciously decide not to understand what undermines your economic position, your salary. It’s like going out in a bad neighbourhood with five Rolexes in your hands and saying, steal me.
And I’m sorry. I have students that I’ve been giving classes in university for 15 years now. My students don’t read. My students don’t read.
Petri: You mean at all? Or you mean just some particular things?
Daniel: You give a group of students five or six books to read in a year. They don’t read them. They just don’t do it. If it’s something that is going to hurt their grade or something, they just don’t do it.
And I don’t teach to the first grade. I teach in master degrees. What I’m saying is that there is a conscious decision that is affecting the way in which we perceive the economy. There is not just, I don’t understand or I don’t give a damn, dangerous, both options, is I willingly decide to let somebody else steal me.
Okay. Fair enough. But that’s their decision then don’t complain. When I go to give lectures or give speeches, and people tell me that deficits don’t matter, that governments should spend all they want in any shape or form that they want. And that will not have any impact on the economy.
I say, fair enough. You deserve what is going to happen to you is because you have all of the information out there to understand that that is empirically wrong. There is this and by the way, in education, something has happened in the last 20 years in particular, which is that we have transferred the adolescence years to adulthood.
We treat ourselves like teenagers. We behave like teenagers in adulthood. If we don’t get the salary or the job that we think we deserve, who do we blame? We blame the system. If the government continuously increases its imbalances and then increases our taxes, who do we blame? We blame politicians.
We don’t blame ourselves for letting them do it. You see what I mean? There is this victimism approach that I’m not willing to accept. I know that actions have consequences. And if you demand the government to take certain actions, they will take them. So the consequences are also something that the person that has voted for those actions is to blame for.
Petri: What’s the way out? Doesn’t sound too promising for the future.
Daniel: I’m very optimistic about the future. I think that technology and the fact that things happen so fast that no government can implement interventionist measures that have worried people from knowing reality. That was a positive. When I was a kid, if I heard something from a politician, I would start by questioning it.
I would start by saying, well, you know what, I’m going to dig deep on this because I’m not going to believe it. That’s what people should start doing. Instead of when they get disappointed with mainstream politicians they decide to go to somebody that is promising even crazier things.
They should actually start for ones to tell politicians: thank you very much for your service. Step aside, step aside a little bit. There were plenty of things that politicians and governments can do, but not all of them. And that’s it.
Petri: You mentioned that you’re optimistic about the future and technology is probably one of the ways to see some lingering hope there. Going back to the roots of money and bank notes what they meant were bank issued notes. Are we going to have tech notes?
Technology companies taking over the monetary policy soon or the money. And, this is the way out of this situation because I don’t personally believe that the politicians and the government can stop printing money?
Daniel: You don’t need companies. You were mentioning this because of the famous experiment of Facebook’s Libra? No, and things like that never happened. You don’t need that. You already have alternatives to fiat more money.
Petri: You’re referring to Bitcoin?
Daniel: Bitcoin, Ethereum and different cryptocurrencies and there will be new ones. There will be different ones. I see that there is a way out in that front.
Petri: What does it take for that to happen? We are not in mass adoption of Bitcoin and that’s the oldest one and the most robust one, but it’s not like everybody’s using it. Even though just saving in Bitcoin seems to be a pretty sweet deal.
Daniel: Things take time. Because it hasn’t happened in two or five years, it will never happen because we live in the world of immediacy. And we think that now, it has to happen. Now, if something is not happening now, it will never happen. It might. And it’s a question of time.
You and I, in this conversation, we have been talking about a period of time in history. That is an anecdote in human history. That is we’re talking about the last 70 years, seven zero. That is nothing. The point that I’m trying to make is that things take their time.
Well, I might not see it in my lifetime. You’re younger than I am. You might see it, but things take their time. It doesn’t mean that they will not happen. What I’m sure and that I am sure, and that’s what I explained in Freedom or Equality is that if you don’t see it and I don’t see it, your sons or my sons and daughters will live in a better environment than the one that we live in the same way that we are living in a better environment than our parents. Even if we complain about it.
Petri: We are progressing towards a better future all the time?
Daniel: You don’t have to sit and wait for it. You can try to help with our different tools and our different ways and means of achieving it. But the point is that it will happen.
Petri: You mentioned about the 10 years, for example in Bitcoin’s term, usually the overnight success in the startup world is something between 10 to 15 years of hard grinding, and really doing trial by errors. It could be that Bitcoin is going to kick off in the next 10 years and it’s going to happen fast.
Daniel: Whether it’s Bitcoin or something else… If you read Friedrich Hayek’s The Nationalization of Money in that book he explains the process of reducing the power of governments in money creation. It’s almost unstoppable, but there will be a vast majority of the currencies that will appear will disappear. If I knew it, I would be a guru and I would invest in it. But I don’t know it.
What I know is that never bet against human ingenuity. Because human ingenuity always takes us out of problems progressing and delivering better and more sustainable solutions.
Petri: What is your favourite word?
Daniel: My favourite word is now.
Petri: What is your least favourite word?
Petri: What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally?
Daniel: Rock and roll.
Petri: What turns you off?
Petri: What is your favourite curse word?
Daniel: Bull crap.
Petri: What sound or noise do you love?
Petri: What sound or noise do you hate?
Daniel: Central banker minute speech.
Petri: What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?
Daniel: I would’ve been interested to pursue a career in entertainment.
Petri: What profession would you not like to do?
Daniel: I would not like to do for the benefit of humanity is medicine.
Petri: If you could be a cofounder of any startup in any era, which one would you choose?
Petri: Can you elaborate a bit and explain why?
Daniel: Apple has changed so many things in the way that we perceive technology, the human interaction, the approach to entertainment, to music, to design. I think it’s been absolutely phenomenal.
Petri: Any final words for the audience?
Daniel: Don’t give up.
Petri: Thank Daniel! It’s been a blast.
Daniel: Absolutely enjoyed a lot and it has been great to talk to you and hope that everybody enjoys it as much as I did.
Petri: Where can they get your latest book and more information about you?
Daniel: You can get my books at Amazon. You can follow me on Twitter: dlacalle_IA. You can also watch my videos on my YouTube channel. You can also follow my website. It’s quite difficult not to find me. If you can’t find me, you definitely need to try a little bit harder.
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