This American Life November 10, 2015 | By

Podcast Perusal #8: “This American Life”

This is the best explanation of the crisis that I’ve ever heard. If you have banker roommates (like me) and have tried in vain to understand the crisis (like me), listen to this podcast and rest assured that you no longer have to sit quietly while you attempt to keep up with their banter.


The Background

This American Life is described on our own Audiologue page dedicated to the show as “a journalistic non-fiction program hosted by Ira Glass. It features essays, memoirs, field recordings, short fiction, and found footage.” It is such a popular show that, as fellow Audiologue contributor Will Warren writes, it “seems kind of pointless” to review it since it is already so pervasive in podcast-related conversations.

I am covering the May 9, 2008 episode of This American Life called “Giant Pool of Money.” This special program pairs This American Life’s Alex Blumberg (formerly of Planet Money, now of Gimlet media) with NPR’s Adam Davidson (now of Gimlet and the New York Times) to explain the housing/credit crisis, step-by-step. For the effort, the episode was awarded both the Polk and Peabody awards.

Disclaimer: credit/banking is not my forte. I have zero academic background in finance, and my father has tried in vain to explain the crises multiple times. But after listening to this podcast (and taking 4 pages of notes, I kid you not), I definitely feel like I’ll now be able to keep up with and even contribute to a conversation with my banker roommates about the crisis. Which is something I’m extremely happy about.

You can find the episode here.

 

The Review

The past few months of reviewing ‘best-of’ episodes has trained me to identify the makings of a universally well-received episode. Typically, they are engaging, reflective, and so easy-to-follow that it almost makes you forget that you’re learning. I also personally prefer the podcasts that are educational with a hint of entertainment, but there are many who prefer the opposite balance. Many of these ‘best-of’ episodes strongly emphasize one quality over another, and can pull it off; but few strike that perfect balance that I personally appreciate.

This is one such episode.

I fully acknowledge that some people just don’t want to listen to experts talk about all of the factors contributing to the credit crisis of 2008. I didn’t really want to, either. But I have to highly encourage you to give this episode a listen. Alex and Adam masterfully circumvent the ‘boringness’ of bank speak by personifying each role with a person, using interviews and names to paint a picture of the web of complexity. The historical context of the crisis is presented in such a way that is truly fascinating, and almost engaging. It was just easy to learn about it. That’s my all-time favorite kind of podcast.

On another note, I wish to offer the context for listening to this podcast. The podcast ended with people wondering if 2008 was going to start a 1930s-like depression. I listened to it on a Sunday night, and I had just read this article from the Wall Street Journal on the previous Friday. The article is titled “Brisk Job Gains Ease Fed’s Path,” and explains that “solid wage growth and robust hiring raise chances of rate hike at December meeting.” Pretty interesting that this article was published a mere 7 years after the episode was aired.

Summarizing this episode would result in a lesson about the credit crisis, but I couldn’t take that experience away from a listener. Go listen to it. BUT, if you want to see my notes (all four pages), please feel free to email me.

 

TL;DR

This is definitely for you people who want to know more about the credit crisis, but have no idea where to start. This is the best explanation of the crisis that I’ve ever heard. If you have banker roommates (like me) and have tried in vain to understand the crisis (like me), listen to this podcast and rest assured that you no longer have to sit quietly while you attempt to keep up with their banter.

About the Author

Annie Ungrady is a writer at Audiologue, where she writes a weekly column called Podcast Perusal with her impressions of classic podcast and radio episodesYou can email her at annie@audiologue.xyz.

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