August 16, 2017
Costco made shopping harder, and customers loved it. Now a new company is taking the Costco experience to new extremes.
Planet Money explains itself like this: "Imagine you could call up a friend and say, 'Meet me at the bar and tell me what's going on with the economy.' Now imagine that's actually a fun evening."
Costco made shopping harder, and customers loved it. Now a new company is taking the Costco experience to new extremes.
When we go to the state fair, we don’t go for the rides, deep-fried tacos or the butter cow. We head straight for the vendor marketplace to meet the masters of the lost art of salesmanship.
We visit the workshop of the meat inventor who came up with Steak-Umm and KFC’s popcorn chicken. And we try to figure out what meat inventors tell us about patents and innovation.
Google just got hit with a multibillion-dollar antitrust fine. Here’s what it tells us about competition, market power, and the biggest corporations on the planet.
We answer one of the most important questions in finance: What actually happens at the end of Trading Places?
News moves fast. Some of our best stories from this year have new chapters. Here, we catch up on three: Dirty trademarks, trading bots, and the war against the bald eagle.
Sam Cohen buys stuff at big retail stores, then turns around and sells it on Amazon for a quick profit. It defies economic logic. But somehow, there’s a whole multimillion-dollar industry doing this.
Most athlete endorsements make a product more expensive. But what happens when an NBA All-Star uses his name to make a sneaker much, much cheaper? On today’s show: How that worked out.
On today’s show: The story of two guys who tried to cut the pay of a CEO at a small pneumatic tool company.
That meeting between Donald Trump Jr. and a Russian lawyer was two decades in the making. It began in 1996, when an adventurous American went to Russia, trying to make a buck.
Bail is broken. In New Jersey, defense attorneys, prosecutors, and judges banded together to try a dramatic solution: Blow it up.
We run through the entire federal budget — in 10 minutes. More than $6 billion per second. Go.
We visit a company where people work on figuring out how to make stuff get cheaper.
In Washington, D.C., there is a place where millions of dollars of ripped, burned, and water-soaked dollar bills are made new. On today’s show, we get inside that room.
We visited a libertarian summer paradise. What we found: People paying in gold. Exotic bacon dishes. A nine-year-old selling alcohol.
Flip-floppers, this one’s for you. Changing your mind is hard, but it’s one of the smartest things you can do.
What happens when an unstoppable shrimp meets an unmovable senator? A researcher goes to Washington to defend herself, her shrimp, and science itself.
Qatar was on top of the world. Seemingly overnight, it became a pariah. On this episode, we drill into a rift years in the making: It’s a tale of falcons, kidnapping, and a glowing Saudi Arabian orb.
Today on the show, a businessman goes to prison, and decides he is going to disrupt the biggest captive market in America.
How a free-love commune embraced the free market and became a blockbuster brand.
The president’s budget promises 3% growth. Is that doable? Yes, but he won’t like what it would take.
A battle with a weed divides neighbors and leads one farmer to shoot another dead. Today’s show: The hunt for a better pesticide gets way out of hand.
A man goes looking for the invisible wall that traps poor people in poverty. Finding it almost gets him killed.
You can name your business whatever you want. But the government won’t register it as a trademark if it thinks it’s offensive. It gets weird when you try to decide what is too offensive to trademark.
As long as there have been casinos, people have tried to cheat them. The latest attempt was by a group of hackers who tried to take down slot machines using math, iPhones, and a whole lot of swiping.
How fast is the world really changing? The answer has implications for everything from how the next generation will live to whether robots really will take all our jobs.
The creation of the electronic spreadsheet transformed industries. But its effects ran deeper than that.
What happened when India’s Prime Minister declared most of the paper money in India worthless? We travel to India to see what happened after the country’s demonetization.
Something incredible happened in India about six months ago. The government declared most of the paper money invalid. Demonetization they called it. Today, we meet the man who came up with the plan.
We visit a job market created by economists, for economists. It’s a hyper-efficient, optimized system, tested by game theorists, tweaked by a Nobel Prize winner, but it requires comfortable shoes.
Ten years ago, two little-known funds at Bear Stearns blew up, and the financial crisis was on its way. Today, we ask the person at the center of it all, former Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke, why it happened.
Today on the show, how a New Hampshire hotel filled with boozing economists saved the global economy.
In 1838, the Maryland Jesuits sold 272 people, slaves, to pay the debts of Georgetown University. We talk with the descendants about what – if anything – they’re owed.
For the residents of a small Louisiana town, there’s always been a question about their past: How’d they get there? Solving the mystery only raised more questions.
Where do holidays like National Potato Chip Day and Argyle Day come from? We trace the roots of one made-up holiday until we find out who is running the global holiday machine.
One in three American jobs require a license. Today on the show, why those licensing rules hurt the U.S. economy.
One man figured out how to reproduce the magic of an Irish pub, and ship it in a container to anywhere in the world.
On today’s show, we get in on the future of investing. We build an automated stock-trading bot. It analyzes the twitter feed of President Donald Trump, then trades stocks with real money. Our money. You can follow our bot on twitter, @BOTUS.
The tricks and mind games tax collectors use to get people to pay up.
On today’s show: Snuggies, printer toner, and a banking road trip. Three stories about what happens when you actually read the fine print.
Jason Blum makes a lot of movies and makes them cheap. So why are so many turning into blockbusters?
A populist president versus the most powerful banker in America.
One professor had a way to make filing taxes easy and painless. It worked. People loved it. But then a big tax lobby heard about it…
Three short stories about putting a price on something hard to value precisely. We go from $4.66 under a pillow all the way up to $1 trillion across every inch of highway in America.
A hundred years ago, nobody talked about “the economy.” That’s because easy ways to measure and talk about it hadn’t been invented. On today’s show: how we started boiling nations down to a number.
The Constitution contains a paragraph known as the Emoluments Clause. It’s 49 words meant to prevent foreign influence on US officials. How does it apply to a president with a global business empire?
Wikileaks released documents listing the hacks the CIA uses to spy on people. So we revisit our story on hackers for hire: people hunting for flaws in your phone to sell to people, or even the CIA.
President Trump does not like Dodd-Frank, the 2010 law that transformed banking regulation. On today’s show, we ask: What are the key parts of the law? And how are they likely to change?
Here at Planet Money, we often wonder: how useful is economics in our everyday lives? Could the principles of economics be applied to the most intimate of human experiences, like, say, love?
Early every year, 30 billion bees make their way across the country to California’s Central Valley. Here’s why.
In the span of a few months in 1980, more than 100,000 Cuban immigrants arrived in Miami. So what happened to Florida’s economy with all these new people coming in? And what can we learn from it?
A charismatic populist president wanted to boost manufacturing and create jobs. She told companies, ‘if you want to sell your stuff here, you have to build it here.’ This is what happened.
Here at Planet Money, our favorite stories are the ones we wish we’d done ourselves. On the show, we call out rivals and colleagues who did what we try to do better than we could have done it.
Charlie Shrem went to prison. While he was there, he thought up a better way to move money behind bars. Now he’s out and trying to sell his idea to international investors.
What would the perfect immigration system look like? We ask three economists and get three very different answers. (None of which include building a wall.)
Picture an organic farm, with thousands of free-range chickens roaming wide-open land. Now picture it from above, from the vantage of a soaring bald eagle. It’s an all-you-can-eat buffet.
Over the next few months, we’re going to explain President Trump’s economic plans. Today: a totally new idea for corporate taxes. What’s the plan, what’s the theory behind it, and does it work?
When an American loses his/her job to trade, there is program to help. It’s been around for decades. It makes a lot of sense. It is a generous program. And almost nobody’s heard of it. But why?
President Trump talks about putting tariffs on foreign cars. But there are already tariffs on auto imports and one got there because of chickens in Germany. This is how trade barriers tend to spread.
Ed Thorp started his career teaching math at MIT. Then he slid sideways into blackjack, changed the game forever, and set his sights on Wall Street investing. He changed that forever too.
Congress writes laws, but the president makes the rules that put the laws in action. President Obama’s staff has been scrambling to lock in rules before Trump takes the helm. But will they stick?
When Steve Flatow’s daughter was killed in a terror attack, he wanted someone to pay. His target was the Iranian government. His quest would pit him against both Iran and the White House.
A Republican governor lives the dream. He cuts taxes dramatically in his state and he promises good times ahead. But the good times do not come.
Wall Street traders and Las Vegas gamblers have a lot in common. But when a Wall Street firm set up shop taking Vegas bets, both sides got a surprise.
People are talking about how the Dow Jones Industrial Average is about to hit a new record: Twenty thousand. We have a pretty strong opinion about the Dow. We think you should ignore it.
It’s time for an annual Planet Money tradition–we revisit some of our favorite stories from the past year, and see what’s changed since we turned off our mics.
The man who ran the last bank bailout has a plan to prevent the next one.
There’s an idea that dates back at least to biblical times. That there should be a moment when debts are forgiven. Its called a jubilee. One country tried it.
Today on the show, two unions separated by 200 years, an ocean and an exit clause. The United States has no exit clause. It led to civil war. Europe, on the other hand, has Article 50.
On today’s show, how a band of medieval warrior monks sworn to poverty got into the banking business and changed the way we think about money forever.
A special holiday episode about the epic, decades-long feud between the two companies that make just about every handbell in the world.
The story of a court case. On one side, the best lawyers money can buy. On the other, a night school lawyer who had never argued a case before. The outcome could affect everyone on the internet.
All types of companies are struggling with burnout. Many try to fix it. Most of them fail. One exception: A 26-year-old call center manager, with stress balls and costumes in her arsenal.
We track down a fake-news creator in the suburbs, uncover his empire of fake-news sites, and get him to tell us his secrets.
In this episode: How we got from candles made out of cow fat to as much light as we want. The history of light is the history of economic growth — of things getting faster, cheaper, and more efficient.
Russia’s latest ambition: To build a steak empire. On today’s show, a fourth-generation American cowboy teaches Russian ranchers how to make American-style steaks. Some things get lost in translation.
We go on a madcap dash through discounts, bargains and tough tradeoffs. Like the headline says: We bring you stories of 17 deals in just 17 minutes (not counting the intro, the ad, or the credits).
What happens when a creativity guru meets the winner of this year’s Nobel Memorial Prize in economics? You get life lessons in making art, and negotiating contracts.
The story of a guy who tried to make something of himself by getting into a rough business. And the story of a time when the world went wild for debt.
Candidates promise all kinds of things. But once they get into office, it’s not always possible to carry through on them. We ask, can Trump do the things he’s pledged to do?
Donald Trump is our president elect. We look at three economic indicators to see what they can tell us about a Trump presidency.
Truffles are a lumpy, smelly fungus. They’re also one of the most coveted foods in the world. Why are they so expensive? And why are people willing to pay so much for them?
On today’s show, Planet Money’s economist-approved fake candidate makes his first ads. Then we nervously watch to see what a focus group thinks of them.
Banks like Wells Fargo have a weapon that can destroy an employee’s career: A form. A long, boring form most people don’t even know exists.
Behold the Planet Money economic platform, crafted by brilliant economists of all stripes, and pure poison to any politician who embraces it.
Venezuela has just about every economic advantage a country could ask for: fertile land, good climate, educated population, and oil, lots and lots of oil. So how did it go so wrong?
A doctor treating psychiatric patients in an emergency room created the first self-checkout machine in his spare time. Now he can’t stand self checkout. So we take him shopping.
Subaru’s sales had been slumping for years. So the car company took a big risk and targeted a group of consumers that just about everyone else was ignoring.
How we got from mealy, nasty apples to apples that taste delicious. The story starts with a breeder who discovered a miracle apple. But discovering that apple wasn’t enough.
We take you inside the headquarters of Wells Fargo bank. It’s a place where a bunch of young, stressed-out workers were rewarded for doing some very bad things.
On today’s episode, we’ll take you to a place where dying has become acceptable dinner conversation. A place that also happens to have the lowest healthcare spending of any region in the country.
New show! You asked us questions about the economy and oddities in your world. We answer.
We made an audio glossary for the confusing economic jargon that came up during the first presidential debate.
On today’s show: The fight over free trade. Come for the man who dreamed of world peace through trade. Stay for Robert Smith in the mean streets of Seattle.
We test two competing theories, from a food writer and an economist. Are customers being forced to walk through the store or is it just practical to keep the milk at the back?
Prices of new textbooks have been going up like crazy — faster than food, cars, even healthcare. On today’s show: Why textbooks have gotten so expensive.
The internet was supposed to get rid of middlemen–but instead they are taking over the global economy.
If you’re a zoo or aquarium and you want a new animal, you don’t use money to get it. You have to find another way. In this episode, we investigate: How many mackerel is a flock of puffins worth?
There is a mystery in many poor countries. Why don’t farmers specialize and grow more food? Two economists with very different theories go head to head to find out.
For decades, most websites ended in either .com, .net, or .org. But a few years ago, everything changed.
One telenovela actress-turned-executive decided to write a new kind of drama. Her show changed the landscape of Spanish language TV–and of all TV.
Why is it so hard to knock down 17 vacant houses in a shrinking city?
Last of five episodes. We follow the Planet Money oil to a gas station. And we ask: What would our world look like if there were no fossil fuels?
Fourth of five episodes. Oil is in our sneakers, our clothes, and the computer or phone you’re using right now. On today’s show: The story of the man who made it happen.
Third of five episodes. The Planet Money oil faces a test, we sell it, and we meet the man who set off the fracking boom in America.
Second of five episodes. Oil is priced down to the penny, and the price changes every day. Who sets that price?
First of five episodes. We’re getting into the oil business. We go to Kansas, and negotiate with a preacher to buy 100 barrels of crude.
There’s an obscure law that governs just about anything that travels by ship in the U.S. — bananas, hairdryers, gasoline, even people. Economists do not like it. But it just won’t go away.
Building a robot that can sew even simple clothes is surprisingly hard. A retired professor in Atlanta thinks he’s solved the problem. It could bring textile manufacturing back to America.
The computer or phone that you use knows a lot about you. It knows your secrets — and it might be giving them away.
Crafting a TV game show is a balancing act. Producers have to carefully calibrate the rules, the drama and the prizes just right. Sometimes they get it way wrong.
A lot of computing pioneers were women. For decades, the number of women in computer science was growing. But in 1984, something changed.
A tale of violence, payback, and how to make things right.
Three stories of people getting their money back — or trying to. From a hospital, a scammer, and the ever-exciting global bond market.
Scoring a fix is cheap and today’s heroin is strong. But that’s just part of the reason why America got hooked. Today on the show, we trace the roots of America’s heroin epidemic with a dealer, a user, and a DEA agent.
Brexit is like a breakup. So today, a divorce story in two acts. We hear from both sides: The people who voted to leave, and the Europeans being left.
When you think of cartels, maybe you think of drugs, maybe you think of oil. But what probably doesn’t come to mind? Swiss cheese.
Where is the line between being inspired by somebody’s creative work and stealing it?
Bitcoin was supposed to revolutionize the way money works. But the thing people love about it may be destroying it.
What just happened in the UK? And what’s coming next?
How much of a brand is real? How much is in our heads?
If your country’s main export is water, what happens when your wells run dry?
There is a crime wave in the West right now. Cattle rustling — stealing cattle — is on the rise. The crime is as old as America, and it’s making a big comeback.
Two bodybuilders go at it over a Stanford university patent. And we dive in to make sense of it.
Technology means that no matter what job you have — whether you’re alone in a truck on an empty road or sitting in a cubicle in front of a computer — your company can now track everything you do.
This episode is for everyone who’s ever had to ask their coworkers to quiet down or walk laps of the office to make a private phone call. Today on the show: We meet the man who stole your office door.
It’s something you can see on every day and on every block in most major cities. But in Myanmar, a country that was cut off from the rest of the world for decades, an ATM is a small miracle
How do you secretly stash away a million dollars? One way is to hide the money in plain sight, right in the heart of New York City. Today’s show: the case of who owns Apartment 5B.
Meet a single mother who makes $16,000 a year and managed to fund a vacation at a Caribbean resort with an interest-free loan from one of the world’s largest banks.
One night, Lariat Alhassan heard an ad on the radio. It said the Nigerian government was offering millions of dollars to people with business ideas, practically no strings attached. She gave it a go.
In New York City, more than 5,000 food trucks and carts compete for the business of hungry office workers. And finding the right spot to set up shop can mean the difference between fortune and ruin.
To serve Muslim customers, a bank in Michigan tried to comply with both U.S. regulations and Islamic law. One problem: Islamic law prohibits charging interest.
On today’s show, we open up some of those annoying pharmaceutical spam emails and find out who’s clicking to buy herbal viagra? Also, what happens when they do?
Beer. Water. Pretzels. It takes effort, strategy, and some serious lungs to sell expensive junk food at a baseball game. Meet the hot dog vending legend of Fenway Park.
To get to the other side… where there are millions of dollars in tax breaks.
Housing subsidies are often given out through a lottery. But why do we let random chance decide who gets help with the rent? We don’t do that for food stamps or health care, so why housing?
In this episode, we consider a world where everybody cheats, and where you can’t win unless you game the regulators: Professional cycling.
When you’re an employer looking at a giant stack of resumes, you have to find some way to quickly narrow the field. How do you do that fairly? And what happens when your good intentions backfire?
We talk to Kid Rock about how he tried to cut scalpers out of the business — and still sell cheap tickets to his shows.
The modern class action was created on a typewriter in the back of a car. (Sort of.) Now, thousands of these lawsuits are filed every year. How did we get here? Is this really a good way to do things?
Credit cards with chips in them have been around for four decades. So why is America only getting them now? And now that they are here, why are so few places using them?
Imagine a safer kind of gun. Imagine a company with a plan to build it. Imagine customers ready to buy it. Imagine what could go wrong. A whole lot.
A California mall straddles the border between two cities — and the minimum wage is higher on one side.
Puerto Rico is part of the United States, but not one of the United States. And this limbo status has brought a world of economic trouble.
And how can we meet our fake shareholder and fake director?
On today’s show, we tell the stories of a few mysterious lines on IRS form 1040 — the basic tax form. In its own, maddening way, the 1040 is a great American document.
There’s a revolution underway in the world of cable TV–more and more people are getting rid of it. And there are some unforeseen consequences when we cut the cord and go our separate ways.
We talk to a professional poker player who lost on the first day of poker’s most famous tournament–but went on to get a huge payout. Turns out there’s a game behind the game.
In this show, we dive deep into the world of hiding money. We look for the easiest place to shelter a bank account and set up our own shell company in an offshore tax haven. Good times.
Argentina decided that it could take on the world. They had a bunch of debt and said, ‘we’re not paying.’ Then a group of hedge funds took the entire country to court.
One day in the early 1990s, a man walked into the U.S. embassy in Ecuador. He said he had information on how to go after some of most powerful drug traffickers in the world.
A million-dollar bet pits a bunch of really smart money managers against the simplest investment idea in the world.
Most of us don’t think of citizenship as a product. It’s something more: It’s part of who you are. On today’s show, we look at what happens when citizenship goes up for sale.
Today, we bring you the future as dreamt up by presidential candidates. Also: sober economists poking holes in the candidates’ dreams.
Firefighters don’t go to fires as much as much as they used to. Yet the fire department is still set up the same way. What should change?
A lot of people dream of not paying their taxes. Larry Williams scoured the fine print of IRS code, talked to lawyers, settled on a plan, then just stopped paying taxes.
There’s a secret war going on inside every franchise. At KFC, it all goes back to a guy with a white beard and a black string tie: Colonel Harland Sanders.
Regret. Self-loathing. Jealousy. Happy Valentine’s Day! We bring you little stories that we love so much, we wish we had thought of them ourselves.
He has thousands of dollars stashed around his house. She’s part of an informal savings club. And Miguelo Rada has a whole bank in his pocket.
Politicians have argued for decades that CEOs should earn less money. But there was a moment in the 1990s when CEO pay suddenly shot up. What happened?
For years, Saudi Arabia has been living off one resource and one resource only: Oil. But now, the price of a barrel has plummeted, and the country is scrambling to adapt.
You’ve seen these ads: “You can work from home and get rich. It’s easy. Call this number!” So, what happens when you respond?
We ponder the origins of money, the economics of Santa, and the business of cemeteries. Why? Because you asked.
We uncover the secrets of the auction world. There is conniving. There are tricks. Also: Hydraulic hammers.
According to one theory, we tip because we feel guilty, not because we want better service.
How much of published scientific research is false? Scientists are trying to figure it out.
If those are the winning Powerball numbers, this will be our last show. Also: The story of Queen Elizabeth’s 1567 lottery, and we meet a man who has won multiple jackpots, no luck needed.
Sneaking people across the U.S.-Mexico border is a well established, booming business. Today on the show, we meet a businessman and a client in the evolving industry of human smuggling.
On today’s Planet Money, the complex economy of one elementary-school lunchroom.
In the 1600s, a good spice rub was the ultimate display of wealth. People would risk their lives for a sack of cloves. On today’s show, we cook a recipe from the spice trade days.
Not every story has an ending. Sometimes after we finish a podcast and send it to you, the facts change, a new chapter unfolds. Today on the show, we update some of our favorite episodes from 2015.
Not every story has an ending. Sometimes after we finish a podcast and send it to you, the facts change, a new chapter unfolds. Today on the show, we update some of our favorite episodes from 2015.
There are people with Birkin bags and there are the rest of us. Today on the show: the elaborate, upside-down strategy that has kept a $60,000 purse the “it” bag for 30 years.
Today on the show: A man who got caught insider trading explains everything — what he did, how he did it, and why. Though he’s still struggling with that last one.
Today on the show: A lawsuit over a Santa suit. It’s a window into countless hidden fights that shape the stuff we buy.
Today on the show: The mind games that gyms play with you. From design to pricing to free bagels, gyms want to be a product that everyone buys, but no one actually uses.
These days A/B testing is everywhere. It’s shaped almost every website, some stores and even some school lessons. Today, the most meta episode ever. Planet Money A/B tests a show about A/B testing.
When you die you can pass on your money, your house. But your image–what you look and sound like–that’s trickier. Today on the show: How Frank Sinatra made his image, and maybe yours, last forever.
What happens when ISIS takes over your city? Today on the show: We talk to a man who lived and worked in ISIS controlled territory. He tells us about how he paid taxes, where he kept his money and a $50 candy bar.
Two decades ago, shoppers in Brazil would run ahead of the worker who raised prices every day. Inflation was crazy. Today on the show: How four economists –who were also drinking buddies– fixed it.
The hottest toy this holiday season has no identifiable logo, no main distributor, and no widely agreed upon name. Today, we seek out the origin of the hands-free, two wheeled, self-balancing scooter.
A national network of food banks couldn’t figure out how to get the right food to the right place at the right time. So they tried a bold experiment: the free market.
For much of the 70s inflation was bad. Prices rose at over 10 percent a year. Nothing could stop it — until one powerful person did something very unpopular. Today’s show: How we beat inflation.
Prices go up and down. But for 70 years, the price of a bottle of Coca-Cola stayed a nickel. On today’s show, we find out why. The answer includes a half a million vending machines and a 7.5 cent coin.
Each time you travel, you burn fossil fuels. That hurts the environment. Some people say you can plant a bunch of trees to offset the damage. Is that for real? We investigate carbon offsets.
A 70-year-old man with a bad cold and many mistresses, a nation that’s ambivalent about a central bank, and a secret meeting on an island. Today on the show: The origin story of the Federal Reserve.
The text of the Trans-Pacific Partnership isn’t secret anymore. We dove in. From tariffs for waterproof overalls to copyright rules, we tell you what we found. Also, a way countries can get around it.
Today on the show, how an economic fix took the deadliest job in America and made it safer. And why a lot of people are mad about it.
There’s a boom going on for dinosaur bones, a veritable gold rush for fossils buried in the badlands of North Dakota, Wyoming and Montana. Today on the show: the T-Rex that started it all.
How do you get someone to sign up as an organ donor? Today on the show: The story of one woman who found a way by partnering with one of the more hated American institutions.
After the financial crisis, the Fed created over $3 trillion. To undo this, they have a new trick. Today on the show, how the Federal Reserve plans to make that money disappear.
What would it be like if everyone at your office knew what everyone else earned? On today’s show, we hear about a company where salaries aren’t secret.
On today’s show: The birth of unions as we know them. It’s a story that includes, among other things, bravery, cunning, and auto-part projectiles flung out of giant sling shots.
Vince Kosuga farmed onions. Then he tried trading them on the market, too. He made millions. Today on the show: How trading got so out of hand that the Chicago River flowed with America’s onions.
Things are booming in Silicon Valley. Maybe too booming. But economists say you can’t call it a bubble until it goes POP. Today on the show: We find three bubbly barometers that could signal a bust.
The signature. We put it on checks, contracts, credit cards. It’s supposed to say, “This is me.” But where did the idea come from? And why are we still using it? We consult a rabbi, a lawyer and a credit card executive.
We shop around when we get a plane ticket or buy a couch. But we spend thousands of dollars on health care without shopping around. What happens if we pay patients when they choose the cheaper option?
In 1980, thousands of Cuban refugees suddenly arrived in Miami and started looking for work. On today’s show: What happened next. And what it tells us about the migration crisis in Europe today.
Today on the show: How Price Club and its imitators changed the way we shop. And how a new company is taking what Price Club started to new extremes.
Everybody likes free. But free can be dangerous. On today’s show, what happens when you take something that was free and give it a price. That’s a highly risky move and the damage can be enormous.
Hidden in the trash heap of commerce there is buried treasure. Abandoned brands, even beloved, trusted brands, are waiting to be claimed and reborn. Today on the show: a cookie comeback.
Today on the show: How hard could it be to get a nation of sushi lovers to try raw salmon?
One Hollywood director leaves the world of big budget blockbusters for something even more lucrative: low budget Hollywood.
What’s going on in China? Is the second largest economy in the world about to come crashing down?
When Roddey Player’s business started heading south, he did everything he could to avoid the big failure: bankruptcy. But what’s painful for Roddey might just be the secret weapon of the U.S. economy.
We travel to Warm Springs to find out if the rumors are true: Did FDR really buy moonshine during Prohibition? Did he violate the Constitution he had sworn to protect?
Patty McCord helped create a workplace at Netflix that runs more like a professional sports team than a family. If you’re not up to scratch, you’re off the team. Is this the future of work?
When used clothes are donated to charity, they begin a second life of sorting, refitting, and lots of travel. We trace used T-shirts to a clothing market in Nairobi, Kenya. For more: http://npr.org/shirt.
In Las Vegas you can bet on all kinds of stuff. One thing you can’t bet on: elections. But why? Not long ago, no election was too sacred to wager on, not even the pope’s.
Our women’s Planet Money T-shirt got to you thanks to an overlooked innovation that’s essential to the modern global economy. The innovation: a big, metal box.
Some smart people say we should be doing more to protect the Earth from asteroids. The technical issues are relatively easy. The economics — figuring out who’s going to pay — are much harder.
Like lots of other clothes, the men’s Planet Money T-shirt was made in Bangladesh. On today’s show, we travel to Bangladesh and visit two sisters who made our shirt.
We wanted to understand an eerie phenomenon that drives everything from the stock market to the price of orange juice. So we asked you to guess the weight of a cow.
We made a T-shirt, and followed it every step of the way. First step: a high-tech cotton farm.
Gene Freidman built a taxi empire in New York City. Now his empire is starting to crumble.
The big question surrounding automation isn’t just about economics or technology. It’s also about psychology. How do designers make us comfortable with something that can be really scary?
The world economy is more productive than ever before. A lot of people could work fewer hours and still meet their basic needs. But we don’t. Why?
On today’s show: the screwed-up economics of drought, and why the rational thing to do in California right now is use more water.
On a visit to Greece, we talk to a guy who found an ingenious place to hoard his cash, a government-protected milk peddler, and a would-be olive oil tycoon.
Today on the show: We’re going small. We ask some of the smartest people we know what little thing they would change to improve the world.
The story of the secret battle to create the song of the summer — the music industry’s holy grail.
Greece’s monetary system is in crisis right now, and the government is closing the financial pipes. The effects are widespread and weird.
We sit down with a psychologist and a mortgage broker who committed large-scale fraud to try to figure out why respectable people commit fraud.
What do you do when your country’s future is put in your hands? On today’s show: The referendum in Greece.
Big trade deals like the Trans-Pacific Partnership are often negotiated in secret. On today’s show, trade negotiators tell us what happened when they were locked in a hotel for days on end, and told to hash out a deal.
A farmer wanted to sell all his raisins, but the federal government said no. So he took it to the Supreme Court.
We ask three economists: Is there some falling anvil that’s about to crush the economy?
The price tag is a fairly recent invention. And it’s already on its way out.
How the American auto industry is built on a trade dispute over frozen chicken parts.
Stories about a $50,000 loophole, what neighborhoods mean for kids, and what the Six Million Dollar Man would cost today.
The story of a 24-year-old kid and the idea he thought would reduce congestion, cut greenhouse gasses and make urban life easier for everyone. Instead, it brought him nothing but trouble.
Sam Cohen has made a big business out of buying stuff at big retail stores, then turning around and selling it on Amazon. In an era when stores are profit-maximizing machines, how is that possible?
In the early 1960s, Tom Burrell became the first black man in Chicago advertising. Today on the show, the story of how he changed the way people think about ads and how advertising thinks about us.
Today on the show, how we got from mealy, nasty apples to apples that taste delicious. The story starts with a breeder who discovered a miracle apple. But discovering that apple wasn’t enough.
Machines have been taking jobs forever. In the past, when jobs disappeared, new ones were created. But is this time different?
What if robots did all the work? In today’s show, we imagine a world without jobs.
We go out for pizza and meet the latest group of workers getting replaced by machines: servers.
In Greenville, SC, the best job option isn’t to compete against the robots, but to make friends with them. Note: Today’s show originally aired in January 2012.
If you aren’t already worried about being replaced by a robot, maybe you should be. Today on the show, three races pit humans against machines.
Today on the show, the true story of the Luddites.
While most technology is getting smaller and cheaper, batteries still suck. Today on the show, we learn exactly why, and meet some of the people trying to make batteries better.
You’re not allowed to buy and sell organs. So doctors created a different system. Today on the show: how do you decide who gets lungs?
Casinos are worried that young people aren’t interested in playing slots or other games of luck. They’re turning to games that require skill, like basketball.
We visit the workshop of the meat inventor who came up with Steak-Umm and KFC’s popcorn chicken. And we try to figure out what meat inventors tell us about patents and innovation. (Today’s show originally ran in August 2012.)
In the early 1900s, the president of the largest shoe company in the world tried to create a Utopia for his workers. He called his big experiment in welfare capitalism: The Square Deal.
Today on the show: how a bunch of rational economists try to deal with our feelings. And the story of a man who came up with five simple questions that he hoped would predict the future.
Just a few years ago, solar power was an expensive luxury for the environmentally conscious. Now it’s a good deal for lots of people. How did solar power get so cheap, so fast?
How do you make money manufacturing a dry, bland cracker that a tiny percentage of the population eats just one week a year?
Maddie Messer is 12, and she loves a good video game. One of her favorites is called Temple Run. In fact, it’s one of the most successful games out there. Temple Run is free to play—if you play as the default character, Guy Dangerous. But playing as a girl character can cost extra. Maddie found out this was true for a lot of games, and she didn’t think that was very fair. Today on the show: a 12-year-old girl takes on the entire video game industry.
We got on stage at a comedy club to read a bunch of weird economics jokes. We bombed. Today on the show, we do what you’re never supposed to do: explain the joke.
One day it’s profitable to recycle a bottle. The next day, some number in the global economy changes and that bottle suddenly becomes trash. The line between trash and recycling is moving a lot these days. For a bunch of reasons, it’s a tough time to be a recycler.
Turn on the news on any given day, and you’re likely to hear about the Dow Jones industrial average. It’s one of the most frequently cited measures of U.S. economic health. But the Dow is a seriously flawed stock index, and it’s certainly not the best way to measure what’s going on in the overall economy. On today’s show, we rain on the Dow’s parade and explain why a lot of very smart people say we should ignore the Dow. Note: Today’s show is a rerun. It originally ran in March 2013.
Look at the numbers today, and things seem promising for the economy. The unemployment rate is low, and home prices are up. But when you look under the hood, you see that in a lot of ways the financial crisis is still with us. Today on the show: the return of the Planet Money indicator. We’ve got three numbers that remind us where we’ve been and tell us where the economy is going.
Free community college. When the President proposed making the first two years free for everyone, it seemed like a magic bullet for expanding opportunity. But only one in three students graduate—and money is not the problem. Today on the show: why is it so hard to get through community college? For more: http://n.pr/1F5Bjsi
Frederick Hutson is an entrepreneur whose biggest early venture landed him in prison for nearly five years—distributing marijuana through UPS and FedEx. While in prison, he realized that a lot of the problems of everyday prison life could use a business solution. And then, he got out. Today on the show, a businessman goes to prison, and decides he is going to disrupt the biggest captive market in America.
In a classic bubble—housing for example, or tech stocks or Beanie Babies—the fun ends in a crash. Things go belly up, and people can lose a lot of money. The creators of the collectible card game Magic: The Gathering faced such a bubble. The cooler they made their cards, the more the resale value increased—and threatened to send Magic cards the way of the Beanie Baby. Today on the show: how the folks who made Magic cards came up with a plan. A plan to once and for all conquer the science of bubbles, and make a collectible toy that could live forever. For more: http://n.pr/1B6bSiR
Planet Money shorted the entire stock market a few weeks ago. We bet that instead of going up, the stock market would go down. So far, America is winning. And we are losing. It’s been lonely being a short seller, but we know we are not alone. Today on the show, we look at the ten most shorted stocks out there right now, to see what this list tells us about human nature and the economy. Plus, we end our shorting experiment. For more: n.pr/1EnrK7T
Note: Today’s show is a rerun. It originally ran in February 2014. It’s cheap to fly on Spirit Airlines, but you have to pay extra for perks. And by perks, we mean a bottle of water or space in the overhead bin. It’s totally rational: pay for what you use, don’t pay for what you don’t use. And it’s increasingly popular: Spirit is the fastest growing airline in America. And yet lots of people really don’t like Spirit Airlines. In a Consumer Reports survey published in 2013, Spirit finished last among U.S. airlines. How is the fastest growing airline also the least popular? On today’s show, we fly Spirit Airlines to Florida and ask the CEO.
Someone is kidnapped every day in Nigeria. It’s big business, with potentially big rewards in ransom money. And like any business, kidnapping has a particular set of principles and best practices. Today on the show: how a consultant analyzed the kidnapping industry in order to find its weak points and better protect the people he loved.
Spreadsheets used to be actual sheets of paper. Sometimes, a bunch of sheets of paper taped together. Then, in the late ’70s, a bored student invented the electronic spreadsheet. It transformed industries. But its effects ran deeper than that. As one journalist wrote more than 30 years ago, “The spreadsheet is a tool, and it is also a world view — reality by the numbers.” For more: http://n.pr/1DVdMIv
Today on the show, the story of Roger Babson, a guy who made a very, very bold prediction, and got it right. He correctly forecast, really, one of the biggest things you could imagine predicting. It’s the story of how he did that, and what happened to him.
Today on the show, we bring you three short stories. One about a guy at the center of a high stakes international negotiation. Another about poker players trying not to win money, but give it away. And finally, that thing everyone loves to hate, but maybe we should love: airplane baggage fees. For more: http://n.pr/17srUMx
Red roses are a unique product — a commodity worth double the price for a very short, 24-hour period: Valentine’s Day.To cash in on this demand, flower growers have to figure out how to make millions of roses bloom exactly the right amount, at exactly the right moment, in the middle of February — get them from farms in Africa and South America to your doorstep.On today’s show: the logistical miracles and wild risks behind getting red roses to your Valentine.
Note: Today’s show is a rerun. It originally ran in January 2014. For most of U.S. history, there was no minimum wage. A few times, politicians passed laws tiptoeing toward a minimum. But the Supreme Court struck those laws down. On today’s show: how the U.S. finally got a minimum wage. It’s a story of exploding bakeries, a blue eagle, and a guy who may or may not have been drunk. For more: http://n.pr/16U53ZW
Pot is now legal in some states. But on the federal level, it’s illegal. The legal gray area means banks in the U.S. are wary to give pot businesses access to basic financial instruments – like checking accounts. Today on the show, we visit a country where medical marijuana is fully legal. And we see how bank accounts, loans, and investors can transform an industry.
The world is running out of chocolate. Cocoa is in short supply. Demand is way up, thanks to China and India developing a taste for the sweet stuff. And producing more cocoa isn’t so easy. Cocoa is a fussy plant. It doesn’t grow in very many places and it gets diseases really easily. Today on the show, we learn about one man in Ecuador who came up with an answer to the global cocoa shortage. A warning here: if you’re a die-hard chocolate lover, you might not like it. For more: http://n.pr/1Dg2r5C
They are hundreds of thousands of people out there doing stuff to your internet that you probably think is automatic. They aren’t computer programmers, they’re just regular people working from their offices, homes and bedrooms. They are the people of Amazon Mechanical Turk.Amazon Mechanical Turk is an online marketplace for work. Businesses use it to farm out tiny little tasks like counting the number of people in a photo, and people around the world race to perform those tasks, sometimes for pennies.Today on the show, we sneak into the land of Mechanical Turk to meet the people inside.
Hernando de Soto wanted to figure out what was trapping people in poverty. “There’s gotta be an invisible wall someplace,” he thought. “Let’s find the wall.” Today on the show: How de Soto found the invisible wall that was trapping people in poverty. How it transformed poor countries around the world. And how his discovery almost got him killed. For more: http://n.pr/1K6ddLZ
There have been short sellers throughout history. Today, the story of a man who was the very first short seller. The first person to bet that a stock will go down. It doesn’t go well for him.
If you own a house, stock, bonds, or a retirement account, you’re betting that things are going to get better — that the lines on the chart will keep going up. Historically, this is a reasonable bet. But you can place a bet in the opposite direction. You can make a bet that things will go down: a short. For example, if you short Apple stock and the stock price drops, you make money. While all the normal shareholders are consoling themselves, you can celebrate. But for the most part, people don’t do it. Experts warn us that we shouldn’t either. Today on the show, we ignore the advice of some very smart people, and we put our own money down on a bet against something people love. We short America.
Note: Today’s show is a rerun. It originally ran in February 2011. Franklin Delano Roosevelt ignores the advice of America’s big-name economists — and listens instead to a guy who helped take care of the trees on his estate. Montagu Norman, head of the Bank of England, gets a coded message at a critical moment — and completely misunderstands what it means. On today’s Planet Money: The gold standard and the Great Depression. It’s the latest in our series on gold and the meaning of money.
We visit the respected finance writer (and charming curmudgeon) James Grant. He makes the case for going back on the gold standard. For more:n.pr/1IxK0L2
Note: This episode contains explicit language. Every time there is a big new release of some software, an operating system or a new browser, hackers get to work. Each new release is the start of a race because there are all these giant players who desperately want to find the new flaw in the software. Today on the show, the story of one man who stumbled into a flaw in Apple’s operating system, a way to hack the phone you might have in your hands right now – the iPhone 5s. It was a flaw that was worth a million dollars to the first person who could exploit it.
Note: Today’s show is a rerun. It originally ran in October 2010. On today’s Planet Money, we go shopping with George Minichiello. George is one of hundreds of federal employees who goes to stores all over the country and record the prices of thousands of different things. A bag of romaine lettuce. A boy’s size-14 collared shirt made of 97 percent cotton. A loaf of white bread. Their work drives the consumer price index, a key economic indicator known to its friends as CPI. The index measures inflation in the U.S., and it influences everything from Social Security checks to the price of school lunches to how big your raise will be next year. For more: http://n.pr/1AGluFd
Sometimes all you can say at the end of a story is “time will tell.” Today on the show, time has told. We follow up on our favorite stories of 2014 to find out what happened after we turned off our recorders. We follow up on one of the boldest plans of the year: one man’s plan to reform all of campaign finance. We see if the new website endings, or top level domains, like .ninja, .wed and .xyz have gained a foothold. Also, we learn the key to passing one of the hardest classes at community college.
CEO pay comes up a lot in the news. The stories often include someone complaining that it’s too high. Then there’s someone on the other side, defending CEO pay. But that’s usually that’s where the stories stop. On today’s show: an actual story about CEO pay, with a beginning, middle, and an end. It’s the story of two guys who tried to cut the pay of the CEO at a small pneumatic tool company on Long Island.
People have always worked. But the thing we think of today as a job — the thing you apply for instead of being born into, the thing you go to in the morning and leave at night — is actually a recent invention. The modern job can act as a buffer to protect workers from the daily ups and downs of businesses. But the job as we know it may be going away. On today’s show, we go in search of the very first modern job. For more: http://n.pr/1x57BPj
On today’s show, a story on a Christmasy theme: Handbells! But also, a not-so-Christmasy theme: A decades-long feud between two big bell companies, located right down the road from each other. But then, a Christmasy ending: Peace! For more: http://n.pr/1wB07Uk
Last month, a bunch of Ukrainian business owners flew to New York to try to convince a bunch of New York portfolio managers and private equity funds to invest in Ukraine. There are lots of reasons that it is crazy to hold an “Invest in Ukraine” conference right now, while a war is going on. But “Invest in Ukraine” isn’t just the title of the conference, it is in many ways what the whole year of crisis has been about. Today on the show, the revolution in Ukraine was supposed to make the country a better place for Western investment, but it ended up sparking a war that is scaring that investment away. For more: http://n.pr/1HcKXWl
Most businesses would close if their customers never showed up. An empty restaurant is a disaster. An empty store means bankruptcy. At a gym, emptiness equals success. Today on the show, the mind games that gyms play with you. From design to pricing to free bagels, gyms want to be a product that everyone buys, but no one actually uses. For more: http://n.pr/1sBAzkp
Honduras has the highest murder rate in the world. Jobs that seem dull and safe in most countries have become incredibly dangerous professions in Honduras. For example: Driving a bus. On today’s show: what it’s like to live and work in the most dangerous country in the world.
How customers use a piece of technology can change what the product is. And what the product is can change the business model for the company. It’s a constant dance between the customers and the sellers. Today on the show, three short stories about this dance. For more: http://n.pr/1yR6BPh
There’s an idea that dates back at least to biblical times. There should be a moment when debts are forgiven. Its called a jubilee. The jubilee has not gotten a lot of traction in the modern world. You may remember after the financial crisis, some of the Occupy Wall Street protesters were calling for a jubilee. But it basically ended there. Today on the show: the story about a country that is actually trying a jubilee. Iceland.
It’s called “Iceland” for a reason. Polar bears sometimes wind up there floating by on chunks of ice. In the winter, there are only a few hours of daylight each day. Reykjavik feels like you took a European city — coffee shops, fancy cars, orderly streets — and put it on the moon. Which raises a question: How did a barren, icy island become a thriving, modern economy? The short answer: Fish, energy and books. The long answer starts back in the year 1075, with our Icelandic intern’s great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great grandfather. For more: http://n.pr/1rYf8tC
We tend to get obsessed with things that get more expensive over time — college tuition, say, or health care. But lots of things have actually gotten cheaper in real terms. Things made by machines. Things like consumer electronics. Some new gadget comes out with a $1,000 price tag. Two years later it costs $500. There’s no law of nature that says this must be so. And yet it happens year after year. Today on the show, we visit a company called Monoprice. And we go into a room where people sit all day and try to make stuff get cheaper.
Today on the show, the story of the Dread Pirate Roberts of the internet age. A man who dreamed of setting up a utopian marketplace, a place where you could buy and sell almost anything in secret. The pirate created a market with no contracts, no regulations, and really no government interference. The Dread Pirate believed in total economic freedom, but in order to make his market work, he had to do some very bad things.
Today on the show, the story of the Dread Pirate Roberts of the internet age. A man who dreamed of setting up a utopian marketplace, a place where you could buy and sell almost anything in secret. The pirate created a market with no contracts, no regulations, and really no government interference. The Dread Pirate believed in total economic freedom, but in order to make his market work, he had to do some very bad things.
Note: Today’s show is a rerun. It originally ran in July 2013. U.S. citizens who want to buy stuff from North Korea have to write a letter to the U.S. government asking for special permission. As regular listeners know, we’re sort of obsessed with North Korea. So we decided to try to get those letters. We filed a Freedom of Information Act request. And we got a stack of heavily redacted letters. On today’s show: we try to figure out who sent the letters, why they wanted to do business with North Korea, and what that tells us about the North Korean economy.
Nike is a smart multi-billion dollar company, but some sneaker fans have figured out how they can get a better price for Nike sneakers than Nike can. Some pairs trade like stocks — selling for double, quadruple, 12 times their retail price after they leave the store. Even used sneakers. Josh Luber, of sneakerhead data company, Campless, estimates that Nike let resellers walk away with 230 million dollars in profits last year — that’s money that did not go to Nike. Today on the show, why would a multi-billion dollar company give up its profits to some scrappy guys on the street? For more: http://n.pr/1quQ7uT
On September 9th, BJ Holloway’s life savings were stolen. His 6 cows were taken in the dead of the night from his land in Spencer, Oklahoma. BJ looked everywhere for his stolen cattle. He asked his neighbors. He filed a police report. But out in Oklahoma, when cows are stolen, it’s hard to find the thief. The cows all look alike, and the evidence disappears when they’re turned into steaks. Luckily for BJ, there’s a cattle cop on his case, Jerry Flowers. Flowers is a special agent in charge of the law enforcement section for the Oklahoma Department of Argiculture, and he’s determined to find the outlaws who took BJ’s cattle. Today on the show, Jerry Flowers chases the bad guys.
In west Africa right now, there are two kinds of countries: Those that have Ebola and those that do not. Liberia for instance, has reported more than 6,000 cases of Ebola and 2,697 people have died. Right next door, in the country of Ivory Coast, there have been zero cases. Zero. Ivory Coast would desperately like to stay in that zero category. The solution that Ivory Coast has come up with to stay Ebola free is simple. Ivory Coast will shut down its border. It will stop trade with Liberia, stop commerce and stop people from coming in. On a map, a border is a simple thing: A clear thick line. On the ground, its anything but simple. On the ground in Ivory Coast, there are vast parts of the border with no signs, no guards, and only a secret path through the forest. Today on the show, we go to a tiny tiny town on the border between Ivory Coast and Liberia. On one side of the line, Ebola is raging. The other side is Ebola-free so far. We ask: How do you close a border? And can you really?
There’s a term in economics, arbitrage, that basically means free money. It’s finding a difference in price, a pricing mistake, you can exploit to make money. Arbitrage is a risk-free way to buy low and sell high. Everyday there are loads of people and sophisticated computer algorithms searching for an arbitrage opportunity, but true arbitrages are almost impossible to find. Today on the show, we meet two guys who say they’ve found one, and we visit the storage locker in Utah where they keep their secret.
A gallon of gas is selling at some pumps for less than $3 right now. The price has been falling since early summer, and local TV news reporters are out at gas stations asking people ‘how happy do you feel?’ Today on the show, two stories from the other side of the pump. Stories about the people who get the oil out of the ground. We meet a producer that you never hear from. And tell the story of an organization so powerful that it ruled the global economy. Or people thought it did. For more: http://n.pr/1shpEMo
In big-time college football or basketball, money is everywhere. From giant TV contracts, to million-dollar coaches’ salaries, to deals with shoe companies. But it’s against NCAA rules for colleges to pay athletes. On today’s show, we ask: Is the NCAA’s ban on paying athletes legal?
In Nigeria, millions of gallons of oil are stolen all the time. There are advertisements for stolen oil on the Nigerian version of Craigslist, and not JUST small containers. The advertisements are for giant tankers full of oil. Today on the show, how to steal hundreds of thousands of oil every single day. To steal oil takes an entire global system. Lots of people are in on it. Small time crooks and criminal bosses, the owners of oil tankers and corrupt officials. We’ll show you how they get away with it. For more: http://n.pr/1wdEoB4
Note: Today’s show is a rerun. It originally ran in September 2012. A decade ago, the Barilla pasta factory in Foggia, Italy, had a big problem with people skipping work. The absentee rate was around 10 percent. People called in sick all the time, typically on Mondays, or on days when there was a big soccer game. Foggia is in southern Italy. Barilla’s big factory in northern Italy had a much lower absentee rate. This is not surprising; there’s a huge economic gap between southern and northern Italy. It’s like two different countries. Barilla execs told Nicola Calandrea, the manager of the Foggia plant, that they would close the factory unless he brought the absenteeism rate down. Calandrea decided that to save the factory, he had to change the culture. On today’s show, we visit the factory and hear how Calandrea made it work. For more: http://n.pr/1w0OpkT
Today on the show, a Republican governor lives the dream. He cuts taxes dramatically in his state, and he promises good times ahead. But the good times do not come. Now he’s fighting for his political life. For more: http://n.pr/1pBNfq7
Mark Zuckerberg. Bill Gates. Steve Jobs. Most of the big names in technology are men. But a lot of computing pioneers, the ones who programmed the first digital computers, were women. And for decades, the number of women in computer science was growing. But in 1984, something changed. The number of women in computer science flattened, and then plunged. Today on the show, what was going on in 1984 that made so many women give up on computer science? We unravel a modern mystery in the U.S. labor force.
Note: Today’s show is a rerun. It originally ran in June 2012. A few years ago, Jestina Clayton started a hair braiding business in her home in Centerville, Utah. The business let her stay home with her kids, and in good months, she made enough to pay for groceries. She even put an ad on a local website. Then one day she got an email from a stranger who had seen the ad. “It is illegal in the state of Utah to do any form of extensions without a valid cosmetology license,” the e-mail read. “Please delete your ad, or you will be reported.” To get a license, Jestina would have to spend more than a year in cosmetology school. Tuition would cost $16,000 dollars or more. On today’s show: Why it was illegal to braid hair without a license in Utah. And why hundreds of licensing rules in states all around the country are a disaster for the U.S. economy. For more: http://n.pr/1Ddlj3U
The popularity of fondue wasn’t an accident. It was planned by a cartel of Swiss cheese makers, which ruled the Swiss economy for 80 years. On today’s show: Swiss cheese. A story about what happens when well-meaning folks decide that the rules of economics don’t apply to them. And got the world to eat gobs of melted fat.
Today’s show is the story of a guy who tried to make something of himself by getting into a rough business: debt collection. It’s also the story of the low-level, semi-legal debt-collection economy that sprung up in Buffalo, New York. And, in a small way, it’s the story of the last 20 or so years in global finance, a time when the world went wild for debt. For more: http://n.pr/1ndvYHL
Prices of new textbooks have been going up like crazy. Faster than clothing, food, cars, and even healthcare. Listeners have been asking for years why textbooks are getting so expensive. On today’s show, we actually find an answer.
Today on the show: Stories about the secrets of jewelry stores, the problem with World’s Fairs and a law signed by Abraham Lincoln that’s being used today to go after the largest banks in the world. For more: n.pr/1prjqYP
Charities raised $1.4 billion to help rebuild Haiti after the earthquake. After the tsunami in Asia in 2004, organizations raised $1.6 billion. But when something like Ebola happens, so far, people look the other way. On today’s show: What does it take to get people to notice something half a world away, and what does it take to get people to pull out their wallets and donate money.
Note: Today’s show is a rerun. It originally ran in August 2013. More than half of all Japanese women quit their jobs after giving birth to their first child. That’s more than double the rate in the U.S., and it’s a problem for Japan’s economy. If more women returned to the workforce, it would go a huge way toward boosting growth in the country and solving a big demographic problem — not enough working people to support the nation’s retirees. But finding childcare in Japan is even harder than finding childcare in the U.S. The long-term solution is robot nannies. (Really.) On today’s show: How Japanese working moms can survive until the robots arrive. For more: n.pr/1B8omqW
On today’s show, we read our homeowners insurance policy. The details are amazing. Lava! Vermin! Falling objects! And, hiding in all the fine print, the story of how insurance works — and what makes it break.
Alex Blumberg is starting a business, a podcasting business. And he’s recording himself as he starts the company — he’s making a podcast about starting his podcasting company. Meta, right? But starting a business can be lonely. Alex wants a partner to share in the stress and the risk, and potential investors say they’d prefer to bet on a team, too. Today on the show, Alex searches for a business partner. There have been Hewlett and Packard, Procter and Gamble, and Ben and Jerry. Now, there is Blumberg and…. Listen to the other episodes in Alex’s podcast miniseries about starting a company at HearStartUp.com Note: There’s a curse word in today’s episode. At about 1:25.
An amazing amount of stuff on the internet is free — Facebook, Twitter and Gmail. Of course, it’s not exactly free. We pay, with our data. And right now, we’re kind of stuck trading our data, for all this free software. Today on the show: two people who want to give you other options. These two people are trying to create services online that collect next to nothing — virtually no information, no data. A couple years ago, these people might have been dismissed as kooks. But one of them just raised $30 million.
For years now, the economy has been kind of stuck. The unemployment rate is getting better, but slowly. Household incomes have actually been falling. It’s easy to feel stuck. Today on the show, stories of two people trying to get unstuck.
Zoo animals are different than most possessions, because zoos follow a fundamental principle: You can’t sell or buy the animals. It’s unethical and illegal to put a price tag on an elephant’s head. Today on the show: What do you do in a world where you can’t use money? For more: n.pr/1wbZb5S
A massive Chinese company, Alibaba, is about to have what could be the biggest public offering on planet earth. You can think of Alibaba like Amazon or Ebay, except you can buy way more — you can get a used 747 airplane, or an oil tanker, or 500 million tiny screws. Today on the show, the company that made it possible for anyone anywhere to build almost anything they want. What that company means for China, for the rest of us and for some chickens in California. For more: http://n.pr/1oEZY9J
Some people write a squiggle. Others just write an initial. One person draws a dude surfing. Today on the show: the signature. It’s supposed to say, “This is me.” But where did the idea come from? And why are we still using it? We consult a rabbi, a lawyer and a credit card executive.
The world is full of people talking about how right they are. Today on the show, we try something different: We talk to smart, thoughtful people about times they got things really, really wrong. For more: http://n.pr/1lfnG0Y
The Westfield Valley Fair Mall in California is like any other mall except for one thing: half of the mall is in the city of San Jose and the other half is in the city of Santa Clara. The boundary line runs right through the mall. For a long time, this didn’t matter. But in 2012, one city — San Jose — raised its minimum wage from $8 an hour to $10 an hour. This change created two economic worlds within a single, large building. Employees doing more or less the same work, just steps away from each other, started making different wages. On today’s show: minimum wage stories from a single mall. What happens when some stores suddenly have to pay their workers more — and others are still paying less.
Note: Today’s show is a rerun. It originally ran in September 2013. Sure, some college degrees lead to higher paying jobs than others. But what’s shocking — at least, it was shocking to us — is just how big the gap can be. The most lucrative majors typically lead to jobs with salaries over $100,000 a year. The least lucrative lead to salaries of around $30,000. On today’s show, we run the numbers. We talk to people who majored in the most- and least-lucrative subjects. And we hear from an economist who says, when it comes to income, choosing a major is more important than choosing a college.
We spend a lot of time thinking about the future and planning for the future. Fifty years ago, people at the 1964 World’s Fair built their vision of the future. They imagined a world of jet-packs, steel, glass, and Formica. And they committed to it in a park in New York City. Today on the show, we visit that park and visit the future as seen from the World’s Fair in 1964. And we see how the future actually turned out.
The 100 dollar bill is the most popular product from the Federal Reserve. Eighty percent of all U.S. cash is in the form of 100 dollar bills, but you rarely see them. About twenty years ago, the Fed counted up all the hundreds it knew about — money in bank vaults and cash registers — and it found it had no idea where most of the hundred dollar bills had gone. And so they went on a mission to find them. Today on the show, where in the world are all the 100 dollar bills? What is Benjamin Franklin being used for? And if we don’t know where they all are, should the U.S. keep making them?
Thousands of people in Detroit haven’t paid their water bills. Even some businesses have skipped payment. Today on the show, how a bankrupt city is dealing with the most basic of problems — how to get people to pay their bills.
Note: Today’s show is a rerun. It originally ran in April 2013. In 2012, a federal program took about $60 billion from wealthier Americans and gave it to millions of working poor. This program — a massive redistribution of wealth — has been embraced by every president from Ronald Reagan to Barack Obama. On today’s show, we look at a huge, often overlooked, surprisingly interesting corner of the tax code: The Earned Income Tax Credit. For more, see our story A Surprisingly Uncontroversial Program That Gives Money To Poor People.
Super PACs let rich people, corporations and unions spend as much money as they want to try to influence the outcome of elections. On today’s show: How a Harvard professor created a super PAC to attack super PACs. He’s raised millions of dollars — in part from really rich people — to reduce the political influence of really rich people.
In most parts of the world, refugees are not allowed to work. But Mohammed Osman Ali is a refugee in Uganda, and there, he legally runs a video game arcade and a variety store. Today on the show, why most countries won’t let refugees work. And why Uganda is trying something different.
Today we build our show from three short Planet Money stories. We look at when a dollar is not worth a dollar; publishing without a publisher; and, of course, Ikea. For more: * When Ikea Raises Its Minimum Wage, Where Does The Money Come From? * Money Markets: Easy To Ignore, Occasionally Dicey * Self-Published Authors Make A Living — And Sometimes A Fortune
Milk is often in the very back corner of the grocery store, as far as humanly possible from the entrance. It’s a strange location for milk, because it’s one the most popular items. A common explanation for this location is that by forcing customers to walk through the whole store, they will pass more products and end up purchasing more. But is that really why the milk is in the back? Can you really have a business model intentionally built around inconveniencing your customers? Today on the show, two big theories to answer this little question: Why is the milk in the back of the store? The theories reflect very different world views. To try to discover which is right, we host a friendly debate between food writer Michael Pollan and economist Russ Roberts.
We all know what a sandwich is. It’s something delicious, slapped between two slices of bread. But when it comes to taxes, nothing is simple. Today on the show, what regulating sandwiches and all other takeout food tells us about taxation. And how something as simple as the sandwich sales tax ends up spawning a complicated list of definitions, interlocking exemptions and rules which somehow transform the burrito into a sandwich in the eyes of the law.
As World War 2 was ending, world leaders realized they had a problem. Countries no longer knew how to trade with each other. Their economies were devastated. So representatives from 44 nations gathered in the small town of Bretton Woods, New Hampshire to come up with the solution. It came down to two different plans put forward by two very different men. One was the most famous economist in the world. A British aristocrat. The other was an American that no one remembers. But it was the American that won the day and put the U.S. dollar right in the middle of world trade. Today on the show, how the US won. The story involves a carefully laid trap, late night dancing and copious amounts of alcohol.
The price of tickets for lots of things — baseball games, many Broadway musicals, plane trips — rises and falls based on how much demand there is. But when you go to the movies, a ticket to the empty theater playing a bomb is exactly the same price as a ticket to the sold-out blockbuster. On today’s the show, we try to find out why.
Tesla, the electric car company, recently decided to, basically, give up its patents. Anybody who wants to is now free to steal the company’s ideas. Elon Musk, the company’s CEO said he isn’t really into patents — and, he said, he thinks giving them up is best for everybody. On today’s show, we talk to two guys who say we should get rid of patents altogether. If someone has an idea, anyone else is free to steal it.
Note: Today’s show is a rerun. It originally ran on July 2013. On today’s show, we talk to commodities traders to answer one of the most important questions in finance: What actually happens at the end of Trading Places? We know something crazy happens on the trading floor. We know that Eddie Murphy and Dan Aykroyd get rich and the Duke brothers lose everything. But how does it all happen? And could it happen in the real world? Also on the show: The “Eddie Murphy Rule” that wound up in the the big financial overhaul law Congress passed in 2010. Today’s special guest co-host is Roman Mars, host of 99% Invisible. (Check out their episode on the design of U.S. currency.)
In most workplaces, salaries are secret. But what if they weren’t? What if everybody knew what everyone else made? On today’s show, we visit a company in New York that practices pay transparency — and we hear how it changes the dynamic between employees and the boss.
The dream of socialist North Korea was that the government would control every part of the economy. No need for private businesses or stores – the state would give you everything. People were not supposed to sell to each other. Ever. On today’s show: how markets sprung up anyway.
Note: Today’s show is a rerun. It originally ran on May 11th, 2012. You can find more recent data on college costs here. On today’s show, we visit beautiful Lafayette College in Easton, Pennsylvania. Price of one year at Lafayette: $55,688. Up 63 percent from the price a decade ago. At least, that’s the sticker price — the price you get if you add up tuition, room and board, and all the fees listed on the school’s website. But there’s a huge gap between the sticker price and what the average student actually pays after figuring in grants and scholarships. That’s true at private colleges around the country. Nationwide, the average sticker price is more than twice as high as the price students actually pay, and the gap is getting wider. It turns out, it makes economic sense to have a high sticker price and offer lots of discounts. On the show today, we explain why.
Planet Money’s Steve Henn wanted to know how much someone could learn about him by just sitting back and watching his internet traffic flow by. So he invited a couple computer guys to bug his internet connection for a week. On today’s show: What they discovered, and what that tells us about security, smartphones and free WiFi.
One of the biggest banks in the world, BNP Paribas, is about to be punished. The financial cops are in the middle of deciding what they are going to do. They’re trying to figure out how to punish a bank in a way that actually makes it change. There are some standard ways to punish a bad bank. Fines are the first thing every regulator and judge tries. There’s also getting the bank to admit guilt. Now they might try something never done before. Today on the show: how to punish a bank.
Today on the show: Stories about bored traders, a bank that charges customers to deposit money, and a pawn shop for the rich.
Certain things are just hard to improve on. The classic example: the mousetrap. Also: the paperclip. And, the super-size version: the pallet. In its way, the pallet is perfect. A few pieces of cheap lumber nailed together, without an extra nail or board. It keeps things a few inches off the floor and works with a forklift. Amazing. This perfect system of moving stuff around on pallets has been around for a long time. And for basically 50 years, no one really improved on it in this country. Until they did. Today on the show: yes you can build a better pallet.
The other day we noticed something strange: a pack of Milk Chocolate M&M’s weighs 1.69 ounces, but a pack of Peanut Butter M&M’s weigh a tiny tiny bit less, 1.63 ounces. The two packs are same price, but you get slightly less of the Peanut Butter M&Ms! 0.06 ounces less! It turns out there is a whole weird world living down there at the third decimal place. When you pull on that little thread, lots of things start to unravel. After today’s show, you will never pop a piece of candy in your mouth and think about it the same way again.
Note: Today’s show is a re-run. It originally ran in July 2013. Climate change seems like this complicated, intractable problem. But maybe it doesn’t have to be. On today’s show, we talk to a couple economists about a very simple idea that could solve the climate-change problem: tax carbon emissions. A carbon tax could be paired with cuts in the income tax. And it would drive down emissions without picking winners or losers, and without creating complicated regulations.
There’s this big idea floating around right now. It sounds crazy and fringey, but it turns out some non-crazy, non-fringey people are into it. The idea is this: let’s get rid of the banks. Don’t make them safer. Don’t make them smaller. Just get rid of them. On today’s show: A world without banks.
When we talk about European economy, we usually focus on the screw ups – the sunny South, with the big deficits. But the strangest report recently came out of Brussels—saying how well Germany’s economy is doing. And how that’s a big problem for the rest of the countries in the Eurozone. Today on the show: How when you’re in a group, doing extremely well can be a problem.
Tons of entrepreneurs have come up with clever ways to make money using little drones: farmers, who want to spot aphids on their soybean plants; ranchers trying to find lost cows; crews wanting to film shiny cars cruising on windy roads. There’s just this one little problem – according to the Federal Aviation Administration – all these people- they are breaking the law. Today on the show: drones are proliferating, but who owns the air? If you buy a house, you know you own the ground. But what about the space above it? Who exactly, owns that?
Today on the show we have three radio stories for you about the strange ways people think about their the future. In the first Ashley Milne-Tyte talks to two graduates Seeking A Fortune Through Search Funds. Then David Kestenbaum tells us How One State Convinced Its ‘Young Invincibles’ To Get Health Insurance. And in the last story Jacob Goldstein explains Why Inflation Is So Low.
Today on the show: The penny. And the strange spot it occupies in our economy. It’s worth almost nothing, but not quite. We have three stories on the penny. First, we go on an expedition through the streets of Manhattan to find something, anything, we can buy for one cent. Next, we talk to a guy who’s betting on the government killing the penny. And finally, we visit a place where people dream of how pennies could change everything: the internet.
Note: Today’s show is a re-run. It originally ran in January 2012. In 1978, a group of farmers in a Chinese village called Xiaogang wrote a secret contract and hid it in the roof of a mud hut. They were afraid the document might get them executed. Instead, it wound up completely transforming the Chinese economy. On today’s show, we travel to Xiaogang, and hear the farmers’ story.
A trumpet is more or less a trumpet. A clarinet is a clarinet. But violin or a viola… they are different. More like living breathing things. Hand crafted from wood, from a tree. Every one is different. And, you know the story. Antonio Stradivari, was the master. Some say the greatest violin maker to ever live. The Stradivarius is one of the most powerful and expensive brands in the world. And certainly, the guy made really nice instruments. But how nice exactly. This is a question that comes up all the time with all kinds of products: coffee, clothes, dish washing detergent, jeans and shoes. How much of a brand is real? And how much is in our heads? Of course you could do a test with a stradivarius to answer this exact question. And In fact, in 2010, researchers did just that.
If you thought Daft Punk was saying something about a Mexican monkey when they were actually singing “up all night to get lucky” — you’re not alone. There are more than five million searches for lyrics on Google every day.* And there is a big fight going on over who should make money off those searches: is it the websites who put the lyrics up? Or the songwriters, who put the words together? From George Washington to Rick Ross, this country has been trying for hundreds of years to figure out — what’s the difference between fair use and stealing? *Source: LyricFind*
In a lot of ways, the job looks the same as ever — the brown truck, the dogs, the lady coming out to apologize about the dogs. Underneath the surface, though, Bill Earle’s job as a driver for UPS, has changed a lot. When Bill started back in the ’90s, he was a guy out there by himself, alone in a truck on an empty road. UPS was a trucking company. Today, it’s a technology company. Every step Bill takes, every mile he drives, is tracked. His truck is a rolling computer. From the time he punches in in the morning until he gets back to base at night, the company is trying to figure out how Bill can do his job quicker, more efficiently. Technology means that no matter what kind of job you have — whether you’re alone in a truck on an empty road or sitting in a cubicle in front of a computer — your company can now track everything you do.
When a famine swept through Somalia in 2011, it was hard for aid workers to get food distributed. Most of the country was too dangerous for non-Somalis to do the work. Instead, the United Nations looked at satellite images of camps filling up with tents and dispatched locals to deliver the food. A local industry around distributing aid and sheltering the poor sprung up. On today’s show, we visit a country with almost no government, but a lot of entrepreneurs. And we see what happens when locals decide to make money by becoming humanitarians for profit.
On today’s show: How we got from dim little candles made out of cow fat, to as much light as we want at the flick of a switch. The history of light explains why the world today is what it is. It explains why we aren’t all subsistence farmers, and why we can afford to have artists and massage therapists and plumbers. (And, yes, people who do radio stories about the history of light.) The history of light is the history of economic growth — of things getting faster, cheaper, and more efficient.
Note: Today’s show is a re-run. It originally ran in March, 2013. Sometimes your success depends on how your competitors behave. People judge you not just by your product, but by the product that your rival down the street makes. This is a problem for Lou Caracciolo. He’s trying to make high-quality wine, from grapes he grows in New Jersey. But Jersey wine already has a reputation — and fancy isn’t it. On today’s show: Can New Jersey become the next Napa? For more, see Adam Davidson’s latest NYT Magazine column, Bottle Bing.
When a car is sold in the United States, the safety features on that car — the airbags, the bumper — they are built to US safety standards. There is a different set of standards in Europe. To sell a Jeep Wrangler in Europe, Chrysler has to redesign and replace a bunch of seemingly random parts of the car. The Europeans have the same issue. The new Volkswagen Golf R is driving on the autobahns in Berlin, but not yet in the US. Before the car can come to the US, the German company has to manufacture the car for a completely different set of safety regulations. Today on the show: why can’t you build a car that can be driven anywhere in the world?
Millions of tax cheats never get caught. And the IRS seems powerless to stop them. This isn’t just a problem in the U.S. American taxpayers are Dudley Do-Rights compared to people in some other countries. On today’s show, we head to some of the cheating-est places on earth to bring you tales from some of the roughest, toughest tax collectors around. These guys have tricks, tax collector mind-games, that they play to get people to do the right thing.
After today’s show, you’ll be ready to design a tax on marijuana, pick a law school, and explain centuries of inequality — and the hottest book in economics — without having to read a page. For more on these stories, see: * What’s The Best Way To Tax Marijuana? It Depends On What You Want * Comparing Law School Rankings? Read The Fine Print * Mystery Of Mounting Inequality Might Find Answer In Brand-New Tome
People love to complain about their internet service, but the thing that seems to make people the craziest is they can’t switch. No matter how slow. No matter how bad the customer service. There isn’t much choice. But, this isn’t true for people in lots of other countries. In Europe, in parts of Asia, there is a real choice of who brings your internet to you. Today on the show: Why do Americans have so few options when buying internet service? Where’s my internet jetpack?
On today’s show: Three Planet Money stories that aired on the radio but haven’t yet made it into the show. For more on these stories check out: When Everyone Wants To Watch ‘House Of Cards,’ Who Pays? and Does Raising The Minimum Wage Kill Jobs?
For the past few years, life in Greece has been like that movie Groundhog Day. Every year, it’s been the same thing over and over. The official statistics come out, and the news is bad. The economy shrank this year, the economy shrank this year, the economy shrank this year. But this year, things might be different.* The official forecasts are that the amazing shrinking economy will finally stop shrinking. This might sound like good news, but for people living in Greece it’s been a painful process. Elias Tilligadas is a government food inspector in Greece. Recently, his pay was cut 45 percent. “The numbers are getting better; the people are getting worse,” Elias says. “Our lives are getting worse.”
There are reportedly tens of thousands of Russian troops on the Eastern Ukrainian border. The Russians have already taken control of the Crimean Peninsula; what was once Ukraine is now Russia. But, the United States and the rest of Europe refuse to recognize this. There might be an actual war soon, but not this week. For now, the battle is financial. On today’s episode: how to use money as a weapon. Can you stop one of the biggest militaries in the world with sanctions?
We all know how lousy a recession feels. And we know how much long-term damage a recession can cause. But there’s still a lot we don’t know about recessions — like, if you’re in a recession, what’s the best way to get out? Today, we tackle the question of how to escape a recession, by going small. Economist Tim Harford walks us through two tiny self-contained economies, a babysitting co-op and a prisoner of war camp, facing what he calls “toy recessions.”
If you want to send a bunch of oranges by truck from Florida to Baltimore, no one cares who made the truck. Or if you want to fly computer chips across the country, it’s fine if the plane is made in France. But if you want send cargo by ship, there’s a law that the ship has to be American made. Here’s why: a 90-year-old law, called the Jones Act. Every time you want to send something from one US port to another, the cargo must travel on a ship built in the US, staffed by mostly Americans, and flying the American flag. Today on the show, we look at the all the unexpected places this law pops up: on cruise ships, cattle farms, and in New Jersey, where a guy really, really needs salt.
On today’s show, how a policy that made natural gas very cheap for every household in Ukraine almost bankrupted the nation. And how that led, in part, to the conflict between Russia and Ukraine.
If you asked someone on the street 100 years ago, “How’s the economy doing?” They wouldn’t have had any idea what you were talking about. On today’s show: How we started boiling down entire nations into a single number. And how that number made people think they could control everything.
College is expensive these days. Yet, most universities argue an undergraduate education is actually worth much more than what students pay for it. Clearly there is an emotional logic to this argument. But what do the numbers tell us? In today’s episode, Planet Money takes a behind the scenes look at Duke’s balance sheet and considers the university’s case that $60,000 a year is actually a discount.
From billion-dollar bailouts to Occupy Wall Street, it’s safe to say the financial crisis didn’t exactly paint a great picture of the banking industry. It’s precisely that stigma that drove Kevin Roose to follow a group of young Wall Street recruits around for three years. In today’s episode, Roose takes us behind the scenes of some of the largest banks, their secret societies and the young people escaping it all.
A 30-year old woman finds out she has a viral infection attacking her heart that will kill her unless she has a transplant. Four years later she gets a new heart and goes on to summit Mt. Kilimanjaro. Inspiring story right? Will it move you to become an organ donor? Not necessarily. And that’s a problem for the 120 thousand people waiting for organs in the United States. Behavior change is hard. That’s something that organ donor advocates know firsthand. Polls indicate most Americans support organ donations, but less than half are actually registered as donors. So how do you get people to make the leap from thought to action? In today’s show, the story of one woman who believes she is close to an answer by partnering with one of the more hated American institutions.
It’s cheap to fly on Spirit Airlines, but you have to pay extra for perks. And by perks, we mean a bottle of water or space in the overhead bin. It’s totally rational: pay for what you use, don’t pay for what you don’t use. And it’s increasingly popular: Spirit is the fastest growing airline in America. And yet. Lots of people really don’t like Spirit Airlines. In a Consumer Reports survey published last year, Spirit finished last among U.S. airlines. How is the fastest growing airline also the least popular? On today’s show, we fly Spirit Airlines to Florida and ask the CEO.
LeBron James, the best basketball player in the NBA, makes $17.5 million a year. He is the most underpaid professional athlete in the world today. On today’s show, we explain why LeBron is getting hosed — and why that’s probably a good thing for NBA fans, team owners, other pro players, and even LeBron himself. Note: This episode originally aired in January of 2013.
Here’s the scenario: A man and his wife are desperate to get to the hospital because she is about to deliver a baby. It’s a hot summer day. It’s rush hour. They flag down a private car and ask, “How much?” To their surprise the driver wants to charge them four times the normal price of a cab. So, is this a story about a cabbie taking advantage of a vulnerable couple or is it simply good economics? Today, we are talking about a company that charges people in desperate situations more for a ride, and we’ll consider the argument that it might actually be better for everyone.
Ben Horowitz is a big-time venture capitalist. His firm invested in Facebook and Twitter. More recently, his firm invested some $50 million in startups related to bitcoin, the virtual currency that works like online cash. Ben thinks bitcoin is going to change the way people buy and sell stuff on the Internet. Felix Salmon, a high-profile finance blogger at Reuters, is a prominent bitcoin skeptic. So when Felix recently published an essay calling bitcoin a bubble that was sure to burst, Ben posted a comment challenging him to a bet over the future of bitcoin. “I said, ‘Why don’t we just bet?'” Ben told us. “And I’ve read enough of Felix’s stuff to know that would be irresistible to him.” “He’s right about that,” Felix said. “Being challenged by Ben Horowitz is kind of a high point of my career. So I immediately said yes.” When we heard about the challenge, we invited Felix and Ben to come on Planet Money to hash out the details of the bet. Basically, we offered to be their bookie. Fortunately for us, they accepted. For more on the bet, see our post: A Venture Capitalist Is Betting A Pair Of Socks (And $50 Million) On Bitcoin’s Future
Tomato inflation in South America. Coal start-ups in Indonesia. Fat Cats on Wall Street. What do they all have to do with each other? Their fates all rest on the words out of one man: Ben Bernanke.
Last week, we solicited your questions about dating, sex and love. This one came from 17-year-old, Arthur, who lives in Pittsburgh: I am a senior in high school and I have never been on a date. Should I be worried about this? When I do finally meet someone, will I be hurt by my inexperience? On today’s show, economist and author, Tim Harford, applies economic theory to Arthur’s question. He also tackles polyamory and offers suggestions on how to change your spouse’s behavior.
In the mountains of Oaxaca, in southern Mexico, there are basically no jobs. Villages are empty of young men, who go elsewhere in Mexico or to the U.S. to find work. On today’s show, we meet two cousins from Oaxaca who dream of bringing jobs to their village. Their strategy: Launch a startup to make mezcal, a popular local liquor — then get people in the U.S. to buy it.
On today’s show: Three stories about people who, intentionally or not, found themselves breaking the rules. 1. In A City With Terrible Traffic, A Gridlock Economy Emerges 2. Why U.S. Taxpayers Started — And Stopped — Paying Brazilian Cotton Farmers 3. How A Community Bank Tripped On Footnote 1,861 Of The Volcker Rule
For most of U.S. history, there was no minimum wage. A few times, politicians passed laws tiptoeing toward a minimum. But the Supreme Court struck those laws down. On today’s show: how the U.S. finally got a minimum wage. It’s a story of exploding bakeries, a blue eagle, and a guy who may or may not have been drunk.
To hire new employees, some companies are paying less attention to resumes and more attention to data — and the data are leading to some surprising findings. On today’s show, we take a weird hiring test for a call-center job. And we hear what does (and doesn’t) predict success for everyone from call-center workers to software developers.
Note: This episode was originally posted in 2011. If you know the right people — and if you can get other criminals to vouch for you — you can go online and buy huge bundles of stolen credit cards. As it turns out, Planet Money knows the right people. On today’s show, we sit in with Keith Mularski of the FBI. Mularski got so deep into this world that he wound up running a major criminal website. He takes us to a giant online mall for stolen credit cards, where vendors offer discounts for repeat customers and banners advertise hacking and phishing tutorials.
A famous biologist predicts overpopulation will lead to global catastrophe. He writes a bestselling book and goes on the Tonight Show to make his case. An economist disagrees. He thinks the biologist isn’t accounting for how clever people can be, and how shortages can lead to new, more efficient ways of doing things. So the economist, Julian Simon, challenges the biologist, Paul Ehrlich, to a very public, very acrimonious, decade-long bet. On today’s show: The story of that bet, and the ugly precedent it set. For more, see The Bet, by Yale historian Paul Sabin. We talk to Sabin on today’s show.
On today’s show, we follow up on a few of the stories we did in 2013. We hear what happened to a billion-dollar bet against a company that sells weight loss shakes, how a Washington marijuana shop found a bank. Also, we find the owner of a 20-year-old bat mitzvah T-shirt that traveled from Michigan to Kenya.
On today’s show, a story on a Christmasy theme: Handbells! But also, a not-so-Christmasy theme: A decades-long feud between two big bell companies, located right down the road from each other. But then, a Christmasy ending: Peace!
On today’s show, we tell the creation story of the Federal Reserve — one of the most powerful financial institutions on the planet. The story includes a 70-year-old man with a bad head cold and a bunch of mistresses, a nation that’s deeply ambivalent about a central bank, and a secret meeting at an island with a sketchy name.
There’s one part of Obamacare that doesn’t get mentioned a lot, but that could end up being a big deal. It sets up experiments in hospitals all over the country to try to figure out how to save money without lowering the quality of care. On today’s show, we visit a hospital in Akron, Ohio that’s engaged in one of these experiments. We sit in on a tense conversation where doctors argue about why it’s so hard to start surgery on time. And we hear what happens when you change the way hospitals and doctors get paid.
Today’s show is the final installment of the Planet Money T-shirt project. In all, each shirt cost us about $12.42. We open up the books and explain how that breaks down — how much went to cotton, how much went to the workers in Bangladesh, and how much went places we would never have imagined.
Charities like Goodwill sell or give away some of the used clothes they get. But a lot of the clothes get sold, packed in bales and sent across the ocean in a container ship. The U.S. exports over a billion pounds of used clothing every year — and much of that winds up in used clothing markets in sub-Saharan Africa. On today’s show, we visit a giant used-clothing market in Nairobi, Kenya to see what happens to American clothes (including, presumably, some Planet Money T-shirts) after Americans are done with them.
On today’s show, the Planet Money T-shirts arrive at the Port of Miami. But they’re not quite here yet. If you’ve ever waited at an airport to clear customs, you can understand where our shirts are now: waiting for permission to enter the country. Standing between our shirts and the rest of America is a 3,000 page book. The book is a powerful force that creates and destroys entire industries around the world. Squadrons of government agents use tools of violence and destruction to ensure that the rules laid out in the book are followed. Also, the book tells us how much we’ll have to pay in taxes to import our T-shirt into the U.S.
On today’s show: the story of an often-overlooked innovation that’s essential to the global economy. The innovation is a box. A big, metal box. The standard shipping container has completely transformed commerce in the past 50 years. It’s part of the reason the Planet Money men’s T-shirt comes from cotton grown in Mississippi, spun into yarn in Indonesia, and sewn together in Bangladesh. On today’s show, we see the shipping container in action, and hear the story behind it. For much more, see the ‘Boxes’ chapter of our online T-shirt project.
The nation of Bangladesh was created out of chaos in the early 1970s, at a moment when millions in the country were dying from a combination of war and famine. The future looked exceedingly bleak. Abdul Majid Chowdhury and Noorul Quader were Bangladeshi businessmen who wanted to help their country. “We asked ourselves, ‘What the hell do we want?’ ” Chowdhury recalls. The answer he and his friends arrived at: “We need employment. We need dollars.” Their solution involved Richard Nixon, an obscure but hugely influential trade deal, and a cultural struggle over kimchi.
The Planet Money men’s T-shirts were made in Bangladesh. The Planet Money women’s T-shirts were made in Colombia. On today’s show, we move from Bangladesh to Colombia — and we see an entirely different world. It’s a world where workers make more money and work under better conditions than their counterparts in Bangladesh. But it’s also a world that may not last. See all of our T-shirt stories so far.
Today’s show is about love and betrayal. It’s about the lives of two sisters who worked on the Planet Money T-shirt. And it’s about the social upheaval that has followed the rise of the garment industry in Bangladesh. We’ll have much more on Bangladesh and the rest of the T-shirt story in future shows. Here are our previous stories from the series.
After years of planning and months of production, the Planet Money T-shirts are here. They’ll be in the mail soon. We promise. The shirts were touched by people in rich countries with advanced degrees and by people working for some of the lowest wages in the world. They traveled thousands of miles across three continents. Over the next several weeks, we’ll tell the story of the shirts, and of the world behind them. Today, we begin at the beginning: where the cotton in our shirt came from.
Payday lenders made about $49 billion in high-interest loans last year. More than forty percent of those loans were made online. On today’s show, we go looking for the people making these loans and find a bizarre online marketplace where people’s personal financial information is bought and sold. Plus, we talk to state regulators about why it’s so hard to police high interest lending happening online.
There’s a charity called GiveDirectly that gives money to poor people in Kenya — no strings attached. When we did a story about GiveDirectly earlier this year, they told us we needed to check back in. It turned out, they were in the middle of a big study designed to figure out what happens when people get money for nothing. Do they invest it? Waste it? Something in between? Now, the results of the study are in. On today’s show: What happens when you give farmers in Kenya more money than they’ve ever had? Also: giving money to thieves and drug addicts in a country that’s much worse off than Kenya.
On today’s show, we talk to Eugene Fama and Robert Shiller, who shared this year’s economics Nobel. Shiller is a famous explainer of bubbles; Fama is a famous bubble skeptic.
Lincolns used to be the coolest cars in the world. They used to be driven by kings, moguls and celebrities. Today, Lincolns are driven by the old, the out-of-touch, and the guys hustling you at the airport. On today’s show: How Lincoln is trying to regain its former glory — and how the story of Lincoln may be the story of the U.S. auto industry, for better or for worse. Note: This episode was originally posted last year.
We recently became obsessed with a strange, select club:The top rated reviewers on Amazon. These are ordinary people — not Amazon employees — who write and record hundreds of astonishingly detailed reviews on Amazon. At this moment, Amazon’s number 1 reviewer is Michael Erb (Amazon screen name, M. Erb). He’s has reviewed more than 850 products, ranging from telescopes to facial wipes. On today’s show, we talk to Erb and another top reviewer, and we try to figure out: Why do they spend so much time and effort reviewing stuff on Amazon?
There’s a pill called Suboxone that treats addiction to heroin and pain pills like oxycontin. Doctors and addicts say it’s amazing. “It was the best thing that ever happened,” one heroin addict told us. “I was like OH. MY. LORD. This is a miracle pill.” The government spent tens of millions of dollars developing Suboxone. Doctors can prescribe it in their offices. But a lot of people who want it can’t get it from a doctor, so they have to buy it on the street. Today on the show: Why people have to turn to drug dealers to get a pill that fights addiction. Note: This episode was originally posted last year. For more, see this paper on the history of Suboxone. Download the Planet Money iPhone App. Music: POP ETC’s “Keep It For Your Own” and Snoop Dogg’s “Whistle While You Hustle.” Find us: Twitter/ Facebook/ Spotify/ Tumblr.
On the show today, the story of an innovation that changed the way the world works, and of the man who made this innovation possible. Luca Pacioli was a monk, a mathematician, a magician and possibly, the boyfriend of Leonardo da Vinci. Jane Gleeson-White, author of Double Entry: How the Merchants of Venice Created Modern Finance, tells us the story of Pacioli and how his book on mathematics changed business across the planet. Note: This episode was originally posted last year. Download the Planet Money iPhone App. Music: Noah & The Whale’s “Tonight’s the Kind of Night.” Find us: Twitter/ Facebook/ Spotify/ Tumblr
On today’s show: Three ripped-from-the-headlines stories from Planet Money. What A U.S. Default Would Mean For Pensions, China, And Social Security If the government defaults on its debt, people all over the world who have loaned the government money won’t get paid on time. One Key Thing No One Knows About Obamacare Obamacare won’t work unless healthy people buy insurance. No one knows whether they will. Is Welfare A Rational Alternative To Work? A new paper argues that the value of various welfare benefits add up to well over $30,000 a year. People on welfare disagree. Note: These stories initially aired on the radio. Music: Black Joe Lewis & The Honeybears’ “I’m Broke” and M83’s “Steve McQueen.” Find us: Twitter/ Facebook/Spotify/ Tumblr. Download the Planet Money iPhone App.
Last year, Americans paid $1.7 billion to play in fantasy sports leagues. Billion! On today’s show, we find real businesses sprouting up to profit from the fantasy sports economy. One guy sells insurance that pays off if a (real) player on your (fantasy) team gets hurt; another settles disputes that pop up in fantasy leagues. Also on the show today: When fantasy football is a negative externality in a marriage. (Bonus: The marriage in question involves a member of the Planet Money team.) For more, see our story Cashing In On The Fantasy Sports Economy. Music: Manning Brothers’ “Football On Your Phone.” Find us: Twitter/ Facebook/Spotify/ Tumblr. Download the Planet Money iPhone App.
On today’s Planet Money: Why a dead shark costs $12 million, and a photo of steel wool that looks like a tornado costs $1,265. In other words, we wade into the economics of the art world. For more, read Ed Winkleman’s blog and check out his gallery. Browse the works of Matthew Albanese, the man behind the steel-wool tornado. And read “Art Investment as Floating Crap Game” by William Baumol, an economist and artist. Note: This episode was originally posted in 2010. Music: Sia’s “Clap Your Hands.” Find us: Twitter/ Facebook/Spotify/ Tumblr. Download the Planet Money iPhone App.
So we’re making a T-shirt and we do this Kickstarter campaign and we raise $590,807 (which, really, we can’t thank you enough). It turns out the money collected on Kickstarter is handled by Amazon. Great, we figure: This is the company that will sell you anything on the planet and get it you you the next day. And what we need in this case isn’t even a thing, really. We just need Amazon’s bank to send money electronically to a checking account at Chase bank. It’s just information traveling over wires. How long could it take: A minute? An hour? It took five days. On today’s show: Why the invisible pipes that move money around America are so slow. (And why the ones in England are so much faster.) Music: The Black Keys’ “Countdown.” Find us: Twitter/ Facebook/Spotify/ Tumblr. Download the Planet Money iPhone App.
On today’s show, we visit Fulper Farms, a family-run dairy in New Jersey. It’s a bucolic setting — white farmhouse, rolling hills, etc. But behind that peaceful image lies all the roiling tension, rising inequality and economic volatility of the 21st-century economy. We meet Claudia, the prized, high-tech cow. And we learn why even a barn full of Claudias wouldn’t be enough to keep a family-run dairy afloat. For More: Meet Claudia, The High-Tech Cow Note: This episode was originally posted last year. Music: Eddie Albert’s “Green Acres” and The Kinks’ “Animal Farm.” Find us: Twitter/ Facebook/Spotify/ Tumblr. Download the Planet Money iPhone App.
If you have cable, your bill has probably doubled over the past decade. The rise is largely driven by fees for channels you have to pay for, whether you want them or not. ESPN alone is costing you more than $5 a month — even if you never watch it. On today’s show, we answer the question every cable subscriber has asked: Why can’t I just pay for the channels I want? For more on the cable business, see our post, The Most (And Least) Expensive Cable Channels, In 1 Graph, and Adam Davidson’s column, The ‘Mad Men’ Economic Miracle. Music: Dinah Washington’s “T.V. Is The Thing This Year.” Find us: Twitter/ Facebook/Spotify/ Tumblr. Download the Planet Money iPhone App.
Every single dollar bill in the world — every $20, every $100, everything — is printed on paper made at one small mill in Massachusetts. That’s been the case for 130 years. On today’s show, we visit the mill. We hear the story of the guy who jumped out a hotel window to win the government contract to print all that paper. And we ask: Will anybody be using paper money in 50 years? Subscribe. Music: Temper Trap’s “Sweet Disposition.” Find us: Twitter/ Facebook/ Spotify/ Tumblr.
According to the government, there are 46.5 million Americans who live below the poverty line. In other words, that’s how many people are officially poor. But pretty much everyone who studies poverty agrees: The way we arrive at this figure is completely wrong. On today’s show, we figure out how we got here, why still measure poverty in a way that so many people agree is wrong, and how could we do it better.
We’re in a gym full of high school students. The gym is at the headquarters of the New York Federal Reserve, just a few blocks from Wall Street. The students are here for the High School Fed Challenge. If you’re a high school student and you dream of holding the U.S. economy in the palm of your hand — if you want the power to control interest rates and to print money out of thin air — the Fed Challenge is for you. On today’s show, we sit in on the finals — and hear from a bunch of teenagers about what Fed policy means for them. Note: This episode was originally posted last year. Music: Fun.’s “We Are Young.” Find us: Twitter/ Facebook/Spotify/ Tumblr. Download the Planet Money iPhone App.
Five years ago this month, the financial crisis hit its most intense moment. One giant company after another went bust or was rescued at the last minute, as the government launched a wave of bailouts. Another momentous thing happened five years ago this week: The Planet Money podcast came into being. Today, we replay key moments from some of our first shows, when it seemed like the entire economy could seize up at any moment. And we ask: Are we safer now than we were five years ago? Music: Noah and the Whale’s “5 Years Time.” Find us: Twitter/ Facebook/Spotify/ Tumblr. Download the Planet Money iPhone App.
Sure, some college degrees lead to higher paying jobs than others. But what’s shocking — at least, it was shocking to us — is just how big the gap can be. The most lucrative majors typically lead to jobs with salaries over $100,000 a year. The least lucrative lead to salaries of around $30,000. On today’s show, we run the numbers. We talk to people who majored in the most- and least-lucrative subjects. And we hear from an economist who says, when it comes to income, choosing a major is more important than choosing a college.
On today’s show, we check in with our reporters in Bangladesh. We hear what it was like inside the factory where the Planet Money men’s T-shirt was knit, dyed, cut and sewn. And we ask: Will Bangladesh be able to move beyond making T-shirts? Music: Alex King’s “Like A Sewing Machine.” Find us: Twitter/ Facebook/Spotify/ Tumblr. Download the Planet Money iPhone App. #seedtoshirt
The cotton for the Planet Money men’s T-shirt was spun into yarn in Indonesia and knit, cut and sewn into shirts in Bangladesh. Last week, we had teams of reporters and photographers in both countries — and we managed to get almost everybody on the phone at once. On today’s show, we listen in on that call. Today’s special bonus guest: Pietra Rivoli, the author of the book that inspired our T-shirt project. Music: Daft Punk’s “Around The World” Find us: Twitter/ Facebook/Spotify/ Tumblr. Download the Planet Money iPhone App.
Ecuador’s Yasuni National Park, a pristine corner of the Amazon rainforest, is home to jaguars, giant otters, and the golden-mantled tamarin. The park also sits on top of hundreds of millions of barrels of oil, worth billions of dollars. The government of Ecuador faces a choice: Should it protect the park, or go for the money? Until very recently, the country was trying to do both. The government said it would leave the rainforest untouched — if rich countries gave billions of dollars. We reported on the story earlier this year. Today, we find out how the story ends. Note: This is an update of an episode that was originally posted in February. Note #2: Starting next week, podcasts will be posted on Wednesday and Friday, rather than on Tuesday and Friday. Download the Planet Money iPhone App. Music: Mumford & Sons’s “Below My Feet.” Find us: Twitter/ Facebook/ Spotify/ Tumblr.
Before the Civil War, there were 8,000 different kinds of money in the United States. Banks printed their own paper money. And, unlike today, a $1 bill wasn’t always worth $1. Sometimes people took the bills at face value. Sometimes they accepted them at a discount (a $1 bill might only be worth 90 cents, say.) Sometimes people rejected certain bills altogether. On today’s show, we figure out how this world worked. And explain how the Civil War — and the Union’s need for money — changed everything. Note: This episode was originally posted last year. Note #2: Starting next week, podcasts will be posted on Wednesday and Friday, rather than on Tuesday and Friday.
As the Egyptian military cracked down on protesters last week, U.S.-made Apache helicopters flew overhead. The Egyptian military also uses American made tanks, fighter jets and bullets. This is the product of the $1.3 billion in military aid the U.S. provides to Egypt every year. In polls, a majority of Egyptians say they want that aid to end. And it’s become unpopular among some powerful Americans as well. Yet, so far, the aid hasn’t stopped flowing. On today’s show: Why it’s so hard for the U.S. to stop sending military aid to Egypt.
On today’s show, we meet a woman who is trying to bring nuance and subtlety to a world of black-and-white rules: pregnancy. Emily Oster is an economist and the author of a book called Expecting Better. Like our own Chana Joffe-Walt — who takes a break from maternity leave to host today’s show — Oster found herself confused and frustrated by all the rules of pregnancy. Unlike Chana, Emily Oster decided to read almost every study that had every been conducted on pregnancy and risk. Today, we talk to Oster about what she discovered. (Spoiler: A glass of wine is Ok.)
GiveDirectly is a charity that just gives money to poor people. The people who get the money can spend it on whatever they want. They never have to pay it back. On today’s show, we hear from someone who got money from GiveDirectly, from one of the founder’s of the group, and from a few other people in the charity world. But, really, today’s show is just a quick introduction. For the complete Planet Money experience, allow us to direct your attention to This American Life, where our full story about GiveDirectly is airing this weekend. For ways to listen, see This American Life’s aptly named Ways To Listen page.
On today’s show, three stories about what how products and people get branded and what happens when you peel back the label, and try to get the full story.
In most industries, competitors getting together to restrict the supply of a good would be illegal. But in the raisin world, it’s the opposite. Competitors have to work together. They all decide as a group how many raisins to release to the public. What can get you in trouble in raisins, is going against that group. Raisin farmer, Marvin Horne, is a raisin rebel, a raisin outlaw. He refused to follow the rules of the Raisin Administrative Committee and found himself under surveillance by Rocky Pipkin’s detective agency. Now he’s being sued by the federal government for hundreds of thousands of dollars. On today’s show, the upside-down world of raisins.
More than half of all Japanese women quit their jobs after giving birth to their first child. That’s more than double the rate in the U.S., and it’s a problem for Japan’s economy. If more women returned to the workforce, it would go a huge way toward boosting growth in the country and solving a big demographic problem — not enough working people to support the nation’s retirees. But finding childcare in Japan is even harder than finding childcare in the U.S. The long-term solution is robot nannies. (Really.) On today’s show: How Japanese working moms can survive until the robots arrive. For More: Will Robot Nannies Save Japan’s Economy?
Everybody likes free. But free can be dangerous, too. Today’s show is sort of the flip side free. It is what happens when you take something that was free — and you give it a price, a decision many Internet companies face today. That is a highly risky move, it turns out. And the damage can be enormous. This week, free of charge, Chana Joffe-Walt and Alex Blumberg tell the story of the Red Cross and free doughnuts — that suddenly weren’t free any more. It happened 70 years ago, and the Red Cross is still feeling the consequences. ***Note this episode originally aired in July 2012.***
*Not really. But sort of. On today’s show, we bring you three Planet Money radio stories, each of which looks at something indicator-ish: 1. The Beige Book: The ‘Ask Your Uncle’ Approach To Economics 2. The price of gold: What A Falling Gold Price Means For Pawn Shops 3. The price of a pedi-cab ride: How To Spend $442 on a 15-minute cab ride
On today’s show, we took a tour of Detroit with a local newspaper reporter and an urban planner. We go see what happened to all the big dreams Detroit has had over the years.
U.S. citizens who want to buy stuff from North Korea have to write a letter to the U.S. government asking for special permission. As regular listeners know, we’re sort of obsessed with North Korea. So we decided to try to get those letters. Several months ago, we filed a Freedom of Information Act request. It worked! We recently got a stack of heavily redacted letters. On today’s show: we try to figure out who sent the letters, why they wanted to do business with North Korea, and what that tells us about the North Korean economy.
On our show today, we tell you everything you need to know about the filibuster, including: What Schoolhouse Rock didn’t tell us Why Aaron Burr and Jimmy Stewart are the two great villains in filibuster history How Senators can now filibuster bills without having to talk for hours on end * Note: Today’s show is a rerun. It originally ran on December, 2012.
1. A Mashup Of Planet Money and American Top 40. 2. An econ summer mixtape. 3. How the top three songs in America explain the crazy transformation in the music business. Those three songs by the way, are by Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, Justin Timberlake and Icona Pop. They come from last week’s America’s Top 40.
Climate change seems like this complicated, intractable problem. But maybe it doesn’t have to be. On today’s show, we talk to a couple economists about a very simple idea that could solve the climate-change problem: Tax carbon emissions. A carbon tax could be paired with cuts in the income tax. And it would drive down emissions without picking winners or losers, and without creating complicated regulations.
On today’s show, we talk to commodities traders to answer one of the most important questions in finance: What actually happens at the end of Trading Places? We know something crazy happens on the trading floor. We know that Eddie Murphy and Dan Aykroyd get rich and the Duke brothers lose everything. But how does it all happen? And could it happen in the real world? Also on the show: The “Eddie Murphy Rule” that wound up in the the big financial overhaul law Congress passed in 2010. Today’s special guest co-host is Roman Mars, host of 99% Invisible.
On today’s Planet Money, we travel to a place where people are trying to live without government interference. A place where you can use bits of silver to buy uninspected bacon. A place where a 9-year-old will sell you alcohol. It’s the Porcupine Freedom Festival, known to its friends as PorcFest. It’s the summer festival for people who think we should return to the gold standard and abolish the IRS.
Five years after the financial crisis, the federal government still controls Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, two giant companies that guarantee trillions of dollars in mortgages. This is a huge, little-discussed part of the post-crisis economy. Almost everybody agrees that taxpayers shouldn’t be on the hook when their neighbors don’t pay their mortgages. But the government doesn’t have a clear plan to get out of the mortgage business. Last week, two senators (a Republican and a Democrat) introduced a bill that would get rid of Fannie and Freddie and reduce the government’s role in the mortgage business. On today’s show, we try to figure out what the new bill means. And we revisit the story of the rise of Fannie and Freddie, which we first talked about on the show a few years back.
On today’s show: Two stories from Kenya. 1. Poachers kill rhinos for their horns. Some economists think legalizing the horns could save the rhinos. **Warning: this story contains graphic audio.** 2. . Getting clean water to people in the developing world isn’t just an engineering problem.
The price of tires has risen by about 40 percent in the past five years. That’s partly because rubber prices have gone up. But it’s also due to a tariff that the U.S. on Chinese tire imports. As tire prices have risen, more people have been renting tires rather than buying them outright. And renting tires, it turns out, is often a bad deal in the long run. On today’s show: How a celebrated attempt to help one group of people ended quietly hurting a much larger group. Also on the show: The Grizz.
Thomas Peterffy’s life story includes a typing robot, a proto-iPad, and a vast fortune he amassed as one of the first guys to use computers in financial markets. On today’s show, Peterffy tells us his story — and he explains why he’s worried about the financial world he helped create. Also on the show: We talk with Simone Foxman of Quartz about high-speed traders paying to get a key financial indicator two seconds before everybody else.
After decades of isolation, Myanmar is reconnecting with the rest of the world. On today’s show, we meet two people who are trying to take advantage of the changes going on there. One is launching a tiny startup. The other works for Coca-Cola — a company that left Myanmar decades ago, and only returned to the country last year. For more, see our stories “Can This Man Bring Silicon Valley To Yangon?” and “How To Sell Coke To People Who Have Never Had A Sip.”
*Note: The country is only getting richer on paper, but that change may make a difference in the real world.* People talk about GDP as if it means something solid, as if it’s a mathematically derived and agreed upon fact. But in conversations we’ve had in the last few weeks, we’ve become more convinced that GDP is a wobbly fact. It’s malleable, and it’s mushy. GDP can change in a day. And when it does — even when it’s a statistical illusion — that illusion can still have a major impact on millions of lives. On today’s show, Nigeria is about to change the way it calculates its GDP. The change will likely make Nigeria the leading economy in Africa, and it could be a big boost for the Nigerian entrepreneurs behind Pledge 51, a mobile app company based in Lagos. The guys behind Pledge 51 have found success with mobile apps like Danfo, a game which lets players pretend to drive the notoriously wild buses in Lagos. But to take their company to the next level, they want foreign investment. A boost to their country’s GDP could bring in exactly the type of foreign investors they are hoping for. Correction: A previous version of this show incorrectly stated that the World Bank lends out $35 million a year. The correct number is $35 billion.
Back in the nineties, Jim Logan started a company called Personal Audio. The concept was simple — people could pick out magazine articles they liked on the internet, and his company would send them a cassette tape of those articles being read out loud. The cassette tapes didn’t catch on like Jim hoped, but he had bigger dreams for the idea behind them. He dreamed that one day you wouldn’t need a cassette player, you would just be able to hear smart people talking about whatever subject you wanted, and that audio would be magically downloaded to a device of your choice. He says he dreamed of podcasting as we know it today. Now Jim Logan did not create the technology to podcast. He himself is not a modern-day podcaster. But he did get a patent on that big dream of downloading personalized audio, and he claims to have the patent on podcasting. On today’s show, he says all the people out there podcasting today, owe him money. For more, check out Alex Blumberg and Laura Sydell’s story on this weekend’s This American Life :When Patents Attack…Part Two!
On today’s show: Three short stories from the far flung shores of New Zealand, Ireland and New Jersey. First up, it’s no secret that some Americans hide money offshore to avoid paying U.S. taxes. Over the past decade, some 39,000 people have come forward voluntarily to tell the IRS about their offshore money. This group provides a small window into the world of people who are hiding money in offshore havens. Also: how a single page in a report written decades ago by U.S. consultants, and funded by the U.S. State Department, brought Apple to Ireland.
In 2010, we reported on a poor town in Haiti, where school was held in a small, one-room church. Planet Money listeners were moved to donate some $3,000, which the principal of the school thought would be enough to build a school. A few months later, the money was gone, and all there was to show for it was a foundation, some concrete blocks and some rock and sand. We thought that would be the end of it. Then we heard from Tim Myers, a retired contractor from Colorado who decided to go to Haiti to build the school — and who realized, in 2011, that the project would cost more than $100,000. On today’s show: We return to Haiti, to see how the project is going. And we hear from Tim Myers, who says, if he had it to do over, he might do things differently.
On today’s show: Three short Planet Money stories about trying to figure out what things are really worth. When Lady Gaga writes a song, does that count as economic output? Is a $20 worth $20 in Myanmar (Spoiler: Probably not.) And economists help a young college grad think through what to do with his life. Also: An update on our t-shirt project.
H&M, Zara, Wal-Mart and JC Penney all buy t-shirts from Bangladesh. Soon, Planet Money will too. As you may have heard, we’re making a t-shirt and telling the story of how it’s made. We decided a few months ago to work with Jockey to make our t-shirts. Our women’s shirt will be made in Colombia. Our men’s shirt will be made, in part, in Bangladesh. But horrifying news has been coming out of Bangladesh’s apparel industry recently. A garment factory collapsed a few weeks ago, killing more than 1,000 people. Last year, a factory fire killed hundreds of workers. As part of the t-shirt project, we’ll be traveling to Bangladesh to report on the industry. On today’s show, we start to ask: Is buying a t-shirt from Bangladesh a good thing or a bad thing for the people of Bangladesh? For more: See Adam Davidson’s latest New York Times Magazine column, Economic Recovery, Made in Bangladesh?
We’re making a t-shirt that tells the story of its own creation. Part of that story — color. It took long meetings, late nights and endless discussion to choose the exact hues for our Planet Money t-shirt. On today’s show, we’ll explain what the color of our women’s t-shirt has to do with this painting from 1976, and we’ll tell you how unfinished buildings halfway around the world are shaping what we see on store shelves right now. You only have three days left to get your very own Planet Money t-shirt. All it takes is a $25 pledge on Kickstarter.
Nearly 20 states have legalized marijuana to some degree. As it turns out, this has profound economic consequences for dealers all across the country. On today’s show, we meet a wholesaler who moves weed across the country, a California weed dealer seeking higher profits in New York, and a special agent who may be inadvertently helping the dealer out by trying to put him in jail. For More: See The Weed Trail, from WNYC
On today’s show, we meet a Brazilian who took on the world’s largest superpower; a Texas cotton farmer who’s tired of hearing the Brazilians complain; and a guy named Renato — a.k.a. Retaliation Master. And we hear why U.S. taxpayers are paying Brazilian cotton growers nearly $150 million a year. This show originally ran in 2011, near the beginning of our quest to make a Planet Money t-shirt. We’re re-playing it now because we just re-launched the t-shirt project. If you want a Planet Money t-shirt, visit our Kickstarter page. We had more about the project in our most recent podcast, The Planet Money T-Shirt Is Finally (Almost) Here. Music: Johnny Cash’s “Cotton Fields” Find us: Twitter/ Facebook/Spotify/ Tumblr. Download the Planet Money iPhone App.
We’re making a t-shirt that tells the story of its own creation. To help make it happen, visit our Kickstarter page.
Sugar costs more in the U.S. than in the rest of the world. If you’re in the candy business — if, say, you make 10 lollipops a day — that’s a big deal. On today’s show, we visit a candy factory in Ohio (where they want U.S. sugar to be cheaper) and a sugar-beet field in Minnesota (where they don’t). And, perhaps inevitably, we hear from Washington, where the fight over sugar has been playing out for years. For more, read our post from earlier today. Subscribe to the podcast. Find us Twitter/Facebook/Flickr.
What causes what? The human brain is programmed to answer this question constantly. This how we survive. What made that noise? Bear made that noise. What caused my hand to hurt? Fire caused my hand to hurt. We are so eager to figure what causes what — that we often get it wrong. I wore my lucky hat to the game. My team won. Therefore, my lucky hat caused my team to win. On today’s show we dive deep into the world of correlation and causation with Charles Wheelan, author of the new book, Naked Statistics: Stripping the Dread from the Data.
Three years ago, Carmen Reinhart and Ken Rogoff published a study that quickly became one of the most famous, most talked about economics papers since the financial crisis. It got so much attention because it answered a basic question everybody was asking: How much debt is too much? Reinhart and Rogoff looked at what had happened in many different countries over many years. And they found a what looked like a clear debt threshold: 90 percent. Average growth was much, much slower in countries with debt-to-gdp ratios over 90 percent. The paper got a lot of coverage in the press. Politicians cited it in the U.S. and Europe. Then, this week, a 28-year-old grad student and his professors published a startling finding: Reinhart and Rogoff had made a simple Excel error in one part of their study. The authors of the new critique also questioned other elements of the study and argued that, in fact, there is no debt threshold. On today’s show, we hear from the grad student who found the error. And we ask: How much should we trust economics?
The U.S. has a really conflicted history with the income tax. For most of American history, there was no income tax at all. At one point it was ruled unconstitutional. Today, income tax is the federal government’s main source of revenue. That raises a question: How did something that was once so strange to us become so central? The answer includes a few wars, a Supreme Court justice on his deathbed, and Donald Duck. For More: Read our post, “From Abe Lincoln To Donald Duck: History Of The Income Tax.”And see War and Taxes, the book Joe Thorndike co-wrote. Subscribe to the podcast. Music: Nero’s “The Promise” and Danny Kaye’s “I Paid My Income Tax Today.” Find us: Twitter/ Facebook/ Spotify/ Tumblr. Note: This podcast was originally published last year.
Last year, a federal program took about $60 billion from wealthier Americans and gave it to the working poor. This program — a massive redistribution of wealth –has been embraced by every president from Ronald Reagan to Barack Obama. On today’s show, we look at a huge, often overlooked, surprisingly interesting corner of the tax code: The Earned Income Tax Credit. For more, see our story A Surprisingly Uncontroversial Program That Gives Money To Poor People.
Since the start of the year, the Japanese yen has risen by about 12 percent against the dollar. The euro has fallen by about 1 percent. Then there’s bitcoin, a virtual currency that doesn’t even exist in the physical world. In the past few months, the value of bitcoin has risen by more than 1,000 percent — from less than $20 per bitcoin a few months ago to more than $200 today. On today’s show, we ask: Is a skyrocketing value a good thing or a bad thing for bitcoin?
We have secondary markets for almost everything. If you no longer want that old record or CD, you can sell it to a thrift store, used record store, or on Craigslist or eBay. But what about songs from your iTunes library you no longer want? Today on the show, the story of a company that tried to set up an online marketplace where people can buy and sell old mp3s, and what happened to them. It involves a law from 1976, a phonorecord, and a judge that quotes Star Trek. For more on the legal arguments around selling used digital media: Is It Legal To Sell Your Old MP3s? Update: Is It Legal To Sell Your Old MP3s? Judge Says No.* Lawyer Rick Sander blog. Bill Rosenblatt’s blog, “Copyright and Technology.”
When Hurricane Sandy struck, it devastated businesses all over New York City. One area hit particularly hard was Coney Island, an iconic New York beach at the tip of South Brooklyn. At the time, we reported on the damage to a family-owned amusement park, Deno’s Wonderwheel Amusement Park, home to the Wonder Wheel, bumper cars, and the Spook-A-Rama. We reported that the place was basically doomed. But it turns out, our report was a kind of premature obituary for the business. We return to the amusement park, about 5 months after the storm, and find things shockingly normal. Businesses like Deno’s are back and some of them are thriving. On today’s show, an economic case study. What brought Coney Island back so quickly?
Note: This podcast was originally published in 2011. With North Korea in the news again this week, we’re re-running it today. North Korea relies on charity to feed its starving people. But the country’s elites like their luxuries — imported wine, fine china, dancing shoes. To buy those things, they need foreign currency. (North Korean currency is worthless outside of North Korea.) To get foreign currency, they need to sell things to the outside world. But North Korea’s industrial base is a disaster, and the country doesn’t grow enough food to feed itself. On today’s Planet Money, we look at the ways North Korea’s leaders have managed to keep foreign currency flowing into the country. Their strategies include manufacturing drugs, counterfeiting U.S. dollars, and selling gigantic statues to foreign leaders. For more at www.npr.org/money.
A few years back, the Kenyan government wanted to encourage exports. So the government said to local businesses: For every $100 of stuff you sell to someone outside Kenya, we’ll give you Kenyan shillings worth another $20. A con artist saw an opportunity. He launched a company that exported nonexistent gold for nonexistent dollars, and collected a real government bonus. Then, when he was about to get caught, he started his own bank. That’s when the scam really took off. On today’s show: How one guy pulled off one of the largest financial scams in Kenyan history, avoided prison, re-branded himself as a man of God, and ran for a seat in parliament.
We’re an economics show. We cover the economy. But it’s come to our attention that, until now, we’ve missed one of the biggest stories in our economy: The startling rise in the number of people on federal disability programs. It’s the story of 14 million people who don’t show up in most of the numbers we look at to understand the economy. These 14 million Americans don’t have jobs, but they don’t show up in any of the unemployment measures that we use. They receive federal assistance, but are often overlooked in discussions of the social safety net. On today’s show: What disability in America says about the state of the American workforce, and about what it means to be poor in America nearly 20 years after we ended welfare as we knew it. For much, much more on disability, see our giant online story and listen to This American Life this weekend (we’re doing the whole hour on disability). And we’ll have more disability stories next week on All Things Considered. Correction: An earlier version of this episode incorrectly named the Minnesota congressman who at first voted against the legislation that expanded the definition of disability. His name is Tim Penny and not Tim Perry.
We’ll be honest: We thought we were through with the crisis in Europe, at least for a while. The continent seemed to be muddling though just fine. So we shut down our hotline to the European Central Bank and boxed up our copies of the Masstrict treaty. But this weekend, we woke up to find we were wrong. Late night foreign minister meetings, lines at the ATMs, protests in the street — it’s all back. The crisis has emerged again in an unlikely place. On today’s show: Why did the world freak out over the Cyprus bailout? For more about this episode, visit the Planet Money blog.
Sometimes your success depends on how your competitors behave. People judge you not just by your product, but by the product that your rival down the street makes. This is a problem for Lou Caracciolo. He’s trying to make high-quality wine, from grapes he grows in New Jersey. But Jersey wine already has a reputation — and fancy isn’t it. On today’s show: Can New Jersey become the next Napa? For more, see Adam Davidson’s latest NYT Magazine column, Bottle Bing. Music: Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ On A Prayer” Find us: Twitter/ Facebook/ Spotify. Download the Planet Money iPhone App.
Despite all the celebration, the Dow Jones industrial average has not hit record highs recently. If you adjust for inflation, the highs just aren’t as high as they seem. And even if we do hit a real, inflation-adjusted high in the next few weeks, it won’t mean much. The Dow is a seriously flawed stock index, and it’s certainly not a good way to measure what’s going on in the overall economy. On today’s show, we rain on the Dow’s parade and explain why a lot of very smart people, hate this index so much. For more on the Dow: The Dow Isn’t Really At A Record High (And It Wouldn’t Matter If It Were) Dow’s ‘Record Highs’ Misleading Without Including Inflation
On today’s show: Three stories about the tricky path from the present to the future. Sales Are Like Drugs. What Happens When A Store Wants Customers To Quit? J.C. Penney’s new CEO came in with a bold strategy: No more sales or coupons. It didn’t work. Should The U.S. Import More Doctors? “We should think of doctors the same way we think of shirts,” an economist says. “If we can get doctors at a lower cost from elsewhere in the world then we could save enormous amounts of money.” If A Driverless Car Crashes, Who’s Liable? Technology isn’t the only hurdle for computer-driven cars. Music: Steve Miller Band’s “Fly Like an Eagle”, Pet Shop Boys “Shopping”, Paramore’s “Now”, and The Black Eyed Peas “Boom Boom Pow,” Find us: Twitter/ Facebook/ Spotify/ Tumblr. Download the Planet MoneyiPhone App.
Higher land prices have forced Amish off the farms and into business. There are thousands of Amish run firms out there making everything from plumbing supplies to furniture. But running an Amish business poses unique challenges. Many Amish don’t connect to the electrical grid. They don’t drive cars. They prize modesty, meaning traditional advertising slogans like “best,” “fastest,” and “greatest” are out. An Amish company has to be creative about these things. And, the Amish have tricks they can teach the rest of the business world. For one, they have perfected the art of marketing to a niche audience. On today’s show, we travel to the The Buckeye Tool Expo in Dalton, Ohio to see how the Amish balance their business interests with their personal beliefs.
The Catholic Church is not a corporation. It’s a religion, a cultural force, and a global power. Still, one of the things the new Pope will have to deal with is a classic business mess — a multi-billion dollar conglomerate that has stumbled and is losing money and relevance. On today’s show, experts (including a priest with a Harvard MBA) tell us what the church needs to do to turn things around. Music: Faithful Father’s Pipe Organ Hymns, & Run DMC’s “Down With The King.” Find us: Twitter/ Facebook/ Spotify/Tumblr. Download the Planet Money iPhone App.
If you have good health insurance, you’ve probably never even seen a full hospital bill. Count yourself lucky. For a giant article in this week’s Time, Steve Brill went line by line through a handful of bills from hospitals around the country. On today’s show, he tells us about the crazy thicket of high prices and hard-to-decipher codes that he discovered, and we talk about what it means for the price of health care in America.
Two big companies have hatched a plan that could allegedly take money out of the pockets of ordinary Americans. And it’s not just any money: it’s our beer money. Anheuser-Busch InBev, the biggest brewer in the world, wants to buy Grupo Modelo, the maker of Corona. The U.S. Department of Justice is suing to block the acquisition. On today’s show: The story behind the case, and what it says about monopolies, competition and government regulation. Music: Rihanna’s “Cheers (Drink to That)” Find us: Twitter/ Facebook/ Spotify/ Tumblr. Download the Planet Money iPhone App.
Will readers pay for digital content? The uberblogger Andrew Sullivan recently struck out on his own. Now he’s trying keep his blog afloat by asking readers for money — and hoping that they’ll contribute enough to pay for the the blog’s five-person staff. On today’s show, he tells us how he’s doing. Also: We hear from Maura Johnston, a music writer who got fired from The Village Voice and is trying to sell a digital magazine.
For the first time in a while, there’s political momentum building to change the U.S. immigration system. On today’s show, we ask three economists: What would the perfect system look like? If we could scrap the mess of a system that we currently have and replace it with anything, what would it look like? Among the answers: Let in lots more doctors and engineers Auction off immigration slots to the highest bidders Open the gates, and let everyone in
In survey after survey, people rank buying a car as one of their least favorite experiences. Why hasn’t anyone figured out a better way to sell cars? Why can’t you just go to a car store and shop for cars from a bunch of different manufacturers? Why don’t cars have real price tags — with real prices, that people actually pay? Today on the show: Why car buying is so unpleasant, and what your local legislators may be doing to keep it that way.
On today’s show: Four short stories about how we deal with danger, death, and crime. Here’s more on those stories: 1. Why Is The Government In The Flood Insurance Business? The quick answer to why the government sells flood insurance: a hugely damaging hurricane named Betsy. 2. Should Gun Owners Have To Buy Liability Insurance? Most states require car owners to have liability insurance to cover damages their vehicles cause to others; some economists think we should require the same for gun owners. 3. Lance Armstrong’s Confession Could Cost Him Millions How one interview could mean he’ll have to pay back all the money the U.S. Postal Service and others paid to sponsor his cycling career. 4. How Happy Is America? The government is considering adopting a national happiness index. But how do you measure happiness?
Ecuador’s Yasuni National Park is an amazing rainforest — home to jaguars, giant otters, the golden-mantled tamarin and woolly monkeys. The park also sits on top of hundreds of millions of barrels of oil, worth billions of dollars. The government of Ecuador faces a choice: Should it protect the park, or go for the money? The country is trying to do both. The government says it will promise to leave its rainforest untouched — if rich counties give Ecuador billions of dollars.
In the spring of 2011, voters an Iceland had to decide whether to pick up the tab for mistakes bankers made before the financial crisis. We visited Iceland just before the vote and met Heiða Dóra Jónsdóttir, a 29-year-old new mom. Heiða was trying to figure out how to vote so we set up interviews for her with a bunch of experts on the subject, including Iceland’s president. Heiða and the majority of Icelanders eventually voted “no” on the referendum, but the fight didn’t end there. The British and Dutch governments took Iceland to court to try to recover money their citizens lost when an Icelandic bank failed. On today’s show: we revisit that story from 2011 and give an update on how the years-long, international, multi-billion-dollar battle turned out.
The Affordable Care Act — aka Obamacare — requires health insurers to pay for breast pumps. For many insurance plans, the new rule kicked in at the start of this year. On today’s show, we visit a breast pump boutique that has suddenly become a medical supply superstore. And we look at happens when a device goes from being something people have to pay for out of their own pocket to being free for anyone with insurance.
Note: This is an updated version of a podcast that originally aired in Dec., 2011. If you’re looking for the beginning — and, possibly, the end — of the European financial crisis, you can find it in a single building: The Greek statistics office, at 46 Peireos Street in Athens. We visited recently and found what may be the world’s most high-stakes game of office politics. On one side: The technocrats, led by Andreas Georgiou, who was appointed last year to run the office. On the other : The old guard, including Konstantinos Skordas. Georgiou’s technocratic ways — like reporting Greek deficit figures directly to European authorities — have landed him in hot water with the old guard. His email was hacked, he says. His workers went out on strike. And now he is facing criminal charges that could lead to life in prison.
Today on the podcast, the story of one of the most destructive and mysterious food shortages in recent memory. Colbert described it on his Threatdown segment: The global food shortage is finally becoming an important story, because now it is affecting me. Costco and Sam’s Club are now both rationing rice. You can’t buy more than 80 pounds in a single visit. How am I supposed to make my famous kiddie pool paella?!? The most mysterious thing about this shortage of rice: There was more than enough to go around. It is the epic story of a shortage that wasn’t. In this global caper of good intentions gone wrong, there are shadowy trade deals, corrupt government officials, and warehouses full of rice in a country that didn’t want it. Note: Today’s show is a rerun. It originally ran on November, 2010.
Herbalife, a company that sells weight loss shakes, vitamins and other similar products, is worth billions of dollars. The company has been around for more than 30 years, and it’s traded on the New York Stock Exchange. Bill Ackman thinks the whole thing is a pyramid scheme.Not surprisingly, Herbalife disagrees. Ackman manages a hedge fund that has shorted more than a billion dollars’ worth of Herbalife stock. If the stock falls — and Ackman says he thinks it will fall all the way to zero — the fund will make money. On today’s show, we talk to Ackman and to Herbalife. And we consider what it means when an investor bets that a company will fail.
On today’s show: Three short stories about the stuff we buy — books, toys and clothes. 1. Are E-Books Actually Destroying Traditional Publishing? Conventional wisdom says e-books are destroying the traditional publishing business model. People pay less for e-books and that drives down price. When you talk to publishers though, you realize the story’s not that simple. 2. Why Legos Are So Expensive — And So Popular Legos often cost twice as much as similar blocks from a rival toymaker. So why are Legos so much more popular than other brands? 3. 3-D Printing Is (Kind Of) A Big Deal It’s miraculous to see: Press a button, make anything you want. But will it transform the economy?