Wealth & Poverty

Ways to Connect

There's a running joke in Maringouin, Louisiana, a town of 1,100, that everyone is related. It's funny because, as people in Maringouin will tell you, it's true. Everyone calls each other 'cuz' or 'cousin,' and they mean it. People run into each other on the street, recognize a last name, start talking about people they know in common, then discover they're related.

For a long time, no one knew exactly why. It wasn't like there was a founding family that had moved there.

Episode 765: The Holiday Industrial Complex

Apr 18, 2017

Today, we want to wish you a happy Pet Owners Independence Day! And, a static-free International Amateur Radio Day! Also, a calming National Stress Awareness Day. Today is all of that and more. There are too many holidays to count.

It seems like there are legions of people inventing holidays to get people to buy more things. But even more of them are just... weird. So we figured if we could follow the events that got one of these questionable holidays on TV, then maybe there was a way to find out who is running the holiday machine.

Note: Today's show 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.

Here's what Kazakhstan, Hong Kong, and Ireland have in common: They all have Irish pubs.

And a bunch of them are the product of one man: Mel McNally.

McNally spent his final year in architecture school studying the architecture of Irish pubs. He and his buddies hit up all the famous pubs in Dublin, and brought along their sketchbooks and measuring tape to answer one question: What makes these places work?

Episode 763: BOTUS

Apr 7, 2017

All across Wall Street, humans are being replaced by computers. Even the people who make decisions about which stocks to buy and sell are being replaced by computer programs, by bots.

To understand what goes on inside a stock-picking bot, we at Planet Money built our own.

Bots are cheaper than stock-picking humans. They're less emotional and more disciplined. They can process more information at once. They are doing things like scanning social media for consumer trends and counting the number of cars parked in Wal-Mart parking lots, then using that to trade.

Updated at 11 a.m. ET with retail outlook

After adding more than 200,000 jobs in each of the first two months of this year, the U.S. economy gained only 98,000 jobs in March, according to the monthly report released Friday by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

That result falls short of expectations: While analysts had anticipated a slight dip to around 180,000 new jobs, they had been looking for signs that job growth would keep pace with recent gains.

This episode originally ran in 2014.

Millions of tax cheats never get caught. And the IRS seems powerless to stop them.

This isn't just a problem here. American taxpayers are Dudley Do-Rights compared to people in some other countries.

And there are some very smart people working to get tax cheats to change their ways.

The president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond has resigned after being investigated for potentially disclosing confidential information to a Wall Street analyst in 2012.

Jeffrey Lacker, who led the bank in Virginia for more than a decade, did not admit to directly revealing information about policy options being considered by the Fed. But he said in his resignation letter that his actions during a phone interview with the analyst were inconsistent with Fed policy.

On today's show: stories about what happens when you actually read the fine print.

The fine print sends a Midwestern family on a two-thousand-mile road trip to open dozens of bank accounts.

It leads to a multi-million-dollar fight over the essence of the Snuggie. (Blanket? Or robe?)

And the fine print starts a fight over printer toner that goes all the way to the Supreme Court.

Also: cold beer. Via a loophole.

This episode first ran in 2015.

Get Out is a comic film. Get Out is a horror movie. Get Out is serious commentary. It's hard to say what exactly Get Out is, but it is definitely a blockbuster. Which is surprising, because it was made by a company which totally rejects the blockbuster model: Blumhouse Productions.

streetsensedc / Foter

Last month, two grocery stores shuttered in downtown Augusta. Both of them - a Whole Foods and a Kroger - cited a lack of customers as the reason. The Kroger was the only full-service store within a two-mile radius of downtown. These closures have made it much more difficult to find affordable, healthy food there.

Banks and governments have been fighting each other for hundreds of years, but never more dramatically than during the showdown between President Andrew Jackson and Nicholas Biddle, the president of the Second Bank of the United States.

Jackson was a populist, who rode to victory on promises to wrest control of the country from the East Coast elite. He was angry at the power structure, and he was furious at the banks. To him, they were the phantom controllers of the economy, issuing spurious scripts that often vanished with the banks when they collapsed.

Doing your taxes doesn't have to be a pain. In many countries around the world, filing taxes is so easy and painless, "tax day" isn't even a thing.

Episode 759: What's It Worth To You?

Mar 17, 2017

Hiding inside each price tag is a messy tangle of information. How much did this cost to make? How much will someone pay to have it? What else can they buy with that money? What did it cost last year?

We bring you three stories untangling a price tag, three stories of setting a value on something when it isn't so easy to slap on a price tag.

  • We try to figure out what $1 trillion means, because that's what Donald Trump says he wants to spend on infrastructure. We'll tell you what $1 trillion can buy, and two caveats about Trump's plan.

Episode 522: The Invention Of 'The Economy'

Mar 15, 2017

The Great Depression brought unemployment, hunger and anxiety, but it also brought us a great new acronym: The GDP. In the midst of the United States' worst economic downturn — the GDP, Gross Domestic Product — was born. It was a number and an idea that changed the way we talked and thought about the world.

Until the concept of GDP came around, no one really had figured out a way to measure what was happening, economically. There was no way to compare one year to another.

The Federal Reserve's Open Market Committee has voted 9-1 to increase its benchmark interest rate by a quarter of a percentage point and said it aims to raise interest rates twice more by the end of the year.

The only dissenting vote came from Neel Kashkari, president of the Federal Reserve's regional bank in Minneapolis, according to the Fed's statement.

Wednesday's move brings the federal funds rate to a range of 0.75 percent to 1 percent. The increase was expected by the market and is consistent with what Fed officials had been signaling.

This episode first ran in 2015 and 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.

After the 2008 financial crisis, lawmakers decided they needed to do something about the banking industry. The government had bailed out big banks like Wells Fargo, Bank of America, and JPMorgan Chase, and wanted to prevent another crisis.

The response was the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (aka Dodd-Frank), which was signed into law in 2010. In hundreds of pages, the law transformed the way finance is regulated in this country.

Now, President Donald Trump has made it clear he does not like Dodd-Frank and wants to make big changes.

Episode 513: Dear Economist, I Need A Date

Mar 1, 2017

This episode originally ran in 2014.

Economists get a bad rap. People say they're dry, they're boring, too rational or always going on about one indicator or another.

But here at Planet Money, we wanted to see if the principles of economics could help us out with something more personal, more abstract: love.

Episode 756: The Bees Go To California

Feb 24, 2017

Every spring convoys of trucks arrive in the almond orchards of central California. They are carrying bees. Millions of them.

They arrive from all over the country, but especially southern states like Louisiana, and they have to get there at just the right time, when the almond trees start to flower so the bees can pollinate hundreds of acres of almond fields.

Episode 654: When The Boats Arrive

Feb 22, 2017

This episode originally ran in 2015.

In 1980, Fidel Castro had a problem. The Cuban economy was in shambles. And there was open dissent in his tightly controlled country. People wanted to leave.

Castro said they didn't 'have revolutionary blood.' So he decided, you know what? If you don't like it here, you can leave. Get on any boat you can find at the port of Mariel, near Havana.

Some of this story may sound familiar. Some of it may sound downright bizarre.

In the late 2000s, Argentina was facing a slew of economic problems. The president was a charismatic populist with bold plans and the will to act. One of the things then-President Cristina Kirchner wanted to tackle: unemployment. So she set out to create manufacturing jobs in Argentina.

She made a rule in 2010 that if a company wanted to sell things in Argentina, they needed to make things in Argentina.

Grant Blankenship / GPB

How will you celebrate when you pay off your house? After 20 years in her home purchased with the help of Macon Area Habitat for Humanity, Lillie Ward burned her mortgage.

Episode 754: I'm So Happy For You!

Feb 13, 2017

Regret. Self-loathing. Jealousy. Love. Happy Valentine's Day! We have it all.

When we're not making podcasts, we're reading and watching and listening to stories on other podcasts and magazines and websites. And when we love something, we always ask, "Why didn't we do that?"

Today on the show, we bring you the little stories that we love so much we wish we had thought of them ourselves.

Our valentines go out to:

Episode 753: Blockchain Gang

Feb 10, 2017

Charlie Shrem had a prison epiphany. Instead of using packets of mackerel to buy and sell things, inmates should use something more like the digital currency Bitcoin. He even came up with a way it could work in prison, never mind that it was Bitcoin that got him arrested in the first place.

A version of this episode originally ran in 2013.

There's a lot about U.S. immigration policy that doesn't add up, that just doesn't make sense. It's much more than who gets to enter and who doesn't and from where. There's a mix of visa types, quotas, preferences and incentives adding up to a messy tangle of laws that make it all so complicated that both political parties have tons to complain about.

Grant Blankenship / GPB

Federal assistance is on the way for people affected by the storms that hit south Georgia on the weekend of January 21.

Governor Nathan Deal’s office says the Federal Emergency Management Agency will help residents of an 11 county area that includes the town of Adel, where a tornado killed seven, and Albany where the second tornado in a month’s time wrecked a large section of the city. This is the second federal disaster designation for Albany this year.

The total list of counties is Baker, Brooks, Calhoun, Clay, Cook, Crisp, Dougherty, Thomas, Turner, Wilcox and Worth. 

Episode 752: Eagles vs. Chickens

Feb 3, 2017

Will Harris took over his family's industrial farm after he graduated from college. Harris was making a profit, just as his dad had. He was also farming just as his dad had: with pesticides in the field, hormone injections for the cattle, and whatever else squeezed more money out of his land.

Updated at 1:30 p.m. ET

The U.S. added 227,000 jobs in January and the unemployment rate rose just slightly, ticking up a tenth of a percentage point to 4.8 percent, according to the monthly report released Friday by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The robust jobs number beat most predictions from economists, who had pegged the payroll increase at 175,000, according to NPR's Yuki Noguchi.

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