Wealth & Poverty

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Episode 772: Small Change

May 19, 2017

Here is a thing we hear approximately every day: The world is changing faster than ever before. Robert Gordon doesn't buy it.

He's an economist who has spent decades studying technological change and economic growth in America. He argues that, contrary to popular belief, the world is not changing faster than ever before. In fact, it's not even changing as fast as it was 100 years ago.

Note: This episode originally ran in 2015.

Spreadsheets used to be actual sheets of paper. Sometimes, a bunch of sheets of paper taped together.

Any calculation made on a spreadsheet was done by hand, and these could take days to complete for an accountant or bookkeeper. It was tedious. One little adjustment to these calculations meant a whole day of erasing and filling the same boxes out again.

JOSEPH SHAPIRO / NPR

In Georgia, county courts have contracted with private probation companies to collect fines from offenders. People are sometimes jailed for not being able to pay, even though the Supreme Court outlawed debtors’ prisons some 35 years ago. In the last couple of years, Georgia law changes made it harder for private probation companies to operate. What happens now to people who don’t pay the fines?

This part two of a two part series. Listen to part one here.

Valerie / Flickr/CC

As Georgia State University and its development partners move forward on redeveloping downtown Atlanta’s Turner Field, neighbors of the former Atlanta Braves stadium are locked in a bitter struggle over how to secure things like affordable housing, green space, jobs and connectivity.

Last November, India's Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, made a move that brought India's economy to its knees.

Modi said, starting on November 9th, most of the country's paper money would no longer be legal tender. Everything over the equivalent a US $5 bill would become worthless pieces of paper.

For an economy where 90 percent of business transactions happen in cash, this was a big deal.

About 1,800 economics graduate students converged on the chilly Chicago streets in early January. Some of them ran through those streets, trying to get to the next hotel on time.

They were trying to find a job.

At some point in time, the economics profession decided it was going to create a job market unlike any other. They were going to create a system that is the most efficient job market imaginable.

The U.S. economy added 211,000 jobs to nonfarm payrolls in April, the Bureau of Labor Statistics says. The number is a sharp rebound from March, when fewer than 100,000 jobs were created.

Both the national unemployment rate, at 4.4 percent, and the number of unemployed people, at 7.1 million, saw only incremental changes last month, according to the bureau. By falling from 4.5 percent to 4.4 percent, the unemployment rate remains at low levels that were last seen in 2007, before the recession hit.

Thinking of getting a new credit card or buying a house? Your credit score can determine those things, and a whole lot more. A new report puts Georgia at the top of the list for worst credit in the country.  That’s according to the website, cardratings.com. Georgia’s lousy rating is the result of low credit scores, foreclosures, unemployment and bankruptcy.

Today on the show, we sit down with Dr. Ben Bernanke, the medicine man of the markets and the money supply.

Ten years later, we're still dealing with the effects of the 2008 financial crisis. Some industries and parts of the country are still trying to recover from the worst economic period since the Great Depression.

It was Ben Bernanke's job to stop the crashing and pick up the pieces.

Federal Reserve officials left interest rates unchanged as they ended their policy-making meeting in Washington, D.C., today.

The Fed raised its benchmark rate by a quarter of a percentage point back in March, to a range of 0.75 percent to 1 percent, where it remains. In their post-meeting statement today, the central bank policymakers provided little guidance on when their next rate hike might come.

A class at Georgia Tech focuses on the history and community of Auburn Avenue in Atlanta. The neighborhood was home to Martin Luther King Jr. and an important setting for the civil rights movement in the 1960s. Now, Georgia Tech students are documenting that community, while trying to raise awareness of issues there. We speak with Professor Nassim JafariNaimi, and students Nick Tippens and Ali Yildirim.

Ben Bernanke had to guard his public comments closely in his eight years as the world's most powerful central banker. His words could move global markets.

He hasn't had to be quite as circumspect since leaving the Federal Reserve chairmanship three years ago — and he's kind of enjoying that.

"It's been good! It's nice not to have those responsibilities anymore, and to have more flexibility, more time," he tells NPR.

Note: This episode originally ran in 2014.

As World War II 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.

This is part two of a two part series. Listen to part one here.

This is part one of a two part series. Listen to part two here.

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.

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.

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