Wealth & Poverty

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Episode 736: Messy Nobel

Nov 18, 2016

The Nobel Memorial Prize for economics was announced a few weeks ago. It was for contract theory. Normally, we'd interview the prize winners and then do a lot of clever talking about what it means, but this year we tried something different.

We called on one of our favorite economics experts, Tim Harford, and asked him how we should think about contract theory. His new book, "Messy," is about unlocking creativity, and it looks at how disorganization and improvisation are often the routes to invention.

Episode 574: The Buffalo Talk-Off

Nov 16, 2016

In today's show, we visit Buffalo, New York, and get a window into a rough business: Debt collection. This is the story of one guy who tried to make something of himself by getting people to pay their debts. He set up shop in an old karate studio, and called up people who owed money. For a while, he made a good living. And he wasn't the only one in the business--this is also the story of a low-level, semi-legal debt-collection economy that sprang up in Buffalo. And, in a small way, it's the story of the last twenty or so years in global finance, a time when the world went wild for debt.

dangerismycat / Flickr

The Atlanta Beltline was originally the master's thesis of Georgia Tech student Ryan Gravel in 1999. Now a pivotal landmark of the city's infrastructure, the Beltline has become a source of some controversy. Gravel stepped away from the Atlanta Beltline Partnership in September. He joins us to talk about his concerns, and what the trail leaders can do to get back on track.

Episode 735: President Trump

Nov 11, 2016

Last month, Donald Trump released his plans for his first 100 days in office. He talked about dismantling NAFTA and repealing the Affordable Care Act. He called for deporting millions of undocumented immigrants and building a wall along the southern border. He promised to slash taxes and ban White House officials from lobbying for five years.

Now that Donald Trump is President-elect, what can he actually do? What's possible and what would it would actually take? We look at the laws on breaking trade agreements and how much concrete he'd need to construct a wall along the border.

Why Markets Are Surging After Election

Nov 10, 2016

Here & Now‘s Jeremy Hobson speaks with Curt Nickisch (@CurtNickisch), senior editor at Harvard Business Review, about why markets are surging, even though investors had previously shown signs of favoring a Clinton presidency.

Episode 734: The Trump Indicators

Nov 9, 2016

Donald Trump won the presidency in a huge upset. And while most of us were watching the polling numbers creep in from various counties in in Iowa, Pennsylvania and Florida, the markets were going crazy.

For today, we wanted to capture a little bit of what's happened in the economy just over the past 24 hours. So we are bringing back the Planet Money indicator: That's where we take a number from the news and try to unpack it a little bit.

Episode 733: A Trunk Full of Truffles

Nov 4, 2016

Truffles are one of the most expensive, sought-after foods on earth. Frankly, we don't get it. They're a fungus that smells like dirty socks.

We wanted to understand what all the fuss is about. Enter Ian Purkayastha, a baby-faced connoisseur known as Truffle Boy. He's has been completely obsessed with truffles since he was 15. Growing up, he foraged for mushrooms in the forests of Arkansas. Now he sells truffles to the fanciest restaurants in New York City.

Go ahead — ask the boss for a raise.

The jobs report released Friday by the Labor Department suggests the time finally may be right to demand a fatter paycheck.

The October report showed employers added 161,000 jobs — and paid workers more. Average hourly earnings rose by 10 cents to $25.92 last month — and that gain followed September's increase of 8 cents an hour.

The U.S. added 161,000 new jobs in October, with workers seeing strong growth in wages, according to the monthly jobs report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Hourly earnings rose 10 cents over last month, a higher increase than anticipated. In total, wages — now averaging $25.92 an hour — are up 2.8 percent year over year.

Note: This episode originally aired in October 2012. Listen to part one of this series here.

The Federal Reserve's policymakers ended their two-day meeting Wednesday without raising interest rates.

But they did issue a statement saying the case for more expensive loans is strengthening. That's because the U.S. economy is improving enough to allow interest rates to rise soon to more normal levels.

In recent weeks, "the labor market has continued to strengthen and growth of economic activity has picked up from the modest pace seen in the first half of this year," the Fed said.

Episode 732: Bad Form, Wells Fargo

Oct 28, 2016

A couple of weeks ago, we did a show about the massive scandal at Wells Fargo bank. How good employees were pushed to do bad things. Like opening up bank accounts that customers never asked for.

Note: This episode originally aired in July 2012.

There's a reason economists don't run for president.

We assembled five prominent economists from across the political spectrum. We gave them a simple task: Identify major economic policies they could all stand behind.

Episode 731: How Venezuela Imploded

Oct 21, 2016

Things are pretty bad right now in Venezuela. Grocery stores don't have enough food. Hospitals don't have basic supplies, like gauze. Child mortality is spiking. Businesses are shuttering.

It's one of the epic economic collapses of our time. And it was totally avoidable.

Venezuela used to be a relatively rich country. It has just about all the economic advantages a country could ask for: beautiful beaches and mountains ready for tourism, fertile land good for farming, an educated population, and oil, lots and lots of oil.

Episode 730: Self Checkout

Oct 19, 2016

Howard Schneider was a doctor treating psychiatric patients in the ER when he decided to transform the grocery store experience. He set out to invent the self checkout machine.

Some parts of the design were pretty straightforward, like reading barcodes and taking payments. Other things, it turned out, were not so easy. Like figuring out when people are stealing. Schneider solves these problems. Or at least makes a machine that's good enough to use. In 1992, he eventually convinces a grocery store to install the machines. The result? Angry shoppers.

Episode 729: When Subaru Came Out

Oct 14, 2016

In the early nineties, Subaru was in trouble. The cars were fine. They ran well enough. But sales had been slumping for years. Subaru was up against giants like Toyota and Nissan. And it was losing. It needed a way to stand out.

Episode 627: The Miracle Apple

Oct 12, 2016

Note: This episode originally aired in May, 2015.

For a long time, pretty much every apple in the grocery store looked and tasted the same, and they weren't very good.

Episode 728: The Wells Fargo Hustle

Oct 7, 2016

The third-largest bank in the country, Wells Fargo, is in big trouble. A federal investigation found that Wells Fargo was opening bank accounts without customers' permission. Perhaps as many as two million fraudulent accounts.

After the scandal broke, Wells Fargo's CEO John Stumpf was called to Capitol Hill to testify. He told the senators that the bank's upper management wasn't responsible for the giant scam. He said it was just a bunch of bad apples working at bank branches. Mostly low-level employees.

The U.S. economy generated 156,000 new jobs in September, according to the monthly jobs report released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The results did not meet expectations: Economists had predicted between 170,000 and 176,000 new jobs for September.

Episode 521: The Town That Loves Death

Oct 5, 2016

Note: This episode originally aired in February 2014.

People in La Crosse, Wisconsin are used to talking about death. In fact, 96 percent of people who die in this small, Midwestern city have specific directions laid out for when they pass. That number is astounding. Nationwide, it's more like 50 percent. La Crosse is such an exception thanks to one guy who decided that people in this town needed to make plans for their death.

In its latest forecast, the International Monetary Fund says it sees global growth essentially moving sideways this year, with flat to slower growth in richer countries offsetting higher growth rates in emerging economies such as India.

The report comes ahead of the semiannual IMF and World Bank meeting set to kick off at the end of the week in Washington, D.C., where officials will discuss how economic policy might juice up their respective economies.

Episode 727: You Asked For It, Again

Sep 30, 2016

We dug through the trash and tracked down experts around the globe to make sense of economic mysteries that you sent us. There's a puzzle about the cost of postage stamps, a debate over the price of happiness, fatal pastries and a little stop at the Federal Reserve, because, yeah, we're Planet Money.

You, our enthusiastic, curious listeners, can get a little wonky with your questions and we love you for it. But we can still have way too much fun fishing out the answers from all corners of the word. Today on the show, we answer your questions, wherever they lead us.

Episode 726: Terms of the Debate

Sep 27, 2016

It was the most watched debate ever, and we wouldn't be surprised if it was also the least understood. According to Nielsen, more than 80 million people tuned into the presidential debate on Monday night, the first of the 2016 campaign. It was long, it was dense, and it featured the candidates saying a lot of words. There were angry words, there were complicated words, and there were words that might not even have been real. "Under-leveraged." (Real.) "NAFTA." (Real.) "Carried interest." (Real.) "Braggadocious." (Possibly Real.) "Bigly." (What?)

Note: This episode originally aired in July 2014.

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.

Note: This episode originally aired in October 2014.

Listeners have been asking for years why textbooks are getting so expensive. Prices of new textbooks have been going up faster than clothing, food, cars, and even healthcare. On today's show we found out why prices won't stop rising.

Episode 724: Cat Scam

Sep 14, 2016

Fred and Natasha Ruckel invented a cat toy called the Ripple Rug. It's like a scrunched up doormat with holes in it, and for cats it's like Disneyland-level fun. When the Ruckels put it up for sale on Amazon, it started selling well. It was a solid business. Then one day, Fred noticed that the Ripple Rug was also on sale on eBay--for twenty dollars more.

Episode 566: The Zoo Economy

Sep 9, 2016

Note: This episode originally aired in September, 2014.

Episode 723: The Risk Farmers

Sep 7, 2016

We recently visited a man who may be the best apple farmer in Lesotho. He wanted to expand his business — but he was wary of going all-in on apples.

This is a common issue in the developing world: Farmers don't grow enough of the things they're best at growing.

Why not?

Two economists — who work across the hall from each other, and who have devoted their careers to studying ways to help the poor — came up with very different answers to that question. And they decided to figure out who was right.

At 4.9 percent, the nation's unemployment rate is half of what it was at the height of the Great Recession. But that number hides a big problem: Millions of men in their prime working years have dropped out of the workforce — meaning they aren't working or even looking for a job.

It's a trend that's held true for decades and has economists puzzled.

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