Wealth & Poverty

Ways to Connect

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.

Episode 532: The Wild West Of The Internet

Sep 2, 2016

Note: This episode originally aired in April, 2014.

There are over 120 million websites ending in .com. But a few years ago, a bunch of new domains came online. So instead of .com, .gov or .net, not there's also .ninja, .bike and .cool, too. In all, over a 1000 new top-level domains, as they're called, were added to the list of possible website endings.

The U.S. added 151,000 new jobs in August and the unemployment rate held steady at 4.9 percent, according to the monthly jobs report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Both those metrics fell short of expectations: Economists were expecting about 180,000 new jobs, and a slight dip in the unemployment rate, to 4.8 percent, NPR's Yuki Noguchi has reported.

But even if the numbers were somewhat disappointing, the economy has still recorded 78 straight months of job growth, NPR's Marilyn Geewax notes.

Episode 722: The New Telenovela

Aug 31, 2016

You can probably picture a classic telenovela. It's dramatic, full of scandal. Cheating husbands. Cheating wives. Sunset romance. Dewy-eyed heroines.

Episode 721: Unbuilding A City

Aug 26, 2016

Shrinking cities have a problem: Millions of abandoned, falling-apart houses. Often, knocking them down is the best solution. But it can be remarkably hard to do that.

On today's show, we visit a single block in Baltimore and figure out why it's so hard to knock down buildings — even when everybody wants them gone.

Planet Money Buys Oil

Aug 26, 2016

Oil is everywhere, and in nearly everything — our phones, our food, our medicine. It has driven industrial progress. It has also contributed to air pollution and climate change.

For something so ubiquitous, oil is remarkably invisible. We wanted to change that. So we bought 100 barrels of oil and followed it out of the ground, through a refinery, and into someone's gas tank.

Episode 1: We Buy Oil

Top Federal Reserve officials defended their handling of monetary policy in a freewheeling meeting with liberal activists at the annual Fed conference in Jackson Hole, Wyo.

Much of the meeting centered on whether the Fed should raise interest rates, as it's widely expected to do before the end of the year, and the likely impact of a hike on poor and minority communities.

Oil #5: Imagine A World Without Oil

Aug 24, 2016

On today's show, we follow the Planet Money oil to the end of the line.

And we ask: What would the world be like if fossil fuels did not exist? What if you dug down in the ground and there was nothing but dirt and rock.

Oil, coal and natural gas are this incredible store of energy, just sitting there in the ground waiting for us to dig them up. Amazing boon to humanity! But also: Climate change!

Would a world without oil be better? Worse? Or just different?

This is the last of five episodes about buying oil.

Oil #4: How Oil Got Into Everything

Aug 19, 2016

Some of Planet Money's oil is going to end up in someone's gas tank-- and some of it might end up in someone's someone's sandwich. On today's show, we follow our oil to a refinery, where it'll become gasoline, propane, and fertilizer.

Oil doesn't just fuel the factories that make our stuff. It's in our sneakers, our clothes, and the computer or phone that you're looking at right now. Today on the show, we meet one chemist who helped put oil into everything — and another chemist who's trying to get it out.

This is episode four of five.

Oil #3: How Fracking Changed the World

Aug 17, 2016

The Planet Money oil gets put to a test by a lively trucker with his own centrifuge. He also shows us how to stay clean on a dirty job site. At the end of the episode, we make a deal to sell our oil with a middleman.

We also go visit the well that changed the oil world: S. H. Griffin Estate #4. That's where slickwater fracking began.

Joseph Shapiro / NPR

A class-action lawsuit filed last week alleges 13 cities in St. Louis County, Missouri put people behind bars because they couldn't afford to pay court fines. The fines included tickets for minor offenses like traffic violations. The Arch City Defenders is the nonprofit law firm behind the suit.

Oil #2: The Price Of Oil

Aug 12, 2016

This is the second of five episodes.

In the first episode of our oil series, we bought oil — and we paid $40 a barrel.

A few weeks earlier, the price of that same oil would have been about 25 percent more. A few weeks from now, it might be 25 percent lower. Oil is just that volatile. But why?

Grant Blankenship / GPB

 

      

There are lots of tools for reviving a dying neighborhood. There are tax incentives, chasing deadbeat property owners and non-profits to rebuild houses to name a few.  

In Macon-Bibb, another tool, this time public art, is at the heart of an effort to renew the city's Mill Hill neighborhood. A few weeks ago, that effort hit a snag: the first two artists in residence here were fired. As to why, that is still not clear, but events leading up to their dismissal might raise questions about how well the art-based scheme fits this neighborhood.

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