Podcast Review: Planet Money
This is a podcast review of Planet Money, produced by NPR. There are podcasts out there that go above and beyond the “up and down economics”, and give you a more in-depth picture of the world of business and finance. Planet Money is one of these podcasts. It is one of the best investigative journalism programs out there that looks at the source of the latest news stories and is not afraid to “get its hands dirty” by buying toxic bonds and gold coins to help answer some of the questions.
The podcast was spawned out of This American Life episode “The Giant Pool of Money” in 2008 and the first order of business was to cover the global financial crisis of 2008–2009 in the wake of the Federal takeover of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. The episodes come out two days a week and are around 25 minutes in length, which is perfect for people with short attention spans, like me.
Planet Money’s cast is a stable roster of characters, that consists of Adam Davidson, David Kestenbaum, Chana Joffe-Walt, Jacob Goldstein, as well as Alex Blumberg. Each show there are typically two to three above listed people discussing an issue, with some guest speakers making a frequent appearance.
Let me describe a typical show for you. The first thing you will hear in almost each episode, besides the theme jingle, is a recording of some public figure’s speech or statement, that directly relates to the show’s theme. It just so frequently happens that this statement is of hypocritical nature, rather than a heart-warming one.
The next item of business is the Planet Money Indicator, presented by one of the hosts. The Indicator is anything from the Chinese rate of inflation for the past year to a dollar amount of the latest Quantitative Easing by the US Fed.
The core of the show is spent on a thorough discussion of a particular currently relevant topic in the worlds of finance, business or anything closely related to this subject matter. Planet Money hosts do not just shove their opinions down your throats (yes, Wall Street Journal This Morning, I am talking about you!), but rather rely of expert witnesses of the field. These witnesses either make an appearance on the show or the hosts visit them and tape the conversations.
It is easiest to describe this by two examples. In a recent episode “Writing The Rules”, one of the Planet Money hosts visits a trio of lawyers, Kymberly Copa (Assessments and Legislation Section Senior Counsel US Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation), Ruth Amberg (Senior Counsel for the Consumer Compliance Section of the Consumer and Legislation Branch in the Legal Division of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation) and Roberta McInerney (Deputy General Counsel (Consumer and Legislation) at the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation) as they were discussing how to legislate the latest Finance Bill, signed into law by President Obama, and what impact will various ambiguities of the bill have on the business world.
On a different episode, the Planet Money crew called Abdolreza Abbassian, an economist and grain expert at the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization, to discuss the impact on the world price, supply and demand of wheat in light of the latest unrest in Egypt. We find out that Egypt is the world’s biggest importer of wheat and the global price of wheat has gone through the roof in recent months.
What really amazes me about the style of journalism of the Planet Money team is that they experiment! For example, in January 2010 they bought a mortgage backed bond for $1,000, which at the time was fairly toxic already. The listeners of the show named it Toxie. Toxie made some payments until dying completely in September of 2010. Over the lifespan of Toxie, Planet Money hosts recovered only about $400 of the initial $1,000 spent. We get to witness the whole process from the initial purchase to the final funeral of Toxie. After a short mourning period they reinvest the remaining $400 into a gold coin, beginning a long-term research into the gold market.
The Planet Money crew also decided to create Planet Money t-shirts. Now, you typically would create a logo and go to your neighborhood print screener and voila! The gang instead decided to import their own cotton from China, make the shirts, get the listeners to design a logo and finally offer the ready product to the audience. Along the way we learn the economics of t-shirt production, from import duties to distribution. Truly fascinating!
Bottom line: You don’t need to be an expert in finance to enjoy this podcast. You will be exposed to various topics in US and international business, economy and finance and have a better understanding of how things work.
The reason why I do not use any sort of star rating in my reviews is because I understand that not everyone shares my opinions and tastes in podcasts. iTunes’ star rating is also fairly unreliable, since only those who are very (positively or negatively) passionate about a particular podcast go through the effort of giving feedback or rating the show. I recommend that after reading up a few reviews you listen to a few shows and decide for yourselves.
You can find the show at Planet Money page.