Alex Goldmark

Some ideas seem too good to be true. Like this one. It comes from a 13-year-old listener named Amy. She says she knows the government has trouble finding enough money to pay for stuff like schools and hospitals. And she wondered if it has considered just printing more money. She asked us: Can the government do that? Just make more money to pay for stuff?

This podcast sounded a lot different back when it started. Times were different too. In early September, 2008, the housing crisis was underway, but Lehman Brothers was still in business. It was an economy on the brink, fraught with menace and foreboding, but still standing. Nobody knew how bad it would get during that particular week.

Bob Axelrod was teaching political science at the University of Michigan in the 1980s, and he was obsessed with one idea: how to get countries to cooperate. Back then, it looked like the United States and the Soviet Union might be headed towards nuclear war. Axelrod wanted to figure out how to keep that from happening. And he found inspiration in an unlikely place, computers that could play chess, and one of the greatest thought experiments of all time, the prisoner's dilemma.

A bottle of fancy vodka, like Grey Goose, costs about $35. A bottle of the cheap stuff can be under $10. That's a wide range, but, by definition, vodka is colorless, odorless, and tasteless. So, could there really be a difference between vodkas? Or is the difference all in the marketing?

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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.

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Vice President-elect Mike Pence has ordered all lobbyists to be removed from the Trump transition team. After some initial stumbles, the team is vowing to keep a promise that Trump made while campaigning.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

The team at Planet Money set out to buy 100 barrels of crude oil right from the source, and then follow it from ground to gas tank.

After a little cajoling, Jason Bruns, a part-time preacher, part-time oil man in southern Kansas, agreed to pump us some oil from one of his wells in a cow pasture.

When do you get to actually touch crude oil? Never. It's silky, like shampoo. Don't try this at home kids.

In 2011, Lariat Alhassan had a business in Abuja, Nigeria. Larclux Paint was the name. She sold house paint. And industrial paint. Textured paint. Paint that fills in cracks in your walls. It was a paint company. But a really small one.

"The employee I had was just me. I was the production manager. I was the marketer. I was delivery person. I was everything," says Alhassan, laughing. "Except the security."

That was the company. A woman in her late 20s and a security guard watching over a factory space she rented to make the paint.

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