Kenny Malone

Kenny Malone is a correspondent for NPR's Planet Money podcast. Before that, he was a reporter for WNYC's Only Human podcast. Before that, he was a reporter for Miami's WLRN. And before that, he was a reporter for his friend T.C.'s homemade newspaper, Neighborhood News.

Kenny's stories have investigated everything from abuse in Florida's assisted living facilities to health hackers building their own pancreas to the origins of seemingly made-up holidays like National Raisin Day. Or National Golf Day. Or National Splurge Day.

His work has won the National Edward R. Murrow Award for Use of Sound, the National Headliner Award, the Scripps Howard Award, and the Bronze Third Coast Festival Award. He studied mathematics at Xavier University in Cincinnati and proudly hails from Meadville, PA, where the zipper was invented.

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

When the Trump administration decided to pay subsidies to farmers hurt by trade, it reminded NPR's Planet Money podcast team about the time another president tried to help farmers. Kenny Malone has the epic tale of government cheese.

In 1976, Jimmy Carter made a campaign promise: I'm giving dairy farmers a break. And after he won, he set out to raise the price of milk. But the government couldn't just buy milk. They had to buy something storable that used a lot of milk. So the government started buying up as much cheese as people wanted to sell at the new price.

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So the rise of e-commerce has allowed Americans to order things directly from sellers around the world. Kenny Malone from our Planet Money team met a New Jersey business owner who became obsessed with the mystery of how those items can ship so cheaply.

When you order stuff online, it may cost less to have it shipped across the world than across the street.

Take the Mighty Mug. It's a travel mug that's almost impossible to knock over, invented by a guy in New Jersey named Jayme Smaldone. A few months ago, Jayme realized he could order a knockoff Mighty Mug from China and get it shipped for less than it would cost him to ship his mug to a neighbor.

Tommy Noonan is a bit of a gym rat. Back when he was in college, one of his weightlifting friends complained about an energy powder he bought online. The product made him sick, and Tommy saw an opportunity. He built a website where bodybuilders could review the stuff they were putting into their bodies.

But as the website became more prominent, Tommy realized there was a big problem: Weirdly positive reviews. Tommy suspected they were being written by supplement companies themselves.

Colquitt, Georgia has a population of about 2,000 people. And like a lot of small towns in America, Colquitt had been struggling with a shrinking population, and the departure of manufacturing, and the decline of farming, and all the other economic troubles that plague small towns. And then Joy Jinks stumbled across a bizarre way for the town to try and save itself.

Today on the show, the residents of Colquitt, Georgia, stake their future on writing, directing, and starring in a musical.

Non-disclosure agreements, or NDAs, are all over the news right now. You've probably heard about them in the context of the #metoo movement, and more recently, in relation to Stormy Daniels and Donald Trump.

But long before these agreements were used by powerful men to silence women, they were used for much more innocuous reasons. Primarily, to protect trade secrets.

About a month ago, President Trump walked up to a podium, and followed through on a big campaign promise. He said the U.S. was going to impose a 25-percent tariff on foreign steel, and a 10-percent tariff on foreign aluminum.

His announcement was met with a lot of face-palming from economists. Why? Because we've been down this road before.

Today on the show, we learn how the Smoot-Hawley tariff act of 1930 helped tank the world economy. And why it means that today, 90 years later, President Trump has the power to start what many people say is a trade war.

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On April 14th, 1935, when Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed the Social Security Act, he thought he was giving Americans some safety in retirement. What he may not have realized was that he was also inadvertently inventing a national identification number.

When it started, people didn't mind carrying around their social security number in their wallet, and blurting it out on the air. Now, it's the key to a person's retirement, finances, and identity. And it's valuable enough to steal.

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Lots of industries acknowledge they have a diversity problem. Maybe it's with age or gender or race. Our Planet Money podcast wondered, how exactly does an industry begin to change itself? And reporter Kenny Malone says the answer is on your feet.

There is a huge economy surrounding the Super Bowl. And nowhere is this more visible than in one crazed market: ticket sales. Usually, the game is a bonanza for professional ticket salesmen.

But the 2015 Super Bowl was different.

Two weeks before the big game, the Super Bowl market collapsed, catastrophically. Brokers went belly up. Tickets vanished. And companies had to spend millions of dollars to reimburse a lot of angry fans. What happened? Today on the show, we try to figure it out.

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As the digital currency bitcoin has skyrocketed in value, many of the early adopters have become millionaires - only if, that is, they can find their bitcoins. Kenny Malone from our Planet Money team went on a virtual treasure hunt.

Plenty of people will tell you they're getting rich off of bitcoin. They could be right. But there's another group of bitcoin owners that aren't so ecstatic. Because they might be rich, too, but they lost the passkey that would let them get at their digital fortune. Syl Turner is in that second, less glamorous group. When he got around one-and-a-half bitcoins seven or eight years ago, they were nearly worthless. So worthless he bunked the hard drive that held the key somewhere and now he can't remember where.

Walmart is trying to invent the food of the future to win the fight with Amazon and sell you everything.

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Economists used to assume that people were, overall, rational. They may make mistakes now and then, but, if reasonably informed, they do the right thing. Then came Richard Thaler, who, in October, was awarded the Nobel Prize in Economics.

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

In Stockholm this morning, the Nobel Prize in economics was announced.

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In 1874, if you wanted to buy groceries on store credit, the cashier would reach under the counter and pull out a little blue book. Inside would be your name, profession and whether you paid your debts on time. It was the beginning of the Equifax business model. And it was never about the regular citizens. It was about the businesses that wanted to lend to them. Regular people are the product. Banks and businesses are the customers.