Robert Smith

Episode 657: The Tale Of The Onion King

Sep 19, 2018

This show originally ran on October 14, 2015.

Vince Kosuga was an onion farmer back in the 1930s. A pretty successful one. But farming wasn't enough for him. He also liked to make bets on wheat and other crops.

Then he had an idea: Why not try his luck with the crop he knew best?

In Dakar, Senegal, people can't just flush their poop away. As is the case in many places in the world, it is pretty common for toilets to flush into a septic tank that needs to be emptied every so often.

And there are two ways to do it: the "cheap guy" — or the cartel that deals exclusively with raw sewage.

An example of the "cheap guy" is a man who calls himself Djiby. He says he is a baay pelle, which means "the father of the shovel." Father Shovel scoops out the septic tank with his shovel and bucket, and then he empties the bucket into a hole in the street.

Poop is big business in Dakar, Senegal. That's because a lot of the homes have septic tanks, which need to be cleaned out regularly. The best way to clean your tank is by hiring a proper truck, which arrives with a vacuum.

The problem is that for years, the guys who drove the poop trucks operated as a cartel, and they squashed competition and kept prices high. So a lot of people turned to a cheaper alternative: Men who clear out septic tanks by hand, with shovels and buckets, and basically bury the poop in the street. It's terrible work and bad for the environment.

The Beautiful Indicator

Jun 25, 2018

Everyone's caught up in World Cup fever, and Team Indicator is not immune. Today on the show: Cardiff, Stacey, and the gang sneak out of the office and set up shop in an Irish pub to explore the many ways in which the world's largest sporting event neatly explains the modern economy.

Music by Drop Electric. Find us: Twitter/ Facebook.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

The popularity of fondue wasn't an accident. It was planned by a cartel of Swiss cheese makers, which ruled the Swiss economy for 80 years.

On today's show: we cut into the Swiss cheese. It's a story about what happens when well-meaning folks decide the rules of economics don't apply to them. And got the world to eat gobs of melted fat. Also, we meet a man known as the 'Cheese Rebel.'

Episode 835: Tariffied

Apr 13, 2018

Trade war! It all started when President Donald Trump announced a new set of tariffs on Chinese steel and aluminum. China responded with a list of tariffs of its own. Then, President Trump made a bigger, $50 billion list of tariffs. So China matched Trump's list with its own $50 billion list.

If you look at the lists closely, you can learn a lot about what each side knows about the other. Today on the show, we examine China's hit list, and find some surprising stories inside.

Listeners have questions. Google has answers. Sometimes, though, listeners have questions that Google can't answer. Like: Why is the lighting in hotel rooms so weird? How can a cooked and spiced rotisserie chicken be cheaper than an uncooked chicken? What is a Giffen Good, and why does demand for it go up when its price goes up? And why does it say on a coupon that it's worth 1/100th of a cent?

If you have a question you want us to answer, email us at planetmoney@npr.org. Or better yet, tell us a great story about economics that answered a question you had.

Journalists are a jealous bunch. We steal each other's stories, and sources. And when someone writes a story that we're envious of, we usually curse them under our breath, and move on. But once a year at Planet Money, we give a shout out to our favorite work.

This year, our Valentines go out to:

-Eric Konigsberg, for finding out what people do all day at WeWork 'coworking' spaces in his awesomely-titled article, "Sriracha Is for Closers."

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Phosphorus is in pretty much everything: bombs, toothpaste, cheese. It's irreplaceable. Nothing can live without it and it's only economically recoverable in a few places. Like Morocco, and China.

Most of our phosphorus—or phosphate, which is its usable form—goes into fertilizer. The farmers pile it on, and then the bulk of it just washes right off into the rivers and then ocean. It's really hard to get phosphorus out of the ocean, which means, as far as we're concerned, that phosphorus is pretty much gone once it's in the water.

In 1992, Douglas Bruce proposed a measure called the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights, TABOR for short. TABOR was effectively a tax-limitation measure that said, whenever a government wanted more money — whenever it wanted to increase taxes — it had to put the question on the ballot. Increased taxes for roads? The voters would get to decide. Better schools? Put it on the ballot. But put the price there first.

SPACE 4: 3 2 1

Dec 8, 2017

It's launch day for the Planet Money satellite, POD - 1, and our intrepid Planeteers discover all the superstitions and complications of going to space. We eat the traditional pancake breakfast with the launch team. And we learn that the one time they did not eat pancakes, the rocket didn't make it to orbit.

That's not the only launch danger. Will Marshall, the CEO of our satellite partner Planet, always makes a speech where he lists what can go wrong (BOOM). But Will says taking risks is actually part of the business plan.

Going to space used to be the playground of governments, but now rockets and satellites are becoming so small and so cheap that even a podcast can launch a space mission. So that's just what Planet Money did!

Officially, corporations in the U.S. are taxed at a rate of 35 percent. In reality, they pay a much, much lower rate. That's because the U.S. tax code is filled with deductions and exemptions (which, if you don't like them, you call loopholes).

Politicians from both sides of the aisle like to propose the same kind of change: lower the corporate tax rate, and get rid of some of the loopholes. A few weeks ago, President Trump and Republicans in Congress released a plan to do just that. Today on the show: We break down that plan.

Note: This show originally ran in 2015.

A state fair is a magical place. But for Planet Money, the true magic takes place in a massive warehouse where old-fashioned salesmen and women practice the ancient art of looking you in the eye and convincing you to buy something you do not need. It's the art of pitching, and Planet Money's Robert Smith has been obsessed with it since he was twelve years old.

Robert and his accomplice Kenny Malone head out to the Ohio State Fair, with a journalistic excuse. They embed with the pitchmen and pitchwomen--the true artisans of salesmanship--to learn the secrets of their trade.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Most people go to the fair to ride the Tilt-A-Whirl or eat funnel cakes, but not our Planet Money team. Robert Smith and Kenny Malone traveled to the Ohio State Fair to learn the secret art of selling people things they might not need.

Note: This episode originally ran in 2013. It contains some explicit language.

On this show, we talk to commodities traders to answer one of the most important questions in finance: What actually happens at the end of Trading Places?

Have you noticed? Something strange has happened to the passage of time. Sometimes it feels like Friday... but it's still Tuesday afternoon. We've felt it at Planet Money, too.

At the end of every year, we do a special podcast; it's a holiday tradition. In that podcast we look back at the year behind us and see what's happened to places and people after we turned the microphone off.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Eighty years ago, Qatar's primary industry was pearl-diving. Today, the tiny Persian Gulf nation is the richest country in the world per capita. It's also in a lot of trouble.

Saudi Arabia and several nearby countries have blockaded tiny Qatar, cut off all trade, closed the border. It seemed like overnight, Qatar went from being on top of the world to being a regional pariah.

So we wondered: What's going on?

There is nobody more sunny and optimistic than a politician writing a budget, and Donald Trump is no different.

His budget promises a golden age of new jobs and progress, with tax cuts and a border wall to boot. To make all this possible, it assumes one thing: that the economy will grow at 3% every year. This is very hard. Other countries do it all the time, but the United States hasn't consistently seen that kind of growth in decades.

On today's show, we come up with a plan to get there, but Donald Trump might not like it.

This part two of a two part series. Listen to part one here.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

About 1,800 economics graduate students converged on the chilly Chicago streets in early January. Some of them ran through those streets, trying to get to the next hotel on time.

They were trying to find a job.

At some point in time, the economics profession decided it was going to create a job market unlike any other. They were going to create a system that is the most efficient job market imaginable.

Here's what Kazakhstan, Hong Kong, and Ireland have in common: They all have Irish pubs.

And a bunch of them are the product of one man: Mel McNally.

McNally spent his final year in architecture school studying the architecture of Irish pubs. He and his buddies hit up all the famous pubs in Dublin, and brought along their sketchbooks and measuring tape to answer one question: What makes these places work?

This episode originally ran in 2014.

Millions of tax cheats never get caught. And the IRS seems powerless to stop them.

This isn't just a problem here. American taxpayers are Dudley Do-Rights compared to people in some other countries.

And there are some very smart people working to get tax cheats to change their ways.

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