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Act Four: Let’s Do the Numbers

One of the things we were excited to investigate when we went to Alabama was to answer the question at the heart of the immigration debate: what does it cost taxpayers when we let in millions of immigrants, documented and undocumented? In Albertville, how much was it? We asked economist Kim Rueben and her colleague Erin Huffer to run the numbers.

Act Three: Washington, D.C.

Ira asks Washington-insider Norman Ornstein if we actually need to be paying attention to all of the Fiscal Cliff political news. Or can it wait until next week? Ornstein is the author of the book It's Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided With the New Politics of Extremism.

Prologue

In the town of Nowthen, MN, residents held meetings to debate whether a police force is worth the cost. And in Springfield, IL, the state police motorcycle division has been cut, leading to an increase in highway fatalities.

Act Two: Dream Come True

Perhaps the biggest proponent of smaller government in the United States is lobbyist and activist Grover Norquist, head of Americans for Tax Reform. He envisions a government reduced in size by half, and has compelled scores of conservative politicians take pledges to never raise taxes.

Prologue

Ira Glass speaks with several members of the Planet Money team, who all found themselves—in the course of their reporting—independently asking the same stoner-ish question: What is money? Ira and Planet Money producer Jacob Goldstein discuss a pre-industrial society on the island of Yap that used giant stones as currency. The book that Jacob read about Yap is called The Island of Stone Money.

Prologue

Host Ira Glass explains how the Planet Money team spent a thousand dollars of their own money to buy a toxic asset, and introduces Planet Money reporters David Kestenbaum and Chana Joffe-Walt. Their stories about "Toxie" have appeared on the Planet Money podcast and daily public radio news shows, and are collected here for the first time, into one epic, Dickensian tale.

Act One: Mister Fix It

Richard Ravitch has helped fix three governmental crises, including when New York City nearly went bankrupt in 1975. What's changed, to make it so much harder for him to solve the state's current financial crisis? Host Ira Glass reports.

Prologue

Host Ira Glass talks with Michael Perrino, a law professor at St Johns University School of Law in New York, who wrote a book about Ferdinand Pecora called The Hellhound of Wall Street. Pecora was the lead attorney in the Senate Banking Committee hearings in the 1930s looking into wrongdoing in the banking industry.

Prologue

Host Ira Glass notes the sub-industry in journalism right now of reporting anything that looks like a sign of the recession. He then goes on to list a handful of his own favorites, including a dentist who's seen an increase in broken teeth from grinding, and a decrease in shark attacks.

Act One: Is The Condo Half Empty, Or Is The Condo Half Full?

Ira goes to Chicago's Rogers Park neighborhood to talk to some condo owners who are in a precarious situation—since the housing market crash, the developer who renovated and sold them their units—Haso Meseljevic—has all but disappeared. He's in foreclosure on half of their building's units.

Prologue

Host Ira Glass plays clips from TV in a recent senate hearing and talks about how confusing the current banking crisis is.  But fortunately today, we have the team that brought us our show that explained the mortgage crisis a year ago, back to explain entire the banking system in 40 minutes.

Act Three: Swap Cops

Ira talks with Michael Greenberger, a former commodities regulator, who tells the story of when it was decided not to regulate credit default swaps. And how that decision was emblematic ofthe way we didn't regulate a lot of the toxic financial products we're hearing about now.

Prologue

Host Ira Glass talks with an NPR business and economics correspondent about two gatherings he attended—one at the Ritz Carlton and one at a community college in Brooklyn. The first was an awards dinner for finance professionals who created the mortgage-based financial instruments that nearly brought down the global economic system.

Prologue

Marti Noxon used to work for a company that did "product placement" for the movie industry. When auditors came to check that clients were being correctly billed, the company's bosses took unusual steps.

Prologue

We try to figure out the paradox of the current economy, where more and more Americans are simultaneously both losing jobs and buying new homes and cars. Host Ira Glass talks to Ernest Istook, Republican Congressman from Oklahoma, who supports both a balanced budget amendment and President Bush's proposed budgets, which will create record deficits.

Act Three: Money Is Good

How one woman learned to stop worrying and start spending. Liz Gilbert and her husband Michael Cooper explain how their different ideas about handling money always divided them—until they stumbled into a $10,000 windfall.

Act One: Pier Pressure

Navy Pier's renovation was presented as a success in last week's show, but recent press reveals that the pier is bleeding money. WBEZ personality Aaron Freeman and his kids take Ira on a tour of the pier, looking at it from a child's perspective.

Act Two: The Economy

Temporary employment agencies' business has exploded in the last few years as corporations lay off their full-time employees, especially technical workers. This American Life "hired" two temp workers, Lee and Tito, to document their experiences as temps. Ira invites Tito and Lee into the studio to spin some music "appropriate" for temp employees.