Sunday, November 9, 2008

Planet Money

Hey, don't forget that the financial meltdown didn't go away while we were watching election returns, or Dancing With the Stars, whichever.

I have to say I have never tried harder to understand a national crisis since Watergate, and now I don't even have Mad magazine to help.

What I do have is Planet Money, a new NPR podcast that is to the financial crisis what Nightline was to the 1980's US Embassy Crisis. Planet Money was born out of This American Life -- the hip-to-be-square weekly radio magazine hosted by Ira Glass and his stable of oddly un-radio-voiced contributors. You don't have to a lisp, a nasal squeak, or a short Brokaw L.... but it helps.

In May of this year TAL aired its instantly famous "Giant Pool of Money" story, which would have won the Pulitzer Prize for radio journalism if there were such a thing. You can listen to it here (30 mins) or read the transcript, which I will caution does not have the emotional punch of the real thing. Hear how it all went down from the guys who sold the loans and the guys who were awarded them, all because they could. Call -n radio listeners often demand to know what punishment will be handed down to these "predatory lenders" (as we now call them). This story reminds us all that no laws were broken.

You can also purchase it on CD -- the perfect holiday gift for the 1st time buyer and eager flipper still left in your life.

Just as we began to understand what it meant to lend $500,000 to people who made $60,000, the whole worseness got worser. And Planet Money was born.

This is a blatant and unpaid plug for this program. It is a daily, about 30-40 minutes long most days, perfect for your commute if you can not read The Economist while you drive. Or if you never understand what the people in the The Economist are on about. It has a global view, a breakdown of secret money-talk language, and a "stop and explain that to me" sensibility that won't make you feel stupid. It was not Planet Money that pinpointed Wimpy as our economic thought-leader; that was mine. It was Planet Money that helped me realize that our entire financial trade system is based on repaying on Tuesday for a hamburger today.

If you prefer lunchtime reading, try their blog (which is quite shorter than this one) or their Facebook page (before the company cuts you off). Finally, if you just aren't getting enough email, they have a newsletter as well.

So be informed. Don't be afraid to understand this, even if it does make you want to hide under the bed. That's where the monsters are.

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