Stacey Vanek Smith

We've secured our satellite. And while that's pretty cool, we're not quite there yet. We need a rocket. That used to require a having a space agency, like NASA. We don't have a space agency at NPR. But luckily for us, space is a business now, with commercial operators vying for customers. And space companies are actually battling for our business. They want to be the company that takes us to the stars.

Power Pinch

Dec 4, 2017

At Planet Money, we love big projects. We bought a toxic asset. We made a T-shirt. We're trying to launch a satellite into space. Doing this stuff means we can't always keep up with the news as much as we'd like. So we're launching a new show. It's the Indicator: Planet Money's quick take on a number, or a term, or a story in the news.

Planet in San Francisco has agreed to send up a satellite with our logo on it and take some pictures for us. In a way, we're in the spying game now. Back in the 60s, satellites would take photographs from space and then send the film canisters back to earth--literally drop them into the atmosphere, where they were caught in a net attached to an airplane. There was only a limited number of pictures you could get that way. And they still took a ton of time to analyze.

Last year we started to look into the satellite business. It used to be that satellites were the size of a school bus and cost a half billion dollars. But the space business is changing. Private companies are competing to get tiny satellites into orbit, driving the cost down. Commercial rockets are launching around the world, carrying satellites for universities, and farmers, and oil traders.

So we, thought, what about podcasts? Who speaks for them? Why can't they go, too? Today on the show, we go looking for our own satellite.

When Susannah Morgan was running a food bank in Alaska, she always needed produce. Items like fresh oranges or potatoes. But her food bank didn't get much. Feeding America, a major supplier for food banks, assumed transporting fresh produce would be too expensive. Instead, among other things, Susannah's food bank got pickles. A lot of them. At the same time, Feeding America was flooding Idaho with potatoes.

Note: This episode originally aired in 2015.

There are people with Birkin bags, and then there are the rest of us. This purse, made by the French luxury brand Hermès, averages $60,000. It's a little boxy. It comes in just about every color. Each bag is handmade, and Hermès staff apprentice for years before they can produce a Birkin.

Even inside North Korea, the most restrictive, socialist regime in the world, there are entrepreneurs. People are dreaming up ideas of services to offer, products to sell, businesses to start. They're called the 'donju,' and they're part of North Korea's small middle class. Kim Jong Un, North Korea's leader, doesn't throw them in jail.

Episode 795: Is Record Breaking Broken?

Sep 20, 2017

Ashrita Furman has broken more than 600 records— earning him the Guinness World Record for most records broken. He grew up reading the Guinness Book of World Records. A lot of kids did. It's one of the best selling books of all time.

But book sales have been dropping and now Guinness has started having to change the way it makes money. Now, record holders like Ashrita are being joined by a different kind of record breaker: celebrities and companies looking for publicity. People pay thousands to have Guinness orchestrate a record-breaking event for them.

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On today's show, we are going to explain every dollar the federal government spent last year — nearly $4 trillion — in 10 minutes.

And to get a real feel for how the money is divided up, we're going to divide up our 10 minutes exactly the way the government divided up the money last year. The more money a program gets from the government, the more time it gets from us.

We dig into social security's origin story, find a nice thing lobbyists do, and write a haiku about infrastructure. Experience the budget in real time.

Last November, India's Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, made a move that brought India's economy to its knees.

Modi said, starting on November 9th, most of the country's paper money would no longer be legal tender. Everything over the equivalent a US $5 bill would become worthless pieces of paper.

For an economy where 90 percent of business transactions happen in cash, this was a big deal.

Today on the show, we sit down with Dr. Ben Bernanke, the medicine man of the markets and the money supply.

Ten years later, we're still dealing with the effects of the 2008 financial crisis. Some industries and parts of the country are still trying to recover from the worst economic period since the Great Depression.

It was Ben Bernanke's job to stop the crashing and pick up the pieces.

Doing your taxes doesn't have to be a pain. In many countries around the world, filing taxes is so easy and painless, "tax day" isn't even a thing.

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I'm in a booth with a computer program called Ellie. She's on a screen in front of me.

Ellie was designed to diagnose post-traumatic stress disorder and depression, and when I get into the booth she starts asking me questions — about my family, my feelings, my biggest regrets.

Emotions seem really messy and hard for a machine to understand. But Skip Rizzo, a psychologist who helped design Ellie, thought otherwise.

Even the most creative jobs have parts that are pretty routine — tasks that, at least in theory, can be done by a machine. Take, for example, being a reporter.

A company called Automated Insights created a program called WordSmith that generates simple news stories based on things like sporting events and financial news. The stories are published on Yahoo! and via the Associated Press, among other outlets.

We wanted to know: How would NPR's best stack up against the machine?

We recently did a story that began with this sentence:

"The housing market has recovered in many parts of the country, but the government still owns the mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac."

After the story aired, we got a bunch of messages from a listener, Andrew Tomlinson, demanding a correction. So we called him up.

Andrew argues that the government does not actually own Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

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  • Gyms have built their business model around us not showing up. Gyms have way more members than they can actually accommodate. Low-priced gyms are the most extreme example of this. Planet Fitness, which charges between $10 and $20 per month, has, on average, 6,500 members per gym. Most of its gyms can hold around 300 people. Planet Fitness can do this because it knows that members won't show up. After all, if everyone who had a gym membership showed up at the gym, it would be Thunderdome.

On Sept. 9, BJ Holloway's life savings were stolen. Six cows worth about $10,000 were taken in the dead of the night from his land in Spencer, Okla.

BJ started raising cows when he was just a teenager. His parents gave him the first two, and he raised those until they had calves he could sell off to buy some more. Over the years, he kept doing that, breeding the cows and selling off the little ones. Raising cows is a business for BJ, and all of his savings are wrapped up in them, which made the theft of the cows absolutely devastating.

What are you going to be for Halloween? If you don't know, don't feel bad. Most people don't figure it out until the last minute.

That makes running a costume shop a challenging business. If you don't have a enough of the costume people want, you don't have time to re-stock it. If you order too many of this year's hot new thing, you are stuck with the extras.

The key to success in the costume business is having the right mix of costumes and hedging your bets. Think about it like putting together a stock portfolio.

Flinging birds at pigs and moving jelly beans around a little screen are not human instincts. Game designers create the urge to do those things for hours at a time.

"From the way the games are designed to help us start playing the game, to the way they keep us coming back to the game, to how they involve our friends in the game — all of these things have underpinnings in consumer psychology," says game consultant Nir Eyal.

A law passed to protect the Union army in the Civil War is one of the key tools federal officials have used to collect tens of billion in corporate fines this year.

During the Civil War, the army relied heavily on private contractors for necessities like uniforms, shoes, and gunpowder. Those contractors often cut corners.