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Posted at 11:36 AM ET, 02/11/2011

In praise of 'Planet Money'

By Ezra Klein

I've become a recent convert to podcasts. Particularly after I found that the iPhone/iPod software allows you to listen to them at double speed. And so, in recent weeks, I've caught up with NPR's "Planet Money" show. And I want to take a second to gush about the work it's doing.

There are two recent episodes I particularly want to recommend. The first is "Writing the Rules." You know how wonks keep saying that the rule-making process for bills such as the Affordable Care Act and Dodd-Frank are really the crucial process going forward? "Planet Money" actually goes inside that process. They put a microphone in the room while three regulators at the FDIC take out their dog-eared copies of the law and commence trying to figure out what it's telling them -- and everyone else -- to do. They head over to one of the public hearings that's supposed to give ordinary Americans a chance to weigh in on the new rules but is really just a forum for lobbyists to press their case. As someone who occasionally attempts to report on the rule-making process, I know it's hard to do good journalism on it. It's almost impossible to do fun journalism on it. "Planet Money" managed both.

The second is "The Moral of the Financial Crisis." This episode is from the week the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission released its final report. That report, as you may remember, ended up bitterly partisan: Every Republican dissented. "Planet Money" spoke to a number of the commissioners and did a better job than anyone else distilling why: Part of it was personal -- the Republicans felt the Democrats treated them poorly, and the Democrats thought the Republicans were trying to impede the commission's work. But part of it was substantive: Although the two sides agreed on almost everything about the crisis, the Democrats considered it foreseeable and preventable and the Republicans didn't. That matters because, to the Republicans, concluding the crisis could have been stopped ratifies the idea that we need new regulations and more regulators. If it's more of a freak event that no one could have prevented, the case for more regulations is weaker, as they wouldn't have stopped it anyway.

Both episodes are well worth your time, as is subscribing to the show's podcast and blog. They're both free, after all. And props to "Planet Money" for making topics that a lot of other people have given up on clear and accessible, and even fun.

By Ezra Klein  | February 11, 2011; 11:36 AM ET
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At what point did the view that fewer regulations would be better come to mean that all regulations are bad? I mean, what regulations have most Republican law makers voted for in the past 5 years?

Posted by: ideallydc | February 11, 2011 11:45 AM | Report abuse

I spend nearly every weekday deep in the weeds of regulations, existing and proposed, and after my working day is done you want me to go home, kick off my shoes, pour myself a drink, and listen to podcasts about the regulatory process? Not a chance.

Posted by: ostap666 | February 11, 2011 11:52 AM | Report abuse

Enjoy it while you can, Ezra. If the GOP has their way, there will be no more quality NPR programming for you to enjoy.

That definitely qualifies for a sad emoticon :(

Posted by: knoelle11 | February 11, 2011 12:01 PM | Report abuse

That no one could have foreseen the crisis is another zombie idea.

Posted by: will12 | February 11, 2011 12:07 PM | Report abuse

Speaking of planet money, does anyone know if they ever actually sold that shirt they were making? I wanted to buy one but I've never been able to find it.

Posted by: DKOSullivan | February 11, 2011 12:08 PM | Report abuse

Sadly, Dodd-Frank failed to really address Fannie and Freddie or the fact that the insurance side, primarily property & casualty, had very little to do with the catastrophic failures we saw with AIG and the financial industry. To add insult to injury, Title V of the bill violates the 10th Amendment and renders McCarran-Ferguson null and void. This will cost the states millions and give the FIO the excuse to take on regulatory powers on a national scale in two years when all the data gathering is rolled into its report to the Comptroller General. This is just the first step in a the long anticipated power-grab by the feds; a brilliant move when one consideres a body who cannot draft, balance or operate within a budget, taking over all aspects of commerce on a national level. This is like using a candle to check check levels in a gas tank. I guess a bad over-reaction is better than nothing ... or is that advice only for good for iced road driving and acadamy award winners?

Posted by: milkchocolate | February 11, 2011 12:16 PM | Report abuse

Planet Money is a great show, but it is not free! It is only possible because of the generous financial support of people like us.

Posted by: hunterda98 | February 11, 2011 12:54 PM | Report abuse

Thanks for the share. Def gonna check it out. =)

Posted by: ruchinee | February 11, 2011 1:19 PM | Report abuse

Hi Ezra,

My #1 favorite is "Tax Me Please":

I wish the U.S. became like Denmark.

My #2 favorite is "Delicious Cake Futures" (starting at 8:00)

I highly recommend that you listen to both of them.

Posted by: hariguchi | February 11, 2011 1:38 PM | Report abuse

I used to listen to Planet Money. But I got a little tired of their fixation on the importance of "bipartisanship," an assumption they have internalized from being part of the Beltway insider crowd for only a few years. I also got really annoyed in an episode about China, where one of the reporters really wanted to know, "Should I be scared?" by China's improving economy. Sadly, the expert he interviewed reassured him, not by saying that millions of people being better off is a good thing, but by saying, "No, you needn't be scared, China won't catch up with us for a long time." As if the U.S. staying forever the richest, most powerful country in the history of the world is supposed to be everyone's primary concern.

Posted by: randrewm | February 11, 2011 3:17 PM | Report abuse

I second the rec, Ezra. Great, great show. "The Giant Pile of Money" (and when they revisited it -- "Return to the Giant Pile of Money") -- totally indispensable. This would be a much better country if everyone heard that show.

Posted by: AZProgressive | February 11, 2011 4:26 PM | Report abuse

@DKOSullivan : Planet Money has not produced their shirt yet. They haven't even picked a design, a location to produce it, or many other things. They are slowly working their way through the supply chain and finding it is far more difficult than they thought it would be. If the shirt looks half-way decent, I'll be buying one because I am a big fan of Planet Money, even though they do make some glaring errors now (usually related to Social Security) and then and have the bipartisanship fetish mentioned by @randrewm above.

Posted by: meander510 | February 11, 2011 6:09 PM | Report abuse

One of my favorite podcasts. I've listened to every episode, including the Giant Pool of Money "pilot" on This American Life.

Posted by: dpurp | February 11, 2011 11:08 PM | Report abuse

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