In praise of 'Planet Money'
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.
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