Let Public Radio Talk You Through the Financial Crisis

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Over the past few months, some exciting (perhaps heart-stopping) action has played out on the world financial stage. There's a credit crunch, a mortgage crisis, commercial paper is frozen, banks are failing, and T-notes are the new mattresses. What does it all mean? I admit, I know nothing about finance, and hearing the increasingly dire news reports wasn't really helping to break it down in terms that I could follow. Until I discovered what's happening over at National Public Radio and Public Radio International. If you're wondering about the financial situation, I've got links below to help you learn about it -- in a way that human beings can understand.

The first salvo from public radio's crisis-explaining squad came on May 9. On that evening's All Things Considered program, PRI's This American Life Producer Alex Blumberg (who sounds uncannily like Ira Glass, but isn't) teamed up with NPR Business and Economics Correspondent Adam Davidson to deliver a thirteen-minute piece called Global Pool of Money Got Too Hungry. This was presented in a much longer (and better) form on This American Life as The Giant Pool of Money. The latter is the best explanation I've heard of global finance, including what exactly is going on with these crazy mortgages: what they are, how they're bundled, how money changes hands on a global scale, and why the mortgage system was so crazy. So your first assignment is to listen to The Giant Pool of Money (you can click the "Full Episode" link on the left of the page to launch the free player). Trust me, you'll be fascinated, and you'll learn a lot. Warning: Ira Glass has a really scratchy voice on this episode. Fortunately he pretty much leaves it up to Blumberg and Davidson to narrate the actual story.

Last week, This American Life followed up with Another Frightening Show About the Economy (here's a direct MP3 link). This show explained the US market bailout/rescue plan, and delved further into topics like credit default swaps, commercial paper, regulation (or the lack thereof), and toxic assets.

Honestly, this episode was even more interesting than the previous explanation of the global economy -- probably because it's so topical; we all want to know exactly what the Paulson Plan is, whether it's a good idea, and exactly how bad the whole situation is. Changes are coming fast and furious, and the information in this program is less than a week old. Now is the time to listen.

Planet MoneyIn addition to the aforementioned hour-long programs, Blumberg, Davidson, and friends have created a blog and podcast called Planet Money. The blog is updated many (MANY!) times daily, and the podcast is updated every few days. It's extremely topical stuff. Recorded at the end of the business day in New York, the podcast features interviews with economists and traders, and it's hosted by producers who can actually explain the financial jargon. For the layperson, the podcast is the best source I've found to explain the financial crisis. The blog is good too, but there's so much content there that it almost seems daunting. Anyway, check out the Planet Money blog, and if you're a podcast listener (and really, why shouldn't you be? You don't need an iPod...), I strongly recommend the Planet Money podcast. It's currently the top podcast on iTunes, and guess who's second? This American Life.

Note that if you don't want to subscribe to the podcast, you can browse through the episodes using iTunes and just double-click an episode to listen to it.

So where do you get your news on the financial situation? Or are you just hiding in a bunker, waiting for it all to pass? Share your finds and fears in the comments. (Keep in mind that you can post URLs as long as you leave off the 'http' business.)

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October 9, 2008 - 11:02am
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