Thursday, September 20 , 2018, 4:04 pm | Fair 72º

 
 
 
 

Local News

NPR’s ‘Planet Money’ Journalists Provide Lighthearted Perspective on the Economy

David Kestenbaum and Alex Blumberg keep the discussion lively and witty about the serious topics of unemployment and health care

With the same energy they infuse into their twice weekly podcast, journalists David Kestenbaum and Alex Blumberg of the National Public Radio show “Planet Money” took the stage last week to answer the looming economic question: How screwed are we?

In a witty and engaging presentation, the pair walked through two of the biggest challenges facing America’s economy — unemployment and health-care costs.

Their live appearance was hosted by UCSB Arts & Lectures. About 500 people gathered in Campbell Hall on Wednesday to listen to their presentation — an impressive turnout considering the show’s meaty economic topics.

As with the podcast, however, the team kept the subject matter lively. A woman’s sick pet hedgehog was the central storytelling device to illustrate the hidden costs of insurance, and clips from a preschool were used to explain the importance of job training.

Planet Money’s ability to joyfully explain the wonky is the reason the podcast has flourished throughout the economic crisis. Perhaps one of its best episodes came in 2008, when it helped produced “The Global Pool of Money,” which deftly explained how the housing crisis came to be.

Blumberg played a clip last Wednesday from that piece. The story revolves around a man who qualified for a $540,000 mortgage while making only $40,000 a year in income.

“Would you have lent you the money?” Blumberg asks the man in the radio clip. “I wouldn’t have loaned me the money, and nobody that I know would have loaned me the money,” the man responds.

In addition to a still depressed housing market, unemployment continues to hover around 9 percent. That’s only one look at the picture, though, according to Kestenbaum and Blumberg. Unemployment remains vastly higher among Americans without college degrees than those with a degree.

In the past, Blumberg explained, there were two ways to the American Dream: using your mind, or using your body. But as the service economy has displaced manufacturing and manual labor-based jobs, that has shifted.

Government tried adult job training but with terrible results. The “soft skills” workers needed were actually learned, or not, much earlier in life. A fascinating study shows that children who attended preschool were much more likely to stay employed later in life, and the Planet Money team explored in a podcast.

Health care is another looming challenge. A third of the money spent in the American economy today goes toward health care, and if trends continue over the next 30 years, it’s where “the government will be spending all of its money,” Blumberg said.

The pair then showed some truly frightening slides. The United States spends the most of any developed country on health care, but somehow ranks among the lowest in terms of life expectancy. Insurance shields the consumer from worrying about the price, and patients, doctors and even hospitals have no idea how much health-care procedures actually cost.

HMOs were one way to keep down the cost, but weren’t received well by the public. The bright side, Kestenbaum said, is that “this is a system that is so screwed up that you can’t do much worse.”

Though a solution for health care is mathematically simple, it’s a move that’s politically difficult, Blumberg said.

The brightest part of the evening came with audience questions, and Blumberg and Kestenbaum kept the audience laughing as they answered.

One audience member asked for a status update on “Toxie,” the nickname given to a toxic asset purchased by the staff. 

They pooled $1,000 of their own cash to purchase a mortgage-backed security, one of the prime vehicles of the financial crisis.  They’ve been slowly watching the asset lose value over the months. 

However, some of the mortgages in Toxie’s assets are now part of a lawsuit from homeowners that say their mortgages weren’t as they were advertised, so “it’s possible she could rise from the grave,” Blumberg said.

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

Support Noozhawk Today

You are an important ally in our mission to deliver clear, objective, high-quality professional news reporting for Santa Barbara, Goleta and the rest of Santa Barbara County. Join the Hawks Club today to help keep Noozhawk soaring.

We offer four membership levels: $5 a month, $10 a month, $25 a month or $1 a week. Payments can be made using a credit card, Apple Pay or Google Pay, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments and a mailing address for checks.

Thank you for your vital support.

Become a Noozhawk Supporter

First name
Last name
Email
Select your monthly membership
Or choose an annual membership
×

Payment Information

Membership Subscription

You are enrolling in . Thank you for joining the Hawks Club.

Payment Method

Pay by Credit Card:

Mastercard, Visa, American Express, Discover
One click only, please!

Pay with Apple Pay or Google Pay:

Noozhawk partners with Stripe to provide secure invoicing and payments processing.
You may cancel your membership at any time by sending an email to .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

  • Ask
  • Vote
  • Investigate
  • Answer

Noozhawk Asks: What’s Your Question?

Welcome to Noozhawk Asks, a new feature in which you ask the questions, you help decide what Noozhawk investigates, and you work with us to find the answers.

Here’s how it works: You share your questions with us in the nearby box. In some cases, we may work with you to find the answers. In others, we may ask you to vote on your top choices to help us narrow the scope. And we’ll be regularly asking you for your feedback on a specific issue or topic.

We also expect to work together with the reader who asked the winning questions to find the answer together. Noozhawk’s objective is to come at questions from a place of curiosity and openness, and we believe a transparent collaboration is the key to achieve it.

The results of our investigation will be published here in this Noozhawk Asks section. Once or twice a month, we plan to do a review of what was asked and answered.

Thanks for asking!

Click Here to Get Started >

Reader Comments

Noozhawk is no longer accepting reader comments on our articles. Click here for the announcement. Readers are instead invited to submit letters to the editor by emailing them to [email protected]. Please provide your full name and community, as well as contact information for verification purposes only.

Daily Noozhawk

Subscribe to Noozhawk's A.M. Report, our free e-Bulletin sent out every day at 4:15 a.m. with Noozhawk's top stories, hand-picked by the editors.

Sign Up Now >