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Panel Nerds: If You Haven’t Heard NPR’s Planet Money, It’s New To You

Who: NPR’s “Planet Money’s” Alex Blumberg, Adam Davidson, Jacob Goldstein, Chana Joffe-Walt, and David Kestenbaum
What: “NPR’s Planet Money on the U.S. Economy: A Second Wind… Or Circling the Drain?
Where: 92Y
When: June 13, 2012
Thumbs: One Down, One on his iPhone – subscribing to the podcast

If you haven’t listened to NPR’s “Planet Money” podcast, its live event would have convinced you to tune in. The “Planet Money” team did what it does best: made complicated financial matters both simple to understand and gripping to hear. If you have listened to the podcast, though, the event would have forced you to tune out. Although much of the form was new (including a slideshow with elucidating images and video in the background), most — if not all — of the content was retread from the podcast. It was a curious decision for a crowd made up mostly of people who already enjoy and listen to “Planet Money.”

The event was structured in three acts: the history of money, what happened with the Euro (focusing on Greece), and an examination of the current U.S. economy. Each act featured different pairs of correspondents who took advantage of the live event to use multimedia: video clips, cartoon interpretations of their words, Google maps, a huge periodic table, audio clips from the podcast, and music. The use of multimedia brought new life to old material.

The first act on the history of money was divided into four steps: “Choose a Trinket” (rocks on the island of Yap, as an example), “Trinket Harmonization” (the choosing of gold), “Paper Backed by a Trinket” (the gold standard), and “Paper Backed by Nothing” (off the gold standard). They concluded with the thought-provoking assertion that step 4 — believing and trusting in the value of paper is remarkably similar to step 1 — believing and trusting in the value of a trinket.

The second act, explaining Greece’s situation, took half of the evening’s time and was the highlight of the evening. We walked away with a clear understanding of what happened in Greece and how it went wrong. Chana Joffe-Walt and Adam Davidson walked us through the creation of the Euro, bond markets, and the lies Greece told about their deficit that kicked off the Eurozone crisis. We don’t believe it is coincidental that this act employed more multimedia than the rest of the evening.

Act three addressed the U.S. economy. Davidson declared at the beginning of the segment that we are in a new phase of American history, and then, along with Alex Blumberg, set out to tell the story of a generation that is not naturally prospering more than their parents, and an economy that requires higher degrees from its workers. The act then concluded with a segment about the importance of pre-schools, which seemed like a divergence on the night’s discussion more than an aid for it.

What They Said
“Sovereign risk is an issue’ is why Planet Money exists.”
Adam Davidson and Planet Money try to play “Luther” to the world’s economist’s Obama

“I’m going to talk some trash about Silver now.”
David Kestenbaum, explaining why gold was chosen, was lucky Norrin Radd was not in attendance

“The Good news is: we’re not Greece.”
Adam Davidson segued from the Euro to the U.S… and gave a quick geography lesson to boot

“I’ll always be here where I am…’ Of course, that’s not true.”
Alex Blumberg quoted Mattie, a 23-year-old factory worker who feels stuck in her job, but down the road won’t be stuck in it because she will be replaced by machine

What We Thought

  • The first act opened with a vivid elucidation of the need for money. David Kestenbaum wanted a beer from Jacob Goldstein, and Goldstein wanted gum in return. Kestenbaum then exchanged a “Best of” Planet Money” CD with an attendee for a pack of gum, which he then traded back to Goldstein for the beer. It started the night on a playful note, incorporated the audience, and served as a good explanation.
  • Chana Joffe-Walt carried the discussion on Greece. She took the most esoteric part of the night and made it the clearest. Joffe-Walt, we thought, stole the segment, the best of the show.
  • When we walked in, we were handed a program and a “Periodic Table Bingo!” board. While they get points for creativity, this was just one aspect of our disappointment in the recycling of old material. We immediately knew they were going to do their segment on gold.

PANEL RULES!
Some audience behavior seems to repeat itself panel after panel. We’ll be updating a running list of “PANEL RULES!” that will help ensure that you are not the dweeb of the Panel Nerds.
This is a Panel Do! 92Y took questions on index cards, and the last two questions read were from a father asking advice for his 11-year-old son, Bjorn, who wants to be an economist, followed by a question about whether the gold standard is a better system… from Bjorn himself. After a segment about the future of the American economy, it was a precious moment.

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