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Watch Planet Money Shorts

We made a video series. It has a logo and everything.
We made a video series. It has a logo and everything.

Yes, it's true — we have a video series. These videos tell the weird stories behind big economic facts and ideas, re-enacted and explained by the crew of goofballs over here at National Public Radio.

So affix yourself to your chair, tape your eyelids open and binge on this classy content (organized in descending order of recency).

How Economics Went From Medieval to Modern

There was once a time when there were only occasional federal taxes, no 9-to-5 jobs and farmers markets as far as the eye could see. And then the Black Death came and ruined the whole thing.

This was back in Europe during the 12th and 13th centuries, often called the High Middle Ages. And life back then was pretty rough. You were either in the country working for a knight, who was basically a mafia thug, or living in the city under the rules of a guild, who would throw you out of town if they didn't like what you were doing.

Your Life Is Worth $10 Million, According To The Government

How much is a human life worth? Federal agencies have to answer this question all the time — whether it's to decide on adding safety labels to hazardous materials or when it becomes worth it to reopen the economy after a pandemic. It's a tough question to answer, but they do have a number they use. They say a human life is worth about $10 million. This is the story of how they got that number.

And since this story took place in the 1980s, we filmed it in the style of an '80s movie!

What's A Cooking Show Without Any Food?

Grocery shopping the first few weeks of this crisis was insane (and frankly, it's still pretty nuts now). Shelves were empty. People were trying to buy up tons of stuff because no one knew what was going to happen; so demand was way up, but supply was the same.

For the most part, supply and demand has evened out, but there may be a new reason for empty shelves in produce sections soon. The health of farmworkers is at risk. If there are more outbreaks on farms, there might not be enough healthy people to pick food.

Just imagine a world where viral cooking shows didn't have any food to cook with. Actually, no need, we've imagined it for you in this, the fifth installment of the Quarantine Edition of Planet Money Shorts.

A Mountain Of Potatoes With Nowhere To Go

While millions of Americans are struggling to get enough to eat and supermarkets are running out of certain foods, farmers all over the country are trashing their crops. Why aren't these crops getting sent to stores?

The recent collapse of the restaurant industry has disrupted the U.S. food supply chain, and many of the crops grown specifically for restaurants have no place to go.

Instead of letting his harvest rot, a farmer in Idaho came up with a creative outcome for his mountain of potatoes.

The Market For Emergency Vaccines Is Like No Other

COVID-19 is not the first coronavirus outbreak we've experienced. There was SARS in 2003, and then MERS in 2012. If coronaviruses have been around for years, why don't we have a vaccine already?

The answer partially has to do with economics. Turns out that the market for emergency vaccines is weird. So weird that it involves top-secret chicken flocks, the creation of a new government agency and an annual stockpile of upwards of 900,000 chicken eggs. This is the story of what it takes to produce a national vaccine supply.

Chasing The Ventilator Race

In March, the United States suddenly had demand for a lot more ventilators than the supply that existed. Even if the ventilator manufacturers started operating at maximum capacity, they wouldn't be able to produce enough ventilators to meet that demand alone.

Before long, a ventilator company, a die casting company and a titan of car manufacturing were all working together to make as many as they could.

In the second episode of our Quarantine Edition of Planet Money Shorts, a fictional personal investigator follows the loose threads of this story to make sense of how this supply chain works and find out how these ventilators are getting made.

What It Takes To Get A Mask

The coronavirus pandemic has turned the market for protective gear for health care workers into a free-for-all. The Feds have left finding gear up to the states, so when Illinois needed more, it knew it was going to have to fend for itself.

The state knew its normal channels weren't going to work, so it sent an email to every vendor the state had ever worked with. Within hours, someone answered the call.

The way Illinois finally got the masks it needed was practically the plot to a heist thriller — so we turned it into one for the first of our Quarantine Edition of Planet Money Shorts.

What The Fed Was Designed To Do

COVID-19 isn't the first natural disaster to shake the world economy, but today we're more prepared for one than ever.

In 1906, an earthquake in San Francisco started a chain of events that destroyed the U.S. economy by 1907. It also led to the creation of the country's most powerful economic tool: the Federal Reserve.

We Made A Horror Movie About The Business Of Horror Movies

It is really hard these days to make money in the movie industry. Most movies don't make money. But there is a notable exception: horror movies.

Seven of the 10 most profitable films of all time are horror movies, and the reason why is quite simple: Horror movies are cheap to make, and they're insanely popular.

Short Selling Stocks Was Invented As Revenge

Four hundred years ago, Isaac Le Maire helped found the Dutch East India Company. (You might remember them from history class: Think big wooden boats, trips across rough seas, and lots and lots of spices).

Anyway, Le Maire got caught up in a dispute over some expense reports, and so his co-directors essentially banished him from the spice trade.

Anyone else might've backed away, but Le Maire wanted revenge. And so the short sell was born.

Listen to the original Planet Money podcast episodehere! Subscribe to our video serieshere— and while you're at it,subscribe to our podcast.

Why Do Irish Pubs Work So Well? There's A Formula To It

What exactly makes an Irish pub an Irish pub?

In the 1970s, Irish architecture student Mel McNally spent his final year in school studying the design of Irish pubs (partly as an excuse to drink with his buddies). They hit up all the famous pubs in Dublin and brought along their sketchbooks and a measuring tape to answer one question: What makes these places work?

Their findings resulted in an international business, and now McNally ships Irish pubs to every corner of the globe in 40-foot-long containers. And inside those containers are the elements that he has found will make an Irish pub authentic.

Listen to the original Planet Money podcast episodehere! Subscribe to our video serieshere— and while you're at it,subscribe to our podcast.

How to Beat the Lottery

In the 1950s, Stefan Mandel won the Romanian lottery twice.

And then he took his winnings, packed his bags and settled in Australia, where he won the lottery 12 more times. Yeah, you read that correctly: 12.

So how did this math whiz beat the system?

Listen to the original Planet Money podcast episodehere! Subscribe to our video serieshere— and, while you're at it,subscribe to our podcast.

The Origin Of Government Cheese

In 1976, Jimmy Carter made a single campaign promise that snowballed into a longstanding cultural phenomenon: government cheese. It shows up in comedy sketches, songs and even a cooking show with Martha Stewart and Snoop Dogg.

So what is government cheese, and how did the U.S. government end up buying two pounds of cheese for every American?

Listen to the original Planet Money podcast episodehere. Subscribe to our video serieshere— and, while you're at it,subscribe to our podcast.

How Everything Became Plastic

A century ago, stuff was expensive. Back then, people relied on nature to make things: Toothbrushes were made of silver, combs were made of tortoiseshell, and clothes were made of cotton (well, they still use a lot of cotton, but you get the point.)

Then, in 1907, a chemist named Leo Baekeland found a way to take the useless gunk leftover from making kerosene and turn it into plastic. It opened up a whole world of affordable products. Suddenly, everyone could get one of everything.

This is the story of how plastic was first made and how maybe we went too far with it.

Listen to the original Planet Money podcast episodehere. Subscribe to our video serieshere— and, while you're at it,subscribe to our podcast.

How Much Money Should The Tooth Fairy Leave?

How much money should the tooth fairy leave? It's an eternal struggle of parenting, but it's also an overlooked economic indicator. For the past two decades, the price of a tooth has been going up much faster than you'd expect with inflation.

We know that because Delta Dental, the insurance company and tongue twister, has been conducting the , a nationally representative survey of how much kids are getting for their teeth, for two decades. Roughly 20 years ago, a tooth payout was hovering around $1.30. As of 2018, a tooth was pulling in $4.13. These kids are making out like gap-toothed bandits.

That's good news for baby teeth-losers everywhere, but it's a bit more complicated if you're a tooth fairy concerned about the bottom line. In this video, we imagine a fantasy world where the tooth fairy is a mid-level executive just trying to keep his department in the black and his head above water. Please enjoy this extremely relatable semi-fictional content.

Listen to the original podcast episodehere! Subscribe to our video serieshere— and, while you're at it,subscribe to our podcast.

There's No Such Thing As Fancy Vodka

Our video series is back with a very serious inquiry into one of Philosophy's Big Questions: What's the deal with fancy vodka?

Vodka is, by definition, colorless, odorless and tasteless. But some vodkas cost much more than others. Why? The answer begins with the story of Sidney Frank, the man who basically created modern liquor marketing with his brand new vodka. Like any good Planet Money Shorts episode, this one's got a few fake mustaches and one extremely scratchy suit. From Jägermeister to top-shelf vodka, witness the birth of a brave new world in liquor marketing.

This episode is based on a podcast originally produced in collaboration with the food podcast. Listen to the original episode here.

The Apple That Changed The World

The mid-20th century was a bad time to be an apple lover. The produce section of supermarkets only had a few apples, and one stood tall above the rest: mealy, and tough-skinned, it was the Red Delicious.

Back in those days, apples were a commodity, and the race to provide apples at the lowest price suppressed prices for all apple growers and discouraged apple innovation. A few things helped change that world for the better — and chief among them was the discovery of the Honeycrisp.

This is the story of that miracle apple and the innovation that made the business of better apples sustainable — all while hastening the downfall of the Red Delicious.

Listen to the original Planet Money podcast episode here!

How American Cemeteries Promise To Keep Your Grave Forever

If you die in America, chances are the cemetery is going to promise to maintain your grave forever. Americans take this for granted, but it is a whacky, wild promise that we maybe should not be making.

In a lot of other countries, you basically rent a grave until they dig up your bones to make room for the next guy. And yet, in America, this forever-grave thing is actually in most states' law. With the exception of religious cemeteries (which often do this anyways), the state regulates how cemeteries save to ensure, theoretically, that they can maintain a grave forever.

It's a weird country to die in. So, we made a weirder video about it.

Listen to the original Planet Money podcast episode here!

The Price Of Coke Stayed The Same For 70 Years — Why?

The thing about prices is they tend to change. But for 70 years, between 1886 and the late 1950s, the price of a Coca-Cola was a shiny nickel.

Think about how crazy that is: Between 1886 and the late '50s, you had two world wars, Prohibition and the Great Depression. But through it all, one constant in life was the nickel Coke.

This is the story of how two lawyers from Chattanooga struck a deal with the president of Coca-Cola that led to the company's pricing lockdown. With re-enactments from our very own Robert Smith & Nick Fountain, it's the fourth episode of Planet Money Shorts.

Listen to the original Planet Money podcast episode here!

A Quick History Of Slow Credit Cards

In the mid-'60s, the airline industry had a problem. The 747, the first real jumbo jet, had just been introduced. There were more passengers at the airport than before. More passengers meant longer lines. And that was especially bad because this was the era when customers paid for their tickets right there at the airport — often by credit card.

Back then, paying by credit cards was a whole ordeal. The airlines had to call up the bank manually in order to confirm the card. With lines growing, the airlines needed a faster process. So they called IBM to ask for help, and that's where our story (which also features some French fraudsters and a hippie inventor) begins.

Listen to the original Planet Money podcast episode here!

The Price Tag Hasn't Always Existed, It Had To Be Invented

Most people are used to prices that don't change from one customer to the next. You go into a store to buy some Quaker Oats, and they're going to cost the same for you as they will for whoever tries to buy them next.

But for a long time, that's not how it worked at all.

For most of human history, you had to haggle over prices before you could buy something. The Quakers were among the first people to commit to fixed prices — and they did it because it was good morals. Turned out, it was also good business. This is the strange story of the long journey of that little piece of paper.

Listen to the original Planet Money podcast episode here!

Which Came First, The Frozen Chicken Or The Tax On Foreign Trucks?

In the 1960s, there was a new fad in Germany: cheap, frozen American chicken. German families couldn't get enough of the stuff — it was great for the German consumer, but not so great for the German chicken farmer. So the farmers went to the government, and, lo, a trade war was born.

In this first episode of Planet Money Shorts, witness the making of an automotive juggernaut — the story of how a tax on frozen chicken wound up defining the U.S. market for trucks. With some acting help from various NPR employees (read: definitely not professional actors), it's the story of "The Chicken Tax!"

Listen to the original Planet Money podcast episode here!


That's all we've made so far, but you can subscribe to our video series here — and, while you're at it, subscribe to our podcast.

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