Robert Smith

Robert Smith is a correspondent for NPR's Planet Money where he reports on how the global economy is affecting our lives.

If that sounds a little dry, then you've never heard Planet Money. The team specializes in making economic reporting funny, engaging and understandable. Planet Money has been known to set economic indicators to music, use superheroes to explain central banks, and even buy a toxic asset just to figure it out.

Smith admits that he has no special background in finance or math, just a curiosity about how money works. That kind of curiosity has driven Smith for his 20 years in radio.

Before joining Planet Money, Smith was the New York correspondent for NPR. He was responsible for covering all the mayhem and beauty that makes it the greatest city on Earth. Smith reported on the rebuilding of Ground Zero, the stunning landing of US Air flight 1549 in the Hudson River and the dysfunctional world of New York politics. He specialized in features about the overlooked joys of urban living: puddles, billboards, ice cream trucks, street musicians, drunks and obsessives.

When New York was strangely quiet, Smith pitched in covering the big national stories. He traveled with presidential campaigns, tracked the recovery of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina and reported from the BP oil spill.

Before his New York City gig, Smith worked for public radio stations in Seattle (KUOW), Salt Lake City (KUER) and Portland (KBOO). He's been an editor, a host, a news director and just about any other job you can think of in broadcasting. Smith also lectures on the dark arts of radio at universities and conferences. He trains fellow reporters how to sneak humor and action into even the dullest stories on tight deadlines.

Smith started in broadcasting playing music at KPCW in his hometown of Park City, Utah. Although the low-power radio station at Reed College in Portland, Oregon, likes to claim him as its own.

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Planet Money
3:43 am
Mon December 23, 2013

A Locked Door, A Secret Meeting And The Birth Of The Fed

J.P. Morgan: Not a pussycat.
Hulton Archive Getty Images

Originally published on Mon December 23, 2013 12:01 pm

In 1907, the U.S. economy was in the grip of a financial crisis. Unemployment was up. The stock market was down.

People started panicking. They were lining up overnight to pull their money out of healthy banks. This can be deadly for an economy: Healthy banks have to shut down, businesses can't get credit, they lay people off, and the economy gets worse.

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World
7:52 am
Fri December 13, 2013

In A City With Terrible Traffic, A Gridlock Economy Emerges

For a price, this Jakarta mother will get into your car so you can drive in the carpool lane.
Robert Smith NPR

Originally published on Fri December 13, 2013 12:08 pm

Jakarta, Indonesia, has some of the worst traffic on the planet. For some local entrepreneurs, all those people stuck in their cars are potential customers.

In a middle of one Jakarta traffic jam, a guy pushes his chicken cart through the cars, clanging his pots. Men walk down the center lane selling nuts, crackers as big as your head and other treats. They're all trying to make eye contact with the drivers.

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Business
5:13 am
Tue December 3, 2013

Planet Money Spins A Yarn And Makes A 'Perfect' T-Shirt

Inside a yarn factory in Indonesia.
David Gilkey NPR

Originally published on Thu December 5, 2013 2:10 pm

NPR's Planet Money team has manufactured a T-shirt. All this week we're following its journey around the globe. Today, the T-shirt makes a detour in the Pacific Ocean. Cotton from America gets shipped to a factory in Indonesia where it gets transformed into yarn.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

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Crime In The City
3:01 am
Thu August 1, 2013

Bodies On The Boardwalk: Murder Stirs A Sleepy Jersey Shore

The Jersey shore's iconic Star Jet roller coaster was inundated after Superstorm Sandy.
Mark Wilson Getty Images

Originally published on Fri August 2, 2013 6:01 pm

When writer Chris Grabenstein plots his mysteries, the murders happen in the corny nooks of New Jersey's Jersey shore. After all, there's something delightfully cheesy about a beach town.

"I guess I'm a cheesy guy. I like this kind of stuff," Grabenstein says. "Ever since I was a kid I loved tourist towns."

The author points out shop names as we walk along his stretch of the shore. There's the Sunglass Menagerie, an ice cream shop called Do Me A Flavor, Shore Good Donuts and How You Brewin' coffee. I'll spare you the rest — Long Beach Island has 18 miles of this stuff.

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Planet Money
4:37 pm
Fri July 12, 2013

What Actually Happens At The End Of 'Trading Places'?

Feeling good.
Paramount The Kobal Collection

Originally published on Mon July 22, 2013 10:41 am

It's been 30 years since Trading Places came out. And, to be honest, I never really understood what happened at the end of that movie. Sure, Louis Winthorpe (Dan Aykroyd) and Billy Ray Valentine (Eddie Murphy) get rich, and the Duke brothers lose all their money. But what actually happens? How does it work?

I recently talked to Tom Peronis, a guy who has spent years trading OJ options. He walked me through every step of Winthorpe and Valentine's plan.

1. Give The Duke Brothers Bad Information

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Planet Money
5:03 am
Fri June 7, 2013

Translating The Coca-Cola Experience

Lam Thuy Vo / NPR

Originally published on Fri June 7, 2013 11:10 am

For more about Coke's return to Myanmar, listen to Robert Smith's story on Morning Edition.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Planet Money
3:34 am
Fri June 7, 2013

How To Sell Coke To People Who Have Never Had A Sip

Lam Thuy Vo NPR

Originally published on Mon June 10, 2013 3:05 pm

For years, there were only three countries in the world that didn't officially sell Coca-Cola: Cuba, North Korea and Myanmar, formerly known as Burma.

Now, after 60 years, Coke is back in Myanmar. Sanctions were lifted last year on the country. Just this week, Coca-Cola opened its new bottling plant outside of Yangon. Now all the company has to do is figure out a way to sell all that Coke to people who may not remember what it tastes like.

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Planet Money
5:17 pm
Tue May 28, 2013

In A Single ATM, The Story Of A Nation's Economy

A bank in Yangon recently opened the first ATM in Myanmar that's connected to the rest of the world.
Lam Thuy Vo / NPR

Originally published on Tue June 4, 2013 4:35 pm

Nan Htwe Nye works at an elementary school in Yangon, Myanmar. She started trying to use ATM machines a few months ago, and things haven't been going so well.

The machines are often broken, she says. "But," she adds, "we hope it will better in the future." This is, more or less, the story of ATMs — and of banking in general — in Myanmar.

She's visiting the headquarters of CB Bank, at the first ATM in the country that was connected to banks all around the world.

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Planet Money
3:18 am
Fri May 24, 2013

Can This Man Bring Silicon Valley To Yangon?

Lam Thuy Vo NPR

Originally published on Fri May 24, 2013 9:29 am

Like a proud father, Nay Aung opens up his MacBook Air to show me the Myanmar travel website he has built. But we wait 30 seconds for the site to load, and nothing happens.

"Today is a particularly bad day for Internet," he says. This is life in Myanmar today: Even an Internet entrepreneur can't always get online.

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Planet Money
3:12 am
Fri May 10, 2013

Why (Almost) No One In Myanmar Wanted My Money

Lam Thuy Vo / NPR

Originally published on Fri May 10, 2013 7:50 pm

When you arrive in Myanmar, you can see how eager the people are to do business. At the airport in Yangon, new signs in English welcome tourists. A guy in a booth offers to rent me a local cellphone — and he's glad to take U.S. dollars. But when I pull out my money, he shakes his head.

"I'm sorry," he says.

He points to the crease mark in the middle of the $20 bill. No creases allowed.

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Planet Money
3:07 am
Fri March 29, 2013

The Trick To Selling Fancy Wine From New Jersey: Don't Say It's From New Jersey

A sign outside Lou Caracciolo's winery, Amalthea Cellars
Courtesy Amalthea Cellars

Originally published on Fri March 29, 2013 11:14 am

Halfway between the New Jersey Turnpike and the Atlantic City casinos is a little slice of France: Amalthea Cellars. There's an old farmhouse, and a field full of grapevines.

Lou Caracciolo, who founded Amalthea, is walking through the field. "Here's something I put in the ground in 1976," he says. "You have to have a feel for it, and after 30 years I have a pretty good feel for it."

Caracciolo calls himself a hopeless romantic. And, really, you have to be a romantic to try to make a $33 bottle of cabernet sauvignon blend in New Jersey.

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Planet Money
1:39 pm
Mon February 25, 2013

A Computer Fit For The Amish

Adam Davidson NPR

Originally published on Tue February 26, 2013 11:56 am

Last week, I had a story on an Amish trade show. It was mostly about power tools, but there was another other thing that we didn't mention in the online version: The booth selling computers to the Amish.

The key selling point, perhaps not surprisingly, is all the things the computer doesn't do. Like the sign says: No Internet, no video, no music.

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Planet Money
3:46 am
Fri February 22, 2013

At A Trade Show, Power Tools Fit For The Amish

Robert Smith / NPR

Originally published on Fri February 22, 2013 9:59 pm

The Buckeye Tool Expo in Dalton, Ohio, is held in a massive hall filled with bearded men in black hats and women in white bonnets. A few horses and buggies are tied up outside.

The Amish have chosen to forgo many of the delights of the modern world, but they still need to drill, sand and cut wood. This trade expo shows off all the loopholes that let the Amish get their hands on power tools.

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Planet Money
3:18 pm
Fri February 15, 2013

Should The U.S. Import More Doctors?

iStockphoto.com

Originally published on Fri February 15, 2013 4:52 pm

People around the world want the same thing from their doctors. First, do no harm. Second, take a look at this weird bump and tell me if I should get worried.

The job is basically the same in many countries around the world. But the pay is wildly different. The median salary for U.S. doctors is about $250,000 a year. In Western Europe, it's less than half that. In developing countries, the salaries are even lower.

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Planet Money
10:52 am
Mon February 4, 2013

A Union Vote For Chinese Workers Who Assemble iPhones

Workers at a Foxconn plant in Shenzhen, China, in 2010.
AFP AFP/Getty Images

Originally published on Mon February 4, 2013 12:12 pm

The Chinese workers who assemble iPhones, iPads and tons of other electronic devices may soon be able to elect their own union representatives, the FT reports.

Labor unions technically do exist in Chinese factories, but they're typically controlled by management and the government. So a union run by democratic vote of the workers would be a huge shift.

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Planet Money
12:36 pm
Fri October 19, 2012

Watch Our Fake Presidential Candidate's First Real Ad

The fake candidate.
Lam Vo NPR

Originally published on Fri October 19, 2012 7:12 pm

The story so far: A panel of economists from across the political spectrum came up with a presidential platform they could all support. It was a platform that would doom any real candidate. So we created a fake one.

We tested out one of our key ideas — eliminating the mortgage-interest tax deduction — on a focus group. They hated it.

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Planet Money
2:53 am
Fri October 19, 2012

The Candidate Is Fake; The Consultants Are Real

One consultant's vision for our political ad: "I see a horse."
iStockphoto.com

Originally published on Wed October 24, 2012 12:31 pm

When our series began yesterday, we brought together five economists from across the political spectrum and had them create a platform for their dream presidential candidate. It's a platform — Get rid of a tax deduction for homeowners!

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Planet Money
3:32 am
Thu October 18, 2012

A Tax Plan That Economists Love (And Politicians Hate)

The mortgage is going to cost more than you thought.
Paul Sakuma AP

Originally published on Fri October 19, 2012 12:51 pm

Watching a presidential campaign, it's easy to think that the nation is deeply divided over how to fix the economy. But when you talk to economists, it turns out they agree on an enormous number of issues.

So we brought together five economists from across the political spectrum and had them create their dream presidential candidate. Over the next few days, we'll have a series of stories on our economists' dream candidate. We start this morning with some changes to the tax code.

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Planet Money
5:42 am
Wed October 3, 2012

Why New York Is A Hub In The Global Trinket Trade

Lam Thuy Vo NPR

Originally published on Thu October 4, 2012 11:07 am

For more on the junk economy, see this slideshow.

There's a neighborhood in New York City that has always been a mystery to us. Smack dab in the middle of Manhattan, around 29th street, is the wholesale district. There you can find rows of narrow storefronts packed to the ceiling with trinkets. Racks and racks of fake gold chains. Acres of souvenir lighters and walls of belt buckles. Plastic, plastic, plastic toys.

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Planet Money
1:26 pm
Mon October 1, 2012

A Brass Band Plays An Economic Indicator

Originally published on Wed October 3, 2012 3:23 pm

The ISM manufacturing index can be a warning for the rest of the economy. In 2008, the index was one of the first signs that the economy was slowing. Since then, the numbers have been recovering and manufacturers have been expanding. But this June, the number started to get worse.

We asked the No BS! Brass Band to turn these numbers into a song.

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