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How Four Drinking Buddies Saved Brazil

This is a story about how an economist and his buddies tricked the people of Brazil into saving the country from rampant inflation. They had a crazy, unlikely plan, and it worked.  Listen here.

Why U.S. Taxpayers Are Paying Brazilian Cotton Growers

Planet Money is making the most thoroughly explained t-shirt in the history of the universe. Last week, we nailed down the design. Today’s task: Buying four bales of cotton.

Turns out, the United States and Brazil are in the middle of a war over cotton. It’s an emotional and quiet war complete with global retaliation and a $147 million bribe.  It all started with a man named Pedro Camargo.  Listen here.

10,000 Brainiacs in Haiti

Unprecedented amounts of money have been pledged to Haitian relief in the last few months. American households have given over $1 billion and in March, 120 countries pledged over $9 billion(!) to rebuild. The only problem is that – historically – blanketing a country in aid and money has never really worked so well.  We follow one Haitian farmer, with the modest crop of two mango trees, through a byzantine system of aid agencies, NGOs, and government bureaucracy as the farmer tries the impossible — to get some plastic milk crates to store and transport her mangoes.  Listen here.

Why Greece is in a Debt Crisis

After Greece joined the European Union, its government started borrowing money and spending lavishly. It nearly defaulted on its debts and needed a massive bailout. The Greek debt crisis unfolded, not just in Athens, but at a bond trading desk in Newport Beach, California.  Listen here.

We Bought a Toxic Asset; You Can Watch It Die

Toxic assets — home mortgages packaged into complicated bonds that no one wanted to touch when the housing bubble collapsed — are starting to trade again.  We wanted to figure out how this chapter of financial history will end.  So we decided to buy a toxic asset of our own.  You can here the story here and the longer podcast version hereHere you can find a graphic of our new pet.

Soon after we bought her, we found out that our toxic asset has a large and troubled family.  The Federal Reserve bought her younger sister and a lot of other weird stuff while trying to save the banking system.  The carpenters of NJ and the Boilermakers of America bought another sibling during the height of the boom and now they are suing their toxic asset.

We are tracking our toxic asset’s progress here.  So far it’s not going well.

A Failed Bank: One Year Later

One year ago this week, we brought you the story of a bank failure. The Bank of Clark County was a small bank in southwest Washington state. One Friday, in what has become a weekly ritual of the Great Recession, the FDIC stepped in to take it over. We told you about the banker who lost his job. The federal agent who ran the takeover. So what has happened to these people, and the bank’s assets, since then?  Listen here or find the longer podcast version here.

Where Were the Watchmen?

Since Congress hasn’t held 1930’s-style hearings into the causes of the financial crisis, we stage one of our own.  The subject? The regulators and watchdogs who were supposed to be overseeing the banks and the finance industry—to make sure things wouldn’t blow up like they have.  Clearly something went wrong. Today we pound a gavel and ask: where were the watchmen?   Listen here.

Health Overhaul May Cure Pre-Existing Conditions

One part of the health care overhaul bill does seem to have broad support. It would change the individual insurance market — that’s where people buy insurance on their own, rather than through an employer. Under the measure, insurance companies would not be allowed to deny you coverage based on pre-existing medical conditions.  Listen here.

Why MRIs Are So Much Cheaper in Japan

Prices for MRIs are much cheaper in Japan than in the U.S. The difference in prices provides some insight into why health care costs are so high in the U.S. There’s something else at work, too. MRIs are very popular in Japan: Some people get them every year even if they aren’t sick.  Listen here.

Price Disparities Common In Health Care System

Prices for identical goods and services are usually the same or very close at competing businesses. That’s not the case when it comes to health care — not by a long shot. For example, in Pensacola, Fla., there are huge price disparities for MRI tests. It’s not a matter of greed or poor decision-making by MRI providers or a lack of consumer awareness. For better or worse, it’s the way our insurance-based health care system works.  Listen here.