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
2:30 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
11:43 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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Shootings In Newtown, Conn.
9:43 pm
Fri December 14, 2012

Shooter's Family Connections Begin To Emerge

Originally published on Mon December 17, 2012 10:27 am

Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

And I'm Audie Cornish.

We begin this hour with the tragedy in Connecticut. This morning, around nine o'clock, a young man walked into the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut and began shooting. Federal law enforcement officials now tell NPR the gunman was 20-year-old Adam Lanza of Newtown.

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Planet Money
3:28 am
Thu December 13, 2012

Will A $1.9 Billion Settlement Change Banks' Behavior?

Ben Stansall AFP/Getty Images

Originally published on Thu December 13, 2012 11:55 am

If a kid does something bad and you want to discipline him — give him a timeout, say, or take away a toy — there are some basic principles that seem to work.

The punishment needs to happen quickly after the bad behavior. And it needs to be significant enough to get noticed. Those rules aren't just for kids; they need to hold true for any type of punishment to be effective.

But if you're a federal regulator punishing a bank, it can be tough to be swift enough and to levee a penalty that's severe enough to make a difference.

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Election 2012
7:44 pm
Tue November 6, 2012

Some New York City Polling Sites Run On Generators

Originally published on Tue November 6, 2012 8:08 pm

The aftermath of Superstorm Sandy has complicated voting in the New York City area. Robert Siegel talks with Robert Smith.

Election 2012
5:19 pm
Tue November 6, 2012

New York Moves Polling Places Hit By Sandy

Lynn Neary talks with Robert Smith, who was covering Election Day in New York.

NPR Story
10:48 am
Sat November 3, 2012

Manhattan Celebrates The Return Of Power

Transcript

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. The lights are back on in Manhattan this morning, but the effects of Sandy are still being felt across many states. Hardest hit, of course, are New York and New Jersey and we have several reports this hour. First, NPR's Robert Smith was in Lower Manhattan last night, as much of the service was restored, and as he reports, it came not a moment too soon

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Around the Nation
5:31 pm
Thu November 1, 2012

New Yorkers Struggle With Limited Transit Options

Originally published on Thu November 1, 2012 6:42 pm

Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

New Yorkers were ready to get back to work today. Unfortunately, the region's transportation system was not. Commuters to Manhattan overwhelmed the barely operating bus and train system. From Brooklyn, NPR's Robert Smith reports on the resulting long lines and frustration.

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Planet Money
12:50 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

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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
4:28 pm
Thu October 18, 2012

Two More Policies Economists Love And Politicians Hate

Going up.
Paul Sakuma AP

Originally published on Wed October 24, 2012 12:32 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 a platform their dream presidential candidate. This is the second in our four-part series. We'll have more tomorrow.

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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
6:35 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
2:16 am
Thu September 13, 2012

The Fed's Other Big Power

Give us a sign.
Alex Brandon AP

Originally published on Fri September 14, 2012 2:06 pm

We think of the power of the Federal Reserve as the power of money. After all, the Fed is the one institution that can create U.S. dollars out of thin air.

But recently, Ben Bernanke has argued that the Fed has another, critical power: the power of words. And when you're the chairman of the Fed, a few words can go a long way.

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Planet Money
2:05 pm
Fri August 10, 2012

How A Pasta Factory Got People To Show Up For Work

Robert Smith NPR

Originally published on Mon August 13, 2012 10:06 am

Zoe Chace and Robert Smith are reporting from European borders this week. This story is about the unofficial border within one country — the border that divides northern and southern Italy. This is the fourth story in a four-part series.

A decade ago, the Barilla pasta factory in Foggia, Italy, had a big problem with people skipping work. The absentee rate was around 10 percent.

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Planet Money
2:59 am
Fri August 10, 2012

Why Don't More Unemployed Spaniards Get Jobs In Germany?

Jobs ahead.
iStockphoto.com

Originally published on Mon August 13, 2012 11:22 am

Zoe Chace and Robert Smith are reporting from European borders this week. This is the third story in a four-part series.

The eurozone was supposed to create one big labor market by making it easy to cross borders for work.

But Gerhard Wiegelmann, a CEO in Stuttgart, Germany, can't find enough workers to staff his company — even with unemployment in Spain over 20 percent. He's had to turn down projects because he can't hire enough people.

Read more
Planet Money
12:45 pm
Thu August 9, 2012

The Marijuana Trade In The Euro's Birthplace

Marijuana in Maastricht
Ermindo Armino AP

Originally published on Mon August 13, 2012 10:26 am

Zoe Chace and Robert Smith are reporting from European borders this week. This is the second story in a four-part series.

Maastricht, a town in the Netherlands, is known largely for two things.

  1. The treaty that created the euro was signed there.
  2. Marijuana is legal there, and it's sold at "coffee shops" around town.

This is the story of the troubled relationship between those two claims to fame.

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Planet Money
3:22 am
Thu August 9, 2012

The Building That's In Two Countries At Once

Hans Hover has one foot in Germany, and one in the Netherlands.
Robert Smith NPR

Originally published on Thu August 9, 2012 2:43 pm

Zoe Chace and Robert Smith are reporting from European borders this week. This is the first story in a four-part series.

A metal strip on the floor of Eurode Business Center marks the border between Germany and the Netherlands.

On one side of the building, there's a German mailbox and a German policeman. On the other side, a Dutch mailbox and a Dutch policeman.

The building was supposed to make it easy to work in both countries. But it's also a reminder of how the European dream isn't yet a reality.

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Planet Money
4:11 pm
Fri July 20, 2012

Just How Blind Are Blind Trusts, Anyway?

J.D. Pooley Getty Images

Originally published on Mon July 23, 2012 10:32 am

As Mitt Romney has faced questions about his investments and tax returns, the likely Republican presidential nominee has responded with two words of explanation: blind trust.

Romney keeps most of his wealth in a blind trust designed to prevent him from knowing exactly where his money is and what it's doing. It's a long tradition for presidents and candidates, though anyone can set one up if he wants to.

But it turns out that not all blind trusts are equally blind. Some are cast into complete and utter darkness. Others are more nearsighted.

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Planet Money
11:08 am
Mon July 9, 2012

Identifying The Real Victims In The LIBOR Scandal

LIBOR affects many consumer credit rates, from mortgages to credit cards.
Theo Francis NPR

Originally published on Wed July 11, 2012 5:16 pm

A lot of the coverage of the LIBOR scandal has focused on the ways that Barclays tried to manipulate LIBOR lower during the financial crisis, to make the bank look more secure. This has led some listeners to ask a good question: if rates were being shoved down, doesn't that help consumers? LIBOR, after all, is a financial benchmark that shows up in adjustable rate mortgages and other loans.

Read more
Planet Money
11:53 am
Fri July 6, 2012

Rigging LIBOR: Banking Scandal Hits Home (Literally)

Lefteris Pitarakis AP

Originally published on Mon July 30, 2012 9:20 pm

The biggest scandal in the world right now has nothing to do with sex or celebrities. It's about an interest rate called LIBOR, or the London Interbank Offered Rate.

Most Americans probably never heard of LIBOR. When I first moved to New York, I hadn't. Back then, I could barely afford my apartment and got an adjustable rate mortgage. And so I wondered: When my rate adjusts, how will I know how much I'll be paying?

I searched through all the documents and it was right there — LIBOR. I would be paying a few percentage points above whatever LIBOR was.

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Planet Money
3:16 am
Thu June 28, 2012

Going Public Is A Hassle

Meh.
Richard Drew AP

Originally published on Wed July 11, 2012 5:09 pm

Here's a classic story of how a multimillion-dollar company gets started.

A young guy named Seung Bak is on a trip to China. He gets back to his hotel room late one night and turns on the TV.

"I'm flipping through channels, and in the middle of China they are showing Korean dramas all around the clock," Bak says.

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Planet Money
12:17 pm
Tue June 26, 2012

Hiding In Every Euro: Signs Of Doom!

Lam Thuy Vo / NPR

We always liked the lofty design of euro notes. Until Planet Money reader Peter Minnig wrote in to point out the secret messages hidden in the notes — clues that suggest all may not end well for the euro.

What follows are a combination of clues Minnig pointed out, and those we found ourselves.

(Sorry about that giant "Specimen" printed across the bills. We're just following the European Central Bank's anti-counterfeiting rules.)



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Planet Money
3:04 am
Fri May 4, 2012

Food Trucks Seek 'That Mystical Spot'

Lam Thuy Vo NPR

Originally published on Mon May 7, 2012 2:55 pm

The Rickshaw Dumpling Truck is a retired postal van, painted red and filled with Chinese dumplings. I'm riding shotgun with Kenny Lao, the van's co-owner. It's a weekday morning, and we're driving into Manhattan looking for a killer spot to set up shop for the day.

"I think there is that mystical spot in midtown that every truck owner dreams of," Lao says. "Easy parking. It's a wide sidewalk. There's no restaurant but there's lots of offices."

There are 3,000 year-round food trucks and carts competing for that mystical spot. And no one has an official place to park.

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Planet Money
3:00 am
Thu April 26, 2012

On The Million-Dollar Trail Of A Mystery SuperPAC Donor

Some superPAC donors are hiding from public scrutiny.
iStockphoto.com

Originally published on Thu April 26, 2012 11:19 am

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Planet Money
12:01 am
Fri March 2, 2012

What The IRS Could Learn From Mormons

The money Mormons tithe goes to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints headquarters in Salt Lake City, Utah, and then is distributed to congregations around the world.
Douglas C. Pizac AP

Many religious traditions stress the importance of charity. But Mormons are remarkable for the amount and the precision with which they give to their church.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints teaches that each Mormon in good standing should tithe 10 percent of his or her income. The money goes right to church headquarters in Salt Lake City and then is distributed back to congregations around the world.

"That's written in stone, and preached from the pulpit," says Gordon Dahl, an economist at the University of California, San Diego, who is Mormon.

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Planet Money
5:33 pm
Fri February 3, 2012

Who Killed Lard?

Old school.
Steve Snodgrass Flickr

Originally published on Mon February 6, 2012 11:01 am

Ron Silver, the owner of Bubby's restaurant in Brooklyn, recently put a word on his menu you don't often see anymore: lard. The white, creamy, processed fat from a pig. And he didn't use the word just once.

For a one-night-only "Lard Exoneration Dinner", Silver served up lard fried potatoes. And root vegetables, baked in lard. Fried chicken, fried in lard. Roasted fennel glazed with lard sugar and sea salt. Pies, with lard inside and out. All from lard he made himself in the kitchen.

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Planet Money
4:58 pm
Fri January 27, 2012

Rethinking The Oreo For Chinese Consumers

Kraft Foods has reinvented the Oreo for Chinese consumers. It's latest offering in China: straw-shaped wafers with vanilla-flavored cream filling.
Kraft Foods

Everyone knows what an Oreo cookie is supposed to be like. It's round, black and white, and intensely sweet. Has been for 100 years. But sometimes, in order to succeed in the world, even the most iconic product has to adapt.

In China, that meant totally reconsidering what gives an Oreo its Oreoness.

At first, though, Kraft Foods thought that the Chinese would love the Oreo. Who doesn't? They launched the product there in 1996 as a clone of the American version.

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Election 2012
4:00 am
Wed January 11, 2012

Ron Paul Captures 2nd Place In N.H. Primary

As expected, GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney won the New Hampshire primary. Texas Rep. Ron Paul clinched second place — ahead of former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman. Paul told a crowd of supporters that he was nibbling at the heels of the front-runner.

Planet Money
4:50 am
Fri December 30, 2011

Coconut Water Companies Sell Image, Not Taste

godutchbaby Flickr

Originally published on Wed January 4, 2012 6:13 pm

A couple of years ago if you wanted to drink coconut water, you had to buy your own coconut, bring it to your kitchen, and start whacking away with a knife.

Today, you can find packaged coconut water in a convenience store, Wal-Mart or your friendly neighborhood yoga studio.

"I think it was a great year for coconut water, " says Alejandra Simon, an assistant manager at the Laughing Lotus yoga studio in New York City. "I can't walk down the street without seeing someone with coconut water in their hands."

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