David Kestenbaum

Episode 680: Anatomy Of A Scam

15 hours ago

Note: This episode originally ran in January 2016.

The ads are on telephone poles across America: "Work from home. Make thousands of dollars a week. Call this number!" And all over the internet, now, too. Today on the show, we find out what happens when you decide, yeah, that sounds pretty good. It's the story of a scam that will not die. We have secret documents laying out how it all works. And recordings of actual phone calls.

Climate change seems like this complicated, intractable problem. But maybe it doesn't have to be.

In 2013, we talked to a couple economists about a very simple idea that could solve the climate change problem: Tax carbon emissions. A carbon tax could be paired with cuts in the income tax. It would drive down emissions without picking winners or losers, and without creating complicated regulations. It all seemed so elegant. So doable. At the time they made a bold prediction.

Note: This episode originally aired in 2016.

A lot of people dream of not paying their taxes. Larry Williams did just that. He scoured the fine print of IRS code, talked to lawyers, settled on a plan, and then...stopped paying taxes.

Today on the show, we tell his story. It starts on a camping trip, winds through a jail cell in Australia and a courtroom in California, and it ends up in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Note: Today's show originally ran in January of 2016.

A few years back, a famous psychologist published a series of studies that found people could predict the future — not all the time, but more often than if they were guessing by chance alone.

The paper left psychologists with two options.

"Either we have to conclude that ESP is true," says Brian Nosek, a psychologist at the University of Virginia, "or we have to change our beliefs about the right ways to do science."

Note: Today's show originally ran in January 2012.

In 1978, a group of farmers in a Chinese village called Xiaogang wrote a secret contract and hid it in the roof of a mud hut.

They were afraid the document might get them executed. Instead, it wound up completely transforming the Chinese economy.

On today's show, we travel to Xiaogang, and hear the farmers' story.

This episode originally aired on May 13, 2011.

On January 8, 1835, all the big political names in Washington gathered to celebrate what President Andrew Jackson had just accomplished. A senator rose to make the big announcement: "Gentlemen ... the national debt ... is PAID." The huzzahs rose up around the halls of Congress, or something like that.

The Internet Archive and the University of Maryland launch such a library, and it's free to anyone with an Internet connection. Kids helped design the library, and they had final say on the books. NPR's David Kestenbaum reports.

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Now we have the story of information you get from your doctor as well as information you do not.

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The online furniture company Wayfair is now one of the most shorted stocks. Our Planet Money team talks to its CEO about what it's like to be running a company when some investors are betting on your fall.

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On January 1, 20 states raise their minimum wage and several states have additional increases planned in the coming months. Yesterday, we learned that Walmart will raise its base pay to $9 an hour this April.

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College textbooks are expensive. You probably already know this. A new biology or economics book can cost $300.

And prices have been soaring, doubling over the past decade, growing faster than the price of housing, cars, even health care.

But, surprisingly, the amount students actually spend on textbooks has not been rising. In fact, the best data we could find on this shows students have been spending a bit less over time.

The 1964 World's Fair showcased jet packs and new miracles of science. There was an entire house made of Formica. You could wipe it clean with a sponge!

The people who put the fair together tried to imagine how the future would look. Here are a few predictions, and how they actually turned out.

1. We had picture phones back then?

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The other day I went down to the little shop in the lobby of our building for a snack. I couldn't decide whether I wanted regular M&M's or Peanut Butter M&M's so I bought them both. On the way back upstairs to the office, I noticed something strange on the labels. Each had cost $1, but the pack of Peanut Butter M&M's was a very tiny bit lighter: 0.06 ounces lighter!

I wanted to know why, so I called a couple of experts and asked for their theories:

Theory No. 1: Peanut Butter M&M's are more expensive to make.

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The Stradivarius violin gets its name from master craftsman Antonio Stradivari. When he died in 1737, his secrets died with him: No one has ever been able to duplicate the sound of the violins or violas he made.

His instruments have taken on a mythical quality. Today they fetch millions of dollars at auctions; Sotheby's will soon auction off a viola that it expects to sell for $45 million.

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And now, 4,000 years of economic growth in seven minutes. This story comes, of course, from our Planet Money team. David Kestenbaum and Jacob Goldstein bring us the history of light and how the world came what it is today.

Buying insurance doesn't always feel like it makes economic sense, especially for young healthy people. So why are they still willing to pay?

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