Robert Smith

Episode 657: The Tale Of The Onion King

2 hours ago

This show originally ran on October 14, 2015.

Vince Kosuga was an onion farmer back in the 1930s. A pretty successful one. But farming wasn't enough for him. He also liked to make bets on wheat and other crops.

Then he had an idea: Why not try his luck with the crop he knew best?

In Dakar, Senegal, people can't just flush their poop away. As is the case in many places in the world, it is pretty common for toilets to flush into a septic tank that needs to be emptied every so often.

And there are two ways to do it: the "cheap guy" — or the cartel that deals exclusively with raw sewage.

An example of the "cheap guy" is a man who calls himself Djiby. He says he is a baay pelle, which means "the father of the shovel." Father Shovel scoops out the septic tank with his shovel and bucket, and then he empties the bucket into a hole in the street.

Poop is big business in Dakar, Senegal. That's because a lot of the homes have septic tanks, which need to be cleaned out regularly. The best way to clean your tank is by hiring a proper truck, which arrives with a vacuum.

The problem is that for years, the guys who drove the poop trucks operated as a cartel, and they squashed competition and kept prices high. So a lot of people turned to a cheaper alternative: Men who clear out septic tanks by hand, with shovels and buckets, and basically bury the poop in the street. It's terrible work and bad for the environment.

The Beautiful Indicator

Jun 25, 2018

Everyone's caught up in World Cup fever, and Team Indicator is not immune. Today on the show: Cardiff, Stacey, and the gang sneak out of the office and set up shop in an Irish pub to explore the many ways in which the world's largest sporting event neatly explains the modern economy.

Music by Drop Electric. Find us: Twitter/ Facebook.

The popularity of fondue wasn't an accident. It was planned by a cartel of Swiss cheese makers, which ruled the Swiss economy for 80 years.

On today's show: we cut into the Swiss cheese. It's a story about what happens when well-meaning folks decide the rules of economics don't apply to them. And got the world to eat gobs of melted fat. Also, we meet a man known as the 'Cheese Rebel.'

Episode 835: Tariffied

Apr 13, 2018

Trade war! It all started when President Donald Trump announced a new set of tariffs on Chinese steel and aluminum. China responded with a list of tariffs of its own. Then, President Trump made a bigger, $50 billion list of tariffs. So China matched Trump's list with its own $50 billion list.

If you look at the lists closely, you can learn a lot about what each side knows about the other. Today on the show, we examine China's hit list, and find some surprising stories inside.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Listeners have questions. Google has answers. Sometimes, though, listeners have questions that Google can't answer. Like: Why is the lighting in hotel rooms so weird? How can a cooked and spiced rotisserie chicken be cheaper than an uncooked chicken? What is a Giffen Good, and why does demand for it go up when its price goes up? And why does it say on a coupon that it's worth 1/100th of a cent?

If you have a question you want us to answer, email us at planetmoney@npr.org. Or better yet, tell us a great story about economics that answered a question you had.

Journalists are a jealous bunch. We steal each other's stories, and sources. And when someone writes a story that we're envious of, we usually curse them under our breath, and move on. But once a year at Planet Money, we give a shout out to our favorite work.

This year, our Valentines go out to:

-Eric Konigsberg, for finding out what people do all day at WeWork 'coworking' spaces in his awesomely-titled article, "Sriracha Is for Closers."

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

Phosphorus is in pretty much everything: bombs, toothpaste, cheese. It's irreplaceable. Nothing can live without it and it's only economically recoverable in a few places. Like Morocco, and China.

Most of our phosphorus—or phosphate, which is its usable form—goes into fertilizer. The farmers pile it on, and then the bulk of it just washes right off into the rivers and then ocean. It's really hard to get phosphorus out of the ocean, which means, as far as we're concerned, that phosphorus is pretty much gone once it's in the water.

In 1992, Douglas Bruce proposed a measure called the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights, TABOR for short. TABOR was effectively a tax-limitation measure that said, whenever a government wanted more money — whenever it wanted to increase taxes — it had to put the question on the ballot. Increased taxes for roads? The voters would get to decide. Better schools? Put it on the ballot. But put the price there first.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Most people go to the fair to ride the Tilt-A-Whirl or eat funnel cakes, but not our Planet Money team. Robert Smith and Kenny Malone traveled to the Ohio State Fair to learn the secret art of selling people things they might not need.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Spring is just a few weeks away.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Hallelujah.

CORNISH: Sunny days, flowers, bees...

SHAPIRO: Buzzsaws, nail guns, plywood...

Gary Snyder has holes in his garden fence.

That's not normally the kind of oversight you'd find in a well-kept British garden in a market town like Chipping Norton, 75 miles northwest of London. But the holes are there for a reason: hedgehogs.

A groundbreaking law on domestic abuse takes effect today in England and Wales. It expands the meaning of domestic violence to include psychological and emotional torment. So it is now a crime there to control your spouse, say, through social media or online stalking. Experts in domestic violence say it represents a new way to look at the whole issue of abuse.

If you are eating turkey this Christmas out of some sense of tradition, food historian Ivan Day says, put down that drumstick. After studying English cookbooks hundreds of years old, Day says the giant bird isn't even that traditional. Besides, he says, "It's a dry wasteland of flavorless meat."

Sure, the first turkey came to England in the 1600s. It was an exotic "treat" from the New World. But a time traveler from Shakespeare's time wouldn't understand why everyone in the modern world was having the same dull bird on Christmas night.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

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

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

And I'm Audie Cornish.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

If there's one sport in the Winter Olympics you can do with your eyes closed, it's bobsled.

The bobsled brakeman does about five seconds of hard work, jumps in the sled and can then relax a bit. During the women's bobsled competition tonight in Sochi, we should keep our eyes open, because it's fun to watch.

The women call themselves brakemen — not brake women or brake person — in a nod to the fact that bobsled was an all-male sport until 2002.

Even now, the women only race two-man — not four-man — bobsled.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Pages