Robert Smith

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.

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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."

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Episode 820: P Is For Phosphorus

Jan 26, 2018

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.

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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.

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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.

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

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And I'm Audie Cornish.

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Now, a roundup of some of the big stories out of Winter Olympics in Sochi today. A Norwegian athlete became the most decorated Winter Olympian of all time. And there was a bruising loss for host country Russia. Its men's hockey team lost to Finland and is out of the Olympic tournament. Russian fans like Alexander Ustinov(ph) were devastated.

ALEXANDER USTINOV: You know, it's so bad because we lose. We lose. I can't believe it. It's so bad.

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.

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Let's check in on the Winter Olympics now. It's been a rough time so far for team USA. They have only won four gold medals in ski and snowboard slope style and in women's snowboard half pipe. The U.S. has struggled in the more traditional sports of the Winter Olympics. That could, though, change today. The U.S. has the best bobsledder in the world, Steve Holcomb. And he races the two-man today.

NPR's Robert Smith joins us from the Sanki Sliding track in the mountains above Sochi. Robert, good morning.

Transcript

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This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. The big event today at the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi is the U.S.A.-Russia men's hockey game. It is already underway in the Bolshoi Ice Dome. The U.S.A. or Russia can lose and still make the finals but the emotional stakes of these two old rivals meeting today in Russia is huge. NPR's Robert Smith is at the game. He sent us a list of how he prepared for the big event.

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This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

There is a weird contradiction in Olympic hockey: On one hand, these professional players from the NHL arrive in a small town like movie stars.

They show up a week late, trailed by TV cameras and Russians begging for autographs.

And then they have to go back to basics. Early Thursday, members of Team USA were on the ice, doing the kind of simple drills that you'd see in a peewee hockey league.

Transcript

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Now to the Winter Olympics in Sochi, where American snowboarder Shaun White attempted a three-peat today. He was trying to be the first three-time gold medal winner in the half-pipe competition, actually the first American man to win three consecutive golds in any Winter Olympic event. And NPR's Robert Smith watched the action today and joins us now from outside the half-pipe venue. Robert, how did things turn out for Shaun White?

On Monday, Norwegian Ole Einar Bjoerndalen came a ski-length away from winning a 13th Olympic medal and becoming the most decorated athlete ever at the Winter Games.

The biathlon pursuit Olympic event — cross-country skiing with rifle shooting — is a pretty devious race. The fastest man goes first, and then everyone else in the race tries to catch him before the finish line. And in Monday's competition, Bjoerndalen went first.

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