Friday, April 24, 2009

Planet Money counts to a TRILLION!

I'm sure that readers of this blog don't need me to point out how increasingly vacuous and self-indulgent NPR's Planet Money has become, but the latest installment on this Friday's ME was particularly pointless and lame.

Channa Joffe-Walt and David Kestenbaum set out to provide some perspective for understanding the scale of the recent federal bailouts of financial institutions. However, to do this they decided to recreate a 5th grade math exercise. They considered how long it would take to count to 165 million (the AIG executive bonuses), 45 billion (Bank of America's bailout so far), and 1.2 trillion (total estimated federal bailouts of banks so far). The exciting answer: It takes approximatley 39,000 years to count to 1.2 trillion.

Remarkably, ME gave them five LONG minutes for this. It was infuriating after a long week of severely deficient coverage of actual financial news, such as the superficial coverage ATC gave to credit card legislation, or the 40 seconds ME spent pararaphrasing a New York Times article on the looming Chrysler bankruptcy.

The sad thing is that it actually might have been helpful to provide some real context for the scale of the federal bailouts. However, rather than counting to 1.2 trillion, it would be much more useful to place the bailout figures into contexts that matter, such as comparing the AIG bonuses to the median U.S. household income ($50.2 K in 2007); comparing the $45 B to BOA's ownership equity ($146 B); or comparing the $1.2 T in bailout funds to the U.S GDP ($14.3 T) or the annual U.S. federal spending (approximately $3 T).

Still not exciting, to be sure, but perhaps a little more meaningful than counting for 39,000 years.


StuporMundi said...

I'll take slight issue with what you said here. I did find the conversion of trillions into other "units of measure" to be helpful for context, but not for 5 minutes as you point out. NPR seems to think they need to write to the 11th grade level now.

Glad I discovered your blog. Not only are you doing something I occasionally dabble with on my own blog, but I see you're also from the other twin city in central Illinois that I'm not from. I'll be following your blog regularly.

Incidentally, I've stopped contributing to WILL-AM, with some regrets, because of the intolerable compromise of NPR's integrity over the past 7 or 8 years. I wish there was a way to contribute to WILL, for real, without having my contribution going to NPR programming directly or indirectly.

Anonymous said...

rather than counting to 1.2 trillion, it would be much more useful to place the bailout figures into contexts that matter,"yes indeed.

Geithner wants $1 trillion to back the toxic assets that may be (probably are?) worth nothing.

Some economists think $2 trillion is probably a better minimum estimate.

To date, the hundreds of billions have generated no increased lending (in fact, banks have cut back on lending by 20% or more) and hence no jobs and no investment.

how about instead using that money to finance a massive public works project to completely rebuild the infrastructure of this country (replace old rusting bridges, build new highways and roads, etc) which would put millions of people to work, including many who have been building houses? $2 trillion would cover most of the infrastructure rebuild.

or how about putting the money into a massive effort to wean the US off fossil fuels -- investing in renewables, efficiency and possbily even methods for removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere etc. As Michael Moore has pointed out, the government could basically take over the auto companies (or even buy them outright for much less money than they are giving them now) and start producing public transit and cars and trucks with much higher fuel economy. This would also create millions of new jobs and move the country toward a sustainable economy that was not dependent on oil (and the not on the whims of countries like Sauid Arabia).

or how about setting up a scholarship fund to make college affordable for millions of young Americans?

the list of things that you can do with 1 trillion dollars is very long.

Only an idiot or a crook would give it to banksters who have already defrauded the American public of trillions.

Anonymous said...

Incidentally, I'm counting the years until NPR is no more.

I'd guess it may take more years than I'll be around (and I figure i probably have 20-25 years left).

by the way, I'd guess that Kestenbaum (a physicist) probably has a lot to do with the vacuous "numerology" on Planet Money.

Physicists think that everyone wants to know how high the stack of 1 trillion dollar bills would be just because they think it's coll to calculate. I know the type. I was trained as one.

bbbig!pppink!fffuzzy!bbbunny! said...

"It would stretch all the way to Mars and back" they'd say in their usual lilty, sensationalist manner.

Eep eep, Planet Monkey.

gopol said...

It's easy to count to a trillion if you count by trillions. Doesn't talke long at all. It can take a long time to count to one if you count by trillionths. The idea that one dollar is an indivisible fixed and eternal unit is part of the NPR/CIA/WSJ snow job.

Actually, I'm reading a scifi book called Snow Crash where there are trillion dollar bills: the Meese.


Amen Brother, Amen!

Firstly, its important for NPR to promote is infotainment crap-it fills time. That way NPR doesn't have to worry about accidentally providing substantive reporting. Like comparing the cost of one fighter plane to the cost of providing health insurance to a family of four.

The problem with the "Planet Money" group on NPR, beside it a duplication of Market Place, is that NPR's taken its second rate political Washington Beltway deferential stenographers, er reporters, and now has them using the same poor, lazy, slant techniques for reporting on economy.

With apologies to the late great Frank Zapa, NPR Planet Money is:

Journalist that don't know anything about economics and business reporting stories directed an audience that's economic illiterate. Except in this case, if you read the comments section, the audience is smarter than the reporter.