David Kestenbaum

David Kestenbaum is a correspondent for NPR, covering science, energy issues and, most recently, the global economy for NPR's multimedia project Planet Money. David has been a science correspondent for NPR since 1999. He came to journalism the usual way — by getting a Ph.D. in physics first.

In his years at NPR, David has covered science's discoveries and its darker side, including the Northeast blackout, the anthrax attacks and the collapse of the New Orleans levees. He has also reported on energy issues, particularly nuclear and climate change.

David has won awards from the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Physical Society and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.

David worked briefly on the show This American Life, and set up a radio journalism program in Cambodia on a Fulbright fellowship. He also teaches a journalism class at Johns Hopkins University.

David holds a bachelor's of science degree in physics from Yale University and a doctorate in physics from Harvard University.

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Planet Money
1:24 am
Fri December 14, 2012

Why A Principal Created His Own Currency

David Kestenbaum NPR

Originally published on Fri December 14, 2012 12:43 pm

Shawn Rux took over as principal of MS 53, a New York City middle school, last year. At the time, 50 or 60 kids were absent every day. You could understand why they stayed away: The school was chaos.

Twenty-two teachers had quit, the entire office staff had quit, and hundreds of kids had been suspended. The school was given a grade of F from the city's department of education.

"It was in a bad place," Rux says.

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Planet Money
5:48 am
Sat November 17, 2012

A Sequester Is A 'Jelly-Like Mass,' And Other Notes On Fiscal-Cliff Jargon

Charles Dharapak AP

Here's a quick rundown on three of the most impenetrable terms related to the fiscal cliff. For more, see our post, The Fiscal Cliff In Three And A Half Graphics.

1. Sequester

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Planet Money
2:04 am
Thu November 15, 2012

Why Coke Cost A Nickel For 70 Years

An oilcloth sign advertising Coca-Cola from 1905.
The Coca-Cola Company

Originally published on Mon November 19, 2012 12:04 pm

Prices change; that's fundamental to how economies work.

And yet: In 1886, a bottle of Coke cost a nickel. It was also a nickel in 1900, 1915 and 1930. In fact, 70 years after the first Coke was sold, you could still buy a bottle for a nickel.

Three wars, the Great Depression, hundreds of competitors — none of it made any difference for the price of Coke. Why not?

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Planet Money
2:16 pm
Tue November 6, 2012

A Hidden Safety Net, Made Visible By The Storm

Shopping carts full of food damaged by Sandy await disposal at Fairway.
Seth Wenig AP

Originally published on Thu November 8, 2012 2:54 pm

The Fairway supermarket in Red Hook, Brooklyn is the sort of place New Yorkers, accustomed to cramped spaces, talk about with amazement. It's an actual, full-size supermarket, right at the edge of New York Harbor.

It's a beautiful setting, but one that was diastrous last week, when Sandy came through.

"There were five feet of water throughout the store," Bill Sanford, the president of the company told me. "Everything was submerged."

They had to throw out dumpsters worth of food. Chicken, fish, vegetables.

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Planet Money
1:16 pm
Thu October 4, 2012

The Accountant Who Changed The World

A page from Pacioli's math encyclopedia, Summa de Arithmetica, Geometria, Proportioni et Proportionalita.
via Jane Gleeson-White

Originally published on Fri October 5, 2012 2:04 pm

The story of the birth of accounting begins with numbers. In the 1400s, much of Europe was still using Roman numerals, and finding it really hard to easily add or subtract. (Try adding MCVI to XCIV.)

But fortunately, Arabic numerals (1, 2, 3, 4, etc.) started catching on, and with those numbers, merchants in Venice developed a revolutionary system we now call "double-entry" bookkeeping. This is how it works:

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Planet Money
1:25 am
Fri September 28, 2012

He Won't Tell You His Name, But He'll Help You Hide Your Money

Meet Adam Wolf*, your asset protection adviser. (*Not his real name.)
via Global Wealth Protection

Originally published on Sat September 29, 2012 5:11 pm

We set up our shell companies. Then we wondered: What do people actually do with shell companies?

One popular use, it turns out, is what professionals call "asset protection." Ordinary people call this "hiding money."

Maybe you're a surgeon worried a patient might sue you and take everything you have. Or you want to hide money from your ex (or your soon-to-be ex).

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Planet Money
1:32 am
Thu September 20, 2012

Insurance Companies Send Out Rebate Checks; Economists Get Nervous

iStockphoto.com

Originally published on Thu September 20, 2012 3:41 pm

Nearly 13 million Americans have gotten, or will soon be getting, rebates from their health insurance companies. This is because of a provision in the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) that's supposed to force insurance companies to run better.

But while the idea of getting a check from your health insurance company may sound great, some economists worry this rule could actually make health insurance more expensive.

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Planet Money
12:37 pm
Fri September 14, 2012

Even If You're All-Powerful, It's Hard To Fix The Economy

This guy lives in a computer. Can you get him a job?
Walt Disney Pictures The Kobal Collection

Originally published on Tue September 18, 2012 12:43 pm

The world inside Mark Zandi's computer model feels pretty familiar. It's full of people who are worried about the economy. Their homes are being foreclosed on. They're paying more for gas. Something like 13 million of them can't find jobs.

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Planet Money
1:42 pm
Mon August 27, 2012

A Father Of High-Speed Trading Thinks We Should Slow Down

Thomas Peterffy, shown here in 2010
Brendan Smialowski Getty Images

Originally published on Tue August 28, 2012 1:54 pm

First, three stories from Thomas Peterffy's life as a trader:

Story #1:

When Peterffy was a kid growing up in communist Hungary in the 1950s his buddy went to Austria and brought back a pack of Juicy Fruit gum. Peterffy bought the pack, broke the sticks of gum up into little pieces, and sold them at a profit. The principal at his school was not amused. "Where's your communist conscience?" the principal asked.

Not surprisingly, given story #1, Peterffy moved to the U.S. as a young man.

Story #2:

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Planet Money
2:24 pm
Fri July 27, 2012

Losing With LIBOR: One Trader's Story

London-based Barclays Bank agreed to pay a $453 million fine over charges it manipulated the London Interbank Offered Rate — LIBOR — a key global interest rate.
Oli Scarff Getty Images

Originally published on Fri July 27, 2012 4:02 pm

We've been talking a lot lately about what's been dubbed the "LIBOR rate fixing scandal," where some of the biggest banks in the world have been accused of manipulating a key global interest rate.

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Planet Money
1:06 am
Thu July 5, 2012

The Farmer And The Commerce Clause

The U.S. Supreme Court, 70 years after rejecting Roscoe Filburn's bid to limit the federal government's power to regulate commerce.
Chip Somodevilla Getty Images

Originally published on Thu July 5, 2012 8:25 pm

Last week's Supreme Court ruling on the health care law might have made Roscoe Filburn a little happier.

Filburn was an Ohio dairy farmer who had a beef with the federal government, one he took to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1942. He lost.

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Planet Money
11:30 am
Tue May 8, 2012

Nobel Laureate: 'I've Been Wrong So Often, I Don't Find It Extraordinary At All'

"I'm 101 at the moment," Ronald Coase said.
University of Chicago

Originally published on Wed May 9, 2012 5:07 pm

I recently had a brief conversation with Ronald Coase.

"I'm 101 at the moment," he told me. "I get older by the minute."

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Planet Money
12:49 am
Fri April 27, 2012

When Should A Country Abandon Its Own Money?

Enough already with the krona?
Jesse Garrison Flickr

Originally published on Mon May 7, 2012 10:16 am

Iceland is a tiny nation in a big financial mess. It's still recovering from the aftermath of the 2008 global economic crisis, which caused a domestic banking collapse.

Its currency, the krona, is also in really bad shape. That's led Icelanders to pose an existential currency question: Should they abandon the krona?

One key problem is size. Iceland has about as many people as Staten Island, so there just aren't that many people on the planet who need to use the krona.

"There are more people using Disney dollars," says Arsaell Valfells, an Icelandic economist.

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Planet Money
10:01 pm
Wed March 14, 2012

China's Giant Pool Of Dollars

There is an advantage to strengthening the currency for people in China: It makes their imports cheaper. A clerk counts bank notes in a bank in Nantong, east China's Jiangsu Province.
Xinhua /Landov

Originally published on Thu March 15, 2012 9:08 am

China's central bank is sitting on a giant pool of U.S. dollars. It's the world's biggest holder of foreign reserves, worth over $3 trillion at last count.

All that money has piled up because every year, China exports more than it imports; it runs a trade surplus.

There are lots of reasons for China's trade surplus. In the past few decades, China has built an amazing manufacturing ecosystem. It's become the factory to the world.

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Planet Money
1:38 pm
Mon February 27, 2012

From Cell Phones To Cigarettes: The Long Arm Of The Chinese Government

How many government-owned businesses do you see in this picture?
Ed Jones AFP/Getty Images

The streets of Beijing and Shanghai feel like an entrepreneurial free-for-all, full of mom-and-pop stores and street vendors selling snacks and cheap toys.

But when you pull back the curtain, you see a different picture: a country where the government still controls huge swaths of the economy.

When you're in China, there's a good chance you're doing business with the government every time you:

  • make a call on your cellphone (the government owns the country's biggest cellphone network)
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Planet Money
10:00 am
Thu February 16, 2012

Is China An Economic Miracle, Or A Bubble Waiting To Pop?

This can't go on forever.
Jacob Goldstein NPR

Originally published on Fri February 17, 2012 10:18 am

China's economy sailed through the financial crisis unscathed — at least in the short run.

When the global crisis hit, the country's government-owned banks started lending out lots more money. The money came largely from the savings accounts of ordinary Chinese people. It went largely to finance big construction projects, which helped keep China's economy growing.

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