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
1:46 am
Fri June 28, 2013

Economists Have A One-Page Solution To Climate Change

CX Matiash AP

Originally published on Fri June 28, 2013 8:45 am

Climate change seems like this complicated problem with a million pieces. But Henry Jacoby, an economist at MIT's business school, says there's really just one thing you need to do to solve the problem: Tax carbon emissions.

"If you let the economists write the legislation," Jacoby says, "it could be quite simple." He says he could fit the whole bill on one page.

Basically, Jacoby would tax fossil fuels in proportion to the amount of carbon they release. That would make coal, oil and natural gas more expensive. That's it; that's the whole plan.

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Planet Money
1:03 am
Thu June 20, 2013

A Surprising Barrier To Clean Water: Human Nature

Rodan Gatia gets water from a spring. A chlorine dispenser is behind her.
Jacob Goldstein NPR

Originally published on Mon June 24, 2013 8:38 am

In many parts of the developing world, drinking a glass of water can be deadly — especially for young children, who can die of diarrheal diseases contracted from dirty water.

So getting clean water to people in the developing world has been a top priority for aid groups for a long time. But it's been a surprisingly hard problem to solve.

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Planet Money
1:34 pm
Tue May 14, 2013

Who Hides Money Outside The Country?

Belize, the home of our offshore company, Unbelizable.
Nagyman Flickr

Originally published on Tue May 14, 2013 5:15 pm

Over the past decade, some 39,000 people have come forward voluntarily to tell the IRS about offshore money they haven't been paying taxes on. This group provides a small window into the world of people who are hiding money in offshore havens. (It's a world we've been trying to learn more about, partly by setting up an offshore company in Belize.)

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Planet Money
1:30 am
Thu April 25, 2013

Lady Gaga Writing A New Song Is Like A Factory Investing In A New Machine

But is it GDP?
Charles Sykes AP

Originally published on Fri April 26, 2013 12:46 am

I spoke yesterday with Dan Sichel, a Wellesley economist and a Lady Gaga fan. Both of these facts are relevant for this story.

The U.S. government is about to tweak the way it measures the economy, and some of the biggest changes will affect the entertainment industry.

Under the current system, Sichel told me, Lady Gaga's sales of concert tickets, online songs and CDs all count toward gross domestic product. But the value of the time she spends in the studio working on new songs isn't counted. That's about to change.

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Planet Money
1:41 am
Thu March 28, 2013

When A Famous Hospital Didn't Want An Expensive New Drug

Andrei Tchernov iStockphoto.com

Originally published on Thu March 28, 2013 8:03 am

Last year, a new drug called Zaltrap was approved as a kind of last-chance therapy for patients with colorectal cancer. Studies suggested Zaltrap worked almost exactly as well as an existing drug called Avastin. In fact, the main difference between the two drugs seemed to be the price.

"I was rather stunned," Dr. Leonard Saltz, who specializes in colorectal cancer, told me.

Zaltrap costs about $11,000 per month — about twice as much as Avastin, Saltz said.

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Planet Money
1:05 am
Thu February 21, 2013

Three Ways To Totally Transform U.S. Immigration Policy

Immigrants wait for their citizenship interviews at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services on Jan. 29.
John Moore Getty Images

Originally published on Thu February 21, 2013 8:42 am

With immigration policy in the news again, I asked three economists, "Dream big: If you could create any immigration policy for the U.S., what would it be?" Here's what they said.

1. The Best And The Brightest

Dean Baker of the Center for Economic and Policy Research would give out more visas to highly skilled workers: scientists, engineers, computer programmers and doctors.

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Planet Money
1:34 am
Thu February 7, 2013

'Give Me The Money Or I'll Shoot The Trees'

Pay up, or the bird gets it. (A hoatzin perches on a branch in Yasuni National Park.)
Pablo Cozzaglio AFP/Getty Images

Originally published on Thu February 7, 2013 1:07 pm

Ecuador's Yasuni National Park is one of the most diverse ecosystems on Earth. But there's a complication: The park sits on top of the equivalent of millions of barrels of oil.

This creates a dilemma.

Ecuador prides itself on being pro-environment. Its constitution gives nature special rights. But Ecuador is a relatively poor country that could desperately use the money from the oil.

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Planet Money
1:38 am
Fri February 1, 2013

An International Battle Over One Of The Most Boring Things In Finance

Jeremy O'Donnell Getty Images

Originally published on Tue February 12, 2013 9:26 am

This week saw the end of a years-long, international, multi-billion-dollar battle over one of the most boring things in finance: savings accounts.

At the center of the battle was Iceland, a tiny country where the banks grew into international behemoths during the credit bubble.

The banks got so big partly by convincing foreigners to open up online savings accounts. In particular, lots of people in England and Netherlands opened up "ICESAVE accounts" with a bank called Landsbanki. During the financial crisis, the bank collapsed.

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Planet Money
1:35 am
Thu January 24, 2013

Why Is The Government In The Flood Insurance Business?

Hurricane Betsy hit the Gulf Coast in 1965.
Horace Cort AP

Originally published on Thu January 24, 2013 11:19 am

There's a quick, one-word explanation for why the federal government started selling flood insurance: Betsy.

Hurricane Betsy, which struck the Gulf Coast in 1965, became known as billion-dollar Betsy. Homes were ruined. Water up to the roofs. People paddling around streets in boats. Massive damage.

This would be the time when you'd expect people to be pulling out their flood insurance policies. But flood insurance was hard to come by. You could get fire insurance, theft insurance, car insurance, life insurance. Not flood.

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Business
2:53 pm
Fri January 11, 2013

Hedge Fund Titans Bet Billions On Success Or Failure Of 'Herbalife'

Originally published on Fri January 11, 2013 4:11 pm

A pair of prominent hedge fund managers have taken opposing positions on the nutritional-supplement company Herbalife. Bill Ackman of Pershing Square Capital Management says the multilevel-marketing company is a pyramid scheme and a bad investment. He's shorting the stock. Dan Loeb of hedge fund Third Point says Herbalife is a good investment. He's taken an 8.2 percent stake in the company and is betting that its shares will rise. Melissa Block talks with David Kestenbaum of the Planet Money team.

Planet Money
1:27 am
Thu January 10, 2013

The North Dakota Town Where A One-Bedroom Apartment Rents For $2,100 A Month

Yours, for $2,100 a month
Josh Marston

Originally published on Thu January 10, 2013 1:04 pm

A plain, one-bedroom apartment in Williston, N.D., rents for $2,100 a month. For this price, you could rent a one-bedroom apartment in New York City.

Williston is not New York City. There are 30,000 residents and one department store. The nearest city is two hours away.

Rents are so high in Williston because the town is in the middle of an oil boom. Unemployment is below 1 percent, and workers are flooding into town.

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Planet Money
10:28 am
Fri December 28, 2012

What A Former FBI Hostage Negotiator Can Teach Us About The Fiscal Cliff

Drew Angerer Getty Images

Originally published on Fri December 28, 2012 11:27 am

The tortuous negotiations involved in the "fiscal cliff" talks are like a chess game.

To shed some light on the kinds of negotiation techniques that members of Congress might be using during the talks, we asked two negotiators to walk us through their tactics with examples from their everyday lives.

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Planet Money
4:37 am
Fri December 28, 2012

The 'Fiscal Cliff' And The Art Of Negotiating

Originally published on Fri December 28, 2012 4:50 am

The tortuous negotiations involved in the "fiscal cliff" talks are like a chess game. The opponents follow rules and techniques. Negotiating is part science, part art, and everyone does it in their daily lives.

Europe
2:38 pm
Wed December 19, 2012

UBS To Pay $1.5 Billion In Fines Over Libor Scandal

Originally published on Wed December 19, 2012 3:43 pm

The Swiss bank UBS has agreed to pay $1.5 billion in fines in multiple countries to settle allegations of manipulating the London interbank offered rate and other benchmark interest rates.

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
3:04 am
Fri November 30, 2012

Why Mexico Is The World's Biggest Exporter Of Flat-Screen TVs

Mark Lennihan AP

Originally published on Fri November 30, 2012 9:04 am

Most of the news we hear about Mexico these days is about drug-related violence. But it turns out there's another, brighter story there: The country's economy has been growing at a solid pace for the past couple years, driven in large part by solid exports.

Among other things, Mexico is the world's largest exporter of flat-screen TVs. There are a lot of factories just south of the U.S. border, filled with workers putting together televisions. The individual parts come from Asia, but the final assembly is done in Mexico.

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Planet Money
1:18 am
Wed November 21, 2012

How The Government Set Up A Fake Bank To Launder Drug Money

Skip Latson marks the fake opening of RHM Trust Bank.
Bill Bruton

Originally published on Tue November 27, 2012 11:18 am

In the early 1990s, Colombian drug cartels had a problem: They had more money than they knew what to do with.

"They were having a very difficult time with just the logistics of laundering millions and millions and millions of dollars every week," says Skip Latson, who worked for the DEA at the time.

So Latson and Bill Bruton, who was a special agent with the IRS, hatched a plan: They'd create a fake, offshore bank catering to the needs of the drug cartel.

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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
2:19 am
Fri October 26, 2012

Energy Independence Wouldn't Make Gasoline Any Cheaper

Friedemann Vogel Getty Images

Originally published on Fri October 26, 2012 2:05 pm

Just about every president since Richard Nixon has set energy independence as a goal, and both major candidates have brought it up the current campaign.

As it turns out, there is a place, not so far from here, that has achieved energy independence: Canada.

Canada produces far more oil than it consumes. They're not dependent on the Middle East! They've got all the oil they need!

I called Stephen Gordon, a professor of economics at Université Laval in Quebec City, to ask him about what energy independence means for his nation.

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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.

Read more

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