Stacey Vanek Smith

Stacey Vanek Smith is the co-host of NPR's The Indicator from Planet Money. She's also a correspondent for Planet Money, where she covers business and economics. In this role, Smith has followed economic stories down the muddy back roads of Oklahoma to buy 100 barrels of oil; flew to Pune, India, to track down the man who pitched the country's dramatic currency devaluation to the prime minister; and spoke with a North Korean woman who made a small fortune smuggling artificial sweetener in from China.

Prior to coming to NPR, Smith worked for Marketplace, where she was a correspondent and fill-in host. While there, Smith was part of a collaboration with The New York Times, where she explored the relationship between money and marriage. She was also part of Marketplace's live shows, where she produced a series of pieces on getting her data mined.

Smith is a native of Idaho and grew up working on her parents' cattle ranch. She is a graduate of Princeton University, where she earned a bachelor's degree in comparative literature and creative writing. She also holds a master's in broadcast journalism from Columbia University.

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Hops are the cones of the hop plant. They're used in making beer. Craft beer lovers love hops. (Just ask them; they'll tell you.)

As the market for craft beer exploded over the hops business boomed. Until it didn't.

Today on the show: The craft beer explosion, and the hops boom and bust that went with it.

Last week, General Electric said it was taking a massive loss — $6.2 billion — related to an obscure corner of the company: long-term-care insurance.

Long-term-care insurance is this kind of insurance that anyone can buy. It covers things like nursing home care, or a home health aide.

But recently, GE came out and said it was having an "adverse claims experience" with these policies. Basically, the company got the math wrong, and lost billions as a result.

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The Trump administration had a plan to save the coal industry, but a panel headed by a Trump appointee rejected that plan. Stacey Vanek Smith co-hosts the Planet Money podcast The Indicator, where she's been reporting on the threats to the coal industry.

The bridge to nowhere. The teapot museum. People loved to point out how congressional earmarks led to wasteful government spending. Then, in 2011, Congress dramatically restricted earmarks.

Now, Congress is considering bringing them back.

Earmarks are easy to mock. But on today's show, Jonathan Rauch of Brookings and The Atlantic argues that earmarks make democracy work better.

The War On Coal

Jan 10, 2018

Last September, Energy Secretary Rick Perry put a plan in front of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. The plan was supposed to make our energy supply "resilient." But it was also a way to help subsidize coal.

The commission has five members. Four of them, including the chairman, were appointed by President Trump. This week, the commission unanimously rejected the Perry plan.

On today's indicator, we look at what the commission's decision tells us about energy markets in America, and about the future of coal.

Two years ago, international sanctions against Iran were largely lifted. People expected the economy to come surging back. But so far, it's been a disappointment. Unemployment is high. Prices are rising. Corruption is persistent. A surge in the price of eggs was the last straw.

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The U.S. economy is doing great — unemployment is low, businesses are investing more. What could possibly go wrong?

It's like watching the first 20 minutes of a horror movie. Everything seems great. The kids are out swimming in the lake. It's a beautiful summer. But you know something bad is going to happen sooner or later. It always does.

On today's show, we talk about one way things might go wrong: We look at parts of the economy where borrowing is getting frighteningly easy — and where more and more people are struggling to repay their debts.

Happy New Year.

At The Indicator, we've been covering numbers in the news for literally weeks now. And we've hit some of the big stories — sexual harassment, jobs, taxes.

For today's show, we decided to do something a little different: Stacey and Cardiff looked back over 2017 and picked one indicator each — not necessarily the biggest or most important indicator, but one that stood out for one reason or another. These may not be the indicators of the year. But they're our indicators of the year.

Our own Stacey Vanek Smith had to pay through the nose to fly home for Christmas. And not just because it was Christmas — her ticket was way more expensive than usual.

As we say in the news business: Stacey is not alone. Airfare dynamics have changed a ton in the past few years.

On today's show: Why it's getting cheaper to fly to some types of cities and more expensive to fly to others. Also: Why Stacey will probably get a better deal next year.

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Thirty-seven years ago, sexual harassment in the workplace became illegal. That led to the creation of the first harassment training videos. This one, called "Power Pinch," is narrated by a man sitting in a bar.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "POWER PINCH")

Power Pinch

Dec 4, 2017

At Planet Money, we love big projects. We bought a toxic asset. We made a T-shirt. We're trying to launch a satellite into space. Doing this stuff means we can't always keep up with the news as much as we'd like. So we're launching a new show. It's the Indicator: Planet Money's quick take on a number, or a term, or a story in the news.

Ashrita Furman has broken more than 600 records— earning him the Guinness World Record for most records broken. He grew up reading the Guinness Book of World Records. A lot of kids did. It's one of the best selling books of all time.

But book sales have been dropping and now Guinness has started having to change the way it makes money. Now, record holders like Ashrita are being joined by a different kind of record breaker: celebrities and companies looking for publicity. People pay thousands to have Guinness orchestrate a record-breaking event for them.

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On today's show, we are going to explain every dollar the federal government spent last year — nearly $4 trillion — in 10 minutes.

And to get a real feel for how the money is divided up, we're going to divide up our 10 minutes exactly the way the government divided up the money last year. The more money a program gets from the government, the more time it gets from us.

We dig into social security's origin story, find a nice thing lobbyists do, and write a haiku about infrastructure. Experience the budget in real time.

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I'm in a booth with a computer program called Ellie. She's on a screen in front of me.

Ellie was designed to diagnose post-traumatic stress disorder and depression, and when I get into the booth she starts asking me questions — about my family, my feelings, my biggest regrets.

Emotions seem really messy and hard for a machine to understand. But Skip Rizzo, a psychologist who helped design Ellie, thought otherwise.

Even the most creative jobs have parts that are pretty routine — tasks that, at least in theory, can be done by a machine. Take, for example, being a reporter.

A company called Automated Insights created a program called WordSmith that generates simple news stories based on things like sporting events and financial news. The stories are published on Yahoo! and via the Associated Press, among other outlets.

We wanted to know: How would NPR's best stack up against the machine?

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On Sept. 9, BJ Holloway's life savings were stolen. Six cows worth about $10,000 were taken in the dead of the night from his land in Spencer, Okla.

BJ started raising cows when he was just a teenager. His parents gave him the first two, and he raised those until they had calves he could sell off to buy some more. Over the years, he kept doing that, breeding the cows and selling off the little ones. Raising cows is a business for BJ, and all of his savings are wrapped up in them, which made the theft of the cows absolutely devastating.

A law passed to protect the Union army in the Civil War is one of the key tools federal officials have used to collect tens of billion in corporate fines this year.

During the Civil War, the army relied heavily on private contractors for necessities like uniforms, shoes, and gunpowder. Those contractors often cut corners.