Robert Smith

Robert Smith is a correspondent for NPR's Planet Money where he reports on how the global economy is affecting our lives.

If that sounds a little dry, then you've never heard Planet Money. The team specializes in making economic reporting funny, engaging and understandable. Planet Money has been known to set economic indicators to music, use superheroes to explain central banks, and even buy a toxic asset just to figure it out.

Smith admits that he has no special background in finance or math, just a curiosity about how money works. That kind of curiosity has driven Smith for his 20 years in radio.

Before joining Planet Money, Smith was the New York correspondent for NPR. He was responsible for covering all the mayhem and beauty that makes it the greatest city on Earth. Smith reported on the rebuilding of Ground Zero, the stunning landing of US Air flight 1549 in the Hudson River and the dysfunctional world of New York politics. He specialized in features about the overlooked joys of urban living: puddles, billboards, ice cream trucks, street musicians, drunks and obsessives.

When New York was strangely quiet, Smith pitched in covering the big national stories. He traveled with presidential campaigns, tracked the recovery of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina and reported from the BP oil spill.

Before his New York City gig, Smith worked for public radio stations in Seattle (KUOW), Salt Lake City (KUER) and Portland (KBOO). He's been an editor, a host, a news director and just about any other job you can think of in broadcasting. Smith also lectures on the dark arts of radio at universities and conferences. He trains fellow reporters how to sneak humor and action into even the dullest stories on tight deadlines.

Smith started in broadcasting playing music at KPCW in his hometown of Park City, Utah. Although the low-power radio station at Reed College in Portland, Oregon, likes to claim him as its own.

When you meet bobsled driver Steve Holcomb, he doesn't talk about his Olympic gold medal — the one he won with the four-man team at the Vancouver Olympics in 2010. Instead, he talks about the one that got away.

Four years ago, his two-man bobsled started the Olympic run with a great push. "I was actually winning the race in Vancouver," Holcomb says. But then he "made a driving mistake, and we went from first place to sixth place in two turns."

In 1907, the U.S. economy was in the grip of a financial crisis. Unemployment was up. The stock market was down.

People started panicking. They were lining up overnight to pull their money out of healthy banks. This can be deadly for an economy: Healthy banks have to shut down, businesses can't get credit, they lay people off, and the economy gets worse.

Jakarta, Indonesia, has some of the worst traffic on the planet. For some local entrepreneurs, all those people stuck in their cars are potential customers.

In a middle of one Jakarta traffic jam, a guy pushes his chicken cart through the cars, clanging his pots. Men walk down the center lane selling nuts, crackers as big as your head and other treats. They're all trying to make eye contact with the drivers.

NPR's Planet Money team has manufactured a T-shirt. All this week we're following its journey around the globe. Today, the T-shirt makes a detour in the Pacific Ocean. Cotton from America gets shipped to a factory in Indonesia where it gets transformed into yarn.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

This week, Jess Jiang and Robert Smith visited the factory in Indonesia where U.S. cotton was spun into yarn for the Planet Money T-shirt. (They also visited several other factories.) Here are some of the pictures Robert posted to our T-Shirt Tumblr.

When writer Chris Grabenstein plots his mysteries, the murders happen in the corny nooks of New Jersey's Jersey shore. After all, there's something delightfully cheesy about a beach town.

"I guess I'm a cheesy guy. I like this kind of stuff," Grabenstein says. "Ever since I was a kid I loved tourist towns."

The author points out shop names as we walk along his stretch of the shore. There's the Sunglass Menagerie, an ice cream shop called Do Me A Flavor, Shore Good Donuts and How You Brewin' coffee. I'll spare you the rest — Long Beach Island has 18 miles of this stuff.

It's been 30 years since Trading Places came out. And, to be honest, I never really understood what happened at the end of that movie. Sure, Louis Winthorpe (Dan Aykroyd) and Billy Ray Valentine (Eddie Murphy) get rich, and the Duke brothers lose all their money. But what actually happens? How does it work?

I recently talked to Tom Peronis, a guy who has spent years trading OJ options. He walked me through every step of Winthorpe and Valentine's plan.

1. Give The Duke Brothers Bad Information

For years, there were only three countries in the world that didn't officially sell Coca-Cola: Cuba, North Korea and Myanmar, formerly known as Burma.

Now, after 60 years, Coke is back in Myanmar. Sanctions were lifted last year on the country. Just this week, Coca-Cola opened its new bottling plant outside of Yangon. Now all the company has to do is figure out a way to sell all that Coke to people who may not remember what it tastes like.

Nan Htwe Nye works at an elementary school in Yangon, Myanmar. She started trying to use ATM machines a few months ago, and things haven't been going so well.

The machines are often broken, she says. "But," she adds, "we hope it will better in the future." This is, more or less, the story of ATMs — and of banking in general — in Myanmar.

She's visiting the headquarters of CB Bank, at the first ATM in the country that was connected to banks all around the world.

Like a proud father, Nay Aung opens up his MacBook Air to show me the Myanmar travel website he has built. But we wait 30 seconds for the site to load, and nothing happens.

"Today is a particularly bad day for Internet," he says. This is life in Myanmar today: Even an Internet entrepreneur can't always get online.

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