Dear Mr. Davidson,
Let me congratulate you for your role in producing the best financial news for laypeople, I think, available on the podcasting web. I've been listening to your Planet Money podcast
now since pretty much its inception. Your award-winning This American Life
collaboration "The Giant Pool of Money" explained more of the current financial crisis and housing bubble than most other financial reporting has yet to do, and managed to do so without reverting to overly technical vebiage. Planet Money has helped me more than any other outlet understand Credit Default Swaps, Collateralized Debt Obligations, regulatory arbitrage, and a vast number of important details kept usually opaque to the lay person. For that, I thank you.
That said, I have for years now been frustrated with what your reporting has thus far failed to do, to explain our macro-economy with the same precision given the arcane minutiae of finance and banking. I felt this frustration most intensely as I listened to you shout at Elizabeth Warren and try to badger Rep. Barney Frank. Both had important points to share with you -- both were, importantly, correct -- but you seemingly didn't want to learn from these experts and instead let your preconceptions about what should happen guide your behavior into that, frankly, unbecoming of a journalist.
The most recent example of your blindness to the realities of today's situation came when you spoke on our local KUOW show "The Conversation."
* Asked reasonably by a caller named David, you almost arrogantly dismissed the importance the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act had on creating this latest crisis.
And just as the Warren and Frank episodes revealed, you yet again display a basic lack of understanding how money is created in our economy. Which is ironic, really. The first thought I had when I heard "The Giant Pool of Money" was how
did so much money get created? Yet as I listened to the piece, the answer to that question was never presented. Oh, there was an explanation of sorts
How did the world get twice as much money to invest? Lots of things happened, but the main headline is all sorts of poor countries became kind of rich making TVs and selling us oil: China, India, Abu Dhabi, Saudi Arabia. Made a lot of money and banked it.
I thought to myself after hearing that piece again, what? Such countries have always
made money with this trade. The piece absolutely did not
explain how what happened happened. As you yourself asked in the piece, "So, it took several hundred years for the world to get to 36 trillion. Then, in six years, to get another 36 trillion."That
, Mr. Davidson, is far more important a story than the piece -- as good as it was, as groundbreaking as it was -- bothered to explain.
So I went looking for the answer to that question. I think I've found it, but I'd like others to look at the answers I've found and perhaps dig out more detail, find out if I am mistaken or not. I'm truly hoping people with expertise, communication skills, and an appropriate venue will behave like, you know, reporters. As long as you fail to appreciate the answer to the question "What doubled the size of that giant pool of money in six years?", I doubt you will be able to truly grasp some of the larger questions facing not only this economic situation, but our society as it stands today.***
Let me say that I appreciate your position. Finance is difficult stuff to understand. From what I gathered listening to the podcast, you learned on the fly from bankers, brokers, dealers and wheelers. New York is the most active financial center in the country, if not the world. It's a perfect place to learn the ins and outs of the system from the very people earning a living in that sector.
I think, though, that in your zeal to cover the story, to educate yourself with what was happening, you have missed the fundamentals. Most specifically, I doubt you understand the process enabling banks to make money. Really. (Please note that I didn't say you misunderstand how banks earn
money; there's a difference.) Don't feel badly. I doubt bankers want this process widely known, even bankers you might know by first name. Quite a bit of evidence suggests this information is deliberately obfuscated from the public at large.
I'm not going to tell you how this happens. That's not my job. I'm just a blogging bus driver from Seattle. As a financial reporter with a distinguished body of work, finding out how this happens -- and relating that story -- is your job.
I suggest you start by looking into the work of Ellen Brown, author of The Web of Debt
. I first heard her interviewed by kmo
on his C-Realm Podcast
. You can find both kmo
, just to get an introduction to Ms. Brown's work. Then, check out his interview with Nathan A. Martin
for a really sobering look at what happens next, or what might be happening right now.
Don't have time in your busy schedule looking at this information? Hey, I understand. You've got reporters who could do the job. Put them on the story. kmo
got Ms. Brown on his show twice even though (unlike Chana and Alex with their Cadillac Escalades) he only drives a beat-up Ranger.
Think about this: The Glass-Steagall Act was repealed on November 12, 1999 by the Gramm–Leach–Bliley Act. That giant pool of money started its spectacular, almost tumorous growth in 2000. If you follow my links and actually investigate them, you should hopefully see that the money supply started to grow as quickly and large as it did mainly because
of the G-S repeal, just as caller David noted.
I firmly believe that our country cannot function without an informed electorate. I have maintained my memberships in and have listened to National Public Radio stations simply because I regard them as the best remaining source of widely-disseminated news and information. Your show is an especial favorite, one I feel can only benefit from you and your reporters becoming ever more informed about the topics on which you report, and then sharing that knowledge with us, the humble listeners.
Thank you for your time.Addendum, June 2010:
I only got around to listening to the podcast dated May, 25, "Is The Joyride on Wall Street Really Over?" recently. In it, Alex and Jacob seemed to imply (in Act II of your dramatizations) that proprietary traders directly use depositor money to trade (aka Alex's $100K). Specifically, Jacob said, "As you should have learned from the Planet Money podcast, I actually can use your money. I'm a prop trader at a bank. I can use the bank's deposits to make bets in the market."
This is incorrect. Prop traders do use bank assets, including those from depositors, to back
their trades, but the money they use comes from a process you at the podcast have yet to learn, or even (dare I say) express a willingness to discover. Where it comes from specifically is exactly
what you need to discover lest your podcast continues to confuse the issues it presents.Addendum 8-4-2010:
Link to Mr. Davidson's appearance on The Conversation
KUOW moved the archive to Mr. Davidson's appearance to a new address