Alex Blumberg

Alex Blumberg is a contributing editor for NPR's Planet Money. He is also a producer for the public radio program This American Life, and an adjunct professor of journalism at Columbia University. He has done radio documentaries on the U.S. Navy, people who do impersonations of their mothers and teenage Steve Forbes supporters. He won first place at the 2002 Third Coast International Audio Festival for his story "Yes, There is a Baby." His story on clinical medical ethicists won the 1999 Public Radio News Directors Incorporated (PRNDI) award for best radio documentary.

In 2008, Blumberg collaborated with NPR economics correspondent Adam Davidson on a special This American Life episode about the housing crisis. Called "the greatest explainer ever heard" by noted journalism professor Jay Rosen, the Giant Pool of Money became the inspiration for NPR's Planet Money.

Blumberg has a B.A. from Oberlin College.

America, if you're scared by all the talk you've been hearing about the fiscal cliff, take heart: There are reasons for people across the political spectrum to love the cliff.

There's a lot for liberals to like in the fiscal cliff, says Matthew Yglesias, who writes wonky articles about economics for Slate.

The U.S. birthrate just fell to its lowest point since we've been keeping track. Here's why that may be a problem for my 2-year-old son.

A while back, Robin Boros lost her job, and she and her husband couldn't afford health insurance.

One time, Boros passed out, and her husband called an ambulance.

"The hospital bill, it was atrocious," she says. "We couldn't pay it."

They never figured out why Boros passed out. But after that, she and her husband avoided going to the doctor. At times, she says, she even bought blood pressure medication on the street.

"That was awful," Boros says. "But you do what you got to do."

This is the latest story in our series on money in politics.

If you have a mortgage on your home, you can deduct the interest from your taxes. It's a popular, well-entrenched policy. But according to one policy adviser to a U.S. senator, "the mortgage-interest deduction, from a purely policy perspective ... makes no sense."

Yesterday, we reported on the fundraisers that lobbyists hold for Congressmen every day in Washington. Today, we hear what happens inside those events. The stories are part of our series on money in politics.

This is the first story in a Planet Money series on money in politics. We'll have more this afternoon on All Things Considered, and this weekend on This American Life.

We think of lawmakers having one job: making laws. But there's a second job most lawmakers have to do. And it's a big job.

Disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff has been making the rounds lately. He's out of prison. He has a new book. He's in a talkative mood. So I figured it was a good time to ask him about the business of lobbying — not about what he did that was illegal, but about the ordinary, legal stuff.

The firm he worked for was called Greenberg Traurig. I chose a year at random when Abramoff was working there, and picked a client I hoped would be fairly typical. I chose Tyco International, a multinational corporation that in 2003 gave Abramoff's firm $1.3 million.

Corporations don't lobby Congress for fun. They lobby because it helps their bottom line. Getting a regulation gutted or a tax loophole created means extra cash for the corporation. But getting laws changed can be very expensive. How much money does a corporation get back from investing in a good lobbyist?

It's a messy, secretive system so it was always hard to study. But in 2004, economists found a bill so simple, so lucrative, that they could finally track the return on lobbying investment.

The congressional supercommittee announced Monday that it failed to come to an agreement on reducing the deficit. After three months of negotiating, the Democrats and Republicans just couldn't agree on how much spending to cut or how high to raise taxes.

But this is not a story about how the left and right disagree with each other. In fact, they actually largely agree.

One of the biggest problems any new government in Libya will face is something that doesn't seem like a problem: The massive amount of oil wealth the country possesses

Economists call it the natural-resource curse. Resource-rich countries often end up being ruled by dictators and autocrats. And the massive amount of money that floods into a country after oil discovery often has the perverse effect of putting existing industries out of business.

When economist James Heckman was studying the effects of job training programs on unskilled young workers, he found a mystery.

He was comparing a group of workers that had gone through a job training program with a group that hadn't. And he found that, at best, the training program did nothing to help the workers get better jobs. In some cases, the training program even made the workers worse off.

Jonathan Coulton's songs almost never get played on the radio. He doesn't have a contract with a music label. Yet he's a one man counterargument to the idea that musicians can't make money making music.

In 2010, Coulton's music brought in about $500,000 in revenue. And since his overhead costs are very low, most of that money went straight to him.

Did he ever expect to make that kind of money as a musician?

"Of course not," he says. "This is absurd."

The academic argument against drug criminalization goes like this.

When you make a drug illegal, you make it harder and riskier to produce. That makes it more expensive.

But demand for many drugs is what economists call inelastic: No matter what drugs cost, people will still pay. So making drugs more expensive through criminalization just sends more money to drug dealers.

That's the theory, anyway.