NPR: 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.



Thu November 10, 2011
Planet Money

Leaving The Euro Is Hard To Do

Originally published on Thu November 10, 2011 7:32 pm

A one-crown note from the Austro-Hungarian empire.
Wikimedia Commons

"I don't want the euro to fall apart," says Simon Wolfson.

Lots of people don't want the euro to fall apart. But Wolfson feels compelled to say so because he's offering a $400,000 prize for figuring out how to dismantle the euro.

Wolfson — aka Lord Wolfson of Aspley Guise — is the CEO of a big retailer called NEXT. He has argued against the UK joining the euro, but his company has stores all around the euro zone.

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Thu October 20, 2011
Planet Money

What If We Paid Off The Debt? The Secret Government Report

Originally published on Fri October 21, 2011 9:14 pm

This Feb. 1, 2010, file photo shows the National Debt Clock in New York.

Mark Lennihan AP

Planet Money has obtained a secret government report outlining what once looked like a potential crisis: The possibility that the U.S. government might pay off its entire debt.

It sounds ridiculous today. But not so long ago, the prospect of a debt-free U.S. was seen as a real possibility with the potential to upset the global financial system.

We recently obtained the report through a Freedom of Information Act Request. You can read the whole thing here. (It's a PDF.)

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Mon September 12, 2011
Planet Money

The Return Of Toxie

Stephen Neary/Connie Li Chan/Robin Arnott

Last year, as part of a reporting project, we bought a toxic asset — one of those complicated financial instruments that that nearly brought down the global economy.

We spent $1000 of our own money and bought a tiny slice of a bond backed by mortgages. We paid just a fraction of what it originally cost. It was such a good deal, we thought maybe we'd make a few bucks, which we'd give to charity.

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Wed August 24, 2011
Planet Money

What Is Bitcoin?

The U.S. has the dollar. Japan has the yen. Now some people are trying to invent a new currency that's not tied to any country or government. It's called bitcoin.

Bitcoin is a lot like cash — for the online universe. It doesn't actually exist in the physical world. You can't hold bitcoins in your hand because they just live on computers and the Internet.

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Fri August 19, 2011
Planet Money

A Big Bridge In The Wrong Place

Why the long bridge?
Stuart Ramson AP

You would never look at a map of the Hudson River, point to the spot where the Tappan Zee Bridge is, and say, "Put the bridge here!"

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Thu July 21, 2011
Planet Money

Spaceflight Is Getting Cheaper. But It's Still Not Cheap Enough.


Elon Musk wants humans to live on other planets one day. But he's worried about the cost of getting there. So in 2002, he took the fortune he made in Internet start-ups and started his own rocket company. He called it SpaceX.

The company is still in its early days. It's had seven launches, four of which made it into orbit. According to the company's website, the price to put stuff in orbit runs around $2,000 to $3,000 per pound.

Musk says SpaceX's latest rocket in development, the Falcon Heavy, will be able to do it for as little as $1,000 a pound.

Read more


Tue July 12, 2011
Planet Money

How Frequent Fliers Exploit A Government Program To Get Free Trips

Originally published on Wed July 13, 2011 12:01 am

Jane Liaw Liaw orders coins from the U.S. Mint to earn frequent-flier miles.
Jane Liaw

We recently reported on the the government's failed effort to persuade Americans to use dollar coins.

But the coins have found at least one group of fans: Travel enthusiasts who buy thousands of dollar coins with credit cards that award frequent-flier miles for purchases.

Once in possession of the coins — shipped to them by the government for free — they can deposit them into their bank accounts and pay off the credit card bills. The result: a free ticket to anywhere.

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Tue June 28, 2011
NPR News Investigations

$1 Billion That Nobody Wants

Originally published on Wed August 1, 2012 6:33 pm

Millions of dollars worth of $1 coins languish in a vault at the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond's Baltimore branch.
John W. Poole NPR

Politicians in Washington hardly let a few minutes go by without mentioning how broke the government is. So, it's a little surprising that they've created a stash of more than $1 billion that almost no one wants.

Unused dollar coins have been quietly piling up in Federal Reserve vaults in breathtaking numbers, thanks to a government program that has required their production since 2007.

And even though the neglected mountain of money recently grew past the $1 billion mark, the U.S. Mint will keep making more and more of the coins under a congressional mandate.

Read more


Fri June 10, 2011
Planet Money

The Comedian Who Ran For Mayor

Jon Gnarr, photographed in 2010.
Halldor Kolbeins AFP/Getty Images

Jon Gnarr is an absurdist Icelandic comedian. Last year, he ran for mayor of Reykjavik. Like most absurdist comedians, he had no political experience.

"I just invented a new political party," he says. "I was not drunk or anything."

Gnarr called his party the "Best Party." Because what could be better than the best party?

He created a 10-point campaign platform — with 13 points.

Read more


Tue May 24, 2011
Planet Money

Why Iceland Isn't Just A Barren Rock

This is the latest in a series on Iceland by Planet Money correspondent David Kestenbaum and Planet Money's Icelandic intern, Baldur Hedinsson. Here's more from their trip to Iceland.

This was supposed to be the beginning of what passes for spring in Iceland. But a volcanic eruption is coating much of the country in grey ash.

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Fri May 20, 2011
Planet Money

Gold: The 4,000-Year-Old Bubble

Scott Olson Getty Images

Last fall, we bought a quarter-ounce gold coin. A few weeks ago, we sold it. The price of gold rose while we owned the coin. But because we had to pay a commission and sales tax when we bought it, we wound up losing a little money in the end.

In this story — the last in our series on gold and the meaning of money — we try to answer one final question: Is gold in a bubble?

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Tue May 10, 2011
Planet Money

The Island That Ran Out Of Money

Originally published on Mon May 23, 2011 2:42 pm


During the financial crisis, only one Western country experienced a true collapse of its banking system: Iceland.

Things got so bad that the country actually ran out of foreign currency. Even today, years later, foreign money is still scarce, and the government controls how much anyone can get.

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Tue April 26, 2011
Planet Money

U.S. Home Prices, Sung As Opera

Originally published on Wed October 17, 2012 12:16 pm

Jess Jiang Case-Shiller home price index

The Case-Shiller home price index is a powerful way to look at the story of housing in America. You can see the boom and bust all in one simple graph.

But when we go on the radio to talk about home prices, a graph isn't much good to us — nobody can see it.

So we converted the Case-Shiller graph into musical notes.

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Thu April 21, 2011
Planet Money

Why We Left The Gold Standard

Gold is up. The dollar is down. People are worried about the value of paper money.

There was a time, of course, when paper money was backed by gold — the era of the gold standard. The story of why that era came to an end includes a nervous breakdown, a global panic, and a presidential adviser who was an expert on cows and chickens.

The gold standard was a promise. If you had a dollar, you could take it to the government any time you want, and trade it in for a fixed amount of gold. In the U.S. year after year, $20.67 got you an ounce of gold.

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Fri April 15, 2011
Planet Money

One Voter Tries To Decide Whether To Pay For Bankers' Mistakes

Last weekend, the people of Iceland went to the polls to make a big decision: Should they pay for the mistakes of a bank that failed in the financial crisis?

It was called Landsbanki. During the boom, its balance sheet became larger than Iceland's entire economy. Its high-interest savings accounts attracted hundreds of thousands of people from the U.K. and the Netherlands.

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