Robert Smith

Robert Smith is NPR's New York Correspondent. Before moving into his current position, Smith was NPR's education reporter and covered public schools and universities on the West Coast. He reported on a variety of issues facing the education system, including the challenges of over-crowding, tight budgets, teacher retention, and new technology.

Smith's reports have been heard on NPR since 1994, first as a freelance reporter based in the Northwest, then during a short stint for NPR in Los Angeles. Specializing in the offbeat, Smith has taken his microphone into some strange worlds. He traveled into the backcountry with Gearheads to talk about their obsession with camping technology; he snuck into a all-night rave in the California desert; he has dressed up as Santa Claus for an undercover look at the wild night of Santarchy; and he has trained for the oft-mocked Olympic sport of curling. He is particularly fascinated by clowns and turkeys.

Born in London, Ontario, Canada, Smith emigrated to the United States with his family. He grew up in the ski-resort town of Park City, Utah, where he started in radio by hosting a music show while in high school. Smith graduated from Reed College in Portland, Oregon, in 1989, and began reporting for community radio station KBOO. He followed with reporting jobs at KUER in Salt Lake City and KUOW in Seattle, where he was also news director.

Smith now lives in New York with his wife, Robbyn. When he's not reporting, Smith enjoys barbecuing and model rocketry.

Pages

6:35am

Wed October 3, 2012
Planet Money

Why New York Is A Hub In The Global Trinket Trade

Originally published on Thu October 4, 2012 11:07 am

Lam Thuy Vo NPR

For more on the junk economy, see this slideshow.

There's a neighborhood in New York City that has always been a mystery to us. Smack dab in the middle of Manhattan, around 29th street, is the wholesale district. There you can find rows of narrow storefronts packed to the ceiling with trinkets. Racks and racks of fake gold chains. Acres of souvenir lighters and walls of belt buckles. Plastic, plastic, plastic toys.

Read more

2:16am

Thu September 13, 2012
Planet Money

The Fed's Other Big Power

Originally published on Fri September 14, 2012 2:06 pm

Give us a sign.
Alex Brandon AP

We think of the power of the Federal Reserve as the power of money. After all, the Fed is the one institution that can create U.S. dollars out of thin air.

But recently, Ben Bernanke has argued that the Fed has another, critical power: the power of words. And when you're the chairman of the Fed, a few words can go a long way.

Read more

2:05pm

Fri August 10, 2012
Planet Money

How A Pasta Factory Got People To Show Up For Work

Originally published on Mon August 13, 2012 10:06 am

Robert Smith NPR

Zoe Chace and Robert Smith are reporting from European borders this week. This story is about the unofficial border within one country — the border that divides northern and southern Italy. This is the fourth story in a four-part series.

A decade ago, the Barilla pasta factory in Foggia, Italy, had a big problem with people skipping work. The absentee rate was around 10 percent.

Read more

2:59am

Fri August 10, 2012
Planet Money

Why Don't More Unemployed Spaniards Get Jobs In Germany?

Originally published on Mon August 13, 2012 11:22 am

Jobs ahead.
iStockphoto.com

Zoe Chace and Robert Smith are reporting from European borders this week. This is the third story in a four-part series.

The eurozone was supposed to create one big labor market by making it easy to cross borders for work.

But Gerhard Wiegelmann, a CEO in Stuttgart, Germany, can't find enough workers to staff his company — even with unemployment in Spain over 20 percent. He's had to turn down projects because he can't hire enough people.

Read more

12:45pm

Thu August 9, 2012
Planet Money

The Marijuana Trade In The Euro's Birthplace

Originally published on Mon August 13, 2012 10:26 am

Marijuana in Maastricht
Ermindo Armino AP

Zoe Chace and Robert Smith are reporting from European borders this week. This is the second story in a four-part series.

Maastricht, a town in the Netherlands, is known largely for two things.

  1. The treaty that created the euro was signed there.
  2. Marijuana is legal there, and it's sold at "coffee shops" around town.

This is the story of the troubled relationship between those two claims to fame.

Read more

3:22am

Thu August 9, 2012
Planet Money

The Building That's In Two Countries At Once

Originally published on Thu August 9, 2012 2:43 pm

Hans Hover has one foot in Germany, and one in the Netherlands.
Robert Smith NPR

Zoe Chace and Robert Smith are reporting from European borders this week. This is the first story in a four-part series.

A metal strip on the floor of Eurode Business Center marks the border between Germany and the Netherlands.

On one side of the building, there's a German mailbox and a German policeman. On the other side, a Dutch mailbox and a Dutch policeman.

The building was supposed to make it easy to work in both countries. But it's also a reminder of how the European dream isn't yet a reality.

Read more

4:11pm

Fri July 20, 2012
Planet Money

Just How Blind Are Blind Trusts, Anyway?

Originally published on Mon July 23, 2012 10:32 am

J.D. Pooley Getty Images

As Mitt Romney has faced questions about his investments and tax returns, the likely Republican presidential nominee has responded with two words of explanation: blind trust.

Romney keeps most of his wealth in a blind trust designed to prevent him from knowing exactly where his money is and what it's doing. It's a long tradition for presidents and candidates, though anyone can set one up if he wants to.

But it turns out that not all blind trusts are equally blind. Some are cast into complete and utter darkness. Others are more nearsighted.

Read more

12:10pm

Fri July 6, 2012
Planet Money

Rigging LIBOR: Banking Scandal Hits Home (Literally)

Originally published on Mon July 30, 2012 9:20 pm

Lefteris Pitarakis AP

The biggest scandal in the world right now has nothing to do with sex or celebrities. It's about an interest rate called LIBOR, or the London Interbank Offered Rate.

Most Americans probably never heard of LIBOR. When I first moved to New York, I hadn't. Back then, I could barely afford my apartment and got an adjustable rate mortgage. And so I wondered: When my rate adjusts, how will I know how much I'll be paying?

I searched through all the documents and it was right there — LIBOR. I would be paying a few percentage points above whatever LIBOR was.

Read more

3:16am

Thu June 28, 2012
Planet Money

Going Public Is A Hassle

Originally published on Wed July 11, 2012 5:09 pm

Meh.
Richard Drew AP

Here's a classic story of how a multimillion-dollar company gets started.

A young guy named Seung Bak is on a trip to China. He gets back to his hotel room late one night and turns on the TV.

"I'm flipping through channels, and in the middle of China they are showing Korean dramas all around the clock," Bak says.

Read more

3:04am

Fri May 4, 2012
Planet Money

Food Trucks Seek 'That Mystical Spot'

Originally published on Mon May 7, 2012 2:55 pm

Lam Thuy Vo NPR

The Rickshaw Dumpling Truck is a retired postal van, painted red and filled with Chinese dumplings. I'm riding shotgun with Kenny Lao, the van's co-owner. It's a weekday morning, and we're driving into Manhattan looking for a killer spot to set up shop for the day.

"I think there is that mystical spot in midtown that every truck owner dreams of," Lao says. "Easy parking. It's a wide sidewalk. There's no restaurant but there's lots of offices."

There are 3,000 year-round food trucks and carts competing for that mystical spot. And no one has an official place to park.

Read more

3:00am

Thu April 26, 2012
Planet Money

On The Million-Dollar Trail Of A Mystery SuperPAC Donor

Originally published on Thu April 26, 2012 11:19 am

Some superPAC donors are hiding from public scrutiny.
iStockphoto.com

12:01am

Fri March 2, 2012
Planet Money

What The IRS Could Learn From Mormons

The money Mormons tithe goes to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints headquarters in Salt Lake City, Utah, and then is distributed to congregations around the world.
Douglas C. Pizac AP

Many religious traditions stress the importance of charity. But Mormons are remarkable for the amount and the precision with which they give to their church.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints teaches that each Mormon in good standing should tithe 10 percent of his or her income. The money goes right to church headquarters in Salt Lake City and then is distributed back to congregations around the world.

"That's written in stone, and preached from the pulpit," says Gordon Dahl, an economist at the University of California, San Diego, who is Mormon.

Read more

5:33pm

Fri February 3, 2012
Planet Money

Who Killed Lard?

Originally published on Mon February 6, 2012 11:01 am

Old school.
Steve Snodgrass Flickr

Ron Silver, the owner of Bubby's restaurant in Brooklyn, recently put a word on his menu you don't often see anymore: lard. The white, creamy, processed fat from a pig. And he didn't use the word just once.

For a one-night-only "Lard Exoneration Dinner", Silver served up lard fried potatoes. And root vegetables, baked in lard. Fried chicken, fried in lard. Roasted fennel glazed with lard sugar and sea salt. Pies, with lard inside and out. All from lard he made himself in the kitchen.

Read more

4:00am

Wed January 11, 2012
Election 2012

Ron Paul Captures 2nd Place In N.H. Primary

As expected, GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney won the New Hampshire primary. Texas Rep. Ron Paul clinched second place — ahead of former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman. Paul told a crowd of supporters that he was nibbling at the heels of the front-runner.

3:00pm

Tue January 10, 2012
Presidential Race

Five Ways Candidates Can Use Their Kids To Get Votes

The children of the Republican presidential candidates have been almost as present on the campaign trail as the candidates themselves. Sometimes they just serve as a backdrop on TV, other times as valuable surrogates.

4:50am

Fri December 30, 2011
Planet Money

Coconut Water Companies Sell Image, Not Taste

Originally published on Wed January 4, 2012 6:13 pm

godutchbaby Flickr

A couple of years ago if you wanted to drink coconut water, you had to buy your own coconut, bring it to your kitchen, and start whacking away with a knife.

Today, you can find packaged coconut water in a convenience store, Wal-Mart or your friendly neighborhood yoga studio.

"I think it was a great year for coconut water, " says Alejandra Simon, an assistant manager at the Laughing Lotus yoga studio in New York City. "I can't walk down the street without seeing someone with coconut water in their hands."

Read more

4:28pm

Wed November 23, 2011
Planet Money

Boom Town, U.S.A.

Originally published on Wed November 23, 2011 6:12 pm

Brandi and Kaylee plan to open a truck repair shop when they graduate from high school.
Robert Smith NPR

In the small-town of Elko, ambition looks like high-heel suede booties on the floor of the auto shop at the local high school.

Brandi and Kaylee look like the Olsen twins. And they're the best auto-shop students at Elko High. The girls have a plan. Everyday out the school window, they see trucks heading up to the gold mines. Day and night. So, the girls figure, why not open a truck repair shop after they graduate?

"In Elko we've been really blessed and really lucky to actually have a good economy," Kaylee says. "We can actually have our hopes and dreams."

Read more

5:10am

Thu November 3, 2011
Planet Money

When Governments Pay People To Have Babies

More, please.
Chung Sung-Jun Getty Images

How much is a baby worth?

Let's set aside for a moment all those goo-goo feeelings about that big ball of cute chubba-chubba. A baby is also an economic investment.

Businesses get a new worker and a new consumer for products. Parents get someone who will support them in their old age. Governments get a taxpayer — and a guarantee that the country lives on.

Read more

8:00am

Sat October 29, 2011
Economy

The Income Gap, Explained With Candy Corn

Originally published on Sun October 30, 2011 1:10 pm

Transcript

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. This week, the Congressional Budget Office released a report showing that the gap between wealthy and poor Americans has become much wider than it once was. We'll have a story on how changes in the tax code may have contributed to this situation, and we'll look at the Occupy Wall Street movement. But first, we turn to NPR's Andrea Seabrook and Robert Smith for a seasonably appropriate analysis of how the income gap has changed over the last 30 years.

Read more

4:42pm

Fri October 28, 2011
Planet Money

Why GDP Is Like GPA

Originally published on Thu May 31, 2012 10:53 am

GDP contains multitudes. Everything we manufacture. Every plumber who fixed a sink, every accountant who carried the one and divided by five — all the goods and services we produced.

It was invented by a guy named Simon Kuznets during the the Great Depression, when everybody wanted to know just how bad things were.

Now the number is put out by Steve Landefeld at the government's Bureau of Economic Analysis.

Read more

12:01am

Fri October 14, 2011
Planet Money

Playing Chicken To Cut The Deficit

Originally published on Sun October 16, 2011 1:38 pm

U.S. Rep. Dave Camp (R-MI) speaks as Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) and Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-SC) listen during a hearing before the Joint Deficit Reduction Committee, also known as the supercommittee.

Alex Wong Getty Images

If you've ever thought that most of politics is game-playing, you're right. Political scientists often use mathematical game theory to describe how Congress works. And when they look at the current battle over how to handle the deficit, the game that comes to mind is chicken.

Steven Smith is a professor of political science at Washington University, and he says yes, Republicans and Democrats sometimes remind him of two cars driving as fast as they can toward a cliff.

Read more

3:00pm

Sun October 9, 2011
Middle East

At Least 19 Dead In Egypt Riots

Clashes between Coptic Christian protesters and the Egyptian military in Cairo on Sunday left at least 19 people dead and more than 100 wounded, according to official counts. The violence erupted after the Christians were marching to protest what they claim was an attack on a church in southern Egypt by radical Muslims.

4:44pm

Sat October 8, 2011
Around the Nation

It's A Bloody Business, Being A Demon

A closer look and you'll be dinner.

Courtesy of Blood Manor

It's October, which means the country's supply of fake cobwebs is getting dangerously low.

The reason, of course, are the commercial haunted houses opening for business, filling the night with the screams of terrified teenage girls.

Wait. That's actually me — at Blood Manor in New York City. From the name, you would never guess it's on the second floor of a downtown office building. It probably used to be a hedge fund.

Read more

12:01am

Fri September 9, 2011
Reflecting On Sept. 11, 2001

'The Banality Of Evil': Following The Steps To Sept. 11

Ten years ago Friday morning, the men who would become the Sept. 11 hijackers were ready. They woke up on Sept. 9, 2001, in small motels along the East Coast. Their leader, Mohammed Atta, was one of the last ones on the move. He was checking in with the teams on his way to Boston.

The White House counterterrorism chief, Richard Clarke, was also at work that day. He was watching something happening in al-Qaida email chatter — he just didn't know what.

Read more

4:29pm

Fri September 2, 2011
Planet Money

Switzerland: Too Strong For Its Own Good

Arnd Wiegmann Reuters

The world economy is so messed up right now that even healthy countries are facing a strange kind of crisis: They've become too popular with investors.

Take Switzerland. Its economy is in great shape. Low debt, low unemployment. And, perhaps most importantly, the country doesn't use the euro.

So it's not surprising that the Swiss Franc has become a popular safe haven among investors who are worried about the future of the euro and the U.S. dollar.

Read more

12:01am

Fri August 12, 2011
Planet Money

The Dollar Is Still Central To The Global Economy. That May Not Last.

Everybody wants some.
Phil Dokas Flickr

The U.S. economy is spooking investors. But every day, all around the world, foreign businesses are still eager to use U.S. dollars — even when their business has nothing to do with the U.S.

When South Koreans buy Chilean wine, they convert their Korean won to U.S. dollars, and send those dollars to the winery in Chile. The winery then converts the dollars into Chilean pesos. This kind of thing is routine in global trade, according to Barry Eichengreen, an economist at U.C. Berkeley.

Why not just go from won to pesos?

Read more

5:06pm

Thu August 11, 2011
Planet Money

Drug Dealing, Counterfeiting, Smuggling: How North Korea Makes Money

An idle North Korean factory, seen from the Chinese border.
AFP Getty Images

North Korea used to be an industrial powerhouse. Not anymore. Today, the country can't feed its own people. Its cities go dark every night for lack of electricity.

Yet helplessness wasn't the original plan. The original plan for the country's economy had a name. It was called "juche," or self-reliance. The idea was that all North Korean problems should be solved by North Koreans.

Read more

6:06pm

Mon August 8, 2011
Planet Money

How The U.S. Gave S&P Its Power

In the beginning, the rating agencies were all about trains.
William England Getty Images

Who gave S&P the power to kick sand in the face of the U.S. government?

Oh, right. It was the U.S. government.

"There's some ironies, shall we say, in all of this," says Lawrence J. White, a professor at NYU's Stern School of Buisness.

The story goes back to the rise of the railroads in the 19th century.

Read more

3:14pm

Tue July 5, 2011
The Candidates' Guide To Campaigning

In New Hampshire, Every Handshake Counts

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney shakes hands while marching in the Fourth of July parade in Amherst, N.H.
Darren McCollester Getty Images

It's officially summer vacation time. But if you're a candidate running for president, you'll spend your summer shaking hands in early voting states. Here, a look at the required stops and must-see attractions in the first primary state, New Hampshire.

Up and at 'em, candidates — the campaign day in New Hampshire starts early. Those pancake breakfasts don't eat themselves.

Read more

3:00pm

Mon July 4, 2011
Politics

GOP Candidates Stump On The Fourth Of July

Originally published on Wed August 24, 2011 11:51 am

Transcript

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

From NPR News, it's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

On this Independence Day, most of the nation gets to take the day off work, but not the Republican presidential candidates. Today, they were hard at work, marching in parades, shaking hands at barbeques and showing off the red, white and blue.

They stuck mostly to the states with the earliest voting contests - Iowa and New Hampshire - as NPR's Robert Smith reports.

Read more

Pages