November 5, 2010


In January 2010, reporters from Planet Money bought a toxic asset—you know, the things that blew up wall street banks, sank the economy and brought the global financial system to a halt—one of those. And "Toxie" turned out to be an encyclopedia of the financial crisis.

Here's an interactive timeline tracking Toxie's value. Planet Money is a collaboration between This American Life and NPR News.


Host Ira Glass explains how the Planet Money team spent a thousand dollars of their own money to buy a toxic asset, and introduces Planet Money reporters David Kestenbaum and Chana Joffe-Walt. Their stories about "Toxie" have appeared on the Planet Money podcast and daily public radio news shows, and are collected here for the first time, into one epic, Dickensian tale. (3 1/2 minutes)

Act One

Fire Sale in Kansas City

David and Chana buy a toxic asset, from a guy named Wit Solberg, who used to work on Wall Street and now helps small banks who've been saddled with toxic assets. Turns out...it's hard to buy a toxic asset. But, they eventually find one that looks good, and looks like it will actually make them and the team money. (9 minutes)
Act Two

An Old Man Chooses Between Logic and Morals. Logic Wins.

David and Chana try to track down the actual homeowners in their toxic asset. The toxic asset is made up of 2000 mortgages all over the country. Of those, half—1000 homeowners—are NOT making their payments. They eventually track one down. A retiree named Richard Koenig, who doesn't fit any of their preconceived notions of what a person facing foreclosure would look like. (13 minutes)
Act Three

Flipper. Not the Dolphin.

David and Chana discover a dark criminal plot inside their toxic asset. They do this with the help of several reporters from the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, who turn them on to a Florida mortgage fraud mastermind nicknamed "The King of the Flip." (11 1/2 minutes)


“The Toxie Song” by Lyrics by Andrew Breton. Music and recording by James Gammon
Act Four

Villains And How To Sue Them

David and Chana meet another toxic asset owner, like themselves. Only difference, David and Chana bought theirs after it was already toxic, for a steep discount, 99% off. George Laufenberg bought his for full price. Now, it's almost worthless, and George is trying to figure out who to sue. (10 1/2 minutes)