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January 7, 2011

The Invention of Money

Five reporters stumbled on what seems like a basic question: What is money? The unsettling answer they found: Money is fiction. Photo: Stone money on the island of Yap.

This episode is produced by the Planet Money team.

Prologue

Ira Glass speaks with several members of the Planet Money team, who all found themselves—in the course of their reporting—independently asking the same stoner-ish question: What is money? Ira and Planet Money producer Jacob Goldstein discuss a pre-industrial society on the island of Yap that used giant stones as currency. The book that Jacob read about Yap is called The Island of Stone Money. (10 minutes)

The Lie That Saved Brazil

A trip to a country where the fiction that is money completely fell apart. And in this same country, through a truly incredible piece of policy making, the government tricked a 150,000,000 people into believing their money had value again. Chana Joffe-Walt reports. (16 minutes)

Weekend At Bernanke's

Though the name of the Federal Reserve includes the word "federal," it's not actually part of the government. It's an independent institution tasked with something very simple, but very huge: Creating money out of thin air. And during this last financial crisis, the leaders of the Fed did things that they would never have considered doing in the past. Alex Blumberg and David Kestenbaum report on what the Fed usually does, and how, since 2008, it's taken a trip to what amounts to Fed Crazytown. (26 minutes)

Song:

“We Do (The Stonecutters' Song)” by The Simpsons