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The bee economy

Fri, 2015-01-16 10:36

Most gaps, whether they're global or personal, are pretty easy to see, or visualize. But there's a major economic gap in agriculture that's invisible, for now. And that's because it's being filled. By bees. 

 

Without bees, we'd lose more than honey.... We'd lose billions of dollars from our economy – $15 billion each year in the U.S. alone and $100 billion globally. 

 

And we might taste the gap, too: Without bees, our plates would be a lot less colorful. Bees are crucial to the farming of fruits and vegetables, as well as grains, and meat (which relies on cattle fed on alfalfa, which depends on bees).

 

We spoke with Noah Wilson-Rich, founder of urban beekeeping business The Best Bees Company, about how to keep bees happy, healthy and productive in our economy. 

 

He's trying to change the way most bees live now, which is a little bit like long-haul truckers.

 

About half of all honey bees in the United States live on flatbed trucks, in rest stops or on planes. They travel from crop to crop, pollinating flowers and collecting nectar for their own food throughout the year. 

 

Bee travel is a function of monoculture crops: because there isn't enough food for bees in any one place, they move between agricultural hot spots. Bees pollinate almond blossoms in California, blueberries in Maine and then move on to cranberries, apples, oranges, lemons, traveling the country. 

 

Wilson-Rich focuses on urban beekeeping as a way to keep bees healthy and stop all the travel. Bees, like most creatures, are healthier when they eat a varied diet. And recently, research has shown that bees produce more honey in urban settings than rural ones. 

 

Companies like The Best Bee Company integrate hives into cities, attaching them to homes, apartments, businesses and schools. 

 

As humans live more harmoniously alongside bees, Wilson-Rich says, the bee population will continue to increase, reaching levels that existed before colony collapse disorder depleted their number in 2006. 

 

To hear more about the bee economy, listen to the interview in the player above. 

What exists between desire and fulfillment?

Fri, 2015-01-16 10:19

Instant gratification is the norm in today's economy. Online shopping, instant downloads, and increasingly-speedy delivery times all contribute to a want it now, get it now mentality that drives our spending and consumption. 

But what happens if you wait for something? According to Elizabeth Dunn, a professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, you might enjoy it more. 

A 2010 study in the Netherlands found that people surveyed before a vacation were happier than those surveyed right after a vacation, and even people on vacation. In that period of anticipation, waiting for the trip, people could imagine a perfect ideal, something that would likely not exist in reality. 

This kind of thinking inspires Pinterest boards of dream weddings, makes watching French TV shows and listening to Edith Piaf before a trip to Paris exciting. 

Dunn says that the period of anticipation while waiting for an experience is a form of free enjoyment -- a chance to maximize the time spent appreciating something you've already paid for. 

The same goes for smaller purchases -- new clothes, a visit to a restaurant -- and big financial hurdles. Dunn says that the same principles that allow people to enjoy the time before a vacation could be applied to a college savings account, or a retirement fund.

The key, Dunn says, is to make things more concrete: the details matter.  

One dreaded question: What do you do?

Fri, 2015-01-16 10:07

Throughout the recession a lot of Americans had work histories filled with gaps.

Bill Marshall is having one now.

It began this July when he was laid off from his job at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. 

Marshall speaks to Marketplace Weekend from his home in Devon, Pennsylvania. 

He's says learned a lot from his gap, but he starts with one dreaded question.

 

Global gaps: income and wealth inequality

Fri, 2015-01-16 09:50

Wealth and income inequality has inspired discussion and sparked debate among economists for years. As these gaps widen in many global economies, the question of whether income and wealth inequality slow growth, and whether the gaps should be closed through policy, becomes more pointed. 

Branko Milanovic, a professor at The Graduate Center at the City University of New York and the former lead researcher on inequality for the World Bank, joined Lizzie O'Leary to discuss income and wealth inequality globally. 

Milanovic measures inequality worldwide through anonymous surveys, creating a global picture of what wealth and income gaps look like. Each country is assigned a score that ranks inequality in both income and wealth.

Wealth gaps, which measure accumulated wealth through investments and savings, are almost always larger and more significant than income gaps. Even the poorest citizens in the poorest nations are unlikely to be entirely without income, but are frequently without wealth. 

So how should we address inequality? 

Milanovic says that the consequences for these gaps are complicated, because there's no world government to regulate income and wealth distribution worldwide.

Within nations, modifications to social structures and policy can correct for systemic inequalities. Milanovic cites education, voting rights, and race and gender discrimination as touchstones that individual countries can address to quell income and wage gaps.

Globally, things are trickier. Migration is a key factor in global inequality, and is a major obstacle to overcome in places where border relationships are tense.

Milanovic says that future global income and wealth inequality is also dependent upon growth in China and India -- two places where large income and wealth gaps haven't slowed economic expansion. 

Tune in to the segment using the player above to hear more of Branko Milanovic's thoughts on wealth and income gaps in the global economy, and to hear the story of two people living and working in China who are experiencing the gaps there firsthand. 

 

Quiz: National champs on the field and in the classroom?

Fri, 2015-01-16 04:58

Ohio State’s football team won the first College Football Playoff, but its Graduation Success Rate rate lags behind other sports programs on its campus.

GSR is a NCAA metric that accounts for student-athlete transfers.

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Quiz: National champions on the field - and the classroom?

Fri, 2015-01-16 04:58

Ohio State’s football team won the first College Football Playoff, but its Graduation Success Rate rate lags behind other sports programs on its campus.

GSR is a NCAA metric that accounts for student-athlete transfers.

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PODCAST: Breaking the Google Glass

Fri, 2015-01-16 03:00

On Friday, new regulations go into effect governing the US relationship Cuba. Americans still can't visit willy-nilly, but there are now 12 categories of visitors who won't need a license to travel there, including family visits, educational, religious. And how does one get to Cuba, exactly? Plus, Google is ending sales of its Glass eyewear, the heads-up display that linked eyeglass frames to the internet. And sand from a few midwestern states is highly preferred for fracking, and large mines have turned parts of rural Wisconsin inside out. When officials in Trempealeau County tried to limit new mines, mining companies looked closely at how local government is structured in rural Wisconsin- and got creative.

Google decides to shelve Glass, for now

Fri, 2015-01-16 03:00

Google is ending sales of its Google Glass eyewear, those futuristic looking little wearable computers that were the embodiment of tech cool for a short period of time.

The company made the announcement yesterday, but says the move is not the end of Glass. Rather, it’s is just the end of “beta testing” for the Glass eyewear. 

"It doesn't come as a huge surprise that Google has decided to bench what they've been making so far, and putting the core technology into other things," says Chris Green, a Technology Industry Analyst for the Davies Murphy Group. All along he says, Glass was just a proof of concept.

"The future of Google Glass may live somewhere else, whether it's integrated into clothing, whether it’s integrated into a smart phone," says Green.

While some critics say the move hurts early adopters—the people who paid the hefty $1500 cost to purchase Glass—Google says this is just another step in the products development. 

Others say going back to the drawing board might be actually be good idea.

“It was not the easiest to use, the most intuitive, or even the most useful product out there,” notes Rebecca Lieb, analyst with the Altimeter Group.

Lieb says that doesn’t mean the Glass experiment was a failure, even smartphones when they first came out weren’t a huge hit. Just look at fitness tracking products like Fitbit she says.

We're only beginning to scratch the surface of wearable technology,” says Lieb. "It’s a topic you're going to hear a lot about this year, and in the next five years to come."

Even though regular people won’t be able to buy new Glass, Google is keeping its “Glass at Work” program for use in industries like hospitals and factories.

“Their strategy might be a gradual shifting away from the consumer market to industry,” says Chris Hazelton, Research Director for Enterprise Mobility at 451 Research.

“Their search engine business definitely provides them with a steady stream of cash and a healthy advantage over their closest competition,” he says.

Going forward, Google says the Glass team will move out of the semi-secret “Google X” incubator labs to become standalone division reporting to a new CEO.

So, when can I buy a flight to Cuba?

Fri, 2015-01-16 02:00

Starting Friday, the United States will permit more Americans to travel to Cuba.

But how do you get there? The short answer: it may still be a bit before there are commercial flights from the U.S.

Click the media player above to hear more.

Settlers of Catan: Green Bay Edition

Fri, 2015-01-16 02:00
7 percent

More news from big banks: Goldman Sachs reported on Friday a 7 percent decrease in profits in the fourth quarter. As reported by the New York Times, today's latest report joins disappointing results from JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America and Citigroup.

600 jobs

The drop in price of crude oil isn't just a big, global story — It hits local industry, too. Take Lorain, Ohio, for example, where the steel mill says it will have to get rid of 600 jobs — nearly every employee — as demand for steel for drilling and shale exploration has dropped significantly. 

2 sand mines

When officials in Trempealeau County, Wisconsin, tried to set limits on new sand mines, mining companies looked closely at how local government is structured in rural Wisconsin and got creative. Sand mining has turned parts of rural Wisconsin inside out thanks to fracking for oil and gas. Since the county only regulates mining in unincorporated areas, mining companies went to some of the cities of Trempealeau County and asked to be annexed — Cities like Independence, population 1,363, which is now home to two sand mines.

19 oscar nominations

Well, now she's just showing off. With this year's oscar nominations, Meryl Streep has a total of 19 career oscar nominations. Check out our breakdown of the numbers behind the golden statue.

$9.99

Et tu, glitter? $9.99 is how much it will cost you to send an envelope of glitter to your enemies via Australian startup ShipYourEnemiesGlitter.com. But you already knew that, didn't you? So why not show your tech savvy over at Silicon Tally, our weekly quiz on the week in tech news.

10 points

That's how many points a player needs to gather in order to win a game of Settlers of Catan. Just ask the Green Bay Packers, who apparently are huge fans.

Frac sand companies get creative with local politics

Fri, 2015-01-16 02:00

When officials in Trempealeau County, Wisconsin, tried to set limits on new sand mines, mining companies looked closely at how local government is structured in rural Wisconsin and got creative.

Sand mining has turned parts of rural Wisconsin inside out thanks to fracking for oil and gas. Fracking consumes 100 billion pounds of sand a year, and sand from a few midwestern states is highly prized.

Trempealeau has more mines than any other county, and in mid-2013, the Trempealeau County board declared a year-long moratorium on new mining permits.

However, the county only regulates mining in unincorporated areas. So mining companies went to some of the cities of Trempealeau County and asked to be annexed.

Like the City of Independence, population 1,363, now home to two sand mines.

At City Hall, Mayor Ottie Baekcer says Independence needed a shot in the arm: “And as you see, there’s not people standing outside that door, trying to bring a GM factory in here.”

Sometimes there’s cash upfront. One company offered $1.5 million to the City of Blair — population 1,379, plus two mines — if the city annexed another site.

Cities like Blair and Independence also offer more-permissive rules for mines than the county. “We let them work 24 hours, ‘round the clock, you see, where the county don’t,” says Blair’s mayor, Ardell Knutson. Rules around noise can also be less strict.        

With annexations, more than half a dozen different ordinances now regulate sand-mining in the county.

“It’s chaos,” says Jack Speerstra, who represents a third layer of local government: townships that provide services to rural parts of the county. Land getting annexed into a city like Independence comes out of a township like Lincoln, where Speerstra is the board chair.

When his constituents have problems — with noise or light from mines that become their neighbors on newly-annexed city land — they get caught in the middle of the chaos that Speerstra talks about. “They call the county, and the county says it’s in the city jurisdiction,” he says. “Who do you call?”

Lincoln and another town are suing Independence to prevent one proposed annexation. The mine site is far from the city limit, connected by a strip of other parcels. Wisconsin courts have ruled against “balloon-on-a-string” annexations before.

Meanwhile, Speerstra has a dairy farm to run. He takes a stipend of $400 a month to serve as town chair.

When aked if it is usually in his job description to negotiate with publicly-traded companies, he chuckles.

“No,” he says. “I’ve done this for 25 years. And in the first in the first 25 years, I probably had contact with an attorneys once every 4 or 5 years at the most.”

Now, he talks to lawyers three, four, five times a week.

Meanwhile, mining companies have also looked for allies going up the chain of government in the state capitol. Proposed legislation in 2013 would have given the state exclusive authority over mining permits; cutting local governments out of the process. That proposal died the first time out, but one senator has said he plans to float it again soon.

Netflix becomes a movie studio

Fri, 2015-01-16 02:00

In a major first for Hollywood this year, Netflix will release a big-budget movie which it financed both in theaters, and on its streaming service at the same time.

The streaming service signed a four-film deal with Adam Sandler's production company last year, and will release one of his films later this year (the exact date hasn't been announced). It's also financing a sequel to Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, which will be released in theaters and Netflix on August 28.

The moves into the film producing business are part of an effort at Netflix to change how films are distributed.

"The current distibution model for movies is pretty antiquated," Ted Sarandos, chief of Netflix's original content, said during MIPCOM, a television industry trade conference last year.

You can watch Sarandos' entire keynote interview below: 

It can take a year for a Hollywood movie to go from theaters to Netflix - part of a system set in place decades ago in which a film is released in 'windows': first in theaters, then in other formats such as DVD, video-on-demand and streaming.

"So, what we wanted to do is accelerate the model by putting our money where our mouth is a little bit," says Sarandos, "And say we'll release movies in theaters and on Netflix. And, we'll fund the movies to make it work."

"That's completely different and sort of upends the old economic model," says Chris McGurk, chief of Cinedigm, a digital content distributor, who used to be an executive at multiple Hollywood studios including Disney, Universal and MGM.

In recent years, some smaller-budget independent films have upended that model and been released in digital formats first or at the same time as in cinemas, but "now you're talking about major motion pictures," says McGurk, "with multi-tens of millions of dollars budgets, with top-line hollywood talent. And that is pretty much unheard of."

McGurk says Netflix's 50 million subscribers give it the best chance so far to make money on a major digital-first film.

A disappearing industry in Lorain, Ohio

Fri, 2015-01-16 02:00

On Friday, the International Energy Agency predicted that non-OPEC oil producers will slow the growth of their production this year. There's also news the oil services company Schlumberger will cut 9,000 jobs.

To get some perspective on what this means at a local level, just look at the town of Lorain, Ohio, west of Cleveland. Once economically distressed, jobs poured in at the U.S. steel plant in Lorain to make pipes for domestic shale oil production. Now, crude oil is trading at less than half the price it was in June, and Lorain's mayor, Chase Ritenauer, is seeing the effects.

Says Ritenauer, "U.S. Steel, what they do is driven by the price of crude oil. As crude oil prices have gone down, the demand from their customers for the steel, for the drilling, for the shale exploration, has gone down." Now, there's word that 600 workers at Lorain's steel plant, nearly everyone, will lose their jobs.

"It illustrates the global economy, and how the global economy can impact Lorain, Ohio pretty dramatically," says Ritenauer.

Click the media player above to hear more.

Silicon Tally: Et tu, glitter?

Fri, 2015-01-16 02:00

It's time for Silicon Tally! How well have you kept up with the week in tech news?

This week, we're joined by science reporter Flora Lichtman, host of the forthcoming podcast on climate change entitled "The Adaptors".

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The Oscars by the numbers

Thu, 2015-01-15 15:31

This morning, the Academy Awards announced its 2015 nominees for what has been – at least from a business standpoint – a bad year for movies.

 

In 2014, the overall domestic box office reported a 5 percent drop from 2013. Americans age 12 to 24 saw 15 percent fewer movies in theaters during the first three quarters of 2014, suggesting that young people aren't interested in shelling out for feature films. The year also featured a magnificent summer slump, a reported 7-year low for domestic theater attendance.

 

The Academy Awards (apart from being an event where pretty people prance around in fancy clothes and clap for one another) has over the years made money for Hollywood. And it makes sense. When the winners, or even just the nominees, are announced, people want to see what all the hype is about. So they invest.

 

In honor of the new Oscar nominees, here are some random facts about the entertaining economic force that is the Academy Awards:

 

(Seth Kelley/Marketplace) 

 

(Seth Kelley/Marketplace)(Seth Kelley/Marketplace)(Seth Kelley/Marketplace)

Economic schmooze-fest in the Alps just got pricier

Thu, 2015-01-15 14:21

Next week, the world's rich and famous will descend on the small town of Davos, Switzerland. for the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum, which is essentially an invite-only schmooze-fest in the Alps.

Since the value of the Swiss franc rose 15 percent this morning, the exchange rate is going to make Davos a lot more expensive, Bloomberg points. Especially for Americans.

For instance, a Johnnie Walker Blue Label whisky at the Belvedere Hotel in Davos would set you back about $41. That's $6 more than yesterday. And a double room at that hotel — at last check — would cost $1,133 each night.

Sand turns a rural county upside-down

Thu, 2015-01-15 13:35

The fracking boom has transformed rural Trempealeau County, Wisconsin, and areas like it. There’s no oil or gas here —  just sand, the kind oil and gas drillers prefer. Fracking has made sand a $10 billion industry, and publicly traded companies have rushed in, digging enormous mines. Trempealeau — on the western side of the state, population 28,000 or so — has more mines than any other county.

“The onset of industrial sand mining pretty much flipped our county upside-down,” says Kevin Lien, who runs the county’s Department of Land Management. “And that’s probably an understatement.”

Pat Malone gives me a tour in her candy-apple red Toyota Corolla. She’s been here 26 years as a professor with the University of Wisconsin’s cooperative extension— kind of a full-time policy consultant to local government, on topics that include planning, health, and economic development.

 In March 2010, a woman came into her office, worried about a new neighbor. “She was talking about this sand mine, and all these awful things that would happen,” Malone recalls. “And in my head I’m going, ‘It’s just sand.’”

Malone had seen plenty of sand mines. Mostly small and temporary — gravel pits — supplying local construction projects.

But when she looked at the permit application for this mine, it was different. Most were a few pages long. This one was a few inches thick.

In the next three years, the county approved 27 more permits like it.

We go past that first site and lots of others: Giant silos, processing plants, and huge piles of sand. All on land that used to be rolling hills, covered with trees.

All of which have special value to people here, as Malone knows, having done many surveys and focus groups as part of the County’s planning process. “People really, really, really value the natural environment here,” she says. “Universally, top of the list.”

She says local residents pay a price for that value, in dollars. “If people took their job skills and went to New York or Chicago or Boston, they could make more money,” she says, “both in absolute and in real terms.”  

She gestures to the land around us. “But because they like this— these scenic hills, and the clean water, and the knowing-who-your-neighbor-is, and going and sitting in your patch of woods and hearing nothing— nothing!— they’re willing to pay for that.”

In addition to the changing landscape, people close to the mines hate the lights at night, the noise from blasting.

Then there are trucks carrying sand out. Most mines are permitted for at least 100 a day, and two-lane roads are the norm here.

“You look at this road,” Malone says as we idle near a mine, “and you’re like, gaad. Do you really want heavy truck traffic coming up and down this thing?”

Last, but not at all least, people worry about the air and the water.

Sand processing uses some potentially harmful chemicals, and there have been spills.

“A couple of years ago, we had seven mines operating here,” recalls Kevin Lien, the county land-use director. “And all seven were cited… for stormwater-runoff events. All seven. So the track-record isn’t great.”

With air quality, the big concern is dust — tiny particles that can be deadly over the long term.

In 2013, the county board declared a one-year moratorium on new mining permits, and Malone worked with a committee that studied the issue.

“For some of them I think they got sadder,” she says. “And for some of them, they got angrier.”

Among other things, the committee’s 150-page report found that mining had affected wells near some mines— and wells supply all of the county’s drinking water. With air quality, the committee found there wasn’t enough monitoring to know how much dust residents might be exposed to.

Malone takes me down County Road Q, where Hi-Crush Partners operates Trempealeau’s newest and biggest mine. A mile-long conveyor belt crosses the 800-acre site— and passes over County Road Q like a viaduct. It takes sand from the mine to a rail spur that Hi-Crush has built.

Chad McEver, a Hi-Crush executive who develops and oversees new mines, says the conveyor saves money. “Not having to truck is a huge advantage when it comes to costs,” he says. Less diesel, no drivers.

He expects the conveyor is also less annoying for neighbors. “We plan on on being here for a long time,” says McEver. “So we want people to like us, and want us to be here.”

That means financial support for local projects, and it means McEver tries to be responsive when neighbors complain. “If there are legitimate concerns or issues, we always take care of it, no questions asked,” he says. “We believe as a company in trying  to treat people the way we’d want to be treated, and I can honestly say that’s what we do.”

However, that doesn’t mean the neighbors are happy. They’ve still got noise from blasting, lights at night, and lingering concerns about air and water.

Bill and Angela Sylla live and farm across County Road Q from Hi-Crush. Their sons are two and five years old. Water has become their biggest concern.

A pump feeding their chicken barn failed last summer, not long after the Hi-Crush mine opened. Bill says it was clogged with sand. Hi-Crush had the well tested, and traces of lead and arsenic showed up.

“When you put everything together, they said it’s an OK level,” says Angela Sylla, at her kitchen table while her sons angle for her attention. “So it’s not unsafe, but it’s there.”

Chad McEver says the mine hasn’t hurt the Syllas’ water. Pat Malone has looked at the data and says it’s not conclusive.

When Hi-Crush first showed up, some of the Syllas’ neighbors sold land to the mine, at a big premium. Bill had just moved home to take over the farm his family has run for generations.

Now, they’re isolated, sleepless, worried about the water.

“The depression a person suffers some days is astronomical,” says Bill. “Because you just don’t know where to go, what to do. What can you do? What should you do? What’s your best option? You don’t know.”

By an agreement with the local government, Hi-Crush would buy the Syllas’ house for a guaranteed price, but not the $500,000 chicken barn the family installed a few years ago, and not the 200 acres they farm. For now, they’re staying put.

“These facilities are not going to make everybody happy,” says Chad McEver. “There’s no question about it.”

On the other hand, he says, the mine contributes to the local economy. “Every day I think of new examples,” he says. “Our plants buying parts from the local auto-parts store, the local hardware store, or the local janitorial company that comes out and cleans the offices.”  

Pat Malone ran economic-impact numbers when the first mine showed up, and found a modest contribution. A mine’s biggest expenditures— on heavy machinery— can’t be made locally. “You are talking about some big, honking pieces of equipment,” she says. “Well, there’s no Massive Pieces of Equipment retail outlet in Trempealeau County.”

Similarly, the profits go elsewhere, says financial analyst Brandon Dobell, who watches the oil and gas industry for William Blair & Company. “The sand’s being sold someplace else,” he says. “No one is headquartered in Wisconsin. It’s not like Texas, which has benefitted from the gazillions of dollars going into these wells, and the taxes from the oil and gas.”

Swiss National Bank gives up the ghost

Thu, 2015-01-15 13:23

The Swiss Franc is the sixth most-traded currency on the planet, and it exploded in value this morning by 15 percent.

That's because the Swiss National Bank surprised just about everyone when it stopped trying to control the currency.  It had been holding the currency down in value starting in 2011 during the eurozone crisis.  Investors at the time, fleeing the instability of the euro, sought to put their money in Switzerland.  That bid up the price of Swiss francs, hurting exporters.

The Swiss National Bank had printed nearly half a trillion Swiss francs in its effort to buy up other currencies and devalue the franc.  The bank called it quits without explaining its decision.  Perhaps it was concerns over inflation or public pressure, or fears that all the investments it was making were exposing it to undue risk.  Whatever the reason, the effect was immediate.

The economics of the sick day

Thu, 2015-01-15 13:06

President Obama is scheduled to deliver his sixth State of the Union address on Tuesday. He's been on something of a publicity tour, unveiling policies he plans to promote in that speech. Thursday's stop: Baltimore, where the president talked about paid sick leave, and the fact that some forty million workers in this country don't have it.

The president is calling on Congress, as well as states and cities, to make it possible for workers to earn up to seven paid sick days a year. So how much would that cost businesses? One study of a law in Connecticut found that nearly two-thirds of business owners said they saw little or no increase in costs. Eleven percent said their payroll costs increased by 3 percent or more.

"Three percent is terrible in this environment," says Bill Dunkelberg, chief economist of the National Federation of Independent Business.

Advocates of paid leave say it reduces turnover and makes for happier, healthier workers. 

"You end up with a more loyal employee base," says Amanda Rotschild, co-owner of Charmington's, a cafe in Baltimore that offers paid sick leave to its workers. "Your employees really want to work for you."

 

 

Inside an alternative universe of currencies

Thu, 2015-01-15 10:54

Satirists Sam Weiner and Daniel Kibblesmith tell us all about the hippest new currencies. They are the authors of the book "How to Win At Everything."

Using the boring old U.S. dollar has never been more passe! Here's a look at the cool, new alternative currencies that will soon be lining your wallet.

Bitcoin
This hip, crypto-currency is a modern, all-digital legal tender, free from the manipulative tampering and full faith and credit of the U.S. government. It's the exciting new way to pay for online transactions like pizza, downloadable video games and ... several other things that aren't illegal drugs or child soldiers.

Gold bullion
These coins will always retain their value, and unlike paper money, they'll really sting when you whip them at a Starbucks employee who insists they only take "real" money.

Camel cash
Sure, fewer people than ever are smoking, but that constrained supply only makes Camel cash more valuable! Start searching your sketchy uncle's coat pockets for a potential fortune in this thriving cartoon currency.

Natural currency
As for animal lovers, you might want to invest in a natural currency like elephant ivory, tiger pelts or priceless gorilla skeletons.

HBO GO passwords
The oldest currency in the world.

Yes, no matter which one these alternative currencies you turn to, you can feel secure that they'll stay refreshingly unregulated, impossible to insure, and easily made worthless by the unknowable whims of a lawless marketplace. Happy spending!

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