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Jeff Bezos on the best gift he's ever recieved

Mon, 2014-12-08 12:00

Ten years ago, we started calling up big names in business and culture and asking them, "What was the best gift you've received?"

In honor of Marketplace's 25th anniversary and the holiday season, we've pulled the "Best Gift Ever" series out of our archives. Here's the answer we got from Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, which originally aired in December 2004:

The best gift I ever received was all the construction toys that my grandfather gave me over the years when I was a little kid. You know, Lincoln Logs, Erector Sets, Legos. 

Every year I'd get a new construction toy of some kind. And then building things is something that has served me well all throughout the years. 

In fact, I love construction toys to this day, and I love them so much that for my fifth wedding anniversary, my wife gave me a huge, 5-foot-tall tool chest filled to the brim with Legos.

 

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Here's how the story originally played when it aired in 2004:

LISA NAPOLI: Time now for our Holiday feature, the Best Gift Ever.

JEFF BEZOS: My name is Jeff Bezos and I'm the founder and CEO of Amazon.com.

The best gift I ever received was all the construction toys that my grandfather gave me over the years when I was a little kid. You know, Lincoln Logs, Erector Sets, Legos.

Every year I'd get a new construction toy of some kind. And then building things is something that has served me well all throughout the years.

In fact, I love construction toys to this day, and I love them so much that for my fifth wedding anniversary, my wife gave me a huge five-foot-tall tool chest filled to the brim with Legos.

NAPOLI: Jeff Bezos is CEO of Amazon.com

BEZOS OUTTAKE: What really turned into the best gift was I then got to spend all of my summers working with him on his ranch. Ranchers build everything so I got to do the construction toys for real. We would arc weld gates and build fences and lay pipelines.

 

Santa Claus' estimated salary for 2014

Mon, 2014-12-08 11:00

According to insure.com, Santa Claus would make $139,924 this year. This is up 1.5 percent from last year.

The insurance website used Labor Department wage and hour data to calculate its estimate. Most of Santa's salary comes from managing the North Pole toy factory and piloting the sleigh, which the survey determined would earn him the salaries of an industrial engineer and a pilot, respectively.

They also commissioned a survey to see how much people think Santa should make. A total of 29 percent say $1.8 billion, or $1 for each child on the planet under the age of 15. Another 29 percent said he should work for free, and the rest split the difference.

The survey polled 895 adults who said Santa visits their homes.

Here's Santa Claus' estimated salary this year

Mon, 2014-12-08 11:00

According to insure.com, Santa Claus would make $139,924 this year. This is up 1.5 percent from last year.

The insurance website used Labor Department wage and hour data to calculate its estimate. Most of Santa's salary comes from managing the North Pole toy factory and piloting the sleigh, which the survey determined would earn him the salaries of an industrial engineer and a pilot, respectively.

They also commissioned a survey to see how much people think Santa should make. A total of 29 percent say $1.8 billion, or $1 for each child on the planet under the age of 15. Another 29 percent said he should work for free, and the rest split the difference.

The survey polled 895 adults who said Santa visits their homes.

Merck invests in new antibiotics

Mon, 2014-12-08 11:00

Pharmaceutical giant Merck is acquiring antibiotics maker Cubist for more than $8 billion. The deal upends conventional thinking in the market: Some 23,000 Americans die each year from infections resistant to drugs, and overprescribing worsens the problem. Yet big drug companies have been exiting the space since it’s not lucrative.

Analysts say the Merck deal may make sense for a few reasons. Drug companies are focusing more on targeted products than blockbusters. Those new antibiotics can shorten hospital stays and persuade insurance companies to pay for them. Federal grants also help companies develop new antibiotics, and more may be on the way. Finally, the scarcity of next-generation antibiotics may help drug makers raise prices.

Click below to hear an interview on the subject with Michael Kinch, director of Washington University's Center for Research Innovation in Business.

 

Click below for a longer interview with Jeff Wager, co-founder and CEO of Enbiotix.

 

 

 

 

Why a strong dollar's a dud for indebted foreign firms

Mon, 2014-12-08 11:00

The dollar is super strong right now.  It's up 11 percent against the euro, and 16 percent versus the yen.

That's good news for Americans who want to spend their money abroad. It's even better news for foreign companies who want to sell their stuff to us. Except for the ones that borrowed money in dollars – which is a lot of companies over the last few years.

Those companies have to pay interest in dollars on those loans, but they get paid locally in their own currency. So, as the dollar rises, they have to pay more local currency to buy the dollars to service their debts. There's a big risk here, if companies start to default on those loans, or, worse go bankrupt. It could present a threat to their host countries, and maybe to the entire economy.

Cosmo and CoverGirl team up on New Year's Eve

Mon, 2014-12-08 11:00

Cosmopolitan magazine has teamed up with one of their biggest advertisers, Cover Girl makeup, to ring in the New Year together.

 

The two companies agreed to a joint sponsorship of the New Year’s Eve ball at Times Square in New York City. 

 

The event has lots of marketing potential, according to Jessica L’Esperance, a Vice President of User Experience at Huge Inc. She says experiential advertising is preferable to stagnant, traditional methods. For Cover Girl, the event means people in Times Square will be able to try their products in an environment that they associate with a fun celebration.

 

"There is no print ad or TV commercial that's really going to help you see it on your own face," says L’Esperance.

 

From Cosmo’s perspective, getting one of your advertisers like to help foot your marketing bill is a pretty savvy strategy too, according to Cathy McPhillips of the Content Marketing Institute. Cosmo and Cover Girl has very similar audiences and they're not competitors.

 

But McPhillips says getting into bed with just one advertiser could backfire for Cosmo. They run the risk of losing advertising dollars from some of their other clients. 

Going on a therapeutic shopping spree

Mon, 2014-12-08 09:43

The end of the year means plenty of deadlines, and here's one that maybe you forgot about: spending down all the tax-free money socked away in a healthcare flexible spending account, or FSA.

When that happens, a lot of us go shopping, says Kate Goughary, who manages Modern Eye in West Philadelphia.

Our buzz months are usually in June and December,” she says. June because its the end of many firms’ fiscal years, and December because of FSAs.

I always just say, 'Don't panic,’” she says. “We're here to help, and I have something in this store for every budget and every face.”

People get so worked up because, historically, flexible spending accounts have been use-it-or-lose-it. That changed last fall, and now you can set aside up to $2,550 and roll over as much as $500 to the next year.

So there won't be as much of a rush at the end of the year for employees to spend money on things that they don't really need,” says Bruce Elliott with the Society for Human Resource Management.

The new rule came out so late in 2013 most employers didn't shift their policies, but Elliott expects that to change for 2015.

So if you have dollars left to spend, You can use it for just about any medical, dental or vision expense," Elliott says, "as long as it's not cosmetic and as long as it's therapeutic.”

Quiz: Charter school city

Mon, 2014-12-08 04:43

More than 2.7 million students attend charter schools in 42 states, according to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

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Japan sinks into a deeper recession

Mon, 2014-12-08 03:00
1.9 percent

That's how much Japan's economy shrunk in the third quarter compared to the second, Bloomberg reported. That puts the country in a deeper recession than predicted.

113th

The 113th Congress comes to an end in a couple weeks, which makes for a lame-duck session. Before then, lawmakers have to figure out how to fund the government, and they have to deal with both a defense bill and tax breaks that are set to expire.

5 percent

That's the portion of New York City cops who bring charges in 40 percent of resisting arrest cases. That's according to a report from WNYC, which also notes 60 percent of officers didn't charge anyone with the crime. 

November 24

The day a grand jury declined to charge Ferguson, Missouri police officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of Michael Brown, not long after, another cop in New York would be cleared of similar charges. Twitter tracked the hashtags "#HandsUpDontShoot," "#BlackLivesMatter" and "#ICantBreathe." That day through last week, to see how protests changes over time.

PODCAST: Diversifying the police force

Mon, 2014-12-08 03:00

First up on today's show: how H&R Block is doing with its strategy of offering help with ACA stuff as a way to bring new customers in to the tax service. Plus, after Ferguson, there has been more than a little talk about making police forces more reflective of the communities they serve. But that's no panacea. And new research out of Pew says lame duck sessions of Congress are more productive than you might think. But what about this Congress in particular -- how effective has it been, and can we really expect a surge in productivity?

Ben Affleck on sustainable aid in the Eastern Congo

Mon, 2014-12-08 02:00

Actor and philanthropist, Ben Affleck sat down with David Brancaccio to talk about Affleck's foundation, the Eastern Congo Initiative. The organization is an advocacy and grant-making initiative focused on working with and for the people of eastern Congo.  

Five facts about the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the history of conflict in the country: 

  • With a population of more than 68 million people, the Democratic Republic of the Congo is the fourth most populous country in Africa, and the 18th most populous country in the world
  • The Democratic Republic of Congo is home to the second-largest rainforest in the world – 18% of the planet’s remaining tropical rainforests are in the region.
  • More than 250 ethnic groups reside in the Democratic Republic of Congo and they speak more than 240 languages.
  • Violence, poverty and disease in the Democratic Republic of Congo have claimed the lives of more than 5 million men, women and children.
  • Despite democratic elections and multiple peace agreements, the eastern region is still impacted by conflict – more than 1.3 million people are not able to return to their homes.

 

Ben Affleck walks among a crowd at a camp outside of Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo.

Credit: Barbara Kinney

 

Ben Affleck on his first visits to eastern Congo, and what made him want to help: 

"The people who were living there were not, you know, hiding under tables. They were not cowering before warlords. You could go to a city and people were still going to work, and trying to sell cellphone chips and bananas and these little scooters, and that the human spirit was such that they wanted not only to live, but to thrive and to succeed. In fact, the very same things we believe in fervently here. Sort of the American dream. The Congolese had a very similar dream, and I was moved by that.

"You know I had a sort of ... subconsciously labored under this delusion that's fostered here when we see images of Africans. You know, swollen bellies, laying on their back, flies on their eyes, [saying] "help us," you know, that sort of thing, waiting for a handout. And these were people who in particular in the community-based organizations that I was drawn to who were doing that work for themselves and in an extremely smart and dedicated way."

 On how he is trying to help: 

"When we looked at aid and traditional aid and aid models and [at] what was successful, we found a really mixed bag. In fact, opponents of aid will point out that $50 billion has been given over the last 70 years, and there hasn't been much progress. Part of what we believed was that that was because, in large measure, it was about western people paying themselves to go over there and sort of wander around and do very short-term projects. So we wanted to do something sustainable that would raise incomes and that would be there long after we were gone. And so what we chose was coffee and cocoa. Both of which [for]  the Congolese were huge businesses and huge agricultural sources of revenue before the war." 

 On being just another guy from California who thinks he's got the prescription for fixing problems half a world away: 

"One of the flaws that we identified when I first started traveling and doing research was that you have large NGOs [non-governmental organizations] who sort of plant themselves in the region and say, "This is how you're going to do it." And I sort of liken it to as if the Chinese showed up in Iowa and said, "No, no, no this is how you're going to farm." They may have a good technique for farming, but the cultural issues and the dramatic change would be such that it would be counterproductive. So what we do is we identify the community organizations who are already in the communities. Who already have the relationships. Who are already leaders in the communities. Who have experience with what they're doing, and we help foster growth with them. We help support them. We help expand what they can do....

"I am keenly aware of the fact that I am a guy from California. That despite the fact that I've been [to] the region nine times, and have done a lot of research and know a lot of people down there, that doesn't make me an expert. What makes me smart is that I listen to experts, and most of all I listen to the Congolese." 

 

 

Close-up of coffee beans from one of the Eastern Congo Initiative's partner cooperatives.

Credit: Michael Christopher Brown

 

 

Affleck also has a few suggestions for how to get involved and help. You can also listen to them by clicking on the above audio link: 

  • Support and buy products made by the Congolese.
  • Become aware of the issues.
  • Become a constituency and support politicians who support these issues. 

You can find more information and ways to help at easterncongo.org 

Note: Listen to Marketplace Morning Report this week and next for more stories about the Democratic Republic of Congo. Marketplace reporter, Sabri Ben-Achour, went to Congo for two weeks, and produced stories about the difficulties the country is facing, corruption, war, and the courageous struggle that individuals have to go through to rebuild their lives.

Ben Affleck on the Eastern Congo Initiative

Mon, 2014-12-08 02:00

Actor and philanthropist, Ben Affleck sat down with David Brancaccio to talk about Affleck's foundation, the Eastern Congo Initiative. The organization is an advocacy and grant-making initiative focused on working with and for the people of eastern Congo. 

 

Five facts about the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the history of conflict in the country:

 

  • With a population of more than 68 million people, the Democratic Republic of the Congo is the fourth most populous country in Africa, and the 18th most populous country in the world
  • The Democratic Republic of Congo is home to the second-largest rainforest in the world – 18% of the planet’s remaining tropical rainforests are in the region.
  • More than 250 ethnic groups reside in the Democratic Republic of Congo and they speak more than 240 languages.
  • Violence, poverty and disease in the Democratic Republic of Congo have claimed the lives of more than 5 million men, women and children.
  • Despite democratic elections and multiple peace agreements, the eastern region is still impacted by conflict – more than 1.3 million people are not able to return to their homes.

 

Ben Affleck walks among a crowd at a camp outside of Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo.

Credit: Barbara Kinney

 

Ben Affleck on his first visits to eastern Congo, and what made him want to help:

 

"The people who were living there were not, you know, hiding under tables. They were not cowering before warlords. You could go to a city and people were still going to work, and trying to sell cellphone chips and bananas and these little scooters, and that the human spirit was such that they wanted not only to live, but to thrive and to succeed. In fact, the very same things we believe in fervently here. Sort of the American dream. The Congolese had a very similar dream, and I was moved by that.

"You know I had a sort of ... subconsciously labored under this delusion that's fostered here when we see images of Africans. You know, swollen bellies, laying on their back, flies on their eyes, [saying] "help us," you know, that sort of thing, waiting for a handout. And these were people who in particular in the community-based organizations that I was drawn to who were doing that work for themselves and in an extremely smart and dedicated way."

 

On how he is trying to help:

 

"When we looked at aid and traditional aid and aid models and [at] what was successful, we found a really mixed bag. In fact, opponents of aid will point out that $50 billion has been given over the last 70 years, and there hasn't been much progress. Part of what we believed was that that was because, in large measure, it was about western people paying themselves to go over there and sort of wander around and do very short-term projects. So we wanted to do something sustainable that would raise incomes and that would be there long after we were gone. And so what we chose was coffee and cocoa. Both of which [for]  the Congolese were huge businesses and huge agricultural sources of revenue before the war." 

 

On being just another guy from California who thinks he's got the prescription for fixing problems half a world away:

 

"One of the flaws that we identified when I first started traveling and doing research was that you have large NGOs [non-governmental organizations] who sort of plant themselves in the region and say, "This is how you're going to do it." And I sort of liken it to as if the Chinese showed up in Iowa and said, "No, no, no this is how you're going to farm." They may have a good technique for farming, but the cultural issues and the dramatic change would be such that it would be counterproductive. So what we do is we identify the community organizations who are already in the communities. Who already have the relationships. Who are already leaders in the communities. Who have experience with what they're doing, and we help foster growth with them. We help support them. We help expand what they can do....

"I am keenly aware of the fact that I am a guy from California. That despite the fact that I've been [to] the region nine times, and have done a lot of research and know a lot of people down there, that doesn't make me an expert. What makes me smart is that I listen to experts, and most of all I listen to the Congolese." 

 

 

Close-up of coffee beans from one of the Eastern Congo Initiative's partner cooperatives.

Credit: Michael Christopher Brown

 

 

Affleck also has a few suggestions for how to get involved and help. You can also listen to them by clicking on the above audio link:

 

  • Support and buy products made by the Congolese.
  • Become aware of the issues.
  • Become a constituency and support politicians who support these issues.

 

You can find more information and ways to help at easterncongo.org

 

Note: Listen to Marketplace Morning Report this week and next for more stories about the Democratic Republic of Congo. Marketplace reporter, Sabri Ben-Achour, went to Congo for two weeks, and produced stories about the difficulties the country is facing, corruption, war, and the courageous struggle that individuals have to go through to rebuild their lives.

 

More diverse police forces are only the first step

Mon, 2014-12-08 02:00

As nationwide protests about police killings continue, the idea of diversifying police forces to better reflect their communities has taken hold. But forces in many big cities have been increasingly diverse for decades, with a mixed record of success in affecting changes in tactics and improving community relationships. 

David Sklansky of Stanford Law School, who has studied demographics changes in U.S. police departments and wrote a paper on the subject, found that the pace of change has varied greatly among departments, but that demographic transformation, where it has occurred, has gone a long way in breaking down entrenched police subcultures of institutional solidarity and insularity. 

"What you see is enormous change, enormous progress but uneven progress and incomplete progress," Sklansky says. "Departments, as they've diversified, have become more dynamic, lively places, where there's much more discussion, and much greater range of opinions voiced." 

The police department in New York, for example, now has the most diverse force in its history. As of 2010, a majority of its patrol officers were reportedly from minority populations. Yet recent protests in New York have drawn attention to complaints about police use of force and aggressive tactics such as 'stop-and-frisk,' which the department has largely discontinued under New York's new mayor Bill de Blasio.

"There's a lot of distrust," says Terrell Jones, a community worker who helps low-income people affected by drug abuse. Jones says he can remember negative experiences with the police in New York dating back to his teenage years in the 1970s. 

"Me being a man of color ... I can remember when I was young, I was beat up by the police for just sitting on my block," Jones says. "And nothing has changed. It has gotten worse." 

Protesters in New York City hold signs referencing the 'Broken Windows' policing strategy, which targets lower-level crimes in urban settings.

Nova Safo/Marketplace

Adding more minority patrol officers to the rank and file doesn't necessarily improve the relationship with a community, says Nelson Lim, Senior Social Scientist with the RAND Corporation's Center on Quality Policing. 

"The scientific literature on minority officers behavior, whether they're substantively different from white officers ... is mixed," says Lim, adding that having a diverse workforce is still important because it makes it easier for police departments to change their tactics. The key ingredient being leadership both from politicians and police managers, says Lim. 

"I cannot overemphasize the leadership," Lim says. "[If] they develop good relationship(s) with minority communities ... you will see the change." 

Congress' long to-do list may make it more productive

Mon, 2014-12-08 02:00

On Capitol Hill, a lame-duck session is underway. There are just a few weeks left until the 113th Congress is over, and the 114th Congress begins and ushers in a Republican majority in both the House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate. Before then, lawmakers have to figure out how to fund the government, and they have to deal with both a defense bill and tax breaks that are set to expire.

According to the Pew Research Center, lame-duck sessions “are shouldering more of the legislative workload than they used to.” Sarah Binder, a political science professor at George Washington University, argues they have become more important in this era of stopgap spending bills. “They provide that final deadline,” she says. “An action-forcing deadline.”

Pew says productivity may increase as a congress winds down. But Linda Fowler, a government professor at Dartmouth College, says there are consequences to leaving; for example, budgeting to the last minute. “A government can’t plan when it doesn’t know how much money it has to spend,” she notes.

Mark Peterson, a public policy professor at UCLA, says this lame-duck session is going to seem especially productive.

“The congress during the regular session came close to doing nothing," he says. "So, the proportionality of actually getting work done is going to look more impressive in the post-election period.”

That is thanks in part to how much time lawmakers spent on recess this year, campaigning to stay in Congress. 

H&R Block bundles taxes and health insurance

Mon, 2014-12-08 02:00

The tax preparation company H&R Block releases its earnings report on Monday. And this year, the company has broadened its services; it will not only help file your taxes, it’s also offering to help you sign up for health care. This is a direct result of the way that taxes and healthcare have become linked by the Affordable Care Act.

“Presumably low- and middle-income households are where the action is on this issue of health insurance and tax filling,” says Bill Gale, a tax policy expert at the Brookings Institution.

Many of the people signing up for healthcare for the first time are from low- and middle-income households. This is the same segment of the population that makes up the bulk of H&R Block’s customers, whose satisfaction is directly tied to the size of their tax refund. This year, those refunds could be smaller for people who don’t sign up for health insurance.

“You could pay a penalty of $285 for not enrolling,” says Nicole Smith, an economist with the Center on Education and the Workforce at Georgetown University.

For people who don’t sign up for coverage, that penalty gets larger each year. There are subsidies available for people who earn less than four times the poverty rate. All of this means that filing taxes this year will be more complicated than in previous years.

Companies like H&R Block owe much of their existence to the complicated nature of filing taxes. And now with healthcare thrown into the mix, their services have expanded accordingly.

 

Weekly Wrap: Gentrification and and the jobs report

Fri, 2014-12-05 16:00

Joining Kai to talk about the week's news is Fortune's Leigh Gallagher and Cardiff Garcia from FT Alphaville. First up, we widen the scope of our "York & Fig" series to look at gentrification on a national scale. Then: we look at Friday's "unambiguously good" jobs report.

York & Fig: How gentrification flips a neighborhood

Fri, 2014-12-05 14:05

For 23 years, Frank Cordova owned a little shop on Figueroa Street in Highland Park. It’s one of those shops that sold a bit of everything: Shampoo, car speakers, picture frames, dictionaries, all at a deep discount. Frank had been behind the counter, selling this stuff every day since 1991, when he hired a mariachi band to play at his grand opening.

In all the years since, he’d taken no vacations, no sick days, no days off for anniversaries or birthdays. His motto: “If it’s raining you come to work. If it’s sunny you come to work. If it’s cold you come to work. If it’s windy you come to work. No matter how it is, you always come to work.”

That is, until the day you don’t.

Read the rest of this story at YorkAndFig.com

York & Fig: How gentrification flips a neighborhood

Fri, 2014-12-05 14:05

For 23 years, Frank Cordova owned a little shop on Figueroa Street in Highland Park. It’s one of those shops that sold a bit of everything: Shampoo, car speakers, picture frames, dictionaries, all at a deep discount. Frank had been behind the counter, selling this stuff every day since 1991, when he hired a mariachi band to play at his grand opening.

In all the years since, he’d taken no vacations, no sick days, no days off for anniversaries or birthdays. His motto: “If it’s raining you come to work. If it’s sunny you come to work. If it’s cold you come to work. If it’s windy you come to work. No matter how it is, you always come to work.”

That is, until the day you don’t.

Read the rest of this story at YorkAndFig.com

Changing neighborhoods: York & Fig

Fri, 2014-12-05 12:53

Marketplace Weekend goes from New York  to a special satellite bureau set up in the Highland Park neighborhood of Los Angeles. An entire team of Marketplace reporters and producers spent four months there, at the intersection of York Boulevard and Figueroa Street. The name of this project is York and Fig. It's an area undergoing rapid gentrification. There are obvious changes in the neighborhood, and more subtle stuff you only learn from close careful observation. Krissy Clark of Marketplace's Wealth and Poverty desk, spoke with Lizzie O'Leary about her reporting. 

York & Fig: Perspectives on gentrification

Fri, 2014-12-05 12:15

Marketplace's Wealth and Poverty Desk spent four and a half months in Los Angeles' Highland Park neighborhood to report on gentrification as it happens. The result is the the week-long project York & Fig.

As the series came to a close, Marketplace host Kai Ryssdal returned to the Highland Park bureau to chat with three residents, old and new, about what gentrification means to them and how they've been effected by the area's changing demographics.

Vidal Reyna and Miki Jackson have lived in Highland Park for decades, and Erica Daking moved to the neighborhood three years ago and owns the vegan café Kitchen Mouse.  

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