David Kestenbaum

David Kestenbaum is a correspondent for NPR, covering science, energy issues and, most recently, the global economy for NPR's multimedia project Planet Money. David has been a science correspondent for NPR since 1999. He came to journalism the usual way — by getting a Ph.D. in physics first.

In his years at NPR, David has covered science's discoveries and its darker side, including the Northeast blackout, the anthrax attacks and the collapse of the New Orleans levees. He has also reported on energy issues, particularly nuclear and climate change.

David has won awards from the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Physical Society and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.

David worked briefly on the show This American Life, and set up a radio journalism program in Cambodia on a Fulbright fellowship. He also teaches a journalism class at Johns Hopkins University.

David holds a bachelor's of science degree in physics from Yale University and a doctorate in physics from Harvard University.

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Planet Money
3:21 am
Thu July 17, 2014

Evaluating The Benefits And Costs Of Patents

Originally published on Thu July 17, 2014 9:09 am

Transcript

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

The electric car company Tesla recently took the unusual step of effectively giving up all its patents. That means any competitor is now free to take the company's ideas and run with them. David Kestenbaum with our Planet Money team looked at why Tesla did it and what the world might be like if we got rid of patents altogether.

DAVID KESTENBAUM, BYLINE: Back in 2007, I road in an early Tesla prototype with the guy who is now the company's CEO, Elon Musk.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

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Planet Money
1:31 am
Fri July 11, 2014

When Ikea Raises Its Minimum Wage, Where Does The Money Come From?

Flickr user: dahlstroms

Originally published on Fri July 11, 2014 1:04 pm

Ikea, a company famous for keeping its costs down, recently announced that it would raise the average minimum wage for its retail workers to $10.76 an hour. Why would the company volunteer to pay its workers more?

"By taking better care of our coworkers," says Rob Olson, the acting president of Ikea U.S., "they will take better care of our customers, who will take better care of Ikea. We see it as a win-win-win opportunity."

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Planet Money
3:12 am
Thu June 12, 2014

Volatility Index Indicates Wall Street Is Bored

Originally published on Thu June 12, 2014 7:40 am

An economic indicator commonly called the VIX, volatility index, is also known as the fear index. Whatever you call it, the index is hitting lows not seen since before the financial crisis.

Planet Money
4:08 pm
Thu June 5, 2014

Why A Pack Of Peanut Butter M&M's Weighs A Tiny Bit Less Than A Regular Pack

Peanut Butter M&M's are larger and more irregular than standard M&M's.
Quoctrung Bui/NPR

Originally published on Wed June 25, 2014 3:03 pm

The other day I went down to the little shop in the lobby of our building for a snack. I couldn't decide whether I wanted regular M&M's or Peanut Butter M&M's so I bought them both. On the way back upstairs to the office, I noticed something strange on the labels. Each had cost $1, but the pack of Peanut Butter M&M's was a very tiny bit lighter: 0.06 ounces lighter!

I wanted to know why, so I called a couple of experts and asked for their theories:

Theory No. 1: Peanut Butter M&M's are more expensive to make.

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Planet Money
3:05 am
Thu May 22, 2014

On The Internet, A Penny Is Nothing To Sneeze At

Originally published on Thu May 22, 2014 7:18 am

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

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Planet Money
1:15 pm
Fri May 16, 2014

Is A Stradivarius Just A Violin?

A Stradivarius violin at the restoration and research laboratory of the Musee de la Musique, Paris, in 2009.
Patrick Kovarik AFP/Getty Images

Originally published on Fri May 16, 2014 6:00 pm

The Stradivarius violin gets its name from master craftsman Antonio Stradivari. When he died in 1737, his secrets died with him: No one has ever been able to duplicate the sound of the violins or violas he made.

His instruments have taken on a mythical quality. Today they fetch millions of dollars at auctions; Sotheby's will soon auction off a viola that it expects to sell for $45 million.

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Around the Nation
2:00 pm
Wed May 14, 2014

The Mystery Of Tappan Zee: Why Build A Bridge Where The River's Wide?

Originally published on Wed May 14, 2014 5:59 pm

Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

Now, there's a curious fact about the Tappan Zee Bridge that President Obama was standing next to today. It's located at a spot where it seems to make the least economic sense to place a bridge - one of the widest parts of the Hudson River. Three years ago, David Kestenbaum of our Planet Money team dug into this. Here's an encore presentation of his report.

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Economy
2:44 pm
Fri May 2, 2014

In 4,000 Years, One Thing Hasn't Changed: It Takes Time To Buy Light

Originally published on Sat May 3, 2014 9:17 am

Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

And now, 4,000 years of economic growth in seven minutes. This story comes, of course, from our Planet Money team. David Kestenbaum and Jacob Goldstein bring us the history of light and how the world came what it is today.

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Health Care
3:03 pm
Thu April 24, 2014

How One State Convinced Its 'Young Invincibles' To Get Health Insurance

A 2008 ad trying to convince uninsured Massachusetts residents to get signed up for health insurance.
Sawyer Miller Advertising

Originally published on Fri April 25, 2014 10:45 am

Buying insurance doesn't always feel like it makes economic sense, especially for young healthy people. So why are they still willing to pay?

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

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Planet Money
2:59 am
Fri April 4, 2014

New Web Addresses Provide Alternatives To Crowded Domains

Originally published on Fri April 4, 2014 6:22 am

Transcript

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

On a Friday it's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Steve Inskeep.

LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

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Planet Money
3:41 pm
Thu March 6, 2014

Does Raising The Minimum Wage Kill Jobs?

Kenzo Tribouillard AFP/Getty Images

Originally published on Thu March 6, 2014 5:50 pm

President Obama has called for increasing the minimum wage, saying it will help some of the poorest Americans. Opponents argue that a higher minimum wage will lead employers to cut jobs.

Figuring out the effect of raising the minimum wage is tough. Ideally you'd like to compare one universe where the minimum was raised against an alternate universe where it remained fixed.

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Planet Money
1:39 am
Fri January 17, 2014

The Birth Of The Minimum Wage In America

Franklin D. Roosevelt Libarary

Originally published on Fri January 17, 2014 2:46 pm

In 1895, legislators in New York state decided to improve working conditions in what at the time could be a deadly profession: baking bread.

"Bakeries are actually extremely dangerous places to work," says Eric Rauchway, a historian at the University of California, Davis. "Because flour is such a fine particulate, if it gets to hang in the air it can catch fire and the whole room can go up in a sheet of flame."

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Planet Money
3:22 am
Thu January 2, 2014

A Bet, Five Metals And The Future Of The Planet

James Cridland Flickr

Originally published on Wed January 8, 2014 9:24 am

This famous bet — between a biologist and an economist — was over population growth. It started three decades ago, but it helped set the tone for environmental debates that are still happening today.

The biologist at the heart of this bet was Paul Ehrlich at Stanford. He wrote a best-selling book in 1968 called The Population Bomb. It was so popular he appeared on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.

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Planet Money
3:27 pm
Tue December 24, 2013

The Great Handbell War

Malmark handbells on the left and Schulmerich bells on the right.
malmark.com/schulmerichbells.com

Originally published on Wed December 25, 2013 10:21 am

Jake Malta left his job as chief engineer at Schulmerich, the world's biggest handbell company, in 1973.

But Malta couldn't stop thinking about bells. He had a vision for a perfect bell — a bell he had never quite achieved at Schulmerich.

So he set up shop in his living room. "He had a folding table, two of them, stretched out with all of his drafting supplies and piano behind him," his daughter, Joann, says.

He traveled to Europe and studied the physics of bells. He made sketch after sketch. "He knew that he could make it better," his daughter says.

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Planet Money
10:43 pm
Wed December 11, 2013

We Found This 20-Year-Old T-Shirt In Kenya. The Internet Found The Original Owner

Tshirt
Quoctrung Bui

Originally published on Wed December 11, 2013 10:46 pm

We recently published a story about how used clothes that get donated in the U.S. often wind up for sale in markets in Africa. As part of the story, we published some photos of used T-shirts we found in a couple of markets in Kenya.

One shirt in particular caught our eye:

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Economy
5:47 pm
Thu December 5, 2013

Meet The Humble Container That Moves The Global Economy

The container carrying the Planet Money women's T-shirts is loaded onto a ship in Cartagena, Colombia.
Eric Helton for NPR

Originally published on Fri December 6, 2013 12:49 pm

NPR's Planet Money team is manufacturing its own T-shirt. After the women's shirt was assembled in Colombia, they voyaged by container ship to Miami. The container, a big standardized box that moves easily from truck to ship to train, is the unsung hero of the global economy. It was invented in the 1950s and dramatically reduced shipping costs, ushering in a new era vastly different than the world retired stevedores remember.

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Planet Money
1:00 am
Fri November 22, 2013

A Bitcoin Insider On Crime, Congress And Satoshi Nakamoto

This is not a bitcoin.
eagleapex's posterous Flickr

Originally published on Fri November 22, 2013 9:48 am

For more on what Bitcoin is and how it works, see our story "What Is Bitcoin?"

Gavin Andresen is chief scientist at the Bitcoin Foundation. I first talked with him about Bitcoin, the virtual currency, back in 2011. I checked back in with him this week, because so much has been going on with Bitcoin lately.

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Planet Money
1:06 am
Fri November 15, 2013

What's A Bubble?

Robert Shiller and Eugene Fama shared this year's Nobel Memorial Prize.
AP

Originally published on Sun November 17, 2013 11:58 am

Robert Shiller was surprised when he got the call telling him he'd won the Nobel Memorial Prize in economics — surprised that he'd won (of course), but also surprised that he was sharing the award with Eugene Fama.

"He and I seem to have very different views," Shiller told me. "It's like we're different religions."

In particular, they have very different views about economic bubbles.

"The word 'bubble' drives me nuts, frankly," Fama told me.

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Planet Money
1:29 am
Fri October 25, 2013

What Happens When You Just Give Money To Poor People?

Bernard Omondi got $1,000 from GiveDirectly.
Jacob Goldstein NPR

Originally published on Fri October 25, 2013 8:34 am

For more of our reporting on this story, please see our work in The New York Times Magazine and on This American Life.

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Planet Money
1:26 am
Fri October 18, 2013

I Lent $999.78 To The Federal Government*

NPR

Originally published on Fri October 18, 2013 11:29 am

Earlier this week, I bought a Treasury bill.

Everybody calls Treasury bills T-bills, and they work like this: The government promises to pay holders of T-bills a specific amount on a specific day in the near future. For the T-bill I bought, the government promised to pay $1,000 on Oct. 31.

I bought the T-bill on Tuesday, before Congress had made the debt-ceiling deal, so it was unclear whether I would get paid back on time.

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Planet Money
1:00 am
Thu October 10, 2013

What A U.S. Default Would Mean For Pensions, China And Social Security

iStockphoto.com

Originally published on Thu October 10, 2013 10:38 am

What would happen if Congress doesn't raise the debt ceiling and the U.S. defaults on its debt later this month? The broad economic implications are unpredictable, but a default could cause huge trouble for the global economy.

But whatever happens to the global economy, one thing is clear: People all over the world who have loaned the U.S. government money won't get paid on time.

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The Two-Way
11:55 am
Tue October 8, 2013

An Aerogramme From Professor Higgs, Nobel Winner

Letter from Peter Higgs
David Kestenbaum NPR

Originally published on Tue October 8, 2013 4:02 pm

Well, it's happened. British scientist Peter Higgs has won a Nobel Prize for proposing the Higgs boson particle as part of a mechanism that explains how things in the universe came to have mass.

Higgs seems to be lying low today so far — a colleague told The New York Times that Higgs had "gone off by himself for a few days without saying where" and that a reporter seeking an interview recently had been "sent away with a flea in his ear."

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Planet Money
1:36 am
Mon September 30, 2013

One Key Thing No One Knows About Obamacare

Getty Images

Originally published on Mon September 30, 2013 5:44 am

Tuesday is a big day for Obamacare. The online marketplaces where people can shop for health insurance are supposed to open for business.

No one really knows who is going to sign up — not the Obama administration, not the insurance industry, not the president's critics. Yet the success of the law hangs on this question: Will the right mix of people sign up? In particular, will healthy people buy health insurance?

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Planet Money
1:21 am
Mon September 2, 2013

Ecuador To World: Pay Up To Save The Rainforest. World To Ecuador: Meh.

An aerial view of the Yasuni National Park, in Ecuador's northeastern jungle.
Dolores Ochoa AP

Originally published on Mon September 2, 2013 5:04 pm

The government of Ecuador has abandoned a plan that would have kept part of the Amazonian rainforest off limits to oil drilling. The initiative was an unusual one: Ecuador was promising to keep the oil in the ground, but it wanted to be paid for doing so.

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Planet Money
3:01 pm
Fri August 23, 2013

Cash, Cows And The Rise Of Nerd Philanthropy

A family in western Kenya received this cow as part of a Heifer International program.
NPR

Originally published on Fri August 23, 2013 7:12 pm

For more of our reporting on this story, please see our recent column in the New York Times Magazine, and the latest episode of This American Life.

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Planet Money
1:24 am
Fri August 23, 2013

The Charity That Just Gives Money To Poor People

Bernard Omondi got $1,000 from GiveDirectly.
Jacob Goldstein NPR

Originally published on Fri August 23, 2013 11:41 am

For more of our reporting on this story, please see our recent column in the New York Times Magazine, and the latest episode of This American Life.

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Planet Money
2:33 pm
Tue July 30, 2013

Better Accounting Will Boost U.S. GDP

Originally published on Tue July 30, 2013 3:32 pm

Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

The size of the U.S. economy will be getting a bump tomorrow. That's when the latest gross domestic product statistics come out. The number will be larger, not because our exports have improved or because of new jobs, it's because of an accounting change. David Kestenbaum with our Planet Money Team explains.

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Planet Money
8:03 pm
Thu July 4, 2013

Why Doesn't Everybody Buy Cheap, Generic Headache Medicine?

Same pills. Lower price.
Paul Sancya AP

Originally published on Fri July 5, 2013 7:03 pm

Why does anyone buy Bayer aspirin — or Tylenol, or Advil — when, almost always, there's a bottle of cheaper generic pills, with the same active ingredient, sitting right next to the brand-name pills?

Matthew Gentzkow, an economist at the University of Chicago's Booth school, recently tried to answer this question. Along with a few colleagues, Gentzkow set out to test a hypothesis: Maybe people buy the brand-name pills because they just don't know that the generic version is basically the same thing.

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Planet Money
1:46 am
Fri June 28, 2013

Economists Have A One-Page Solution To Climate Change

CX Matiash AP

Originally published on Fri June 28, 2013 8:45 am

Climate change seems like this complicated problem with a million pieces. But Henry Jacoby, an economist at MIT's business school, says there's really just one thing you need to do to solve the problem: Tax carbon emissions.

"If you let the economists write the legislation," Jacoby says, "it could be quite simple." He says he could fit the whole bill on one page.

Basically, Jacoby would tax fossil fuels in proportion to the amount of carbon they release. That would make coal, oil and natural gas more expensive. That's it; that's the whole plan.

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Planet Money
1:03 am
Thu June 20, 2013

A Surprising Barrier To Clean Water: Human Nature

Rodan Gatia gets water from a spring. A chlorine dispenser is behind her.
Jacob Goldstein NPR

Originally published on Mon June 24, 2013 8:38 am

In many parts of the developing world, drinking a glass of water can be deadly — especially for young children, who can die of diarrheal diseases contracted from dirty water.

So getting clean water to people in the developing world has been a top priority for aid groups for a long time. But it's been a surprisingly hard problem to solve.

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