It's an embarrassing confession for a journalist: I couldn't understand the news. Specifically, news about the economy. "Toxic asset"? "Liquidity"? "Insolvent bank"? All the terms blurred together. I even read all of the Financial Crisis for Dummies articles. No dice. I still felt dumb.
Enter "This American Life." The weekly public-radio show has produced two astoundingly lucid episodes—"The Giant Pool of Money," which aired last May, and "Bad Bank," which aired earlier this month—explaining the situation in paint-me-a-picture terms that monetary morons like me can understand. "Bad Bank" sums up multitrillion-dollar balance sheets using an analogy involving $100 and a dollhouse. "Giant Pool" distills the subprime-mortgage crisis with a human tale connecting the dots between a homeowner named Clarence and a Wall Street banker named Mike.
Hosts Adam Davidson and Alex Blumberg set a suitably relaxed tone: they sound like your friendly, biz-savvy pals laying out this whole thing over a few beers. They make learning about economic catastrophe—here's something I never thought I'd write—easy and fun. Both episodes are free to stream or 95 cents to download at thislife.org. Finally, a truly risk-free investment.