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Summer School 1: An Economic History of the World


Find all episodes of Planet Money Summer School here and on TikTok here.

Planet Money Summer School is back! It's the free economics class you can take from anywhere... for everyone! This summer, we time travel back through history to understand the origins of our economic way of life.

Everything we take for granted today in the economy had a start somewhere. When you hear about automation taking people's jobs, or banks collapsing, or inflation surging, or strange new forms of money, or another round of tariffs, you can be the one to say, "I know why this is happening! We have been here before."

In episode one, we begin with the surprisingly perplexing questions: What is money and where did it come from? To find answers, we visit a remote island in the Pacific Ocean where one form of money is giant circular stones. Then we visit France in the year 1714, where a man on the lam tries to revolutionize the country's entire monetary system, and comes impressively close to the modern economy we have today, before it all falls apart.

We'll have summer school episodes each Wednesday through labor day. Find past seasons of Summer School here. And follow along on TikTok here for video Summer School.

The series is hosted by Robert Smith and produced by Audrey Dilling. Our project manager is Devin Mellor. This episode was edited by Planet Money Executive Producer Alex Goldmark and fact-checked by Sofia Shchukina.

Help support Planet Money and hear our bonus episodes by subscribing to Planet Money+ in Apple Podcasts or at plus.npr.org/planetmoney.

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Music: NPR Source Audio – "Lost Situation," "The Sermon," "Midnight Surf," "Sunny Beach Beat," "Uptown Shadows," "Not Time," "Step Over It," "Mambo Mystic," and "Time to Spare."

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Robert Smith is a host for NPR's Planet Money where he tells stories about how the global economy is affecting our lives.
Alex Goldmark is the senior supervising producer of Planet Money and The Indicator from Planet Money. His reporting has appeared on shows including Morning Edition, All Things Considered, Radiolab, On The Media, APM's Marketplace, and in magazines such as GOOD and Fast Company. Previously, he was a senior producer at WNYC–New York Public Radio where he piloted new programming and helped grow young shows to the point where they now have their own coffee mug pledge gifts. Long ago, he was the executive producer of two shows at Air America Radio, a very short term consultant for the World Bank, a volunteer trying to fight gun violence in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro, and also a poor excuse for a bartender in Washington, DC. He lives next to the Brooklyn Bridge and owns an orange velvet couch.
Audrey Dilling