This American Life: The Giant Pool of Money

Chicago Public Radio's This American Life, National Public Radio's News Division

The best reporting often begins with a question that most journalists considered too dumb or obvious. So it was with Alex Blumberg, a producer at This American Life. Pondering the early stages of what we’ve come to know as the “sub prime mortgage crisis,” Blumberg wondered: “Why are they lending money to people who can’t afford to pay it back?” He joined forces with an experienced business reporter, National Public Radio’s Adam Davidson. Together they assembled The Giant Pool of Money, a remarkably clear and, in retrospect, startlingly early (May 2008) explanation of the mortgage mess. They found that a doubling of global capital early this century created a “giant pool” of cash in need of returns. Innovative, mortgage-backed securities were created to sop up the excess, and investors’ eager acceptance of the supposedly low-risk instruments fueled a stepped-up marketing of home loans. Blumberg and Davidson humanize the report by rounding up a fascinating array of role-players, none of them particularly villainous. We hear from a young mortgage broker, fresh out of college, who never stopped to question how he could be making $75,000-$100,000 a month, and from a man with an annual income under $50,000 who got a $540,000 home loan. “I wouldn’t have loaned me the money,” he admits, but he didn’t hesitate to take it. Denial was epidemic, the end result inevitable. For meticulous reporting that often plays like theater of the absurd, This American Life: The Giant Pool of Money receives a Peabody Award.


Executive producers: Ira Glass, Ellen Weiss. Producers, Writers: Alex Blumberg, Adam Davidson. Reporters: Les Cook, Ira Glass, Julie Snyder, Alex Blumberg, Adam Davidson.