Global economic collapse, as recorded for This American Life

As an individual radio producer directly creating content—not as a team leader or executive or whatever other roles he may assume in the future—it seems likely that Alex Blumberg's coverage of the 2008 financial crisis will be looked at as his crowning achievement. I think this clip is a good example of why.

TAL 365 econ abyss

He and Adam Davidson (as well as the rest of what became the Planet Money team) did a superb job with bringing out some of the inherent human drama lurking beneath the surface of relatively boring financial instruments, ledgers, and calculations.

The part of this clip that I really love more than anything, though, is how they use that sample from the song "His Second Story Island" by Tortoise. It's actually a song they sample more than once across the many This American Life episodes that I've heard, but it really hits me in the chest on this bit of tape; it perfectly evokes that feeling of simultaneous despair, relief, and wonder that overtakes you when your life's plan has been truly derailed and now you have to just start from scratch.

The culminating effect of this clip—especially with that song sample placed as it is—reminds me of the huge tracts of dead land you can find in the American West. You stop and look around in some kind of awe, but ultimately you have to keep moving and get away, or else the sun will beat you down into that dead earth also. Even being there to start is a wonderfully human kind of arrogance.

And this is almost a tangential thought, but I wonder a lot if the 2008 market crash and the opioid epidemic haven't had more impact in more ways on American society than we seem to acknowledge. There's difficulty in really measuring the impact of either with a very quantitative approach, but both have the potential for such broad reach into so many aspects of our lives—including so many second order effects, such as the impact on family members of those who lost their jobs or became addicted to these new pharmaceuticals—that I'm surprised how little they seem to be talked about today, at least in my little news bubble.