Stories about money are never about money. They are about pain, about family, about atrocity, about luck, about health, about politics. And while we get a kind of vicarious thrill from listening to other people’s financial tales of woe, whether we are morally condemning a millennial for buying a daily flat white when she could be putting that $3 into a savings account that earns zero interest in the hopes that the city she lives in won’t be underwater from rising sea levels by the time she has enough for a deposit or just feeling gratitude that we are better off than the poor shmuck explaining their hundreds of thousands of dollars in student debt, rarely are these stories allowed to be as complex as their situations truly are.
In each episode of This Is Uncomfortable, the host Reema Khrais introduces us to an individual’s financial plight. There are a lot of these podcasts out there, granted, but Khrais isn’t listening to someone’s sob story only to advocate for discipline and self-reliance like Dave Ramsey, nor is she acting as a way too intense cheerleader for prosperity like Suze Orman. Here the stories are never just about personal problems but instead about how people are enlivened, agitated, #blessed and shamed by their experiences with money.
In a recent episode, a young indigenous woman found herself explaining how she got tens of thousands of dollars into credit card debt. One day at work, she tried to lift a heavy bag and suddenly collapsed in pain. She finished working her shift, then she started on the very long and expensive process of trying to find medical help.
Whether the doctors she visited — and she visited many — helped her or not, she still had to pay them. She had to pay the doctor who thought she was faking. She had to pay the doctor who believed her story but had no idea what it might be. She had to pay the doctor who hit a snafu during her surgery and caused even more physical damage, leading to a longer treatment time to make things right.
The 30-minute episodes cover a lot of ground, from statistics showing that doctors tend to disbelieve women, especially women of colour, when they report experiences of pain to how a person could be insured and still have to pay a considerable amount of money out of pocket for office visits, ultrasounds and surgery. And yet there is still much left unexplored, such as the political story behind the fight for a minimum wage hike, and being employed full-time and still not earning a livable wage. Or how tort reform for medical malpractice makes it difficult for people to be fully compensated for their doctors’ mistakes and abuses. These episodes could be hours long and still they wouldn’t be able to create the full context for these financial disasters and windfalls.
Other episodes are just as compelling — an American who overstayed their visa in Canada found hundreds of thousands of dollars hidden in the apartment they were renting, but can’t lay claim to it until their immigration status is resolved. A woman who has watched her mother struggle romantically her whole life is relieved when she seems to find happiness with a successful new partner, until she starts to see some very shady financial transactions from her mother’s accounts.
Election Profit Makers also mixes money and American politics to tell stories, albeit in a very different way. It is hosted by the comedian and former Get Your War On cartoonist David Rees and Jon Kimball, a man whose job description says he is the president of a company that invests in domain names and specialises in ‘strong generic keyword domains’ — and all of that means something, I’m sure.... Rees is the funny one and Kimball explains money things. And that is all I can really say. They discuss politics and make predictions on how elections, policy and reform are going to go, and they place bets on their predictions, so when they are wrong they take a personal financial hit and when they are right they are rewarded.
This makes the show seem more convoluted and strange than it really is. They are insightful and funny about political developments, like the recent mangling of President Biden’s infrastructure plans by some of our worst-dressed Democrat legislators. And the focus on money and betting on how things will actually turn out helps keep their predictions grounded. While being personally idealistic, the goal is to be right, which means tempering the hopes and dreams and wide-eyed naivete of many leftist podcasts and finding a practicality based on reasonable expectations. This doesn’t mean the show isn’t angry; it is still very angry at the compromises and the disappointments of Congress as they generally fail to provide basic services to United States citizens. But if you’re going to experience long-term political despair, you might as well make some money from it.