**My short bio: I'm mostly a writer, of the non-fiction sort. Best known for the "Freakonomics" books, including "Think Like a Freak" (published today!), all co-authored with my friend Steve Levitt. I also host Freakonomics Radio. (Note to self: need to diversify!) I tend to write about things that interest me rather than things that a lot of people necessarily care about; occasionally, those two intersect. In the new book we share everything we've learned about solving problems, coming up with ideas, and staying one step ahead of the pitchfork mobs. As for the horse/duck dilemma: this video (http://kottke.org/14/05/all-for-one-and-one-for-all) has persuaded me to try the ducks.

**My Proof: http://freakonomics.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/photo.jpg

Update: I am leaving now since the 4:00 patient has surely arrived. Thanks a million for having me. Can't wait 'til Reddit breaks my website again!

Comments: 783 • Responses: 34  • Date: 

jedberg626 karma

Seven years ago, /u/kn0thing and I sent you a reddit tshirt as an apology for breaking your blog when a link to it hit the front page and we made a logo shoutout. The shirt said “I broke reddit”, which you deftly discerned was meant to be ironic.

In return, you sent us back a signed copy of Freakonomics 2.0 and promised to read reddit every day.

My questions are: Do you still have the shirt and did you fulfill your promise of daily readership?

ps. I still have the book and I listen to your podcast every week, just to keep things even :)

pps. Please tell Levitt to try some more of the great food in Chicago, and not limit himself to fast food!

dubner_freakonomics450 karma

Hey jedberg (and all of Reddit kingdom). I do remember that t-shirt, and in fact I went looking for it this weekend to wear for my visual proof. Alas: not there. So: no, I don't have the t-shirt and, as for my promise to read Reddit daily -- did I really say that? Yikes. In any case, no, I don't read Reddit very often; usually, it's when a particular item gets funneled my way. So, jedberg, tell me: what should I regularly read on Reddit, and why?

jedberg514 karma

I think you would really enjoy /r/dataisbeautiful. Why? Because it's like the embodiment of thinking like a freak. :)

dubner_freakonomics305 karma

Awesome, will take a look, many thanks.

carty6437 karma

Did anyone else read this in his voice?

hometimrunner47 karma

Not just his voice, but in the cadence that he uses too!

dubner_freakonomics45 karma

Ergh. Sorry, people. That must be annoying!

truthnpeace43 karma

Not at all, it's comforting! We're auditory pals, you know.

dubner_freakonomics36 karma

Grins. And thanks.

4x4prints292 karma

I'm curious if even you guys find it difficult to follow your own advice? Despite all you know about saving & psychology, what financial concepts do you struggle most with? (And can you podcast more often? It makes my day whenever there is a new one.)

dubner_freakonomics309 karma

Great question -- and the answer is yes! One point we try to make repeatedly in the new book is that we've all got our own set of biases, priors, and preconceptions, and a big challenge in modern life is working through/around them. As Danny Kahneman wrote in Thinking, Fast and Slow: "[W]e can be blind to the obvious, and we are also blind to our blindness." I personally don't have much trouble in the financial realm -- I am weirdly disciplined and conservative there -- but certainly in other realms I do not always think like a Freak.

As for podcasting more often: No! I love it, and I love that we've built an audience, but weekly is about as frequent as I can get. And that's with the truly superhuman effort by the Freakonomics Radio staff (Suzie Lechtenberg, David Herman, Greg Rosalsky, Gretta Cohn, Bourree Lam, and Chris Bannon, with various interlopers). But I'm glad you like it.

4x4prints66 karma

I am in the middle of reading (ok, listening to from audible) "Thinking Fast and Slow", and so "Think Like a Freak" will be my next buy!

dubner_freakonomics107 karma

Yeah, Kahneman is a giant, and a genius, and a good human too. He was the reason I got interested in economics and he's not even an economist.

The_Write_Stuff166 karma

Do you think we should be teaching kids about personal finance at a younger age?

dubner_freakonomics257 karma

Yes, because it is relatively simple and relatively cheap with massive upside. Problem is that the institutions most likely to do this -- school system and federal govt., I guess -- don't seem to be very motivated (nor would they necessarily be very good at it). For a few years I was pretty passionate about the need for financial literacy and tried to do some things in that direction but didn't get anywhere. Thanks for reminding me -- maybe it's time to take it up again!

J_B_Grenouille109 karma

Hi Stephen! Thanks a lot for doing this AMA.

I’m writing to you from Venezuela. As you've might have heard, our country is in very rough shape, and our economic model seems to be on the fast lane to disaster. I have a Bachelor’s Degree in Architecture. I graduated last year, and after 12 very grueling months, I've come to the conclusion that I have to leave this country, not only for professional and economic motives, but for safety reasons as well. I'm am currently in the process of applying for a Master’s Degree abroad, with the hopes of finding a job after graduation, and thus beginning the migration process. The problem is that the selection process is driving me insane. Since I'm putting all my eggs in this basket, I want to make the most informed decision possible.
My question is, given that architecture as a career is very closely related to economic stability, what do you think are the indicators I should be paying attention to, in order to find the country whose market or development rate will give me better odds at finding a job after I graduate?

In other words, Pleasantries and Immigration policies aside (the latter being no small matter), what is the criteria or data I should be looking at in order to choose a country that might allow me to have a more stable future, from a professional standpoint?

dubner_freakonomics134 karma

Hey JB: in the interest of time, I started skimming your question as soon as I saw "architecture" ... If you're really serious about getting a job even if it means moving, the answer is: Japan. See our podcast on the topic here: http://freakonomics.com/2014/02/27/why-are-japanese-homes-disposable-a-new-freakonomics-radio-podcast-3/

Samueljacob94 karma

Hey Stephen, big fan of your papers and booksl! Is there an economic model or experiment you want to try out, but can't legally or morally?

Thanks for the AMA!

dubner_freakonomics177 karma

It usually isn't the legality or morality that holds us back. It's the simple ability to run an experiment in the real world, where you can't force people to do things against their will, or can't force legislators to suddenly repeal a law in half the counties of a state and not in others, etc. So you rely on natural experiments and accidents of history ...

hometimrunner61 karma

Hey Stephen! Thanks for doing this. Love the books and the podcast...can't wait to read the new one!

What is the podcast topic that you have dreamed of doing but haven't been able to make work yet?

dubner_freakonomics156 karma

Okay, I will tell you but if someone steals this idea, I will hold you responsible! I've always wanted to do an episode called "A Month in the Life of Homo Economicus," in which we take an average person and have him/her get coached up daily or weekly by an economist, and have that person try to live his/her life according to these newfound, life-altering principles. How fun would that be?! For whatever reason, I've never been able to get the right layperson and economist on track at the same time. So maybe it'll never happen -- but I hope so. I can already see the movie version!

hometimrunner117 karma

I volunteer as tribute. I don't want to be held responsible, so will do what I can to help!

dubner_freakonomics95 karma

If you are serious, drop us a note at radio (at) freakonomics.com

HyaaMulaa54 karma

I absolutely love the podcast. It is the the reason why my commutes have become so interesting. Thank you for that ! My question is: How long does it take you to make/research a show ? And how do you find suitable people ? Like how did you find that FBI guy in one of those college episodes.

dubner_freakonomics60 karma

Thanks! These days we have a staff of six who put out a weekly podcast, just by the skin of our teeth. I'd guess there are something like 100 person-hours that go into each 30 minutes of finished podcast/radio, although that's just a guess. Most of the best stuff you hear is due to the hard work of our producers, whom I've listed elsewhere on this thread but I'll list again because they are so damned good: Suzie Lechtenberg, David Herman, Greg Rosalsky, Gretta Cohn, Bourree Lam, and Chris Bannon.

StonerChef49 karma

Hello Stephen, I'm a big fan of your book and also the documentary. What are you working on now? Any new mind blowing statistics that you would like to share with us.

dubner_freakonomics75 karma

Believe it or not, our next major book will/may be the Freakonomics of Golf. Levitt is a longtime golf addict -- when he was a kid, he really thought he'd be a touring pro -- and in the last few years he's gotten me addicted too. Our philosophy is to try to turn what you love into what you do for a living, so naturally it would follow that we'd try to pull off a golf book. We are working on it with Luke Donald, he of the beautiful swing and former world No. 1 ranking, and Luke's longtime coach Pat Goss.

rlhutton47 karma

I'd like to know how you came to know Steven Levitt and how the idea for Freakonomics got started.

dubner_freakonomics61 karma

I was working on a book about the psychology of money. Interviewing lots of economists as well as psychologists, other social scientists, and various smart people. (The book was going to be called "Money Makes Me Happy (Except When It Doesn't." Maybe I will still write it someday.) Then Hugo Lindgren, who was my editor at the N.Y. Times Magazine, asked me to go to Chicago to write a profile of this economist Steve Levitt, who'd just won the John Bates Clark Medal. (It's a big deal, look it up.) To show how not-smart I am: I turned down the assignment at least a couple of times. But then I was heading to Chicago anyway so I downloaded all his papers, read them, and was knocked out. Loved writing about him in the Times and then publishers started asking us separately for a book. We decided to team up -- we weren't remotely a natural team from the start -- and got working on Freakonomics. It has obviously been a good thing (at least for me, and I think Levitt would say the same).

nebelwerfer8136 karma

Will raising the minimum wage to $15 in Seattle hurt the city's economy? In your experience, does this tactic work or just cause more distortion

dubner_freakonomics58 karma

Hard question, well above my ability. But this is exactly the kind of problem I was thinking of when (above) I talked about how you can't run experiments in the real world.

brumbrum2135 karma


dubner_freakonomics95 karma

Ever? Are you kidding? I'd say it's more common for quotes to be out of context than in -- or, if not "out of context," it'd be with all nuance/weighting removed. E.g.: the abortion-crime link we wrote about. In the chapter in Freakonomics, we make it clear that legalized abortion is one of several factors that contributed to a crime drop (along with prisons, more cops, and the collapse of the crack-cocaine market). But very often, those other factors get left out of other people's retelling. At first it bothered me. But then I realized I was learning a valuable lesson: people hear what they want to hear, don't hear what they don't want to hear, and seek out evidence that confirms their existing beliefs. Which means you have to communicate even better to try to make your point.

specific_islander29 karma

If you could pick a dream team of any talented writer and any public intellectual along the lines of Dubner/Levitt, who would you personally want to read the most? To keep it interesting, can you come up with one all living pair (e.g. Annie Dillard/Amartya Sen) and one all dead pair (e.g. H. L. Mencken/Isaac Newton)?

Bonus points if you can come up with a name for their hypothetical book/blog/radio/etc. empire that's half as good as Freakonomics.

dubner_freakonomics30 karma

Great, great question. My brain isn't coming up with good answers though. And I have 2 minutes left here. But please continue this thread here and maybe we'll hijack it for Freakonomics.com if you don't mind?

plebsareneeded-26 karma

Freakonomics had I believe the intended impact on myself of realizing that economics didn’t have to be boring. Thus Freakonomics had an impact on the economics degree that I just finished in April. Thanks for that. I am also unemployed and I am unsure what to do with my degree. Thanks for that as well.

I love the podcast though and just received notice that my Think like a Freak pre-order just shipped, so thanks for the many hours of entertainment and countless tidbits of knowledge that make me appear knowledgeable.

This is more a question of for Levitt, but have you found much negative backlash from Economics professors that don’t think you do “real” research and or somewhat jealous of your large success while the “real” research don’t get any attention? I had a Prof who’s belief was somewhat along those lines.

Thanks for doing this AMA and would be great to get Levitt on as well. I am curious of his thoughts of Reddit.

dubner_freakonomics25 karma

Hi plebs. FYI, Levitt did an AMA here not long ago: http://www.reddit.com/r/IAmA/comments/18tp7t/i_am_steven_levitt_author_of_freakonomics_ask_me/. As for what other economists think ... there's quite a variance, I'd say. The smart guys who know Levitt's work understand how smart he is, and what interesting research he's done. Some, to be sure, feel as if he's cracked the curtain on the Serious People Guild and let in the rabble. And then there are those who, whether they like Freakonomics or not, believe that it has increased short-term demand for economics professors, which serves them quite well.

ronson191123 karma

What is the most important thing to remember when dealing with the government?

dubner_freakonomics67 karma

You mean besides not tell them your real name? Nothing I can think of ...

thesilverecluse22 karma

Mr. Dubner, I was surprised in the last podcast to find out Mr. Levitt is somewhat antisocial. How has that played a role in how you two work together?

Thank you for your tremendous work.

dubner_freakonomics35 karma

Oh, he's just grumping out on you. He loves all people, and pets even more.

truthnpeace13 karma

Yes and with your golf book deal, did he make sure to read the contract re: required book tour dates?

dubner_freakonomics14 karma

Ha! Good point.

dinoBoner22 karma

Freakonomic breakdown of the publishing industry please.

How much do you make for the books you write?

dubner_freakonomics31 karma

It amazes me that book publishing hasn't changed more than it already has, given how much other publishing models (print journalism, e.g.) have. We should write a real breakdown on this someday, but we haven't. Suffice it to say that most books lose money (although many publishers don't, as big book hits are still big enough). As for "How much do you make": well, royalties differ from country to country and edition to edition. For U.S. hardcovers, I think around $4 per book goes to author/s in a standard contract. For an international paperback, that number could be something like $1 or less.

rharlow22 karma

I've often made the argument that if I could require every living person to complete just one college-level course, that course would be Behavioral Economics. If you could make the same requirement, what course would you select and why?

dubner_freakonomics30 karma

Well, I hate to be unoriginal but I might give your answer too. (Of course I would say that!) But behavioral economics is what got me doing the work I'm doing today. It was the writing of Kahneman and Tversky, and then Thaler, that got me excited for the first time about economics. Why? Because it blended the empiricism of economics with the feel and insights of psychology. I think that kind of interdisciplinary marriage is hugely valuable. And even though Levitt never thought of himself as a "behavioral economist," one reason I was so attracted to his work is that it married economics with, among other areas, crime, politics, and so on.

wingeddingbats20 karma

What advice do you have for a college student wanting to go into economics?

dubner_freakonomics99 karma

Go. But don't be a pure quant. No matter how mathy you are or become, you need to communicate your ideas too. I taught college for just one year, a great course in the core at Columbia called "Logic and Rhetoric." I learned to much teaching that course. You can have the tightest, most logical argument in the world, but if you don't have the rhetoric to communicate it, your argument won't have an impact. Conversely, if you are all rhetoric and no logic -- well, you can still get a job shouting on cable TV news, but that's about it.

Hugo_Hackenbush20 karma

How have things gone with the Freakonomics Experiments site using coin flips to make decisions?

dubner_freakonomics26 karma

Great! We wrote up some very preliminary results in Think Like a Freak but rather than blowing 20 bucks just to read those 2 or 3 pages, you can just wait 'til Levitt eventually publishes an academic paper on the topic, which we'll surely post on our website.

nebelwerfer8119 karma

Is the gender wage gap as big as the media says it is? Or is it more subtle?

dubner_freakonomics38 karma

More subtle. We covered this in SuperFreakonomics -- and there's more here, from Claudia Goldin and Larry Katz: http://freakonomics.com/2010/01/28/superfreakonomics-book-club-goldin-and-katz-on-the-male-female-wage-gap/

williamconlow16 karma

Piketty! Piketty! Piketty!

The BIG question: is there a flaw in capitalism?

dubner_freakonomics53 karma

Of course, there are plenty of flaws in capitalism. It's just that there are probably a lot fewer flaws in it than everything else we've tried.

41356299168 karma

Have you lost weight?

dubner_freakonomics30 karma

Hmm ... Is that you, Mom?

41356299167 karma

Nah, but you look noticeably skinnier in the photo you posted on facebook. Maybe the shorter hair helped...not sure.

Great books by the way. I have the first two and have bought the most recent, though I've head to get my Kindle within wi-fi range to download it.

dubner_freakonomics36 karma

So, okay, I have lost weight from about 3 or 4 years ago because I've been playing so much golf. I know what you're thinking: Golf! That's not exercise!. Okay, so first of all, it's some exercise (especially if, like me, you are hitting 90+ shots per round). But more important: it's four hours where you aren't eating anything! And then afterwards you are so ticked off at how badly you've played that you don't have an appetite. So, as weight-maintenance plans go, golf is expensive and time-consuming but pretty efficient.

jenniferbridge8 karma

Are you aware you have young listeners? My 10 year old listens to Freakonomics every night before he goes to sleep. I am coming to see you with my 12 year old daughter in Hay.

dubner_freakonomics17 karma

Yes! And I love it! My own kids are 13 and 12, so I love to see what interests them and what doesn't. We've just started getting fan mail for Think Like a Freak and quite a bit of it is from young readers -- which delights me, because they are the ones who can most get in tune with the book, since their thinking isn't already so polluted by biases and bad habits. ALSO: come say hello in Hay!

synaesthetist7 karma

I have a 10 year old niece who is very sensible and is concerned with all of the fear surrounding the economy. She's afraid to take out loans for college, etc. What economic advice would you give to a precocious 10 year old?

dubner_freakonomics41 karma

I don't necessarily think "very sensible" goes along with the "fear surrounding the economy" to the point that she's "afraid to take out loans for college." I think teaching the basics of personal microeconomics and finance -- i.e., smart loans vs. dumb ones -- would be way more valuable than trying to predict, or even worry about, big macroeconomic forces, which even the smartest economists aren't very good at predicting.

An_Actual_Politician6 karma

Love that the authors of my favorite books are teaming up with one of my favorite pro golfers (Luke Donald). I put my name in the hat to be part of it but wasn't picked.

Where does that project stand right now? I'm really looking forward to seeing the results.

dubner_freakonomics6 karma

As they say in Hollywood, it's in turnaround. The first batch of stuff we tried didn't give us the data we really needed to figure out stuff. But we're still at it.

nuqqet9k1 karma

What are your thoughts on copyright? Bearing in mind that your answer will determine wether I buy or download your new book.

dubner_freakonomics8 karma

We poked at that issue in this podcast: http://freakonomics.com/2013/01/17/who-owns-the-words-that-come-out-of-your-mouth-a-new-freakonomics-radio-podcast/. But the answers weren't very satisfying, due to the lack of good data and counterfactuals. What you really want to know is how much the absence of copyright protection would depress creativity, etc. We may find out sooner in music than in other realms. I suspect the answer is "somewhat, but not as much as you'd imagine." When, however, it comes to software or business practices, it's a different question.

apetresc-3 karma

Do you actively try to make your voice sound exactly like Ira Glass', are you guys twins separated at birth, or is it just a lovely coincidence?

dubner_freakonomics4 karma

To my ear, he sounds so much better than me! I don't mean sonically (necessarily, though that too) but just that he's truly talking to you. That is to me the best part of radio/podcasting: faux intimacy that feels real.