Hi there Reddit -- my hour is up and I've had a good time. Thanks for having me and for all the great Qs. Cheers, SJD

I write books (mostly "Freakonomics" related) and make podcasts ("Freakonomics Radio," and, soon, a new one with the N.Y. Times called "Tell Me Something I Don't Know." It's a game show where we get the audience to -- well, tell us stuff we don't know.

**My Proof: http://freakonomics.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/SJD-8.4.16.jpg

Comments: 1465 • Responses: 38  • Date: 

ImNotTheZodiacKiller637 karma

What do you feel is the single most damaging misconception people have when it comes to the American economic system?

dubner_freakonomics2089 karma

Maybe that the Prez runs the thing?

thenightcrawler423 karma

What is the new hot in thing in economics now?

dubner_freakonomics881 karma

Behavioral economics -- and the applications thereof -- went from being a neat intellectual sideshow 10 or 15 years ago to being the absolute latest thing that every private firm and government agency wants to harness. Also: development economics is huge, and fascinating.

powerscunner360 karma

Next to money, what do you think is the greatest incentive?

dubner_freakonomics906 karma

Protecting/enhancing/embellishing our reputations, primarily among our circle of friends/family/acquaintances/colleagues/rivals. "Local fame," you could call it.

stpcc222 karma

You've written/podcasted about such a large swath of topics. What topic/idea has made the biggest impact on your life in the last 10 years?

dubner_freakonomics435 karma

Hey, thanks for the easy question (not). I got interested in economics via psychology (well, really through the onset of behavioral economics), so I'm particularly interested in understanding how to lead people to overcome their cognitive biases/laziness/whatever to lead to better outcomes for themselves (and society) in terms of health, wealth, happiness, etc.

arhanv196 karma

How can you explain "economics" to a five year old?

dubner_freakonomics539 karma

It's how people get what they want, or need, especially when other people want or need the same thing.

superhailey1136 karma

What is going to be the biggest economic impact of self driving cars?

dubner_freakonomics347 karma

The biggest economic impact will likely start with the fact that the 1 million-plus people who currently die from car accidents each year (think about the magnitude of that -- and we're not even counting injuries, expense, etc.) won't die, and will instead live to work, play, have kids, maybe steal a loaf of bread, whatever. That's a pretty big number right off the bat before you start even factoring in all the other potential upsides of autonomous travel. (And there will be downsides too, of course -- but I'll leave those details to the scaremongers.)

yankic132 karma

Hey Stephen, thank you for doing this.

When I listened to the very first episodes of Freakonomics podcast, I saw that there is clearly an improvement in how you talk, intonation etc. Did you exercise or get any kind of help, at least googled how to do it? Thank you again, I can't wait for the next episode.

dubner_freakonomics239 karma

Thanks! I really appreciate your saying this. In the beginning, I was told that I should try to sound more "radio," which affected how I asked questions, how I read narration, just about everything. It felt unnatural (and kind of gross) but I was the newbie so I did as I was told. I think what's evolved is a mostly natural (while still curated to some degree) voice and tone in which I try to represent the average listener, talking to a smart and/or interesting person and trying to ask the questions that anyone would want to know. And not trying to be too formal, or sound smarter than I am, or being afraid of interrupting or being irreverent. What you hear on "Freakonomics Radio" (and, probably this is even more true for the forthcoming "Tell Me Something I Don't Know") is very very close to how I really think and talk.

YesThisIsSam128 karma

My favorite aspect of what you do in your podcast is trying to find ways to objectively measure things that seem abstract.

What was your most interesting or challenging topic to try to objectively define and measure?

dubner_freakonomics167 karma

To me, the big one is happiness/satisfaction/whatever you want to call it. Measures have gotten a little better but I feel that the science is still way behind.

penisheart109 karma

What do you look for when choosing a topic for a Freakonomics episode?

Big fan of the whole suite of books and podcasts btw!

dubner_freakonomics234 karma

As you know if you've listened to more than a handful of episodes, I am curious about just about anything -- including why we wear belts instead of suspenders even though belts are so suboptimal. The things I generally shy away from are: macroeconomics; mainstream politics; trends; the culture wars; identity politics; anything else that strikes me as boring or overexposed.

Morte_Lumina87 karma

Stephen, love all the books and podcasts. My question is this: what are some of the best techniques you've come across to get someone to at least 'entertain the idea' of a differing view than their own? This could extend to some of the emotionally charged topics like religion, politics, etc.

dubner_freakonomics208 karma

We wrote a chapter about this very problem in "Think Like a Freak." It's called "How to Persuade People Who Don't Want to Be Persuaded." Here's a little piece from it: "Our best advice would be to simply smile and change the subject. As hard as it is to think creatively about problems and come up with solutions, in our experience it is even harder to persuade people who do not wish to be persuaded." That said, we do then get into some practical solutions: don't pretend your solution is perfect; try to really listen to their counterargument; show your homework; be humble.

Real_Schmidter84 karma

How close of friends are you and Levitt?

dubner_freakonomics182 karma

I'd say pretty close but you should ask him to verify :-). Just yesterday we got together for a long meeting and capped it off with a meal at his second-favorite restaurant (Mickey D's). (His favorite is Chipotle.)

stpcc75 karma

Is there anyone you've interviewed that you would refuse to ever interview again? If yes, then why?

dubner_freakonomics204 karma

Hmm, interesting question. I occasionally turn down interviews these days on the grounds primarily that I don't want to play a part in rehabilitating the reputation of people who did stupid things in public but still want to be public figures. It's not a moral thing for me; I just don't want to participate in their media strategy. After Brexit, some people wrote and said I should be ashamed for having ever interviewed Boris Johnson. It takes a lot more than that to shame me, and I think that kind of thinking goes against what free speech and journalism and humankind are all about.

DubnerForGovnr68 karma

What are your thoughts on the potential impact of behavioral economics on healthcare?

I love your podcast by the way! You blew my mind when you shared statistics showing you're more likely to survive a heart attack during a cardiologist conference.

dubner_freakonomics132 karma

I don't know about behavioral economics per se but I am excited about the fact that "evidence-based medicine" is finally a standard expectation. We're currently working on a three-part Freakonomics Radio series called "Bad Medicine," which shows just how far we've come (and how far we still have to go).

asalayev65 karma

What is the main piece of advice you'd give young-adult Dubner?

dubner_freakonomics172 karma

Be less scared of trying many different things, going to many different places, and interacting with people who are diametrically opposed to who you are. It's really hard to put yourself out there and journalism became for me the mechanism to get over that problem. But I wish I'd cared a lot less back then about what people thought about me and even what I thought about myself.

neatoburrito63 karma

Are we currently in the middle of any sort of financial / housing bubble right now (again)? If so, how / when do you expect it to pop?

dubner_freakonomics199 karma

  1. I have no idea.
  2. If I did, you think I'd tell you.
  3. I think we are approaching Peak Podcast, since there are about 100 new podcasts launching for every listener. I don't know where this is going to end up (and yet I am in the process of launching a couple new ones myself).

imfrommarilyn62 karma

I was very intrigued by the abortion and crime rate study. it started a wonderful argument at thanksgiving a few years back.

Which one of your studies received the most backlash?

dubner_freakonomics182 karma

Some people didn't like our solutions to fight climate change (last chapter of "SuperFreakonomics"). Also, some Realtors didn't like us comparing them to the KKK (in "Freakonomics") or to pimps (in "Freakonomics") and especially arguing that pimps get their clients a better ROI than Realtors. But hey: the numbers is the numbers.

jstncrri51 karma

How do you feel regarding the increasing of behavioral economics use in the big data/social media sphere? Does surveillance capitalism worry you? Should we all get off social media, or is mood enhancement worth sacrificing our privacy and forfeiting our ability to self-actualize and instead trade information for our identity?

dubner_freakonomics119 karma

The thing that surprises me is that everyone is so surprised that the data they voluntarily turn over to these big companies offering a valuable product for free are ... USED for something. A lot of the discussions about online privacy are to me a kind of noise that obscures harder and more compelling issues.

Tipsykiiky42 karma

Hello Stephen :) Big fan of Freakonomics (the books and the podcast ). I'm a Moroccan college student. From a young age, I've had the opportunity to learn 5 languages and become fluent in 3. I want to learn an extra language but I don't know if it's a good investment of my time. In a world where english is the dominant language, is being a polyglot still an advantage ?

dubner_freakonomics119 karma

If I were you I'd probably invest in a different skill -- engineering, coding, geology, etc. We did a podcast about the ROI of language acquisition and, in most places in the world, once you know English it doesn't add much (financially at least) to take on another language.

Nomad00340 karma

What would cost more in upkeep: One horse-sized duck or 100 duck-sized horses?

dubner_freakonomics125 karma

This is usually a hard question to answer but if we're talking upkeep -- definitely the tiny horses cost more. Just think of getting all those custom-made harnesses and saddles!

notyourmommassauce37 karma

What is the most cost-effective sandwich that I could eat right now?

dubner_freakonomics62 karma

Depends how you're defining cost-effective (i.e., short- or long-term; financially only or including health benefits, etc.)? Personally I don't eat a lot of carbs so I'm not a big sandwich guy (although I like burgers, so I same my carb budget for them). Sardines are great -- cheap, full of good stuff, tasty if you like them (I know many people don't). No reason you couldn't make yourself a wonderful sardine sandwich but they also work without the bread.

americanvillan31736 karma

What is your favorite movie?

dubner_freakonomics97 karma

Used to be "Spinal Tap," back when I played in a rock band. I recently watched "Borat" with my 15-year-old son -- life-changing experience (not sure if it's for the better). Truthfully, I don't rank things all that much -- too subjective, too dynamic, too ... I don't know, rules-y. I am the one person in the world who doesn't click on every listicle.

brandonfcv31 karma

Hi, huge fan of both the podcast and the book series. I was wondering which, if any, of the ideas on last week's podcast episode "Ten Ideas to Make Politics Less Rotten" do you think is most likely to be implemented into our current political system?

dubner_freakonomics98 karma

Almost certainly NOT quadratic voting, although I find that idea pretty compelling. I wouldn't be shocked if we start moving (in some places, we already are) toward mandatory (well, "mandatory") voting, though the upside of that isn't so clear. One easy change from our podcast would be to eliminate live audiences at debates.

Bhockzer26 karma

Would you give me $3,500.00 if I promised to put it toward a good cause?

dubner_freakonomics73 karma

Mom, I told you to leave me alone!

TehMulbnief26 karma

Hey Steven, huge fan of your books and podcasts! Speaking of which, in a recent QOTD, you mentioned (and I'm paraphrasing here) that you really like podcasting as a creative outlet because of the convenience as lower risk as compared to hiding away for a few months to write a book.

Do you think we'll continue to see a shift over to podcasts? Will the podcast boom eventually bust?

dubner_freakonomics52 karma

Right now, the growth in the supply of podcasts seems to be outstripping the growth in demand by a long shot. That could of course change (esp. as new cars all come equipped with a podcast app in the dash). I have no idea how the medium will evolve, creatively or financially. All I know is that right now while I have the appetite (and some leverage) I am going to keep going hard at it -- mostly because I totally love it.

irishman1323 karma

What is your favorite Freakonomics episode you have done?

What is the most valuable bit of information you have learned?

What is the one you'd suggest everyone to listen to?

You da man, Stephen.

dubner_freakonomics48 karma

My favorite is usually the one we're working on at the moment, seriously. It's really fun.

Most valuable info I've learned? Oof, I'd need much longer to think of that.

One that I'd suggest everyone listen to? Probably "The Upside of Quitting." Even though there's nothing radical or revolutionary about the argument in it, many people have just never been encouraged to think about quitting in this way.

hhhhhh322 karma

If you had to hide a million dollars how would you do it?

dubner_freakonomics62 karma

A Reddit bitcoin thread? Of maybe sew some diamonds into my small dog's tummy.

SandhanPapi20 karma

What role do you see behavioral economics playing in terms of policy development in the next 10 years?

dubner_freakonomics26 karma

It's not as big now as one might like, or even think, based on the coverage it gets (from people like me included) but I do think it's catching on. The Nudge Unit in the U.K. has been very influential (and successful). For whatever reason, the U.S. version has had much less traction.

Davy_Dee20 karma

Hi Steven - I really enjoy your podcasts, so thanks for those. A couple of times on QOD, James has brought up the subject of the caveman brain or genetic predisposition and it's evoked a really strong reaction from you. Can you please tell me your position and why it seems to be a hotly debated subject between you?

dubner_freakonomics39 karma

I'm not particularly well-read in this field but what I have read seems to often overstate the direct link between evolutionary conditions and modern behavior. Often, the connections just don't pass the laugh test for me. It's hard to imagine that a current set of incentives (financial, social, moral, etc.) aren't strong enough to override whatever ancient evolutionary trait we might still contain. I of course could be wrong but I do get annoyed when the answer to every question about modern behavior is "because that's how we evolved to be."

penny_eater18 karma

When are you going to write a biography/autobiography with James Altucher where the two of you just share interesting little stories about your lives in no particular order? The podcast version is very catchy but I am excited for a long form version (and less ads)

dubner_freakonomics38 karma

Are you kidding me?! You want more of James and I just shooting the crap? I think there's probably about 10x too much of that in the world.

Frajer13 karma

What's the most interesting thing you've learned from tell me something I don't know?

dubner_freakonomics29 karma

We've only done the one pilot episode so far (released as a Freakonomics Radio podcast) and then we tried it out again at a conference run by Qualtrics (great survey-software company), and now we're getting ready to tape our first 6 "real" episodes in NYC in September (all the info is on Freakonomics website -- and we're looking for contestants!). If there's one thing I learned (and this is how I came up with the idea for the show) it's that almost anyone in the world will have something interesting to say if you ask them to "tell me something I don't know" about their work, life, passions, etc. Try it!

ghostpixel213 karma

Any stories from the days before you were introducing yourself as Stephen "Freakonomics" Dubner that might help an aspiring journalist? Mistakes made, lessons learned?

dubner_freakonomics23 karma

Oh my goodness, so many. I made many, many mistakes. But then I did what smart people tell you to do which is learn from them -- not just learning to not do the thing again, but learn exactly why it was a mistake. I find journalism to be one of those fields in which mentoring and apprenticing are still really important and valuable -- though I will say this: I probably learned more from watching older people's screwups and foibles than from watching their great triumphs. I remember when I was starting out this one accomplished writer turned in a magazine piece that began with "It was a TK night." And I thought: if I can't go to the trouble to find out what the weather was on the night of the thing that I'm writing about, then I shouldn't turn in the piece.

pipelineporter5 karma

So, level with me... Should I play the lottery? If so 1 or 2 times a week, and what numbers?

dubner_freakonomics17 karma

Sure, play it as entertainment, just not as investment.

bigeyedbunny4 karma


dubner_freakonomics17 karma

It's a great and complicated question. I think one of the reasons we value life so much is that it's finite and therefore precious. But here's what's interesting to me: one conversation we don't have a lot these days about the future is what we'll do with all the spare time that our robot overlords will grant us. Considering how much progress and wealth and health we've achieved over the past couple centuries, people don't seem to be thrilled about the simple fact that their supply of good and happy hours has increased so much. So I'm not sure having that supply increased to infinity would be such a boon.

ghostpixel22 karma

Here's one: did you know that as of this very moment, every living person in the state of Florida is guilty of possessing and producing a controlled substance, acts that could lead to prison sentences even for first-time offenders?

dubner_freakonomics15 karma

Okay, I'll bite: what's the controlled substance of which you speak. And, furthermore, I hope you've signed up to be a contestant on "Tell Me Something I Don't Know"!

ghostpixel22 karma

Is your new podcast at all like "Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me!"?

How did you go about deciding what would make for optimal format, panelists, length? Anything you'd caution against trying out for would-be podcast producers?

dubner_freakonomics3 karma

It might appear to be a bit similar on the surface but in fact it's exactly the opposite. "Wait Wait" (which I like a lot) and other shows like that are shows in which the people in charge have some information (news, trivia, whatever) and you have to try to get it from them (by guessing). In this case, we're asking the live audience to literally tell us stuff we don't know (and that is worth knowing) and then we discuss it and rank it, etc. It's essentially journalism (i.e., the discovery of new information) dressed up like a game show. And really fun.

hhhhhh32 karma

Why is it that running shoes tend to be white but soccer cleats tend to be black?

dubner_freakonomics35 karma

When's the last time you were in a shoe store? It's a rainbow out there, brother.

chairman_of_da_bored1 karma

Putting- straight back and straight through, or swing along an arc?

dubner_freakonomics3 karma

I go for the straight path, at I learned by watching Luke Donald putt. I figure if it's good enough for him ...