Two Book Authors and a Microphone

The next chapter in the adventures of Dubner and Levitt has begun. After a post-World Cup summer break from Freakonomics Radio, we’re back, with new podcasts and whole new radio enterprise.

Freakonomics Radio is now coming to you from the studios of WNYC in New York, in a production partnership with American Public Media. We’ll be putting out a new podcast every two weeks (and going weekly by early 2011) and contributing regular reports on Marketplace, the public-radio program we love the most. We’ll also make one-hour shows that will air on public-radio stations across the country, and we’ll do some live events.

By clicking the audio link above, you’ll hear a podcast that previews the fall Freakonomics Radio season. Levitt reads your iTunes reviews of the podcast (his favorite won’t surprise you). We’ll also dive into Taipei’s trash trucks, consider the vuvuzela‘s upside, and hear from a man who sounds for all the world like a philosopher king. You’ll also learn how Kai Ryssdal’s name would be spelled in Norway, and you’ll get inside the mind of people whose names you do know how to spell, like Rudy Giuliani and Arne Duncan.

Make sure you subscribe to the podcast so that new episodes come to you in your sleep. You can keep up with all things Freakonomics (the new movie, for instance), via Twitter, the Freakonomics blog on, and on Facebook. The adventures have just begun.

Audio Transcript

[Male voice] You have the present, you have the past, the past had its past, okay, the present has its future, the past has its future, name me the present, that they learn that we had a past, a past past, a past future, they learn the relationship between them but they don’t extrapolate a relation between today’s past and today’s future. 

Stephen J. DUBNER:  Alright, raise your hand if you followed what Nassim Nicholas Taleb just said. Yeah, me too, but I do know this, for Freakonmics radio, the future is now.   

[Female voice] From WNYC American public media, this is Freakonmics radio, a new podcast about the hidden side of everything.  Here’s your host Stephen Dubner. 

DUBNER:  In the beginning it was just me, a microphone and my freakonmics friend and coauthor Steve Levitt.  We started a podcast, threw it up on iTunes, we didn’t think anybody actually listened to it but they did.  They even wrote reviews.  Last week Levitt and I, we made the mistake of reading them. 

Steven LEVITTThis is one of the good ones.  “If you’re going to start a new podcast…BBrian632 says…please at least have some episodes lined up.  The podcast has potential…that’s what I mean by this is one of the good ones…however, twenty days between shows is a really poor start.  Come on guys, if you’re serious then do it”.  Hypoluxa writes:  This is a top podcast on iTunes?  I was incredibly disappointed.  I don’t know what podcast the other reviewers were listening to but this was terrible.  Talk about beating a dead horse.  Ugh.   

DUBNER:  Could have been worse.  

LEVITTI like this one here:  More of Levitt, less of Dubner 


DUBNER:  I’m afraid you’re getting more Dubner whether you like it or not.  Here’s how it works.  For now we’ll put out a new podcast every two weeks. In January we’ll go weekly.  You can get it at iTunes, at our new website Freakonomicsradiolcom and wherever fine podcasts are sold.   

But wait, there’s more.  Every couple weeks we’ll bring a Freakonomic story to marketplace, the afternoon business show on your local public radio station, you know, hosted by that guy with the strange name.  What is that? 

Kai RYSSDALSo the really interesting thing is that I can’t even tell you the number of times we have gotten listener mail with people saying either , Ky, Key, K, they don’t like how I pronounce my own name, they don’t know how to spell it, it’s Norwegian people.  My dad was born in Burgon.  K-a-i R-y-s-s-d-a-l, no middle name thank you very much, just Kai Ryssdal.   

DUBNER:  So it’s just a straight Norwegian name, no hybrid, if you were living in Norway nobody would raise a brow. 

RYSSDALNobody would except for this.  Usually over there sometimes it’s spell with a K-a-j because they got the ya-ya thing going with the J’s over there but it’s Scandinavian as far it goes.  

DUBNER:  If I ever had a hard time remember your pronouncing is it okay if I just call you Kevin or something, is that alright with you? 

RYSSDALListen Dubner, whatever you want.   


DUBNER:  Once I learned the ropes we’ll start making some hour long shows.  You’ll hear them on public radio stations too along as the public radio officials we bribe keep their word and then we’re going on the road, live events with more surprises than you can imagine, in other words, we really have no idea yet what we’re going to do but whatever form Freakonomics Radio takes we’ll bring you the stories that everyone else on the radio has the good sense to avoid.  For instance, the economics of trash.   

Here’s a guy named Jonathan Forma, a grad student from Michigan who just moved to Taiwan.  

Jonathan FORMAI can tell you that when I arrived here in the dormitory I was given a list of rules and one of them was when you hear the trash truck come take your trash out the door. 

DUBNER:  When you hear the trash truck come, bring your trash out the door.  So it comes around like an ice cream truck or something?   

FORMAExactly.  Um, this is one of the funny things, it actually plays Beethoven music, it blares it in fact and so when you hear it coming your first thought is the ice cream truck is coming but in fact it is smelly garbage that is coming down your street. 

DUBNER:  But basically you’re hearing…you’re in your room, you’re working or you’re getting ready for going to school or whatever and then you hear da, da, da, da, da, da and you think trash, I gotta get my trash.  Is that the way it works? 

FORMA: That is exactly the way it works.   


FORMAFor the first ten days I didn’t hear it one time.  I was told it comes roughly…in our area it comes in the afternoon and the evening supposedly although for the first ten days I was literally out every single day.  I mean, I just arrived in a new city, I wanted to travel around a little bit and so the result of all that was about ten days worth of trash in my room. 

DUBNER:  Ten days worth of trash in your room because you were not home when the trash truck came right? 

FORMAExactly.  I couldn’t bring myself to tell my friends – no I won’t go out to eat with you because I’m waiting for the trash truck.  I couldn’t do it.   

DUBNER:  What do the locals think about this trash collection system where you have to wait to hear the trash truck come and bring your trash out to it? 

FORMAUm, you know, I asked a couple of my friends about this and they said they think like people like going out and talking to each other while they’re waiting for the trash truck.  I’ve seen this where there will be people, you know, 20-25 people gathering on a corner and ah, with the trash truck coming in the distance and I’ve also heard that guys sometimes go there and try to find pretty girls.   

DUBNER:  Oh, so you’re giving trash a whole new spin here.  You’re talking trash is like a babe magnet and trash is a community builder right?   

FORMAYou know, if you talk with your neighbors a lot I suspect it’s just as easy that you could get into an argument as it is to have delightful chatter but they say that they like it and you dress in nice clothes sometimes, you go out there, you talk to your neighbors, you put your trash in together.  It does sound nice 

DUBNER:  But what you’re describing is it’s like, you know, I’m living in this neighborhood in Taipei in a residential area and I’m a young single guy and it’s like – hey, it’s trash time, I’m going to put on my best shirt and try to go meet a girl right?   

FORMA  Yeah, I haven’t been reduced to the…it’s going to the trash truck to find girls so maybe one day. 

DUBNER:  Maybe one day.   


DUBNER:  You’ll hear about trash and some slightly less trashy things too…slightly, the like the upcoming elections.  We’ll take a look at the myths of campaign spending in November’s past, present and future.  

Here’s a voice you might recognize. 

[Male Voice] We thought we could raise 100 million dollars so we built a campaign for 100 million dollars but we were spending the money as if we were a 100 million dollar campaign before we raised a 100 million so even though we raised 57 million which was a huge amount of money, we were out of money.  (Laughs)  And what we should have anticipated better was that we’re not going to raise the 100 million so campaign spending doesn’t mean anything because you can spend it incorrectly.  I have lost an election by spending it wrong, that one, I won an election, my first election that I won I won when I was outspent 16 million to 2 million in a Republican primary and I could have probably not spent any money and won and we won like 70/30. 

DUBNER:  Yep, that’s Rudy Giuliani, former New York City Mayor who ran for President once, might even do it again. He of course ran as a crime stopper and he did it without the benefit of (8:35).   

Here’s (8:40), a long time civil rights activist in South Africa who, like a lot of people there was worried the recent World Cup would bring a spike in crime.  It didn’t happen. 

[Female voice] I think it is true that the level of crime came down and those who did commit crimes were quickly nabbed so crime didn’t pay during the World Cup but importantly the source of crime in my view is that age group, full of energy and many of them full of testosterone if I may say so.  They were busy blowing the rules, running around, going to fan parks, they had something to do.  South Africa has neglected providing sporting facilities.  Many poor communities don’t have a soccer place, they don’t have a basketball place, they don’t have simple places where children can go and be children and that’s really a big take away we should remember from the World Cup. 

DUBNER:  Take a listen to another voice you’ll be hearing this fall.  This one is harder to recognize than Giuliani’s but if you’ve been following the news lately you can maybe figure it out. 

[Male voice]  We’re fundamentally trying to change the business we’re in and we’re trying to drive innovation rather than being this compliance driven bureaucracy and the idea of crowd sourcing that you’re seeing in other industries we think is absolutely applicable here. And frankly I think there are very significant lessons for how government can work going forward.  If we’re serious about challenging the status quo, if we’re serious about getting dramatically better, we can’t just keep doing the same thing and I think this idea of rewarding excellence and helping states learn from each other but challenging them to go to a different level, I think there are very significant lessons beyond the Department of Education. 

DUBNER:  The Department of Education was your big clue.  That’s Arnie Duncan who used to run the Chicago Public Schools and now runs all of them.  We’ll talk to him about the Race to the Top Program that has different states competing against one another to come up with the best school reforms.  That show will plainly be educational, so educational in fact that Duncan gave us our first official endorsement. 

Arnie DUNCANHi, I’m Arnie Duncan, Secretary of Education in the United States and you’re listening to Freakonomics Radio.   

DUBNER:  Education, crime, campaign spending, trash.  That’s what you’re in for at Freakonomics radio.  Even a little bit of practical philosophy.  Thanks to our friend Nassim Taleb, author of The Black Swan and Fooled by Randomness.   

Nassim  TALEBSkepticism is something you should handle with care.  There’s a thin line between pure gullibility, not a sucker, and pure skepticism you can’t get out of bed and you have to figure out to navigate it and I’m spending a hundred percent of my time, okay, working out the map of where you should be skeptical, where you could be a sucker or not a sucker.  

DUBNER:  Remember these words – Freakonomics Radio helping skeptics get out of bed since February 2010.  Thanks for listening. 

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  1. Berhin says:

    You guys are great! “Freakonomics” and “This American Life” podcasts are the two I anticipate the most every week (or two or three … whenever I can get them).

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  2. Jeanie says:

    About the trash thing in Taipei. A lot of people living in condos pay for trash collection services from individuals who would pick up the residents’ trash left at their door on a given day of the week.

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