The Year in Repugnant Ideas

City of Modesto arch

An arch in downtown Modesto show's the city's motto, "Water, Wealth, Contentment, Health." Its wastewater may soon be used to irrigate nearby fields of apricots and almonds. (Photo: Mark Jones)

We here at Freakonomics Radio are connoisseurs of the repugnant idea. When the timid turn away in disgust, we inch closer. Why? Because hidden in the muck of repugnant ideas, sometimes at least, are brilliant solutions (and also, frankly, because we just can’t help ourselves). On the Freakonomics Radio year-end Marketplace segment, Stephen Dubner reports on a few of our favorite repugnant ideas that took root in 2010.

Modesto City Councilmember Brad Hawn

Modesto City Councilmember Brad Hawn (Photo: Mark Jones)

Marketplace Segment

The Year in Repugnant Ideas

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In California’s agriculture-rich Central Valley, the city of Modesto considers using processed wastewater to make apricots and walnuts bloom. In Israel, a doctor introduces a seemingly brutal incentive to raise Israel’s low organ-donor rates.?And Freakonomics co-author Steven Levitt explains why economists are particularly well-suited to think about repugnant solutions. “Either by birth or by training,” he says, “economists have their mind open, or skewed in such a way that instead of thinking about something in terms of whether it’s right or wrong, they think about it in terms of whether it’s efficient.” To prove his point, Levitt explains why, if the health-care system were turned into more of a market, and if you’re lucky enough to live into old age, your children will become your own “personal death panel.”

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  1. Sarah Young says:

    Listening to the Freakonomics podcast I remembered this post from the Freakonomics Blog:
    “Interestingly, Iran’s total kidney donation rate (including live and deceased donors) is only 27.1 per 1 million citizens versus the U.S. rate of 54.7.”
    http://freakonomics.com/2010/07/16/the-iranian-kidney-machine/

    It calls into question the efficacy of the Iranian market for encouraging donations. If their per capita organ donation rate is less than the US, do they really have more donors or just restrict the number of people (or the accuracy of the count) who receive donations? You seem to have told a limited story on the podcast.

    Interesting though. Thanks for the podcast.

    -Sarah

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  2. PK says:

    Thanks for an amazing (free) podcast. I was wondering if it made sense that organ donors are made aware. People like us should be demanding for efficient organ donation or matching system.

    ‘I want to donate my organs – how will you ensure they reach the right people and at the right time.’

    Food for thought. PAtients/donors should demand services shouldn’t they?

    Thanks again

    PK

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  3. Tony says:

    Personally, I think the “give life, get life” idea is not only not repugnant, it’s not strong enough. It makes sense to me that people who are not organ donors should be at the bottom of the waiting list.

    I’m an organ donor, and it disgusts me that someone who isn’t one might receive such benefits they aren’t willing to reciprocate.

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    • Vinsane says:

      But Tony, if they already have one organ failing, you sure you want a separate one from them?

      “Yes, your heart is failing but I will bet your liver is just fine…”

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