How to Create Suspense

This week on Freakonomics Radio, we were inspired by a fascinating research paper called “Suspense and Surprise” by the economists Jeffrey Ely, Alexander Frankel, and Emir Kamenica. We speak with all three of them about what makes a particular sport suspenseful (or boring), what makes a movie thrilling (or, as in the case of M. Night Shyamalan, increasingly not), and why these things are worth discussing within the realm of economics. We'll also hear from practitioners of the art of suspense, including novelist Harlan Coben.

“If Mayors Ruled the World”

Season 5, Episode 30 This week, Freakonomics Radio expands on an idea from political theorist Benjamin Barber, who wrote If Mayors Ruled the World: Dysfunctional Nations, Rising Cities. Barber argues that cities are paragons of good governance — compared, at least, to nation-states — and that is largely due to their mayors. Mayors, Barber argues, are can-do people […]

The Three Hardest Words in the English Language

Season 5, Episode 29

This week on Freakonomics Radio we ask: what are the three hardest words to say? Conventional wisdom suggests “I love you.” But c'mon, people say that all the time. What about “I don’t know?" We'll argue that our inability to say these words more often can have huge consequences.

Then, Stephen Dubner talks with Kevin Kelly, a self-described old hippie and onetime editor of hippiedom’s do-it-yourself bible, The Whole Earth Catalog, who went on to co-found Wired magazine, a beacon of the digital age.

Reasons to Not Be Ugly

Season 5, Episode 28

This week, Freakonomics Radio takes a look at the “beauty premium” and, conversely, the downside of ugly. Do cuter babies get more attention? Are good-looking students graded more charitably? How do ugly people fare in the marriage and labor markets?

Then, it isn’t easy to separate the guilty from the innocent — but a clever bit of game theory can help. The goal, as Steve Levitt puts it, is “to get the bad guys to come forward and tell you who they are.” It’s a trick that Levitt and Stephen Dubner, in their book Think Like a Freak, call “teaching your garden to weed itself.”

Is the World Ready for a Guaranteed Basic Income?

Season 5, Episode 27

On this week's Freakonomics Radio: a lot of full-time jobs in the modern economy simply don’t pay a living wage. And even those jobs may be obliterated by new technologies. What’s to be done so that financially vulnerable people aren’t just crushed? It may finally be time for an idea that economists have promoted for decades: a guaranteed basic income.

Also, what is the long-term impact of suddenly acquiring a valuable asset? An 1832 land lottery in Georgia randomly rewarded roughly 20 percent of its participants with a large tract of land. Two researchers used U.S. Census data to track how this new wealth changed the lives of these families.

Are Payday Loans Really as Evil as People Say?

Season 5, Episode 26

This week on Freakonomics Radio: critics — including President Obama — say short-term, high-interest loans are predatory, trapping borrowers in a cycle of debt. But some economists see them as a useful, if expensive, financial instrument for people who might otherwise not have access to cash. As the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau promotes new regulation, we ask: who’s right?

To learn more, check out the podcast from which this hour was drawn: “Are Payday Loans Really as Evil as People Say?"

The Perfect Crime

Season 5, Episode 25

This week on Freakonomics Radio, what’s “the perfect crime?" It turns out that if you are driving your car and run over a pedestrian, there’s a good chance — especially if you live in New York — that you’ll barely be punished. Why?

Also, where have all the hitchhikers gone? Thumbing a ride used to be commonplace. Now you're more likely to see it happen in the opening scene of a slasher movie. Maybe that explains it.

Should Tipping Be Banned?

Season 5, Episode 24

This hour of Freakonomics Radio is all about tipping. As we all know, the practice of tipping can be awkward, random, and confusing. What you might not know is that it is discriminatory, and according to at least one academic's research, correlates with corruption. We talk with a professor who has written over 50 papers on the subject.

Then, we explore the warped restaurant business model: kitchen wages are too low to hire cooks, while diners are put in charge of paying the waitstaff. So what happens if you eliminate tipping, raise menu prices, and redistribute the wealth? New York restaurant maverick Danny Meyer is about to find out.

The United States of Cory Booker

Season 5, Episode 23

This week on Freakonomics Radio: Junior U.S. Senator from New Jersey Cory Booker thinks bipartisanship is right around the corner. Is he just an idealistic newbie or does he see a way forward that everyone else has missed?

Then, as sexy as the digital revolution may be, it can’t compare to the Second Industrial  Revolution (electricity! the gas engine! antibiotics!), which created the biggest standard-of-living boost in U.S. history.  The only problem, argues the economist Robert Gordon, is that the Second Industrial Revolution was a one-time event.

“I Don’t Know What You’ve Done With My Husband But He’s A Changed Man”

Season 5, Episode 22 As we learned in last week’s episode, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) has been effective in reducing criminal behavior among teenagers in Chicago and former child soldiers in Liberia. This week we go to England, where behavioral-therapy workshops for low-level domestic violence offenders have achieved a 40 percent reduction in repeat incidents […]