Archives for



Should We All Just Give Cash Directly to the Poor?

Silicon Valley heavyweights like Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes and Google have a new favorite charity: GiveDirectly, an organization that makes direct transfers (via M-Pesa) to poor people in the developing world. From Forbes:

“Instead of building hospitals, why don’t we just give poor people money? Research shows it’s effective,” [Hughes] said. Hughes, who purchased The New Republic magazine in early 2012 and serves as publisher, also joined the board of GiveDirectly.

Backing up Hughes’s point was Jacquelline Fuller, Director of Giving at Google. She told the crowd Thursday night that one of her superiors at Google was extremely skeptical when Fuller first suggested that Google back GiveDirectly. “I was told, ‘You must be smoking crack,’ ” Fuller recalled. But GiveDirectly had exactly what Google wanted: lots of data on how the recipients of cash used it to improve their nutrition, their health and their children’s education. After looking at the data, Google donated $2.5 million to GiveDirectly.

GiveDirectly stems from economist Paul Niehaus‘s research in India, where to limit corruption the government  makes direct cash transfers via mobile phones.  “A typical poor person is poor not because he is irresponsible, but because he was born in Africa,” says Niehaus, adding that GiveDirectly’s transfers have had positive impacts on nutrition, education, land, and livestock — and haven’t increased alcohol consumption.  The charity is also No. 2 on Givewell’s list of recommended charities.

(HT: Marginal Revolution)



Should Tipping be Banned? Full Transcript

This is a transcript of the Freakonomics Radio podcast “Should Tipping Be Banned?” [MUSIC: Pearl Django, “Bohéme Auberge” (from New Metropolitan Swing)]   Stephen J. DUBNER: Uh, hey Levitt?   Steven LEVITT: Hey Dubner.   DUBNER: When I say the word tipping, what do you think of?   LEVITT: I think of discomfort.   DUBNER: Discomfort […] Read More »



Baby, You Can Program My Car: Full Transcript

This is a transcript of the Freakonomics Radio podcast “Baby, You Can Program My Car.” Kai RYSSDAL: Time now for a little Freakonomics Radio. It’s that moment every couple of weeks we talk to Stephen Dubner, the co-author of the books and blog of the same. The hidden side of everything is what he does. Hey […] Read More »



NASA to Print Pizzas; Free Delivery Unlikely

In our podcast “Waiter, There’s a Physicist in My Soup!,” we talked to  Pablos Holman at Intellectual Ventures about food printers (we’ve also blogged about organ printers and meat printers). Now NASA is funding an Austin, Tex., company that is working on a pizza printer. From CNET:

Systems and Materials Research recently received a $125,000 grant from NASA to make a pizza. OK, it’s a little more complicated than that. Contractor already created a proof-of-concept printer that can print chocolate onto a cookie. His next goal is to print out dough and cook it while printing out sauce and toppings.

Read More »



The Latest in Happiness Research

In the L.A. Times, Elizabeth Dunn and Michael Norton highlight some of the more interesting recent findings in the field of happiness research.  Two surprising examples from the article:

1. “A study of women in the United States found that homeowners were no happier than renters, on average. And even if you’re currently living in a cramped basement suite, you may find that moving to a nicer home has surprisingly little impact on your overall happiness. Researchers followed thousands of people in Germany who moved to a new home because there was something they didn’t like about their old home. In the five years after relocating, the residents reported a significant increase in satisfaction with their housing, but their overall satisfaction with their lives didn’t budge.”
2. “[D]ozens of studies show that people get more happiness from buying experiences than from buying material things. Experiential purchases — such as trips, concerts and special meals — are more deeply connected to our sense of self, making us who we are. And while it’s anyone’s guess where the American housing market is headed, the value of experiences tends to grow over time, becoming rosier in the rearview mirror of memory.”



More Evidence on Charter Schools

Writing at Slate, Ray Fisman reviews the latest research on the efficacy of charter schools.  The study focuses on students at six Boston schools that had previously demonstrated an ability to improve students’ test scores on the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System.  This time, however, the researchers wanted to evaluate whether the schools really improved student outcomes or just mastered the art of “teaching to the test.” Here’s the breakdown:

The study examines the college readiness of Boston public school students who applied to attend the six charter schools between 2002 and 2008, with projected graduation dates of 2006–2013. In just about every dimension that affects post-secondary education, students who got high lottery numbers (and hence were much more likely to enroll in a charter school) outperformed those assigned lower lottery numbers. Getting into a charter school doubled the likelihood of enrolling in Advanced Placement classes (the effects are much bigger for math and science than for English) and also doubled the chances that a student will score high enough on standardized tests to be eligible for state-financed college scholarships. While charter school students aren’t more likely to take the SAT, the ones who do perform better, mainly due to higher math scores.

Read More »



Can You Be Too Smart for Your Own Good? And Other FREAK-quently Asked Questions: Full Transcript

This is a transcript of the Freakonomics Radio podcast “Can You Be Too Smart for Your Own Good? And Other FREAK-quently Asked Questions.” [MUSIC: Ed Hartman, “Simple Life”] DUBNER: Hey Levitt, of all the things that are in your power to do at this very moment in time, what would be your very most favorite thing […] Read More »



Are France and Spain Risky Vacation Spots?

Aon just released its 2013 Terrorism and Political Violence Risk Map. Interestingly, reports Business Insider, the risk levels in summer vacation favorites France and Spain are “actually equivalent to China and Russia, presumably on the basis of the former countries’ recent, heated demonstrations protesting austerity.”

Denmark, Finland, Japan, Australia, Iceland, Uruguay and Botswana, meanwhile, are all pretty safe bets.