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FREAK-est Links

1. How well does government work? Economists call for evaluations.

2. UMass Amherst grad student Thomas Herndon finds coding errors in key debt-load paper by Reinhart and Rogoff.

3. Price dives: gold, cupcakes, and chicken wings.

4. Databases that track employee theft. Read More »



The Human Zoo

If you’re a fan of behavioral economics on the radio, check out BBC Radio 4′s new weekly program The Human Zoo. It is hosted by Michael Blastland, a journalist, and Nick Chater, professor of behavioral science at the University of Warwick. Chater is also on the advisory board of the British Government’s Behavioral Insights Team (or “Nudge Unit”), which you heard about in the Freakonomics podcast “The Tax Man Nudgeth.” Human Zoo episodes are accompanied by online experiments.



Where Are All the $100 Bills?

Planet Money reports on the surprising destination of most U.S. $100 bills:

In fact, as of 2011, roughly two-thirds of all $100 bills were held outside the U.S., according to an estimate by Ruth Judson, an economist at the Fed.

The article explains why the high demand for U.S. currency is a good thing:

As Bruce Bartlett recently pointed out, when foreigners hold U.S. dollars, they are effectively giving the U.S. government an interest-free loan.

More broadly, foreign demand for U.S. currency (and U.S. Treasury bonds) in times of crisis is a sign that people in the rest of the world still see the U.S as the home of one of the safest, most stable economies on the planet.

(HT: The Big Picture)



Discriminating Software

The Economist takes a look at the software that big companies are using to sort through job applicants. It finds that people who use Chrome and Firefox browsers are better employees, and people with criminal records are suited to work in call centers. One drawback to having a computer sort potential employees is that its algorithms may treat some variables as proxies for race, as discussed in our “How Much Does Your Name Matter?” podcast, in which the Harvard computer scientist Latanya Sweeney found that distinctively black names are more likely to draw ads that offer arrest records.  Read More »



Why Cell Phone Networks Crash During an Emergency

Maggie Koerth-Baker of BoingBoing interviews Brough Turner, a phone system expert, about why it’s hard to make cell phone calls during an emergency. Turner addresses the mechanics and limitations of cell phone networks and points out that, nostalgia notwithstanding, the pre-cell phone era faced its own technical problems:

Well, say you’d have an earthquake in California. This was for the old Bell system. The national long distance routing has a set of standard, predefined routes and it had network control centers in New Jersey and other places. Things would get overloaded and they would manually intervene by putting access restrictions on new calls coming into the area that was congested. In the 60s, 70s, and 80s they would let through one out of every five call attempts. They were doing that manually and just arbitrarily to reduce congestion.

(HT: The Big Picture)



Help Wanted. No Smokers Need Apply: Full Transcript

This is a transcript of the Freakonomics Radio podcast “Help Wanted. No Smokers Need Apply.”  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 name.  It is “the hidden side of everything.”  Dubner, long […] Read More »



Parking Isn’t Always Hell

On the heels of our “Parking Is Hell” podcast, we received an email from Alicia Hickey — a data analyst at ParkatmyHouse.com, a website that matches drivers with homeowners who have unused parking spaces in their driveways or garages. According to Hickey, ParkatmyHouse gets more than 10,000  visits a day and has 15,000 spots worldwide, the majority in the U.K. She  explained the pricing model to us:

If you look at parking near, say, Harvard University, a ParkatmyHouse space costs as little as $2/hour or $24/day. One-hour parking at a nearby garage costs $9 for the first hour. Three hours parking at that garage will cost you $24 (the 12-hour rate). That’s $18 more than what the ParkatmyHouse space would cost for that same amount of time. It’s difficult to give the average price of a parking space; it depends on the location and the property owner, but parking with ParkatmyHouse will always be cheaper than parking with a meter or in a commercial car park.

Hickey also told us about a few big success stories: Read More »



The History of Taxes

If you’re still fuming over taxes this year, take a look at Mike Duncan and Jason Novak‘s (slightly biased) cartoon explanation of the history of taxes. The income tax really got its start in 1913:

Congress immediately passes the Revenue Act of 1913, creating the first permanent income tax.  No one really notices because the vast majority of incomes are taxed at just 1%.  The mustache twirling robber barons get pretty grumpy, though.  Then Wilson plunges us into WWI and unleashes the awesome potential of the new income tax.  The top end rate jumps to 77% and revenue increases 635%.

(HT: The Big Picture)