Is Mitt Romney Less Well-Known Than He Was in 2007?

According to a new Pew Research Center poll, while 54 percent of Americans are able to name at least one GOP presidential candidate, the leading candidates aren't named as often as in previous years. Only 27 percent of Americans named Mitt Romney and only 28 percent named Rick Perry. That's below the same measure taken four years ago in October 2007, when 45 percent could name Rudy Giuliani and 30 percent could name Romney. So, well into his second campaign for president, Romney is now less well-known than he was four years ago, when he ran the first time around. Not exactly encouraging.

Also, it's interesting that Perry is still more recognizable than Romney, despite having fallen in the polls recently -- especially since Perry got into the race only about two months ago, and Romney's been running for much of the last four years. Chalk it up to the Texas swagger versus consultant technocrat?

What if They'd Just Called it the iPhone 5?

Unless you're living under a rock, you're probably aware that Apple unveiled a new iPhone yesterday. At what turned out to be a relatively muted Apple product launch, it was new CEO Tim Cook's first chance at replacing Steve Jobs as product pitchman. It seems he did just fine.

The new iPhone is loaded with cool new features that the market was anticipating, with one exception: it's not called the iPhone 5, it's called the iPhone 4S.

By the time it became obvious that Cook wasn't going to introduce anything called an iPhone 5, (about 1:50 pm EST yesterday), the stock price began to plummet pretty quickly, as you can see in the chart below. From 12:15 pm to 3:15 pm, the price dropped more than 6%. Also, note the spike in volume at the bottom.

Denmark Levies the World's First Nationwide Fat Tax

This week, Denmark begins a large-scale incentives trial of sorts by becoming the first country to impose a nationwide fat tax. From now on, foods in Denmark with saturated fat content above 2.3% will be taxed 16 Danish kroner ($2.87) per kilogram of saturated fat; which works out to a tax of about $1.28 per pound of saturated fat. The tax was reportedly preceded by weeks of Danes stocking up on items like butter, red meat and pizza.

The issue of taxing fatty or sugary foods (and more broadly, the effectiveness of behavioral nudges) has been a topic of repeated discussion on this blog. James McWilliams posted last December on studies which indicate that while taxing sugary sodas reduces consumption, others have shown soda taxes to be ineffective at reducing obesity rates. Proof, McWilliams argues, that taxing specific food items is ultimately ineffective, since consumers can simply substitute sugar from other non-soda sources.

Banana Arbitrage

Bananas are a popular topic on this blog. In February, a reader wrote in with this odd banana stand pricing phenomenon. And in 2008, Dubner explored the potentially tenuous economics of the far-flung fruit.

I've recently run across something similar to the banana stand case: the Starbucks closest to my apartment now sells bananas at the counter for $1 each, while right outside the door, a fruit stand sells them for 25 cents each, or 5 for $1. And the fruit stand bananas are always better looking than the ones at the Starbucks register.

Do Lower Wages and Higher Unemployment Increase Voter Turnout?

A recent study by Kerwin Kofi Charles and Melvin Stephens Jr argues that increases in wages and employment reduce voter turnout in gubernatorial elections, though not in presidential contests.

From the abstract:

This paper argues that, since activities that provide political information are complementary with leisure, increased labor market activity should lower turnout, but should do so least in prominent elections where information is ubiquitous. Using official county-level voting data and a variety of OLS and TSLS models, we find that increases in wages and employment: reduce voter turnout in gubernatorial elections by a significant amount; have no effect on Presidential turnout; and raise the share of persons voting in a Presidential election who do not vote on a House of Representative election on the same ballot.

School Bus Ads: Good Use of Space, or Crass Commercialization?

Facing a combined budget deficit of more than $100 billion for fiscal year 2012, a lot of states are cutting education budgets to make ends meet: laying off teachers, reducing hours and services. But recently, a handful of states have found a creative way to raise revenue from public education by putting advertisements on school buses.

Seven states, the latest being New Jersey, now allow school districts to sell ads on the sides of public school buses. Florida is currently considering it. So is Guam apparently. There are even two companies, Alpha Media and Steep Creek Media (both in Texas), that specialize in nothing but school bus advertisements.

The 21st Century Another American Century? Don't Bet on It

In conjunction with our latest Freakonomics Radio podcast, "The Folly of Prediction," I decided to reach out to a former professor of mine, Raymond Horton, whose modern political economy class is a student favorite at Columbia Business School. I wanted to know what Horton thought the worst prediction ever was, particularly regarding the intersection of politics and economics. He immediately pointed to a Foreign Affairs essay written by Mortimer Zuckerman in 1998, in which Zuckerman boldly lays out the case that, like the 20th century, the 21st will also be marked by American dominance.

We're barely a decade into the new century, so you may think it's too early to pass judgment on Zuckerman's prediction. But given the way things have played out over the last several years, it does look to be on shaky ground. At least that's the opinion of Ray Horton.

Once you've finished reading Horton's essay, we'd love to hear what you think count as some of the worst predictions ever.

What's the Median Income for a Fashion Model in the U.S.?

Take a wild guess: How much do you think fashion models make? It's one of those professions that unless you know someone, or work in the biz, there's not a lot of information out there to have a good view into. Judging by models' perceived glamour and high society status, not to mention the cut-throat competition they deal with, you might think it's a lot. I think I did. Which is why this line from a TNR review of the new book Pricing Beauty: The Making of a Fashion Model struck me as amazing:

The median income across America in 2009 for a model was $27,330—income that includes no benefits.

The book is by Ashley Mears, a former fashion model and current Boston University sociologist.

An Algorithm that Can Predict Weather a Year in Advance

In our latest podcast, "The Folly of Prediction," we poke fun at the whole notion of forecasting. The basic gist is: whether it's Romanian witches or Wall Street quant wizards, though we love to predict things -- we're generally terrible at it. (You can download/subscribe at iTunes, get the RSS feed, or read the transcript here.)

But there is one emerging tool that's greatly enhancing our ability to predict: algorithms. Toward the end of the podcast, Dubner talks to Tim Westergren, a co-founder of Pandora Radio, about how the company's algorithm is able to predict what kind of music people want to hear, by breaking songs down to their basic components. We've written a lot about algorithms, and the potential they have to vastly change our life through customization, and perhaps satisfy our demand for predictions with some robust results.

One of the first things that comes to mind when people hear the word forecasting is the weather. Over the last few decades, we've gotten much better at predicting the weather. But what if through algorithms, we could extend our range of accuracy, and say, predict the weather up to a year in advance? That'd be pretty cool, right? And probably worth a bit of money too.

That's essentially what the folks at a small company called Weather Trends International are doing. The private firm based in Bethlehem, PA, uses technology first developed in the early 1990s, to project temperature, precipitation and snowfall trends up to a year ahead, all around the world, with more than 80% accuracy.

Computers vs. the News: What's Behind the Stock Market Chop?

Today marked another triple-digit move for the Dow Jones Industrial Average, which closed up 272 points. Of the 45 trading days over the last two months, 28 of them (including today) have seen triple-digit moves, meaning the Dow has gone up or down by 100 points (or more) 62% of the time since July 25. The average daily move for the Dow during that time has been 188 points, or 1.6%.

Here's a snapshot showing the performance of the Dow over the last two months:

Pretty choppy, right? I'm no stock market historian, but I'd imagine that you'd be pretty hard-pressed to find such a sustained period of volatility. Which brings up the question: what's causing this? Obviously, there is a lot of uncertainty (and fear) in the market right now. From Europe's sovereign debt problems, to America's toxic political climate, to the sputtering global economy, there is a lot to be anxious about. Anxiety breeds indecision, which characterizes the bumpy market pretty well.