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Let Us Know What Kind of Free Stuff You Really Want

When we ask people to contribute to our public-radio Freakonomics podcast, our sponsor station WNYC offers some of the standard public-radio gifts: a Freakonomics t-shirt, a coffee mug, copies of our books, etc. I am curious what sort of gifts people really want. The radio station tells us that people love love love tote bags, but as someone who almost never carries a tote bag, I am skeptical. But I am also happy to be proven wrong. So please let us know via the poll below, and also write in answers in the comments. Thanks. Read More »



A Herd-Mentality Nudge on the Singapore Subway

Our “Riding the Herd Mentality” podcast argued that one surprisingly effective way to encourage pro-social behavior is to simply tell people that everybody else is already doing it.

A reader named Freek Rijna — “Jep, that’s my real name and it’s typically Dutch. :-)” — sends in this example from the Singapore subway. “Thought you might enjoy it,” Freek writes. “Not sure about the penguins though …”

I see Freek’s point. Also, I might have to stop for a minute to think whether “alighting” means getting off or getting on …



Old-Fashioned Matchmaking as an Antidote to Modern Dating Dilemmas

We recently put out four Freakonomics Radio episodes that developed an arc of a theme: “Reasons to Not Be Ugly,” “What You Don’t Know About Online Dating,” “Why Marry? (Part 1)” and “Why Marry? (Part 2).” These episodes prompted a lot of interesting listener/reader replies. Here is a particularly interesting one, from a woman we’ll call R.:

I recently listened to your podcast on online dating and found it fascinating — not so much because of the economics of dating, but more how it contrasted and compared with the economics of the dating world I live in: the Orthodox Jewish semi-arranged marriages.

I grew up in upstate New York, in a village that is almost only Haredi Orthodox. The world I live in is sort of like Jane Austen, very marriage-oriented. Every girl (and boy for that matter) wants to get married, and does so in her early twenties. The systems at play to get everyone married off must fascinate an outsider. Out of my class of about sixty, about 95% got married within the first five years out of school. So far, only one girl is divorced. It’s hard to quantify happiness in all these marriages but from what my friends tend to tell me, most seem very happy in their relationships. I know that the Orthodox Union has done research into the area. They collected a lot of data by surveying thousands of Orthodox couples, including Haredim, with in-depth online questionnaires. While I have not examined their data (and what a treasure trove that must be to an economist!) I think that this success in matching quickly, efficiently, and happily is due to changing the incentives you talk about in your podcast. The entire process seems to have been designed to reduce outer beauty from being the main incentive in a marriage market.

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What Does the Mt. Gox Meltdown Mean for Bitcoin? Maybe Not Much

Due to popular demand, we are working on a podcast about Bitcoin. Last night, I interviewed Marc Andreessen on the subject. His v.c. firm has invested roughly $50 million in Bitcoin-related companies, including CoinBase, and they are looking for more. It was a fascinating interview, in part because Andreessen has been personally involved in so many major digital events of the past 20 years. 

In light of today’s news about the meltdown of Mt. Gox, the most prominent Bitcoin exchange to date, here is a preview of a section of last night’s interview with Andreessen. His view is vigorously contra the notion that the end of Mt. Gox would mean the end of Bitcoin; in fact, he would take that as a sign of progress: Read More »



The Downside of Smoking Pot?

I am not sure how else to explain this e-mail, received from a reader whose name I shall withhold:

So there is this weird thing going on at CVS that I have to at least make record of, maybe talk about. I am constantly lured there and I walk the wiles, grab a few things, and the bill ALWAYS adds up to whatever amount of money I have in my pocket. If I have $54.32, on three occasions the total added up to exactly the amount I had, and on two other occasions it was within a dollar of being the exact amount. It’s like if I played roulette and always guessed right. Now I can’t talk about it, and these fucks know that, so they do it every time I go to CVS. I boycotted CVS but they lure me there anytime I am even close there. I swore myself to secrecy but the problem is I don’t have a lot of friends and under a condition of secrecy, I get lured to CVS constantly.



One Possible Explanation for the January Stock-Market Fall

In a Wall Street Journal op-ed, Red Jahncke argues that the recent drop in U.S. stock markets may be a delayed response to a tax change:

In late 2012, investors sold huge amounts of investments with long-term capital gains to take advantage of the expiring 15% “Bush” long-term capital-gains tax rate before the current 23.8% rate for higher-income investors took effect on Jan. 1, 2013. These sales left investors with few unrealized long-term gains going into 2013.

Instead, as the market surged, investors’ new gains were held mostly in short-term positions, which they were loath to sell given that short-term gains are taxed at ordinary income-tax rates (39.6% for high earners). With this inhibition there was less sales pressure last year, and for that reason the market may have risen more than it would have otherwise. Indeed, last year’s 30% market gain exceeded most analysts’ predictions.

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More Talk About Why We Don’t Wear Hats Anymore

From Babak Givi, an assistant professor at NYU’s Dept. of Otolaryngology-Head & Neck Surgery:

Dear Freakonomicers,

I am writing in regards to your January 9th podcast ["Are We Ready to Legalize Drugs? And Other FREAK-quently Asked Questions"] and the question about hats. Why people used to wear hats? Stephen made a comment about religious roots of hats and Steven talked about fashion.

I am sure there are links with both, but I would like to note that for the most of the human history, hats were protective garments. We are not spending as much time as we used to out in the open environment. If you spend most of the time outside, you will soon realize that similar to the rest of your body, you have to protect your head from the sun, wind, rain, or snow; but most importantly from the sun. Even now, when we spend most of our time inside our manmade structures, skin cancers are the most common type of cancer in humans. Furthermore, the most common area for developing skin cancers is head and neck, which happens to be the most exposed area of human body, as long as you are not a strict nudist. The effects of ultraviolet rays on developing skin cancers is beyond doubt.  Lightly pigmented skins are extremely sensitive to the sun and with enough exposure most people will develop skin cancers. Hats, similar to the rest of clothing items, protect our skin. In addition, less sunlight will delay development and progression of cataracts (point for wide brim hats). I think our ancestors had developed the habit of wearing hats out of necessity not fashion or religion. But of course through the millennia, we start adding religious, fashion, and symbolic meanings to wearing hats.

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Why Do We Vote? So We Can Tell People We Voted

We once wrote about reasons to not vote, at least from an economist’s perspective. Since a single vote almost never alters an outcome, what’s in it for the voter?

If a given citizen doesn’t stand a chance of having her vote affect the outcome, why does she bother? In Switzerland, as in the U.S., “there exists a fairly strong social norm that a good citizen should go to the polls,” [Patricia] Funk writes. “As long as poll-voting was the only option, there was an incentive (or pressure) to go to the polls only to be seen handing in the vote. The motivation could be hope for social esteem, benefits from being perceived as a cooperator or just the avoidance of informal sanctions. Since in small communities, people know each other better and gossip about who fulfills civic duties and who doesn’t, the benefits of norm adherence were particularly high in this type of community.”

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