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A Chance for You to Give Some of My Money to Charity

A few months back, I helped start a little company, SpinforGood, that offers a new way to give to charity while having fun. It’s not legal in the U.S. to play games like slots and blackjack for real money online, but it is legal to play those games online for charity. So it’s our hope that by hooking up people who like to gamble online with charities, we can let people have fun while doing a whole lot of good.

We are running a special tournament today and tomorrow. In this particular tournament, I personally donated $1,000 of my own money to the prize pool to give people an extra incentive to participate. Which charities get my money (and yours) will be decided by the tournament winners. So for a $10 donation, you can have fun gambling and potentially win thousands of dollars for the charity of your choice. Read More »



The Thinking Person’s Guide to Betting the Belmont Stakes

It has been 36 years since a horse won the Triple Crown. California Chrome has a chance to make history today if he wins the Belmont Stakes, the last leg of the Triple Crown.

So how should you bet the race? California Chrome will be a prohibitive favorite, partly because he deserves to be based on past performances, and partly because it is fun and exciting to be able to say that you bet on the horse who won the Triple Crown. I can remember the specifics of very few horse races, but I still remember exactly where I was watching on TV when Secretariat won the Triple Crown because I had decided after the Preakness that he was my favorite horse. I was six years old. It’s fun to feel a connection to a champion.

Most likely, way too much money will be bet to win on California Chrome, for the reasons above. The more money that is bet on him, the worse the odds. I doubt that it will be a smart bet to play California Chrome to win. Read More »



Mr. Poo

I visited India for the first time a few years ago, and ever since I have been thinking about the enormous problem of public defecation. It is not quite as au courant a topic as, say, human trafficking, but in terms of the number of lives affected, it has massive implications because of the spread of disease.

The latest attempt to make progress on this problem is a music video launched by UNICEF. Read More »



A Freakonomics Proposal to Help the British National Health Service

In the first chapter of our new book, Think Like a Freak, we recount an ill-fated interaction that Dubner and I had with David Cameron shortly before he was elected Prime Minister of the U.K. (In a nutshell, we joked with Cameron about applying the same principles he espoused for health care to automobiles; it turns out you don’t joke with Prime Ministers!)

That story has riled up some people, including an economics blogger named Noah Smith, who rails on us and defends the NHS.

I should start by saying I have nothing in particular against the NHS, and I also would be the last one to ever defend the U.S. system.   Anyone who has ever heard me talk about Obamacare knows I am no fan of it, and I never have been. Read More »



Testing the Limits of Google Translate

Google Translate is an amazing thing.  You can take a chunk of text in just about any language, paste it into Google Translate, and it is instantaneously (if imperfectly) translated.

Since I can’t speak anything other than English, I’m not in a great position to say how good or bad the translations are, but my multi-lingual friends generally turn their noses up at Google Translate, saying it doesn’t do that great a job.

My response is that compared to any other alternative I know (like trying to track down someone who speaks Croatian, or going word by word through a Croatian-English dictionary), it seems like a miracle.  I love it.

But even Google Translate has its limits. Read More »



Proud Papa

Dubner is too modest to write this blog post himself, so I will do it for him.

Recently, Dubner wrote this piece, which got published on World Soccer Talk. You probably didn’t know Dubner was such a soccer buff.  Actually, he’s not.

This piece wasn’t published by Stephen Dubner. It was published by Solomon Dubner, Stephen’s 13-year-old son! Read More »



Spin for Good

Americans love to gamble, as evidenced by the ubiquity of lotteries, the growing number of local casinos, and the remarkable success of Las Vegas.

One place Americans can’t legally gamble is online because, except in a few states, the current laws prohibit it.  Right now, the closest legal substitute that exists for Americans is virtual gambling at sites like Zynga, where people pay literally billions of dollars a year in real money to buy tokens that allow them to play virtual slot machines and tables games.  By virtual, I mean that even though the consumers pay real money, they can’t win cash prizes, but rather things like online trophies or more tokens that allow them to play the games longer. Read More »



Gary Becker, 1930-2014

I’m so sorry to have to write that Gary Becker passed away on Saturday, at the age of 83.  Gary was not only the most creative and influential economist of the last 50 years, but also a kind and gentle person, a mentor, and a close friend.

Others will write at length about Gary’s contributions to economics.  I want to say just a few things in that regard.  About ten years ago, Pierre-Andre Chiappori and I analyzed which economic theorists have had the greatest impact on empirical research by looking at the key motivating citations in papers published in top journals in recent years.  Becker was by far the most influential theorist by our metric.  What was most remarkable was that thirteen different works of his were cited; no one else had more than three or four.  He published influential research in every decade from the 1950s to the present – incredible longevity.  No one else had  longevity like that. Read More »