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Levitt on Reddit: “Ask Me Anything” at Noon

I’m not sure how I got talked into it, but I agreed to do an AMA (Ask Me Anything) on Reddit today.

These are the sorts of questions I’m looking forward to:

Q: Would you rather fight one hundred duck-sized horses or one horse-sized duck?

And here are the kinds of answers I’ll be giving.

A: I would take the one big duck, for sure.  I’ll be an underdog either way (that is true in most fights I’m in).  When you are the underdog, you want luck to play as big a role as possible.  With one big duck, maybe I manage to get in a lucky swing with my 7-iron and end it quickly.  With 100 little horses, even if I get lucky and wipe out a few of them, there are still 97 more to deal with.  Plus, I’ve been bit by a horse, and it is no fun.  I also recently got attacked by fire ants, and that was no fun either.  The thought of horse jaws on those fire ants makes my skin crawl.

To check it out, just go to Reddit IAmA at noon, ET.

Chinese Corruption?

The outgoing leader of China, Hu Jintao, has made fighting corruption one of the centerpieces of his party’s agenda.  Perhaps because of that, my corruption antennae were working overtime while I was in China. 

In Beijing, it seemed like our tour guide was perhaps a little corrupt.  For example, we attended an acrobatic show one night.  Included in the tour package were regular tickets to the show.  There were also two more expensive classes of tickets available, we were told, that would afford a better view.  The difference in price was not that great – maybe an extra $10 per person for the best tickets, and $5 more for intermediate tickets.  We gave the tour guide the extra $10 per person and told him to upgrade us to the most expensive tickets.  Our seats were indeed not bad, roughly the twentieth row of a theater that had perhaps 60 rows.  The back of chair was emblazoned with the letters “VIP.”  But here is the thing:  almost every seat in rows 16 to 20 was filled.  Rows 3 to 15 were completely empty (as were rows 40-60…it was not a big crowd on hand).  Rows 1 and 2 were completely full.  The only logical conclusion I could draw was that within each price range, the theater filled seats from front to back, and that our tour guide had taken the extra $10 per person, pocketed half of it, and bought us tickets in the intermediate price range.  Had the theater not been so empty, his scheme wouldn’t have been at all obvious – we would have thought it was just bad luck that we were in the back of the VIP section, but the empty rows gave him away. Read More »

In Search of Some Freakonomics Guinea Pigs

A few weeks back, we launched Freakonomics Experiments, a website designed to help you make both big and small decisions in your life when you’re feeling stuck. First, we try to get you thinking differently about the choices with the hope you can figure it out on your own. If that fails, we flip a coin to help you decide.

Now, we are looking for a handful of folks who are willing to take it to a whole other level. We are looking for an intrepid few who, in the name of Freakonomics, are willing to let a coin toss decide a handful of life decisions. We want to get to know you, watch your life unfold at the mercy of fate, and make you characters in our next book.

If you think you have what it takes, fill out the online application and you just may be one of the few, the not-so-proud, the Freak guinea pigs.

The Best “Green” Hotel Message I’ve Ever Seen

I’m always suspicious of companies who tout how environmentally friendly they are, when being green happens to coincide with cost savings for the firm.  The best example is the ubiquitous message you see in hotel rooms asking the guest, in the spirit of the environment, not to have the sheets and towels washed during your visit.  I have a hard time believing that if the situation were reversed – that the green answer was quite costly – the hotels would be such tree huggers.  (For the record, I don’t care at all whether my sheets and towels get washed, so I cooperate.)

At a hotel in China, I finally found a “green” message that I found compelling: Read More »

What’s the Real Crime Rate in China?

Official statistics would certainly suggest that crime in China is extremely low.  Murder rates in China are roughly one-fifth as high as in the United States.  According to the official crime statistics there, all crimes are rare.  China certainly feels safe. We walked the streets in rich areas and poor and not for a moment did I ever feel threatened.  Graffiti was completely absent.  The one instance where I thought I finally found some graffiti near a train station in the city of Shangrao, the spray painted message on a bridge turned out not to be graffiti, but rather a government warning that anyone caught defecating under the bridge would be severely punished.

Yet, there were all sorts of odd behaviors that made it seem like some crimes were a big problem. 

First, there seemed to be an obsession with the risk of counterfeit money.  Our tour guides felt the need to teach us how to identify fake money.  Whenever I bought something with currency, the shopkeeper went through a variety of tricks to validate the legitimacy of the bills.  Read More »

Christmas in China

I spent 12 days in China with my family over Christmas this year, a whirlwind tour that took us to seven different cities, including the birth-cities of my two adopted daughters.  In a series of blog posts this week, I recount a few observations from the trip.


Last I heard, the Communist Party in China wasn’t that enthusiastic about Christianity.  You never would have known it spending Christmas there with my family a few months back.

We arrived in the Beijing airport to the sounds of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer playing in the background.  Pretty much the only music we heard the whole trip was Christmas music.  This was true not just in places frequented by tourists, but also in shopping malls and restaurants as far-flung as Nanchang and Zhenjiang  — two cities where we didn’t see a single American in two days.
Read More »

Having Trouble Making a Big Decision? We Can Help

We all face big choices from time to time.  Which college to choose?  Should I break up with my girlfriend?  Should I quit my job?  Should I dye my hair blond?

Sometimes the decisions are easy and obvious.  Other times, no matter how much you think about it, no clear answer emerges.  Your life might be very different depending on what path you take, but you just can’t tell which choice will leave you better off.

If you find yourself in that kind of bind, we are launching a new website today,, that just might be your savior. Read More »

Fryer and Levitt Go Ghetto

In academia, it is seen as an honor when someone wants to reprint one of your published papers in an edited volume of collected papers. It is really an honor if someone wants to take the time to translate it into another language.

Roland Fryer and I feel so honored.

Back in 2004, Roland and I published a piece in the journal Education Next describing our research on racial test-score gaps. That paper was recently translated into ghetto English. The new version is here. It is a must-read (although very, very NSFW). Usually something gets lost in the translation, but I would say in this case it is an improvement.