Featured Post



What’s More Dangerous: Marijuana or Alcohol? A New Freakonomics Radio Podcast

(Photo: Samantha Cohen)

Imagine a fantasy world that’s exactly as the world is today except that two things are missing: alcohol and marijuana. And then imagine that tomorrow, both of them are discovered. What happens now? How are each of them used – and, perhaps more importantly, regulated? How would we weigh the relative benefits and costs of alcohol versus marijuana?

That’s the topic of our latest podcast, “What’s More Dangerous: Marijuana or Alcohol?” (You can subscribe to the podcast at iTunes, get the RSS feed, or listen via the media player above. You can also read the transcript, which includes credits for the music you’ll hear in the episode.) Read More »


Latest Posts

The Great Gefilte Fish Shortage

Fresh-made gefilte fish is hard to find this Passover season, because the harsh winter restricted fishing on the Great Lakes, sharply decreasing the supply of an essential input—whitefish. While this delicacy is not required by ritual, it is traditional—and with fresh-ground horseradish it is a mouth- (and eye-) watering treat.  One would think that a rising price would equilibrate the market, but it hasn’t—apparently merchants did not want to antagonize customers by raising prices.  Indeed, the nature-induced shortage in the market for fresh gefilte fish has increased the demand in the related market for the pre-made Manischewitz product, so that is hard to find too.  Pretty sad when you can’t find gefilte fish even in Manhattan!



Print, Persuade and Post

My coauthor (and 16-year-old daughter) Antonia Ayres-Brown just published a piece in Slate about a project that started 5 years ago when we bleg’d Freakonomics readers to tell us about how McDonald’s refers to Happy Meal toys. Antonia was disturbed by the kinds of questions we encountered when we ordered Happy Meals at the drive-thru. We’d be asked things like “Is it for a boy or girl?” or “Do you want a girl’s toy or a boy’s toy?”

asked readers whether they encountered similar questions.  According to seventy nine reader responses, approximately one-fifth of the time McDonald’s employees did not ask a toy-related question.  But when employees did ask a toy-related question:

47.7%                    Asked “Is It for a Boy or Girl?”

31.8%                    Asked “Do You Want A Boy’s Toy or a Girl’s Toy?”

15.9%                    Described the toys in non-gender terms.

I’ve waited this long to report the results because Antonia have I have been engaged in a long-term project to encourage McDonald’s to describe the toys without reference to children’s gender. Read More »



Does Marijuana Change Young Brains?

Our latest podcast compared the costs of marijuana use to the costs of alcohol use.  A new study in the current issue of The Journal of Neuroscience argues that casual use of marijuana affects the developing brain.  Jason Koebler, writing for Vice, summarizes the findings:

High-resolution MRI scans of the brains of adults between the ages of 18-25 who reported smoking weed at least once a week were structurally different than a control group: They showed greater grey matter density in the left amygdala, an area of the brain associated with addiction and showed alterations in the hypothalamus and subcallosal cortex. The study also notes that marijuana use “may be associated with a disruption of neural organization.” The more weed a person reported smoking, the more altered their brain appeared, according to the Northwestern University and Harvard Medical School study, which was published in the Journal of Neuroscience.

The finding already has the study’s authors calling for states to reconsider legalizing the drugHans Breiter, the lead author, said he’s “developed a severe worry about whether we should be allowing anybody under age 30 to use pot unless they have a terminal illness and need it for pain.

(HT: The Daily Dish)



The Gender Wage Gap, by State

We have blogged and written extensively about the gender pay gap, much of which is not attributable to discrimination, as is commonly invoked. President Obama has taken up the cause; he recently signed two executive orders aimed at closing the gap.  Business Insider recently posted a state-by-state breakdown of the gender wage gap. It is interesting to look at but keep in mind the non-discriminatory factors that contribute to the gap, and therefore consider these numbers with some skepticism:

Wyoming has the biggest pay gap — the median male full-time worker made $51,932, and the median female full-time worker made $33,152. The male worker thus made 56.6% more than the female worker.

Washington, D.C. had the smallest gap — there, men make 11.0% more than women. Among the states, Maryland and Nevada had the smallest gaps, both at 17.2%.



The Supply Curve of Viking Raids

The new exhibition on the Vikings at the British Museum illustrates behavior along supply curves.  The local Anglo-Saxons decided that the best way to keep Viking raiders at bay was to buy them off—to pay tribute.  Perhaps unsurprisingly, this extra payoff merely induced a movement up the supply curve of Viking raids, as more raiding parties realized that there was money to be made by raiding English villages. Perhaps this is a lesson for modernity: don’t negotiate with terrorists! Read More »



“If Mayors Ruled the World”: A New Freakonomics Radio Podcast

Our latest Freakonomics Radio episode is called “’If Mayors Ruled the World.’” (You can subscribe to the podcast at iTunes, get the RSS feed, or listen via the media player above. You can also read the transcript, which includes credits for the music you’ll hear in the episode.)

The episode expands on an idea from political theorist Benjamin Barber, whose latest book is called If Mayors Ruled the World: Dysfunctional Nations, Rising Cities. Barber argues that cities are paragons of good governance – compared at least to nation-states – and that is largely due to their mayors. Mayors, Barber argues, are can-do people who inevitably cut through the inertia and partisanship that can plague state and federal governments. To that end, Barber would like to see a global “Parliament of Mayors,” to help solve the kind of big, borderless problems that national leaders aren’t so good at solving. Read More »



Street-Fighting Math MOOC Is Open

My mathematically inclined readers are cordially invited to enroll in “6.SFMx: Street-Fighting Math,” which starts today on EdX. Like most (all?) MOOC courses, it is free and open to world, as are all the course materials.

So far, I have learned that teaching an entirely online course requires far more effort than teaching in person. Maybe by a factor of 10. Partly, it is the difference between talking to a friend on the phone—you just pick up the phone and start talking—compared to writing a long letter that needs to be thought out. To this difference you add that 10,000 others will also read and depend on the letter. You get nervous about making all the pieces right. They never will be, so you never rest easy. Read More »



A Simple Invention to Help Women’s Health

BBC News reports the story of Arunachalam Muruganantham, a school dropout in rural India who invented a technology that could vastly improve reproductive health for women. The user-friendly technology relies on simple machines to produce sanitary pads at a low cost, a boon for women unwilling or unable to pay for the higher-priced sanitary pads in stores.

[Muruganantham] discovered that hardly any women in the surrounding villages used sanitary pads – fewer than one in 10. His findings were echoed by a 2011 survey by AC Nielsen, commissioned by the Indian government, which found that only 12% of women across India use sanitary pads.

Muruganantham says that in rural areas, the take-up is far less than that. He was shocked to learn that women don’t just use old rags, but other unhygienic substances such as sand, sawdust, leaves and even ash.

Women who do use cloths are often too embarrassed to dry them in the sun, which means they don’t get disinfected. Approximately 70% of all reproductive diseases in India are caused by poor menstrual hygiene – it can also affect maternal mortality.

Read More »



Do Election Interventions Work?

A new working paper (abstractPDF) by Eli Berman, Michael Callen, Clark Gibson, and James D. Long looks at the effects of election interventions in fragile states, specifically Afghanistan. The results are encouraging:

International development agencies invest heavily in institution building in fragile states, including expensive interventions to support democratic elections. Yet little evidence exists on whether elections enhance the domestic legitimacy of governments. Using the random assignment of an innovative election fraud-reducing intervention in Afghanistan, we find that decreasing electoral misconduct improves multiple survey measures of attitudes toward government, including: (1) whether Afghanistan is a democracy; (2) whether the police should resolve disputes; (3) whether members of parliament provide services; and (4) willingness to report insurgent behavior to security forces.



Why Use the Best Lumber in a House That Won’t Last?

A Freakonomics Radio listener named Kevin wrote in response to our recent episode called “Why Are Japanese Homes Disposable?” First, here’s a quick summary of that episode:

It turns out that half of all homes in Japan are demolished within 38 years — compared to 100 years in the U.S.  There is virtually no market for pre-owned homes in Japan, and 60 percent of all homes were built after 1980. In Jiro Yoshida’s estimation, while land continues to hold value, physical homes become worthless within 30 years. Other studies have shown this to happen in as little as 15 years.

Read More »