Freakonomics FAQ, No. 1: In which Levitt and Dubner field questions from the public and hold forth on everything from dating strategies and rock-and-roll accordion music to whether different nations have different economic identities. Oh, and also: is it worthwhile to vote?
This week’s Freakonomics Radio podcast is a Q&A session in which Levitt and I (mostly Levitt – he’s the smart one) respond to the questions you submitted on this blog a while back. (You can download/subscribe to the podcast at iTunes, get the RSS feed, read the transcript, or listen live via the link in box at right.) It was a lot of fun to do, and if you don’t hate it, we’ll do it again sometime.
One question was from a reader named Thomas Lau:
With many different countries (including my own beloved Ireland) facing economic crises, I was wondering if you or others have looked at whether different economic groups or peoples have “economic personalities,” and if these fit in with existing stereotypes. Are the Americans enthusiastic go-getters while the Germans are reserved pragmatists? Who are the romantics? The gamblers? The cynics?
Levitt’s reply, in part:
I’m always hesitant to attribute differences, say, across countries, to the people who inhabit those countries as opposed to the incentives and the institutions that exist. So, if you think of a place like Spain or Italy, which has very high unemployment, you might say, “Well, that’s because people are lazy.” Or: you might say that’s because there are very high replacement rates. So that if you become unemployed, you’re paid almost as much as if you work. Or they have rules in place so that it’s impossible to fire people. Then it turns out that employers don’t want to hire a lot of people either because they know that the costs of hiring become much, much higher.
In response to another question, Levitt offered career advice:
Make sure that whatever you love doing is something other people don’t love to do. The worst thing in the world is to find some kind of job that everybody wants to do – like being a rock star. Stephen, you’ve tried to be a rock star, it’s hard work. Or a movie star. You have to find something that is idiosyncratically something you love but everyone else despises. So if your dream is to be a garbage man, for instance, you’re guaranteed to have success in life.
Also, some dating advice:
If I only had perfect foresight, I would realize that if you can actually have some success in life, you’ll get dates once you have success. … My advice would be: while you’re waiting to be successful, spend your time in becoming successful and worry about dates once you’re successful because it’ll be so much easier to get dates once you’re successful.
One reader asked about something we’ve discussed a few times in the past: the value of an individual vote. Levitt’s reply:
Nobody in their right mind votes because they think they’re going to affect the outcome of an election. If you look over the last hundred years of, say, elections for the U.S. House of Representatives, I think there’s been maybe one [very close] election that’s been decided by votes. And in the modern era, elections that are close are always decided by the courts. There’s always litigation – look at what happened with Bush against Gore. So in no meaningful way can you say that your vote will ever decide an election. The reasons for voting have to be something very different: it’s fun, your wife will love you more if you do it, it makes you feel like a proud American – but never should anyone delude themselves into thinking that the vote they cast will ever decide an election. … Just about anything you do with your time would be more productive [than voting].
Someone also asked whether Levitt or I is smarter. (Puh-leeze.) And someone wanted to know if I still play rock-and-roll accordion. (Short answer: no.) But in the outro of the episode, you’ll hear a piece of music from my old band, The Right Profile, with a little accordion underlayer. FWIW, one of my former bandmates, Jeffrey Dean Foster, is still making music; and so is our great drummer, Jon Wurster, who played for years with Superchunk and many others. The song here is called “Slip Your Hand Inside My Coat.”
Thanks again for all the good questions. Hope you like the show.