Archives for America



Proud to Be American

Watching the Olympics in a foreign country (the U.K.) brings out the super-patriot in me.  I’m cheering for the U.S. athletes in each event, and I don’t even care about the games!

Is this patriotism unusual?  Actually, we Americans are outliers in this regard.  In a recent set of World Values Surveys, 71 percent of Americans responded positively when asked if they were very proud of their country. Among 16 other rich countries in the surveys, the average was only 45 percent.  And only Australians and Irish were as proud as we seem to be. The jingoism of the networks in the U.S. during the Olympics caters to, and perhaps reinforces, our attitudes.



Where the Exercise Is

Our latest Freakonomics Radio podcast tried to figure out what is the “best” exercise. Meanwhile, Richard Florida‘s latest post for The Atlantic Cities blog looks at state-by-state variations in exercise.  When it comes to aerobic exercise, the coasts (and Colorado) win:

[P]articipation in aerobic exercise is most prevalent along the West Coast, in the Rocky Mountain states and the northeast, and far less so in the middle and southern portions of the country.

Colorado tops the list among states, with 61.8 percent of adults meeting the standard for aerobic exercise; Oregon is second (61.1 percent), followed by Vermont (59.2 percent), Hawaii (58.5 percent) and California (58.2 percent). On the flip side, the lowest levels of participation in aerobic exercise are found in southern states – Tennessee (39 percent), Mississippi (40 percent), Louisiana (42 percent), Alabama (42.4 percent) and West Virginia (43 percent).

The trends are similar for muscle-strengthening exercise.  Florida goes on to report on the various correlates of exercise — wealth, affluence, etc.  Interestingly, fitness participation also closely tracks political and religious divides — people in red states exercise less, as do people in more religious states.



Has the U.S. Reached “Peak Motorization”?

Peak oil? Probably not. But have we reached “peak motorization” in the U.S.?

Michael Sivak of the University of Michigan’s Transportation Research Institute says the answer is quite possibly yes:

The absolute number of vehicles reached a maximum in 2008. However, it is likely that this was only a temporary maximum and that the decline after 2008 was primarily driven by the current economic downturn that started in 2008. Consequently, with the improving economy and the expected increase in the U.S. population, it is highly likely that (from a long-term perspective) the absolute number of vehicles has not yet peaked.On the other hand, the rates of vehicles per person, licensed driver, and household reached their maxima prior to the onset of the current economic downturn. Consequently, it is likely that the declines in these rates prior to the current economic downturn (i.e., prior to 2008) reflect other societal changes that influence the need for vehicles (e.g., increases in telecommuting and in the use of public transportation). Therefore, the recent maxima in these rates have better chances of being long-term peaks as well.

But Sivak is smart enough to hedge his prediction:

However, because the changes in the rates from 2008 on likely reflect both the relevant societal changes and the current economic downturn, whether the recent maxima in the rates will represent long-term peaks as well will be influenced by the extent to which the relevant societal changes turn out to be permanent.

Read More »



Worried About Unemployment? Find a “High Touch” Profession

Writing for Slate, Ray Fisman (who’s been on the blog before) explains why “the bottom 20 percent of American families earned less in 2010 than they did in 2006, the year before the recession began”:

There are two broad shifts that account for much of this decline: globalization and computerization. From T-shirts to toys, manufacturing jobs have migrated to low-wage countries like Vietnam, Bangladesh, and of course China. Meanwhile, many of the tasks that might have been done by middle-income Americans employed as bookkeepers or middle managers have been replaced by spreadsheets and data algorithms.

Fisman argues that in order to succeed in the new economy, American workers need to shift away from construction and manufacturing jobs to “high touch” professions. “If jobs are being lost to low-wage Indians and computer programs, then what today’s worker needs is a set of skills that offers the personal touch and judgment that can’t be provided by a machine or someone 12 time zones away,” writes Fisman.



Why Do American Women Work More Than Europeans?

Economists Indraneel Chakraborty and Hans Holter have an explanation for all those extra hours Americans work as compared to Europeans: divorce rates (and tax rates)  Here’s their theory:

We believe this is because marriage provides an implicit social insurance since the spouses are able to share their income. However, if divorce rates are higher in a society, women have a higher incentive to obtain work experience in case they find themselves alone in the future. The reason the incentive is higher is because in our data, women happen to be the second earner in the household more often than men. European women anticipate not getting divorced as often and hence find less reason to insure themselves by working as much as American women.

Chakraborty and Holter use U.S data to run a model testing their theory; their findings are interesting: Read More »



Introducing “AI: Adventures in Ideas,” a New Blog Series from Sudhir Venkatesh. Episode 1: Going Solo

This is the first installment of a new Freakonomics.com feature from Sudhir Venkatesh.  Each AI: Adventures in Ideas post will showcase new research, writing, or ideas.

A new book is garnering significant attention. In Going Solo, Eric Klinenberg, a sociologist at NYU, looks at a growing trend in contemporary adulthood: living alone. How we live, Klinenberg argues, is shifting, and it could be one of the most important developments of the last half-century. Read More »



The Ten Commandments of The American Religion

This is a cross-post from James Altucher‘s blog Altucher Confidential. His previous appearances on the Freakonomics blog can be found here.

If I stood in the center of Times Square and said something like “Moses didn’t really part the Red Sea,” or “Jesus never existed,” people would probably keep walking around me, ignoring what I said.

But if I stood there and said, “Going to college is the worst sin you can force your kids to commit,” or “You should never vote again,” or “Never own a home,” people would probably stop, and maybe I‘d lynched. But I would’ve at least gotten their attention. How? By knocking down a few of the basic tenets of what I call the American Religion.

It’s a fickle and false religion, used to replace the ideologies we (a country of immigrants) escaped. Random high priests lurk all over the Internet, ready to pounce. Below are the Ten Commandments of the American Religion, as I see them. If you think there are more, list them in the comments.

The below is an excerpt from my just released book, I Was Blind But Now I Can See. Read More »



The 21st Century Another American Century? Don’t Bet on It

In conjunction with our latest Freakonomics Radio podcast, “The Folly of Prediction,” I decided to reach out to a former professor of mine, Raymond Horton, whose modern political economy class is a student favorite at Columbia Business School. I wanted to know what Horton thought the worst prediction ever was, particularly regarding the intersection of politics and economics. He immediately pointed to a Foreign Affairs essay written by Mortimer Zuckerman in 1998, in which Zuckerman boldly lays out the case that, like the 20th century, the 21st will also be marked by American dominance.

We’re barely a decade into the new century, so you may think it’s too early to pass judgment on Zuckerman’s prediction. But given the way things have played out over the last several years, it does look to be on shaky ground. At least that’s the opinion of Ray Horton.

Once you’ve finished reading Horton’s essay, we’d love to hear what you think count as some of the worst predictions ever. Read More »