Archives for Bryan Caplan



Is Learning a Foreign Language Really Worth It? A New Freakonomics Radio Podcast

Our latest podcast is called “Is Learning a Foreign Language Really Worth It?” (You can subscribe 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.) We produced the episode in response to a question from a listener named Doug Ahmann, who wrote in to say:   

I’m very curious how it came to be that teaching students a foreign language has reached the status it has in the U.S. … My oldest daughter is a college freshman, and not only have I paid for her to study Spanish for the last four or more years — they even do it in grade school now! — but her college is requiring her to study EVEN MORE! 

What on earth is going on? How did it ever get this far?

In a day and age where schools at every level are complaining about limited resources, why on earth do we continue to force these kids to study a foreign language that few will ever use, and virtually all do not retain?

Or to put it in economics terms, where is the ROI? 

Great question, Doug! We do our best to provide some answers. Read More »



We the Sheeple: A New Freakonomics Podcast

Our latest Freakonomics Radio episode is called “We the Sheeple.” (You can download/subscribe at iTunes, get the RSS feed, or listen via the media player in the post.) The gist: politicians tell voters exactly what they want to hear, even when it makes no sense — which is pretty much all the time.

With the Presidential election finally almost here, this is the last of our politically themed podcasts for a while. We’ve previously looked at how much the President really matters (updated here); whether campaign spending is as influential as people think; why people bother to vote (related Times column here); whether we tell the truth in polls; and whether we should consider importing the British tradition of Prime Minister’s Questions.

“We the Sheeple” features Bryan Caplan, the economist-author of The Myth of the Rational Voter: Why Democracies Choose Bad Policies. You might have read or heard from Caplan in other Freakonomics venues, including “The Economist’s Guide to Parenting,” in which he discussed another of his books, Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids.
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The Worst Mistake I Ever Made: An Economists’ Parenting Quorum

For our latest podcast, “The Economist’s Guide to Parenting,” (you can download/subscribe at iTunes, get the RSS feed, listen live via the media player, or read a transcript here) we turned to some of our favorite economists for advice on how to raise children. It’s safe to say you won’t find much of what you hear in any “expert’s” guide to parenting (which was of course the point) but it was a thought-provoking exercise in applying economic principles to one of life’s most perplexing and stimulating activities. As a supplement to the podcast, we thought it would be fun to convene a Freakonomics Quorum and ask some of our contributors, not for their best moment as a parent, but for their worst. The specific question we asked was:

What is the worst mistake you ever made as a parent?

Good sports that they are, they obliged with some lighthearted anecdotes of how sometimes the best intentions of rational, unemotional economists often run face-first into something called kids. Read More »



New Freakonomics Radio Podcast: “The Economist’s Guide to Parenting”

Our newest Freakonomics Radio podcast is called “The Economist’s Guide to Parenting.” This is the second of five hour-long podcasts we’ll be releasing over the coming weeks. Some of you may have heard them on public-radio stations around the country, but now all the hours are being fed into our podcast stream. (You can download/subscribe at iTunes, get the RSS feed, listen live via the media player above, or read the transcript here.)

I know what you’re thinking when you read the title of this podcast. You’re thinking what the **** — economists? What can economists possibly have to say about something as emotional, as nuanced, as humane, as parenting? Well, let me say this: because economists aren’t necessarily emotional (or, for that matter, all that nuanced or humane), maybe they’re exactly the people we need to sort this through. Maybe.

You may remember that we wrote a bit about parenting in Freakonomics; now we’ve put together an entire roundtable of economists to talk about a great many elements of child-rearing, with one essential question in mind: how much do parents really matter, and in what dimensions? So you’ll hear about parents’ effect on everything from education and culture cramming to smoking and drinking. Read More »



The Economist’s Guide to Parenting

Season 1, Episode 2

Our second hour-long episode of Freakonomics Radio is called “The Economist’s Guide to Parenting.” (You can listen or download via the link above, or read a transcript here. This episode and four more hours will be airing on public-radio stations across the country this summer at various times, so check out your local station’s website. And you can subscribe to the Freakonomics Radio podcast on iTunes or via RSS.)

I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking what the **** — economists? What can economists possibly have to say about something as emotional, as nuanced, as humane, as parenting? Well, let me say this: because economists aren’t necessarily emotional (or, for that matter, all that nuanced or humane), maybe they’re exactly the people we need to sort this through. Maybe. Read More »



Parents Are Less Happy. So What?

Bryan Caplan’s new book, Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids, (which he blogged about for us here and here) has people talking about happiness and kids, again. Over at Cato Unbound, my better half Betsey Stevenson takes Bryan to task on some of his claims. It’s worth reading the full essay. Jeff Ely at Cheap Talk says you should take note of her views on the distinction between happiness and utility. Instead, I want to highlight an insight that comes from thinking through a formal framework: Read More »



The Nurture of Gretchen Carlson: A Guest Post by Bryan Caplan

Bryan Caplan, a professor of economics at George Mason University and a blogger for EconLog, has written a new book called “Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids: Why Being a Great Parent Is Less Work and More Fun Than You Think.” And he’s been guest-blogging for us about parenting. I had a chance to interview Caplan yesterday for an upcoming Freakonomics Radio show called “An Economist’s Guide to Parenting.” He had a great deal to say on the topic, all of it interesting and much of it provocative. I think you will enjoy it as much as I did. Read More »



Kids and Costs: A Guest Post on Twins by Bryan Caplan

Economists usually assume that doubling output more than doubles costs; or as textbooks say, there are increasing marginal costs. So economists naturally expect twins to be more than double the effort, stress, and out-of-pocket cost of a singleton. Read More »