From a reader we’ll call O.X.H.:
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I listened to your podcast on letting a coin decide your future – and wanted to make my own, small contribution to your piece. I am an attending physician now – but back when I was in medical school (early 2000s), I helped out with the admissions process by interviewing prospective candidates. On one day of interviews, my faculty colleague and I conducted six interviews – and by the end of the day, our job was to rank each of the candidates that we had interviewed. We independently agreed on No. 1 and No. 2 (and No. 5 and No. 6), but neither of us could decide between No. 3 and No. 4. He asked me how we should resolve this – and I (jokingly) suggested that we should flip a coin. Ironically, he loved the idea – and pulled out a coin, and then we assigned each candidate to heads/tails. We said that whoever won the coin toss would get 3rd. (Interestingly, we flipped the coin only once – not two out of three.)
Our latest Freakonomics Radio on Marketplace podcast is called “Introducing ‘Freakonomics Experiments.'” (You can download/subscribe at iTunes, get the RSS feed, listen via the media player in the post, or read the transcript below.)
In it, Steve Levitt tells Kai Ryssdal about a new website we’ve just launched that will help you make tough decisions in life while also taking part in academic research. And there’s Freakonomics swag to be had, too.
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Q: Just what is Freakonomics Experiments?
A: Freakonomics Experiments is a set of simple experiments about complex issues — whether to break up with your significant other, quit your job, or start a diet, just to name a few.
Sometimes in life you face one of these decisions, and you just don’t know what to do. In the end, whatever you decide will essentially be a flip of a coin. Freakonomics Experiments helps you make the decision by flipping that coin for you. Over the next few months, we’ll then check in with you with surveys and other materials. In turn, you’ll help further scientific research. Unlike most games of chance, participating in this experiment is win-win.
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.
A few weeks ago, we wrote about the Fed’s $1 billion stash of unwanted coins, and the Federal government’s seemingly failed experiment to get us to trade in our dollar bills for dollar coins. The folks over at NPR’s Planet Money got inside access to see the pile of coins, which so far has cost $300 million to manufacture. Despite the clear failure to create demand, the program, authorized by Congress in 2005, won’t end until 2016.
Now it seems some folks have found an easy way to profit from all those unwanted coins. Planet Money reports that people have started buying the coins with their credit cards, thereby earning lots of airline reward miles. The coins are sent to them by the government for free. The buyers then deposit the coins in their bank accounts, pay off their credit card bill… et voila, a free plane ticket to Paris. While the U.S. Mint is a bit miffed by the scheme, a spokesman admits that there’s nothing illegal about it.
The folks over at NPR’s Planet Money have a great piece today on the stash of unused dollar coins that’s piling up at the Federal Reserve. Back in 2005, Congress passed a law ordering the Fed to mint a series of dollar coins honoring the presidents. The plan was to wean Americans off paper bills. It hasn’t exactly worked. There are currently about 1.2 billion dollar coins sitting unused in Federal Reserve vaults. The program has cost $300 million so far, and is scheduled to run through 2016.