What the President Does — and, Importantly, Doesn't — Do

Between the N.S.A./Merkel mess and the ObamaCare mess, it seems a good time to ask a question we've asked in the past: just how much does the President of the United States really matter? Our original podcast on the topic came out in 2010; we overhauled the episode in 2012, adding interviews with Donald Rumsfeld and Austan Goolsbee.

As Jon Stewart puts it so well in the video below, if the President is out of the loop on Merkel eavesdropping and his namesake healthcare law, just what loops is he in? I do not mean to cast aspersions on President Obama himself (although you are free to cast away). I mean to highlight the possibility that we assign way too much weight to the role of the President generally.

What are the odds that you agree with my argument? Who knows. What are the odds that, even if you do agree, you will disagree once it's time to elect the next President, and we get caught up once again in our Great Man Theory of Voting? 

Presidential Debate, Freakonomics Style?

Last night's Presidential debate inspired speculation -- albeit contradictory speculation -- about whether the candidates had read a certain book:

The Power of the President — and the Thumb

Season 2, Episode 3

In this episode we ask a simple, heretical question: How much does the President of the United States really matter? Stephen Dubner talks to former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, economists Austan Goolsbee and Justin Wolfers, and constitutional scholar Bernadette Meyler about how the President’s actual influence can be measured. And Steve Levitt weighs in on how the President shapes the nation.

Also in this episode, we look at another supposed truism: hitchhiking is terribly dangerous. But is that really true?

It’s Not the President, Stupid: A New Marketplace Podcast

Our latest Freakonomics Radio on Marketplace podcast is called “It’s Not the President, Stupid.” (You can download/subscribe at iTunes, get the RSS feed, listen via the media player above, or read the transcript below.) The gist: it's time to admit that the U.S. economy doesn’t have a commander-in-chief.

Over the years, we've regularly visited the question of how influential the president of the U.S. really is. This segment focuses on the president's influence over the economy -- which, if you believe polling data, will be the central concern for many voters as the 2012 election unfurls.

In this Marketplace segment, you'll hear from Austan Goolsbee, the University of Chicago economist who has served President Obama as both campaign adviser and chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers:

GOOLSBEE: I think the world vests too much power, certainly in the president, probably in Washington in general for its influence on the economy, because most all of the economy has nothing to do with the government.

Peyton Manning for President?

In Freakonomics, we wrote about how the black-white gap in America exists not only in vital matters like education, income, and health but in seemingly trivial matters like baby names and preferences in TV shows.

With that in mind, it's interesting to take a look at a new poll by Public Policy Polling (PDF; Yahoo! writeup) about Americans' football preferences. The headline finding is that the Green Bay Packers are now "America's team," with 22 percent of respondents listing the Packers as their favorite team. (I have a feeling that winning the Super Bowl last year and going 12-0 to start this season had a little something to do with that; let's see what the poll shows this time next year.) But PPP also asked the 700+ respondents their race, gender, and voting ideology, and it's interesting to see how the favorability rating of individual players varies.

It's Election Day: Can You Really Blame the President?

In honor of Election Day, our latest Freakonomics Radio installment on Marketplace asks a question that might make a few political heads explode: how much does the President of the United States really matter? Sure, he’s the “leader of the free world” – but how much unalloyed power does he actually have? Is he more […]