Petitioning the President

The Atlantic has a roundup of the 12 goofiest petitions submitted so far to the White House's We the People initiative.  Our two favorites: "Secure resources and funding, and begin construction of a Death Star by 2016" and "authorize the production of a recurring television program featuring Vice President Joe Biden."  

A petition to "Direct the United States Mint to make a single platinum trillion-dollar coin" has so far garnered only 5,149 signatures (as compared to the Death Star's 33,836 signatures), even though Paul Krugman recently endorsed of the idea. Stephen Colbert has also weighed in on the #Mintthecoin movement.

Why America’s Economic Growth May Be (Shh!) Over: a New Marketplace Podcast

With the Presidential debate finished, we are officially in the final lap of America's second-favorite spectator sport. (Yes, football is better than politics.) Of all the talking that Barack Obama and Mitt Romney will do by Nov. 6, you can bet that a great deal of their breath will be expended on economic matters. Because that's what the President of the United States does, right -- runs our economy?

Well, actually, no. The President has far less influence over the economy than people tend to think -- as we've pointed out not once, or twice, but three times.

That, of course, won't stop the candidates from talking about their plans to "fix" or "heal" or "restore" our economy -- all of which imply that we are in an economic doldrums that is sure to pass. But what if it doesn't? What if the massive economic growth the U.S. has experienced through most of our history is a thing of the past?

That's the topic of our latest Freakonomics Radio on Marketplace podcast. (You can download/subscribe at iTunes, get the RSS feed, or listen via the media player in the post.)

Father of Our Country as an Economist

In his book Washington: A Life, Ron Chernow quotes a letter that speaks to the hoary economic historians’ debate about the profitability of slavery.  Washington noted that in his time Virginia estates were forever doomed to lapse into debt, “as Negroes [sic] must be clothed and fed and taxes paid…whether anything is made or not.”  Even if slavery were on average profitable, Washington noted that slaves represented a fixed cost of production. 

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?

When Is "Undersight" Unconstitutional?

If oversight is when a superior has the right to disapprove of an underling's decision, what is "undersight"?

It's my term for when an underling has the right to disapprove of a superior's decision. It's not surprising to see principal-agent contracts with oversight provisions, but in two recent statutes the lame duck Congress has arguably imposed undersight provisions on the President acting as our commander-in-chief.

The President's Party and the Economy: A Guest Post

A couple of months ago, some Freakonomics readers wondered whether the president really had any discernible impact on the economy. This question has actually received a lot attention from political scientists and political economists. Although these scholars still dispute precisely how presidents influence the macroeconomy, few would deny that the impact is real. The following are three macroeconomic phenomena that have been attributed to a president's party affiliation.

Left-Handed Presidents

In middle school I was taught that in order to be president of the United States, you had to be native-born and at least 35 years of age. My teachers left out the requirement that you be left handed. While not formally a requirement, lately being a lefty has been pretty helpful for becoming president: five of the last seven presidents have been left handed.

Quantifying the President's Speech

Doug Mills/The New York Times Our friends at have put together a really fun tool to help you mine their database of the full text of all State of the Union Addresses (even though this wasn’t technically such an address) as well as inaugurals. It’s a fun way of tracking which issues have occupied […]

Our Daily Bleg: Did Your Kids' School Broadcast Obama's Speech?

My kids’ schools never stopped class to listen to President Bush‘s inauguration speech; but my sense in Connecticut is that many public and private schools stopped normally scheduled classes to listen to Obama‘s inauguration speech. News articles suggested that many schools considered his inauguration address a teachable moment. The empiricist in me wonders whether this […]

White House Economist Keith Hennessey Answers Your Questions

Last week, we solicited your questions for Keith Hennessey, the outgoing White House chief economic adviser and director of the National Economic Council.

In his answers below, Hennessey explains (among other things) what he thinks are some of the "most absurd economic assumptions" by Washington politicians; where, exactly, the first few hundred billion dollars of the TARP money has gone; and why he had "the coolest job ever." Thanks to all of you for the good questions and to Hennessey for his candid and thorough answers.