Archives for Steven D. Levitt

Freakonomics Goes to College

Season 3, Episode 4

Is a college diploma really worth the paper it’s printed on? In this episode of Freakonomics Radio, host Stephen Dubner breaks down the costs and benefits of going to college, especially during an economy that’s leaving a lot of people un- and underemployed. The data say that college graduates make a lot more money in the long run and enjoy a host of other benefits as well.  But does that justify the time and money? We’ll hear from economists David Card, Betsey Stevenson, and Justin Wolfers, as well as former Bush adviser Karl Rove, who made it to the White House without a college degree. Amherst College president Biddy Martin describes what an education provides beyond facts and figures, while Steve Levitt wonders if the students he teaches at the University of Chicago are actually learning anything.  Finally, a former FBI agent tells us about the very robust market for fake diplomas. Read More »

Save Me From Myself

Season 3, Episode 1

Sometimes we have a hard time committing ourselves – whether it’s quitting a bad habit or following through on a worthy goal. In this episode of Freakonomics Radio, we share stories about “commitment devices.” They’re a clever way to force yourself to do something that you know will be hard. Host Stephen Dubner talks to a struggling gambler who signs himself up for a program that bans him from state casinos – only to return, win a jackpot, and have it confiscated. We’ll also hear from a new father trying to shed bad habits. So he makes a list of things he wants to change and vows to pay a penalty if he can’t shape up in 30 days. The penalty? He’d write a $750 check to someone he really dislikes: Oprah Winfrey. Freakonomics co-author Steve Levitt offers a few of his own off-the-wall commitment devices, and the Brown economist Anna Aizer talks about using commitment devices to fight domestic violence. Read More »

Freakonomics Goes to College, Part 2: A New Freakonomics Radio Podcast

Our latest Freakonomics Radio podcast is called “Freakonomics Goes to College, Part 2.”

Part 1 explored the value of a college degree and the market for fake diplomas. This episode looks at tuition costs and also tries to figure out exactly how the college experience makes people so much better off.

You can download/subscribe at iTunes, get the RSS feed, listen via the media player above, or read the transcript below.

While there are a lot of different voices in this episode, including current and recent college grads, the episode is also a bit heavy on economists (d’oh!), including: Read More »

Help Wanted: Techno Superstars Looking to Work on Some Freakonomics-Inspired Start-ups in Chicago

I’ve got a lot of smart friends, and they come up with some pretty good ideas.  (I even have an idea myself once in a while!)

Occasionally, these ideas take the form of potential internet businesses.  Although we have incubated some interesting businesses up until now, there is too much talking and not enough doing.

It is time for that to change, and we want to open up  a little Chicago office to pursue these ideas.

We need some superhuman talent to make it a success. 

If you think you have what we are looking for, send a resume to, and let’s get the fun started!

Freakonomics Goes to College, Part 1: A New Freakonomics Radio Podcast

Our latest Freakonomics Radio podcast is called “Freakonomics Goes to College, Part 1.” The gist: what is the true value these days of a college education?

(You can download/subscribe at iTunes, get the RSS feed, listen via the media player above, or read the transcript below.)

As you can tell from the title, this is the first episode of a two-parter. There is so much to say about college that we could have done ten episodes on the topic, but we held ourselves back to two.

The key guests in this first episode are, in order of appearance:

+ Allen Ezell, a former FBI agent who co-authored the book Degree Mills: The Billion-dollar Industry That Has Sold over a Million Fake Diplomas.

+ Karl Rove, the former senior adviser and deputy chief of staff for President George W. Bush. Rove, it turns out, is not a college graduate. He is, however, a published author — of Courage and Consequence: My Life as a Conservative in the Fight.

+ David Card, an economist at Berkeley who has done a lot of research and writing on the value of education.

+ And our own Steve Levitt, who has this to say about college: Read More »

Legacy of a Jerk: A New Freakonomics Radio Podcast

Our latest podcast is called “Legacy of a Jerk.” You can download/subscribe at iTunes, get the RSS feed, listen via the media player above, or read the transcript here.

The gist: what happens to your reputation when you’re no longer around to defend it?

You’ll hear a variety of stories, and theories, about legacy in general and the legacy of jerks in particular. We discuss “strategic jerkitude”; the ancient injunction against speaking ill of the dead; and the fascinating, complicated legacy of Steve Jobs.

Among the highlights:

The death of a Pennsylvania woman named Carole “Fritzi” Miller Roberson and how lives like hers live on at, where roughly 5,000 new obituaries are posted every day. Read More »

What’s Wrong With Cash for Grades? A New Marketplace Podcast

Our latest Freakonomics Radio on Marketplace podcast is called “What’s Wrong With Cash for Grades?”

(You can download/subscribe at iTunes, get the RSS feed, listen via the media player above, or read the transcript below.)

In it, Steve Levitt talks to Kai Ryssdal about whether it’s effective to pay kids to do well in school. Levitt, along with John ListSusanne Neckermann, and Sally Sadoff, recently wrote up a working paper (PDF here) based on their field experiments in Chicago schools. Levitt blogged about the paper earlier; here’s the Atlantic‘s take. Read More »

Levitt Is Ready for the Senior Tour

Steve Levitt has made no secret of his desire to become a good-enough golfer to someday play the Champions Tour, for players 50 and older. 

After watching his amazing performance last week, I now believe Levitt does stand a chance of landing on a senior professional tour. But not in golf.

I was out in Chicago for a couple of days to work with Levitt. After a long day, we went out for dinner at a place called Seven Ten. It has food, beer, and bowling alleys — just a couple of them and nothing fancy. Old-school bowling.

After the meal, I tried to get Levitt to bowl a game or two. He wasn’t interested. Said he was worried about hurting his golf swing. (Puh-leeze.) He said he’d watch me bowl. I can’t think of anything less fun than bowling alone except having someone sit and watch you bowl alone. So I lied and told him that bowling would probably be good for his golf swing — the heavy ball could loosen up his joints, yada-yada, etc. 

He finally agreed when I suggested the loser pay for dinner. Read More »