A Q&A With — of All People — Us

We’ve been running lots of Q&As of late, with you, the readers, asking the questions.

A fellow named Thomas Whitaker recently wrote us to suggest that we submit to a Q&A ourselves. This seemed like a sensible suggestion.

We did a bunch of Q&As back when the book came out (see here and here and here, and these FAQs), but a lot has happened since then.

So go ahead, fire away, and we’ll answer a good number of your questions. Warning: our publisher may end up publishing segments of this Q&A and/or using it for publicity purposes, so if you do ask a question, please consider your submission a granting of permission as well.


Would you define yourselves as obsessive parents?

Bas Brouwer

Great idea!

I recall Steve once saying (maybe even in the book?) that he could effectively battle terrorism if he had access to enough data.

In a perfect situation, what data would you need? In a more practical situation, what data do you think might be available (to the intelligence community, for example) that you could work with?

- Bas (from the Netherlands)


Ok, not sure if this is the kind of question you are interested in, or able to answer, but it kept me awake last night!

I just watched the movie Die Hard 4.0, where, basically, the bad guy hacks into a bank and downloads all the money from the accounts onto a hard drive, and steals it.

Now, I am a programmer, and I can't see how this works, I suspect it doesn't. You can't take a hard drive into a bank and make a deposit with it.

So I kept thinking. To move the money into you account, you would have to get the victim bank to send a message to your bank asking them to put money into your account. However, if that is what happens, why not just hack into that communications system, and send false messages, without messing around with other peoples accounts. And then I ask myself, what stops the bank from just making up money, and sending it to other banks?

All this leads me to conclude that I dont know what money in a bank account actually means, how it is 'backed', what stops a bank from just adding extra numbers to your account, and how these numbers are transfered between banks?

Is there a simple answer? Can you explain?



When is the Freakonomics sequel coming out?

Mayur Misra

My question is:
There is a lot of trade in Carbon Credits going in the world. Is this one of the solution for saving the environment or an international scam?


The cheating teacher analysis in Freakonomics was an elegant piece of work, has it been used outside the original sample space and applied to the nationwide testing effort?


Prof Levitt,

Does it frustrate you when other econobloggers don't take you or your work seriously? It seems like they look at you as a pop commentator and not a serious economist.


Do you consider the primary target of this blog to be economists, ie. economics graduates and academics, or just regular joe soaps? Have you ever decided not to post something because it is too technical or mathematical?


I have a corollary to Bas Brouwer's question on terrorism and free will. Do you believe this argument can be carried to its logical extreme - that any event or behavior (economic or otherwise) could be effectively predicted with enough data and processing time/speed? If so, isn't this an argument against free will?

Alex Marsh

Someone I know failed their entrance interview with Oxford University, the UK, to study economics because he was asked to talk about an economics book he'd read and enjoyed, he chose Freakonomics and the guys at Oxford didn't consider it to be a "genuine economics book". What's your reaction to this? Does it make you mad or do you think my friend was an idiot for mentioning your book in the first place?


Prof Levitt:

Do your students act different since you are a very well known (Dare I say 'pop') name?

Do you find that your class is filled up quicker and have a higher than average attendance from the students?

Do you promote seniors taking spots and then selling them to underclass men if your classes do fill up quick?


What are your respective opinions on how international adoption not only affects the economy, but race and class divisions, and the widening income gap within the United States? How about the argument that children aren't supposedly 'readily available to adopt' in the U.S., and further, how adoption is marketed as a product with benefits?

Maurice FitzGerald

Loved the book. Here is an additional question:

Is it possible that the wage differences between men and women are simply an extension of the analysis of salary difference by height? Is it possible that there is no difference between the sexes once height is taken into account?


Another question:

There are those in government that continue to push for the privatization of social security using the argument that it a person can do better at managing their retire money than the government. Now some of those same people are talking about adding more regulation to the housing market and looking for ways to help out millions of people who may lose their homes. It appears obvious that most people do not do well managing their money and I would be willing to bet most people do not want to worry or deal with managing their money.

Is there a system that works both ways, allows people who can and want to manage their money and those that do not? Can this be done without major sacrifices by those who can manage their own money? What role should the government have?

Also do you see any comparison to the current housing issue and the privatization of social security?


From all of the various studies you have made and seen, what are the Top Five Things that need to be done to revolutionize our education system so that we consistently perform at the top of the class against the world?


are full or partial RSS feeds better for business?


Do you think that your children grasp economic concepts better than their peers?


In "Freakonomics" you discussed the effects of abortion on crime rates years later.

Since wealth and innovation are created by living individuals, what are the other "unseen" effects of those abortions? A higher percentage of those aborted individuals would have grown up to become criminals than of the non-aborted group, but what did we lose in terms of wealth creation and efficiency through innovation that would have been created by those individuals who were aborted instead?

Is it possible that the contributions of the non-criminals would have more than made up for the effect of the higher crime rates from the additional criminals?

What's the net effect of abortions and is it actually positive or negative in economic terms?

Anne Y

Do you think it's possible to have a world wherein
Everybody has money and we go beyond this gruesome
mishmash we're now in?

Bill Harshaw

The future of Social Security: it seems to me that whatever happens with the system, what we do now to change the system does not affect the amount of goods and services produced in 2050. The kids of today will be working to feed, clothe, house, etc. their dependents in 2050. So they will be in a position to get their money regardless, right? And the able-bodied old could get a good wage if they want to keep working. Aren't those the basic economic facts?
Am I missing something?