Ask Your Freakonomics Questions

The Freakonomics Radio beast never sleeps. It wants to be fed, always, more and more. So it has come to this: if you write in your questions in the comments section below, we will answer them — in our podcast! (If you subscribe at iTunes — it’s currently a Top 5 podcast — every new episode will magically arrive in your sleep.) Ask whatever you want of Levitt, me, or the both of us. It may have to do with what we’ve written in the books or the blog or elsewhere. Maybe you want to know how Levitt first thought of the abortion/crime link, or what kind of blackjack player he is, or how he goes about selecting a bottle of wine to bring to a holiday party. We tried this once before, when our publisher wanted to add a Q&A to the paperback edition of Freakonomics, and you all did great. Let’s see if you’ve still got the goods.

Niknam Hussain

Big fan, have had to buy your books more than once as I lend them out & never get them back.

My Question:

I travel extensively and the one constant is corruption, in the sense of bribing officials to get things done or look the other way?

How does freakeconomics explain the prevalence of financial corruption?

Thomas Lau

With many different countries (including my own beloved Ireland) facing economic crisis, I was wondering if you or others have looked if different economic groups or peoples have "economic personalities" and if these fit in with existing stereotypes.
Are the Americans enthusiastic, go-getters
Germans, reserved pragmatists?
Who are the romantics? the gamblers? the cynics?


What's the cause for the problem of trash in Napoli? How does this aspect of organized crime respond to incentives?


What is the one advice you would give to all those in their 20's entering this post-2008 economy?


The brazilian army, federal and local polices have recently joined forces to occupy some of Rio de Janeiro's slums and ended up seizing tons of drugs and arms. Some authorities estimate that, just in 2 days of action, the drug dealers have lost something close to BRL 68 Millions. Which is the most probable outcome?
A decrease in crime due to the massive police presence (which in fact is quite localized in the slums) or, at least on the short run, an actual increase in crime rates (especially robbery) due to the drug dealer's need of financing? Best regards


What's the best way to convert success in a written medium (e.g. a blog) into success in a talk medium (e.g. a podcast)?

Matthias Whitney

Freakonomics has visited circumcision of children previously, looking at demographics of who chooses to circumcise their children. But could Freakonomics paw through the data to show if there truly are benefits or undue risks to circumcision?

Proponents tell me that it is more sanitary to have my children circumcised. Opponents tell me that the hospital data is skewed and suppresses how many children die due to the operation. I've even read that circumcision is the #1 cause of death in infants in the US according to one extreme opponent.

Could Freakonomics uncover data that shows whether or not there is a statistical difference between the mortality rates of babies circumcised or not? Can "level of cleanliness" be quantified showing if circumcision is preferable or not?

Tim O'Keeffe

What do you think about the idea that when an issue becomes economically reasonable, it increasingly becomes morally acceptable?

For example, I think much of the inimical response directed toward Freakonomics was centered on the abortion/crime chapter because it essentially makes an economic case for a moral issue, strengthening the pro-choice view. (And even though I know there were no political motivations behind this idea, this is still clearly what it does)

Take the United States providing aid to underdeveloped countries, say. Morally I think we would like to think that human life is, on some level, priceless. However, we often base moral decisions on economic circumstances. A medicine that would save 1 million people at 2$ per pill is almost universally acceptable, while a medicine that would save 1 million people at $2000 per pill is debatable and often unacceptable. Could you comment on this idea?



I seem to recall a rule of thumb that you can estimate your free time to be worth half of your hourly wage. Is that correct or am I misremembering something?

I am trying to estimate the cost to me of my company moving its office across town. If I make $40/hour, and my commute increases by 45 minutes each way (7.5 hours per week), would it be correct to say that the increased commute time will cost me roughly 7.5*$20=$150/week? (Based purely on lost free time; I'm not considering cost from fuel or increased mileage on car.)

Jonathan Bennett

A question: Is college education no longer a factor or even a disadvantage when it comes to employment?

I've been reading about people making just as much or more than Ivy League-educated folks with either no college education whatsoever or community college degrees. I thought it used to be... the more educated the person, the more open the possibilities, but I guess, in our current economic age (United States, of course), being highly educated might be a disadvantage as your employers likely cannot afford to pay you the salary that you would earn in terms of economic prosperity.

In other words, does education no longer matter in the American economy?

VB in NV

1. You've mentioned the economics (or lack thereof) of podcasting; has publishing been a surprise?
2. Which of your co-writers would your choice to be stranded with on an island (Dwyer is not available in this scenario)?
3. Dogs or cats?
4. How big of a problem is the federal deficit? What would you do to deal with it?


My question is about suburbs.

One out of 16 Americans lives in the NY metropolitan area, though the majority of this statistic lives in suburbs. Everyone knows that suburbs have negative externalities and detrimental social, economic, and environmental repercussions. But people continue to live in suburbs, drive, and live a happy reclusive life.

Can Freakonomics uncover some untold facts about suburbs? Or can you help to find some solutions, or persuade people to move back to cities (or at least care about the people who remain in them)?

Thank you!


With the increase in use of electronic voting machines, the concern that always arises is the idea of fraud and the possibility of "stealing" elections. With this in mind I have two questions. 1) is there any statistical evidence that would make us believe that there is, or has been, voter fraud using these machines? 2) Does the possibility of fraud (and any potential costs) outweigh the potential savings of not using paper ballots?



Would love to hear a discussion about the economic implications of the kind of work Craig Venter is doing. In his 60 minutes interview he says everything you could imagine would be influenced by genomics. Would love to delve into the world of future genomic freakonomicists.


Why are primary elections publicly funded in the US? Shouldn't the parties manage/fund their own primaries?

Jenny Dilworth

I just want to know if Steve still plays the accordian?!?!

Steve Prodan

My question: Are dentist actually altruistic? What about car mechanics?

With a job that benefits from other people's short falls, do these two professions actually look out for your best interest?

Both professions profit, especially Dentist, from you not doing a good job with maintenance (teeth or car). I recently went to the dentist, nicest guy, and he proceeded to tell me how it wasn't my fault for the cavities, as he drilled my teeth, and later burned a whole in my wallet. Do they actually want us to get healthier teeth because in the long run won't that cost them large amounts of money? Maybe someone with more knowledge on the subject (hopefully you guys) could explain an answer. Thanks.

Mr. Pink

I'm curious as to what Mr. Levitt's opinion is on "tips" as an incentive.


Aaron Bruce

I work in amateur sport in Canada and we are starting to hear about research suggesting that anything more than a 15min drive to a recreational facility is a barrier to sport participation. Is long term health, prospect of fame and fortune as a professional athlete, socialization with other children and parents not big enough incentives to to get people to go out of their way to participate in sport and recreation?


I'd be interested to hear what your thoughts are on the best way to reduce the perceived impact of political donations on policy?

I remember reading the piece that money doesn't have nearly the impact on elections that people think it does (instead it's just a case of popular candidates being able to raise more money, correlation instead of causation).

But that doesn't mean that politicians know this, and I think it's clear that a lot of legislation is created to support special interest groups that are big donars.

So, the question is, what would you change to minimize the impact of political contributions on politicians decesions? More transparency? Public funding? seems to think that it's a form of public financing, but I'm not 100% convinced.