Bring Your Freakonomics Questions for a Radio FAQ

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Once in a while, we do an FAQ podcast (that’s FREAK-quently Asked Questions) whereby you send us questions via the comments section and we answer them in a radio program. We’re gearing up to do another FAQ, likely to be released on Jan. 4, so fire away. Given the release date, you might consider asking about New Year’s resolutions (and the commitment devices we sometimes employ); the dangers of drunk walking; maybe even the reproductive provenance of your holiday meal. Feel free to ask followup questions on radio stuff we’ve done in the past too, like the “Prius Effect” (conspicuous conservation), the decline of hitchhiking, and whether expensive wines actually taste better. Thanks in advance.


Is the proposal a better system than the current system? Is there another proposal that would create more jobs?

Sarah C.

A few months ago you ran a story about the decline in kids walking/biking to school and how statistically the streets are safer for children than they were twenty years ago when more kids walked to school. Is this correlation or causation? If parents are more protective and proactive in keeping track of their children then this could be part of what keeps kids safer. Just because there are statistically fewer incidences of abduction doesn't mean the creeps aren't out there. My husband and I used the online database of sexual offenders to look up predators in our neighborhood. A child molester a few blocks away had his house totally decked out for Halloween. Needless to say we did not take our kids trick-or-treating there. We have more resources today to help keep the children safe.

Do you think more kids should start walking to school because it is safer than ever or do you think it is safer than ever because fewer kids walk to school?



You did a great job on analyzing cheating teachers and sumo wrestlers. What about looking at the data behind the Congressional insider trading scandal? Surely that's worth a more in-depth analysis.

Chris Knight

Following Christmas and New Year period people will often feel more satisfied with the gifts they receive and the reminder of giving and helping others remembered. My question relates to that of altruism and why do people give and should we give more than continue to try and satisfy our material wants?


What would the positive/negative/surprising consequences from the implementation of the following:
- Legalization of Marijuana with a tax that is passed back to the states for Drug Education
- Implementation of a financial transaction tax, a small 10 cent tax to curb program trading, with the money flowing to an Emergency Financial Fund for the next crisis that will inevitably occur (this is a Mark Cuban idea
- Allow any foreigner willing to purchase a >$500k house in the United States an expedited green card process
- Allow any foreigner willing to start a business in the United States with >$100k payroll an expedited green card process
- Any company that gets an investment from one of the top 10 largest vc firms in the country that is starting a company with >$1M payroll can get the same investment from the government. So for example if Kleiner Perkins is investing $10M in a company with a $2M payroll for 20% of the company, that company has the option to sell another 20% to the government for $10M


Jesus Garcia

Hi everyone!

I'm a grad student in biotechnology and a big fan of freakonomics. My girlfriend and I (she is an economics student btw) have been talking about the new "occupy" movement. We tend to consider ourselves pretty liberals in almost every aspect... and we kind of "feel" them because it looks like they have a noble cause. But still we don't think they are helping nobody, at least in any important way, we thought they actually might be affecting the working poor people as well.

We even saw that Paul Krugman saw some benefits in the movement.

We wanted to see some data from people who know how to handle it.

What does the data or accidental experiments could tell us about this occupy movement? Are they doing some good thing? Are they actually doing more harm? etc


Hey Jesus, this isn't quite what you ask but I thought you might be interested anyway - I put search terms like "Tea Party", "Occupy Wall Street" and simply "Occupy" into Google Insights for Search to see how often people were searching for them on Google, as a proportion of all searches.

"Tea Party" appears to be lower in 2011 than 2010, while "Occupy" rose sharply in October, peaked, and began to decline in November.

After the NY evictions I checked again, however, and searches were back up. Rising searches for "Occupy" appear to correlate with the evictions, which presumably put the movement back into the public spotlight.

This doesn't tell us the value of such movements, but I'm intrigued by the idea that Insights for Search might be able to show the rise and fall of popular movements with extremely up-to-date information.


Josh Nixon

I recently saw this interesting article about the high infant mortality rate in Milwaukee. In response to this, the City of Milwaukee has initiated an ad campaign discouraging parental co-sleeping. Is Milwaukee right about c0-sleeping being largely responsible for so many infant deaths? The article mentions that Milwaukee's infant mortality rate surpasses that of many Third World Countries. Do none of these countries' citizens practice co-sleeping? In other words, is there a direct statistical correlation between co-sleeping and infant mortality, or are there some hidden pieces to the puzzle? (Is the link found in drug and alcohol use, as the following article suggests. Perhaps there is a correlation between drug and alcohol use within racial groups and their respective infant mortality rates?)



Why is it not mandatory for the chapter on crime rates/abortion to be at least brought up in every article about the drop in crime rates? It just never seems to get mentioned. I know the obvious reason for this but have you come across any strange reasons for this.


What, if any, are StickK's seasonal fluctuations in its weight loss commitments?


What are considered to be the five worst economic decisions ever made by major governments?


Has any breakthrough tech/policy ever come from stimulus money (i.e., fiscal incentives during a recession)?

Are communications services ever going to catch up with the technology that powers them? Seems to me that my iPhone 4 allows me to do so many things with it, but I still live on a pricy 200 day minutes plan, I can't seem to enjoy a fluid conversation since I keep getting cut off by and cutting off the other person on the phone. I still can't get a conference call to work properly, I fall asleep because of the background noise on the line and cutting off problem of the cell phone also exists. Basically, will communications ever be able to work properly with the new technologies that are put on the market on an almost daily basis?



What is it like being an economist? I'm 16 and I don't know what I want to do when I grow up. I haven't found my "passion" yet. (besides videogames and reading this blog lol) I'm insanely smart though. I guess that helps. Thanks


I'm not sure if this is 'nomics-y enough, but it is certainly freaky.

I've wondered sometimes why so many medieval nobles and fighters were obsessed with becoming king, considering the fact that so many kings appear to have been murdered, killed in battle, or imprisoned.

I presume that those were simply violent times and killing was even more likely an end for ordinary nobles, peasants and so on. But am I missing anything? I often wondered if it might not have been safer to be a rich, politically unimportant, merchant or noble instead of being the king, and the target of all the bloodthirsty people who wanted to replace him. (Or her, sometimes.)


I'd like to know which of the following scenarios you would predict to be correct:

Option 1: The Eurozone stays as is, with all its hardships, it keeps Greece, Spain and Italy afloat. The ECB and the newly agreed emergency fund spend billions doing so. A central institution is set up to monitor and address member state's financial policies and limits their allowed deficits.

Option 2: The Euro (monetary zone) is split up in a N-Euro and S-Euro (north and south) with the south devaluating its currency to attract investments. Italy refoms rather quickly and leads the south, France has to "beg and plead", and make hard commitments to be part of the North formed by Germany, the Netherlands, Austria and the Scandinavian countries.

Option 3: Greece is forced to step out of the Euro (they can't be kicked) and returns to the Drachme, French banks in particular take hard losses. The currency is devaluated and many Arabic and Chinese investors take advantage. Greece struggles along in the margin while the rest of Europe slowly recover. The big question in this scenario is whether they are willing and able to kick Italy, Spain, Portugal or Ireland or any failing country for that matter as well.


Steve Dennett

One of the hottest political issues right now is the large income/wealth disparity in the U.S.

As an ardent proponent of the free market, I strongly believe that the only ethical stance is to let the market reward people in proportion to the value they create, and letting those people keep that wealth. However, having spent much of my career in the business world, I have also seen that most of the people at the top of are no smarter or more productive than those who get far less compensation. In fact, many executives seem to perfectly illustrate the Peter Principle, yet they always inexplicably manage to "fail upward".

Why doesn't competition reign in these huge compensation packages? Is this an example of market failure? Crony capitalism? Government-sanctioned monopoly?

Is it just that some companies are so large that compensation costs are such a small percentage of revenue that it doesn't matter? And if so, what are the economic/legal/regulatory factors that encourage companies to become so big?

I look forward to your analysis of this very big question.


Julie Andrews

Hi! I was just listening to your podcast,"The Truth is out there ...Isn't It?", and I have a burning question! I am a dental hygienist and have had many patients totally freaked out about fluoride lately--appearantly there is a huge ant-fluoride movement out there these days, and I can't help but think " conspiracy theory!".

I have been trying to research this on the internet and found myself doing EXACTLY what your guest said...looking up articles that support my pre-existing beliefs. Why aren't there studies on dental professionals and their families...we certainly fluoridate the hell out of ourselves and our families! Also, I have had many patients from India and Pakistan who have beautiful, cavity-free teeth, but moderate to severe gum disease. I suspected high levels of naturally occuring fluoride in their wells and found that they indeed have levels sometimes 4-12 times the levels of our fluoridated water. If fluoride causes brain-damage, memory loss, cancer and thyroid problems, why does it seem like this area produces many people who far surpass our children in math, science, engineering? Seems to me they would have difficulty in these areas if this were true.

People are seriosly freaked out about this issue right now and I wish I knew the TRUTH!



Would it be possible to model the economics of human beauty? For example, do human aesthetics affect one's ability to make rational choices? Is there an economic cost or discount to being beautiful? Is there an optimal point in time where you can maximize the “revenues/profits” of the dynamics of beauty?

Julian Carro

Polyglottism : Benefit or Curse?

I am an avid listener of the podcasts. As a proud parent of a 9 month old girl I have listened avidly over and over again to your “The Economist’s Guide to Parenting.” podcast this summer. My wife and I have shared it (via our facebook group) with the group of parents that attended the same ante-natal class as us.

My FAQ is around the topic of biligualism/trilingualism or perhaps even polyglottism.
Is it beneficial to a child?
Does it carry over advantages into adulthood beyond being more suitable for certain jobs that require it?
Do bilingual people enjoy life more?
Earn more?

Or conversely are they in some ways limited in the depth they can penetrate a subject because their intellectual/reasoning capacity is somehow divided between two or more languages?
Are they more confused?
Are they viewed with suspicion by others?
Do they earn less?
Attain less at higher education?

A bit of background
I am of spanish origin (both parents born in Spain) but I was born and raised in England. I therefore class myself as bilingual. Later on I also learned French to what most French people perceive as native speaker' level. I have a degree in both Spanish and French.

My wife is of Turkish origin but apart from that is remarkably similar to my upbringing. She speaks English and Turkish like a native. In addition she has more than a rudimentary understanding of French and spanish. She has a business degree (a proper degree compared to mine one might say).

One parent in the group suggests that bringing children up bilingually/trilingually might somehow negatively impact children in the ways I described above. Naturally I want to do no harm and only give our daughter the best possible start in life.

All I need now are the cold hard facts to help me decide. My brain and heart are telling me to teach her Spanish, my wife to teach her Turkish, let our litte one learn English at kindergarten and preschool and possibly I could teach her French too. With modern technology (internet, internet radio, multi satellite system) its possible to have entire days devoted to one particular language as if we were living in the country.

So what do the facts say?



Would you consider doing a piece on the myth (or confirmation of) home field advantage in football?