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Did Something I Do Actually Have an Impact on Public Policy?

(Photo: Smabs Sputzer)

I have spent the last 20+ years of my life doing academic research and popular writing on economics.  I’ve been lucky, and my work has gotten a lot of exposure.  I certainly have had a lot of fun along the way.

But, I think I can honestly say that no government has ever changed a law or a public policy as a result of my work.  Sometimes politicians cite my research in pushing an agenda but having talked to these politicians, it is clear they had the agenda first, and then they went looking for research – any research – that would support their position.  When I’ve taken unpopular stances (like saying children’s car seats don’t work well), there has never been even a sliver of political movement on the issue.

Finally, however, I think I may be on the verge of my first policy victory.

Bethel, Alaska, population 6,100, is thinking of criminalizing drunk walking.

Those of you who read SuperFreakonomics might remember that we lay bare the perils of drunk walking early in that book.  By our estimates, on a per mile basis walking drunk is far more dangerous than driving drunk.

The most common reaction to our finding, oddly, has been laughter, even though we are deadly serious.

The good people of Bethel, however, appear to have heard the call to action.  If the proposal passes, anyone caught walking drunk will face a $200 fine.

And that, my friends, is something to celebrate.  So break out a bottle of champagne on behalf of the Freakonomics team.  Unless, of course, you live in Bethel and are traveling by foot.