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A Smart Incentive or Obesity Persecution?

French diet guru Pierre Dukan is urging his government to give extra marks in school for a healthy BMI. The Telegraph reports:

“Obesity is a real public health problem that is rarely – if at all – taken into account by politicians,” Mr Dukan told newspaper Le Parisien ahead of the book’s launch.

Mr Dukan said his education plan would be “a good way to sensitise teenagers to the need for a balanced diet.”

He denied it would punish overweight children, saying: “There is nothing wrong with educating children about nutrition. This will not change anything for those who do not need to lose weight. For the others, it will motivate them.”

1/20/12

The Perils of Drunk Walking, South African Edition

A while back, a reader sent us this photo, with a warning you rarely see in the U.S.

In light of our recent podcast “The Perils of Drunk Walking,” we got in touch with Kon Scholtz, head of marketing and sales at United National Breweries, the South African company that makes the beer in question, Chibuku Shake Shake. Scholtz told us that Shake Shake is a nickname for traditional African beer made from maize and malt; it has a short shelf life (about five days), a relatively low alcohol content (3.5%) and, is meant to be shaken before consumption. It is also, according to Scholtz, very nutritional.

As for the warning on the carton, Scholtz explained.

1/6/12

The Problem with Recalls

This week, Apple announced that it will be recalling the first-generation iPod Nano.

I happen to have one, and it’s been working without a hitch since 2006. I’ve never had an incentive to replace it for a few key reasons: I think it’s aesthetically pleasing, storage space isn’t a problem for me, and battery life isn’t a problem either — I use it on my daily commute. I also prefer buttons to touch screens.

But after seeing photos of a melting iPod due to the battery problem, I’m inclined to take part. Especially after I learned I’d be getting the same product, just new and without the fear of fire.

Here’s the hidden cost of a recall, though: Apple will send the new product to me 6 to 8 weeks after they’ve received my old one.

11/18/11

The Academic Origins of China's One Child Policy

In our latest Freakonomics Radio podcast, “Misadventures in Baby-Making,” we describe an academic paper by a Dutch mathematics professor that might have been one of the inspirations of the controversial One Child Policy in China.

Here’s the story: in the early 1970s, Geert Jan Olsder co-authored the paper “Population Planning; a Distributed Time Optimal Control Problem.” He saw population as a mathematical constraint problem, where an optimal birth rate could be found:

“Given a certain initial age profile the population must be “steered” as quickly as possible to another, prescribed, final age profile by means of a suitable chosen birth rate.”

The model considered the natural birth rate and mortality rate, an economic constraint, and time. And like any good empirical scientist, Olsder makes this warning in his paper:

“This paper is not concerned with the social and political problems involved in establishing the best mechanism for a program of population management….The optimal birth rate may unbalance the age distribution during the time interval concerned, which could give rise to economic and social problems.”

11/4/11

Time Banks: Got Time for Lunch?

Last weekend, I was walking around New York’s Lower East Side when I stumbled upon an interesting restaurant. The counter was serving Thai food, but they didn’t take cash – they only took time.

For a home-cooked lunch (with table service), I was told I’d have to pay with a half-hour of my time. This was an alternative economy staged by artists Julieta Aranda and Anton Vidokle as part of Creative Time’s Living as Form exhibition, part of a larger community movement of time banks going on nationally.

A time bank is not a barter system. Your good (or service) is not directly exchanged for another good or service. There’s a medium of exchange: it’s time, not money.

Some interesting history from their artist statement

10/20/11

The Price of Friendship, as Measured by Radiohead Tickets

This morning, I got a hurried whisper-screaming call from my good friend Jonathan C.:
“I. Have. Radiohead. Tickets.” he breathed. “Do you want one?”
If you don’t know what I’m talking about, Radiohead is a very very popular UK rock band. Tickets for the band’s 2 New York shows, the first U.S. performance in 3 years, went on sale this morning on Ticketmaster and sold out in a couple minutes.
Radiohead is famous for doing price experiments with fans. At the height of illegal downloads, the band asked fans to pay-what-you-want for their album. They picked a small venue in New York — the Roseland Ballroom which accommodates 3,000 instead of Madison Square Garden which seats about 20,000 — and limiting ticket sales to 2 per customer. But can limiting supply like this really stop a black market from emerging?

9/26/11

Am I Good Enough to Compete In a Prediction Tournament?

Last spring, we posted on Phil Tetlock’s massive prediction tournament: Good Judgment. You might remember Tetlock from our latest Freakonomics Radio podcast, “The Folly of Prediction.” (You can download/subscribe at iTunes, get the RSS feed, or read the transcript here.)
Tetlock is a psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania, well-known for his book Expert Political Judgment, in which he tracked 80,000 predictions over the course of 20 years. Turns out that humans are not great at predicting the future, and experts do just a bit better than a random guessing strategy.

9/23/11

Freakonomics Poll: Would You Stop Someone From Jumping Off a Bridge?

In the last Freakonomics Radio episode “The Suicide Paradox,” (You can download/subscribe at iTunes, get the RSS feed, listen live via the media player above, or read the transcript here) we talked to a San Francisco cabbie with a long name who said something that caught our attention:

One night I picked up a guy, I think down nearby Tenderloin and he want to go Golden Gate Bridge. Must be 11 o’clock at night. And I said “okay,” so I drove on Franklin Street. He said, “You want to ask me why I go to Golden Gate Bridge this late?” I said, “No, but if you want to tell me I guess I will listen to it.”
And he said “I’m going to go and jump off the Golden Gate Bridge” and I said, “Okay.” He said, “You’re not going to stop me?” I said, “No, why should I?”

The cabbie doesn’t know what happened to his passenger, but he did call the coast guard immediately afterwards. Suicide isn’t illegal in the U.S., and as a citizen of a country that prides itself on individual rights – what would you do?

9/8/11

The Saddest National Anthems in the World

Our latest Freakonomics Radio podcast, “The Suicide Paradox,” (You can download/subscribe at iTunes, get the RSS feed, listen live via the media player above, or read the transcript here) investigates the mystery of suicide.
Our Virgil in the journey was David Lester, a professor at Richard Stockton College of New Jersey and the dean of suicide studies. Lester is prolific: he has over 1000 citations regarding suicide on a wide range of topics, from quirky informal studies to serious stats. He’s written about which day of the week suicide occurs the most, what blood type suicide rates are associated with, and whether suicide rates are higher in nations with greater rainfall.
One of our favorites by Lester is “National Anthems and Suicide Rates.” Here’s the abstract:

9/6/11

Suicide vs. Homicide by State, per 100,000

In the latest Freakonomics Radio podcast,’The Suicide Paradox,” we explore, among other things, why suicide is twice as prevalent in the U.S. as murder. From the CDC, here’s a breakdown of state-by-state suicide and homicide rates.

9/1/11

Do Budget Cuts Cause More Riots?

The UK riots continue as PM David Cameron and the Metropolitan police flood London with 16,000 officers in hopes of calming the civil unrest.
Critics have suggested that this is the behavior of a generation that’s been ignored by the establishment. The anarchy on the streets of London has been attributed to high unemployment and disaffected youth, combined with a trigger event — the death of Mark Duggan, shot by police last Saturday.
A couple weeks ago, Jacopo Ponticelli and Hans-Joachim Voth put out their working paper “Austerity and Anarchy: Budget Cuts and Social Unrest in Europe, 1919-2009.” It uses cross-country data in the 90-year period to examine whether riots and civil unrest increase as governments cut spending. They found a positive correlation between social instability and budget cuts.

8/10/11

From the Comments: A Market for Skipping Class

We got tons of responses to our Bleg last week on how professors should incentivize classroom attendance. Thank you everyone for your suggestions, a few concerns kept coming up in the comments:

  • Is the student a consumer?
  • Does attending class equate learning?
  • Are students a fair market to judge professors?
  • Do bonus/penalty systems work?

Most readers encouraged making the class interesting enough so that the professor is the sole incentive for students to show up. Others suggested an attendance incentive — ranging from points for showing up, to test questions handed out at the beginning of class — or a policy that puts students’ grades at risk for not showing up.

8/9/11

If Handing Off a Family Business to the Next Generation, What's the Key Thing to Avoid?

What’s the difference in performance between a family business where the CEO hands off leadership to a member of the family versus an outside CEO? That’s one of the questions our latest podcast, “The Church of Scionology,” tries to answer. (You can download/subscribe at iTunes, get the RSS feed, or read the transcript here.)
Stanford economist Francisco Pérez-González has looked at the data to try to figure this out. (His paper “Inherited Control and Firm Performance” can be found here). He compiled data from 335 management transitions across a number of industries with concentrated ownership or founding family involvement. He compared 112 blood-related successions to 213 unrelated ones. Here, first, is a breakdown of successions by industry, and by family-handoff within industries:

8/5/11

Concierge Service for the Masses

While the rich and famous can have subscriptions to concierge services (such as the famed Quintessentially) to plan a vacation or book opera tickets, a recent Princeton grad is trying to bring such amenities to the masses. Harry Schiff, class of 2010, has started an online market for errands. He says he was sitting around craving a sandwich when the . . .

4/21/11

A Really Hard Day's Work

Ulet Ifansasti’s stunning photographs depict working conditions at a primitive sulfur mining site in East Java, Indonesia. The miners use steel bars to hack off chunks of pure sulfur and carry loads of 100 to 200 pounds to the weighing station, making several trips a day. Daily pay is approximately $5.00.

6/3/09

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