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Steven D. Levitt

Does Death Have to Be a Death Sentence?

In this special episode of People I (Mostly) Admire, Steve Levitt speaks with the palliative physician B.J. Miller about modern medicine’s goal of “protecting a pulse at all costs.” Is there a better, even beautiful way to think about death and dying?

12/29/21
57:45

What Makes John Doerr Think He Can Save the Planet?

The legendary venture capitalist believes the same intuition that led him to bet early on Google can help us reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. But Steve wonders why his plan doesn’t include a carbon tax.

12/24/21
56:19

Claudia Goldin: What’s “Greedy Work” and Why Is It a Problem?

Harvard economist Claudia Goldin and Steve talk about how inflexible jobs and family responsibilities make it harder for women to earn wages equal to their male counterparts. But could Covid actually level the playing field?

12/17/21
48:38

Jared Diamond on the Downfall of Civilizations — and His Optimism for Ours

He’s the award-winning author of hugely popular books like Guns, Germs, and Steel; Collapse; and Upheaval. But Jared actually started his varied career as an expert on gallbladders and birds. The physiologist turned geographer talks with Steve about his brushes with death, why the Norse Greenlanders wouldn’t eat fish, and why he has never been invited to a cannibal ceremony.

12/10/21
48:27

Andrew Yang Is Not Giving Up on Politics — or the U.S. — Yet

He’s tried to shake up the status quo — as a Democratic presidential candidate, a New York City mayoral candidate, and now the founder of the Forward party. Will his third try be the charm? Andrew talks with Steve about what it’s like to lose an election and why a third political party might be the best chance for avoiding a new civil war.

12/3/21
55:33

The Simple Economics of Saving the Amazon Rainforest

Everyone agrees that massive deforestation is an environmental disaster. But most of the standard solutions — scolding the Brazilians, invoking universal morality — ignore the one solution that might actually work. Originally released on Freakonomics Radio, Steve gives an update on what’s happened in the two years since this episode first ran.

11/26/21
32:35

Max Tegmark on Why Superhuman Artificial Intelligence Won’t be Our Slave (Part 2)

He’s an M.I.T. cosmologist, physicist, and machine-learning expert, and once upon a time, almost an economist. Max and Steve continue their conversation about the existential threats facing humanity, and what Max is doing to mitigate our risk. The co-founder of the Future of Life Institute thinks that artificial intelligence can be the greatest thing to ever happen to humanity — if we don’t screw it up.

11/19/21
31:46

Max Tegmark on Why Treating Humanity Like a Child Will Save Us All

How likely is it that this conversation is happening in more than one universe? Should we worry more about Covid or about nuclear war? Is economics a form of “intellectual prostitution?” Steve discusses these questions, and more, with Max, an M.I.T cosmologist, physicist, and machine-learning expert — who was once almost an economist. He also tells Steve why we should be optimistic about the future of humanity (assuming we move Earth to a larger orbit before the sun evaporates our oceans).

11/12/21
47:56

Edward Miguel on Collecting Economic Data by Canoe and Correlating Conflict with Rainfall

He’s a pioneer of using randomized control experiments in economics — studying the long-term benefits of a $1 health intervention in Africa. Steve asks Edward, a Berkeley professor, about Africa’s long-term economic prospects, and how a parking-ticket-scandal in New York City led to a major finding on corruption around the world.

11/5/21
54:26

Mathematician Sarah Hart on Why Numbers are Music to Our Ears

Playing notes on her piano, she demonstrates for Steve why whole numbers sound pleasing, why octaves are mathematically imperfect, and how math underlies musical composition. Sarah, a professor at the University of London and Gresham College, also talks with Steve about the gender gap in mathematics and why being interested in everything can be a problem.

10/29/21
48:31

Marc Davis Can’t Stop Watching Basketball — But He Doesn’t Care Who Wins

His childhood dream of playing in the N.B.A. led him to a career as a referee. Marc is one of the league’s top performers after over 20 seasons, but he still reviews every single one of his calls. He talks with Steve about being scrutinized by players, fans, and management; how much work — and data — go into being fair; and why he talks about race with his colleagues and his kids.

10/22/21
48:06

Ken Jennings on How a Midlife Crisis Led Him to Jeopardy! (Replay)

It was only in his late twenties that America’s favorite brainiac began to seriously embrace his love of trivia. Jeopardy!’s newest host also holds the show’s “Greatest of All Time” title. Steve digs into how Ken trained for the show, what it means to have a “geographic memory,” and why we lie to our children.

10/15/21
49:11

Mayim Bialik on the Surprising Risks of Academia and Stability of Show Biz (Replay)

This new Jeopardy! host is best known for playing neurobiologist Amy Farrah Fowler on The Big Bang Theory, but she has a rich life outside of her acting career too, as a teacher, mother — and a real-life neuroscientist. Steve learns more about this one-time academic and Hollywood non-conformist, who is both very similar to him and also quite his opposite.

10/8/21
51:11

Robert Axelrod on Why Being Nice, Forgiving, and Provokable are the Best Strategies for Life

The prisoner’s dilemma is a classic game-theory problem. Robert, a political scientist at the University of Michigan, has spent his career studying it — and the ways humans can cooperate, or betray each other, for their own benefit. He and Steve talk about the best way to play it and how it shows up in real-world situations, from war zones to Steve’s own life.

10/1/21
45:38

Amanda & Lily Levitt Share What It’s Like to be Steve’s Daughters

Steve shows a different side of himself in very personal interviews with his two oldest daughters. Amanda talks about growing up with social anxiety and her decision to not go to college, while Lily speaks candidly about her battle with anorexia and the conversation she had with Steve that led her to finally seek treatment.

9/24/21
49:10

Leidy Klotz on Why the Best Solutions Involve Less — Not More

When we try to improve things, our first thought is often: What can we add to make this better? But Leidy, a professor of engineering, says we tend to overlook the fact that a better solution might be to take something away. He and Steve talk about examples from Leidy’s book Subtract: The Untapped Science of Less, and from their own lives.

9/17/21
42:23

Edward Glaeser Explains Why Some Cities Thrive While Others Fade Away

An expert on urban economics and co-author of the new book Survival of the City, Ed says cities have faced far worse than Covid. Steve talks with the Harvard professor about why the slums of Mumbai function so well, high-quality housing in China sits empty, and declining cities hang on for so long.

9/10/21
47:10

Arne Duncan Says All Kids Deserve a Chance — and Criminals Deserve a Second One

Former U.S. Secretary of Education, 3×3 basketball champion, and leader of an anti-gun violence organization are all on Arne’s resume. He’s also Steve’s neighbor. The two talk about teachers caught cheating in Chicago public schools and Steve shares a story he’s never told Arne, about a defining moment in the educator’s life.

9/3/21
48:23

America’s Math Curriculum Doesn’t Add Up

A special episode: Steve reports on a passion of his. Most high-school math classes are still preparing students for the Sputnik era. Steve wants to get rid of the “geometry sandwich” and instead have kids learn what they really need in the modern era: data fluency. Originally broadcast on Freakonomics Radio, this episode includes an update from Steve about a project he launched to revamp the education system.

8/27/21
43:43

Dr. Bapu Jena on Why Freakonomics Is the Best Medicine

He’s a Harvard physician and economist who just started a third job: host of the new podcast Freakonomics, M.D. He’s also Steve’s former student. The two discuss why medicine should embrace econ-style research, the ethics of human-challenge trials, and Bapu’s role in one of Steve’s, ahem, less-than-successful experiments.

8/20/21
43:15

Harold Pollack on Why Managing Your Money Is as Easy as Taking Out the Garbage

He argues that personal finance is so simple all you need to know can fit on an index card. How will he deal with Steve’s suggestion that Harold’s nine rules for managing money are overly complicated? Harold and Steve also talk about gun violence — a topic Harold researches as a public-policy professor at the University of Chicago — and they propose some radical ideas for reducing it.

8/13/21
49:25

Aicha Evans Wants You to Take Your Eyes Off the Road

She’s the C.E.O. of Zoox, an autonomous vehicle company. Steve asks Aicha about the big promises the A.V. industry hasn’t yet delivered — and the radical bet Zoox is making on a driverless future. Plus, Steve wants to know how she’s maintained her spark.

8/6/21
50:55

Sendhil Mullainathan Explains How to Generate an Idea a Minute (Part 2)

Steve continues his conversation with his good friend, MacArthur “Genius Grant” recipient, and fellow University of Chicago economist. Sendhil breaks down the hypothesis of his book Scarcity, explains why machines aren’t competition for human intelligence, and tells Steve why it’s important to appreciate other people’s good ideas before developing your own.

7/30/21
40:11

Sendhil Mullainathan Thinks Messing Around Is the Best Use of Your Time

He’s a professor of computation and behavioral science at the University of Chicago, MacArthur “Genius Grant” recipient, and author. Steve and Sendhil laugh their way through a conversation about the importance of play, the benefits of change, and why we remember so little about the books we’ve read — and how Sendhil’s new app solves this problem.

7/23/21
54:51

How Rahm Emanuel Would Run the World

In this interview, first heard on Freakonomics Radio last year, Steve talks with the former top adviser to presidents Clinton and Obama, about his record — and his reputation. And Rahm explains that while he believes in the power of the federal government, as former mayor of Chicago, he says that cities are where problems really get solved.

7/16/21
45:12

David Epstein Knows Something About Almost Everything

He’s been an Arctic scientist, a sports journalist, and is now a best-selling author of science books. His latest, Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World, makes the argument that early specialization does not give you a head start in life. David and Steve talk about why frustration is a good sign, and why the 10,000-hour rule is definitely not a rule.

7/9/21
52:51

Maya Shankar Is Changing People’s Behavior — and Her Own

She used to run a behavioral unit in the Obama administration, and now has a similar role at Google. Maya and Steve talk about the power (and limits) of behavioral economics and also how people respond to change — the topic of her new podcast A Slight Change of Plans.

7/2/21
47:21

Travis Tygart Is Coming for Cheaters — Just Ask Lance Armstrong

He’s the C.E.O. of the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), which, under his charge, exposed the most celebrated American cyclist as a cheater. And Steve’s been studying cheaters for the last 25 years, so he’s also excited to talk to Travis about the incentives to cheat and the advances in testing technology — and offers his services as an anti-doping data detective for the sport of horse racing.

6/25/21
48:23

Angela Duckworth Explains How to Manage Your Goal Hierarchy

She’s the author of the bestselling book Grit, and a University of Pennsylvania professor of psychology — a field Steve says he knows nothing about. But once Angela gives Steve a quick tutorial on “goal conflict,” he is suddenly a fan. They also talk parenting, self-esteem, and how easy it is to learn econometrics if you feel like it.

6/18/21
53:48

Peter Leeson on Why Trial-by-Fire Wasn’t Barbaric and Why Pirates Were Democratic

He’s an economist who studies even weirder things than Steve. They discuss whether economics is the best of the social sciences, and why it’s a good idea to get a tattoo of a demand curve on your bicep.

6/11/21
48:51

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