Mitt Romneywon big in New Hampshire, but his opponents are vowing to push on in South Carolina. Which means stepping up their pleas for cash. In an e-mail to supporters, Rick Santorum wrote:
We must show real progress tonight and redouble our efforts … That’s why my campaign launched the “Game On” Moneybomb, and why we need your help right now. As you already know, we are facing serious and well-funded opposition for the nomination.
That’s the kind of language that confirms one of the biggest truisms in politics: money buys elections.
Our latest Freakonomics Radio onMarketplace podcast is called “What’s Wrong With Cash for Grades?”
(You can download/subscribe at iTunes, get the RSS feed, listen via the media player above, or read the transcript below.)
In it, Steve Levitt talks to Kai Ryssdal about whether it’s effective to pay kids to do well in school. Levitt, along with John List, Susanne Neckermann, and Sally Sadoff, recently wrote up a working paper (PDF here) based on their field experiments in Chicago schools. Levitt blogged about the paper earlier; here’s the Atlantic‘s take.
Our latest Freakonomics Radio onMarketplace podcast is called “The Season of Death.” The gist: Summertime brings far too many fatal accidents. But the numbers may surprise you.
(You can download/subscribe at iTunes, get the RSS feed, listen via the media player above, or read the transcript below.)
If you’re a longtime reader, you probably already have an idea of what we’re talking about. Human beings are, in general, quite bad at assessing risk. We tend to be scared of big, noisy, anomalous events – like shark attacks, which in an average year kill fewer than five people worldwide — while overlooking the seemingly quotidian reality of, say, drowning deaths (about 4,000 per year in the U.S. alone) and motorcycle fatalities (about 4,500 U.S. deaths annually). We have been exploring this idea since Freakonomics, where we asked whether a gun or a swimming pool is more “dangerous.”
Our latest Freakonomics Radio on Marketplace podcast is called “It’s Not the President, Stupid.” (You can download/subscribe at iTunes, get the RSS feed, listen via the media player above, or read the transcript below.) The gist: it’s time to admit that the U.S. economy doesn’t have a commander-in-chief.
In this Marketplace segment, you’ll hear from Austan Goolsbee, the University of Chicago economist who has served President Obama as both campaign adviser and chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers:
GOOLSBEE:I think the world vests too much power, certainly in the president, probably in Washington in general for its influence on the economy, because most all of the economy has nothing to do with the government.
Our latest Freakonomics Radio on Marketplace podcast is called “The Hidden Cost of False Alarms.” (You can download/subscribe at iTunes, get the RSS feed, listen via the media player above, or read the transcript below.)
The central facts: between 94 and 99 percent of burglar-alarm calls turn out to be false alarms, and false alarms make up between 10 and 20 percent of all calls to police.
There are at least three things to consider upon learning these facts:
1. If a particular medical screening had such a high false-positive rate, it would likely be considered worse than worthless; but:
2. With more than 2 million annual burglaries in the U.S., perhaps it’s worth putting up with so many false positives in service of the greater deterrent; as long as:
3. The cost of all those false positives are borne by the right people.
Can you already figure out whether No. 3 is in fact the case?
Our latest Freakonomics Radio on Marketplace podcast is called “A Rose By Any Other Distance.” (You can download/subscribe at iTunes, get the RSS feed, listen via the media player above, or read the transcript below.)
With Mother’s Day coming up, we thought it’d be interesting to look at the cut-flower industry. Americans spend about $12 billion a year on them. Mario Valle, a wholesaler at the L.A. Flower District, tells us that Mother’s Day is easily his biggest day of the year: “It’s 30 percent of my year. Everyone has a mother!”
In our latest Freakonomics Radio on Marketplace podcast, Stephen Dubner looks at why the first decision you make in 2012 can be riskier than you think. (Download/subscribe at iTunes, get the RSS feed, listen via the media player above, or read the transcript.)
The risks of driving drunk are well-established; it’s an incredibly dangerous thing to do, and produces massive collateral damage as well. So if you have a bit too much to drink over the holiday and think you’ll do the smart thing and walk home instead — well, that’s not so smart after all. Steve Levitt has compared the risk of drunk walking with drunk driving and found that the former can potentially pose a greater risk:
In our latest Freakonomics Radio on Marketplace podcast, we’re talking turkey, literally. (Download/subscribe at iTunes, get the RSS feed, listen live via the media player above, or read the transcript.) Americans are expected to eat more than 40 million of the big birds this month for Thanksgiving, so we asked the same question everyone’s thinking: where do they all come from? The answer might surprise you – it certainly seemed to surprise Kai Ryssdal.
Specifically, the question is this: of all the commercially raised turkeys in the U.S., what percentage are the product of artificial insemination?
The answer, oddly enough, is 100 percent. Why? Well, it’s a supply-and-demand story. Because Americans particularly love to eat turkey breast meat (a great delivery platform for gravy!), turkeys have been selectively bred over the years to have bigger and bigger breasts. So big, in fact, that when it comes time for a male turkey to naturally reproduce with a female, his massive breast prevents him from getting close enough to complete the act.
One of the greatest transportation resources out there is… your backseat. According to a U.S. Department of Transportation report, the average vehicle commuting to and from work has only 1.1 people it. This means that about 80 percent of car capacity goes unused. In a moment when we’re worrying about gas consumption and carbon emissions, this is a lamentable inefficiency. . . .
Parts of the East Coast are still recovering from the destruction of Hurricane Irene. The storm wreaked havoc, causing more than 40 deaths and billions of dollars in damages. One thing that is striking about hurricanes is that, even after years of study, all we really know how to do is deal with the symptoms; we don’t actually have a way to treat the disease itself.
So what if there were a hurricane “vaccine”?
There’s a natural ratio of men to women for our species, and it is not equal. For every 100 girls, 105 boys are born. But in some places, like India and China, the ratio is skewed. One Chinese city recorded an astounding 163 boys born per 100 girls. So, why is this happening?
The expanding use of this technology has allowed expecting parents to abort unwanted girls and keep the boys. The ability to sex-select has caused the disappearance of an estimated 160 million girls in Asia alone.
In this Marketplacesegment, Stephen J. Dubner reports on the unintended consequences that come with new technology.
What do Wall Street forecasters and Romanian witches have in common? They usually get away, scot-free, with making bad predictions. Our world is awash in poor prediction — but for some reason, we can’t stop, even though accuracy rates often barely beat a coin toss.
But then there’s the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s crop forecasting. Predictions covering a big crop like corn (U.S. farmers have planted the second largest crop since WWII this year) usually fall within five percent of the actual yield. So how do they do it? Every year, the U.S.D.A. sends thousands of enumerators into cornfields across the country where they inspect the plants, the conditions, and even “animal loss.”
This week on Marketplace, Stephen J. Dubner and Kai Ryssdal talk about the supply and demand of predictions. You’ll hear from Joseph Prusacki, the head of U.S.D.A’s Statistics Division, who’s gearing up for his first major crop report of 2011 (the street is already “sweating” it); Phil Friedrichs, who collects cornfield data for the USDA; and our trusted economist and Freakonomics co-author Steven Levitt.
Another thing to add to the list of things to be paranoid about: your paycheck might kill you. Notre Dame economist William Evans, along with Timothy Moore from the University of Maryland, analyzed more than 75 million deaths in the U.S., and found something interesting.
On the first day of each month, the death rate goes up.
As an economist, Steven Levitt says he has an underdeveloped moral compass. In the past, the University of Chicago professor and Freakonomics co-author has tricked colleagues into drinking cheap wine and opined that drug dealers in Sao Paulo would do a better job keeping communities safe.
But his moral compass went spinning when the U.S. recently cracked down on the top three online poker companies, resulting in 11 indictments. The federal government accused PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker and Absolute Poker of running their operations illegally, including paying banks to secretly process transactions.
“I think it makes no sense at all,” Levitt says. “Most things that are made illegal, everyone agrees on: homicide, theft–there’s a general agreement. And then there are these other activities that fall into a gray area. I think poker is so obviously on one side of the gray area relative to legality that it just doesn’t make any sense to me.”
Levitt says he doesn’t usually get riled up over such issues, but then he realized why he got so angry: his daughter.
This month, Toyota sold its one millionth Prius hybrid in the U.S. In 10 years, this strange-looking vehicle with the revolutionary engine has claimed a spot among the best-selling cars. Pretty impressive. But are all those Prius owners thinking mainly about better mileage and a smaller carbon footprint, or is there another incentive at work?
In our latest Freakonomics Radio on Marketplace podcast, we look at the economics of charity — specifically, what works (and what doesn’t) when trying to incentivize people to give. (Download/subscribe at iTunes, get the RSS feed, listen live via the media player above, or read the transcript.)
In Australia, Dick Smith’s electronics empire has afforded him enough success to be able to donate about 20 percent of his annual income to charity. But, he says, this kind of generosity is no longer the norm:
A charter school teacher warned her third graders that a standardized test question was “tricky,” and they all changed their answers. A high school coach in Brooklyn called a student into the hallway and slipped her a completed answer sheet in a newspaper. In the Bronx, a principal convened Finish Your Lab Days, where biology students ended up copying answers for work they never did.
This comes as little surprise to Steve Levitt, who several years ago recognized what most legislators and school administrators were unable (or unwilling?) to foresee: that the introduction of high-stakes testing would create incentives that might encourage some teachers (especially bad ones) to cheat on behalf of their students. So he developed an algorithm to catch cheaters, which was so successful that then-Chicago schools chief Arne Duncan brought Levitt in to help identify and fire cheating Chicago teachers.
In our latest Freakonomics Radio on Marketplace podcast, Stephen Dubner and Kai Ryssdal talk about the unexpected reasons why American food gotsobad. (Download/subscribe at iTunes, get the RSS feed, listen live via the media player above, or read the transcript.)
Our latest Freakonomics Radio segment on Marketplace concerns a topic we’ve been writing about for a long time: violent crime — and especially why it rises and falls. In this segment, Levitt and I discuss the fact that overall crime and violence are likely at a historic low these days, and not by a little bit either. The conversation builds off the fascinating new book by Steven Pinker called The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined.
Pinker has just completed a very good Q&A on our blog, and you’ll hear him in the Marketplace segment as well. Even though many people are convinced that the world today is more violent than ever (can you say “media effect”?), Pinker lays out the facts of the decline and fall of violence in a way that is hard to dispute:
Next week, dutiful voters will head to the polls for elections. Among the jobs up for grabs are the Kentucky and Mississippi governorships, the mayorship of San Francisco, and a smattering of municipal and state positions across the country. In many of these races, incumbents are fighting to keep their seats.
In our latest Freakonomics Radio on Marketplace podcast (you can download/subscribe at iTunes, get the RSS feed, listen live via the media player above, or read the transcript), we examine the side effects that elections sometimes produce. Steve Levitt wrote about one such effect several years ago (here is the original study, and here’s an update): in mayoral and gubernatorial election years, police forces tend to grow and crime tends to fall.
As Stephen Dubner explains to Kai Ryssdal, incumbents’ incentives change when they run for re-election. They might try to perform better, hiring more police or lowering taxes. But they also might cater more to special interests, giving out election-time favors and even enabling illegal activities.
We went out in search of various election-year anomalies and found some pretty interesting stuff.