Search the Site

Steven Levitt

Date
Length

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

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

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

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

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

Season 10, Episode 52

Air pollution is estimated to cause 7 million deaths a year and cost the global economy nearly $3 trillion. But is the true cost even higher? Stephen Dubner explores the links between pollution and cognitive function, and enlists two fellow Freakonomics Radio Network hosts in a homegrown experiment. To find out more, check out the podcasts from which this hour . . .

8/26/21

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

Bruce Friedrich Thinks There’s a Better Way to Eat Meat

Levitt rarely interviews advocates, but the founder of the Good Food Institute is different. Once an outspoken — and sometimes outlandish — animal-rights activist, Bruce has come to believe that market-driven innovation and scientific advancement are the best ways to reduce global meat consumption. Steve and Bruce talk about the negative externalities of factory-farmed meat, and why Bruce gave up antics like streaking at Buckingham Palace.

5/28/21
48:21

Nathan Myhrvold: “I Am Interested in Lots of Things, and That’s Actually a Bad Strategy.” (Replay)

He graduated high school at 14, and by 23 had several graduate degrees and was a research assistant with Stephen Hawking. He became the first chief technology officer at Microsoft (without having ever studied computer science) and then started a company focused on big questions — like how to provide the world with clean energy and how to optimize pizza-baking. Find out what makes Nathan Myhrvold’s fertile mind tick, and which of his many ideas Steve Levitt likes the most.

4/23/21
49:36

Amaryllis Fox: “What Does This New Version of Mutually Assured Destruction Look Like?”

She spent nearly a decade as an undercover C.I.A. operative working to prevent terrorism. More recently, she hosted The Business of Drugs on Netflix. Amaryllis Fox — now Kennedy — explains why intelligence work requires empathy, and she soothes Steve’s fears about weapons of mass destruction.

4/16/21
58:23

Greg Norman & Mark Broadie: Why Golf Beats an Orgasm and Why Data Beats Everything

Steve Levitt is obsessed with golf — and he’s pretty good at it too. As a thinly-veiled ploy to improve his own game, Steve talks to two titans of the sport: Greg “The Shark” Norman, who was the world’s top-ranked golfer for more than six years; and Mark Broadie, a Columbia professor whose data analysis changed how pros play the game.

4/9/21
42:30

Sal Khan: “If It Works for 15 Cousins, It Could Work for a Billion People.”

Khan Academy grew out of Sal Khan’s online math tutorials for his extended family. It’s now a platform used by more than 115 million people in 190 countries. So what does Khan want to do next? How about reinventing in-school learning, too? Find out why Steve nearly moved to Silicon Valley to be part of Khan’s latest venture.

4/2/21
44:18

Pete Docter: “What If Monsters Really Do Exist?”

He’s the chief creative officer of Pixar, and the Academy Award-winning director of Soul, Inside Out, Up, and Monsters, Inc. Pete Docter and Steve talk about Pixar’s scrappy beginnings, why it costs $200 million to make an animated film, and the movie moment that changed Steve’s life.

3/26/21
45:44

John Donohue: “I’m Frequently Called a Treasonous Enemy of the Constitution.”

He’s a law professor with a Ph.D. in economics and a tendency for getting into fervid academic debates. Over 20 years ago, he and Steve began studying the impact of legalized abortion on crime. John and Steve talk about guns, the death penalty, the heat they took from their joint research, and why it’s frustratingly difficult to prove truth in the social sciences.

3/19/21
39:14

The Freakonomics Radio Network

Follow this show
609 Episodes
Follow this show
88 Episodes
Follow this show
65 Episodes
Follow this show
21 Episodes

How to Listen

You want to listen to Freakonomics Radio? That’s great! Most people use a podcast app on their smartphone. It’s free (with the purchase of a phone, of course). Looking for more guidance? We’ve got you covered.

Learn more

Freakonomics Radio Network Newsletter

Stay up-to-date on all our shows. We promise no spam.