Sometimes we have a hard time committing ourselves – whether it’s quitting a bad habit or following through on a worthy goal. In this episode of Freakonomics Radio, we share stories about “commitment devices.” They’re a clever way to force yourself to do something that you know will be hard. Host Stephen Dubner talks to a struggling gambler who signs himself up for a program that bans him from state casinos – only to return, win a jackpot, and have it confiscated. We’ll also hear from a new father trying to shed bad habits. So he makes a list of things he wants to change and vows to pay a penalty if he can’t shape up in 30 days. The penalty? He’d write a $750 check to someone he really dislikes: Oprah Winfrey. Freakonomics co-author Steve Levitt offers a few of his own off-the-wall commitment devices, and the Brown economist Anna Aizer talks about using commitment devices to fight domestic violence.
Then we’ll take a look at some misadventures in baby-making. First, the story of how China’s one-child policy was inspired by a couple of scholars having a beer in the Netherlands. Also: Levitt discusses his controversial research showing that legalized abortion lowered the U.S. crime rate. We’ll also talk to Mara Hvistendahl, author of the Pulitzer Prize-nominated Unnatural Selection: Choosing Boys Over Girls, and the Consequences of a World Full of Men, which looks at how the introduction of the ultrasound led to the disappearance of tens of millions of baby girls. Finally: Stanford professor Stephen Quake ponders the consequences, intended and otherwise, of a new genetic test he has developed.