The Man Who Would Be Everything (Ep. 187)

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Boris Johnson

Boris Johnson: mayor of London, raconteur, painter of old cheese boxes. You can call him Al.

What is Boris Johnson?

A better question might be: what isn’t Boris Johnson? He is, inter alia, the Mayor of London; a prolific author, journalist and, as of this month, a biographer of Winston Churchill; a once and possibly future Member of Parliament; a potential future Prime Minister himself despite being a “self-styled joke” who occasionally gets stuck on a zip-line; an American by birth (and U.S. passport holder).

He is also, as you’ll hear in our latest Freakonomics Radio podcast, a painter of old cheese boxes, a collector of wooden tennis rackets, and a man who would inspire England’s national soccer team by copying how Saddam Hussein’s son Uday reportedly inspired the Iraqi national team: “When they come back next time, we should just, you know, threaten to do something in the changing rooms of those guys unless they sharpen up.”

The episode is called “The Man Who Would Be Everything.” (You can subscribe to the podcast at iTunes, get the RSS feed, or listen via the media player above. You can also read the transcript, which includes credits for the music you’ll hear in the episode.)

This is our first attempt at bringing a series of FREAK-quently Asked Questions to notable people from various fields. There were far more questions on my list than we had time for — the mayor is a busy fellow, on book tour no less — but we did get to quite a few. You’ll hear about his best investment (financial, educational, or otherwise); his biggest influence; his favorite books; and, though it took some effort, we also find out his favorite brand of shoe. Along the way, we talk politics, economics, Churchill, sport, food, some more Churchill, and what his family calls him (hint: not Boris).

Love him or hate him, Boris Johnson is a political-intellectual swashbuckler with few peers. (Pardon the impartiality, but I admit to quite loving him; I wish we had more U.S. politicians like him. And, given his U.S. passport, it’s not impossible for him to become one!)

Let us know what you think of this new podcast format, and who else you’d like to hear from in the future. Happy listening.




I liked the format as a way of interviewing people be interesting to see who it works for and who it doesn't. Hope it's not a replacement for the more traditional looking at a topic with various input.

As an Englishman (not in new York), I'm facinated to find out what Americans think of Boris. I am 1/2 delighted and 1/2 horrified that I voted for him.


Yes! This should a regular thing.


I didn't know Gary Busey was an economist


Dear Dubner and Levitt,
while I do appreciate the new segment, I must say it also feels like a bit of a wasted opportunity to ask people "of merit" such generic questions.
While Boris Johnston makes for a good entertaining half an hour, I whish you would have gone more into depth regarding London's problems-
As a part-time Londoner, I do want to know how he thinks a city that is made artificially attractive to billionaires through low taxes, is supposed to be inhabitable for non-billionaires.
It's nice that he's suggesting a trickle-down job as one of the people to get the car for a billionaire, - just not the job I imagined when I did my postgraduate degree.
These issues would be much more interesting to discuss with him, in depth, than asking him about childhood influences.
Maybe I get to ask him myself, if I should ever run into him in the streets of London, -although, I'm more likely to use my time with him to throw out a heartfelt 'Al, you Tory Tosser'-

so, yes, an entertaining segment, not only due to an entertaining guest, but sadly, an opportunity wasted to have a numbers-based discussion about his politics.



"As a part-time Londoner, I do want to know how he thinks a city that is made artificially attractive to billionaires through low taxes, is supposed to be inhabitable for non-billionaires.
It’s nice that he’s suggesting a trickle-down job as one of the people to get the car for a billionaire, – just not the job I imagined when I did my postgraduate degree."

The thing is, I think Boris would argue that his priority is neither billionaires, nor people who choose to take postgraduate degrees (a choice which can be perceived as suspiciously workshy in Britain). It's people who need jobs doing things like getting cars.


Of course he'd argue that he worries about the guys getting the car. That's why the facts and data need to be brought into the discussion, so we can finally talk about the fact that he's worrying about the billionaires and the millionaires- while argueing differently.

Confront him with the current state of Kansas and how the low-taxes-for-the-rich concept doesn't work, and see how he tries to talk his way out of it. I'm sure he'll quote some Homer for defense.


Stephen, just wanted to say thank you for your passion! Love the show, keep it up!

Dan Palmer

HOW are we supposed to power these "savior" technologies? With renewables that cannot give the capacity to run civilization OR with coal? Moron. And, a Hollywood movie is THE model for reality based decisions?

Maybe he should move to Canada and run for Mayor of Toronto...


So how much energy is really needed to run actual civilization, and how much on top of that for chest-beating "mine's bigger than yours" wastefulness?

And if you need more than renewables can conveniently supply, what exactly (other than hysteria born of ignorance) is wrong with nuclear>

Ted Christman

Brilliant! One of the most enjoyable interviews of an office holder I have ever heard. Truly liked the questions. I will be adding this book to my Christmas list.

I can not wait for the next interview.

Well Done!


Sorry but I found this to be one of the most boring interviews. Not because of you Stephen, but how can Londoners tolerate this croaky inflated bag of hot air? 21 minutes was enough for a lifetime for me... "Yes, but proceed in telling us how you mastered Homer and how the amount of billionaires you have a in your city is greater than that of NYC." A lot of good it's done for NYC and Moscow. They both look like trash dumps.


i really liked this he was a realy charming interviewee and the questions really provoked some interesting segways id love to here more of this format!


Sorry for this not might be the appropriate place for this suggestion/question, but if there are any thoughts about why are people uploading and seeding torrents at the internet, I'd be more than happy to listen to those thoughts about it. I completely understand the incentive for downloading torrents, but not for uploading. There are some regulations at these sites sometimes (but not always) that you have to seed an amount back unless you want to get banned, but people are seeding afterwards.

The only reasoneble incentive I've found is: "It provides others with the same benefits that you are deriving yourself. It's the polite thing to do. "

So it's a moral one. The question is; am i missing something? Is that single incentive that strong and reliable that is keeps online piracy blossoming? If so, in what other aspects of our life can we safely rely on the "I am in debt with the society, I am willing to pay it back, even multiple times" incentive? Can we apply it somwhere else?



When you interviewed Mr. Johnston, did you ask him if he's ever done a tax return for the US IRS? He is an American Citizen by virtue of his birth after all...


So? I was born in the state of New York, but I don't pay New York state taxes.

Phil Persinger


Unfortunately for His Honor the Mayor, Neil has a point---

neil wilson

when did this blog decide to eliminate virtually all of the blog posts?

I guess I never stayed on the blog for more than a few seconds the last few months.

Now, I won't ever bother to come back. I can listen on the radio anytime I want.

Good luck


The "different biological fuel" Churchill was running on , to use Johnson's own turn of phrase, that enabled him to be such an amazing writer was bipolar disorder. I used to have the same ability until I was diagnosed and placed on medication and the ability disappeared. Abraham Lincoln and Hunter S. Thompson had the same ability and the same disorder. Thompson actually coined the phrase "Gonzo journalism" for being able to write without going back to edit his work. I wish English teachers would warn their students that if 3,000-word essays fall out out their heads fully formed, they need to get checked out by a psychiatrist.


Dont get me wrong guys, I love freakonomics but I hated this episode. Its funny how your last episode on mayors in the US was fascinating yet this interview with the bumbling (very widely despised man) was beyond tedious. I dont think you guys understand is that this man is a genuine clown of the bourgeoisie, consistently espousing assertions that no intellectually serious person would ever say.

My second major criticism was the complete absence of economics (the thing that make this podcast so awesome) aside from the we need to look after the billionaires and make sure the millionaires can still live like billionaires.

Thirdly, I hate the idea that one of my favorite broadcasters may have just made this tool more electable by taking him seriously for a whole 21 minutes and not once challenging his Miltonite trickle down philosophy.