Nassim TALEB: You have the present. You have the past. The past had its past. The present has its future. The past has its future, named the present. They learn that we had a past, a past past, a past future. They learn the relationship between them, but they don’t extrapolate a relation between today’s past and today’s future.
All right, raise your hand if you followed what Nassim Nicholas Taleb just said. Yeah, me too. But I do know this: for Freakonomics Radio, the future is now.
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In the beginning, it was just me, a microphone and my Freakonomics friend and co-author Steve Levitt. We started a podcast. Threw it up on iTunes. We didn’t think anybody actually listened to it, but they did. They even wrote reviews. Last week, Levitt and I made the mistake of reading them.
Steven D. LEVITT: This is one of the good ones: “If you’re going to start a new podcast,” BBrian632 says. “Please, at least have some episodes lined up. The podcast has potential.” That’s what I mean by this is one of the good ones. “However, twenty days between shows is a really poor start. Come on guys, if you’re serious, then do it.” Hypoluxa writes, “This is a top podcast on iTunes? I was incredibly disappointed. I don’t know what podcast the other reviewers were listening to, but this was terrible. Talk about beating a dead horse. Ugh.”
Stephen J. DUBNER: Could have been worse.
LEVITT: I like this one here: “More of Levitt, less of Dubner.”
I’m afraid you’re getting more Dubner whether you like it or not. Here’s how it works: for now, we’ll put out a new podcast every two weeks. In January, we’ll go weekly. You can get it on iTunes, at our new website freakonomics.com, and wherever fine podcasts are sold.
But wait, there’s more. Every couple weeks, we’ll bring a Freakonomic story to Marketplace, the afternoon business show on your local public radio station. You know, hosted by that guy with the strange name. What is that?
Kai RYSSDAL: The really interesting thing is that I can’t even tell you the number of times we have gotten listener mail with people saying either, “Ky,” “Key,” [or] “K.” They don’t like how I pronounce my own name. They don’t know how to spell it. It’s Norwegian people. My dad was born in Burgon. K-A-I R-Y-S-S-D-A-L. No middle name, thank you very much. Just Kai Ryssdal.
DUBNER: It’s just a straight Norwegian name, no hybrid. If you were living in Norway, nobody would raise a brow.
RYSSDAL: Nobody would, except for this: usually, over there, sometimes it’s spell with a K-A-J because they got the “ya-ya” thing going with the J’s over there. But it’s Scandinavian as far as it goes.
DUBNER: If I ever had a hard time remember your pronouncing, is it okay if I just call you Kevin or something? Is that alright with you?
RYSSDAL: Listen Dubner, whatever you want.
Once I learn the ropes, we’ll start making some hour-long shows. You’ll hear them on public radio stations too, as long as the public radio officials we bribe keep their word. And then we’re going on the road: live events with more surprises than you can imagine. In other words, we really have no idea, yet, what we’re going to do. But whatever form Freakonomics Radio takes, we’ll bring you the stories that everyone else on the radio has the good sense to avoid.
For instance, the economics of trash. Here’s a guy named Jonathan Forma, a grad student from Michigan who just moved to Taiwan:
Jonathan FORMA: I can tell you that when I arrived here, in the dormitory, I was given a list of rules. And one of them was, “When you hear the trash truck, come take your trash out the door.”
DUBNER: When you hear the trash truck come, bring your trash out the door. So it comes around like an ice cream truck or something?
FORMA: Exactly. This is one of the funny things: it actually plays Beethoven music. It blares it, in fact, and so when you hear it coming, your first thought is, “The ice cream truck is coming.” But, in fact, it is smelly garbage that is coming down your street.
DUBNER: You’re in your room. You’re working or you’re getting ready for going to school or whatever. And then you hear, “Da, da, da, da, da, da.” And you think, “Trash. I gotta get my trash0.” Is that the way it works?
FORMA: That is exactly the way it works. For the first ten days, I didn’t hear it one time. In our area, it comes in the afternoon and the evening, supposedly. Although for the first ten days, I was literally out every single day. I just arrived in a new city. I wanted to travel around a little bit. The result of all that was about ten days worth of trash in my room.
DUBNER: Ten days worth of trash in your room because you were not home when the trash truck came, right?
FORMA: Exactly. I couldn’t bring myself to tell my friends, “I won’t go out to eat with you because I’m waiting for the trash truck.” I couldn’t do it.
DUBNER: What do the locals think about this trash collection system where you have to wait to hear the trash truck come and bring your trash out to it?
FORMA: I asked a couple of my friends about this, and they said they think people like going out and talking to each other while they’re waiting for the trash truck. I’ve seen this, where there will be 20 to 25 people gathering on a corner with the trash truck coming in the distance. I’ve also heard that guys sometimes go there and try to find pretty girls.
DUBNER: You’re giving trash a whole new spin here. Trash is a babe magnet and trash is a community builder, right?
FORMA: If you talk with your neighbors a lot, I suspect it’s just as easy that you could get into an argument as it is to have delightful chatter. But they say that they like it. You dress in nice clothes sometimes. You go out there, you talk to your neighbors, you put your trash in together. It does sound nice.
DUBNER: But what you’re describing is: I’m living in this neighborhood in Taipei in a residential area and I’m a young single guy. And [I think],”Hey, it’s trash time! I’m going to put on my best shirt and try to go meet a girl.” Right?
FORMA: I haven’t been reduced to going to the trash truck to find girls. Maybe one day.
DUBNER: Maybe one day.
You’ll hear about trash and some slightly less trashy things too. Slightly, like the upcoming elections. We’ll take a look at the myths of campaign spending in November’s past, present and future. Here’s a voice you might recognize;
Rudy GIULIANI: We thought we could raise 100 million dollars, so we built a campaign for 100 million dollars. But we were spending the money as if we were a 100 million dollar campaign before we raised a 100 million. So even though we raised 57 million, which was a huge amount of money, we were out of money. What we should have anticipated better was that we’re not going to raise the 100 million. Campaign spending doesn’t mean anything because you can spend it incorrectly. I have lost an election by spending it wrong. My first election that I won, I won when I was outspent 16 million to 2 million in a Republican primary. I could have probably not spent any money and won. And we won [by] 70/30.
Yep, that’s Rudy Giuliani, former New York City Mayor who ran for President once, might even do it again. He, of course, ran as a crime stopper.
Here’s Mamphela Ramphele, a long time civil rights activist in South Africa who, like a lot of people there was worried the recent World Cup would bring a spike in crime. It didn’t happen.
Mamphela RAMPHELE: I think it is true that the level of crime came down and those who did commit crimes were quickly nabbed so crime didn’t pay during the World Cup but importantly the source of crime in my view is that age group, full of energy and many of them full of testosterone if I may say so. They were busy blowing the rules, running around, going to fan parks, they had something to do. South Africa has neglected providing sporting facilities. Many poor communities don’t have a soccer place, they don’t have a basketball place, they don’t have simple places where children can go and be children and that’s really a big take away we should remember from the World Cup.
Take a listen to another voice you’ll be hearing this fall. This one is harder to recognize than Giuliani’s but if you’ve been following the news lately you can maybe figure it out.
Arne DUNCAN: We’re fundamentally trying to change the business we’re in and we’re trying to drive innovation, rather than being this compliance driven bureaucracy. The idea of crowd-sourcing that you’re seeing in other industries — we think is absolutely applicable here. Frankly, I think there are very significant lessons for how government can work going forward. If we’re serious about challenging the status quo, if we’re serious about getting dramatically better, we can’t just keep doing the same thing. This idea of rewarding excellence and helping states learn from each other, but challenging them to go to a different level, I think there are very significant lessons beyond the Department of Education.
The Department of Education was your big clue. That’s Arne Duncan, who used to run the Chicago Public Schools and now runs all of them. We’ll talk to him about the Race to the Top Program that has different states competing against one another to come up with the best school reforms. That show will plainly be educational. So educational, in fact, that Duncan gave us our first official endorsement.
DUNCAN: Hi. I’m Arnie Duncan, Secretary of Education in the United States and you’re listening to Freakonomics Radio.
Education, crime, campaign spending, trash. That’s what you’re in for at Freakonomics Radio. Even a little bit of practical philosophy. Thanks to our friend Nassim Taleb, author of The Black Swan and Fooled by Randomness.
TALEB: Skepticism is something you should handle with care. There’s a thin line between pure gullibility — not a sucker — and pure skepticism: you can’t get out of bed and you have to figure out to navigate it. I’m spending a hundred percent of my time working out the map of where you should be skeptical, where you could be a sucker or not a sucker.
Remember these words: Freakonomics Radio, helping skeptics get out of bed since February 2010.