What Do Skating Rinks, Ultimate Frisbee, and the World Have in Common? (Ep. 145)
Our latest Freakonomics Radio episode is called “What Do Skating Rinks, Ultimate Frisbee, and the World Have in Common?” (You can subscribe to the podcast at iTunes or elsewhere, get the RSS feed, listen via the media player above, or read the transcript.)
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When the first roller rink opened, how did amateur skaters — with no training or prior instruction — manage to navigate it without bumping into one another? In his essay “Rinkonomics,” Professor Dan Klein of George Mason University points to the concept of “spontaneous order” — or rather, the idea that people can naturally organize and police themselves, without the aid of an authority figure.
“Spontaneous order” exists outside of the realm of roller rinks, too. Take Ultimate Frisbee for example, a sport famously known for its lack of referees. Stephen Dubner’s friend Jody Avirgan, a producer at the Brian Lehrer Show, is an Ultimate lifer. He played in college, then on high-level club teams, and has coached the U.S. under-19 national Ultimate team to a gold medal at the world championships — twice. Avirgan took Dubner out to watch an Ultimate practice, which you’ll hear about in the podcast. (Thanks to all around good-sports Chris Mazur and Mike Hennessy for letting us stick microphones on them during practice. Thanks also to Freakonomics Radio listener Andrew Francis for asking us about Ultimate in the first place.)
Also in the episode: soccer legend Alexi Lalas talks about how his sport might look with no referees, and we also ask Bill Bradley, the former U.S. Senator and N.B.A. Hall of Famer, how basketball might work without the ref:
BRADLEY: I think it’s a naïve thought, because fundamental to every game is the authority figure, is the referee. To hypothesize a sport that’s had referees from the very beginning not having referees is a different sport. I think it’s interesting that Ultimate Frisbee has developed the way it has. Maybe it’s a function of the times as much as it is a function of spontaneous order.
Bradley also helps us shift the conversation to politics and the larger world. He expresses his annoyance at those who call for a diminished government:
BRADLEY: These people, these Tea Party people that say we do not need government, well, let’s go down the list. There’s water, there’s transportation, there’s the Federal Drug Administration. Do we want pharmaceutical companies deciding? You talk to a Libertarian, they say, well yeah, if they produce a drug that kills people they’ll stop producing it. I think we can do better than that, right?
Also: you’ll find out if Steve Levitt had a poster of Friedrich Hayek on his wall growing up. And Matt Ridley, a Libertarian-leaning zoologist, writer, and new member of the U.K. House of Lords, talks about what Adam Smith and Charles Darwin have in common, and helps us try to define the boundary between spontaneous order and smart regulation.