DUBNER: Did you punch him in the face? Do you throw a snowball at him?
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DUCKWORTH: I’m Angela Duckworth.
DUBNER: I’m Stephen Dubner.
DUCKWORTH + DUBNER: And you’re listening to No Stupid Questions.
Today on the show: Why do people stay in places that make them unhappy?
DUBNER: We are No. 1 — including unhappiness, dammit.
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DUBNER: Angela, I know you to not be a big complainer, but there is something I hear you complain about quite often, which is the place you live: Philadelphia — or as you more commonly call it, “Filthadelphia.” So, my question is: If you’re so darn unhappy with the place you live, why don’t you just leave?
DUCKWORTH: I’ll tell you what I think about Philadelphia. Philadelphia, to me, is like a trash tornado. You put out your trash. In Philadelphia, it’s generally collected once a week. Whatever the day is for your block, it’s supposed to get picked up on that day, but there are definitely long stretches of time in recent history that it doesn’t get picked up for days.
DUBNER: Am I wrong to remember that Philadelphia, thanks to Ben Franklin, was the first city in America with public trash pickup?
DUCKWORTH: Oh, my God. Is that another Ben Franklin first?
DUBNER: I don’t know. I could very well be making that up. Bifocals, lightning, trash.
DUCKWORTH: Yeah, I think that might be made up, but Philadelphia was first for a lot of things in a moment in history.
DUBNER: It also implies that you had a lot of trash, even back then.
DUCKWORTH: Yes, well. You can then start to worry about the direction of causality or whatever, but it’s blowing around. I mean, literally blowing around in these little circles around my house.
DUBNER: So, No. 1 Duckworth complaint about Philadelphia: trash tornadoes. What’s next?
DUCKWORTH: I think people are leaving the city. Philadelphia feels empty to me. You, like, walk around on a Friday or Saturday night, and you’re like, “Wait, where are the other people who should be walking around on a Friday or Saturday night?”
DUBNER: I am looking at population losses of big U.S. cities over the COVID era.
DUCKWORTH: We must be in decline, right?
DUBNER: It looks like the total population of 2021 was almost 1.6 million, and you lost 25,000, call it. New York is a much bigger city, 8.5 million, roughly. We lost 305,000. I will caution people though — I think we may have even discussed on this show before — a lot of the data about who was leaving was based on cell phone records. Well, cell phone records are not the most permanent way to look at real migration, because people travel with their cell phones, and they might leave for a week or a year, but then come back. I will say this: Whether you’re losing more or equal in your fair share of people, the fact is that Philadelphia is not what would be considered by most demographers a growing and thriving city.
DUCKWORTH: Yes. I think we can rule out “flourishing.”
DUBNER: How about “happy”?
DUCKWORTH: This, I actually have to say, wasn’t just informed by my personal experience, but it caught my eye: this academic paper by Ed Glaeser.
DUBNER: I know the paper of which you speak, being a fan of Ed Glaeser myself. Oren Ziv and Joshua Gottlieb are the other authors on this paper. “Unhappy Cities,” I believe it’s called.
DUCKWORTH: Yeah, great title. Right? And of course, I immediately turned the page thinking that it would just only be about Philadelphia. Like, what’s the other unhappy city? It’s plural. But, actually, it’s a survey of wellbeing data. So, “wellbeing” — something that now economists study—
DUBNER: —she says, somewhat unenthusiastically. Do you feel like economists are horning in a little bit on the happiness racket?
DUCKWORTH: No, I just want to say that sometimes they “discover” something like wellbeing and it’s rocking their world. Like, “Oh my gosh, people want to be happy. Oh my gosh, you can actually measure happiness.” Yeah, psychologists had been doing that before! But no, I don’t want to cast any shade on these three great economists. What they did was: They looked at wellbeing data. There’s a particular question that’s very useful to ask, which is some version of: “Overall, how satisfied are you with your life?” And so, let’s do it right now, Stephen.
DUCKWORTH: On a scale from zero to 10, overall, how satisfied are you with your life?
DUBNER: Having nothing to do with where I live and so on. Just overall.
DUCKWORTH: Just asking you.
DUBNER: I hate to say it, I’m a most happy fella. I’m probably, like, 9.2.
DUCKWORTH: Oh, I love that you used a decimal. There’s a false precision with that.
DUBNER: I was going to go 9.25, then I thought that was maybe a little bit prissy.
DUCKWORTH: Regardless, you’re above nine. I’ll tell you that even on bad days, I’m a nine too, Stephen.
DUBNER: Wait a minute. I’m no mathematician, but I’m thinking, “How can Angie Duckworth be a nine or above in overall satisfaction or happiness when she lives in Philadelphia, which she thinks is the worst place on earth?” What would you be if you lived in Paris?
DUCKWORTH: I don’t know. Maybe an 11? Even though I like to complain about how the trash doesn’t get picked up in Philadelphia, and there aren’t as many people on the streets on a Friday night or a Saturday night as I think there should be — and also problems with our infrastructure, and our schools, and so forth.
DUBNER: You’ve got some crime down there.
DUCKWORTH: Oh my gosh, we have so much crime.
DUBNER: You’ve got a lot of drug abuse out in the open there, including this big, open-air drug-dealing zone.
DUCKWORTH: In Kensington, you mean?
DUBNER: There you go.
DUCKWORTH: That’s an area of Philadelphia. Philadelphia’s actually huge.
DUBNER: I think there’s also really high measures of racial discrimination in Philadelphia, if I recall my reading from years ago.
DUCKWORTH: I would certainly not argue about that. You know, in this “Unhappy Cities” paper, the big analysis they do is actually comparing cities to one another. And they make the conclusion that cities, first of all, are more or less happy. They’re not just all the same level of happiness. And, right there, you have a mystery. Like, what are all the people doing in these unhappy cities? Why don’t they just move to the happy cities?
DUBNER: What you’re describing has been happening over the past 20 years, because if you look at a map the happy cities versus the unhappy, the unhappy cities are clustered quite conveniently in the Northeast. So, it includes places like New York and Philadelphia, and then getting into the Rust Belt. And then, there’s a couple patches of deep unhappiness in Northern California. And then, like, the entire Southeast of the United States and parts of the West and Midwest are just happy, happy, happy. And that is exactly how actual migration has been happening these past 15, 20 years — a lot of people have been leaving the Northeast, and the Rust Belt, and parts of California, for places like Texas and Florida and Arizona, and so on. So, we shouldn’t be shocked by these data, because it’s been reflected in the reality.
DUCKWORTH: I think what this analysis says is both that people are migrating to happier places, but not all of them are migrating. And I think that’s the mystery that an economist would ask. Like, how come not every single unhappy person has left?
DUBNER: Right. If they’re so unhappy, why are they staying?
DUCKWORTH: Why is anybody left in an unhappy city like Philadelphia? And, you know, I looked up: there’s a table of, like, “Here are some example cities and their average happiness.” It’s essentially a aggregated score of that one question: “Overall, how satisfied are you with your life?” Philadelphia is pretty low down on the list for happiness, but at the very bottom is where you live, Stephen. The most unhappy city in the United States is New York City.
DUBNER: We are No. 1 — in everything, of course, including unhappiness, dammit. There’s a phrase in the paper that I think is just so “economist” that I have to share it. They write, “While historical data on happiness are limited, the available facts suggest that cities that are now declining were also unhappy in their more prosperous past, which connotes that there is a certain culture to different kinds of cities.
DUCKWORTH: Almost like a personality, right?
DUBNER: Exactly. But you ask this question that I find very compelling — not just on the macro level, which is what we’re talking about now with this Glaeser, et al. paper, but on the Duckworth level of you, right? You say you’re so unhappy in Philadelphia, and yet you’re there. And these economists are writing about these big cities that rank very high on the unhappiness scale, and yet, many, many people still live there, and many, many people still move there. It’s not saying people aren’t moving away, but these big cities are remaining big. So, you could say, “Well, how can that be? How can those two things be true?” Let’s talk about that seeming paradox. I can think of a couple reasons. One explanation could be that people are just wrong about their happiness.
DUCKWORTH: What do you mean that they’re wrong about their happiness?
DUBNER: If you ask me the question— Run the question by me again that these guys built their data around.
DUCKWORTH: “Overall, how satisfied are you with your life?”
DUBNER: Let’s imagine me, a New Yorker, and let’s imagine me, an Arizonan — if that’s indeed what I’d be called if I lived in Arizona. If you ask me that question in New York, my first internal response might be, “What do you mean how ‘satisfied’ am I with my life? What kind of question is that? What are you trying to get at? So: “Seven, get lost.” As opposed to the Arizonan: “Interesting question. Yeah. Sure. Um, nine.”
DUCKWORTH: The denizen of Phoenix is answering, effectively, a different question, because culturally it’s just a completely different place?
DUBNER: I don’t know the answer to that question, but I think it’s a factor worth considering in that, if you’re trying to apply a single metric across a massively diverse geographical area like the United States, it’s quite possible that the same question could draw some different data in different places — because those places have cultural, social, political, economic, racial, ethnic, religious, et cetera, et cetera differences.
DUCKWORTH: I’m sure it is true that what goes into being satisfied — what matters to you — that’s got to vary by ZIP code, by city block. When Ed Diener first started studying subjective wellbeing decades ago — really a pioneer in the field — he was discouraged by his elders of studying this loosey-goosey, impossible-to-measure thing.
DUBNER: They said it couldn’t be pinned down empirically?
DUCKWORTH: “It can’t be done.” “It depends on what you think.” “It’s a philosophical question,” et cetera. And when he defined what he meant by life satisfaction — by subjective wellbeing — he said it is inherently a subjective idea. In other words, the fact that what goes into your judgment is different from what goes into my judgment has no damage to the very idea itself. It’s supposed to be subjective.
DUBNER: It’s supposed to be subjective, unless you interview 100 people from “Area A” and 100 from “Area B,” and then compare them.
DUCKWORTH: But you can still compare on what they think of their lives. It may include things that are different from A to B, but the point is that it’s still defensible to say that that person is less happy. The question, by the way, has been asked around the world. It’s a very intuitive question. People don’t take a long time to answer that question. It correlates very reliably with things like household income and physical health. So, these are all reasons I think that, even though you could argue — and it has been argued, by the way, by economists, by philosophers, by some psychologists — that the very notion of trying to do an apples-to-apples comparison of something which is inherently a subjective apple is not something we should do. I’m not saying you don’t have company in arguing that, but I’m in Camp Diener.
DUBNER: So, you’re not buying the speculative argument that maybe people are kind of wrong about their happiness, or that it’s too subjective to be useful in this way.
DUCKWORTH: Or that New Yorkers are answering different questions, effectively, than people in other places that are happier.
DUBNER: So, give me an argument from your side now — we can trade off — what you think explains this paradox.
DUCKWORTH: I think Ed Glaeser and his colleagues’ conclusion is that there must be reasons that people make the choices that they make, live where they’re going to live, that are separate from happiness, or what economists sometimes call “utility.” And they say, for example, that a reasonably low-rent city — you can literally afford to live in a one-bedroom apartment that you couldn’t afford to live in in these more expensive, but potentially happier, cities. Of course, New York is both really expensive and unhappy, but it’s a bit anomalous. They say that would be one reason. Maybe it’s not that the living expenses are lower, but that the wages were higher — you were kind of compensated in a way. So, “happiness isn’t everything,” would be one way to explain the fact that there’s anybody left in an unhappy city.
DUBNER: I can buy that argument that cities afford opportunities for, like you said, income, but also maybe for status, and maybe for mating and other things that different places may not. So, you may stay even though you’re unhappy, which could explain the paradox. But something else you said reminds me of you a little bit, which is: Again, if one doesn’t like the place where they live — or at least one is constantly saying that they don’t like the place where they live to their friends — is it possible that we’re just talking about sunk costs here? That it’s hard to leave a place because you get entrenched?
DUCKWORTH: And sunk-cost fallacy, right? That we’re making an error.
DUBNER: Well, that’s the question. In your case, is it a sunk-cost fallacy? In other words, do you believe that you have too much invested in Philadelphia? That you have too many what sociologists call “weak ties” and “strong ties”? That, if you were to pick up and move someplace that might have fewer trash tornadoes, that you would lose out by not having those networks, connections, and so on?
DUCKWORTH: The sunk-cost fallacy, of course, is, “I’m not going to live anywhere other than Philadelphia because, oh my gosh, look, I’ve just spent two decades building a life here.” And you can make a mistake in saying that, or you can make a rational decision saying that, “Oh, the transition costs are too high.” And it’s all about whether you’re properly making predictions about the future. Let me just describe my situation, then we can figure out which of these diagnoses you want to label it. I am in Philadelphia, in part, because my now-87-year-old mother lives 45 minutes away. That’s one reason it would be hard for me to leave. Also, my job, right? I did actually go so far as to think hard about if I could get a job at another university, and what that would be like. And by the way, I don’t think it’s a given that I could get—
DUBNER: Oh, come on now.
DUCKWORTH: Anyway, let’s assume that I could. And I played it out. I was like, “Okay, who has a great behavioral science program? And then also, who has Katy Milkman — my dear friend and collaborator Katy?” We co-run Behavior Change for Good. We talk nearly every day. She lives a few blocks from me. She’s one of my best friends. I love her. That’s one reason to stay. I mean, that would be enough, right? I can see living in a city that had trash tornadoes, and declining population, and increasing poverty, and crime only because you live a few blocks away from your B.F.F. That’s a calculus a lot of people would accept. And then a big part of this is my husband. Jason, as you know, is a real estate developer. What does a real estate developer do? They literally buy ground, and then they develop it. It’s about as impossible to be a remote worker as you can imagine.
DUBNER: Now, theoretically, if you all picked up and moved, you could do your teaching and research elsewhere. He could, theoretically — it might take some cost and time — but he could relocate. It sounds to me, however, that you have such a forward-leaning momentum in your in your life — personal life and professional life — that sometimes you feel a little bit guilty about being so enthusiastic and happy, and you think it makes you sound a little bit more mortal and relatable to the rest of us if you can complain about something. And I think Philadelphia is just an easy victim.
DUCKWORTH: It’s like my hairshirt.
DUBNER: Also, it’s interesting you talk about the appeal of Katy Milkman. Katy Milkman created or popularized this phrase “temptation bundling,” which is a way of bundling something you don’t want to do with something you do want to do. So, an easy example is, like, “I need to go to the gym, but I don’t want to. I do want to watch the T.V. show, but I don’t really need to. So, I will only let myself watch that T.V. show when I go to the gym.”
DUCKWORTH: Yeah, I’ll bundle the temptation of “Succession” with the StairMaster.
DUBNER: So, it sounds to me like you’ve got a little temptation bundling going, with: Katy Milkman is the thing you need and Philadelphia is the thing that you have to put up with, but you’re willing to put up with Philadelphia to have Katy Milkman, essentially. And your husband.
Still to come on No Stupid Questions: Does moving to a new place affect your motivation and creativity?
DUBNER: “What are you talking about, ‘When am I moving?’? Philly is in my blood.”
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Now, back to Stephen and Angela’s conversation about why people stay in unhappy cities.
DUBNER: Do you think that the things that you dislike so much about Philadelphia are indeed unique in any way to Philadelphia? I mean, when I think of Philadelphia, I think of a famous incident at a Philadelphia Eagles — they’re the football team — game back many years ago. It was right around Christmas. I don’t remember the details. Maybe the Eagles stank — they usually did stink — and there was a Santa Claus at the game, and the fans in the stands were throwing snowballs at Santa Claus. So, for many people, that is an enduring image of Philadelphia. It’s the place where Santa Claus gets snowballs thrown at him. That said, do you really think that you couldn’t find things that would distress you if you lived in just about any other place? They might have a totally different character. Maybe they wouldn’t be urban things. But if you lived in the suburbs, would you get maybe so bored of getting in your car to go everywhere that you would say, “Ugh, this place is the worst.” If you lived in the country, would you say, “Oh my gosh, those animals outside every night, and those birds every morning, they’re waking me up, this is the worst. All I want to be is in a city.” Do you think, in other words, that you, as psychologically astute as you are, are simply another human, like the rest of us, who’s got a little bit of the “grass is greener” syndrome?
DUCKWORTH: I think there must be some “grass is greener,” because you can’t even see the grass. But, like, I haven’t lived anywhere for the last two decades than Philadelphia. So, I don’t know whether the grass is greener, or there’s no grass, or it’s brown, or whatever. But, when we talk about that paper— Just so the main points are clear: This “Unhappy Cities” paper, where they took this survey data that had been given across something like 300-plus metropolitan areas across the country, and they averaged the answers to that simple question — “Overall, how satisfied are you with your life?” — Philadelphia comes down close to the bottom. So, just saying that when you survey citizens of different cities, the citizens of my city tend to say they’re unhappy. Also, on objective measures that are also in that Glaeser paper: population decline, shrinking tax base, increases in crime. So, there are both reliable, subjective indicators — but not just my personal experience — and objective indicators that suggest that Philadelphia ain’t utopia. But I do think I still have to answer the question: Like, how can I still be a nine while I’m here, if it’s so bad?
DUBNER: It is strange.
DUCKWORTH: I think what, to me, this says is that there’s your environment, and then there’s your micro-environment. There’s the city of Philadelphia, and then there’s just my little, tiny life inside this great metropolis.
DUBNER: You’ve built an oasis inside of a big [BLEEP] hole, is what you’re saying?
DUCKWORTH: I think we all do. Let’s take college. Remember college?
DUBNER: Mm, yeah. Got it.
DUCKWORTH: When I went to college, I thought, “How happy are the people in this place?” And in fact, my life didn’t depend on the average happiness of the entire campus. It just depended on these micro-moments, these little interactions that I have with, like, four people that I saw that day, or who happened to sit next to me during class and who happened to be my roommate.
DUBNER: But do you think that’s even more true when you’re a teenager, or a younger person? Just because, you know, you’re more susceptible to emotions of the moment versus the long term, because your long-term trend hasn’t been so established yet. You don’t have family yet. You don’t have your career yet.
DUCKWORTH: Maybe there’s some difference, but I think this has got to be somewhat universal. Say, for example, I’m walking down Spruce Street. That is what affects my happiness at the moment — not what’s happening six blocks away, or on average, arithmetically, throughout the city. So, I’m not saying that I’ve built a little utopia where the trash doesn’t fly around or, like, there’s no crime. But I’m just saying that when I think about the micro-moments of my day — I wake up, I have breakfast, see Jason, I go to my laptop — I’m sort of influenced for positive or for negative: My mood goes up and down, my life satisfaction goes up and down, for lots of things that are not what we were talking about that are true about Philadelphia. I’m not saying these things don’t bother me at all. I’m just saying that there must be a lot that’s going into my nine-out-of-10 that are not those things.
DUBNER: It is interesting to note that, over the past few decades, Americans have become less mobile. The typical American adult lives only 18 miles from his or her mother, which describes you quite well. You grew up right up the street, really. Cherry Hill, New Jersey, right? According to Google Maps, it’s less than 10 miles away.
DUCKWORTH: Correct. And I was born in Philadelphia, too.
DUBNER: So, maybe the reason you won’t leave Philadelphia is not just for the concrete strong ties you’ve already established, but maybe, just, you have an orientation. You have a comfort.
DUCKWORTH: I’m a Philly girl.
DUBNER: You’re a Philly girl!
DUCKWORTH: Oh, God.
DUBNER: And maybe you know that a lot of other people think of Philadelphia as “Filthadelphia,” and you just kind of want to self-deprecate that part of yourself, even though you really don’t have a big problem with living there. You just think it kind of suits your self-identity to complain about it. Now, that sounds a little critical, and I don’t mean to sound critical, because you know I love you and I would never say anything — to your face — critical.
DUCKWORTH: It’s okay. I am culturally very Philadelphia. When I met Jason, we were both studying in Oxford, England. He also grew up in the suburbs of Philadelphia — slightly nicer, but we’re both from the Philly area. And there was such a comfort when we were talking, and it really was cultural. You’re not wrong about that. Also, I could be making a mistake. I was at a graduation ceremony once, and Johnny Maeda, who I don’t know well, but I think he may have coined the term “STEAM” — science, technology, engineering, art, and math. And I remember we were lining up, and we’re all in our robes, and he asked me, like, “Where are you from?” I was like, “I’m from here,” because we were at a graduation ceremony in Philadelphia. And then he said, “Well, when are you moving?” And I was like, “Wait, did I say I’m moving? I’m not moving.”
DUBNER: Did you punch him in the face? Do you throw a snowball at him?
DUCKWORTH: Yeah, because I’m a Philly girl? No, I did not, Stephen.
DUBNER: “What are you talking about: ‘When am I moving?’? Philly is in my blood.”
DUCKWORTH: “What are you talking about? What are you talking about?” And he elaborated by saying that, in his life, he’s made an intentional move every so many years, because that’s the way to keep yourself creative, and young, and non-stale. And I remember thinking, as the rest of this graduation ceremony dragged on: “Does Johnny Maeda have a point?” So, maybe I’m just making a mistake. Maybe I’m wrong, and I should have moved.
DUBNER: Do you have a target list of three places that, in your mind, you’d prefer to live?
DUCKWORTH: I’ve thought about New York—
DUBNER: You’re welcome here.
DUCKWORTH: —which is the most unhappy city, and also one of the most expensive.
DUBNER: We’d love to have you. We’re miserable, so we want everyone to wallow in our misery with us.
DUCKWORTH: New York, I lived in for two years in my twenties. And then, I’ve thought about San Francisco — which I also lived in, by the way. And I also thought about Cambridge, Massachusetts. I’ve lived there actually, for two years.
DUBNER: It is interesting that they are all the three places where — I mean, you didn’t mention Oxford. You could live in Oxford, or maybe London, or something like that.
DUBNER: But it sounds as though there’s a strong pull of comfort. And there’s obviously a very strong pull of comfort in Philadelphia. Do you find that at-odds with you as a thinker? Do you feel like you might really jump-start your intellect by going to a place that’s totally different?
DUCKWORTH: I think that’s what Johnny Maeda was talking about. And what I want to say about that is: There’s a paper that I read recently that I loved, and I think it was called “The Rich Life” by Erin Westgate and somebody else. And it made a striking claim, which is that, when people think about “the good life” — like, what they want in life, there’s some element of that which is happiness — like, feelings of joy, and pride, and comfort — the absence of negative feelings. People probably think of their relationships, and how they have meaning and purpose. But they also think about “the rich life,” which they defined as essentially “the curious life” — the life of stimulation and of learning. And I’m not saying this is why I’m in Philadelphia, but I think it’s more stimulating to be in the center of the city.
DUBNER: It does make me think: We talk so casually and cavalierly now about the opportunities to go live in a different place, but then, when you think about actual immigration, there are millions, probably hundreds of millions, maybe billions of people, who would rather live in a better place. The U.S. is a target destination for many, many, many people who are not allowed to come here, sometimes not allowed to leave their own countries. It really does make me think of the bravery it takes, and has always taken, to emigrate, like so many do today, but especially in this country, so many of our parents, and grandparents, and great-grandparents — you know, my own family, I know their story better than others.
DUCKWORTH: What generation was it that immigrated?
DUBNER: For me, it was my grandparents. All four grandparents were immigrants, and it was really hard. They had no money, they had tenuous connections, they were leaving behind families. And in the case of a family like mine, where everybody was Jewish, the vast majority of those who got left behind would be murdered by Nazis a few decades later. So, it’s interesting to me, even, that we’re having this conversation, just realizing how much the world has changed for us — for people who have the means to even think about moving as a kind of option, the way you think about, “What am I going to have for lunch today?”
DUCKWORTH: That just reinforces, I think, the point, actually, of the Glaeser paper — the “Unhappy Cities” paper. It’s not just about happiness that we make these decisions. When my parents immigrated from China because of the Communist Revolution, my wild guess is that being totally isolated; never truly mastering the language, honestly; repeatedly being outsiders to the culture; having their kids feel embarrassed about them because they were so clumsy about American norms and traditions? I think that for them— I mean, I know for my dad, because he just said it, “I’m not here because I’m happy. I’m here for you.” But this question of, like, “Hey, why are you still in Philadelphia, or why is anybody in Philadelphia if they’re life satisfaction isn’t very high?” Like, it does suggest that people make choices in life about where to live and what to do for reasons that are not just, like, “Oh, because it makes me happy.”
DUBNER: Let me just say this, Angela Duckworth. If you decide to leave behind the wonderful town that you call “Filthadelphia,” and if you move somewhere other than New York City, then we have a problem. Unless you just decide maybe you’ll move to the metaverse. Maybe you’ll be one of my first friends to just depart the concrete world. That would be acceptable. But otherwise, I expect you to die in Philadelphia if you don’t move to New York.
DUCKWORTH: I don’t know. Maybe there are trash tornadoes in the metaverse, too.
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No Stupid Questions is produced by me, Rebecca Lee Douglas. And now here is a fact-check of today’s conversation.
In the first half of the show, Angela says she doesn’t believe that Ben Franklin was the founding father of public trash-collection programs. But this is actually true! In 1762, Franklin proposed an act which required the city of Philadelphia to prioritize garbage removal as well as street cleaning and paving. This initially helped with the city’s sanitation issues, but the program regressed after the chaos of the American Revolution. To learn more about Philadelphia’s unique relationship with trash, listen to episode 48 of No Stupid Questions, where Angela breaks down her husband’s mission to save his community from being buried in dog poop.
Outside of garbage collection, Angela says that Philadelphia has been the “first” for quite a few things throughout history, but she doesn’t give details. For those who are curious, Philadelphia is the home of the country’s first stock exchange, its first bank, its first medical school (Perelman School of Medicine, now at the University of Pennsylvania), and America’s first magazine (aptly named American Magazine).
Finally, Stephen can’t remember what exactly led to Philadelphia’s notorious attack on Santa Claus. On December 15th, 1968, the Eagles lost to the Minnesota Vikings. There had been a blizzard and the stadium was covered in snow. Frank Olivo, a local fan dressed as Santa Claus, walked across the field while a band played “Here Comes Santa Claus.” Fans reportedly responded by booing Olivo and pelting him not just with snowballs, but also beer bottles and hoagie sandwiches. Former Philadelphia Mayor and Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell told the story on episode 46 of Freakonomics Radio.
That’s it for the fact-check.
Coming up next week on No Stupid Questions: Why do Americans love low-brow culture?
DUBNER: You are esteemed professors at renowned universities, and yet you can embrace vampire novels without shame.
DUCKWORTH: Not a molecule of shame!
That’s next week on No Stupid Questions.
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No Stupid Questions is part of the Freakonomics Radio Network, which also includes Freakonomics Radio, People I (Mostly) Admire, and Freakonomics, M.D. All our shows are produced by Stitcher and Renbud Radio. This episode was mixed by Eleanor Osborne. We had help this week from Lyric Bowditch and Jacob Clemente. Our staff also includes Neal Carruth, Gabriel Roth, Greg Rippin, Morgan Levey, Zack Lapinski, Julie Kanfer, Ryan Kelley, Jeremy Johnston, Jasmin Klinger, Emma Tyrell, and Alina Kulman. We had additional research assistance from Anya Dubner. Our theme song is “And She Was” by Talking Heads — special thanks to David Byrne and Warner Chappell Music. If you’d like to listen to the show ad-free, subscribe to Stitcher Premium. You can follow us on Twitter @NSQ_Show and on Facebook @NSQShow. If you have a question for a future episode, please email it to firstname.lastname@example.org. To learn more, or to read episode transcripts, visit Freakonomics.com/NSQ. Thanks for listening!
- Ed Diener, professor of psychology at the University of Illinois.
- Edward Glaeser, professor of economics at Harvard University.
- Joshua Gottlieb, professor of economics at the University of Chicago.
- John Maeda, Chief Technology Officer of Everbridge.
- Katy Milkman, professor of operations, information, and decisions at the University of Pennsylvania.
- Erin Westgate, professor of psychology at the University of Florida.
- Oren Ziv, professor of economics at Michigan State University.
- “A Psychologically Rich Life: Beyond Happiness and Meaning,” by Shigehiro Oishi and Erin C Westgate (Psychological Review, 2022).
- “‘Children Still Live There’: The Fight for Safe Summer Play in Kensington,” by Sammy Caiola (Morning Edition, 2022).
- “New Data Reveal Most Populous Cities Experienced Some of the Largest Decreases,” by Amel Toukabri and Crystal Delbé (The United States Census Bureau, 2022).
- “Careful How You Hate on Philadelphia,” by Robert Sullivan (The New Yorker, 2020).
- “The Richest Neighborhoods Emptied Out Most as Coronavirus Hit New York City,” by Kevin Quealy (The New York Times, 2020).
- “Frozen in Place: Americans Are Moving at the Lowest Rate on Record,” by Sabrina Tavernise (The New York Times, 2019).
- “Street Sweeping in Philly: A History of the City’s Efforts to Keep Itself Clean,” by Mónica Marie Zorrilla (Billy Penn, 2018).
- “Unhappy Cities,” by Edward L. Glaeser, Joshua D. Gottlieb, and Oren Ziv (Journal of Labor Economics, 2016).
- “The Appeal of Unhappy Cities,” by Emily Badger and Christopher Ingraham (The Washington Post, 2014).
- “Holding the Hunger Games Hostage at the Gym: An Evaluation of Temptation Bundling,” by Katherine L. Milkman, Julia A. Minson, and Kevin G. M. Volpp (Management Science, 2014).
- “Philly Booed Santa, but Santa Still Smiles,” by Elizabeth Merrill (E.S.P.N., 2011).
- “Subjective Well-Being,” by Ed Diener (Psychological Bulletin, 1984).
- Behavior Change for Good.
- Sunk Cost Fallacy.