The World Through the Eyes of an Economist
I first became interested in the Freakonomics Podcast after watching the movie which was released back in 2010. Economist Steven Levitt and author/journalist Stephan Dubner explore incentives in the world of sumo wrestling, the classroom. The movie also explored the effect a person’s name has on their chances off success in life, and took an extremely controversial look at the effect of abortion on the crime rates in the United States. The film was a follow-up to a novel written by Levitt and Dubner in 2005 titled ‘Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything’ that covered some of the same issues as the film, as well as the effects of parenting on education and the economics of drug dealing.
While oft criticized, as one would expect as they are covering hot button issues such as abortion and parenting, Levitt and Dubner always offer up compelling, evidence based arguments that very often result in conclusions that aren’t necessarily what one might expect. A great example is their investigation into the effect ‘good’ parents can have on their children. I’m sure parents would like to think all the extra time and effort they put into their kids will result in their children being far more successful later in life, but apparently really the only thing they can be control to a statistically significant degree is whether or not the child will grow to be a drinker or a smoker. While this is a gross simplification of the whole argument made, it shows an example off a way they attack commonly held perceptions with statistics, reason, and a little bit of wit. There is a fair amount of humor in their discussions; Levitt is a self-described ‘lazy’ parent, so the entire argument about parenting effects may have been a way to justify his own method of raising his children.
The Freakonomics Podcast was started in 2010, and since then has been one of the top shows on iTunes. Levitt and Dubner are engaging speakers, and often interview interesting, well informed guests to back up their claims. Below is a list of the best of the Freakonomics Podcast which can be found at the Freakonomics Podacast Archive on Dubner and Levitts website.
1. What would the World Look Like with Economists in charge: This is a great episode of Freakonomics radio to start out with, It will help a person to understand a little better the economist mindset and where a lot of the arguments come from.
2. The Health of Nations: This episode of the Freakonomics Podcast is an interesting look at whether or not GDP is a useful way of measuring the living standards in a country. As you can probably guess, the argument here is that it isn’t, and that something called the Human Development index is.
3. Weird Recycling: Levitt and Dubner take a look at a few different ‘weird’ recycling methods; Recycled chicken feet, medical waste, and nuclear waste. The nuclear waste portion is very intriguing, a nuclear power firm that actually uses nuclear waste as its fuel is the topic. The firm was founded by, among others, Bill Gates
4. Misadventures in Baby Making: The podcast tackles several different population related issues. From the creation of Chinas one child policy, the consequences of gender selection in Asia, and Levitt’s controversial take on abortion and crime rate.
5. Freakonomics goes to college Part 1: The Freakonomics team looks at the true monetary value of a college degree, with some interesting points about its worth in times of recession.
These are my five favorite episodes of Freakonimics Radio, but really there could have been about twenty more on the list. Check them out for yourselves, it's really a very unique show.