Freakonomics Radio: The Power of the President - and the Thumb

Saturday at 4PM on 93.9FM and NJPR. Sunday at 4PM on AM820

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Saturday, March 24, 2012


In this episode we ask a simple, heretical question: How much does the President of the United States really matter? Stephen Dubner talks to former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, economists Austan Goolsbee and Justin Wolfers, and constitutional scholar Bernadette Meyler about how the President’s actual influence can be measured. And Steve Levitt weighs in on how the President shapes the nation.

Also in this episode, we look at another supposed truism: hitchhiking is terribly dangerous. But is that really true? Hitchhiking has practically disappeared in America, but why? Was it really as dangerous as we believed? Even if so, what other factors were at play?

We talk to data wizard Bill James, who says our risk aversion to hitchhiking makes it more dangerous, and transportation scholar Alan Pisarski, who looks at how hitchhiking can inform future transportation policy. Would society be better off with more hitchhiking?

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Comments [3]

Dan from Manhattan from Manhattan

What happened to Smiley & West ?? I like Freakonomics radio but please don't take away my Smiley & West !

Mar. 26 2012 06:58 PM
Jessie Henshaw from way uptown

Boy, I know I can't expect this style of economics entertainment to understand physical events, like the relation between the economy and nature, but I'd think they'd at least be conversant on economics.

Why is there no discussion at all of how free markets steer our world???? That's what our entire social-economic system is built around, the vehicle by which creative individuals animate the world through free markets. Everyone on the show is talking about our society being a command economy... that just doesn't happen to work that way, as if that's some kind of answer!! That's simply nutty!

Mar. 25 2012 04:28 PM

I heard the preview for this week's program and while the first topic is "more important" somehow, I was most looking forward to hearing your thoughts and findings on hitchhiking. As someone who has done a fair amount of it in another country (where it was much more common) as a young teenager, I always wondered why in the US it's considered such an unacceptable practice. I have been told it's illegal, at least in some parts of the country, though I am not sure if this is the case.

The discussion you had on the show, though, was more about other forms of car sharing, which is a slightly different issue. I have never owned a car (now I am in my early 30s) and seriously hope to never have to own one. (Somewhat more jokingly I say this is also a "professional" goal -- since there are really only a few cities in the US where one can do so without major inconvenience and if I do indeed get to spend the length of my professional life in one of them, that would be quite a nice accomplishment.)

Mostly I have lived in and around NYC where public options are relatively decent, but currently I am spending a few months in Williamsburg, VA and am already discovering what a challenge such an ambition is. I am willing to walk a lot more than most people I know, but there often are no sidewalks here! I truly hope there will be a groundswell of change in U.S. society as a whole, which will make one-car-one-passenger driving less of the default across the country.

Mar. 24 2012 05:07 PM

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