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The subject of economics can be intimidating. It has its own language and complexities that seem to be constantly evolving and contradicting each other. More often than not, it seems to be treated as more of a buzzword than something that can be studied and understood, or at least grasped. People talk about the state of “the economy” or the “economic downturn” of 2008. But what does economics really mean? Is it as simple as the Supply and Demand principle we learned in high school? While that’s a good place to start, there is a whole world out there dedicated to the intricacies of how people and governments consume, produce, and trade products. So how can one make sense of this broad-sweeping realm of ideas on which our society and standard of living hinge? Thankfully, there’s a podcast for that. A few of them actually. Here is one of my favorites.
You may be familiar with the title Freakonomics, a popular book published in 2005 that made it up to number two on the New York Times Best Sellers list. Times writer Stephen Dubner and University of Chicago professor Steven Levitt co-authored this revolutionary work in which they explore the “hidden side of everything.” From using life insurance information to help catch terrorists to the connection between Bo Jackson and Medieval nuns , Levitt and Dubner take basic economic ideas and apply them to topics with wildly entertaining correlations. Freakonomics’ resounding success has led to two more book releases following the same general strategy, not to mention an extraordinary weekly podcast.
The podcast features the brilliant journalism of Dubner peppered with the unfiltered quirks of economist Levitt, making the perfect “opposites attract” combination (listen to their origin story on the Intelligence Squared podcast from May 29, 2014). Each week, Dubner and Levitt find far-fetched economic links to real-world topics for those of us who don’t have a PhD. Some of their stories are extended editions of topics from their books, while others explore completely new areas. Dubner routinely enumerates his goal of teaching people think like a freak, which just so happens to be the title of the twos’ most recent book. And after a few listens, you can’t help but see the world as a series of ‘freaky’ incentives and trade offs.
Levitt and Dubner’s work has created a new mainstream conversation about the economics of everyday life and how these principles can be used to to explain (or at least explore) other complexities in sociology and human behavior. While they may not have pioneered the realm of behavioral economics, Levitt and Dubner have somehow managed to make economics cool, which may be their most impressive feat yet.
Needless to say, the Freakonomics podcast is an absolute must. Subscribe to it on iTunes and your phone will automatically download the latest episode when it becomes available for your listening pleasure. The episodes are usually in hour segments, making them the perfect length for long commutes, workouts, or just for fun. Steven Dubner is a consummate professional is his journalism, conveying sometimes tough economic concepts with engaging vernacular. Make no mistake, however, this is not Economics for Dummies. Learning about the economics of everything will help you make more sense of the complex conversations of Washington pundits and economic experts. It’s almost like a Rosetta Stone for economics. Learning these language will better equip you to engage in intelligent dialogue about important economic concepts as well as enable you to have a better grasp on how the free market works its magic. Read the books, listen to the podcasts, and learn how to think like a freak!
Up next – We take economics to the next level with my second favorite podcast on the topic. Cut through all the noise and get your quick fix with this fast-paced, deeply informative podcast from NPR.