Doing good with Freakonomist Steve Levitt


I like to tell people that I met Steve in the fall of my senior year at the University of Chicago, after I cold emailed him because I was writing a thesis on discrimination in Airbnb. I thought he might be a good person to talk to, and I was right: he was gracious enough to be my senior thesis advisor, and my first job after college was working on his research team. That story is true, and has the added benefit of making me seem like a real go-getter. But if I’m super honest? We had actually met two years before that, after I stood in a line with other undergrads to take a selfie with him after a lecture he gave at UChicago because he’s famous, and I’m a nerd.

I think of Steve Levitt as one of the original pop social scientists. He’s most famously the best-selling author of Freakonomics and Superfreakonomics, and now the host of his own podcast, People I Mostly Admire. In our interview, he reveals how he tries to leverage his new platform, and the immensely popular Freakonomics podcast, for social good. We also talk about Steve’s disillusionment with academia (he is a professor at the University of Chicago), his new social good center, whether there’s any hope for individuals to make lasting change, and whether anybody should go get an Economics PhD (no).

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