Logo

People I (Mostly) Admire

Steve Levitt, the iconoclastic University of Chicago economist and co-author of the Freakonomics book series, tracks down other high achievers and asks questions that only he would think to ask. Guests include all-time Jeopardy! champion Ken Jennings, Harvard psychologist and linguist Steven Pinker, and top literary agent Suzanne Gluck. People I (Mostly) Admire is a production of the Freakonomics Radio Network.

22. Sal Khan: “If It Works for 15 Cousins, It Could Work for a Billion People.”

People I (Mostly) Admire

  • 460 views
  • 6 months ago
  • 44:18

Khan Academy grew out of Sal Khan’s online math tutorials for his extended family. It’s now a platform used by more than 115 million people in 190 countries. So what does Khan want to do next? How about reinventing in-school learning, too? Find out why Steve nearly moved to Silicon Valley to be part of Khan's latest venture. 

21. Pete Docter: “What If Monsters Really Do Exist?”

People I (Mostly) Admire

  • 530 views
  • 6 months ago
  • 43:42

He’s the chief creative officer of Pixar, and the Academy Award-winning director of Soul, Inside Out, Up, and Monsters, Inc. Pete Docter and Steve talk about Pixar’s scrappy beginnings, why it costs $200 million to make an animated film, and the movie moment that changed Steve’s life.

20. John Donohue: “I'm Frequently Called a Treasonous Enemy of the Constitution.”

People I (Mostly) Admire

  • 320 views
  • 6 months ago
  • 37:14

He’s a law professor with a Ph.D. in economics and a tendency for getting into fervid academic debates. Over 20 years ago, he and Steve began studying the impact of legalized abortion on crime. John and Steve talk about guns, the death penalty, the heat they took from their joint research,  and why it’s frustratingly difficult to prove truth in the social sciences.

19. Marina Nitze: “If You Googled ‘Business Efficiency Consultant,’ I Was the Only Result.”

People I (Mostly) Admire

  • 1K views
  • 6 months ago
  • 38:03

At 27— and without a college degree — she was named chief technology officer of the Department of Veterans Affairs. Today, Marina Nitze is trying to reform the foster care system. She tells Steve how she hacked the V.A.’s bureaucracy, opens up about her struggle with Type 1 diabetes, and explains how she was building websites for soap opera stars when she was just 12 years old.

18. Robert Sapolsky: “I Don’t Think We Have Any Free Will Whatsoever.”

People I (Mostly) Admire

  • 510 views
  • 7 months ago
  • 41:55

He’s one of the world’s leading neuroscientists, with a focus on the physiological effects of stress. (For years, he spent his summers in Kenya, alone except for the baboons he was observing.) Steve asks Robert why we value human life over animals, why he’s lost faith in the criminal-justice system, and how to look casual when you’re about to blow-dart a very large and potentially unhappy primate.

17. Emily Oster: “I Am a Woman Who Is Prominently Discussing Vaginas.”

People I (Mostly) Admire

  • 320 views
  • 7 months ago
  • 42:25

In addition to publishing best-selling books about pregnancy and child-rearing, Emily Oster is a respected economist at Brown University. Over the course of the pandemic, she’s become the primary collector of data about Covid-19 in schools. Steve and Emily discuss how she became an advocate for school reopening, how economists think differently from the average person, and whether pregnant women really need to avoid coffee.

16. Joshua Jay: “Humans Are So, So Easy to Fool.”

People I (Mostly) Admire

  • 380 views
  • 7 months ago
  • 42:18

He’s a world-renowned magician who’s been performing since he was seven years old. But Joshua Jay is also an author, toy maker, and consultant for film and television. Steve Levitt talks to him about how magicians construct tricks, how Joshua’s academic studies of magic have influenced Levitt’s life, and whether Jesus might have been a magician.

15. Tim Harford: “If You Can Make Sure You're Not An Idiot, You've Done Well.”

People I (Mostly) Admire

  • 420 views
  • 7 months ago
  • 42:30

He’s a former World Bank economist who became a prolific journalist and the author of one of Steve Levitt’s favorite books, The Undercover Economist. Tim Harford lives in England, where he’s made it his mission to help the public understand statistics. In their conversation, Steve gives Tim some feedback on his new book, The Data Detective, contemplates if it’s possible to tell great stories with data, and Tim explains how making mistakes can be fun. 

14. Yul Kwon (Part 2): “Hey, Do You Have Any Bright Ideas?”

People I (Mostly) Admire

  • 200 views
  • 7 months ago
  • 29:22

He’s so fascinating that Steve Levitt brought him back for a second conversation. Yul Kwon currently works at Google, but he’s been a lawyer, political organizer, government regulator, organ donation activist, and Survivor winner. Steve asks Yul why he’s so altruistic, how Google and Apple are helping track COVID-19, and whether the best way to pick a president might be a reality show.

13. Yul Kwon: “Don't Try to Change Yourself All at Once.”

People I (Mostly) Admire

  • 380 views
  • 8 months ago
  • 36:43

He has been a lawyer, an instructor at the F.B.I. Academy, the owner of a frozen-yogurt chain, and a winner of the TV show Survivor. Today, Kwon works at Google, where he helped build tools to track the spread of COVID-19. But things haven’t always come easily for him. Steve Levitt talks to Kwon about his debilitating childhood anxieties, his compulsion to choose the hardest path in life, and how Kwon used his obsession with game theory to stage a come-from-behind victory on Survivor.

12. Sue Bird: “You Have to Pay the Superstars.”

People I (Mostly) Admire

  • 360 views
  • 8 months ago
  • 40:25

She is one of the best basketball players ever. She’s won multiple championships, including four Olympic gold medals and four W.N.B.A. titles — the most recent in 2020, just before turning 40. She also helped negotiate a landmark contract for the league’s players. Sue Bird tells Steve Levitt the untold truth about clutch players, her thoughts about the pay gap between male and female athletes, and what it means to be part of the first gay couple in ESPN’s The Body Issue.   

11. Paul Romer: “I Figured Out How to Get Myself Fired From the World Bank.”

People I (Mostly) Admire

  • 330 views
  • 8 months ago
  • 34:10

For many economists — Steve Levitt included — there is perhaps no greater inspiration than Paul Romer, the now-Nobel laureate who at a young age redefined the discipline and has maintained a passion for introducing new ideas to staid debates. Levitt finds out what makes Romer a serial “quitter,” why you can’t manufacture big ideas, and what happened when Romer tried to start a charter city.

10. Suzanne Gluck: “I'm a Person Who Can Convince Other People to Do Things”

People I (Mostly) Admire

  • 780 views
  • 9 months ago
  • 37:45

She might not be a household name, but Suzanne Gluck is one of the most powerful people in the book industry. Her slush pile is a key entry point to the biggest publishers in the U.S., and the authors she represents have sold more than 100 million books worldwide. Steve Levitt talks with Gluck — his own agent — about negotiating a deal, advising prospective authors, and convincing him to co-write Freakonomics.

9. Moncef Slaoui: "It’s Unfortunate That It Takes a Crisis for This to Happen"

People I (Mostly) Admire

  • 400 views
  • 9 months ago
  • 36:36

Born in Morocco and raised mostly by a single mother, Moncef Slaoui is now one of the world’s most influential scientists. As the head of Operation Warp Speed — the U.S. government’s Covid-19 vaccine program — Slaoui has overseen the development and distribution of a new vaccine at a pace once deemed impossible. Steve Levitt finds out how the latest generation of vaccines improve on their predecessors, why “educated intuition” is important in innovation, and what we can do to be better prepared for future pandemics.

7. Caverly Morgan: "I Am Not This Voice. I Am Not This Narrative."

People I (Mostly) Admire

  • 350 views
  • 10 months ago
  • 38:39

She showed up late and confused to her first silent retreat, but Caverly Morgan eventually trained for eight years in silence at a Zen monastery. Now her mindfulness-education program Peace in Schools is part of the high-school curriculum in Portland, Ore.  Steve Levitt finds out what daily life is like in a silent monastery, why teens find it easier than adults to learn meditation, and what happy children can teach their parents. See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.

6. Nathan Myhrvold: “I Am Interested in Lots of Things, and That's Actually a Bad Strategy”

People I (Mostly) Admire

  • 580 views
  • 11 months ago
  • 48:01

He graduated high school at 14, and by 23 had several graduate degrees and was a research assistant with Stephen Hawking. He became the first chief technology officer at Microsoft (without having ever studied computer science) and then started a company focused on big questions — like how to provide the world with clean energy and how to optimize pizza-baking. Find out what makes Nathan Myhrvold’s fertile mind tick, and which of his many ideas Steve Levitt likes the most. See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.

5. Susan Wojcicki: “Hey, Let’s Go Buy YouTube!”

People I (Mostly) Admire

  • 190 views
  • 11 months ago
  • 30:36

She was the sixteenth employee at Google — a company once based in her garage — and now she's the C.E.O. of its best-known subsidiary, YouTube. But despite being one of the most powerful people in the tech industry, few outside of Silicon Valley know the name Susan Wojcicki. Levitt talks with her about the early days of Google, how her background in economics shapes the company's products, and why YouTube's success has created a range of unforeseen and serious issues. See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.

Susan Wojcicki: “Hey, Let’s Go Buy YouTube!”

People I (Mostly) Admire

  • 260 views
  • 11 months ago
  • 33:48

She was the sixteenth employee at Google — a company once based in her garage — and now she's the C.E.O. of its best-known subsidiary, YouTube. But despite being one of the most powerful people in the tech industry, few outside of Silicon Valley know the name Susan Wojcicki. Levitt talks with her about the early days of Google, how her background in economics shapes the company's products, and why YouTube's success has created a range of unforeseen and serious issues. See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.

Steve Levitt: “I'm Not as Childlike as I'd Like to Be” (Bonus Episode)

People I (Mostly) Admire

  • 450 views
  • 11 months ago
  • 41:13

Steve Levitt has so far occupied the interviewer chair on this show, but in a special live event — recorded over Zoom and presented by WNYC and the Greene Space — the microphone is turned toward him. His Freakonomics friend and co-author Stephen Dubner checks in on the wisdom Levitt has extracted from his interviews, finds out why Levitt is happiest when angering everyone across the political spectrum, and asks Levitt why he ends every interview with the same question. See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.

Ken Jennings: “Don’t Neglect the Thing That Makes You Weird”

People I (Mostly) Admire

  • 860 views
  • 12 months ago
  • 45:38

It was only in his late twenties that America’s favorite brainiac began to seriously embrace his love of trivia. Now he holds the “Greatest of All Time” title on Jeopardy! Steve Levitt digs into how he trained for the show, what it means to have a "geographic memory," and why we lie to our children. See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.