I'm delighted to announce that today HuffPost Business is presenting a video collaboration (freakoration?) with Stephen Dubner, author of Freakonomics and Super Freakonomics, both co-written with the economist Steven D. Levitt. Dubner embodies many of the qualities we value most at HuffPost, including humor, a willingness to challenge conventional wisdom, and a passion for starting conversations.
Our culture has a way of collectively falling into the groove of conventional wisdom, whether that means seeing everything through the outdated prism of left vs. right, or willfully blinding ourselves to unpleasant or inconvenient facts.
So, this series takes a counterintuitive approach to three very different topics. In his first video, Dubner questions the assumptions behind "locavore logic," the belief that buying food from local farms is better for the environment. Here's how he lays out the conventional argument: "If you buy most of your food from a nearby farm, or grow it yourself, you build a stronger food network, you reduce carbon emissions, and you get some fantastic tomatoes." But do you? Check out the video to see his surprising conclusions. As a locavore proponent, I'm not sure I agree with all of them, but that's the point -- discussion, dialogue, and debate (and fresh produce!).
In the next installment, Dubner asks a question sure to ruffle the feathers of a certain Washington, D.C. resident, of those who would like his job, and of the media establishment endlessly obsessing over his every move (to the exclusion of a lot of very worthy stories): how much does the President of the United States really matter? Here are some of Dubner's answers: On the economy? "The president's actual abilities are extremely limited." Education? "The president's more like a cheerleader than an agenda setter." Settling international conflicts? "Most presidents talk loudly and carry a small stick."
In the third video of the series, citing a study that finds people are more likely to die in the first week of the month than during any other time, Dubner says, "No matter who you are, where you live, or what you do, the first week of the month is the riskiest." Examining this unsettling trend, Dubner finds that its causes go beyond mere coincidence.
The videos, and Dubner's work in general, reinforce an important lesson. It's a lesson I first learned while studying economics at Cambridge and continue to relearn nearly every day: the forces influencing our economic life manifest themselves in many unexpected and surprising ways that challenge a lot of our economic theories. This leads to the second lesson: that conventional wisdom is often dead wrong. The problem is, of course, that assuming it's correct limits the range of our debate and what's considered possible. So, please enjoy the videos and join the conversation. And, as always, use the comments section to let us know what you think.
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