Guide Greekonomics: The Euro Crisis and Why Politicians Dont Get It

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Businesspeople, especially in front of their bosses, have an almost unlimited ability to sit back and mint answers they don't know. To me, that's exactly the opposite of the Freakonomics approach. How can we incorporate thinking like freaks into our workflow?

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Most of the time, the simplest rule of thumb is "do today whatever I did yesterday. Then, every once in a while, you come onto a problem that inspires you, a problem that bedevils you. You stop and take a breath and say, "OK, it's worth it for me to exert the time and energy to really try to answer this question well. Then really tackle this problem because it's important and you don't know the answer. What's an example of that? I had a consulting gig with a technology firm.


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This firm found that many of its customers who were buying their subscription product ended up canceling the subscription. The question they were asking was: How can we reduce turnover to keep our subscribers for a longer period of time? People had different suggestions in the original meeting. We suggested to look at the data. What did you find? We found in the data that a lot of people seem to be quitting even though they were using the product a lot. It wouldn't be surprising if someone who hasn't opened the product in two months cancels their subscription, but there were customers who used the product a lot and ended up canceling anyway.

You have to tell yourself, that seems strange. That became the point where we wanted to burrow. When we looked into it, we saw that for a lot of customers who used the product frequently, when they tried to renew, they had a credit card failure. That was the end. You never saw them again. No one understood this. It was in the data, but no one had thought to tunnel down in that exact way. When the tech firm created an intervention where they'd call a subscriber who had such a credit card problem, then 60 per cent, 70 per cent of those customers ended up staying with the product.

It wasn't that they didn't have the data to come to the conclusion. It's just that it's rare for people to have the patience to look at the data before trying to solve the problem instead of immediately reacting to a perceived problem. It wasn't that they didn't have the data to come to the conclusion. It's just that it's rare for people to have the patience to look at the data before trying to solve the problem instead of immediately reacting to a perceived problem.

The actual problem and the perceived problem might not have anything to do with each other. In that example, the critical moment is when you have the willingness to say, "I don't know why our customers aren't renewing. All rights reserved. For reprint rights: Times Syndication Service. Choose your reason below and click on the Report button. This will alert our moderators to take action.

Get instant notifications from Economic Times Allow Not now You can switch off notifications anytime using browser settings. ET Magazine. General Insurance Corporation of India. Precious Metal. Market Watch. Pinterest Reddit. Firms adopt a set of shared beliefs -core values that everyone at the firm believes in and nobody questions anymore. Read more on Steven Levitt. Freakonomics author. University of Chicago. Follow us on. Download et app. Become a member. Work done in the first five months gave Paytm a strong foundation, says founder Vijay Shekhar Sharma.

Professionals struggle with letting people go, but entrepreneurs don't as much, says Shaadi.


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    Find this comment offensive? Whatever the incentive, whatever the situation, dishonest people will try to gain an advantage by whatever means necessary. Or, as W. Fields once said: a thing worth having is a thing worth cheating for. Who cheats? Well, just about anyone, if the stakes are right. And then you might re- member the time you cheated on, say, a board game. Last week. Or the golf ball you nudged out of its bad lie. And then took the bagel anyway.

    Cheating may or may not be human nature, but it is certainly a prominent fea- ture in just about every human endeavor. Cheating is a primordial economic act: getting more for less. It is the waitress who pockets her tips instead of pooling them. It is the third grader who, worried about not making it to the fourth grade, copies test answers from the kid sitting next to him. Some cheating leaves barely a shadow of evidence.

    In other cases, the evidence is massive. Consider what happened one spring evening at midnight in seven million American children suddenly dis- appeared. The worst kidnapping wave in history? It was the night of April 15, and the Internal Revenue Service had just changed a rule. The incentive for those cheating taxpayers was quite clear.

    The same for the waitress, the payroll manager, and the third grader. Might she have an incentive to cheat? And if so, how would she do it? Imagine now that instead of running a day-care center in Haifa, you are running the Chicago Public Schools, a system that educates , students each year.

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    The stakes are considered high because instead of simply testing students to measure their progress, schools are increasingly held ac- countable for the results. The federal government mandated high-stakes testing as part of the No Child Left Behind law, signed by President Bush in But even before that law, most states gave annual standardized tests to stu- dents in elementary and secondary school. The Chicago Public School system embraced high-stakes testing in Under the new policy, a school with low reading scores would be placed on probation and face the threat of being shut down, its staff to be dismissed or reassigned.


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    7. The CPS also did away with what is known as social promotion. Now, in order to be promoted, every student in third, sixth, and eighth grade had to man- age a minimum score on the standardized, multiple-choice exam known as the Iowa Test of Basic Skills. Advocates of high-stakes testing argue that it raises the standards of learning and gives students more incentive to study. Schoolchildren, of course, have had incentive to cheat for as long as there have been tests.

      But high-stakes testing has so radically changed the incentives for teachers that they too now have added rea- son to cheat.

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      High-stakes testing also presents teachers with some positive incentives. How might a teacher go about cheating? There are any number of possibilities, from brazen to subtle. A teacher can simply give students extra time to com- plete the test. And you always thought that no. If this kind of teacher cheating is truly going on, how might it be detected? To catch a cheater, it helps to think like one. That would clearly be a tip-off. Nor, in all likelihood, would you have enough time, because the answer sheets have to be turned in soon after the test is over. You might even think to focus your activity toward the end of the test, where the questions tend to be harder than the earlier questions.

      If economics is a science primarily concerned with incentives, it is also—fortunately—a science with statistical tools to measure how people respond to those incentives. All you need are some data. In this case, the Chicago Public School system obliged.

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      It made available a database of the test answers for every CPS student from third grade through seventh grade from to This amounts to roughly 30, students per grade per year, more than , sets of test answers, and nearly million individual answers.