I’m not one for economic theory. Prolonged, in-depth speculation about anything can put me to sleep. But if you haven’t heard about Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything, you’re probably a young child or were not living stateside when it came out in 2005.
This non-fiction “collection of papers” was written by University of Chicago economist Steven Levitt and New York Times journalist Stephen J. Dubner. It took pop culture and sociological statistics and showed how they may represent or perhaps have a causal relationship with certain criminology and economic truths.
The “collection of papers” became a book, and became a bestseller. Everyone who read it loved to tell you about it. It prompted two other books, a movie, and wait for it… a podcast. People have been talking about it, so I decided to indulge. And low and behold, it was pretty good.
The episode I heard was called “Should Tipping Be Banned?” And in many ways, it felt more like This American Life (TAL) than I would have guessed. Ironically, since the recession hit a few years back, TAL has become more about the economy and ethical quandaries.
Stylistically, Freakanomics is more Radio Lab (there are two hosts with a mock adversarial dynamic), but the societal implications are less obtuse, and definitely draw on TAL. The Radio Lab connection makes since; Freakanomics is also a WNYC joint. Don’t look for real science though. It observational. It’s story telling. And it’s good.
This episode focused on Cornell professor Mike Lynn, a guy who has authored a library’s worth of papers on tipping, more specifically, expenses consumers are required to incur. They delved into religion and tipping, bribing with sweets, attractiveness of the server, waiters vs. waitresses, the now ubiquitous squat next to the table, and even hair color. And, yes, blondes get better tips. They covered it all. Lynn even spelled out the standard operating procedure on getting the best tips. And there’s a big reveal at the end that I won’t spoil for you.
Needless to say, I added this to my Instacast subscription, and will be reviewing more episodes in the future. It was a little short. But it makes for an interesting half-hour in traffic.