Sometimes we have a hard time committing ourselves – whether it's quitting a bad habit or following through on a worthy goal. We share stories about "commitment devices." They're a clever way to force yourself to do something that you know will be hard. Host Stephen Dubner talks to a struggling gambler who signs himself up for a program that bans him from state casinos – only to return, win a jackpot, and have it confiscated. We also hear from a new father trying to shed bad habits. So he makes a list of things he wants to change and vows to pay a penalty if he can't shape up in 30 days. The penalty? He'd write a $750 check to someone he really dislikes: Oprah Winfrey. Freakonomics co-author Steve Levitt offers a few of his own off-the-wall commitment devices, and the Brown economist Anna Aizer talks about using commitment devices to fight domestic violence.
Then we take a look at some misadventures in baby-making. First, the story of how China's one-child policy was inspired by a couple of scholars having a beer in the Netherlands. Also, Levitt discusses his controversial research showing that legalized abortion lowered the US crime rate. We also talk to Mara Hvistendahl, author of the Pulitzer Prize-nominated Unnatural Selection: Choosing Boys Over Girls, and the Consequences of a World Full of Men, which looks at how the introduction of the ultrasound led to the disappearance of tens of millions of baby girls. Finally, Stanford professor Stephen Quake ponders the consequences, intended and otherwise, of a new genetic test he has developed.
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Steven D. Levitt