A new working paper (abstract; PDF) by Marianne Bertrand, Jessica Pan, and Emir Kamenica looks at gender identity and its affect on household income. Their findings will depress anyone concerned with gender equality. Here’s the abstract:
We examine causes and consequences of relative income within households. We establish that gender identity – in particular, an aversion to the wife earning more than the husband – impacts marriage formation, the wife’s labor force participation, the wife’s income conditional on working, marriage satisfaction, likelihood of divorce, and the division of home production. The distribution of the share of household income earned by the wife exhibits a sharp cliff at 0.5, which suggests that a couple is less willing to match if her income exceeds his. Within marriage markets, when a randomly chosen woman becomes more likely to earn more than a randomly chosen man, marriage rates decline. Within couples, if the wife’s potential income (based on her demographics) is likely to exceed the husband’s, the wife is less likely to be in the labor force and earns less than her potential if she does work. Couples where the wife earns more than the husband are less satisfied with their marriage and are more likely to divorce. Finally, based on time use surveys, the gender gap in non-market work is larger if the wife earns more than the husband.
The Chronicle of Higher Education just published its survey of public university presidents’ compensation, which rose 4.7 percent, with four presidents receiving more than $1 million. During that year, public university faculty salaries rose less than 2 percent, a discrepancy that replicated the previous four years. Why the difference?
Market explanations would be that these wages reflect jobs increasingly well done relative to faculty performance (increasing relative productivity) and/or increasing difficulty in attracting talent. The first explanation is not credible: having taught at public universities for 40 years, I’ve seen the quality of public universities decline compared to private universities. (In 1969, one could argue that 3 of the top 10 economics departments were at public universities. Today, only 1 is.) Nor is there a dearth of high-quality potential university presidents.
The best explanation is the same as that for increasing relative CEO salaries: cronyism between board members (Trustees and Regents) and the university presidents whom they appoint and meet with. Are university presidents increasingly superstars or schnorrers? You decide — it’s your tax $!
In last week’s podcast, I talk with renowned biologist E.O. Wilson about spite. Although Wilson doesn’t like the term “spite,” he does tell us that there are copious examples of perplexingly self-destructive behavior in nature. Some types of ants, termites, and even bacteria can build up poison within their bodies and then explode in enemy territory – killing themselves as well as several attackers.
Wilson also mentions an act of self-sacrifice that might be better thought of as altruism: a certain species of mother spider lets her children eat her. Isabella Rossellini’s brand new video series Mammas features an episode on this cannibal spider. You can watch it here.
A new working paper (abstract; PDF) looks at how the recent housing bust affected minorities. Economists Patrick Bayer, Fernando Ferreira, and Stephen L. Ross looked at mortgage outcomes “for a large, representative sample of individual home purchases and refinances linked to credit scores in seven major US markets.” Here’s what they found:
Among those with similar credit scores, black and Hispanic homeowners had much higher rates of delinquency and default in the downturn. These differences are not readily explained by the likelihood of receiving a subprime loan or by differential exposure to local shocks in the housing and labor market and are especially pronounced for loans originated near the peak of the boom. Our findings suggest that those black and Hispanic homeowners drawn into the market near the peak were especially vulnerable to adverse economic shocks and raise serious concerns about homeownership as a mechanism for reducing racial disparities in wealth.
A new NBER working paper (abstract; PDF) by University of Chicago researchers Sara Heller, Harold A. Pollack, Roseanna Ander, and Jens Ludwig analyzes the effects of a Chicago program targeted at “disadvantaged male youth grades 7-10 from high-crime Chicago neighborhoods.” The results of the intervention look promising:
Improving the long-term life outcomes of disadvantaged youth remains a top policy priority in the United States, although identifying successful interventions for adolescents – particularly males – has proven challenging. This paper reports results from a large randomized controlled trial of an intervention for disadvantaged male youth grades 7-10 from high-crime Chicago neighborhoods. The intervention was delivered by two local non-profits and included regular interactions with a pro-social adult, after-school programming, and – perhaps the most novel ingredient – in-school programming designed to reduce common judgment and decision-making problems related to automatic behavior and biased beliefs, or what psychologists call cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). We randomly assigned 2,740 youth to programming or to a control group; about half those offered programming participated, with the average participant attending 13 sessions. Program participation reduced violent-crime arrests during the program year by 8.1 per 100 youth (a 44 percent reduction). It also generated sustained gains in schooling outcomes equal to 0.14 standard deviations during the program year and 0.19 standard deviations during the follow-up year, which we estimate could lead to higher graduation rates of 3-10 percentage points (7-22 percent). Depending on how one monetizes the social costs of crime, the benefit-cost ratio may be as high as 30:1 from reductions in criminal activity alone.
Our local movie house in suburban London charges £11.90 for a regular ticket, and even seniors pay £8.90 (over $13). But there is a special for seniors (ages 60+): Every Tuesday they show a recent movie (e.g., Lincoln is showing on May 21) and charge only £3 ($4.60). Moreover, you get “free tea, coffee and biscuits!” Such a deal—so how can they make money off this, or is it just altruism by the theater owners toward us old folks?
The movie costs no extra rental, and the only variable costs are the wages of the one or two workers who sell the tickets and make the eats. The fixed costs—of the movie rental, the theater and heating/electricity, are irrelevant for the owner’s decision. I should think that, if they can sell even 20 tickets, they will increase their profits.
LeBron James was recently given his 4th Most Valuable Player award by 120 sportswriters. Well, at least 119 sportswriters agreed LeBron was MVP. Gary Washburn – of the Boston Globe – thought Carmelo Anthony was the league’s MVP in 2012-13.
It doesn’t take much effort to establish that LeBron was more valuable than Melo. The numbers tell us (numbers taken from theNBAGeek.com) that LeBron in 2012-13 was a much more efficient scorer from the field; and a better rebounder, passer, and shot blocker. LeBron was also better with respect to steals and personal fouls. Yes, Melo scored more. But that is just because Melo took many more shots than LeBron. Unfortunately, people tend to think that players who take many shots have a huge impact on outcomes in basketball (consequently, players have an incentive to take as many shots as their coaches and teammates will allow).
Although no other sportswriter shared Washburn’s view that Melo was MVP, 102 of the 120 voters thought Anthony was one of the five most valuable players in the league. So Washburn was not alone in his belief that Anthony is a “great” player.
The numbers, though, suggest otherwise. But rather than belabor the story those numbers tell (again, the numbers at theNBAGeek.com make it clear Anthony was really not that productive), I wish to employ the debate about the relative merits of Carmelo Anthony to make a very different observation.
Neil Barofsky (the former Special Inspector General of the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP)) recently published a book (Bailout: How Washington Abandoned Main Street While Rescuing Wall Street) detailing his experience in both the Bush and Obama administrations. In his book is the following story (from page 138 of the book):
ON MARCH 14, 2009, the news broke that Treasury had authorized the insurance giant AIG to pay $168 million in “retention bonuses” to employees in its Financial Products division, the very unit whose reckless bets had brought down the company. Taxpayers had put up $170 billion (including $40 billion from TARP) to keep AIG’s collapse from precipitating a meltdown of the global financial system, and now the executives from the division that had caused its ruin were going to be paid lavishly.
..When we discussed the payments with (Neel) Kashkari and the TARP team, they didn’t seem to begrudge the AIG executives the bonuses at all. They told us that the payments were necessary to keep the “uniquely” qualified executives in their jobs to do the delicate work of unwinding the enormous mess they had created. As to the reaction from Congress, Kashkari dismissed it as being “political.” By that point, Kevin (Puvalowski) and I were used to these types of reactions from Treasury. The Wall Street fiction that certain financial executives were preternaturally gifted supermen who deserved every penny of their staggering paychecks and bonuses was firmly ingrained in Treasury’s psyche. No matter that the financial crisis had demonstrated just how unremarkable the work of those executives had turned out to be, that belief system endured at Treasury across administrations. If a Wall Street executive was contracted to receive a $6.4 million “retention” bonus, the assumption was that he must be worth it.
When we say a person is “worth” what they are paid, we are arguing that the person’s wage is equal to their Marginal Revenue Product (MRP). MRP is comprised of two factors: Marginal Product of Labor (or a person’s productivity) and Marginal Revenue of Output (or the value of that productivity in the marketplace).
When it comes to sports – as Gerald Scully demonstrated almost 40 years ago – we can use data to measure an athlete’s MRP. Specifically, marginal productivity can be assessed by looking at how a player’s statistics impact wins (see the calculation behind Wins Produced to see how this can be done with respect to Carmelo Anthony and any other basketball player). And the value of this output can be determined by looking at how wins impact team revenue.
How would we do something similar for a Wall Street executive? One might look at how a company performed with and without the executive. But how would you know if the changes you observed were about the executive or someone else in the company (or just luck)?
One could assume that markets are efficient, so whatever the market decided to pay these people must be “correct.” Beyond the observation that assuming an answer isn’t much of answer, let’s return to what we already know about sports.
Consider the now-classic Moneyball story. As detailed by Michael Lewis, the Oakland A’s – with a very low payroll – were able to compete with the best teams in baseball because the A’s were able to purchase undervalued assets. Specifically, the A’s discovered that players who excelled at on-base-percentage could produce wins without costing Oakland much money. Unfortunately for Oakland, as economists Jahn Hakes and Raymond Sauer detailed, the market in baseball adjusted.
This story highlights something important about the history of baseball’s labor market. Since the 19th century, the data has existed to measure a professional baseball player’s on-base percentage. But it was not until the 21st century that this data was understood by most decision-makers. In other words, the labor market in baseball was not efficient for over a century.
A similar story can be seen in the NBA. Published research has indicated that scorers – who are not tremendously efficient (like Carmelo Anthony) — tend to be overvalued by decision-makers in professional basketball. Again, decision-makers do have access to data that would allow better player evaluations. And again, the labor market in the NBA doesn’t appear to be efficient.
Each of these stories tell us that at some point there was (and in the case of the NBA, still is) a disconnect between a worker’s wage in professional sports and their impact on outcomes. The sports market comes with an abundance of information and fairly clear incentives to get it “right.” After all, in sports, bad decisions lead to an abundance of negative press and fan reaction.
What about the market for Wall Street executives? Well, there doesn’t seem to be an abundance of information about the productivity of these people. And if a firm gets a decision about an executive’s hiring and pay wrong, who is going to know or care? After all, how many AIG executives can you name?
It may be the case that the AIG executives and other Wall Street employees are worth what they are being paid. But since we can’t measure their productivity objectively – or we don’t know the “Wins Produced” for these people – we cannot be sure that wages and MRP are consistent.
One last observation: the story of this year’s MVP vote illustrates another issue with measuring a worker’s productivity. Clearly, I think Melo is not that great of a player and that opinion is based on what I think the data says. But others – who have access to the same data – may disagree with my assessment. This disagreement suggests yet another problem with the measurement of a worker’s MRP. Even when objective data exists, reasonable people (and not so reasonable people) will disagree on what that data says.
When it comes to Wall Street executives, we don’t seem to have objective data to evaluate the productivity of the individual. And when we review the case of Carmelo Anthony, it seems clear that even if such data existed, we might not be able to agree on what that data means. So maybe no one should be so sure that those executives “earned” those bonuses back in 2009.
A reader named R.E. Riker alerts us to the progress of an experimental ocean restoration project (more here); the ringleader is one Russ George, who has proven controversial. Before your knee jerks in one direction or another, take a look:
This summer the crew has been aboard ship engaging in what is surely the most substantial ocean restoration project in history. In a large ocean eddy west of Haida Gwaii the project has replenished vital ocean mineral micronutrients, with the expectation and hope it would restore ten thousand square kilometers of ocean pasture to health. Indeed this has occurred and the waters of the Haida eddy have turned from clear blue and sparse of life into a verdant emerald sea lush with the growth of a hundred million tonnes of plankton and the entire food chain it supports. The growth of those tonnes of plankton derives from vast amounts of CO2 now diverted from becoming deadly ocean acid and instead made that same CO2 become ocean life itself. For weeks the men and women, on this village team toiled in stormy overcast weather and fog without a hint of blue sky. In mid-August the skies cleared and revealed the wonder of the mission on which they have laboured. Satellites focused on ocean health that monitor and measure plankton blooms sent back stunning images. Far offshore in these Haida salmon pastures a vast plankton bloom is revealed matching the health and vibrancy of blooms seen in rich coastal waters. The return of such blooms is “the stuff dreams are made of” for all ocean life.
We’ve written in the past about how weather can have a surprisingly strong effect on things like civil war and riots. (Short story: rioters don’t like getting rained on and droughts can start a war.)
The political scientist Peter Kurrild-Klitgaard has a new paper on the topic in Public Choice (abstract; PDF) called “It’s the Weather, Stupid! Individual Participation in Collective May Day Demonstrations.” The bolding is mine:
“We investigate the possible explanations for variations in aggregate levels of participation in large-scale political demonstrations. A simple public choice inspired model is applied to data derived from the annual May Day demonstrations of the Danish labor movement and socialist parties taking place in Copenhagen in the period 1980–2011. The most important explanatory variables are variations in the weather conditions and consumer confidence, while political and socio-economic conditions exhibit no robust effects. As such accidental or non-political factors may be much more important for collective political action than usually acknowledged and possibly make changes in aggregate levels of political support seem erratic and unpredictable.”
Our latest podcast is called “What Do Medieval Nuns and Bo Jackson Have in Common?” (You can download/subscribe at iTunes, get the RSS feed, or listen via the media player above. You can also read the transcript; it includes credits for the music you’ll hear in the episode.)
The episode is about spite. As in “cutting off your nose to spite your face” spite. That’s where the nuns come in. Lisi Oliver of Louisiana State University tells us about the probable origin of this phrase.
You’ll also hear Bo Jackson talk about a very costly decision he once made that most people would certainly think of as spiteful — and from Dave O’Connor, executive producer of the documentary film You Don’t Know Bo.
The economist Benedikt Herrmann tries to measure spite in the lab (papers are here, here and here), while another economist (Steve Levitt) warns that the real world is more complicated than any lab — and wonders, therefore, if pure spite even exists.
When a person injures himself or herself — say in reputation, in diminishing wealth, causing their own early death, whatever it is — in order to harm another person, you would say, Oh, that’s spite, that’s got to be spite. But it really would be true spite in my mind as opposed to mere risk-taking, or tradeoff for one kind of gain in exchange for one kind of loss taken, if you can’t see a gain. And that’s hard to imagine. Even vengeance has its gain, has a strong emotional award to it. For example, if you harm yourself and your reputation, you accept that if the damage you can do benefits you in some other way or benefits, say, particularly your own offspring in a particular way. You know, like unscrupulous stage moms, murderesses of a cheerleading champion’s competitors. I think you get the drift. Even a mass murderer who goes out and harms a lot of people is taking some benefit, emotional benefit, from that. … So, when you add that factor, maybe real spite doesn’t exist.
Amazon has just released its third annual list of the Most Well-Read Cities of America — a ranking based on per-capita “sales data of all book, magazine and newspaper sales in both print and Kindle format.” Here are the top 5:
- Alexandria, Va.
- Knoxville, Tenn.
- Miami, Fla.
- Cambridge, Mass.
- Orlando, Fla.
What surprises you?
(HT: Infectious Greed)
We recently ran a listener survey for Freakonomics Radio. Among the interesting findings: only (or should that be “only”?) 18 percent of the respondents are members of a public-radio station. A reader named Steve Cebalt wrote in to ask about the nature of public-radio membership:
So it’s pledge week at my local public radio station, when they interrupt my favorite news programs with appeals for money. Funny, I used to be on the board of directors of this station, so I have a great appreciation for it.
But I am not a member. I don’t pay. I am supposed to feel guilty, but I don’t. You know why?
Because I am not really causing a negative externality on others — am I ?
Whether I listen or not, they’ll still broadcast right? And others contribute freely of their own volition. So is anyone harmed if I listen (or don’t listen) without donating?
I’d love to see your blog readers rip into this question from a Freakonomics perspective:
So go ahead, people. Rip. Remember everything you’ve ever thought about free-ridership, slippery slopes, and critical mass on issues like voting.
Benjamin Franklin apparently understood the notion that input prices affect product prices, which is a problem because product demand curves are not completely inelastic. Discussing a minimum wage, he noted, “A law might be made to raise their [workers’] wages; but if our manufactures are too dear, they might not vend abroad.” This is one of the best arguments against a minimum wage: in an open economy, which the U.S. increasingly will be at least partly passed on in the form of higher product prices, which will in turn reduce product demand—and eventually employment. (“On the Labouring Poor,” The Gentleman’s Magazine, April 1768.)
Eugene, writing in response to our “Running to Do Evil” podcast, about the brothers Tsarnaev and Kaczynski:
Speaking as a psychiatrist,
With your re-examination of the Kaczynski brothers, you captured my running hypothesis regarding the interpersonal dynamic of the two Boston Marathon bombers. It was like you read my mind by unarchiving that interview you did so long ago with Ted Kaczynski. Scary.
I’m sure you knew this as you’ve probably talked to many of my ilk during and after this interview done long ago. But the bizarre way Ted flips the tables on his sense of victimhood, as well as many other aspects of his interview, are pretty consistent with a textbook description of narcissistic personality disorder.
The best way I can describe this pathologic narcissism is if you can imagine a person’s perceived sense of self and identity as being a beautiful shiny but extremely brittle eggshell. When they glance in the mirror they see nothing wrong; however it doesn’t take much for that facade to crack and for the person to then aggressively find ways to protect what’s actually inside… as it could be rotted to varying degrees. They don’t want to see it, nor do they want others to see that bit of rot, that bit of darkness.
You’re definitely on to something by presenting this parallel between the sets of brothers. Its important of course, to make the distinction you clearly made at the end between the younger brothers’ behaviors, as they apparently went in completely different directions.
But regarding the brother in the most recent case:
A “true believer” of extremist ideology would not have given himself up in the boat.
A “true believer” of extremist ideology would not have cooperated as much as he’s done in this last week.
The distinctly separate pictures painted of the two brothers by their friends, family, and colleagues should be noted as well.
Andrew Francis from Madison, Alabama, writes to say:
I have what I think is a great idea for a podcast episode. I play and am a huge fan of ultimate (ultimate frisbee to most people, but Frisbee is technically a copyright of Wham-O). The sport is the perfect place for an experiment. In all games, there are no referees actively making every call. Players call all their own fouls and settle disputes between themselves on the field. If someone makes a bad call, you can argue it all you want to. If they stick with their call after the discussion and the parties can’t agree, ultimate has what I like to call the “magical do-over” that no other sport has. The disc just goes back to the person who had it prior to whatever infraction was called, and you begin play from that spot.
In the major club and college tournaments (and now filtering down into the low-mid level tournaments), the use of observers (see the USAU definition) has become a common place. Players still call the majority of infractions, but when two players don’t agree on a call, the observers will step in and make a ruling.
The reason I think the two of you would be interested in this is because observers actually make very few calls per game, but the number of bogus fouls, travels, etc. decrease drastically. Players know that any questionable calls they make will just be overturned. The mere presence of a neutral third party who might make a call makes players play the game in a cleaner, more honest fashion.
What do you say — is this good stuff for a podcast? Let’s not forget that there are other sports that are self-policing — except when they are not.
I just noticed something strange on Wikipedia. It appears that gradually, over time, editors have begun the process of moving women, one by one, alphabetically, from the “American Novelists” category to the “American Women Novelists” subcategory. So far, female authors whose last names begin with A or B have been most affected, although many others have, too.
The intention appears to be to create a list of “American Novelists” on Wikipedia that is made up almost entirely of men. The category lists 3,837 authors, and the first few hundred of them are mainly men. The explanation at the top of the page is that the list of “American Novelists” is too long, and therefore the novelists have to be put in subcategories whenever possible.
Too bad there isn’t a subcategory for “American Men Novelists.”
Further details are welcome. This piece brings to mind a section of our recent “Women Are Not Men” podcast, reported by Bourree Lam, about the relative scarcity of female editors on Wikipedia — and this followup post about females posing as males online to avoid harassment.
In a new blog post, Stephen Wolfram lays out some of the data from Wolfram/Alpha Personal Analytics for Facebook project. He looks at average network size; how network size varies with age, gender, and location (among other things); and, our favorite, what people talk about on Facebook at different ages:
People talk less about video games as they get older, and more about politics and the weather. Men typically talk more about sports and technology than women — and, somewhat surprisingly to me, they also talk more about movies, television and music. Women talk more about pets+animals, family+friends, relationships — and, at least after they reach child-bearing years, health. The peak time for anyone to talk about school+university is (not surprisingly) around age 20. People get less interested in talking about “special occasions” (mostly birthdays) through their teens, but gradually gain interest later. And people get progressively more interested in talking about career+money in their 20s. And so on. And so on.
(HT: Justin Wolfers)
This is a transcript of the Freakonomics Radio podcast “Running to Do Evil.”
[MUSIC: Color Radio, “Towers” (from Architects)]
Stephen J. DUBNER: If you are a man, or a boy, and you have a brother, especially an older brother, then you know that the bond between brothers is unlike any other. Sometimes that bond is almost impossibly wonderful:
Ted KACZYNSKI: We used to, very often we used to go out and play catch, or one of us would hit the ball with the bat and the other one would catch it. And I remember one time when we were throwing that ball. We were as far as apart as we could get and still reach each other with the ball. We were throwing that ball as hard as we could, and as far as we could. And, of course, the ball was thrown very inaccurately, because we were trying so hard to throw it. And so we would — we were making these running, leaping catches. We made more fantastic catches that day than I think we did in all the rest of our years together. That was more fun.
DUBNER: And sometimes the brotherly bond is toxic:
[MUSIC: Tear Ceremony, “Zapruder Frame” (from Film Decay)]
KACZYNSKI: I don’t know that it’s exactly true that he wanted me to suffer exactly. It’s more as if he wanted to score a victory over me. Defeat me. Put himself in the victorious position and me in the position of the one who’s defeated and humiliated.
DUBNER: You probably don’t recognize this voice, because he hasn’t spoken much in public. But you do know the person the voice belongs to. It’s Ted Kaczynski.
DUBNER: Okay. Do you deny — in the context of this interview, do you deny that you committed the crimes attributed to the Unabomber?
KACZYNSKI: I can’t comment on that.
DUBNER: Ted Kaczynski is the Unabomber, a homegrown terrorist who over the course of 17 years planted or mailed at least 16 bombs. He killed 3 people and wounded 24. He wasn’t a religious fundamentalist, but he was a fundamentalist. His enemy was, essentially, modern society. He grew up in Chicago, attended Harvard, but he wound up living alone in a remote cabin in the Montana woods. He was arrested in 1996 after one of the most notorious and longest manhunts in history, and he was sentenced to life in prison. How did he finally get caught? His younger brother, David, turned him in.
DUBNER: Were you surprised when you learned that it was David who had turned you in? Were you surprised?
KACZYNSKI: Not terribly surprised.
[MUSIC: Vunt Foom, “Grease” (from Sub Valve Release)]
DUBNER: I interviewed Ted Kaczynski in 1999, three years after he was arrested for the crimes that earned him the name the Unabomber. He was in the same prison then as he is today, a federal supermax in Florence, Colorado.
DUBNER: Just in terms of your life in prison again, I’m just wondering a little bit about your daily routine. Do you get eight hours of sleep a day?
KACZYNSKI: Yeah. Usually not all at once.
DUBNER: I had been writing a magazine article about his brother, David, the hero of the Unabomber story if there was such a thing. Then I learned that Ted was writing a book – a book that wound up never being published. The book spent most of its time attacking David — as intellectually dishonest and resentful of his brilliant big brother. I requested an interview with Ted, even though he didn’t do that kind of thing – and, to my surprise, he agreed.
KACZYNSKI: The food here, believe it or not, is pretty good. Sometimes it’s oatmeal…
DUBNER: We talked for several hours. He sat on a concrete bench in a concrete room, a wall of reinforced glass between us.
KACZYNSKI: Let’s say it’s a Thurs — I take a shower every other day, rather than every day. Because I have sensitive skin.
[MUSIC: Das Vibenbass, “Film Noir” (from Fodakis)]
DUBNER: Most of our conversation that day was about David and Ted, Ted and David, the brothers Kaczynski. Ted, the older brother by 7 years, intellectually domineering and socially awkward. David, a more tender touch, more adept at living in the real world — but also in thrall to his big brother’s love of nature and his hatred of an overindustrialized society. He followed Ted, among other places, into the wilderness. As modern as their story was, it also felt ancient – like Isaac and Ishmael, or a Greek tragedy. More than anything, it was about the enormous leverage that a big brother can exert on a younger one. Now, I don’t mean to say that brotherly love isn’t real – it is, and as the youngest of four brothers myself, I’ve experienced a lot of it. But with brothers, there can be a lot of other stuff too. Rivalry. Resentment. Insecurity. There are things that if other people told you to do them, you’d just laugh. Hey, let’s set this thing on fire. Or, hey, as soon as it gets dark, let’s jump off that cliff! But when your big brother tells you to do this stuff, you do it.
Last week’s bombings at the Boston Marathon and the violence afterward were apparently, allegedly, committed by a pair of brothers: Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. The older brother has since been killed; the younger brother is under arrest. As we began to learn more and more about them, I couldn’t help but think of the brothers Kaczynski. How the dynamic between brothers is unlike any other. There are some parallels between the two sets of brothers. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, like David Kaczynski, is seven years younger than his brother. In each case, the older brother was a loner, and angry; the younger brother mellower, better-adjusted – and yet they idolized their big brothers. And of course in each case there were bombs. But Dzhokhar Tsarnaev followed his big brother into violence. David Kacyznski did not. While for many years he and Ted were as close as only brothers can be, there came a time when they were as bitterly estranged as perhaps only brothers can be.
The estrangement was the result of David getting a girlfriend. Linda Patrik, whom David had longed for since high school, finally returned his longing. When David and Linda got serious, Ted cut David off. Linda brought David back into the modern world. It was she who persuaded David to consider that his big brother might be the Unabomber, and then to go to the FBI.
[MUSIC: Crushed Stars, “You in Frost” (from Obsolescence)]
When I interviewed Ted in prison, one stipulation was that he wouldn’t talk about his actual crimes, since he was still hoping for a retrial. In prison, his neighbors were a who’s who of 1990’s terrorism – Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma City bomber; Ramzi Yousef, from the first World Trade Center bombing…
KACZYNSKI: See, I’m in a range of cells where there are eight cells. And they call this celebrity row. These people are not what you would think of as criminal types. I mean, they don’t seem to be very angry people. They’re considerate of others. Some of them are quite intelligent.
DUBNER: Listening back to this conversation from nearly 15 years ago, I’m reminded of two things, two disturbing things. One, that Ted Kaczynski doesn’t sound like the kind of angry, anti-social person who would run around killing people – or at least how we think that kind of person should sound. And two, as you’re about to hear, that Ted has such a deep reservoir of disdain for David that he makes it sound as if David, the man who stopped the bombings, is the bad guy. Because he, David, hadn’t stayed the course. Because he hadn’t stayed loyal to his big brother.
DUBNER: Is it fair to say that your relationship with David over the years — which obviously had a lot of peaks and valleys — is it fair to say that that was the most profound personal relationship you’d ever had?
KACZYNSKI: I would say it’s the most — the deepest personal relationship that I ever had between — oh, let’s say between my teens and about 1990, when I finally broke off with him.
DUBNER: Right. In terms of you and David, how do you think that you two are most alike?
KACZYNSKI: That’s a tough one.
KACZYNSKI: Over many years we shared a great many values.
KACZYNSKI: And it’s not clear to me to what extent this was simple imitation of me on his part. And if it was simple imitation on his part, you wouldn’t really call it a similarity.
KACZYNSKI: But there are some similarities apart from that. I think we’re both basically quiet, somewhat introverted types. Both a little on the shy side. Another similarity between us would be that generally speaking, I think he’s a very honest person.
DUBNER: You wrote that his adulation of you disgusted you at certain points over the course of your relationship.
DUBNER: Did you try to communicate that to him? Did you say to him, Dave, this is not a healthy way to be? I’m glad you like me. I’m glad you respect me, but be your own person. Did you ever try to have that kind of conversation with him?
DUBNER: Why not? I mean –
KACZYNSKI: It would have been very painful for him to have me say that. And it probably wouldn’t have done any good. I mean, I could ?? in one way or another he would appear to be over-valuing me, but it wasn’t something that was so explicit that I could be sure that it was really that.
DUBNER: Right. In your dreams ?? literally, in your dreams and in your thinking ?? it sounds as if you really felt protective of David for many, many years, yes?
DUBNER: Do you think at some point that he ever began to feel protective of you ?? do you think that as he moved into adulthood — especially after you had cut off communication, do you think that he ever began to feel protective of you?
DUBNER: You don’t. In what ways, if any, do you think he was jealous of you?
KACZYNSKI: He was probably jealous of the fact that I got more attention from our parents. He was jealous of the fact simply that I was dominant in our relationship. Jealous of the fact that I was smarter than he was. I could do most things better than he could. Athletics are one exception.
DUBNER: In what ways, if any, were you jealous of Dave?
KACZYNSKI: I don’t ?? the only way I can think that I might have been somewhat jealous of him was that ?? when he was in high school he always had lots of friends ?? he was socially successful. And I wasn’t. And I may have had some jealousy about that. But I don’t clearly remember that.
[MUSIC: Niklas Aman, “Myths and Fables” (from Album Title)]
DUBNER: When we come back, how Ted Kaczynski went even further into the path of radicalism, and how his adoring little brother finally found his way back to the mainstream:
DUBNER: What do you regret most in retrospect about your relationship with David? About the way the relationship devolved, I guess.
KACZYNSKI: Well, I would say basically that I didn’t break off with him 20 years earlier.
[MUSIC: Niklas Aman, “Seaview” (from Stirred Up)]
DUBNER: Today’s episode is from a prison interview I did nearly 15 years ago with Ted Kaczynski, the Unabomber, for an article that was published in Time magazine. I dug up the old tapes this week because the brothers charged with the Boston Marathon bombings reminded me of the strange, volatile dynamic of brotherhood – especially the pull of a big brother on a younger one. For years, David Kaczynski identified with his older brother’s antisocial worldview.
KACZYNSKI: I mean, he was certainly alienated from the mainstream system of values. He just particularly hated Reagan and that whole political bunch. And yet I wouldn’t say exactly he had sympathy for Hinckley or for radicals in general. And there was a resentment there, and yet here was never any hope or ambition on his part to actually do anything active or take radical measures.
DUBNER: In other words, as Ted Kaczynski sees it, his younger brother David wasn’t radical enough to be taken seriously. And then, even worse, he went totally mainstream. He got married – to a woman named Linda Patrik, who found Ted creepy, maybe even dangerous. David tried to keep up his relationship with Ted, writing long, heartfelt letters. But eventually Ted shut him out.
DUBNER: What do you regret most in retrospect about your relationship with David? About the way the relationship devolved, I guess.
KACZYNSKI: Well, I would say basically that I didn’t break off with him 20 years earlier.
DUBNER: So you still feel that way?
KACZYNSKI: Yeah. I mean, I got a lot of satisfaction out of corresponding with him. I mean, it was a good relation — it was in many respects, not in all respects, but in many respects a positive relationship from my point of view. But I don’t think it was from my brother’s point of view. And in the end it turned out to be disastrous from my point of view, as you can see.
DUBNER: Right. What do you think would have changed in his life if you had broken off earlier?
KACZYNSKI: Well — I mean — let me put it this way. I think that his attempt to — his sense of rivalry with big brother, his attempt to equal big brother and to win big brother’s approval, with very limited success, I think all this was very hard on him. I think that his self esteem would have been in much better shape if he hadn’t had me to compete with or compare himself with. And I think he would have — and he always had an easy time making friends. He would have had close relationships with other people, so he didn’t really need that relationship with me.
DUBNER: Right. If the roles had been reversed ?? if you had suspected David of being the Unabomber ?? right? ?? after all the years that you haven’t been communicating very regularly ?? what would you have done?
KACZYNSKI: I would have kept it to myself.
DUBNER: Is that what you feel he should have done?
DUBNER: And what was the first — what was your reaction to that when you first hear that David is involved in turning you in? What does that feel like?
KACZYNSKI: Well, obviously I resented it. There was another strain to my feelings there. I don’t know if I can explain it properly. But in a way I was almost glad because my own brother turning me in in a sense made me look good.
DUBNER: How so?
KACZYNSKI: Well, I mean, it’s –
DUBNER: That you had eluded everyone but someone who knew you close –
KACZYNSKI: Well, I didn’t say I eluded anyone for anything. I mean, I have not — I mean, I pled guilty, but that was because I was forced to do so. But it was that — I mean — if someone — I mean, if A screws B, then it tends to make B look good, even if otherwise he might look so great. I don’t know.
DUBNER: Right, right.
KACZYNSKI: So maybe that’s — That was perhaps an ignoble thought on my part. But that thought was present, I have to admit.
[MUSIC: Das Vibenbass, “Reference Check” (from Fodakis)]
DUBNER: When Ted was arrested, David fought hard to keep him from getting the death penalty. This made Ted angry; he wanted the death penalty. So where the rest of the world sees David Kaczynski turning in his older brother as an act of heroism, Ted sees resentment. And where the rest of us see David pleading for his brother’s life as an act of mercy, Ted sees it as further punishment.
KACZYNSKI: I’m not depressed or downcast. It’s — let me see. Let’s see if I can explain this. There’s sort of — different levels of how you feel about your life. Let me try to explain it this way. When I was living in the woods, there was sort of an undertone, an underlying feeling that things were basically right with my life. That is, something might go wrong, I might have a bad day, I might screw something up, I might break my axe handle and do something else, and everything would go wrong. But still somehow underneath the superficial unhappiness or bad feelings there was an underlying feeling that my life was right. I was able to fall back on the fact that here I was a free man in the mountains surrounded by forests and wild animals and so forth. And that this made my life right even if things were for the time being going badly. Here it’s the other way around. I’m not depressed or downcast, and I have things to do that I can do that I consider productive, like working on getting this book out. And yet the knowledge that I’m locked up here and likely to remain so for the rest of my life is — it ruins it. The undertone in this case is an extremely bad one. And I don’t want to live long. I would rather get the death penalty than spend the rest of my life in prison.
DUBNER: Would you take your own life given the opportunity?
KACZYNSKI: I will not comment on that. I mean, on a superficial level it isn’t really that bad. But just the knowledge that I’m locked up and I’m not free sort — to me it’s just not a life worth living.
DUBNER: Right. What do you say — if you have a re-trial and are acquitted, and have your life back, what do you say to society to relax them, to not let them worry about the Unabomber is at large?
KACZYNSKI: Well, I don’t know that I would have to relax them. Just let them worry. DUBNER: Ok. If David were to come visit you, if David’s in the room now, what do you want to say to him?
KACZYNSKI: Nothing. I just wouldn’t talk to him. I would just turn my back and wouldn’t talk to him.
DUBNER: Yeah. Do you still love him?
[MUSIC: Niklas Aman, “Above the Clouds” (from Above the Clouds)]
DUBNER: We asked David Kacyznski to talk about his brother for this show; he understandably chose not to. Ever since Ted’s arrest, David has worked hard to try to repair some of the damage done by his brother. While Ted never has never expressed regret or apologized to the victims, David did. He donated money; he toured the country speaking against violence. It is bizarre, to me at least, listening back to this tape of Ted. He makes it sound as if he is the aggrieved party. Can you imagine having an older brother like that – who tells you that up is down and down is up? Soon you might start believing him. And if he has bad intentions, violent intentions, well, you might start believing that those are your intentions too. We don’t know enough yet about the Boston bombers to say for sure if Dzhokhar, the younger brother, was pulled into his older brother’s orbit or whether he followed willingly. But we do know that David Kaczynski didn’t do what the younger Tsarnaev brother allegedly did. He didn’t join forces; he didn’t capitulate; he didn’t run to do evil. This episode has been talk, all talk, about actions, terrible actions. Talk may be interesting. But let’s be clear: it is our actions that matter. All this talk offers no solace whatsoever to the victims of Ted Kaczynski, to the victims of the criminals in Boston. I wish we could do better. But at this moment, words are all we have.
[MUSIC: Das Vibenbass, “Film Noir” (from Fodakis)]
This is a transcript of the Freakonomics Radio podcast “Running to Do Evil.”
Suddenly, there was a loud, sickening blast. My ears were ringing, and then — a long pause. Everyone in the tent stopped and looked up. A dehydrated woman grabbed my wrist. “What was that?” she cried. “Don’t leave.” I didn’t move. John Andersen, a medical coordinator, took the microphone. “Everybody stay with your patients,” he said, “and stay calm.” Then we smelled smoke — a dense stench of sulfur — and heard a second explosion, farther off but no less frightening. Despite the patient’s plea, I walked out the back of the tent and saw a crowd running from a cloud of smoke billowing around the finish line. “There are bombs,” a woman whispered. My hands began to shake. …
At the tent, I stood in a crowd of doctors, awaiting victims, feeling choked by the smoke drifting along Boylston. Through the haze, the stretchers arrived; when I saw the first of the wounded, I was overwhelmed with nausea. An injured woman — I couldn’t tell whether she was conscious — lay on the stretcher, her legs entirely blown off. Blood poured out of the arteries of her torso; I saw shredded arteries, veins, ragged tissue and muscle. Nothing had prepared me for the raw physicality of such unnatural violence. During residency I had seen misery, but until that moment I hadn’t understood how deeply a human being could suffer; I’d always been shielded from the severe anguish that is all too common in many parts of the world. …
Many of us barely laid our hands on anyone. We had no trauma surgeons or supplies of blood products; tourniquets had already been applied; CPR had already been performed. Though some patients required bandages, sutures, and dressings, many of us watched these passing victims in a kind of idle horror, with no idea how to help. When I asked Andersen what I could do, he glanced at me sadly, shook his head, and threw up his hands.
Our latest podcast is called “Running to Do Evil.” (You can download/subscribe at iTunes, get the RSS feed, or listen via the media player above, or read the transcript.) It features a prison interview I did in 1999 with Unabomber Ted Kaczynski, whose younger brother, David, turned him in.
When we all learned last week that the alleged Boston Marathon bombers are brothers, it made me think of the massive leverage that an older brother can exert on a younger one. Ted and David Kaczynski were extraordinarily close for many years, and shared a view of the modern world as impure and overly industrialized. But as Ted went further down the path toward fundamentalism and violence, David not only extricated himself but ultimately made the painful decision to tell the FBI that the terrorist who had become known as the Unabomber was likely his brother.
The prison interview with Ted Kaczynski was conducted for an article I published in Time magazine. Much of the conversation that day concerned the relationship between Ted and David:
TED KACZYNSKI: It was in many respects, not in all respects, but in many respects a positive relationship from my point of view. But I don’t think it was from my brother’s point of view. And in the end it turned out to be disastrous from my point of view, as you can see.
Also from the podcast:
When Ted was arrested, David fought hard to keep him from getting the death penalty. This made Ted angry; he wanted the death penalty. So where the rest of the world sees David Kaczynski turning in his older brother as an act of heroism, Ted sees resentment. Where the rest of us see David pleading for his brother’s life as an act of mercy, Ted sees it as further punishment.
Ever since Ted’s arrest, David has worked hard to try to repair some of the damage done by his brother. While Ted never has never expressed regret or apologized to the victims, David did. He donated money; he toured the country speaking against violence. It is bizarre, to me at least, listening back to this tape of Ted. He makes it sound as if he is the aggrieved party. Can you imagine having an older brother like that – who tells you that up is down and down is up? Soon you might start believing him. And if he has bad intentions, violent intentions, well, you might start believing that those are your intentions too. We don’t know enough yet about the Boston bombers to say for sure if Dzhokhar, the younger brother, was pulled into his older brother’s orbit or whether he followed willingly. But we do know that David Kaczynski didn’t do what the younger Tsarnaev brother allegedly did. He didn’t join forces; he didn’t capitulate; he didn’t run to do evil.
Further reading: a recent interview from NJ.com with David Kaczynski about the Boston bombings (before the suspects were known) and an essay David wrote for the book Brothers: 26 Stories of Love and Rivalry; an FBI summary of the Unabomber and the New York Times’s coverage of his trial; the Unabomber’s “manifesto” (which led, ultimately, to his being identified). The title of this episode comes from the Al Cheit prayers of the Yom Kippur liturgy (further commentary here).