In the 11 years since economist Steven Levitt and journalist Stephen Dubner wrote their first book, “Freakonomics,” their partnership has become an empire with four best-selling book that havesold over seven million copies, a popular podcast, a movie, countless speaking gigs, and other commercial opportunities.
It’s a dream come true for Dubner, who is often depicted as Levitt’s sidekick in the whole Freakonomics thing.
While Levitt is unquestionably the number-crunching data analyst of the pair, over the course of the past decade, Dubner has become more than just his scribe. Depending on the project, he does everything from the research to setting up the experiment, with Levitt always in charge of crunching numbers.
He says that this Freaknomics journey has changed his outlook (he’s both more cynical and more hopeful), his view of humanity (he’s learn to understand people better rather than blaming them), as well as his life.
It hasn’t made him private-jet wealthy but it has given him financial security.
He grew up in a farm in upstate New York where his family grew their own food, and he describes his childhood as “Happy but poor. There were eight kids and I was the youngest of eight.”
And he was working as a journalist at the New York Times Magazine when he first met Levitt. He wasn’t exactly starving, but he couldn’t afford to live in Manhattan.
He says these are the three biggest things that he’s grateful for:
1. Food security. “I like to eat. I marvel almost daily that something we have to do for sustenance is also fun to do,” he says. Growing up in a big family with very little money, “all of your decisions on what to eat were based on cost.” Now he can eat whatever he wants. If he wants the macadamia nuts he can have them.
“I know that sounds silly but almost every time I buy food, whether it’s a restaurant meal for my family, or clicking online grocery shopping, I really appreciate that. The stresses of not having enough money are huge.”
2. Living in New York. “I love New York. For me its a great luxury to have a family there. I like the intensity, I like the variety, the propinquity, the fact that there’s all of these ideas rolling around.”
3. Self-funding his own projects. “I like that I have the resources to fund the work I want to do. I’m building a little production company. Today at this event, we’re trying out a new event that’s going to be like a game show,” he says. It’s so much easier to develop new ideas.
“It’s true with a new podcast you can try and make a deal with a media company, but it’s nice to have the latitude to also fund it myself,” he says, adding that he’s got a research and production team that lets him do the show the way he envisions, because “as soon as you start collaborating” your partners want to shape your ideas and shows to fit their own needs and goals.
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