Stephen Dubner is my friend. At least that's what it feels like when he softly croons in my ear about what we talked about this time last week. But really, he is everyone's friend - from Christine Lagarde, IMF chair, to Caroline Roan, chief of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) at Pfizer - Dubner’s guests are invariably given amiable treatment. “Define market-based management / capacity development / winning for me, as you see it”, he asks, putting prime importance on the interviewee’s own perspective.
This tactic pays off well - an octogenarian Jack Welch outlines his hapless quest to find the perfect successor (#326), Drew Faust talks about how she became president of Harvard University ("it's a man’s world, sweetie" #218), and Charles Koch opens up about early family rivalries (#292). This is meaty material. But, fortunately, the editing team trim off the fat to leave the listener with the prime cuts presented in a palate-pleasing manner.
The result is that listening to Freakonomics is like going to a party where there’s only one person that you know well and enjoy it anyway. Dubner gently brings you up to speed on all the other guests’ history and interests until you feel like an integral part of the club:
"So we’ve got... John Urschel a guy getting his math PhD at MIT while playing in the NFL; ...Eric Winston, the president of the NFL players’ union; and ...Justin Tuck, a recent retiree, with two Super Bowl rings, who’s now getting his MBA at Wharton..."
And that club includes an astonishing array of academics, public intellectuals and business leaders. Moreover, their subtle viewpoints on topics that span economics, behavioural science, psychology and a touch of political theory keep you coming back no matter the membership fees (it's free).
If one thing had to change?
This writer would request less rebroadcasts, and less of the same material repackaged by a different edit. This fatal flaw gives four stars to an otherwise five-star show.