« Freakonomics Radio

60. Save Me From Myself (Rebroadcast)

2013-12-26 | 🔗
A commitment device forces you to be the person you really want to be. What could possibly go wrong?
This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
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All your new year's resolutions today were replaying one of our favorite old episodes about commitment devices. That is. Clever ways to trick yourselves for trap yourself into doing something that you want to do, but for whatever reason you aren't able to, for example, so you want to go to free economics, dot com and hit the don't eat button so that we can keep bringing you this free podcast, but you haven't done it yet. I try this start, holding your breath rate now, don't let go you ve gone to freak anomalies that come made. You donation, if you do it right, will send you a for economics, radio, T shirt, coffee MA a sign for economics book three, then and now for our podcast about commitment devices, it's called save me from myself
was late August, a bone. I'm I went to see now am play pie gaol and I was doing Well, I can believe the luck I was having that's Tony Blair. This was on one of those river boat. Casinos in Kansas City Missouri, Blandin is a journalist in ITALY. Forties the big hand that I was there was a sudden card straight flush well and a sudden car straight flashes. Pretty amazing because they have had a joker on board, so that was that there was a wild card there I believe that was seven hundred fifty to one on the odds, so my five dollar bet on it. Let me think thirty, seven Fifty and what happens and did you keep
for a few hours or were you jazz inside him, then a cash out had it work. No, they spread the cards out for the camera. Of course they did a card count. Em the the Superbowl, Azure congratulated me asked for my be because this is gonna, be a big pay out a significant path, and I just thought, while here it goes, here's the thing that beautiful hand landed Misdoubt that seven hundred and fifty two one street flush hand actually turned out to be bad luck. You see Tony Blair Landrigan wasn't supposed to be gambling in that casino or any other casino in the state of Missouri. It all began when he realized that his gambling had gotten out of control, sometimes after work and the weekends. When the casinos I close, I know a couple of times when I say
there till I had to go to work the next day well and at what point did you say to yourself Tony? This is not good and I need to do something well. Was buying money from friends, and I wasn't completely on with them about. Why needed the money, and I knew I was in a pattern of living paycheck to pay check, despite in a decent income, and when I was trying to figure out how many dollars I have to get my next meal. I thought this is not good and I gotta stop the lander knew he did not have the will to stop himself, so he decided to do something: drastic Missouri, like many states with casinos offers. What's
called a self exclusion plan. You sign yourself up for a registry that effectively banned you for life from all casinos in the state. If you ever do come back, you can be arrested for trespassing. It's like signing a contract with yourself against you. For a while, it worked blander and stayed out of the casinos until you start going back. He discovered a loophole here. He didn't have to show is idea to get into the casino or even to play the table games. In fact, you wouldn't have to show us the at all, unless he won a certain amount of money at which point the IRS would have to be notified, and that brings us back Tony Blair Endurance seven Card street flesh and I kept a small amount. Face thinking, I don't know- maybe maybe I'm going to be lucky in another way- maybe that computer glitch occur
her door Mehevi somebody accidently racetrack breath after six years. I have it all the time I thought there taking too long and then what I believe it was highway patrol and I believe that the state agency, the gaming entity They taught me on the shoulder and asked me the step away from the table and to gather my chips in that come with them. They didn't need to explain why I am, and I follow them and is at least a lot. But if you thinking holy cow, why did I do I do this to myself? I signed us so that we can see. No. I was leaving myself up, I mean no offense. I don't blame you because I mean is Let's go, this is a bad bet. You could only lose there's no way you could win once you sign that ban If I had one several more for kind hands, I can probably when under the radar, but what I'm really doing is
I dont, when big any right to the logic, doesn't follow. Was it dumb? Yes and I even kind of joke about it with the officer the seven car straight flash- I said, Gimme some compliment for that. While you write that citation The land Dron was charged with criminal trespass paid a small, fine and worst of all, this render his thirty seven hundred fifty dollar jackpot, so the casino got to keep the money he lost and the money he won it makes us self exclusion Ban seem like a pretty the deal these from the casinos end and so on if you had to do all over again. If you could rewind back those years ago, would you sign up again? Well, that's a tough question Knowing if everything was going to be repeated in hindsight, I would not want to go through all that again,
I know I had to get away from those casinos for awhile. So in the time that it kept me away. I think that was the ban worth putting my name on that last. If there were a national casino ban registry and national self imposed casino ban registry. Would you sign up for now. I'm here
from w and my see this is free economics, radio, the pot calves that explores the hidden side of everything. Here's your host Stephen Governor, so economists have a name for the self imposed, and that Tony Blair and signed up for it's called a commitment device to understand how a commitment device works. If it does work. If the picture two versions of yourself, the current you and the future, you sometimes it's the case that people know that their future version of themselves will want to follow behaviour that their current version of themselves is not comparable. With that Steve Lever is my free economic
friend and co author. So I'm on a diet, and I would like to stick to their diet, but I know that when someone puts a chocolate cake in front of me, I will lose my willpower that trafficking, a commitment device, is an attempt on the part of a person to set up constraints so that the future self isn't able to take advantage of the situation and do what the future self once, but instead requires the future. Self to behave in a way that the current self would like the future self to behave as if you remember how Is he s had himself lashed to the mass of his ship? So we couldn't succumb to the sweet song of the sirens. That is a commitment device. Have you ever bar and expensive, Jim member?
to force yourself to get into shape. That's a commitment device for some people. Marriage is a commitment device. Now, in the last few years, commitment device websites have been popping up like stick dot com. It's S tea. I see K, K and a Herc, that's a h e r k, and they, let you who set up a contract to help you quit smoking or finally, right that novel any kind of go. You can imagine if you fail, there's a penalty to be paid, you may have to donate money to an organisation that you hate or you might have to post an embarrassing sure of yourself to Facebook, Steve Levitt, being Steve limit
has some singular ideas about commitment devices. Siberia uttered surgery is one of the ultimate examples of a commitment by since a case where you know you can't control whom you eat to actually have surgeons, go in and put rings or cut your stomach out so that you just don't want to in the future. He did all which is ours. For me as a really really stream solution to not being able to lose way. I think I have at least two far superior ways of losing weight that I have been able to convince anyone else to go without the one. That's maybe more civilised his. If you ve ever had really bad canker shores or culture. Gums is so unpleasant aid to one or two slice up here. Comes a little bit and I'll cut up your mouth so that you just don't feel like eating it. I think they'll be a great diet approach, but people say no, no, not to violent. I can cut my son,
One thing I know at work is just take a little. Can we see a baby food jar and Phil with vomit moving and weird around your neck. In every time you did died that your hungry just open the jar and take a little sniff. I guarantee you will lose weight and guarantee Anna and we can't figure out why people don't Economists, I don't understand it's a holiday worse than buried Patrick surgery when you rather sniff I will dwell than new risk death going under the knife. To have someone for open your are you in here many times they were never bill, reverse it. He had also one I'm thing is, it is unpleasant as it is that one time at risk as it is for the one time you figure, if I get through it, that I'm done as opposed to just walk around with a baby foods government on a string, my wife come forward. Great conversation started out with what kind of people who are you trying to start a conversation
the Ladys ladies night, at them at the bars. Ok so maybe limits methods aren't for everybody or anybody. But let's say that you do want to change your life in some way, large or small. Maybe you find yourself questioning the choices you make, maybe you're looking for answers to life's big big questions. I was talking my cousin Jimmy who asked the question that really kind of summed up. The whole thing he said is life without staking porn worth living. That's Adam Scott. He works in telecom policy for the canadian government in Ottawa. Thirty five years old. He and his wife had their first kid. A year ago his perspective on life is shifted. I've always been
quilled person, but now becoming a weak willed fat old person so deftly had my health on my mind lately in recognising that I've only got so many years, some hours left to live and I spent I'm in a valuable way, so he took his cousin Jimmy's cos kind of seriously what if he did, give up steak and pornography and while he's out of all the other habits he considered unhealthy. I'll, give you the fullest is hamburgers. Hotdogs french signing rings, chicken wing Adam decided to go. Hold turkey work for thirty days, yogurt. He committed himself to a life of health attacks in virtual grind his cold. Turkey list ended up earth. Forty,
to aid to stop illegal drugs, which are not really do anyway. I remember when I was a kid how hard it was to give up one thing for lent, like ketchup had loved ketchup. How do you live without ketchup for the entire Lynton season and here's Adam Scott trying to give up? Not one thing he loves, but forty two. These are things that have been doing habitually foods that I've been eating for last twenty years. Television shows that I've been watching every night for lost two or three years and I ve, never really made a conscious decision about them. I've never sat down and assess the value of watching DMZ every night. It just kind of crept into my life, and now it's there. So don't necessarily want to give it all up, but I do want to a value waited and see if, if I think my life is better with beer and entertainment television in it, I'll be drinking and from the tv on day, thirty one Adam New.
How hard this is going to be any new that he was going to need some kind of commitment device. So what I came up with is I've written a seven hundred fifty dollar check made out to Oprah Winfrey, who my wife adores, and why despise might be too strong a word, but not a big fan of yeah. It's true. I do other Hooper. I think she's great. I think he does great things. That's Heather, Adams, wife. I couldn't see fucking bad coming of of her having one honey, I'm sure it would go to something terrible and good that evidence it that way, optimism I'll spend it to advance or evil empire one way or another. My hope would be that you would spend it on herself parachutes early. Something that she has an Evidence already Adam needed one more thing, a referee, so he gave the seven hundred and fifty dollar check to his friend Scooby and if he gets any credible evidence that I've broken my contract, he has instructions
male that check immediately to Oprah Winfrey. There was one last layer of the commitment, Adam decided to post a series of videos on Youtube, called the cold Turkey diaries in order to make public his progress. Ah, my name's items got the cynical turkish errors. We talk to him on day. Five. The commitment contract is really working. The combination of kind of guilt and fear of getting caught There really has been effective so far, but by day ten the novelty seemed to be wearing off. I guess anyone on four march after really stressful day. I was tired I'm annoyed set up. My job would win a great day to sit down crack a cold beer, open bag of pretzels and sit in front of tv for half an hour just to decompress a little bit. I don't get to do that anymore, Adam presses onward. He certainly did make it easy on himself gifts so much all at once. He s dead get going in the mornings without the benefit of caffeine. Yes, to avoid
tv, even in other people's homes, at poker nights with his buddies, he drinks Gatorade, while they're all pounding beer and ships, but Adams, hardy Canadian, that he is doesnt quit. He doesn't cheap, but then one day twenty one there is a slip Adam and Heather, begun to a diner for breakfast, and who is risky at the time he ordered a decaf coffee, which is not on the cold turkey list. Heather also ordered a coffee and there were two coffee is on the table in one was black and white. MR creamy looking and I had put anything my coffee in- as I thought, that's kind of strange. That that one's creamy looking, maybe there's nothing wrong with it. I don't know it turned out on. I said MIKE what what's in the coffee- and I didn't know what she was talking about-
It's just the old milk milk, not allowed Adam, had only put a couple, little containers of two percent milk in his coffee and had a few said It was, as you would later insist a total accident, but it didn't matter after three weeks of perfect compliance hidden broken his commitment owes an immediate freak out everything. It was like to blow. It was like the wind was just completely nightmare. I sales lake damn this, I was really wonder, and I guess that's what I'm gonna go down on, something so stupid Adam, knew what he had to do. He contacted Scooby so he texted me and I think my first think was who puts milk in their coffee. First of all does this so I've alibis. Ok, while I said if it
Tough and half yes said I'll lead to thence lie, don't let it happen again, so Adam keeps going and he makes it all the way to day thirty with no further slip. Ups, no sleep walking into the pantry for bag of chips, no plopping himself down in front of the tv he had committed himself to a cold Turk. Regimen and as hard as it was is unlikely is success may have seemed he made it. But when we talk to him on day thirty, he didn't sound so happy. I'm kind of feeling guilty about those too little the milk sector record book as I was gonna, have the asterisk beside it. It's a bit of a let down. To be honest, so he comes up with a work around call it a two percent solution. So maybe maybe the best thing to do is to redo the letter written. So it starts
Dear Oprah attached you'll find a cheque for seven hundred fifty dollars. Please allow me to explain. One month ago I said of e mails. The check to open for everything from and his letter explains the whole project. What happened with milk? How Scooby forgave amber how Adam couldn't forgive himself encouragement and then the contract. He just leaves it up to her for myself on the mercy of the opera and ask only that you would you take it matter fairly. Tonight I will sleep guilt free, I'll, be honest with you. I think Adam Scott was way way too rough on himself. Forty two band items and one slip up in three
is it me come on, but I also find myself thinking look how much effort he expended. Look, how much anxiety put himself through simply to get himself to do the things he already wanted to do. That's why some people aren't such big fans of the commitment device. I really think commitment devices are curve, a farce that Steve Levin. Again he tried a commitment device on himself once it was actually in Thomas showings Undergrad, your closet economics at Harvard Sir Thomas, was one of the greatest economists about time he won the Nobel Prize. He was a wonderful lectured shelling was also one of the first scholars to study what we now call the commitment device, but I had this problem, which was at nine, a M classes. That was set up to a seat. I would immediately go to sleep. I really want to see these lectures. I just couldn't keep my eyes open,
I had this brilliant idea and others was in economic class on strategic thinking and what better way of using strategic thinking was thin to use the commitment vice of putting myself in the very front row in the very middle seat. How could I possibly fall asleep if Thomas showing was looking right at me ass, he delivery lecture and unfortunately it could have been more than two minutes into class. When I found myself dozing off already- and I couldn't keep my eyes open- the entire lecture- and I decided, while that commitment dressed in work- I'm gonna sit in the back of the class, at least not half. It's embarrassing that the problem of commitment devices is, as is clever at your current self. Is it try to devise ways to keep your future self from getting around in the future self? To death?
he wants, whatever its being denied and it finds ways to to get around it. I mean what people pretend to one moment devices I think deep down. Real people, don't really want them. All right, so personal commitment devices are imperfect to say the very least, but what if we raise the stakes a bit? What if a commitment device could be applied to help fight, say domestic violence are essential. True commitment devices available to women who are the victims of domestic violence one of them is surely to kill. Him That's coming up on free economics, radio,
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so commitment devices, don't always work in part, because your future self rebelled against your current self and in part, because the devices may simply not be powerful enough and there's another problem. Sometimes you just change your mind, so you have, for the most part, economists believe people irrational, and they can make the best decisions for themselves. That's Anna, Sir she's, an economist at Brown University, so economists for the most part, I don't like to tie people's hands, but there can be circumstances when you might actually think it would be improving eaters.
Daddy's commitment devices in an unusual context, which is the context of domestic violence and the reason why this we believe, a sort of a nice contacts for studying this is that in domestic violence. What you witness is a lot, The degree of cyclicality a large degree of women leaving abusive relationships and returning multiple times. If you think domestic violence is the big problem, you are wrong in the course of a lifetime an estimated one in four women is beaten or rape.
By an intimate partner in the U S. Every day, roughly fourteen thousand women are the victims of domestic violence and four are killed by their intimate partners. One big problem is that many domestic violence victims don't report their abuser to the police and there's another problem. A woman who does call the police might end up dropping the case. Her boyfriend or husband might sweet talk or out of it or may be threatened her back. In the nineteen eighties, a vast majority of domestic abuse cases were dropped before final judgment so across the country lawmakers trying to come up with solutions to these problems. One was a mandatory arrest policy, which meant that the police were required to arrest the suspect, even if the victim, and are you changed your mind by the time the plea showed up.
Another similar solution was called the no drop policy and this policy states that once a case has been presented for prosecution a woman can choose not to follow through, but the prosecution will continue anyway, and I should say I believe that the justification for that was prosecutors believed women were being threatened by their abusers. She dropped the charges, so once they were moved that from her power they felt that they were actually making her safer in that sense. So if a woman reports her for having abused her and then decides in the light of day when the dark of night to chain your mind and not proceed the prosecutor, who as the legal authority to continue without her help, without a collaboration that cracked
so both of these solutions that you're talking about both of those are commitment devices then yes, they're both bells that cannot be unring, that cracked most big american Citys now have these mandatory prosecution policies Aser and her co, author Pedro Doubt bow. Who happens to be your husband wanted to know what kind of affect these policies had, on domestic violence. They began by looking at the data from California during the nineteen nineties. The seven biggest cities in California adopted the policies at different times, which made for an natural experiment to help study, cause and effect hell. We can essentially look at a county before and after it adopted one of these policies and looked to see what happened to both arrest for domestic violence and cause reporting domestic violence.
And what we found was an increase in both on the order of fourteen to twenty percent. So after these policies were adopted, it seemed to be that there was an increase in reporting of domestic violence and what was your response to that? As an economist? Did you say you know this means that the policy makers got it right and that they came up with the kind of rejected incentive that produced some good pro social change or essential? Yes, you know this was very much consistent with women. Demanding wanting away to commit themselves to prosecution. So that sounds good, but let me play devils ever you could imagine that in some circumstances a commitment device like this might backfire. That is some women.
Might be more reluctant to call the police, knowing they won't be able to change their mind later and men now that the stakes are higher for them Might have a greater incentive to force women do not call the police, and how about this? Aser tells us that domestic violence calls Arrests rose as a result of these new laws, but what about domestic violence itself do more arrests necessarily mean that less violence is happening. That fool ass, clear, so that's hard to look at also teach you can't get survey data at at that kind of level at the level we're looking at this very local level or we could do- is look at hospitalizations for assault among women over this period and we did not see that they declined significant
so I want to hang my hat on that sir you're saying that the law works. Well, the commitment vase works really well in that it gets more people report, but you can't really say that works well, lowering be actual. You know symptom that it was trying to address in the first place. I led the data is not there to last answer back, so you could say well it's good that this law has been arrived at this commitment device that works. On the other hand, we can't really prove that it produces anything more than more kind of legal and prosecutors selectivity. So if we started to This fundamental principle of economics that you look at what people you want to know what people want where people like you look at what they do and now what they say so the fact that you see an increase in reporting suggested. This is actually a policy that they prefer. Aser did find some convincing data of a slightly different sort when she went beyond California and look
the national figures. So what we did fine- and I have to admit that we tried- is hard we could to make these I'll, go away. We couldn't. What we found was that we saw a significant decline in intimate partner homicide with men as the victim did you catch that would aser saying is that after these domestic violence policies were adopted, fewer women murdered their husbands and boyfriends. Now granted that's not a very big category of murder in the first place, but still have you explain that? Well, there are essentially, Oh commitment devices available to women who are the victims of domestic violence? And one of them is what we call the extreme device is which is essentially to kill him one. She kills him There is no way to return. That is a commitment devices as it can be mean device, and this
and is the one offered by this policy, which is obviously a considerably cheaper device. It makes it seem so much less draconian compared to murdered, because if you are just justice, offer the one choice of you know. If you are going to report your partner as abusing you, then it is a bell that cannot be on run that might sound very stiff. On the other hand, if you can the other option. Is that if you dont report, you may end up killing him, that's a much more costly. Commitment vice to the woman and to say nothing of the man and ass correct as an economist two looks at you know the way people make decisions for themselves, how how does it sit with you? I guess, philosophically, do you like the idea of a commitment device that helps much if not in what were essentially doing is we're preference in one state of being over another were saying where this policy that we believe
Is it the woman right when she is attacked and reports her abuser that we are going to follow that woman's preferences and not the second woman who show his up couple weeks or a couple months later and decide she no longer wants to prosecute and actually wants to return to him Oh, you might argue who are we to preference that woman self as opposed to her other self? We can call. That and you would be right. I think the way to look at it is to say is there any collateral damage either externalities than the answer to that is. Yes, there are children who bear the costs of these decisions and that the policy makers should consider the welfare of those children as well. And the second part of irresponsible. Let's see what women do, let's see, whether they in fact increase their reporting.
As they do. That would suggest that they have a preference for this as well and that the policy choice was correct, hop, ok, that makes perfect sense, except let me Ask you that necessitates women, knowing that these policies do it, straight so crack, so that is that the case well there's no study, there's! No! I can't give you numbers the
As far as I know, nobody has actually study. That's what do women actually know about the rules and policies? The only thing I can say is: typically, these policies are accompanied by an increase in resources in both the prosecutor's office and the police department for cases of domestic violence. Alright. So, while the evidence is hardly overwhelming and they're all kinds of data we don't have, it does seem that these commitment devices that are meant to help the victims and potential victims of domestic violence have had some benefits. What's interesting to me, at least, is it with these commitment devices its somebody else whose doing the committing for
are you now: that's how it's gotta be self imposed commitment devices, as we have seen a rather imperfect Tony Blair Landline signed himself up for a gambling ban and it can keep himself at the casino and then he got busted when he won a huge jackpot. He lost by. We Ning Adam Scott? Meanwhile, he won by losing that is he deemed his cold. Turkey experienced a failure because of those few wayward sips of coffee with the milk in it, but in the end, the cold turkey thing really worked out for Adam. He lost eight and a half pounds during that month. He may, of course, be out the seventeen fifty dollars that email to Oprah Winfrey slip
I pictured my check your travelling through the male lending in opera headquarters, children's it sees the seven under fifty dollars and besides a shingle shoe shopping fat. I see a showing the way now, but to date the Czech remains unclear cashed it back ass. His nurse thanks for listening and also, if you haven't done so yet, please go to free, cannot mixed up, come and hit the donate buttons. We can keep putting out this free public radio broadcasts on next week's episode, if you're fitness routine typical. That means it's probably nonexistent most men. Guns, are not exercising their best take suggested. At least eighty percent of Americans are not meeting them.
Commonly used guidelines for exercise? So how do you become part of at least twenty percent through some secret exercise? Routine? Little. Definitely keep you off your, but yes, IRAN's whatever you will do, is certainly the best exercise on what he actually like doing to something that you actually enjoy do something that makes you better how to exercise and not hate it. That's next time on for economic trigger, freakin onyx radio is produced by W and Y see and Debonnair productions. This episode was produced. By Catherine Wells our staff includes. David Herman Gregg resolves ski gretta, cone, borri, Lamb, Susie, Luxembourg and Chris Ban in if you are Fr Economics, radio! You can subscribe to our podcast on Itunes or go to free economics. Dot com we'll find out
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Transcript generated on 2021-03-14.