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Leaving the country if your candidate loses? Sure you are

U.S. President Barack Obama and Republican Presidential nominee Mitt Romney debate on October 16, 2012 at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York. Undecided voters asked questions during a town hall format.

We're pretty bad, as a species, at predicting our own future behavior.

When gas prices go up, we say we'll drive less. But we don't. We say we're going to vote in the upcoming election. Many of us won't.  And some of us even threaten to pack up your belongings and leave the country if your candidate of choice gets beat by the undeserving bum he's running against. Yeah, not likely.

And. turns out, we don't always tell pollsters the truth. Freakonomics co-author Stephen J. Dubner puts it this way: "All political polls rely on one stranger telling the truth to another stranger about the future, so there're a lot of ways that could go wrong."

"The cardinal rule," says Dubner about soliciting our true opinions, "should be this: don't listen to what I say, watch what I do."

Kai Ryssdal: Time now for a little Freakonomics Radio.  It’s that moment every couple of weeks where we talk to Stephen Dubner, the co-author of the books and blog of the same name.  It is “the hidden side of everything.” Dubner, it’s good to have you back.

Stephen JDubner: Kai Ryssdal, thank you for having me back.  I know we’re all excited about the second Presidential debate last night.  Yes?

Ryssdal: It was a good one, don’t you think?  Interesting.

Dubner: It was.  A lot of, I thought, scintillating talk about taxation, in particular.

Ryssdal: You need to get out more.  But OK.

Dubner: It did get me to thinking, however, about lying. Now, I don’t mean the lying of the sort that each campaign is accusing the other of doing every two seconds. I mean, Kai, lying to ourselves.

Ryssdal: All right, go ahead.  Because I have no idea where you’re going.

Dubner: All right, let me explain. A couple of weeks ago, I saw a poll on Yahoo! Finance. It said that France’s wealthiest man is talking about leaving the country to avoid high taxes there.  “Would you ever leave the U.S.,” it asked, “to avoid high taxation?”  About a third of the respondents to this poll said, “no, I would never leave.”  But everyone else was willing to entertain the idea.  In fact, another third said they would leave the U.S. if taxes were to go higher than even 40 percent, which isn’t really that much of a stretch.

Ryssdal: All right.  So I’m going to show off here.  You ready?

Dubner: I am ready.

Ryssdal: All right.  So this is the Laffer Curve, right?  Arthur Laffer, the economist, he said it, in theory, shows the point at which high taxes make people stop trying to work hard and make money.

Dubner: That is the theory.  The Laffer Curve theory is a bit however like a unicorn –we don’t really know where that cutoff point is.

Ryssdal: Come on.  Unicorns are real.

Dubner: Sometimes.  They may be in California where you live -- I think more real than in some places.   I did ask my economist co-author Steve Levitt what he would do if, for instance, he had to pay, let’s say, 50 percent in taxes.

Steven D. Levitt: I wouldn’t leave the U.S.  But I definitely would work less hard. Maybe not at 50 percent, but at 70 or 80 percent I would spend a lot more time playing golf and a lot less time trying to make money. That’s for sure.

Ryssdal: Oh, please!  First of all, the man has what – four or five children?  How you gonna feed four or five kids, making less money?

Dubner: So you don’t believe him.

Ryssdal: Well, here’s what I think: I think he’s an economist and he sees this theory and so he’s talking to the theory.

Dubner: I wouldn’t say you’re wrong there, but let me also say this: we lie to ourselves all the time. We’re constantly trying to predict how we’re going to behave in the future when something happens.  A tax hike.  A price change.  A Presidential election.  And we’re almost always wrong.  Take something as simple as driving. The American Automobile Association is constantly surveying drivers.  They’ll say something like, “if gas prices stay as high as they are now, or go up, will you drive less?”  And people always say, “oh, absolutely!” And then you look at the data and they do not drive less.  Here’s Joel Weichsel with AAA:

Joel Weichsel: I think there may be people who lie to themselves, or imagine that they’re doing something that they’re not.  But I think there are also people who maybe forget about things that they’ve done.  

Ryssdal: “Forget?” He’s being very polite and saying “we’re lying to ourselves.”  That’s what he’s saying.

Dubner: It’s a synonym.  But I will say this: I don’t believe it’s necessarily intentional. One problem with any survey is that the power of suggestion comes into play.

Ryssdal: All right, but let’s get it back to the debate here, Dubner and the idea of polling and people lying to themselves.  I mean, do political polls change behavior, do you think?

Dubner: Quite possibly and we’re also getting a lot of answers that don’t reflect reality.  Think about it, what every poll relies on is one stranger telling the truth to another stranger about the future. So there are many ways in which that answer can go wrong. Nate Silver runs the blog FiveThirtyEight.com.  He takes all of these different political polls and analyzes them and weights them depending on how good a poll they are. He says it can be hard even to figure out whether a given person will vote at all.

Nate Silver: You can ask Americans and say, ‘are you going to vote?’  But people lie about that, just like they lie about always washing their hands or using condoms or never running a red light or anything else.

Ryssdal: I don’t even know what to make of this.  Is hope then lost for being able to do this kind of stuff?

Dubner: I wouldn’t say hope is quite lost, but I will say this: the cardinal rule should be “don’t listen to what people say, watch what they do.”  So the next time you hear a friend of yours say, “oh man, if that guy gets elected President, I am out of here.  I am moving to Canada!”  You go and check back in a year or so.  I promise you the odds are pretty good he hasn’t budged an inch.

Ryssdal: Stephen Dubner – he’ll be back in a couple of weeks.  Freakonomics.com is the web site.  We’ll see you, man, if you’re still in the country.

Dubner: Thanks, Kai.

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In 1992, I got accepted to a Canadian college (automatic student visa), and was attracted to gov healthcare. I got no responses to my resume, so I stayed and suffered with untreated illness.

“When gas prices go up, we say we'll drive less. But we don't…”
It’s remarkable to hear an economist claim that people don’t respond to prices, more so when there is solid data establishing that fact. According to the Federal Highway Administration, Americans do alter their driving habits with large increases in prices at the pump. Years of annual increases in Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) reversed during the 1974 oil embargo when gas prices quadrupled. In the more recent run up in gas prices in 2008 and 2009, a twenty-five year trend of annual increases was again reversed. Total VMT in 2010 was more than three percent below the 2006 level. These are miles driven, not gas consumed which could be explained by increased fuel economy.
It is common in the mainstream media to hear an expert’s view on a phenomenon without any data supporting it, but I expect more from Marketplace. Try to do better next time.

Regardless of who wins, I'm tired of the idea that the USA should be a stripped-down, bare-bones kind of country. I've lived a total of 6 years in Europe. If Romnay wins, that will be a sign of more of what our country has built being dismantled (programs like the NEA & NEH, support for the arts in the region where I grew up (Appalachia) and much more) or allowed to decay (buildings and infrastructure). I want to live in a country that accepts that taxes are the price you pay to live in civilization. Even if Obama wins again, I might leave, but if Romney does, I am even more likely to do so.

Syria would be better off, but America would not.
Now if Nancy and Harry would go.......

I'll guarantee that I'll be more scared if the guy from Wall Street wins. Not just because his cronies will get bigger pay raises and compensation which they'll get to keep. The 47% will balloon into something bigger even if they do get jobs.... because they will all be compensated around the minimum wage level. The majority will have a lower standard of living and there will be more crime. I grew up in Oakland, CA "crime capital" of the SF Bay Area (go ahead, I dare you to look it up). If that Wall Street dude wins, I'll guarantee I'll be more scared when I drive to visit my parents. And it will NOT be what that Wall Street dude does if elected, it will be what he stands for. He won't have to do anything to make matters worse. He's white and he doesn't know and doesn't care. I'll bet Dubner that I will be more scared. Ante in Dubner.

Yup. The silliest prediction of all is the notion that the Evil Other-Party President will go wild in his second term. He'll do all the horrible things he means to do; he'll revoke the Constitution and be Dictator for Life.

Dems said Reagan would do it; then Reps said Clinton would do it; then Dems said Bush Jr would do it; now Reps are saying Obama will do it.

Terrible prediction. What really happens, EVERY TIME, is that Presidents slack off in their second term. They do nothing.

The second term is Dessert. It's four years when you have the power and the privilege but you don't have to work for it.

Ted Nugent should move to Syria when President Obama is re-elected.

Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh can go with him.

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