Transcript of the podcast:
Speaker 1: Pursuant to the executive order, the director of Selective Service is going to establish tonight a random selection sequence for induction for 1970. I will ask Congressman Pirnie to come forward.
Katy Milkman: Picture a hall with a bulletin board at the front. An American flag stands on the left, and next to it a woman is opening capsules containing small, folded pieces of paper. She's handing them to a man to read out. They're dates.
Alexander Pirnie: September 14th.
Katy Milkman: Each slip of paper had the power to alter lives forever.
Speaker 4: September 14 001.
Katy Milkman: It was December 1, 1969, and Representative Alexander Pirnie of New York was revealing to millions of Americans watching and listening at home the randomly selected birth dates that determined which tranches of young men would be drafted for military service in the Vietnam War.
Alexander Pirnie: December 30th.
Speaker 4: December 30.
Katy Milkman: Whatever you think of this draft lottery, it represented one of the most significant accidental experiments in American history. A side-effect of this process was that it created a population of healthy young men who are fundamentally no different from one another, except that by luck some had dramatically worse lottery numbers than others. The men with bad lottery numbers had higher chances of being sent to Vietnam to fight, and that led them to make many different life decisions, essentially by chance.
Speaker 4: February 14 is 004.
Katy Milkman: More than 50 years later, scientists across a multitude of disciplines continue to analyze the data that resulted from this accidental experiment with men's lives. The Vietnam draft lottery yielded useful insights about the returns to additional schooling, what alters political engagement, and much, much more. In this episode, you'll hear about how certain geopolitical events, natural disasters, and even simple mistakes can accidentally generate important insights if you think to look.
I'm Dr. Katy Milkman, and this is Choiceology, an original podcast from Charles Schwab. It's a show about the psychology and economics behind our decisions. We bring you true stories of high-stakes choices, and then we examine how these stories connect to the latest research and behavioral science. We do it all to help you make better judgments and avoid costly mistakes.
Solomon Ezra: My dad was a soldier. My great-grandparents, they're all born there. Even though we pay taxes, we don't get the privilege to own land. We're considered a second class.
Katy Milkman: This is Solomon Ezra. He grew up in Ethiopia, and he's Jewish.
Solomon Ezra: Being a Jew is one of the worst things at that time.
Katy Milkman: When Solomon was 16 years old, Ethiopian police threw him in jail, accusing him of being an Israeli spy.
Solomon Ezra: I was in prison being considered a spy. I got tortured.
Katy Milkman: Despite this prejudice, Solomon and the rest of his community stayed faithful to their religion and heritage.
Stephen Spector: They had lived in Ethiopia for untold centuries. They had a separate identity as being Jewish, and they were living in villages mostly in the north in a region called Gondar near Lake Tana.
Katy Milkman: This is Stephen.
Stephen Spector: Hi, my name is Stephen Spector. I'm professor emeritus of English at Stony Brook University, specialist in religion and culture. The Ethiopian Jews for time beyond memory had been yearning to go back to Jerusalem. They believed that they had descended from King Solomon and that they wanted to get home.
Katy Milkman: By the 1980s, a sizable portion of the Jewish community had already left Ethiopia, but a worsening civil war there was making the desire to leave more urgent.
Stephen Spector: The Ethiopian government, by the way, was ruled by a really bloodthirsty dictator named Mengistu, nicknamed the Butcher of Addis. The story was that he had personally murdered his predecessor, Haile Selassie. Whether it's true or not, can't say. But he was beginning to realize in 1989 and 1990 that he was going to lose the civil war.
Katy Milkman: Mengistu approached the Soviet government for support in the form of money and weapons but was turned away. He then approached Israel, and he would use this community of Jews in Ethiopia as leverage.
Stephen Spector: So, these Jews who represented a really small fraction of the population of Ethiopia became political chips in an international game of poker. The Israelis had experience getting Jews out of oppressive countries that were ruled by dictators. They had done it in Romania for a cash payment. They were able to get a commitment of money from the Jewish federations in America and around the world.
Katy Milkman: The pressure was on for the Israeli and Ethiopian governments to negotiate the terms as rebel fighters in Ethiopia were making serious gains.
Stephen Spector: The final figure that they negotiated was $35 million.
Katy Milkman: For $35 million, the Ethiopian government would permit Israel to evacuate the Jews who wanted to leave.
Stephen Spector: The thing to keep in mind is that this was approved and acted on almost in one day. They had so much trouble getting the Ethiopians to approve it and that when they finally did, the rebels were at the gates.
Katy Milkman: Before the ink was dry on the arrangement, the Israelis snapped into action. The window of opportunity was closing fast.
Stephen Spector: They contacted Ethiopian Israelis, people who'd come from Ethiopia years before as children and now were in the Army or had been in the Army, and they got them all ready to go on planes over to Ethiopia to help with the rescue.
Katy Milkman: One of those people was Solomon. He was now in his thirties. He had escaped prison in Ethiopia, joined the Israeli Air Force, and moved to Boston to study engineering.
Solomon Ezra: And I got called from the Israeli Jewish Agency in Israel, "Would you like to come to help us?"
Katy Milkman: The Israelis needed a coordinator on the ground in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa. They knew Solomon was the person to call for this kind of mission.
Donna Rosenthal: Solomon, he was six years in the Israeli Air Force and flew F-16 fighter jets on secret missions. And Solomon was decorated by President Chaim Herzog in 1984 as one of the most outstanding officers in the Israel Defense Forces.
Katy Milkman: This is Donna Rosenthal. She met Solomon while she was in Ethiopia working as a journalist.
Donna Rosenthal: The attitude he learned in the Air Force, it's what people call the school for chutzpah, and that's where they learned that there's a way when there's no other way.
Katy Milkman: He would need that attitude in Addis.
Solomon Ezra: I work at about 60 hours and never slept to make sure we get all the Jews everywhere in the local area. So the operation start Friday morning, early morning, and you work all the day and mainly Saturday. For our religion, it was not OK, but it was saving lives, and so we didn't have a choice. Within 36 hours, we brought 14,521 people, I believe.
Stephen Spector: The Jews had now reached Addis. The Israelis had trained them to have a silent system of contacting each other when the moment came.
Katy Milkman: The silent system of communication was important. The Israelis were concerned that certain elements of the Ethiopian government might not be aware of the hastily arranged plan and might even interfere. When the time came, the silent signal went out.
Stephen Spector: So they notified each other, "This is it, 6:00 a.m. come to the Israeli Embassy." Each one told a neighbor, so at this point there were probably something like 14,000 Ethiopian Jews in Addis Ababa. They were saying, "This is it. We're getting to Jerusalem. We've been waiting for this for generations. Let's do it."
Katy Milkman: It was an incredibly risky endeavor.
Stephen Spector: They acted on their ancestors' dreams, got on buses, took great chances. Many of them had actually died in previous rescues, so they were willing to take these chances.
Katy Milkman: There were many non-Jewish Ethiopians who wanted to flee the war-torn country as well and tried to pass themselves off as Jews, but the rescue operation couldn't accommodate everyone.
Stephen Spector: There were thousands and thousands of Ethiopians who tried to establish themselves as Jews. They wanted to get to Israel. Remember that Ethiopia was the poorest country in the world, and it was falling apart. It was a refugee crisis, and there were rebels at the gates.
Katy Milkman: The scene at Israeli Embassy was one of chaos.
Solomon Ezra: When we get to the embassy for the operation, a lot of people came. It was thousands of people outside. The people are pushing so hard. It was tough.
Katy Milkman: Members of the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad were also on the ground trying to coordinate, but the situation was tense.
Stephen Spector: I think it must have been terrifying. It got to be so crowded in there that they were pushing forward, and the Israelis were afraid that they would break through the partitions that they had made.
Donna Rosenthal: There's a real ticking clock. They had just a few hours to rescue the Jews because the forces were coming in and were going to prevent them from leaving.
Stephen Spector: At about 9:00 p.m., the crowds thinned out. They let the last 5,000 Ethiopian Jews into the embassy. Slowly, the buses made their way to the airport. The Ethiopians insisted one of their conditions for allowing the rescue was that there should be no indication that these were Israeli aircraft, so they had to cover over the name EL AL. The planes took off. They didn't even turn off the engines. They landed, loaded, and took off.
Katy Milkman: Solomon was at the airport too. He organized the families and worked to ensure that no one was left behind.
Solomon Ezra: One plane, 747, it was supposed to be at 550 people.
Katy Milkman: The Israelis had removed seats from the plane to accommodate extra passengers.
Solomon Ezra: I asked the pilot, he was a survivor from the Holocaust, and asked him, "Hey, that is really full and what can I do?" And he said, "I'm not going to leave one person, and just put it and I will deal with that." We put it up and had 942 people on that plane.
Katy Milkman: It was later discovered that some mothers had hid young children inside their clothes, only revealing them once they thought it was safe. It broke a world record. The plane carried the largest number of people ever in a single flight.
Stephen Spector: There were 35 aircraft that were in constant motion over the Red Sea going to Ethiopia. The operation brought 14,310 Ethiopians to Israel, including eight babies who were born during the mission.
Katy Milkman: Donna Rosenthal was at the airport when the Ethiopian refugees finally arrived in Israel.
Donna Rosenthal: When they landed, many of them were so overcome with joy that they kneeled and kissed the ground. The pilots were crying. I saw soldiers crying. Bus drivers were crying. It was like a life's dream.
Katy Milkman: To the Ethiopian refugees, the work Solomon Ezra did to ensure their safe transport stood out.
Donna Rosenthal: You mention the name Solomon Ezra to almost any Ethiopian Israeli that I've met, they consider him their hero.
Solomon Ezra: It was a miracle happened to us, and it was emotional, very emotional.
Katy Milkman: The Ethiopian Jews were safe in Israel, but now came the challenge of integrating them into Israeli culture and society. That started with getting the children enrolled in school.
Stephen Spector: The Israelis had the best of intentions for those kids, so they decided they would send the kids to religious schools, and they were boarding schools.
Katy Milkman: This scattering of these immigrants to boarding schools around the country had some surprising consequences. It wasn't designed as an experiment, but it turned out accidentally to have that flavor because there was no real rhyme or reason to which children ended up in which Israeli schools. And that is the part of this story that I actually want to dig into a bit.
Stephen Spector: Most of the immigrants were children. Over 60% were 19 years old or younger. Because of all those larger forces at work, this small group who had fought for their identity as Jews and suffered a lot of antisemitism was made into the most important chips in a game which they couldn't understand.
Katy Milkman: Stephen Spector is a professor of religions and culture and medieval English at Stony Brook University. He is also the author of Operation Solomon: The Daring Rescue of the Ethiopian Jews. Solomon Ezra is a former Israeli Air Force pilot and an active member of the Ethiopian and Jewish communities in Portland, Oregon. Donna Rosenthal is the author of The Israelis: Ordinary People in an Extraordinary Land. You can find links in the show notes and at schwab.com/podcast.
As Stephen Spector noted, many of the Ethiopian children rescued as part of what was known as Operation Solomon were sent to boarding schools around Israel. This quasi-random dispersion of kids to different schools presented a unique opportunity to study educational outcomes. Economists Eric D. Gould, Victor Lavy, and M. Daniele Paserman published a paper in 2004 using what they call the natural or accidental experiment of this airlift.
Under normal circumstances, we don't arbitrarily sort kids into different schools. We wouldn't see doing something like that as ethical if the rationale were that we wanted to understand its consequences. But Operation Solomon was an extraordinary situation. The resulting scattering of these children, whether or not it was ideal for the children themselves, produced what's called an accidental experiment. It allowed researchers to later use data on the students' outcomes to gain insight into how initial elementary school environments affect high school performance in a way that would otherwise be difficult or impossible.
Normally, family background and parents' decisions affect schooling, but in this situation, children's educational environments were haphazard and essentially random. Researchers were able to determine that children who were lucky enough to be accidentally sorted into elementary schools where previous generations of students had earned particularly high math scores saw big benefits. They were 40% less likely to drop out of high school in the future and had a 30% higher pass rate on their high school matriculation exams.
These are big, impressive conclusions about the impact of school quality, and they were made possible because three economists thought to assess the impact of this haphazard sorting of children into schools after an emergency refugee airlift. They realized there was a lot they could learn from this accidental experiment.
In case you think accidental experiments are only relevant to economists, think again. If you've ever forgotten to drink your coffee in the morning or discovered your favorite barista accidentally served you decaf, you've been the victim of an accidental experiment. Did you feel just as alert as usual at work? That may have taught you that you're not as caffeine-dependent as you thought, and maybe you could give it up. Or have you taken a wrong turn on your usual route to pick up the kids and discovered, "Wow, that was faster than the way I usually go." Again, you've benefited from an accidental experiment. My next guest is here to explain how accidental experiments can provide useful insights to businesses, policymakers, and everyone in between if only we know where to look.
Steven Levitt is the William B. Ogden Distinguished Service Professor of Economics at the University of Chicago, co-author of the bestselling book Freakonomics, and the host of a Freakonomics Radio podcast called People I Mostly Admire. Incidentally, he's one of the people I most admire, and so I was just delighted when he agreed to join me on the show and proposed that we talk about a slightly esoteric but enormously important topic.
Hi, Steve. Thank you so much for taking the time to join me today.
Steven Levitt: Oh, Katy, my complete pleasure.
Katy Milkman: I'm really excited to talk to you about a topic you proposed actually, which is natural experiments. So just to start, could you give me your definition of a natural experiment? What is it?
Steven Levitt: Yeah, so a natural experiment is a technique for trying to get at causality when you don't have the luxury or the budget to do a true randomization. In a randomized experiment, the key thing that gives you this amazing power is you have a treatment group and a control group, and if you didn't intervene, if you didn't give any treatment, because you randomized, you would expect that absent any kind of intervention by the experimenter, you would get the same outcomes for the treatment group and the control group. And so any difference that you observe is attributable to whatever your treatment is.
So what is a natural experiment? Well, it's the exact same thing, except that the experimenter doesn't actually get to decide either what the treatment is or who's in the treatment or the control group. Instead, you rely on accidents, mistakes, acts of God or nature that have the impact of taking two groups who otherwise you would've thought would've been really similar and somehow causing one of those groups to be treated very differently than the other group.
Just as in an experiment, you artificially treat one group differently than another. You rely on these accidents. So it could be true natural experiments. I have one about Hurricane Katrina where some people in New Orleans happened to be hit really hard by the hurricanes and others didn't, and that's a true natural experiment in a way. But most of the natural experiments are actually the result of human error or limitations on human thinking that lead people to use crude rules that have the impact of treating people very differently, who really should be treated the same except somebody makes a mistake.
Katy Milkman: I love that way of explaining it. What's the most interesting natural experiment you've ever seen?
Steven Levitt: So I'll give you a bunch of examples. So here's one I thought was really interesting. So I got approached by a friend who was a CEO of a company that did travel, did tours for high school kids who were going abroad. So they would do direct mail, and they would send out invitations to kids and try to get them to pay a bunch of money to go abroad and have enriching cultural experiences.
Now, what was interesting is that my friend who ran the company was a brilliant experimenter, and he had basically taken this company, and I don't think I'm exaggerating when I say tripled or quadrupled the revenues just by doing really sensible A/B testing through the mail. It was a perfect setting, pre-internet, for figuring out how to do randomized experiments. And this was back in the early 2000s, so he was definitely ahead of his time.
And so he called me up and he said, "I really kind of exhausted everything I know what to do with experiments. Can you think of anything I could do?" And I said, "Well, what about pricing? How do you do pricing?" And he said, "Oh, well, the day I took over as CEO, the chairman of the board pulled me over and he said, 'I don't care what you do, just don't mess with pricing.' So I've been here for 10 or 12 years, and we just raise the price a couple percent every year, but I've never done any experimentation," which seemed crazy to me.
So he was open to doing experimenting, but I said, "Before we do that, let's just go and see if we can find any accidental experiments in the data. And I said, "So do you vary at all the prices you charge?" He said, "No, we literally charge the exact same price to every person in America who wants to come on our trip." And I said, "OK, that's interesting." But as I learned more about the details, something suddenly occurred to me. The prices he was quoting didn't include the cost of the airline ticket to get to the city from which the tour departed.
So their tours tended to leave from Los Angeles or San Francisco or from New York. And so if you happened to pick a tour that left from New York, and you lived in Portland, Maine, it was a lot cheaper to fly to New York than if you happened to live in Portland, Oregon. On the other hand, if you took a tour that left from San Francisco, it was cheaper to get from Portland, Oregon, to San Francisco than from Portland, Maine.
So who knew if that was going to be a good variation, if it was going to be reliable? And when people got these letters in the mail, they only got offered this one trip, and so you could see whether they would take the trip or not. And what we saw was that there was almost no price sensitivity at all of people to how much that first airplane trip was to get to the city of departure.
And so we took from that, that our guess was that probably overall demand wasn't very sensitive to price. And so I went back to him. And I suggested that we do an experiment, and we should raise price 25 or 50%. And he practically fell off his chair because hadn't raised price more than 2% a year for 10 years. But eventually he agreed to do a 10% price increase and a 5% price increase.
Now, what was interesting is from what we learned, if we hadn't exploited this natural experiment, we would've for sure done a price increase and a price reduction. But given what I saw in the data, I thought, there's no reason at all to do price reduction. That would just be a waste of time. A price reduction was for sure going to cost them profits.
And so we did this first experiment, and it was unbelievable. It was incredible. I mean, it was exactly like we saw in the accidental experiment. There's almost no sensitivity to price at all.
Katy Milkman: That's really interesting. And I'll admit, I'm a little sad that the result meant customers had to pay more for those lovely vacations. But I love these examples of experiments with pricing. So fascinating, and I'm wondering to you, when you think about a typical listener to a podcast like this, so someone who's probably pretty similar to the typical person who tunes into your podcast, right? Curious, smart person who maybe relies on data to make decisions at work or in their personal life, but probably isn't going to turn into an economist and start analyzing these kinds of accidental experiments professionally.
When you think about that person, why do you think they should care about natural experiments? What's sort of in it for them to understand these really interesting accidental experiments, and how could they potentially benefit?
Steven Levitt: Let me take one step back and say, well, would you ever want an accidental experiment over a randomized experiment? And that answer is yes. There are actually times when accidental experiments are better than randomized ones. Now, let me say, if I have a bunch of data, I've collected a bunch of data and someone gave me a choice, would I rather have that data have been generated from a true randomized experiment done right or from an accidental experiment? The answer would always be I'll take the randomized data because the randomized data is the gold standard, nothing better than randomization. The accidental experiment is just trying to mimic that.
So then why did I just say that accidental experiments are sometimes better than randomized experiments? One reason is because you can have accidental experiments in domains where you can't run randomized experiments. But the other thing is that accidental experiments already happened. They're out there. By the time you analyze the data, you know the result.
So my favorite example … think about that … is in, say, in early childhood interventions. So let's just say that we ran a randomized experiment and we wanted to see the effect of doing something to kids when they're three or four years old and see how would it affect, say, their earnings or their crime when they grow up. So we would do something to kids when they're 3. We'd patiently wait until they're 20 or 25, and then we'd find the results and we'd say, "Oh my God, this thing worked." And then we would go and apply it to the next generation of 3-year-olds, and we'd wait another 20 years before we had any impact. So, from the moment we start the experiment until the moment we have an impact, we're talking about 40 or 50 years of lag. And this is the nature of randomization because you got to wait to see the outcomes happen.
But on the other hand, if you could look at accidental experiments that have already happened, you can see some mistake that led some 3-year-olds to be treated differently than the other 3-year-olds, and they've now already grown up. Now they're 25. Then you could put the policy on today's 3-year-olds without having to wait the 20 years to see the experimental results. And so when there are long lags, you can get quicker public policy impact if you use these accidental experiments.
OK, the other reason I think accidental experiments can be super powerful is that, let's just go in a business or an NGO. Everyday people, regular people, they're not really going to run randomized experiments usually. They don't maybe have the tools to do it. They don't have the budget. They can't convince people. It's unethical, a million reasons why in a business setting you won't run a randomized experiment. Maybe you don't plan on being at the firm for the next 10 years.
But these accidental experiments are just absolutely sitting around firms everywhere. I've almost never gone to a firm and not been able to find accidental experiments everywhere I looked. And so it's not hard to look at them. It's really, really simple. You find some case where you treated like people differently, and you look and see whether the people who got treated differently—say, their purchase patterns at the firm were similar before they got treated differently—and are they different after? It's really simple. It doesn't take anything more than Excel, a comparison of means. And it's simple to explain. You don't have to be fancy. People won't have to trust that you've done some complicated analysis.
I'll give you another example from a company that I worked with. It was about advertising. They were just trying to figure out whether the advertising worked. And one of the ways that they advertised was by putting flyers into the Sunday newspaper, the things that you find stuffed in the Sunday newspaper. And so I asked them, "Well, tell me about your strategy." And with pride, they said, "We have put a flyer into every Sunday newspaper in every major market without exception for the last 15 years."
And I kind of laughed, and I said, "It's really hard to figure out if it works or not if you do the same thing in literally every market every Sunday for 15 years. How are you ever going to know if it works? I couldn't possibly tell you if the advertising works." I said, "But it's super easy to think about running a randomized experiment." I said, "If you could give me maybe 15 of your markets, and we would go for maybe three or four months and not do any of the flyers for three or four months, and we'd just see what happened to the sales in the store, and we'd have a really good idea if the advertising worked."
And the people in the room went crazy. They said, "Are you nuts? We can't do that. We would get fired." They said, "One time we hired this summer intern, and one of his jobs was to place the ads in Pittsburgh. And this guy was terrible, and we didn't even find out till the end of summer, but he hadn't put an ad into the Pittsburgh newspapers the entire time." And I said to them, "Well, what happened to your sales in the stores in Pittsburgh?" And they stopped dead in their tracks. And they said, "Uh, that's a great question. We never looked at what happened to our sales in Pittsburgh." It was a perfect accidental experiment.
And they called me back a few days later and said, "You would not believe it. We saw no impact at all on our sales in Pittsburgh when this guy didn't put in the flyers." And let me say, they were spending something like 500 million, maybe a billion dollars a year on these flyers. And I said, "My God, that's amazing. That's so good to know. Let's run this randomized experiment where we actually stop advertising to see if it's really robust." They said, "Are you crazy? We can't not advertise. We'll all get fired."
And that was the end of the conversation. They never, to this day, I think they continue to spend a billion dollars a year on something that the only piece of evidence they've ever gotten suggested isn't working very well.
Katy Milkman: I love that as a final thought, that common sense can help us make sense of the world. Thank you so much for taking the time to do this. I know life is very busy and I truly appreciate it.
Steven Levitt: Wow, it was fun. Let's do it again.
Katy Milkman: Steven Levitt is the William B. Ogden Distinguished Service Professor of Economics at the University of Chicago and the co-author of the bestselling book Freakonomics. He's also the host of a podcast on the Freakonomics Radio Network that I love called People I Mostly Admire. You can find links to his research, his books, and his podcast in the show notes and at schwab.com/podcast.
Decisions made in Washington, D.C., can affect your portfolio every day. So what policy changes should investors be watching? WashingtonWise is an original podcast from Charles Schwab that takes a non-partisan look at the news out of Washington and the potential impacts to your finances and portfolio. Check it out at schwab.com/washingtonwise or wherever you get your podcasts.
Today's episode was a chance for us to nerd out a bit with one of my favorite thinkers, but the main goal was to help you recognize a new way that you can look at the world and hunt for reliable answers to questions of interest to you. Maybe you're wondering if marketing adds value to your brand, or if you should change your pricing strategy like the businesspeople in Steve's examples. If so, perhaps it'll inspire you to look for accidental experiments that might offer a good answer. Or maybe you have a simpler question about the efficiency of your commute, or the effectiveness of your favorite bug repellent, or whether your lucky socks really make you run faster. Hint, the socks don't work.
In these kinds of situations, you might consider whether you could learn from any accidental experiments. Did you ever take a wrong turn that forced you to reroute? How did that go? Have you ever run out of bug repellent or forgotten to put it on? Did you notice a difference? The key is that it's not informative to compare days when you decided to wear your repellent with days when you didn't, or days when you had to reroute due to a traffic jam with days when you drove to work the usual way. You want to compare situations that were otherwise the same but where an accident of chance led you to try something out of the ordinary to see if it mattered. Those are accidental experiments. They're all around us, and we can learn a lot if we keep an eye out for them.
You've been listening to Choiceology, an original podcast from Charles Schwab. If you've enjoyed the show, we'd be really grateful if you'd leave us a review on Apple Podcasts, a rating on Spotify, or feedback wherever you listen. You can also follow us for free in your favorite podcasting app.
And if you want more of the kinds of insights we bring you on Choiceology about how to improve your decisions, you can order my book, How to Change, or sign up for my monthly newsletter, Milkman Delivers, at katymilkman.com/newsletter. Next time, the story of a hockey team that defied expectations in a big way by building their roster from scratch. I'm Dr. Katy Milkman. Talk to you soon.
Speaker 9: For important disclosures, see the show notes, or visit schwab.com/podcast.
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Decisions made in Washington, D.C., can affect your portfolio every day. So what policy changes should investors be watching?
- Check out the WashingtonWise podcast for a non-partisan look at the news out of Washington and the potential impacts to your finances and portfolio.
Scientifically sound, randomized experiments can be expensive and difficult to run. But there’s an alternative: It turns out that certain real-life situations can also generate useful scientific data. The trick is finding them.
In this episode of Choiceology with Katy Milkman, we look at how events outside of our control can create opportunities for so-called natural or accidental experiments.
The organizers of a heroic airlift transporting thousands of Ethiopian Jews to Israel broke the record for the flight with the most passengers. It was 1994, and the clock was ticking for Israeli intelligence personnel and leaders of the Ethiopian Jewish community as they worked to transport as many people as possible before the civil war closed in on Addis Ababa. This desperate effort, dubbed Operation Solomon, would change the lives of the Ethiopian Jews in surprising and unintended ways.
Stephen Spector is a professor of religions and culture and medieval English at Stony Brook University. He's also the author of Operation Solomon: The Daring Rescue of the Ethiopian Jews.
Solomon Ezra is an active member of the Ethiopian and Jewish communities in Portland, Oregon, and was a ground operations leader during Operation Solomon.
Donna Rosenthal is the author of The Israelis: Ordinary People in an Extraordinary Land.
Next, Katy speaks with Steven Levitt about how to spot natural experiments and why they can provide such unique information about human behavior.
Steven Levitt is the William B. Ogden Distinguished Service Professor of Economics at the University of Chicago, co-author of the bestselling book Freakonomics, and the host of a Freakonomics Radio podcast called People I Mostly Admire.
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