John A. List: Improving the World with Economics (EP.204)

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By Benjamin Felix & Cameron Passmore, Benjamin Felix, and Cameron Passmore. Discovered by Player FM and our community — copyright is owned by the publisher, not Player FM, and audio is streamed directly from their servers. Hit the Subscribe button to track updates in Player FM, or paste the feed URL into other podcast apps.

John List is the recently appointed Chief Economist at Walmart, and is also a Professor of Economics at the University of Chicago, having worked as the Chief Economist at Uber and Lyft. He has published a huge array of important papers in the field of economics and is also the author of the recent book The Voltage Effect, which deals with the question of how to scale ideas successfully. We are very excited to bring you this episode, which is a particularly illuminating one, in which we draw on John's treasure trove of insight and experience, to answer a long list of questions related to personal finance decision-making. A large portion of our chat focuses on the central ideas of critical thinking and fieldwork, practices that our guest views as indispensable in making the world a better place. Along the way we get John's thoughts on retirement planning, public policy, charitable donations, and much more, so make sure to press play on this fantastic episode of the Rational Reminder Podcast.

Key Points From This Episode:

  • John explains the importance of fieldwork in the study of economics. [0:03:51]
  • Examples of field experiments that overturned a supposed economic truth. [0:05:15]
  • Finding ways to test theories that previously proved difficult. [0:08:30]
  • The question of generalizing findings from an experiment to a wider rule. [0:13:30]
  • Replication in academic studies; John unpacks its central importance. [0:20:46]
  • Why positive results tend to garner a publication bias. [0:23:38]
  • John's perspective on checking in on investment portfolios. [0:24:40]
  • What the data shows us about investment behaviours of men and women. [0:28:38]
  • Accounting for the drive to give to charity. [0:35:20]
  • Advice for how to make the most of your donations. [0:39:42]
  • John unpacks his findings on scaling, its importance, and what he calls 'the voltage effect'. [0:44:41]
  • The impact of technological advancement on our ability to scale certain solutions. [0:48:27]
  • How field experiments can influence the process of scaling big ideas. [0:54:47]
  • Hindrances to healthy scaling; confirmation biases, and herding. [0:56:17]
  • Impacts of loss aversion and marginal thinking when scaling ideas. [1:05:28]
  • Reasons for the difficulty of tackling globally important issues; multidimensionality and politics. [1:15:10]
  • Weighing the utility of incentives when trying to encourage retirement savings. [1:19:16]
  • Thoughts on bringing more reliable science into the policy-making process. [1:21:26]
  • How parents can approach the promotion of critical thinking in their children. [1:25:45]
  • John's approach to the questions he pursues; how he evaluates potential ideas and questions. [1:31:10]
  • A little bit about John's new post as Chief Economist at Walmart and what the job entails. [1:33:53]
  • How John defines success at this point in his life and his focus on inputs. [1:33:53]

228 episodes