Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner offer the long-awaited paperback edition of Freakonomics, the runaway bestseller, including six Freakonomics columns from the New York Times Magazine and a Q & A with the authors.
About the Author
Steven D. Levitt, a professor of economics at the University of Chicago, was awarded the John Bates Clark Medal, given to the most influential American economist under forty. He is also a founder of The Greatest Good, which applies Freakonomics-style thinking to business and philanthropy.
Stephen J. Dubner, an award-winning journalist and radio and TV personality, has worked for the New York Times and published three non-Freakonomics books. He is the host of Freakonomics Radio and Tell Me Something I Don't Know.
Stephen J. Dubner is an award-winning author, journalist, and radio and TV personality. He quit his first career—as an almost rock star—to become a writer. He has since taught English at Columbia, worked for The New York Times, and published three non-Freakonomics books.
Read an Excerpt
What Do Schoolteachers
and Sumo Wrestlers
Have in Common?
Imagine for a moment that you are the manager of a day-care center. You have a clearly stated policy that children are supposed to be picked up by 4 p.m. But very often parents are late. The result: at day's end, you have some anxious children and at least one teacher who must wait around for the parents to arrive. What to do?
A pair of economists who heard of this dilemma -- it turned out to be a rather common one -- offered a solution: fine the tardy parents. Why, after all, should the day-care center take care of these kids for free?
The economists decided to test their solution by conducting a study of ten day-care centers in Haifa, Israel. The study lasted twenty weeks, but the fine was not introduced immediately. For the first four weeks, the economists simply kept track of the number of parents who came late; there were, on average, eight late pickups per week per day-care center. In the fifth week, the fine was enacted. It was announced that any parent arriving more than ten minutes late would pay $3 per child for each incident. The fee would be added to the parents' monthly bill, which was roughly $380.
After the fine was enacted, the number of late pickups promptly went ... up. Before long there were twenty late pickups per week, more than double the original average. The incentive had plainly backfired.
Economics is, at root, the study of incentives: how people get what they want, or need, especially when other people want or need the same thing. Economists love incentives. They love to dream them up and enact them, study them and tinker with them. The typical economist believes the world has not yet invented a problem that he cannot fix if given a free hand to design the proper incentive scheme. His solution may not always be pretty -- it may involve coercion or exorbitant penalties or the violation of civil liberties -- but the original problem, rest assured, will be fixed. An incentive is a bullet, a lever, a key: an often tiny object with astonishing power to change a situation.
We all learn to respond to incentives, negative and positive, from the outset of life. If you toddle over to the hot stove and touch it, you burn a finger. But if you bring home straight A's from school, you get a new bike. If you are spotted picking your nose in class, you get ridiculed. But if you make the basketball team, you move up the social ladder. If you break curfew, you get grounded. But if you ace your SATs, you get to go to a good college. If you flunk out of law school, you have to go to work at your father's insurance company. But if you perform so well that a rival company comes calling, you become a vice president and no longer have to work for your father. If you become so excited about your new vice president job that you drive home at eighty mph, you get pulled over by the police and fined $100. But if you hit your sales projections and collect a year-end bonus, you not only aren't worried about the $100 ticket but can also afford to buy that Viking range you've always wanted -- and on which your toddler can now burn her own finger.
An incentive is simply a means of urging people to do more of a good thing and less of a bad thing. But most incentives don't come about organically. Someone -- an economist or a politician or a parent -- has to invent them. Your three-year-old eats all her vegetables for a week? She wins a trip to the toy store. A big steelmaker belches too much smoke into the air? The company is fined for each cubic foot of pollutants over the legal limit. Too many Americans aren't paying their share of income tax? It was the economist Milton Friedman who helped come up with a solution to this one: automatic tax withholding from employees' paychecks.
There are three basic flavors of incentive: economic, social, and moral. Very often a single incentive scheme will include all three varieties. Think about the anti-smoking campaign of recent years. The addition of a $3-per-pack "sin tax" is a strong economic incentive against buying cigarettes. The banning of cigarettes in restaurants and bars is a powerful social incentive. And when the U.S. government asserts that terrorists raise money by selling black-market cigarettes, that acts as a rather jarring moral incentive.
Some of the most compelling incentives yet invented have been put in place to deter crime. Considering this fact, it might be worthwhile to take a familiar question -- why is there so much crime in modern society? -- and stand it on its head: why isn't there a lot more crime?
After all, every one of us regularly passes up opportunities to maim, steal, and defraud. The chance of going to jailthereby losing your job, your house, and your freedom, all of which are essentially economic penalties -- is certainly a strong incentive. But when it comes to crime, people also respond to moral incentives (they don't want to do something they consider wrong) and social incentives (they don't want to be seen by others as doing something wrong). For certain types of misbehavior, social incentives are terribly powerful. In an echo of Hester Prynne's scarlet letter, many American cities now fight prostitution with a "shaming" offensive, posting pictures of convicted johns (and prostitutes) on websites or on local-access television. Which is a more horrifying deterrent: a $500 fine for soliciting a prostitute or the thought of your friends and family ogling you on www.HookersAndJohns.com ...
The foregoing is excerpted from Freakonomics by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J Dubner. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced without written permission from HarperCollins Publishers, 10 East 53rd Street, New York, NY 10022
Table of Contents
An Explanatory Note xxiii
In which the origins of this book are clarified.
Introduction: The Hidden Side of Everything 1
In which the book's central idea is set forth: namely, if morality represents how people would like the world to work, then economics shows how it actually does work.
Why the conventional wisdom is so often wrong
How "experts"—from crimnologists to real-estate agents to political scientists—bend the facts
Why knowing what to measure, and how to measure it, is the key to understanding modern life
What is "freakonomics," anyway?
Chapter 1 What Do Schoolteachers and Sumo Wrestlers Have in Common? 15
In which we explore the beauty of incentives, as well as their dark side-cheating.
Who cheats? Just about everyone
How cheaters, cheat, and how to catch them
Stories from an Israeli day-care center
The sudden disappearance of seven millon American childern
Cheating schoolteachers in Chicago
Why cheating to lose is worse than cheating to win
Could sumo wrestling, the national sport of Japan, be corrupt?
What the Bagel Man saw: mankind may be more honest than we think
Chapter 2 How Is the Ku Klux Klan Like A Group of Real-Estate Agents? 51
In which it is argued that nothing is more powerful than information, especially when its power is abused.
Spilling the Ku Klux Klan's secrets
Why experts of every kind are in the perfect position to exploit you
The antidote to information abuse: the Internet
Why a new car is suddenly sorth so much less the moment it leaves the lot
Breaking the real-estate agent code: what "well maintained" really means
Is Trent Lott more racist than the average Weakest Linkcontestant?
What do online daters lie about?
Chapter 3 Why Do Drug Dealers Still Live with Their Moms? 85
In which the conventional wisdom is often found to be a web of fabrication, self-interest, and convenience.
Why experts routinely make up statistics; the invention of chronic halitosis
How to ask a good question
Sudhir Venkatesh's long, strange trip into the crack den
Why prostitutes earn more than architects
What a drug dealer, a high-school quarterback, and an editorial assistant have in common
How the invention of crack cocaine mirrored the invention of nylon stocking
Was crack the worst thing to bit black Americans since Jim Crow?
Chapter 4 Where Have all the Criminals Gone? 115
In which the facts of crime are sorted out from the fictions.
What Nicolae Ceauşescu learned—the hard way—about abortion
Why the 1960s was a great time to be a criminal
Think the roaring 1990s economy put a crimp on crime? think again
Why capital punishment doesn't deter criminals
Do police actually lower crime rates?
Prisons, prisons everywhere
Seeing through the New York City police "miracle"
What is a gun, really?
Why early crack dealers were like Microsoft millionaires and later crack dealers were like Pets.com
The superpredator versus the senior citizen
Jane Roe, crime stopper: how the legalization of abortion changed every-thing.
Chapter 5 What Makes A Perfect Parent? 147
In which we ask, from a variety of angels, a pressing question: do parents really matter? 147
The conversion of parenting from an art to a science
Why parenting experts like to scare parents to death
Which is more dangerous: a gun or a swimming pool?
The economics of fear
Obsessive parents and the nature-nurture quagmire
Why a good school isn't as good as you might think
The black-white test gap and "acting white"
Eight things that make a child do better in school and eight that don't
Chapter 6 Perfect Parenting, Part II; or: Would a Roshanda By Any Other Name Smell As Sweet? 181
In which we weigh the importance of a parent's first official act-naming the baby.
A boy named Winner and his brother, Loser
The blackest names and the whitest names
The segregation of culture: why Seinfeld never made the top fifty among black viewers
If you have a really bad banem should you just change it?
High-end names and low-end names (and how one becomes the other)
Britney Spears: a symptom, not a cause
Is Aviva the next Madison?
What your parents were telling the world when they gave you your name.
Epilogue: Two Paths to Harvard 209
In which the dependability of data meets the randomness of life.
Bonus Matter 213
"The Probability That a Real-Estate Agent Is Cheating You..." 215
Selected "Freakonomics" Columns From The New York Times Magazine 233
A Q&A with the Authors 261
What People are Saying About This
“Freakonomics is politically incorrect in the best, most essential way.... This is bracing fun of the highest order.”
“Steven Levitt has the most interesting mind in America... Prepare to be dazzled.”
Reading Group Guide
About the Book
Which is more dangerous, a gun or a swimming pool? What do schoolteachers and sumo wrestlers have in common? Why do drug dealers still live with their moms? How much do parents really matter? What kind of impact did Roe v. Wade have on violent crime?
These may not sound like typical questions for an economist to ask. But Steven D. Levitt is not a typical economist. He is a much-heralded young scholar who studies the riddles of everyday life -- from cheating and crime to sports and child-rearing -- and whose conclusions regularly turn the conventional wisdom on its head. He usually begins with a mountain of data and a simple, unasked question. Some of these questions concern life-and-death issues; others have an admittedly freakish quality. Thus the new field of study contained in this book: Freakonomics.
Through forceful storytelling and wry insight, Levitt and co-author Stephen J. Dubner show that economics is, at root, the study of incentives -- how people get what they want, or need, especially when other people want or need the same thing. In Freakonomics, they set out to explore the hidden side of ... well, everything. The inner workings of a crack gang. The truth about real-estate agents. The myths of campaign finance. The telltale marks of a cheating schoolteacher. The secrets of the Ku Klux Klan.
What unites all these stories is a belief that the modern world, despite a surfeit of obfuscation, complication, and downright deceit, is not impenetrable, is not unknowable, and - if the right questions are asked -- is even more intriguing than we think. All it takes is a new way of looking. Steven Levitt, through devilishly clever and clear-eyed thinking, shows how to see through all the clutter.
Freakonomics establishes this unconventional premise: if morality represents how we would like the world to work, then economics represents how it actually does work. It is true that readers of this book will be armed with enough riddles and stories to last a thousand cocktail parties. But Freakonomics can provide more than that. It will literally redefine the way we view the modern world.
- Most people think of economics as a dry subject matter concerning monetary and fiscal matters. How does Freakonomics change this definition?
- Freakonomics argues that morality represent the way we'd like the world to work, whereas economics can show how the world really does work. Do you agree?
- Freakonomics lists three varieties of incentives: social, moral, and financial. Can you think of others?
- Freakonomics shows how the conventional wisdom is often shoddily formed. What are some instances of conventional wisdom that you've always doubted?
- Does it seem as though "experts" truly hold too much power in the modern world, or are we lucky to have them?
- What are some issues in your daily life toward which you can apply some Freakonomics-style thinking?
- What were some of the most convincing arguments put forth in Freakonomics? What were some of the least convincing?
- How does the argument linking Roe v. Wade to a drop in crime change your thinking about abortion?
- How does the view of parenting in Freakonomics jibe with your own view?
- After reading Freakonomics, do you think that cheating is more prevalent or less prevalent than you thought it was before you read the book?
About the authors
Steven Levitt is a Professor of Economics at the University of Chicago and an editor of The Journal of Political Economy. In January 2004 he was awarded the John Bates Clark medal -- for the economist under 40 who has made the greatest contribution to the discipline -- by the American Economic Association.
Stephen J. Dubner is the author of Confessions of a Hero Worshiper and Turbulent Souls and is a former writer and editor at the New York Times Magazine. He lives in New York City with his family.
A Message from the Coauthor
Steven Levitt doesn't think like you and me. (Well, I can't vouch for you, but I can vouch for me.) He has a brain that seems to hum along on its very own frequency. He can look at some scenario -- the rise and fall of crime, the real-estate market, the modern obsession with competitive parenting -- and instantly begin to ask questions, and come up with answers, that are simply astounding. In retrospect, you may scratch your head and say, "Why didn't I think of that?" This is what makes his work so intoxicating: He answers the questions we haven't yet figured out how to ask.
Yes, it's true that Levitt is an economist. But never before has the so-called dismal science been given a less dismal presentation. As Levitt sees it, economics is a science with excellent tools for gaining answers but a serious shortage of interesting questions. His particular gift is the ability to ask such questions. For instance: If drug dealers make so much money, why do they still live with their mothers? Which is more dangerous, a gun or a swimming pool? What really caused crime rates to plunge during the past decade? Do real-estate agents have their clients' best interests at heart? Why do black parents give their children names that may hurt their career prospects? Do schoolteachers cheat to meet high-stakes testing standards? Is sumo wrestling corrupt?
Levitt works with data, mountains of it, and from his data he teases out stories that are often surprising and may even make us uncomfortable, but which are most likely true. Several years ago, for instance, he wrote a paper linking Roe v. Wade with a drop in crime. His thinking went like this: the women most likely to seek an abortion in the wake of Roe v. Wade -- poor, single, or teenage mothers -- were the very women whose children, if born, have been shown most likely to become criminals. But since those children weren't born, crime began to decrease during the years they would have entered their criminal prime.
Unlike a politician or a theologian or a paid pundit, Levitt is free to come up with answers based on nothing more complicated than the truth. Morality, it could be argued, represents the way that people would like the world to work -- whereas economics represents how it actually does work. The modern world, despite a surfeit of obfuscation, complication, and downright deceit, is not impenetrable, is not unknowable, and -- if the right questions are asked -- is even more intriguing than one might think. All it takes is a new way of looking. Stephen J. Dubner
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
My mother is an economics teacher, and ever since she discovered the book "Freakonomics", I've been hearing about its humorous studies that would make even me, like economics. In this book, the authors Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner, redefine the whole purpose and study of economics. Instead of looking for the obvious and easiest answer, they dig deep and look for the less obvious, but plausible answer. Instead of giving the public the answer they want to hear, they give them the "ugly truth" something that has caused this book to be a huge success, but also controversial. One study investigated how names can affect your opportunities in life. For example if you have a very obvious black sounding name, will it make you less successful? The authors tested this idea by sending out two sets of identical résumés. One set with a black name the other set with a white sounding name. The set of résumés with the black sounding name received fewer call-backs than the resumes that had obvious white sounding name. This is interesting because it shows how bigotry and racism are still alive in America today. And finally the most shocking study in the book is the one that correlates the drop in crime in the early 1990's to the passage of Roe vs. Wade in the 1970's. Legalized abortion, according to Levitt, is directly related to a drop in crime. Legalizing abortion made it easier for women, especially poor women, to obtain an abortion and prevent unwanted children from being born. Unwanted children have higher rates of truancy, do poorly in school, and are more likely to become criminals. Children of poor, uneducated, unwed teenage mothers are the most likely to grow up to become criminals. If these children are never born, then they cannot commit crimes. He compared states that legalized abortion before Roe vs. Wade and saw that those states crime rates decreased earlier than the rest of the nation. He also noted that states that not only legalized abortion but also made abortion less restrictive saw even greater drops in crime. Although this study may seem morally objectionable, it's difficult to argue with the data. These studies, and many others that the authors did, are what captivated me while reading this book. I believe that anyone with a sense of humor will love the approach that Levitt takes to answer questions and analyze things that people would never consider. Personally, I think the book is amazing, and everyone should read it because it really makes you pause and think that the causes behind some things you hear are not always true. After reading "Freakonomics" I am now looking forward to taking some economics classes in college. This is a book everyone should read.
I thought this book was interesting and a fun reead. It offers a fresh perspective on a lot of topics that you wouldn't think are related. The book is fairly well-written, although the authors offer a bit too much detail at times. I liked that it had a practical side that you can apply in everyday life, such as requiring proof and being skeptical.
I was definitely surprised to find that this book was not so much about economics as it was about everyday life. Even though the book jumped from topic to topic, the connections were clearly stated, and I never felt like I was being overwhelmed with information. The authors did a good job catering to all reading levels, making it a good book for just about anyone. I am really glad that I chose to read this book for my economics class, and I know that I will never think the same way about anything again.
Not completely understanding economics beforehand, Freakonomics was not only interesting and fun to read, but it also helped me to understand what exactly economics is by simplifying it for any age to understand and using relatable examples. This book will help influence me to look at the world from a different perspective and the question everything and yet still search for the answers, which might be more hidden that one would first assume.
Prior to reading it, I expected a dull, pure mathematically focused book. Nevertheless, the authors do a great job in combining their respective strengths into a best-seller non-fiction novel that conveys the statistics in a creative, friendly approach. If you have ever wondered what school teachers and sumo wrestlers have in common, or why two children in the same class share the same name, yet each come from a contrasting culture and financial background, then I recommend this book! -AJ Jimenez P.4
It was a very interesting and fun book. Some of the information wasn't new to me but it was far from repetitive or boring!
When I first started reading this book, I didn't expect it to be good at all but after reading it more, I was surprised by the information the author provides the readers with. I thought I would be reading a book with mostly statistics and numbers about economy but it's the exact opposite.This book teaches you how incentives can affect people's behaviors and why people act the way they do.It also gives you interseting examples, such as teachers who cheated in order to win bonuses and how abortions caused crime rates to decreae. By reading this book,you will be able to understand more about the strategies that economists and real estate agents use in order to gain profits. Basically The authors relate random real life examples to economy. I would suggest everyone to read this book because it's interesting and informative.
Deservedly a phenomenal hit, Freakonomics throws interesting ideas at you on pretty much every page. However, there's a bit of repetition and I wasn't really a fan of the press cuttings that came with every chapter, which seemed rather arrogant.
By the time I got round to read Freakonomics, there were already 277 reviewed copies on LT, out of something like 14,000 total copies. So what's the point of adding anything here?Well, there are a couple of things I would like to note, for myself as for anybody else.Firstly, the strongest (and unsurprisingly the most uncomfortable for a lot of people) argument in the whole book, the argument that made the book worth reading, is the notion that the Wade vs Roe case that legalised abortion in 1973 also led to the massive drop in crime in the late 1990s. At first I was shocked as well as surprised that this might be the case, but when you read the arguments that Levitt outlines, you almost start thinking: how obvious! It is the single greatest triumph of the book, for its originality and its bravery.Secondly, I loved the way that Levitt challenges conventional wisdom. In recent years I've tried to shift the way I behave and take things as understood; in the past I would accept somebody's account of events or ideas at face value, but now I am much more skeptical, critical, and even cynical. If somebody claims that homoeopathy works, I don't nod my head and agree - I ask them to prove it. This aspect makes the rest of Freakonomics so readable.And thirdly, I want to comment on the writing style of the book. Dubner writes for the New Yorker, amongst others; I wonder if his application of the house-style is what makes this book read so similarly to Gladwell, as well as other New Yorker writers, going all the way back to Capote and his 'In Cold Blood'.
It¿s hard to say exactly what Freakonomics (Steven Levitt & Stephen Dubner) is about¿ statistical and economic analyses of random interesting things, perhaps. But it¿s not at all dry: you don¿t need to be able to speak in numbers to appreciate it.
A little too American, but great for critical thinking.
Fresh viewpoint of what economics covers - ok, everything - from cheating sumo wrestlers to what parenting is all about - it asks strange and often unasked questions. And you go "aha!" or "really?" or "no waaaayyyy...." or ... [insert]. What it will do is provoke you to think!Easy to read and popularized, it reminds me a bit of how Stephen Hawking was able to make science much more accessible (although it pales in comparison to Cosmos, its a great attempt).
The theme of this book is that there is no single, consistent, unifying theme. In certain aspects it can be called a book about economics, but it's also just as much about chaos theory, correlation vs. causation, and the myth of the benefits of conventional wisdom. If you had to pin it down, however, you could say that it deconstructs traditional thinking about how the world works vis-a-vis the way everyday economics would like the world to believe how the world works.But sometimes, just because a theory works, doesn't mean it'll be accepted, which is another point the book makes. If the world really operates rationally, then emotional reactions to conclusions that otherwise make perfect sense will dull and corrupt them. A good example is the theory that crime levels in the U.S. dropped in the early 90s due to an entire generation of criminals never being born, thanks to Roe v. Wade. Think about it...A lot of these "stories" sounded a little familiar, and that's because they were essentially recycled by Malcolm Gladwell for his books. To his credit, Gladwell was able to unify his themes.
For someone like me who hated economics throughout my late high school life, and early uni life, this book taught me something different - that economics is everywhere around me AND fun! It's funny, intuitive, sobering and quite an eye-opener. Don't let economics as its subject deter you - it is better than your bearded lecturer ^_^
Thoughtful and provocative book which both enchants and frustrates the reader in equal measure. Gives the lie to those critics who call economics the "dismal science".
Three out of ten.
The idea is to show that there are lots of hidden links between statistical phenomenon - the raise in abortion rates and the subsequent drop in crime. However, much of the supposed connections made or spurious at best and the book is certainly not as interesting as it thinks it is.
I thought I had read this book until I started talking to someone who had. I¿d read so many reviews, commentaries, and posts on the author¿s blog that I must have reached a ¿book level¿ comprehension. That says a lot about Freakonomics¿ influence and popularity.I was always interested in exploring ¿...the hidden side of everything...¿ as the book¿s subtitle puts it. For me this started at a young age reading Ripley¿s Believe It or Not! and continuing through Paul Harvey¿s The Rest of the Story. I found great delight in breaking down the world¿s facade and finding gems of misinformation and hypocrisy. Some of those stories, such as the probable cause of the sinking of the Maine, led me to investigate further and learn real stuff in a fun way, such as the history of the Spanish-American War. Elsewhere, some stories turned out to be ¿imagined¿ true stories. There are no secrets or codes in the Bible or in UFO sightings. I learned to trust the scientific method and find reality in math. I was shocked to learn statistics and graphs could ¿lie¿ and that scientists could misrepresent their findings. Furthermore, the truth can set you free but it can also lead to arguments, denials, rejection, and self-doubt. I became a happy but cautious skeptic. So I was well prepared to finally read Freakonomics. My cup of tea, as the saying goes. Believe It or Not!: A pool in your backyard is more likely to kill a child than the gun you keep in your house.The Rest of the Story: This law and order mayor fired his Police Chief for succeeding too well and it was his predecessor who actually hired the extra police he took credit for. Rudolph Giuliani, NY CityI checked out the story about Stetson Kennedy and how he used a radio serial to ridicule and defeat the KKK.Levitt¿s use of math and statistics is readable and appropriate to the non-academic level of discourse. A true economist with an ax to grind could probably fault every assertion. Some of his conclusions were just plain logical and many I¿d heard before. A lot just didn¿t matter to me, but some of those made me think.He reinforced some of what I thought were my own skeptical believes or observations. Yes, someone whose job 40 hours a week for many years, trained by a successful mentor, backed by vast amounts of accumulated data and knowledge, will totally manipulate you no matter who else you talked too or what you read. Think real estate, insurance, automotive, government, anything, even physical labor. When you go head to head on their turf and they care even a little bit, you lose. It works to their advantage even more if you think you know something about the subject. While it¿s true, as he notes, that the internet is a great knowledge equalizer, even the manipulators use it now and once past the ¿low hanging fruit¿ it still takes a lot of time and knowledge to compete. Car prices and insurance rates: easy. Having an accident and determining if you¿re being treated fairly, and what to do and say, or not do and say, in your particular situation: difficult if not impossible. A few less "Who cares?" subjects (of course, that's subjective) and some more thought on some other subjects would have earned 5 stars for Freakonomics. Besides how can a skeptic like me accept everything anyone says?The biggest thing I learned from Freakonomics was the idea that morality is how we want the world to act and economics is how it actually works. Adam Smith, the founder of economics, was a philosopher and moralist. I thought economics was dry, money driven, and full of unprovable theories but its concepts of economic, social, and moral incentives are useful and understandable.Glad I finally read the book. I¿m looking forward to the next one and to reading more like it.
This book is just a medium that the author uses to spout his own personal agenda. I REALLY did not enjoy it. Not only was the writing style annoying (he is constantly talking about his genius), but some of his conclusions were absurd and, in my opinion, not linear in their development. Thus, it made for an inconsistant argument, through and through.
The theories that Levitt and Dubner discuss are mildly entertaining. I find it terribly disturbing, however, that two scholars can write a book with absolutely no main topic or aim. The beginning of the book begins with an attention-grabbing theory that Roe v. Wade highly influenced crime rates in the United States some 20 years later. This topic could have been expounded upon in great detail, yet Levitt and Dubner spend the remaining 75 percent of the book discussing and predicting baby names.
Steven Levitt doesn't study what you'd expect for an economist. He takes economic principles like incentive and regression analysis and applies them to every day life with questions like, "How can you show that teachers are cheating on their classroom's standardized tests?" and "What contributed to the drop in crime in the 1990s?"The answers to these and other questions are often surprising and always interesting. Because each chapter focuses on a different topic, nothing is explored in depth. This made it a perfect audiobook for my commute, because I didn't get lost in detailed explanations. Levitt and Dubner explain their analysis clearly and use a lot of anecdotes or analogies to get their points across, rather than a detailed statistical breakdown. This is also the book's greatest weakness, however; because no one subject is explored in great depth, I'm left with more questions than before, and am not satisfied but the general treatment received here on subjects like parenting and baby names. I became mildly annoyed by the chapter intros quoting from Dubner's previously published profile of Levitt and the repetition of the different between correlation and causation, but these were minor irritants in an overall enjoyable book. The audiobook is well read by Dubner himself, but I am going to take a look at the print version because it has a chart not included in the audio version and the lists of baby names with their variant spellings.
I'm not really into economics whatsoever and it's rare that I read non-fiction that isn't a memoir of some sort so it's no surprise that I wasn't really into this book. I started it in hopes of discovering some fun facts. I did enjoy the bits about real estate agents since I happen to work in a real estate office. I also found the portion on names quite interesting. I guess economics, even as freakonomics, just isn't my cup of tea but if it's yours you might really enjoy this one.
This is a very interesting book to read. I would advise it to anyone who is interested in going into a field of study that deals with economics and business.
I like a nice gateway book. Levitt and Dubner do an excellent job of breezing over the mathier bits of economics and getting right to the analysis (which is all that this particular prole' can really comprehend). As the book wore on I began to see the patterns in the writing, though the ideas presented in the economics were thought provoking. If you listen to enough NPR podcasts, you've probably heard most of these stories, just not in quite the depth presented here.
They say numbers don¿t lie. That might be true in terms of how many years a person has lived or how much a five pound weight weighs. However, if you try to use quantitative data to supply evidence for a qualitative end product, you may find yourself lacking in any true objectivity.Stephen Dubner and Steven Levitt, make this fatal mistake in trying to prove the exact opposite in their fairly controversial book, Freakonomics. Perhaps they made the mistake of taking on hot-button topics like abortion, race and gender by trying to prove something that they should have explained using wildlife, art and music. Perhaps their intention was not to make certain moral stands but simply to say that numbers do, in fact lie.Unfortunately, for me, I found their ¿examples¿ of just how statistics deceive, fairly partisan on a number of occasions. Were the facts completely fool proof, like perhaps, refuting the claim that the ocean is a pleasant shade of lemon yellow instead of sea blue, then, I might have had an easier time taking their theories seriously.Their assertions, however, seemed to simply guestimate that common, in their defense, mostly likely false, data were instead indicators of something completely different. All the while, they did not give any real, hard evidence, as to why their particular theory was correct over the conventional wisdom or a third option.In a second defense, they did a fair amount of relative fence-sitting, but on more than one occasion, took a less than watery line that lead me, as a reader, to believe that while they wouldn¿t say, 100% that the new conclusion was indeed correct, they were personal fans of the more recently concluded theories.If this sounds bitter, it¿s not. I think, my main issue was that it was largely ironic. In claiming that there is a seedy underbelly to the facts presented in the media, et al, they took hard lines of their own. And no, this is not really an issue of which lines they took. If the book was written by a pair of a different race, a different gender or a different socio-economic status, and proceeded to take equally strong stands in the name of liberal ¿objectivity¿, I would still find fault in the presentation.All of that said, there are entertaining parts to the book and I zipped right along through it. I think, my final conclusion is that, like many of the parenting advice tomes they bashed (again, not bitter, I wholeheartedly agreed with their dismissal of the Obsessive Baby Raiser book market), the writing inside of Freakonomics is best read with ¿subjectivity is all around us¿ repeating in the back of your head.It is my hope to get a few guest bloggers on here in the next week or so in the moderate camp and conservative camp to see if it was my sociopolitical leaning that lead my ambivalence about this piece or whether even from the other side of the fence, this oozes subjective defense of a false objectivity.
It's a fun book if you don't take it too seriously. I remember right after this book was published reading hysterical news articles (opinions) that this book encourages abortions or somesuch nonsense. That made me laugh...at any rate, the most interesting part was the portion over naming trends.