With Freakonomics, economist Steven Levitt and NY Times writer Stephen Dubner have accomplished something that I have long thought impossible: writing a book based on economics that is fun to read. But, of course, that may be because the book is relatively light on economic theory and could be more properly called a sociology book except for the authors' main point that life revolves around "self-interest."
Most of us, if we wonder at all about the trends and behavior that we see around us, rely on "conventional wisdom" to explain why things happen as they do. Levitt points out that, not too shockingly, conventional wisdom is often wrong and that it should always be questioned before being accepted as fact. Along the way he provides the data to back up and prove his case concerning several interesting questions about which he believes that conventional wisdom has drawn the wrong conclusions. Some of Levitt's assertions are not politically correct ones to speak out loud and his work has been criticized by some readers more for the very conclusions he's reached than for any lack of evidence with which he builds his case.
For instance, conventional wisdom tells us that the huge drop in the violent crime rate that we witnessed in the nineties was the result of many big city mayors placing more and more policemen on the streets, policemen who were armed with a "zero tolerance" policy and with other new and innovative crime fighting techniques. Not so, says Steven Levitt. He believes that there is one reason, and only one, that the crime rate dropped as it did: Roe vs. Wade. Simply put, the legalization of abortion guaranteed that huge numbers of unwanted children were not born in the seventies and eighties, the very children who were most likely to grow into the violent criminals of the nineties and beyond. Fewer criminals on the streets, according to Levitt, translated into a lower violent crime rate.
How much do parents really matter when it comes to raising children who will do well in school? Is it important to surround a young child with books, to read to that child every night, to limit his television time and spend his summers bringing him to museums and zoos? If you're like me, you will likely say that all of those things help create a good student, a child that will grow into a productive adult with a good future. If you're Steven Levitt, on the other hand, you will say that none of those things have anything much to do with the kind of grades that your child can be expected to earn in school. Levitt argues that there are only two types of parental attributes: things that parents ARE and things that parents DO. Parents are either bright or they are not, and they come from families that have passed on the same genes to them that they are passing on to their own children. It is that basic genetically provided ability that determines the school marks that a child will receive. What these parents ARE, smart or not smart, is the determinate factor. What they DO by supplying books and an atmosphere that encourages good learning habits is not nearly as important to the children. Levitt, in fact, argues that books, museum trips, etc., are just outward indicators that the parents are bright and that they enjoy learning themselves, not tools that can turn an average child into a brainy one.
Freakonomics also has entertaining chapters based on questions that tend to make the reader pay attention to the details that provide the answers. What do school teachers and sumo wrestlers have in common? Why do drug dealers still live with their moms? Which is more dangerous, a swimming pool or a gun? What do real estate agents and the Klan have in common?
If those questions make you curious, Freakonomics is worth your time. I'm still mulling over some of the answers provided by Levitt, not sure that I agree with all of them, but his conclusions have definitely made me think and look at the world from a different point-of-view than the one I had before reading the book. I've always been more a cynic than not, so it was fun for me to find a book that so cleverly and effectively debunks "conventional wisdom."
Freakonomics is a refreshing, thoroughly enjoyable, easy reading, fast paced, witty and cynical breath of fresh air! Levitt and Dubner offer up a series of pointed, thought provoking essays composed in jargon-free layman's language that are loosely connected through a theme revealed in the book's sub-title - the hidden side of everything! Incentives, or disincentives and deterrents, are examined as to their effectiveness in achieving the outcomes anticipated by those … more
This book gave me alot of insight about things that I never would have thought about. The story about Drug Dealers living with their mothers makes you really think about how things are so superficial on the outside, but if you look closer and examine them you will be very surprised!
Oil company professional of almost 40 years experience who has worked in oil-producing countries around the world. I love books, baseball and bluegrass music and hope to dedicate myself to those hobbies … more
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Economics is not widely considered to be one of the sexier sciences. The annual Nobel Prize winner in that field never receives as much publicity as his or her compatriots in peace, literature, or physics. But if such slights are based on the notion that economics is dull, or that economists are concerned only with finance itself, Steven D. Levitt will change some minds. InFreakonomics(written with Stephen J. Dubner), Levitt argues that many apparent mysteries of everyday life don't need to be so mysterious: they could be illuminated and made even more fascinating by asking the right questions and drawing connections. For example, Levitt traces the drop in violent crime rates to a drop in violent criminals and, digging further, to the Roe v. Wade decision that preempted the existence of some people who would be born to poverty and hardship. Elsewhere, by analyzing data gathered from inner-city Chicago drug-dealing gangs, Levitt outlines a corporate structure much like McDonald's, where the top bosses make great money while scores of underlings make something below minimum wage. And in a section that may alarm or relieve worried parents, Levitt argues that parenting methods don't really matter much and that a backyard swimming pool is much more dangerous than a gun. These enlightening chapters are separated by effusive passages from Dubner's 2003 profile of Levitt inThe New York Times Magazine, which led to the book being written. In a book filled with bold ...