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? How did the legalization of abortion affect the rate of 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 scholar who studies the riddles of everyday life—from cheating and crime to sports and child-rearing—and whose conclusions turn the conventional wisdom on its head.
Freakonomics is a ground-breaking collaboration between Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner, an award-winning author and journalist. They usually begin 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 ned in this book: Freakonomics.
Through forceful storytelling and wry insight, Levitt and 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 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 great deal of complexity 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.
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.
Not a book I would typically read, this one came recommended by a friend of a friend (you know how it goes.) So when I hopped onto Amazon.com for a description, all of the above questions seemed interesting and when the library had several copies available, well, everything just lined up. So I got it. To be honest, I did get a little bored about half way in with all of the statistics. The chapter discussing what, if any, link there is between abortion and crime rates seemed to drag on and on. There were pages of names, popular and not, among different races, economic status and other variable factors.
Freakonomics will make you think, that’s for sure. And it’s interesting to see the world in a new way, where there are links between things that are seemingly unrelated. For example, when the description asks what’s more dangerous, a gun or a swimming pool, it’s interesting what they discuss. For example, parents may choose to send their children to a friend’s house with a pool rather than to a friend’s house where the parents own a gun, for fear of their safety. When in actuality, more children drown in pools each year due to negligence and the fact that it only takes seconds to happen rather than in a gun accident. Yet there is a bigger fear of guns than pools. Is that because of our familiarity with one over the other? It’s similar to the fear of flying versus driving. A lot of people are more scared to fly on a plane rather than drive their car, when the reality is there is a higher chance something bad would happen in your car rather than on the plane.
I like things that make you go hmmm, so for that reason I enjoyed this book. I’m not sure if I am going to read the sequel, Super Freakonomics just yet but if you are into these sort of titles, I’d recommend this for you.