Monday February 27, 2006

Freakonomics

Freakonomics is always engaging, often intriguing, and frequently funny. If they taught economics this way in school, more people would take the course.

In the summer of 2003, The New York Times Magazine sent Stephen J. Dubner, an author and journalist, to write a profile of Stevn D. Levitt, a heralded young economist at the University of Chicago.

Dubner... had lately been interviewing many economists and found that they often spoke English as if it were a fourth or fifth language. Levitt..., had lately been interviewed by many journalists and found that their thinking wasn't very...robust, as an economist would say.

But Levitt decided that Dubner wasn't a complete idiot. And Dubner found that Levitt wasn't a human slide rule.

So when, sometime later, publishers started telling Levitt he should write a book he said "maybe if Dubner and I could do it together". Freakonomics is the result, the oddly-titled NYT bestseller that provides an absorbing and unusual view into the impact of economics on everyday life (and of everyday life on economics).

The title comes from the authors decision to adopt an approach that "employs the best analytical tools that economics can offer" but also allowed them to follow "whatever freakish curiosities may occur to us". I'd like to offer another rationale for the title — a contraction of "Forensic Economics".

Through forceful storytelling and wry insight, Levitt and co-author [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.
...
Freakonomics establishes this unconventional premise: If morality represents how we would like the world to work, then economics represents how it actually does work."

The book asks and answers various questions, including:

  • Why would schoolteachers cheat (and how could you catch them at it?)
  • Do sumo wrestlers "throw" matches?
  • Does your real estate agent have your best interests at heart?
  • What event helped cause a massive reduction in crime in the 1990's?
  • How do you break up the Ku Klux Klan?
  • How does inner-city drug dealing compare to, say, a job at McDonalds?

Want more? The authors have a website and a blog.

  • Was the Y2K threat real, imagined, or invented?
  • What is the "creative NASCAR incentive"?

Fascinating reading.

Freakonomics ( in category Books, Movies, Music ) - posted at Mon, 27 Feb, 08:00 Pacific | «e»