Freakonomics

By Steven Levitt and Stephen Rubber

freakonomics

Freakonomics

This book was not at all what I was expecting!

From the title of the book I expected this book to be about economics, but perhaps concentrating on consumer behavior.  But there is no mention of prominent economic topics such as GDP, market conditions, inflation, unemployment or even the production of goods and services in general.

The contents page displays an array of sensationalist headlines:

  1. What Do Schoolteachers and Sumo Wrestlers Have in Common?
  2. How Is the Ku Klux Klan Like a Group of Real-Estate Agents?
  3. Why Do Drug Dealers Still Live with Their Moms?
  4. Where Have All the Criminals Gone?
  5. What Makes a Perfect Parent?

In the introduction, the authors state that the tools of economics can be used to examine more interesting topics, and indeed, the authors have looked at the raw data surrounding the questions listed above, and have come up with some conclusions.  Some surprising conclusions, others not.  Some easy to agree with, others not so much.  I also found some of it contradictory.

Despite sounding mathematical, you don’t need any real background knowledge in mathematics to understand any of the points being conveyed in the book.  Probably because the authors don’t really describe how they came to their conclusions.  For example, they argued that the introduction of the legalization of abortion in one state in the USA was the reason for an apparent U-turn in crime levels, just before it was reaching crisis point.  Their only 2 arguments were that: crime levels have gone down since the law was passed; and that other factors do not adequately explain the drop in crime.

A reader may have hoped that the final chapter on parenting would proffer some useful points to act upon, but here, having looked at various factors, the authors conclude that parenting strategies have little effect on a child’s character.

The epilogue states that the book has no unifying theme; however racial relations, apparent black culture and apparent racial differences are addressed within the book across several chapters.

I made various notes on the points made in each chapter, but have chosen not to include them in this book review, because the questions being asked are intriguing and I don’t want to give away too many spoilers.  Despite its faults, the book has lots of little interesting nuggets of information and is worth a read.

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