Patrick McCoy's Reviews > Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything

Freakonomics by Steven D. Levitt
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Sep 27, 2011

it was amazing
bookshelves: non-fiction, essays

Freakonomics by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner, is fascinating and engaging. I’d say this book is on par with those by Malcolm Gladwell in the way they challenge you to view the world in a different way. The authors state that: “Morality…represents the way people would like to work-whereas economics represents how it actually works.” And I think this has been one of the reasons I have always been uneasy with commerce-it isn’t moral. Corporations don’t care about people-they care about profit margins for the shareholders. So throughout this book they try to uncover the truth and attack conventional wisdom:

It was John Kenneth Galbraith, the hyper literate economic sage who coined the phrase “conventional wisdom.” He did not consider it a compliment. “We associate truth with convenience,” he wrote, “with what most closely accords with self-interest and personal well-being or promises best to avoid awkward effort or unwelcome dislocation of life. We also find highly acceptable what contributes most to self-esteem.” Economic and social behavior, Galbraith continued, “are complex and to comprehend their character is mentally tiring. Therefore we adhere, as though to a raft, to those ideas which represent our understanding.”

So conventional wisdom in Galbraith’s view must be simple, convenient, comfortable, and comforting=though not necessarily true. It would be silly to argue that conventional wisdom is never true. But noticing where the conventional wisdom may be false-noticing perhaps, contrails of sloppy or self-interested thinking-is a nice place to start.

Furthermore, I am sure some of their findings will upset some people. For example, “Where have All the Criminals Gone?” he contributes the reduction in crime, not to what conventional suggests (innovative policing strategies, increased reliance on prisons, changes in crack and other drug markets, aging of the population, tougher gun control laws, strong economy, increased number of police, increased use of capital punishment, concealed-weapons laws, gun buybacks, and others), but rather to the legalization of abortion: “Legalized abortion led to less unwantedness; unwantedness leads to high crime; legalized abortion, therefore, led to less crime.”

In the chapter “What makes a perfect parent?” they state that parenting doesn’t really have that much effect on how the children turn out. Thus “obsessive parenting” is all for naught. $200 safety car seats don’t have as much effect on the safety of a child as it does if they sit in the back seat preventing them from becoming projectiles in a car accident. More pools kill children than handguns. He goes onto to list factors that have some correlation with high test scores and most them have to do with who the parents are, whom they married, what kind of life they lead. Therefore, they state that is you are smart, hardworking, well educated, well paid, and married to someone equally fortunate, then your children are likely to succeed-so save that tuition money for the overpriced private school education.

The other chapters are equally fascinating: “What Do School Teachers and Sumo Wrestlers Have in Common?”/”How Is the Ku Klux Klan Like a Group of Real-Estate Agents?”/”Why Do Drug Dealers Still Live with Their Moms?”/”Perfect Parenting, Part II; or Would a Roshanda by Any Other Name Smell as Sweet?” Certainly, one of the most provocative books I’ve ever come across.
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