on June 14, 2007
Personally, I liked Freakonomics. By pointing out "the hidden side of everything," it forces the reader to think about how things are connected in ways the average non-economist might not imagine. However, that's all the book is really good for. There's not a lot of serious economic analysis in there, only interesting ideas thrown about at almost at random. Thus, reading Freakonomics for the conclusions makes about as much sense as reading Playboy for the articles. For this reason, a book responding to Freakonomics shouldn't have been necessary. Given the buzz created by Freakonomics, though, it probably was, and Lott is as good an economist as any to do that.
For example, Levitt and Dubner wrote in Freakonomics that realtors keep their homes on the market a little longer than their customers do, and also make a bit more profit upon selling them. From this, Levitt and Dubner jumped to the conclusion that this meant realtors are systematically scamming their customers. Lott rightly countered with a much simpler and more straightforward explanation: every realtor follows his own sage advice, but not every realtor's customer does. Lott's conclusions regarding the interplay between crime and abortion are a bit more questionable. True, the fact that the U.S. and Canada experienced a similar drop in crime at the same time in the early 1990s, while Canada's version of Roe came a decade too late to fit neatly with Levitt and Dubner's theory, does appear at first blush to be problematic for their theory. However, at second blush it's not clear how how problematic that factor is, given that the very few Canadians live more than a couple hundred miles from the U.S. border, meaning that nearly all could have easily availed themselves of Roe in the interim. Lott is on shakier ground still when he argues that legalized abortion caused an increase in crime, while citing data equally consistent with the view that some other factor, e.g., the sexual revolution, caused both the increase in uncommitted sex (with or without contraception) and the push for legalized abortion. Given the relatively short history between Griswold and Roe, in which Americans enjoyed a "constitutional" right to contraception but not abortion, it's not clear we will ever know which factor caused the other. That said, Lott does appear to have made as strong of a case for the view that abortion causes crime as Levitt did for the view that it prevents it, thereby neutralizing the abortion-as-crime-control argument with which Levitt himself stops short of fully endorsing.
Lott has plenty of books filled with tables, linear regressions, and all that other geeky stuff few of us could understand if we tried. Freedomnomics is not such a book. Rather, it reads as exactly what it purports to be: a conservative reply to Freakonomics. Like Freakonomics, it is written to be accessible to the layman, not to provide the reader with a mountain of data supporting every conclusion. For this reason, I'd urge readers to read both books in much the same way: use both to help you recognize issues you may otherwise not have noticed, but take both books' conclusions on these issues with an appropriately sized grain of salt. And I'm saying this as one who agrees with many of Levitt and Dubner's conclusions, and almost all of Lott's.
on May 17, 2007
Excellent book showing the power of free markets and the harm that manifests when governments interfere in markets. Many economists claim that free markets work great in theory but there are many types of market failures that require government intervention. Lott points out how markets themselves can overcome these so called market failures and how government attempts to correct these failures often makes the situation much worse.
Lott takes on very politically incorrect topics that the mainstream media would never touch such as how affirmative action influences police effectiveness and how giving women the right to vote has influenced the size of the government.
The book is very readable and is clearly intended for a general audience. I would strongly recommend it to people who enjoy the writings of columnists such as Walter Williams and Thomas Sowell.
on June 25, 2007
Even though I have no background in economics I picked up Dr. John Lott's Freedomnomics the other day and was somewhat surprised to find it as fascinating a read as it was. It's designed to be a direct response to the wildly successful Freakonomics, and the text here was definitely written with laymen in mind. In other words, the statistics he presents are more educational than they are overwhelming. As far as the politics goes, Dr. Lott is obviously a man of the right but the book is not a partisan affair. It is a sincere attempt to demystify the innerworkings of economics. There's no plugging of any candidates or of a party here. It's kind of sad to acknowledge but recognizing the inherent inefficiency of government, along with the way in which private individuals spend their earnings more efficiently, is often a partisan issue in this country but it really shouldn't be.
Dr. Lott emphasizes the liberty and justice inherent to capitalism, and debunks numerous arguments about the limitations of the free market along the way. The bottom line here is that capitalism is what has allowed America to become as well-off as we are. In how many other countries is the overeating of poor people a major concern? As far as what positions struck me as being the strongest, I'd have to say that his link between women's suffrage and the swelling of government was ironclad. Further, in but two pages, he gave one of the best explanations that I've heard for why college faculties are ideologically skewed. I also have to admit that the Myth of Double Giving was completely unknown to me before opening this book. I always just accepted the idea that corporations covered their bets by giving to both political parties simultaneously. Upon reading this I discovered that the press reporting of these figures is completely inaccurate. The company net for donations is a total of what private donators, who happen to work for a particular corporation, give. They do not come from the company itself. Nowhere was Dr. Lott stronger than in his examination of the fashionable theory that increased abortion rates decrease crime. He found the opposite to be true and was most persuasive--in fact, the whole book is most persuasive. The whole country would be better off if half of our young people were lucky enough to read the chapter, "Government as Nirvana?"
on July 31, 2014
I am a libertarian and agree with most of the general principles of this book. But I am giving it one star, this is the exact sort of book that is not going to convince anyone sitting on the fence that small government and free markets can make your life better, it will probably turn them off.
Besides the writing coming across as a sort of emotional right wing rant, Lott commits the error that is endemic to those in the small government and pro market intellectual circles.
That error is, intead of using logic and reason to argue the case for why freedom and laissez-faire capitalism increases the living standard of the ordinary person, he instead just refers to a litany of studies and data to prove his case. Page after page, every page, some statistic quoted, as an arguement from a higher authority.
Well let me give you a hard truth, for every study that Lott quotes as proof that his viewpoint is correct, some leftist academic can also point to data in a leftist study that will give the exact opposite conclusion. So it then becomes a circular arguement, with right wing and left wing academics just pointing to the data and statistics that back up their case.
Why does Lott do this? The answer is found on the very first page, where he declares Milton Friedman the greatest economist of all time. Friedman was a champion of the scientific approach to economics known as 'positivism'. Simply put, positivism means that theory, logic and reason have no place in explaining economic phenomena, only statistical data can be used and relied upon.
The fatal problem of this approach is that unlike the 'hard sciences' such as physics or chemistry with its reliable data, economics is a 'soft science', a study of human activity under certain conditions that can never be repeated, with an almost unlimited number of variables that make each data study different. This is why socialist academics can easily create peer reviewed studies that show free markets and capitalism is impoverishing the people, causing exploitation and making the rich get richer e.t.c
This is the legacy that Milton Friedman has left the free market movement, a legacy that gives no real intellectual cover or defence of freedom, where socialists and leftists of every stripe can easily refute almost every arguement in this book.
Maybe I'm being just too harsh on John Lott, after all the declared intention of Freedomnomics is as a counterweight to Freakonomics, written in the same style. In that respect I guess it succeeds, but as a book on its own I don't like it and think its a bad way to promote the issues at hand.
I have read quite a few of these popular --Why Freedom Works-- type of books recently, and IMO the best is 'Free Market Revolution' by Yaron Brook & Don Watkins. Now don't get me wrong, I'm certainly not an objectivist or worshipper of Ayn Rand (quite the opposite), I just feel this book is written much better than Freedomnomics, and it makes a far better case for freedom and free markets.
on August 28, 2014
Freedomnomics, which is written on a level easily understood by a general audience, dispels many of the commonly held economic fallacies so often perpetrated by our information media, politicians, and academicians. A serious economist, Dr. Lott understands how markets work and diligently applies that knowledge to a wide array of seemingly unrelated subjects and putative "market failures." The next time you hear someone castigating the greed of the agents who produce and distribute America's cornucopia of goods and services, please read Freedomnomics and think about the issue more deeply.
on August 8, 2007
This book doesn't settle for presenting the theory of why the free market works, it goes into detail and digs into history to prove it. One of the most refreshing sections is where Lott refutes the nauseating theory of the Left that the drop in the crime rate in the 90's happened because a lot of the potential criminals had been aborted. The Left really is amazing; they don't want the death penalty for someone who has actually committed several brutal murders, but they're okay with it for an innocent person who is statistically likely to someday commit murder, rape or burglary. Lott painstakingly demonstrates that the real cause was the increase of the death penalty, higher arrest rates, and the larger number of citizens carrying concealed weapons.
He also tells us some things we didn't know about the history of public education. It started in the 1820s in an attempt to educate Catholic children as Protestants, because legislators believed that Catholics were more prone to commit crimes! It's a disappointment to me that he doesn't also mention that education became compulsory because of pressure from labor unions, who wanted children forced out of the job market so that their members could have them instead.
on August 16, 2014
I came to this book because I liked Freakonomics. Levitt/Dubner made some fascinating claims in there - some that I bought, others I didn't - and I was looking forward to a reasoned rebuttal in this book. Ignoring the somewhat childish use of "half-baked" in the sub-title, I assumed that someone with a Ph.D in economics would provide nuanced arguments that would further my layman's understanding of economics. This book did NOT deliver...
Instead, it's a litany of right-wing grievances that I could have just as easily heard on Fox News or AM talk radio. It is ludicrously predictable. Within the first paragraph of every chapter, it's obvious which side Lott will come down on. Reading Freakonomics, I got the impression that Levitt looked at numbers and came to his conclusions. Reading Lott, it seems more like he has his conclusions, then finds numbers to back them up.
I can't give it one-star because there are some genuinely interesting moments. For example, the chapter on government monopolies is convincing and interesting. However, he ruins a good point (in this chapter as well as the rest of the book) by taking it too far, painting government as ALWAYS meddlesome and predatory and the free market as ALWAYS virtuous and efficient. There is no grey area in Dr. Lott's world - only black and white.
I'm sure the author writes off criticism of his theories as part of a liberal conspiracy, but I'm not a left-wing nut, I'm a moderate. Like what I imagine is a silent majority of Americans, I fall somewhere in the middle -- I think that deification of the free market (a la John Lott) is just as misguided as the starry-eye utopianism of a Michael Moore. Obviously there are foolish and heavy-handed government policies, but to believe that the market would be a more productive, equitable place with bare-bones government is to ignore common sense, as well as our own country's history. Dr. Lott may downplay the negative effects of monopoly in his book, but I bet he'd sing a different tune were he an immigrant laborer during the Guilded Age, or an energy entrepreneur whose life's work was destroyed by Standard Oil.
His brand of extremism is just as dangerous as the liberal extremism he rails against. But I guess even-handedness and moderation don't sell books.
on September 20, 2008
Do you think economics is boring? Do you struggle to understand economic principles? If you answered yes to either question, then check out Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner. These two economists apply their knowledge to such a wide variety of subjects that it is hard to keep up.
For example, did you ever wonder why drug dealers live with their moms or what schoolteachers and sumo wrestlers have in common? Levitt and Dubner address these and other equally unusual topics. By applying well-known, basic economic principles to unique circumstances, the authors help readers better appreciate the complex world of money matters. You'll have so much fun reading this book that you won't even realize you're learning something about economics.
Considering the success of Freakonomics (it reached the number two spot on the New York Times nonfiction bestseller list), it is not surprising that Freedomnomics: Why the Free Market Works and Other Half-Baked Theories Don't by John R. Lott, Jr. was published a short time later. Freedomnomics, as the front cover tells us, is a rebuttal to Freakonomics and more. Although not as popular or as well written, Freedomnomics scored points with me because I am a firm believer in capitalism and the free market society. I also found some of Lott's economic research to be intriguing. For instance, in the chapter on women's suffrage and the growth of government, Lott tracks changes in government spending both before and after women finally obtained the right to vote.
Freedomnomics does not rehash all of Levitt and Dubner's material, but it does attempt a point-counterpoint on several topics, including abortion and crime in the United States. Read both books and make your own decision about who is right and who is wrong.
on May 22, 2007
Reading Lott's book, Freedomnomics, made me wish out loud, "why couldn't I have had a professor like John Lott?" Lott's presentation of facts and concepts are easy to grasp, and his use of current, solid, and very intriguing data, examples and quotes from political leaders, business notables and everyday news items make his chapters enjoyable. This book leads the reader along at a fast clip on a tour of the global economy and the free market principles that invisibly govern it. Lott's book logically lines up major themes that cover the entire spectrum of policy debate over our social and economic present and future. It then proceeds to take on one controversial issue after another, without fear. Lott simply defines the boundaries of the argument, gives salient and well documented facts, uses economic reasoning to compare policy options and concludes with observations that are easy to follow and free of economic jargon.
If this is your first foray into contemporary economics, you'll have fun. If you are looking for something that might draw you deeper into the explanation of how the free market works in today's economy, and how its principles have shown to solve social and political problems that other systems have failed to address adequately, this is a great dive into the pool. If you're well-versed enough to already like the work of notables such as Thomas Sowell, you'll love Freedomnomics as well.
When most people see an illusionist float in the air or materialize an object from seemingly out of the air, they know that it is a trick and they don't have all the information about how it was done. Sometimes they will make up a method to satisfy their puzzlement. Even though their private explanation is usually wrong, it is less wrong than believing the trick was magic.
So it is with economics. If you find yourself getting an explanation of why economics has suddenly changed (usually pitched as an "advance" or "progress") and that free markets are bad for people or that, as the Michigan governor tried this year, more government spending (investment, they call it) and the necessary taxation to fund it is the key to prosperity, well, don't believe it. Get a book like this one and learn why people make these kinds of mistakes. They frame the problem incorrectly, the misread the actual issues, or they are making up the data. Gravity exists. So does economic gravity.
A key foundational principle is that people respond to incentives. If you make something more costly to do or have, people will do or have less of it. If you make it cheaper people will have or do more of it. Millions of people making small private choices about what is best for them is almost always better than a crude central decision with only partial information.
John R. Lott takes on the very popular book "Freakonomics" and shows how some of the points made by its authors are wrong and even incoherent. This book shows you why people are strongly motivated to not lie to you or rip you off. Yes, there are crooks and criminals, but they are the exception rather than the rule and the first chapter shows why. In one of his examples, he shows why LoJak hasn't worked because the car is usually in pieces before it can be activated.
The second chapter talks about the value of reputations. One of the main points of discussion in this chapter is why politicians, even when retiring, vote pretty much the way they always have. The same holds true despite all the campaign contributions. Patterns of votes in Congress show that donations tend not to change a representatives voting pattern. Interesting stuff.
The third chapter on government is my favorite. Lott shows clearly how the government, far from preventing market distortions, creates them. It is the government far more than any private corporation who is the predator we suffer under and under whose claims of beneficence we face a perpetuation of societal ills. It simply isn't in their interest to make problems go away. And even if the problem is ameliorated, it is redefined so that we learn we are suffering even when we are unaware of it. The material on education will likely cause digestive upset, so be forewarned.
In chapter four we get to look at crime in a way that you will likely find disturbing. We keep getting told that crime rates are down. And in some ways they are. We also get all kinds of explanations about why they are down. Here Lott shows us why crime went up in the first place, and why it is down. None of the explanations will make anyone on the left very happy.
The last chapter on voting is very interesting and will cause a lot of people to react to Lotts insights without fully considering what he is saying. Lott notes that the expansion of government in America (and around the world) is tied to giving women the right to vote and he explains why. He also shows us why a certain party in America is eager to continue to expand the franchise to felons and to non-citizens who live here illegally. Quite interesting.
What I like about Lott's method is not the conclusions he draws, but how closely he hews to traditional economic principles. He doesn't need to make strange claims about how the old understanding is now invalid. In fact, he openly goes after some of those claims made by others, most notably in "Freakonomics". Much of these "new: claims are based on framing the problem strangely, or using faulty data. Lott shows how straightening the problem out and using better data helps understanding and clarity.
Very good. Enjoy.