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Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything - by Steven D. Levitt & Stephen J. Dubner Hardcover – Deckle Edge, May 1, 2005
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From Publishers Weekly
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
an excerpt from Chapter 1 [PDF 20kb]
- Item Weight : 1.1 pounds
- Hardcover : 242 pages
- ISBN-10 : 006073132X
- ISBN-13 : 978-0060731328
- Dimensions : 6.13 x 0.89 x 9 inches
- Publisher : William Morrow; 1st edition (May 1, 2005)
- Language: : English
- Best Sellers Rank: #272,682 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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The author's first chapter asks the question, what do school teachers and sumo wrestlers have in common? The heart of the issue is what motivates us? Money, punishment or recognition? How do we achieve goals? Who will cheat or how high do the stakes have to be for one to cheat? If a teacher's future is on the line, how far will they or anyone go in order to keep their job?
Or think about it this way, remember Enron? How far did greed push people? In the book, the economists use the example of the Chicago Public School system. Excellent example that will remain timeless.
In chapter 2, they ask the question how is the Ku Klux Klan like a group of Real Estate Agents? You can't imagine they are, can you? Other than the Klan's power had grown and derived in large part because it hoarded information. If that information fells into the wrong hands, the group's advantage disappeared. The same can be said of real estate and life insurance agents. Think about the power of their information.
In Chapter 3 they ask, why do drug dealers still at home with Mom? They describe the gang, their perspective, unwritten circuitous rules, revenues, organizational structure, mercenary fighters and overall economics.
In Chapter 4 they ask where have all the criminals gone? They question the correlation of criminals, crime and the economics of unwanted children. In this chapter they evaluate the rise and fall of homicide and the correlation to abortion. The numbers are startling.
A refreshing read that makes one want for more.
Now that I have passed on that disclaimer - on to the review!
Freakonomics is more than a little misnomer - There is very little Economics involved (if any?). Almost all of what is discussed is actually Sociology and not Economics. Economics, by definition, is the allocation of scarce resources- you learn that on the first day of econ 101. And while "Freakonomics" does talk extensively about incentives and motivating factors, I still feel that is on the outside of the true Economics. There is, however, a fuzzy line where Sociology and Economics meet- and for the most part this is the area that "Freakonomics" lives.
Others have argued that "Freakonmoics" is just a retelling of older published articles. Well this probably is the case, however, most of us have not read and do not have access to those articles - so compilation is not necessarily a bad (Dave Berry does it all of the time!)
I will also giev Levitt credit for exploring some very taboo subjects. Bot many people have the courage to tie increased incidences in abortion to an overall decrease in violent crimes. While personally - I don't agree with the "Cost/Benefit" of this approach (and to his credit Mr. Levitt does not advocate this approach either) but it is intereting to think about. Also, the topics on race and education are usually very tactfully done in order to be more PC. MR. Levitt doesn't seem to care much about being "PC" only in interepting his data. Other topics include - what makes a good parent, how real estate agents look out for themselves more tan you, why, in fact, most Crack Dealers are poor, the economic benefits of a naming a child, possible cheating in the sport of sumo wrestling and so on.
Again- to call this an Economics text is - in my mind- a misrepresentation. It is also exceedingly short, it defintely lacks a detailed descriptions on how the data was mined... but given even these flaws I found "Freakonomics" fascinating and almost impossible to put down.
Three reasons make me think this book is worth reading:
1. Fact-based rigour: Levitt and Dubner have done a service to humankind by showing on their book how a little bit of rigour to find the true (usually economic) facts behind any social phenomenom can help to really understand it.
2. Originality: the authors chose to focus on relatively strange cases to prove their point (sumo wrestling, the ku klux klan, drug dealers, etc.). This makes it more interesting than if it was focused on typical, mundane, business issues (in which the aforementioned fact-based rigour is typically applied).
3. Good flow: the book is well written. It flows smoothly. It feels good.
The things that bothered me a little bit about this book were:
a. It might mislead some people: the authors' argument about "cheating" fails to go one step further to truly explain why some people allegedly cheat. Yes, in many situations, people "cheat", but that is because their incentive system is not well designed to fully meet its objectives.
b. The way in which the authors present the results of their analysis in Chapter 6 (about why/how parents choose names for their children) is not the most effective. With a couple of graphs of the "life cycle" of a name, the point would have been conveyed. Instead, ink and time is wasted in showing many "Top 10" lists of names. Levitt & Dubner could have gone a little bit further, and showned with more detail the typical evolution of a name (in its popularity).
In short, read this book if you want to exercise your mind and challenge some of your conventions. It's an easy read and you won't be disappointed.
Now, this book is not for you if you are expecting a completely bullet-proof piece of research. Its clear to me the authors have sacrificed some of that in order to make the book palatable for the masses.