Freakonomics [Revised and Expanded]: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything
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Economics is not widely considered to be one of the sexier sciences. The annual Nobel Prize winner in that field never receives as much publicity as his or her compatriots in peace, literature, or physics. But if such slights are based on the notion that economics is dull, or that economists are concerned only with finance itself, Steven D. Levitt will change some minds. In Freakonomics (written with Stephen J. Dubner), Levitt argues that many apparent mysteries of everyday life don't need to be so mysterious: they could be illuminated and made even more fascinating by asking the right questions and drawing connections. For example, Levitt traces the drop in violent crime rates to a drop in violent criminals and, digging further, to the Roe v. Wade decision that preempted the existence of some people who would be born to poverty and hardship. Elsewhere, by analyzing data gathered from inner-city Chicago drug-dealing gangs, Levitt outlines a corporate structure much like McDonald's, where the top bosses make great money while scores of underlings make something below minimum wage. And in a section that may alarm or relieve worried parents, Levitt argues that parenting methods don't really matter much and that a backyard swimming pool is much more dangerous than a gun. These enlightening chapters are separated by effusive passages from Dubner's 2003 profile of Levitt in The New York Times Magazine, which led to the book being written. In a book filled with bold logic, such back-patting veers Freakonomics, however briefly, away from what Levitt actually has to say. Although maybe there's a good economic reason for that too, and we're just not getting it yet. --John Moe

Which is more dangerous, a gun or a swimming pool? What do schoolteachers and sumo wrestlers have in common? Why do drug dealers still live with their moms? How much do parents really matter? How did the legalization of abortion affect the rate of violent crime?

These may not sound like typical questions for an econo-mist to ask. But Steven D. Levitt is not a typical economist. He is a much-heralded scholar who studies the riddles of everyday life—from cheating and crime to sports and child-rearing—and whose conclusions turn conventional wisdom on its head.

Freakonomics is a groundbreaking collaboration between Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner, an award-winning author and journalist. They usually begin with a mountain of data and a simple question. Some of these questions concern life-and-death issues; others have an admittedly freakish quality. Thus the new field of study contained in this book: freakonomics.

Through forceful storytelling and wry insight, Levitt and 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. In Freakonomics, they explore the hidden side of . . . well, everything. The inner workings of a crack gang. The truth about real-estate agents. The myths of campaign finance. The telltale marks of a cheating schoolteacher. The secrets of the Klu Klux Klan.

What unites all these stories is a belief that the modern world, despite a great deal of complexity and downright deceit, is not impenetrable, is not unknowable, and—if the right questions are asked—is even more intriguing than we think. All it takes is a new way of looking.

Freakonomics establishes this unconventional premise: If morality represents how we would like the world to work, then economics represents how it actually does work. It is true that readers of this book will be armed with enough riddles and stories to last a thousand cocktail parties. But Freakonomics can provide more than that. It will literally redefine the way we view the modern world.

Customer Reviews:

  • Fascinating amazing bizarre and wonderful
    This book if full of fascinating examples of how intelligent economics can be applied to obscure, bizarre, amazing situations. Giving a lot of mind blowing conclusions etc. A really interesting book that is difficult to put down.

    Our daily newspapers chronicle the failures of economics, this book chronicles it successes.

    The authors are compassionate fascinating and fun. Really it's a mind boggling roller coaster and a fun packed ride. Get on!...more info
  • The only thing freaky is this book's reception
    If you want to become really depressed about the state of intellectual life in America, then "Freakonomics" is the book for you. It was widely praised by sources ranging from the New York Times to the Weekly Standard, and anything that earns the support of both those publications should be highly suspect. In truth, "Freakonomics" is a mixture of two types of conclusions: the obvious and the obviously wrong. In that respect it mirrors other recent pop sociology efforts such as Predictably Irrational, but without even the touches of humor and warmth in that book.

    One problem with "Freakonomics" is its habit of hailing the blatantly obvious as new and revolutionary. For instance, Levitt offers to prove that real estate agents try harder to sell their owns houses than to sell their clients' houses. The only response that any intelligent person could offer is, "Well of course they do. Why wouldn't they?" Teachers spent more effort teaching their children than others. Gardeners garden harder in their own gardens than in anyone else's. Professional investors devote the most attention to their own investments. Why wouldn't real estate agents do what everyone else does?

    Another example comes in a chapter with the pointedly irritating title, 'What do Teachers and Sumo Wrestlers have in Common?' The dramatic answer is--drum roll please--they cheat. Substantially effort is spent establishing the fact that a sizable percentage of teachers cheat on standardized tests, but this is old news. The techniques for catching cheaters that Levitt uses were already known long before he wrote this book, so what's the big deal? If one could find a school system where nobody ever cheated, that might be worthy of a book with 'freak' in the title.

    At the other end of the spectrum are a host of conclusions that are just plain wrong. For example, Levitt asserts that campaign spending has no effect on political races. His "proof" of this comes from comparing situations where the same candidates ran twice in a row. Supposedly the votes always turned out the same way, even if the candidates had more to spend the second time around. Whether this is true or not, I can't say, but such cases obviously account for only a small percentage of the total number of political contests. There's ample proof that money talks in politics. For instance, last summer, Democratic Senate candidates were trailing badly in the polls in North Carolina, Minnesota, Oregon, and Alaska. Then the DNC poured tens of millions of dollars into those races, and the Democrats all surged in the polls.

    A more insidious case is the book's best-known assertion, which deals with crime and abortion. In studying the huge drop in crime rates during the 90's, Levitt ties it to the Roe vs. Wade case in 1972. According to his analysis, once women started having abortions, the number of unwanted babies plunged. As these unwanted babies are the most likely to grow up into criminal adults, this lead to a drop in crime rates about 20 years later. The problem with this theory is that it's the exact opposite of the truth. In fact, both halves of it don't compute. Roe vs. Wade had only a small effect on the number of abortions. By all measures, the number of unwanted children kept on increasing, despite the availability of legal abortions. On the crime side, crime rates committed by people born shortly after 1972 skyrocketed upward in the late 80's and early 90's, which is the exact opposite of what Levitt's theory says. (For those who want a source, Jon Hilsenrath wrote up the real facts in the Wall Street Journal in Nov. 28, 2005.) It actually gets worse for Levitt when we look at other countries. Analysis from England of Wales shows abortion leading to higher crime.

    It is Levitt's main tactic to simply ignore any data that doesn't fit his hypothesis. That makes for good reading but bad thinking; sound analysis has to include all the data. Of course Levitt is not the first person to make his living pushing junk statistics, and he probably won't be the last. What's worrying is the way that the nation's intellectual elite bow down before him. It seems that he need only wave his fancy degree in the air, claim to have statistics on his side, and he automatically becomes right about everything, with no criticism or double-checking necessary. The way that our major publications rush to get suckered by this junk makes one fear for the future of independent thought. For those who think that economists should help people rather than cook up phony excuses for moral degeneracy, try Small Is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered.
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  • Debunked
    Some of the notions that the author presents as fact in this book have been debunked. This author has no credibility any more....more info
  • Lessons in lateral thinking
    This book contains a bit more hype than some readers may be comfortable with, but it is worth reading for the lessons to be gained in lateral thinking, pulling together ideas and interconnections that are not immediately obvious.

    I found the final chapter on name choice relatively weak, but the ones on abortion and crime, and the corporate structure of crack dealers, were food for thought. And I have seen for myself an example of a real estate agent trying to coerce a client into selling a home at below market value - here in Taiwan the same thing happens - and I think Levitt's logic on why this happens is sound.

    The additional material at the end of the book, i.e. newspaper columns and blog entries, included some corrections, e.g. on doubts surrounding Stetson Kennedy's expos¨¦s of the Ku Klux Klan. It is here also that the reader learns that Levitt and his wife lost their first child when he was just a year old, and that somehow put the author in a new perspective for me; it also explains where he got the idea to compare the risks of gun ownership to having a home swimming pool. (He and his wife attended a support group for parents who had lost a child and learned there that many children die by drowning in a swimming pool.)

    Elsewhere, the author gets his revenge on a restaurant that served him badly spoiled chicken and then compensated him only by not charging for two glasses of wine: he reveals the eatery's name and location - bringing out another, very human, aspect of the author's personality. You also learn that he likes to gamble - maybe not so surprising in someone so interested in interpreting statistics. I enjoyed the author's - very positive - description of a lecture visit to the Google headquarters. And as a teacher, his reminiscences of his student days and classroom behavior - "sleeping through about 90%" of his classes - gave me pause.

    All in all, this book is an easy and worthwhile read. And knowing what's in it will put you a bit more in touch with popular reading culture.
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  • Book in bad condition
    I really enjoyed the contents of the book, but I was very disappointed with its physical condition. The pages were of uneven size and appeared to be cut with a blunt edge. Not a book to be put on your display bookshelf......more info
  • Enlightened
    I found this work to be enlightening and curious. I would recommend this book and the CD's to anyone who has an open mind and wants to really understand social strata and sociology anomalies. It is makes you thing how many more trends have occurred and we have been misdiagnosing there real cause. Get the book, listen to the CD and keep an open mind....more info
  • Entertaining and Interesting, But Not Necessarily Correct
    This best selling book is interesting and entertaining. Of course, it is neither a book (really, a collection of observations), not especially "freaky" (every topic is pretty much common), and nothing really to do with economics (especially the extremely long story about the KKK). It does rely a lot on data and reductionistic causality that, generally speaking, is spot on, and for many people, this new perspective will be eye opening.

    The lack of a central theme is bothersome, and the value of an approach like Levitt's could be enormous if it came from some global point of view. Lacking this, it is more like reading a column in your favorite magazine. This flaw works its way into the book's rambling style. One starts with such great questions as nature vs. nurture and ends of looking at the results of a lottery system in the city of Chicago, over an unspecified periods of years, for high school students on their achievement scores and graduation rates, without ever looking at the data itself. A book with a central theme would avoid such excesses.

    Also problematic is Levitt's handling of data and his reasoning. Here are some examples of major flaws:

    *He claims that the deaths to children under 10 years of age from drowning in swimming pools (550 per year) are greater, proportionally, than deaths by guns in your home 175 per year). To reach this conclusion, he divides the number of deaths by each cause by (550 vs. 175), respectively, the number of homes with swimming pools (6 million) and the number of guns (estimated at 200 million). His conclusion - "The likelihood of death by pool (1 in 11,000) versus death by gun (1 in 1 million plus) isn't even close (pg. 150)." What he fails to understand is that the number of guns in the US does not equal the number of homes in the US with a gun (since many people own multiple guns) in the same way that the number of homes with pools is a reflection of the number of homes with pools (very few homes have more than 1 pool). Hence, Levitt's conclusions are erroneous, although not incorrect. Death by drowning is greater than death by shooting, but not by the proportions he reports. I'm not arguing for more guns or more pools, just looking at Levitt's data handling, which leaves much to be desired in this case.

    * He argues strongly that the main reason for the decline in crime in the 1990s is the abortion legislation started in the 1970s (Roe vs. Wade). Yet in the same chapter he argues that the decline in crime is unrelated to the dramatic aging of the US population in that same period. He says "Demographic change is too slow and subtle a process... (pg. 136). This is a puzzling quote in a section that argues that the demographic changes caused by Roe vs. Wade contribute to a decline in crime while those attributed to aging in the same period have no effect. Moreover, his abortion data itself is suspect. He argues "Before Roe v Wade it was predominantly the daughters of middle or upper-class families who could arrange and afford a safe illegal abortion (pg 138)..." and while this may be true (Levitt cites no reference here), it does not follow that abortions of all kinds were the exclusive province of the middle/upper classes. His subsequent argument that the beneficiaries of Roe v Wade were "...unmarried or in her teens or poor, and sometimes all three" tells us nothing about who the beneficiaries of the pre Roe v Wade abortions were - I suspect they were also unmarried/teens/poor. By incomplete logical argument, then, he supposes (a) children of poor, unmarried, teens are more likely to be criminals, (b) poor unmarried teens didn't have abortions prior to Roe v Wade because they couldn't afford it, and (c) as a result of Roe v Wade the criminal-producing poor, unmarried teens had fewer children and thus, 20 years later, we have less crime. It is certainly an appealing theory, and quite possible, but Levitt's data do not support this theory as he implies, and the absence of data for pre Roe v Wade abortions for poor unmarried teens lies at the core of his failing in this regard.

    * He argues that Sumo wrestlers must be crooked because of the observation that when two wrestlers face each other in a tournament, and one has already achieved success (a record of 8 wins in 15 bouts) while the other is only one victory away from success (7 wins), the one who is behind inevitably wins. In the next contest, the chances of success reverse themselves, and the wrestler who won (when he needed to win for overall success in the tournament) now loses at a disproportionate degree, but in all subsequent matches, the odds return to normal. Levitt sees this as an illegal conspiracy. That's certainly possible, But it's equally possible, if not more so, to explain the data with regard to the wrestlers need to stay in top shape. Sumo wrestling is fraught with injury, and once injured, a wrestler's chances of winning decrease dramatically. Thus, having won success (8 wins in 15 tries) already, the wrestler's gain by exerting himself (9 wins means nothing more than 8 wins - only a perfect record will gain additional notoriety or money) is clearly outweighed by his chances of injury, for the exact same reason that winning basketball and football coaches take out their star players once the game is "in the bag." For his opponent, the differences between 7 and 8 wins is enormous, and hence he will play his very best to win. So we have a match in which the motivation for one player (win at all costs) is far different from the motivation of the other player (avoid injury), and it's not surprising that the person with the better motivation wins more times than not. One doesn't have to posit a conspiracy to come to this conclusion.

    * Levitt spends a great deal of his book talking about the results of standardized tests of children's achievement as well as survey research on the behavior of parents. He then uncritically analyzes this research. True be told, entire books can be written (and have) about the flaws in such tests and survey practices. Without a mere mention of some of these flaws, Levitt proceeds to provide all sorts of conclusions. This chapter, more than any others, needs to be stricken from the book, or so seriously revised it should be a book unto itself.

    I could continue, but you get the point. In many cases, Levitt's data handling and his reasoning are flawed, and his conclusions are erroneous and/or mistaken. While this isn't a problem for a popular book, it is a serious problem when administrators and legislators use his work for public (or private) policy decisions. Though well intentioned, Levitt's shortcomings as a researcher and scientist risk that his work is used incorrectly, an outcome that is the exact opposite of what I'm sure Levitt intended.

    This being said, there is much praise to offer in Levitt's approach, and generally speaking, his data handling and reasoning are good and most of the examples he cites appear to be correct, to the best of my own abilities to handle data and reason. On balance, I think he makes a tremendous contribution to our way of looking at the world. I only wish he had been more studious in his research.
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  • Quick, Interesting Read -- more like Sociology than Economics
    Very interesting. I expected to hunker down and "learn something" with this book, but found that I read through it as fast as a mindless fiction novel. Topics and thoughts put forth by the author are controversial for sure. His theory about abortion and crime rates is certain to ruffle feathers. But I believe that his conclusions are theories, not necessarily proven truths about why certain phenomena exist in our society. And while I think at first glance his ideas sound discriminating, I can tell he is compassionate about people and interested in understanding how groups of people are affected in a "big picture" kind of way. I definitely learned something about the business of drug marketing. I see this book as less economics and more sociology, although the author himself and sociologists would disagree. It was a very interesting book. ...more info
  • One Amazing Book
    Being a double major in both Economics and Finance I have been forced to read many textbooks in the area of economics. These textbooks are filled with examples that are dull and unrealistic. After reading Freakonomics written by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner, I have a whole new understanding of economics. My understanding is now much deeper than the basic supply and demand curve that I have learned in the past. It is now at such a micro level that I can understand the relationship that a sumo wrestler and a school teacher have or why the Ku Klux Klan is like a group of Real- estate agents. All of this was learned throughout the novel Freakonomics.
    The author Steven Levitt is known as one of the greatest economists under forty and after reading this book I can totally understand why. He presents the material in a way that makes you want to keep reading the book for hours at end. Each chapter that he writes focuses on a very specific economic issue and ends up making you an expert in that area in twenty minutes or however long it takes you to read the twenty page chapter. Not only are the topics that he talks about interesting but he is able to tie together two totally different groups of people or ideas together in a way that you could only imagine. For example, how could a person even think about saying that a school teacher is similar to a sumo wrestler and have enough information to back up the idea. To be honest I was really a skeptic until I read the chapter. If you read the book you will find out that the underlying reason why a teacher and sumo wrestler are similar is because they both cheat to get ahead. A sumo wrestler might throw a match to help out his fellow wrestler make it to the next stage where he will win more prize money. A teacher might help their students on standardized exams by changing their scantron sheets or putting answers on the board solely to get a pay raise by the school. The underlying theme is that these two groups of people that are totally different from one another on so many levels really have the same goal which is to make more money.
    The one thing that makes Freakonomics different from a normal economics text book that I enjoyed most was the fact that the author uses all real life examples. I understand that this book is suppose to read like a novel rather than a text book, but the examples are the reason that makes this book far superior than any other that I have previously read. Some of the titles of his chapters are: "Why do drug dealers still live with their moms," "Where have all the criminals gone," and "What makes a perfect parent." All of these chapters focus on the same key idea by incorporating three or four real life examples. In the chapter, "Why do drug dealers still live with their moms?" Levitt talks about how it is hard for drug dealers to make money and how only a handful of them actually can make a really living out of dealing drugs. I found it interesting that eighty five percent of the people that deal drugs have another job as well. This is because dealing gives you street credit and protection from other dealers or gangs. I really could not believe that most people deal drugs just for protection. If that fact is amazing in itself can you believe that drug dealers have death benefits as well? If you die while dealing drugs your family gets two years of what your salary would have been. Drug Dealers are truly in their own little world. Throughout this chapter he talks about real life scenarios that have actually happened to his friends that have gone undercover. Everything that he talks about in his book even the chapters that are the most outlandish are backed up by cold hard facts.
    The material in Freakonomics is presented in a way that makes any reader from any background able to understand the material. You do not have to have an economics or a business background to understand what he is getting at. All you have to have is an open mind. Levitt made this book to satisfy all skeptics. He makes claims that on the surface are very hard to believe even some that are beyond your wildest dreams but by the end of the chapter you understand where he is coming from and how he got there. That is the best part of the book in my opinion. Levitt really does a great job mapping out a thought process for his readers which enables them to ultimately come up with there own thesis on each of the subjects that he presents.
    Overall, Freakonomics was really a great book to read. If I were the head of the economics department at SMU I would make all first year economic students read this book. It would not only make them start thinking like an economist but would really help spark their interest. If I were to rate this book I would give it the highest possible ranking. It does everything that it sets out to do and more. This book really reaches all audiences in so many levels. Where else could you learn about why a drug dealer still lives with his mother or why a sumo wrestler is like a school teacher? The answer can only be found in Freakonomics.
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  • My kid's name
    I loved this book. I'm glad I read it before I chose my newborn's name!!!...more info
  • Freakonomics updated
    This is a fabuous book for a person with an enquiring mind. Who knew that economics could have an impact in so many arenas? It was fascinating, well written, easy to understand and highly enjoyable. ...more info
  • Interesting and fun!
    I purchased the audiobook to listen to on a road trip and found Freakonomics to be engaging and great for starting discussions! Time passed quickly while listening, and I was left wishing there was more when I got to the end. I gave four stars only because some of the book's main points are discussed in the lengthy introduction, and then again in the body of the book which is a little repetitive....more info
  • Very interesting, but also very biased
    Five stars for the quality of writing as far as interest and readability, as well as good awareness of the misuse of statistics. Three stars for bias, and ironically, the misuse of statistics....more info
  • Good intent, but poor results
    Levitt rails against certain experts throughout the book, but by the end Levitt's become the expert he hates. Part of this was due to trying to explain the areas with numbers and economics alone: economics explains a lot, but not everything. A fair amount of it though was his methodology.

    For all the discussion about not confusing correlation with causality, Levitt commits this error. His abortion argument is the best example. There may be a correlation, even a strong one, between abortion and crime rate. The evidence doesn't prove that abortion, or lack thereof is responsible for a drop or rise in crime.


    There were numerous flaws with the sections on education. For starters, IQ is subjective so an IQ test will only measure what you want it to measure, thus "smart people" are smart if we decide they are. Levitt also relies solely on standardized test scores--in a vacuum all they tell is how well people know how to take a test.

    The beginning of each chapter read more like a PR-plug for Levitt than an introduction to the topic. ...more info
  • Very Interesting
    Freakonomics by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner is a great book that provides a very interesting twist on economics. When first picking up the book, my first impression of it was "Oh, how boring!" After a couple of pages, I was actually interested and could not put it down. It discussed certain topics in ways I would have never imagined. For example, in a chapter called "What do school teachers and sumo wrestlers have in common?" Levitt and Dubner talk about a way that these two groups of people have in common, which is cheating. It was really interesting because I was not even aware a sumo wrestler was capable of cheating in a match.

    However, the book definitely had its weak parts. The authors occasionally became very redundant in some areas, and I eventually just skimmed through these parts to get the gist of it. For example, I do not think it was necessary to include the amount of data that they did, as it probably was not necessary to make the book understandable.

    To those who gave this book one star, I think that too much was expected from this book. It was not meant to be an economics textbook. If any more data or statistics were given, the book would have lost a large chunk of its audience. However, I do agree that the "expanded" material that was added to the back of the book was a ridiculous way to charge more for the book. The extra text is pointless, and is no way needed to enjoy the book. If I would have known that, I would have gotten the cheaper version.

    Overall, the book was very entertaining and informative. I would definitely recommend it to someone who is looking for a book to make a person think, even fiction lovers.
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  • A Straight Dose of Truth
    In the past decade we've had several books explaining why societies are succeeding or failing. We've had FREAKONIMICS, THE WORLD IS FLAT, AND GUNS GERMS & STEEL. They all have some common themes in mind; over-use of resources, liberation of people through education, and in this case birth control.
    Birth control is one of the touchiest and most loaded topics in the media. At a community meeting I brought up the suggestion of free universal birth control and they cut the meeting short. Over population leads to increased competition for food/energy, and consequently leads to war....more info
  • Great and funny book
    I read this book and then passed it along to someone else - it is a great book and very funny - most people I have spoken to - don't finish - don't go in with the right attitude - but it is a way to compare how society looks at certain things for what is right and wrong - good or bad - when you understand the premises of the book - then you get it right away - have fun with this book - don't let the author's career choices scare you - they have a great sense of humor....more info
  • Learn to Think Rather Than Be Persuaded
    I am not a conspiracy theorist, but I am critical of conventional wisdom. People who believe everything they hear are living in the dark and are at the mercy of media outlets or the closest busy-body. Much of our culture likes to believe things that are convenient. This can be seen in religion, politics, and even in someone's diet plan. The authors of Freakonomics do a wonderful job of analyzing the gullibility factor in our society. More importantly, they do a tremendous job of challenging the reader to think independently. If you believe critical thinking is underrated, or if you just want an interesting book, I highly recommend Freakonomics....more info
  • more freaky than economics
    If you're looking for a solution to our current economic woes, you've come to the wrong place. This book is more about challenging the conventional wisdom, a term coined by the late great economist and author John Kenneth Galbraith. Levitt and Dubner cover a wide range of topics, including how an infiltrator brought down the KKK, why your real estate agent may not try to get top dollar for your house, why gun control doesn't work in this country, the effect of Roe vs. Wade on crime, the effect of a variety of factors on future success, cheating by teachers who monitor standardized tests, why crack dealers live with their mothers, and how financial incentives can have the opposite of the desired effect. The authors back up their claims with studies and statistics and even offer a brief explanation of regression analysis. The section on baby-naming patterns gets a little tedious, but, other than that, this is fascinating stuff.
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  • Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence
    After reading this book I wasn't sure whether the author is a brilliant person, but a bad writer, or whether the author is knowingly dishonest and misleading.

    The author is extremely bold and in a single sentence will discount or write off all competing theories to his ideas; he makes conclusions about topics that academics have likely spent thousands of pages and many years debating. And he does it all while providing very little data to support his views and even less data to address any competing viewpoints.

    It is as if he is so supremely confident in his views that he doesn't feel the need to deal with nitty gritty details.

    I am not saying that I think he is *wrong*. My problem is that I don't know that he is *right*. And, given the far reaching claims he makes, I think he needs to provide a lot more data before I am willing to believe what he says.

    On top of this, there are a few points where I felt like he (or his co-author) are dangerously loose with the facts. They make the most basic of mistakes when analyzing the data. It makes you think that they are either amazingly sloppy or are intentionally ignoring the facts so they can support their argument.

    For example, look at the chapter where they analyze the online dating site registrations of users from Boston and San Diego. They compare the self-reported incomes of these users with "typical Internet users" and conclude that the users must be lying since they are wealthier than the average user. But they never consider the fact that Boston and San Diego are both wealthy towns. Does this explain the data entirely? Maybe. Maybe not. But you simply can't brush off such an obvious factor that could explain the skew.

    This sort of sloppiness would be unacceptable in a freshman statistics class and casts a pall over the credibility of the entire book.

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  • Surprisingly interesting
    I have a new appreciation for the hidden side of economics! It read so quickly. Who knew economics could be a fun read!...more info
  • The only thing freaky is this book's reception
    If you want to become really depressed about the state of intellectual life in America, then "Freakonomics" is the book for you. It was widely praised by sources ranging from the New York Times to the Weekly Standard, and anything that earns the support of both those publications should be highly suspect. In truth, "Freakonomics" is a mixture of two types of conclusions: the obvious and the obviously wrong. In that respect it mirrors other recent pop sociology efforts such as Predictably Irrational, but without even the touches of humor and warmth in that book.

    One problem with "Freakonomics" is its habit of hailing the blatantly obvious as new and revolutionary. For instance, Levitt offers to prove that real estate agents try harder to sell their owns houses than to sell their clients' houses. The only response that any intelligent person could offer is, "Well of course they do. Why wouldn't they?" Teachers spent more effort teaching their children than others. Gardeners garden harder in their own gardens than in anyone else's. Professional investors devote the most attention to their own investments. Why wouldn't real estate agents do what everyone else does?

    Another example comes in a chapter with the pointedly irritating title, 'What do Teachers and Sumo Wrestlers have in Common?' The dramatic answer is--drum roll please--they cheat. Substantially effort is spent establishing the fact that a sizable percentage of teachers cheat on standardized tests, but this is old news. The techniques for catching cheaters that Levitt uses were already known long before he wrote this book, so what's the big deal? If one could find a school system where nobody ever cheated, that might be worthy of a book with 'freak' in the title.

    At the other end of the spectrum are a host of conclusions that are just plain wrong. For example, Levitt asserts that campaign spending has no effect on political races. His "proof" of this comes from comparing situations where the same candidates ran twice in a row. Supposedly the votes always turned out the same way, even if the candidates had more to spend the second time around. Whether this is true or not, I can't say, but such cases obviously account for only a small percentage of the total number of political contests. There's ample proof that money talks in politics. For instance, last summer, Democratic Senate candidates were trailing badly in the polls in North Carolina, Minnesota, Oregon, and Alaska. Then the DNC poured tens of millions of dollars into those races, and the Democrats all surged in the polls.

    A more insidious case is the book's best-known assertion, which deals with crime and abortion. In studying the huge drop in crime rates during the 90's, Levitt ties it to the Roe vs. Wade case in 1972. According to his analysis, once women started having abortions, the number of unwanted babies plunged. As these unwanted babies are the most likely to grow up into criminal adults, this lead to a drop in crime rates about 20 years later. The problem with this theory is that it's the exact opposite of the truth. In fact, both halves of it don't compute. Roe vs. Wade had only a small effect on the number of abortions. By all measures, the number of unwanted children kept on increasing, despite the availability of legal abortions. On the crime side, crime rates committed by people born shortly after 1972 skyrocketed upward in the late 80's and early 90's, which is the exact opposite of what Levitt's theory says. (For those who want a source, Jon Hilsenrath wrote up the real facts in the Wall Street Journal in Nov. 28, 2005.) It actually gets worse for Levitt when we look at other countries. Analysis from England of Wales shows abortion leading to higher crime.

    It is Levitt's main tactic to simply ignore any data that doesn't fit his hypothesis. That makes for good reading but bad thinking; sound analysis has to include all the data. Of course Levitt is not the first person to make his living pushing junk statistics, and he probably won't be the last. What's worrying is the way that the nation's intellectual elite bow down before him. It seems that he need only wave his fancy degree in the air, claim to have statistics on his side, and he automatically becomes right about everything, with no criticism or double-checking necessary. The way that our major publications rush to get suckered by this junk makes one fear for the future of independent thought. For those who think that economists should help people rather than cook up phony excuses for moral degeneracy, try Small Is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered.
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  • Feakonomics Review
    What do a teacher and a sumo wretler have in common? How can a real estate agent possibly relate to the KKK? These are both are questions regarding how certain factors relate to one another in the real world. Who would have known that both sumo wresters and teachers cheat in a similar way in order to increase their pay, and real estate agents and the KKK use tricks to try and fool people to do whatever they want. Can it be true that a persons name determines what social class they belong to? or what contributes to a childs character in the future? Can it be the school he's going to or the friends he has? Freakonomics is unraveling the hidden side of just about everything....more info
  • Economics Need Not Be Boring
    So often in life we are quick to apply our own intuitions and ideologies into solving life's tough questions. "Freakonomics" shines a warm light onto otherwise cold hard statistics, making economics interesting, relevant and confronting. This book is memorable because it runs counter-intuitive to our understanding of life and really makes you pause to think. Along with this book is the Freakonomics blog, which is the online and continuous sequel to this book....more info
  • An engaging read
    Whether or not you agree with the conclusions, the logic on display in Freakonomics is thought-provoking. At the very least, it gives a fascinating insight into some very off-the-wall topics. Part sociology, part economics and part political game theory, it never gets too deep into any theory for the non-academic. The chapter on the economics and motivations of a drug gang is the highlight of the book, IMHO. Even the weakest chapters don't disappoint.

    The writing style is easily accessible and entertaining. While I don't agree with some of the conclusions, you never get the sense that the authors are arguing in bad faith.

    Well worth the money and the time you'll spend in reading it....more info
  • Open your eyes to a whole new world!
    Levitt and Dubner really challenge conventional wisdom.It will open your eyes to how easily people just except things as fact without ever questioning the data behind them. Its a read that you really will not want to put down and definately a must read for anyone in the field of psychology, social work, or medicine. ...more info
  • A Straight Dose of Truth
    In the past decade we've had several books explaining why societies are succeeding or failing. We've had FREAKONIMICS, THE WORLD IS FLAT, AND GUNS GERMS & STEEL. They all have some common themes in mind; over-use of resources, liberation of people through education, and in this case birth control.
    Birth control is one of the touchiest and most loaded topics in the media. At a community meeting I brought up the suggestion of free universal birth control and they cut the meeting short. Over population leads to increased competition for food/energy, and consequently leads to war....more info
  • An Intellectual Snack
    If you have ever been curious as to how Sumo wrestlers cheat or if you wanted to know the details of how abortion has reduced crime then this snippet of easy to read economics is for you. The flashy, colorful and fun examples were obviously written for the layman. The details are limited though cataloged appropriately so each can be looked up if the reader wants to dive deeper elsewhere. There is a hint of political told-you-so in some of the stories that debunk conventional wisdom concerning crime rates and class structure but they would hardly be offensive to interested onlookers. The freak in me loves it when an author says, "You might want to skip this section," because that is usually when the story gets good. In terms of entertainment, Freakonomics was worth the taste and since you can swallow it whole in a couple days there really isn't any good reason not to open wide....more info
  • What's the utility of reviewing this at this late date?
    Levitt is a famous economist. Dubner is a famous Journalist. Leavitt has worked on several projects with other economists. From the book descriptions and notes Leavitt admits to being light on math and all the data and heavy lifting was done by the other people on his projects.

    Dubner has never been known for doing any economic work. His contribution to the book was introducing Leavitt to a highbrow New York audience.

    When you boil this book down it seems to be a math light economist who can't back up his own research. He also is a poor enough writer that he needed a journalist to tell his story instead of writing it himself. Why is he a famous economist again? If I return to school for my degree in economics or when it's time for college selection for the kids I'll be giving a pass to any university that employs this joker....more info
  • Surprisingly Enjoyable. Unless You're an Econ Nerd.
    I was apprehensive about this one. It had all the makings of a book I would loathe. Two authors, a catchy, goofy title, simplistic analyses. The only thing this one lacked to make its literary clich¨¦ complete was Oprah's stamp of approval.

    It should be a wonder then that I enjoyed this book as much as I did. Chapters like the incendiary attack on the real estate profession, the stark comparison between the celebrity dreams of Hollywood starlets and Ghetto drug traffickers with about equal return on time invested and the survey of parental educational backgrounds and the names with which they curse their kids made for some fascinating reading. But nothing was more interesting than the comparison between reduction in crime rates and legalization of abortion even if the authors fall into their own post hoc ergo propter hoc trappings.

    Yes it was simplistic. Yes some econ geeks will be screaming "correlation vs. causation." Yes, Leavitt is no David Ricardo. But if it's Ricardo you want, go drink some afternoon tea with the rest of your humorless friends since you probably won't get any of the satire in this book anyway.
    ...more info