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Customer Review

19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Interesting questions interestingly answered, 30 Dec. 2007
This review is from: Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything (Penguin Celebrations) (Paperback)
I ignored this book when it was first published, but turned to the revised version recently in the hope that it would give me some insight into mainstream economics, (having recently started a course in business economics). It hasn't been a great help for that purpose, but is a great - and easy - read all the same. I found it particularly illuminating to see how an economist looks beyond correlations to seek causation. For example, in what is probably his most controversial chapter, Levitt identifies the effective legalisation of abortion in the US in 1973 as being the cause of a fall in the crime rate 15 - 20 years later. Having established this correlation, and posited an explanation - access to abortion meant that a whole cohort of kids that would have been most likely to grow up to become criminals were not in fact born at all - he searches for ways to test it. He did so by looking at those states where abortion had already been legal, by establishing correlations between abortion rates and the subsequent fall in crime rates and by identifying that the fall in crime happened amongst the late teens rather than older age groups.

Levitt and Dubner were clearly aware of the potential distaste that this deduction might bring, but presented their findings clearly and courageously. Other areas of study include the identification of cheating teachers and Sumo wrestlers, the economics of dealing in crack cocaine and whether (pushy) parents can actively influence the success of their children. In many cases, however, and particularly while reading a chapter on parents' choice of names for their children, I did wonder whether the same conclusions would be made on the British side of the Atlantic.

The revised (2006) edition includes some material not included in the first edition, including forty pages of material from the Freakanomics blog, as well as clarifications and revisions.

As to whether this is a truly a radical use of the science of economics, however, I know not - it may well be that other have analysed data of this type in similar ways in the past. Nonetheless, Levitt and Dubner ask - and answer - some interesting questions, and if economics is not routinely used in this way perhaps it should be.
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