Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything Hardcover – 7 Jul 2005
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their approach has won the book a cult following -- Observer
A sensation youll be stimulated, provoked and entertained. Of how many books can that be said? -- Sunday Telegraph
Freakonomics reads like a detective novel has you chuckling one minute and gasping in amazement the next -- Wall Street Journal
The book is a delight; it educates, surprises and amuses dazzling -- Economist
Total controversy Levitt has shocked the world -- Sunday Express
Modern life can be baffling and chaotic. Is there any way of making sense of it? The answer, explains groundbreaking thinker Steven Levitt, lies in economics. Not ordinary economics, but freakonomics. It is at the heart of everything we see and do and the subjects that bedevil us daily: from parenting to crime, sport to politics, fat to cheating, fear to traffic jams. In Freakonomics Levitt turns conventional economics on its head, stripping away the jargon and calculations of the experts' to explore the riddles of everyday life and examine topics such as: how chips are more likely to kill you than murder or a terrorist attack; why sportsmen cheat and how fraud can be spotted; why violent crime can be linked not to gun laws, policing or poverty, but to abortion; why a road is more efficient when everyone travels at 20mph; how the name you give your child can give them an advantage in later life; and what really causes obesity epidemics. Ultimately, he shows us that economics is all about how people get what they want, and what makes them do it.Asking provocative and profound questions about human motivation and contemporary living and reaching some astonishing conclusions, Freakonomics will make you see the familiar world through a completely original lens. See all Product description
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Two issues that I find when reading a non-fiction book are firstly the purely academic eye with which an author writes and secondly how much prior knowledge is needed to enjoy the novel. Fortunately, Freakonomics does not have either issue in the slightest. A person does not need to be an economist to enjoy Freakonomics and will find the novel intellectual but fun. The chapter titles, I found to be intriguing and amusing, for example, ‘What do school teachers and Sumo wrestlers have in common?’ and made the reader genuinely curious about the novel. Furthermore, the majority of the novel then proceeded to live up to chapters’ interesting titles and kept the reader turning the page. The content was, overall, superb. The arguments themselves were cleverly written with thought experiments as well as actually facts and figures to support them and the novel also included the experiences of two separate men, one of whom infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan and the other which got a close up, inside eye of how a gang works. These chapters were among my favourites.
However, like every novel, Freakonomics is not perfect. Towards the end, the topics began to interest me less as they were discussed in far too much detail and, although it may have been necessary for proving the authors’ theory, I wasn’t that interested in the topic to start off with. Furthermore, the authors omit necessary information in at least one point during the novel. When discussing guns, they state that ‘On a per capita basis, Switzerland has more firearms than just about any other country, and yet is one of the safest’ to support their argument that guns do not cause violence. What they fail to mention are the strict laws about purchasing ammunition for guns in Switzerland, which essentially equates to the guns being unusable without the government’s permission. The exclusion of this information suggests that perhaps they are slightly changing the facts to benefit their arguments elsewhere in the novel. Finally, as a young British girl, parts of this book, whilst incredibly interesting, did not feel highly relevant to me because it was largely based around America. For example, I did not particularly relate to discussions around the Ku Klux Klan and real estate doesn’t interest me much; that said, it probably wasn’t written for my age group anyway. In spite of these shortcomings, Freakonomics is, overall, incredibly good, and the informative and interactive insight that it gives you in to certain aspects of the modern world is well worth the few issues.
Levitt likes to take seemingly random questions - like why drug dealers live with their mothers - to begin investigations into areas that are often hidden from view. So he will look at cheating (in Sumo wrestling and teaching), drug dealing, crime and the choice that a child's name may, or may not have on their chances in life.
He emphasizes the positive econometric approach - that he is looking only for facts and not commenting on how the world should be which is the realm of normative economists. This allows him some leeway into some potentially controversial comments relating to, for example, abortion and adoption. This is one of my slight reservations about the book - some of the examples appear to have been selected more for shock value than for genuine insight.
That said, it is also at times laugh out loud funny - some of the examples in the names of Californian kids are both terribly sad and absolutely hilarious!
It's well worth reading but it had a lot of hype when it was published and that might be too heavy a burden for the book to carry, not least as some of the examples are now well known as a result of the book. Interesting and entertaining though.
Conventional wisdom can often be wrong. In the third chapter of Freakonomics, Levitt provides an in-depth discussion that shatters the conventional wisdom that most drug dealers are wealthy.
His analysis of the financial records of a the Black Disciples, a Chicago gang, proved that most street-level dealers earned far less than minimum wage. In fact, they earned an average of three dollars an hour. With this story, the authors introduce the concept of a ‘winner takes all’ labor market, as well as three other Freakonomics concepts -
An example of concept which is talked about is: Winner Takes All Labor Market
This describes a situation in which many laborers compete for a position in the market, but few actually succeed in finding employment. Those few who do are paid extraordinarily large salaries.
In the example of the Chicago drug gang, only 2.2% of the members earned more than half the profits. Levitt and Dubner refer to this labor market as a “tournament.” A tournament, of course, refers to a situation in which many players compete against each other and, one by one, are eliminated. Similar dynamics exist in music, sports and entertainment.