Freakonomics – all it’s cracked up to be?

1 05 2006

Book front cover

Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything
Steven D. Levitt, Stephen J. Dubner
3 out of 5 stars

Er, not quite.

It is a breeze to canter through though – couple of hours will be all you’ll need. And it is actually pretty amusing in places. And Levitt is clearly a sharp chap. There is also much to give you pause for thought and a reminder about why conventional wisdom is, well, conventional. So, a few sacred cows get slaughtered and he’s a bit controversial, but what does it all add up to – breakthrough iconoclastic visionary stuff or just a bit clever clever?

He covers some great stuff and with some clever juxtapositions which do make you pause:

  • the nature of incentives and why estate agents and sumo wrestlers cheat
  • an explanation of the economic hierarchy of drug dealing – explaining why those at the bottom of the pile just don’t make enough money and therefore have to live with their mums (a really insightful bit this I think)
  • a controversial claim that the decline in crime rates in the USA in the late 90s is actually due to the outcome of Roe v Wade in the early 70s, ie legal abortion led to fewer potential criminals being born, rather than any other action by the police or government
  • why what parents do matters less than what they are and why swimming pools are more dangerous than guns (a real highlight this)
  • an entertaining dissection of naming choices of children in California (including a claim that one child was actually named ‘Shithead’, although it was pronounced differently).

But, all in all, pretty amusing and diverting reading. Recommended, but difficult to see it as more than diversionary scribblings.




One response

1 05 2006
John Dale

Swimming pools are more dangerous than guns to young children, not in the general case. But yes, an entertaining enough read, though I enjoyed Hidden Order: The Economics of Everyday Life by David Friedman (son of Milton) more.


Hmm – is economics in the genes then? Anyway, reassured that others do read! (even you John).


We seem to have received some of the same books for Christmas. I got Freakanomics plus the Mumbo Jumbo book you reviewed recently, plus the Friedman. I also got Everything Bad is Good for You and the two Gladwell books, Blink and Tipping Point so I’m presuming you’ll be reviewing those soon too.

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