This book is very well-known, so I won’t get into a summary too much. Suffice it to say that Levitt and Dubner use economic theories to tease out the truths behind commonly held misconceptions. For instance, what was the cause of the drop in crime across the United States in the 90’s? Do sumo wrestlers cheat? The authors look at things in a slightly different way to others to try and make sense of the world as they know it.
There doesn’t really seem to be any cohesion behind the book, and there isn’t actually supposed to be. Rather, it’s a portrait of causes that Levitt, the economist, found interesting and worth researching. I did find them to be very revealing and interesting at the same time. He finds out, for example, that names given to children don’t really have an effect on their destiny – it’s instead the economic situation of their parents that is the true predictor. It just so happens that a child raised in a poor family is not as likely to succeed as a child born in a rich one who is more likely to give that child a trendy and stylish white name.
The most interesting of the studies, naturally, is the one referenced in the first paragraph; namely that Roe v. Wade eventually caused crime to be lowered because many babies that are aborted would have been born into situations that would have predisposed them to crime. The authors do argue, actually, that the laws didn’t lower the birth rate. What usually happened was that the potential mother put off having a child until she was better able to support it, so we got more well-off, wanted babies than desperately poor, unwanted ones, and the former are far less likely than the latter to go off murdering people. I didn’t actually find this controversial at all, but maybe because I’m young, liberal, and have had similar stories before.
Freakonomics is worth the read if you have the opportunity, as it does alter slightly the way we embrace problems, but given how much of it has seeped into public awareness, it’s perhaps not as important to read now as it was six years ago. Regardless, I would recommend it, if only for the trivia you’ll spout after reading it (did you know swimming pools are more dangerous to children than guns? I didn’t either).
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