Saturday, July 08, 2006

Freakonomics - Steven D. Levitt

Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything
(Amazon Link)

This was a very quick but very enjoyable read. One of those books that has you quoting little nuggets for months later.

Freakonomics: Using real world information to get to the heart of life's secrets. Steven Levitt is one of those academics with an ability to look at the world with fresh eyes, immediately seeing something no-one has ever observed before, yet, as soon as Levitt points it out, it becomes so obvious.
(A similar character seems to me to be Richard Feynman from the world of theoretical Physics, bongo playing and safe cracking).

It's full of stuff like this:

Which is more dangerous, a gun or a swimming pool?
(swimming pools by far)

What do schoolteachers and sumo wrestlers have in common?
(both appear to cheat when you apply statistical analysis)

Why do drug dealers still live with their moms?
(because drug dealing and pyramid schemes have similar breakdowns and it's only the very top layers that actually make any money. Of course, being in a pyramid scheme doesn't generally mean you have a 1 in 4 chance of dying violently.)

What kind of impact did Roe v. Wade have on violent crime?
(Huge impact, more important that any other factor. Levitt argues quite brilliantly that the huge decrease in violent crime circa 2000 is directly related to 1973's legalisation of abortion. Fewer vulnerable, economically and socially deprived women have unwanted children. Fewer children growing up in the worst conditions. Fewer children growing up in conditions shown to increase their chances of becoming criminals. The huge reduction in crime is simply down to a dramatic decrease in the pool of potential criminals.)

A very quick read, dipping in and out of it, I finished it in a few nights. But it was fascinating reading. Levitt's ideas are simple, obvious, yet revelatory.

Freakonomics website here including the very good author blog.

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