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 4 Stars

FreakonomicsI love these kinds of books, full of cool information about a random assortment of things. Freakonomics is written by a University of Chicago economist (Levitt) and a New York Times journalist (Dubner) and really reads more like pop sociology than economics.  It is in fact, economic theory applied to all sorts of cultural phenomena. The authors argue that the incentives frequently studied by economists can also be effectively applied to all sorts of topics, providing explanations for all kinds of behavior.

Here are the things covered:

Cheating in teaching and Sumo wrestling.

The way the Ku Klux Klan and real estate agents control information for their own benefit

Why most drug dealers still live with their moms. The trade is not very lucrative at the lower levels, but participants still have good reasons for entering it.

How the legalization of abortion contributes to a lower crime rate, and the opposite scenario in Ceausescu’s Romania.

The impact of good parenting on education. It’s surprisingly low.

How your child’s name reflects your socioeconomic status.

It’s quite an assortment of topics! I was surprised to find that I found them all pretty much uniformly interesting. It was one of those books where I constantly stopped reading to say to my husband, “Hey, did you know ________?”

I felt on somewhat shaky ground when it came to the methodology and some of the claims made. This is definitely not an academic book, so the number-crunching was kept to a minimum, but I wouldn’t have minded a bit more.  There were a few times I felt I was just taking the author’s word for something. Or maybe I was just uncomfortable with the conclusions. The fact that more abortions leads to less crime appears pretty irrefutable as presented. It makes sense, but the implications on all sides make my skin crawl.

What is essentially a bad thing leads to a desirable social outcome. Also, there is an implication that “undesirables” can be eliminated before birth, and that some women-particularly of a certain age and socioeconomic status- aren’t good mothers. The whole thing makes me feel icky.

Still, overall a fun and informative read with plenty of food for thought.

Due to the super-success of this book (I swear, every nerdy wonk I know, myself included, has read this), there is a sequel, Superfreakonomics and a blog, to keep readers updated on new developments in the world of rogue economics.

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