Freakonomics by Steven Levitt


Freakonomics is just different, and the author, Steven Levitt, makes no apologies for it. Levitt states quite plainly that his book has no main thrust. Instead, his intent was to ask questions and answer those questions. Moreover, he wants his readers to start asking questions themselves about why something is certain way or, better yet, why we think something is certainly true.

He asks numerous questions such as what do these two groups—schoolteachers and sumo wrestlers or the Ku Klux Klan and real estate agents—have in common? He asks questions such as he asks “why do drug dealers still live with their moms?” or “where have all the criminals gone?” In essence, he focuses his book on oddities in our culture and then attempts to explain them, and if there are not enough obvious oddities for him, he uncovers a few of his own.

He generally answers his questions with numbers, statistics to be precise. His favorite technique, explained in no little detail, is called regression analysis. For him, his data are essentially an oracle, divine knowledge gathered by either an impersonal tool or by a fearless surveyor with a question-packed clipboard. Thus, his book argues by these empirically derived numbers because “numbers never lie” we have been told. Perhaps, they do not lie; however, it is possible that they may not tell the truth.

Content-wise the book draws some conclusions from these numbers. A conclusion that is startling but interesting addresses his question, where have all the criminals gone? An American crime rise started in the 1970s and continued throughout the 1980s. The crime rate was predicated to go even higher in the 1990s. However, the trend reversed course and set new lows instead.

On his way to his answer, he deals with how others have explained it. A booming economy is dismissed as negligible; increased reliance on prisons, important but not the main cause; increased use of capital punishment, unlikely. On and one, he goes debunking every popular view and, thereby, sets up the need to be satisfied according to the motivational sequence. His answer is simple: legalized abortion killed the criminals.

His basic reasons go in this manner: children from low income unmarried mothers who do not want their children are the most likely to commit crimes; these children were killed by abortions that the mothers had. Thus, the crime fell due to the mothers’ choice for an abortion.

He cites several evidences; his proof is convincing; and he has a lot of facts on his side. But nobody likes what he decided. A chapter prologue makes it abundantly clear that the conservative side dislikes this argument because it implies that abortion is a good crime fighting tool, and the liberal side also dislikes his argument because he singles out poor and black women. In other words, his tact on this sensitive subject is utterly lacking. His built ethos through logos is trashed by lousy pathos.

As insightful as his thoughts are, he manages to alienate everyone, who reads his book. He argues purely from the rational side of things as a good economist should, and honestly, I think he is right if all his facts are straight. But he should know better than to try to analyze social issues so ineptly. He obviously realized that his theory would provoke negative relations because he says so, “this theory is bound to provoke a variety of reactions from disbelief to revulsion” (p. 139). He goes on almost merrily with his discovery. He ends his discussion on this topic with this beautiful line: “the trade-off between higher abortion and lower crime is, by an economist’s reckoning, terribly inefficient” (p. 144). If I may say so, his approach is far worse.

Altogether, we have a book that comments on some interesting topics. His style is brisk, and his arguments, thorough. He approaches problems with a unique viewpoint and makes startling conclusions. Overall, a good read which I recommend to you, but don’t swallow everything he says without asking some questions yourself.


2 thoughts on “Freakonomics by Steven Levitt

  1. Interesting, I would like to read that one.
    Is the authors point that abortion is good? Or is it just a conclusion that he fines true, but still doesn’t think we should have abortion.
    I hope that made sense.

  2. I think that is his position on abortion. This book is actually full of liberal views concealed in a book that “doesn’t have a side” but is still very tainted one way.

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