Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Freakonomics | Summer Reading 1

Last summer, after reading The End of Poverty: Economic Solutions for Our Time, I gained a real appreciation for economics...the realities it presents and the myths it dethrones. Economists deal with real numbers. They deal with real facts and present pragmatic solutions. While morality and idealism represent how we would like to see the world work, economics represents how it actually does work. The practicality of an economist's take on the world is enviable and something in which I wish more people - idealistic or not - would put more stock.

Freakonomics, by economists Steven Levitt and Steven Dubner, presented issues such as crime, drugs, cheating, and parenting through an economic lens that might very well shock the sensibilities of some readers. Though the authors' conclusions (and even means) are unconventional, they present an interesting set of statistics, facts, and data. While one must keep in mind that statistics can be flawed and interpreted incorrectly, I thought this book was an excellent and very user-friendly read.

One study brought the researchers to conclude (based on their data) that because child deaths each year are higher as a result from swimming pool accidents than they are from fatal gun-shot wounds by their peers, that parents ought to think twice before sending little Suzy over to the neighbor's pool. However, I would say the data they are comparing is fundamentally flawed due to the fact that an overwhelming amount of children are daily hanging out poolside compared to the relatively low amount of children playing with loaded weapons. Children's exposure to swimming pools is far greater than their exposure to firearms, so I would venture to guess that relatively, the percentage of swimming pool deaths to swimming pool encounters are lower than the percentage of deaths to child encounters with guns.

One of the most stunning and controversial conclusions the book asserts is the possibility that the Roe v. Wade ruling is responsible for the drop in crime during the early 90s, due to the implication that would-be criminals were aborted. Think what you may, but their larger point is that by analyzing data one can rule out correlative relationships (in this case, policing tactics, the end of the crack epidemic, etc.) that can often be mistakenly perceived as causal.

Overall, this was a very enjoyable book and presented ideas and data that one might not regularly consider in his or her conclusion-making when contemplating crime, morality, incentives, and information. My new-found enjoyment of economics lead me to this book initially, but I'd say the work is more of a hodge-podge of moral and political concepts using economic techniques to better understand some more obscure facets of an issue.


Amy and Andrew Daigle said...

I've always believed that economics is the math of politics. It's a formidable combination. I understand that this book presents a more unconventional perspective, but nevertheless, economics is not to be dismissed as peripheral. For any of Sarah's readers who are interested, I would recommend Thomas Sowell... pure common sense. Simple as that.

melissa said...

i'm looking forward to reading this book, which is on its way to me as i type. thanks to amy/andrew for their suggestion, as well!