Sunday, 22 May 2005
After hearing a review on NPR and reading the Economist’s, I was (as was once said) with child to read Freakonomics. After finding myself in a queue of 411 other people putting it on hold in the Peninsula Library System, I broke and bought it.
This book spells out perfectly why I’m so interested in economics; it’s not the numbers or the money, it’s the interplay of incentive and action. From the introduction;
Morality, it could be argued, represents the way that people would like the world to work—whereas economics represents how it actually does work. Economics is above all a science of measurement. it comprises an extraordinarily powerful and flexible set of tools that can reliably assess a thicket of information to determine the effect of any one factor, or even the whole effect. That’s what “the economy” is, after all; a thicket of information about jobs and real estate and banking and investment. But the tools of economics can be just as easily applied to subjects that are more—well, more interesting.
Safe to say, Levitt wields those tools with astonishingly interesting results. I’ll avoid recounting the specifics of what he finds (see the reviews, or buy the book), but did want to mention a favorite quote in the chapter about, of all things, parenting;
The typical parenting expert, like experts in other fields, is prone to sound exceedingly sure of himself. An expert doesn’t so much argue the various sides of an issue as plant his flag firmly on one side. That’s because an expert whose argument reeks of restraint or nuance often doesn’t get much attention. An expert must be bold if he hopes to alchemize his homespun theory into convention wisdom. His best chance of doing so is to engage the public’s emotions, for emotion is the enemy of rational argument.
Shades of blogging?
Yes, it’s popular science (i.e., readable). Yes, it has an unfortunate name. Yes, the interstitial excerpts from the Times Magazine article are a little annoying. My complaint, though, is that it’s too short. Anitra’s comment after working through it in a lazy evening was “that’s a shame, I was just getting into it.”
Now if they could just convince Roland G. Fryer to blog…
UPDATE: Crooked Timber has published an online seminar about Steven Levitt.
* Although it says it’s RSS, the feed is actually Atom. Hm. (update: this has been fixed; they offer a variety of feeds now.)