Freakonomics

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Steven Levitt

Freakonomics is a best-selling book by economist Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner. The book aims to explain everyday phenomenon by applying the principles of economics. It touches on a wide variety of topics ranging from cheating in sumo wrestling and the public schools to the economics of drug dealing. One of the book's most controversial proposals, especially to conservatives, is that Roe v. Wade may be responsible for the reduction in crime seen approximately 15 years later. The authors propose that this effect is due to more poor single mothers aborting children who would have otherwise been likely to live a life of crime.

The authors maintain a blog that aims to cover the same types of topics that the book did but on a daily basis. Conservapedia was mentioned in a recent entry on alternatives to Wikipedia.[1]

Contents

The book consists of an introduction, six chapters and an epilogue. The chapters consist of a question regarding seemingly unrelated subjects or that were of a nature that most economists paid them little attention.

  • Chapter 1 What Do Schoolteachers and Sumo Wrestlers Have in Common?
    • A review of incentives includes examples of their dark side, cheating. A review of standardized test results in Chicago Public Schools reveals cheating from an unexpected source, teachers. A review of fight results reveals cheating within the Sumo wrestling profession, where fights may be won or lost to maintain ranking.
  • Chapter 2 How Is the Ku Klux Klan Like a Group of Real Estate Agents?
    • A review of how the proliferation of information can undermine the activity of an otherwise clandestine organization or how information experts can use that information against the people they are presumed to be assisting.
      • The story of Stetson Kennedy's work to undo the KKK and the unexpected way he was able to achieve success is presented.
      • A review of real estate transactions, on behalf of themselves and others, reveals the inside thinking of real estate agents.
  • Chapter 3 Why Do Drug Dealers Still Live With Their Moms?
    • Sudhir Vankatesh took a survey on urban poverty and turned into a deep undercover investigation of Chicago's Black Disciples gang that resulted in his eventually becoming a Harvard fellow (where he would meet Steven D. Levitt). The chapter reveals why, despite the reported money to be made by selling narcotics, most drug dealers still lived with their mothers in poverty.
  • Chapter 4 Where Have All the Criminals Gone?
    • During the late 1980s and into the 1990s public media discussed the coming advent of the super-predator and ever increasing crime. In exploring why the grim forecasts did not come to pass, the authors discuss the impact of the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision and contrast it to Romanian Nicolae Ceauşescu's policy of not only banning abortion but aggressively punishing women who would not conceive with a celibacy tax.
      • In both situations, people who may or may not have been born had a profound impact on society. Had Ceauşescu maintained the previous liberal policy regarding abortion, many of the youths that overthrew his government would most likely not have been born. Had the Supreme Court ruled as it did in Roe v. Wade, the young, poor, undereducated mothers who did not have the financial resources to afford an abortion would have had children statistically destined to be involved in crime.
      • The authors, both of whom are parents, do not necessarily advocate abortion as an ends justifying the means of fighting crime. For example, they refer to abortion as a means of birth control as "a crude and drastic sort of insurance policy"† and acknowledge their findings should leave people "shaken by the notion of a private sadness being converted into a public good"‡.
        • In the revised edition epilogue, the authors note that the concept of abortion leading to reduction in crime was met with considerable controversy from both liberals and conservatives. Liberals were aghast at the theory's singling out of poor, black women while conservatives were appalled by the theory's linkage of a drop in crime with abortion. For Levitt, the issue is a question of "wantedness". Children that are raised in families where they are wanted fare far better than families where they are unwanted. Rather than focusing on the question of abortion, Levitt would rather focus on ensuring all children are wanted.
        • The authors contrast economics and morals. Where morality deals with an ideal worldview (everyone is honest), economics provide a real worldview (not everyone is as honest as they might claim to be).
  • Chapter 5 What Makes a Perfect Parent?
    • A statistical review of the impact of parents on children and the multitude of divergent advice given to parents. Included, how fear influences our perceptions of risk and how parents make choices for their children. Fear and outrage tend to influence our perception of risk far more than reality might otherwise indicate.
  • Chapter 6 Perfect Parenting, Part II; or: Would a Roshanda by Any Other Name Smell As Sweet?
    • A statistical review of names in the Los Angeles metropolitan area and how they are affected by race and the potential impact on children. The authors show name popularity is affected by race, education and other socio-economic indicators and that name popularity ebb and flow not only in the long-term (names from 1960 compared to those in 2000) but also in the short-term (names from 1980 compared to 1990).

References

  1. http://www.freakonomics.com/blog/2007/06/13/hate-wikipedia-start-your-own/#comments
  • Freakonomics Stephen J. Dubner.
  • Freakonomics p. 139¶2
  • Freakonomics p. 141¶2
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