Freakonomics

FreakonomicsThis is the fastest book I’ve finished in at least 5 years. And sadly, the first book I’ve finished in about a year. My ratio of starting to finishing isn’t that great, but I was certainly happy to find this book such an interesting and quick read. For a book about economics and basically what amounts to statistical analysis, the language stayed easy to understand and every new chapter kept my interest. I think part of the reason it was so engrossing, was because each chapter tackles an entirely new subject. This is both a pro and a con. It keeps the material fresh, but it does really limit the depth of analysis that each new topic receives.

This brings me to the one main bone I have to pick with the authors and the book. Numerous times throughout the text they repeat that there is no unifying theme, or that this “new way of thinking” is the theme. I can buy that, and they pick plenty of interesting examples to demonstrate their ideas, but they never take it that next step. A professor of mine often asked a seemingly silly question after long discussions and debates in class, and I’ve come to realize it’s an important question to ask. What’s at stake? The authors tackle some very large issues, such as crime, abortion, and poverty, and numerous smaller issues such as real estate, sumo wrestling, standardized testing and baby names. They gingerly dance around some of the results of the heavy-hitting issues, for fear of offending, or coming across as emotionless. Why not take it that next step? Why not ask what’s at stake? I guess I can respect their attempt to bring this economic thinking down to a common level and get a book out to mass audiences, but is it enough? Or is this just the latest contribution to the fad of pseudo-science, watered-down non-fiction for the bestseller lists?

Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoyed this book, and I highly recommend it. It has certainly gotten me thinking about things in new ways, but I do wonder how long that will last. In the end, I think a more appropriate title might be Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Shows You A Hidden Side of A Few Things.

One thought on “Freakonomics

  1. alexs

    I’m not sure exactly what you mean by “taking the next step” or asking “what’s at stake” but I think you’re missing an important theme in the book: challenging conventional wisdom. The plan wasn’t just to throw around some cool ideas and see what happens, every single issue presented in the book started from the question: why is the conventional wisdom about this issue absolutely wrong? All of them together add up the question: Why is it that common sense and conventional wisdom be so wrong about so many serious hot-button issues? So I guess what’s at stake is the continuing failure of conventional wisdom to provide us with useful tools to analyze our world, and the willingness of people to lean on that failing conventional wisdom. Or maybe not, I’m not really sure what you mean.

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