Freakonomics is a non-fiction book written by Steven D. Levitt, an economist for the University of Chicago, in collaboration with Stephen J. Dubner, a journalist. Together, they have created a succinct and stunning book, which comprises of a series of economic articles, through which they demonstrate how data often disclose fascinating truths regarding how the world works, by applying fundamental principles of economics. Freakonomics have no single unifying theme, as the authors have discussed numerous unrelated topics such as discrimination, cheating, and crime among others. However, it is vital to note that the book mainly concerns stripping layers from the surface of contemporary life and taking a glimpse of what lies underneath, as opposed to the numerous topics discussed in it. This point is illustrated on the cover page of the book, which has a picture of an apple, with a small piece of it sliced and placed beside it. As evident in the picture, the flesh of the apple is a yellow and juicy inside of an orange: an indication that all is not always what they seem to be.
Chapter 1 of the book deals with discovery of cheating with regards, to sumo wrestlers and teachers. Chapter 2 is about information control in relation to real-estate agents and the Ku Klux Klan. In Chapter 3, the economics of drug dealing, together with low earnings and the horrible working conditions of cocaine dealers are discussed. The role of legalized abortion in crime reduction is discussed in Chapter 4. Chapter 5 talks about the negligible effects that good parenting has on education. Finally, Chapter 6, concerns the socioeconomic patterns of children naming.
The most sensational claim in the book is where Levitt and Dubner argue that legalized abortion reduces rates of crime as stated, “Legalized abortion led to less unwantedness; unwantedness leads to high crime; legalized abortion, therefore, led to less crime” (139). Cheating is the heart of Freakonomics. The book treats readers to a delightful ordinary gallery of rouges of Sumo wrestlers, Chicago schoolteachers, bagel-consuming office workers, as well as realtors. The Chicago school teachers, for example, have the means (access to test forms of students) and motive to cheat. Levitt devises an algorithm that is able to catch cheating teachers. It is also fascinating how the two authors tackle the issue of discrimination. According to Levitt and Dubner, black kindergarten kids perform similar in tests as their white counterparts when parental education and income are controlled. Any variations in their test scores arise because of inequalities in these two factors, as opposed to race. However, a few years later, the emergence of the test score gap between black and white students arise because more black than white students are excessively concentrated in substandard schools, which contributes to their poor performance causing the variation in their test score.
Freakonomics is a concise and well-written book that is not only informative, but also challenging and entertaining. For instance, Levitt’s creativity in devising strategies that detect cheating cannot be ignored. Also, the small percentage of people who cheat is intriguing i.e. 4-5% of school teachers doctor students’ answer sheets, while only 3% of realtors lie to their clients. Considering the fact that incentives increases immorality, the small percentage of those involved in cheating shows that there is a fair amount of honesty existing in the society according to the two authors.
However, this book is not without its fair share of flaws. I strongly refute the claim which states, “Compared to Romanian children born just a year earlier, the cohort of children born after the abortion ban would do worse in every measurable way: they would test lower in school, they would have less success in the labor market, and they would also prove much more likely to become criminals” (p. 118). The opposite of this statement is true as shown in Pop-Eleches (34) which states that, children born in 1967 following the banning of abortions exhibit better labor market and educational achievements than those born before the ban. In addition, I think the book is more of a criminology/sociology work, as opposed to economics work, since very little of its content concerns economics. Also, the bizarre and careless manner in which the authors have used statistics to justify their stance on morality is ridiculous. For instance, in the bagel seller example where Levitt and Dubner reason that because only 13% of people did not pay for bagels when they were left out with a payment box, then 87% of them have an innate honesty. Such generalizations do not make sense since people can pay for bagels out of guilt, or fear of being caught, not necessarily because of the honesty. In general, Freakonomics is an entertaining and informative book that encourages critical thinking.