Sunday, March 12, 2006

Freakonomics

This acts as a recommendation of sorts.

I have recently completed the reading of a book Freakonomics by Steven D Levitt and Stephen J Dubner.

It is hard to say a topic that the book does not touch on: From gun control, abortion, crime, parenting and swimming pools, this makes for a book with no theme, but just thought provoking insight into the real world.

Be forewarned, check you morals at the door. This is economics plain and simple, but not like the kind we learn in school, not even close. He uses statistics and numbers to solidify his arguments.

It is a short read, but one you should take your time with, for there is a lot of good stuff in here.

For every major topic he touches on several other smaller issues that seemingly don't fit, but somehow all come together.

For me, in a political landscape that is so overkill on moral decisions, it was at least refreshing to see someone not spout the same tired arguments that we have all listened to countless times for countless sources.

Give it a shot, and prepare to be "wowed." I was.

3 Comments:

At 3/13/2006 10:48:00 PM, Blogger The Iconoclast said...

Oc,

I've heard good things about the book, but I'm generally pretty wary of using a straight econ to justify public policy. A big problem, one that I've even encountered in case opinions written by judges that I respect greatly, is that it's easy to pick and chose what you factor in as costs.

More generally, I'm concerned any time that morality is taken out of moral questions (abortion, for example). I think that one of the most disgusting arguments that I've heard for abortion is that it's helped keep the crime rate down. I think that stats are helpful in letting us understand what's at stake, but morality has to step up and act as controlling in some cases.

It'd be awesome if you could give us, your faithful readers, an example on a specific issue.

Continue staying strong.

 
At 3/17/2006 11:09:00 AM, Blogger Cannon said...

Oc, I will add your endorsement of Freakonomics to the list of endorsements I have heard. It is on my short reading list.

While I agree that a more economic view of public policy is refreshing, I agree with the Iconoclast that it alone cannot be the basis of public policy. In my view, economics is a method, not a conclusion. Economics cannot dictate a person’s (or a society’s) preferences, it can only provide a means for maximize those preferences.

While I plan to read Freakonomics, I am wary of their positions based on what I know about the book. Take, for example, Levitt and Dubner’s argument about abortion and crime. For those who may not know, they argue that Roe v. Wade largely caused the reduction in crime through the 90’s. As the argument goes, nationally-sanctioned abortion reduced the population of the lower-class, who would have grown up to commit crimes.

First, I have problems with the statistical aspects of this argument. First, abortion was legal in many states before Roe, such as New York. How could the dramatic decrease in crime rates in New York City in the 90’s be caused by legalized abortions, when abortion was already legal there? Furthermore, Roe was decided in 1973. If Levitt and Dubner are correct, then decreases in crime should really take hold in the late 80’s, when that generation was reaching age 16-17. Meaningful decreases in crime, however, are not seen until the mid-90’s.

Second, even if we concede a meaningful causation between abortion and crime, the conclusion that abortion is good still falls short. Clearly, society has a preference in reducing crime. However, we would also prefer that people not be senselessly killed. The argument in Freakonomics presumes either (1) that crime reduction is superior to not killing people, or (2) that abortion does not kill people. Presumption (1) assumes way too much, and I believe could not withstand criticism. At the same time, presumption (2) requires the presumption that a fetus is not a human life, which requires the classic moral argument.

So, while I expect this book has much to contribute to public discourse, I do not expect anything revolutionary.

 
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