The Hidden Side of Everything inside Freakonomics

Did you know how much do parents really matter? How did the legalization of abortion affect the rate of violent crime? Which is more dangerous, a gun or a swimming pool? What do schoolteachers and sumo wrestlers have in common? Why do drug dealers still live with their moms?

These may not sound like typical questions for an econo-mist to ask. But Steven D. Levitt is not a typical economist. He is a much-heralded scholar who studies the riddles of everyday life—from cheating and crime to sports and child-rearing—and whose conclusions turn conventional wisdom on its head.

Freakonomics is a groundbreaking collaboration between Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner, an award-winning author and journalist. They usually begin with a mountain of data and a simple question. Some of these questions concern life-and-death issues; others have an admittedly freakish quality. Thus the new field of study contained in this book: freakonomics.

Through forceful storytelling and wry insight, Levitt and Dubner show that economics is, at root, the study of incentives—how people get what they want, or need, especially when other people want or need the same thing. In Freakonomics, they explore the hidden side of . . . well, everything. The inner workings of a crack gang. The truth about real-estate agents. The myths of campaign finance. The telltale marks of a cheating schoolteacher. The secrets of the Klu Klux Klan.

What unites all these stories is a belief that the modern world, despite a great deal of complexity and downright deceit, is not impenetrable, is not unknowable, and—if the right questions are asked—is even more intriguing than we think. All it takes is a new way of looking.  Freakonomics establishes this unconventional premise: If morality represents how we would like the world to work, then economics represents how it actually does work. It is true that readers of this book will be armed with enough riddles and stories to last a thousand cocktail parties. But Freakonomics can provide more than that. It will literally redefine the way we view the modern world.


Join author Steven Levitt on a journey into his world, one in which he sees things differently than the average person much less the average economist. At age thirty-six, Levitt is a full professor in the University of Chicago's legendary economics department, receiving tenure after only two years.

Levitt is an intuitionist, unafraid of using personal observation and curiosities to explain how people get what they want, or need. He is also an ingenious researcher and a clear thinker. "Freakonomics" showcases each of these attributes as Levitt explores conventional wisdom and its fundamental weakness, the beauty of incentives as well as their dark side, the power of information and the abuse of this power, and the existence of conventional wisdom embedded in fabrication, self-interest, and convenience.

Freakonomics is not a book on economics but on the application of economic mathematical techniques to problems outside the normal field of economic analysis. The techniques are used to attempt to identify some cause and effect relationships in our culture.

The book Freakonomics contains stunning insights and conclusions - many which are counterintuitive. Like the fact that crack dealers on the street earn less than minimum wage on average. And if you own both a gun and have a swimming pool in the backyard, the swimming pool is about 100 times more likely to kill a child than the gun is.

There is much in this book that could offend the average reader. Freakonomics is comprised of a collection of short essays in which the authors make conclusions based on the case studies and evidence. Freakonomics is unusual in that it does not have a unifying theme. Instead, Levitt and Dubner look at several different subject matters, each forming a chapter of the book.

Levitt and Dubner explain that all things can have remarkable, and unlikely, consequences. Economics is a field in which even the best economists can not predict exactly what is going to happen to the economy tomorrow or a year from tomorrow, because so many things can influence it.

Another idea brought forth in Freakonomics is that those with information will use it for their own benefit. The authors say that, "Information is a beacon, a cudgel, an olive branch, a deterrent, depending on who wields it and how. Information is so powerful that the assumption of information, even if the information does not actually exist, can have a sobering effect." Levitt and Dubner demonstrate how people will use their informational advantage over others with the example of falling prices of term life insurance.