Monday, 19 January 2015

Book #5 Freakonomics by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner

Freakonomics : A Rogue Economist Explores The Hidden Side Of Everything 

The point of Freakonomics is as follows: applying the principles of economics to real world scenarios. The cover calls it a phenomenon, and a sensation, a controversy which has shocked the world. In reading it I find myself nonplussed.

It's very slight for a start, six chapters with a bunch of shorter articles and blogposts at the back.

Among the chapters are :

Why are the Ku Klux Klan like Real Estate Agents?

Answer : They aren't really, unless you massively force them to be analogous to one another

Why are Public School Teachers like Sumo Wrestlers?

Answer : They aren't really, unless you focus all your energy on how teachers cheat because they want to keep their jobs (the obvious reason of not wanting to be unemployed) and ignore the myriad of extenuating social and indeed economic pressures which leave them unable to teach effectively in certain communities (see The Wire : Season 4) which bear no comparison to the way sumo wrestling is organised in Japan other than they too cheat for fear of unemployment. Reductive.

Why do drug dealers live with their Mums?

Of all the chapters this is the only one with a genuine relevant comparison to economics, in terms of the fact that drug dealing empires operate on the same model as any other business, with the street dealers themselves being the equivalent of a McDonalds worker,  but another researcher who is neither of the authors did all the leg work here. If you've watched The Wire : Season 1, again the answer is quite obvious. 

A Roshanda By Any Other Name?

The chapter about names reinforces views recently espoused in the UK media by Katie Hopkins, which some find incredibly prejudiced and others see an inherent truth to. Though the chapter seems to support Katie's views to say that if you give your child a certain type of name they will suffer as a result there seems to be no direct academic evidence to back that up, just a rudimentary speculative awareness of societal prejudice and instead the chapter comes off as very mean spirited and slightly racist. Also much of this chapter is just lists of most popular names.

A lot of what is in this book seems like a statement of the obvious, unless you are very young and have very few analytical skills. An Amazon review calls this book intelligence insulting and I would tend to agree. I was massively disappointed in it. Indeed it seems like an attempt to build a book around a single successful article (Drug Dealers) and stretch the idea out, by drawing artificial juxtapositions between unlinked things, and in actuality is really a thin exercise in areas of sociology, with little to do with real world economics. A case of money for old rope.


2015 Challenge : A non-fiction book

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