Saturday, September 08, 2007
I guess it's fashionable to rave about this book. Fortunately, it's also fashionable in some circles to be contrarian, so I'm not going to be completely out of favour after this brief comment.
They say economics is the science of incentives. I'd go a step further and say it's the science of common sense. The concept that is the foundation of economics is that of supply and demand. If you want more of something that is in scarce supply, it'll cost you. If you don't want something that is available in abundance, you can get it on the cheap. Your first year of economics in high school will focus on that - and if you ask me, if you didn't realise it already, you're doomed anyway.
As far as Freakonomics goes though, we've moved one level lower - to the science of statistics. In the famous words of Aaron Levenstein, "statistics are like bikinis. What they reveal is interesting. What they conceal is vital!" Ironically, that's essentially what the authors claim about other peoples statistics, only to go and fall foul of the same issues themselves.
Are swimming pools really more dangerous than guns? Is flying safer than driving? Is the crime rate lower today because of Roe vs. Wade? Is having an intact family unit and reading to your child totally irrelevant? The same stats that the authors use to supposedly prove one side of each of these and many other questions, can be used to prove the inverse.
So in the ultimate analysis, the book is an entertaining read, but not necessarily insightful. In fact, I couldn't shake the feeling that it was in part an excuse to espouse a particular set of beliefs, under the guise of scientific fact.
Read it, if you haven't already. You'll have a good laugh, and if you're not an open minded thinker, it might make you aware that there are many ways to skin a cat.