Book review – Freakonomics

America’s steady fall in crime – after years of apocalyptic growth – had nothing to do with New York’s “zero tolerance” policing. No, say Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner in Freakonomics, it was a direct result of the legalisation two decades earlier of abortion across the USA.

The intriguing cause and effect is one of a handful studied and explained in Freakonomics, which promises to show how economic data can be harnessed to discover all sorts of connections – or refute those commonly, but erroneously made.

Levitt – the economist with a different viewpoint – has worked with Dubner, a journalist who met Levitt when sent to interview him as research for a book about the psychology of money.

Levitt has also proved how school teachers cheat to ensure their classes get better marks, in this eclectic selection of essays that flit from one subject to another. In each case, he takes great pleasure in explaining how the data point him to his conclusion – and why alternative postulations of cause and effect are flawed. In certain instances, he reproduces the evidence for his interpretations, which will probably only be of interest to the serious number crunchers.

The book is an entertaining read, and provides a clearer understanding of what an economist can do, in terms of understanding business issues and interpreting real world data. And, if you are intrigued by the content, there is the by now obligatory website where more fascinating thoughts about data and the world around us are constantly being updated.

And, if the pair leave you wanting more, they have recently been out on tour promoting the sequel, Superfreakonomics.


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