What I’m Reading Now

I first learned about Freakonomics on Marketplace. It seemed a bit less intimidating than most economic stuff. All I’ve been able to glean from the bits I’ve read here and there is that econ theories are built on assumptions – but no one could ever explain to me how the gurus established that their assumptions are accurate. Laffer Curve? Schiller Index? It’s kind of like nutritional theory – don’t’ drink coffee, it’s bad for you. Oops, nope. We goofed. Coffee is great for you. The econ example du jour is the theory built on erroneous assumptions that led to the Great Recession of 2008. It had to do with allowing financial institutions to run amok, sort an anti-Keynesian position launched by Ronald Reagan. I’m not sure what all the assumptions were, but they failed miserably.

Stephen Levitt and Stephen Dubner seem to make no assumptions — they just have fun with what’s already out there. The Freaks episodes on Marketplace involve avoiding holiday gifts and other goodies. So I decided to dive into the book. And dive I did. The introduction is twenty-five pages – before I realized it, I’d read that plus the next fifty, laughing at the outrageousness of fixing sumo wrestling; growing more upset at teachers changing test scores when pay, promotions, and district funding came to depend on those almighty numbers; and wondering why I hadn’t heard about the direct correlation between the declining rate of violent crime and the legalization of abortion.

The thing I realized when I came up for air is that Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything is utterly approachable. Levitt and Dubner write like most of us talk. Here’s their description of the first book about “bizarre baby names; self-dealing Realtors; and crack-selling mama’s boys.” I especially want to know “How is the Ku Klux Klan Like a Group of Real Estate Agents?” What’s so surprising is that Levitt teaches at the University of Chicago, home to Milton Friedman and one of the most conservative econ locales on the planet.

So I’ll continue reading just so I can learn which is more dangerous, a gun or a swimming pool. I’m betting on the swimming pool. In the meantime, I’m enjoying the radio show, and will begin reading the blog, which they call the “bleg.”

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