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A Rogue Economist

The book, Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything, lets readers glean several useful insights on things people will normally take for granted, even if they pertain to life’s big questions. The authors, economist Steven Levitt and journalist Stephen Dubner creatively pose questions and present many raging issues of the day in a matter-of-fact yet attention-grabbing manner. They explore topics like high-stake examination cheating, crime, abortion and parenthood, and back up their arguments through data mining.

In effect, the authors let readers see economics in a new light. They do not simply hand over the plain and simple economic facts, but ignite special interest to the socio-economic realities by bringing to the forefront real-life instances or developments or hard facts pointing to issues of great concern to people, like the crime rate. They tend to put too much weight, however, on statistics, and gloss over the fact that the numbers may not always tell the whole story.

As such, there are weak arguments and there are good arguments bolstered by numerical data, patterns and trends. Few people really like reading about statistics, but Levitt and Dubner thoroughly engage the reader by presenting economics, not as a dry and uninspiring subject matter usually dealing with a stack of figures, but as an interesting topic worth revisiting in the reader’s mind. The book clearly changes the notion that economics is boring.

Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything lets readers pause and rethink the arguments set forth and supported by facts and numbers. The book, in a way, challenges readers to look beyond their biases and assess if, indeed, what the authors have illustrated and expressed may be happening right in their own backyard or society. In brief, the book cajoles readers to take a closer, harder look at the social realities happening around them, including factors that may probably have caused them or what do not necessarily cause them.

For example, in a chapter that poses the question on what makes a perfect parent, the authors argue that all the extra efforts a parent does – like reading to kids or taking them to museums – do not really make them fare better in life because “it isn’t so much a matter of what you do as a parent, it’s who you are” (Levitt and Dubner 161). The book, Freakonomics, articulates that morality “represents the way that people would like the world to work – whereas economics represents how it actually does work” (Levitt and Dubner 11). I agree with the authors on this to a certain extent.

Because most people would like to see things from a moral perspective, they tend to look at certain phenomena from that perspective. Economics, on the other hand, presents more scientific basis for a line of thinking or occurrence. However, while “there is nothing like the sheer power of numbers to scrub away layers of confusion and contradiction” (Levitt and Dubner 12), there are instances when numerical data is manipulated or survey results skewed, thereby lessening the credibility of opinions or generalizations based on these.

Apart from the three types of incentives — social, moral, and financial — mentioned in the book, other possible forms of incentives that may move people to undertake a particular action or to try something may be non-tangible rewards like personal peace of mind or opportunity for greater learning. For some people, having the freedom to express oneself or to let the spirit soar may be enough incentive to support a cause or take part in a certain activity.

Examples of other incentives that are closely intertwined with, or may be commensurate to monetary incentives are travel opportunity or some non-financial career perks of value to individuals. Freakonomics also expresses that “the conventional wisdom is always wrong” (Levitt and Dubner 11). Some instances of conventional wisdom which I have always doubted include conservative parents’ notion that kids who are allowed to date or mingle with the opposite sex at an early age are more likely to become early parents.

While statistics may support it back in the days when kids were too cloistered and had little informational resources, nowadays, early parenthood, while it does still happen among the very young, is shaped more by values and predispositions of today’s youth rather than parental rules. Another conventional wisdom which I may doubt is that young single girls of dating age who are brought home by their boyfriends by car will end up reaching their destination safer. Rising statistics of car accidents will point out that riding in cars with boys can be more dangerous than if these girls walked home.

Then again, we cannot discount cases of mugging and other untoward incidents on their way home. Another example of conventional wisdom I have doubted is a doctor’s view that taking numerous medications is a sick patient’s fastest route to recovery. I may go more for holistic methods like eating nutrient-rich fruits, taking herbal supplementation therapy and enrolling in an exercise program to deter life-threatening ailments. As far as experts are concerned, in some way I feel that the world is lucky to have them, and to consult them for their specialized knowledge.

There are unsuspecting individuals, though, who fail to discern opportunistic, self-serving experts from those who truly want to help. Whether it’s one’s own doctor, a bank customer relations officer, an online recruiter, or some other expert whom you are dealing with, some of these people who are proficient or adept in something usually ride on the emotions or fears of people to win them to their side. Experts who take advantage of others in this manner hold too much power and must be dealt with with caution. Among the aspects in my daily life which I can apply some Freakonomics-style thinking is my career.

I may trace, for instance, the emerging trends in work opportunities covering certain fields, and possibly trace also from firms’ human resources departments how a good cover letter and resume contributed to landing the best jobs. I may also use Freakonomics-style thinking before purchasing a new product. I need not let myself to be duped by commercials that try to capitalize on my emotions, especially fear, and rely more on my own personal judgment rather than other individuals who keep giving expert advice.

Among of the most convincing arguments put forth in Freakonomics is how experts play up the fears of parents, especially first-timers who also happen to be working professionals with little time to double-check facts. As Freakonomics authors noted: No one is more susceptible to an expert’s fearmongering than a parent… A parent, after all, is the steward of another creature’s life. This leads a lot of parents to spend a lot of their parenting energy simply being scared. (Levitt and Dubner 135). The parenting views illustrated in Freakonomics jibe with my own outlook, especially

Since I have seen many overprotective friends shielding their kids from possible dangers in the environment, little realizing that grater dangers lurk in their own home, notably the Internet – with all its violent games and pornography. The authors also delved on the main reason why people opt for dangerous but low-paying jobs – to prove their worth in an “extremely competitive field in which, if you reach the top, you are paid a fortune (to say nothing of the attendant glory and power)” (Levitt and Dubner 95) thereby highlighting the power of incentives.

Although phrased brilliantly, the least convincing arguments, for me, is that which attributes the downswing in crimes to legalized abortion. To my mind, not all unwanted children born to poverty will resort to crime later on in life; in fact, some even strive hard to extricate themselves from the vicious cycle of poverty. The argument linking the Roe v. Wade case decision to reduced crime rates in certain US states made me ponder about it but did not alter my thinking about abortion.

I do not condemn people who opt for abortion, but the argument linking it to reduced crime rate is, for me, incongruous, as there are many other extraneous factors that come into play and actually trigger a high crime wave. After reading Freakonomics, I am inclined to believe that cheating is more prevalent than I thought it could possibly be before I read the book.

The fact that even the supposed guardians acting as second parents to kids – schoolteachers, are inclined to cheat in seemingly `harmless’ ways particularly during examinations underscores just how prevalent cheating is. Overall, Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything is a compelling book worth recommending to others. Works Cited Levitt, S. D. , & Dubner, S. J. Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything. New York: HarperCollins Publishers Inc. , 2006.

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