There's probably something you should know about me before I start talking about this book. I really hate economics, and when I say 'hate', I really mean 'don't understand'. I really think of economics as being a lot of smoke and mirrors, of governments saying 'the economy is weak' when really what they mean is 'this won't really affect you, but it will affect the richer people so to help them out, we're going to raise VAT' and I'm already at the limit of what I understand. I'm not even sure I know what I'm talking about right now, if I'm honest.
Freakonomics, though, is awesome. I didn't need to know anything about anything really economic to understand any of it, but I feel like I came away from it with a greater understanding of the wider point of economics (incentives/disincentives, anyone?) but more importantly, I got to laugh at the KKK on a train because those guys are RIDICULOUS (apparently they add 'kl' to the start of every word, so they'll go to a klavern to hold a klonversation and does anyone else find the KKK less scary already?)
The point of Freakonomics, other than to be completely awesome and hilarious and everything else, is to challenge our perceptions on things we believe almost instinctively to be true, by looking at the numbers behind them. You think all drug dealers are rich? You're basically only thinking of the top dogs*. You think it's in Real Estate Agents' best interests to make you the most money for your house? It's a lot less hassle for them to convince you to take the lower offer. You want to know why crime rates suddenly dropped in the 90s? You might have to go all the way back to Roe vs Wade and think of how many less unwanted children there were to turn to lives of crime for that one...
It's all just incredibly interesting, and presented in a way that means you can't not care about it- I think the real genius of it is that it's a collaboration between an economist and a writer, so if any of Levitt's ideas and studies were presented in a less than interesting way (I don't know if they were, but they might have been) then Dubner comes along and writes them in a way that makes you give a shit. Of course, the other real genius is that they're talking about real life things, not obscure financial things, so of course you're going to care if what you call your child makes a difference (not really) and if you should trust your real estate agent (again, not really) and how to win at online dating:
"In the world of online dating, a headful of blonde hair on a woman is worth about the same as having a college degree- and, with a $100 dye job versus a $100,000 tuition bill, an awful lot cheaper."Good thing women don't only want to get married these days then, huh?
Basically, Freakonomics is the only thing I've ever read in my life so far that has made me care about economics. I learned some stuff, was amused by even more, and when I have kids, I won't think that taking them to museums and things will necessarily make them smarter. I'm really excited that Super Freakonomics is something that exists, and I'll definitely be keeping my eye out for it so I can read it soon.
*To be fair, I've seen The Wire so I didn't think all drug dealers are rich. The guys on the street, also the guys most likely to die, pretty much earn the least.