A Critical Review Of The Book Freakonomics

Steven D. Levitt (1967) American Economist, is well known within and without the academia community for his works that have been influential in the areas of political science, sociology, economics of crime and the study of law. Steven Levitt attended St. Paul Academy and Summit School in Minnesota, and then later received a bachelor's degree in economics from Harvard University in 1989. In 1994 Levitt received a Ph.D in economics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). He later joined the Department of Economics in 1997 at The University of Chicago where he has been given the title of the William B. Ogden Distinguished Service Professor as the director of the Becker Center on Chicago Price Theory.

In 2003, Levitt received the pristine John Bates Clark Medal, awarded by the American Economic Association, that is awarded annually to “young economists under the age of forty who are said to make significant contributions to economic thought and knowledge”. Later in 2005 after being awarded the Clark Medal, Levitt won the Quill Award for best business book, in 2006 he won the Indies Choice Book Award for Adult Nonfiction, and he received the Visionary Award from the National Council of Economic Education, all three won over Freakonomics. His co-authored hit, Freakonomics, surpassed their prior expectations and would take its place on the Times best seller-list, sell over five million copies, and be translated into forty different languages around the world. Other works by Steven Levitt include When To Rob a Bank, Think Like a Freak, and SuperFreakonomics, all co-authored alongside Stephen J. Dubner.

Stephen J. Dubner (1963) an author, journalist, and radio host for many programs including the Freakonomics Radio, worked with Levitt to produce many books that are globally influential to how we view economic concepts and theories. Dubner went to Duanesburg High School, and then attended Appalachian State University in North Carolina and graduated in 1984. He then switched from his passion of pursuing a musician career, as he was in a rock band, to go to Columbia University in 1990 to receive a Master of Fine Arts Degree (MFA) in writing where he also taught english. Because of this he later rose to become an editor for the New York Times Magazine.

Dubner grew up in a Roman Catholic household and as an adult he converted to Judaism which holds presence in some of his books. Along with the books and awards he has co-authored with Levitt, Dubner’s other books include Turbulent Souls, which was named a Notable Book and a finalist for the Koret National Jewish Book Award, Confessions of a Hero-Worshiper, The Boy with Two Belly Buttons, and Freaks and Friends.

Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores The Hidden Side Of Everything has no central unifying theme but instead examines and uncovers how people behave and react in the real world. As Dubner and Levitt word it best, “Morality, it could be argued, represents the way that people would like the world to work ― whereas economics represents how it actually does work. Economics is above all a science of measurement. It comprises an extraordinarily powerful and flexible set of tools that can reliably assess a thicket of information to determine the effect of any one factor, or even the whole effect”.

Published on April 12th 2005, Freakonomics dives into questioning conventional wisdom, the phenomenon of information asymmetry, as well as incentives and power to get their readers to think critically about the world around them. What factors contribute to the ultimate effect of the white-black income and test score gaps, legalized abortion resulting in massive crime drops, or a person’s name somehow contributing to their ultimate sucess or their parents success in life? These are just some of the deeper questions asked within this book as it jumps to different topics and points of time.

Freakonomics is thoroughly researched as they turn to raw data and scientific studies to corroborate their position, but in a way that is not only comprehensible by academics but also to the general public as well. It is after all a book whose purpose is to uncover the “hidden side of everything,” in hopes of getting their readers to turn away and reject commonly false conventional wisdom.

Trent Hamm, the founder of The Simple Dollar, wrote a rather nasty review of Freakonomics, claiming it was “the worst book I’ve ever read” (Hamm). After strongly suggesting he was disgusted by this nonfiction book, Hamm explains why saying that Freakonomics goes against every principle of rational thought, clearly baffled at its position as a best seller. He claims that both Dubner and Levitt were attempting to connect completely unrelated explanations for phenomena in their book, “under the premise of a different approach to economics” even though more direct explanations are available. Take the unanimously most controversial topic in the book, abortion. Hamm argues that it is “foolish” to try and use the Roe V. Wade decision in 1973 to explain the crime drop as doctors were illegally performing the medical operations of abortion long before it was passed; also just because it was passed did not automatically cause the majority of doctors to start doing so. His explanation for the crime drop was found in the “sophistication of the drug cartels in the 1970’s-1980’s and the sophistication in the war on drugs in the 1990’s” which South American drug cartels had no connection or “judgements” to or on abortion.

Although I do not agree with abortion in the slightest, I think that Hamm was wrong to attack their correlation between the crime drop and the legalization of abortions in the United States. Whether or not legalized abortion was causation for the massive crime drop, anyone regardless of their stance on abortions can clearly see that there is high correlation between these to events. When abortion was legalized there was finally an opertunity to break the cycle of adolesent pregnancies of undereducated and often poor women, by defult there was no children that had to be raised up in the same poor life conditions that these women have gone through. The cycle stopped by choosing abortion. There was no new generation to continue on this lifestyle and no one to get mixed up into gangs or criminal activity, thus the drop in crime.

Robert P. Murphy’s review was overall positive but held a few concerns. He expressed worry that the ambiguity in their book tends to confuse the readers from their actual claims thus hindering the books effectiveness. He made it clear that, putting personal opinions aside, Dubner and Levitt definitely “know how to sell a book” and “their efforts have paid off handsomely”. Murphy said to have loved the excellent topic choices “including corrupt Sumo wrestlers and cheating public school teachers”. It is a book that you won’t regret picking up and reading full of intriguing and surprising statistics that help prove that some of the conventional wisdom we buy into are plain and simple myths.

Freakonomics was difficult to follow as it was written without a central theme, I found it to be often confusing at times. Upon finally understanding and comprehending the thesis of that chapter, it would come to an end and a brand new one would begin that had no relevance of the previous chapter’s subject matter. Overall, Dubner and Levitt were able to write a book that encourages the act of digging deeper under the surface of false conventional wisdom, because as we now know things in life are not always how they appear upon first glance.

Freakonomics inspires independent thought in a world where the written word is perceived as truth regardless of its source. The cliché that states “the pen is mightier than the sword” heavily rings true today in our modern world. While critics may argue that the content within the book possesses correlations that are too far fetched, I would argue that it is an eye opening book that should be required in all economic classes as some sort of grade requirement like this one to ensure students read it. I thought the book was effective in changing our perception about the world and how it functions, which is an important thing with an essential lesson we need to expose young adults to before they are sent into the real world.  

16 December 2021
Your Email

By clicking “Send”, you agree to our Terms of service and  Privacy statement. We will occasionally send you account related emails.

close thanks-icon

Your essay sample has been sent.

Order now
Still can’t find what you need?

Order custom paper and save your time
for priority classes!

Order paper now