Freaked by the Freakonomics

          I got my paperback copy of the Freakonomics last January 5, 2010. This was the first book I purchased for 2010. I was in the mood of finding a good read early this year. I was initially torn between Cecelia Ahern and Sophie Kinsella’s new books. However, for some reasons I opted to buy a non-fiction book. How and why? I was in the process of finding a good book on one work day morning. I browsed National Bookstore’s website and look through their best sellers and Freakonomics was in their top list. Its title caught my attention. Sounds like my course, Economics! I searched for reviews and I was stunned by the positive feedbacks it received. Hence, I ended up purchasing it.

            I read my Freakonomics everywhere. As soon as I started reading it, only sleep parted us. I got hooked with it! I read it during work breaks, inside the train on the way to work, and even while waiting for my late students. So don’t anymore ask me why my copy became a total worn out. It looks worse than the second-hand books you could buy along Recto Avenue. It has water spills, oil stains and obvious folded edges.

Freakonomics has six chapters, which include the following,

Chapter 1 – What do School Teachers and Sumo Wrestlers have in common?

Chapter 2 – How is the Ku Klux Klan like a group of Real Estate Agents?

Chapter 3 – Why do drug dealers still live with their moms?

Chapter 4 – Where have all the criminals gone?

Chapter 5 – What makes a perfect parent?

Chapter 6 – Perfect Parenting Part II or would a Roshanda by any other name smell as sweet?

Apart from the six chapters it has an Introductory part, Epilogue and Bonus Articles from selected columns in the New York Times Magazine.

            It’s been months since I finished reading the book but here are some points raised in the book that I agree with.

  1. People respond to incentives – People will respond to incentives especially if the incentives are worth of a significant effort, regardless of whatever is at stake. This is clearly explained and illustrated in the case of the school teachers and sumo wrestlers. Whether issues on morality and equality are at stake, incentives will definitely change the way normal things are running.
  2. Morality tells us how the world should be run but economics tells us how the world is actually run – Morality on one hand defines what is right and ideal. Economics on the other hand relates how the world we live actually behaves and operates. While Morality is the epitome, economics is the reality.
  3. Information: Finding it right and working it right – I always tell this to my students in research. Regardless of whatever idea or information you have, if you cannot utilize and translate it in action then everything else becomes useless. The fall of the Ku Klux Klan and its similarities over the Real Estate Agents could further explain this thought. 
  4. The Work Place Hierarchy – Why do drug dealers still live with their moms? – Believe it or not, illegal jobs such as being a drug dealer, also share similarities with a typical company employee. There are leaders and hierarchies and in any workplace, the rank and file or the workers would always outnumber the bosses or the leaders. Never has it happened that there are more leaders than followers. Hence, drug leaders like typical company employees are also faced with the struggle of moving with the hierarchy ladder. Other issues and serious implications in the society are likewise discussed in the book.
  5. Declining Crimes Rates in the US: What could really explain? – A number of factors that could contribute to lower crimes rates in the US were enumerated and explained in the book. However, the most striking was Abortion as a deterrent for crime. Abortion and birth control were found to correlate with diminishing crime rates in selected areas in the US. Quoting the Levitt and Dubner, “legalized abortion led to less unwantedness: unwantedness leads to high crime: legalized abortion therefore led to less crime.” Levitt and Dubner only pointed out and traced the logic between unwanted babies and crime rates. Children who were products of unwanted pregnancies are more likely to suffer the unwantedness in their entire life. These unwanted children have high chances of becoming neglected and deprived as a result of having unprepared parents. Growing up neglected and deprived from the different aspects of life would most likely contribute children who have lesser guidance and education. The long-term effect of this is that these children unfortunately later on could become criminals and problems of the society. If presented in the Philippines, this claim of Levitt and Dubner would definitely cause a lot of violent reactions especially from the Catholic Church. Abortion will never be accepted as a deterrent of crime in the Roman Catholic Church of the Philippines. No matter how many reliable data will be presented, the idea of legalizing Abortion will never be accepted in the case of the Philippines. 
  6. The Right Parenting – Although data seem to point out that abortion prevents crime rate, Levitt and Dubner shifted the idea to responsible parenting or defining the image of a perfect parent. If a mother experiences unwanted pregnancy and decides to keep her baby, the more critical issue is how to properly raise a kid, given these problems and hindrances.
  7. Names as a determinant of a child’s future – Surprisingly, Levitt and Dubner were able to show that the names could also predict the fate of a child in US. Names even provide a trending. The names equated to Black Americans most likely created unsuccessful children. On the contrary, names equated or attributed to White Americans most likely created a fate of success. I initially can’t believe that the most inconsiderable variable in research could cause serious implications in the case of the US. However, this finding presented by Levitt and Dubner was backed up by massive and careful research. Data on the names and fate of each sample considered were kept intact, monitored and analyzed over time. The research is one serious time series study.

Levitt and Dubner also identified the following factors that correlate with the performance or test scores of the students.

a. Having highly educated parents

b. Having parents with high socioeconomic status

c. Children whose mothers were 30 or older at the time of the first child’s birth

d. Parents who speak English at home

e. Children who were adopted

f. Children’s parents involved in PTA

g. The child has many books at home

What explains or accounts for the correlation of these factors to the students’ test scores? Read and find for yourself. 😉

              Overall, I found Levitt and Dubner’s Freakonomics very informative, awakening and entertaining too. Its generalizations were not merely based from logic and explanations, but were backed up by critical data and information from research. Actual data were even presented to the readers. Some historical documentation and reasons accounted were also related and explained in the course of the book.

              The book’s concentration was inclined in the field of Economics. However, social, political, legal and technological causes and implications of different points in the book were presented and established. 

             As a Filipino reader, how I wish that such similar book would be crafted in the case of the Philippines. The data and information used in the book were obtained from a US setting. I think some points in the book are worth a curious examination in the Philippine setting. I am very much interested of the “names” as a predictor of a child’s success, birth control and crime rate in the Philippines and the concept of right parenting.


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