This book’s reputation precedes it. I had heard all about it and how very popular it was (there was a significant waiting list and both branches of my local library), as well as the controversy it helped fuel with William Bennett. I must admit that I was somewhat suspicious at the marketing: the insistence that Levitt is a “rogue” economist (re: the subtitle), and a similar theme throughout the introduction, namely that Levitt may be young (relative to his profession), but golly, he sure is smart. And unorthodox!
In short, Levitt’s publishers were doing their damnedest to make the book appear subversive and controversial. I am loathe to believe marketing hype, but given that a chapter is devoted to the effects of legalized abortion on crime rate, I expected the book to be at least somewhat inflammatory.
Mostly, it’s not. At least in the sense that doesn’t make any other assertions that are as, erm, dramatic as the aforementioned; however, the book is dedicated to deconstructing certain myths about crime and parenting, as well as explaining just how to make those assertions based on data and regression charts.
Levitt’s prose reminds me a lot of Brian Greene’s (and his appearance reminds me of Bob Saget) in that he’s tackling esotery with language that’s almost condescendingly simple: he feels the need to reiterate in simpler terms things that his readers should already know or remember from earlier in the book.
That being said, I found the book interesting, if not entirely convincing. Here’s Levitt’s basic argumentative tactic.
- State convention wisdom
- Cite (often single) study
- Reject conventional wisdom and solidly propose its opposite
Now, I’m no economist, but that seems awfully impulsive to me.
Still, as fodder for further exploration and argument, Freakonomics delivers on its promise: namely, it explores the hidden side of things. Recommended.