Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Book review – (Super+1)*Freakonomics – Exploring the power of incentives.

Freakonomics and its sequel Superfreakonomics are the products of some out of the box thinking by a 'rogue' economist about seemingly mundane everyday life matters. It is about economics at work in everyday life. Its about economics stripped down of its complex theories, formulas and obscure language. Its about 'exploring the hidden side of everything', how every action has a hidden motive or incentive that drives it, how statistics can be use to quantify anything and everything. Its about stripping down a layer or two from the surface of modern life and seeing what is happening underneath.

One of the most intriguing idea discussed is about how legalization of abortion may have cause crime to drop in recent years. The author provides various statistics to disregard other possible causes like gun control, strong economy, better laws, etc. He feels that the potential criminals are knocked out before they are born as most unwanted babies are potential criminals. If true, its a perfect example of the law of unintended consequences. Its like the proverbial butterfly that flaps its wings on one continent and eventually cause a hurricane on another. I am firmly against abortion and feel that it must not be legalized even for a noble cause like crime reduction. Abortion is murder. Full stop.

Some interesting stuff for men and women looking for soul mates is discussed on pages 80-85. Supposedly men want to look taller and earn more while women wanna weigh less, look good and be blond. At least those are the conclusions drawn after analyzing profiles on dating websites. What men should do to get a date? Say they are looking for a long term relationship, earn a lot, be tall, and have a lot of hair on the head. Women can read the book to see what men want.

He also discusses the power of information, how the Ku Klux Klan was countered just by leaking their secrets, why schoolteachers may and do cheat, whether homes with guns or swimming pools are more dangerous for kids to play, does your name matter for your future, etc.

Superfreakonomics has some equally fascinating analysis of mundane matters. The book begins with some analysis about how the television supposedly changed the thinking of rural India. He also mentions some things about Indian men which might, let me say, make them feel inferior. And then he rants on with a lot of stuff about prostitutes which I think is included just as a marketing gimmick. Those who are not very comfortable with the topic can skip ahead to the next chapter as all the chapters are unrelated to each other. There are a few interesting things discussed like whether your birthday matters if you wanna become a sports star, why do less people die when doctors are on strike, how to live longer. He also discusses why terrorism is over hyped, like I had discussed in The bigger killers

I don't like the fact that he thinks man is basically selfish and works solely for his own benefit. But sadly his analysis of hard numbers corroborate his belief. The author also makes some weird arguments against global warming but he has clarified some of the finer points in his blog. But he mentions that meat based diets are the biggest contributors of green house gases. You can read my post SAY NO TO NON VEG FOODS

Some good quotes in the books
-Economics is about how people get what they want.
-Morality represents the way people would like the world to work, economic represents how it actually does work.
-Emotion is the enemy of rational argument.

On the whole the books are a good read. The books are fast and jump from one topic to another. The author has a good sense of humor which spices up tons of statistics he uses to illustrate or back his claims. Go explore the hidden side of everything and get freaked out.


  1. cool, i was just going to start reading this book :)

  2. your review has made me curious about the book... I will surely read this freaking book..

  3. @sahaj.. Once you start, you will not stop! unless there is an incentive to stop. :D

    @abhi.. and don't forget to get freaked out!

  4. more enlightening than the first?? once again.. read 'the goal' by goldratt if u havnt done so yet.. n for once act mature n dont take a jab at us kindly english folk!

  5. Well the second freakonomics is also good, besides the extended analysis of prostitution. I will read the book you mentioned.. Hopefully the author doesnt use old archaic English!

  6. I have recently read freakonomics. Reading your post,I think the second one would be interesting too. Everone seems to be citing India from Freidman in the revised new version of the world is flat to superfreakonomics...