‘Super Freakonomics’ by Steven D Levitt and Stephen J Dubner

April 11, 2011
Front cover of my Freakonomics copy
Front cover of my Freakonomics copy

I have read Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner’s bestselling Freakonomics and reviewed it and although am still wondering what freakonomics was all about, authors admit in their superfreakonomics introduction, they didn’t know either. The title was dreamed up in a moment of desperation and their publishers loathed it with a passion. Back in 2005, they wrote “Freakonomics,” a wildly successful title brimming with interesting stories about why incentives matter and how actions have unintended consequences.In the introduction, Levitt and Dubner talk about seeing the world through the eyes of the economist and include being a woman in India and the transition of horses to cars, as well as talking about statistics and the bending of knowledge. Reading the book on the first chapter, writers explores the understanding curves of prostitution. One of the key questions about such topics is data. Each one of use knows the more sensitive the topic is, the more problematic it is to obtain data. Whether it is drugs, violence, sex are some of the things where getting data becomes a dangerous adventure. In creating a narrative, the writers come out with a lot of aspects about women, women’s lives and prewar prostitution among others. Superfreakanomics chapters explore different topics with each chapter providing multiple stories, background, data, and commentary on how this system is flawed, could be improved, or related to larger issues in the world, such as fighting terrorism.Writers first question is about the way prostitutes are equivalent to departmental-store Santa Clauses due to supply and demand. They claim that prostitutes do seasonal part-time work and can make a lot of money to pay bills, as opposed to working two jobs, due to the fact that the work is illegal and customers are willing to pay. In addition to supply and demand to make ends meet, the drive for prostitution is also related to differences in how much money a woman earns versus a man. A woman is willing to be a prostitute, since she is able to make more money per hour.

Global cooling, patriotic prostitutes etc are well captured in the first page of the book
Chapter one is about prostitutes

With relations to economics, prostitutes do cost-benefit analysis when it comes to having a pimp, just like other people do with real estate agents. Both prostitutes and people who want to sell their homes decide that it is better to provide money to someone else for a better overall outcome.Freakonomics book made economists around the world more inclined to come up with cute little analyses of the business. However, the way they applied economic theory to areas where I’d never expect to find it like sumo wrestling, crack-dealing and so on brought fun and while reading Superfreakonomics there is no debate that it consists of more of the same.Writers also attempt to work backwards from baby health outcomes, hospital doctor ratings and treatment, and profiling terrorists. By working backwards, the writers are looking for ways to change the current situation by small changes, such as integrating information at the emergency room of the hospital and using computer programs to look for trends in health symptoms and also if that applies to policies that can be used to protect the United States.Economics is also connected to the human psyche with human motivations, altruism, and apathy using the main example of Kitty Genovese showing that things are always more complicated than they seem. In relation to economics is whether or not monetary incentives should be used to supply kidneys and politics with ways to figure out how to maximize policies effectiveness by making people feel like they get a benefit. In this section, there are many psychological experiences that break down assumptions that people do the right thing. People will do the right there unless there are different incentives, such as money and peer pressure that get in the way.

Insurance sector wasn’t left behind as it was tackled head on in chapter 2
Apathy and altruism made chapter 3 a fascinating read
The Fix Is In was mind blowing, indeed chapter 4 ended up being my favourite in the whole book

Everyone wants quick and simple fixes to complicated issues like mysterious maternal deaths, seat belts, polio, and preventing hurricanes. Instead of picking the most expensive and complicated answers, writers ask that people pick preventative ways, such as washing hands and taking vaccinations to prevent the spread of disease, other public health measures, and moving ocean water to prevent hurricanes.Sex is prominent in this book and at the start Levitt and Dubner the smut is lighter but towards the end the stuff is heavy. The two did a research in Chicago prostitution where they found prostitutes wages have plummeted in real terms in the last 60 years and the answer is simple according to the two. Sex is much easier to come by than it was then. In an example given in the book, between 1933 and 1942, more than 20 per cent of American men had their first sexual experience with a prostitute and by 2008 it was around 5 per cent.According to the writers, connected to controlling ocean water to influence hurricanes is global warming. Global warming also needs solutions. However, with global warming, there is concern about the problem itself and what is possible. There is also the issue of externalities. While mostly companies and cows produce the emissions, the global warming problem is inherited by everyone. Everyone has to deal with increased temperatures, dying polar bears, and unusual weather patterns. Who has the power to limit emissions? Who is going to put up the money? Just like previous issues, the simplest and most cost effective solution may not be considered, due to its questioned effectiveness. In this case, it involves sulfur emissions in the upper stratosphere or changing architecture to shoot emissions to a different level. Instead of changing people’s behaviour, such as not driving cars while drunk or washing hands in the hospital, it may be easier to change other things such as the environment or changing the externalities.In the end, the writers leave the reader thinking with a story about monkeys taught to use money. Monkeys are taught to use money by associating coins with receiving food. After learning to use money, the monkeys realise its value and start to steal money and exchange money for sexual activity. In addition, money use is also related to unraveling to human behaviour. Based on this research, writers pose the question if money is able to start theft and prostitution, could money cause many other problems as well.

Chapter 5 was captivating with commonalities between Al Gore and Mount Pinatubo
He he he he he he Monkey and People too….what an epilogue

Street prostitutes in Chicago made more money with a pimp than working solo, according to a study cited in the book, because the pimp brings in higher paying customers and prevents a prostitute from being beaten up by a customer.I had challenges with the book because there are lengthy passage about how we behave differently when we are being scrutinized which makes it worthless of most behavioral experiments.For instance, a man with the name of Nathan Myhrvold believes that the effects of global warming can be reversed by pumping sulphur dioxide into the atmosphere through a series of 18 mile-long hose pipes, thereby mimicking the effect of volcanic explosions.And if you’re not a prostitute or a customer of one,SuperFreakonomics has plenty of lessons for everyday consumers on what influences their decisions or the decisions of others.It’s a book that got me thinking after, if not before, any decision I make based on an incentive.Also its has taught me some new things about both economics and politics. I have been aware about supply and demand driving prostitution, but I wasnt unaware about the economic consequences for other jobs, such as teaching. I linked the decreasing quality of teachers to the costs of other jobs, such as in medicine and business. “The Fix is in and it’s cheap and simple” really shocked me and taught me a lot about changing people’s behavior, whether it’s changing seat belt usage to washing hands. This same issue is relevant with AIDS and other public health initiatives around the world.Going forward i will be looking at the world in open minded perspectives, looking across different disciplines, and drawing the world as if everything is blended and connected as opposed to distinct and separate. This writers also shows additional evidence that the world is not black and white and that there is not just one great solution and also shows that solutions are not dependent on predictable factors that can be measured in the lab. These learnings can be applied to predicting political outcomes. Arguably, they can be applied to almost any intellectual question.The book provides a lot of big concepts that can be applied to pop culture, politics, the economy, and daily life. After reading it reading the book, I can now manage to separate the research and theories as to the actual reasons.

Back cover of my copy
Back cover of my copy

Contador Harrison