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How the world really works

LARRY EBERSOLESpecial to the Daily
Special to the Daily"Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything"
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Why do drug dealers still live with their moms? It is this enticing type of questioning and the equally enthralling answers gathered together in “Freakonomics” that make it so enjoyable to read. Authors Stephen Levitt and Stephen Dubner really do take the reader into the hidden side of how things work in our everyday world. Other topics explored throughout the book range from comparing which is more dangerous; a gun or a swimming pool, to what sumo wrestlers and school teachers in a Chicago district may have in common.Conventional wisdom and how much parents and their efforts really matter in their child’s learning process is one of the topics addressed with some startling outcomes to the studies used in the book. To this specific question, the authors start by recognizing that conventional wisdom and the expert’s advice on child rearing seems to shift by the hour and the popularity in the moment of a chosen expert. Quoted studies such as the Colorado Adoption Project point to genetics accounting for at least half of a child’s abilities and personality. So what contributes to the other half? The conclusions arrived at in the book can be bewildering, yet somehow make sense. Before reading “Freakonomics,” my question was, how can an economist begin to even try to answer such questions? The authors’ basis for their work in “Freakonomics” is that the root of economics is the study of motives; how people get what they want or need, especially when other people want or need the same thing. Economics is a science with great tools for coming up with answers but a serious shortage of interesting questions. There is where Levitt comes in.

His particular gift is the ability to ask tantalizing questions with cheating, corruption and crime being his abiding interests. Levitt teaches economics at the University of Chicago, and as is hinted at by co-author Stephen Dubner, Levitt seems to view things not as an academic, but as an explorer.

His interests lie in the stuff of everyday and not as much in the economy, taxes and other similar subjects usually associated with his profession.

Stephen Dubner writes for the New York Times, the New Yorker, and is the author of “Turbulent Souls” and “Confessions of a Hero Worshiper.” Writing together, they make “Freakonomics” not only informative, but entertaining to read as well. So what do school teachers and Sumo wrestlers have in common? What the authors are actually comparing are two studies, one on teachers in a Chicago district in which cheating on standardized testing was found and one study on Sumo wrestlers cheating to increase their ranking. In both cases, scores and rankings were directly tied to compensation, which brings us back to one of the goals of the book in demonstrating how people get what they want. Quickly forgotten is the fact you thought you picked up a book on economics, as this book really is entertaining to read. As it works its way through the world of computer dating and even selling bagels, “Freakonomics” illuminates the fact that information can be a beacon or a deterrent depending on who wields it. The internet has vastly decreased the gap between so-called experts and consumers, and this book is certainly valuable in its perspective on just how our everyday world really works. “Freakonomics” is available at Weber’s Books on Main Street in Breckenridge. Marketing manager Larry Ebersole is available at the store or by e-mail at Amentalengineer@cs.com for thoughts or suggestions.

Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of EverythingBy Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. DubnerPublished by HarperCollins Published by HarperCollins


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