Monday, 3 July 2006

The Joy of Freakonomics

If you’ve not read Steven D. Levitts & Stephen J. Dubner’s Freakonomics then do so…now! Not only does it manage to make economics exciting, it also unpicks some urban myths and presents some excellent new truths; so to entice you to read it I’ll present some of the most intriguing stuff here, for your perusal.

On April 15th 1987 seven million American children disappeared but can any of you remember the mass abductions or homicides? Of course not, that’s because it was all about tax avoidance and that day marked the moment when you had to put the child’s social security number and not just list dependent children. So all the phantom exemptions vanished!

Did you know that US President Woodrow Wilson said of the Ku Klax Klan: “At last there has sprung into existence a great Ku Klax Klan, a veritable empire of the south, to protect the southern country”? Or that President Warren G. Harding was a fully paid up member of the KKK? But more importantly, did you know that the man who destroyed the Klan as a force in America was called Stetson Kennedy and he did it by getting Klan code words, imagery and quasi-religious terms into radio episodes of Superman; thereby demystifying and ridiculing the group and membership plummeted from 8 million down to a few hundred thousand.

I’m sure many of my American readers will remember the crime boom that the country was caught in throughout the 70s and 80s? It reached its peak in 1989 with violent crime alone having increased by 80% and you may also remember its steep decline that left experts nonplussed and foraging for answers and politicians clambering all over one another to gain credit. Do you want to know why crime fell so suddenly in the 90s?


On January 22nd 1973, thanks to Roe vs Wade, abortion was legal across the whole of America and thus women who knew that they couldn’t and didn’t want to raise a child could take matters into their own hands. In brutal terms, poor people could stop producing more poor people and as poor people are more prone to crime the crime rate fell. Thus, the first cohort that would have reached prime crime age in the early 90s simply didn’t exist. And guess what? The states that legalised abortion earlier (New York for example) saw the fall in crime earlier and states that oversaw more abortions saw a greater impact on crime statistics in direct correlation to the number of abortions.

I’ll leave that with you…


  1. It's a great book and fun to read, but there is some controversy with it.

    It is believed that alot of the things that Stetson Kennedy claimed were not exactly on the level. Personally, I could care less. Great reading.

    The part where he equates the crime declines with the legalization of abortion is spot on in my head and took some serious balls to publish.

    The chapter on drug dealers is also pretty awesome to read. Not so much because of the window into the finances of a drug lord, but more because of the story of how they got the data in the first place. What a cool story that kid must have!

    Great book.

    You may also want to look up a book called Lies My Teacher Told Me.

    This book is equally as fascinating and you will not want to put it down. Me personally, I really digged on the Helen Keller parts. There is much more to her than the cute little story they tell us. The book is less about history than about the way history is presented and why. I first read it about ten years ago at least and it opened my eyes to alot. It made me learn to always look deeper than what I'm told to look at because there is always parts of a story we try to hide to make us feel better about ourselves. Great reading. Great.

    Until later...

  2. Oh, abortion....Actually I never knew about the crime rate/legalized abortion connection, but as we all know, I'm not aware of a lot of things. All I can say about abotion is what I've said before; if I want one, I'll have one, even if Roe vs. Wade is overturned. I won't have to visit some backstreet doctor with a rusty pair of scissors, either. There's a cure in nature for everything.

    It's not a decision I hope to have to make, mind you. It sucks that so many women use abortion as a form of birth control. But then, the fact that there are things like fertility drugs is fucked up too. I mean, yes, humans have this instinctive need to procreate like any other species. However, when it doesn't happen naturally, that's nature. Why do people fuck with it? Pro-lifers go on and on about God's creation and all that bullshit, so wouldn't it make sense that God wanted some women to be barren? If you can't have a kid, can't you adopt a child from another country or foster a child?

    Oh yeah....poor people can't afford fertility drugs, and someone trying forever to get pregnant wouldn't have an abortion. And big pharma gets

  3. Have you read Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell? It offers fascinating links to crime rates, clothing fads, etc. (I also read his book, Blink. It's very good too.)

  4. I've heard that this is excellent. Apparently they also did a study of names to see if they changed the economic status of a child. They don't. It's all about the education level of the parents and the education level that the child receives. The moral: FUND EDUCATION!!

  5. Two books that are must read for Americans in regard to our own history are Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States and Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown.

    Both books blow away the mythology that was/is taught as American History.


  6. A People's History is an excellent book. I would also reccommend Lies My Teacher Told Me.

  7. I was a little underwhelmed with Freakonomics; some interesting conclusions, but too much stuff about how fucking awesome the author is. Every chapter starts with a story that goes, in summary: "This guy is awesome. Just plain fucking awesome."

    I'd prefer to work that out for myself based on the quality of his work.

  8. Cheeks: I agree, the "I'm great" preface to every chapter was slightly bizarre.


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