Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything is the result of a partnership between a journalist, Stephen J. Dubner, and a University of Chicago economist, Steven D. Levitt. The two explain that the premise of Freakonomics sprung from an assignment Dubner received from New York Times Magazine to write a profile of Levitt. While interviewing Levitt, Dubner found that unlike other economists whom he had interviewed, he actually understood Levitt’s quirky yet effective way of explaining statistics. The two developed mutual respect, which resulted in their writing the best-selling book.
Introduction: The Hidden Side of Everything
In Freakonomics’s introduction, the authors discuss that statistics and subjects that normally seem dissimilar share commonalities when examined more closely and when the right questions are asked. Near the end of the introduction, a preview of the book’s themes appears, and Levitt and Dubner establish their satirical and conversational tone found in each chapter.
Chapter 1: What Do Schoolteachers and Sumo Wrestlers Have in Common?
According to the authors and the statistics they research and report, the answer to the title’s chapter is cheating, though the entire chapter is not about cheating. It begins by discussing the human need for incentives—categorized as economic, social, and moral incentives. The authors use the examples of a daycare in Israel incorporating a fine to motivate parents to pick up their children on time to define what a typical incentive looks like in everyday life. The discussion then turns to cheating and how incentives can encourage dishonesty. They discuss the Chicago Public School System as their first example of the connection between incentives and cheating. In 1996, the school system instituted bonus pay based on the standardized test scores of teachers’ students. If a teacher’s students demonstrated significant gains on their test scores, the teacher received a monetary bonus. Researchers found after studying score results from 1993–2000 that a spike in cheating occurred in 1996. A three-year study showed that on average cheating occurred in at least 200 Chicago classrooms per year. Levitt and Dubner then compare the number of cheating teachers to sumo wrestlers who work collaboratively to throw matches because, in the end, more of them benefit...
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