Levitt, a University of Chicago economist, caught the attention of news publications with his unusual manner of “asking the right questions” and being able to look at statistics with objectivity and intellectual curiosity. His personality dominates the book through the eccentric but effective correlations he and Dubner draw between seemingly unrelated subjects.
Dubner is a journalist for The New Yorker and The New York Times. He has authored other books, but Freakonomics became his most successful upon its publication.
Feldman appears in Chapter 1, and the authors use the detailed records from his bagel company to study the effect of moral incentives. Feldman found through his own data that in general his customers were honest in paying for the bagels he left in their workrooms. He also discovered some curiosities about human honesty. For example, the type of money container he provides determines the likelihood of its being stolen. Feldman tried using a coffee can with a slot in the lid, but that was taken several times. When he switched to a locked wooden box, his customers paid at the same rate but did not take the box.
Kennedy authored The Klan Unmasked and has been widely cited as a figure who helped bring down the Klan through his information-gathering efforts. In the revised edition of Freakonomics, the authors discussKennedy’s exaggeration of his physical part in some of the secret Klan meetings, but they assert that those exaggerations are not enough to negate the positives of Kennedy’s actions.
Almost all of Chapter 3 stems from an experiment completed by Venkatesh, a young sociologist who lived with a drug gang for over a year. Venkatesh wrote Gangleader for a Day, which chronicles his experience, and the authors cite more of his studies in their sequel to Freakonomics: SuperFreakonomics.
At the beginning of Chapter 4, the authors describe Ceausescu’s (the executed Communist dictator of Romania) ban on abortion. When Ceausescu took control of the country in 1966, he determined to turn Romania into a blueprint for the New Socialist Man. He forcefully encouraged Romanians to reproduce and subsequently banned abortion. His negative “incentives” made it very difficult for Romanian women to...
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