Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Book Review (#57 of 2014) SuperFreakonomics by Stephen Dubner and Steven Levitt

SuperFreakonomics: Global Cooling, Patriotic Prostitutes, and Why Suicide Bombers Should Buy Life Insurance

I did not enjoy this (quite short) book as much as I did the original Freakonomics. Some of the topics covered are well-covered in other places, like in Malcolm Gladwell's books. There was less highlighting of Levitt's work and more of other economists and psychologists.

A brief hodgepodge of things you can glean from this book: 
Horses were essentially the climate change problem of the late 1800s. Your odds of dying from a horse-related accident in NY in late 1800s higher than dying from a car accident today. Manure caused pollution, sanitation issues. Demand for horses and horse feed drove up prices of food.

The market for prostitutes. Prostitutes in Chicago are more likely to be paid for sex by a cop than be arrested by one. This chapter was a bit tough to stomach. An educated woman leaves her job in finance in order to become an expensive escort, makes a lot of money, and then later decides to leave her job to go back to school-- to become an economist.

Behavioral economists used experiments to show that humans were inherently altruistic-- contra Darwin's theory of natural selection-- until other behavioral economists showed that people were only altruistic when they were asked to participated in experiments conducted by behavioral economists.

Monkeys have been shown in experiments to be irrational like humans-- loss averse, and capable of understanding money as a medium of exchange.

Education is positively correlated with bad outcomes like suicide bombings and preventable diseases in hospitals (doctors do worse at washing their hands than lesser-educated assistants). 

The chapter on global warming is a large part of the book and has been the most controversial (read the entire blog post). Dubner and Levitt highlight some very smart researchers who decry the simplistic messages put out by the media and Al Gore. Reducing CO2 emissions, for example, will not be helpful and will cost more than it will help. They have simple solutions, like putting SO2 into the atmosphere, that can be done very cheaply and have the effect of counteracting global warming. Sea levels have been rising for thousands of years as the oceans warm. As they warm, they expand, and it has nothing to do with glacial melting. These researchers are frustrated with the archaic and outdated models usually used by climatologists. I assume Dubner and Levitt highlight them for no reason other than they don't think they've been getting fair press. They highlight the simple inventions that trump conventional wisdom. The global warming examples are similar to that of the child safety seat-- the safety seat has not been proven to be more effective at preventing child death/injury than the standard safety belt, and yet the government keeps pushing for children to use them for longer periods.

3 stars out of 5.


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