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FREAKONOMICS by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner

The authors of Freakonomics, one a self-defined rogue economist and one a New York Times writer, argue in the introduction that morality represents the way people would like the world to work, while economics represent how it actually does work.

One of the first issues Freakonomics looks at is the significant drop in crime rates in the 1990s. The book cites the conventional wisdom for why crime rates dropped – improvement in the economy, gun laws, education, tougher penalties – and then proposes that the real reason crime rates dropped in the 1990s was Roe v. Wade in the 1970s. In essence, the authors are arguing that the children who would have grown up to be criminals in the 90s were simply never born in the 70s because of the legalization of abortion.

This is controversial writing to be sure, but fascinating. The authors look at why some sumo wrestlers and teachers cheat, how crack cocaine organizational charts look a lot like McDonalds, whether successful children are helped by parenting techniques or whether it’s largely genetic, and even the effect of the name you choose for your child on him or her. The book cites one example of a parent who named his final two sons Winner and Loser. Guess which kid turned out great? Right – loser – who went by Lou. Winner wound up in prison.

Freakonomics is rare thought-provoking material. How often do we find something that actually helps us look at the world in a new way? I recommend the bestseller in hardback from Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner, Freakonomics. On the Book Beat for KSL Newsradio, I’m Amanda Dickson.

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