Sex, Terrorism, and Economic Man: Superfreakonomics

Since I’m not working on a dissertation this summer, I’m reading books again. The first of several reviews is on SuperFreakonomics, the sequel to the widely popular book by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner.

Sure, the first book had that little problem with the abortion model being wrong. Total count versus per capita? Ignoring the crack cocaine epidemic? Tortured state-level dummy models running toward saturation? Who cares if the recent outside analysis found little real evidence supporting the hypothesis? Earlier, it made Dr. Levitt popular. In 2005, it sold books. And he has a doctorate and a tenured position, while, I, well, don’t. Thus, this review is not going to be a statistical critique. Besides, that might also turn off my 3 daily readers.

Instead, let me comment on the topics and level of analysis. This book moves more towards economics, and away from statistics. I wonder if this was because the authors feel more comfortable in the land of strange terms than the messy world of Mathematics after the Fall. One chapter covers prostitution, with some interesting facts in between italicized economic terms. I was not surprised by the reduction in prostitution, that now only about 5% of men lose their virginity to a prostitute. The cost of sexuality has decreased, particularly for females, and they engage in it more freely. (Wow, it’s a double entendre! I saw a promo for an Adam Sandler movie.) Actually, I had heard about Ms. Allie before, as Dr. Levitt had given a speech at the 2006 MSMESB Conference. He was the lunch speaker, not an academic talk.

There are other nice tidbits, like the back-of-the-envelope calculation on the shoe bomber. Haven’t the terrorists won? All the time involved with belts, shoe removal, semi-pornographic viewing, and redressing takes up person-years, effectively stripping away lives. Every September 11 Security Fee is a victory for the terrorists. It’s a good way to look at things, sometimes.

In the end, sometimes becomes always and a problem. I see the authors almost frantic to defend Homo Economicus, the world of rationality where Kapitalism lives. Thus, they spend page upon page trying to destroy altruism and feeling. Yes, monkeys can be trained to use money, and engage in a very limited market economy. Yes, the Dictator Game has flaws. A simple lab experiment doesn’t cover real life exactly. Yes, one can design lab experiments where people don’t give away as much. They’re lab experiments. They have little ecological real-world validity. My Math 200 students should know that.

This is a nice book, though closer to an economics textbook. I’d recommend the first book (a 3 out of 5, above average) over this tome, which receives a 2. This time, I was reminded too many times of the oratory of Robert Kennedy. No, not the Indianapolis King speech, since there are few riots in America anymore. I recall this speech given at the University of Kansas on March 18, 1968.

This blog is going to post on topics related to money for a while, perhaps a relief after all the Armageddons reviewed the past year. Kennedy spoke about GNP, but maybe it’s about all of economics.

It measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile.

About Adam

My quest is a world where calling someone "virtuous like a fairy tale hero" is routine, not fantastic or ironic. My vocation is the teaching and learning of statistics. My dream is a long happy life with a wonderful wife and kids. Who knows if any will become true? More information is at my homepage on the twelvefruits network: http://adam.twelvefruits.com
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