Our Daily Bleg: Book-Club Questions Needed

A reader named Jacquilynne Schlesier writes:

My book club is reading Freakonomics as our selection of the month and we’re meeting on Wednesday. It’s my selection, so I’m responsible for bringing 10 questions that’ll prompt discussion about the book.

Based on the argument that broke out at our last meeting when I merely mentioned the idea behind the abortion/crime bits of the book, I don’t imagine I will actually need 10 questions to keep the discussion moving for two hours (more likely, I will need a very large whip to keep the members from maiming each other), but still, I figured it couldn’t hurt to ask the readers of Freakonomics if they have any discussion questions they’d use to prompt conversation about the book.


Last year when my book club discussed this book, the questions we used were ones that we googled. They were a pretty good way to start the discussion and then it went from there.

This is the site we got our questions from:

Then again, it was the first time our group had participated in a book club, so we really didn't know what we were doing back then.

Hope this helps and that everyone survives at your get together.

C. Larity

I would ask them who among them will be the first to name their child Loser. So far, the name is 1-for-1 in terms of successful outcomes.


I'm betting that at least some of the members of your book club are parents. Why not ask them what they thought about the parenting portion of the book? Do they agree with the book's assertions or disagree with them? Are they open to the possibility that these assertions might be true, even though the implications could be hurtful?


Why not try the Student Guide to Freakonomics (.pdf) that this blog discussed last year?


That may have some helpful material.


Regarding the parenting section of the book (and allowing for the fact that the abortion/crime rate portion is even more incendiary), perhaps ask the group to discuss whether the book's focus on scholastic results (and what effect parents have on them) resonated with them or not? I know that I found that part fascinating, but at the end of it, I thought, "But wait a minute! As a parent, do I really place that much importance on little Bobo's marks when thinking about my own contributions? My value as a parent is in so many other areas that these results don't speak to me all that much." But that's just me.


The chapter on cheating comes to mind. Ask how many people identify with the sumo wrestlers and/or teachers for cheating their way to job security.

For the abortion/crime chapter, assume that the link is causal. What would happen in 20 years, if Roe V Wade was overturned? Could the same people tolerate a rise in rampant crime?


I would ask "what other decisions and issues of life could you apply the Freakonomics-style practical/entertaining/intellectual integration type of thought to in order to get a better understanding and better results?"


"What policies should the government alter in regard to the studies and methods revealed in Freakonomics?"

Michael Connolly

Here is the question I would ask:
Regarding the chapter on abortion and crime, how does your belief about the status of a fetus affect your interpretation of the data. As far as I can tell, one's position on the moral status of abortion usually exerts a strong influence on how persuasive one will find Levitt's data. But, of course, the relationship between crime trends and abortion trends is irrelevant to the question of whether a fetus is a human life (as Levitt points out in the book). If we as readers cannot disentangle the moral question about abortion from the empirical question about the robustness of data, what does that tell us about our other beliefs? Are we as open-minded as we think we are or do we tend to filter the facts, dismissing those we disagree with and latching on to those that are compatible with our world view?


What in the world does this book have to do with the traditional idea of economics (efficient allocation of scarce resources)?

Why not execute all low income males under the age of 25 and REALLY take a bite out of crime?

Given the chapter on teachers "fixing" standardized tests, isn't the rampant "grade inflation" at all levels of education predictable? Why don't teachers just give everyone A's? How do we objectively measure our students' performance (personally, I suggest law school as a model... blind grading on a fixed mean)?


Discuss the part about the IRS not enforcing the tax code (it was not part of the original book, but the additional material), and how it relates to the current economic issues. In other words, should the government increase revenue by enforcing the tax laws we have?

Also the major theme of the book is "correlation does not imply causation". Are there other examples of this in current events? Global warming? Factors of the subprime meltdown?

-depends on the rules

Did I cheat when I when I had Freakonomics blog readers compose my questions this week?


Here's a question: How often does the conflation of correlation and causation occur in the book (implicit or explicit)?

A second: does this book aim to be a look at a descriptive version of economics or a predictive one? What are the ramifications if it is descriptive/predictive with respect to the social structure we have in the states?


You can always start a discussion by posing a question like

"Do you think people are honest by nature or essentially corrupt?"

This will provoke thoughts about the bagel guy who relied on the notion that people are honest and based his business model on that assumption.


furthering topics not in the Freakonomics book

on the topic of economics, how would the price of basic foods change if the supply-demand curve changed due to people's eating habits changing? How have their eating habits changed over the past 100 years? and what they think it will change to in the next 100 years. taking into account factors affecting it such inflation, globalization and market sentiment.


1) What Do Schoolteachers and Sumo Wrestlers Have in Common?
2) How is the Ku Klux Klan like a Group of Real-Estate Agents?
3) Why Do Drug Dealers Still Live with Their Moms?
4) Where Have All the Criminals Gone?
5) What Makes a Perfect Parent?
6) Would a Roshanda by Any Other Name Smell as Sweet?


Are you personally willing to listen to a critical analysis of the facts, or do you ignore the facts in favor of your feelings or beliefs?


Also have them read at least the New York crime sections of The Tipping Point as well. Then ask them to explain which book has the correct analysis.


Thanks for the questions, all. I used various questions from here and from the link in comment 2, and we had a successful, death-free discussion. We actually focused more on the parenting section (despite being mainly non-parents) than the abortion section, so no whips were required.

The fact that a snow storm cut attendance in half probably helped on that front, as well ;)