Follow the Gary Becker Decision Tree

One of my favorite images from the new Illustrated SuperFreakonomics (beautifully designed by No. 17) is a decision tree showing how Gary Becker, a young man who was better at handball than math, nevertheless chose math and became the Nobel-winning economist whose research made possible books like ours. Unfortunately, this blog doesn’t offer enough real estate to handle the entire image but here’s a good taste:


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  1. John says:

    What a stupid post. Sometimes I wonder.

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  2. Sakina says:

    One day, I hope to be rich enough to spend my days making this.

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  3. Jakob says:

    Agree – totally useless post from my point of view.

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  4. E. J. Helpful says:

    While this post does not explicitly discuss incentives for behavior, it’s a perfectly on-target case.

    Presumably, Mr. Dubner wishes to sell his books.

    As someone who started reading the blog before buying a book, I have always looked for posts from the authors. Their opinions influenced my decision to buy.

    Seeing either of the authors’ names on the blog makes readers realize they continue to be engaged with their work. It we be a much less “Freakonomics” blog, if the authors of Freakonomics didn’t post regularly. It’s possible the Times even encourages frequent posting.

    Mr Dubner characterizes himself as the journalist who seeks to make the dry economic methods palatable to a wider audience. A fluff post – which not hard hitting – invites in readers (to blog and book).

    While this decision diagram my be Mr. Dubner’s favorite illustration from the new illustrated edition of Superfreakonomics, it is also a perfect teaser. It’s content-light. It’s from the earlier portion of the book. It stands alone just fine for comedic value.

    It’s also “coincidentally” too large to post in full. I guess we have to buy the book to really enjoy this Favorite.

    Pick on someone for shameless and thinly veiled self-promotion.

    Don’t call it off topic.

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  5. Al says:

    I really enjoyed this little decision tree. It serves as a fun reminder how arbitrary life is. When I think of someone impressive like “Gary Becker, Nobel-winning economist,” I often think of that person’s success as inevitable, but it’s good to remember that success is the product of many small decisions made along the way — often with a good bit of luck thrown in.

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  6. Drill-Baby-Drill Drill Team says:


    This is NOT a Decision Tree. IT is more complicated than the NYC subway map. It is a Decision Ball of String. If I had to follow it I will end with an ulcer ( Result 5.31.ii.B.)

    Can human beings be reduced to TWO things: Economics and Handball? What about Parenting skills, Ability to Speak Italian, Preference for living in Paris, Ability to Direct a multimillion dollar action film, Ability to juggle 5 things simultaneously?

    We are an endless collection of skills, talents, and inclinations. Some of which we are not even aware about. And some of which we will develop.

    Robert Parker, trained as a lawyer, and never really tasted wine until he was nearly 30 yo. Turned out that he was the definitive ‘Nose’ of the generation and wine writer who launched the Wine Spectator and jump started modern International Wine Appreciation. Put that in your Flow Chart.

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  7. Ulysses says:

    You’re talking to my guy, Dubner, all wrong.

    I indeed skipped over this flow chart in the book, as I’m wont to do with every flow chart I have or will ever come across. I hate them irrationally. I’m not in support of rudeness, though.

    The apparent point, as shown in post 4, is that life is shaped by absurdly small decisions and stupid situations and events entirely random and out of anyone’s control. I’ve realized that all you can do is hustle, that is try hard, and see what happens. Usually, nothing spectacular will happen, but you can hold your head high regardless. Sometimes, you can see how good things happen to those who hustle–and it’s evident in sports. The better, harder working players and teams get the plurality of the good bounces from my observations.

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  8. Nikki says:

    Good stuff, drastically simplifies another decision tree:

    Want illustrations like this? -> No. -> Don’t buy a copy of Illustrated SF.

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