In celebration of the 10th anniversary of Freakonomics comes this curated collection from the most readable economics blog in the universe. When Freakonomics was first published, its authors, Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner, started a blog — and they’ve kept it up. The writing is more casual, more personal, even more outlandish than in their books. In When to Rob a Bank, they ask a host of typically off-center questions: Why don’t flight attendants get tipped? If you were a terrorist, how would you attack? And why does KFC always run out of fried chicken?
Good news (for us at least): our new book is done! It’s called Think Like a Freak. It will be published on May 13; but you can pre-order now on Amazon.com, B&N.com, iTunes, or any of your finer online bookshops.
Think Like a Freak is, like our two earlier books, a blend of storytelling and data. But Think has a slightly different mission than Freakonomics and SuperFreakonomics. Here’s how we explain it in the first chapter:
The first two books were rarely prescriptive. For the most part, we simply used data to tell stories we found interesting, shining a light on parts of society that often lay in shadow. This book steps out of the shadows and tries to offer some advice that may occasionally be useful, whether you are interested in minor lifehacks or major global reforms.
Although we tell a million stories in Think, the emphasis is usually on problem-solving:
It strikes us that in recent years, the idea has arisen that there is a “right” way to think about solving a given problem and of course a “wrong” way too. This inevitably leads to a lot of shouting—and, sadly, a lot of unsolved problems. Can this situation be improved upon? We hope so. We’d like to bury the idea that there’s a right way and a wrong way, a smart way and a foolish way, a red way and a blue way. The modern world demands that we all think a bit more productively, more creatively, more rationally; that we think from a different angle, with a different set of muscles, with a different set of expectations; that we think with neither fear nor favor, with neither blind optimism nor sour skepticism. That we think like—ahem—a Freak.
Malcolm Gladwell’s latest — David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants – came out this week. Like every other book by Gladwell, it is already a best-seller. And having read – and very much enjoyed — the book, I can see why. Gladwell once again presents a variety of interesting stories, this time centered on the question of whether underdogs are as disadvantaged as we believe (the opening story on David and Goliath – which makes this observation – is worth the price of admission). My sense – from the few reviews I have seen – is that critics have primarily focused on whether the argument they think Gladwell is making is valid. I am going to argue that this approach misses the fact that the stories Gladwell tells are simply well worth reading (i.e., these stories are interesting and make you think).
The range of stories Gladwell presents is quite impressive. From the opening biblical story to a discussion of the number of students in a school classroom, the impact of dyslexia, the curing of leukemia, the battle for Civil Rights, French revolutionaries during World War II, etc… One has to wonder: where does Gladwell find these stories?
A couple weeks ago, Uri Gneezy and John List asked our blog readers to come up with titles for their new book. And our readers did not disappoint! There were over 400 suggestions, many of them brilliant.
The authors and their editors have now narrowed it down to five choices, and they once again are asking for your help in deciding on the final title. There is no better way to solicit that input than — you guessed it — a field experiment. To get you interested, they are putting up another $1,000 in prizes to participants.
First, you will be asked to choose which of the five titles you think will be the most popular among all the respondents. They don’t want to know your favorite title, they want to know the title you think other people will like best.
My close friend, colleague, and frequent co-author John List has written a popular (non-academic) book with another economist, Uri Gneezy. John and Uri are pioneers in the area of “field experiments” which bring the power of randomized experiments into real-world settings. In my opinion, field experiments are the future of empirical economics. We’ve written at length in our books and on our blog about the amazing work these two have been doing. I’ve had the chance to read John and Uri’s book, and I loved it.
The thing they can’t figure out, however, is what to call the book! If only my sister Linda – the greatest namer of things the world has ever known — were still around, she would figure out a great title for sure. In her absence, they’ve asked if I could mobilize the collective genius of you, the Freakonomics blog readers.
Okay, so here is the deal. Below, I’ve provided some information on the book and links to some materials that might prove useful to you in coming up with a name. You have two days to generate great titles for the book, which you can submit as comments on this blog post.
Eva Vivalt, an economist, is looking for financial backers to fund her book on Kickstarter. Along with a group of students from Georgetown and GWU, Vivalt is conducting meta-analyses of various aid programs. Here’s her project summary:
Have you ever wondered whether aid programs actually work? Wouldn’t it be useful to know how effective programs are in achieving their objectives (e.g. reducing poverty, improving health, improving education)? This book will review the quantitative evidence on the effectiveness of aid programs in a very thorough and rigorous way, using meta-analysis. After explaining this method and its merits, each of ten chapters will apply it to a different type of aid program. Throughout, the lessons that we can draw from these analyses will be discussed using plain English.
I don’t particularly like math. I’ve never been a fan of magic either. For some reason, however, when I heard about a new book entitled Magical Mathematics written by two first-rate mathematicians, Persi Diaconis and Ron Graham, I felt compelled to buy it and read it.
I have to say that it is really good, and I would highly recommend it to any nerd. It is a really artful melding of card tricks that are remarkable, with explanations of the underlying math concepts that are at one level so simple and clear that almost anyone could get the basic intuition for what they are talking about, but at another level so deep and difficult that it is probably hopeless for someone like me to ever truly understand.
The popular Becker-Posner blog has been turned into an excellent book entitled Uncommon Sense.
For anyone who wants a quick and easy crash course on Chicago economics-style thinking, this book is as good as it gets. I
Kurt Andersen sees the economic recession as a one-time opportunity for America to “get back on track.” In his new book, Reset, he explains how he thinks Americans can use the crisis to “reset” and reinvent old systems and ideas and “focus more on the things that make us authentically happy.”
It’s notoriously hard to predict gas prices. Who would have thought in 2006 that we’d be paying $4 a gallon in 2008? Or, as prices peaked last year, that we’d be filling up for $2.50 a gallon this summer?
That said, civil engineer and Forbes reporter Chris Steiner argues that prices will rise precipitously over the next few decades. (It would probably make as much sense to argue that electric cars will take over and gas prices will fall, but that’s another argument for another day.)
Naked self-promotion: the third edition of my book, Economics Is Everywhere (Worth Publishers), has just appeared. It contains little articles like those I have included on this blog (and, no doubt, some of the posts from this blog will be included in the fourth edition). I love many of the stories, but my all-time favorite from among the 700 that have been in the book’s various editions combines several basic economic ideas:
My Dutch friends tell me that they read foreign (non-Dutch) novels that are translated into English rather than into Dutch.
Their English is very good, but their Dutch is clearly better. So, I ask, why read in English?
You can read Malcolm Gladwell’sreview Chris Anderson’s Free: the Future of a Radical Price online for free–except of course for the price you paid for your computer, mobile device, electricity and internet connection. This hitch is just one problem Gladwell has with Anderson’s idea…
These debates notwithstanding, Wikipedia’s popularity continues to make standard encyclopedias look as hip as buggy whips.
Wikipedia editor/administrator Andrew Lih, author of the book Wikipedia Revolution, has agreed to answer our questions about Wikipedia and what it means to society.
Stuart Brown Whether he’s playing tennis with “a convivial group of codgers” or hanging out with his grandkids, Stuart Brown, the author of Play: How It Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul, plays as often as he can. With a background in neuroscience and behavioral medicine, Brown has studied play globally, both in civilization and in . . .
I recently had occasion to visit India for the first time to speak at a conference put on by the media conglomerate India Today. Sadly my visit was very short, just a toe-touch. Still, it was fascinating from start to finish. On the way over, one of the flight attendants told me she was using her down time in New . . .
Photo: Lorri37 My friend Tim Groseclose passed along this interesting passage from the book Scratch Beginnings by Adam Shepard. The premise of the book is that the author, having just graduated from college, sets out to see if — starting with the clothes on his back, a sleeping bag, and $25 — he can build that into a furnished apartment, . . .
From recession-culture trends we’ve written about on this blog lately, a recession icon of sorts emerges, wrapped in a Snuggie, puffing on a pipe — and now with a copy of Ayn Rand‘s Atlas Shrugged on his lap. The Economist reports that the book’s sales rank on Amazon is far above what it’s been in previous years (and briefly topped . . .
Last November, I had the chance to go to Dubai for the first time to participate in the World Economic Forum Summit on the Global Agenda. Peter Ubel One of the most interesting people I met there was Peter Ubel, a practicing physician who is also trained in the ways of behavioral economics and psychology (here’s Peter’s Huffington Post write-up . . .
Chinese cities today have more than 130 million migrant workers, most of whom have relocated from more rural parts of China, writes Leslie Chang in her recent book Factory Girls: “Together they represent the largest migration in human history — three times the number of people who emigrated to America from Europe over a century.”