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Friday, October 22, 2010

SuperFreakonomics: Global Cooling, Patriotic Prostitutes, and Why Suicide Bombers Should Buy Life Insurance (audiobook) by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner

Better than the first book.

6 Discs
7 hours, 30 minutes
Read by: Stephen J. Dubner, one of the authors

SuperFreakonomics: Global Cooling, Patriotic Prostitutes, and Why Suicide Bombers Should Buy Life Insurance is the sequel to the wildly popular book by the same authors, Freakomonics the movie and a newspaper column. One author is the economics talent - the man with all of the questions who knows where to find the answers. The other is the writing talent (who is learning a good bits of economics along the way, no doubt) who takes these interesting topics and puts them on paper in an interesting way.

The goal of these books and the newspaper column is to get people to look at the world in a different way - an economic way of thinking. I find these works to be fascinating, eye-opening and always entertaining, even if I don't always agree with their conclusions (sometimes I think they are asking the wrong questions or have not gathered in enough information).

Their main premise is that people generally respond rationally to incentives, sometimes you just have to figure out what the incentives are. Ironically, if not for me responding to the incentive of nearly free classes offered by the Indiana Council for Economics Education I would not have had the pleasure of having my mind blown by professor Mohammad Kaviani, who introduced me to the thoughts behind books like Freakonomics before the book was even published by teaching me and other teachers how to incorporate economics into every school discipline. I was so inspired that I went back to school and added economics to my teaching license.

Levitt and Dubner

Levitt and Dubner explore any number of items, including:

-Why horse manure nearly destroyed the great cities of the world and the car saved us from being buried in it.

-How prostitutes set their prices and why it would be a good idea for prostitutes to have a pimp

-How to figure out who is the best doctor in the E.R.  Like figuring out who is the best teacher, it is not as easy as it would seem - the very best doctors tend to get the sickest patients or they may avoid the sickest patients in order to get the accolades and compensation (if it is offered). Turns out, the best doctor tends to come from a top medical school, went to a top hospital for her residency, has more than 10 years of experience and is a woman. Peer rankings have no basis in reality.

-The relationship between terrorism and banking and why terrorists should buy life insurance.

-Why homo economicus is still a good symbol for people - a person that responds to incentives and is not, by nature, horribly altruistic.

-Car seats? Certainly they are better than letting the kids run wild through the car but are they better than seat belts?

-There is an extended discussion on global warming, including a potential cheap fix. The discussion should have been a little longer and looked into the incentives of people like Al Gore - why would he be against even discussing the cheap fix? He has remarkable incentives to keep his climate change panic machine running - fixing it puts him out of a job and cuts him off from the seat of power he has created for himself.

-and, last but not least, there is an entertaining story about teaching capuchin monkeys about money. As a result, we get monkey bank robbery and monkey prostitution. Amazing.

I rate this audiobook 5 stars out of 5. Highly recommended.

This book can be found on Amazon.com here: Superfreakonomics.

Reviewed on October 22, 2010.

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