The Herald Bulletin

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July 15, 2014

Primus Mootry: 'Freakonomics' provides answers on how our economy really works

“It’s the economy, stupid.”

— Bill Clinton

A few weeks ago, I mentioned a book I was reading, “Freakonomics.” The unlikely title seems to suggest something, well, freaky. But the book is far from it.

“Freakonomics” is the result of a collaboration between two men, Stephen Dubner, a journalist, and Steven D. Levitt, a much celebrated economist. Unlike anything we may think we know about economics, the book helps us understand its common sense hidden side.

“Freakonomics” is free of the usual economist jargon that leads most of us, including economists themselves, feeling stupid. This is the quality that makes the award-winning Levitt so different. He makes sense. The book is well worth reading.

Levitt enjoys finding the truth about how the economy affects our lives. He takes no prisoners. He finds the truth in hard numbers and, as we have heard so often, “numbers don’t lie.”

Finding the truth means asking questions, without regard to conventional wisdom, moral code, or public policy-type reckoning about cause and effect.

In his search for truth, Levitt raises questions about complex, broad social and human behavioral outcomes, then uses numbers (statistics) to frame answers that are difficult to dispute. Among other questions, he asks:

“What do school teachers and Sumo wrestlers have in common? How is the Ku Klux Klan like a group of real estate agents? Why do drug dealers still live with their moms? What makes a perfect parent? Where have all the criminals gone?

I don’t have enough space in this column to provide you with all the questions. For that, you’ll have to read the book! But I did pick out one question that has most folk, including political, religious, and community leaders, scratching their heads. It’s the question about criminals.

At about the same time then presidential hopeful, Bill Clinton, and his chief adviser, William Carville, posted the famous reminder, “It’s the economy, stupid,” on the wall of their campaign headquarters, the crime rate was soaring.

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