Levitt is an original thinker who has an ability to look beneath the obvious, using the tools of his trade, economics. As such he has come up with a diverse range of insights into various social issues, finding connections that are sometimes quite surprising. He shows how many notions taken as common wisdom are anything but.
The unexpected results of the legalization of abortion – crime reduction
Using statistics and logic to show how teachers and sumo wrestlers can be shown to cheat
What is the impact of greater spending in political campaigns
These and other questions, and their examination by Levitt make for an educational, thought-provoking, and eminently entertaining read.
Morality, it could be argued, represents the way that people would like the world to work—whereas economics represents how it actually does work. Economics is above all a science of measurement. It compromises an extraordinarily powerful and flexible set of tools that can reliably assess a thicket of information to determine the effect of any one factor, or even the whole effect. That’s what “the economy” is, after all: a thicket of information about jobs and real estate and banking and investment. But the tools of economics can be just as easily applied to subjects that are more—well, more interesting.
This book, then, has been written from a very specific worldview, based on a few fundamental ideas:
Incentives are the cornerstone of modern life. And understanding them—or, often, ferreting them out—is the key to solving just about any riddle, from violent crime to sports cheating to online dating.
The conventional wisdom is often wrong. Crime didn’t keep soaring in the 1990s, money alone doesn’t win elections, and—surprise—drinking eight glasses of water a day has never actually been shown to do a thing for your health.
Dramatic effects often have distant, even subtle, causes.
Experts—from criminologists to real-estate agents—use their informational advantage to serve their own agenda
Armed with information, experts can exert a gigantic, if unspoken, leverage, fear. Fear that your children will find you dead on the bathroom floor of a heart attack if you do not have angioplasty surgery. Fear that a cheap casket will expose your grandmother to a terrible underground fate. Fear that a $25,000 car will crumple like a toy in an accident, whereas a $50,000 car will wrap your loved ones in a cocoon of impregnable steel. The fear created by commercial experts may not quite rival the fear created by terrorists like the Ku Klux Klan, but the principle is the same
…nature-nurture discrepancies were addressed in a 1998 book by a little-known textbook author named Judith Rich Harris. The Nurture Assumption was in effect an attack on obsessive parenting, a book so provocative that it required two subtitles Why Children Turn Out the Way They Do and Parents Matter Much Less Than You Think and Peers Matter More. Harris argued, albeit gently, that parents are wrong to think that they contribute so mightily to their child’s personality. This belief, she wrote, was a “cultural myth.” Harris argued that the top-down influence of parents is overwhelmed by the grassroots effect of peer pressure, the blunt force applied each day by friends and schoolmates.