A reading club with a view to the future

393 Steven D. Levitt, Stephen J. Dubner: Freakonomics

Applying economic principles and data analysis to uncover hidden connections and unconventional insights about various aspects of society.



"Freakonomics" challenges traditional thinking by exploring the hidden side of everyday phenomena. Through a combination of economic analysis, statistical data, and intriguing case studies, Levitt and Dubner reveal the unexpected links between seemingly unrelated topics. This thought-provoking book offers a fresh perspective on diverse subjects, from crime and education to parenting and the impact of incentives.


Title: "The Song of the Cell"

Author: Siddhartha Mukherjee

Publishing Year: 2023

Publisher: HarperCollins

Length in Hours: 16 hours and 3 minutes

5 main ideas

  1. Incentives and human behavior: How people respond to incentives, and how understanding this can explain seemingly irrational choices and behaviors.
  2. Unintended consequences: The unexpected outcomes that arise from policies, decisions, and actions, and the importance of considering these consequences in understanding social dynamics.
  3. The economics of information: How the availability and dissemination of information affect markets, decision-making, and societal outcomes.
  4. Correlation vs. causation: Distinguishing between correlation (two things happening together) and causation (one thing causing another), and the importance of identifying causal relationships for accurate analysis.
  5. The power of data analysis: Utilizing rigorous data analysis to uncover patterns, insights, and solutions in various domains, challenging conventional wisdom and prevailing narratives.

5 funny quotes

  1. "If a crack dealer had been a capable economist, he might have been more inclined to invest in a nice copy of 'Freakonomics' rather than a knife or a gun."
  2. "To a large extent, we can predict how a child will turn out by knowing only the parents' income, race, and education."
  3. "Parenting is like driving a car at night. You never see further than your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way."
  4. "What do schoolteachers and sumo wrestlers have in common? They both cheat, but for very different reasons."
  5. "If you think about it, there are very few differences between the world of business and the world of crack dealing."

5 thought-provoking quotes​

  1. "Morality, it could be argued, represents the way that people would like the world to work, whereas economics represents how it actually does work." - Steven D. Levitt, Stephen J. Dubner
  2. "What the data tells us is often uncomfortable, but it can lead us to a better understanding of the world around us."
  3. "Incentives are the cornerstone of modern life. And understanding them, or decoding them, is the key to unraveling the mysteries of human behavior."
  4. "The conventional wisdom is often wrong, and challenging it can lead to surprising and enlightening insights."
  5. "The world is a complex and interconnected web of incentives, and uncovering those connections can reveal the underlying forces that shape our society."

5 dilemmas

  1. The Trolley Problem: You are standing near a set of train tracks when you see a runaway trolley heading towards five people who are tied to the tracks and cannot escape. You have the option to divert the trolley onto another track, but there is one person tied to that track. Should you take action to save the five people at the expense of one life?
  2. The Organ Transplant Dilemma: A doctor has five patients in need of different organ transplants (heart, lungs, liver, kidney, and pancreas) to survive. A healthy person walks into the hospital for a check-up, and their organs match all five patients. Should the doctor sacrifice the healthy person to save the five patients?
  3. The Heinz Dilemma: Heinz's wife is terminally ill, and the only medication that can save her is too expensive for Heinz to afford. Heinz considers stealing the medication to save his wife's life. Should he steal the medication, knowing it is against the law, but could potentially save her life?
  4. The Trolley's Return: You are a railway worker, and after diverting the trolley to save five people tied to the tracks, you realize your child has been inadvertently tied to the other track. The trolley will soon hit your child unless you act quickly to divert it again, but this time it will hit the five people. What do you do in this heart-wrenching situation?
  5. The Confidentiality Dilemma: You are a therapist, and during a therapy session, a patient admits to committing a serious crime. The patient asks you not to report it to the authorities because they fear the consequences. However, you are ethically bound to report such crimes. Do you maintain the confidentiality of the therapy session or report the crime to prevent potential harm to others?


5 examples

  1. The Economics of Drug Dealing: In "Freakonomics," Levitt and Dubner use data analysis to uncover the economic factors behind drug dealing. They explore why street-level drug dealers earn so little despite the risks and dangers associated with their occupation. This example sheds light on how economic incentives influence criminal behavior.
  2. Sumo Wrestlers and Cheating: The authors examine data from the world of sumo wrestling to investigate the prevalence of cheating and match-fixing among the wrestlers. They reveal how the incentive structure in the sport influences the wrestlers' behavior and leads to suspicious patterns in match outcomes.
  3. The Impact of Names: Levitt and Dubner analyze the connection between children's names and their future success. They delve into how certain names can have an impact on educational opportunities and professional outcomes, illustrating the influence of names on social perceptions and expectations.
  4. Abortion and Crime Rates: The authors explore the controversial hypothesis that the legalization of abortion in the United States in the 1970s contributed to a significant decline in crime rates in subsequent years. They use economic analysis and data to present their findings on this sensitive and contentious topic.
  5. Real Estate Agents and Incentives: Levitt and Dubner investigate the motivations and practices of real estate agents. They reveal how agents' incentives may not always align with their clients' best interests, leading to suboptimal decision-making and potential conflicts of interest.

Referenced books

  1. "Thinking, Fast and Slow" by Daniel Kahneman
  2. "Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies" by Jared Diamond
  3. "Fifty Years of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act" by Richard A. Epstein
  4. "Foolproof: Why Safety Can Be Dangerous and How Danger Makes Us Safe" by Greg Ip
  5. "Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way to Fight Global Poverty" by Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo

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"To a large extent, we can predict how a child will turn out by knowing only the parents' income, race, and education."

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