SuperFreakonomics

SuperFreakonomics is a non-fiction book published in 2009. It is written by Stephen Dubner and Steve Levitt as a follow-up to their 2005 book Freakonomics.

I had this book vaguely on the back-burner of things I wanted to read. However, while holidaying in Wales I found, to my surprise, a copy lying around in the cottage we had rented. So I sat down and had a read.

It is a short book, weighing in at just over 200 pages plus an extensive notes section. It is also a fun book. I read through it in about 24 hours. While enjoyable, I find it less enlightening or informing than their first book. I enjoy their writing style. There is a short rant about how people say things were better in the old days, even though on almost every metric things are better today. I often have this exact same rant.

The most interesting statistic they produce is arguably in the introduction. They discuss the risk of fatal accidents while driving drunk. It turns out that you are actually more likely to die if you walk home than if you drive. Walking home is dangerous: you might wander out into the road for example, or, if you’re in Leeds, into the river (sadly people frequently have).

It makes sense that drunk driving is illegal, because you are more likely to take an innocent victim with you, but actually it would be safer to let people drive home. Or, if you are the drunk trying to work out what method of transport to take, the best option would be to take a cab.

While the book is on the subject of vice, it next moves onto prostitution. Prostitution pays comparably well compared to many other professions, but used to be far better paid. The problem: increased competition. These days, pre-martial sex is acceptable, and so you don’t need to pay a woman to have sex with you, you can just go dating instead.

They suggest this has implications for fighting drugs. If you go after the dealers, more will pop up, because the demand exists. Prostitution reduced because demand reduced, and so perhaps the way to deal with drug dealers is to go after the users and reduce the demand. This ignores the complexities of addiction, but could be a good way to think about many other problems society faces.

They also discuss whether child car seats save lives. I blogged about this last month after watching Steve Levitt’s talk at TED.

While on children, they talk about how increased access to television correlates with criminal convictions later in life. This is something I am also reading about in The Village Effect, a book that stresses the importance of face-to-face communication over raising a child in front of the TV.

The book ends with a discussion on climate change. They note that food transport makes up only 11% of carbon emissions. Therefore, buying locally can actually be bad for the environment because large farms are typically more efficient. Rob Lyons talks about the same thing in Panic on a Plate: local farms might be closer, but in third world farms far more is done by hand, as opposed to carbon-polluting machinery.

I am less convinced about their solution for climate change though. They suggest that a technique called Budyko’s blanket could solve the problem. It would be nice if there was a simple solution that we had overlooked. However, a quick check on Wikipedia seems to rule this one out.

SuperFreakonomics

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This entry was posted on Sunday, July 31st, 2016 at 10:55 am and is filed under Books. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.