April 22, 2005

Freakquilibrium

SO EVERYONE is talking about "Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything." Despite the silly title -- it's not as if economists were known for marching in lockstep -- it's not a bad book, and has some interesting insights from the mind of lead author Steven Levitt, an economist at the University of Chicago.

It is presently ranked No. 2 on the Amazon.com book sales chart, which would suggest the proper price equilibrium for the 242-page book is presently more than the $25.95 cover price (and $19.77 Amazon.com price). However, supply and demand curves do shift, and I daresay they will eventually with "Freakonomics."

As a regular buyer of books, I think the book is overvalued at $25.95 and also at $19.77. If I had to buy it again, I might wait for the trade paperback version or a remainder copy. It's an entertaining book, but based on its content and length, it only has an inherent value of $14 or $15 -- and less if one doesn't use it as a reference, something for which I do plan on using it.

Still, that says something for the book, because it is extremely interesting and I wanted to read more from Dr Levitt after reading "Freakonomics." As such, readers might it worth ponying up $25.95, $19.77, or what not.

Two essays really stood out in my mind. The first was a clever one dealing with the economics of an inner-city narcotics enterprise. The study looked at why exactly so many drug dealers live with their mothers, and as it turns out, it's because drug-dealing is very much based on a winner-take-all compensation scheme. The guys at the top (in this case, that guy was a college graduate with a business degree!) make money hand over fist, but the vast majority of those in the gang make practically nothing. Plus, they're gonna get shot. But the details in this are so fascinating that, compared to other essays, it adds a disproportionate amount of value to the book.

The second essay dealt with the socio-economics of children's names, and there are all sorts of data and anecdotes here that one just has to read to believe. For instance, there is reportedly -- reportedly -- a parent now living in the United States who actually named her daughter Shithead. Pronounced differently, of course, but the given (one hesitates to say "Christian") name was spelled Shithead. I shit you not.

Other essays in "Freakonomics" look at what makes a good parent, how school teachers are like sumo wrestlers, and other odd topics.

So, like I say, it's an interesting book, although one word of caution: easily-offended or high-strung people should probably give it a pass. (If your name is "Ricky," "Cody," or "Travis," you'll definitely want to give it a pass). Six case studies in all, some of which have been mentioned before in the press. It's also a good reference book. Whether it's worth $20 ... well, that's up to you.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at April 22, 2005 09:05 AM | TrackBack