Freakonomics: An entertaining side of economics and an economist

“Economic forecasters assume everything; except responsibility”

I had read this funny one-liner on Economists long time back…but I did appreciate how true it is (apart from being witty) only when I studied Economics on my MBA program (and kept on reading it thereafter!)…

Economics is an abstruse and obscure subject. Economics and Economists are always made fun of. But can an Economists have a sense of humor??? Well, my answer was ‘NO’ – until I read this wonderful book called Freakonomics by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner. And then my opinion changed. Economists can not only be funny; they can be ‘human’ too! I mean they can talk the language common people could understand. (Actually I had experienced this from some of the speeches of Dr. Amartya Sen – who has a terrific sense of humor…and happens to be an economist!)

The book is essentially about the economics but in a different perspective…uses no jargon and is entertaining even as a light read.

Check this following bit on ‘theories’ where the author takes on scholars’ tendency of theorizing everything and trying to fit everything in a 2 X 2 matrix.

On theories:

“…These theories made their way, seemingly without question, from the expert’s mouths to journalists’ ears to the public’s mind. In short course, they became conventional wisdom

The was only one problem; they weren’t true”

Of course the success of the narration of book should also be given to co-author Stephen Dubner who is a NY Times journalists.

Here is another short piece that sarcastically points out Economists’ nature of ‘finding a unifying theme in everything’.

Levitt had an interview for the Society of Fellows, the venerable intellectual clubhouse at Harvard that pays young scholars to do their own work, for three years, with no commitments. 

Levitt felt he didn’t stand a chance. For starters, he didn’t consider himself an intellectual. He would be interviewed over dinner by the senior fellows, a collection of world-renowned philosophers, scientists, and historians. He worried he wouldn’t have enough conversation to last even the first course.

Disquietingly, one of the senior fellows said to Levitt, “I’m having a hard time seeing the unifying theme of your work. Could you explain it?”

Levitt was stymied. He had no idea what his unifying theme was, or if he even had one.

Amartya Sen, the future Nobel-winning economist, jumped in and neatly summarized what he saw as Levitt’s theme.

Yes, Levitt said eagerly, that’s my theme.

Another fellow then offered another theme.

You’re right, said Levitt, that’s my theme.

And so it went, the dogs tugging at a bone, until the philosopher Robert Nozick interrupted.

“How old are you, Steve?”


Nozick turned to the other fellows: “He’s twenty-six years old. Why doe
s he need to have a unifying the
me? Maybe he’s going to be one of those people who’s so talented he doesn’t need once. He’ll take a question and he’ll just answer it, and it’ll be fine.”

A good read for everyone – no matter if you study economics or not.

~ Kaustubh


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