Freakonomics: Then and Now

We all remember Freakonomics. Even if you’re not an economist and have never worked in the field, you probably remember when the book was released in 2005 and took the world by storm. It’s certainly not easy to meld a subject like economics without modern pop culture, but Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner did exactly that, creating a book that was truly the first of its kind.


Their masterful way of discussing important economic elements and theories and applying them to non-economic, real world subject matters made a subject that might bore some people seem interesting. Despite the many humorous quips and quotations, all their work with economic theory and analysis holds together perfectly and make sense, such as “The Socioeconomic Pattern of Naming Children.” In some ways, Levitt and Dubner’s work reminded me of Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything.   In its 2009 follow-up, SuperFreakonomics, we readers were reminded why we praised its predecessor so highly. SuperFreakonomics continued the work that Levitt and Dubner had previously done, covering topics such as selling services to a larger market (as it related to pimps and real estate brokers) and whether or not we could (or should) train primates to use money, to name just a few.


Think Like a Freak followed SuperFreakonomics and it has just been followed by When to Rob a Bank…And 13 More Warped Suggestions and Well-Intended Rants. Crime seems to be a favorite topic for Levitt and Dubner, who discussed the “economics of drug dealing” in Freakonomics, a study in which they concluded that crack cocaine dealers frequently have “surprisingly low earnings” and “abject working conditions.”  As they state in the chapter introduction “Our love of crime almost landed us on network TV, almost got one of us sent to Guantanamo Bay and did inspire the title of this book” They do advise against actually robbing a bank, though, at least from an economists’ perspective, as they claim the return-on-investments are not good.



The book is a collection of posts from their popular Freakonomics blog, which they explain in the introduction, comparing the publication of their book to bottles of war. Reading that they’ve just purchased something you could get for free is enough to make anyone feel foolish, but still, keep them curious enough to keep reading. By the end, readers have discovered many things, including that like all three Freakonomics books before it, When to Rob a Bank ultimate argues that economics is very much a study of incentives, above everything else. It also raises some excellent questions that you’ve probably never considered before, such as why we don’t tip flight attendants. If you’ve yet to read this newest installment in the groundbreaking series, it’s absolutely worth a read. If you haven’t read any of the previous books, it’s still absolutely worth reading. You’ll learn a lot about economics and when you’re done, you’ll probably want to go back and read the first three. 


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