Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Economics As You May Never Have Heard Them Discussed...

"Super Freakonomics - Global Cooling, Patriotic Prostitutes and Why Suicide Bombers Should Buy Life Insurance" by Steve D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner William Morrow 270 pages $29.99

"Patriotic Prostitutes" doesn't really fit into the book's title. While prostitutes were covered extensively, I don't remember any patriots among them.

Suicide bombers are not the poor who believe the "Virgins in Heaven" line. They are, most often, of middle or upper class origins and spurred on by (misguided) patriotism. Since they know they're going to die -- or are planning to die -- they don't bother with insurance. According to the authors, if you have a Muslim-sounding name, you are going to be scrutinized and "no life insurance" is a great, big, red flag to whatever secret agency is doing the looking.

The authors pose the question, "Why did 38 people watch Kitty Genovese be murdered?" After an extensive combing of the files, it was discovered that:
Genovese was attacked twice; not the three times claimed.
During the first attack, a neighbor did yell out of his window at the attacker, scaring him off.
But he returned, dragged Genovese into a doorway - where no one could see them -- and knifed her several times, then ran away for the second time.
Genovese was able to stagger out of the doorway and along an alley where she then collapsed and died, out of sight of the street.
Neighbors did call the police, who refused to respond claiming that if she left the scene on her own power, she was all right.
All of this is covered in a chapter on "altruism."

Of the two writers, only Levitt is a professor of economics (University of Chicago.) Dubner is a former writer and editor at the New York Times Magazine and has several other books to his credit. Numerous economists and the results of their studies are used throughout the book. I particularly enjoyed a study on teaching Capuchin monkeys how to use money. It's an amazing story and in fact, all of the book (barring a really long chapter on global warming) is enjoyable.

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