Pale Wire (Popscene)

Sunday, September 25, 2005

It's the economy, stupid.


I cracked, I caved, I capitulated. I bought Freakonomics.

While you were out carousing with your friends and/or loved ones this Saturday night, I could be found tucked in a booth over at the Country Kitchen, lavishing attention on a discounted hardcopy that caught me at weak moment earlier in the day.

If you're not already familiar, Freakonomics is a book by a edgy young economist that uses statistical data to provide provocative insights into complex issues, from the very trivial to the very significant. It's been a big hit this year—well, wait, I should qualify that—it's been a big hit this year in a Malcolm Gladwell sort of way, not a Oprah's Book Club sort of way.

The jacket and most of the promotion I encounted led me to believe this thing was going to be damn wacky. And, for a while it was. (Silly questions like: What do school teachers and sumo wrestlers have in common?) But, before long, it becomes clear all the charm and daffiness in the early chapters are a ploy. Our authors are charming us over to their side, building trust with some innocuous displays of mental muscle before they move into touchier terrority. After we've been sufficiently wowed and wooed by their early feats of arithmatic acrobatics, we're hit with a theory that politicians on both sides of the aisle have labeled an indecent proposal: More abortions = less crime.

The book makes compelling arguments. Though, while its findings may unsettle some, I can't say my boat shook all that much. But I'm a godless jerk, so what else is new? Even if I did change my mind about something, I probably wouldn't admit it anyway.

No, but for serious, it's a good book. I was able to mow through it in one night, and in the process I learned a lot about the nature vs. nuture debate, not to mention a bunch of wild stuff about crack dealing, the KKK, and trends in baby names. I'm still a little alarmed that sound reasoning is considered so alien to the mainstream that it needs to be characterized as freakish before it sounds palatable, but, regardless, this book is still smart stuff. And fun, too. Freakonomics, I embrace you.