Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Prepared to be Dazzled . . . or at least Razzled

From Wikipedia
I started to read "Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything."  I was intrigued to say the least.  I have always wanted to understand economics better, and have even attempted self study.  I feel like I am supposed to understand it with both a law and business degree.  But I really just don't.  So I thought, "Ooh, here's a book that is catchy, in a narrative, and maybe I'll pick up some economics . . . better yet, some Freakonomics . . ."

So I began to read.  I read a book in an artful way, like the way Mortimer Alder guides us in "How to Read a Book" (by the way, if you haven't read this book, you're fooling yourself if you think you know how to read a book, and if you think you know how to read a book, this book will in fact correct your deficiency in book reading . . .).  I start at the cover.  I read the inside flaps, I read the back, I read the table of contents, the reviews, the explanatory note, the preface, the disclaimers, the theses, etc.  I haven't even gotten to the first page of content but the expectation for Freakonomics is palpable!  The authors have already told the reader their credentials, their claims to fame, the artistic intelligence.  I turn, with excitement, to the introduction, titled, "The Hidden Side to Everything."

I began to absorb their narrative.  They begin to explain that crime dropped drastically in recent years, in large, dangerous cities.  They begin to unfold the story of mayors, police chiefs, councilmen, politicians, and other civic leaders that take the glory for keeping the streets clean and safe.  Then they uncloak the mystery of the real reason for the drop in crime . . .

Roe v. Wade legalized abortion in the early 1970s.  1972 to be exact.  Twenty years before the massive drop in crime.  The two authors theorize that the freedom to abort an unborn baby brought a drastic drop in crime because these unborn babies in particular would grow up to become criminals.  Their mothers were
"poor, unmarried, and teenage."  Sounds to me like abortion solved a national crisis...

from Zazzle.com
Except for the fact that abortion may not have solved the crime problem.  Correlation does NOT imply causation.  Picture this: You're driving down a rural highway and you begin to see more telephone poles.  You begin to see more at increasing intervals.  Then you realize that you begin to see more cows.  And you begin to see more cows at increasing intervals.  Would it be wise to say, "The increase of cows is the cause of the increase in telephone poles"?  No, you would say, "That's probably a coincidence."

Can we know that the only women needing abortions in the 1970s were "poor, unmarried, [ ] teenage[rs]"? Of course not.  Can we know that the drastic reduction in 1990 crime rates was because criminals were not born? Of course not (for after all, many law abiding citizens were also not born).  My zeal to learn anything from Freakonomics has been quelled.  The authors are probably brilliant.  But to lead with a feigning right hook leaves me cold.


  1. We see this same thinking in government and business, equating any success with money spent.

  2. Are we losing the ability to apply and find interest in using common sense? There are and always will be simple, direct and obvious connections. Do they no longer fascinate us?