Thursday, December 17, 2009

Review of SuperFreakonomics by Steven G. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner, review by Susan W.

Genre: nonfiction, economics
Reviewer's location: Montgomery Village, Maryland
Reviewer's rating: not provided

Incentivism is an administrative principle and problem-solving method which derives in part from cybernetics, the science of governing systems. Applied to management and to government at all levels, incentivism is the proposition that more can be accomplished for much less cost if incentives are used to align interests and steer policies and actions instead of many or most more direct means of regulating, governing and directing.

SuperFreakonomics: Global Cooling, Patriotic Prostitutes, and Why Suicide Bombers Should Buy Life Insurance is a follow-up book to Freakonomics (same authors). It provides an incentive-based approach to understanding economics. If you liked Freakonomics, you should like SuperFreakonomics; it’s more of the same. It is not necessary to read Freakonomics before reading this book.

The authors say that they intend this book to start a conversation, not necessarily to present conclusive findings. In that, they are successful. The book offers fascinating, entirely readable examples of situations that seem counter-intuitive, but which illustrate the value of understanding what people really want as a way to determine how and why they act the way they do.

That said, I believe that a lot of their examples are forced. Despite copious endnotes and documentation, many of their assertions are, frankly, not credible. For example, I can’t believe there is reliable evidence about exactly how many billions of miles are driven drunk by people who don’t get caught. If they didn’t get caught, the statistic is based on guesswork and extrapolation, and when you get to billions of miles, guesswork and extrapolation can lead you very far off, indeed. The final chapter of the book is the most controversial, and the authors have been accused of misquoting an authority to make their point. Without admitting that they have done so, they have agreed to modify the chapter in future editions.

Despite the possible inaccuracies, I recommend the book. It is an easy introduction to economics and psychology, is eminently readable, will get the reader thinking about a great many useful topics, and can be the basis for delightful discussion.

Buy this book at

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