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BOOK DISCUSSION GUIDE

Title: Freakonomics
Author: Steven D. Leavitt and Stephen J. Dubner

Summary: Professor and Clark Medal winner (awarded to promising economists under 40), Leavitt, joined with New York Times writer Stephen J. Dubner, (from Duanesburg, NY) to examine aspects of modern life using the analytical tools offered by economics. Leavitt bases his theory on two facts: (a) modern life can be explained because of incentives and (b) conventional wisdom is often wrong. Due to some of the freakish aspects they encounter, they’ve called the concept “Freakonomics”. For example, they consider questions such as: “What do schoolteachers and Sumo wrestlers have in common?” We are warned at the outset that Leavitt has no unifying theme to his analysis; he just sees life differently than his colleagues.

Questions:
1. Most people think of economics as a dry subject matter concerning monetary and fiscal matters. How does Freakonomics change this definition?

2. Freakonomics argues that morality represents the way we'd like the world to work, while economics shows how the world really works. Do you agree?

3. The book lists three kinds of incentives: social, moral, and financial. Can you think of others?

4. Freakonomics shows how the conventional wisdom is often shoddily formed and based on flimsy evidence. What are some instances of conventional wisdom that you've always doubted or found out to not be true through experience?

5. Does it seem that "experts" truly hold to much power in the modern world, or are we lucky to have them?

6. What are some issues in our daily life toward which you can apply some Freakonomics-style thinking?

7. What were some of the most convincing arguments put forth in the book? What were some of the least?

8. How does the argument linking Roe V. Wade to a drop in crime change your thinking about abortion?

9. How does the view of parenting in the book compare with your own view?

10. After reading the book, do you think cheating is more prevalent or less prevalent?

11. It is revealed that Levitt has had a fairly privileged upbringing - does that show in his work? Where? What about his ideas about nature/nurture? What about his ideas about class?

Related Information:

Leavitt's & Dubner's biographical information (select gallery) and blogs


Comments from Malcolm Gladwell, author of The Tipping Point

Questions provided by Reading Group Guides.

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