BOOK DISCUSSION GUIDE
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.
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
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
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
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?