Review of: Think Like a Freak: The Authors of Freakonomics Offer to Retrain Your BrainAuthors: Steven D. Levitt & Stephen J. Dubner
Publisher: William Morrow
Source: Dallas Public Library
Who knew economics could be so much fun? Economist Steven D. Levitt and journalist Stephen J. Dubner, that’s who. The guys who brought us mashups of economics and popular culture, Freakonomics and its sequel, SuperFreakonomics, are going for serial book status with their third book, Think Like a Freak. Yes, having explored such unlikely topics as why terrorists should buy life insurance, and the positive relationship between a drop in crime and the availability of legal abortion, Levitt and Dubner regale readers with the reasoning behind their madness. And how we can open our minds to make other amazing – and profitable linkages.
Given that the book’s title includes “retrain,” the authors provide plenty of suggestions on how to generate ideas that sound goofy only until they work.
Some of their retraining suggestions sound counterintuitive – the power of the three hardest words in the English language (no, they aren’t I love you) as well as the power of ditching the moral compass when considering possibilities. Some sound rational but difficult, such as devising scientific experiments to test such hypotheses as the relationship (or not) between advertising and sales volume.
There are also outright bonkers-sounding possibilities like running a successful charity by offering donors a chance to opt out of future fundraisers. (Yes, it’s been done.) Or how banks might beef up their customers’ savings by running lotteries -- an intriguing suggestion but not currently legal in most areas. Or why paying students for good grades could really pay off – if enough funding is available. As well as the surprising suggestion that medieval trials by ordeal might have been surprisingly effective at determining the guilt or innocence of accused persons.
And then there are the fun and (serious) games, those Levitt and Dubner dub “making your garden weed itself.” Therein lies the real reason a famous rock band’s contract specified the colors of the M&M snack candies it demanded from concert promoters. (And the surprising connections between a certain rock star and the most famous judgement by biblical wise man King Solomon.)
Readers previously outraged by such previous Levitt and Dubner ploys as why terrorists should buy life insurance, or what the real reason is for decreased crime rates following the legalization of abortion may be placated by follow-ups in Think Like a Freak.
Failure to purchase life insurance, even when there were wives and young children, was among the surprising – at least to the authors – correlations between terrorism suspects. With tongues firmly in cheek, Levitt and Dubner suggested in a previous book that possible terrorists could make themselves less visible by purchasing life insurance – from their bank. After being (dare I say it?) martyred in the press for supposedly telling terrorists how to avoid law enforcement, the two Steves reveal in Think Like a Freak that it was the oddity of purchasing life insurance from a bank, rather than an insurance company, which they expected would actually make such purchasers more visible to law enforcement profilers. Whether either would-be terrorists or profilers use this information is problematic, however, since law enforcement agencies are famously stingy about revealing their actual criteria.
Finally, no Levitt and Dubner don’t believe access to abortion is the real reason behind drops in crime rates. The sad but true connection, they say, is that fewer children were raised by parents who didn’t want them. The best cure for crime may be loving, responsible families, but that’s too big a chore even for a pair of freaks to undertake.
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