Superfreakonomics Book Summary By Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner

*This post contains affiliate links, and we may earn an affiliate commission without it ever affecting the price you pay.

SuperFreakonomics (2009) is a book that explores how thinking like an economist can help us understand the complex world we live in.

Steven D.

Levitt and Stephen J.

Dubner, authors of Superfreakonomics, dive deep into economics with their creative stories and anecdotes from human history, to illustrate the significance of data - as well as vital economic principles.

In Superfreakonomics, you'll discover seemingly unimaginable solutions for some of the biggest global problems we face today.

Most importantly, readers walk away with a strong understanding of economics - using real-life examples that are both engaging and thought-provoking!

Superfreakonomics Book

Book Name: SuperFreakonomics (Global Cooling, Patriotic Prostitutes and Why Suicide Bombers Should Buy Life Insurance)

Author(s): Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner

Rating: 4.2/5

Reading Time: 19 Minutes

Categories: Economics

Author Bio

Steven D.

Levitt is renowned American economist and an expert in researching crime and corruption.

He achieved multiple degrees from both Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology and currently works as a professor at the University of Chicago.

His insight on these two issues has made him the perfect candidate to write his own book 'SuperFreakonomics'.

Uncovering Unexpected Answers: The Power Of Statistics In Solving Society’s Problems

Unexpected Answers

The answer to society’s ills may surprise you, but we have right in front of us all along – the data.

Too many times, experts rely on individuals’ experiences and memories in order to form their theories, which can lead to misinterpretations and mistakes.

On the other hand, statistics are cold, hard facts that provide us with an unemotional clarity on any given situation.

This is exactly what SuperFreakonomics dives into – revealing some truly unexpected solutions to various issues around the world that are based on a thorough analysis of data.

From why modern prostitutes get paid less than 19th century ones; to how additional taxes helped increase rat populations; or why pumping more pollution into the atmosphere could be a solution for global warming – all these answers can be found hidden in our statistics.

If we want true progress and meaningful solutions to our current problems, we need to put aside emotion and start looking at data and numbers.

That is where the answers lie.

Statistics: A Tool To Help Us Understand Why People Do The Things They Do

Statistics can be an incredibly powerful tool when it comes to understanding the world.

SuperFreakonomics shows us just how powerful it is for understanding human behavior and why we do what we do.

The book reveals that governments and public bodies often create incentives in order to reward desirable behaviors, but these incentives can end up having strangely negative knock-on effects.

For example, the introduction of volume-based trash pickup fees was supposed to be an incentive for people to produce less waste.

However, instead of reducing trash production, people came up with creative ways to avoid the fee, such as flushing uneaten food down the toilet—which ended up increasing the rat population instead!

We can use statistics and data to predict how different incentive schemes will affect people’s behavior before they are put in place, saving time and trouble down the line.

By using pattern recognition techniques and machine learning algorithms, we can gain a deep insight into our world and make better decisions as a result.

If you want brilliant insights into people’s actions, then look no further than statistics!

Using Economics To Find New Solutions To Old Problems

As the world around us is becoming more complicated, it’s easy to think that economics only tries to increase profits at the cost of society.

However, economists use economic thinking to analyze the external world and its Many complexities.

they use facts and statistics as a way of looking at a problem objectively and differentiating between average expectations and exceptions.

For instance, public awareness during Summer 2001 was quite high due to many shark attacks reports.

But if you analyse it using accurate data points, it would show that the number of shark attacks stayed consistent with previous years – hence debunking the myth of increased danger from sharks!

Think like an economist and you’ll unlock the secrets to society.

Just take for example early 1900s when horse-drawn carriages were predominant means of transportation.

Everyone was worried about horse manure taking over city streets but didn’t know how to solve this issue.

That is when ingenuity struck economists who suggested replacing horses with cars — an act which revolutionized transportation – proving that rational thought can lead to innovative solutions even on intractable issues.

Sex Workers Have Always Known How To Capitalize On Short-Term Demand

Short-Term Demand

The statistics behind prostitution prove that it follows the same economic principles as any other type of business.

From the Everleigh Butterfly Girls who made around 430,000 a year in the turn of the century to modern day sex workers, we can see how demand and supply powerfully affect wage levels.

A hundred years ago, when premarital sex was still frowned upon, demand for prostitutes was higher, so wages went up for them in order to make up for the risk of being arrested and social stigma associated with their job.

In recent years however, there has been more of a supply than demand in this industry, so wages have decreased due to competition.

It also goes to show how sex workers employ price discrimination – they often charge wealthier customers higher prices – as well as how they react quickly to changes in demand; during Thanksgiving 2014 where there was an influx of clients visiting their families, prices rose by 30% in one neighborhood.

This proves that economic principles such as market forces are at play even with something like prostitution – it’s not just another job!

Using Data Analysis To Track Terrorists: Exploring The Motivations Behind Terrorism And Developing Algorithms For Detection

It’s clear that economic thinking can be of immense help when it comes to catching terrorists before they can carry out their plans.

This is thanks to data analysis, which has the potential to detect terrorists before they launch attacks.

Economists like Alan Kruger have already pioneered this field by looking at Lebanon’s general population and comparing it to data set of terrorists.

To everyone’s surprise, terrorist motivations tend not to be rooted in poverty or personal gain; rather, the driving force behind them is a political aim.

It therefore follows that understanding this behavior could give us insight into how we can identify possible suspects and counterterrorism strategies.

Ian Horsley’s algorithm uses banking details with positive indicators such as renting houses or being registered as students, while also taking into account negative indicators, like life insurance investments—something most terrorists wouldn’t normally do.

Although this method isn’t 100% effective, there is value in using technology and economic thinking together to catch criminals.

Terrorists may now consider paying for life insurance just so they don’t end up on the radar of authorities!

John List Redefines The Dictator Game, Revealing Society’S Selfish Nature

The way that people respond to those in need can tell us a lot about true human nature.

It’s natural to assume that society is composed of people who are largely altruistic, but research has shown us otherwise.

The popularization of the Dictator Game during the 1980s provided an insight into society, with an overwhelming majority of participants choosing to divide their money evenly between strangers.

This led many to believe that humans were fundamentally altruistic, however this was debunked by economist John List.

List devised a new version of the game, with participants being given the opportunity to both give away or steal money from a hypothetical stranger.

He found that only 6% chose the share option, while 66% chose not to – indicating that in reality, people are neither truly altruistic nor totally apathetic; instead they fall somewhere in between.

Data Analysis: A Powerful Tool To Uncover Problems And Fuel Innovation

Fuel Innovation

One of the key points that SuperFreakonomics emphasize is that some of the trickiest problems tend to have the simplest solutions.

Ignatz Semmelweis saw this in action when he investigated the high mortality rate among new mothers in a Vienna hospital in 1847.

He discovered that women delivering at home or at midwives’ wards were far less likely to catch the deadly puerperal fever than those delivering at the male doctors’ ward, and then traced it back to male doctors failing to wash their hands after conducting autopsies.

It was as simple as that – washing their hands!

The same concept played out when Henry Ford and Robert Strange McNamara looked at car crash data from the 1950s.

At that time, crashes killed about 40,000 people annually, but with the help of McNamara’s data-driven analysis they were able to identify and implement a relatively inexpensive solution – seat belts – which reduced the risk of death by up to 70%.

The remarkable thing is they were able to take a complex problem like vehicular fatalities and come up with an extremely effective solution using only data and common sense.

This proves once again that some of the trickiest problems tend to have surprisingly simple solutions.

The Complexity And Incentivization Issues Of Dealing With Global Warming

The topic of global warming is an incredibly complex one, and the confusion around it has made it hard to tackle in any meaningful way.

From debates about which factors are really influencing climate change, to myths about the main causes (spoiler alert – it’s not cars!), the misconceptions about this extremely important issue make it difficult to find a way forward.

The issue of negative externalities is also a major challenge when trying to combat global warming – if you don’t suffer the consequences personally, why would you change your behavior? Initiatives such as Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth or his Alliance for Climate Protection have highlighted these issues and raised awareness, but there is still more work to be done.

So what can be done? Well, without incentives to encourage people to modify their behaviors in order to reduce their environmental impact, progress will unfortunately remain slow.

However, could there be a quick fix out there that could help us tackle this problem head-on? SuperFreakonomics offers insight into this very question in its final section!

Can Geoengineering Reduce Global Warming? One Counterintuitive Answer Is Yes

Global Warming

Statistics show that we can fight global warming with more pollution, not less.

That’s because of a phenomenon discovered in 1991 when the volcano Mount Pinatubo erupted and left a haze in the air which caused the earth to cool down, allowing forests to grow more vigorously.

After looking at this data, Nathan Myhrvold, then CTO at Microsoft (now a researcher at Intellectual Ventures in Seattle), proposed geoengineering as a solution to reversing global warming.

Sulfur dioxide could be used to make Budyko’s Blanket–haze cover that cools down the planet if released strategically at higher altitudes than industry typically does.

This remarkable idea is not only cheap and easy but also reversible should some unexpected result occur.

A National Academy of Sciences report claims that we need only 100,000 tons of sulfur dioxide annually to see results in Arctic regions—a fraction of what Al Gore’s foundation spends on increasing public awareness each year.

Wrap Up

SuperFreakonomics’ main message is that human behavior can be understood better with the help of statistics.

By gathering data, asking the right questions and staying objective, you are able to find solutions to some of life’s toughest problems.

The book encourages readers to take that same approach when trying to solve difficult situations in their own lives.

By looking at available data and removing any assumptions they have about a problem, they can get closer to finding out the root cause and taking action towards a solution.

In conclusion, SuperFreakonomics serves as an excellent guide for anyone that wants to use data-driven approaches in order to understand the world and create workable solutions for persistent issues.

Arturo Miller

Hi, I am Arturo Miller, the Chief Editor of this blog. I'm a passionate reader, learner and blogger. Motivated by the desire to help others reach their fullest potential, I draw from my own experiences and insights to curate blogs.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.