Wednesday, October 28, 2009

And If You Want to Read What A Nut Thinks About Super Freakonomics...

Sahil Kapur '09 has written a purely inflammatory blog post for Campus Progress attacking Steven Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner of Freakonomics fame for their chapter on global warming in their newest book, Super Freakonomics.

Along the way, he's compared them to creationists and said that they are climate change deniers. (Both Levitt and Dubner believe in global warming, they just disagree with some of the utterly costly attempts to "solve" it.)

I met him when he was fawning over a photo of Obama in The New York Times for a good ten minutes. (He worked at Keck; I work at Salvatori.)

For someone who says very critical and oftentimes downright nasty things about religion, Sahil is sure one to talk.

But maybe, then, again, Sahil's projecting?

Greg Hess on Super Freakonomics

Professor Greg Hess has a great review of Super Freakonomics in The Los Angeles Times. I'm about half the way through -- the book, not the review -- and recommend it thoroughly. Here are the good graffs from the review:

The concepts of "good" and "bad" are also investigated, and both come up short. We learn that TV is neither good nor bad -- in India, there is evidence that it has actually led to social change that has improved women's lives, while in the U.S. there is evidence that increased TV exposure is associated with increases in higher levels of property and violent crime. They also present ample studies that suggest, "People aren't 'good' or 'bad.' People are people and they respond to incentives. They can nearly always be manipulated -- for good or ill -- if only you find the right levers." Hmm. Perhaps this explains why economists are not too popular at dinner parties.

There are a few things, however, that the Steves could have presented better. The opening chapter on the economics of gender delves pretty hard into the costs of being a woman (the economics of prostitution, for example, and the pervasiveness of the male-female wage gap) and does not give much airtime to the benefits. I presume there are some. For example, they could have considered research on the effect that the Pill had on society, and its corresponding impact on women's economic and social opportunities.

"Super Freakonomics" also tiptoes around important public policy debates such as healthcare and doesn't dare venture into any sort of policy prescriptions using the political vernacular of the day. To be fair, however, the book's mantra is applicable to all policy discussions. Namely, unless you understand the individual and market incentives created by policy, the law of unintended consequences will eventually doom all reforms. Take note, Congress as we redraw the map on healthcare and financial regulation (not, I fear, for the last time).

No Question Quotas, Please

Fareed Zakaria asked to hear from a woman in the audience -- after several of the questions came from men. Not only is this a stupid policy -- more women go to college now than men and its increasing -- but it's really against the spirit of the Athenaeum, notwithstanding the "diversity questioning" that Gann did a few years ago at Clinton where every question was asked by someone of a different race.

That this response from Zakaria encouraged audience applause strikes me as disappointing, to say the least.