In the book Freakonomics, co authors Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner wanted to target heavy thinkers or “why” askers, those People wanting to understand, or see the big picture. They do so by asking very weird, almost absurd questions at times, for example, “Why do drug dealers still live with their moms”. The fear of the 1990’s was that there were millionaire crack dealers roaming our streets. It turns out that this was a myth to help bump funding for law enforcment.
The Actual truth was that drug empires were operated almost like corporations. The top .01 % did make a substantial amount of money, but for the rest, they were severely underpaid. So why stay? The answer was the incentive to reach that .01%. Another question was “What do sumo wrestlers have in common with teachers”.
The answer to this question may seem either ridiculous or trivial in the beginning. There is nothing similar between a sumo wrestler and a teacher.
That is when the authors dig deeper to show a new perspective of thinking with data. Through research they were able to find a common theme in the two professions and that was cheating. In a study with the Chicago Public School System, they had found that almost 5 percent of teachers would either correct or out right cheat in standardized test, a little more than 200 classrooms a year. With sumo wrestlers, it was seen that almost average sumo wrestlers (7 wins – 7 loses) would beat high ranking sumo wrestlers (9 wins – 5 loses) almost 73 percent of the time.
In a later confession they found that out of 281 wrestlers, 29 were crooked.
So the question then becomes, why cheat? The answer is incentives. The Chicago Teachers were offered a $25,000 dollar bonus for higher test scores and sumo wrestlers stood to gain higher ranking, respect, honor, and of course money for winning. This is just one of the many examples the author gives to show that everything is connected. The main message portrayed by the authors is that our perceptions are but a small piece of the whole truth, and that to follow our views of what’s right, can have unintended consequences. The authors use intriguing questions to push the argument that in order to see the bigger picture, you have to analyze everything to the smallest data point to truly understand.
For example which is safer, a gun or a swimming pool? (chapter 5) It’s common knowledge that guns are dangerous and pools are a safe place of activity. Most parents would agree. The truth is the exact opposite. Research has shown , one child drowns for every 11,000 pools (550 children a year) but one child dies for every 1 million plus guns. This shows that information can give us a different perspective. Chapter 4 of the book, asked the question, “Where have the criminals gone?”. In the late 1990’s, there was a huge explosion of crime, with the rate of crime rising upwards of 80%. Criminologists would forecast that a full generation of criminals was imminent. The opposite happened by the early 2000’s. Violent crime declined dramatically, with homicides falling of 70%.
Most would come to praise the higher numbers of police personnel or the better economic climates. The answer would come to be much stranger. Around the time just before the drop, a very important case was being handled, Roe Vs Wade, allowing women to have legal abortions. When the law passed, the 1980’s saw 1.6 million abortions a year. The authors then explained that the women undergoing abortions were mothers who were either Ill fit or economically unprepared to become a parent. Less ill prepared parents meant fewer children who grew to be desperate, which led to less criminals. All of this was done to show that everything is connected and to see it, we must start asking the deep questions.