Freakonomics Rev Ed

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Which is more dangerous, a gun or a swimming pool? What do schoolteachers and sumo wrestlers have in common? Why do drug dealers still live with their moms? How much do parents really matter? How did the legalization of abortion affect the rate of violent crime?

These may not sound like typical questions for an econo-mist to ask. But Steven D. Levitt is not a typical economist. He is a much-heralded scholar who studies the riddles of everyday life—from cheating and crime to sports and child-rearing—and whose conclusions turn conventional wisdom on its head.

Freakonomics is a groundbreaking collaboration between Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner, an award-winning author and journalist. They usually begin with a mountain of data and a simple question. Some of these questions concern life-and-death issues; others have an admittedly freakish quality. Thus the new field of study contained in this book: freakonomics.

Through forceful storytelling and wry insight, Levitt and Dubner show that economics is, at root, the study of incentives—how people get what they want, or need, especially when other people want or need the same thing. In Freakonomics, they explore the hidden side of . . . well, everything. The inner workings of a crack gang. The truth about real-estate agents. The myths of campaign finance. The telltale marks of a cheating schoolteacher. The secrets of the Klu Klux Klan.

What unites all these stories is a belief that the modern world, despite a great deal of complexity and downright deceit, is not impenetrable, is not unknowable, and—if the right questions are asked—is even more intriguing than we think. All it takes is a new way of looking.

Freakonomics establishes this unconventional premise: If morality represents how we would like the world to work, then economics represents how it actually does work. It is true that readers of this book will be armed with enough riddles and stories to last a thousand cocktail parties. But Freakonomics can provide more than that. It will literally redefine the way we view the modern world.

Bonus material added to the revised and expanded 2006 edition

  • The original New York Times Magazine article about Steven D. Levitt by Stephen J. Dubner, which led to the creation of this book.
  • Seven “Freakonomics” columns written for the New York Times Magazine, published between August 2005 and April 2006.
  • Selected entries from the Freakonomics blog, posted between April 2005 and May 2006 at
Curriculet Details
42 Questions
47 Annotations
3 Quizzes

This free digital curriculum designed for 11th and 12th grade students contains interactive videos exploring irony, tone and different forms of figurative language as well as annotations describing rhetorical questions, statistical correlations and economic incentives. Students will explore topics such as crime and the relationship between school teachers and sumo wrestlers. The Common Core aligned questions, answers and quizzes in this free online unit will increase student engagement in the book while supporting reading comprehension.

The curriculet is being added to your library

An Explanatory Note

Left click a word with your mouse or press a word with your finger for a second to use the define feature or add your own annotations. (When a given definition does not seem to fit the context of the reading, then you will want to use the "search Wikipedia or Google this word" option within the "define" feature in order to explore other definitions.)  

Preface to the Revised and Expanded Edition

A preface is a preliminary statement in a book by the book's author or editor, setting forth its purpose and scope, expressing acknowledgment of assistance from others, etc. 

Introduction: The Hidden Side of Everything

As we can see in the graph below, Mr. Fox's expert forecast did not come to fruition. (This annotation contains an image)
According to the authors, what triggered the greatest crime drop in recorded history? 
People's propensity to only contribute money to a sure-fire winner or at least contenders is one reason why we are stuck in a two party system. People don't donate enough to third parties because they assume that their candidates will lose. 
According to the text, what was Adam Smith's true subject of study? 

1. What Do Schoolteachers and Sumo Wrestlers Have in Common?

It's interesting that the author compares an incentive to very different things, such as a bullet, as well as a key. A key has more of a positive connotation, whereas a bullet has a negative one. Please see the video below for an explanation on how to distinguish metaphors from similes. (This annotation contains a video)
How did the economic incentive at the Israeli day care centers affect the moral incentives of the parents? Support your response with textual evidence. 
Monetary incentives like the one mentioned from California seem to only encourage teachers to teach to the test rather than focus on skills and higher level thinking aptitudes that actually benefit the students. 
How do teachers "teach to the test"? 
The highlighted text demonstrates a condescending tone where the author doubts the intelligence of the teacher and blames her for her students poor performance. Please view the video below for a more detailed explanation of tone. (This annotation contains a video)
How would the author describe teachers that cheat on high stakes tests? 
Is the author's placement of rhetorical questioning throughout the text effective in encouraging you to consider his message? Or is it more effectively placed as a tool to subtly sway your opinion to align with their point of view? Please view the short video below for an illustration of rhetorical questioning.  (This annotation contains a video)
How do allegations of match-rigging affect the win-percentage of matches between 7-7 wrestlers and 8-6 wrestlers? 
The author uses ellipses as a transitional device between seemingly dissimilar topics.  
Bottled water anyone? 
Feldman hypothesized that executives are more likely to cheat than lower-level workers because they have _________________? 

2. How Is the Ku Klux Klan Like a Group of Real-Estate Agents?

Slavery and the economy of the south became inseparable with the invention of the cotton gin. The crop grew well in the south and replaced tobacco as the region's cash crop. Farmers weren't giving up on the institution of slavery.  
Why do the authors believe that lynchings fell so drastically over time even when Klan membership increased? 
/rakit/ noun: an illegal or dishonest scheme for obtaining money. synonyms: scheme, fraud, swindle 
The highlighted text is an example of which type of figurative language? 
What was it that she said? "Real-estate ethics?" 
Why would the word granite correlate to a higher sale price in real estate? 
Please follow the link below to watch a short clip on Affirmative Action: what some consider "reverse discrimination."  (This annotation contains a video)
What is the most likely reason that white women and men on dating sites would claim that race does not matter? 
We can extrapolate that racism continues to be a problem throughout the U.S. and is not simply confined to the state of Louisiana. 

3. Why Do Drug Dealers Still Live with Their Moms?

How were crack dealers portrayed by the media, and why were they depicted inaccurately?  Support your response with textual evidence. 
One Literacy Foundation, among others, report the following statistics: 1) Nearly 85% of the juveniles who face trial in the juvenile court system are functionally illiterate, proving that there is a close relationship between illiteracy and crime. 2) More than 60% of all inmates are functionally illiterate. 3) Teenage girls ages 16 to 19 who live at or below the poverty level and have below average literacy skills are 6 times more likely to have children out of wedlock than the girls their age who can read proficiently. Now consider the authors' claim of a correlation between abortion and crime rate.  
According to the text, what did gangs like to brag about when it came to dealing crack? 
The gang's structure also looks very similar to that of Multi-Level Marketing: think Mary Kay, Amway, Mona Vie. Roland Whitsell, a former business professor who spent 40 years researching and teaching the pitfalls of multilevel marketing stated, "You'd be hard-pressed to find anyone making over $1.50 an hour, (t)he primary product is opportunity. The strongest, most powerful motivational force today is false hope." 
If the average crack dealer only makes $3.30 an hour and has a 1-in-4 chance of being killed, why would anyone want to sell crack? 
One might wonder what kept the violent lower-level from gaining control of the organization using brute force.  
Why was crack an ideal product for the ghetto? 
Freakonomics Quiz: Chapters 1-3 

4. Where Have All the Criminals Gone?

Romanian orphans: Tens of thousands of unwanted infants and children created by CeauČ™escu's regime filled the metal hospital cribs of Romania's prison-like warehouses for the "unsalvageable" orphaned. Terms such as reactive attachment disorder and drastic depravation characterize Romania's "lost generation." 
According to the authors, what factors led to an increase in crime that started in the early 1960s? 
It's ironic that capital punishment is supposed to be a deterrent when you consider that Black Gangster Disciple Nation crack dealers would have been safer on death row than on the streets. Please view the video below for a more detailed explanation of irony.  (This annotation contains a video)
The authors imply that Dinkins motivation for hiring so many police officers was _______? 
Stricter gun control laws, even when instituted, seem to have little effect on murder rates. When stricter gun laws were put in place in Washington DC, the murder rate actually went up during that time span. 
What did research from Eastern Europe and Scandinavia reveal about abortion? 
One abortion issue, that is sometimes glossed over, is the fact that even if abortions were made illegal again, it would still take place just under unsafe conditions. 
People that are pro-life believe that life begins at ________? 
Notice the authors' extreme caution when suggesting a monetary value of a fetus, quickly followed by a rather unemotional transition to the next big question. The job of an economist is numbers, patterns, and relationships: a field which necessarily views life from a rather detached point of view. 

5. What Makes a Perfect Parent?

Why would parents be more concerned about the dangers of guns than swimming pools? 
Actually, more is being done to ensure pool safety. For pools to pass inspection in California, the owner must place alarms on doors leading to the pool and a latch on doors leading to side yards that close automatically after being opened. 
According to the Chicago study, which group of students saw a dramatic change in their academic achievement? 
It seems that politics has contributed to the black-white test gap. Instead of simply stating IQ tests are racially biased because whites get higher scores than blacks, why not focus on finding out the reasons behind the disparity? 
According to the authors, how are black schools bad? 
It's surprising that a low birthweight would be correlated with high test scores. 
Which of the following sentences uses the word correlation correctly? 
It seems like this would be common sense that it would be the influence of parents, and the child's environment that would affect reading scores and not just having books in the home. 

6. Perfect Parenting, Part II; or: Would a Roshanda by Any Other Name Smell as Sweet?

Why do the authors share the anecdote about the two brothers with opposite names?  Support your response with textual evidence. 
It's interesting to wonder if one of the legacies of the Black Panther movement was hurting the employment opportunities of blacks if they inspired the use of "black" names. 
In Fryer's opinion, what is a black mother's primary motivation for giving her child a superblack name? 
It seems clear that employees still consider race when choosing interview candidates. Now, do employers overlook "black names" on a conscious level or subconsciously? 
According to the text, why is a boy named Jake more likely to be successful in life than a boy named DeShawn?  Include evidence from the text to support your answer. 
What do the authors caution the reader about in regards to names that are in different positions on these lists? 
The research shows that celebrities have a weak influence on the popularity of names, but maybe they can have the opposite affect. Maybe the name Brittany became less popular when Brittany Spears's life spiraled out of control. Parents at a that point may not have wanted their children associated with the troubled pop star. 
Explain how age can affect whether someone has a low-education name.  Support your answer with examples from the text. 
Even though names or "smart names" don't have an influence on intelligence levels, I would think that it would still be beneficial to share the same name with other smart kids. 
The fact that names can quickly cycle in and out of use shows that parents are______? 
The authors contend that celebrities have little effect on the popularity of names, but it's hard to believe that the popularity of the name Jordan was not influenced by Michael Jordan. (This annotation contains an image)
Celebrities have a ________ effect on naming trends? 
In the 1984 film, Splash, the mermaid chooses Madison as her name from a Madison Avenue sign. Choosing that name was humorous because at that time the name Madison was considered ridiculous. 
Freakonomics Quiz: Ch.s 4-6 

Epilogue: Two Paths to Harvard

Theodore John "Ted" Kaczynski, also known as the "Unabomber", is an American mathematician and serial murderer. He is known for his wide-ranging social critiques, which opposed industrialism and modern technology and advanced a nature-centered form of anarchism. Between 1978 and 1995, Kaczynski engaged in a nationwide bombing campaign against people involved with modern technology, planting or mailing numerous home-made bombs, ultimately killing a total of three people and injuring 23 others (Wikipedia). (This annotation contains an image)

Homework #15

It seems that one of Levitt's greatest strengths is his ability to branch out of his field and integrate different sciences and social sciences to get answers to complex inquiries. Simply put, he does not limit himself to a single filter or way of viewing the world. 
Why does the average street dealer live with his mother? 
Levitt is almost being portrayed as an economist super hero where he uses data, questions and algorithms to solve society's social ills. 
What textual evidence shows that real estate agents encourage their clients to make offers below market value? 
When Levitt is described as self-flagellating (the act of beating oneself), it's ironic because this hyperbole ignores the tone in certain parts of this book where the speaker comes across as both condescending and arrogant. 

Homework #16

According to the authors, why does crack consumption remain high even with decreased demand? 
The set point theory suggests that despite dieting efforts, the body tends to return to its set point weight, however regular, consistent exercise may help to adjust the natural set point.  
Why is New York's plan to ticket dog owners, for not picking up after their dogs, a lost cause?  Cite specific evidence from the text to support your answer. 
Voting may not be good for the individual, but if every individual abstained from voting, than there would be no outcome. 
In recent decades, what has become the most exorbitant price associated with sex? 
It's easy to see why real estate agents would not be fans of this book. It does not get much worse than being compared to the KKK. (This annotation contains an image)
The highlighted text is an example of which type of figurative language? 
It seems that the IRS should be targeting the self-employed with their audits since they are the ones with the greatest incentive to cheat. 

Homework #17

Why was it so difficult to choose a title for this book according to the authors? 
The author seems a little hung up on not having a unifying theme. He mentions this throughout the book. He appears more concerned about it than the reader. 
Which topic from Freakonomics provoked the  least outrage? 
Bennett made a false correlation and got himself in trouble. He assumed that since there is a high ratio of black criminals, then aborting all black babies would decrease crime significantly. However, the more important factor is the age of the mother and her desire to abort her child. That has a greater impact on the child's future criminal likelihood according to the research than race. 
Describe the fundamental problem that exists with the Foote and Goetz analysis. Support your response with textual evidence. 
Experiments have controlled variables. Controlled variables are quantities that a scientist wants to remain constant, and he must observe them as carefully as the dependent variables. For example, if we want to measure how much water flow increases when we open a faucet, it is important to make sure that the water pressure (the controlled variable) is held constant.  
In the author's discussion on randomness, which examples are used to prove his point? 
The eight players involved in the Black Sox scandal escaped legal charges, but all of them were banned from baseball including the Chicago great, Shoeless Joe Jackson. (This annotation contains an image)
Explain why the author compares peak oil prices to shark attacks?  Support your answer with textual evidence. 
The author contends that the financial incentives being considered for organs are more palatable than cash, but that assertion does not seem to be supported by any type of data.  
According to the text, why do people feel awful when they perform certain behaviors? 
I wonder if the supervisor was being charitable, or was he trying to gain a patron that would stay loyal to Caesars Palace? 
Bonus Material Quiz