Wednesday, December 30, 2009


One of the presents I received for Christmas was the book, "Superfreakonomics", by Levitt and Dubner, a sequel to their book, "Freakonomics", which I reviewed here .

I have now read Superfreakonomics and my take is that it is similar to Freakonomics. That is, it is a provocative and entertaining read but should not be taken as the last word on the subjects it covers.

As with Freakonomics it covers a diverse set of topics somewhat peripheral to the main concerns of economists. It has nothing much to say about macroeconomics and the recent crisis.

The chapter on global warming has been widely criticized but I didn't find it highly objectionable. They do make a much criticized remark about the color of solar panels which, as I explain here , seems rather fundamentally misguided. However it is not central to their main point which is that it may be more sensible and feasible to find ways to mitigate the effects of CO2 emissions than to eliminate them. I see no justification for dismissing mitigation strategies out of hand as many global warming alarmists would prefer. However it is not surprising that many people would find the author's irreverent attitude about global warming offensive as the subject has taken on a quasi-religious aspect in some circles.

The book considers numerous other topics. Some conclusions I find rather plausible. For example that child safety seats for children older than 3 provide little benefit over using adult seat belts. Others less so. Such as the conclusion that children's exposure to TV caused an increase of 50% increase in property crime and a 25% increase in violent crime in the 1960s.

In general I suspect the author's arguments rely on assumptions which may or may not be true. An egregious example occurs at the start of the book. The authors wish to compare the risks of driving home drunk and walking home drunk. In order to do this they need to know the fraction of drunk pedestrians. With no justification at all they just assume this is the same as the fraction of drunk drivers. Perhaps this is true (or nearly true) but arguments based on these sorts of guesses are obviously not ironclad.

So in conclusion a fun read but should not be taken too seriously.

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