Wednesday, 2 April 2008

Fancy a good read?

I'm not sure how I came across this book, but I'm glad I did. I know it's been reviewed to death on countless other blogs so I won't bore you with a lengthy rehash. If you enjoy coming at familiar issues with a new slant, and logic's your bag, then I urge you to give it a spin.

Steven Levitt is an economist - but not the dusty academic type. He uses statistical tools to 'data mine' his way through the most unusual sources of information. He is ably and wittily assisted by journalist Stephen Dubner and together they take a fresh squint at modern day life.

The book concentrates on a relatively small number of subject areas and gives enough argument and detail to do them justice. The topics range from 'What makes a perfect parent', through 'Why do drug dealers still live with their moms' to 'Where have all the criminals gone?' There is much here to interest the NoBollocksPolitician because the whole book is founded on facts and their logical interpretation, devoid of opinion, spin and contortion to fit a party line. Levitt and Dubner are also not afraid to skirt close to the edge of political incorrectness (for instance with their analysis of naming conventions of black parents compared to white), but they are undeniably working only with the truth and do not rush to an interpretation of the facts. I respect that. It's the true application of the 'scientific method', and they even go as far as including in an appendix the opposing views of a fellow economist, acknowledging their mistakes as well as countering with new research.

The centrepiece of the book is, for me, the examination through scrutiny of demographic data, criminal conviction rates, policing statistics and economic records how crime was apparently brought down from epidemic proportions in 60's inner-city America to its unprecedentedly low incidence today. Politicians in all major cities, led by New York, claimed responsibility. The new 'Zero Tolerance Policing' approach was often cited a the answer . But the causes can be strongly correlated with the changes to abortion laws 30 years previously. The argument that the crime rate fell because the criminals were never born in the first place is a compelling one.

If you like your ecomonics to be topical but unconventional, and you like that 'wow, that just makes perfect sense' feeling, get this book.

I'm not affiliated with the authors but if they should read this they can feel free to send me any royalties they don't need :)

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