Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Flaws in Freakonomics

I watched the film on Freakonomics and for the most part I found it interesting, but was highly disappointed. The bit on Sumo wrestling corruption could have been determined with eyeball statistics. Even more troubling was the section on why crime has been decreasing over time. It was determined that the Roe v Wade decision to make abortion legal in all 50 states helped to reduce crime over time by aborting “unwanted” babies. In fact, they found abortions were the leading reason for massive crime drops across the country (50% of the reason). The authors state they are not political but stating facts. Let’s say their facts are true; then maybe they can explain the following for me:

What constitutes an “unwanted” baby? There are no official statistics on “unwanted” babies, nor is there an official definition. Is an “unwanted” pregnancy the same as an unintended pregnancy? If that is true, then that also does not make much sense. The number of children living with single moms has been going up dramatically over time and despite this epidemic the crime rate has gone down. What does this say? The number of unintended pregnancies (stats show unintended pregnancies are more likely to happen with single moms) must be going up, but crime is still going down.

Since most crime, especially violent crime, presides in our inner cities, then why has the poverty rate remained constant over time. Most cities have seen a decrease in crime, but at the same time the percentage of people living in poverty has remained the same. If there was a crackdown on “unwanted” babies then why hasn’t there been a crackdown on the poverty rate?

The section on educational incentives almost made me sick to my stomach. They researched the effect of paying kids a “stipend” would have their grades. What they found is that F students remained F students and 5% of D students moved to C students. What’s even more troubling is that C’s were acceptable grades to earn the stipend. More research would have to be done to conclude if C students were more likely to be successful than D students. Really, this is how far we have stooped – paying kids to go to school?

The real failure of Freakonomics is that it neglects decades of data in their study on crime and education. For instance, it only evaluates data from the all- time highs in crime during the 70s to the present and only the current situation with education. They fail to determine what caused crime to spike so high and what caused the educational system to get broken in the first place. This is a cardinal sin for economist’s to pick and choose which data they want to evaluate. For example, the real question for education is to determine what variables have caused the educational / parental system to collapse and fix that instead of bribing kids to get C’s (which will probably do them no good).


  1. Interesting post, Patrick. I didn't see the film but I thought my husband read a book on Freakanomics (is there such a book?). Considering how many people don't even understand basic economics maybe we should get that concept down first.

  2. Yes, there is a book, but I did not read it. From the film it seemed these guys had an agenda.

    I agree.