Sunday, March 15, 2015

Freakonomics !

Not sure how to put this mildly - but stop whatever you are doing and read this book - seriously!
I kid of course - but not really.

This is by far one of the very few books that are educational - almost to the level of being an eye-opener - and yet entertaining as anything!
In the prologue, writers say they are going to "explore the hidden side of everything" - and that perfectly sums up the book.

The anecdotes mentioned, the stories told, the detailed descriptions of analyses done, the conclusions drawn are all presented in a factual, data-driven and statistical manner. They are not just hand-waving or theorizing - the evidence presented is convincing enough - at least to the naive, having-no-prior-economics-expertise me.

The book explains how important - knowing what to measure and how to measure it from a pile of data - is. It forces the reader to confront the notion that incentives (moral, economical, social) are a cornerstone of life and that replacing moral policing with an honest assessment of the data will reveal how conventional wisdom is just a by-product of convenience or sometimes how conventional wisdom is just plain wrong.

That being said, barring one or two exceptions, the examples and stories are all from developed, relatively stable socio-political communities and primarily from an American society's point of view.

This is understandable since the authors are American and they had access to data mostly from America.
But I believe the questions they ask and answers they seek need to be analysed and dissected with a much large and diverse set of people - where the primary notions of incentives and survival are a lot different and complex.

Again, the questions that writers ask might not themselves seem fundamentally important or they may appear just "meh" - but the motivations behind seeking these answers and the conclusions that can be drawn from these answers are fundamentally important to our understanding of the society and maybe to just better understand ourselves!

For example, a chapter tries to answer whether the name given by parents to their child matters in the child's subsequent success in life or not. Even though the obvious answer is 'name does not make any damn difference' - the way the authors comb and analyse the data - the way they present how changing economic, educational and moral values of the parents do matter and how a child's Name is not 'causal' but 'co-related' to his/her success in life is very impressive.

So anyway, I'll shut up about the book and let you get on with it.
Hands down, a must-read.