Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Takeaways from SuperFreakonomics, Part II

I just finished reading the popular economics book SuperFreakonomics, the sequel to the book I recently posted about Freakonomics (Part II). The subtitle is "global warming, patriotic prostitutes and why suicide bombers should buy life insurance". You can read their current writings at the Freakonomics blog. Here is Part I of my takeaways and here is the second and final part:

Often a sick or elderly person will die soon after an expected major event (Christmas, anniversary, reunion). This may explain why Thomas Jefferson and John Adams both died on July 4th, 1826, exactly fifty years after the Declaration of Independence was signed. In that case, I'm throwing a get together at my house on July 4th, 2076.

Case for selfishness: A parent is more likely to be visited in a nursing home if they have an inheritance to give. Unless of course, they only have one child.

Case for unselfishness: Americans give away 20% of GDP. That's $300 billion a year.

Another case for selfishness: The American tax code is one of the most generous for charitable donations. Is this a way to publicly fund efficient social welfare?

Motorcyclists who don't wear helmets are called "donorcyclists" by doctors who work in the ER.

I can't figure out where this quote comes from originally, but I think it describes the thought process of many economists: "Sure it works in practice, but does it work in theory?"

Just because an idea is simple doesn't mean it's not valuable. Here's two examples from the book: suppression for hurricanes and StratoShield for global warming . Sometimes the short cut is the best route.

For children over 2, car seats are no better than seatbelts at preventing serious injury or death.

The president most famous for his large government programs, FDR, privately funded and start the March of Dimes which helps discover the polio vaccine. This is part of the reason his face now appears on the dime.

Global warming science reminds me of Macroeconomics (earlier). Here's an article critical of the book's climate science. I don't know enough about the subject to comment further.

Asking people to change their action by the goodness of their heart will not work. Ever.

Human activity accounts for only 2% of global carbon dioxide. There may even be some benefits to extra carbon dioxide (crops grow faster). It's also possible that instead water vapor is the primary cause of global warming.

The cleaner air, although certainly desirable, may also increase global temperatures by allowing more sunlight through the atmosphere.

A rising ocean from global warming isn't mostly from melting ice caps, it's from a heating ocean (water expands when it warms).

Solar panels may actually increase global temperature because they absorb heat.

Knowing and doing are two different things, especially when pleasure or pain is involved.

In the continuing series, Difference Between Humans and Animals, I've been collecting a list of ways that we humans differ from the rest of the animal kingdom. Here's one way we are alike: In a story mentioned in the book and detailed in this New York Times article, monkey's can be taught to use money (following the traditional rules of supply and demand), counterfeit money, and even rob the experimental bank and the profits to buy sex.


  1. Anonymous1:44 PM

    Asking people to change their action by the goodness of their heart will not work. Ever.

    Exactly why religion doesn't work. Thank you, economics.

  2. That's not how I would apply that to religion. I might say religion based solely on guilt doesn't have much power. But there are plenty of religions built on reward (be good and get saved) or response to reward (you've been saved now respond).

  3. Anonymous7:30 AM

    I still don't agree. Much of Christianity is that your heart is changed to good. And that's just silly!

  4. As a Christian myself I can attest to the change it has had on me.

  5. Anonymous10:19 AM

    From what I've read, you've been a Christian so long that it doesn't count as change anymore. Especially since you seem to have been a child Christian straight into an adult Christian. That's just brainwashing - which IS effective.

  6. As for being a Christian my whole life, I haven't. Although I grew up in a religious household, it wasn't until after high school that I would have claimed any allegiance to Christ. Brainwashing? No. Influence. Certainly.

    It seems this is becoming an interaction with an anonymous internet entity and less of a conversation. I'd love to talk privately with you more (

  7. Wow, an anonymous person claiming to know that someone's faith is brainwashing after reading their blog. Classy.

    People change their actions out of the goodness of their heart all the time. John Newton is a famous example. I would agree that it may not be an efficient way of trying to enact social change, but to claim that people do not change without some selfish incentive (money, power, fame, etc.) is to paint a very dark world indeed. One we do not live in.


You are the reason why I do not write privately. I would love to hear your thoughts, whether you agree or not.