Freakonomics was a best-selling primer on Economics written by University of Chicago professor Steven Levitt in collaboration with journalist Stephen Dubner. Together, the talented twosome endeavored to make an inscrutable subject accessible for the average individual by breaking ghetto demographics and financial transactions down into layman's terms even a street hustler could comprehend.
For instance, they exploded the myth of selling drugs as a viable means of making it out of the ghetto by showing that the average dealer's income is less than minimum wage. A more controversial conclusion arrived at by the authors and propagated by controversial pundits like conservative Bill Bennett was the notion that the U.S. crime rate could be significantly reduced by sterilizing all African-American females.
Now, a film based on this incendiary tome has been brought to the screen by a half-dozen different directors, including Academy Award-winner Alex Gibney (for Taxi to the Dark Side), Oscar-nominees Morgan Spurlock (for Super Size Me), Rachel Grady (for Jesus Camp) and Heidi Ewing (also for Jesus Camp), along with Seth Gordon and Eugene Jarecki. They divvied up the chapters and structured the picture as a discrete series of vignettes recreating the assorted content.
Which is more dangerous, a gun or a swimming pool?
What do schoolteachers and sumo wrestlers have in common?
How much do parents really matter?
These may not sound like typical questions for an economist to ask. But Steven D. Levitt is not a typical economist. He studies the riddles of everyday life—from cheating and crime to parenting and sports—and reaches conclusions that turn conventional wisdom on its head.
Unfortunately, I have to report that, as is usually the case with adaptations of books, the flick fails to measure up to the source material. However, that bad news is counterbalanced by the fact that it is still likely to be very well received by anyone unfamiliar with the print version.
Among the topics addressed are the aforementioned correlation between black criminality and the abortion rate, as well as such intriguing questions as whether 9th graders can be bribed to get good grades, whether Japanese Sumo wrestling is fixed, whether government incentives work, and how Bernie Madoff, pedophile priests and other disgraced "pillars of the community" managed to mask their crimes for so long.
An iconoclastic expose' featuring fresh cultural slants apt to leave the average armchair economist reevaluating a lot of conventional wisdom they'vetaken for granted.