It’s a runaway bestseller about the weird consequences of incentives. The book has been described as “economics meets pop culture,” and the co-authors are, suitably, a journalist and an economist.
I read the book about five years ago (it came out in 2005). This week I watched the documentary Freakonomics, which is based on the book.
The movie is divided into “chapters,” each one covering a different rogue idea in the book. One chapter describes why — according to the authors — your real estate agent has an incentive to encourage you to sell your house for less than it’s worth. Another describes why sumo wrestlers have an incentive to purposely lose a match.
A chapter toward the end argues, pretty convincingly, that public school teachers in a Chicago district cheated on standardized tests by filling in the answer bubbles on behalf of their students. It explains why the teachers would have an incentive to cheat.
Freakonomics’ popularity is based, in part, on how data-driven and research-driven the conclusions are. These authors aren’t conjecturing; they’re pouring through thousands of standardized tests and discerning patterns in the answers that point toward cheating.
Look, for example, at the chapter that describes how your first name impacts your chances of getting a job. Rather than just perform guesswork, the authors find a researcher who sent out 5,000 identical resumes, with the only variable being the name. Half of the resumes had a historically black name, like Tyrone, while the other half had a historically white name. The resume with the white name received 33 percent more phone calls — a statistically significant figure.
The movie cites IDENTICAL research as the book. Don’t watch the movie with the expectation that you’ll learn something new, something you didn’t already read in the book.
Should I Watch It?
It’s refreshing to watch a documentary without a political agenda.
As to whether or not you should watch it: if the anecdotes I described above sound intriguing, watch it. If they don’t, don’t. It’s as simple as that.
Check out more movie reviews:
- Inside Job, an Oscar-winning documentary about the 2008 economic meltdown
- (Keeping Up With) The Joneses, a feature film starring Demi Moore and David Duchovny (highly recommended!)
- Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, a documentary based on a book written by two former Fortune Magazine reporters
Thanks to Hikosaemon for today’s photo.