David R. Henderson  

Super Freakonomics

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I'm only 27 pages into Levitt's and Dubner's new book, but already I'm liking Super Freakonomics better than Freakonomics. My problem with the first book was that it tended to emphasize small aspects of some issues and missed the big picture. The example I have in mind is their discussion of real estate agents' incentives; they don't ask why people use agents rather than doing it themselves, a question that would have led to them to talk about division of labor and specialization and, probably, would have led them to a less-hostile view of real estate agents.

But this one, so far, is different. They seem to have the bigger picture. Two examples:

1. TV and women in India. They quote work by Emily Oster and Robert Jensen that finds that the introduction of cable and satellite, with a wide range of programming, gave women more independence. That makes sense. We so often hear people criticize the "boob tube" and not talk about some of the benefits of it. I gather that later in the book, they're going to show the negatives of TV in America but, still, I found their discussion refreshing.

2. Horses and manure. After having taken George Hilton's transportation economics at UCLA in 1973, I never thought the same of horses again. Hilton pointed out that horses in New York and other cities were responsible for flies and disease because they dumped 10.5 pounds of manure and urine on a typical day. Hilton pointed out that when people over 100 years ago talked about pollution, they had in mind the pollution created by horses. That's when I started to see the absurdity of bumper stickers I saw in L.A. that said, "Fight pollution: ride a horse." When I go on one of my favorite walks in Monterey, I refer to the horse mess on the trail as pollution. That's due to what Hilton taught me.
Levitt and Dubner tell a similar story, with more data and an even bigger estimate of the amount of manure dumped by horses. They point out that electric street cars and cars were a huge improvement.


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COMMENTS (5 to date)
puneet writes:

mindblowing thinking.

SydB writes:

The horse issue is interesting if not a fairly well-trodden path for anyone who has read up on energy issues and transportation. But I suppose there's an audience amongst their readers who have not read of this issue (plus the dead horses--and of course the cruelty of the way horses could have been and probably were treated).

Crawdad writes:

While getting sewn up once from a chainsaw accident (dough!) a doctor quipped to me that there are three things in this world that will get you if you are around them much; chainsaws, motorcycles and horses.

With that in mind your post reminded me of a discussion on, I believe NPR a while back, where a researcher claimed that horses were the leading cause of accidental deaths and serious injuries in the old west. He also claimed that the percentage of deaths and injuries from horses, were on par and possibly even higher than what we see with autos today. Having grown up around horses it would not suprise me. So, if we moved back to horses as a primary form of transportation we would have to take that into account with all the healthcare plans and talk of lowering costs :)

RL writes:

Syd, don't you think we've kicked the dead horse issue enough?

William Whipple writes:

Hi David,

It appears we were probably at UCLA at the same time. I took one accounting class there (Principles), did well actually, sure wish now I had taken more then.

You may not remember me but we used to play volleyball together at the DLI. I see Francois at Bagel Bakery most Saturdays and I usually ask him to say hi when he sees you.

Always enjoy reading your stuff.

Bill

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