What we’re watching: Freakonomics: The Movie (2010)

April 22, 2012 in The People's [Censored] by Bryan

Occupy Baton Rouge

“In 2005, journalist Stephen Dubner partnered with rogue economist Steven Levitt to write a book that promised to explore the ‘hidden side of everything’. A surprise literary sensation, Freakonomics became a global phenomenon, selling more than 4 million copies and introducing readers to a new way to view the world.”

Freakonomics: The MovieIn 2010, enter Freakonomics: The Movie. Starting off with an explanation of a real estate agent’s interest in your home’s sale price and finishing it up with “Can You Bribe a 9th Grader to Succeed?”, Freakonomics covers a myriad of topics in between.

Ok, so maybe not a myriad, but more than a couple. Some, admittedly, more surprising (like links between legalized abortion and a reduction in crime rates) and some a bit more covert than others (such as corruption throughout the Sumo culture). But all the topics, ranging through cheating, real estate, parenting, incentives, and cause and effect, are sure to keep you interested.

The film mostly ends up being a series of documentary shorts used to further explain the two Ste(ph/v)en’s statistical worldviews. One of my favorite shorts was A Roshanda By Any Other Name, written by Morgan Spurlock—of Supersize Me fame—and Jeremy Chilnick. (Just a note for transparency’s sake, I happen to love Morgan Spurlock!) It covers all the connotations of a child’s name and the effects those names have on children’s life outcomes.

One of the most interesting comparisons is between historically white names as compared to the Afrocentric names that entered the scene starting with the black power movement of the late 1960s. One study involved the creation of 5000 resumes sent out in Boston and Chicago with half having names considered white and the other half having historically black names. The likelihood to receive an interview was about 33% less for those with African-American names, despite the resumes being identical. As the conductor of the study, Dr. Mullainathan puts it “It means that if a white person is searching for a job for 10 weeks, an equally skilled African-American will be searching for a job for 15 weeks. And those are 5 long weeks if you are unemployed.”

So if you want to know why there was a suspicion of polio being caused by ice cream, or have always wondered what percentage of crime reduction can be attributed to innovative policing tactics, put this one on your instant queue and learn a thing or two about Freakonomics!


Originally published in the People’s [Censored], Issue 2.

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