Thoughts and quotes from “Freakonomics” by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner

Numbers tend to lie less badly than people do.


I am little behind the curve on this one. The book was originally published in 2005. I have heard it referenced many times thought the years. I finally read it in 2019.

I enjoyed this book a lot. In fact, it made me wonder if I had missed my intended calling as a psychiatry-economics-sociologist. The book takes on multiple sets of assumptions and asks, “Is common thought, factual thought?” or “Is there a better explanation for this?”

Here are a few of the quotes I noted along the way:

  • Morality, it could be argued, represents the way that people would like the world to work – whereas economics represents how it actually does work.
  • Incentives are the cornerstone of modern life. And understanding them – or, often, ferreting them out – is the key to solving just about any riddle.
  • The conventional wisdom is often wrong.
  • Dramatic effects often have distant, even subtle causes.
  • There is nothing like the sheer power of numbers to scrub away layers of confusion and contradiction.
  • An incentive is simply a means of urging people to do more of a good thing and less of a bad thing.
  • There are three basic flavors of incentive: economic, social, and moral.
  • “A thing worth having is a thing worth cheating for.” – W. C. Fields
  • Just because a question has never been asked does not make it good.
  • Immutable law of labor: when there are a lot of people willing and able to do a job, that job doesn’t pay well.
  • “The risks that scare people and the risks that kill people are very different” – Peter Sandman
  • “Risks that you control are much less a source of outrage than risks that are our of your control.” – Peter Sandman
  • Numbers tend to lie less badly than people do.

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