A Funny (but Insightful) Critique of Freakonomics

The Economists’ Voice – “Freak-Freakonomics”: Israeli economist Ariel Rubinstein gives his answer to Freakonomics.

A sample quote:

“In this way, Levitt discovered dozens of deceitful teachers. The [Israeli Defense Force’s] intelligence units and credit card companies use similar algorithms. What have we learned about Levitt? He is a smart guy with connections in the municipality. What is the connection to economics? None. Like early imperialists, who conquered other nations in search of natural resources, economists like Levitt (and myself) have swaggered off into other fields in search of interesting questions.”

Rubinstein goes on to scold Levitt for using some shoddy facts as well – apparently 4 million of the 7 million children that ‘went missing’ from tax forms when social security numbers were required for all children claimed as deductions actually returned in short order, most likely the parents had not yet filed paperwork to get SSNs for their children and thus had to wait til the next year to claim them again. And so on.

I’ve read a number of critiques of Freakonomics, but I missed this one from 2006. Some challenge the underlying findings on methodological grounds(for example, the contentious link between legalized abortion and decreases in violent crime), others the data itself (like the above ‘missing children’), and others year question the value of ‘theory-free’ empiricism. But Rubinstein’s critique is one of the punchiest, and I recommend it if you have 10 minutes to spare and some nagging questions about Freakonomics.

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