Monday, October 26, 2009

Super Freaking

Dubner and Levitt have followed up their best selling Freakanomics with a new book extending their shtick. They call it Superfreakanomics, probably because How to lie with statistics, part II wouldn't sell as well. Others have well-documented their systematic dishonesty on the climate question, but let me just comment on Dubner's recent gig on CNN.

One of the subtitles refers to Patriotic Prostitutes, their cutsey way of proclaiming that the Fourth of July is a good day for the sex trade. This was a lead in to a discussion of their claim that street prostitute today earn about four times as much as they would in more conventional occupations, but 100 years ago, they earned ten times as much. Dubner attributed this change to the sexual revolution, claiming that the difference was due to greater availability of free sex. This may not be entirely wrong, and it might even be right, but their facile assumption is typical of the shallow nature of their reasoning. For one thing, the ecology of prostitution is different since the invention of the internet (and even since the telephone). For another, good paying jobs for women in the legitimate economy are far more available than 100 years ago. Widespread availability of birth control and condoms has made prostitution slightly safer. More addictive drugs are available that may increase the supply of prostitutes. The list goes on.

The original Freak had its amusing moments, rather spoiled for me by the pompous puffery that had Dubner praising Levitt's genius in every other section. Sequels are usually a pale imitation of the original. This could well be the case here.