Steven Levitt


American Economist, Author of Freakonomics

Author Quotes

When you?re that engaged, you?ll run circles around other people even if they are more naturally talented.

While discussing about his research on the names in a radio program, Roland G. Fryer Jr. accepted a call from a black woman who felt disgusted by the name they had just given her newborn niece. He was pronounced shuh-Teed, but in fact was written as Shithead [silly, worthless].

While one might expect that suicide is highest among people whose lives are the hardest, research by Lester and others suggests the opposite: suicide is more common among people with a higher quality of life. If you?re unhappy and you have something to blame your unhappiness on?if it?s the government, or the economy, or something?then that kind of immunizes you against committing suicide, he says. It?s when you have no external cause to blame for your unhappiness that suicide becomes more likely.

Why do so many frown so sternly at the idea of having fun? Perhaps out of fear that it connotes you aren?t serious. But best as we can tell, there is no correlation between appearing to be serious and actually being good at what you do. In fact an argument can be made that the opposite is true.

Why I Write for Children, he explained the appeal. Children read books, not reviews, he wrote. They don?t give a hoot about the critics. And: When a book is boring, they yawn openly, without any shame or fear of authority. Best of all?and to the relief of authors everywhere?children don?t expect their beloved writer to redeem humanity.

Why is it so important to have fun? Because if you love your work (or your activism or your family time), then you?ll want to do more of it. You?ll think about it before you go to sleep and as soon as you wake up; your mind is always in gear. When you?re that engaged, you?ll run circles around other people even if they are more naturally talented. From what we?ve seen personally, the best predictor of success among young economists and journalists is whether they absolutely love what they do. If they approach their job like?well, a job?they aren?t likely to thrive. But if they?ve somehow convinced themselves that running regressions or interviewing strangers is the funnest thing in the world, you know they have a shot.

Would a diet high in omega-3 lead to world peace?

You may not like this idea; none of us wants to admit that we are pack animals. But in a complicated world, running with the herd can make sense. Who has time to think through every decision and all the facts behind it? If everybody around you thinks that conserving energy is a good idea?well, maybe it is. So if you are the person designing an incentive scheme, you can use this knowledge to herd people into doing the right thing?even if they?re doing it for the wrong reasons.

You'd be a fool or a deluded idealist to think ethics would be prominent on Wall Street. That is not a statement against people in the money business, just a fact.

Young women in Cameroon have their breasts ironed?beaten or massaged by a wooden pestle or a heated coconut shell?to make them less sexually tempting.

When people aren't compelled to pay the full costs of their actions, they have little incentive to change their behavior.

When people don?t pay the true cost of something, they tend to consume it inefficiently.

When someone is heavily invested in his or her opinion, it is inevitably hard to change the person?s mind.

When the solution to a given problem doesn?t lay right before our eyes, it is easy to assume that no solution exists. But history has shown again and again that such assumptions are wrong. This is not to say the world is perfect. Nor that all progress is always good. Even widespread societal gains inevitably produce losses for some people. That?s why the economist Joseph Schumpeter referred to capitalism as creative destruction. But humankind has a great capacity for finding technological solutions to seemingly intractable problems, and this will likely be the case for global warming. It isn?t that the problem isn?t potentially large. It?s just that human ingenuity?when given proper incentives?is bound to be larger. Even more encouraging, technological fixes are often far simpler, and therefore cheaper, than the doomsayers could have imagined. Indeed, in the final chapter of this book we?ll meet a band of renegade engineers who have developed not one but three global-warming fixes, any of which could be bought for less than the annual sales tally of all the Thoroughbred horses at Keeneland auction house in Kentucky.

When there is a lot of people willing to do a job and able, usually it is not well paid. That is one of the four significant factors determining wages. The other three are the specialized skills required for a job, how unpleasant it is and demand for services that meet.

the swimming pool is almost 100 times more likely to kill a child than the gun is.

Thinking like a Freak may sometimes sound like an exercise in using clever means to get exactly what you want, and there?s nothing wrong with that. But if there is one thing we?ve learned from a lifetime of designing and analyzing incentives, the best way to get what you want is to treat other people with decency. Decency can push almost any interaction into the cooperative frame.

Tis much better to do a little with certainty and leave the rest for others that come after than to explain all things by conjecture without making sure of anything.

To Borody and a small band of like-minded brethren who believe in the power of poop, we are standing at the threshold of a new era in medicine. Borody sees the benefits of fecal therapy as equivalent to the discovery of antibiotics. But first, there is much skepticism to overcome.

turns out that a real-estate agent keeps her own home on the market an average of ten days longer and sells it for an extra 3-plus percent, or $10,000 on a $300,000 house.

Unless you have more information, however, it?s hard to say what?s causing what. Someone who

Wall Street is populated by a bunch of people whose primary goal is to make money, and the rules are pretty much caveat emptor.

When a woman does not want to have a child, she usually has good reason. She may be unmarried or in a bad marriage. She may consider herself too poor to raise a child. She may think her life is too unstable or unhappy, or she may think that her drinking or drug use will damage the baby?s health. She may believe that she is too young or hasn?t yet received enough education. She may want a child badly but in a few years, not now. For any of a hundred reasons, she may feel that she cannot provide a home environment that is conducive to raising a healthy and productive child.

When Al Gore urges the citizenry to sacrifice their plastic shopping bags, their air-conditioning, their extraneous travel, the agnostics grumble that human activity accounts for just 2 percent of global carbon-dioxide emissions, with the remainder generated by natural processes like plant decay.

When it comes to solving problems, one of the best ways to start is by putting away your moral compass. Why? When you are consumed with the rightness or wrongness of a given issue?whether it?s fracking or gun control or genetically engineered food?it?s easy to lose track of what the issue actually is. A moral compass can convince you that all the answers are obvious (even when they?re not); that there is a bright line between right and wrong (when often there isn?t); and, worst, that you are certain you already know everything you need to know about a subject so you stop trying to learn more.

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American Economist, Author of Freakonomics