Steven Levitt


American Economist, Author of Freakonomics

Author Quotes

Being confident you are right is not the same as being right.

But a mountain of recent evidence suggests that teacher skill has less influence on a student's performance than a completely different set of factors: namely, how much kids have learned from their parents, how hard they work at home, and whether the parents have instilled an appetite for education.

But as history clearly shows, most people, whether because of nature or nurture, generally put their own interests ahead of others?.

As Albert Einstein liked to say, everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.

All of us face barriers?physical, financial, temporal?every day. Some are unquestionably real. But others are plainly artificial?expectations about how well a given system can function, or how much change is too much, or what kinds of behaviors are acceptable. The next time you encounter such a barrier, imposed by people who lack your imagination and drive and creativity, think hard about ignoring it. Solving a problem is hard enough; it gets that much harder if you?ve decided beforehand it can?t be done.

An incentive is a bullet, a key: an often tiny object with astonishing power to change a situation

And knowing what happens on average is a good place to start. By so doing, we insulate from the tendency to build our thinking - our daily decisions, our laws, our governance - on exceptions and anomalies rather than on reality

And while it sounds bad to hear that Americans underpay their taxes by nearly one-fifth, the tax economist Joel Slemrod estimates that the U.S. is easily within the upper tier of worldwide compliance rates.

Anecdotes often represent the lowest form of persuasion.

Anecdotes often represent the lowest form of persuasion. A story, meanwhile, fills out the picture. It uses data, statistical or otherwise, to portray a sense of magnitude; without data, we have no idea how a story fits into the larger scheme of things. A good story also includes the passage of time, to show the degree of constancy or change; without a time frame, we can?t judge whether we?re looking at something truly noteworthy or just an anomalous blip. And a story lays out a daisy chain of events, to show the causes that lead up to a particular situation and the consequences that result from it.

Another cardinal rule of thinking like a child: don?t be afraid of the obvious.

Are people innately altruistic? is the wrong kind of question to ask. People are people, and they respond to incentives. They can nearly always be manipulated--for good or ill--if only you find the right levers.

A dominant father greatly resembles the political candidate who believes that money wins elections, when in fact if a candidate dislike voters will be elected even with all the money in the world.

A few years ago, the dismal science was being acclaimed as a way of explaining ever more forms of human behavior, from drug-dealing to sumo wrestling.

A growing body of research suggests that even the smartest people tend to seek out evidence that confirms what they already think, rather than new information that would give them a more robust view of reality.

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.

A rogue economist explores the hidden side of everything.

After all, just because you?re at the office is no reason to stop thinking.

After all, your chances of winning a lottery and of affecting an election are pretty similar. From a financial perspective, playing the lottery is a bad investment. But it's fun and relatively cheap: for the price of a ticket, you buy the right to fantasize how you'd spend the winnings - much as you get to fantasize that your vote will have some impact on policy.

After recent events, one wonders if the macro-economy is the specialty of any economist.

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American Economist, Author of Freakonomics