The field of economics can study more than the workings of economies or businesses, it can also help explore human behavior in how it reacts to incentives. Economist Steven D. Levitt and journalist Stephen J. Dubner host an anthology of documentaries that examines how people react to opportunities to gain, wittingly or otherwise. The subjects include the possible role a person's name has for their success in life, why there is so much cheating in an honor bound sport like sumo wrestling, what helped reduce crime in the USA in the 1990s onward and we follow an school experiment to see if cash prizes can encourage struggling students to improve academically. Written by
Kenneth Chisholm (email@example.com)
Steven Levitt - Author:
The closest thing to a worldview, I would say, in "Freakonomics," is that incentives matter. Not just financial incentives, but social incentives and moral incentives.
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I've read the book, which was indubitably very interesting, even if it some claims seemed a tad far-fetched. The documentary, however, has several problems. Firstly, each chapter of the book can EASILY-- actually, SHOULD-- be a documentary of its own. The data used to back up the claims is fairly poor and weak, which is a shame, because some of the ideas really are interesting to explore. But with so little time devoted to them, they don't seem credible. The problem with this documentary and the book is that it makes no effort to refute any counterarguments-- and there are MANY possible ones. It is incredibly easy to lie with statistics and spin numbers to work for you.
Even in terms of entertainment value, it was mediocre, at best. To be frank, I found Dubner and Levitt's commentary extremely annoying. I felt like they were lecturing first graders. The way information was presented in neat little elementary-school-like "what-we-learned- from-this" packages was another annoyance for me.
The main problem with a documentary that attempts to make an argument is that you have to do it in a way that does not make the viewers feel manipulated, which is very difficult (Michael Moore, for instance, sucks at it). And one such as this does not make a solid case for any of its claims and left me with a huge pile of questions. Even if what they say really is true, I can't buy it, because the evidence is presented in such a slapdash, half-baked kind of way.
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