Saturday, May 01, 2010

SuperFreakonomics: Steven D. Levitt & Stephen J. Dubner

I thrive on trivia. So, this book caught my fancy. This book is full of it, and that too backed by statistics! I am the sort of person who calls up a friend to just tell him/her something as random as 'Lets go to Greece this year'. That's another thing altogether that its a serious plan now. :) But you get my point. The random quote on a guy's tee...the endless what-if speculations that my mind delves on..stuff like whether 'intimation' is the noun form of 'intimate' :D ..I can spend hours with such random thoughts. Don't judge me. My friends were forewarned that they'll have to put up with a lot. :)

Getting back to the book, its quite an interesting read. Don't try to read it at a stretch..mind can only take in limited amount of data..and the stats in this book, you might want to pay attention to. There is this entire chapter on prostitution. I was reading it while on my way to Calcutta. Dad noticed what I was reading, and needless to say, didn't quite approve of my choice of literature. :) The authors make a pretty cool point about how to stop societal menaces like prostitution and drugs - by penalizing the buyers and not just focus on the suppliers. Cut the demand and you have cut the root of the problem, they say. Sounds just about right, except for the bit that men world over might get a li'l ticked off. :)

Then there is this bit about altruism. Now I am a believer of motives. Selflessness never quite hit the right chord with me. Incentives drive everything, the world over. So, when they talked about 'Warm-glow Altruism', it made a lot of sense. You give not only because you want to help but because it makes you look good, or feel good, or perhaps feel less bad. Think about it. The beggar whom you gave a five rupee coin at a traffic signal. That coin was not supposed to make him richer but was supposed to abate that uncomfortable feeling you had on seeing them..while you're probably chilling in your air-conditioned car. Told you, am a sceptic and a cynic. Cold and mean eh? :) 

Amidst all the hue and cry about global warming, this book is a refreshing take on such doomsday predictions. Quoting from the book - When the solution to a given problem doesn't lay right before our eyes, it is easy to assume that no solution exists. Uncertainty has a nasty way of making us conjure up the very worst possibilities. Yeah right, so we don't know yet what to do about all the emission gases that we are pumping in the atmosphere with glee. But hear this one. World as they knew it in the twentieth century was going to come to an end because people didn't know what to do with all the horse-shit that was being produced from the only mode of conveyance known in those times..the horse-carts. :D Then came the automobile which restored sanity in the world. So Mr. Al Gore, please chill..sit back and relax will you?! There is a way out of this problem too. We just don't know it yet. The simplest solutions are the hardest to come by, because they stare at you right in the face. For the geeky scientists, don't read this book and don't pay heed to what I say. Toil on, till you find that solution.For people like me and you (if you're laidback and optimistic), don't lose sleep over it. 

After the Murphy's law, I am now a believer of 'Law of Unintended Consequences'. Says Wiki - 'Any intervention in a complex system may or may not have the intended result, but will inevitably create unanticipated and often undesirable outcomes'. I think sometimes desirable too. :) This book has a fair share of its examples. So does life. Mine and yours. This post is long because I liked the book. For those who relate with the things I wrote, read the book too. Its worth the time and money spent.