Freakonomics: Why do drug dealers still live with their moms?

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Levitt and Dubner begin this chapter with stating that it is ok to ask “freakish” questions because the answers could potentially “overturn conventional wisdom.”  The term “conventional wisdom” means that we tend to accept statistics given to us as true and don’t challenge them because it could put people in awkward situations.  They discuss a few examples of absurd statistics told to the public and stress that in order to gain an accurate statistic, it is important to find the right data; which ultimately lies with the right person.  In the case of this chapter, the right people are drug dealers.

Page 57, directly after defining conventional wisdom: “In the early 1980s, an advocate for the homeless named Mitch Snyder took to saying that there were about 3 million homeless Americans…More than 1 of every 100 people were homeless?”  I think this is an important statistic to start with because it enforces their point that not all statistics told to the public are necessarily true, some may even be absurd, and this specific example leaves an impression.  They continue to discuss this statistic in a slightly sarcastic way, pointing out the absurdities of what Snyder said and what the implications would be if it were actually true.

Page 58: “Women’s rights advocates, for instance, have hyped the incidence of sexual assault, claiming that one in three American women will in their lifetime be a victim of rape or attempted rape.  (The actual figure is more like one in eight…).”  This adds to the point that many widely accepted statistics are false; it left an impression on me because I have been told that statistic many times and I never actually thought to question it much.  After stating this statistic, they discuss that it is important to know the “expert’s” incentive in telling the statistic, in this case is it a political advisor or a women’s health advocate?

Page 65, they discuss the wages of each type of member in a drug-dealing gang.  They state that the leader of the network earns $8,500/month, while his foot-soldiers earned about $3.30/hour, and estimate that there are about 5,300 men working under 120 bosses.  The answer to the initial question is then presented: “The top 120 men in the Black Disciples gang represented just 2.2 percent of the full-fledged gang membership but took home well more than half the money.”  These statistics are presented after a thorough discussion of where this data was gathered from, how it was collected, and answers a very interesting question.  If I had only read the statistics with no information given, I may not have found it very believable (after reading the intro); but after reading all of the information, it makes sense.  I think this only adds to the point the authors are making.

Page 66, the fate a foot soldier faces by working in J.T.’s gang for four years:

Number of arrests- 5.9

Number of nonfatal wounds or injuries- 2.4

Chance of being killed- 1 in 4

I think these statistics are important to telling the story because they are also statistics that seem unbelievable- possibly because of the privileged society that I’ve lived/ grew up in.  But given the description of what exactly foot soldiers jobs consist of along with all of the other information provided in this chapter, it adds up.

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4 responses »

  1. Kelly, I too found many of the same statistics interesting. The authors do a great job of presenting the absurd ways that statistics can be used and how easy they are to falsify. In my post i did not focus on “convential wisdom” but Im glad you brought it up in your post. Although I have not read more of this book, “convential wisdom” seems to be what its built around. I wonder how many statistics I’ve been told or I have told people that have encountered the same deceit as the homeless example.
    -Stinson out

    • Yeah, now that I’ve read this I’m definitely more inclined to question the statistics that are told to me. I think the whole concept of “conventional wisdom” is prominent in our society, I feel like a lot of people believe what they’re told through the media, for example, and that’s something that will hopefully change one day.

  2. I really your view interesting, you don’t just read what the book says and take it as fact. I like how you question the statistics and provide alternative data for what you have read. You don’t just accept what is written as fact.

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