Steven Levitt Seminar – Introduction

by Henry on May 23, 2005

Steven Levitt’s work is familiar to many Crooked Timber readers. He’s a professor in the University of Chicago’s Economics Department, a winner of the John Clarke Bates medal, the editor of the Journal of Political Economy, and the author of a rather terrifying number of peer-reviewed articles. He’s also just co-authored a book with Stephen J. Dubner, a New York Times journalist who wrote a widely cited profile of Levitt last year. Freakonomics is currently Number Two on the New York Times bestseller list, and Number One on the Wall Street Journal’s business bestsellers list. In addition to all the above, Steve and his co-author have just started a blog centered on the book, and will soon start writing a monthly column for the Times. We asked Steve a while back whether he would be prepared to participate in a Crooked Timber seminar on freakonomics, economics, and the social sciences; he very kindly agreed, and you see the result before you. We’re also grateful to have the participation of two non-CT regulars. Tyler Cowen is a professor at George Mason University; he blogs at Marginal Revolution and still puts in an occasional appearance at the Volokhs. Tim Harford writes the “Dear Economist” column for the Financial Times. His first book, The Undercover Economist, is coming out in November 2005.

Kieran Healy argues that Levitt and Dubner’s use of the term “incentives” covers a multitude, and examines the relationship between freakonomics, economics, and the social sciences. John Quiggin argues that Levitt’s work is driven unflinchingly by the data, and that it provides evidence that even if incentives work, they don’t work in the ways that their designers might have expected. Henry Farrell supplements Healy’s and Quiggin’s arguments with a comparison between Levitt’s work and Gary Becker’s agenda for a unified economic approach to human behaviour. Tyler Cowen draws out some hypotheses from Levitt’s joint work on the economics of crack cocaine. Tim Harford examines why so few people try to popularize economic thinking. Finally, Steve himself responds to all the above.

As with our Mieville seminar, we expect that the main discussion will take place in comments to Levitt’s reply post. Feel free, however, to comment on individual posts if your comment seems more germane to a specific post or point made therein. As always, please be polite; unnecessarily offensive comments are likely to be deleted.

This seminar is available for reproduction under a Creative Commons license. For those who prefer to read printed text, a PDF is available here.

Update: Have changed the timestamp on these posts to keep them on the main page for a couple of days longer.


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