The book Freedomnomics by John Lott Jr. is an exploratory work of the economic principles that underlie the functioning of modern society. Much like Donahue and Levitt in their book Freakonomics, Lott Jr. makes his point by making an unexpected claim and providing astonishing yet scientifically accurate evidence to support it. However, while the core structure and the cause of the book’s appeal are similar to the work by Donahue and Levitt, its essential ideas and claims are radically different, often run counter to each other or, on some occasions, even present a valid counterargument. Broadly speaking, the underlying theme of the book is the superiority of the free market principles not only in the strictly economic setting but also in social and cultural ones, where it already produces measurable results.
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The most prominent issue raised by Lott Jr. that illustrates this tendency is the supposed decline of crime rate and the causes behind it. Lott Jr. argues that the conclusions reached by Donahue and Levitt, which tie the outcome to the legalization of abortions, are inappropriate since they do not account for a nearly identical effect in Canada, where a similar legal provision occurred 15 years later than in the U.S. (Lott Jr. 126). Another fact that strengthens the assertion is the established flaw in the methodology of previous studies which, when accounted for, produces a result suggestive of the increase in crime rates. As a substitute, he offers an alternative hypothesis that the decreased crime rates are occurring due to the change of standards associated with affirmative action initiatives. According to the book, there is a robust negative relationship between the number of individuals hired as a result of the change in standards and the number of murders occurring in the region (Lott Jr. 132).
As an explanation for the Canadian counterpart, the author states that the laws which permitted concealed carry of firearms to have a significant effect on the decline of crime, unlike the gun control attempts that, according to the evidence in the book, have no visible effect on it (Lott Jr. 85). It is important to acknowledge that without appropriate peer review and validation, the initial assertions looked no less convincing than the one described in Freedomnomics and the latter may turn out inappropriate as well. Nevertheless, this example is interesting since it takes a radically different stance: instead of the subtle socialist implications contained in Donahue and Levitt’s version, the theory is based on free-market principle and is backed with the same statistical analysis methods. Therefore, it illustrates two important points. First, it suggests the need to consider the political and social background of the studies to locate possible biases. Second, it suggests the need to carefully approach and verify the results of statistical analyses since they can produce such polarised results.
Another issue brought up by Lott Jr. is his exploration of the reasons behind the growth of governments in the late twentieth century. Similar to the previous problem, the book ties it to the strong points of the free market, specifically to the phenomenon of women suffrage (Lott Jr. 160). While the conclusion is visibly partisan, the actual argument behind the claim is scientifically valid and includes an ingenious test. This issue is more important for the educational value it bears than for the social implications associated with it. While it is tempting to use these findings as a rebuttal, its actual importance originates from the clever reframing of an established notion for the explanation of the application of statistics to various manifestations of market principles. Once we can identify the variables and choose an appropriate methodology, we can reach a viable conclusion (and, preferably, avoid bias in the process). In other words, the described issue uses a relevant and controversial topic to emphasize the importance of the results and provide enough detail to eliminate misinterpretation and misuse of the approach.
Finally, the book raises an interesting connection between drug prices and the dynamics of pharmaceutical industry development. The author uses a simple analogy where the high prices of medications in the U.S. lead to the opportunity to incentivize the development of new drugs and otherwise promote innovation (Lott Jr. 23). Accordingly, the decrease of prices (e.g. as a result of government regulations) will eventually lead to the decline of the industry and the adverse effects for American citizens and, later, the people around the world. While the basic premise is well-understood and accepted in economics, this particular example is valuable because it is built around the intentionally sensitive topic: the demand for the development of better medications conflicts with the desire to decrease individual expenditures. In other words, this example is effective for purposes of illustrating the benefits of the free market and improving understanding of inherent conflicts that necessarily arise on a small scale and can be misinterpreted as proof of its weaknesses.
In all, the book, similarly to Freakonomics, which attempts to debunk, uses deliberately controversial issues to illustrate the application of economic principles to various segments of life. However, unlike its counterpart, Freedomnomics takes the free market theory as its basis and substantiates its findings much more rigorously than the former, which makes it better suited for an in-depth inquiry.
Lott Jr, John R. Freedomnomics: Why the Free Market Works and Other Half-Baked Theories Don’t. Regnery Publishing, 2007.
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