November 09, 2007

From the New York Times website I discovered the Freakonomics Blog which lead me to buy the book the blog is based off of. I also managed to finish the book today, and I must say it is as good as I expected. A collection of interesting anecdotes, data, and adventures that challenge preconceived notions about a large variety of things. It emphasizes the importance of properly looking at data and its context, not just using correlation. My favorite chapter was the one where they utilized data from the Chicago Public School System to ferret out cheating teachers. The chapter showed a problem with standardized testing and did an excellent job of demonstrating the effect of incentives on the actions of people we might not consider in a situation. I am personally not a big fan of standardized testing, but it does have its upsides and provides administrators with important data.

I also found to be of interest to me as someone who is involved in politics, the chapter that describes the effect of money on political campaigns. Levitt asserts that money does not have a large influence on political campaigns, but rather the receptiveness of the public to a candidate is what determines if he wins. This contradicts conventional wisdom in political circles, that raising money is an important measure of the ability of a candidate to win a race. However I doubt my candidate will win if, as Levitt asserts, I do not bother to vote in the election because my vote does not have a large impact. That is why we have political parties, unions, and other interest groups today. When people organize, and block their votes together, the value of their vote increases, and their voices are more likely to be heard. It is much easier and more cost effective for a politician to attempt to persuade a group of likeminded people, than to appeal to individuals. When you participate in these groups, your voice actually becomes amplified. So my suggestion is do not go to the voting booth just for you, but go for what you believe in. Work with other people, and together you can have a real impact.

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This work by Matt Zagaja is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.