Freakonomics Author Speaks at CMC

Steven Levitt, co-author of Freakonomics and SuperFreakonomics, spoke at Claremont McKenna’s Marian Miner Cook Athenaeum on Friday, just two days after publishing his latest book.Levitt is well known for his unorthodox approach to economics. At the event, he elaborated on how he developed his methods.“I’m terrible at math,” Levitt said. Levitt had great interest in economics, but could not continue studying the subject conventionally due to his lack of math skills. Despite this shortcoming, Levitt went on to study economics at Harvard University and MIT.In what Levitt called “the only inspirational speech my father ever gave me,” Levitt said his father convinced him that he had to study the areas of economics that were so “off the beaten path that no other economist would be willing to accept them.”Levitt explained how he and his co-author Stephen Dubner together explored the economic dynamics of topics such as street prostitution over the century, with pimps and without.In the question and answer portion of the evening, Levitt addressed the challenges of differentiating correlation and causation in his studies.“The ultimate way to distinguish [them] is through randomized experiments,” Levitt said.In circumstances where experiments cannot be arranged because they would require too large a scale or interfere with lives or society, Levitt resorts to what he calls “accidental experiments.” He explained that accidental experiments are situations that occur naturally in the past or present and that have similar variables to the ones he hopes to study and compare.“[I have a] career devoted to finding accidental experiments,” Levitt said.Levitt ended his lecture with a statement on geo-engineering—deliberately manipulating climate—versus carbon mitigation in the fight to end global warming. Levitt argued that methods of combating global warming other than carbon mitigation should be considered because carbon mitigation is long-term, expensive, and requires a global effort.

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