Rubinstein on Levitt

The very talented economist and game theorist Ariel Rubinstein on Steven Levitt’s Freakanomics (via Tom Slee over at Whimsley):

Freakonomics lashes out at the entire world from the Olympus of economics. My response is an outline of “my new book”—Freak- Freakonomics. In my (“brilliant . . . ”) book, I will borrow from the structure and text of Freakonomics. I will show that if one also looks upon economists, including Levitt, as economic agents, one can use the insights of Freakonomics to lash out against . . . economics and economists.

Like Levitt, I have no central theme. My book will be a series of observations—some about economics, some about Freakonomics—that I hope the reader will find intriguing.

Chapter 1: is imperialism still alive?

Economists believe that they have a lot to contribute to any field—sociology, zoology or criminology. The academic imperialism of economics has something in common with political imperialism. Therefore, I will begin my chapter with a fascinating historical review where we will learn that imperialism stemmed from the perceived superiority of the conquering people over the conquered peoples, and that the role of the conqueror is to disseminate its lofty culture.

From here, I will move to describe Freakonomics as a typical work of academic imperialism. The complex interplay of feelings of superiority and deficiency has driven every empire, and economics is no different. Levitt: “Economics is a science with excellent tools for gaining answers, but a serious shortage of interesting questions”(xi). Freakonomics makes statistical reasoning, which is used in all the sciences, look like a subdued colony of economics. Furthermore, Freakonomics expresses the aspiration to expand economics to encompass any question that requires the use of common sense.