Super-Freaky: Intellectual dishonesty or disingenuous immorality?

The new Levitt and Dubner Freakonomics book has come out (called, of course, Super Freakonomics) and the buzz has already started. The two authors are making the talk show circuits and they have a scheduled appearance tonight at Town Hall in Seattle.

With the first book, they pissed us off with the “How are real estate agents like the Ku Klux Klan”. But now it gets better with “Why pimps have a greater financial impact than real estate agents”.

“Just as you can sell your body with or without the aid of a pimp, you can sell your house with or without a Realtor,” they write. “While Realtors charge a much lower commission than the pimps — about 5 percent versus 25 percent — the Realtor’s cut is usually in the tens of thousands of dollars for a single sale.”

And more:

“A Realtor and a pimp perform the same primary service: marketing your product to potential customers,” Levitt and Dubner write. “As this study shows, the Internet is proving to be a pretty powerful substitute for the Realtor.”

Of course, the problem with Super Freakonomics is it prefers an interesting story to an accurate one.

It is in the authors economic self-interest to promote sensational and controversial stories, whether or not they are true. Like an intellectual Rush Limbaugh or one of the Fox News toadies, it’s interesting and sensational stories, not accurate ones, that pump up ratings and sell the books.

Making claims that will likely not stand up to serious scrutiny won’t matter after the personable authors sell thousands of books and make the talk-show circuit at $30 a ticket.

Why are residential real estate agents compared to pimps? Why not commercial real estate agents? Why not stockbrokers? Why not retail shopkeepers who act as middleman between wholesalers and the general public? Why are residential real estate agents, mostly women, targeted by these two authors? It’s interesting to note too, that in their new book they bend over backwards not to make any moral judgments about the prostitutes they write about, but wonder why more women don’t make the “career choice” to turn to prostitution. Who knows? Maybe that will be an easier choice for some women if Levitt and Dubner are successful in eliminating real estate sales as a career option.

There approach to their subject isn’t so much research than reducto ad absurdam; it takes the complexities of economics and reduces it down to a simplistic and meaningless vision. It takes the most obvious of targets, in this case residential real estate agents, and attempts to prove their uselessness. Because, after all, that’s how the authors make their points, by proving “conventional wisdom” is wrong, by finding something people believe in and playing the role of contrarian. With the down economy, Realtor bashing and whack-an-agent is popular now days and Realtors make a convenient punching bag.

The Shoddy Statistics of Super Freakonomics

Journalistic Malpractice From Leavitt and Dubner

Does “Superfreakonomics” Need A Do-Over?

Super Offend-O-Nomics

Superfreaky idea pits pimps vs. real estate agents
(Ex-pimp turned preacher gives his take on Freakonomics theory)

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