Plenty to Like in Freedomnomics
By Bryan Caplan
The Levitt-Lott feud is already the stuff of legends. By billing his latest book as “A Rebuttal to Freakonomics and More,” Lott has made it clear that the feud’s not over. If you’re like me, squabbling is a big turn-off, but don’t be hasty. There is plenty to like in Lott’s latest book.
Here are a few random highlights:
- A cute story about how a company captured the profits of developing a hypoallergenic cat: “In order to forestall the creation of a secondary market by customers who buy the cats [$3950 + $900 shipping] and then breed them themselves, Allerca simply neuters all the cats it sells.”
- Debunking an urban legend: Contrary to popular belief, driving a new car off the lot does not make its price instantly plummet:
[U]sed cars with only a few thousand miles on them sell for almost the same price as when new… The certified used car price [of 2006 models] was on average just 3 percent less than the new car MSRP. And it was 3 percent higher than the new car Bluebook prices… I called Kelly Bluebook to check if the sample I had was representative and was told that a study of all the cars in their sample would have yielded a similar result; there is surely no 25 percent drop in a car’s price as soon as you drive it off the lot.”
- Traitors in our midst? People who get near-absolute job security almost never switch sides:
When a president nominates justices, he looks for a judge who will provide a reliable vote for his political orientation… Justices may be able to hide or misrepresent their true philosophies in hopes of getting a Supreme Court nomination, but it is difficult to do over a long period of time.
Souter, the exception that proves the rule, was “a judge with little experience on the Appeals Court.”
The same goes for tenured profs:
Because tenure is for life, professors are reluctant to offer it to conservative candidates whose politics may annoy them for decades… Perhaps a candidate can hide is true politics for a time, but can he do this for five to seven years?… Thus, the tenure process tends to result in the promotion of professors who are both liberal and hard-working.
- How often have you heard that special interests hedged their bets by giving money to all sides? Lott says it’s a myth:
What is often lazily reported as “corporate” donations for a federal race is really the sum-total of donations by a corporation’s individual employees. And there is a perfectly logical explanation why we would see corporate employees donating to both parties: most companies employ both Republicans and Democrats.
In the rare instances where PACs double-give, it’s a matter of manners, not cynicism. When a member of a PAC runs for Congress, his PAC will often give him some money to show him some love, even if the PAC already supports his opponent.
Finally, Lott ably debunks the last putative example of double-giving:
[D]ouble-giving is sometimes alleged when PACs simultaneously donate to both Democratic and Republican primaries. But this is not actually a case of double-giving, and there is nothing cynical about it; PACs simply seek to support candidates in both parties whose positions are closest to their own.
And that’s just the first third of the book. Even in the parts where I honestly don’t know what to think – most obviously, the “more abortion, less crime debate” – Lott seems pretty reasonable.
My Pollyanna hope for the resolution of the Levitt-Lott feud is that Freedomnomics becomes a best-seller, leading a Solomonic judge to throw out the lawsuit on the grounds that “all publicity is good publicity.” Fingers crossed.