BOOK REVIEW: Riveting blogs by Freakonomics authors

When to Rob a Bank: A Rogue Economist’s Guide to the World, by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner, paperback edition published by Penguin Books in 2015, 350 pages, available at Asia Books for 350 baht.

THOSE who enjoyed reading the Freakonomics trilogy with its populist slant to everyday economics all of which goes down very well with the authors’ wry sense of humor will certainly get hooked to this curated collection of their blogs.

When the first book, Freakonomics, was published the two authors started a blog at writing in a more casual style and kept it up through the publication of their second book, Superfreakonomics, and the third, Think Like a Freak.

It was Dubner, an American journalist who has written seven books and numerous articles, who persuaded Levitt, an American economist, to join him in launching a companion website to their first book because the latter is, as the book says, “always a few years behind, had never heard of a blog much less read or written one.”

What we liked about When to Rob a Bank is that these blogs are short and can be read at intervals for example while waiting for a bus may be a train or to see a doctor perhaps a dentist. Britons will especially find it appealing because of substantial reference of their country.

Being in Thailand, it was pleasing to see Phuket mentioned in one of the blogs with this focusing on donating money to victims of disasters. The point is that the Asian tsunami in 2004, where 220,000 people died, got US$1.92 billion in US individual charitable donations; Hurricane Katrina in 2005, which left 1,833 dead, got US$5.3 billion; but the  Pakistan earthquake in 2005, with 73,000 deaths, only got US$0.15 billion ($150 million).

Levitt is guessing that Americans gave more to the tsunami victims because aside from hitting poorer areas it also hit a high-profile resort like Phuket.

“Will the future produce some sort of ‘disaster marketing’ movement in which aid agencies learn to appeal to potential contributors?” This is an idea worth think about.

The book’s title comes from the heading of a short blog by Dubner on this criminal activity where he mentions reading about a man who robbed six New Jersey banks but only did so on Thursdays. The robber did not give any reason for choosing that particular day.

“Perhaps he knew something about how banks did business; perhaps his astrologist told him Thursdays were lucky; perhaps it simply fit his schedule.”

Dubner further quotes riveting statistics from FBI on bank robberies showing that there are roughly 5,000 bank robberies a year in US and Friday is essentially the busiest weekday with 1,042 robberies; Tuesdays come next with 922; Thursdays follow on with 885; the total on Mondays is 858; and on Wednesdays  842. Of course there are relatively few bank robberies on weekends.

“But there is no evidence that any one day is more likely to be successful than another.”

While morning robberies yield more money than those mounted in the afternoon, $5,180 versus $3,705, robbers mostly strike in the afternoon.

“Overall US bank robbers earn an average of $4,120 when they are successful. But they aren’t successful as often as I would have thought: they are arrested 35% of the time!”

While this book is filled with such though-provoking and humorous blogs, the moving pieces written by Levitt and his father, a physician, on the death of Levitt’s sister from cancer, saddens us all.

When the hectic urban life becomes a bit too much to bear or other heavy problems weigh you down, it is books like this which help dispel the gloom.



TOP: The front and back covers of the paperback edition of When to Rob a Bank: A Rogue Economist’s Guide to the World.

By Nina Suebsukcharoen


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