Steven Levitt

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Themes and Colors
Incentives Theme Icon
Irrational Behavior, Experts, and “Conventional Wisdom” Theme Icon
Morality and Prescriptive vs. Descriptive Thinking Theme Icon
Nature vs. Nurture Theme Icon
Crime Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Freakonomics, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.


At the core of Freakonomics is the concept of incentives. The concept of incentives is a way of explaining why human beings do things. In general, humans behave a certain way because they either perceive that behavior as offering a reward of some kind—a positive incentive, or “carrot”—or they avoid certain behaviors because those behaviors seem to lead to a punishment—a negative incentive, or “stick.” Intuitively, we all understand how incentives work: people work harder…

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Irrational Behavior, Experts, and “Conventional Wisdom”

At times, human beings behave rationally. They pursue their own best interests, protecting their health, their financial security, and their safety. However, there are many times when human beings act irrationally, harming their own interests. In Freakonomics, Dubner and Levitt show how extensively irrational thinking governs our lives, and how economic knowledge can sometimes correct irrational thinking at its worst.

Dubner and Levitt detail two main forms of irrational behavior. First, Freakonomics shows how…

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Morality and Prescriptive vs. Descriptive Thinking

Freakonomics can be a challenging book because of the way that it entertains controversial ideas. When the book was first published in 2005, some readers and reviewers criticized Levitt and Dubner for discussing the possibility that there is an inverse relationship between gun sales and gun violence—an idea that people might find offensive. Others faulted the authors for claiming that the heightening abortion rate of the 1970s and 80s caused the falling crime rates of…

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Nature vs. Nurture

Much of Freakonomics is concerned with the difference between nature—the genetic qualities with which a human being is born—and nurture—the environmental influences that shape a human being’s character and behavior. By studying the relative influence of nature and nurture in children, the book reaches some interesting conclusions about both, while also suggesting some of the strengths and weaknesses of economics itself.

In order to assess the relative importance of nature and nurture, Levitt and Dubner…

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More than half of the chapters of Freakonomics take some form of crime as their subject. Throughout the book, the authors use case studies of crime as examples of important economic principles. But crime is more than just an illustration of economic ideas—it’s an important theme of Freakonomics in its own right. In general, the authors’ impartial, behavioral arguments have the effect of removing the stigma of crime and humanizing criminals.

One of the authors’…

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