(And Thanks for the Pen)

That is how Stephen Dubner signed my copy of Freakonomics:

For Bryan -
All best, (and thanks for the pen)
Stephen Dubner
Steven Levitt

Dubner was getting a hand cramp after signing the first 50 or so books with a skinny little pen, so I gave him one of my favorites, a Sanford uni-ball Jetstream, black.

Silly, that I would make such a big deal out of Dubner accepting my pen... so on with my event notes.

Levitt and Dubner were introduced as among other things, the authors of, "the most readable economics blog in the universe." I do enjoy reading the Freakonomics Blog, but I felt a twinge of competition when I heard that. But Dubner quickly won over the crowd with a quick "O H" - "I O" cheer (it's a Buckeye thing.) Levitt won the young crowd over with a quick story about Sudhir Venkatesh, and a university pre-approved, "F#@& You," from chapter three.

Beyond the entertainment value, Levitt gave some insight into his personal life. He revealed that in high school his AP Calculus test score was a meager two out of five, he admittedly did not excel in mathematics. However, he was fascinated by the television show "COPS" and he believes he was wired as a economist, something he discovered during his first college economics course. Levitt said that he, "thinks in terms of average and marginal cost..." and he looks for research everywhere he goes in everyday things.

Levitt also admitted to considering his own research when naming his youngest daughter, Sophie. He put a list together of names, from his list of "Freakonomics approved" baby names and he allowed his unwitting wife to choose.

Stephen Dubner shared the story of Keith Chen's monkeys who learned to use currency, express preferences, establish a budget, rationally respond to price shocks and wealth shocks, and even discovered monkey prostitution.

Levitt answered a select few audience questions. He came down with the rest of respectable economists against any price gouging legislation to punish oil companies for the natural price fluctuations in the oil industry. Levitt quickly responded, "I think they are doing exactly what you would expect. Oil companies are not wildly profitable to begin with." He further compared the oil companies to drug companies and declared that patent protection and high priced drugs are necessary to encourage the R&D necessary to further the industry, though the length of patent protection may be adjusted one way or another.

In response to a question from a political science student, who asked how Levitt would research suicide bombers and terrorists. Levitt reluctantly revealed that he is currently working on some research, though we will probably never hear about it if he is highly successful, as the government will likely keep it confidential. He claimed that tonight's taping by ABC prevented his sharing anything further, but he has determined that the occupation of another's homeland is the highest predictor for terrorism.

One of the most interesting responses, that addresses some of Ian's concerns about Levitt's work, came when a student asked, "How do you define the boundaries of social sciences?"
Levitt responded, "methods." He admits that the math and the topics overlap 100%, but the tools that we have at our disposal, as economists, are unique to our particular field. Levitt humbly admitted, "I can't even master all the tools of economics. To think that I could master the tools of other social sciences is crazy." Levitt would like to see increased cooperation between economists and other social scientists who can each contribute a unique set of tools, ways to ask questions and perspectives on a given issue.

Overall, I think Levitt does the industry a great service bringing the light of economics to the far reaches of the general public, because economics is powerful and "You know the market has the power to change the way we think; to change what we want." And if you spot Dubner at a book signing using a uni-ball Jetstream, let me know; maybe they'll send me free pens for the referral. :)

Update: Dubner mentions his visit here.

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This page contains a single entry by Bryan published on November 14, 2005 9:37 PM.

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