"How many of you wash your hands?"
Stephen Dubner, co-author of Freakonomics and the new SuperFreakonomics, was prodding the Monday night audience at the Washington Post Conference Center in Washington, DC. A forest of hands sprung from the seats. "Maybe I should rephrase," said co-author Steven Levitt, an economist. "How many people don't wash their hands." Two young men raised their arms in mock pride. Audience members alternatively chuckled and grimaced, but Levitt turned the joke on them.
"We know that a whole bunch of you are lying," he said. Studies show as little as 9 percent of men really, truly wash their hands. The audience laughed again, this time with a hint of discomfort (nine percent?). And in a moment, we had a microcosm of the night's three lessons: People lie. Conventional wisdom is asking for it. We should all laugh more about economics.
Freakonomics, a sociological tapestry of anecdotes strung on a simple axiomatic thread - incentives matter -- was a runaway success. So Stephen and Steven doubled down on the formula. The book launch event for SuperFreakonomics, hosted by Hooks Books, was predictably a lot like the original material, chock full of colorful characters and stories that are supposed to seem out of place for a book that rhymes with economics: Prostitutes, monkey sex, various flavors of debauchery.