NYTimes profile of interesting, young, Clark Medal-winning economist Steven Levitt. Why didn’t I know about him when I was in school? He could have been my role model. Or if I had known about Bill James, who now works for the Red Sox and was discussed in the great book Moneyball. Maybe the lure of statistics could have kept me out of the software game. Maybe not.
But if you were to ask Levitt his opinion of some standard economic matter, he would probably swipe the hair from his eyes and plead ignorance. ''I gave up a long time ago pretending that I knew stuff I didn't know,'' he says. ''I mean, I just -- I just don't know very much about the field of economics. I'm not good at math, I don't know a lot of econometrics, and I also don't know how to do theory. If you ask me about whether the stock market's going to go up or down, if you ask me whether the economy's going to grow or shrink, if you ask me whether deflation's good or bad, if you ask me about taxes -- I mean, it would be total fakery if I said I knew anything about any of those things.'' In Levitt's view, economics is a science with excellent tools for gaining answers but a serious shortage of interesting questions. His particular gift is the ability to ask such questions. For instance: If drug dealers make so much money, why do they still live with their mothers? Which is more dangerous, a gun or a swimming pool? What really caused crime rates to plunge during the past decade? Do real-estate agents have their clients' best interests at heart? Why do black parents give their children names that may hurt their career prospects? Do schoolteachers cheat to meet high-stakes testing standards? Is sumo wrestling corrupt?