Ap english Language and Composition

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Molly McWilliams

AP English Language and Composition

Mr. Lane


Independent Reading: Researched Argument

Freakonomics: Researched Argument

Section I: Introduction and Context

Economics: a field of study applied to almost every facet of life. You may hear economics discussed on the nightly news; you may read about the failing economy in the newspaper. Although the study of economics is so frequently used and referenced, one question remains that mystifies many: what exactly is the study of economics? As told by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner in their groundbreaking novel, Freakonomics: a Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything, economics is essentially the study of incentives. Regarding this type of economical thinking, Dubner states, “Many people—including a fair number of his peers—might not recognize Levitt’s work as economics at all. But he has merely distilled the so-called dismal science to its most primal aim: explaining how people get what they want” (Levitt & Dubner, xxv). This unconventional way of exploring economics is driven by questions that one may not normally ask yet which affect our every day lives. For example, how is the Ku Klux Klan like a group of real-estate agents? Using multiple rhetorical strategies, Freakonomics provides answers to questions that had previously gone unanswered by utilizing the study of incentives, otherwise known as economics.

Section II: The Author’s Background

Stephen J. Dubner, the co-author of Freakonomics, is a highly recognized and well established author and journalist. He has written numerous books, the most recognizable being Turbulent Souls, which was awarded the title of Notable Book. Dubner is a graduate of Appalachian State University and received an M.F.A. in writing at the prestigious Columbia University where he continued to teach in the English Departmentdepartment. Building upon his experience, Dubner held a career as an editor and writer for the well-known New York Times Magazine. While working for the New York Times, Dubner was assigned to interview and write a profile on the popular, upcoming economist, Steven D. Levitt. This first introduction led to collaboration focused on studying and writing about economics. As a result, Freakonomics was born.

Steven D. Levitt is a reputable economist often celebrated for his unorthodox approach to economics. As the Alan H. Baum Professor of Economics at the University of Chicago, Levitt received his B.A. from Harvard University and then continued in his education to receive a Ph.D. from M.I.T. Levitt has received multiple awards regarding his work with economics including the John Bates Clark Medal which is awarded to the “most influential economist in America under the age of 40” (Steven). Working together to combine their different areas of expertise, Dubner and Levitt were able to write a novel based upon the argument that economics is merely the study of incentives.composed an intriguing novel persuading their audience that economics is, without a doubt, the study of incentives.

Section III: The Book’s Argument

Although each chapter of Freakonomics focuses on a different topic, the commonality throughout the entirety of the novel is the underlying message that economics is essentially the study of incentives. The authors even acknowledge that there is in fact no “unifying theme” within the pages of Freakonomics (Levitt & Dubner, 209). There is, however, “a common thread running through the everyday application of Freakonomics” (Levitt & Dubner, 209). This “common thread” is referring to the authors’ primary message previously mentioned: economics is the study of incentives. This message moves through the novel as the authors discuss each new subject, such as the real motives of real-estate agents and the various commonly used yet unrealistic explanations of crime reduction, is discussed..

Levitt and Dubner strongly appeal to logos in order to persuade their readers of their argument that economics is the study of incentives. This is done by displaying various charts and graphs and revealing statistical evidence. The authors’ utilization of logos via charts is painfully apparent in “Chapter 6: Perfect Parenting, Part II; or: Would a Roshanda by Any Other Name Smell as Sweet?” In this chapter, the authors discuss the incentive behind which names are chosen for a parents’ newborn is discussed.baby. For certain social groups, such as African Americans and well-educated people, the incentive for choosing a particular name is representation of ethnicity and/or placement on the socioeconomic ladder. Charts titled “The Twenty ‘Blackest’ Girl Names,” “The Twenty ‘Blackest’ Boy Names,” “The Twenty White Boy Names That Best Signify High-Education Parents,” and “The Twenty White Girl Names That Best Signify High-Education Parents” are all strategically used to support this claim (Levitt & Dubner, 187-200). Visuals, like the charts mentioned above, are commonly used to support the argument made within the pages of Freakonomics. Statistical evidence is also very prevalent.

Chapter four’s main focus is the incentives behind abortion and the indirect outcomes of these incentives. The authors state that “the very factors that drove millions of American women to have an abortion also seemed to predict that their children, had they been born, would have led unhappy and possibly criminal lives” (Levitt & Dubner, 139). As a result, “legalized abortion led to less unwantedness; unwantedness leads to high crime; legalized abortion, therefore, led to less crime” (Levitt & Dubner, 140). In support of this argument, statistics are given stating that “violent crime in the early-legalizing states fell thirteen percent compared to the other states; between 1994 and 1997, their murder rates fell 23 percent more than those of other states” (Levitt & Dubner, 141). This is a clear demonstration of statistical evidence used to appeal to logos in order to support the argument made by the authors.

The rhetorical strategy of pathos also has a strong presence as authors Levitt and Dubner formulate their argument that economics is the study of incentives. This is noticed as the text touches upon the incentives of choosing to become a crack dealer on the streets of Chicago are discussed. .Many may frown upon this lifestyle choice; through pathos, the authors persuade the reader to sympathize and acknowledge the economics of this decision. Levitt and Dubner state that “an editorial assistant earning $22,00 at a Manhattan publishing house, an unpaid high-school quarterback, and a teenage crack dealer earning $3.30 an hour are all playing the same game, a game that is best viewed as a tournament. The rules of the tournament are straight forward. You must start at the bottom to have a shot” (Levitt & Dubner, 104). Everyone is fighting for a chance at success; for some, becoming a crack dealer is their best shot. As similarities are established between the audience and crack dealers, the audience sympathizes with the crack dealers unfortunate situation. By creating a feeling of sympathy amongst the readers through an argument built upon pathos, the audience understands the incentives, or economics if you will, behind engaging in such an illegal and dangerous career.

Along with strongly appealing to logos and pathos, the authors build upon their argument by taking advantage of the exemplification rhetorical strategy. Exemplification is the strategy of supporting an argument with specific cases or instances. This is most prevalent as the authors are discussing the commonality between school teachers and sumo wrestlers: both groups have strong incentives to cheat. Teachers are given the choice to correct students’ incorrect answers on standardized tests with the incentive of being “praised, promoted and even richer” (Levitt & Dubner, 24). Similarly, sumo wrestlers are given the choice to pay-off their competitors in hopes of becoming a top-ranked sumo wrestler that “is treated like royalty” (Levitt & Dubner, 38). These incentives are closely studied. authors closely study these incentives. By introducing the school teacher’s and sumo wrestler’s specific case, the reader is more convinced that the authors’ argument is correct., that economics is the study of incentives, is correct.

Levitt and Dubner are very successful in providing enough information and evidence to persuade the reader of their argument. However, the mistake of creating an argument post hoc ergo propter hoc is detected in various sections of the text. This is prevalent as the authors attempt to make the argument that the legalization of abortion is the cause of the reduction in crime during the 1990’s. It is essentially stated that the crime rate declined as abortion was made a legal. Therefore, abortion must have been the cause of the crime rate reduction. The authors jump to this conclusion without considering any other possible explanations. The presence of logical fallacies, such as the post hoc ergo propter hoc mentioned above, weakens the argument of Levitt and Dubner.

Section IV: Opposing Points of View

Although authors Stephen J. Dubner and Steven D. Levitt strongly feel that the study of economics is simply the study of incentives, not all agree. Others argue that economics is the study of making choice. As Saint Michael’s College stated, “economics how we make choices…” (What is Economics?) rather than, contrary to what Dubner and Levitt believe, what motivates people to actually choose which decision to make. Examining the choices our society must make on a daily basis, such as whether to build more hospitals or highways, is a “way of understanding how to make best use of understanding how to make best use of natural resources, machinery, and people’s work” (What is Economics?). This, as argued by the source in opposition of Levitt and Dubner’s opinion, is the essence of economics. Unlike the argument in Freakonomics, the argument that economics is in fact the study of choices does not utilize any rhetorical strategies and therefore creates a very weak persuasion.

Section V: Conclusion

As argued by Stephen J. Dubner and Steven D. Levitt in their 211 page novel, Freakonomics, economics is the study of incentives. This argument is strengthened by the utilization of rhetorical strategies such as logos, pathos, and exemplification. Although the logical fallacy post hoc ergo propter is present, I believe that the evidence supporting the authors’ argument strongly overpowers this minuscule flaw in persuasion. Along with rhetorical strategies, Levitt and Dubner strongly relied on entertainment to persuade the audience. I was intrigued by the interesting topics throughout Freakonomics and felt compelled to continue my reading and delve even further into the authors’ argument. After completing Freakonomics, I am entirely in agreement that economics is the study of incentives. This strongly persuasive argument left me feeling as if that is the only logical explanation as to what economics actually is. Did Freakonomics enable me to finally the economic light of understanding? Maybe.

Works Cited

DiNardo, John. "A Review of Freakonomics." No Apparent Motive. N.p., 10 Dec. 2005. Web. 6 May 2011. .

Hando, Geoffrey. "Book Review: Freakonomics by Levitt, Steven D. & Dubner, Stephen J." Journal of Economic and Social Policy. Southern Cross University, 1 Jan. 2007. Web. 6 May 2011. .

Levitt, Steven D., and Stephen J. Dubner. Freakonomics: a rogue economist explores the hidden side of everything. New York: William Morrow, 2005. Print.

"Stephen J. Dubner: About the Author: HarperCollins Publishers." HarperCollins Publishers — World Leading Book Publisher. HarperCollins Publishers, n.d. Web. 6 May 2011. .

"Steven D. Levitt: About the Author: HarperCollins Publishers." HarperCollins Publishers — World Leading Book Publisher. HarperCollins Publishers, n.d. Web. 6 May 2011. .

“What is Economics?.” redirect. Saint Michael’s College, n.d. Web. 6 May 2011. .

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