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Documentary Review/Summery – Freakonomics

By Kristen Coughlan

Freakonomics is a documentary based on a book by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner. It is about if you guess a person’s incentives, you can guess on how they are going to behave. The film is divided into different selections done by different filmmakers and directors.

At the start of the film it gives an example of a real estate agent and a client.  Agents get more money if they sell their own homes if they hold out for the full price. When they are selling clients homes they will convince them to sell at the best offer which is lower than the asking price. The agent has an incentive to sell your home right away. The example they in the film, a client wants to sell his home for $300,000 but he gets an offer for $290,000. The agent will convince that this is the best offer and to take it. If the client wants to hold out for another week to get the extra $10,000, on a 6% real estate commission, after the fees are paid to the company, all the agent gets for his/her work is $150 off that extra $10,000 when he could be making more money selling another client’s home in that time.

A Roshanda by Any Other Name by Jeremy Chilnick and Morgan Spurlock explores does naming your kid will affect what they will be in life or is it where and how they are bought up and how people judge race and class by the person’s name. People were asked what names they considered black or white. For a race judgement experiment, the same resume was put out to companies but with two different names on it.  The resume with the name on it Tyrone on it got 33% less calls back than Greg.  Naming of children as recently has been like naming a product, getting them ready for the market place. There is such thing as a knockoff name. For insistence, a name that used be popular among middle-class will be a popular among the lower-class because some parents believe certain names sell.  Studies show it doesn’t matter what name a parent gives their child. The segment ends with a couple naming their new child after Barrack Obama.

Pure Corruption by Peter Bull and Alex Gibney explores the incentive of cheating. When there is an incentive to cheat a small percent of people will.  It looks a sumo wrestling and how purity covers for corruption. If the data is looked at, a sumo wrestler with a 8-6 score on will take a fall to 7-7 sumo wrestler because he already has the eight wins he needs to move on in the tournament. When the two sumo wrestlers meet again, the higher ranked one will always win. The whistle-blowers that tried to tell the truth, died of the same illness on the same night, two weeks before they were to give a press conference on the corruptions. There was no investigation into their deaths. When a sumo wrestler in training was killed, the officials tried to cover it up as a natural death but the father wanted an autopsy and it proved that the wrestler was beaten and it was one of the ways the corruption in sumo wrestling was exposed. It gives this comparison to what happened in the American financial markets and in the media how an illusion covers up the truth but it will be exposed in time.

It’s Not Always A Wonderful Life by Eugene Jarecki was about how crime in New York City and other US Cities was lowered. Officials in the 1989 thought that the crime rate would rise in the 1990s but it suddenly dropped.  Steven Levitt was studying crime at the time and looked at the reasons that the officials and media gave. Officials had many reasons form including innovative policing, gun control and stronger economy but it was only counted in half the crime drop.  In Romania in the 1966, the population doubled when women were forced to get pregnant and abortion was illegal because the government wanted make the economy strong with a larger labour force. Crime went up because of many unwanted births. Children of an unwanted birth are more likely to become criminals. Levitt found Roe v Wade could have been an unintended factor in the lower crime rates due to less unwanted births. The data showed in states that when abortion already had legal three years before abortion was legalized had their crime rates drop with in fifteen years.

Can a Ninth Grader by Bribed to Succeed by Heidi Ewing and Racheal Grady is about an experiment to see of a student was given money to get good grades, would it work.  The experiment was done with 900 ninth grade students. If a student got all their grades C or higher, they got $50 a month. The student had to also have no more than one unexcused absence and no all day suspension. Also there was a lottery to win $500 and be taken home in a limo. The study found the money incentive did not work with everyone.  Final results showed the money incentive caused 30 to 50% students to pass ninth grade. The group plans a future experiment with a younger crowd.

Freakonomics was a great documentary that everyone should see.  It shows the power of incentives and how some incentives work with the right people.

Some of the companies I worked for had incentives for perfect attendance, job performance, or referral to the company.  There are some incentives did appeal to me and some didn’t. I believe if a company wants to use incentives, they should see what the employees want. If it is a gift card as a prize, ask the winner what place to they want it to be for.  Can a Ninth Grader by Bribed to Succeed segment of the film is a good example of that. If the only incentive was money, it may work for some people but not for others.

The Pure Corruption segment was a great part of the movie and gives a good perspective on how the power of illusions can be used to cover the truth. Out of all the segments, this one was the best one of them all.

The film comes into theatres October 1 2010. The movie is available to rent on iTunes.

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