Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

'Freakonomics' Author to Speak at UNF; the Economist Shares Ideas on Crime, Fundraising and Terrorism

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

'Freakonomics' Author to Speak at UNF; the Economist Shares Ideas on Crime, Fundraising and Terrorism

Article excerpt

Byline: ADAM AASEN

Steven Levitt isn't your typical economist.

Instead of studying currency and the stock market, Levitt is more interested in questions like, "Why do drug dealers still live with their parents?"

In his best-selling 2005 book, Freakonomics (co-authored with New York Times reporter Stephen Dubner), Levitt tackled everything from sumo wrestlers to teachers to real estate agents. He also used the research of author Stetson Kennedy, a Jacksonville native who infiltrated the Klu Klux Klan to expose it, to show how the Klan hoarded information as an advantage. Levitt and Dubner later revealed that Kennedy embellished parts of his books.

Levitt is probably best known for his controversial theory that legalized abortion reduces crime because unwanted children become criminals. Named one of Time magazine's "100 people to shape the world" in 2006, Levitt is working on the book's sequel, Superfreakonomics.

He will speak at 7:30 p.m. on Oct. 28 in the University of North Florida arena. The Times-Union spoke to him by phone.

WHAT ARE YOUR ULTIMATE THOUGHTS ON STETSON KENNEDY'S RESEARCH?

I think he [is] an amazing man who did some fantastic things fighting for good, but some of what he had done was fictionalized. Ultimately, do I care about that? Not really. He had a huge impact in fighting the Klan. It really doesn't matter too much about how it happened. Despite the concerns that everything he wrote was true, I still think he's an American hero.

DO YOU THINK IT AFFECTED THAT PART OF YOUR BOOK?

What we wrote about Stetson is very different from the rest of the book. Our book is mostly rigorous pure analysis, and what we wrote about Stetson is a profile like you read in a newspaper.

Why I rely on data is that you can look at something and understand it, and it's interesting where one of the few times we deviate from that, something comes up. But that's what happens in scholarly research and it's always an interesting process in finding out what's true and what's not true.

YOU'VE WRITTEN EXTENSIVELY ON CRIME, AND JACKSONVILLE IS A CITY DEALING WITH A MURDER PROBLEM. WHAT DO YOU THINK ARE THE BEST THINGS GOVERNMENT CAN DO TO DECREASE CRIME?

It is difficult for government to stop crime. The single best way, the best tool in its arsenal, is to lock up criminals. It's very expensive but it's something that works. There's [an] enormous body of work that forced extrication from society not only prevents criminals from committing crimes because they're locked up, but it always is a tremendous deterrent for other people. Just to give a crazy example, if you said the punishment for parking illegally was execution, then you'd see it drop tremendously.

The other thing that works is to hire more police, but not just hire them to drive around in cars but to put them where there's a lot of action in the hot spots of the city. Another solution I've been thinking about -- and it might not work in Jacksonville -- has to do with the war on drugs and drug prohibition. …

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