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Father of 'Freakonomics' Author offers original take on life and money

Ordinarily, economics doesn't seem a particularly exciting topic. The concepts of supply and demand and gross domestic product can often seem dry and boring.

That's what makes Steven Levitt and his book, "Freakonomics," so interesting. He applies the concepts of economics to real life, asking such questions as "What do teachers and Sumo wrestlers have in common" and "How is the Ku Klux Klan like a group of real estate agents?"

This fascinating book aroused many people's curiosity and has sold millions of copies. Last Wednesday, Levitt gave a lecture at UB where he discussed some concepts from the book, along with other studies he is planning for his next book. He gave a thoroughly entertaining speech and was witty and insightful throughout. Before the lecture I sat down with him for an interview:

NeXt: When did you first become interested in economics?

Levitt: Actually, I have never been interested in economics. I was, however, interested in solving problems and looking at social questions. When I took economics in college, it just made sense. I guess I always thought about economics, but I didn't know it. I was able to use the tools of economics to think about solving other problems.

NeXt: What inspired you to write "Freakonomics"?

Levitt: Well, they asked me to write it and paid me a lot of money. I can't write at all. My co-writer, Steven Dubner, did not want to do it either. We both have very low expectations and we didn't think it would sell anything. Basically, we figured we get some money to write a book and it would disappear shortly after. We never anticipated the book would do so well.

NeXt: In one chapter, you mention that poor kids often join drug gangs for the same reason other kids play high school football: to reach the top. What would you say to a kid who told you they wanted to join a gang that dealt drugs?

Levitt: I would tell them that if you've got no other options, being in a gang probably doesn't sound so bad. Not as bad as it sounds to you and me. The thing is, these poor kids in the inner-cities don't have the same options that other kids have and that's why they join these gangs. They figure they could one day become a leader of the gang and make a lot of money. In many cases, they don't have any other opportunities.

NeXt: Recently you wrote a column in which you asked people to send their theories as to how America could be attacked by terrorists. What was the response like?

Levitt: Well, it upset a lot of people. I guess I should've anticipated that. The thing is, terrorists aren't stupid. They know how to attack us. Talking about it isn't giving them ideas, it helps us prepare for what could happen. It is not difficult to terrorize us, we need to be ready for what could happen.

NeXt: Finally, what would you say to young people who are still unsure as to what to do with their lives?

Levitt: Find the thing you love and make it your hobby. Now, if you love what everyone else loves, like being a rock star or an actor, you may need to dosomething you don't love.

John Hugar is a senior at Maryvale High School.

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