I picked up this book without having read the first in the series, the bestselling Freakonomics. Having read it, I now have a good understanding of the economics of prostitution. Like many other mature sectors, it seems to suffer from depressed margins, almost perfect competition, relaxed societal mores and a productisation of what were once seen as quite specialist and taboo services. I’m also now aware that anyone who has had one too many ought to get a cab home, as drink-walking is far more dangerous than drink-driving.
The authors demonstrate how a scientific approach to problems, together with an emphasis on simple fixes, can have a massive impact. For instance, they draw attention to the numbers of lives saved by 19th century doctors washing their hands after autopsies before delivering babies. Seatbelts save more lives than airbags, and at far less cost, but widespread usage took decades as cultural acceptance grew, despite legislation. Car tracking systems have huge benefits for all, not just those drivers who purchase them.
The application of economic and human behavioural theory to new areas, alongside rigorous statistical and scientific analysis, does make for good reading and some surprising results. However, these snapshots and insights left me wondering whether a focus on a couple of clear premises, supported by more good stories and clever research, would have given the book more of a theme and purpose. Having said that, I will now be reading the authors’ first book.