In 2003, New York-based journalist Stephen J. Dubner and University of Chicago economics professor Steven D. Levitt joined forces and came up with Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything (2005) which has spent two years on the New York Times bestseller list and more than a year as one of the national "Top Ten" books. As a result, Dubner and Levitt have become bloggers and popular television commentators, and the word "freakonomics" has become a part of our modern lexicon — referring to any discovery that shares common, but untrue assumptions about the way humans behave.
Seven gifted filmmakers were hired to explore the eccentricities of human nature and behavior and translate this philosophical book into a movie. They shot segments on parenting, cheating, crime, bribery, race, real estate, and the elements of a worthwhile life. One of the revelations of this film is its portrait of rampant ethical disarray in a nation where the shoddy cultural standards of fame, success, and being a winner are cherished over traditional values.
Morgan Spurlock (Super Size Me) explores how much influence your name has on the way your life turns out in a segment called "A Roshanda by Any Other Name." Using a fast-paced humorous style, he investigates whether the deck is stacked in favor of "Emilys" and "Brendons" rather than "Tyrees" and "Uneeks." In an introductory segment, filmmaker Seth Gordon looks at the cheating practiced by some teachers in order to raise the scores of their poor students on standardized tests. Alex Gibney (Taxi to the Dark Side, Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room) follows with "Pure Corruption," focusing on cheating sumo wrestlers in Japan — athletes who are known and respected for their code of honor. Certainly the most distressing segment of all is "Can You Bribe a 9th Grader to Success?" directed by Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady (Jesus Camp), an incentive-making experiment where poor performing Chicago students are paid cash if they can raise their grades.
What a great idea to brainwash kids into believing that money is more important than those silly ideals of commitment, discipline, and hard work! What a great way to affirm the materialism that already has been pounded into their heads by corporations via television since they were three years old! The experiment goes awry and Stephen Levitt wonders whether or not to try again on younger kids. The brainy economist fares better with "It's Not Always a Wonderful Life," where Eugene Jarecki (Why We Fight) directs an examination of Levitt's startling finding that the drop in crime during the 1990s was based on the legalization of abortion.
Freakonomics succeeds in provoking thoughts about ethics, pop culture, and human nature, and that isn't an easy thing to do.
Special features on the DVD include additional interviews with Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner; a producer's commentary with Chris Romano, Dan 0'Meara, and Chad Troutwine; a directors' commentary; and HDNet: "A Look at Freakonomics."