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'Freakonomics' author addresses undergraduates

Economics alumnus Steven Levitt (Ph.D. 1994) delivered the Undergraduate Economics Association (UEA) fall lecture on Dec. 4 to an audience of more than 200 gathered in E52-398.

Levitt, Alvin Baum Professor at the University of Chicago and best-selling author of "Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything," described his own odyssey in becoming a leading researcher in applied economics.

Levitt held his audience's attention while explaining the importance of finding your comparative advantage--the activities at which you have the greatest relative talent. In Levitt's case, the discovery that he was relatively more successful in using economic tools to study issues on the periphery of traditional economics, such as criminal behavior, collusion in professional sports and the role of economic issues in politics, propelled his research career and led to the groundbreaking studies that underlie "Freakonomics."

Levitt also summarized some of his current research, which may ultimately lead to a sequel to "Freakonomics." He discussed work on the role of altruism in economic interactions and the extent to which laboratory experiments with student participants capture the reality of market interactions. He also explained how he is currently pursuing new research on the economics of gangs and on the market for prostitutes. Each project displayed Levitt's remarkable capacity to identify interesting issues that have attracted relatively little attention from economists and to find ways to collect revealing data and develop new analytical insights.

The UEA hosted a brief reception following the lecture, and Levitt graciously signed many copies of "Freakonomics" for eager participants. Later in the day, Levitt presented a graduate seminar on identifying the productivity of emergency room physicians and classifying doctors by their success rates.

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