Notes & Quotes: When to Rob a Bank by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner

The following are my favorite quotes from Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner's When to Rob a Bank:...And 131 More Warped Suggestions and Well-Intended Rants.
  1. Humans tend to overestimate small probabilities, so the fear generated by an act of terrorism is greatly disproportionate to the actual risk.
  2. If terrorists want to engage in low-grade, low-tech terror, we are powerless to stop it.
  3. What does a tenure do?  It distorts people's effort so that they face strong incentives early in their career (and presumably work very hard early on as a consequence) and very weak incentives forever after (and presumably work much less hard on average as a consequence).
  4. Milton Friedman must be turning over in his grave at the mere suggestion of a military draft.  If the problem is that not enough young people are volunteering to fight in Iraq, there are two reasonable solutions: 1) take the troops out of Iraq; or 2) compensate soldiers well enough that they are willing to enlist.
  5. In a world filled with inequality, letting people choose their own paths is better than dictating one for them.
  6. It doesn't take a whole lot of smarts or a whole lot of blind faith in markets to recognize that when you don't charge people for things (including health care), they will consume too much of it. 
  7. The way economists see it, the chances of an individual's vote influencing an election outcome is vanishingly small, so unless it is fun to vote, it doesn't make much sense to do so.
  8. One big problem with politics is that politicians' incentives are generally not aligned well with the incentives of the electorate.
  9. As much as we may dislike how many politicians act, they're simply responding to the incentives the systems puts before them.
  10. A 2014 study in the journal Injury Prevention found that in California alone, a thirty-cent-per-gallon rise in gas prices led to an extra eight hundred motorbike-related deaths over a nine-year period.
  11. The data show that walking one mile drunk is eight times more dangerous than driving one mile drunk.
  12. The fundamental idea of economics: people respond to incentives.
  13. Most people are terrible at risk assessment.  They tend to overstate the risk of dramatic and unlikely events at the expense of more common and boring (if equally devastating) events.
  14. The point isn't that you can divide people into piles of bad people and good people, cheaters and non-cheaters.  The point is that people's behavior is determined by how the incentives of a particular scenario are aligned.
  15. Land development speeds up substantially in the areas that are going to be designated critical habitats.
  16. Whenever a company can give away something worth eleven cents that people think is worth five or twenty dollars, they are doing something right.
  17. If you're truly eager to take on the waste inherent in our food systems, you'd be better off reforming your own habits at home -- say, by buying more strategically, minimizing waste, and eating less -- before taking on the institutional packaging practices of disembodied food distributors.
  18. Eating a vegan diet is seven times more effective at reducing emissions than eating a local meat-based diet.
  19. There are a number of academic papers that find that if you make a woman write down her name and circle her gender before taking a math test, she will do substantially worse than if she just writes her name.  The idea is that women perceive that they are not good at math, and circling their gender reminds them that they are women and therefore should be bad at math.
  20. We should not be making policies about gun ownership, because they simply don't work.  What seems to work is harshly punishing people who use guns illegally.
  21. Our personal welfare is almost always in conflict with the greater good.
  22. For Adam Smith, self-interest results in cooperation that generates wealth and makes other people better off.  For pirates, self-interest results in cooperation that destroys wealth by allowing pirates to plunder more effectively.
  23. As the Intuits say, "Gifts make slaves, as whips make dogs."
  24. If you spend all your time catching the little fish, you won't have time -- or develop the technique, or the patience -- to ever catch the big ones.