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The South Side’s dark side

A protégé of Steven "Freakonomics" Levitt gets under the skin of Chicago's underground economy. It's a pity he didn't have a better editor

By Diane Coyle   February 2007

Off the Books: The Underground Economy of the Urban Poor by Sudhir Alladi Venkatesh Harvard University Press $27.95

Chicago has an irresistible allure for social scientists, and no wonder. Its university, one of the world’s great research institutions, has some of the grimmest of urban ghettoes right on its doorstep on the city’s South Side. Chicago’s most famous (or notorious) economists drew free market lessons from this daily drive-by brush with poverty. Nobel laureates such as Milton Friedman and Gary Becker made Chicago economics a byword for the proposition that the economy and society in general can be understood as…

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