Economics: Sexiest Trade Alive

Economics, perhaps the geekiest of geek subjects, got a serious makeover this year. Consider the numbers: "Freakonomics," a book by economist Steven Levitt and journalist Stephen Dubner, has spent 34 weeks (and counting) on The New York Times best-seller list; John Perkins's "Confessions of an Economic Hit Man" was on for seven weeks. Meanwhile, economics is the hottest undergrad degree at Harvard and New York University; the number of econ majors is up some 40 percent over the past five years. Still not convinced? Two words: Angelina Jolie. Last fall she teamed with leading economist Jeffrey Sachs in an MTV documentary about Kenya's economy. That's hot.

What sparked the trend? It's a mystery--even to the number crunchers. "We'd like to say it's because economics is so interesting and because economists are so handsome and intelligent," says John Siegfried, an econ professor at Vanderbilt University. "But there's no good answer." There's no doubt that "Freakonomics" did its part in glamorizing the trade. The book, says Publishers Weekly senior editor Charlotte Abbott, is poised to inspire a slew of splashy knockoffs. Levitt and Dubner are planning a new book of their own, tentatively titled--what else?--"Superfreakonomics." They're also enjoying the spoils that come with hotness: regular TV gigs on "Good Morning America," "World News Tonight" and "Nightline," as well as a newly commissioned documentary. "I'm thrilled to be Steven's collaborator," says Dubner. "So if the price is that he's deemed the sexy one, that's all right with me."