“Most of economics can be summarized in four words: ‘People respond to incentives.’ The rest is commentary.”
That is the first line from Steven Landsburg’s seminal pop-economics book The Armchair Economist. Published in 1993, Landsburg’s book paved the way for mainstream economics crossovers such as Freakonomics, The Economics of Life, Hidden Order, and Discover Your Inner Economist. But perhaps none remains as true to Landsburg’s dictum as Tim Harford’s latest effort, The Logic of Life.
In the follow-up to his 2005 The Undercover Economist, Harford employs unwavering faith in man’s ability to rationally respond to incentives to investigate the phenomena that shape the everyday world. The reader can barely keep up as he connects divorce rates with the Pill, casts Chris “Jesus” Ferguson as the heir to John von Neumann, and recommends playing the lottery as an alternative to voting — all in the name of rational choice
Unlike Chicago economist Steven Levitt in Freakonomics, Harford, a journalist for the Financial Times who writes the popular “Dear Economist” advice column, doesn’t present his own findings. Instead, he repackages studies by academics in a form that even the most casual reader could follow and appreciate.
The number of studies he employs makes for a lightening-fast pace, which keeps the The Logic of Life approachable and captivating. Harford plays to his writerly strengths by ending the book with a victory lap one-chapter history of mankind predicated on man’s response to incentives.
PRESENTING THE MOST counterintuitive findings in lighthearted fashion is a sure formula for pleasing the audience. But it gives rise to a problem academic journal editors encounter often enough: studies with more outlandish claims are more likely to have shortcomings in logic or methodology overlooked.
In some cases, Harford makes small leaps of faith that strengthen his point but fall short of the precise standards of economics. For instance, in his chapter on the ways in which individual choices shape cities, Harford references the empirical work of Edward Glaeser and Bruce Sacerdote in confirming urbanist Jane Jacobs’ claim that taller buildings increase crime.
Jacobs’s intuition is of the kind that Harford loves: a head-slapper. Upon hearing it, the reader wonders how they failed to think of something so obvious. However, it’s not as easy to prove as Harford thinks.
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
The debacle of this president’s administration is both a cause and a symptom of the decline of American values. Unless Congress impeaches him, that decline will go on unchecked. An eminent jurist surveys the damage and assesses the chances for the recovery of our culture.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
The American Christmas, like the songs that celebrate it, makes room for everybody under the rainbow. Is that why so many people seem to be hostile to it?
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?
H/T to National Review Online