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The Armchair Economist: Economics and Everyday Life Paperback – 6 Feb 1995

3.0 out of 5 stars 20 customer reviews

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Paperback, 6 Feb 1995
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Product details

  • Paperback: 251 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; New edition edition (6 Feb. 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0029177766
  • ISBN-13: 978-0029177761
  • Product Dimensions: 21.2 x 14.2 x 1.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 594,043 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Review

"This new edition of "The Armchair Economist" is a wide-ranging, easily digested, unbelievably contrarian survey of everything from why popcorn at movie houses costs so much to why recycling may actually reduce the number of trees on the planet. Landsburg valiantly turns the discussion of vexing economic questions into an activity that ordinary people might enjoy." - Joe Queenan --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

About the Author

Steven E. Landsburg writes the popular 'Everyday Economics' column in Slate magazine and has also written for Forbes, The Wall Street Journal, and other publications. He teaches in the department of economics at the University of Rochester. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
A joy to read! Insightful, yet beautifully simple, arguments for many key economic ideas, such as why prices are good and arguments in favour of free trade. Some of the arguments are counter-intuitive, such as seatbelts killing people and recycling paper being bad for trees, but are great truisms which make you think differently and more lucidly.

I also like Landsburgh's modesty. For example, he admits that, despite being a top-notch economist, he cannot satisfactorily explain why popcorn is so expensive at cinemas!

And I like his sense of humour -the book is full of jokes which add enormously to the pleasure of reading it. Great for both economists and non-economists who want an introduction to the subject.
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Format: Paperback
The Armchair Economist is clearly written and interesting, but to me it's real value is in understanding how "supply-side" economists think. Much of the value is in trying to spot the hidden assumption or the logical fallacy.

As an example of the first: he argues that we should decide whether to do anything on global warming based on the monetary value people place on driving cars versus the monetary value other people place on not having their islands flooded. Ok, that's probably a self-consistent way of evaluating a policy, but there are at least two other frameworks for evaluation in common use that he doesn't mention: i) some idea of democracy, whereby the wishes of the (poorer) islanders have the same weight per person as the (richer) car drivers; ii) the idea of an external moral or ethical standard requiring that we avoid or minimise damage to the planet, independent of the opinions of others. Failure to acknowledge standards for decision making other than monetary seems a major flaw in the book.

The second weakness, the logical fallacy, is mainly illustrated whenever he demonstrates that two choices for economic policy have equal cost - e.g. a country paying for a something now versus borrowing money to pay for it; or making cars in the USA versus growing corn for export and buying cars from Japan. To a first approximation, he's correct in saying that the two alternatives are of equal cost. However at this point he should go on to consider the cost of second-order effects - e.g. the rising interest rate as borrowing increases, or the loss of future choice if the industrial capability to build cars is lost.

Since most or all of the book suffers from one or both of these problems, I wouldn't recommend this as a way of understanding economics, so much as a way of understanding economists. Given the importance of supply-side economists sharing his views, the book is useful to understand how and why economic policy is set.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
If you're not an economist, then this book has plenty of examples of how economic thinking contradicts conventional wisdom. Landsburg has plenty of stories showing that all alternatives to free markets are inferior. I found his example that cars can be made in Michigan or grown in Idaho very clear and well described, and useful in these protectionist times. However, he comes across as an economic absolutist. Little mention of the limits of free markets or immeasurable externalities. If you know anything about economics, then you might be bored reading this book.

(To grow a car: plant corn, harvest corn, put corn on ship, send ship across the pacific, ship returns full of Toyotas. Farmers and welders are competing directly in the labour market. Ditto in Japan).
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Format: Paperback
I found the armchair economist a fantastic glimpse at the mindset of an economist and the effect economics has on us all. I am currently studying accounting and finance at university and used this book as a useful tool in understanding the economics modules which formed an intergral part of my course. This meant the introduction to terms such as marginal cost and the 'invisible hand'. Overall i think the book is very well written, it takes a vast subject area and does a very good job of condensing it down into a concise, 'student friendly' form, whilst still maintaining the key fundamental principles associated with micro and macro economics.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Apparently this author inspired or knew Steve Levitt (Freakonomics). However he doesn't quite have the light touch of Levitt, which makes the economic theories quite hard going. I delighted in Freakonomics, reading it twice and passing on copies to friends and family. But this one really needs focus and concentration to read it, and you can't put it down and wander off for a while.

So it's good if you want indepth solid reading of economic theory in fairly lengthy chapters, but its not a light read for non-economists by any stretch.
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Format: Paperback
Parts of this book delighted me and parts infuriated me. From a conventional economic perspective, Landsburg does a standard demolition job on many popular misconceptions about how markets and economies work. On the other hand he never questions the validity of the conventional economic theories on which he bases what he says. Worse, his cocksure tone belies what I suspect are some stark intellectual limitations.

Part VI, entitled, "The Pitfalls of Science", is IMO one of the most revealing in the book. In it Landsburg reproduces the text of a letter he sent to the organiser of his daughter's group at a Jewish Community Centre. The letter complained that the group was indoctrinating his daughter in environmentalism. He writes of himself and his wife,

"...We are not environmentalists. We ardently oppose environmentalists. We consider environmentalism a form of mass hysteria akin to Islamic fundamentalism or the War on Drugs. We do not recycle. We teach our daughter not to recycle. We teach her that people who try to convince her to recycle, or who try to force her to recycle, are intruding on her rights."

This sadly typifies the mentality of the many economists who ignore all biophysical considerations in economics. His daughter's rights won't count for much on the trashed planet that people with his attitudes are likely to create.

I found myself asking how much weight I should attach to Landsburg's other arguments when his views on environmentalism expose such addled thinking.
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