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The Armchair Economist: Economics & Everyday Life Paperback – 10 May 2012

3.0 out of 5 stars 20 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster UK; Reissue edition (10 May 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1471101312
  • ISBN-13: 978-1471101311
  • Product Dimensions: 13 x 2.1 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 116,414 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

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

About the Author

Steven E. Landsburg is a Professor of Economics at the University of Rochester. He is the author of The Armchair Economist, Fair Play, More Sex is Safer Sex, The Big Questions, two textbooks in economics, a forthcoming textbook on general relativity and cosmology, and over 30 journal articles in mathematics, economics and philosophy.


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
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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Format: Paperback
If you are like me, naive in the field of economics pick up this book. It has no tables or other confusing 'aids' and will take you through a series of essays on everyday economic matters. It is easy to read and the author knows how to keep you hooked. Overall, a good use of your time.
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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
This is certainly not the best or clearest pop-economics book on the market. I expect an economist to be necessarily inclusive of all sectors of society and the personal diatribes and perpetual introspect into exclusively US economic habits is tedious, irrelvant and intolerable for anyone who doesn't happen to live in America.

The examples all seemed very old too and I suspect the majority of this book was written at least several years ago.
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