The Armchair Economist: Economics & Everyday Life Paperback – 10 May 2012
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"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.
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Top Customer Reviews
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.
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.
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.
(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).
The examples all seemed very old too and I suspect the majority of this book was written at least several years ago.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
awful book poorly written poorly presented ideas treid my best but just couldnt finish it the worst kind of economics book wasnt worth the £3 i paid for itPublished 14 months ago by mattrags
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. Read morePublished on 1 July 2014 by Cycler
First off, there are some very interesting ideas in this book. It encourages you to think more closely about why things work the way they do. Read morePublished on 29 July 2013 by Steven Greenhill
There are some interesting ideas in this book that do make you look at the world in a different way, his ideas seem to be so theoretical that they would be hard to apply to the... Read morePublished on 25 July 2013 by Allyi02
Took me a while to get into even though I'd read several books ion economics before but a great worth while read nonetheless.Published on 13 May 2013 by oliverfk93916
Being a more left-leaning person this book managed to make me raise my eyebrows several times.
Landsburg's thinking is a prime example of old-school economics where the... Read more
I've recently bought a lot of pop economics texts, and this is by far the worst. The book is the most Panglossian text I ever read. Read morePublished on 7 April 2012 by Broken iPod owner
This is without a doubt the best pop-econ book I've read. It's clear, lucid, and thought provoking. Although I'm an economics student I still on occasion find it hard to apply all... Read morePublished on 1 Dec. 2011 by andrew.s
Landsburg tries to jump onto the bandwagon of popular introductions to economic theory using rebuttals of generally held views. Read morePublished on 3 July 2011 by Amazon Customer