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The armchair economist : economics and everyday life

Author: Steven E Landsburg
Publisher: New York : Free Press, 1995.
Edition/Format:   Book : English : 1st free press pbk. edView all editions and formats
Database:WorldCat
Summary:
Seat belts cause accidents because well-protected drivers take more risks. This widely documented fact comes as a surprise to most people, but not to economists, who have learned, perhaps better than most, to take seriously the proposition that people respond to incentives in complicated ways. In The Armchair Economist, Steven E. Landsburg shows how economic thinking illuminates the entire range of human behavior.
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Additional Physical Format: Online version:
Landsburg, Steven E., 1954-
Armchair economist.
New York : Free Press, 1995
(OCoLC)646941072
Document Type: Book
All Authors / Contributors: Steven E Landsburg
ISBN: 0029177766 9780029177761
OCLC Number: 32900184
Description: ix, 241 p. ; 25 cm.
Contents: I. What life is all about --
The power of incentives : how seat belts kill --
Rational riddles : why the Rolling Stones sell out --
Truth or consequences : how to split a check or choose a movie --
The indifference principle : who cares if the air is clean? --
The computer game of life : learning what it's all about --
II. Good and evil --
Telling right from wrong : the pitfalls of democracy --
Why taxes are bad : the logic of efficiency --
Why prices are good : Smith versus Darwin --
Of medicine and candy, trains and sparks : economics in the courtroom --
III. How to read the news --
Choosing sides in the Drug War : how the Atlantic Monthly got it wrong --
The mythology of deficits --
Sound and fury : spurious wisdom from the op-ed pages --
How statistics lie : unemployment can be good for you --
The policy vice : do we need more illiterates? --
Some modest proposals : the end of bipartisanship --
IV. How markets work --
Why popcorn costs more at the movies and why the obvious answer is wrong --
Courtship and collusion : the mating game --
Cursed winners and glum losers : why life is full of disappointments --
Ideas of interest : armchair forecasting --
Random walks and stock market prices : a primer for investors --
The Iowa car crop --
V. The pitfalls of science --
Was Einstein credible? The economics of scientific method --
New, improved football : how economists go wrong --
VI. The pitfalls of religion --
Why I am not an environmentalist : the science of economics versus the religion of ecology.
Responsibility: Steven E. Landsburg.

Abstract:

Seat belts cause accidents because well-protected drivers take more risks. This widely documented fact comes as a surprise to most people, but not to economists, who have learned, perhaps better than most, to take seriously the proposition that people respond to incentives in complicated ways. In The Armchair Economist, Steven E. Landsburg shows how economic thinking illuminates the entire range of human behavior. But instead of focusing on the workings of financial markets, international trade, and other topics distant from the experience of most readers, Landsburg mines the details of daily life to reveal what the laws of economics tell us about ourselves.

As Landsburg shows, some behavior that strikes most people as utterly unremarkable is quite extraordinary when seen through economists' eyes. Why, for example, does popcorn cost so much at the movie theater? The "obvious" answer is that the theater owner has a monopoly. But if that were the whole story then he would charge a monopoly price for use of the restrooms as well. When a sudden frost destroys much of the Florida orange crop and prices skyrocket, journalists often point to "obvious" evidence of monopoly power. Economists see just the opposite: If growers had monopoly power, they wouldn't have to wait for a frost to raise prices.

Why do restaurants earn higher profits on liquor than on food? Why are some goods sold at auction and others at pre-announced prices? Why don't concert promoters raise ticket prices even when they sell out months in advance? Why do box seats at the ballpark sell out before bleachers do? Why do corporations confer huge pensions on failed executives? Landsburg wields the tools of the economist's trade to solve these puzzles, often reaching conclusions that are at odds with our intuition.

After revealing economic principles in readily apparent phenomena of everyday life, Landsburg applies these same principles to newspaper and media accounts of public issues. Contesting the widely held views of pundits, critics, and public officials, he shows us how reducing urban pollution need not make city dwellers any happier, how sex scandals are not necessarily bad for politicians, and how free agency doesn't always help the wealthiest baseball teams. By deducing principles from his observations of the things that surround us, he explains many of the main ideas of modern economics, through chapters that read more like detective stories than textbook lessons. Logically rigorous but never technically demanding, this refreshing new book will give readers a guided tour of the familiar, filtered through a decidedly unfamiliar but insightful lens. This is economics for the joy of it.

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