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Armchair Economist: Economics & Everyday Life Paperback – March 1, 1995

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Landsburg demystifies the economics of everyday behavior in these diverting if not always persuasive essays. Why don't promoters of sell-out rock concerts raise the advance ticket price? Because, suggests the author, promoters want the good will of teenage audiences who will buy lots of rock paraphernalia. Why are executives' salaries so high? One reason, opines Landsburg, is that stockholders expect managers to take risks, and well-heeled executives are more likely to do so. Associate professor of economics at the University of Rochester in New York, Landsburg applies his counter-intuitive analyses, with mixed results, to everything from taxes, auctions, baseball and the high price of movie theater popcorn to government inefficiency, the death penalty, environmentalism (which he attacks as a dogmatic, coercive ideology) and NAFTA.
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Landsburg (economics, Univ. of Rochester) demonstrates the economist's way of thinking about everyday occurrences. The result is a compilation of questions ranging from why popcorn costs so much at movie theaters and why rock concerts sell out to why laws against polygamy are detrimental to women. Many of the issues raised are controversial and even somewhat humorous, but they are clearly explained only from an economic perspective as opposed to other dynamics of human behavior. There are also clear explanations of the misconceptions about unemployment rates, measures of inflation, and interest rates. The book is not a textbook but shows how one economist solves puzzling questions that occur in daily living. Recommended for general collections.
- Jane M. Kathman, Coll. of St. Benedict, St. Joseph, Minn.
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Free Press (March 1, 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0029177766
  • ISBN-13: 978-0029177761
  • Product Dimensions: 8.3 x 5.6 x 0.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (109 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #684,534 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Steven E. Landsburg is a Professor of Economics at the University of Rochester. He is the author of More Sex Is Safer Sex, The Armchair Economist, Fair Play, two textbooks on economics, and over thirty journal articles in mathematics, economics, and philosophy. He writes the popular "Everyday Economics" column in Slate magazine and has written for Forbes, the Wall Street Journal, and other publications.

Customer Reviews

3.9 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

109 of 123 people found the following review helpful By John S. Ryan on August 6, 2001
Format: Paperback
If you're remotely interested in economics, you should read this book; it's a hoot.

Not too many books on economics could be described as a "hoot." But Steven Landsburg, an economics professor at the University of Chicago when he wrote this book (now he's at the University of Rochester), has a delightfully sharp sense of humor and a gift for clear, logical exposition. He also doesn't in the least mind naming names when it comes to egregious economic fallacies and the people who commit them: he keeps a "Sound and Fury file" consisting of economic gaffes from the op-ed pages and he devotes a chapter to exposing the culprits.

His theme is easily stated, and he states it on the first page: the substance of economic science is that people respond to incentives. "The rest," he writes in deliberate imitation of Rabbi Hillel, "is commentary."

Landsburg fills the rest of the book with such commentary. His witty and occasionally sarcastic exposition deals neatly with such topics as why recycling paper doesn't really save trees; why certain statistics are not reliable measures of the "income gap" between rich and poor; why the GNP is not an especially accurate measure of national wealth; why unemployment isn't necessarily a bad thing; why taxes _are_ a bad thing; why real economists don't care about what's "good for the economy" or endorse the pursuit of monetary profit apart from personal happiness; and lots of other points that will no doubt be profoundly irritating to people who just _know_ he _can't possibly_ be right.

For example, Landsburg is delightfully allergic to the claims of the "environmental" movement and recognizes it quite clearly as a strongly moralistic religion.
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18 of 20 people found the following review helpful By David P. Caldwell on April 23, 2002
Format: Paperback
"Why do rock concerts sell out in minutes -- couldn't the promoters raise the ticket prices?" "Why does movie popcorn cost so much?" "How much harm is caused by government debt?" "Why is it hard to measure inflation? Output? The rich/poor gap?"
This book is a series of loosely organized essays about "how economists think." The target audience appears to be people like myself, who are interested in economics, but are not highly trained in the field. It's a good companion to "The Economics of Public Issues," which focuses on real-world illustrations of basic economic concepts. This book focuses on how to approach analyzing the real world for yourself.
According to the Introduction, many of the essays have grown out of discussions Landsburg had with his regular lunch group ... and what lunches those must have been! Questions are raised, and explanations batted about and critiqued. Assuming that Landsburg is a typical economist, the book succeeds spectacularly in illustrating "how economists think." Many of the essays retain what must have been the original feel of the lunchtime debates (ideas are raised, then criticized, then rejected or refined) -- a form which sheds considerable light upon how economists approach problems. The essay about why economists are sometimes wrong is very enlightening. It describes why economists thought that unemployment and inflation were inversely related -- until government started acting on that assumption, which destroyed the relationship. While I'm not very good at macroeconomics, Landsburg's explanation of this is simple and persuasive, and creates more insights into how the study of economics works.
As a series of essays, some are better than others. Landsburg slips easily between making arguments about issues to making assertions about issues.
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98 of 124 people found the following review helpful By James J. Lippard on December 12, 2004
Format: Paperback
Landsburg's book is entertaining and often witty, and written in a conversational, easy-to-read style. The book is very good at presenting often unintuitive and novel (to the non-economist) ways of looking at things. This is an invaluable book for pointing out common fallacies in arguments about deficits, inflation, unemployment, and other major political issues. At the same time, however, I can't help but think that Landsburg occasional misses significant relevant issues, most glaringly in the final chapter on environmentalism. For example, Landsburg describes a case where Jack wants a woodland at the expense of Jill's parking space and vice versa, and argues that the desires are exactly symmetrical. While environmentalists claim that the wilderness should take precedence "because a decision to pave is 'irrevocable'", Landsburg says "a decision _not_ to pave is _equally_ irrevocable" because "Unless we pave today, my opportunity to park tomorrow is lost as irretrievably as tomorrow itself will be lost" (p. 224). While this is correct, this misses the environmentalist's point that it is much easier to convert woodland to parking lot than to do the reverse. The environmentalist fears taking actions that are irrevocable in the sense that they cannot be undone in the future. Landsburg's perspective throughout the book seems to me to ignore the possibility of actions taken which may have consequences which may adversely effect the very existence of mankind (or economic institutions).

Another example in the same chapter is when he suggests that the best way for environmentalists to support the existence of cattle is to eat beef: "If you want ranchers to keep a lot of cattle, you should eat a lot of beef" (p. 225).
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