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Economics for the Rest of Us: Debunking the Science that Makes Life Dismal Hardcover – December 8, 2009

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Armed with vivid case studies and a populist axe to grind, Columbia economics professor Adler debunks the conventional economic wisdom that what's good for the rich and powerful is good for the economy through discussions of economic efficiency and how wages are determined. His main target is "the critical building block of modern economics"--Pareto efficiency--the theory that no one can be made better off without someone else being made worse off. Pareto efficiency balks at equitable resource allocation (especially from rich to poor); Adler argues that the model, carried to its extreme, proves that poor people should not be allowed to breathe clean air and that rich people pay far too many taxes, leading into a fascinating discussion of wage disparity. The claim that a person earns an amount determined by the value of what she produces is fundamentally flawed, he maintains, and the evidence shows that wages are determined by the powers a worker possesses--or does not possess--at the bargaining table. Adler's frustration with wrongheaded economic thinking is as entertaining as it is thought provoking.
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From Booklist

Academic Adler sets out to explain the key concepts and theories of mainstream economics and less-known alternatives. The book considers the two cornerstones of economics. One is economic efficiency and its definition, which at one time included distribution of income but now focuses upon free markets, ruling out government intervention to decrease inequality. The second cornerstone, what a worker earns, is not based on the value of an individual’s contribution to production, which the author contends is a flawed concept; wages are determined by the power workers possess or do not possess at the bargaining table, and Adler points to CEOs’ obscene compensation, which he concludes is awarded because they work for shareholders who are too numerous and lack control. Everyone will not agree with the author, but he makes thoughtful arguments intended for educated readers who are not schooled in economics. --Mary Whaley

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: The New Press (December 8, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1595581014
  • ISBN-13: 978-1595581013
  • Product Dimensions: 7.5 x 6.2 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,096,661 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Moshe Adler teaches economics at Columbia University and at the Center for Labor Studies at Empire State College. His articles and editorials have appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, and Truthdig, as well as in the most prestigious academic journals. Author of Economics for the Rest of Us, he lives in New York City.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

54 of 56 people found the following review helpful By Eric Laursen on December 18, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
"Freakonomics" was a popular sensation a couple of years ago. Why? Because it used a series of cute anecdotes to show the ingenious ways in which economists can explain virtually any aspect of our lives, including some we don't normally think of us "economic." As if it hadn't been already, "Freakonomics" raised the "dismal science" to cult level, implying that everything can be understood by quantifying it: the clockwork universe of the Enlightenment run amok, sort of.
Thankfully, along comes Moshe Adler with "Economics for the Rest of Us" to debunk that notion. He takes aim at two of the founding myths of modern economic theory and practice, and eviscerates them. One is "Pareto efficiency": the notion that you can't change the rules to alleviate the misery of the poor because it would take away too much from the affluent, and therefore make "the economy" as a whole less efficient. The other is the notion that there is such thing as a quantifiable "marginal product of labor" that determines how much each person earns for his or her labor. (In reality, wages are determined by the workers' bargaining power, which is why management loathes unions.)
Taking off from these two points, Adler raises - and answers - a set of questions far more interesting than anything in "Freakonomics": Are monopolies good or bad? Can public education, for instance, be improved by "throwing money" at it? What's the impact of rent control? What's the impact on employment of a minimum wage? Can low wages cut unemployment during a recession? Why are corporate CEOs so eager to pursue mergers and acquisitions?
Along the way, Adler uncovers some forgotten aspects of economic history.
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33 of 37 people found the following review helpful By Tomrus on November 29, 2009
Format: Hardcover
In clear prose and with some well chosen examples, Adler demolishes two of the central tenets of received textbook economics. The first is a justification for social non-action known as the principle of Pareto efficiency. Stated simply, this principle states that on grounds of efficiency, one must be wary of a policy which feeds the hungry, if that policy would reduce the bonus of a Goldman Sachs executive by even one cent. The second is the view that the relative earnings of the rich and the poor are determined by the application of calculus to a technologically determined relationship between inputs and outputs independent, for example, of relative political strength. (For an obvious counter-example, again think Goldman Sachs).
The non economist reader of this book will wonder how such thinking could ever have come to dominate the discipline of economics (Adler provides a nice historical overview). The economist reader will never again think about these two concepts in quite the same way.
If teachers of Econ 1 really want their students to "think for themselves" they will require this book as supplementary reading. But let them be forewarned. Dropping these two principles cuts the legs from a great deal of the psudo-scientific defense of policies which permit the continuation of social injustice, a defense into which many teachers of introductory economics have been co-opted without even knowing that they have been duped.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By CrunchyCookie on February 4, 2011
Format: Hardcover
For those who haven't been through a certain college curriculum, the subject of economics is about "the allocation of scarce resources", and is basically a social science (like psychology, sociology, and a bunch of other majors ending in "ology") with ten tons of math unnaturally shoved where it doesn't belong. This book thankfully keeps the formulas and graphs to a minimum, instead focusing on explaining and philosophizing about a few key economic concepts. I thought it did so in a way that's pretty thoughtful and engaging, with the welcome oversight of a social conscience.

The first, more interesting half of this sub-200-page book explores the concept of economic efficiency, defining/debating stuff like Utilitarianism (which basically argues that feeding the poor with the rich's money is a net good for society since a dollar means more to the poor), Pareto efficiency (argues against that), supply and demand, taxes, and income redistribution. It gets especially thought-provoking near the end, i.e. Chapter 7 gets into how massive inequality can ruin society through consumption alone. How? Because it becomes more rational/profitable for sellers to cater to only a tiny handful of super-rich instead of masses of average people, which leads to consequences like a dearth of real estate in NYC (because the rich demand space-hogging mega apartments), airplanes with no legroom, lower availability of doctors and medicines, and even crappier rock concerts (cuz some CEO just hands Elton John a million to show up at his house instead). He also argues against popular notions like higher taxes discouraging CEOs to work or rent control hurting the real estate market, and expends lots of effort discrediting Pareto in general.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By K. McInerney on June 9, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Moshe Adler takes the reader on a kind of 'insider's' trip through the conventional justifications of how wages are set and why we pay what we do for things, and actually makes it fun to realize how dyspeptic and unnecessary those views are. He makes it seems reasonable to expect that we'll be moving toward a system that's a lot less destructive and that feels a lot better to the masses of individuals that live within our world economy. I'm planning to wait a month and read this book again.Economics for the Rest of Us: Debunking the Science that Makes Life Dismal
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