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32 of 34 people found the following review helpful
on February 13, 2003
This is a collection of articles Becker has published during his career as an economic contributer to Business Week. After having read some of Becker's other books, I came to the conclusion that this book is two things:
1) An easy to understand intro to the usage of economic principles to solve problems. Becker's other books were essentially on similar topics, but with a much more rigorous analysis.
2) An intro to new topics that could be approached from a much more rigorous standpoint. Becker's curious mind actually points out to many issues (such as immigration, affirmative action, and many other gov't issues) that would benefit from a more rigorous economic approach.
Good entertainment value, with about 80% of essays really interesting and the rest fillers.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on April 12, 2005
This works provides great insight into the economic thinking and reasoning of one of the greatest living economists. It is simple enought for someone without a economics background to understand, yet complex enough for advanced students of economics to study and debate. A great work.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on November 17, 2005
Based on Becker's columns in Business Week, the book is starting to suffer from the fact that the columns are dating, and that any book made up of columns is bound to get a bit repetitive and disjointed.

That said, the original columns are well-written and often provocative. It's not the best introduction to Becker's economics, which is more distinctive than this material, but it is a good read.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on May 15, 2008
The Economics of Life is a good anthology of Becker's short policy papers over the years. As such, it is useful as a supplemental text for introductory microeconomics. Some might find this book dry reading, but it is quite entertaining compared to standard textbooks.

This book should reach a wider audience too. Now that Milton Friedman is gone, Becker is THE leading proponent of Chicago Rational Choice microeconomics. Those who want to understand policy issues should read this book because it is about the easiest way to get a feel for Chicago microeconomics. See also Hidden Order by David Friedman.

Given the controversial nature of this book it has drawn fire, and will continue to do so. While I freely admit that Chicago price theory has limits, it also has useful applications and relevance. Read The Economics of Life first, judge its merits later.
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12 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on May 6, 2005
Throughout school students are always complaining about how applicable subjects like economics, math, sociology, etc., really are. Nobel Prize winner Gary Becker helps fill this void in economics. Although I found some of his solutions to social problems too simplistic, it is an interesting read and it is sure to get you thinking. I personally like the books organization and structure. It is a composition of Becker's columns in Business Week and each column is about 1.5 pages. I liked this book because when I sit on the toilet I can get through a column or two. It is also good for a stationary bike or reading in heavy traffic.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on May 17, 2007
Nobel Prize winner Gary Becker published this collection of articles in the mid1990s. Even if dated, the book is a high-quality and straightforward way to understand basic economics and apply economic theory and principles to daily life. Most of the articles are interesting, it is easy to read both in content and length, the writing is consistently fine and the analysis insightful. It also sparked the vast amount of more recent books of the same fashion like Harford's Undercover economist, Landsburg's Armchair economist, Friedman's Hidden order or Leavitt's Freakonomics. Recommended.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on December 28, 2014
I was first exposed to Gary Becker (as well has his lifelong co-author Richard Posner and Mitchell Polinsky to boot) my Sophomore year in college when I took a seminar in Law and Economics. Back then in 1988 he was one of the few brave academic advocates of drug legalisation (the subject of my eventual paper) and he wrote soooo well, I was hooked. I have followed him since. In recent years I have been an avid reader of the Posner / Becker blog. It has indeed been my first daily click on the Internet, in the hope that they have overnight delivered their trenchant verdict on yet another current issue. That said, I'd never found time for "The Economics of Life," a book I bought a long time ago together with Robert Barro's "Getting it Right." Now, of course, Gary Becker has been taken from us, there will be no more fresh entries in the blog, so I reached into my shelves for a shot of methadone, so to speak.

Sadly, it's not very representative of the rest of his work.

For starters, it's not really a book, it's a compilation of 800-word essays he wrote for Newsweek in the late eighties and early nineties. The timing here is critical. These essays were written at a juncture when "free market" ideology, of which Becker was a prominent preacher, was at its apogee, possibly even its moment of hubris. Keen to give a "coup de grace" to the mortally wounded ideology of central planning and hyper-regulation that suffered its biggest blow with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, Becker is having his own "end of history" moment here. There's nothing that cannot be left to the market according to these essays:

Becker takes aim at every possible form of government participation in the economy, from the public school system, subsidised tuition at state-run colleges and the government monopoly on postal services, all the way to the minimum wage, affirmative action and drug prohibition. He speaks in favor of workfare over welfare, advocates the post-Vietnam status quo when it comes to voluntary (professional to you and me) military service over the draft, and puts in a big plug for NAFTA. There's also some stuff that already identifies him as an old man, like when he wants to turn back the clock on no-fault divorce or when he cannot drop the point on what he perceives to be pay restrictions against college athletes.

With twenty to thirty years' hindsight, one would have to say he scores no better than 50:50 on his judgements.

Becker very accurately predicts the student loan debacle we are about to find ourselves in today: the trillion dollar market for unserviceable debt cannot be regulated away neither by having the government stand behind it nor by making it impossible to write off; his recommendation (coming from the right, funnily enough) that people ought to be forced to buy health insurance (p.41 in the book) has found its embodiment in Obamacare; affirmative action is now deemed to have run its course as minorities have made it to the highest echelons of academia and society; even leftists today are prepared to agree that there are undeniable benefits from free trade, while the wealthy are now pretty much ready to accept that government handouts will have to be means-tested, just like Becker says they should be.

But history has been less kind to his fixation on education vouchers, society is groaning under the weight of higher state-school college tuition (that has come to pass due to busted state budgets rather than ideology), workfare, instituted under Clinton, has been a disaster for the children of the single mothers who were forced to take on jobs and even the "voluntary" nature of the military, while impossible to reverse, is blamed by many as one of the main causes for the way the US sleepwalked into two wars it could only lose.

All that said, these Newsweek columns are not without merit. At the time when they were written they provided to many readers their first exposure to a way of thinking about the economy that was not yet taught in college. If you were a college student in 1985, your main Economics text, Samuelson, had a prediction for the date the Soviet economy would surpass the American. In that context, these columns would have been a breath of fresh air.

And if Becker had hung on a bit longer, I suspect he'd finally see his (rather premature) prediction that the "time is ripe" for drug legalisation come true.

From where we stand today, however, you are well advised to look up in the table of contents the date on which every essay was written, or else you will be disappointed. So while the book scores well as a historical document, or a place to establish what the "free market" book-end could be defined on this wide variety of topics, it fails (and if fails rather dismally) to rise to the standard of analysis, let alone humility, that you would be used to if you were a regular reader of the author's blog.
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10 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on July 14, 2000
An interesting read for all those individuals who claim that economists are too abstract. Each article offers practicle, and simple, solutions for many of today's social, and political, problems. The writing style of the authors is fairly simple and is not heavy on economic jargon. I especially enjoyed the Becker's ability to cram so much relevant info into small articles. I really enjoyed the collection of artlicles and would highly recommend the book to any person interested in economics.
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VINE VOICEon May 28, 2015
This book is a collection of Gary Becker's articles written for the magazine Business Weekly, many co-authored with his wife, a historian. Becker was a Nobel Prize winning economists who believed strongly in the power of free markets and rational choice. I very much looked forward to reading his insights on how economics affects basic human choices, particularly since behavioral economics has attempted to bury the idea of homo economicus. There are a lot of good articles on how rational choice impacts social policy. For example, there are good discussions on how special interests interfere with rational economic choices and how they can help to stifle economic growth. There are also interesting articles on labor economics, international trade, welfare and crime. Unfortunately, no effort was made to cull out article that were redundant, and there were a lot of those. Also, none of the articles were dated, so there is not sense of exactly when an article was written and in what context. The articles can therefor jump from one administration to another, and then back, causing some historical vertigo. I was also surprised to find some naivete on Becker's part in his policy recommendations, such as how the implementation of school vouchers would work out. A better book would have been one that first explained the economic principles involved and then followed with examples from the various articles, preferably in chronological order. Nevertheless, the book is still a powerful advocate of free markets and rational choice, notwithstanding any valid correctives from the behavioral economists.
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10 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on May 2, 1999
No other economist (or writer) identifies social issues,illuminates the core problem, and offers rational solutions better than Gary Becker. Becker has the unique ability to take the most complex Chicago-style economic thought and explain it in terms that non-Ph.D's can easily understand. The list of topics that Becker covers is so diverse, I gaurantee that you will find a subject that you can relate to personally. Becker cuts through the misleading information that politicians and the popular press routinely disseminate by identifying why certain parties take positions on issues. (Usually because they have a vested interest in the outcome, but their interest may not be in the best interest of the public) The book is a compilation of articles (30-40) on numerous topics . The articles are easy to read and will leave you thinking about the subjects in a completely different way. A must read for people that have a desire to better understand human and social behavior.
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