26 of 30 people found the following review helpful
At best a badly edited book,
This review is from: The Logic of Life: The Rational Economics of an Irrational World (Hardcover)
I liked Tim Hartford's earlier work - The Undercover Economist very much. I have taken a few graduate courses in Economics and loved the way the book refreshed and even gave new concepts to me. Thus, I picked up The Logic of Life with a lot of expectations. These expectations were badly dashed.
My big problem with this book is that Hartford lacks rigor. In a popular book I wouldn't expect the rigor of an academic article, but when an author draws conclusions that are wider ranging than warranted or if the author factually incorrect then I do have a problem. There are at least a couple of instances when Hartford does that. For me it taints the whole book - making me ask questions such as what if Hartford is factually incorrect in other places that I don't know about.
Hartford relies a lot on the experiments of John List to set up his premise - People are more rational in their day to day life than psychologists give them credit for. One set of List's experiments demonstrated that experienced pin and baseball card collectors are able to make rational decisions in situations where rookies often make irrational ones. Hartford then extends this logic to claim that as people are experienced in their day to day life - in activities such as work and shopping - they are unlikely to make the rookie irrational mistakes. To me this is a big stretch. I don't know anyone who thinks a day-to-day shopping decision through as much as an experienced collector would. A little effort from the author here in establishing his premise would have been really well served.
Hartford really lets go of rigor when criticizing the work of Jeffery Sachs. Coincidentally, I was reading "The End of Poverty: Economic Possibilities for Our Time" by Jeffery Sachs at the same time I was reading Logic of Life and I was shocked by Hartford's presentation of Sachs' theories and also his refutations. For example, Hartford says that malaria is unlikely to be a cause of under-development as it kills only young children and not adults. Sachs has argued in reasonable detail how malaria can cause poverty (absenteeism, delay of investment projects, undereducated children and parents making decisions of having more children). I for one cannot understand how one line stating malaria kills children and hence does not effect economy from Hartford is anything but a lazy piece of writing. Hartford' writing on the topic gets almost bizarre when he then states "In any case, these diseases can be fought by countries with the resources to do so." As this statement is apparently to refute the logic of Sachs, it is mind boggling as Sachs to my mind is also saying the same thing. The disease can be fought - however, the really poor countries do not have the resources to do so. At best statements like these are very poor editing of the book. The point here is not if Sachs is correct or not. The point is that if you are refuting the theory of a person, the least you should be doing is to state it correctly and in full.
For me, if I start doubting one part of the book I start thinking - this author is not very incorrect about a part I know about, so can I trust him on other parts where I don't know too much? This does sharply reduce the enjoyment of what is a very readable book.