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The Economic Naturalist's Field Guide: Common Sense Principles for Troubled Times
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From Publishers Weekly
In the last year and a half, Americans have been bombarded with more economic jargon, theories and potential solutions to our nation's financial problems than any time in recent history, and many struggle to make sense of how all these concepts fit together. Frank (The Economic Naturalist), a regular economic columnist for the New York Times, has long been a voice of common sense, and in this latest work he attempts to group complicated concepts into a handful of easily understandable principles. Compiling some of his most cogent essays on economic subjects, Frank tackles topics as complicated and controversial as taxes and job creation, health care, borrowing, saving and investing. Unfortunately, although the essays themselves are amusing, enlightening, instructive and easy to understand, their groupings often look forced. While economic principles should be timeless, many essays were written as far back as 2000, and the subject matter is dated and less relevant to our current economic crisis than most readers might prefer. Despite the brilliance of the individual pieces, the whole is disjointed and fails to offer the reader the clear picture of the commonsense principles promised in the title. (June)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the MP3 CD edition.
[Audio Review] Humans may be rational animals, but many of our decisions are poorly thought through. That's the main idea behind Robert Frank's latest book, which examines and challenges the economic choices we make. Narrator Patrick Lawlor's style is well suited to audiobooks that try to persuade and explain; he uses frequent rhetorical pauses and strongly emphasizes important phrases. That makes him a fine match for Frank's arguments, which are incisive and often surprising, even after one knows his political bent. Most items take only a few minutes to listen to they are past columns from the NEW YORK TIMES and they're well organized into an insightful, entertaining collection. D.B. © AudioFile 2009, Portland, Maine --AudioFile --This text refers to the MP3 CD edition.
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Top Customer Reviews
A collection of columns Frank has written, this book gives short arguments in favor of Frank's opinions on old and new political debates, with most of the justifications for the arguments ostensibly from economics.
Perhaps it's the length restriction on the columns, but almost all of them come off as a collection of hasty generalizations and shoddy reasoning. For example, several times he justifies higher taxes on the rich because otherwise they would just spend their money on something frivolous like a new yacht. There may be lots of good justifications for taxes, but this isn't one of them - yacht companies employ people just like other companies do. Even when I agreed with Frank's conclusions, I felt embarrassed with the reasoning he used to arrive at them.
There are a few flashes of insight, and nuggets of wisdom interspersed, but ultimately this book seemed like a cheap cash in on the success of the last one.
Frank begins with income inequality, asserting that most countries tend to push against increasing income inequality, but in the U.S. we enact tax cuts for the wealthy and cut public services for the needy. However, even the wealthy have been made worse off, on balance, by recent tax cuts - per Frank. On the benefit side, tax cuts have led the wealthy to buy larger houses; however, since economic satisfaction if primarily established on a comparative basis, the primary effect is merely to redefine what qualifies as an acceptable dwelling. Meanwhile, deficits have led to cuts in financing for basic scientific research, public health, highway maintenance, "loose-nuke" security of former U.S.S.R. weapons - threatening the long-term economic prosperity of all, including the wealthy. (A bit of a stretch, but interesting.)
Frank then acknowledges that government does waste money from time to time (my experience in education, the military, and health care tell me he doesn't BEGIN to understand how much), but waste is not limited to the public sector. Watches, for example, cost up to $700,000. (I'd be embarrassed to wear one - mine was $29.95 at Wal-Mart, with Atomic accuracy.) More importantly, the middle-class and poor are more likely to spend any tax savings than the rich.
A corollary of the "it's-your-money" argument is that the government should never redistribute income from the rich to the poor. Frank says that no government follows this admonition, and it would sometimes harm the rich. For example, fewer than 10% of L.A. vehicles are over 15 years old, and they produce over half the smog. Further tightening new car standards is several times as costly as meeting standards by eliminating exemptions for older vehicles. Alternatively, raising taxes on high-income motorists could finance vouchers enabling low-income motorists to scrap their older vehicles. The required taxes would be much smaller than resulting savings from not having to adopt more costly standards for new vehicles.
Similarly, private health insurance in the U.S. delivers worse outcomes (47 million uninsured) and substantially higher costs (31% administrative costs) than single-payer systems (17% administrative costs in Canada) in most every other industrial country.
Frank also points out that the Earned Income Credit (EIC) does not discourage hiring, as do increases in the minimum wage.
Bush II tax cuts were rationalized on the basis that they would stimulate robust economic growth. However, the basic hiring criteria - taught even in Bush advisor textbooks, is that workers will be added whenever their output can be sold at prices exceeding added costs. (Me thinks Franks slipped a gear here. Tax cuts would increase the amount left after sales, and therefore also should increase hiring.)
Bush II proposed repeal of the estate tax. Doing so would reduce federal revenues by about $1 trillion from 2012 - 2021. To help reduce costs, Bush also proposed cutting veterans' health care, educational and vocational training, etc. When these cuts are associated with repealing the "death tax," voters are 4:1 against; when these cuts are not mentioned, voters are 3:1 in favor. Regardless, as it now stands, less than 1% will ever pay any estate tax.
Japanese CEOs earn less than 1/5 that of the American counterparts and face higher marginal tax rates on even that - similar to the U.S. situation in the 1950s. Ergo, says Frank, American CEOs don't need all that money and tax relief to be motivated.
Etc., etc., etc. - worth reading!
Here is one example of the economic principles espoused. He responds to the criticism that the government is wasteful by stating private citizens can be wasteful too. He then uses an example of some extremely wealthy individuals throwing ridiculously extravagant birthday parties for their children.
I would certainly agree that many people spend lots of money on things that I would not. If it is their money then it is their right. How does this make government waste right?
The book represents the author's plan for a planned society of mediocrity based on HIS value system.
Be aware that this book is the same content that the one named : The Return of The Economic Naturalist: How Economics Helps Make Sense of Your World.
I bought 2 books with different name but same content ;-)
The book consists of a collection of prior articles, organized by general themes and woven together with additional narrative. The book should not be looked at as "the definitive word" on the topics in question; indeed, Frank himself prefaces his article on the AOL/Time Warner merger with the caution that it was the worst piece he'd ever written. However, the book does take a look at various economic topics in an accessible an engaging way, and presents interesting perspectives that would probably be new to most.
Those with a strong ideological tilt in either direction will probably not appreciate the book, but it does provide an interesting and engaging look at a variety of economic concepts in play in the real world.