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Hidden Order: The Economics of Everyday Life Hardcover – August 1, 1996
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To David Friedman (son of Milton Friedman), economics explains everything. In a way, that's an odd thing for him to say: Friedman Jr. has never taken an economics course in his life (by training he's a physicist). Yet he defines economics broadly and uses it as a tool to understand all aspects of human behavior, from selecting a mate to picking a grocery store line to switching lanes in rush-hour traffic jams. If you like the economics-for-everyman approach of such writers as Steven E. Landsburg, then Friedman is for you.
From Publishers Weekly
Friedman puts the passion back into economics with this unconventional, demanding primer. A professor at Santa Clara University (and son of Nobel laureate economist Milton Friedman), he insists that economics is not primarily about money, but rather about needs, wants, choices, values?an imperfect science predicated on the assumption that people tend to rationally choose the best way to achieve their objectives. Using scores of everyday examples to steer the reader through complex concepts, he discusses consumer preferences, street crime, lotteries, plea bargains in trials, sharecropping, financial speculation, political campaign spending and much else. He demystifies international trade (e.g., there's nothing inherently bad about a trade deficit) and deconstructs the economy as an interacting system all of whose elements are interdependent. A rewarding text for serious readers. Translation and U.K. rights: Writer's Representatives.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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As noted by most reviewers, he does a credible job in the first part of the book explaining the basics of economics. The graphs are a bit difficult if it is the reader's first exposure to economics, but I found his verbal explanations to be clear and compelling.
He then goes on to apply this knowledge to a panoply of real world situations. His discussions on taxation, pollution, and product liability are quite thought provoking. If the reader isn't rethinking some cherished beliefs by this point, then he is either is already a U of C economics diehard or didn't pay enough attention. Capital stuff!
I wish he had left out the very last section of the book. There he applies the same rationalistic approach to behaviors such as gift giving or punishing drug users. He fails to satisfy in both cases.
He's largely puzzled why people choose to give gifts to people they like rather than money. He offers 'paternalism' as a possible explanation, but since paternalism's rewards seemingly can't be measured in terms of value, he gives up the topic, moves on, and leaves the reader hanging. Well developed theories of the basis of social power from psychology offer more well developed and satisfying explanations of gift giving and are also borne out in well run experiments.
Similarly, it would seem that his beliefs applied to the question of drugs would make legalization the most rationale path. Surprisingly, he only wants to discuss the punishment alternatives for hard drug usage because he assumes that all hard drug users steal to support their habits. This then enables him to analyze the cost to society which then enables him to examine a range of punishment alternatives. That's fine as far as it goes, but it begs the discussion for the vast majority of illegal drug users who stick to so-called soft drugs. It also leaves unspoken whether all illegal drugs ought to be legal for people wealthy enough not have to steal to support their illegal purchases.
There's a whole range of widespread human behaviors which cannot be explained satisfactorily by this type of analysis. Using hard drugs, participating in extremely dangerous sports, and masochism come to mind.
So the 'uber-explanation' of all human behaviors in the last section of the book takes away substantively from the rest of the book. Since this train of thought in the first 80% of the book has lept from economics to the theory of law over the last 25 years via scholars such as Posner and Coase, it now influences much public policy discussion and judicial thinking today. For that reason alone, this book is worth reading. This is not 'just about economics' just as it is not 'all you need to know about what motivates human behavior'.
What sets his book apart from the rest is the use of realistic examples and not the usual textbook apples-to-oranges consumer preferences. Friedman discusses e.g. why is popcorn expensive in movie theaters, is it worth driving to a neighboring town for a bargain sale, who benefits from export duties on japanese cars and economic consequences of divorce.
All of this is rigorous but without mathematics. All of this sounds convincing: rationality assumption of consumers (or economic agents in general) is shown to produce miracles in economics. David Friedman, son of Nobel laureate economist Milton Friedman, takes his axiomatic economics sometimes too far: for example, he believes, like his father, that destabilizing speculation does not exist. Reading Kindleberger's Manias, Panics and Crashes will cure anybody of this folly.
Friedmans text is lucid, the reading experience is exhilarating. If there had been economics books like in my youth, I would have become an economist (and not a physisct like David Friedman !)