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Hidden Order: The Economics of Everyday Life Paperback – July 18, 1997
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"Informed by solid and sophisticated economic theory, including many of the intricacies of modern welfare economics, even if these are carefully disguised to avoid scaring off the customers."-- "Journal of Economic Literature""A lively look at how a free-marketer thinks. The author is a talented teacher, and he moves effortlessly from the traffic jams and grocery stores to the efficient-market hypothesis, price theory, and backward bending labor curves."-- Deborah Stead, "New York Times""If you have any interest in economics at all, you'll find this book both readable and fascinating; and I guarantee you'll learn something from it."-- Jerry Pournelle, "Byte""As a relatively math-free field guide to traditional (and some recent) textbook concepts, "Hidden Order does a cleverly decent job."-- "Worth
About the Author
David Friedman is a visiting professor of economics at Santa Clara University. The son of Nobel laureate Milton Friedman, he authored Price Theory, considered the discipline's primer on the subject. He earned his Ph.D. in physics from the University of Chicago. He resides with his family in San Jose.
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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'.
This book was actually purchased for use as a text book but I've enjoyed it so much I've decided to keep it for myself (rather than resell it to future students) and read it cover to cover (since in my basic economics class not all chapters were covered).