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Armchair Economist: Economics & Everyday Life [Paperback]

Steven E Landsburg
3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (38 customer reviews)

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Book Description

March 1 1995 Economics and Everyday Life
Witty economists are about as easy to find as anorexic mezzo-sopranos, natty mujahedeen, and cheerful Philadelphians. But Steven E. Landsburg...is one economist who fits the bill. In a wide-ranging, easily digested, unbelievably contrarian survey of everything from why popcorn at movie houses costs so much to why recycling may actually reduce the number of trees on the planet, the University of Rochester professor valiantly turns the discussion of vexing economic questions into an activity that ordinary people might enjoy.
-- Joe Queenan, The Wall Street Journal

The Armchair Economist is a wonderful little book, written by someone for whom English is a first (and beloved) language, and it contains not a single graph or equation...Landsburg presents fascinating concepts in a form easily accessible to noneconomists.
-- Erik M. Jensen, The Cleveland Plain Dealer

...enormous fun from its opening page...Landsburg has done something extraordinary: He has expounded basic economic principles with wit and verve.
-- Dan Seligman, Fortune


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Product Description

From Publishers Weekly

Landsburg demystifies the economics of everyday behavior in these diverting if not always persuasive essays. Why don't promoters of sell-out rock concerts raise the advance ticket price? Because, suggests the author, promoters want the good will of teenage audiences who will buy lots of rock paraphernalia. Why are executives' salaries so high? One reason, opines Landsburg, is that stockholders expect managers to take risks, and well-heeled executives are more likely to do so. Associate professor of economics at the University of Rochester in New York, Landsburg applies his counter-intuitive analyses, with mixed results, to everything from taxes, auctions, baseball and the high price of movie theater popcorn to government inefficiency, the death penalty, environmentalism (which he attacks as a dogmatic, coercive ideology) and NAFTA.
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Library Journal

Landsburg (economics, Univ. of Rochester) demonstrates the economist's way of thinking about everyday occurrences. The result is a compilation of questions ranging from why popcorn costs so much at movie theaters and why rock concerts sell out to why laws against polygamy are detrimental to women. Many of the issues raised are controversial and even somewhat humorous, but they are clearly explained only from an economic perspective as opposed to other dynamics of human behavior. There are also clear explanations of the misconceptions about unemployment rates, measures of inflation, and interest rates. The book is not a textbook but shows how one economist solves puzzling questions that occur in daily living. Recommended for general collections.
- Jane M. Kathman, Coll. of St. Benedict, St. Joseph, Minn.
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Most of economics can be summarized in four words: "People respond to incentives." Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting, yet mean spirited and disorganized Nov. 18 2002
Format:Paperback
This book is a good read; it's fun, entertaining, and factual correct. Landsburg explains simple concepts through the eyes of an economist with blinders on. It's an interesting read where pages seem to fly by. For an educational book, it flows as freely as a novel, and is incredibly gripping for something about economics. He presents different scenarios, from the price of popcorn to government debt, and shows how a true economist would view each situation in small bite sized chapters. It's both refreshing, and at some points, eye-opening.
One problem is that he tends to simplify everything way too much. It's hard to relate what he says to the real world when many of the details are gone. For example, when explaining national debt, he talks about the lending rate, and the rate of return to being exactly the same. He doesn't explain what would happen if they were different.
Another problem I had is the lack of continuity. He seems to switch from one topic to another without any direction. Sometimes, the types of arguments were repeated from one hundred pages ago, while the previous page had nothing to do with the current page. With about 30 or so seemingly random arguments and situations present, it's hard to place it all into any lesson or theme.
Finally, and most importantly, Landsburg seems to take out his aggressions and displays some mean spirited rants in the latter part of the book. I felt that it incredibly hurt his credibility. When someone starts debasing someone else's opinion vehemently and atrociously, it gives the impressions of fanaticism rather than cool-headed thinking. He seems to enjoy criticizing every line of particular papers and making the writer feel like an idiot.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Not a good introduction to economics Jan. 18 2004
Format:Paperback
Landsburg apparently sets out to explain real-world, everyday economics phenomena (the subititle is "Economics & Everyday Life" and the cover has every-day examples) but proceeds to merely use real-world, every-day examples to show that economics is inscrutable and political. He fails to actually reach any conclusions about most of the scenarios on the cover--or any others, for that matter--and continually concocts loaded scenarios that enable him to reach bizarre conclusions. The worst part about this technique is that it leaves the reader continually baffled--knowing that his conclusions are wrong but not sure why.
Landsburg is best when he is talking directly about economics and worst when he applies theories of economics to law, science, and the environment.
He concludes that air pollution is great because it makes a city so unlivable that poor people can afford it, ignoring the fact that real-world cities are always more expensive to live in than the (unpolluted) countryside and that cities--polluted or not--always contain lots of poor people and rich people.
Landsburg claims that we shouldn't elect the best candidate for senator because that person's productivity is better used in private industry. He fails to take his argument to its logical conclusion and have the country run by autistic children. Apparently, he can't see that the work of a senator also has value and can actually be more beneficial to the economy as a whole than the work of a private businessman.
He goes on to claim that the value of proving scientific theory with experimentation is mainly in giving credibility (and higher salary) to the scientist (it's actually in the economic value being right more often).
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars the armchair narcissist, perhaps Oct. 1 2003
Format:Paperback
This may not be the worst book on economics ever written, but it surely ranks among the most narcissitic and self-indulgent.
Landsburg explores through 24 short chapters a number of myths, problems and paradoxes that confront the contemporary economist. The problems in the book fall into two general categories.
First, Landsburg seems far more interested in proving his own cleverness and superiority than presenting useful discourse. Take this example: "In my experience economists are extraordinary in their openness to alternative preferences, life-styles, and opinions." One senses that Landsburg could go on at length about the intellectual and characterological virtues of economists. Mercifully, one can fit only so much self-praise in such a brief volume.
There are other examples, but let one more suffice: "There is an appalling population of otherwise literate adults who prefer the poetry of Rod McKuen to that of William Butler Yeats." He follows this observation with a contrived scenario in which McKuen-lovers buy volumes of Yeats for public display so as to conceal their real preference.
Now mass culture is certainly fair game for criticism, but Landsburg's contempt for anyone not a member of the allegedly superior economist class is so pervasive and mean-spritited that it finally is just offensive. He outdoes even himself in one chapter that is nothing more than a puerile diatribe against environmentalism.
This arrogance might be tolerable if the text were otherwise virtuous. But failures of substance are legion. Many of the "problems" that he addresses are trite or have trivial solutions.
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Most recent customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars An Economic Nich
This book is not meant as a grand overview of economics. Landsburg has considered the big picture, but the books focus is on smaller areas. Read more
Published on June 13 2011 by Patrick Sullivan
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting thoughts; shame about the attitude
This is the first book that has moved me sufficiently to write a review on Amazon.
I found it an entertaining read, with some though-provoking ideas often wittily written up. Read more
Published on June 26 2004 by Isaac Hepworth
2.0 out of 5 stars Good but starting to sound a bit dated
While the book has some interesting parables and anecdotes and is an engaging look at some problems from the "man is a rational agent" perspective, this mantra starts to... Read more
Published on June 23 2004
4.0 out of 5 stars politicization is in the beholder's eye
The criticism of this book seems to be largely based on the feeling that rational economics leads to unsatisfactory political conclusions and even possibly that rational economics... Read more
Published on Feb. 6 2004
2.0 out of 5 stars Muddled and unconvincing, with some good concepts
There were some good concepts here, but the stories meant to use the ideas all went astray. Each application of an economic principle to the story changed the result, and when he... Read more
Published on Jan. 20 2004
5.0 out of 5 stars Humorous introduction to Economics
This books uses real world examples to debunk some of the common misconceptions and preconceived notions people have about economics. Read more
Published on Sept. 13 2003 by Dilip S. Kumar
5.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining exposition of economics.
A modern iteration of Bastiat's "Economic Sophisms". Should be required reading for politicians and reporters. Read more
Published on Sept. 1 2003 by S. OCALLAGHAN
5.0 out of 5 stars A fun, quick read
A very fun, quick read. Slaughters many sacred cows, including the litany of ideas on the environment, deficits, illiteracy, unemployment, dollar-cost averaging, and the use of... Read more
Published on April 29 2003 by John Chapman
4.0 out of 5 stars Economic logic the way everyone should think
Steven Landsburg takes a number of seemingly absurd statements and shows them to be true. On the surface it seems that everyone hates dirty air and seat belts save lives. Read more
Published on Aug. 25 2002 by "gaviapacifica"
3.0 out of 5 stars Thoughtful, but devoid of detail
Landsburg's book should be entertaining for economic neophytes. His style is a bit questionable, in that he can occasionally be found lost in self-argumentative circularism... Read more
Published on Aug. 8 2002 by A_typical_consumer
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