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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. 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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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
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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4.0 out of 5 stars politicization is in the beholder's eye Feb. 6 2004
By A Customer
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 is itself a suspect theory.
My take is that this is a pretty fun read that illustrates some basic economic concepts via common examples. True, it is not comprehensive and the arguments presented are neither completely thorough or precise. But then again, that's not what I'm looking for from a book about economics with the word "armchair" in the title.
Anwyway, if rational economics isn't a good model, what is? Central planning? Keynesian economics? European socialism?
The criticism here is of a worldview, not this book. It should come as no surprise that to those whose political views tend to conflict with rational economics, this book is threatening and must indeed seem highly political. But imho, the political agenda is in the eye of the beholder. When you point a finger, there are 3 pointing back at you.
Quit picking a fight about epistemology with a country pastor.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Thoughtful, but devoid of detail Aug. 8 2002
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 without resolve. I found David D. Friedman's book 'Hidden Order: The Economics of Everyday Life' a more valuable book. As a singular example, his discussion of the price of popcorn in theaters seems, intuitively, better than Landsburg's.
What is particulary amusing about economists, in general, is their intractable belief that people make rational decisions. A recent body of thought, behavioral economics, would argue against that as a certainty. Dr. Kent Hickman et al. (Gonzaga University) published an interesting study on this topic in a Harvard edited journal, which examined bidding on the game show 'The price is right'. It's not difficult to read, but may require a search at a university library to find it.
Economics can be fun, and conceptually at least, isn't beyond the understanding of the common man.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Engaging and Delightful! Simplistic and Naive! July 24 2002
The first time I read this book I enjoyed it. I liked its flowing prose and delighted in its plausible explanations of puzzling economic phenomena.
The second time I read it I found it almost infuriating in its naivete. His focus on individual consumer preference and dismissal of other factors result in a dismal science indeed.
Applying Landsburg's framework to an extreme example, we might find slavery to make perfect economic sense. The buyers and sellers of the "commodity" would simply be expressing their preferences via prices and transactions. Of course, in this case, human suffering is left out of the equation. So in many of Landsburg's examples, something is invariably missing from the equation.
Landsburg is especially passionate in his denouncement of environmentalism as "a force-fed potpourri of myth, superstition, and ritual". Perhaps he did personally encounter this debased version of environmental, but he must not have looked very far for another kind. His mistake is in making the colonial assumption that natural resources are free and endless. This may have seemed a natural mistake for Adam Smith, but it's inexcusable for Landsburg writing in 1993. His model of "Grimyville" and "Cleanstown" takes a different turn once health costs and cleanup costs are added to the equation.
Apart for his environmental blind spot, Landsburg also fails to discuss Econ 101 topics such as externalized costs, the tragedy of the commons, and the principal-agent problem.
The difference between my first and second readings was five years of living in the real world. This book might be great for late night discussions in the freshman dorms, but will eventually ring hollow once reality sets in.
P.S. Since I will be trying to sell my used copy of the book, does my negative review demonstrate irrational behavior?
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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
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
1.0 out of 5 stars Not a good introduction to economics
Landsburg apparently sets out to explain real-world, everyday economics phenomena (the subititle is "Economics & Everyday Life" and the cover has every-day examples)... Read more
Published on Jan. 18 2004 by Derek Jensen
1.0 out of 5 stars the armchair narcissist, perhaps
This may not be the worst book on economics ever written, but it surely ranks among the most narcissitic and self-indulgent. Read more
Published on Oct. 1 2003 by rasputin
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 Aug. 31 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"
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