The Armchair Economist, By Steven E Landsburg

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The Independent Culture

Steven E Landsburg's most interesting declaration in this book is that "economics in the narrowest sense is a science free from values"; but I'm not sure that it's exactly true. Free from certain kinds of values perhaps. Landsburg's opposition to environmentalism, for instance, just involves different values: environmentalists want to ban pesticides, he says, but the economics of such a ban would mean that "fruits and vegetables become more expensive, people eat fewer of them, and cancer rates consequently rise". What Landsburg argues is that a world run solely on an economic basis would produce some bad things, some good things, but that the good or the bad outcome is incidental. (The use of pesticides isn't, in the end, to prevent cancer, but to increase profits.)

This book might have offered a more intriguing argument, though, at least to me, but for Landsburg's fondness for the kind of propositions (if three men carry five bags in four hours, how long will it take five men to carry 10 bags?) I used to loathe in school exams.