Seat belts cause accidents because well-protected drivers take more risks. This widely documented fact comes as a surprise to most people, but not to economists, who have learned, perhaps better than most, to take seriously the proposition that people respond to incentives in complicated ways. In The Armchair Economist, Steven E. Landsburg shows how economic thinking illuminates the entire range of human behavior. But instead of focusing on the workings of financial markets, international trade, and other topics distant from the experience of most readers, Landsburg mines the details of daily life to reveal what the laws of economics tell us about ourselves. As Landsburg shows, some behavior that strikes most people as utterly unremarkable is quite extraordinary when seen through economists' eyes. Why, for example, does popcorn cost so much at the movie theater? The "obvious" answer is that the theater owner has a monopoly. But if that were the whole story then he would charge a monopoly price for use of the restrooms as well. When a sudden frost destroys much of the Florida orange crop and prices skyrocket, journalists often point to "obvious" evidence of monopoly power. Economists see just the opposite: If growers had monopoly power, they wouldn't have to wait for a frost to raise prices. Why do restaurants earn higher profits on liquor than on food? Why are some goods sold at auction and others at pre-announced prices? Why don't concert promoters raise ticket prices even when they sell out months in advance? Why do box seats at the ballpark sell out before bleachers do? Why do corporations confer huge pensions on failed executives? Landsburg wields the tools of the economist's tradeto solve these puzzles, often reaching conclusions that are at odds with our intuition. After revealing economic principles in readily apparent phenomena of everyday life, Landsburg applies these same principles to newspaper and media accounts of public issues. Contesting the wid
Steven E. Landsburg is a professor of economics at the University of Rochester. He is the author of "More Sex Is Safer Sex" and "The Big Questions." He has written for "Forbes," "The Wall Street Journal, " and "Slate." He lives in Rochester, New York.
"This new edition of The Armchair Economist is 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. Landsburg valiantly turns the discussion of vexing economic questions into an activity that ordinary people might enjoy." - Joe Queenan