"Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored." -Aldous Huxley

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wTuesday, November 22, 2005

THE PASSION OF THE ECONOMIST: The recent success of "economics explains everything" books has been a surprise. The most successful example of the genre, Freakonomics, really isn't much of a book, but it sold more copies than you can shake a growth curve at. And similar books (in subject matter, not quality) appear to be doing well. Witness the success of Tim Harford's The Undercover Economist. At this writing, it has climbed to number 164 on Amazon's sales rankings for books.

Harold Winter's Trade-Offs: An introduction to Economic Reasoning and Social Issues is of the same genre but hasn't done nearly as well as some other entries. That's a shame because it has a much more entertaining introduction:

Hello. My name is Harold Winter and I am a professor of economics at Ohio University. My main field of interest is economics of law, and my job description involves basically two things -- teaching and research. But as a bonus, I often get the opportunity to use economic reasoning to frighten people.

For example, a couple of years ago my mother was visiting me. I have a nice relationship with my mother, but we don't often talk about social issues. One night, however, she asked me what I had talked about in class that day. Usually I would have little to say about what I teach, especially when I am teaching formal economic theory courses. But that day was special: I was doing an independent reading course with a very bright student. We were reading a book about the American health care system written by an intense free-market-oriented legal scholar. In one of the chapters we discussed that day, the author argued that it may be sensible social policy to allow overworked emergency rooms to refuse care to patients who couldn't pay or who didn't have insurance. As I told my mother about this, I went into "professor mode" and ranted on for about ten minutes, showing her my passion for economic reasoning. When I was finished, she had a scared look in her eyes and then simply said, "You're a monster!"

posted by Jeremy at 5:17 PM