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Discover Your Inner Economist (book review)

Cryptohedonological rating: D+

Tyler Cowen’s book Discover Your Inner Economist is a hodge podge of mostly creepy applications of pseudo-economics which, as a stream of anecdotes, should have remained blog entries. Freakonmics, by Stephen D Levitt, is a book written in the same vein, but which somehow manages to keep the topics creepy, focused, and interesting at the same time. This book is just odd. The title and jacket blurb appealed to the libertarian parts of my thinking and it seemed like the book had a lot of potential as kind of “self improvement for individualists.” And indeed there are a few fun gems here and there, usually in the form of isolated paragraphs. But most of the book is filled with the sort of off-the-cuff opinion-driven back-of-the-napkin ideas usually relegated to a blog (like the one you are reading) or personal journal, not a hard covered book written by a professor of economics (he’s at George Mason University).

Some of the material was comically arrogant and, on occasion, downright socially inappropriate — or simply strange. For example, “…a certain amount of poverty is, sad to say, likely to produce gourmet meals. The higher the level of wages at the bottom, the harder it is to employ labor to cook the food, prepare the raw ingredients, and serve and bus tables. So the committed foodie should look to regions where some people are very rich and others are very poor. The poor people will end up cooking for the rich people. My meals in Mexico, India, and Brazil are typically delicious and cheap.” He then goes on to describe how the 50 year life expectancy and the $400/year wages in Haiti leads to many cheap laborers per meal, creating very fresh food (everything is hand picked and brought practically directly to the kitchen) and attentive service (laborers are desperate to impress foreigners to keep their jobs and maintain a basic quality of life). Almost the entire book is filled with similar sorts of off-color ideas. It has this ongoing glib tone like: how can I leverage the misfortune of others, who are forever bound to their lot in life anyway, for my own personal pleasure. Of course, he tries to make it clear that’s NOT what he’s advocating, but it still sounds that way again, and again, and again. I suggest waiting for the blog so you can post your comments directly to the author rather than buying the hardcover for $30.

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