Sunday, July 08, 2007

Landsburg vs. Levitt

The NY Times has this book review of economist Steven Landsburg's new book "More Sex is Safer Sex: The Unconventional Wisdom of Economics," here are some excerpts:

"Before there was “Freakonomics,” Steven E. Landsburg wrote a regular column for Slate magazine called Everyday Economics. The column started in the summer of 1996 with an article headlined “More Sex Is Safer Sex,” in which Landsburg argued that H.I.V. would spread less quickly if relatively chaste people each took on a few more sexual partners.

For the last decade or so, economists have been increasingly poking their fingers into other disciplines, including epidemiology, psychology, sociology, oenology and even football strategy. These economists usually justify their expansionism on two grounds: They say they’re better with numbers than most other researchers and have a richer understanding of how people respond to incentives.

Arrogant as this sounds, there is some truth to it. Besides, the public seems hungry for the kind of real-world social science economists are practicing. “Freakonomics,” by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner, has spent more than 100 weeks on the New York Times best-seller list."

The NY Times review predicts that Landsburg's book "will command a much smaller audience than some of the economics-tinged best sellers mostly because it is short on the nuance that comes from real human stories."

Greg Mankiw offers a better explanation of "Why Landsburg is No Levitt":

"Freakonomics was light on theory, heavy on (quirky) facts, and that is why it appealed to so many people. Landsburg is lighter on facts, heavier on (quirky) theories. He revels in the sometimes surprising logic of economics, which is not nearly as compelling for laymen as it is for econ professors.

By the way, I have read the Landsburg book and recommend it. But, then again, I am an econ professor."

MP: I also like Landsburg's book and have several recent posts about it
here, here, here and here.

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