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A Tech-Econ Mashup with a Libertarian Flavor

Current Reads

Steven Landsburg’s More Sex is Safer Sex: The Unconventional Wisdom of Economics. Everytime I pick up a well-written “pop-econ” book, I’m reminded why I fell in love with this subject: unconventional wisdom, indeed. For example, the book’s title is explained in chapter 1, where Landsburg argues that incentivizing relatively chaste (and likely, HIV-negative) people to become more promiscuous would be beneficial for society. The more uninfected people who enter the “dating” (sex) pool, the greater everybody’s chances of selecting an uninfected partner. But that’s not all, the benefits are double: if a normally chaste person is unfortunate enough to take home an infected partner and contract a virus, he or she will be less likely to spread the disease on to future partners (as opposed to a more promiscuous person). The chapter goes on to explain how this outcome may be acheived through various incentive programs.

Obviously, this argument abstracts out several important factors that come into selecting a “date.” For example, promiscuity can be an indicator/result of attractiveness or desirability, whereas chastity may result from a lack of dating options. An attractive, promiscuous person’s options won’t necessarily become anymore limited if a chaste, unattractive person enters the dating competition. Likewise, an undesirable person who joins the dating pool isn’t guaranteed a partner.

Other interesting tidbits:

  • Beautiful women don’t marry any “better” than average women. (Is the structure of the “marriage auction market” to blame?)
  • Assuming that people who engage in criminal behavior are generally attracted to high-risk, high-payoff activities, a more effective way to reduce crime would be to increase the rate of convictions, rather than increasing the severity of the punishment (the MSU administration should be paying attention to this).
  • Parents of boys are less likely to divorce than parents of girls (apparently, my parents’ divorce was my fault). The exact reason isn’t known, and many theories are explored in the chapter. One theory that I enjoyed pondering was the notion that girls without fathers have low self-esteem and become promiscuous, while boys without fathers have low self-esteem and become socially withdrawn. Fathers help boys pass down their genes more than they help girls. 🙂
  • Based on pure cost-benefit analysis (and some exaggerated estimates of the damages done by computer virises), society would be better off executing a convicted computer hacker than a murderer.

In all, this is a fascinating book, and is definitely accessible to the non-economist.

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Filed under: Bookz, Economics, , , , ,

Between-Class Reads

I’ve just started “Government Failure: A Primer in Public Choice” (Tullock, Seldon, Brady). I’ve been meaning to read up on public choice economics for some time now, and so far, this book is clear and accessible, with very little math jargon getting in the way. An excerpt from the first chapter:

To sum up, the difference between a public choice student and a nonstudent of this relatively new discipline in policy matters is very largely a difference in attitude that arises from the knowledge of public choice. Much traditional reasoning has turned on totally unrealistic ideas about the efficiency of government. The student of public choice will not think that government is systematically engaged in maximizing the public interest, but will assume its officials are attempting to maximize their own private interests.

Public choice is an extremely valuable branch of economics. Aside from offering the simple and elegant explanation for government failure (as opposed to market failure) printed above, it also presents a common ground on which the economically-minded and the politically-minded can at last communicate. In my own experience, any attempts to explain my position to a non-economics student using concepts like “efficient allocation of scarce resources,” “price as a rationing device,” or even the often-feared “supply and demand” have fallen far short of my goal of using cold, hard logic to quickly convince my audience to immediately adopt more libertarian economic views. (Perhaps I should just stick to three-word slogans: “God Bless America,” “Freedom isn’t Free,” or “Yes, We Can” all seem a bit more inspirational, no?)

I would go on with my reasoning for why public choice is a wonderful tool for explaining the inefficiencies (and oftentimes, ineptness) of government, but I think the legendary Milton Friedman demonstrated this in his ever-so-eloquent manner over twenty years ago: (Come on, click the Play button – it’s only 2:24)

Filed under: Bookz, Economics, Politics, , , , , ,

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