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The Why Axis

3.53 of 5 stars 3.53  ·  rating details  ·  431 ratings  ·  74 reviews
Two superstars revolutionizing economics—indeed all social science—provide breakthrough ideas for solving big, complicated problems, using colorful stories from their travels and experiments around the world as evidence for what works and what doesn’t
Hardcover, 288 pages
Published October 8th 2013 by PublicAffairs (first published January 1st 2013)
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Nov 21, 2013 David rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommended to David by: Aaron
Shelves: psychology, economics
This easy-to-read book has two main themes. The first theme is that many of our behaviors are rooted in economics. For example, the authors claim that often, apparent prejudices against certain groups of people are not due to racial hatred, but are due to economics and self-interest. The second theme is that in order to maximize efficiency, productivity, or profits, it is useful to assess all of one's assumptions, and to perform "field experiments". These experiments will entail some costs in th ...more
The two economists ask questions like: how can we make girls more competitive on the market and in life, so as to reduce gender inequality? what incentives could we use to reduce the gap between poor school kids and rich ones? how can we make people donate more?

They never question the assumptions behind the causality they interrogate. For example, the competitivity conundrum is presupposed as inevitable and the economy that functions on the darwinist ideology of "survival of the fittest" as natu
The Why Axis is a pretty good book about doing real life experiments in important areas of real life to know what really is most effective for getting desired results. The work the author and his colleagues have done is impressive, ranging among improving school performance, keeping students from being shot in a violence-filled inner city, overcoming economic discrimination, maximizing donations to non-profits and increasing sales by determining the price at which the most products would be purc ...more
For those who are not familiar with the economics literature on field experiments, this book will give you a sense of how economist carry out their tasks. The more interesting chapters are on the differences in the competitiveness between men and women and how this is (to a large degree) a product of the societies in which people live. The authors untangle the thorny issues by running experiments with the Masai tribespeople (a heavily male-dominated society) and a matrilineal (female=dominated) ...more
Not much new here. Inspires you to go and experiment. That part is done well. Often though they get stuck in the trees and fail to see the forest. For example, they impress themselves with a school experiment where families are given large sums of money to keep their kids in school doing work. That's great, but can it be scaled up? What would happen if all schools operated this way? Obviously, having every student graduate only to find we don't have nearly enough jobs would gradually erode the e ...more
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This book was an interesting read with many insights into human behavior but I did not care for the style in which it was written. Fortunately, I found that style to be only a minor distraction, something that stuck out briefly but not persistently.

Gneezy and his coauthor include many ideas about human behavior that have been developed and tested with actual field experiments. They explain the experiment, the results, and their interpretation of those results in useful and informative ways.

Ondrej Kokes
tl;dr: A really short book on interesting topics in experimental economics from people who actually did those experiments. Fun, but not great, especially if you're an economist.

This book is really interesting and I wanted to love it. But it's only good, not great. There is a lot of good things to say - it's based on years of empirical research, the topics vary and range from discrimination to helping Chinese factories. Everything is clearly explained, but I think that as the authors discovered t
Bill Yeadon
Disappointed in this book as I felt it was a rehash of several other older books. I did enjoy the chapters on the difference in competition based on gender. The conclusion was this is more the effect of nurture as opposed to nature.
I didn't really like this book, and found the kind of manipulative ploys discussed here (to increase the kind of money people spend/give or to change their behavior with incentives) kind of offensive. But it does make a good point about the necessity for field experiments. For example, Netflix could have save billions of dollars if they had tested out their ideas for changing their service in a small market before going nation-wide. Nonprofits could make a lot more money with their fundraising e ...more
So very interesting. The authors have great ideas and insight and data about education, which seems to be the focus of the book, but they have lots of intriguing ideas and experiment examples from many businesses. It gave me some really good ideas on how to approach solving an issue at my library. There is a wonderful section on Brian Mullaney the co-founder of the charity Smile Train. NPR pledge drives are addressed as us our favorite online tax program, TurboTax by Intuit. If you like Freakano ...more
While the topics covered are interesting and well explored, not a lot found here is new content. I'm not sure where I heard about most of the experiments that they talk about, probably Levitt shared a lot of them on Freakonomics. A lot of this book felt like things I'd already read or heard about elsewhere. If you're interested in behavioral economics, but haven't read anything about it before, this is probably a good book. But, chances are, if you're interested in behavioral economics, it's bec ...more
If you liked Freakonomics this is another good read. Uri and John explore education and poverty and jobs from the perspective of an economist and run some pretty cool experiments. I wished the book had gone a little more in depth. The summary of the findings were often shallow and a little bit of vague generalizations. I wanted more of the statistics from the experiments cited. It covered a few too many topics to get in deep with any one. Would be great to read an entire book just about his educ ...more
This book has some fascinating reports on K-12 edu research, among other things (eg, many people assume that males are naturally more competitive, but field-studies performed in a female-dominated society showed its females to be more competitive than its males).

I have read research before indicating that external motivations crowd out internal motivations, suggesting that, eg, offering cash incentives to students would diminish their joy of learning. Other research suggested that external moti
Phil Scovis
Pretty much every surprising finding in behavioral economics has already been reported in other books on the subject: Nudge, Freakanomics, etc. These authors "wrote the book", but they wrote it too late.

Unlike the Freakanomics guys who reward their experimental subjects with chocolate kisses, List and Gneezy had some serious cash to hand out. It's a little unimpressive to discover that better educational outcomes are realized by spending wads of cash to essentially provide a few teenagers with
Aaron Thibeault
*A full executive summary of this book is available here:

The main argument: Until quite recently, the field of economics was dominated mainly by theory-making. Specifically, economists applied their intellects to the human world, and developed abstract models to explain (and predict) the unfolding of economic events. At the heart of all this theory-making stood homo economicus—a narrowly self-interested individual who responded to incentives and disincent
Well. This one was interesting. I often have trouble with behavioral-ec books as the authors seem to have totally tossed out the whole idea of preferences. They test us, decide that some of us are risk-averse, for example, and fail to maximize our monetary gains, and therefore are irrational. Totally leaving out that some of us might PREFER to minimize risk even at some loss of gain. Gneezy and List do avoid this problem; they understand that we all have preferences and differing motivations. (Y ...more
Douglas Tatelman
I believe it's time to put an end to Economic Behaviorism. What used to be fun and interesting has devolved into big government/academic plots to manipulate the masses.

The authors don't even hide their love affair with the Chicago school system and how their heroes like Arne Duncan reduced school violence (Bet you didn't know that happened). They claim to be objective, but classify anyone that thinks differently from them as having a problem that must be corrected through penalties and rewards.
Kelly Wagner
Not really groundbreaking - there have been lots of books on behavioral economics in the last few years. This one is a bit lightweight - anecdotes and some verbal descriptions of their experiments, very little in the way of numbers and not a chart or graph in sight. One element they bring in that I haven't seen in other books is experiments they did to see what kind of appeals bring in the most money for charities - that was interesting.
I was very impressed with this book. I have read many books relating to behavioral economics, but the organization and flow of studies in this book was very well done. I recommend this to everyone. As someone who currently works at a non-profit I found it highly relevant and helpful. It's quite an easy read (as an economics graduate I may be biased)and keeps you engaged throughout.
Gneezy and List add to the growing field of popular economics books with this dive into field experiments and behavioral economics. They have an impressive track record of making huge real world social experiments to tease apart practical interventions in areas ranging from education to charity to business. I could summarize the theme of the book as: "Theories are cheap. Run controlled trials in the real world to test your ideas, then proceed on a large scale with what works best." They use this ...more
Matt Beckwith
Not terrible, but nothing that really wowed me. As a fan of Freakonomics from the day the first book was published, I found The Why Axis to be a weaker "hey, look at us" version of it. If you've never read Freakonomics (or better yet, if you have no idea what Freakonomics is) than The Why Axis is probably a better book for you. Until you discover Freakonomics.
Khalid Khan
I liked the book in general and it's Central idea of putting interventions to experimental testing. The down side was the a bulk of the content is centered on findings in Chicago. What's good for Chicago ought to be true everywhere is some thing that the author's would not agree with. And the last part with a quick explanation of the experimental method was woefully short on minimum level of details.
If you are Sauron and you want to know how to make your orcs work more efficiently you should read this book or you could look up the term "loss aversion" on wikipedia.

If you have read Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything and or Thinking, Fast and Slow this book doesn't offer much additional inside.
Ukela A.
Pretty inspiring. This book posed several different ways to view economics. I agree that the points of discussion contained within these pages would be extremely valuable in a high school classroom. Authors took an in depth look at gender (mainly girls') association with money, numbers involved in the political process and experimentation. Good read.
I picked up this book because I was an econimics undergrad at UCSD and at one point was told to reach out to Dr. Gneezy for help on my senior thesis. I, regretably, never did. Reading this book makes me wish I was able to pick his brain a bit.

Similar idea base to Freakanomics, as a kind of maybe economist, the concepts felt dumbed down in order to reach a larger audience, but as a normal person, the book was fascinating. I thought the book was well written and a very enjoyable read.
A pretty good book that explores incentives through various field experiments. It's a light read that isn't too heavy on economic jargon. Overall, it's a great book that gives you a sense of what economics can be about. However, if you're looking for something more technical and constructive, then this might not be the book for you.

Not bad. Practical economics in the vein of Freakonomics. Good test cases. A preschool finds out that fining parents for late pickups results in... even more late pickups. People can be counted on to act in their own self-interest. Which is different than being selfish. And just plain useful to be reminded of.
Steve Gross
A childishly written book, with frequent personal anecdotes by the authors to make larger economic points. They constantly prate on about "field experiments"; what other kinds are there? They also toe the liberal line from A to Z when they are supposed to be running scientific experiments. Not recommended.
Brandon Carlson
Started off really slow. I thought it finished strong though and I was intrigued by all of the techniques for improving fundraising based on the research into behavioral economics. They finished out the book with the statement that successful businesses of the future will turn to frequent experimentation over the tried and true management gut instinct approach that has dominated business to this point.
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“Our study suggests that given the right culture, women are as competitively inclined as men, and even more so in many situations. Competitiveness, then, is not only set by evolutionary forces that dictate that men are naturally more so inclined than women. The average woman will compete more than the average man if the right cultural incentives are in place.” 1 likes
“If you are a policy maker, don’t apply bandages to old injuries when what we need is early, corrective surgery.” 0 likes
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