Laura's Reviews > The Economic Naturalist's Guide to Washington, Wall Street, and Why Timmy Needs a New Range Rover for Christmas

The Economic Naturalist's Guide to Washington, Wall Street, a... by Robert H. Frank
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's review
Sep 09, 2009

liked it
Read in September, 2009

was v.... economical. i started off pretty intrigued but tired of it a little by the end. even though Frank fully discloses his belief that, "As learning theorists remind us, the key to mastering new concepts is repetition," it is still just a tad too repetitive. it's OK to re-introduce the same theories in new lights; it's a little too 3rd-grade redux to keep repeating the same phrases over (and over) again. It happens enough to leave a sticky, regurgitated taste in your mouth.

in any case, i think he has some good points. they are limited in the sense that they are based on economic theory, and i'd like to see the direct rebuttals and then their subsequent rebuttals (and so on). It seems like there should at least be some questions answered directly in the book, since such strong arguments are made for them. e.g., How is the consumption tax (v. the income tax) a long-term fix if the estate tax is still in place (which it undoubtedly would be with a democratic majority - which is the majority that would be necessary to enact most of the policies that Frank advocates)?

Other questions less serious but as important:
Why are people so invariably stupid?
Why would you put your most mis-conclusive* article in your own book (didn't you read your article on the full disclosure principal (chapter 56)?), especially when it makes you sound so ridiculous?

And a serious one:
How do you get people to care? or to change? or to keep an open mind?

Seriousness to boot -- the book does remind that government is absolutely necessary, and that the reason it is necessary is that people are ridiculously stupid. ... which we already knew, but it's, i guess, always interesting to see the evidence in such certain terms. i have also been watching the John Adams HBO series, which also screams for the necessity of government, so maybe i am twice-disillusioned, and twice-disheartened, by the fact of the matter.

On the other (serious?) hand, the book reminds (me, at least) that being too rational is extremely boring. Apparently, the 'standard economic model' assumes that "people behave as if they were fully rational and in possession of all relevant information." He argues that going to college right after high school is a prime example people making decisions based on the standard economic model. Long story short, i'm more inclined to give advice that prolongs seeing the world while living on ramen noodles and delays work.

So, it seems - to me, at least - that economics is the philosophy of money, and that economics is thus not really for hippies and others who can live with a healthy disregard for money. Unfortunately, as Frank makes apparent, not a lot of people can disregard it, equally perhaps out of need and out of greed. And that makes both economics and politics necessary. And it kind of makes my stomach hurt. I'm on to a more lighthearted book.

*i don't think this is a real word.

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