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The Why Axis: Hidden Motives and The Undiscovered Economics of Everyday Life

3.65  ·  Rating details ·  985 ratings  ·  126 reviews
Two of Forbes magazine’s “world’s most powerful economists” provide the breakthrough ideas to challenge the assumptions of human decision-making.

Can economics be passionate? Can it centre on people and what really matters to them? And can it help us understand why they do what they do in everyday life? Two revolutionary economists believe it can.

In The Why Axis, Uri Gneezy
ebook, 288 pages
Published October 15th 2013 by HarperCollins Publishers (first published January 1st 2013)
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Aug 19, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, business
I had chanced upon this book during one of my book hunting trips. The name of the book attracted my attention and the logline “Hidden Motives and the Undiscovered Economics of Everyday Life” made me buy it.

The book has been authored by two behavioral economists Uri Gnezy and John List. They are advocates of conducting field experiments to understand motives behind human actions and how the correct incentives can alter our behavior.

The authors have presented some of their experiments and findi
Nov 07, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to David by: Aaron
Shelves: economics, psychology
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
Aaron Thibeault
Oct 29, 2013 rated it really liked it
*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
Mar 30, 2015 rated it it was ok
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
Peter Horton
Feb 02, 2019 rated it did not like it
A particularly harrowing book after reading Anand Giridharadas' book "Winners Take All", which helped me see through some of the many nasty assumptions in this book. Maybe I should have just put the book down but I was ***incentivized*** to finish it so I could put it on my Goodreads (if this seems profound you may like the book...) Some highlights:

Claiming to have discovered the root cause of racism, sexism, educational inequality, etc. (throughout the book)

Only searching for "win-win" solution
Feb 04, 2014 rated it did not like it
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.
Laurent Franckx
May 12, 2017 rated it really liked it
Over the last decade or so, we have seen a long list of excellent books making economics more accessible to a general audience and showing how its insights can be applied in unexpected ways in policy and in daily life. Some of the authors (Tim Harford, Dan Ariely, Steven Levitt, to name just a few) have almost reached superstar status.
One can thus wonder what Gneezy and List could possibly add to this list. A lot, it turns out.
Gneezy and List provide us with a highly accessible survey of their o
Steve Gross
Mar 27, 2014 rated it it was ok
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. ...more
Jesse Hall
Nov 01, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Behavioral economics at its best - from the guys who really ignited the field and made it what it is today. It's a very entertaining read - with fun, economic experiments at every turn. These guys explore incentives much like Dubner and Levitt do in Freakonomics, but with more depth and analysis - particularly for business and public policy solutions. I highly recommend it. ...more
Bill Yeadon
Nov 27, 2013 rated it it was ok
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.
Ed Avern
Feb 29, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: archive
So... I've given this book three stars because there *are* some fascinating insights in here, and I've been inspired enough by reading it to make some adjustments to my own life, which is a rarity. But oh! Messrs Gneezy & List, how close you came to a career-jeopardising two-star catastrophe!

'The Why Axis' is pop-economics book in the same vein as 'Freakonomics' - it even has a quote by Levitt on the front cover - with the premise that the authors have run a series of real-life, real-time econom
Michael Loveless
I read this book because I teach economics and I will be teaching a media literacy class next year. I hoped this book might give me some material to work with. I guess I was a little disappointed, but it wasn't a bad book. The author's thesis is that people should do field experiments to help them answer economic questions, or almost any question at all. The book is filled with examples of these experiments and how they were helpful. For instance, the author worked with a winery to help the owne ...more
Jan 01, 2021 rated it liked it
This book was written very simplistically, making it approachable for a non-economics person (which, I think, was their purpose). I think that in many cases, they oversimplified a lot of issues, making it seem like their experiments all led to easy and straightforward conclusions. For example, the issue of early childhood education is a lot more nuanced than how they describe it. However, it still brought up a lot of interesting ideas, and drove home their point (very repetitively) that economis ...more
May 16, 2018 rated it liked it
Another book in my reading on behavioral economics.
This book’s aim is to promote the use of field experiments to find ways to “substantially alter the lives of people around the world.” ( p243) A noble thought!

The author tells about how we need to just NOT accept assumptions. Doing things the same old way is not often best.

There are chapters that talk about different kinds of field experiments that have been done by this author or by others subscribing to this rejection of status quo, in the
Jul 30, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: science, economics
While not a perfect study, it's a great overview of how and why experimental studies can and should be done, and how the concepts used in economics can apply to other fields. I do wish they'd been more clear in the section on education, because they only had short-term results to discuss, but the overall book was well worth reading.
Some readers have criticized the book for stating "the obvious," but the point that I think the authors were making is that we should question WHY these things are "t
Caitlyn Kasper
May 29, 2019 rated it liked it
This book discussed many field experiments with the purpose of understanding what incentivizes people to act in certain ways. These economists explored whether women are less competitive than men (and if by nature or nurture), how to help at risk students catch up with their rich peers, why individuals discriminate, how to encourage healthy habits, how could charities generate more donations, and how businesses can use field experiments to be more innovative.

While I did not agree with everything
Jul 30, 2020 rated it really liked it
I was honestly quite smitten with this book, reading it thoroughly and taking notes on every chapter. Being somewhat familiar with behavioural economics and psychology, there were a few phenomenons I was familiar with, but there were also a lot of interesting new takes - things that make a lot of sense, but I would not have thought about. Ex: disabilities & price/economic discrimination, tontine method for charitable giving, etc. I thoroughly enjoyed the book and thinking, but I think the format ...more
May 28, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very interesting discussion of experimental economics.

This book is decent. Some chapters were more interesting than others, and it really feels more like a collection of essays than a cohesive book.

I appreciate the fact that the authors are not directly prescriptive other than to say one should experiment before big decisions. Too often in “pop” econ books the author lets his/her political views dictate the economics (looking at you, George Mason economists) rather than letting the economic theo
Clare Suter
Nov 01, 2020 rated it it was ok
I agree with the general premise of this book- that a lot can be gleaned from well-designed field experiments. However, I found a lot of the “implications” of their findings to be crude and harmfully simplistic or dismissive of structural harm and discrimination faced by minorities or women. For example..their conclusion that affirmative action is no longer an appropriate policy due to research indicating that minorities today face discrimination for economic, rather than “taste-based” reasons?? ...more
Kevin Eikenberry
Oct 29, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This is an interesting book on many levels.

I bought the book, because as a leader and teacher and writer about leadership, I also want to know more about people’s motives so I can better understand how to coach, lead and influence them.

This book delivers on that goal, though not in a direct “here’s how to do it as a leader” sort of way.

May 10, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
Lack of description on sample sizes is continuing to piss me off. What was the sample size? What was the standard deviation on the results? Was the experiment repeatable?

This is written as pulpy pop-science economics. I have no doubts that John A. List is a distinguished economist (hey, he’s U of C, so I’m biased) but his excellent work in economics field research has been dumbed down way too much for public consumption. Makes me want to dig up the actual research papers instead.
Ajay Palekar
Dec 24, 2018 rated it really liked it
A fun book to read, a persuasive case for moving beyond theory to experiment in the real world.

Uri's work is an insightful look into a variety of social phenomenon with commentary on how to design better incentives for people to try in school, keep safe, and give to charity. He also comments on some of the larger social issues of our time including discrimination, racism, and the inequality that women face in the world.

Mario Russo
May 25, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: economics, psychology
Nice book. At the beginning of the book I thought it was going to a book with hidden progressist agenda but it is actually a decent behavioral economics with thought provoking discussion regarding field tests on individual motivation. Might not be for you if you must have samples but hey, It's a book not a scienfific paper. ...more
Julián A.
Apr 20, 2019 rated it it was amazing
It's a great book. Last chapter and epilogue meant 5 stars for the book (without that finale, 4 stars). Great examples about experiments and their impact. It would have been great to point the sources for the ideas to test; that's indeed something hard. ...more
Ricardo Hernández
More than notes on the psychology behind the experiments here recounted, the book is just a compendium on notes on how the experiments were designed, prepared and ran; there are no clear scientific conclusions on the Why (as the book implies in the title) of the reasons of X and Z behavior.
Jul 26, 2017 rated it really liked it
Very applicable in all areas of life! Personal and Professional!

Ileancik Oduvancik
May 01, 2018 rated it really liked it
A very approachable economics book, no need to be an economist to enjoy this one. Interesting insights into how economics can be applied in real life, or rather how real-life can guide economics.
Thanh Tam Pham
Sep 05, 2018 rated it it was amazing
An amazing piece of reading to show you that "life is a laboratory", and that "field experiment is the true judge of science". ...more
Blai Carandell Saladich
Jan 02, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Great mix of behavior economics and field experimentation.
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