Fair Play

Another collection of brash, intelligent essays on economics by the author of The Armchair Economist (1993). Landsburg, a columnist for the online magazine Slate, turns his hand to demystifying everyday economics, using his nine-year- old daughter as a sounding board. While his exchanges with Cayley can turn overly sentimental, Landsburg’s sharp wit and sharper insight make this a fun read for anyone with a taste for logic and unbiased opinions. Landsburg begins a discussion on NAFTA by debunking the notion that the number of workers who quit their jobs because of pay cuts represents the true cost of foreign competition. It’s the workers who stay and take a pay cut, he argues, who are the real losers, because they bear the full brunt of the loss in wages. He later points out that while some would argue that it’s unfair to the $16-an-hour worker to lose a job to a $3-an-hour worker, it’s actually the public who, from the point of view of pure economics, has been cheated: They’ve been overpaying for products made by overpriced workers. At times, Landsburg risks sounding like a curmudgeon: He’s irritated that Cayley’s teachers dictate on the environment, sex, and drugs. But he rightly points out that even the best-intentioned environmental lesson often consists simply of memorizing the number of acres of rainforest lost, rather than a more complex analysis of land use. His best response is saved for Cayley’s Hebrew school class: When asked to write an essay that begins “To be more like God, I will . . .” students penned treacly lines such as “I will be kind to animals.” Landsburg’s stinging response: “I will slay the first born of my enemies.” Often funny and at times poetic, these essays are eminently readable and always smart. (Radio satellite tour)

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