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Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Economic Naturalist: In Search of Explanations for Everyday Enigmas by Robert H. Frank

Entertaining but of questionable value

I have read Freakonomics and Naked Economics in the past 6 months and thoroughly enjoyed them. I was hoping to get more of the same with The Economic Naturalist: In Search of Explanations for Everyday Enigmas. It caught my eye because it is nearly the exact same color as Naked Economics (Hmmm, I wonder if the economic naturalists would care to speculate on products that intentionally look similar to better-known products...) and I was hoping to get some more economic enlightenment.

Sadly, the book reads a lot more like an extended session with Yahoo! Answers than anything else. It's interesting, but there are times when you have to wonder why anyone would be wondering these things and there are times when you have to wonder if he actually ran these answers by anyone else in another department at Cornell to see if the economic answer was right or if another answer was correct.

For example, he talks about Germany having a high unemployment rate as compared to the U.S. He mentions the fact that Germany has better unemployment benefits as the only factor for Germany's higher unemployment rate.

Historically, there are two reasons for the higher unemployment:

#1) Germany is still in the midst of absorbing East Germany which has a higher unemployment rate than the former West Germany.

Worthless Weimar Republic currency just left on the streets
#2) Macroeconomics teaches that, in the short run, you can avoid a higher rate of inflation by holding back GDP growth in a variety of ways that tend to cause more unemployment (sorry economists of the world, but that's the easiest way I can explain it without causing eyes to glaze over for non-econ-minded folks). Germany is deathly afraid of high rates of inflation since runaway inflation occurred during the Weimar Republic in the Post-World War I Germany and that is seen as having been one of the things that brought Hitler to power.

I'm sure great unemployment benefits help, but that is not the only cause for the problem.


It's a quick read, often light and breezy. But, there are better reads out there that do it better.

To learn more about offbeat topics and how economics applies to them, I suggest Naked Economics: Undressing the Dismal Science (Fully Revised and Updated)  by Charles Wheelan.

To learn more about basic economics, I suggest Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner.

I rate this book 3 stars out of 5.

This book can be found on Amazon.com here: 
The Economic Naturalist: In Search of Explanations for Everyday Enigmas

Reviewed on June 15, 2008.

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