The Economic Naturalist’s Field Guide

field guide

The Economic Naturalist, by Robert H. Frank is a collection of articles he wrote over the past ten years for the New York Times and other publications on topics of economic interest such as Trickle-Down Theory, price fixing, and even the recent hot topic issue of a public option insurance program.

While several of the articles in the text date back to 1999, they all hold a few nuggets of wisdom anyone can agree with, whether or not they’re an economist.

One of the things he says that can help people live more fulfilling lives is to lower consumption of “positional goods” – things you need because other people have them. “Keeping up with the Jonses.”

I see this all the time as a teacher. Every student that walks in the class has a new cell phone. The hottest item is Apple’s iPhone. All I’ve ever seen a student do with it is text or IM with it. I have never seen anyone use it as a phone, but I digress.

He goes on to talk about the Estate tax, the tax paid by heirs of money/property. A set of surveys taken by Cornell University showed the following:

In the first survey, random people were called and asked whether they favored the Bush administration eliminating the estate tax. 74% favored it, while 23% did not.

In the second survey, people were again asked if they were for or against the elimination of the tax if it meant other taxes would increase. Of course, the tables were turned. This time only 21% favored it, while 79% opposed it.

The reason for this is an increase in taxes affects everyone, while the estate tax only affects people if they inherit more than $1.5 million.

In all, I enjoyed this book. I love reading about economic policy and different economists perceptions of that policy.

Book’s website.


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