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he submitted in response to the “economic naturalist” writing assignment in my introductory economics course. The specific assignment was “to use a principle. - Ebook download as PDF File .pdf), Text File .txt) or read book online. The Economic Naturalist and millions of other books are available for site Kindle. The Economic Naturalist: In Search of Explanations for Everyday Enigmas Paperback – April 8, For decades, Robert Frank has been asking his economics students to pose and answer questions.

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The Economic Naturalist Pdf

Key words: critical thinking, economic naturalist, introductory economics out really having learned even the most important basic economic principles. For. Acknowledgements be. Introduction. 1. Rectangular Milk Cartons and Cylindrical Soft-. Drinks Cans: The Economics of Product Design. Free Peanuts and. Read Download The Economic Naturalist: In Search of Explanations for Everyday Enigmas |PDF books PDF Free Download Here.

Certainly, Tim Harford's The Logic of Life and Robert H Frank's The Economic Naturalist stick closely to Levitt's formula - right down to their subtitles, which promise, as Freakonomics did, that economics will explain "everything" or, in Frank's case, "almost everything". That word "almost" might suggest a doubt or two about the explanatory power of economics, but it doesn't occur all that often in the work of those economists Harford calls the "new breed". For these Young Turks, economics is about much more than graphs and calculus, the stock market and the money supply - it's nothing less than a general theory of human behaviour, and it threatens to colonise areas of research hitherto regarded as the preserve of psychology, history or sociology. The new breed don't dismiss those subjects, but they do see economic theory as a powerful "simplifier" that brings clarity where previously there was only confusion. The emergence of popular economics is a sign of the confidence, therefore, of a discipline in rude health with imperial designs on the territory of its competitors. If how economics analyses things is as important as what it analyses, then, as Levitt recognised, "no subject, however offbeat, need be beyond its reach". The astonishing success of Freakonomics owed a good deal to Levitt's nose for quirky subject matter - bout-rigging among sumo wrestlers, the resemblance of Ku Klux Klansmen to estate agents or the changing fortunes of children's names - as well as his unerring ability to find evidence for some bracingly counterintuitive conclusions. Both Harford and Frank have taken this to heart. Harford wants to show that economic theory is not only useful, but "fun".

Yet for all the demotic breeziness of their style, both writers have a serious purpose. In Harford's case, it is to defend a version of rational choice theory, which tries to explain human behaviour in terms of the maximisation of individual preferences or "utility". On this model, which Harford thinks applies more or less universally, human beings respond to trade-offs or incentives: "When the costs and benefits of something change, people change their behaviour.

Proponents of rational choice theory say that to act in accordance with the cost-benefit principle is to behave "rationally" - in a distinctive and drastically circumscribed sense of the word. And Harford's contention is that we're much more rational than we're inclined to think.

There's a "rational explanation", it seems, for more or less everything: for the shortage of eligible men in New York City, for instance, or for the evolved biological preferences of men and women. One problem with this approach is that it seems to apply better to an ideal creature called Homo economicus, whose preferences are perfectly consistent, than it does to flesh-and-blood human beings. Harford, however, dismisses Homo economicus as a "crude caricature".

The Economic Naturalist

Rational choice theory doesn't require that we conceive of human beings, implausibly, as always thinking explicitly in terms of rational self-interest. It's enough that their behaviour conforms to the model. We are most of us, he says, "unconscious" calculators; just as a talented snooker player is an unconscious geometer, who plays as if he were an expert in differential equations. Whether our calculations are conscious or not, for rational choice theory the preferences we express are always self-interested and utility-maximising.

Frank devotes a chapter to so-called "behavioural economics", which disputes this view. Behavioural economists are interested in cognitive errors, especially in so-called "preference reversals", where the introduction of an apparently irrelevant extra option can have a decisive effect on the preference expressed. Homo economicus would never change his preference for a roast beef sandwich over chicken salad just because the waitress remembers they've also got tuna on the menu.

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This may seem to imply a fairly radical revision of the rational choice framework, but, according to Stephen A Marglin, it's not radical enough. Marglin is a professor of economics at Harvard, but The Dismal Science reads like the confession of an apostate from the guild.

One turns to it with relief after the stiflingly triumphalist atmosphere of The Logic of Life. Marglin is a recovering economist, you might say, who sees in the behavioural approach a missed opportunity for a "trenchant critique" of the "assumptions about people that form the core of economics".

Marglin argues that to think about people as always rationally calculating their self-interest is at odds with the way non-economists think about people.

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