我注意到Landsburg是因为Steven Pinker在How The Mind Works中讨论单偶制婚姻时引用了他的分析（见〈单偶制婚姻与欧佩克〉），我预感到，有兴致谈论此类问题的经济学家一定很有趣，况且他还能进入一位心理学家的视野，于是我搜到了这本书，也就是上述引文的出处。
“扶手椅经济学家”是以Gustav von Schmoller为代表的德国历史学派经济学家，对斯密和李嘉图等英国古典经济学家及其德奥追随者的蔑称，意指他们在不掌握足够历史和现实经济数据的情况下，仅凭少数假设和原理进行分析和推断，并以此支持自己的经济政策（当时主要指自由放任和自由贸易）。
I. WHAT LIFE IS ALL ABOUT
1. The Power of Incentives: How Seat Belts Kill – 3
2. Rational Riddles: Why the Rolling Stones Sell Out – 10
3. Truth or Consequences: How to Split a Check or Choose a Movie – 20
4. The Indifference Principle: Who Cares If the Air Is Clean? – 31
5. The Computer Game of Life: Learning What It’s All About – 42
II. GOOD AND EVIL
6. Telling Right from Wrong: The Pitfalls of Democracy – 49
7. Why Taxes Are Bad: The Logic of Efficiency – 60
8. Why Prices Are Good: Smith Versus Darwin – 73
9. Of Medicine and Candy, Trains and Sparks: Economics in the Courtroom – 83
III. HOW TO READ THE NEWS
10. Choosing Sides in the Drug War: How the Atlantic Monthly Got It Wrong – 95
11. The Mythology of Deficits – 106
12. Sound and Fury: Spurious Wisdom from the Op-Ed Pages – 116
13. How Statistics Lie: Unemployment Can Be Good for You – 127
14. The Policy Vice: Do We Need More Illiterates? – 138
15. Some Modest Proposals: The End of Bipartisanship – 146
IV. HOW MARKETS WORK
16. Why Popcorn Costs More at the Movies and Why the Obvious Answer Is Wrong – 157
17. Courtship and Collusion: The Mating Game – 168
18. Cursed Winners and Glum Losers: Why Life Is Full of Disappointments – 174
19. Ideas of Interest: Armchair Forecasting 181
20. Random Walks and Stock Market Prices: A Primer for Investors – 188
21. The Iowa Car Crop – 197
V. THE PITFALLS OF SCIENCE
22. Was Einstein Credible? The Economics of Scientific Method – 203
23. New, Improved Football: How Economists Go Wrong – 211
VI. THE PITFALLS OF RELIGION
24. Why I Am Not an Environmentalist: The Science of Economics Versus the Religion of Ecology – 223
Appendix: Notes on Sources – 233
Index – 237
In November 1974, shortly after I arrived at the University of Chicago to begin my graduate studies, the Wall Street Journal published a list of “Ways to Stump an Economist.” It was written by a man named John Tracy McGrath, who raised a series of embarrassingly simple questions about everyday life that he thought economists would be unable to answer: Why does a pack of cigarettes bought from a cigarette machine cost more than a pack of cigarettes bought from the man at the candy store? Why can’t racetracks make change in less than 20-cent increments? Why does orange soda cost four times as much as gasoline?
That night over dinner, my friends and I—first-year graduate students all—had quite a laugh at McGrath’s expense. With just a little knowledge of economics, all of his questions seemed easy.
Today, with nearly twenty years of additional knowledge, I think that all of McGrath’s questions are both fascinating and difficult. In my recollection, the answers that came so easily over dinner consisted of nothing more than refusals to take the questions seriously. I believe that we dismissed most of them with the phrase “supply and demand,” as if that meant something. Whatever we thought it meant, we were sure that it was what economics was about.
Here is what I now think economics is about. First, it is about observing the world with genuine curiosity and admitting that it is full of mysteries. Second, it is about trying to solve those mysteries in ways that are consistent with the general proposition that human behavior is usually designed to serve a purpose. Sometimes the mysteries themselves—like McGrath’s—are hard to solve, so we practice by trying to solve similar mysteries in fictional worlds that we invent and call models. If the goal is to understand why orange soda costs more than gasoline, we might begin by thinking about a world where the only things that anybody ever buys are orange soda and gasoline. If the goal is to understand why particular constituencies want to outlaw silicone breast implants, we might begin by thinking about a world where men choose their marriage partners exclusively on the basis of breast size.
We think about models not because they are realistic, but because thinking about models is a good warm-up exercise for thinking about the world we live in. The goal, always, is to understand our own world. The first step toward understanding—and the step that we had not yet taken when we started graduate school—is to admit that the world is not always easy to understand.
This book is a compendium of essays about how economists think. It is about the things that we find mysterious, why we find them mysterious, and how we try to understand them. It describes some mysteries that I think are solved and others that I think are not. There are a lot of good reasons to learn about economics, but the reason I have tried to stress in this book is that economics is a tool for solving mysteries, and solving mysteries is fun.
For most of the last ten years, I have had the splendid privilege of eating lunch every day with an extraordinary group of economic detectives who never fail to inspire me with their incisiveness, their whimsy, and their capacity for wonder. Almost daily, someone arrives at lunch with a new mystery to solve, a dozen brilliant and original solutions are proposed, and a dozen devastating objections are raised and occasionally overcome. We do it for sheer joy.
This book is largely a chronicle of what I have learned at lunch. I am sure that some of the ideas are original with me, but I am no longer sure which ones…
A NOTE ON THE CHAPTERS
These chapters give a sampling of how economists see the world. For the most part, they can be read in any order. Some chapters refer to ideas from earlier chapters, but these references are never essential to the flow of things.
The ideas expressed in this book are intended to give a fair representation of how mainstream economists think. Of course, there is room for disagreement over specifics, and any particular economist would surely want to dissent from some of the things that I say. But I believe that most economists who read this book will agree that it accurately reflects their general viewpoint.
Attentive readers will observe that this book applies economic reasoning to a vast array of human (and sometimes non-human) behavior. They will note also that when a question arises regarding the range of applicability of an economic principle, the author always prefers to risk error in the direction of being overly inclusive. I believe that the laws of economics are universal; they are blind to race and blind to gender. I am therefore confident that no attentive reader will mistake my repeated use of the generic pronouns “he,” “him,” and “his” for the exclusively masculine pronouns with the same spellings and pronunciations.
I What Life Is All About
CHAPTER 1 THE POWER OF INCENTIVES: How Seat Belts Kill
Most of economics can be summarized in four words: “People respond to incentives.” The rest is commentary….