9780812977875

The Logic of Life

by
  • ISBN13:

    9780812977875

  • ISBN10:

    0812977874

  • Edition: Reprint
  • Format: Trade Paper
  • Copyright: 2009-02-10
  • Publisher: Random House Trade Paperbacks

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Summary

Life sometimes seems illogical. Individuals do strange things: take drugs, have unprotected sex, mug each other. Love seems irrational, and so does divorce. On a larger scale, life seems no fairer or easier to fathom: Why do some neighborhoods thrive and others become ghettos? Why is racism so persistent? Why is your idiot boss paid a fortune for sitting behind a mahogany altar? Thorny questionsand you might be surprised to hear the answers coming from an economist. But award-winning journalist Tim Harford likes to spring surprises. In this deftly reasoned book, he argues that life is logical after all. Under the surface of everyday insanity, hidden incentives are at work, and Harford shows these incentives emerging in the most unlikely places.

Author Biography

Tim Harford is the author of the bestseller The Undercover Economist and The Logic of Life and a member of the editorial board of the Financial Times, where he also writes the “Dear Economist” column. He is a regular contributor to Slate, Forbes, and NPR’s Marketplace. He was the host of the BBC TV series Trust Me, I’m an Economist and now presents the BBC series More or Less. Harford has been an economist at the World Bank and an economics tutor at Oxford University. He lives in London with his wife and two daughters.


From the Hardcover edition.

Excerpts

Chapter One  
Introducing the Logic of Life  
The Economics of Sex, Crime, and Minnie Mouse  
Harpo Studios, Chicago  

Parents, brace yourselves." With those words, Oprah Winfrey introduced America to the shocking news of the teenage oral sex craze. In The Atlantic, Caitlin Flanagan wrote, "The moms in my set are convinced-they're certain; they know for a fact-that all over the city, in the very best schools, in the nicest families, in the leafiest neighborhoods, twelve- and thirteen-year-old girls are performing oral sex on as many boys as they can." Flanagan poked a bit of fun, but she wasn't really laughing: She was convinced that the fears were largely justified. Indeed, the American "blow job epidemic" has now been addressed everywhere from PBS documentaries to the editorial page of The New York Times, sometimes with giddy and slightly voyeuristic horror, sometimes with calm reassurance that the epidemic is simply a myth.  

The so-called epidemic is often exaggerated, but it's no myth. One recent study, conducted by researchers at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center in Baltimore, found that between 1994 and 2004, young people between ages twelve and twenty-four became more than twice as likely to report that they'd recently had oral sex. (For boys the rate climbed from 16 percent to 32 percent; for girls, from 14 percent to 38 percent.) Anecdotal evidence from experts suggests that the true increase may be even higher. I sought advice from Professor Jonathan   Zenilman, an expert at Johns Hopkins University on sexually transmitted diseases. He explained to me that in 1990, perhaps half the women and a quarter of the men who came to his clinic (both teenagers and adults) sometimes performed oral sex on their partners. He believes that oral sex is now much more common: "Now it's seventy-five to eighty percent." And while it's the blow jobs that predictably have caused the panic, oral sex is now much more equitably distributed between boys and girls than in 1990. "Epidemic" might be putting it too strongly, but oral sex is definitely in vogue.  

The question few people seem to have asked is "Why?" Are kids really becoming more depraved-or are they just being smart? Might there not be such a thing as a rational blow job?   I'll say more about exactly what rational means later in this chapter, after we've dealt with those libidinous teenagers. But the basic idea is not complicated: Rational people respond to trade-offs and to incentives. When the costs or benefits of something change, people change their behavior. Rational people think-not always consciously-about the future as well as the present as they try to anticipate likely consequences of their actions in an uncertain world.  

Armed with this basic definition of rationality, then, we can ask: What are the costs, benefits, and likely consequences of a blow job? Okay, perhaps the benefits are too obvious to be stated, particularly for the recipient. But it should also be obvious that the cost of a close relative of oral sex has risen: Regular sex is more costly than it used to be because of the spread of HIV/AIDS. HIV is much more likely to be spread by regular sex than oral sex. Many teenagers know that: One recent study of sex education concluded that it was more common for U.S. kids to be taught about HIV/AIDS than about preventing pregnancy. Teenagers may also know of other sexually transmitted diseases such as gonorrhea, an infection that might make a girl infertile if transmitted through penetrative sex, but when transmitted by oral sex may have much milder symptoms, such as a sore throat. The costs of oral sex are, quite simply, lower than the costs of regular sex.  

If teenage girls really do weigh those costs and benefits before going down on their boyfriends, this is a straightforward explanation for the grow

Excerpted from The Logic of Life: The Rational Economics of an Irrational World by Tim Harford
All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

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