Monday, January 21, 2008

Efficient way to study efficiency

In the Introduction to The Logic of Life, Tim Harford alludes to "The new economics of everything." It's an apt phrase and takes in a slew of recent books of which the first was probably Freakonomics. But that was followed (alphabetically) by Tyler Cowen's Discover Your Inner Economist, Robert Frank's The Economic Naturalist, Tim Harford's other book in the genre, The Undercover Economist, Arnold Kling's Learning Economics, Steven Landsburg's More Sex is Safer Sex, John Lott's Freedomnomics. There are others of earlier vintage, some that I have missed and still others that are awful.

But in my view, Harford does this best. He takes us through more than 200 recently published and worthy research papers (and some books) in applied economics and presents it all beautifully and in just over 200 pages. That's efficiency for the reader.

Anyone can have quibbles. I think that Harford is only partially right about New York. He lauds Manhattan's low auto use, high transit use and walkability. Yes, but the island is surrounded by a vast supporting hinterland with large numbers of people who commute there via some of the longest auto trips in the country. He cannot have the one without the other.

But the book is a joy to read.