The practical value of economics as a science

I know of three very good books on the actual (or sometimes hypothetical) application of economic ideas to real world problems:

1. Alex Tabarrok's Entrepreneurial Economics: Bright Ideas from the Dismal Science.

2. Some other book I haven't read and can no longer remember.

There is now a third:

3. Better Living Through Economics, edited by John J. Siegfried.  It covers emissions trading, the EITC, trade liberalization, welfare reform, the spectrum auction, airline deregulation, antitrust, the volunteer military, and Alvin Roth algorithms for deferred acceptance.  The contributions are uniformly excellent and written by top economists.


You should have turned guessing book #2 into a contest like the ones they always run on the Freakonomics blog.

You should have turned guessing book #2 into a contest like the ones they always run on the Freakonomics blog.

With a secret blog and decoder ring!

I would guess Freakonomics, but he did say "real world" problems and I've never met in person a drug dealer, sumo wrestler, prostitute, New York City teacher, global warming consensyst/geoengineering denialist...

The blurb describing the book raises a lot of questions:

- "economists built the foundation for eliminating the military draft in favor of an all-volunteer army in 1973" -- Are the authors claiming economists improved the waging of imperial wars by jacking up the costs per man by outsources the low risk parts to for profits while cutting the compensation to the smaller number of volunteers who take the big risks?

- "for deregulating airlines in 1978" -- has this really resulted in a better transportation system; true those who can get to air ports easily can help bankrupt air carriers and their employees while the service access points are reduced. If the same kinds of restructuring of the air line industry were applied to health care, insurers, hospitals, drug makers would be frequently bankrupted, pay to doctors and nurses would be driven down dramatically, especially for the highest prestige, the specialist doctors, and health care would not be available in most communities.

- "for adopting the welfare-to-work reforms during the Clinton administration" -- weren't the CCC and military/GI Bill a better welfare to work program? The CCC provided welfare by taking a young person from a family without earner into a work-training program with the young person provided good food, health care, education, practical work experience, access to trade training, 90% of his wages going home the family, discipline, and the experience of building things that would last a lifetime. The CCC drew on military organization, with the US ranked in the top several in quality throughout history - contrast US military with the private contractors in efficiency and graft and even for this pacifist, I have very different opinions of Powell, Gates, McChrystal than of the management of the mercenaries the US has employed. The military pulled many unfit men into the service, built them up, and then in the 50s and 60s especially really accelerated their futures with the GI Bill.

- "the adoption of tradable emissions rights which has improved our environment at minimum cost" -- this has gone well, with conservatives calling this "cap and tax" and fighting it at every turn and certain to doom the US economy to depression and Americans to third world poverty. Isn't this just a thinly veiled attempt to hide a tax on pollution as Friedman suggested behind a complex scheme with private corporations with lobbyist getting to tax their competitors?

Perhaps the book addresses these points, but then I would expect the blurb to say something about how economists have contributed to the art of the possible, and helped design less bad political solutions to what are in theory simple market problems, but in practice impossible to solve politically.

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