Over at Marginal Revolution, there is this post addressing the question of why it took so long for the industrial revolution to occur. Cowen, in addition to providing a quick response, also links to prior debates that occurred with the publication of A Farewell to Alms. This book offers an all-encompassing theory regarding why the industrial revolution occurred when and where it did. I bought the book when it was released, but still haven't gotten around to reading it yet, so I'll just offer up my link, and maybe revisit the issue after I've read the book.
I’ve been reading the February issue of Seed Magazine, and came across this article on behavioral economics. Other than recommending the article, which just briefly discusses the idea of improving the decision-making among the world’s poorer individuals. While I might quibble with the author’s over-generalized comparisons between the more and less productive, the idea that aiding individuals who frequently make less informed, more impulsive, more shortsighted decisions in making better decisions is a no-brainer. One small example that would seem to support this proposition is the anecdotal evidence that many lottery winners tend to lose their fortune over time - having won a boatload of money simply allows many of these individuals to make bigger financial mistakes; all that money doesn’t teach a person how to spend it any more wisely. The author offers a few examples on how to engage in this sort of effort, and to the extent this type of behavioral re-training can be implemented without impinging, ultimately, on the rights of individuals to make decisions, seems like a worthy endeavor. Worth a read...
The book Discover Your Inner Economist was written by Tyler Cowen, an economist who teaches at George Mason University (and who blogs at Marginal Revolution). I first became familiar with the author through the podcast Econtalk, which I find both enjoyable and educational. During one pod cast, Mr. Cowen discussed some of the topics he addressed in his book, which examines the impact of incentives on the everyday decisions people make. I decided to give the book a try, and I’m glad I did.
Mr. Cowen takes a look at various aspects of everyday life through an economist’s perspective. Issues such as which books to read, how to maximize one’s visit to the art museum, even shopping for Christmas presents are all topics seen in a different way, at least to me. The book is also full of interesting tidbits, including fairly accurate predictions about people based on their preferences in music, as well as how the value of art is impacted by such things as whether there are animals, water, etc. depicted.
I found the book very easy to read, and written with a dry sense of humor. Obviously one won’t agree with all thoughts and suggestions, but at the least many of Mr. Cowen’s observations prompt a reconsideration of why one acts in a certain way. In addition to his comments about art, music, and gift giving, I also enjoyed his sections on food (including where and what to eat when eating out) to be fascinating. In closing, I would definitely recommend you check this book out.