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The Logic of Life: The Rational Economics of an Irrational World (Anglais) Relié – 15 janvier 2008


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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 growing popularity of oral sex. Since regular sex is riskier than it used to be, and since teenagers are unlikely to have given up on the idea of having sex, the rest is basic economics. When the price of Coca-Cola rises, rational people drink more Pepsi. When the price of an apartment in the city goes up, rational people move out to the suburbs. And when the price of penetrative sex rises, rational teenagers have more oral sex instead.  

Certainly, the evidence suggests that teenagers are moving toward less risky sexual behavior. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that since the beginning of the 1990s, the number of teenage virgins has risen by over 15 percent. There are still a few million teenagers who haven't given up on sex, of course, but since the early 1990s they've switched to using birth control methods that will also protect them from sexually transmitted infections. Use of the contraceptive pill is down by nearly a fifth, but use of condoms is up by more than a third.  

Perhaps Oprah shouldn't be quite so worried. Oral sex isn't a symptom of more promiscuous teenagers. In fact, it's a sign that teenagers are behaving more responsibly, in enthusiastically-and rationally-choosing an alternative to riskier sex.  

This is all very cute-or horrifying, depending on your tastes. But it is also a glib explanation. Before blithely claiming that oral sex is more popular because rational teenagers know that regular sex is riskier, a real economist would want a tighter hypothesis and serious data to back it up.  

That real economist might well be Thomas Stratmann, who with the law professor Jonathan Klick has pinned down the rationality of the teenage sex drive rather precisely. Rational teenagers would have less- risky sex if the cost of risky sex went up, so the question is how to work out whether that is how teenagers behave. That requires some precisely measurable source of increased cost, something more quantifiable than a general increase in the amount of education about AIDS.  

The U.S. Constitution has duly obliged, by providing a federal structure that allows states to determine their rules governing teenage abortion; some permit teenagers to have abortions without the notification or consent of their parents, and some do not. Such laws provide plenty of fodder for political controversy, but they also provide a natural experiment for researchers. Since abortion notification laws make it more difficult for teenagers-but not for adults-to get an abortion, they should discourage risky sex among teens, relative to adults. If, that is, teenagers are in fact rational.  

It is not hard to see that abortion notification laws raise the cost of getting pregnant, at least for those teenagers who, given the choice, would have terminated an accidental pregnancy without telling their parents. If teenagers look ahead and work all this out, they should also take extra steps to prevent that accidental pregnancy-steps which, besides that of choosing oral sex over regular sex, are likely to include more use of condoms, or perhaps no sexual activity at all.  

Sex is not a calculated act, and so that degree of foresight may sound implausible, but Klick and Stratmann found persuasive evidence that abortion notification laws really do discourage teenagers from having risky sex. Looking at statistics from sexual health clinics, they found that wherever and whenever parental notification laws are passed, gonorrhea rates start to fall in the teenage population relative to the adult population-to whom, of course, the new laws do not apply. The only explanation for this would seem to be that an abortion notification law significantly raises the risk of unprotected sex, and that the teenagers rationally respond to that risk.  

Sex, then, has a cost. The risk of AIDS-along with intensive education about that risk-has probably encouraged teenagers to switch to a lower-cost substitute, oral sex. The threat to careless or unlucky girls that they will have to tell Mom or Dad that they accidentally got pregnant has done something similar.  

A young economist named Andrew Francis has gone still further. If oral sex is a substitute for regular sex, he reasoned, isn't it at least possible that heterosexual sex is a substitute for homosexual sex? The rise of AIDS has made it more risky than it used to be to have sex with men, making homosexuality more dangerous for men and heterosexuality more dangerous for women. If the cost of one's sexual orientation is perceived to have gone up, wouldn't we expect rational people to respond to that?  

Andrew Francis stumbled upon the possibility-it remains speculative-while trawling through a survey from the early 1990s in which nearly 3,500 people were asked intimate questions about their sexual preference and sexual history. The survey also asked people whether they knew anyone with AIDS. Francis then concentrated on people whose relatives suffered from AIDS, because you can choose your friends but not your relatives: It would not be surprising, or informative, to discover that gay men knew more people with AIDS than straight men.  

Francis discovered that both men and women with a relative who had AIDS were less likely to have sex with men, and less likely to say they were attracted to men. At first, that didn't seem to make much sense-the unfortunate relatives were quite likely to be gay men, but if anything, genetic theories suggest that people with gay relatives should be more likely to be gay, not less. Then he realized what was going on: "Oh my God, they were scared of AIDS!" he told Stephen Dubner and Steven Levitt for The New York Times Magazine.  

With that insight, everything fits. People with a relative who had AIDS were more likely to be aware of how terrible it is, especially back in the early 1990s, when treatments for AIDS were very limited and the disease killed many people within two years. Then what? Men who had a relative with AIDS were less likely to say that they found the idea of sex with men appeali...

Revue de presse

“Highly readable, funny and daringly contentious . . . a whopping good time.”
–San Francisco Chronicle

“[Tim] Harford sets off on an enormously entertaining yarn backed by the findings of expert economists. He spins playfully, but smartly, across matters of sex, crime, gambling, addiction, marriage, racism, ghettos and politics, and he makes it all, well, titillating at times. Really.”
–USA Today

“Harford has a knack for explaining economic principles and problems in plain language and, even better, for making them fun.”
–The New York Times

“[Harford] is an amiable guide for the non-specialist reader . . . but his command of the subject is such that even a well-schooled economist will discover much that is new.”
–The Economist

“Highly engaging . . . entertaining and provocative.”
–Publishers Weekly

“A fascinating work with many ‘aha’ moments.”
–Booklist

“Smart, charming, penetrating, and wise.”
–Stephen J. Dubner, co-author of Freakonomics

“Chock-full of numbers and money talk, but oddly entertaining.”
–Kirkus Reviews

“Charming and informative.”
–Newsday

“Like Harford’s earlier book, The Undercover Economist–if you haven’t got it, get it–this book uses the basic theory of rational choice to make transparent the logic behind common but important puzzling phenomena. Even a trained economist can enjoy discovering what he didn’t realize he already knew. I did.”
–Thomas C. Schelling, 2005 Nobel Laureate in Economics

“This witty, intelligent book will help you see the entire world in a new light.”
–Tyler Cowen, author of Discover Your Inner Economist



From the Trade Paperback edition.



Détails sur le produit

  • Relié: 272 pages
  • Editeur : Random House; Édition : 1 (15 janvier 2008)
  • Langue : Anglais
  • ISBN-10: 1400066425
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400066421
  • Dimensions du produit: 16,1 x 2,5 x 24,2 cm
  • Moyenne des commentaires client : 4.0 étoiles sur 5  Voir tous les commentaires (1 commentaire client)
  • Classement des meilleures ventes d'Amazon: 212.232 en Livres anglais et étrangers (Voir les 100 premiers en Livres anglais et étrangers)
  • Table des matières complète
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9 internautes sur 9 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile  Par Patrick P. le 20 avril 2008
Format: Relié
Pourquoi est-il logique de ne pas voter ? Pourquoi et comment se forment les ghettos ? Pourquoi le sexe oral est-il en augmentation aux États-Unis ? Pourquoi le nombre de divorces a-t-il explosé depuis la fin de la seconde guerre mondiale ? Une réponse à ces questions, et à d'autres, dans ce livre très bien écrit, facile à lire et plein d'entrain. L'auteur part du constat que beaucoup de faits de société semblent en contradiction soit avec l'intérêt de la société, soit avec les opinions professées par les individus. En creusant ces anomalies, il montre qu'elles s'expliquent par la rationalité des individus.
L'ouvrage se lit d'une traite, et l'auteur n'a pas son pareil pour rendre simple des papiers de recherche ardus.
On peut regretter l'impression d'être face à une collection d'articles de journal dont le seul fil conducteur est la rationalité des individus. Mais le propos de l'auteur est de montrer, au travers d'exemples qui parleront à chacun, combien nous ne devons pas sous-estimer la rationalité des gens.
On ressort toutefois de l'ouvrage avec l'idée que la rationalité des individus est un outil surpuissant pour comprendre les phénomènes sociaux : on pourrait croire qu'il s'agit de l'outil universel. L'auteur ne fait d'ailleurs pas grand chose pour convaincre du contraire : même s'il donne quelques exemples de cas où les individus ne sont pas rationnels, dans l'ensemble c'est l'impression contraire qui se dégage du livre. C'est peut-être un manque de cet ouvrage.
Une remarque : la plupart des exemples donnés ont peu à voir avec l'économie ; il s'agit plus de sociologie.
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28 internautes sur 30 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
A valuable reminder that economics is a means not an end 18 janvier 2008
Par Andy Carlisle - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Relié
A lively and thought-provoking follow-up to Harford's debut book The Undercover Economist, which used textbook economics to throw new light on everyday life. In this second book Harford moves well beyond the textbook to take us on a tour of some cutting edge research and thinking that's emerging from what he calls a "new breed of economists". Among them is Steve Levitt, whose Freakonomics popularized the notion that economists can have interesting things to say about areas you wouldn't normally expect them to be poking their noses into - but Levitt is only one of many academic researchers who are cheerfully roaming over other people's turf from their economics labs, so Harford's book serves as a timely overview of a newly sexy subject.

The result is a startlingly diverse collection of insights and anecdotes which are all held together by one central premise - that you can explain a lot about life by starting from the simple assumption that people are fundamentally rational. This is not an uncontroversial assertion - among the "new breed of economists" are those melding economics with psychology into a fledgeling discipline of behavioral economics, which focuses on our irrational quirks. Harford's view is not to dismiss these human foibles, but to argue persuasively that they shouldn't be overstated, and that in most important situations we behave rationally - that is, subconsciously evaluating costs and benefits and responding to incentives - to a remarkable extent.

Harford's writing is a joy to read, especially when he's impishly puncturing pomposity - my favorite is the "why your boss is overpaid" chapter, which discusses several theories that could rationally explain the obscenely high wages commanded by modern CEOs (hint: none of them are "because they're worth it"). One great lesson made clear by this book is that individually rational decisions can lead to socially horrible outcomes, a conclusion never clearer than in the discomfiting chapter on "rational racism". It's a valuable reminder that economics is a means not an end - rational choice theory doesn't dictate what society should be like, rather it teaches how we can harness rationality by changing incentives to shape the society we want.
28 internautes sur 32 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
At best a badly edited book 2 juillet 2008
Par Yogesh Upadhyaya - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Relié
I liked Tim Hartford's earlier work - The Undercover Economist very much. I have taken a few graduate courses in Economics and loved the way the book refreshed and even gave new concepts to me. Thus, I picked up The Logic of Life with a lot of expectations. These expectations were badly dashed.

My big problem with this book is that Hartford lacks rigor. In a popular book I wouldn't expect the rigor of an academic article, but when an author draws conclusions that are wider ranging than warranted or if the author factually incorrect then I do have a problem. There are at least a couple of instances when Hartford does that. For me it taints the whole book - making me ask questions such as what if Hartford is factually incorrect in other places that I don't know about.

Hartford relies a lot on the experiments of John List to set up his premise - People are more rational in their day to day life than psychologists give them credit for. One set of List's experiments demonstrated that experienced pin and baseball card collectors are able to make rational decisions in situations where rookies often make irrational ones. Hartford then extends this logic to claim that as people are experienced in their day to day life - in activities such as work and shopping - they are unlikely to make the rookie irrational mistakes. To me this is a big stretch. I don't know anyone who thinks a day-to-day shopping decision through as much as an experienced collector would. A little effort from the author here in establishing his premise would have been really well served.

Hartford really lets go of rigor when criticizing the work of Jeffery Sachs. Coincidentally, I was reading "The End of Poverty: Economic Possibilities for Our Time" by Jeffery Sachs at the same time I was reading Logic of Life and I was shocked by Hartford's presentation of Sachs' theories and also his refutations. For example, Hartford says that malaria is unlikely to be a cause of under-development as it kills only young children and not adults. Sachs has argued in reasonable detail how malaria can cause poverty (absenteeism, delay of investment projects, undereducated children and parents making decisions of having more children). I for one cannot understand how one line stating malaria kills children and hence does not effect economy from Hartford is anything but a lazy piece of writing. Hartford' writing on the topic gets almost bizarre when he then states "In any case, these diseases can be fought by countries with the resources to do so." As this statement is apparently to refute the logic of Sachs, it is mind boggling as Sachs to my mind is also saying the same thing. The disease can be fought - however, the really poor countries do not have the resources to do so. At best statements like these are very poor editing of the book. The point here is not if Sachs is correct or not. The point is that if you are refuting the theory of a person, the least you should be doing is to state it correctly and in full.

For me, if I start doubting one part of the book I start thinking - this author is not very incorrect about a part I know about, so can I trust him on other parts where I don't know too much? This does sharply reduce the enjoyment of what is a very readable book.
41 internautes sur 49 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
Learn to go past knee-jerk explanations to a deeper understanding of our world 14 février 2008
Par M. Strong - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Relié Achat vérifié
Increasingly, economics is being used to explain the actions people take outside of their financial lives and then turned into books that are readable and, dare I say, interesting for lay people. Harford's latest work is the best of this crop that I've read so far.

What Harford does so well is pick interesting everyday topics, some big and some small, explain the rationale typically used to explain why things are the way they are, and then paint a new picture of what is driving peoples' actions. Harford explains why people will pay more to live in cities and why new tele-commuting technology will make cities more attractive, not less. He digs into the sadly explainable roots of racial discrimination in hiring and why some students are making the rational choice when they conciously decide not to study. The reasons may surprise you, but you will enjoy his explanations and frequently end up nodding in agreement or shaking your head in frustration with the inescapable but lousy conclusions.

The greatest thing about Harford's book is how clearly it demonstrates the value that economics can deliver. Done right, economics is a powerful tool for identifying the root causes of both good and bad trends. If a trend is good (Harford explains historic growth in wealth) you can learn how to promote it further. If a trend is bad (the decline of a city like New Orleans or Detroit) you can figure out how best to deal with it. Economics gives its users a tool for objective, clear thinking that is tough to come by.

Highly recommended for anyone who wants to develop their thought process. You'll come away a smarter voter, wiser consumer of news and thinking more clearly all-around.
33 internautes sur 39 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
How small, rational decisions can produce big problems 25 janvier 2008
Par Watt - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Relié
This book works because it takes a simple concept,that rational choice underlies much of human behavior, and that many of our seemingly intractable problems have been produced by fairly mild and even rational individual decisions. I urge you to begin the book by reading the section on "rational racism," which I found in many ways the most compelling (and disturbing) part of the book. Harford actually begins the book with a discussion of apparently worrying teenage sexuality that turns out to be more encouraging than you might think possible. In doing so he reminds us that many of the things about which we worry,and about which commentators with big audiences shout shrilly, can be explained in a much clearer way by looking carefully at the rational decisions that produce them.

A great book and a fun read.
20 internautes sur 23 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
Best of the bunch 22 janvier 2008
Par Peter Gordon - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Relié Achat vérifié
I think that I have read all of the recent "economics of everything" (Harford's phrase) books and this one is, in my view, the best. I also try to keep up with recent research in applied economics and found some gems in these pages that I had missed. The author alludes to about 200 papers and books from recent economics research and presents them in the most reader-friendly way, all in about 200 pages. I call that very efficient.

Harford's summary is also a useful antidote to all the "behavioral economics" that the popular press has picked up. The idea that some of us depart from rational choice on occasion is hardly news. The point of this book, that the rational choice model, has amazing power range is worth reiterating.
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