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Uncommon Sense : Economic Insights, from Marriage to Terrorism
On December 5, 2004, the still-developing blogosphere took one of its biggest steps toward mainstream credibility, as Nobel Prize-winning economist Gary S. Becker and renowned jurist and legal scholar Richard A. Posner announced the formation of the Becker-Posner Blog.
In no time, the blog had established a wide readership and reputation as a reliable source of lively, thought-provoking commentary on current events, its pithy and profound weekly essays highlighting the value of economic reasoning when applied to unexpected topics. Uncommon Sense gathers the most important and innovative entries from the blog, arranged by topic, along with updates and even reconsiderations when subsequent events have shed new light on a question. Whether it's Posner making the economic case for the legalization of gay marriage, Becker arguing in favor of the sale of human organs for transplant, or even the pair of scholars vigorously disagreeing about the utility of collective punishment, with reference to Israel's battles with Hezbollah and Hamas, the writing is always clear, the interplay energetic, and the resulting discussion deeply informed and intellectually substantial.
To have a single thinker of the stature of a Becker or Posner addressing questions of this nature would make for fascinating reading; to have both, writing and responding to each other, is an exceptionally rare treat. With Uncommon Sense, they invite the adventurous reader to join them on a whirlwind intellectual journey. All they ask is that you leave your preconceptions behind.
Nobel Prize-winning economist Becker (Human Capital) and U.S. Court of Appeals judge Posner (How Judges Think) apply economic perspectives to a wide range of contemporary issues in these unwieldy essays culled from their jointly written blog. Social problems ranging from terrorism and pre-emptive war to Internet gambling and steroid use are subjected to analysis yielding surprising arguments; for example, they argue that drunk-driving laws penalize behavior that is not criminal (drinking) instead of the harmful outcome (accidents) and ask, "Why punish the 99-plus percent of drunk driving that is harmless?" The book is most compelling when addressing the legal aspects of eminent domain and pharmaceutical patents, much less so when it pans over national and global issues like ethnic profiling, where the arguments feel well-worn. Despite some valuable insights, the writing itself is ponderous and lacks the references and rigor to make it genuinely academic, but comes across as too dense for good blog writing. And even though the authors acknowledge that their audience might be unfamiliar with the economic principles they apply, their only concession is a brief overview of economics in the introduction. (Nov.)
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University of Chicago Press
October 31, 2009
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