The Price of Everything, including women

Although a holiday is obviously a reason to read books that aren’t about economics, I’m also fitting in one or two more work-related ones. (Although, luckily, my connectivity in rural France is poor, so subsequent posts might need to queue until back somewhere near reliable broadband.)

On the fiction front, two terrific books – by Attica Locke, and the third of Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan . These novels by Ferrante rank among the greats, just wonderful, on the experience of being working class, female, human.

Back to the daily grind. I read by Eduardo Porter. This has been out for a couple of years so I don’t know why I hadn’t spotted it before. It’s in the vein of Tim Harford’s using real world examples to explain applied microeconomics. The Price of Everything is a lively read with lots of good examples of how markets work, or don’t work. These included a few I’ve not come across before, like the outrage over Coca Cola’s experiment in Brazil with “dynamic pricing” in its vending machines – charging more for a cold drink when the weather gets hotter. It covers a wide range of topics, illustrating basic concepts like opportunity costs, the unintended consequences of regulation, and also cost benefit analysis, the behavioural economics ‘biases’ and the debate about income and happiness.

[amazon_image id=”0099537354″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]The Price of Everything: The True Cost of Living[/amazon_image]

The chapter I liked best was the one about women, all too rarely covered by popular books about economics. It has a marvellous quote from my hero David Hume: “This sovereignty of the male is a real usurpation, and destroys that nearness of rank, not to say equality, which nature has established between the sexes.” Also Arthur Lewis, Nobel prize winning development economist at my department in Manchester, and the first black professor in a British university (not that there are all that many even now), writing in 1955: “It is open to men to debate whether economic progress is good for men or not, but for women to debate the desirability of economic growth is to debate whether women should have a chance to cease to be beasts of burden and join the human race.” The chapter also cites Claudia Goldin’s work on u-shaped female labour supply as countries develop, the social dynamics of women entering the workforce after the 1950s, Becker’s economic analysis of the family, work on assortative mating, demographic trends, dowries, the missing girls of Asia and more.

If I had to recommend just one book to a student thinking about or starting on economics I’d probably stick with the , but is a serious contender for that chapter alone. So kudos to Eduardo Porter, and for an all-round enjoyable book for non-economists.


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