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The Marginal Utility of Marginal Revolution

When quite young I can remember I had no thought or wish of surpassing others.  I was rather taken with a liking of little arts and bits of learning.  Published in Letters and Journal of W. Stanley Jevons (1886), edited by his wife Harriet A. Jevons, p. 11 Stanley Jevons (1835-1882)  is one of the three fathers of the marginal revolution in Economics (along with Walras and Menger).  He is famous for his ideas about marginal utility. Marginal Revolution bloggers Tyler Cowen and Alex Tabarrock are very clever men with very different comparative advantages.   Mostly, Tyler is the king of the short and sweet whereas Alex reigns in the the long and complex. Their specialization makes for a terrific blog. When they started this blog,  they must have realized that an ‘Economics Only’ blog could become quite earnest–and while there is ‘the importance in being earnest’,  it can easily go too far. Marginal revolution manages to be  both serious and satirical. Here’s how. Tyler’s blogs are eclectic. He  covers news/debates/ideas about economics along with his favourite  fiction, restaurants and bizarre links–particularly links that demonstrate the idea that there are markets in everything.  I don’t know where he finds the time, but Tyler  posts at least 5 times per day. There isn’t a topic he won’t cover if he finds it interesting and  he always manages to make economics interesting. On the other hand, Alex’s blogs are less frequent but what he writes is  insightful (and more earnest)–mostly about economic issues but not always. Between the two of them, they write something for almost everybody. Furthermore no one questions that Tyler and Alex are serious economists.   Marginal Revolution is the highest ranking economics blog in North America because they are wilde-ly entertaining.

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Doctrinal Heresy: Who’s Afraid of Milton Friedman

The Shock Doctrine:  The Rise of Disaster Capitalism by Naomi Klein http://www.naomiklein.org/main The stakes are high.  Page 22 This summer I was invited to be a guest on a local cable show.  I arrived early and met the guest scheduled to go before me.  (His presentation was about pressure points in the body I think.)  He asked me what I was going to talk about.  I showed him my book Cocktail Party Economics and he said that he hoped I wasn’t going to talk about the economics of Milton Friedman because he thought he was a terrible man who condoned the torture of disidents in Chile.  I was shocked.  That was news to me.  Where on earth did this information come from? Then it dawned on me.  This man’s view of free market economics was completely formed by the book The Shock Doctrine by Naomi Klein.   He is not alone I am afraid. Ms Klein’s book is a perfect example of the phenomenon that happens when all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.  She writes beautifully about how the Right conspires  to  shock  poor helpless people/countries out of their Left-Wing Socialist utopia.   Unfortunately, she filters every story she tells through this particular sinister ideological lens .

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Not a Freak Accident

Freakonomics: A rogue economist explores the hidden side of everything By Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner
It has to do with thinking sensibly about how people behave in the real world.         Pg 209
In this century, Freakanomics is THE book that popularized economics.  So much so that some researchers postulate that a spike in undergraduate enrolments in economics majors occurred because the book came out. This was known as the freakonomics effect.  However, it’s not clear whether this increase was due to a favourable impression on the parents or the students!  Either way, it made economics a hot topic of interest.  It even got to the point where many university introductory economics courses had this book on the curriculum.  (Actually I have a vain hope that Cocktail Party Economics will have this place in the future.)

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