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(2009-05-23 12:42:02)




How to get a lover and win at poker


THERE was a time when economics was widely seen as a graph-strewn study of exchange rates, gross domestic product and the like. Tim Harford's 2005 bestseller, “The Undercover Economist”, was a book that has helped shift that perception by bringing the not-so-dismal science to a wider audience.


曾经一段时间以来经济学被广泛地认为是一门充斥着各种图表去研究汇率,国内生产总值等现象的科学。蒂姆· 哈福特2005年的畅销书《隐蔽的经济学家》把这门并非那么忧郁的科学带给了更广大的读者, 从而帮助人们改变了对经济学的这种认识。


Mr Harford's second book, “The Logic of Life”, stakes out similar ground. Once again he eschews chalkboard economics in favour of a reader-friendly guide to the economics of everyday life. The result is a fascinating study of how society is shaped by hidden pay-offs and punishments. Compulsive gambling or inflated boardroom pay might seem like madness, but look closer, says Mr Harford, and you find a kind of logic.




The author sees rational calculation everywhere—even, or perhaps especially, in matters of love. Romantic types might say they seek the perfect soul mate but the revealed truth is more prosaic. Marriages are market-based transactions, swayed by supply (what is available) as much as demand (what the heart desires). Men may prefer slim women and women favour tall men, but both will alter their demands in response to market conditions. Suitors settle for what is on offer now, even if plumper or shorter than the ideal, rather than hold out for the perfect partner.




The book surveys shelf after shelf of the economics literature but in such skilful hands it does not feel like a dutiful trip to the library. Economists are often too beguiled by elegant theories, but Mr Harford wisely confines himself to ideas that have been carefully tested against real life. Only thorough research could discern that residents of high-rise buildings are more likely to be victims of crime, because stacked tenants make for poor monitors of the surrounding streets. Even the excellent chapter on game theory has a practical hero: the card player, Chris “Jesus” Ferguson1 , who applied its lessons to win the poker world championship in 2000.




Mr Harford, who works at the Financial Times, is an amiable guide for the non-specialist reader, neither too lofty nor dumbed-down. The book's tone is breezy, but his command of the subject is such that even a well-schooled economist will discover much that is new. It is not a wonkish tome, but its broad policy prescriptions are clear enough. Since behaviour is governed by incentives, the way to achieve different outcomes is to alter the pay-offs carefully.


对于非专业读者来说,目前任职于《金融时报》(Financial Times) 的哈福特先生是一位和蔼可亲的指导者,他既不故作玄虚,也不降低自己。全书的格调轻松明快,由于他对题材的非凡驾驭,使得即使是饱学的经济学家也能在书中发现很多新东西。该书虽然不是一本学术式的泱泱大作,但是它总体上提出了足够清晰的权威的建议。因为行为受激励的控制,所以获得不同结果的办法就是仔细调整收益。


One of the merits of “The Logic of Life” is its variety. Subjects range from the terrifying logic of “rational racism” to a cold calculus of divorce rates. If you want to know which poker hands to bluff with, why neighbourhoods with permanent residents have more road crossings or why digital communication makes the world spikier not flatter, Mr Harford's book provides some answers. And it does it all without an exchange-rate graph in sight.





英语原文来自于《THE ECONOMIST》《经济学人》:http://www.economist.com



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