Stephen Karlson (shkarlson) wrote in 50bookchallenge,
Stephen Karlson
shkarlson
50bookchallenge

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DOMINANCE SOLVABILITY AND MAXIMIN.

Steven Landsburg's More Sex Is Safer Sex: The Unconventional Wisdon of Economics makes Book Review No. 49 identify Yet More Diminishing Returns to Partial Equilibrium Anomalies. He does make use of a number of recent papers, many of which are published in highly-regarded journals. For the most part, the problems are variations on the prisoners' dilemma (in its common property version) with careful attention to the loss function. Perhaps it's a case of familiarity with the subject leading to my ennui. Somebody relatively new to economics well might enjoy the work.

On the other hand, perhaps it's my frustration with work that doesn't think through the model carefully enough. The argument that gives the book its title considers the behavior of a population with relatively chaste and relatively promiscuous people. The promiscuous people are more likely to be infected with social diseases. Thus, if the relatively chaste people loosen up, some promiscuous people will have flings with people that aren't contagious, and if the chaste people who get lucky are unlucky enough to get infected, they infect fewer people, in the limit dying alone. Dominance solvability, perhaps, but suppose the relatively chaste people have a loss function that places large negative weights on accidental pregnancies or getting infected or placing themselves at the mercy of manipulative people? That's all left out of the model.

The book ends with another provocative suggestion: give all your money to one charity. The supporting argument, however, seems ignorant of a simple indifference at the margin principle: the marginal utility of the last dollar donated to each charity is identical. It strikes me as simplicity itself that someone who places a positive valuation on hearing a Boston and Maine super Pacific in steam and the America's Cup returning to America and on flood relief and lodging for grief counselors might donate to more than one charity.

In the other chapters, it's Professor Landsburg being contrarian, sometimes extending arguments he offered in shorter form in his Slate columns. There might be some thesis ideas amid the essays and the sources.

(Cross-posted to Cold Spring Shops.)

Tags: economics
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