Robert H. Frank, Falling behind: how rising inequality harms the middle class
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A Robert Frank book is a reliable pleasure. Frank’s many books brim with interesting ideas, often mined from disciplines economists rarely consider, let alone study. Frank also writes with verve, grace and humor. He conveys sophisticated economic ideas in plain language, a rare skill, but one that might well be expected from a scholar who takes economics seriously enough to propose revising its canonical teaching methods (Frank 2007).
In Falling Behind, Frank offers us his elegant version of an old idea currently enjoying a new vogue in economics. It is this: getting what we want makes us worse off. For most of the 20th century, economists regarded this notion as somewhere between insane and incomprehensible: economics, after all, ordinarily identified well-being with getting what we want. Why should consumers satisfy their preferences? Because it is good to get what you want.
Economists’ traditional identification of preference satisfaction with the social good has not lacked for...
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