« Yglesias Smash | Main | Health Care Descriptions »

August 04, 2007

Robert Frank Reviewed

Cornell economist Robert Frank's short and brilliant Falling Behind is the most illuminating and important book I've yet read on inequality. It's altered how I view the economy in almost all particulars, and I highly, highly recommend that you all pick it up. Over in The New York Times, Daniel Gross has a very clear and concise explanation of its arguments and implications. Well worth a read.

Gross also evaluates Frank's The Economic Naturalist, which compiles homework assignments from his students examining everyday occurrences through an economic lens. That was a somewhat less useful book, and seemed more an example of cute-o-nomics paired with a really smart business plan (his students, after all, wrote most of it). But since you all know how I love examples of collective action problems, here are two from that book:

“If women could decide collectively what kind of shoes to wear, all might agree to forgo high heels,” he writes. “But because any individual can gain advantage by wearing them, such an agreement might be hard to maintain.” And why do Frank’s humanities colleagues across Cornell’s idyllic quad, who are supposed to be good at writing, use so much jargon? It’s an arms race of erudition.

August 4, 2007 in Books | Permalink

Comments

An example of the arms race conducted by the rich:
bluejeans (jeans, levi's, denims?) are now the standard uniform of the US when at play (and increasingly in the US west - at least, at work). In fact US cultural influence has spread this to much of the world, developed and undeveloped.

So, in a counter-move to emphasis wealth and position, the lowly bluejean has been born again for the truly wealthy: Abercrombie jeans (and many other designer/pricey labels) that not only cost a fortune, but they are washed, beaten, ripped and frayed within an inch of their lives such that the wearer can 'appear' to be a street creature that they clearly aren't.

An arms-race in jeans, no less. And for sure, don't remove the label (unless yours are K-Mart brand)!

Same story as above for sneakers/tennis shoes/athletic shoes. Why wear $20 casual shoes when you can wear a pair of $200 ones? This spread years ago into the inner-city precincts such that kids who have no money for lunch are wearing the latest Nike's and team uniforms. The miracles of free enterprise. And greed. Positional economics, indeed.

Posted by: JimPortlandOR | Aug 4, 2007 12:53:27 PM

Ezra: I think you'll be interested in this piece from today's Globe and Mail on the size and stability of middle classes in different countries.

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/story/RTGAM.20070803.doug04/BNStory/International/home

(I apologize for not making a clickable link, but I don't know how to do that.)

The author concludes: "Herein lies the paradox of the modern middle class: Its existence is reliant on a thriving and open market economy, but its size and sustainability are equally dependent on the tax-and-spend mechanisms of the modern welfare state – which, it turns out, are even more important in globalized, high-competition economies."

Posted by: mijnheer | Aug 4, 2007 1:04:32 PM

I like a lot of Frank's work. Haven't read this latest book but I admire his earlier The Winner Take All Society (which sounds a lot like the new book).

I can't say I agree with his example high heels as a collective action problem, though. The main reason is that I've never been in a situation where I felt heels were mandatory (unlike the way, in certain situations, a dress is required for a woman, or a jacket and tie de rigeur for men.). Even for business or formal occasions, I've always found that a nice pair of flats are perfectly acceptable.

And I like wearing heels, dammit! Not for every day but for certain occasions I much prefer them to flats. I'm not going to give the bullshit argument that wearing of heels is some kind of subversive empowerful feminist act. It's just that I prefer them aesthetically, on certain occasions.

Posted by: Kathy G. | Aug 4, 2007 1:29:09 PM

I heartily recommend Frank's "Choosing the Right Pond" for the eggheaded crowd. It's full of good sense and real surprises. His framing of Rawls and Nozick is pretty great too.

Posted by: chris | Aug 4, 2007 2:10:16 PM

I like Frank's arguments diagnosing the inequality problem. I'd like to see how folks like Will Wilkinson respond (which I imagine they have--I haven't looked them up yet). You could argue that inducing Americans to work more to struggle to get more is a good thing, I suppose, which in one way it is: we end up with more power. But we may end up with less happiness, assuming the extra power isn't needed to protect ourselves in the competitive world of trade and other conflict. I think Will argues in a related context that people can opt out of some of the less attractive aspects of the rat race, but that doesn't really answer the overall.

The progressive consumption tax may be a perfectly good way to raise needed money, but I'm skeptical that it would fix the conspicuous consumption problem. It might only make it more expansive.

When asked whether they’d rather have a 4,000-square-foot house in a neighborhood of 6,000-square-foot McMansions, or a 3,000-square-foot home in a zone of 2,000-square-foot bungalows, most people opt to lord it over their neighbors.

This is an unfortunate way of putting this, since I'd rather live in a smaller home than amongst a bunch of McMansions for reasons having nothing to do with the point being made. The "McMansion" gloss is Gross's, not Frank's, I believe.

The main reason is that I've never been in a situation where I felt heels were mandatory (unlike the way, in certain situations, a dress is required for a woman, or a jacket and tie de rigeur for men.)

But have you been in situations where wearing heels would give you an advantage? It's a matter of degree, of course.

Posted by: Sanpete | Aug 4, 2007 3:26:07 PM

But have you been in situations where wearing heels would give you an advantage? It's a matter of degree, of course.

Honestly, I haven't--don't even own a pair (and own one pair of dress shoes--super simple black flats--that seem to suit me fine for formal occasions)--but I can be a little oblivious to somethings. Also I'm like 5'7, shorter women feel more pressure to wear them.

This is an unfortunate way of putting this, since I'd rather live in a smaller home than amongst a bunch of McMansions for reasons having nothing to do with the point being made.

Agreed. Honestly, I hate living in houses. I'd take an apartment any day. Not even a big apartment.

Posted by: Isabel | Aug 7, 2007 12:28:35 AM

Good point about the height. It isn't only the shape the shoes give the legs but the aerial advantage that some seem to desire.

Posted by: Sanpete | Aug 7, 2007 1:21:31 PM

托盘
托盘
钢托盘
钢制托盘
塑料托盘
木托盘
木制托盘
纸托盘
木塑托盘

托盘
钢托盘
钢制托盘

托盘
钢托盘
钢制托盘
塑料托盘
托盘

托盘
钢托盘
钢制托盘
钢托盘
木托盘
钢制托盘
托盘
塑料托盘

托盘
钢托盘
钢制托盘

托盘
钢托盘
钢制托盘
塑料托盘
木托盘
南京托盘
南京钢托盘
上海托盘

托盘
钢托盘
钢制托盘
塑料托盘
木托盘
南京托盘
南京钢托盘
上海托盘

托盘
钢托盘
钢制托盘
塑料托盘
木托盘
纸托盘
南京托盘
上海托盘
北京托盘
广州托盘
杭州托盘
成都托盘
武汉托盘
长沙托盘
合肥托盘
苏州托盘
无锡托盘
昆山托盘

托盘
钢托盘
钢制托盘
塑料托盘
木托盘
纸托盘
南京托盘
南京钢制托盘
南京钢托盘
上海托盘
北京托盘

托盘
托盘
托盘
托盘
钢托盘
钢制托盘
塑料托盘
塑料托盘
塑料托盘

托盘
塑料托盘
钢托盘
钢制托盘
铁托盘
托盘
钢托盘
铁托盘
钢制托盘
塑料托盘

托盘
钢托盘
铁托盘
钢制托盘
塑料托盘
托盘
钢托盘
铁托盘
钢制托盘
塑料托盘

托盘
托盘
钢托盘
钢托盘
铁托盘
铁托盘
钢制托盘
钢制托盘
塑料托盘
塑料托盘

托盘
钢托盘
铁托盘
钢制托盘
塑料托盘
托盘
钢托盘
铁托盘
钢制托盘
塑料托盘
托盘
钢托盘
铁托盘
钢制托盘
塑料托盘

托盘
钢托盘
铁托盘
钢制托盘
塑料托盘
托盘
托盘
托盘
钢托盘
铁托盘
钢制托盘
塑料托盘

托盘
钢托盘
钢制托盘
铁托盘
塑料托盘
木托盘
木制托盘
纸托盘
木塑托盘
柱式托盘
波纹托盘
镀锌托盘
南京托盘
上海托盘
北京托盘
广州托盘
托盘
钢托盘
钢制托盘
铁托盘
塑料托盘
木托盘
木制托盘
纸托盘
木塑托盘
柱式托盘
波纹板托盘
镀锌托盘
南京托盘
上海托盘
北京托盘
广州托盘

托盘
钢托盘
钢制托盘
铁托盘
塑料托盘
木托盘
木制托盘
纸托盘
木塑托盘
柱式托盘
波纹托盘
镀锌托盘
南京托盘
上海托盘
北京托盘
广州托盘
托盘
钢托盘
钢制托盘
铁托盘
木托盘
塑料托盘
木塑托盘
柱式托盘
波纹板托盘
镀锌托盘
南京托盘
上海托盘
北京托盘
广州托盘

托盘
钢托盘
钢制托盘
铁托盘
塑料托盘
木托盘
木制托盘
纸托盘
木塑托盘
柱式托盘
波纹托盘
镀锌托盘
南京托盘
上海托盘
北京托盘
广州托盘
托盘
钢托盘
钢制托盘
铁托盘
塑料托盘
木托盘
纸托盘
木塑托盘
柱式托盘
波纹板托盘
镀锌托盘
南京托盘
上海托盘
北京托盘
广州托盘


托盘
钢托盘
钢制托盘
托盘
塑料托盘

Posted by: judy | Oct 11, 2007 8:06:02 AM

The comments to this entry are closed.