Uncommon Sense: Economic Insights, from Marriage to Terrorism
Gary S. Becker
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On December 5, 2004, the still-developing blogosphere took one of its biggest steps toward mainstream credibility, as Nobel Prize–winning economist Gary S. Becker and renowned jurist and legal scholar Richard A. Posner announced the formation of the Becker-Posner Blog.
In no time, the blog had established a wide readership and reputation as a reliable source of lively, thought-provoking commentary on current events, its pithy and profound weekly essays highlighting the value of economic reasoning when applied to unexpected topics. Uncommon Sense gathers the most important and innovative entries from the blog, arranged by topic, along with updates and even reconsiderations when subsequent events have shed new light on a question. Whether it’s Posner making the economic case for the legalization of gay marriage, Becker arguing in favor of the sale of human organs for transplant, or even the pair of scholars vigorously disagreeing about the utility of collective punishment, the writing is always clear, the interplay energetic, and the resulting discussion deeply informed and intellectually substantial.
To have a single thinker of the stature of a Becker or Posner addressing questions of this nature would make for fascinating reading; to have both, writing and responding to each other, is an exceptionally rare treat. With Uncommon Sense, they invite the adventurous reader to join them on a whirlwind intellectual journey. All they ask is that you leave your preconceptions behind.
greatly exceed the costs of actually producing the drug. The larger the market, the lower the ﬁxed costs per sale, and so the less the seller has to charge in order to recover those costs. If ﬁxed costs are 100 and variable cost (the cost of producing one unit of the product) is 1, then if there are 10 customers the producer must charge each at least 11 (100 divided by 10, plus 1) to break even, but if there are 100 customers he can break even at a price of 2 (100 divided by 100 plus 1). Hence
insu≈cient evidence that consumers are typically too ignorant to make decisions in their own interests, particularly regarding health, but in other areas as well. Posner provides a well-presented case for what he calls the “Chicago” argument for why such an ordinance as New York’s is unnecessary and undesirable. Perhaps it is no surprise to many readers that I ﬁnd his argument unconvincing. He rejects these arguments because of his belief about consumer ignorance of trans fats. Posner does not
human capital in technologically advanced economies; low rates of child mortality; the growth of female education, earnings, and labor force participation; and the decline of manufacturing and rise of the service economy. Among other things, these forces increased the ﬁnancial independence of women that gave them a greater say in family matters, and made them much more willing to divorce than in the past. As a result of these forces, the vast majority of families in the world have fewer than
judicial system and if their performance was good they would be promoted through the ranks of the judges. This in fact is the system prevailing in most countries of the world, including the European nations (except the United Kingdom) and Japan. In contrast, in the U.S. federal judiciary, as in the English judiciary, judgeships are lateral-entry positions where promotion is rare and there is no systematic, o≈cial evaluation of performance. Most federal judges are appointed in their forties or
employees are forbidden to lobby their former government employer for a year, the prohibition is particularly porous in the case of the Department of Homeland Security because a former employee is permitted to lobby from the start any unit in the department for which he did not work. The department is a conglomerate of twenty-two formerly separate agencies, with overlapping responsibilities, and there are subunits with each of the agencies. Should the revolving door be stopped or slowed? Two