The Logic of LifeTim Harford Esteban Cruz
1stSUBsection • Tim Harford reports how our society works, emphasizing how a rational set of economics, explains an irrational world. But is it truly irrational? He points out different areas of life, were humans demonstrate being noticeably rational beings. Specifically, he refers to teenage preference of oral sex than regular sex a mechanism of rational thinking. Since it brings less costs, but the obvious same benefits why not practice it? Harford claims we are smart individuals, although not free of mistakes. Anyhow, this is what makes us rational, well we can learn from these, and infer what is wrong and right.
2nd SUBSECTION • Economist Tim Harford extends his argument by showing more evidence of rational thinking in different situations around the world and within our society. Even actions that seem irrational to a normal individual, such as prostitution or committing a crime have a more rational complexity within the mind of those who practice these actions. A particular measure that is consequent for the action intended, will have a rational or logical outcome, such as a juvenile not committing a crime again, or a prostitute choosing whether to use a condom or not.
3rd subsection • Harford corroborates his point of how humans are such rational beings as he keeps showing different scenarios and real life situations in which we demonstrate this skill, even in an unconscious and natural way. As an economist would, we take decisions based on the benefits we receive from these after we’ve done a short and long term analysis. He exemplifies his argument as he describes how a study done in Sweden presents how areas where a lot of women live, especially young women, correlates to areas where male with high salaries live. Harford asserts the idea by saying: “Manhattan’s women may constantly grumble about the lack of marriageable men in the city, but it is their rational choice not to relocate to Alaska.” This is a representation of how women in this case are being rational, well plenty of them prefer to compete for the scarce and wealthy men than go to a place where males are poorer but more abundant. Rational decisions can truly define the way we shape our lives, well it is reason what shapes the way we see it.
4th subsection • Throughout this subsection, the author Tim Harford conducts the reader through the relationship between economics and life into a deeper and more complex level, as he portrays a direct comparison between economies of scale and marriage and divorce. Harford performs an analysis on what Adam Smith says about the division of labor according to traditional sexual roles, and combines it with the basics of economies of scale, drawing a thorough conclusion about marriage that combines the three aspects. He believes that a household in which both parents work part-time on their careers and part-time taking care of their children, is not a home that makes rational economic sense. Tim cleverly states: “Two halves are much less than a whole” suggesting that as economies of scale dictate, each individual within a partner should have an assigned role that he or she performs in a full-time period. In a way, he also insinuates how marriage is about the compromise a person assumes when they take the decision; compromise that is about complementing each other in a rational way (although it will ask for sacrifices) rather than focusing in individual and self-interested concepts.
5th subsection • Through this subsection, Harford develops a rational analysis on racism that ends up convincing the reader that racism is rational. The reason behind this is that humans, as rational beings have the natural instinct to look for personal sake. Consequently, it is necessary that those that make part of our groups and communities are also benefited in order for us to be well positioned. Reasonably, racism is a mechanism created to benefit and protect white society. By having a higher social position, whites have more opportunities and take advantage of these, eliminating competition and a threat from another raze . But Harford discusses racism is not the problem anymore. What is really holding African Americans back is African American culture itself as he reports: “the logic of a disadvantaged group rationally sticking together means that those kids who study anyway will be punished for it by their own peers.” I agree that this is a point that needs to be emphasized in our society, specially from blacks, since many of them tend to believe that the world is against them and there is no opportunities for them. In a world that demands initiative and thrive, it is their duty to overcome this mentality and work for their own sake. The author’s theory of figuring out a way of changing the negative incentives that surround blacks, into positive ones, is very useful and viable, well as society shows it, people respond to incentives.
6th subsection • Harford moves over to the rational basis of voting and social sharing. He describes this as the rational ignorance of voters. When we face an election or voting event there are two possibilities. In one of the two situations, we analyze our position and our necessities. Are we having problems? How can a specific vote create a solution to these difficulties? And then we vote for the one that benefits us the most. This off course, we do it rationally. But, if we are in a comfortable position in which we think we don’t need any help at all, we just foolishly vote without really making a thorough examination of the candidate and its proposals. This, as irrational as it may sound IS RATIONAL. If the vote we make in this case, ends up being a bad choice it doesn’t really make a difference since from the beginning we recognized we don’t need any help, so this choice has absolutely no costs over us. As stated before, we are individual rational beings that look for personal sake, so if the choice we take doesn’t make a difference in our lives why do we take it? Harford explains a very interesting hypothesis that sheds insight on this kind of decisions we take. We vote because the process of voting itself makes us feel good. We vote because it makes us feel as good citizens who have done their duty. Although the author is very accurate through most of his description of human behavior towards voting situations I believe he over-generalizes when he reports how citizens who wont be affected by a voting will just vote for the fact that they are voting. Humans as social creatures also look after their community and what can be the best decision to improve the situations around it.
7th subsection • Harford now emphasizes on the phenomenon our society is facing: how the economic growth of our times drastically took off in the last generations. He tries to find a rational explanation for this, as he opposes to many of those who refer to this progress as “luck” for our generations, since so many master minds have lived before us. He says: “But leaving it at that would make the takeoff a matter of pure luck: luck that we live after such brilliant minds and not before them, and luck that their achievements fell upon a fertile culture that was open to innovation.” to contradict this idealism of fortune, he suggests that whether you closely analyze individual innovators or focus on the economic growth seen all the way back to the Paleolithic era, you find a common principal. This principal says that neither progress nor stagnation is an accident. These both sides of a natural economy are dependent to the individuals within it, that rationally respond to the incentives they face. Although I do agree with Harford’s position towards this, I do think we have reached the point we are in now as a society thanks to the brilliant minds that lived in previous generations. However it doesn’t mean it was jus luck what blessed our potential. As Harford says, neither progress nor stagnation is obtained by luck. We humans have evolved naturally; and it is this evolution what gives us strive to live better, to grow; to improve.
8th subsection • Through this last subsection, Tim Harford finalizes his book by creating an analysis on the way human population growth relates to the endurance of logic and intellectual attributes amongst us. He argues that population is essential for humans to strive for more and excel in intellectual and logical levels. To make his statement more reliable, he shows the example of Tasmania. This civilization of a few thousand inhabitants was struggling around 500 B.C. Archeologists reveal that Tasmanians were going backwards technologically: forgetting how to build boats or how to fish. This results surprising, well they were expected to do good for being an extended island, with only few thousand of inhabitants, and a very comfortable climate that provided many goods and resources. Surprisingly they weren't even able to expand. The explanation scientists give to this is the low population level, well coming up with new ideas will always be harder in a population of a few thousands. Harford then makes a direct comparison to the Americas, which with a pre-Colombus population of about 14 million, where more advanced and developed. Harford ends his book with an inspiring sentence that in few words, resumes what the book is about, and projects on the future use of our logic. He says: “the more of us there are in the world, living our logical lives, the better our chances of seeing out the next million years.” I strongly agree with what Harford defends in this last subsection. I do believe that the more people we are surrounded by, the more competition and opportunities there will be; this shapes our critical and logical thinking which makes us brighter and greater minds.