Andrew Leigh Economics of Just About Everything

Review: New Book
The Economics of Just About Everything: The Hidden Reasons for Our Curious Choices and Surprising Successes in Life. Andrew Leigh, 2014

resized_9781743314715_224_297_FitSquareI have had the pleasure of reading books and articles by Andrew Leigh. He happens to be my local Federal member of the House of Representatives. I have been positive about his writings.  I am not so sure about this book.

From the publisher: If you like fresh facts and provocative ideas, this is great train and weekend reading. You’ll soon see the world and the people around you in a new light. I disagree.  I may now see Andrew Leigh in a different light.

While reading one chapter I was reminded of a conversation with a learned senior person about a much awarded book on landscape design. She told me that the author had made a serious mistake with the reporting of a local project, that was known well to the person to whom I was talking. As she said, if this author, being an academic regarded highly by a few (obviously not by me and the person I was speaking to), makes such a silly and obvious mistake, then how many other errors does the author make in her research.

The basis of Andrew Leigh’s book was to see many things in life through a form of economics. The exercise seemed at times to be too single focussed to draw all the conclusions he did.

I was taken aback when I read the value judgements about Pablo Picasso. Andrew stated that his early works were more successful because they sold at higher prices. I started to realise that his way of seeing things through his particular economic prism may have serious flaws. So how many other times had he not taken into account other pieces of evidence?

I read the book in several quick sessions but not while travelling as suggested. Initially I found it interesting and sometimes humourous. After a couple of chapters  the pattern became a little too predictable. Having absolutely no interest in sport, I totally skipped the chapter relating to statistics and sport

In the end the book was a curious experience. The author set out to prove a hypothesis about economics. He provided what may seemed to have been ample evidence and he made his point quite early on but then kept providing similar evidence and statistics across even more arenas. It became an exercise of repetition.

As with his comments about the art world, I suspect it is the way he thinks. He did not provide any insights or context about how the evidence he identified then fitted in with the more complex careers of these artists. With Picasso he seems to not know this man’s work, the many complexities of his various approaches at many and the major stages of his very long career. And that doubt left me wondering about his approach to other areas.

I have met Andrew and many other politicians. Meeting such people was my professional life for several decades before I took off for a more peaceful and challenging lifestyle. No more meetings!

Most of these politicians fit into a pattern of behaviour whereby, when you are talking to them, you observe them calculating and categorising things.  With such people it was easy to see how they glean from your words, if they listen at all, and the get things to fit into pre-designated slots.

I found that many of these people often fail to take the time to listen and to see what the more complex big picture that people may be talking about. Out of the dozens of politicians I have met with over several decades on arts matters and more recently on urban issues, I have to say that the number who had any real interest in or tangible commitment to such complex cultural matters was very limited.

The book title is – The Economics of Just About Everything: The Hidden Reasons for Our Curious Choices and Surprising Successes in Life. I’m not sure that the book had addressed the title’s secondary by-line successfully. Yes the author made his point that economics is involved in about everything. But I remain unconvinced that he revealed the hidden reasons for our curious choices and surprising successes in life.

After just 187 pages of text, I was a little taken aback to hit the 43 pages of notes. That quantity of notes may be usual for an academic paper, but for a book for the general public, I am not so sure.

This book is very much about the trees. Having read it I am not sure I would recognise the woods that Andrew has plucked the trees from to discuss. It is a very political and economic overview of someone’s way of seeing things. I did not identify with this way of seeing our world and I suspect this book means he may be missing out on its nuances and passions. Such is the life of too many of our politicians.

As I said, it is an interesting enough read.

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Recommended: Rating 6/10

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Other postings mentioning Andrew Leigh – click here

Paul Costigan, 18 August 2014.

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