Summary of Economic Facts and Fallacies

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Rating

getAbstract International Book Award Winner 2008

9 Overall

8 Applicability

8 Innovation

9 Style


Recommendation

Long before Freakonomics hit the bookstores, Thomas Sowell was popularizing economics in simple plain language. In his latest book, he continues to illuminate the dismal science cheerily, shining his flashlight on a handful of fallacies common to policy makers and even some professional economists. After describing these fallacies, Sowell shows them at work in discussions of urbanization, gender equality, education, income, race and economic development. The result is a bracing tonic that will almost certainly change your views on some of the most emotional issues of the day. getAbstract recommends this slim, fast-moving read to those who are unafraid to subject their convictions to the light of the economic evidence.

In this summary, you will learn

  • What common fallacies crop up again and again in economic and policy discussions;
  • How these fallacies distort people’s thinking about a range of important political issues; and
  • How to correct these distortions.
 

About the Author

Thomas Sowell is scholar-in-residence at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. He is also the author of Basic Economics.

 

Summary

A Fount of Fallacies

In one old joke, two friends are talking on a busy street corner in Manhattan. Noticing the frenetic traffic, one recounts some statistics he just heard. Apparently, he says, a man gets hit by a car in the city every 20 minutes. “Oh dear,” says the other friend, “he must get awfully tired of that.” Like many jokes, this one contains a subtle truth. That truth, often overlooked in news stories recounting statistical data, is this: Membership in a group (the man) often changes even though the group (“a man”) retains the same characteristic.

This construct, which might be called the “fallacy of changing composition,” is just one of many reasoning patterns that are apt to lead even the cleverest people into mistakes unless they are careful. A related fallacy is the “fallacy of sameness,” which assumes that the members of a statistical category are the same in most respects, if not all. For example, generalizing about incomes of 18- to 24-year-old young men is easy. But in this category some are college grads and some are high school dropouts. When considering policy issues, that difference could be crucial.

While many economic fallacies exist...


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