I’ve just finished “The Economic Naturalist“, in which Robert H Frank seeks to unpick a series of puzzling situations we observe in the world around us. Questions such as, “Why does a light come on when you open the refrigerator but not when you open the freezer?” and “Why do many schools require children to wear school uniforms?” are elucidated using the fundamentals of economics.
Apart from being a fascinating book for both casual and avid puzzle-solvers, the economic principles presented are made straightforward and memorable. This is, in fact, the primary goal of the author – to educate the reader in concepts such as the cost/benefit principle and the consequences of supply and demand, but without the abstruse abstraction or mathematical tedium found in your typical college course.
The real success of the book is as an example of the “narrative” style of teaching. This holds that the human brain is particularly sensitive to absorbing information related to us such that it can be dropped into the context of the world around us. For much of human history, our knowledge has come primarily through storytellers and so we have become good at understanding underlying concepts when they are presented in this form.
As much as I enjoyed the main thrust of the book, this remark, drawn from the introduction, has stuck in my head more than the economics lessons:
Cartoons are data. If people find them funny, that tells us something about the world.
Now I understand why I like doing this.