Monday, April 16, 2007

"More Sex is Safer Sex"

Steven E. Landsburg is Professor of Economics at the University of Rochester and the author, most recently, of More Sex is Safer Sex: The Unconventional Wisdom of Economics.

He applied the "page 69 test" to his book and reported the following:
Page 69 of my new book, More Sex is Safer Sex: The Unconventional Wisdom of Economics, reads, in its entirety:
"Part II: How to Fix Everything"
The answer is to encourage innovation and create better incentives. Innovation includes ideas like "Hey! I wonder if we could make computer chips out of silicon!" but it also includes ideas like "Hey! I wonder if we could finance start-ups with junk bonds!". You can fly from New York to Tokyo partly because somebody figured out how to build an airplane and partly because somebody figured out how to insure it.

With that in mind, I've offered a series of proposals to improve the incentives of innovators and regulators, congressmen and presidents, firefighters and police officers, jurors and judges. For congressmen: I want to give every voter two votes in each congressional election: You'd cast one in your own district and one in the district of your choice. That way, when the senior senator from West Virginia diverts billions of other people's dollars to his home state, those other people will have a chance to let him know how they feel. For regulators: FDA drug approvals currently take too long; they'd come faster if we required the commissioners to hold a portfolio of pharmaceutical stocks. For jurors: If you vote for acquittal, you've got to let the defendant share your house for a month.

Even the lighthearted proposals have a serious point. Jurors currently have very little incentive to deliberate conscientiously; we really ought to be thinking about ways to change that. In the book, I offer some more detailed and serious suggestions.

The general theme of More Sex is Safer Sex is that economic logic can lead to surprising conclusions, and surprises are fun. Some of the best surprises arise from the conflict between your own interests and the interests of your neighbors. Factory owners dump too much pollution because they don't care about their neighbors. The recklessly promiscuous spread disease because they don't care about their partners. And the demurely chaste *also* contribute to the spread of disease, by failing to enter the partner pool, even though they'd improve its average quality.

In each case, the incentives are wrong. Pollution should be taxed, reckless promiscuity should be taxed, and a modest increase in sexual activity among the cautious should be subsidized. It's all a matter of getting the incentives right.
Visit the author's website and read an excerpt from More Sex is Safer Sex.

Check out the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue