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Publisher's Summary

Many of the prices we pay seem to make little sense. We shell out $2.29 for a coffee at Starbucks when a nearly identical brew can be had at the corner deli for less than a dollar. We may be less willing to give blood for $25 than to donate it for free. Americans hire the cheap labor of illegal immigrants to fix the roof or mow the lawn and vote for politicians who promise to spend billions to keep them out of the country. And citizens of the industrialized West pay hundreds of dollars a year in taxes or cash for someone to cart away trash that would be a valuable commodity in poorer parts of the world.
The Price of Everything starts with a simple premise: there is a price behind each choice that we make, whether we're deciding to have a baby, drive a car, or buy a book. Eduardo Porter uncovers the true story behind the prices we pay and reveals what those prices are actually telling us. He takes us on a global economic adventure, from comparing the relative prices of a vote in corrupt São Tomé and in the ostensibly aboveboard United States to assessing the cost of happiness in Bhutan to deducing the dollar value we assign to human life. His unique approach helps explain:

Why polygamous societies actually place a higher value on women than monogamous ones
Why someone may find more value in a $14-million license plate than in the standard-issue $95 one
Why some government agencies believe one year of life for a senior citizen is four times more valuable than that of a younger person
Porter weaves together the constant - and often unconscious - cost and value assessments we all make every day. While exploring the fascinating story behind the price of everything from marriage and death to mattresses and horsemeat, Porter draws unexpected connections that bridge a wide range of disciplines and cultures. The result is a cogent and insightful narrative about how the world really works.
©2011 Eduardo Porter (P)2011 Gildan Media Corp
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful
4 out of 5 stars
By Philo on 11-03-12

A wide-ranging tour of trade-offs

This book extends the basic economics ideas of "opportunity costs" (trade-offs) and market thinking in many directions, looking at various societies, customs, etc. It spends some time in the financial services world but also illuminates, for example, choices surrounding marriage in societies of various wealth and mate-availability levels (including which family side pays more to cement marriage contracts); and choices of religious membership. Overall this is a sort of loosely-framed extended meditation on all kinds of price thinking. It is very non-technical, and in that sense pretty well thought-through but not terribly rigorous, but it is thought-provoking. One area that gets particular attention is the pricing of various possible scenarios and strategies with environmental laws and climate change, which opened my (novice) eyes about assigning numbers (and costs) to various choices, contingencies and human values (and, to the unavoidable and tough questions of dollar valuation of human lives involved).

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2 of 2 people found this review helpful

4 out of 5 stars
By Joshua Kim on 06-10-12

Higher Ed and 'The Price of Everything'

What is it about economics (behavioral and classical) and psychology that generates great books for non-academic readers? Where is the sociology? (although I guess Venkatesh did okay). Where is the demography? Where is the educational technology?

According to Porter, the reason we have more popular books about economic research is that people are willing to pay for popular books on economic research. The higher "price" (or demand), drives the supply of these books.

The Price of Everything: Solving the Mystery of Why We Pay What We Do, by Eduardo Porter, synthesizes a large body both classical and experimental (behavioral) economics research. Porter strikes a good balance between illustrating economic concepts around prices with stories about people and stories about events. We learn about when prices fail, such as the housing bubble, as well as when they succeed (such as the incredible growth of prosperity in Asia that came with market reforms).

This is another one of those books that would work for an intro econ course, something to give some life to the textbooks and the supply and demand curves. However, The Price of Everything should be read more widely than by economists and their students.

We could probably use an opportunity to think more critically about prices throughout campus.

Why is it, for instance, that we usually fail to put a price on our time - resulting in the "meeting culture" that dominates so much of higher ed?

When selecting a new ed tech platform or service to bring to campus do we think hard enough about opportunity costs, what we are not able to do with our resources (dollars and time) when making our selections?

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2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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