The Why Axis: Hidden Motives and the Undiscovered Economics of Everyday Life

Uri Gneezy and John List. PublicAffairs, $26.99 (288p) ISBN 978-1-61039-311-9
Gneezy and List, economists at U.C. San Diego and the University of Chicago, respectively, specialize in ingenious “field experiments” that elucidate the workings of social psychology and decision making: from a ball-tossing game that exposes the social pressures that make women shy away from competition, to role-playing skits that tease out the subtleties of discrimination at car dealerships. There are some less-groundbreaking findings—men, it seems, give more money to door-to-door fundraisers if they are attractive females—but also many counterintuitive insights: it’s possible to boost sales of a wine by raising its price; increase charitable giving by letting prospects opt out of solicitations; and even raise profits by letting customers pay whatever they want for a product. Writing in the Freakonomics vein of breezy pop-econ (Steven Levitt provides the foreword), Gneezy and List assert that “self-interest lies at the root of human motivation,” but it’s a self-interest broadly conceived to include the “warm glow” of philanthropic sacrifice and readily influenced by the unobtrusive policy nudges they suggest. The authors’ lucid, engaging exposition of thought-provoking research spotlights some of our more perverse promptings—and their underlying logic. Photos. Agent: Levine Greenberg Literary Agency. (Oct.)
Reviewed on: 08/26/2013
Release date: 10/01/2013
Genre: Nonfiction
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