Why is a cup of coffee, a good idea, viewing a TV show, life-saving surgery or clean air actually worth? The answer is, “It depends.” According to Eduardo Porter’s The Price of Everything: Solving the Mystery of Why we Pay What we Do, prices are everywhere, and how much we pay is determined by the choices we make in a trade-off between something’s relative costs and its potential benefits.
Porter, a newspaper journalist, explores topics that are not usually considered under “economics,” such as music downloads, animal rights, marriage patterns and even religious commitment, as well as more conventional topics like fair pay and health care costs.
Along the way, he reveals some surprising conclusions. For example, changes in women’s fashions closely parallel trends in female value in the workplace. He even considers global warming and political corruption from this angle. Occasionally, however, he may go too far, for instance when he contends that happiness, which is closely related to income, causes better health. Surely, though, it can work the other way around: healthier people are happier.
Overall, though, this book provides an interesting survey of various aspects of modern life from an unusual angle, and it does so without using charts, tables, formulas, or any mathematics at all!