Like Freakonomics, it is a series of anecdotes, a whizz around new economic research. This makes the book ideal for dipping into, as well as reading cover to cover. We learn, for example, that: good managers can be worse than bad ones; children are more like homo economicus than adults are; investors who research shares earn lower returns than ones who don’t (I’ll not mention this in my day job!); customers are slow to respond to changes in product quality; and the success rate of particular heart surgeons varies according to the hospital they work in.
However, whereas Freakonomics dealt to a large extent with trivia - who gives a damn if sumo wrestlers cheat? - Haring and Storbeck focus upon important matters. There are fine chapters on the economics of happiness (with I think the right tone of scepticism), the gender pay gap, company management and the role of culture in economic success. And there’s a beautiful discussion of how sports economists have shown that competition does not necessarily lead to fully optimizing behaviour; Haring and Storbeck are (perhaps?) the first Germans to write intelligently about cricket.
There is, however, a drawback to this approach. Occasionally - and this struck me whilst reading their account of the sub-prime crisis - Economics 2.0 can be like a collection of artistic photographs. You come away thinking: “what an interesting perspective; I hadn’t looked at it that way before” rather than getting an full accurate picture of things. In this sense, the book is best regarded as a companion to other reading.
Two groups of people, in particular, should benefit enormously from this. Students who are depressed by the weight of arid and futile maths - DSGE models are economics with the economics taken out - can turn to this book as a light reminder that our subject really can illuminate the real world.
And those know-alls who doubt whether economics is a genuine science should learn from this that the answer is -yes, it is.