Steven Landsburg Quotes

Most of economics can be summarized in four words: "People respond to incentives." The rest is commentary.

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The antidote to bad religion is good science.

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I think it's generally good policy to assume that things have causes. They often do, and even when they don't, you generally learn more by looking for nonexistent causes than by refusing to look for existent ones.

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Most of your beliefs are ill-considered. That's because you're no fool. Your time and energy are limited, and you prosper by focusing on a few well-chosen areas.

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It takes a lot of intellectual contortion to deny the obvious, but never underestimate the contortions of an intellectual.

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Our instincts about morality, like everything else about us, must have evolved to enhance our reproductive fitness in a certain environment. But like our instincts about what to eat, our moral instincts aren't always well adapted for the modern world. For that reason—and also because reproductive fitness is not the only thing we care about—our instincts are worth reexamining and occasionally transcending.

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By and large, the best way to be sure you're doing something useful is that somebody's willing to pay you to do it. If you're a doctor, an architect, or a circus clown, your compensation is probably a pretty good measure of your social contribution.

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In all the years I took my daughter to the playground, I never once heard another parent tell a child that if some kids have more toys than you do, that makes it okay to take some of them away. Nor did I ever hear a parent tell a child that if some kids have more toys than others, that makes it okay to form a government and vote to take some of those toys away. Of course we encourage sharing, and we try to make our children feel remorse when they are very selfish. But at the same time, we tell them that if other children are being selfish, you must cope with that in some way short of a forcible expropriation. You can cajole, bargain, or ostracize, but you cannot simply steal. Nor is there any such thing as a legitimate government with the authority to do your stealing for you.

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When we cultivate good habits of thought, we lower the cost of thinking and therefore choose to do more of it. That's often a profitable venture.

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Evolution has endowed us with a drive to identify, decry, and sometimes slaughter the "bad guys" who don't share our obviously superior values. Too often, we'd rather assign blame than solve a problem. The instincts that were useful for our ancestors back on the savannah are not always useful for us today.

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Argue passionately for your beliefs; listen intently to your adversaries, and root for yourself to lose. When you lose, you've learned something.

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The bane of a college professor's existence is the student who has been taught in a writing course that there is such a thing as good writing, independent of having something to say. Students turn in well-organized grammatically correct prose, with the occasional stylistic flourish in lieu of any logical argument, and don't understand why they've earned grades of zero. In the other direction, if your writing is murky, it's usually because your thinking is murky, too. The cure for that is not a series of writing exercises; it's to master your subject matter.

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No matter what career you pursue, you're sure to be competing with people who love it, and their passion will feed their stamina. If you don't share that passion, you'll never keep up.

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