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Microeconomics: Behavior, Institutions, and Evolution (Roundtable Series in Behavioral Economics) [Paperback]

Samuel Bowles
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)

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Book Description

February 5, 2006 0691126380 978-0691126388

In this novel introduction to modern microeconomic theory, Samuel Bowles returns to the classical economists' interest in the wealth and poverty of nations and people, the workings of the institutions of capitalist economies, and the coevolution of individual preferences and the structures of markets, firms, and other institutions. Using recent advances in evolutionary game theory, contract theory, behavioral experiments, and the modeling of dynamic processes, he develops a theory of how economic institutions shape individual behavior, and how institutions evolve due to individual actions, technological change, and chance events. Topics addressed include institutional innovation, social preferences, nonmarket social interactions, social capital, equilibrium unemployment, credit constraints, economic power, generalized increasing returns, disequilibrium outcomes, and path dependency.

Each chapter is introduced by empirical puzzles or historical episodes illuminated by the modeling that follows, and the book closes with sets of problems to be solved by readers seeking to improve their mathematical modeling skills. Complementing standard mathematical analysis are agent-based computer simulations of complex evolving systems that are available online so that readers can experiment with the models. Bowles concludes with the time-honored challenge of "getting the rules right," providing an evaluation of markets, states, and communities as contrasting and yet sometimes synergistic structures of governance. Must reading for students and scholars not only in economics but across the behavioral sciences, this engagingly written and compelling exposition of the new microeconomics moves the field beyond the conventional models of prices and markets toward a more accurate and policy-relevant portrayal of human social behavior.

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Microeconomics: Behavior, Institutions, and Evolution (Roundtable Series in Behavioral Economics) + The Oxford Handbook of Political Institutions (Oxford Handbooks of Political Science)
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Editorial Reviews


"There must be dozens of introductory books with the word 'microeconomics' in the title, but for ambition alone Samuel Bowles's volume stands out. Not only does Bowles convey the elements of the conventional theory of capitalist economics--he offers a wealth of cutting-edge material as well . . . . [His] theory is neat, thought-provoking, and highly original--as is much else in this most unusual take on microeconomics."--Eric Maskin, Science

"This important and highly impressive volume is intended as an overview of cutting-edge developments in microeconomics for graduate students. . . . The work is well written and carefully structured. . . . [T]his is a very fertile and inspiring book, of much broader use than its intended audience. . . . Its analytical accounts of institutional structures and its masterly fusion of institutional and evolutionary themes might eventually warrant its status as a modern classic."--Geoffrey M. Hodgson, Economics and Philosophy

From the Inside Flap

"Sam Bowles reminds the student from the first page to the last that microeconomic theory is an attempt to understand economic institutions in order to inspire us to improve the world. This book may be a turning point in bringing economics back to its real political economic roots."--Ariel Rubinstein, Tel Aviv University and Princeton University

"The standard neoclassical competitive model of economic behavior has been significantly extended in the last fifty years by emphasis on interaction among small groups (game theory), on extended models of human motivation based in part on human evolution, and on divergent information bases of participants. A rich but scattered literature has now received a brilliant synthesis and development in Samuel Bowles's new book. Microeconomics will be an indispensable part of future teaching in microeconomics at the graduate or advanced undergraduate levels, as well as an excellent source of information for the practicing economist."--Kenneth J. Arrow

"Homo economicus is dead, but whose Homo behavioralis will replace him? For those who care, this sustained and honest attempt to explore the implications for economic theory of one of the leading candidates is essential reading."--Ken Binmore, University College London

"An important and highly original book that shows how an evolutionary version of microeconomics can be brought to bear on central questions of economic growth and organization."--Peyton Young, Johns Hopkins University

"This is one of the most engaging books of its kind that has been written, intellectually challenging and a pleasure to read. It presents an innovative and unconventional perspective on microeconomics and, as such, is a book that many will want to teach from--I will."--Kaushik Basu, Cornell University

"Bowles does a masterful job of expanding the boundaries of received microeconomic theory by drawing upon cutting edge ideas from behavioral and experimental economics, evolutionary game theory, and the new institutional economics. I dont know of anyone who has woven such a wide range of literature into an equally coherent vision of post-Walrasian microeconomic theory."--Gregory Dow, Simon Fraser University

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product Details

  • Series: Roundtable Series in Behavioral Economics
  • Paperback: 608 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press (February 5, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691126380
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691126388
  • Product Dimensions: 1.3 x 6 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #841,748 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

4.1 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
44 of 47 people found the following review helpful
The idea of Walrasian equilibria is in serious trouble, and there isn't a good back filler that fits experimental evidence. If this represents an exciting plot for you, read on. On the other hand, if you want to hide out in late 19th century (supplemented by 1950s) math models for a few more years, avoid this book.

If Bowles is any indication of the enlightened center, the walls of stable microeconomic theory are shaking. The trumpets are blown by experimentalists and and supporting work from serious anthropologists, historians, etc. that suggest people just don't quite do what is expected by classical microeconomics. That is a problem. Elegance that isn't factual just isn't science. Neither does it look like the gods of game theory fully come to the rescue, no matter how elegant Nash equilibria might be.

Still, the most likely candidate theory for stable microeconomics is the evolution literature and the associated game theoretic concepts that have been staples in biology for over 30 years. Ideas adapted from biology may offer dynamics without contextuality. Bowles teaches related constructs neatly in a book that is still less quantitative than a few others I have looked at. There are few partial differentials for their own sake. On the other hand, there is real math here--enough to scare people off who are fightened by such things, but math isn't the point as it can be in other micro theory works. The point is reality, which is also the slippery slope that will make this book hard for the trade to adopt, I'd guess. Remarkably, the book reads like a search for solutions rather than the expression of what can be said with simple math models in a logically consistent manner.

If your prof uses this text for microeconomic theory, you are lucky.
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22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant synthesis of behavioral microeconomics June 18, 2007
Samuel Bowles, a heterodox economist known for his long time cooperation with Herb Gintis on various cutting edge works in the field of behavioral economics and related subjects, has made a fantastic synthesis of all the material and conclusions in this area of research in "Microeconomics: Behavior, Institutions and Evolution".

As the title promises, Bowles makes extensive use of concepts from socio-evolutionary theory, institutional economics and anthropology, as well as applications from (evolutionary) game theory, to discuss the basics of economic choices, interaction, cooperation, and exchange. It may take a bit of adjusting at first, especially if one is not used to heterodox economics, since his well-written overview starts from very different points than most generic orthodox textbooks do. But it is very rewarding: all the relevant issues are presented in their complexity, nothing is swept under the carpet, and what makes this book in particular commendable is the way in which information from anthropology, psychology and the social sciences is weaven into the 'story'. The contrast with the ridiculous assumptions and the unrealistic or simply false simplistic models of standard neoclassical textbooks (like for example that of Mankiw) is striking.

It must be said that a proper understanding of all the arguments requires familiarity with intermediate level mathematics for economists, and the general level of abstraction and discussion is quite high, so this is not an easy book. Fortunately, this is mitigated somewhat by Bowles' clear writing, and sometimes he also takes the trouble (which unfortunately few economists do) of specifically explaining what the mathematical formulas mean, for people who have difficulty with somewhat advanced equations and the like.
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23 of 30 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Very strong, but flawed March 29, 2006
In Microeconomics, Bowles applies game theory, the insights of experimental economics, a contested exchange theory of the firm based upon conflict and power, and endogenous formation of traits, to microeconomic theory.

This is probably the most developed statement of what Bowles has called "Post-Walrasian Economics." Essentially, a form of neoclassical economics in which the unrealistic assumptions of Walrasian/ perfectly competitve type economics are rejected and not merely replaced "imperfect" competition and information (e.g. some degree of divergence from the walrasian assumptions, using those assumptions as their reference point). Rather, Bowles gives complex, somewhat realistic descriptions of the non-Walrasian characteristics of the economy, many of which have a totally different qualitative side than the Walrasian model.

Bowles is largely successful, yet there are some problems. There is alot of calculus in this book, not at an incredibly high level, but this certainly limits the appeal of this book to many readers without an understanding of calculus. Also, many of the examples used in the models are very abstract. An agent is faced with a choice to "adopt a characteristic" when they "have an interaction" with some other agent. Nothing wrong with abstraction per se, but it would be nice to have a better idea of what real world issues these models have relevance for.

Also, Bowles rose to prominence as one of the top radical economists and one of the founders of the Union for Radical Political Economics. He apparently still has similar political views and much of this book supports the existence of pervasive market failures supports a left perspective. Yet, not much time is spent on the particular topics usually explored by radical models.
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