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Origin of Wealth: Evolution, Complexity, and the Radical Remaking of Economics Hardcover – June 1, 2006

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Accounting for the creation of wealth has long challenged humanity's best minds. For business readers and academics, Beinhocker is a zealous and able guide to the emerging economic paradigm shift he calls the "Complexity Economics revolution." A fellow of the economic think tank McKinsey Global Institute, he rejects traditional economic theory, based on a physics model of closed systems, in which change is an external disruptive shock. Instead, he outlines an open, adaptive system with interlocking networks that change organically, reflecting the interaction of technological innovation, social development and business practice. Wealth is created to the degree that this interaction decreases entropy in favor of "fit order" that meets human needs, desires and preferences. Beinhocker is sufficiently comfortable with this evolutionary model to advocate a comprehensive redesigning of institutions and society to facilitate it. He argues for corporate policies that favor many small risks over a few big ones and recommends restructuring financial theory to favor growth and endurance rather than short-term gains. Though he asserts that complexity economics can reduce political partisanship and increase social capital, Beinhocker stops short of saying that it cures sexual dysfunction. By the end, the concept emerges as a great idea that the author tries to make a panacea. (June 1)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


Eric Beinhocker's The Origin of Wealth ties risk management, incentives, and human psychology together with many other criteria, all under one philosophical framework. --The Motley Fool, December 31, 2007

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 527 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard Business Review Press; 1 edition (June 1, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 157851777X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1578517770
  • Product Dimensions: 1.5 x 6.5 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (47 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #666,114 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

58 of 63 people found the following review helpful By Steven Forth on November 7, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Eric Beinhocker's The Origin of Wealth provides a compelling synthesis of recent advances in the application of complex systems to economic phenomena and proposes that classical economics with its assumptions of perfect rationality, perfect information and equilibrium are fundamentally wrong. Much of this will be obvious to those who have been following the work of the Santa Fe school - Holland, Kaufman, etc., but there is enough new here to make the book well worth the investment in time.

Beinhocker proposes that economies are best understood as dynamic systems, composed of agents, acting in networks, that support emergent behaviors with selection operating to drive evolution. He simplifies the evolutionary algorithm to differentiate-select-amplify, and those who are seriously interested should probably read through Dawkins books to get a deeper understanding (I find The Extended Phenotype particularly useful in thinking about organizations). I have two quibbles and one more serious question about his approach, which in general I find useful and applicable to my own work of designing knowledge based systems (I actually work for a competitor of his employer McKinsey & Co.).

The quibbles. Beinhocker describes `primitive' and certain other societies as being dominated by a `Big Man.' This is simply wrong for most primitive societies which are generally governed by a form of consensus hierarchy in which no one person can take unilateral action. Another quibble, Beinhocker has accepted Steven Pinker's silly characterization of music (and by implication other aesthetics) as mental cheesecake. For a more useful approach see Steven Mithen's new book The Singing Neanderthals (`Steven' seems to be a popular name in this field, and a good name it is too).
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177 of 204 people found the following review helpful By J. Gordon on September 22, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Scattered throughout The Origin of Wealth is a five star survey of new ideas in economics, incorporating discoveries from science and psychology. Unfortunately, in the end, the book is undone by Beinhocker's unfortunate habit of stating hypotheses and non sequiturs as facts, and his continuous harping on "Traditional" economics (and "Traditional" finance) as obsolete and irrelevant. Also, the book is quite uneven in the amount of detail presented; there's too much sometimes (which is tedious), and too little other times (which is frustrating). I really wanted to be able to give the book three stars because of its broad scope and entertaining analyses, but just cannot do so after a few days of mulling over the entirety of its content. If you can separate the wheat from the chaff, it's a decent read; but if you are not already familiar with the subject matter discussed, caveat emptor (buyer beware)!

Some examples of the unevenness of detail: Several times the author described computer simulations, but did not include enough detail for the reader to fully understand how they were set up. For example, in one simulation of evolution, 1's and 0's were referenced as having been strung together to represent strategies in the "prisoner's dilemma" game. Unfortunately, the author did not bother to explain how the strings of digits corresponded to the strategies; therefore there was not enough information to figure out how the simulated evolution actually worked. In another case, over a page is consumed in an unnecessary blow-by-blow description of how a factory manager might increase production capacity, only to see the demand cycle slowing due to a feedback lag.
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91 of 106 people found the following review helpful By Craig L. Howe on June 27, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Wealth creation is central to any understanding of economics. What is it? How is it created? How is it increased? These questions are essential to most of us. They dominate our daily working lives. They dominate our political lives.

In "The Origin of Wealth" Eric D. Beinhocker argues wealth creation is the product of a "simple, but profoundly powerful" three step process:

1. Differentiate.

2. Select.

3. Amplify.

The same process that drives the order and complexity of life, the author says, drives the order and complexity of the economy. Borrowing from Darwin's theory of natural selection - which incidentally was borrowed from the economist Richard Malthus - the senior advisor to McKinsey & Company argues the economy evolves. It is a "design without a designer."

If the economy is a complex, adaptive system, the author argues, there are four implications:

1. Equilibrium, and with it much of the economic thinking that has dominated the past century, is out.

2. A new tool set with its own techniques and theories are available to explain economic phenomena.

3. Wealth is a product of evolutionary processes.

4. Changes in economic thought foreshadow tremors. Adam Smith begat free trade. Karl Marx begat revolutions and socialism. Neo-classical economics begat the rise of global capitalism.

Whether you are an investor, business or political leader, this well-written, readable book offers a thought-provoking tour of the latest in economic thinking. If the author is right, we are standing on the threshold of an economic revolution. Eric D. Beinhocker's book provides insight into how this changing view of wealth creation will change business strategy, finance, politics and policy.

Time spent reading and understanding its implications will be well-spent.
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