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Reinventing the Bazaar: A Natural History of Markets Paperback – November 17, 2003

4.3 out of 5 stars 28 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

John McMillan's Reinventing the Bazaar is an extremely accessible description of markets large and small, as well as an explanation of their underlying mechanisms. An "absolutely free market," he says, is a "free-for-all brawl," while a "real market" is an "ordered brawl." Sprinkling his analysis with hundreds of anecdotes and examples--prison camps, eBay, the American experiment with alcohol prohibition, the Tokyo fish market, and traditional Ghanaian bazaars--and pertinent quotes from the likes of Chekhov, Twain, and Steinbeck, McMillan animates his subject. Why do banks build showcase headquarters? Which "frictions" brake, and which spur, various markets? Is the "invisible hand" attached to a clothed arm? Why are both pro- and antimarket absolutists, in McMillan's view, the economics equivalent of "flat-earthers"? Is there such an animal as a "perfect" market? Reinventing the Bazaar answers these questions, and many more, in an eminently wise, entertaining, and instructive way. --H. O'Billovich --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

An economics professor at the Stanford University Graduate School of Business, McMillan views this historical moment as a unique living laboratory for observing how technology, globalization and changing expectations of buyers and sellers have brought changes to everything from the international flower market based in the Netherlands to national economies. The sheer number of ingenious schemes that have surfaced over the last decade has had an intoxicating effect on McMillan; he skips from the 1994 FCC auction of the electromagnetic spectrum for pagers to the hugely popular Internet auction sites and the effects of intellectual property rights on innovation in this anecdotally rich survey of world markets and new trading opportunities. McMillan looks at a wide variety of industries including interstate trucking and fishery management and lays out the elements he regards as necessary for a smoothly operating market. An illuminating chapter comparing the deregulation and privatization experiences of New Zealand, Russia and China will leave readers wishing that McMillan had concentrated on just a few examples to establish in-depth his primary points: that good design of a market is crucial to its success, that a market develops over time by trial and error, and that government plays an indispensable role in providing public goods and acting as rule setter and referee in the best of all market-based worlds. As it is, the book feels scattered, and McMillan's tone is by turns condescending and frustratingly abstruse. Many readers will be disappointed.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 278 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; Reprint edition (November 17, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393323714
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393323719
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.9 x 8.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (28 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #316,564 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Robert Morris HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on January 14, 2004
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Wherever buyers and sellers get together, there is a market. In the absence of currency, trades have been consummated by assigning relative value to items (e.g. livestock, weapons, clothing) or services (e.g. plowing, medical care, harvesting). Throughout human history, there have been markets in one form or another at which people exchanged or purchased goods of various kinds, usually in a centrally located area such as a crossroads, harborside, village center, or town square. Buyers and sellers (or traders) gravitated to markets where and when there would be the most people. At least to some extent, all that remains true today even with the emergence of cybermarkets. Effective marketing in the 21st century creates or increases demand first by attracting interest. Hence the importance of visibility. It must also provide a convincing argument as to why a given product or service is preferable to other options, including not purchasing anything. Supply and demand often come into play. Pricing is frequently a decisive issue. For centuries, be it in an ancient bazaar or modern market, buying/selling/trading is among the most dynamic of human activities.
In this lively as well as informative book, McMillan offers "a natural history of markets" which helps us to gain a better understanding of how markets work as well as of what they can and can't do. "Markets do what they are supposed to do, however, only if they are we structured. Any successful economy has an array of devices and procedures to enable markets to work smoothly. A workable platform has five elements: information flows smoothly; property rights are protected; people can be trusted to live up to their promises; side effects are curtailed; and competition is fostered.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Reinventing the Bazaar was written by the late John McMillan, a professor of economics at Stanford and an expert on government procurement. This is a book about the economics of markets (with a focus on market design), not an economic history, as I believed when I purchased the book.

Prof. McMillan devotes the first half of the book to what he identifies as the five basic components of market design: information flow, enforcement of promises, competition, property rights, and externalities. He devotes the second half of the book to implementation of those five basic components.

Overall, Prof. McMillan does a good job explaining economic concepts in plain English. Reinventing the Bazaar gets into a lot of the "guts" of markets that are typically not covered in basic economics classes. In particular, Prof. McMillan recognizes the importance of law and legal institutions to markets, something economists sometimes gloss over.

Unfortunately, Prof. McMillan has a tendency to make some rather questionable statements. For example, there is a rather blatant error (or omission) in his discussion of the preference of book agents' for sealed-bid auctions over open auctions (which net their clients higher advances). Prof. McMillan identifies the agents' position as "mistaken." But this preference is not due to mistake, it is due to agency costs. The agents are acting in their own self-interest in a scenario in which their interests conflict with those of their clients. Agents reap only a fraction of the benefit of the final bid, but perform the bulk of the extra legwork necessary to run a successful open auction (which also takes longer). This creates the divergence in interests.

Other statements look more like sloppiness than error.
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Format: Hardcover
This timely book describes the market systems of today's world. He is an advocate of what he calls the "market design approach" of economic systems. He has five things that a market needs to be effective: social trust, property rights protections, negative externality prevention, free flow of information, and competition. He makes a strong case for a `middle way' in economic development when it comes to government involvement. He argues that the controlled and command economies of the far left, and the laissez-faire libertarian approach of the far right are both equally garbage. He tells some interesting stories of the worldwide pharmaceutical industry and critiques it's free market effects on society and world health. His discussion of information and technology are somewhat simplistic in my opinion, and his conclusions that for economic development these two forces need to be free to innovate and profit seemed the same pedantic old story that is peddled by Gates and co. He makes a strong case for honesty in business and describes some very interesting approaches for regulating and policing business behavior. His discussion of patents and intellectual property rights seemed balanced in its look at how they can help and hinder business and society. He also describes (convincingly in my opinion) how individual and company behavior creates all kinds of negative externalities that cannot be left to the market to take care of. The last couple of chapters described the very different methods of economic transitions used by New Zealand, Russia, and China, and he has some interesting conclusions to offer.Read more ›
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