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The Joyless Economy: The Psychology of Human Satisfaction [Paperback]

Tibor Scitovsky
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)

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Book Description

March 26, 1992 0195073479 978-0195073478 Revised
When this classic work was first published in 1976, its central tenet--more is not necessarily better--placed it in direct conflict with mainstream thought in economics. Within a few years, however, this apparently paradoxical claim was gaining wide acceptance. Scitovsky's ground-breaking book was the first to apply theories of behaviorist psychology to questions of consumer behavior and to do so in clear, non-technical language. Setting out to analyze the failures of our consumerist lifestyle, Scitovsky concluded that people's need for stimulation is so vital that it can lead to violence if not satisfied by novelty--whether in challenging work, art, fashion, gadgets, late-model cars, or scandal.
Though much of the book stands as a record of American post-war prosperity and its accompanying problems, the revised edition also takes into account recent social and economic changes. A new preface and a foreword by economist Robert Frank introduce some of the issues created by those changes and two revised chapters develop them, discussing among others the assimilation of counter-cultural ideas throughout American society, especially ideas concerning quality of life. Scitovsky draws fascinating connections between the new elite of college-educated consumers and the emergence of a growing underclass plagued by drugs and violence, perceptively tracing the reactions of these disparate groups to the problems of leisure and boredom.
In the wake of the so-called "decade of greed" and amidst calls for a "kindler, gentler" society, The Joyless Economy seems more timely than ever.

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Editorial Reviews

Review

"Magnificent....A book one absolutely has to read."--Jagdish Bhagwati, Columbia University

"An original and profound critique of American culture."--Kenneth J. Arrow, Stanford University

"A brilliant contribution to welfare economics."--The Economist

"An intriguing book--some novel perspectives and insights on satisfaction which have stimulated some research hypotheses and directions I hope to follow up on in the consumer behaviour area."--Kenneth R. Lord, SUNY, Buffalo

"Stimulating and imaginative."--The New Statesman

About the Author


Tibor Scitovsky is Emeritus Professor of Economics at Stanford University.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; Revised edition (March 26, 1992)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195073479
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195073478
  • Product Dimensions: 0.9 x 5.5 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #274,914 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The puritan economy January 2, 2005
Format:Paperback
This book is must for all people who want to challenge the current free market dogma. Scitovsky shows that economic practices are aspects of one's culture: people in different countries spend their money very differently. These spending patterns are not based on the amount of income but on what is important to them. Thus Europeans with less income than Americans spend more of their income on fresh fruit and other foods, as well as on entertainent. Americans may buy bigger, but Europeans buy better. An Americam will boast about how much something cost, while a European will boast about how much they saved.
By showing that economics is based on culture, the whole concept of economics as a value free science gets undermined.
And, the book is readable for the non professional.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A classic, provocative ideas September 26, 1998
By A Customer
Format:Hardcover
"The Joyless Economy" is a classic attempt to assess the postulates of neoclassical economics (the sort of economics taught in schools and universities!) in terms of evidence about human behaviour from Behavioural Psychology.
Definitely worth a read, particularly if you have reservations about the neoclassical orthodoxy!
From a technical economic viewpoint, he fails to make his case forcefully enough to convince orthodox economists on their own turf, but that is to take nothing away from the strength and worth of the ideas.
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7 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excessive Stimulation or Excessive Comfort? August 5, 1999
By A Customer
Format:Hardcover
This bifurcated question lies at the core of this excellent classic. The assumption that all choice is rational, that rationality choses freedom apriori, and freedom is its own intrinsic good has been the foundation of contemporary economics and liberal political theory for more than a century? This book challenges this and other assumptions, demonstrating that the true human "need" is not for freedom in itself, but instrumentally, so that our choices to bring about the right mixture of stimulation in our lives is balanced by an appropriate dose of comfort. Too much stimulation produces pain, too much comfort produces boredom, the excess of which lies outside the "mean."
This book goes beyond challenging our most basic presumptions; it argues coherently, cohesively, and cogently that the summa bonum of human life is not merely choice, but the right choices that balance our conflicting desires for something "new" with our desire for "stability." Most theories gravitate toward one extreme or the other; Scitovsky demonstrates the Aristotlean "mean."
Sadly, this book is only available in hardback at and is very pricey. Not that this book isn't worth the high cost Oxford Press demands, rather that it will unfortunately limit widespread access to this treasure. For those wanting a preview of this book's contents, see "Critical Review" Vol 10, No.4.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Loved it. February 26, 2010
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This is a great little book and even though it was written decades ago, nearly everything within it remains relevant and applicable today. It's a real gem and too bad more people don't know about it. I highly recommend reading it.
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13 of 58 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Euro-blah blah blah April 3, 2000
By A Customer
Format:Hardcover
I read this in a comparative economics class at Hope College back when Jimmy Carter was President, and it was "in" to deride the U.S. as suffering from too much over-psychologized materialism, the cure for which was to read this book to see how much happier we would be if we switched paradigms to a slower paced, more natural, Euro-way of doing socialism, which would include more frequent trips to the market to buy bread without preservatives, taking fewer showers to conserve water, and waking up later, taking longer lunches, and staying up all night drinking cappucino with interesting people. In short, more like then-"third way" Yugoslavia. What happened to Yugoslavia, and who has subsequently had to go clean the place out, is a metaphor for how the preachings of this book have turned out to fit with reality. What a relief to see that the current generation of college econ students seem to have totally rejected this type of over-phsychologized incoherent "economics" and have instead pursued business careers while simultaneoudsy waking up late, and staying up all night drinking cappucino with interesting people. Lunch can take all day, too. So Tibor got some of it right but most of it wrong. Ronald Reagan got more of it right, but partisans of the left will never admit it. So read this book if your 60's reject professor forces you to, but challenge the paradigm of Veblenesque, dead-to-the-market stupidity which masquerades for "economics" in this book. I still hate thinking about it 20 years after reading it!
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