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The Price of Everything: A Parable of Possibility and Prosperity [Paperback]

by Russell Roberts
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (48 customer reviews)

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Book Description

September 13, 2009 0691143358 978-0691143354

Stanford University student and Cuban American tennis prodigy Ramon Fernandez is outraged when a nearby mega-store hikes its prices the night of an earthquake. He crosses paths with provost and economics professor Ruth Lieber when he plans a campus protest against the price-gouging retailer--which is also a major donor to the university. Ruth begins a dialogue with Ramon about prices, prosperity, and innovation and their role in our daily lives. Is Ruth trying to limit the damage from Ramon's protest? Or does she have something altogether different in mind?

As Ramon is thrust into the national spotlight by events beyond the Stanford campus, he learns there's more to price hikes than meets the eye, and he is forced to reconsider everything he thought he knew. What is the source of America's high standard of living? What drives entrepreneurs and innovation? What upholds the hidden order that allows us to choose our careers and pursue our passions with so little conflict? How does economic order emerge without anyone being in charge? Ruth gives Ramon and the reader a new appreciation for how our economy works and the wondrous role that the price of everything plays in everyday life.

The Price of Everything is a captivating story about economic growth and the unseen forces that create and sustain economic harmony all around us.

Frequently Bought Together

The Price of Everything: A Parable of Possibility and Prosperity + The Invisible Heart: An Economic Romance + The Choice: A Fable of Free Trade and Protection (3rd Edition)
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Editorial Reviews


"[A]n unusual and wildly enjoyable book."--Stephen J. Dubner, Freakonomics blog

"Take a look at the computer screen your eyes are presently (hopefully) fixated on, not to mention the computer mouse you used in order to click on this posting. Did you ever consider how both were made? Could you make either yourself, and if so, how and where would you acquire the various raw materials and parts in order to create them? If the above questions vex you, the George Mason economics professor Russell Roberts's excellent new novel, The Price of Everything, is for you. Importantly, Roberts does not explain how things are made in this tale as much as he teaches us through a very interesting dialogue between a professor and student that the 'whole system we call a market economy works as well as it does precisely because of how little we have to know.'"--John Tamny,

"Improbable as it might seem, perhaps the most important fact for a voter or politician to know is: No one can make a pencil. That truth is the essence of a novella that is, remarkably, both didactic and romantic. Even more remarkable, its author is an economist. If you read Russell Roberts's The Price of Everything: A Parable of Possibility and Prosperity you will see the world afresh. . . ."--George Will, Newsweek

"This book is the third foray into the world of economic fiction for Roberts. In terms of prose and content, it is also his best effort. . . . In this new book, set on and around the Stanford University campus, Roberts bundles several clever insights about everyday economics with the overriding theme of prosperity and economic growth, and pulls it all off with warmth and plenty of heart."--A.R. Sanderson, Choice

"[T]he best attempt to teach economics through fiction that the world has seen to date."--Tyler Cowen, Marginal Revolution

"The Price of Everything [is] Russ Roberts' latest didactic novel. I cannot recommend it strongly enough. I thought his other fictional attempts to teach economics were decent, but in my opinion this one represents a real step up."--Arnold Kling, EconLog

"[The Price of Everything] is Roberts's third economics novel--the first two were Choice: A Fable of Free Trade and Protectionism and The Invisible Heart: An Economic Romance. They are great introductions to free-market economic theory, especially for those who are easily turned off by numbers and graphs. Wrapping a narrative around economic theories may seem like a peculiar approach to teaching, but didactic novels have a long and noble pedigree."--Clint Witchalls, Spectator

"Don't be put off by the title, you just might not be able to put it down. Its brilliance is in its simplicity, and it's now the first economics book I recommend. Yes, Milton Friedman's Free to Choose and Friedrich Hayek's The Road to Serfdom are still the cornerstones, but easy to read? No."--Thomas Oliver, Atlanta Journal-Constitution

"I loved the way Roberts wove into the story examples of what Hayek called spontaneous order that even those who believe that order happens only from the top down would have to acknowledge--from dancers moving unpredictably on the dance floor without ever colliding to the thousands of people and bits of specialized knowledge it takes to make a pencil, which nobody can make by himself. This little book deserves an audience as wide as eventually developed for 'Economics in One Lesson.' It conveys similar information in a more nuanced, personal and humanistic way. Nice work."--Alan W. Bock, Orange County Register

"Have you ever wanted to give a friend a book that explains the main virtues of economic freedom in a dramatic way that is accessible to a broad audience? Russell Roberts's latest novel, The Price of Everything, is the book you want. That's right: I said 'latest novel.'"--David R. Henderson, Regulation

"[T]he novel is eminently readable. And if you did not know anything about how the American system works you would come away from reading it better informed."--Bethan Marshall, The Business Economist

"The Price of Everything is a must read for anybody interested in how market capitalism works."--Julie Novak, IPA Review

From the Inside Flap

"A remarkable use of parables and dialogues to convey economic intuitions. This should be mandatory reading for anyone who wants to understand this branch of applied philosophy we call economics."--Nassim Nicholas Taleb, author of The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable

"This is a great story about human, social, and economic betterment brought about by the forces of spontaneous coordination. Its also about justice and theres a warm ending. Read and enjoy."--Vernon Smith, Nobel Prize-winning economist

"The Price of Everything illuminates the astonishing economic world we live in. This book could change your life--reading it will give you a sense of wonder about the everyday marvels that are all around us."--Paul Romer, Stanford University

"The Price of Everything is sensationally good fiction and sensationally good economics."--Deirdre N. McCloskey, author of The Bourgeois Virtues

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

Product Details

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press (September 13, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691143358
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691143354
  • Product Dimensions: 7.9 x 5.4 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (48 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #82,093 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
64 of 66 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Around halfway through this book, one of its two main characters asks the other, "Don't you think it's strange that in America, the country where the greatest economic revolution in history has taken place, the average citizen has no idea why we're richer?" Amazing question, and this book was written to give the average citizen an easy way to understand the main driver of our country's wealth. It succeeds masterfully.

The reason a book like this is necessary is that most people don't understand how a society or country becomes wealthier. As this book clearly demonstrates, most peoples' ideas on how to make citizens better off would be counter-productive, actually having the opposite effect.

Without dismissing the ideas and feelings of people who don't typically support free-market solutions to humanitarian challenges, Roberts makes a compelling and easy-to-understand case for the superiority of the free-market in achieving those goals. It's powerful, often counter-intuitive stuff. I believe that if our country is going to have a future as bright as its past, more people will need to be exposed to this type of thinking so they can vote for candidates who will make solid decisions regarding our economy and our future.

The thinking and explanations in this book are wonderful. It gets four stars rather than five because the fictional narrative is painfully stilted and hokey, but please don't let that stop you from reading this book. It will painlessly teach you things that can be very hard to learn. Besides, the hokey narratives are really part of Robert's charm.

Any voter who wants to become better at helping their country to become better off in the future should read this book to help them get a useful framework for evaluating the proposals of candidates. Highly recommended.
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37 of 41 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Passionate about teaching--and good at it August 8, 2008
By Nicole
The Price of Everything is the story of Ramon Fernandez, a tennis prodigy about to graduate from Stanford and selected to give a commencement speech. At the beginning of the novel, an earthquake rocks the Bay Area and Fernandez and his girlfriend finish their dinner by candlelight and then head to Home Depot for some flashlights. But by the time they get there, they're sold out. So the couple drives out to Hayward, the nearest location of Big Box--which has plenty of stock but which has doubled its prices in the wake of the disaster. Fernandez picks up what he needs but is upset by the plight of a poor woman who didn't bring enough money for baby food and diapers ("How could she have known that Big Box would gouge her with doubled prices?") and ends up rallying a group of people in the parking lot.

Fernandez ends up getting a personalized economics seminar from the provost of the university, Ruth Lieber, a woman truly excited about teaching. And she, along with the ensuing events, changes both Fernandez's mind and his life.

Much of the novel is a one-on-one discussion about how price signals create a market more efficient than central planning could ever do, and Roberts is good at illustrating this difficult concept. There are many examples of how the same unplanned order arises in the natural world, both explicit and implicit--for example, a flock of birds with a common goal, or dancing couples in a nightclub. But it's not strictly a series of lectures. The story of a born teacher, full of passion about even her very last student, and a young man about to go out into the world, is also fully realized.

I wouldn't say this is a novel that should be read just for fun, unless you are as dorky as me and really think this stuff is fun.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Weaving Dreams August 25, 2008
With this book, Professor Roberts has firmly established himself as one of the top economic educators of our time (or any before us). Like the late Paul Heyne, Roberts has dedicated a career to advancing basic economic understanding. And like Heyne, he has done it with grace, sincerity and humility.

The Price of Everything is an economic page turner (imagine that!) - and a book that you will wish to read more than once. Roberts faces head on the many difficult questions and concerns of people suspicious of economics and commercial society -- corporate greed, price gouging, rapid progress, inequality. In addressing these and other issues, he demonstrates that the major economic question is how to enable individuals to live their lives to the fullest. Sure financial incentives are an important component in the happiness recipe, just as they are an important component in motivating entrepreneurs - but so too are thousands of other motives. These motives vary from person to person, and are wholly unknowable to any one individual - regardless of how intelligent or well intentioned.

With The Price of Everything, Professor Roberts has turned the eponymous criticism of economists on its head - weaving it into a badge of honor each of us -- teachers and students -- can wear proudly.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Real "Page Turner" August 19, 2008
This is the second book by Russell Roberts which I have read. Roberts has a great talent for explaining esoteric economic concepts in simple language, and in an engaging manner. Indeed, this book is a real "page turner"; I could hardly put it down, and completed it in one day.

Among other things, the book explains how complex systems, such as biological, cultural, and economic systems, arise spontaneously, without any commander or central planner. This concept, which was the basis of the work of economist F. A. Hayek, is very relevant to the issues of the day. We hear politicians advocate a national energy policy, but Hayek, and Roberts, show that decisions made by government bureaucrats are not likely to lead to the best results.

More specifically, Roberts explains how prices work as "signals" in an economy, enabling an economic system to adjust to varying conditions, and providing incentives for entrepreneurs to make the investments necessary to improve the lives of others. The title of the book reflects this concept.

The book is filled with quotable, pithy lines. My favorite, and one which I will post on my refrigerator, is from page 38:

Prices are the pheromones of the human ant colony
we call an economy, the signals that hold the whole
thing together, the tendons of the invisible hand."

William H. Eilberg
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Great book
Love this author. I've read all of his books. If you like this one read his other, The Invisible Heart.
This book is great also.
Published 5 months ago by Pen Name
5.0 out of 5 stars Solid Austrian Thinking
I found the analysis in the Austrian tradition, unique in a world ruled by the Paul Krugman School of Foolish Economic Thought so enjoyable, for the first time in my life, I sent... Read more
Published 5 months ago by Ronald Davis
1.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful if you like quasi-religious propoganda.
This was a terrible book- one that I can only imagine was allowed to become a book because it preaches Americanism, the evils of Cuba, and that the free market/capitalism is the... Read more
Published 8 months ago by alexbaltimore
5.0 out of 5 stars Terrific introduction to Economics!
This is a painless entry into Economics. Accessible and entertaining, the story is enough to hold the readers interest even during the more Economics heavy sections. Read more
Published 8 months ago by M. Chavez
5.0 out of 5 stars Pleasant and clear
Russ Roberts's writing style is pleasant and clear. He doesn't try to be subtle with the economic lessons but does a good job of integrating them into the story and making the... Read more
Published 8 months ago by HARRY H PENNER
5.0 out of 5 stars a great read for students and teachers
I would recommend this book to students and teachers who are beginning the study of economics.... It will make you see the world in a different light.
Published 8 months ago by Charles E Walls
5.0 out of 5 stars Outstanding non-technical discussion of equilibrium and the invisible...
This is a great book on the power of markets, but keep in mind that it leaves out half the story. The book does a great job discussing how order and efficiency can emerge from... Read more
Published 10 months ago by Stephen Weinberg
5.0 out of 5 stars greatly enjoyed!
An amazing integration of the beauty of free market economics with fictional characters you can't get enough of. Read more
Published 11 months ago by Jody Hardwick
1.0 out of 5 stars Princeton Univ. Press Should Be Ashamed of Itself
This is a book difficult to take seriously, for reasons large and small. It is clunkily written, with long monologues from the protagonist, Stanford University provost and... Read more
Published 13 months ago by Calvin Terbeek
5.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining intro to Economics
Just as with his Podcast EconTalk, Russ Roberts distills economics into understandable concepts that the non-economist can understand and appreciate. Read more
Published 16 months ago by Justin F
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