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Collective Action and Exchange: A Game-Theoretic Approach to Contemporary Political Economy
Collective Action and Exchange: A Game-Theoretic Approach to Contemporary Political Economy
by William D. Ferguson
Edition: Paperback
Price: $40.62
44 used & new from $5.69

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Exciting, Rigorous, and Extremely Insightful, September 2, 2015
Political economy has evolved in the past two decades from verbal gymnastics to a scientific study of how people form groups to solve collective action problems. Ferguson's book is a forceful introduction to the analytical techniques involved in this intellectual revolution, together with a presentation of the evidence supporting various models. It exhibits a deep appreciation for the long road ahead in improving our understanding of the political aspects of social life.

I should warn the reader than I am not unbiased---the above is a blurb I wrote for the book jacket. Moreover, the first line of the Acknowledgments credits my graduate game theory course some two decades ago as the inspiration for Collective Action & Exchange.

However, the ideas presented in this book are far from parochial, but rather represent concepts that have been growing in the profession for several decades and now are rather well known an accepted. Indeed, there is a four volume graduate textbook, soon to be published by Oxford University Press, written by Professor Sanjit Dhami of Leicester University (England), that will likely be widely used in graduate courses around the world.

This book is great for self-teaching, but it is rigorous and not meant for your bedtime treat. It is even better for teachers of undergrad economics courses, and can take the place of a traditional first year microeconomic text, or a second year follow-up course. Your students will love you for it because the material is so exciting and real-world. Quite an antidote to traditional micro texts! Indeed, I quit teach undergrad micro years ago because all the texts were the same---ancient, incorrect, and dreadfully, insufferably boring (incorrect is the worst charge, of course, but quite accurate, especially when it comes to consumer and production theory).

I once was giving a talk to project directors at the National Science Foundation (on the importance of integrating the various behavioral sciences) and when I critiqued how microeconomic was taught to undergrads, a member of the audience commented “Well, I don’t believe the textbook; I just teach it.” How deeply saddening. Perhaps it would be better if he really believed it, but that is tragic in another way. Something like this could never occur in the natural sciences, where professionals care about the empirical evidence and shift to new theories quickly when the models explaining the facts become professionally accepted. The great physicist Max Planck once famously said "A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it." It is a very funny quote, but infinitely less applicable to the natural than to the social sciences.

If you are a teacher, I guarantee that even if you learned economics the old way, you will feel comfortable and authoritative in introducing the ideas in this book to your students.

The most important point developed in this book is that one cannot understand the economy unless one integrates models of market exchange with concepts drawn from political, sociological, and even psychological theory. The challenge is to present such a synthesis with elegance, rigor, and insight. This book does just that. Moreover, it is important in presenting scientific theories, even in the social sciences, without betraying some political bias or other. We all have our biases, of course, but passing them off a scientific truths is unconscionable. This book is pretty admirable in avoiding this fatal pitfall.


Fascinations Deluxe Jellyfish Aquarium
Fascinations Deluxe Jellyfish Aquarium
Price: $75.93
7 used & new from $75.93

4.0 out of 5 stars A Little Creative Work Makes this Seriously Shine, August 24, 2015
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As is, this is okay for kids. But if you want to make is something fascinating and beautiful, it takes some work. First, I bought two of these tanks and put them back to back. Then I got artificial corals and plants, plus some small jellyfish (sold separately) for the back tank, and I got additional artificial plants and jellyfish for the front tank. Now it looks great.


Misbehaving: The Making of Behavioral Economics
Misbehaving: The Making of Behavioral Economics
by Richard H. Thaler
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $17.44
65 used & new from $13.18

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Full of great ideas and a wonderful writing style, August 19, 2015
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This book is a great way to learn about behavioral economics, and it has the added attraction of being written by one of its most creative practitioners. The best way I can convey the power of this book is with some examples. Let me start with the case of the beer at the beach. Two friends are at the beach on a hot afternoon and one says to the other "I'm going to the hotel to get a beer. I'll first try the little stand run by a local, and if it is closed, I'll go to the bar in the hotel. In either case, I will be right back with the beer. How much is the most you will pay from the little stand for a cold Corona, and what is the most you will pay from the hotel bar for the same drink?" The second friend replies, "I'll pay up to 2 dollars at the stand and up to 4 dollars at the bar." Now this sounds quite reasonable but it is easy to see that it is completely irrational according to traditional economic theory. If the beer is worth 4 dollars from the bar, how could the same exact product be worth 2 dollars from the stand? Behavioral economics is about such well-experienced phenomena that are poorly represented by traditional economic theory.

Here is a second example. An experimenter gives you 10 dollars and tells you that there is another subject in the next room. You must offer his some part of the 10 dollars, and if he accepts, you split the money accordingly. If he reject, you both get nothing. The experiments comments that you will never see the person in the next room, and you will have no chance to repeat the experiment with this person or any other. Standard economic theory says that if you think the other guy is rational and if you offer him any positive amount of money, he will take it, because something is better than nothing. So you offer him one dollar, he rejects, and you go home poor. The game, called the Ultimatum Game, has been play in the lab and in the field hundreds of times, and even with very large stakes, such as three month's salary. Offers of less that 30 percent of the pie are very often rejected. This is completely at odds with traditional economic theory.

Now, why did the other guy reject your offer? A variety of experiments that I won't describe here (see my book The Bounds of Reason, Princeton University Press, 2009) make it clear that the guy thinks your offer unfair, and he rejects because it is worth more to him to punish your unfairness than to get 1 dollar.

The point is that people are motivated by morality, not just self interest. This is shown again and again in behavioral economic experiments.

Now, what is the relationship of the second example to the first? THEY ARE THE SAME! The thirsty beach vacationer thinks it is unfair to charge more that two dollars from the little stand, which has low costs, but will pay up to four dollars from the bar, which pays high rent to the hotel. The vacationer is willing to go beer-less to punish the little stand owner for overcharging.

I want to stress something that Thaler says often, but not often enough: most the behaviors he describes are not at all irrational---far from it. They don't fit the standard model, but there is certainly nothing irrational about acting morally! Otherwise the only rational people would be sociopaths!

Let me give an example. A friend of his was fighting with her young daughter, who refused to wear dresses to school, preferring pants and tee-shirts. The mother fussed that she spent good money for three nice dresses at the beginning of the school year, anb by Lord, the little girl had to make good use of them. The mother ask Thaler to intercede in the tiff. Thaler asked if the mother had anything against pants and tee-shirds, an she said no. He then explained the concept of "sunk costs," which are expenditures in the past that support an investment that is currently expected to be unprofitable (it is called the Concorde Effect in Europe---guess why). The correct advice is "don't throw good money after bad." In this case, the money you spent for the dresses is gone, and you can't get any benefit for you or your daughter by making her wear them.

Now, there are certainly many cases in which people fall prey to the sunk cost fallacy, but I have found that in almost every case, this behavior is quite rational. On reason is that you might want to discipline yourself to be more careful about investments in the future, so sticking with a bad investment is just a therapeutic holding your feet to the fire. Another reason is that someone else is paying the costs, and if you fail you will be blamed. In the case of the mother and daughter, I bet anything that the little girl wanted the dresses at the beginning of the school year, and just changed her mind later. The mother is simply disciplining the girl.

A third example: why do popular restaurants put up with long waiting lists of people who want to eat there? The "rational" solution is the raise prices at the restaurant at peak hours, so supply equals demand. But a restaurateur explained to Thaler that people judge the quality of a meal taking into account its price, so even though people would pay more, they would recall that the meal was not that good, probably without even realizing that they took the price into account in making that judgment. I can swear that I behave exactly 8in this way, yet I did not understand the phenomenon until I read it in this book. Wow! Super wow!!

The only weakness of the book is Thaler's incessant theme of "traditional economics, bad---behavioral economic, good." This is simply false, and most people understand that this is the case. Moreover, behavioral economics has swept the field in the past two decades. This is greatly to the credit of economists as scientists. There have been many criticisms, but that is welcome and necessary in the evolution of economics as a discipline.

Go ahead! Read this book. You'll like it. Take my word for it.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 25, 2015 1:09 PM PDT


The Great Escape: Health, Wealth, and the Origins of Inequality
The Great Escape: Health, Wealth, and the Origins of Inequality
by Angus Deaton
Edition: Paperback
Price: $14.90
58 used & new from $10.90

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Authoritative, Brave, and Critical, August 16, 2015
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This book authoritatively presents what we know about the causes and pace of improvement in health across the world in the past few centuries. The argument is replete with reference to the literature that the reader can follow up. His message is that we have the technology and the will to reduce health inequalities around the world, but simple charity and aid to poor countries are part of the problem, not part of the solution. Deaton does present some important ways the rich healthy countries can help the poor, who are mostly oppressed by dictators and corrupt regimes. He shows clearly in the final, and most important chapter of this book (it appears that many of the reviewers on Amazon did not get that far) that the cost of dramatically improving the health of the poor around the world is absurdly low, but transfers from rich to poor countries go into the pockets of the criminal oligarchies that run the poor countries. This is not the first book to recognize, document, and reveal this sat situation, but it is to my mind the most authoritative. Angus Deaton is a truly remarkable scientist. I have nothing but contempt for his ignorant and superficial detractors.


The Epigenetics Revolution: How Modern Biology Is Rewriting Our Understanding of Genetics, Disease, and Inheritance
The Epigenetics Revolution: How Modern Biology Is Rewriting Our Understanding of Genetics, Disease, and Inheritance
by Nessa Carey
Edition: Paperback
Price: $15.19
46 used & new from $11.20

4.0 out of 5 stars Challenging, well written, authoritative, August 5, 2015
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This is a fine introduction to the topic by an extremely knowledgeable researcher. Carey tries to make it all very accessible to the novice, but in fact it presupposes a fair amount of understanding of molecular biology, especially of how DNA and RNA work, and at least a rudimentary understanding of protein folding and heredity.
I felt there was too great an emphasis on epigenetic causes of human diseases, about which fairly little is known (except for a few rare but well-explored cases). Therefore, I only skimmed the last few chapters.
I read this book and also took a Coursera online course in epigenetics, but I still have no clear idea about the relationship between genetics and epigenetics as applied to inheritance patterns. I cannot imagine how to add epigenetic dynamics to the biological models I work with, or if they make any difference at all to population biology.


ASUS X200MA-SCL0505F 11.6-Inch Touchscreen Laptop/Intel Celeron N2840/4GB memory/500GB HDD/Win 8.1 (Black)
ASUS X200MA-SCL0505F 11.6-Inch Touchscreen Laptop/Intel Celeron N2840/4GB memory/500GB HDD/Win 8.1 (Black)
Offered by Elis Surplus Inc
Price: $301.89
12 used & new from $269.99

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good value, July 18, 2015
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I was at first disappointed by the presence of programs that I don't want (bloatware). I reinstalled the operating system, which may account for why there appears to be very little bloatware. The computer is a bit slow, but much nicer than I expected for a computer that costs about a fifth of my everyday laptop.


The Deeper Genome: Why there is more to the human genome than meets the eye
The Deeper Genome: Why there is more to the human genome than meets the eye
by John Parrington
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $24.43
42 used & new from $16.33

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Professional Overview with Fabulous Bibliography, July 12, 2015
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I study sociobiology in general, and the sociobiology of Homo sapiens in particular. The population genetics of the New Synthesis is now verging on a century old, and it is firmly grounded in a conception of genetic information transmission that is clearly out of date. I have been studying epigenetics and epistasis to understand the complex nature of multicellular organisms and social species. The most important thing I have learned so far is that the traditional idea of how information is passed from a biological entity to its daughter copies goes far beyond Mendelian segregation.

This book describes contemporary genetic research in to complex information transfer mechanisms in the genome. It requires that the reader know something about molecular biology, but not that much. The description is very well done, and the bibliography is extensive and well directed.

Most fascinating is the author's argument that the complexities of the genome require that we go beyond the "reductionism" that has guided microbiological research and theory for more than a century. It is not clear what the alternative is, but some of the readings in the bibliography do give some indications.


Giant Jellyfish Aquarium with Color-Changing LED Lights
Giant Jellyfish Aquarium with Color-Changing LED Lights
Offered by HearthSong
Price: $99.00

3.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful, but it took some ingenuity to get it that way, June 17, 2015
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I am now quite satisfied with this product, although it took some doing to get to this point.
The tank comes with artificial plants that are quite presentable, but there is no way to secure them to the floor of the aquarium (perhaps some parts were missing). I sent away for two artificial plants, which look very nice. It took me a few days to figure out where to place them so that the jellyfish have maximal movement. Now my tank looks great.
I also added two jellyfish that I got from Sharper Image. They are much prettier than the ones that come with the aquarium.
I may add an artificial fish.


Man Is by Nature a Political Animal: Evolution, Biology, and Politics
Man Is by Nature a Political Animal: Evolution, Biology, and Politics
by Peter K. Hatemi
Edition: Paperback
Price: $22.49
41 used & new from $3.29

3.0 out of 5 stars Useful, but Limited Vision, June 12, 2015
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The most important fact about political theory is that there really is none. Or, rather, political theory generally takes almost everything as given, including the fact that human society has a political sphere, and pontificates on the merits of various political organizational structures. If you Google Political Theory, you mostly come up with political philosophy, plus the "political theory" of random outstanding thinkers (Aristotle, Dewey,...). There is simply no coherent body of general political theory.

This exploratory volume advocates grounding general political theory in evolutionary biology. I think this is a great idea, and if you have never thought much about the relationship among evolution, human nature, biology, and political life, this is a useful way to start. The editors seem to think that genetics and neuroscience should be included in evolutionary theory, so there are several chapters that simply analyze genes, neurons, and hormones. These are useful in their own right, but they have little to do with an analytical core for political theory.

The contributors to this volume simply miss the most basic facts about political theory. The most important fact is that the public sphere is the area of human social life where the rules of the game are made, stabilized, evaluated, debated, and transformed. This is important because, while many animals play games, humans alone can conceptualize the notion that games have rules, these rules can be violated or respected, and that we can agree to play by certain rules with the expectation of achieving certain social regularities thereby. Homo sapiens is thus "Homo ludens": Man the game player. This is the central fact of political theory.

We are Homo ludens because we evolved in hunter-gatherer society as fundamentally egalitarian and participatory animals. See my recent article in Current Anthropology on the topic---it's on my web site--as well as my coauthor Chris Boehm's book Moral Origins: The Evolution of
Virtue, Altruism, and Shame (New York: Basic Books, 2012).

The second amazing fact about our species is that individuals are willing to participate in large political events, including elections and collective actions, even though their participation is completely non-consequential. No individual has ever made a difference in a large election or a large demonstration, march, etc. Never. Humans appear to follow a social logic that I call distributed effectivity. For details, see the paper on my web site (under submission at APSR) called Homo ludens, under "Political Theory."
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 18, 2015 6:25 AM PDT


Faith Versus Fact: Why Science and Religion Are Incompatible
Faith Versus Fact: Why Science and Religion Are Incompatible
by Jerry A. Coyne
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $16.24
75 used & new from $14.29

3 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Very beautifully pesented argument---and correct!, June 5, 2015
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Coyne is an anti-accommodationist, which means that he believes that if accept science, you must reject religion. This is a deep claim, because prima facie, it is obviously false. There are many great scientists who believe in Christianity in one form or another---including Isaac Newton, who believe in the literal truth of the Bible. Of course, after Darwin and modern archeology, such literalism is difficult to sustain. But Francis Collins and many other scientists are religiously devout.

Coyne also recognizes that some religions never contradict modern science, including Catholicism and many forms of Buddhism.

What, then, does he mean? The answer is in the book's title: science accepts no truths that cannot be validated, at least provisionally and never with absolute certitude, on the basis of empirical evidence. Religion, by contrast, accepts many things as true on the basis of faith. The weakness of faith as a criterion of truth is that every religion has its own peculiar idea of what "faith" tells us is true. They cannot all be right, and there is no way to adjudicate among them, except perhaps by the sword.

An what sorts of things do religions tell us. Adam and Eve and the snake? Moses and the burning bush? Jonah and the whale? Noah's arc and the flood? What a bunch of fanciful fairly tales! What about not turning on an electric heater on the Sabbath? Wearing dreadlocks and four-foot tall black hats. It would funny thinking about these things if they were not so often tragic.

Faith is an empty shell of an abode for our spirit, which is wondrous at the miracles of nature and human consciousness. Awe, by all means. Faith? Not a chance.

Why not just let the faithful alone in their blithering delusions? Because many powerful religions make claims that counter what we know is justified scientifically (e.g., faith healing, Adam and Eve, creationism). But why not go for accommodationism in the form of: science won't make anti-faith claims and religions won't make anti-science claims? Coyne rejects this tack, but his arguments are not cogent. I can reject faith as a criterion of truth and yet let people go to church and anoint their children. And I can do science perfectly well without denying the existence of the supernatural.

Coyne is also s special kind of scientist---one who accepts some things on faith himself! Most important is "determinism," when means that all of reality as we know it evolves completely deterministically according to physical laws. How could he know this? What evidence could he have for this? I cannot imagine. All my equations have random error terms. I don't know if they are random, or just some sorts of forces, perhaps non-physical, that I don't (yet) understand (and may never understand). Quantum mechanics is fundamentally non-deterministic. If you believe the many-worlds version (which I tend to think is most plausible), our universe is a superposition of a hugely vast number of quantum states, yet our consciousness is firmly attached (as far as we know) to exactly one of these states. When a quantum event occurs, more superimposed states, and our consciousness becomes superimposed as well. Is this what we mean by determinism? I think not. The fact is, there may be phenomena that affect the course of the universe that are not physical in the way we think of physical. Who knows? To be a determinist is not to be agnostic about this possibility, but to actively reject ti. That is fail in action.

On special form of determinism is rejecting free will. Coyne certainly rejects free will, on the grounds of naturalistic determinism: the brain makes decisions, the brain is physical, physical is causally deterministic. Hence no free will. Personally, I am agnostic. I cannot predict how humans will behave in any given situations (I have spent much of my life on studying human behavior), so how can I be sure that the physical nature of the brain is sufficient to explain behavior? Denial of free will is an act of faith, pure and simple.

For instance, Coyne is fond of saying that the theory of evolution proves that the emergence of our species is completely determined by physical law. Perhaps. But perhaps not. Who knows? If some guy with a pasta strainer on his head claims that we were steered into existence by a God who likes steamed noodles, I can simply shrug.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 5, 2015 4:20 PM PDT


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