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The Mind of the Market: How Biology and Psychology Shape Our Economic Lives Paperback – January 6, 2009
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From Publishers Weekly
Shermer (The Science of Good and Evil), columnist for Scientific American and publisher of Skeptic magazine, provides an in-depth examination of evolutionary economics. Using fascinating examples—from monkeys that balk at unfair distribution of rewards after completing a task to humans who feel cheated when offered $10 of free money if a partner is given $90—Shermer explores the evolutionary roots of our sense of fairness and justice, and shows how this rationale extends to the market. Drawing upon his expertise as a scientist and the works of noted economists, Shermer argues convincingly that human beings are not exclusively self-centered, the market itself is moral, and modern economies are founded on our virtuous nature. He explores how we mind our money, the value of virtue, why money can't buy happiness and whether we are really free to make choices. Though dense in places, this book offers much insight into human behavior and rationales regarding money and fairness and will be of interest to serious readers of science or business. (Jan.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
“[A] captivating raconteur of all the greatest hits of behavioral, evolutionary and neuropsychology, [and] provider of wonderful cocktail party material... Fascinating.” ―Los Angeles Times Book Review
“The book has no end of conversation starters, from capitalism as modern Darwinism to neuroeconomics that show that--biochemically, at least--a human brain is shockingly similar during smooth business deals and sex.” ―Boston Globe
“Have you ever wondered how people develop trust and live together peacefully? Michael Shermer's new book uses psychology and evolution to examine the root of these human achievements… [He] has earned the right to our attention.” ―Washington Post
“Drawing from research, and injecting his own wit, Shermer explains why people make bad decisions about money, why wealth can't buy you happiness, and why we love cooperating.” ―Psychology Today
“Compelling… Take[s] us on an intimate tour of the best of the last half-century's work in behavioral economics and neuroscience.” ―New York Post
“Entertaining… a fascinating tour d'horizon of discoveries in several of today's cutting-edge sciences.” ―The Globe and Mail (Toronto)
“Well-written [and] highly entertaining…. Replete with thought-provoking examples and solid references, the book will start as many debates as it will end.” ―Choice
“[The Mind of the Market] provides a thorough account of what's going on in a branch of psychology dedicated to understanding the natural origins of economic decisions.” ―Science News
“Pure entertainment… Some of the most interesting economic research being undertaken these days draws on the disciplines of cognitive science and psychology, and [The Mind of the Market is a] highly readable contribution.” ―The Business Economist
“Eye-opening … [The Mind of the Market] recounts truly fascinating experiments and discoveries regarding physiological components of our market decisions…. Filled with fun analogies and a smattering of funny lines.” ―Humanist
“Thoughtful and complete…You're certain to learn something new when you read it.” ―WestWord
“[Shermer] does a bang-up job knitting together the complexities of science and the frail psychology of human beings to explain the unpredictable postmodern world of trade and finance…. An informative, inventive, broad-spectrum analysis of what makes modern man tick, starting with his wallet.” ―Kirkus Reviews
“Using fascinating examples… Shermer explores the evolutionary roots of our sense of fairness and justice, and shows how this rationale extends to the market…. Offers much insight into human behavior and rationales regarding money.” ―Publishers Weekly
“The Ripley's Believe It or Not of behavioral economics, or why people act the way they do in a capitalistic marketplace…. Shermer applies his wide-ranging knowledge of science and its rigorous investigatory discipline to uncover the answers and make connections between trade and emotion--in essence, popularizing neuron-economics.” ―Booklist
“Extremely interesting… Shermer is a fantastic presenter.” ―Steven D. Levitt, The New York Times Freakonomics Blog
“Michael Shermer brilliantly shows that the real experts of Homo economicus are often found in psychology, biology, even primatology.” ―Frans de Waal, author of Our Inner Ape
“Written with his customary verve and flair, The Mind of the Market is Michael Shermer at his best.” ―Dinesh D'Souza, author of What's So Great About America
“Economists who understand Charles Darwin are almost as rare as biologists who understand Adam Smith. Yet the two were essentially saying the same thing--that order emerges unordained from competition and innovation. Michael Shermer brilliantly brings the two insights together to explain how the human mind creates the human market.” ―Matt Ridley, author of The Origins of Virtue
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Top Customer Reviews
Bearing these facts in mind, Shermer's book may come as a surprise to some. The primary points I've seen in his latest work are: 1.) Natrual Selection and The Invisible Hand describe essentially the same phenomena. 2.) Evolution and Economics are both Complex Adaptive Systems that rose from simpler systems. 3.) Too much government intervention into the economy is inefficient, misguided, and immoral. 4.) Adam Smith's and Charles Darwin's ideas weren't so different. 5.) It's ok to be a libertarian.
With all of these comparisons between Capitalism and Evolution, one might think Shermer supports the idea of Social Darwinism. This, of course, would be wrong. Shermer denounces Social Darwinism. He says that "survival of the fittest" is a misleading term that most biologists don't believe in. Later on, he says that corporate culture is overall a good thing. Enron's corrupt model is the exception, and Google's "Don't be Evil" model is the rule. He doesn't rely on many mainstream economists to support his thesis. Instead he turns to psychologists, biologists, etc.
Overall, this book was a GREAT read. Anyone who likes any of Shermer's previous books will probably enjoy this one. You will get to see more of Shermer's political side and the evidence he used to arrive at his ideas. If a fraction of the ideas presented in this book are incorporated into mainstream economics, it will probably change the field forever.
Evolutionary economists knew that Charles Darwin had studied Adam Smith as he modeled his theory of natural selection after Smith invisible hand. Quoting one such evolutionary economist, Thomas Sowell: "Life, like the economy, is about the efficient allocation of scarce resources."
This unifying theory entails that nature and the marketplace evolve over time following similar mechanisms. He calls nature and the market place complex adaptative systems (CAS). Those CAS learn as they evolve from simple to complex. They are autocatalytic, meaning they contain self-driving feedback loops. For nature, the driving feedback loop is natural selection underlying evolution. For the marketplace, the equivalent driving feedback loop is the "invisible hand" or the law of supply and demand. Per Shermer, the geniuses of Charles Darwin and Adam Smith were in uncovering a simple process to explain an incredibly complex outcome (diversity of nature and economies).
Shermer rebuts two concepts: The first one is that the theory of evolution has no place in the social science. Social scientists have fought Darwin (under the misunderstood caption of social Darwinism) with as much energy as creationists. Yet, Shermer shows the multiple connections between natural selection and the law of supply and demand.
The second one is the concept of "Homo Economicus" that human beings are strictly rational. There he cites behavioral economists showing the myriad of ways in which our brains are wired to make irrational choices. For further studies I recommend the excellent books The Psychology of Judgment and Decision Making and Inefficient Markets: An Introduction to Behavioral Finance (Clarendon Lectures in Economics).
He is addressing three problems related to "The Mind of the Market": The first one is how the market has a mind of its own. As mentioned, the law of supply and demand is a driving self-organizing force within the market. One byproduct of Shermer's theory is that the markets are pretty efficient. He mentions that many studies show that professional investors don't perform better than index funds. Market efficiency extends way beyond stocks. And, is applicable to nearly everything as prediction markets have shown recently (betting on sports, politics, and entertainment outcomes). For an excellent treaty on the subject, I recommend The Wisdom of Crowds.
The second one is how minds operate in markets. That's where he rebutts "Home Economicus." We make plenty of irrational market related decisions. Our human biases such as valuing losses twice as much as gains have been tested in laboratories with both humans and monkeys. This loss aversion has been wired into our brains for millennia to enhance our survival. And, it affects our investment decisions often to our disadvantage. This is why the gambling industry makes money off gamblers.
The third one is how minds and markets are moral. The market has embedded economic incentives for participants to behave so as to generate trust and credibility to encourage transactions with each other. Reputation and status is important. This is why reputation metrics such as EBay sellers' ratings have arisen on the Internet as self-governance agents. Trust and credibility lead to greater commerce productivity. They decrease credit risk, liability risk, lower legal and negotiating costs, and increase and speed up transaction flows.
This third concept leads to the main theme of this book. Shermer clarifies what is understood by evolution and natural selection. In his own words "... it is a myth that evolution is driven by selfishness, it is ... driven by adaptability... the most adaptable thing you can do to survive and reproduce is to be cooperative and altruistic." Shermer indicated that Adam Smith had first explored the identical phenomenon in economics within his book The Theory of Moral Sentiments - Adam Smith that he wrote much before The Wealth of Nations (Bantam Classics). Later in the book, Shermer goes on the same topic: "If biological evolution in nature was really founded on ... winner-take-all..., life on earth would have been snuffed out hundreds of millions of years ago; if market capitalism was winner-take-all, it would have collapsed centuries ago." So, evolutionary economics is governed more by cooperation rather than competition.
Shermer exploring the economic implication of cooperation, and leveraging the economic research from Paul Zak, indicates that trust within a nation leads to greater investment, higher GDP per capita, higher standard of living, and more trade. He also shares that trust is highly correlated to economic freedom. Trust among the citizen of a nation creates a virtuous economic cycle that boosts GDP growth. Zak indicates that if the proportion of Americans who trust each other rose from 36% to 51% income per person would rise by a full 1%. Paul Zak also found that the Oxytocin hormone is responsible for generating the feeling of trust. Thus, Shermer stated: "Oxytocin is the social glue of society. It is what keeps us together as a civilization." Shermer also refers to Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societieswhen stating that trade between nations decreases the likelihood of war.
Shermer explores what makes us happy. Referring to Ed Diener's research, happiness is associated with the following traits: high self-esteem, personal control, optimism, and extroversion. Referring to Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience happiness is also a result of high engagement and achievement giving purpose and meaning to one's life. Per other references, psychological profile variance is 40% heritable (genes), 30% family environment, and 30% all other causes. Scientific research shows that economic self-reliance makes people happier than economic dependency. This is supported by studies on international happiness and freedom. People are happier in societies with greater levels of autonomy and freedom.
If you find this review interesting, you will find this well researched book fascinating.
You would be better off buying "The Believing Brain," which covers much of the same terrain.
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Evolutionary economics, complexity economics, behavioral economics, neuroeconomics,...Read more