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Misbehaving: The Making of Behavioral Economics Hardcover – May 11, 2015

4.4 out of 5 stars 226 customer reviews

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 432 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; First edition (May 11, 2015)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393080943
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393080940
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.4 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (226 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #39,065 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Hardcover
He’s taken his time and he’s waited his turn, but Richard Thaler has delivered the definitive book on Behavioral Economics, the one you can’t afford to miss. It’s a summary of the main findings, a history of how they came about and a preview of coming attractions, with due care taken to pay tribute to those who came before Thaler and apportion credit to those who worked with him.

The field is not as new as Thaler would have you think. There’s bias in this account and it is a bias against those among his predecessors who tried to explain human behavior in a way that was consistent with mainstream economic theory. I’m thinking Gary Becker here (who tried to explain long lines outside empty clubs and packed cheap restaurants alike using an “upward sloping demand curve” and famously sat down to write a paper on suicide when his wife took her own life); I’m thinking the very same Robert Barro that Thaler makes fun of when he describes him as the smartest man ever, but who nonetheless made me understand in his book “Getting it Right” why superstars could get paid so much in a zero-sum game and got confirmation to his theory when Maradona was paid more than the rest of his team, Napoli, put together, and justifiably so because he not only took them to the Campionato, but also thwarted much more fancied teams from winning it.

Thaler’s predecessors operated in a world where most Economics books had to start with a chapter explaining why Economics is a science. Of course they had to stick to the utility-maximizing / profit-maximizing orthodoxy! Besides, orthodox economic theory was not all that shabby when it came to predicting human behavior.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
"The foundation of political economy and, in general of every social science, is evidently psychology. A day may come when we shall be able to deduce the laws of social science from the principles of psychology." Vilfredo Pareto, 1906

Misbehaving is a thoroughly enjoyable read, both comprehensive and replete with historical context, but "neither a treatise nor a polemic" as prefaced by Thaler. Instead, it is a memoir and a chronological history on the rise of behavioral economics as a legitimate discipline, making it an excellent introduction to the field. The book is lengthy, an un-lazy 358 pages, but an easy read because of Thaler's self-deprecating style and numerous examples that are both funny and informative (like oenophile mental accounting). My favorite illustrative anecdote, however, was the kerfuffle that ensued among the "efficient market" professors at the University of Chicago when it came time to hold a lottery on allocating offices in their new academic building - hilarious.
I got hooked on behavioral economics almost 20 years ago at a conference held on the topic at Harvard's Kennedy School, featuring Richard Thaler, Richard Zeckhauser, Arnie Wood and others. The seeds planted from that fascinating seminar led me to be a lifelong student of this emerging, multi-disciplinary field and the importance of metacognition - quite literally, thinking about thinking. For an alcoholic, admitting you have a problem is the first step towards recovery. Analogously, it is impossible to temper evolutionarily prewired heuristics and biases unless you have studied them - and even then, it is too easy to 'fall off the wagon.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Richard Thaler's, Misbehaving: The Making of Behavioral Economics, is easily the best introduction to the subject available--for economists as well as for the general reader. Definitely so, despite a few omissions (noted below), largely because of the author's facility of explaining, in easy-to-grasp terms, the contribution that behavioral economics is making to problem solving (as well as to understanding recent economic decisions). This may be due, in part, to his personal involvement in so many phases of the development of the approach (such as in the successful effort to increase employee savings).

As for the omissions, perhaps the most significant relates to what Thaler considers the most important aim of behavioral economics, the gathering of evidence about actual human behavior. There is a relative inattention to field or natural exercises compared to laboratory economics--though the importance of the latter is acknowledged briefly towards the end of the book. A second, and more important shortcoming, is the failure to note the potential of asking decision makers to explain why they made certain decisions; this is being undertaken successfully by Truman Bewley, and is now being given more attention by several of the empirically oriented economists cited in the book. A third is that the "libertarian paternalistic" nudging which has led employees to increase their rate of saving, may not be the best that they could do, which is now being emphasized by others that Thaler also cites. Perhaps a second edition of The Making of Behavioral Economics will take note of these points.

These are minor problems, however. We have a major debt to Richard Thaler for all that he has contributed to the field and for his ability to explain everything in a manner that is really a pleasure to read.

Hugh Schwartz (a behavioral economist)
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