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Misbehaving: The Making of Behavioral Economics Paperback – June 14, 2016
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“A sly and somewhat subversive history of [the economics] profession . . . engrossing and highly relevant.”
- Jonathan A. Knee, New York Times
“Highly enjoyable . . . dense with fascinating examples. . . . It is long past time to replace Econs with Humans, both in theory and in the practice of prediction.”
- Carol Tavris, Wall Street Journal
“A dryly humorous history of the revolution [Thaler] helped ignite, as well as a useful (if sometimes challenging) primer on its key concepts.”
- Julia M. Klein, Chicago Tribune
“[A] masterful, readable account of behavioral economics. Very well done.”
- David Wessel, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, author of Red Ink and Ben Bernanke’s War on the Great Panic
“Bound to become a classic. Now established as one of the great figures in the history of economic thought, Thaler has no predecessors. A rebel with a cause . . .[w]here he wins Olympic gold is in keen observation; his greatest insights come from actually looking.”
- Cass Sunstein, New Rambler
“Entertaining…. An excellent read on the shortcomings of classical economic and finance theory.”
- Ronald L. Moy, CFA Institute
“The creative genius who invented the field of behavioral economics is also a master storyteller and a very funny man. All these talents are on display in this wonderful book.”
- Daniel Kahneman, winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics and author of Thinking, Fast and Slow
“The story behind some of the most important insights in modern economics. If I had to be trapped in an elevator with any contemporary intellectual, I’d pick Richard Thaler.”
- Malcolm Gladwell
“Richard Thaler has been at the center of the most important revolution to happen in economics in the last thirty years. In this captivating book, he lays out the evidence for behavioral economics and explains why there was so much resistance to it. Read Misbehaving. There is no better guide to this new and exciting economics.”
- Robert J. Shiller, winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics and author of Finance and the Good Society
About the Author
Richard H. Thaler is the coauthor of the best-selling book Nudge with Cass R. Sunstein, and the author of Quasi Rational Economics and The Winner’s Curse. He is a professor of behavioral science and economics at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business and, in 2015, the president of the American Economic Association.
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I won't summarize the wealth of evidence presented (with clarity and grace) in the book. Rather, I will make five general points that will suffice, I think, to entice the undecided reader to take up this good book.
1. This is Kuhnian book. It tells a story of a paradigm shift in the field of economics, from the initial hostility to the reticent acceptance and later to the widespread celebration of behavioral economics (more than ten of its main exponents have been awarded with the Nobel prize).
2. Behavioral economics is already making a dent in public policy. In England and elsewhere, policy makers have embraced some of its prescriptions to tackle various social problems, ranging from obesity to tax evasion. There is a perverse side of behavioral economics though. There are good nudges and bad nudges. Thaler himself sometimes sounds as an expert and unrepentant manipulator (see chapter 13 for example).
3. Economists can no longer ignore the (empirical) relevance of a set of behavioral ideas: loss aversion, the endowment effect, mental accounting, hyperbolic discounting, fairness preferences and narrow framing. "Humans do not have the brains of Einstein (or Barro), nor do they have the self-control of an ascetic Buddhist monk. Rather, they have passions, faulty telescopes, treat various pots of wealth quite differently, and can be influenced by short-run returns in the stock market."
4. William Baumol's early critique of behavioral economics in the sense that it should move beyond the discovery of anomalies to a more constructive agenda is still relevant. Some parts of the book are just anomaly-mining followed by ex post theorizing.
5. While reading the book, I often remembered a famous dictum by novelist (and also Nobel laurate) Elias Canetti: "there aren't the most profound ideas which have often the greatest influence." This book shows that simple ideas can indeed be quite influential.
The book affords a close-up look (a firsthand account) at the exploration throughout the entire professional career of an illustrious economist. The subject is the role of human psychology in the decision making process. His experiments and observations bring into question some very basic assumptions and hypotheses in classic economics, such as rationality in consumer choices and efficient markets.
The detailed discussion of economic issues is sometimes rather academic/technical. It helps if the reader comes with a basic understanding of principles and methods in the study of economics (which I do not possess). In any case, the account of the tense academic debates surrounding the subject is quite fascinating to read. Towards the end of the book, the author also provides useful insights on the implications of behavioural considerations for public policy.
In all, this is a highly recommended book that should provide an engrossing read.
Most recent customer reviews
Richard Thaler was the 2017 Nobel Prize winner in economics and is an interesting writer.Read more