No One Makes You Shop at Wal-Mart 1st Edition, Kindle Edition
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The book illustrates clearly how, in many situations, well-functioning markets lead to poor results for people engaging in them. It is a debunking of the idea that we should let markets run things, like our school system via "school choice" or vouchers as is commonly argued.
It shows how free choice in a market setting can lead to results that even the participants in those markets don't like. It debunks the notion that "the invisible hand" comes to the best (or even an economically efficient one). The author first illustrates how the market failures occur using very simple game theory and then argues that there are common, real-world situations where such market failures occur.
I think it is an excellent rebuttal to the common assertion, which the author calls "MarketThink", that markets allocate goods efficiently and therefore we should, by and large, let them run.
One of the earlier reviewers here says that he is a libertarian and that he accepts MarketThink but that he doesn't think this ideology is very prevalent in the broader political discourse. As a non-libertarian, I think the belief is all too commonly believed or, in some cases, cynically used as an argument by people/corporations to get what they want. In any case, I think MarketThink does need debunking and this book does it very well.
It is kind of dry. While the book tries to be accessible to everyone, I think it woudl be hard to follow if you had no prior exposure to these concepts. But, I think it should be a part of every intro to Econ course. I'm sending a copy to my son's teacher.
Slee wraps this all up beautifully: you should think of "best response" rather than "preference": what you choose to do is not a direct expression of what you prefer, as naïve choice theory would have it; rather, what you choose is the best response to everyone else's choices -- and theirs are best responses to yours.
The classic example of a best response that leads to a disappointing outcome is the prisoner's dilemma: each prisoner, when deciding how to act, realizes that no matter what the other prisoner does, it would be in his best interest to rat his partner out. If my partner rats me out, then I'm better off ratting him out than staying quiet. Likewise, if my partner stays quiet, I'm better off ratting him out. So no matter what my partner does, I should pick the outcome that makes life worse for both of us.
Slee's book is the best use of economics in a mass-audience context that I've yet seen. And it's entirely rigorous. The argument is perfectly simple and correct. It should be valuable to anyone who believes that the free market will apply a balm to all woes.
Slee walks through the major discoveries of game theory, explains them in simple language with reference to a fictional town of Whimsley, and discusses how they refute standard economic conclusions while still playing by basic economic assumptions with effects that appear to show up in the real world.
The book is full of dozens of examples, each with careful analysis and clear writing. Perhaps the most odd feature of the book is its politics. On the one hand, Slee is plainly a committed leftist, with positive references to Naomi Klein and other capitalist critics. But on the other hand, he never gives up on the rational actor and methodological individualist assumptions of modern economics, and shows little patience for those (typically his political allies) who have more thorough-going critiques. Nonetheless, the book is a recommended read for anyone interested in these questions.