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Phishing for Phools: The Economics of Manipulation and Deception Hardcover – September 22, 2015
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George A. Akerlof, Co-Winner of the 2001 Nobel Prize in Economics
Robert J. Shiller, Co-Winner of the 2013 Nobel Prize in Economics
One of The Times Literary Supplement’s Books of the Year 2016, chosen by Paul Collier
Selected for Bloomberg View’s “The Writing that Shaped Economic Thinking in 2016”
Winner of the 2016 Gold Medal in Economics, Axiom Business Book Awards
One of Foreign Affairs’ Best Economic, Social, and Environmental (Economics) Books of 2016
Honorable Mention for the 2016 PROSE Award in Economics, Association of American Publishers
One of The Independent’s Best Economics Books 2015
One of LinkedIn’s Best Business Books of 2015
One of BusinessInsider.com’s Best Business Books of 2015
From the Back Cover
"In an entertaining and lively account, Akerlof and Shiller show that while the pursuit of profits may lead to products that enrich our lives, it may also lead to manipulation and deception. Much of recent innovation has led to products that make cheating the public easier. The implications are complex and profound."--Joseph E. Stiglitz, Nobel Laureate in Economics
"Phishing for Phools is an intellectual tour de force. It may change your image of the invisible hand into an invisible phoot, always looking to trip you up. Read it for phun; read it for wisdom."--Alan S. Blinder, author of After the Music Stopped: The Financial Crisis, the Response, and the Work Ahead
"A phabulous book! This is economics after the behavioral revolution at its best."--Samuel Bowles, Santa Fe Institute
"Akerlof and Shiller provide a phenomenal guide to the pitfalls of the phree market. This redemptive revision of economic theory explains the built-in risks of rip-offs in a profit-maximizing world."--Nancy Folbre, professor emerita, University of Massachusetts, Amherst
"As Akerlof and Shiller remind us, the same incentives that lead sellers to introduce innovations that improve quality and reduce costs also ensure that no profitable opportunity to cheat us will remain unexploited. This highly readable and insightful book will transform how we think about the role of government."--Robert H. Frank, author of The Economic Naturalist
"Akerlof and Shiller extend the standard market failure' theory--which says that there is a potential role for government intervention when markets fail--by showing that markets fail not only because of the familiar reasons of externalities and unfair income distribution, but also because of the pervasive phenomenon of phishing for phools' (profit-seeking through manipulation and deception). They point the way to a new paradigm freed from the constraints of market failure theory, able to illuminate control by capital' (partly through phishing) and to prescribe for control of capital' (partly by techniques for limiting phishing suggested here)."--Robert H. Wade, London School of Economics
"This insightful book exposes a fundamental contradiction in the market system. Consumers and policymakers beware: profit-seeking businesses foster efficiency and innovation, but have strong incentives to manipulate you and sophisticated new data tools allow them to do so in personalized ways."--Laura D'Andrea Tyson, University of California, Berkeley
"This fun but serious book tells how the standard story about free markets often gets it wrong. Indeed, Akerlof and Shiller suggest that we should drop the view of markets as generally benign institutions. The argument is laid out with the help of fascinating anecdotes, the language is conversational, and the book is easy to read. It is addressed to a broad audience, but economists will enjoy it too."--Dani Rodrik, author of The Globalization Paradox
"Phishing for Phools is a coherent and highly plausible explanation of why markets--although usually beneficial--can lead to undesirable outcomes. The book takes an intriguing approach and gives many interesting examples."--Diane Coyle, author of GDP: A Brief but Affectionate History
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Without mentioning Marx, nor certainly without being Marxists, Akerlof and Shiller are "rediscovering" many of the basic truths of Marxism and then adding on an informational Marxism (information "haves" vs. information "have nots").
Instability of markets? Check.
Information haves vs. information have-not's? Check.
Opiate of the people? Check.
The production of an ideology to support capitalism that makes even those at the bottom "support" it? A.K.A. Antonio Gramsci? Check.
Instabilities, Inequities, and Informational Inbalances
The anecdotes of the book are a tale of instability, inequity and informational imbalance. They make a wonderful read. And to those of us who lived through the Financial Crisis and subsequent Great Recession, remind us of how the reputations of the bond raters were "phished" to make millions for the few yet cause misery for the masses. Not to mention how the capitalist state "came to the rescue" of capitalists and capitalism itself.
I am not a Marxist - don't get me wrong. I am a believer in capitalism and a conservative in the traditional (not American) sense of the word.
Perhaps Phishing for Phools is a small step towards a rediscovery of the instabilities and inequities that bedevil the capitalist system as well as a first step towards an intellectual framework that is non-Marxist yet cognizant of how unstable things really are.
I highly recommend the book. It's fun, it's easy-to-read, and when you really think about it... it gets you to think in a foundational way about what's fundamentally wrong with our current economic and political system.
Examples? Smoking. The book notes the efforts of tobacco companies to poo poo arguments that smoking was harmful to individuals. In short, such corporations masqueraded as trustworthy in order to “catch a victim.” Big pharma has done the same thing (note the example of VIOXX, which ended up costing the lives of thousands of people). In short, con people to purchase items that are not in the best interests of consumers. Is this an elitist argument (always a first attack by those who defend the indefensible—casting aspersions against those who speak truth to power).
Manipulation and deception are a part of this process. Corporations want to create demand for products that may or may not be of value (John Kenneth Galbraith, many years ago, used the term “induced consumption: to speak of a process by which ads and other messages convinced people to purchase items of dubious value to them).
Of course, free markets can be robust institutions facilitating efficient production and distribution of goods ands services. But there are plenty of opportunities to use the market to “phish” people. The authors have faith in the market—but understand that it can be manipulated.