- Paperback: 224 pages
- Publisher: Princeton University Press (September 13, 2009)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0691143358
- ISBN-13: 978-0691143354
- Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 0.7 x 7.9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars See all reviews (71 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #428,569 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Price of Everything: A Parable of Possibility and Prosperity
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"[A]n unusual and wildly enjoyable book."--Stephen J. Dubner, nytimes.com Freakonomics blog
"Take a look at the computer screen your eyes are presently (hopefully) fixated on, not to mention the computer mouse you used in order to click on this posting. Did you ever consider how both were made? Could you make either yourself, and if so, how and where would you acquire the various raw materials and parts in order to create them? If the above questions vex you, the George Mason economics professor Russell Roberts's excellent new novel, The Price of Everything, is for you. Importantly, Roberts does not explain how things are made in this tale as much as he teaches us through a very interesting dialogue between a professor and student that the 'whole system we call a market economy works as well as it does precisely because of how little we have to know.'"--John Tamny, RealClearMarkets.com
"Improbable as it might seem, perhaps the most important fact for a voter or politician to know is: No one can make a pencil. That truth is the essence of a novella that is, remarkably, both didactic and romantic. Even more remarkable, its author is an economist. If you read Russell Roberts's The Price of Everything: A Parable of Possibility and Prosperity you will see the world afresh."--George Will, Newsweek
"This book is the third foray into the world of economic fiction for Roberts. In terms of prose and content, it is also his best effort. . . . In this new book, set on and around the Stanford University campus, Roberts bundles several clever insights about everyday economics with the overriding theme of prosperity and economic growth, and pulls it all off with warmth and plenty of heart."--A.R. Sanderson, Choice
"[T]he best attempt to teach economics through fiction that the world has seen to date."--Tyler Cowen, Marginal Revolution
"The Price of Everything [is] Russ Roberts' latest didactic novel. I cannot recommend it strongly enough. I thought his other fictional attempts to teach economics were decent, but in my opinion this one represents a real step up."--Arnold Kling, EconLog
"[The Price of Everything] is Roberts's third economics novel--the first two were Choice: A Fable of Free Trade and Protectionism and The Invisible Heart: An Economic Romance. They are great introductions to free-market economic theory, especially for those who are easily turned off by numbers and graphs. Wrapping a narrative around economic theories may seem like a peculiar approach to teaching, but didactic novels have a long and noble pedigree."--Clint Witchalls, Spectator
"Don't be put off by the title, you just might not be able to put it down. Its brilliance is in its simplicity, and it's now the first economics book I recommend. Yes, Milton Friedman's Free to Choose and Friedrich Hayek's The Road to Serfdom are still the cornerstones, but easy to read? No."--Thomas Oliver, Atlanta Journal-Constitution
"I loved the way Roberts wove into the story examples of what Hayek called spontaneous order that even those who believe that order happens only from the top down would have to acknowledge--from dancers moving unpredictably on the dance floor without ever colliding to the thousands of people and bits of specialized knowledge it takes to make a pencil, which nobody can make by himself. This little book deserves an audience as wide as eventually developed for 'Economics in One Lesson.' It conveys similar information in a more nuanced, personal and humanistic way. Nice work."--Alan W. Bock, Orange County Register
"Have you ever wanted to give a friend a book that explains the main virtues of economic freedom in a dramatic way that is accessible to a broad audience? Russell Roberts's latest novel, The Price of Everything, is the book you want. That's right: I said 'latest novel.'"--David R. Henderson, Regulation
"[T]he novel is eminently readable. And if you did not know anything about how the American system works you would come away from reading it better informed."--Bethan Marshall, The Business Economist
"The Price of Everything is a must read for anybody interested in how market capitalism works."--Julie Novak, IPA Review
From the Back Cover
"A remarkable use of parables and dialogues to convey economic intuitions. This should be mandatory reading for anyone who wants to understand this branch of applied philosophy we call economics."--Nassim Nicholas Taleb, author of The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable
"This is a great story about human, social, and economic betterment brought about by the forces of spontaneous coordination. It's also about justice and there's a warm ending. Read and enjoy."--Vernon Smith, Nobel Prize-winning economist
"The Price of Everything illuminates the astonishing economic world we live in. This book could change your life--reading it will give you a sense of wonder about the everyday marvels that are all around us."--Paul Romer, Stanford University
"The Price of Everything is sensationally good fiction and sensationally good economics."--Deirdre N. McCloskey, author of The Bourgeois Virtues
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Top Customer Reviews
His book, The Price of Everything, is a parable that engages readers and nudges them to think deeply about the economic concepts that we encounter in our everyday lives. The two main characters in the story are Ramon Fernandez, a budding tennis prodigy who is studying at Stanford, and an economics professor named Ruth Lieber. At one point in the story, Professor Lieber poses the following question: "Don't you think it's strange that in America, the country where the greatest economic revolution in history has taken place, the average citizen has no idea why we're richer?" I would add that it's not only strange, it's very strange. Attempting to answer this question in intelligible and non-dull terms was (I suspect) Roberts' impetus for writing this book.
At the beginning of the story, we learn that an earthquake has just rocked the Bay Area. In the wake of the disaster, Ramon and his girlfriend are on a quest to purchase some flashlights. Ever the champion for social justice, Ramon becomes outraged to find out that Big Box (a fictional mega-store) is selling flashlights at double the price of a Home Depot, which is fresh out of flashlights. While waiting in line to purchase the pricey flashlights at Big Box, Ramon becomes distraught when he sees a poor woman waiting in line who realizes that she can't afford baby food and diapers because of the store's post-disaster price hike. She only has $20, but needs $35 worth of food and diapers. Ramon asks: "How could she have known that Big Box would gouge her with doubled prices?" We then learn that Ramon collects money from other store patrons and is soon using a megaphone in front of the store to rile people up about this perceived injustice.
Not long after this debacle at Big Box, we learn there is a planned protest against Big Box on the Stanford campus. This is where Ramon meets Ruth Lieber, a university provost and economics professor. They chat about the protest and slowly end up developing a relationship that unfolds throughout the rest of the book. The economic lessons contained within the book largely play out through their many conversations.
In one such lesson, Ruth explains to Ramon how free-market price signals allow an economy to operate more efficiently than centrally planned ones. She goes on to elucidate (in a Hayekian vein) about the knowledge problem in economics, which Friedrich Hayek himself put this way: "The curious task of economics is to demonstrate to men how little they really know about what they imagine they can design."
At one point in the parable, Professor Lieber is in the middle of a discussion with Ramon and we get the sense that she's feeling a bit rattled by a questioning Ramon. She collects herself and then shares some profound wisdom about economics by saying the following: "Oscar Wilde said that a cynic is someone who understands the price of everything and the value of nothing. Clever people like to say the same thing about economists, as if we were soulless calculators in green eyeshades, obsessed with prices and money. We're mercenaries, it is said, weighing costs and benefits down to the last penny. But economics is not about prices and money. Economics is about how to get the most out of life."
If there is only one thing to learn from this book (or about economics in general), I believe it is this last point. The beauty of Roberts' writing (and his podcasting) is that his ideas get in your bones. Accordingly, I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in learning about the dismal science, I mean economics.
I like to assign this book for the last day of my MPA microeconomics class, as a good review of the "why markets are great under perfect competition" half.
I also assign the book, though, because it is incredibly conservative, paying almost no attention to the main rationales for government regulation. I know that I'm a liberal economist who sees market failure as incredibly important, so I assign this book to help balance the course, and to show why economists' preferred solution to market failures is to fix the market, not to replace it.
At ~200 pages and breezy writing, the book is a very fast read, but one that will stick with you. The sections on emergent order and information theory of price are particularly excellent. The book has an Austrian bent to it, but I don't think it contains anything a Keynesian or Neoclassical would find objectionable. The list of technical reviewers contains some big names in these schools.
I recommend this book to anyone looking for an introduction to the ideas of economics and economic analysis from an author who knows what they're talking about, knows how to teach, and knows the popular objections to their teachings.