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Scarcity: The New Science of Having Less and How It Defines Our Lives Paperback – November 4, 2014
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. The struggle for insufficient resources—time, money, food, companionship—concentrates the mind for better and, mostly, worse, according to this revelatory treatise on the psychology of scarcity. Harvard economist Mullainathan and Princeton psychologist Shafir examine how scarcity in many forms, from poverty and scheduling pressures to dieters' food cravings and loneliness—a kind of social scarcity —force the brain to focus on alleviating pressing shortages and thus reduce the mental bandwidth available to address other needs, plan ahead, exert self-control, and solve problems. The result of perpetual scarcity, they contend, is a life fixated on agonizing trade-offs, crises, and preoccupations that impose persistent cognitive deficits—in poor people they lower mental performance as much as going a night without sleep—and reinforce self-defeating actions. The authors support their lucid, accessible argument with a raft of intriguing research in psychology and behavioral economics (sample study: We recruited Princeton undergraduates to play Family Feud in a controlled setting ) and apply it to surprising nudges that remedy everything from hospital overcrowding to financial ignorance. Mullainaithan and Shafir present an insightful, humane alternative to character-based accounts of dysfunctional behavior, one that shifts the spotlight from personal failings to the involuntary psychic disabilities that chronic scarcity inflicts on everyone. 8 illus. Agent: Katinka Matson, Brockman Inc. (Sept.) --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
“Extraordinarily illuminating...Mullainathan and Shafir have made an important, novel, and immensely creative contribution.” ―Cass R. Sunstein, The New York Review of Books
“Compelling, important...A handy guide for those of us looking to better understand our inability to ever climb out of the holes we dig ourselves, whether related to money, relationships, or time.” ―The Boston Globe
“[Scarcity offers] groundbreaking insights into...the effects of poverty on cognition and our ability to make choices about our lives.” ―Samantha Power, The Wall Street Journal
“This is a book to read--but not while you are watching something else at the same time.” ―Eric Schmidt, executive chairman of Google and coauthor of The New Digital Age
“Scarcity is a captivating book, overflowing with new ideas, fantastic stories, and simple suggestions that just might change the way you live.” ―Steven D. Levitt, coauthor
“Sendhil Mullainathan and Eldar Shafir are stars in their respective disciplines, and the combination is greater than the sum of its parts. Together they manage to merge scientific rigor and a wry view of the human predicament. Their project has a unique feel to it: it is the finest combination of heart and head that I have seen in our field.” ―Daniel Kahneman, author of Thinking, Fast and Slow
“Sendhil Mullainathan and Eldar Shafir show how the logic of scarcity applies to rich and poor, educated and illiterate, Asian, Western, Hispanic, and African cultures alike. They offer insights that can help us change our individual behavior and that open up an entire new landscape of public policy solutions. A breathtaking achievement!” ―Anne-Marie Slaughter, professor emerita, Princeton University, and president and CEO of the New America Foundation
“Here is a winning recipe. Take a behavioral economist and a cognitive psychologist, each a prominent leader in his field, and let their creative minds commingle. What you get is a highly original and easily readable book that is full of intriguing insights. What does a single mom trying to make partner at a major law firm have in common with a peasant who spends half her income on interest payments? The answer is scarcity. Read this book to learn the surprising ways in which scarcity affects us all.” ―Richard H. Thaler, University of Chicago, coauthor of Nudge
“With a smooth blend of stories and studies, Scarcity reveals how the feeling of having less than we need can narrow our vision and distort our judgment. This is a book with huge implications for both personal development and public policy.” ―Daniel H. Pink, author of Drive and To Sell Is Human
“Insightful, eloquent, and utterly original, Scarcity is the book you can't get enough of. It is essential reading for those who don't have the time for essential reading.” ―Daniel Gilbert, Edgar Pierce Professor of Psychology, Harvard University, and author of Stumbling on Happiness
“The book's unified theory of the scarcity mentality is novel in its scope and ambition.” ―The Economist
“A pacey dissection of a potentially life-changing subject.” ―Time Out London
“A succinct, digestible and often delightfully witty introduction to an important new branch of economics.” ―New Statesman
“One of the most significant economics books of the year.” ―Tyler Cowen, Marginal Revolution
“The struggle for insufficient resources--time, money, food, companionship--concentrates the mind for better and, mostly, worse, according to this revelatory treatise on the psychology of scarcity...The authors support their lucid, accessible argument with a raft of intriguing research...and apply it to surprising nudges that remedy everything from hospital overcrowding to financial ignorance...Insightful.” ―Publishers Weekly (starred review)
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This is a book which everybody in management, the professions, social services, aid organisations etc. should read, digest and act on as a matter of integrity.
One example among many: A school in which those classes on the right side were consistently a year behind at the end of the six years; WHY? one side fronted onto a park and the other had a rail track used 3 - 4 times an hour. When double glazing was installed the difference in attainment vanished, yet the graduates from the right side would have been, for no fault of their own, confined to low class, low pay jobs and blamed for their poor achievements.
This is a book, which if we have the eyes to see and the ears to hear, has the potential to radically change the world.
It illustrates the previously considered intangible costs of being poor and really digs in. It explains the mentality of the individual and how 'tunneling' can create a measurable decrease in IQ, and how it's an uncontrollable biological response. It also discusses the lack of slack and how it makes any system susceptible to shocks.
The insights are so general that it's even easy to apply to your personal life but certainly could be used to make policy more effective.
For me, this took a well-known value of scholarship, "peace of mind", and makes it quantifiable. It demonstrates several fascinating tests that can be used to measure this. It would take a lot of work, but I think it would be even reasonable to say that you could test someone when you first meet them and test them again a few months after acceptance and get a metric of effectiveness.