- Series: Constructs
- Hardcover: 288 pages
- Publisher: University of Texas Press (September 1, 2012)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0292717776
- ISBN-13: 978-0292717770
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 1 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
- Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #521,629 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Surprising Design of Market Economies (Constructs) Hardcover – September 1, 2012
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"Offers keen insights into urban planning, public works, and even the history of New York’s onetime ambivalence toward a professional police force." (New York Times)
"Marshall’s thoughtful critique accounts for social dynamics often ignored by modern economists and is grounded in a multitude of fascinating examples, underscoring his thesis that we can, and should, debate the powers allotted to our creations, rather than let them, falsely, set the terms of their own existence." (Publishers Weekly 2012-07-06)
"Conventional economics wittingly or unwittingly provides cover for the One Percent, by professing that ‘the market’ operates benevolently on its own. Alex Marshall gives us an entertaining, thoughtful, and well-written antidote to this dangerous abstraction." (Huffington Post)
"This book debunks the free market orthodoxy that markets are ‘natural’ things that should not be meddled with. Taking us through history from the Athenian ‘owl’ coin to the Founding Fathers, from the American Civil War to Korean economic development, from Gone with the Wind to the Sundance Film Festival, the book shows how all markets are actually built upon carefully designed ‘artificial’ structures. Having read the book, you will not be able to spread Land O’Lakes butter on your bread or drive along Route 66 in the same way as you used to. An eye-opener." (Ha-Joon Chang, University of Cambridge, author of Bad Samaritans and 23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism)
"Marshall is asking the right questions by focusing on the structure of the market. Unfortunately, most economic policy discussions treat market structure as a given and then ask whether the market in its existing structure should be left alone or subject to some form of regulation. The right question is whether the market could be structured better in the first place." (Dean Baker, Center for Economic and Policy Research)
"We make the rules and the rules make us. So argues Alex Marshall in this brilliant and fascinating exploration of the nature and human design of markets. A must read." (David Morris, Cofounder, Institute for Local Self-Reliance)
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Top Customer Reviews
We live in a corporatist market controlled by oligopolies in strategic areas: food, energy, retailing,media. Marshall does a great critique of this notion and also demonstrates that beneficial alternatives exist (such as cooperatives). The book also does a good job of demonstrating that a free market depends heavily on government -- not only for judicial and peace keeping services but also for infrastructure. A business cannot thrive located in a swamp at the end of a dirt road.
I think any present and potential politicians should be required to read this. Prominent book reviewers -- such as the New York Times -- should give this much more prominent attention.
What this book makes abundantly clear, through interesting every day and historical examples, is that in reality if you peeled away all the government regulation and looked, there would be nothing left to see. Well maybe 2 guys in animal skins trading potatoes and hoping the other isn't hiding a bigger knife than he is.
In essence there are as many "Free Markets" possible as there are variations in the laws that define everything involved in human interaction, and in the government entities that enforce these laws. The devil is in the details. Economies are designed and constructed by governments (hopefully through democratic process), there is no alternative. This is obvious once you think about it but has been completely obscured by the way we frame our thinking about the topic. And it is a profoundly important idea because it reveals that somebody is always writing these laws and designing our economy. In a society like ours that allows unlimited wealth concentration and doesn't restrict political contributions, those people are overwhelmingly the rich. Since the late 1970's they have been designing an economy that progressively benefits them at the expense of the rest of us, while without irony, bemoaning government regulation. After reading this book you will know that economics is not a simple choice between "The Free Market" designed to be what most benefits the wealthy and Socialism.
An eye opening example of this is the material comparing corporations and cooperatives. The joint stock, limited liability, legally a person, corporation as an institution, is the heart of our economy. This institutional design overwhelmingly determines how economic wealth is created and distributed. Yet there is nothing "natural" about it. The laws governing the specifics of its details and function are complicated and have changed a lot over time. Different corporate laws or a different business institution design would result in a very different economy that was no less "Free Market". We could just as easily have an economy based on the Cooperative institutional model which has been around just as long. Cooperatives are significant but relatively minor players not because they don't work, but because we have purposely designed our economy through our laws around the corporate form. And over the last hundred years corporations have used their financial influence to make sure continued changes in law promote their interests. You can agree with me or not that an economy of co-ops would be as much of a market economy as our own, but vastly more equitable in how wealth is shared; but the point that Mr. Marshall makes so well is that we choose exactly what businesses look like as corporations or cooperatives. The details of their design and the outcomes that result just don't happen.
I think a strong case can be made when one fully grasps the implications of this, that the conceptual viability of libertarian, laissez-faire disappears. It is revealed as worldview that sees a separation between government and economy that can not exist. What does "minimal government intervention in the economy" really mean in the face of the infinite number of ways the laws defining companies and property etc.. can be written? Note this is my conclusion, not the author's.
The last point I want to make about the book is that it is a great read. Mr. Marshall is a journalist not an economist and his eye for illustrative, fascinating historical and current day examples make his arguments that much more intuitively persuasive.