- Paperback: 358 pages
- Publisher: Cambridge University Press; 2nd ed. edition (August 4, 2008)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0521711576
- ISBN-13: 978-0521711579
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.8 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,069,442 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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A World of Chance: Betting on Religion, Games, Wall Street 2nd ed. Edition
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"Did you know that the modern insurance industry is a direct outgrowth of gambling? Did you know that poker provided one of the most important sources of capital for penniless Western frontiersmen in the United States? Did you know that major opera houses of Europe began as gambling halls with the theaters attached (history, if not always the quality of music, repeats itself in Las Vegas)? Do you know the real reason the NFL resists the legalization of sports betting in America? For the fascinating answers and insights into the politics, the finance, and the economics of that over-maligned pastime, gambling, and, yes, including the surprising role it has frequently played in finance - read A World of Chance. The odds are strong that you will love it." - Henry G. Manne, Dean Emeritus, George Mason Law School
"A World of Chance undermines our usual view of 'economic man' and substitutes the angst-ridden, uncertain denizen of a world that offers no certainties and requires risk-taking as a matter of survival.... For providing a theoretical foundation for the counter-intuitive behavior of American taxpayers, the Brenners deserve the Nobel Prize in economics." - Asia Times
"No one since Joseph Schumpeter has done more than Reuven Brenner to put risk-taking and innovation at the center of economic theory." - Laury Minard, Forbes
"...a fine, freshly produced reference for those presenting the argument about pros and cons of gambling versus Wall Street and how they compare in the 21st Century." - Howard Schwartz, The Gamblers Bookshop
"A World of Chance puts up a stout defense of gambling both as a form of entertainment and source of hope.... The book does an excellent job of disassembling all the bogus arguments for keeping lotteries and other forms of gambling under state control, and in particular highlights the self-interested nature of the assault on internet gaming, which is a threat neither to national security nor public morals." - Peter Foster, National Post
"The relationship between gambling and finance (let alone religion and politics) eludes even the most erudite among us because it is clouded in misunderstanding, prejudice and good, old-fashioned politics. Reuven Brenner, Gabrielle A. Brenner, and Aaron Brown have written several books in praise of gambling. In this book, they draw insights from sociological theories of gambling and propose a risk-taking model of expected utility. They use it to disentangle the relationship between fortune and providence, democracy and autocracy, chance and mobility. It is a tall order, but... they succeed admirably." - Nikolaos Zahariadis, Perspectives on Politics
Praise for Gambling and Speculation: "Brenner is one of the freshest writers I have read in economics, willing to introduce himself into his prose and express (sometimes outrageous) opinions. I like to read him." - Richard C. Rockwell, Social Science Research Council
Praise for Rivalry: "This is an important book. Schumpeter would have been impressed." - Graham Bannock, Business Economist
A World of Chance shows how some societies created more chances for their members than others and, as a result, prospered. The book looks at events through the prism of risk-taking, games of chance, futures, and financial markets, and how religion, politics, and finance interacted to bring about the situation societies find themselves in today.
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Top customer reviews
Yes, it is different for my poor friend Vince to bet on the ponies than for a rich guy to do so. The same for his choices to drink, and do all kinds of risky things. Vince now is toothless and sleeps on the street. He never understood statistics well. He was just a guy with a short attention span who wanted something for nothing. If he knew something I missed, that defies common sense.
I respect the authors' patiently explicating opposing views; that makes them intellectually respectable. And I gain much from these accounts, often loosely along the lines they are pointing. I like histories of insurance and various risk-transfer devices, and this book is rich with them. But to be told in one or two sentences that contrary to most considered views, the Dutch who traded tulips thought this-and-that, because this-and-that was happening, is too facile, and at its worst moments, in effect (IMO) amounts to marketing old and very time-tested and debated ideas as some kind of revelation, or as turning on some flip arrow of causation not rigorously documented here. Again, I like this book and benefited much from reading it.
Once that relatively unfortunate opening is behind the reader, the authors/book plumb much deeper, richer, more enlightening and more scholarly depths, going back into various advances and missteps in societies' and legal systems' recognition of the value of risky transactions to the surrounding economy. A reader looking for depth, breadth and imaginative views of all this will be well rewarded.
Much of the book deals with history, from the 20th and earlier centuries, of gambling practices: how laws on gambling were influenced overtly by cultural and ethical views (and covertly by vested business interests) in different countries and periods, and what were the economic effects of these laws. This historical discussion, used to support their arguments for contemporary policy, is quite differently focussed and much more detailed than most "popular science" style books treating the history of risk or chance, e.g. Against the Gods: The Remarkable Story of Risk and Chances Are: Adventures in Probability. Part of the book discusses empirical evidence to refute the traditional moralistic concerns about gambling: statistically, gamblers behave as responsibly in other affairs as non-gamblers, and big lottery winners typically do not fritter away their winnings.
I found the factual material to be both interesting and informative. As for any book arguing a thesis, the arguments need to be read critically. It's written from what one might call the Economist magazine view of the world, which I tend to share, so I am predisposed to agree with the authors' theses, but let me try to engage it critically anyway.
The authors correctly point out that gambling involving small stakes and small rewards (slot machines, poker, sports betting) is just a form of entertainment, so the existence of a thicket of laws restricting this particular form of entertainment is bizarre. They note the clearly desirable risk-taking that drives economic growth in a free market society, from the hands-on entrepreneur starting a physical business to the familiar financial spectrum of venture capital, IPOs, and secondary markets (i.e. Wall Street) to which speculators, who as individuals are acting as gamblers, have the desirable effect of adding liquidity. But they are implicitly arguing there is some meaningful connection between entertainment gambling and liquidity provision in more tangible markets. Despite their collection of cute historical stories ("poker banks" in the settlement of the southern and western U.S.; late 19th century "bucket shops" allowing ordinary people to bet on
commodity price fluctuations; lottery brokers founding the Chase National Bank and the First National Bank of NYC) and a brief chapter (8) speculating on how sources of capital and attitudes to risk-taking varied between different societies, the connection today is not particularly convincing.
Underlying this book is the first author's theory (reiterated in Appendix 1) of "leapfrogging", developed in the 1980s. This takes the familiar idea that people are concerned with their relative position in society, and tweaks it by adding the "dynamical" notion that people whose position has declined are more motivated to take risks to restore their position. This sounds plausible, and is an interesting academic exercise to examine. Though (to caricature slightly) it is attacking a recent dogma that people are "predictably irrational" in dealing with matters of risk, and returning to the earlier Economics dogma that people always act rationally, so that apparent irrationality must mean that people are acting in accordance with some less apparent objective.