How Markets Fail: The Logic of Economic Calamities

How Markets Fail: The Logic of Economic Calamities

by John Cassidy
     
 

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For fifty years, economists have been developing elegant theories of how markets facilitate innovation, create wealth, and allocate society's resources efficiently. But what about when they fail, when they lead us to stock market bubbles, glaring inequality, polluted rivers, and credit crunches? In How Markets Fail, John Cassidy describes the rising influence of

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Overview

For fifty years, economists have been developing elegant theories of how markets facilitate innovation, create wealth, and allocate society's resources efficiently. But what about when they fail, when they lead us to stock market bubbles, glaring inequality, polluted rivers, and credit crunches? In How Markets Fail, John Cassidy describes the rising influence of "utopian economics"-the thinking that is blind to how real people act and that denies the many ways an unregulated free market can bring on disaster. Combining on-the-ground reporting and clear explanations of economic theories, Cassidy warns that in today's economic crisis, following old orthodoxies isn't just misguided-it's downright dangerous.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“A brilliant intellectual framework for the story of our economic collapse.” —Paul M. Barrett, New York Times Book Review

“Cassidy clearly knows a great deal of economics, and he tells his story extremely well . . . Many of his chapters—on the development of general equilibrium theory (how everything in the economy systematically depends on everything else), for example, or marginalism (why prices are determined by what we’re prepared to pay for the very last item of something we buy, rather than what the whole amount is worth to us)—would make useful supplementary reading in an undergraduate economics course.” —Benjamin M. Friedman, The New York Review of Books

“The most intellectually sophisticated account of what went wrong.” —Lucas Wittmann, The Daily Beast

“[A] wonderful book . . . The most concise and elegantly written account, among the many that have come out, of how we got into this mess.” —Liaquat Ahamed, The National Interest

“[How Markets Fail] brilliantly dissects much of what has passed for economic wisdom, and decries the lack of humility from those whose theories helped cause the disaster.” —Floyd Norris, The New York Times

“Highly readable . . . Cassidy offers a clear and occasionally colorful exposition of the evolution of relevant economic thought in a way that is accessible to non-economists.” —Richard N. Cooper, Foreign Affairs

“Fascinating and important.” —Eliot Spitzer, Slate

“An admirably lucid account of how ‘utopian economics’ drove us to disaster . . . This is a compelling synthesis that derives most of its narrative energy from the author’s clarity of thought and exposition.” —James Pressley, Bloomberg.com

“An essential, grittily intellectual, yet compelling guide to the financial debacle of 2009.” —Geordie Greig, London Evening Standard

“The last major attempt of 2009 to make sense of what has become of the discipline of economics.” —Stefan Stern, Financial Times (Best Books of the Year)

“A well constructed, thoughtful and cogent account of how capitalism evolved to its current form.” —Edmund Conway, The Daily Telegraph

“[How Markets Fail] is more than just an account of the failures of regulators and the self-deception of bankers and homebuyers, although these are well covered. For Mr. Cassidy, the deeper roots of the crisis lie in the enduring appeal of an idea: that society is always best served when individuals are left to pursue their self-interest in free markets . . . An ambitious book, and one that mostly succeeds.” —The Economist

“An ambitious, nuanced work that brings ideas alive . . . Cassidy makes a compelling case that a return to hands-off economics would be a disaster.”—Chris Farrell, BusinessWeek

“Both a narrative and a call to arms, [How Markets Fail] provides an intellectual and historical context for the string of denial and bad decisions that led to the disastrous ‘illusion of harmony,’ the lure of real estate and the Great Crunch of 2008. Using psychology and behavioral economics, Cassidy presents an excellent argument that the market is not in fact self-correcting, and that only a return to reality-based economics—and a reform-minded move to shove Wall Street in that direction—can pull us out of the mess in which we’ve found ourselves.” —Publishers Weekly

“An elegant, readable treatise on economics, swathed in current headlines . . . Cassidy delivers on the promise of his title, but he also offers a clear-eyed look at economic thinking over the last three centuries, from Adam Smith to Ben Bernanke, and shows how the major theories have played out in practice, often not well . . . Cassidy writes with terrific clarity and a finely tuned sense of moral outrage, yielding a superb book.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

Publishers Weekly
Market disasters—and the cycle of delusions responsible—receive lively, engaging analysis by Cassidy (Dot.con), a journalist at the New Yorker. The author focuses primarily on the rise and fall of free market ideology and the mostly unrealistic ideal of a self-correcting marketplace. An excellent comprehensive history of the economic thought that led to this kind of utopian economics provides a refresher course in Adam Smith, Friedrich August von Hayek, Kenneth Arrow and Hyman Minsky. Both a narrative and a call to arms, the book provides an intellectual and historical context for the string of denial and bad decisions that led to the disastrous “illusion of harmony,” the lure of real estate and the Great Crunch of 2008. Using psychology and behavioral economics, Cassidy presents an excellent argument that the market is not in fact self-correcting, and that only a return to reality-based economics—and a reform-minded move to shove Wall Street in that direction—can pull us out of the mess in which we’ve found ourselves. (Nov.)
Kirkus Reviews
New Yorker and Conde Nast Portfolio contributor Cassidy (Dot.con: The Greatest Story Ever Sold, 2002) presents an elegant, readable treatise on economics, swathed in current headlines. "[P]ursuing a policy of easy money plus deregulation doesn't amount to free market economics; it is a form of crony capitalism," writes the author. The decline of 2007 and collapse of 2008 make convenient handles for the narrative, and players such as Alan Greenspan-busy making the absurd claim that the market economy is inherently stable-make fine symbols for the schools of thought that underlie the whole mess. Conventionally, these come down to the free-market types such as Hayek and Friedman on one hand and interventionists such as Keynes and Galbraith on the other. However, Cassidy does a nice job complicating that picture by drawing on the entire history of economic thought and introducing such overlooked figures as William Stanley Jevons and Leon Walras, who, it turns out, had a great deal to say about the overall subject of the book-namely, why economies can collapse so rapidly. In an ideal world, Cassidy writes, a market is a win-win environment: "Markets," he declares by way of introducing the ever-pleasing Pareto equilibrium into the narrative, "facilitate mutually advantageous trading." Ah, but there are wolves out there in possession of secret information, including players of Ponzi schemes (Madoff) and Ponzi economics (Greenspan et al.). In the case of the subprime mortgage problems that precipitated the current catastrophe, "too many mortgage lenders exploited the information advantage they had over their customers." Cassidy delivers on the promise of his title, but he also offers a clear-eyedlook at economic thinking over the last three centuries, from Adam Smith to Ben Bernanke, and shows how the major theories have played out in practice, often not well. The dismal science coupled with dismal news-it doesn't make a promising premise, but Cassidy writes with terrific clarity and a finely tuned sense of moral outrage, yielding a superb book.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780312430047
Publisher:
Picador
Publication date:
11/23/2010
Edition description:
First Edition
Pages:
416
Sales rank:
483,318
Product dimensions:
8.14(w) x 11.70(h) x 0.74(d)

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