Reinventing the Bazaar: A Natural History of Markets / Edition 1

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From eBay to the stock market to the unexpected twists of the world's post-communist economies, market structure has suddenly become quite visible. We have occasion to wonder, "What makes markets work? How important are they? What can we do to improve them? And how can we harness them to other applications?"

In something akin to a nature walk, John McMillan takes us on a guided tour, pointing out features of the landscape we rarely notice. With examples ranging from a camel trading fair in India to the $20 million per day Aalsmeer flower market to the global trade in AIDS drugs, McMillan shows us markets in all their varieties -- the small and the large, the simple and the overwhelmingly complex, the successful and the unsuccessful. Further, he brings them together to show how these markets combine to form the global economy.

Markets provoke clashing opinions. Critics denounce them as the source of exploitation and poverty. Extreme proponents extol them as the font of liberty and prosperity. Eschewing ideology, McMillan spells out why markets are neither magical nor immoral, but rather imperfect yet vitally important tools. They can fail, and often do, but they represent the best way we've discovered thus far for improving our living standards.

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Editorial Reviews

Peter L. Bernstein
You may have heard that economics is the dismal science. Not in McMillan's hands. Here economics is fun, fascinating, ... fruitful.
Joseph E. Stiglitz
There could be no better guide to the modern view of markets than McMillan's new book.
Hal R. Varian
Lively [and] instructive... A colorful and authoritative look at how markets work and don't work in today's economy.
Reed E. Hundt
Required reading for anyone who wants to understand the "magic" of markets... Lucidly explained, brilliantly analyzed, and delightfully explored.
Kenneth J. Arrow
McMillan's rich knowledge of ... current economic theory and ... economies in transition is well embodied in this ... sophisticated survey.
Publishers Weekly
An economics professor at the Stanford University Graduate School of Business, McMillan views this historical moment as a unique living laboratory for observing how technology, globalization and changing expectations of buyers and sellers have brought changes to everything from the international flower market based in the Netherlands to national economies. The sheer number of ingenious schemes that have surfaced over the last decade has had an intoxicating effect on McMillan; he skips from the 1994 FCC auction of the electromagnetic spectrum for pagers to the hugely popular Internet auction sites and the effects of intellectual property rights on innovation in this anecdotally rich survey of world markets and new trading opportunities. McMillan looks at a wide variety of industries including interstate trucking and fishery management and lays out the elements he regards as necessary for a smoothly operating market. An illuminating chapter comparing the deregulation and privatization experiences of New Zealand, Russia and China will leave readers wishing that McMillan had concentrated on just a few examples to establish in-depth his primary points: that good design of a market is crucial to its success, that a market develops over time by trial and error, and that government plays an indispensable role in providing public goods and acting as rule setter and referee in the best of all market-based worlds. As it is, the book feels scattered, and McMillan's tone is by turns condescending and frustratingly abstruse. Many readers will be disappointed. (May) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Readers looking for a basic primer on how our "market economy" works will find no better treatment than this first book by Stanford University professor McMillan. Taking the long view, he examines how markets in ancient times evolved and shows how countries experimented with markets, some successfully and some not. Not surprisingly, he judges countries like Russia and China with their centralized economies as not being truly market driven, but he lauds them for recent changes. Although he does raise the flag on "free markets" a bit much, he takes a refreshingly commonsense approach to his subject, doesn't talk down to his readers, and refrains from excessive economic jargon. The Internet is praised for breaking down barriers, and he terms the eBay web site "a high-tech flea market." Government deregulation is a good thing, but California, in his opinion, made a mess of it resulting in the energy crisis of last year. The bottom line for McMillan is that "the market system is like democracy. It is the worst form of economy, except for all the others that have been tried from time to time." Recommended for academic and larger public libraries. Richard Drezen, Washington Post/New York City Bureau Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A wide-ranging, illuminating history of that old, colorful, and sometimes disgraceful institution known as the marketplace: exotic, innovative, and everyday; on terra firma and in cyberspace; bazaar to eBay. "Reinventing" is a vital notion here, for the best markets, says McMillan (Economics/ Stanford Univ. Graduate School of Business), are those that develop from the bottom up over time through trial and error, always restless and reshaping themselves with creativity and flexibility. Shortcutting the process rarely works. Then again, markets would never attain their fullest potential without a soupçon of government intervention when age-old procedures need to be formalized and authority given to enforce the results, or as a means of "providing goods and services that markets would undersupply and acting in the background as market rule-setters and referees." McMillan lays out the prerequisites for a successful market: "information flows smoothly; property rights are protected; people can be trusted to live up to their promises; side effects on third parties are curtailed; and competition is fostered." He is well aware of the absurdities and cruelties such a system may spawn (patent law is a good example), though he endeavors to understand poverty and inequality as structural rather than inherent in the marketplace. McMillan has his heart in the right place and isn't about to sniff at suffering. Unlike free-market zealots, he appreciates that markets are imperfect and can even be disastrous. They are also, he reminds us, a natural economy, "too important to be left to ideologues," and they are "not just about money. A well-designed competitive market puts resources into the hands of thosewho can best use them." Design is the issue here, a delicate balance between the organic evolution of the market and state oversight. Felicitous economics? Hard to believe, but McMillan's prose resembles single malt, going down easy as it stimulates. Clarifying and humanistic.
Harvard Business Review
“An illuminating refresher course in how economies really work.”
Washington Post
“An insightful, common-sense, jargon-free tour of all sorts of markets.”
New York Times Book Review
“The perfect book for the Age of Enron.”
Peter L. Bernstein
“You may have heard that economics is the dismal science. Not in McMillan's hands. Here economics is fun, fascinating, ... fruitful.”
Joseph E. Stiglitz
“There could be no better guide to the modern view of markets than McMillan's new book.”
Hal R. Varian
“Lively [and] instructive... A colorful and authoritative look at how markets work and don't work in today's economy.”
Reed E. Hundt
“Required reading for anyone who wants to understand the "magic" of markets... Lucidly explained, brilliantly analyzed, and delightfully explored.”
Kenneth J. Arrow
“McMillan's rich knowledge of ... current economic theory and ... economies in transition is well embodied in this ... sophisticated survey.”
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393050219
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 5/20/2002
  • Edition description: 1ST
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 256
  • Product dimensions: 6.48 (w) x 9.60 (h) x 1.05 (d)

Meet the Author

John McMillan is the Jonathan B. Lovelace Professor of Economics at Stanford University's Graduate School of Business.

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Table of Contents

Preface ix
1. The Only Natural Economy 3
2. Triumphs of Intelligence 15
3. He Who Can't Pay Dies 27
4. Information Wants to Be Free 41
5. Honesty Is the Best Policy 53
6. To the Best Bidder 65
7. Come Bid! 75
8. When You Work for Yourself 89
9. The Embarrassment of a Patent 103
10. No Man Is an Island 119
11. A Conspiracy against the Public 136
12. Grassroots Effort 148
13. Managers of Other People's Money 167
14. A New Era of Competition 182
15. Coming Up for Air 196
16. Antipoverty Warriors 211
17. Market Imperatives 224
Acknowledgments 231
Endnotes 233
References 247
Index 263
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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 28, 2003

    very good overview of markets

    This timely book describes the market systems of today¿s world. He is an advocate of what he calls the ¿market design approach¿ of economic systems. He has five things that a market needs to be effective: social trust, property rights protections, negative externality prevention, free flow of information, and competition. He makes a strong case for a `middle way¿ in economic development when it comes to government involvement. He argues that the controlled and command economies of the far left, and the laissez-faire libertarian approach of the far right are both equally garbage. He tells some interesting stories of the worldwide pharmaceutical industry and critiques it¿s free market effects on society and world health. His discussion of information and technology are somewhat simplistic in my opinion, and his conclusions that for economic development these two forces need to be free to innovate and profit seemed the same pedantic old story that is peddled by Gates and co. He makes a strong case for honesty in business and describes some very interesting approaches for regulating and policing business behavior. His discussion of patents and intellectual property rights seemed balanced in its look at how they can help and hinder business and society. He also describes (convincingly in my opinion) how individual and company behavior creates all kinds of negative externalities that cannot be left to the market to take care of. The last couple of chapters described the very different methods of economic transitions used by New Zealand, Russia, and China, and he has some interesting conclusions to offer. He also addresses a chapter to the anti-globalization movements, and to the Marxists and Libertarians, where he takes what they argue, and looks at statistical evidence, and pretty much negates their arguments without really addressing the sociological and political grievances and seems to take a more simplistic model that economic growth is the best way to improve the lot of everyone everywhere, which I found annoying. But overall, he makes a strong argument for markets and their abilities to supply the most efficient system of providing goods and services to a society, but also recognizes significant weaknesses inherent in it that must be balanced by government activity.

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