Animal Spirits: How Human Psychology Drives the Economy, and Why It Matters for Global Capitalism

Princeton University Press
26
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The global financial crisis has made it painfully clear that powerful psychological forces are imperiling the wealth of nations today. From blind faith in ever-rising housing prices to plummeting confidence in capital markets, "animal spirits" are driving financial events worldwide. In this book, acclaimed economists George Akerlof and Robert Shiller challenge the economic wisdom that got us into this mess, and put forward a bold new vision that will transform economics and restore prosperity.

Akerlof and Shiller reassert the necessity of an active government role in economic policymaking by recovering the idea of animal spirits, a term John Maynard Keynes used to describe the gloom and despondence that led to the Great Depression and the changing psychology that accompanied recovery. Like Keynes, Akerlof and Shiller know that managing these animal spirits requires the steady hand of government--simply allowing markets to work won't do it. In rebuilding the case for a more robust, behaviorally informed Keynesianism, they detail the most pervasive effects of animal spirits in contemporary economic life--such as confidence, fear, bad faith, corruption, a concern for fairness, and the stories we tell ourselves about our economic fortunes--and show how Reaganomics, Thatcherism, and the rational expectations revolution failed to account for them.



Animal Spirits offers a road map for reversing the financial misfortunes besetting us today. Read it and learn how leaders can channel animal spirits--the powerful forces of human psychology that are afoot in the world economy today. In a new preface, they describe why our economic troubles may linger for some time--unless we are prepared to take further, decisive action.

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About the author

George A. Akerlof is the Daniel E. Koshland Sr. Distinguished Professor of Economics at the University of California, Berkeley. He was awarded the 2001 Nobel Prize in economics. Robert J. Shiller is the best-selling author of Irrational Exuberance and The Subprime Solution (both Princeton). He is the Arthur M. Okun Professor of Economics at Yale University.
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Additional Information

Publisher
Princeton University Press
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Published on
Feb 1, 2010
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Pages
264
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ISBN
9781400834723
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Language
English
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Genres
Business & Economics / Economics / Macroeconomics
Business & Economics / Economics / Theory
Business & Economics / Finance / General
Business & Economics / General
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Why did the economists of the so-called "mainstream" seem to fail to foresee the global economic crisis that exploded in 2008? And why do they appear to have difficulty in putting forward an interpretation of it that is consistent with the theoretical foundations of their models? These two questions have echoed insistently since the outbreak of the crisis, not only in academic circles but also in the mass media, and appear to reflect increasingly widespread dissatisfaction with the dominant paradigm of economic theory.

Many believe that the global recession now underway may constitute an historic watershed for the evolution of economics and therefore that an authentic change of paradigm is called for, rather than only minor adjustments to the dominant approach. Since the start of the crisis, there has indeed been a profusion of contributions from alternative areas of economic study, and in particular from those adopting a critical stance with respect to mainstream economic theory. This collection puts forward promising reinterpretations of the primary schools of heterodox political economy, stringent critiques of the conventional readings of the recession, new schemes of theoretical and empirical analysis of the crisis, and proposals for economic policies alternative to those hitherto adopted.

This book contains a selection of some of the most recent contributions to the critique of mainstream economic theory and policy, and discusses the origins and possible evolutions of the current economic crisis. The collection should be of interest to students and researchers focussing on macroeconomics, monetary economics, political economy and financial economics.

Why the free-market system encourages so much trickery even as it creates so much good

Ever since Adam Smith, the central teaching of economics has been that free markets provide us with material well-being, as if by an invisible hand. In Phishing for Phools, Nobel Prize–winning economists George Akerlof and Robert Shiller deliver a fundamental challenge to this insight, arguing that markets harm as well as help us. As long as there is profit to be made, sellers will systematically exploit our psychological weaknesses and our ignorance through manipulation and deception. Rather than being essentially benign and always creating the greater good, markets are inherently filled with tricks and traps and will "phish" us as "phools."

Phishing for Phools therefore strikes a radically new direction in economics, based on the intuitive idea that markets both give and take away. Akerlof and Shiller bring this idea to life through dozens of stories that show how phishing affects everyone, in almost every walk of life. We spend our money up to the limit, and then worry about how to pay the next month's bills. The financial system soars, then crashes. We are attracted, more than we know, by advertising. Our political system is distorted by money. We pay too much for gym memberships, cars, houses, and credit cards. Drug companies ingeniously market pharmaceuticals that do us little good, and sometimes are downright dangerous.

Phishing for Phools explores the central role of manipulation and deception in fascinating detail in each of these areas and many more. It thereby explains a paradox: why, at a time when we are better off than ever before in history, all too many of us are leading lives of quiet desperation. At the same time, the book tells stories of individuals who have stood against economic trickery—and how it can be reduced through greater knowledge, reform, and regulation.

Behind the alarming headlines about job losses, bank bailouts, and corporate greed is a little-known story of bad ideas. For fifty years or more, economists have been busy developing elegant theories of how markets work—how they facilitate innovation, wealth creation, and an efficient allocation of society's resources. But what about when markets don't work? What about when they lead to stock market bubbles, glaring inequality, polluted rivers, real estate crashes, and credit crunches?

In How Markets Fail, John Cassidy describes the rising influence of what he calls utopian economics—thinking that is blind to how real people act and that denies the many ways an unregulated free market can produce disastrous unintended consequences. He then looks to the leading edge of economic theory, including behavioral economics, to offer a new understanding of the economy—one that casts aside the old assumption that people and firms make decisions purely on the basis of rational self-interest. Taking the global financial crisis and current recession as his starting point, Cassidy explores a world in which everybody is connected and social contagion is the norm. In such an environment, he shows, individual behavioral biases and kinks—overconfidence, envy, copycat behavior, and myopia—often give rise to troubling macroeconomic phenomena, such as oil price spikes, CEO greed cycles, and boom-and-bust waves in the housing market. These are the inevitable outcomes of what Cassidy refers to as "rational irrationality"—self-serving behavior in a modern market setting.

Combining on-the-ground reporting, clear explanations of esoteric economic theories, and even a little crystal-ball gazing, Cassidy warns that in today's economic crisis, conforming to antiquated orthodoxies isn't just misguided—it's downright dangerous. How Markets Fail offers a new, enlightening way to understand the force of the irrational in our volatile global economy.

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