Phishing for Phools: The Economics of Manipulation and Deception

Princeton University Press
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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.

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About the author

George A. Akerlof is University Professor at Georgetown University and the winner of the 2001 Nobel Prize. Robert J. Shiller is Sterling Professor of Economics at Yale University, the winner of the 2013 Nobel Prize in economics, and the author of the New York Times bestseller Irrational Exuberance (Princeton). Akerlof and Shiller are also the authors of Animal Spirits: How Human Psychology Drives the Economy, and Why It Matters for Global Capitalism (Princeton).
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Additional Information

Publisher
Princeton University Press
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Published on
Sep 22, 2015
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Pages
288
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ISBN
9781400873265
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Language
English
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Genres
Business & Economics / Consumer Behavior
Business & Economics / Economics / General
Business & Economics / Finance / General
Business & Economics / General
Psychology / General
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Available on Android devices
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Eligible for Family Library

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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.

Winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics

Get ready to change the way you think about economics.

Nobel laureate Richard H. Thaler has spent his career studying the radical notion that the central agents in the economy are humans—predictable, error-prone individuals. Misbehaving is his arresting, frequently hilarious account of the struggle to bring an academic discipline back down to earth—and change the way we think about economics, ourselves, and our world.

Traditional economics assumes rational actors. Early in his research, Thaler realized these Spock-like automatons were nothing like real people. Whether buying a clock radio, selling basketball tickets, or applying for a mortgage, we all succumb to biases and make decisions that deviate from the standards of rationality assumed by economists. In other words, we misbehave. More importantly, our misbehavior has serious consequences. Dismissed at first by economists as an amusing sideshow, the study of human miscalculations and their effects on markets now drives efforts to make better decisions in our lives, our businesses, and our governments.

Coupling recent discoveries in human psychology with a practical understanding of incentives and market behavior, Thaler enlightens readers about how to make smarter decisions in an increasingly mystifying world. He reveals how behavioral economic analysis opens up new ways to look at everything from household finance to assigning faculty offices in a new building, to TV game shows, the NFL draft, and businesses like Uber.

Laced with antic stories of Thaler’s spirited battles with the bastions of traditional economic thinking, Misbehaving is a singular look into profound human foibles. When economics meets psychology, the implications for individuals, managers, and policy makers are both profound and entertaining.

Shortlisted for the Financial Times & McKinsey Business Book of the Year Award

“A hugely valuable contribution. . . . In setting out a defence of the best in economics, Rodrik has also provided a goal for the discipline as a whole.” —Martin Sandbu, Financial Times

In the wake of the financial crisis and the Great Recession, economics seems anything but a science. In this sharp, masterfully argued book, Dani Rodrik, a leading critic from within, takes a close look at economics to examine when it falls short and when it works, to give a surprisingly upbeat account of the discipline.

Drawing on the history of the field and his deep experience as a practitioner, Rodrik argues that economics can be a powerful tool that improves the world—but only when economists abandon universal theories and focus on getting the context right. Economics Rules argues that the discipline's much-derided mathematical models are its true strength. Models are the tools that make economics a science.

Too often, however, economists mistake a model for the model that applies everywhere and at all times. In six chapters that trace his discipline from Adam Smith to present-day work on globalization, Rodrik shows how diverse situations call for different models. Each model tells a partial story about how the world works. These stories offer wide-ranging, and sometimes contradictory, lessons—just as children’s fables offer diverse morals.

Whether the question concerns the rise of global inequality, the consequences of free trade, or the value of deficit spending, Rodrik explains how using the right models can deliver valuable new insights about social reality and public policy. Beyond the science, economics requires the craft to apply suitable models to the context.

The 2008 collapse of Lehman Brothers challenged many economists' deepest assumptions about free markets. Rodrik reveals that economists' model toolkit is much richer than these free-market models. With pragmatic model selection, economists can develop successful antipoverty programs in Mexico, growth strategies in Africa, and intelligent remedies for domestic inequality.

At once a forceful critique and defense of the discipline, Economics Rules charts a path toward a more humble but more effective science.

How much do we know about why we buy? What truly influences our decisions in today’s message-cluttered world? An eye-grabbing advertisement, a catchy slogan, an infectious jingle? Or do our buying decisions take place below the surface, so deep within our subconscious minds, we’re barely aware of them?

In BUYOLOGY, Lindstrom presents the astonishing findings from his groundbreaking, three-year, seven-million-dollar neuromarketing study, a cutting-edge experiment that peered inside the brains of 2,000 volunteers from all around the world as they encountered various ads, logos, commercials, brands, and products. His startling results shatter much of what we have long believed about what seduces our interest and drives us to buy. Among the questions he explores:

Does sex actually sell? To what extent do people in skimpy clothing and suggestive poses persuade us to buy products?
Despite government bans, does subliminal advertising still surround us – from bars to highway billboards to supermarket shelves?
Can “Cool” brands, like iPods, trigger our mating instincts?
Can other senses – smell, touch, and sound - be so powerful as to physically arouse us when we see a product?
Do companies copy from the world of religion and create rituals – like drinking a Corona with a lime – to capture our hard-earned dollars?

Filled with entertaining inside stories about how we respond to such well-known brands as Marlboro, Nokia, Calvin Klein, Ford, and American Idol, BUYOLOGY is a fascinating and shocking journey into the mind of today’s consumer that will captivate anyone who’s been seduced – or turned off – by marketers’ relentless attempts to win our loyalty, our money, and our minds.
Macro Markets puts forward a unique and authoritative set of detailed proposals for establishing new markets for the management of the biggest economic risks facing society. Our existing financial markets are seen as being inadequate in dealing with such risks and Professor Shiller suggests major new markets as solutions to the problem. Shiller argues that although some risks, such as natural disaster or temporary unemployment, are shared by society, most risks are borne by the individual and standards of living determined by luck. He investigates whether a new technology of markets could make risk-sharing possible, and shows how new contracts could be designed to hedge all manner of risks to the individual's living standards. He proposes new international markets for perpetual claims on national incomes, and on components and aggregates of national incomes, concluding that these markets may well dwarf our stock markets in their activity and significance. He also argues for new liquid international markets for residential and commercial property. Establishing such unprecedented new markets presents some important technical problems which Shiller attempts to solve with proposals for implementing futures markets on perpetual claims on incomes, and for the construction of index numbers for cash settlement of risk management contracts. These new markets could fundamentally alter and diminish international economic fluctuations, and reduce the inequality of incomes around the world.
Macro Markets puts forward a unique and authoritative set of detailed proposals for establishing new markets for the management of the biggest economic risks facing society. Our existing financial markets are seen as being inadequate in dealing with such risks and Professor Shiller suggests major new markets as solutions to the problem. Shiller argues that although some risks, such as natural disaster or temporary unemployment, are shared by society, most risks are borne by the individual and standards of living determined by luck. He investigates whether a new technology of markets could make risk-sharing possible, and shows how new contracts could be designed to hedge all manner of risks to the individual's living standards. He proposes new international markets for perpetual claims on national incomes, and on components and aggregates of national incomes, concluding that these markets may well dwarf our stock markets in their activity and significance. He also argues for new liquid international markets for residential and commercial property. Establishing such unprecedented new markets presents some important technical problems which Shiller attempts to solve with proposals for implementing futures markets on perpetual claims on incomes, and for the construction of index numbers for cash settlement of risk management contracts. These new markets could fundamentally alter and diminish international economic fluctuations, and reduce the inequality of incomes around the world.
In the fall of 2008, fifteen of the world's leading economists--representing the broadest spectrum of economic opinion--gathered at New Hampshire's Squam Lake. Their goal: the mapping of a long-term plan for financial regulation reform.

The Squam Lake Report distills the wealth of insights from the ongoing collaboration that began at these meetings and provides a revelatory, unified, and coherent voice for fixing our troubled and damaged financial markets. As an alternative to the patchwork solutions and ideologically charged proposals that have dominated other discussions, the Squam Lake group sets forth a clear nonpartisan plan of action to transform the regulation of financial markets--not just for the current climate--but for generations to come.


Arguing that there has been a conflict between financial institutions and society, these diverse experts present sound and transparent prescriptions to reduce this divide. They look at the critical holes in the existing regulatory framework for handling complex financial institutions, retirement savings, and credit default swaps. They offer ideas for new financial instruments designed to recapitalize banks without burdening taxpayers. To lower the risk that large banks will fail, the authors call for higher capital requirements as well as a systemic regulator who is part of the central bank. They collectively analyze where the financial system has failed, and how these weak points should be overhauled.


Combining an immense depth of academic, private sector, and public policy experience, The Squam Lake Report contains urgent recommendations that will positively influence everyone's financial well-being--all who care about the world's economic health need to pay attention.

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