Shermer (Why Darwin Matters: The Case Against Intelligent Design, 2006, etc.) applies his knowledge of evolutionary science to the volatile topic of modern economics.
The founder and editor of Skeptic magazine does a bang-up job knitting together the complexities of science and the frail psychology of human beings to explain the unpredictable postmodern world of trade and finance. Pledging that economics is for everyone, the author offers a forbidding, textbook definition of evolutionary economics, then adds, “this is a swanky way of saying that the economy is a very complex system that changed and adapted to circumstances as it evolved out of a much simpler system.” Exploring the transition from a hunter-gatherer economy to one based on consumer trade, Shermer argues that the world economy not only has a mind of its own but is also constantly shifting due to the influence of the consumers, traders and organizations that participate in it. Far from being needlessly complicated, the book tackles a host of psychological, scientific and ethical quandaries with clear-eyed panache, making its case with evidence not just from usual suspects like Adam Smith and Ayn Rand but also from the evolutionary science of Steven Jay Gould and the Western films of John Ford. Like any good teacher, Shermer grounds his lessons in real-world examples, some drawn from his personal experience as a marathon bicycle racer, some from the global marketplace and others lifted from scientific studies far outside the public domain. Later chapters like “The Value of Virtue” and “Don’t Be Evil” skew a bit idealistically in considering the ethics of the post-Enron business clime. But overall, Shermer’s argument that “we must study the laws of human behavior in economics as the physicist, chemist, or biologist studies the laws of nature” is persuasive.
An informative, inventive, broad-spectrum analysis of what makes modern man tick, starting with his wallet.