A thoughtful examination of the mechanics of our one-click world.




How economic theories power our market-driven lives.

Fisman (Chair, Behavioral Economics/Boston Univ.) and Harvard Business Review Press editorial director Sullivan, co-authors of The Org: The Underlying Logic of the Office (2013), show how key economic ideas of the past 50 years have given us “new forms of transacting,” most notably in the Internet marketplace (iTunes, Google, Uber, eBay and other e-commerce sites, etc.). In addition to well-known technological advances, “ideas that started in the academic study of economics…have had an outsized effect on how scarce goods are allocated—how, that is, we get the stuff that we want.” The authors’ bright, accessible account begins with the path-breaking research of British economist R.A. Radford, who in 1945 described a thriving POW–camp marketplace in Red Cross goods, and traces the postwar rise of mathematical modeling, which allows economists to make general predictions based on the specifics of any particular situation. Fisman and Sullivan consider the work of leading figures from Paul Samuelson to Kenneth Arrow and show how conceptual groundwork laid by Berkeley economist George Akerlof and his followers has allowed doctorate-level economists to help companies like eBay, Amazon, Airbnb, and Facebook to better compete in the marketplace. Among other things, readers learn how eBay auctions work; how increasingly common “platforms”—credit cards, Facebook, iPhones, etc.—bring together various groups to transact; and how the benefits of market efficiency are applied to the distribution of food among food banks and to such matchmaking challenges as admitting children to schools and connecting aspiring lawyers to clerkships. The authors caution that markets now reach so deeply into our lives that they can “transform” who we are. Market competition “can make us pay bribes, shirk on expenditures that would protect workers…and cut corners on product quality.” With a better understanding of innovations, write the authors, we can decide to what extent markets may need “a bit of help and oversight to perform their miracles of efficiency.”

A thoughtful examination of the mechanics of our one-click world.

Pub Date: June 7, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-61039-492-5

Page Count: 224

Publisher: PublicAffairs

Review Posted Online: April 18, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2016

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Striking research showing the immense complexity of ordinary thought and revealing the identities of the gatekeepers in our...


A psychologist and Nobel Prize winner summarizes and synthesizes the recent decades of research on intuition and systematic thinking.

The author of several scholarly texts, Kahneman (Emeritus Psychology and Public Affairs/Princeton Univ.) now offers general readers not just the findings of psychological research but also a better understanding of how research questions arise and how scholars systematically frame and answer them. He begins with the distinction between System 1 and System 2 mental operations, the former referring to quick, automatic thought, the latter to more effortful, overt thinking. We rely heavily, writes, on System 1, resorting to the higher-energy System 2 only when we need or want to. Kahneman continually refers to System 2 as “lazy”: We don’t want to think rigorously about something. The author then explores the nuances of our two-system minds, showing how they perform in various situations. Psychological experiments have repeatedly revealed that our intuitions are generally wrong, that our assessments are based on biases and that our System 1 hates doubt and despises ambiguity. Kahneman largely avoids jargon; when he does use some (“heuristics,” for example), he argues that such terms really ought to join our everyday vocabulary. He reviews many fundamental concepts in psychology and statistics (regression to the mean, the narrative fallacy, the optimistic bias), showing how they relate to his overall concerns about how we think and why we make the decisions that we do. Some of the later chapters (dealing with risk-taking and statistics and probabilities) are denser than others (some readers may resent such demands on System 2!), but the passages that deal with the economic and political implications of the research are gripping.

Striking research showing the immense complexity of ordinary thought and revealing the identities of the gatekeepers in our minds.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-374-27563-1

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Sept. 4, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2011

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Essential reading for citizens of the here and now. Other economists should marvel at how that plain language can be put to...

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A French academic serves up a long, rigorous critique, dense with historical data, of American-style predatory capitalism—and offers remedies that Karl Marx might applaud.

Economist Piketty considers capital, in the monetary sense, from the vantage of what he considers the capital of the world, namely Paris; at times, his discussions of how capital works, and especially public capital, befit Locke-ian France and not Hobbesian America, a source of some controversy in the wide discussion surrounding his book. At heart, though, his argument turns on well-founded economic principles, notably r > g, meaning that the “rate of return on capital significantly exceeds the growth rate of the economy,” in Piketty’s gloss. It logically follows that when such conditions prevail, then wealth will accumulate in a few hands faster than it can be broadly distributed. By the author’s reckoning, the United States is one of the leading nations in the “high inequality” camp, though it was not always so. In the colonial era, Piketty likens the inequality quotient in New England to be about that of Scandinavia today, with few abject poor and few mega-rich. The difference is that the rich now—who are mostly the “supermanagers” of business rather than the “superstars” of sports and entertainment—have surrounded themselves with political shields that keep them safe from the specter of paying more in taxes and adding to the fund of public wealth. The author’s data is unassailable. His policy recommendations are considerably more controversial, including his call for a global tax on wealth. From start to finish, the discussion is written in plainspoken prose that, though punctuated by formulas, also draws on a wide range of cultural references.

Essential reading for citizens of the here and now. Other economists should marvel at how that plain language can be put to work explaining the most complex of ideas, foremost among them the fact that economic inequality is at an all-time high—and is only bound to grow worse.

Pub Date: March 10, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-674-43000-6

Page Count: 640

Publisher: Belknap/Harvard Univ.

Review Posted Online: April 30, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2014

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