Tuesday, June 5, 2012
Market Missteps: Two Eye-Openers
How Markets Fail: The Logic of Economic Calamities by John Cassidy
"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."
The Myth of the Rational Market: A History of Risk, Reward, and Delusion on Wall Street by Justin Fox
"The financial crisis of 2008 and subsequent Great Recession demolished many cherished beliefs—most significantly, the theory that financial markets always get things right. Justin Fox's The Myth of the Rational Market explains where that idea came from, and where it went wrong. As much an intellectual whodunit as a cultural history of the perils and possibilities of risk, it also brings to life the people and ideas that forged modern finance and investing—from the formative days of Wall Street through the Great Depression and into the financial calamities of today. It's a tale featuring professors who made and lost fortunes, battled fiercely over ideas, beat the house at blackjack, wrote bestselling books, and played major roles on the world stage. It's also a story of free-market capitalism's war with itself.
At the core of the current financial crisis has been the widely held assumption that markets behave rationally. Fox, Time magazine editor-at-large, isn't the first to bring scrutiny—or censure—to the conceit, but his analysis is singularly compelling, and the rare business history that reads like a thriller.
Fox leads us on a chronological journey of modern economic theory, featuring the cast of scholars who constructed the 20th- and 21st-century financial landscape, from Irving Fisher to such post-WWII figures as Milton Friedman, Harry Markowitz, Franco Modigliani and Merton Miller, Jack Treynor and William Sharpe. Fox offers a behind-the-scenes glimpse at academia's finest, complete with amusing anecdotes about the players and their theories, and illustrates how our economic behaviors and markets have been shaped by a gradually refined theory holding that the stock market prices are both random and perfectly rational. A must-read for anyone interested in the markets, our economy or government, this dense but spellbinding work brings modern finance and economics to life."