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Microeconomics: Behavior, Institutions, and Evolution (The Roundtable Series in Behavioral Economics) [Paperback]

Samuel Bowles
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Book Description

5 Feb 2006 The Roundtable Series in Behavioral Economics

In this novel introduction to modern microeconomic theory, Samuel Bowles returns to the classical economists' interest in the wealth and poverty of nations and people, the workings of the institutions of capitalist economies, and the coevolution of individual preferences and the structures of markets, firms, and other institutions. Using recent advances in evolutionary game theory, contract theory, behavioral experiments, and the modeling of dynamic processes, he develops a theory of how economic institutions shape individual behavior, and how institutions evolve due to individual actions, technological change, and chance events. Topics addressed include institutional innovation, social preferences, nonmarket social interactions, social capital, equilibrium unemployment, credit constraints, economic power, generalized increasing returns, disequilibrium outcomes, and path dependency.

Each chapter is introduced by empirical puzzles or historical episodes illuminated by the modeling that follows, and the book closes with sets of problems to be solved by readers seeking to improve their mathematical modeling skills. Complementing standard mathematical analysis are agent-based computer simulations of complex evolving systems that are available online so that readers can experiment with the models. Bowles concludes with the time-honored challenge of "getting the rules right," providing an evaluation of markets, states, and communities as contrasting and yet sometimes synergistic structures of governance. Must reading for students and scholars not only in economics but across the behavioral sciences, this engagingly written and compelling exposition of the new microeconomics moves the field beyond the conventional models of prices and markets toward a more accurate and policy-relevant portrayal of human social behavior.


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Product details

  • Paperback: 608 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press (5 Feb 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691126380
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691126388
  • Product Dimensions: 3.3 x 15.2 x 22.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 661,886 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Review

"There must be dozens of introductory books with the word 'microeconomics' in the title, but for ambition alone Samuel Bowles's volume stands out. Not only does Bowles convey the elements of the conventional theory of capitalist economics--he offers a wealth of cutting-edge material as well . . . . [His] theory is neat, thought-provoking, and highly original--as is much else in this most unusual take on microeconomics."--Eric Maskin, Science

"This important and highly impressive volume is intended as an overview of cutting-edge developments in microeconomics for graduate students. . . . The work is well written and carefully structured. . . . [T]his is a very fertile and inspiring book, of much broader use than its intended audience. . . . Its analytical accounts of institutional structures and its masterly fusion of institutional and evolutionary themes might eventually warrant its status as a modern classic."--Geoffrey M. Hodgson, Economics and Philosophy

From the Inside Flap

"Sam Bowles reminds the student from the first page to the last that microeconomic theory is an attempt to understand economic institutions in order to inspire us to improve the world. This book may be a turning point in bringing economics back to its real political economic roots."--Ariel Rubinstein, Tel Aviv University and Princeton University

"The standard neoclassical competitive model of economic behavior has been significantly extended in the last fifty years by emphasis on interaction among small groups (game theory), on extended models of human motivation based in part on human evolution, and on divergent information bases of participants. A rich but scattered literature has now received a brilliant synthesis and development in Samuel Bowles's new book. Microeconomics will be an indispensable part of future teaching in microeconomics at the graduate or advanced undergraduate levels, as well as an excellent source of information for the practicing economist."--Kenneth J. Arrow

"Homo economicus is dead, but whose Homo behavioralis will replace him? For those who care, this sustained and honest attempt to explore the implications for economic theory of one of the leading candidates is essential reading."--Ken Binmore, University College London

"An important and highly original book that shows how an evolutionary version of microeconomics can be brought to bear on central questions of economic growth and organization."--Peyton Young, Johns Hopkins University

"This is one of the most engaging books of its kind that has been written, intellectually challenging and a pleasure to read. It presents an innovative and unconventional perspective on microeconomics and, as such, is a book that many will want to teach from--I will."--Kaushik Basu, Cornell University

"Bowles does a masterful job of expanding the boundaries of received microeconomic theory by drawing upon cutting edge ideas from behavioral and experimental economics, evolutionary game theory, and the new institutional economics. I dont know of anyone who has woven such a wide range of literature into an equally coherent vision of post-Walrasian microeconomic theory."--Gregory Dow, Simon Fraser University

--This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant synthesis of behavioral microeconomics 11 May 2009
Format:Paperback
Samuel Bowles, a heterodox economist known for his long time cooperation with Herb Gintis on various cutting edge works in the field of behavioral economics and related subjects, has made a fantastic synthesis of all the material and conclusions in this area of research in "Microeconomics: Behavior, Institutions and Evolution".

As the title promises, Bowles makes extensive use of concepts from socio-evolutionary theory, institutional economics and anthropology, as well as applications from (evolutionary) game theory, to discuss the basics of economic choices, interaction, cooperation, and exchange. It may take a bit of adjusting at first, especially if one is not used to heterodox economics, since his well-written overview starts from very different points than most generic orthodox textbooks do. But it is very rewarding: all the relevant issues are presented in their complexity, nothing is swept under the carpet, and what makes this book in particular commendable is the way in which information from anthropology, psychology and the social sciences is weaven into the 'story'. The contrast with the ridiculous assumptions and the unrealistic or simply false simplistic models of standard neoclassical textbooks (like for example that of Mankiw) is striking.

It must be said that a proper understanding of all the arguments requires familiarity with intermediate level mathematics for economists, and the general level of abstraction and discussion is quite high, so this is not an easy book. Fortunately, this is mitigated somewhat by Bowles' clear writing, and sometimes he also takes the trouble (which unfortunately few economists do) of specifically explaining what the mathematical formulas mean, for people who have difficulty with somewhat advanced equations and the like.
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Amazon.com: 4.1 out of 5 stars  7 reviews
44 of 47 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Demonstrates The Instability of Current Economic Theory 8 Jun 2005
By Ryan L. Lanham - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
The idea of Walrasian equilibria is in serious trouble, and there isn't a good back filler that fits experimental evidence. If this represents an exciting plot for you, read on. On the other hand, if you want to hide out in late 19th century (supplemented by 1950s) math models for a few more years, avoid this book.

If Bowles is any indication of the enlightened center, the walls of stable microeconomic theory are shaking. The trumpets are blown by experimentalists and and supporting work from serious anthropologists, historians, etc. that suggest people just don't quite do what is expected by classical microeconomics. That is a problem. Elegance that isn't factual just isn't science. Neither does it look like the gods of game theory fully come to the rescue, no matter how elegant Nash equilibria might be.

Still, the most likely candidate theory for stable microeconomics is the evolution literature and the associated game theoretic concepts that have been staples in biology for over 30 years. Ideas adapted from biology may offer dynamics without contextuality. Bowles teaches related constructs neatly in a book that is still less quantitative than a few others I have looked at. There are few partial differentials for their own sake. On the other hand, there is real math here--enough to scare people off who are fightened by such things, but math isn't the point as it can be in other micro theory works. The point is reality, which is also the slippery slope that will make this book hard for the trade to adopt, I'd guess. Remarkably, the book reads like a search for solutions rather than the expression of what can be said with simple math models in a logically consistent manner.

If your prof uses this text for microeconomic theory, you are lucky. It could be a lot worse. On the other hand, if you are an economist (or wannabe), you might want to supplement this with more conventional work if you are going to face departmental exams, syllabus reviews, etc.

This is decidedly the new view of things, though it will probably become dated in a reasonably short period as experimentalists proceed. It is isn't a history book of ahistorical microeconomic theory, which is the safe way to go for conventional texts.

Overall, this is probably as exciting as microeconomic theory can be, and it is the foundations of an honest social science theory--no matter how tentative. It opens more questions than it solvies which is probably the new standard for positive social science texts.

The book might have been improved by some broader treatment of social network theory in the game theory section and by even more extensive treatment of experimental evidence and methods--particularly methods. Few people are actually training social scientists to do experiments these days. That's too bad. It is the future.

If this work is the skeleton of such a future, economists are going to be political psychologists, are going to be behavioral biologists, are going to be population ecologists, etc. It may be a very interesting time to become an economist if this is the sort of book a program is using. Historians and science studies folks will want to monitor these emerging changes. This is a place to peg legitimate change.
22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant synthesis of behavioral microeconomics 18 Jun 2007
By M. A. Krul - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Samuel Bowles, a heterodox economist known for his long time cooperation with Herb Gintis on various cutting edge works in the field of behavioral economics and related subjects, has made a fantastic synthesis of all the material and conclusions in this area of research in "Microeconomics: Behavior, Institutions and Evolution".

As the title promises, Bowles makes extensive use of concepts from socio-evolutionary theory, institutional economics and anthropology, as well as applications from (evolutionary) game theory, to discuss the basics of economic choices, interaction, cooperation, and exchange. It may take a bit of adjusting at first, especially if one is not used to heterodox economics, since his well-written overview starts from very different points than most generic orthodox textbooks do. But it is very rewarding: all the relevant issues are presented in their complexity, nothing is swept under the carpet, and what makes this book in particular commendable is the way in which information from anthropology, psychology and the social sciences is weaven into the 'story'. The contrast with the ridiculous assumptions and the unrealistic or simply false simplistic models of standard neoclassical textbooks (like for example that of Mankiw) is striking.

It must be said that a proper understanding of all the arguments requires familiarity with intermediate level mathematics for economists, and the general level of abstraction and discussion is quite high, so this is not an easy book. Fortunately, this is mitigated somewhat by Bowles' clear writing, and sometimes he also takes the trouble (which unfortunately few economists do) of specifically explaining what the mathematical formulas mean, for people who have difficulty with somewhat advanced equations and the like. In any case, he relies quite correctly more on empirical arguments regarding problems of the common, of evolution of institutions, the workings of altruism, prisoner's dilemmas, and so on than on any kind of math (although these things can be expressed in math, often).
At the end, Bowles provides some problem sets organized by subject as in the book, to allow readers and students to grapple with the issues presented.

Overall, this is probably the best overview specifically about microeconomics currently in existence, and it's a shame that it is not the standard textbook in all economics classes on the subject. Much better than anything Mankiw, Barro etc. have ever produced.
23 of 30 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Very strong, but flawed 30 Mar 2006
By Walt Byars - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
In Microeconomics, Bowles applies game theory, the insights of experimental economics, a contested exchange theory of the firm based upon conflict and power, and endogenous formation of traits, to microeconomic theory.

This is probably the most developed statement of what Bowles has called "Post-Walrasian Economics." Essentially, a form of neoclassical economics in which the unrealistic assumptions of Walrasian/ perfectly competitve type economics are rejected and not merely replaced "imperfect" competition and information (e.g. some degree of divergence from the walrasian assumptions, using those assumptions as their reference point). Rather, Bowles gives complex, somewhat realistic descriptions of the non-Walrasian characteristics of the economy, many of which have a totally different qualitative side than the Walrasian model.

Bowles is largely successful, yet there are some problems. There is alot of calculus in this book, not at an incredibly high level, but this certainly limits the appeal of this book to many readers without an understanding of calculus. Also, many of the examples used in the models are very abstract. An agent is faced with a choice to "adopt a characteristic" when they "have an interaction" with some other agent. Nothing wrong with abstraction per se, but it would be nice to have a better idea of what real world issues these models have relevance for.

Also, Bowles rose to prominence as one of the top radical economists and one of the founders of the Union for Radical Political Economics. He apparently still has similar political views and much of this book supports the existence of pervasive market failures supports a left perspective. Yet, not much time is spent on the particular topics usually explored by radical models. Those aspects of the "conflict theory" of the firm which are most profound, such as the choice of technique being influenced by the need of the capitalist to maximize their bargaining power rather than efficiency, are mentioned but not explored in great detail. However, given the incredibly detailed exploration of various aspects of conflict in the labor process, the models developed in this book have great value for those looking to develop new radical models.

Also, this book is thoroughly neoclassical (albeit informed by the best advances in NC economics, even those which contradict age old staples of NC theory) in terms of price and distribution theory, etc... As someone who is heterodox in their beliefs about economics, this is bit of a disappointment for me. However, most of these insights could be integrated into heterodox theory.

There are also a few problematic claims in this book. Bowles apparently supports Duncan Foley's argument that if we focus on aggregate outcomes, the consequences of the SMD theorem are somewhat mitigated. Foley's claims are actually quite questionable. See Frank Ackerman's "Still Dead After all these Years: Interpreting the failure of General Equilibrium Theory."
5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This is microeconomics for the future, not a text book 9 Nov 2009
By Jose M. F. Silveira - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Samuel Bowles is a remarkable economist and this book is not properly a text book. Is a creative study on the importante to combine associativism and cooperation in the analysis of choice and individual behavior. It is not a book for people aiming to have the first lessons on microeconomics. Is a book to think on the new framework relation individual behavior, game theory, cooperative behaviour and evolutionary paths. All of this with brillant insights on the importanc of power in economics. Power is not embedded in rational decisions. Power make decisions seems to be rational.
For graduate studants with capacity of reflect on economics and society.
4.0 out of 5 stars A delightful romp through evolutionary and behavioural economics 14 Feb 2013
By Cornelius - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Sam Bowles never fails to please. Not only is his writing style clear and eloquent, but he also conveys mathematical ideas with rigour and nuance. For those yearning for an introduction to evolutionary economics, look no further than this book and Herb Gintis' "Game Theory Evolving." The mathematics is not overly advanced, and someone with a university-level knowledge of calculus can grasp the author's main points. If you are a micro-economist, then this book absolutely must be on your shelf.

My only complaint would be that there is no accompanying solution manual. There is no point in books having problem sets without even partial solutions. That being said, this book is superb in every other way.
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