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Scarcity: Why having too little means so much Hardcover – 5 Sep 2013

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Allen Lane; 1st Edition edition (5 Sept. 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1846143454
  • ISBN-13: 978-1846143458
  • Product Dimensions: 16.2 x 2.9 x 24 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 231,874 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


Stars in their respective disciplines, and the combination is greater than the sum of its parts. Their project has a unique feel to it: it is the finest combination of heart and head that I have seen in our field (Daniel Kahneman, author of 'Thinking, Fast and Slow')

Scarcity is a captivating book, overflowing with new ideas, fantastic stories, and simple suggestions that just might change the way you live (Steven D. Levitt, coauthor of 'Freakonomics')

Here is a winning recipe. Take a behavioral economist and a cognitive psychologist, each a prominent leader in his field, and let their creative minds commingle. What you get is a highly original and easily readable book that is full of intriguing insights. What does a single mom trying to make partner at a major law firm have in common with a peasant who spends half her income on interest payments? The answer is scarcity. Read this book to learn the surprising ways in which scarcity affects us all (Richard Thaler, co-author of 'Nudge')

An ultimately humane and very welcome book (Oliver Burkeman Guardian)

The book's unified theory of the scarcity mentality is novel in its scope and ambition (The Economist)

A succinct, digestible and often delightfully witty introduction to an important new branch of economics (Felix Martin New Statesman)

A pacey dissection of a potentially life-changing subject (Time Out)

About the Author

Sendhil Mullainathan is a Professor of Economics at Harvard, and a recipient of a MacArthur Foundation "genius grant". He conducts research on development economics, behavioral economics, and corporate finance. He is Executive Director of Ideas 42, Institute of Quantitative Social Science, Harvard University.

Eldar Shafir is William Stewart Tod Professor of Psychology and Public Affairs at Princeton University. Most of his work focuses on descriptive analyses of inference, judgment, and decision making, and on issues related to behavioral economics.

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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Trotley on 20 Sept. 2013
Format: Hardcover
The authors - economist Mullainathan and psychologist Shafir - make a deceptively simple argument: if you lack something, your mind focusses on that lack both in a productive and an unproductive way.

So, if you lack money, you think about money a lot at the expense of other things you ought to be thinking about, such as your performance at work, or the way you raise your children (reading to them at bedtime, putting in place consistent rules rather than unpredictable ones which are only sporadically enforced) and dressing smartly and preparing for job interviews.

If you lack time, you tend to lurch from one project to another, always behind, never organising yourself and becoming frustrated and possibly ill as a result.

The theory is attractive, because it links us with the rest of mankind. As the authors put it: "This after all is our thesis. If scarcity evokes a unique psychology irrespective of its source, then we are free to treat the varieties of scarcity all the same. If there is a common psychology of scarcity, shouldn't everything we observe about the poor also hold for the busy or for dieters?"...

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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By markr TOP 500 REVIEWER on 9 Dec. 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a readable and enjoyable book about behavioural economics. The authors look at scarcity and how it effects those who do not have an abundance of time and/or money - in other words most of us. Looking at human behaviour in different areas of the world it shows how when people are operating in conditions of scarcity they will tend to act with a short term and narrow view, which may not be in their best overall interests.

A shortage of time or money can lead to bad decisons, or no decisons at all; so preoccupied are those suffering the shortage that they are less like to take prescribed medicine, less likely to turn up for classes, less likely to take time for their families. The book concludes with recommendations - for executives to hire a personal assistant to provide slack in the schedule, to make savings planned in advance and set them up to operate automatically, set up direct debits to avoid forgetting payments, complete financial assistance forms for those in financial distress so that their preoccupation doesn't get in the way of seeking the help they need, provide low cost short term loans to keep people away from payday lenders and much more in the same vein.

There is not much that is new here, and whilst enteraining, this will not stimulate many 'Eureka' moments as you read it.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By A Ryder on 22 Mar. 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
The authors - an economist and a psychologist senior in their respective fields - set out to prove that scarcity, whether that be a dearth of funds, calories or time, focuses the mind to the extent that it produces positive short-term and often negative long-term results. While this is hardly a jaw-dropping theory, their experiments yield interesting results in the magnitude of focus, or in their speak, how 'scarcity' reduces 'bandwidth' (cognitive ability) causing the sufferer to 'tunnel', such as in the case of someone in debt who takes out a high-interest loan just to pay the rent, or a busy professional who puts off all impending deadlines in favour of the only one due today. Bringing a lack of something top of mind can reduce your abilities at other tasks as much as the deprivation of a night's sleep, and the pair argue cogently that behaviours often attributed to other causes - stress, lack of will, fecklessness - can be laid at the door of our innate subconscious reactions.

Accessible, compelling stuff, and the experiments and anecdotes are fun (I am an 'Angry Blueberries' convert) and if I haven't given it the 5-star treatment it's only because I think their claims for scarcity as a new science, and the universal driver of so many things, may prove to be a little too grand and sweeping. Their suggestions for counterbalancing your tunneling instinct are solid, requiring only a bit of thought, but for anyone aware of what they lack, the preceding chapters on the consequences of this behaviour are enough to nudge the reader towards change.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By William Jordan on 9 Sept. 2013
Format: Hardcover
This book is a generally fascinating (mostly as it sets out a new way of thinking about some perennial problems based on the notion of scarcity) - but also occasionally mundane (mostly in the later sections dealing with policy solutions to those problems).

The focus of the book derives from a central insight: that maybe all forms of scarcity have something in common (scarcity of money, scarcity of time, scarcity of companionship) and the - apparently strongly evidenced not to say proven - related thought that there is a psychology of scarcity. Scarcity itself, that is to say, gives rise to certain behaviours.

Those behaviours are focussing (useful: we act in a more focussed way with deadlines and better externally imposed harsh deadlines than ones we give ourselves); but on the other hand we suffer from tunnelling (we solve the problem in hand, but often just simply neglect what falls outside the current frame of reference. Then again, under conditions of scarcity, our willpower is impaired and so is our free-floating attention and intellectual ability (our bandwidth is less). Then again, we will borrow from the future to solve the problems of the present - time or cash. And under laboratory conditions, it's better just simply not to be able to borrow (time) at all when completing tasks where time is scarce.

We get very good at trade-offs under scarcity (as we would when packing a small but not a large suitcase). But our attitude towards money is just fundamentally different if we have 'slack' - we may be less economically rational (less likely to sweat the small stuff on a big money transaction) but we are in a position to absorb shocks to the system (financial or time wise) and view the small stuff in itself in a different light.
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