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The Origin Of Wealth: Evolution, Complexity, and the Radical Remaking of Economics Paperback – 5 Apr 2007


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Product details

  • Paperback: 544 pages
  • Publisher: Random House Business (5 April 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0712676619
  • ISBN-13: 978-0712676618
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 3.4 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 171,793 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

"... A brilliant, thought-provoking and wide-ranging book ... anybody interested in understanding why we are where we are should read it. For me, it was more than the business book of 2006; it was the book of 2006" (Martin Wolf Financial Times)

"Beinhocker is nothing if not ambitious" (Sir Howard Davies, director of The LSE The Times Higher Educational Supplement)

"An absorbing survey...[a] tour de force" (James Pressley Bloomberg)

"Economic thinking has changed radically in the last fifteen years.Eric Beinhocker gives us a sparkling tour of the new ideas." (Professor W. Brian Arthur, Santa Fe Institute)

"For business readers and academics, Beinhocker is a zealous and able guide" (Publishers Weekly)

Book Description

'Unquestionably the most important business book of the year.' - Management Today

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Mr. P. A. Gower on 5 Dec. 2013
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This is an important book that should be read by politicians, businessmen and 1st year economic students. It provides one of the best critiques regarding orthodox economics (of both the left and right varieties) that was fundamentally influenced by late 19th century Physics/Mathematics that ignores post 19th developments especially with regards to chaos theory. Adopting an `evolutionary' view of business/economics (hence the title being a mixed of Darwin's Origin of Species and Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations) Beinhocker provides an excellent framework to consider economic development. To stretched an analogy (probably to breaking point!) I see this book acting as a `John the Baptist' to some messiah who needs to produce a comprehensive up-to-date economic approach. It is certainly needed.

My only criticism is in the final paragraph where he uses the much quoted miss-quote of Mrs Thatcher "There is no such thing as Society. There are individual men and women, and there are families" and argues from the perspective of Complexity Economics she was wrong as it is "the interaction of millions of people, making decisions, engaging in strong reciprocal behavior, acting out their cultural norms, cooperating, competing, and going about their daily lives, creates an emergent phenomenon that we call society." I would argue the exact opposite in that if Mrs Thatcher's misquote is considered in the context of the entire interview in that there is no such thing as "Society" but to use the language of Complexity Economics that "Society" is an emergent phenomenon based on individuals. To quote from the later part her interview, "There is living tapestry of men and women and people and the beauty of that tapestry and the quality of our lives will depend upon how much each of us is prepared to take responsibility for ourselves and each of us prepared to turn round and help by our own efforts those who are unfortunate."
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 25 Feb. 2008
It is hard to understand why in the beginning of 2008 no economist is able to figure out what to do about the financial chaos starting with the sub-prime disaster. If you have read this book you will underst better why it is a chaos and why nobody has any answers. The economy is a complex system, that is chaotic, and anybody that claims to be able to predict what will happen will only be right by luck.
What did I learn from this book? Do not trust anybody that makes a prediction about a complex system. The idea of economic equilibrium in an economic system is absolute nonsense. There is still some hope. Whilst there are no states of equilibrium the changes are not random. It is not total chaos. The economic system like other complex systems has "emergent properties", like periods with wild gyrations and quieter periods. One can hope that with future research one can find out something useful about the causes of these emergent properties, as the basis for policy making.
Evolution is also a complex system. Organisms change at random due to genetic mutations. The mutations that survive and win, fit best in the environment. It is not the survival of the fittest, the one that fights the hardest; it is the random mutation that thrives best in the current environment. This contains an important lesson for business, may be even for competing economic systems. In the longer term wealth in business is created by innovation (these are the equivalent of mutations). Most successful companies fail to innovate because they only focus on improving their products, like more performance, lower costs and different style. To succeed in innovation the company must in addition take the risk of investing in many mutations of which most will fail.
The book has the great merit of multi-disciplinary thinking. It brings together new thinking in economics, business, evolution and complex systems and shows how these disciplines interact and can strengthen each other.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By ConBrio on 23 May 2011
The title hardly does justice to the richness of the topics he covers, and the brilliance and clarity of the writing. I found myself on a train at midnight reading avidly, jumping ahead, going back - excited at what he uncovered for me. I am not an economist, my interests are sustainability, anthropology and behaviour, and nevertheless this book is a fantastic invitation to understand complex systems and the economy. Highly, highly, highly recommended.

You'll never read a newspaper the same way again.
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Perhaps my favourite experiment discussed by Beinhocker is actually a computer simulation, run by Epstein and Axtell, named Sugarscape. In essence, they program an enormous chessboard, with piles of sugar on each square of varying heights. Agents (‘people’) are distributed across the squares with various abilities to find sugar, move around, and survival needs in terms of units of sugar. Agents are allowed to move around, eat, die, and have children, and Epstein and Axtell just press go and see what happens.

What happens is a miniature economy. Individuals move around and various patterns form: average wealth goes up, and over time average abilities increase as the more capable agents reproduce, and we see a fall in social mobility and increase in inequality as wealthy agents have children who also become wealthy. As Beinhocker rightly points out though, it is however not as simple as the skilled agents becoming wealthy; wealth levels are a function of the entire system, and no one factor appears to determine them. In other words, it’s complicated.

If the experimenters add a second type of resource, spice, then we also see trading. Trade routes develop, like virtual Silk Roads, and we see market towns, middlemen, and complex hierarchies of trade. If you want, you can even think of these as virtual investment banks and retail banks, though at some point the analogy will break down, or at least I hope so.

I found the whole thing very interesting, if sometimes a bit technical. Definitely worth a read if this is something you're interested in.
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